The Hoth, a Saint Petersburg, Florida search engine optimization company, has been selling links in articles by contributed writers posted on a variety of publisher sites such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, Blogher, and Social Media Today.
The SEO company, which describes itself as a white-label service, ran advertisements on Facebook touting its link-building search engine marketing practices -- using Forbes as an example of the services it provides.
One major issue is that The Hoth ran Facebook advertisements touting a non-existent relationship with Forbes.
In fact The Hoth claims to have a relationship with Forbes and other publishers. When Search Marketing Daily contacted Forbes, a company spokesperson said in an email that "Forbes does not have a relationship with any company like this and the actions described are against Forbes’ policy."
Similarly, Robin Selvy -- publisher at Industry Dive, who manages Social Media Today -- wrote in an email that the media company does not buy or sell any backlinks.
The Hoth's advertisement on Facebook violates a major Google terms of service agreement -- especially when the links in the article lack the no-follow required coding, explains aimClear founder Marty Weintraub. It's all about "passing link equity," which means it can provide the linked-to article a boost in the ranking position of search query results on google.com.
After viewing a few of the URL links, it appears that the links to the articles The Hoth sells are written by contributing writers or community members, rather than staff writers. Weintraub calls the practice "content sculpting" or "placed media."
"Placed media has been the hush-hush wink-wink SEO secret for years," Weintraub said, who first noticed the Facebook ad. "It's a common fact that you can't place ads that promote Forbes links or any publication's links for sale."
While The Hoth did not respond to multiple attempts to clarify the practices, Weintraub said the SEO firm can likely say that some Forbes writers know about the link-selling practice because they are "part of the community." He said it likely works this way: The Hoth pitches the contributing writer on a topic. The writer pitches a publication such as Forbes, which accepts the article for publication and then links to another publication's content within the published article.
Some industry insiders describe this practice as the new content farm.
Not all contributed articles are sponsored articles, but publishers need to be aware of the content within the article. Google's algorithms count backlinks from publications like Forbes as a positive vote. The more positive votes, the better the chance of a higher ranking in the search engine query results. SEO professionals call this "equity." By default, all HTML links are coded as "do-follow." Google's policy states that links in sponsored articles need to have "no-follow" HTML code, which tells Google to ignore the link equity.
The links provided by The Hoth to Weintraub did not have "no-follow" HTML code in the URL string, which would prevent Google's search algorithm from using the link as equity for the site linking to the content.
An issue of even greater concern, Weintraub said, is that The Hoth is advertising links for sale on Facebook from publishers like Forbes, which claim to have no knowledge of this relationship.