**Updated 15/7/2020**

The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.” is that a quote from William Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ or the opinion of link building in 2020?

Tricky to choose, right? Link building, while still a crucial aspect of online marketing, still carries the ugly stigma of manipulation thanks to the years of black hat techniques from spammy SEO agencies.

But the further we get away from those dark days, is it still the case that digital marketing agencies are using low quality link tactics? Let’s find out.

SEO Link Building Myths

Myth #1 – “All SEO agencies are the same; they just take your money and spam your site with directories to build links.

Myth #2 – “SEO agencies don’t do the link building; they just farm it out to freelancers then charge you a huge markup.

Myth #3 –There is no strategy involved, SEO agencies just overload an anchor text with as many links as they can and hope it moves to page 1

Any of these sentences sound familiar? If you’ve researched ‘SEO agency link building’ for just a few minutes online, then chances are you might have come across forums or message boards with this kind of discussion.

But is it true? Do SEO agencies still just take your money and spam your site with low-quality links?

The Link Building Problem

Before we look to the present, we need to look to the recent past.

From the first days of the internet up until early 2012, SEO link building was like the Wild West. It was cut throat, it was competitive and there was no link building tactic too manipulative to get the results you and your clients needed.

The methods that were most commonly used were article directories, forum links, directory listings, comment spam etc. You get the idea.

Whilst these weren’t the whitest of white hat linking methods by any means, they were nowhere near as forbidden as they are now. Instead, that type of link building was more frowned upon in SEO circles rather than damned to the depths of online marketing hell.

As a result, some SEO agencies took advantage of these methods and rose to prominence during a time when search engines were just not sophisticated enough to understand, and crucially penalise, these low-quality tactics.

Another reason this type of link building was so successful, was that it was extremely easy to implement and achieve results. Need 2,000 directory links by Monday? Get on Fiver.com. Need 500 comments on different articles with your link in the comment? The guys in the dark corners of Digital Point could help you out.

Low-quality link building was easy, fast and very successful!

What Changed?

Thankfully, all that changed as a result of the Penguin link spam update in 2012. The Google Penguin Martial rode into town and rounded up all the no good rootin’ tootin’ spammers and locked them in SEO jail.

Related – History of Major Google Algorithm Updates

Luckily search engines have gotten a lot smarter in recent years. The tactics that worked then wouldn’t stand a chance these days. SEO agencies that previously manipulated the algorithm with spammy link tactics are still desperately trying to clean up their past work with disavow files.

I worked at a different agency when the first Penguin update hit back in April 2012 and the office resembled World War III. Sites were walloped with massive drops in both visibility thanks to the shady link tactics that were working fine the week before.

Agency Link Building: Now Vs Then

Old link building was just horrible. It was spammy, easy to obtain and didn’t offer anything to the user.

These days most reputable SEO agencies have a variety of link building methods and areas of content marketing.

An example link from the dark ages is below and you can see just how low quality and clearly created for search manipulation it is:


This would have been set up either automatically and blasted across hundreds of sites or a shady webmaster would have had his palms greased with silver to place this shoddy link.

In contrast to the above example, below is a link we built for one of our clients and you can see how different it is in almost every way:

The site is genuine, relevant to the niche (in this case cosmetics) and offers value to the user and search engines alike. There are high-quality images that break up the text and it includes relevant links within the body of the text to provide further information.

Building good quality links is essential to creating a strong link profile. Filling it with spam and low-quality links will quickly land your site in hot water with Google and will knock you straight out of their search engine index.

How To Avoid Bad SEO Agencies

Some agencies are well known for their low-quality link building and a quick Google around their brand name is all it takes to find forums and damning articles from disgruntled clients that are more than happy to shine a light on their ill-behaved ways.

Another way to avoid these companies is just to ask them to show you examples of their link tactics for current clients they might have. If an agency refuses to show you this, then chances are they have something to hide.

You want an agency to be up front and honest with what they are doing and how they are doing it. Any agency worth their salt will be offering to show you examples of past work without you having to chew their ear off for it.

Link Building Myths – Debunked!

So we now know the link building world has changed. SEO agencies should not be getting involved with link building tactics that manipulate the search engines, as Google does not reward those sites anymore.

Let’s look at the original SEO linkbuilding myths and debunk ’em!

Myth #1 – “All SEO agencies are the same; they just take your money and spam your site with directories to build links.

Wrong! I’ve worked in two digital marketing agencies and they could not be more different than one another. Salience is a data fuelled digital marketing agency that I’m incredibly proud to work for. We carefully construct longterm link building strategies to promise future success, not chasing rankings for a quick fix.

I’ve seen the dark side and I’m ever going back!

Myth #2 – “SEO agencies don’t do the link building; they just farm it out to freelancers then charge you a huge markup.

Wrong! Well sort of, I can’t speak for other agencies, but Salience has an entire in-house digital PR/outreach team in charge of client link building placements and strategies.

Myth #3 –There is no strategy involved, SEO agencies just overload an anchor text with as many links as they can and hope it moves to page 1

Wrong! Well, at least for Salience. We conduct a whole links discovery at the start of the campaign to road map the best link approach going forward during your contract.


So, do SEO agencies take all your money and spend it on low-quality spammy sites? Well possibly, the bad agencies still might.

However, these SEO agencies can be exposed pretty easily if you do even the slightest bit of digging.

If you want a digital marketing agency with a clear link building strategy for long term success, you’re already in the right place. Contact our expert team now!