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In Webmaster Tools, under the inbound links section, do ads get counted as inbound links?

I am doing a review of inbound links on a website and found that most of them are sourced from meaningless blogs and spam websites. Before I accuse anyone of not doing their job properly, I would like to know something: Is it possible that those inbound links were generated when an ad for the website appeared on the spam website? An SEO firm was paid handsomly to generate inbound links and I am afraid all they did was submit material to spam blogs and websites.

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2 Answers 2

It would depend on how the ad is served, I believe, but if it was served from an ad network most likely no.

There are several ways to research your incoming links. OpenSiteExplorer is a great tool for doing this as it will list all of the inbound links that they have found.

Personally I would ask for a list of links that the SEO company generated for you, and possibly keep track of those in a tool like Raven Tools depending on your budget. They could have paid for the links only for them to disappear in a few months.

As a forum owner we get a ton of spam links. Posts generally get deleted by the moderators, but a new tactic I have found is that link builders will register a profile, put the link in their profile, and never post to fly under the radar. While the profile page itself carries very little weight if it comes from a highly ranked domain it will carry some. I bring this up because I am auditing all of our forum user profile links, getting rid of any links and profiles that don't belong there. I would not be surprised if a quarter of all new forum registrations are using this tactic, using Chinese or Indian contractors since it requires human intervention.

The other thing I have seen, which is extremely black hat, is that some SEO firms have had used someone to exploit sites. I was involved in a site where this happened; Our CMS was compromised and the cracker put in some SEO links in the bottom of the page. Upon further investigation I found dozens of sites where this had happened with the same links. Clearly the links were put there on purpose. What wasn't clear to me was which links were bystandards and which ones were clients.

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Google will count a link as a backlink if all of the criteria are true:

  • The page is available tfor Google to crawl (i.e. it is not blocked by robots.txt or no-robots headers/meta tags)
  • Google has crawled the page the link is on
  • They can read the link (e.g. it is not generated by JavaScript or some other non-search engine friendly means)
  • The link is not "nofollow"
  • The link is not blocked by a redirect script (especially chained redirected scripts)

Typically ads are served via JavaScript and/or iframes, netiher of which are search engine friendly (although Google can read and handle some JavaScript as of right now it is assumed most content generated by JavaScript is invisible to them). However, ads can also be in the form of plain HTML which is search engine friendly and if they meet the criteria above would be counted as a backlink.

As for the links that SEO firm got for you, the odds are they are low quality links and will not have a significant impact on your rankings. As a general rule, the easier it is to get a link, the less value it probably has. The quality links it takes to rank well for keywords that generate any significant traffic are difficult to get and are usually reserved by webmasters for pages that they consider to be high quality. Those are obtained with good content over time and cannot be bought.

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I think GWT does show nofollow links. –  DisgruntledGoat Mar 27 '12 at 0:29
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