The fact you’re here means you already know that link-building is a crucial component of SEO. And that puts you ahead of the pack, considering that Ahrefs reports 66.31% of web pages have no backlinks at all. As a marketing expert, you may already be partnering with a white label SEO agency like Semify to ensure your clients consistently have backlinks built to their sites.
But not all backlinks are created equal. And the difference between a good backlink and a not-so-great backlink isn’t always crystal clear.
One of the most common questions we get from our clients – marketing agencies that need fulfillment support to scale their businesses – is about web 2.0 backlinks. Whether you choose to outsource SEO or build backlinks in-house, here’s what you need to know about web 2.0 backlinks and their potential impact on your strategy.
What Is Web 2.0?
Web 2.0 refers to the whole of the modern internet. (Talk about overwhelming!) Compared to “web 1.0,” when people talk about web 2.0, they’re describing a shift in how the internet is used. In the past, internet users were passive readers. Now, they’re active contributors. For example, social media platforms depend on independent users sharing information in order to function.
In a nutshell, you can think of this as the difference between an old-school encyclopedia website and the modern Wikipedia, where anyone can edit and change entries.
What Are Web 2.0 Backlinks?
In the context of SEO, “web 2.0” has morphed into shorthand for a specific type of backlink building. These are links that originate from content a user can control. To give yourself a web 2.0 backlink, all you need to do is create an account and publish a post or a comment with your link.
Some examples of web 2.0 backlinks sites include Blogger and WordPress blogs, Tumblr, Reddit, Quora, Goodreads, Medium, Wikipedia, Pinterest, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo, directory websites, and comments sections on articles.
What Are the Benefits of a Web 2.0 Backlink?
There are a few reasons to consider building backlinks on web 2.0 sites into your SEO strategy:
- Domain rating: Established websites such as Facebook or Wordpress likely have a higher domain rating than newer websites. Theoretically, a link in a comment on a blog with a 79 DR could help your SEO strategy a lot more than a random link from a new site with 15 DR.
- Immediate publishing: Instead of having to perform tedious link outreach tasks, you can take the DIY route and post links without publisher approval or relationship building.
- Free or low-cost: Marketers working with a limited budget may be interested in alternatives to strategies like creating guest posts or buying backlinks for SEO (which don’t always pay returns on your investment).
- Search engine visibility: These backlinks will be indexed and crawled quickly, thanks to high user activity. Backlinks on these indexed pages are more valuable than links on sites that aren’t crawled regularly.
- Link control: You have more control over anchor text and link context since you’re writing the content yourself. If you’re specifically trying to build your backlink profile to contain a certain type of anchor text (like branded anchor text, for example), you can more easily make that happen.
Are web 2.0 backlinks do-follow links?
This is the big catch when building web 2.0 links. All backlinks come in two primary categories: do-follow and no-follow links. Do-follow links are typically the more desirable option because they pass “link juice” from one website to another and can boost your site’s reputation. They’re the gold standard.
A no-follow link is neutral – it doesn’t necessarily endorse the website it links to, but it doesn’t say anything negative about it, either. No-follow links can be part of a healthy backlink profile, and they can still drive traffic to your site. That said, you don’t want no-follow links to make up the majority of your links because they’re missing that valuable endorsement.
The vast majority of web 2.0 links you add as a user of larger sites will default to no-follow. (Note: Twitter just removed the rel=nofollow attribute from its links. It's unclear whether these links will count as do-follow links moving forward, but it's something to watch!) If you’re publishing links on a site you own, however, you control whether a link is no-follow or do-follow. If you’re specifically looking for a few quick, low-cost backlinks and no-follow links aren’t a deal breaker, a quality web 2.0 backlinks site can feel like a reasonable option. But we’d still recommend you proceed with caution.
Avoiding toxic backlinks
Our friends at SEMRush explain that “toxic” backlinks can come in many forms. Generally, toxic links aim to manipulate a site’s ranking in SERPs or a site’s incoming or outgoing links. Toxic links frequently come from sites that have been established for the sole purpose of providing links, sites that haven’t been indexed by Google, and non-relevant sites and content.
One toxic backlink might not do irreparable harm to your SEO. But if a marketer hoping for a shortcut attempted to publish, say, 100 links from poor-quality or irrelevant sites just to boost SEO, Google is likely to see those spammy links as red flags. A spammy backlink profile could also be hit with Google penalties. These are fixable over time, but the work probably entails removing the offending backlinks in the process – meaning a lot of extra work and little or nothing to show for it.
You could avoid being spammy by taking the time to create or buy websites that publish great content. If that content is indexed by Google and actually becomes popular, you could end up with a successful site with a lot of valuable traffic. You’d have to pay for additional hosting and web design, keep up with content creation and marketing, and take on the additional responsibility of owning multiple sites to get a single backlink per site.
That long game sounds pretty labor-intensive to us. You’d likely get a better SEO strategy payoff putting that level of effort into pursuing link outreach instead.
Original Research: Semify’s Web 2.0 Backlink Experiment
There’s a lot of misinformation online about which (if any) web 2.0 opportunities provide do-follow links. We set out to field-test some shortcuts to see if they’re worth your time.
The hypothesis: Reddit do-follows links with more than three upvotes
We heard rumors that links on Reddit forums will change from no-follow to do-follow links if the comment or post is upvoted three or more times. (Check out the inline link there – we linked to this particular source with a no-follow link of our own.) Before we recommend hacks like these to our clients, we want to make sure they actually work.
So we tested it.
Test 1: Upvoting a low-volume comment
Here’s how we tested the three-upvote hack: On a local Reddit forum, we found a helpful comment containing links, which had 2 upvotes. We added our own upvote and monitored the comment for two weeks. The comment now has 6 upvotes (bringing it above the rumored 3-vote threshold), but we saw no change from the default do-follow HTML structure. Here’s what it looked like both before and after:
Result: We debunked this rumor.
Test 2: Investigating a higher-volume comment
Maybe the three-vote rule doesn't take effect immediately. The comment on that post might take time to get on Reddit's radar, we figured. So we looked at a different Reddit comment with 58 upvotes. This comment had been in place for three weeks, which meant it might have had more time to accrue upvotes or for Reddit to “notice.”
Alas, this link contained the same no-follow link structure as our first test:
Result: This rumor stayed debunked.
The hypothesis: Reddit adds do-follow attributes depending on a link's “hotness”
Supposedly, a Reddit post needs to be trending (categorized as “rising” or “hot”) for at least 24 hours in order for any links to become do-follow. The poster’s Reddit “karma” may also be a factor in the algorithm, according to black hat SEO web forums. (Don’t worry, we’re not giving even a no-follow link to black hat forums!)
Test: Examining trending posts
Ideally, we’d examine a selection of trending posts that trend for 12, 24, and 48 hours to determine when the "do-follow trigger" kicks in. There’s no clear indicator of how long a post has been trending, so it’s difficult to find a post that’s been trending for each precise amount of time. We didn’t see the value in wasting hours and hours to validate a Reddit rumor that would be even harder to harness. (It's not easy to purposefully manufacture a post that trends for at least half a day on such a highly trafficked forum!) Frankly, we don't think this is worth your time, either.
So we tested one link on a post that was trending for at least seven hours after it was published, and it was still a no-follow. When we checked back a day later, the post had 11,000 upvotes and nearly 300 comments. However, the link to the Twitter post was still specified as no-follow.
Result: Three strikes and you’re out, Reddit rumor. Getting 11,000 upvotes on a Reddit post is no small feat, and we don’t think it’s worthwhile for marketers to spend that much effort on an unverified strategy. There are better ways to do SEO. Sure, Reddit has a DR of 95, but we don’t see a way for a marketing agency or most other businesses to reliably benefit from its link juice.
The hypothesis: Other web 2.0 opportunities might have do-follow links
Even if Reddit doesn’t have magical do-follow links that you can game by simply upvoting your comment a few times, we wanted to know whether other common web 2.0 sites do have better backlinking opportunities.
Test: Tumblr, Flickr, Quora
First, we looked at other UGC-heavy sites like Tumblr and Flickr. These employ a default link structure known as “noreferrer.”
If you get a noreferrer link, you won’t be able to track it. If people click on the link, you’ll simply see it in your analytics as direct site traffic. In other words, no one will know that Flickr or Tumblr is referring traffic to your site. You can think of it as no-follow to the nth degree.
Quora is even more impregnable. From what we could tell, Quora’s source code doesn’t contain the user-generated content displayed on the site at all. That means Google won’t see (much less follow) any links published there. There could be exceptions, but it doesn’t seem worth it for marketers to devote excessive time to finding them if they do exist.
Result: We couldn’t find trustworthy reports of any of these sites providing do-follow links, nor could we verify them ourselves. That makes us confident that these backlinks aren’t going to make a major difference in a site’s SEO.
Semify’s Take: Web 2.0 Backlinks Aren’t Worth Your Time
Let’s assume that links you publish on Reddit, Quora, or Tumblr are no-follow or noreferrer links. That means there’s no major SEO benefit to these links except for fleshing out your backlink profile with some no-follow links. But if you’re developing a natural backlink profile and your brand is becoming more well-known, this should happen naturally over time regardless.
Google reps say that web 2.0 backlinks are often seen as spammy. According to Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller, relying on web forums or blogs to drive traffic for your brand isn’t exactly recommended.
“All of those examples… are really terrible ways of promoting your website,” Mueller explained during a 2020 Webmaster Office Hours Hangout. “This kind of activity has zero value for SEO. They’re spamming the web. That’s something I would strongly discourage anyone from doing.”
Keep in mind that Google won’t be the only one judging your backlinks. Redditors and users of websites like Tumblr, Quora, and WordPress domains will see your posts or comments and make their own determinations. If your posts are helpful and send traffic to your client’s website, then they could improve people’s perceptions. If you post links in a way that’s spammy or uninteresting, you’ll hurt the company’s reputation and users could downvote your content – which could hurt your strategy, anyway.
That’s not to say that all web 2.0 backlinks are harmful. But it’ll take work to create web 2.0 links that are genuinely helpful and interesting. If you’re going to put in the work, we think your time would be better spent focusing on natural or editorial backlinks instead.
Oh No! What if I’ve Already Started Web 2.0 Backlinking?
You probably don’t need to panic if you’ve already started. You may not have to remove any of these backlinks from your profile, either. If you’ve made a good-faith effort to use backlinks on posts where the links add value, a few web 2.0 backlinks probably won’t read as spammy.
Going forward, we’d just recommend you stick with link outreach and link-building through natural means that offer better value. And if you’re really worried, you can physically remove the UGC backlinks or disavow them through the Google Search Console.
As a marketing professional, you know that offsite SEO is essential and link-building has a place in any client’s SEO strategy. But most of us don’t have extra time to waste. While web 2.0 backlink-building may seem like a shortcut, it could actually make the journey to SEO success a lot longer.
Really, there are no shortcuts in SEO. Although web 2.0 backlinks aren’t innately bad, they’re also not going to get you where you want to go.
The straighter, clearer path involves building relationships with publishers, creating highly valuable content, and working with a white label SEO agency that can expertly perform link outreach for your clients.