The WordPress Plugin that Can Get You Penalized

Every month or so, we get a question from a student about whether we can recommend using the “SEO Smart Links” plugin for WordPress. The answer is always no, because the way it works inevitably creates a terrible user experience. Well, now we’ve got evidence that it can do far worse than that.

After reviewing the evidence, I am convinced that using SEO Smart Links can get you penalized by Google. This does not mean that using this plugin will instantly cause a penalty, but the way we see most people using it is extremely risky.

What is SEO Smart Links? Well, this plugin’s intended purpose is to improve ranking, by automatically linking every occurence of a keyword or phrase within your WordPress site, to a target URL that you’re hoping to get ranked.

There are undoubtedly some “smart” ways to use this plugin. I can think of several – like automatically linking a call to action (“click here to sign up”). However, right-out-of-the-box, it is one heck of a dangerous tool. Out of the box, in the free version, it doesn’t even limit the number of links it creates on a page.

Imagine what it would look like if every occurrence of “SEO” in this post were linked to our home page, or to some doorway page. To make it easy for you, I linked a bunch of SEOs (to href=”#”) already. Now imagine if we also wanted to rank some different pages for keywords that included words like [Wordpress], [plugin], [penalized], [user experience], [keyword], [ranking], [google], etc. etc. Half of the sentences in this post might contain links!

Imagine if we actually thought that would be a good idea.

If we did, we’d install this plugin, keyword-stuff all of our posts to get more links in, and add as many keywords as possible to the plugin’s list…

Which would make our posts harder to read, and much less useful. It would, in short, reduce the quality of our web site. It might even cause us to violate Google’s “quality guidelines” for web sites.

As happened to a friend of a friend, whose rankings went deep into the well of despair shortly after installing and beginning to use SEO Smart Links. Since there hadn’t been any other changes to the site, he took a flyer on a reconsideration request and discovered that yes, indeed, there had been a penalty:

So, what had this site owner done to merit a successful reconsideration request? Simple – he removed the SEO Smart Links plugin and apologized for using it in the first place. Let me run the sequence of events by you again…

  1. Site owner installs SEO Smart Links Plugin and begins keyword-link-stuffing his pages automatically.
  2. Google manually penalizes the site for violating their quality guidelines.
  3. Site owner removes SEO Smart Links Plugin, apologizes, and asks Google to reconsider the penalty.
  4. Google sees that the plugin is gone, and removes the penalty.

The only part of this story that should surprise you, is that a human at Google responded and removed the penalty as quickly as they did.

Everything else should come as no surprise whatsoever. It doesn’t matter if you agree with what Google did, in applying the penalty. It only matters that you understand why they would apply a penalty.

Of course, it might also be worth taking a look at any sites you’re working on. Consider whether you might be stuffing keyword links in where they don’t make sense for users, and if you are, ponder the likelihood of losing the “Google lottery” by “winning” a manual penalty.

Most penalties do not come with a “warning” in Webmaster Tools. They just happen. When they do, it’s up to you to figure out what you did, clean it up, and ask for forgiveness.

The “Penguin anti-webspam algorithm update” doesn’t come with a warning either, but if it’s *not* looking for the same kind of quality issues that the humans do, I’d be surprised.

Although asking for comments is so annoyingly clichéd at this point, please do let us know if you have used SEO Smart Links or something similar, and if so – have you lost traffic from Google recently?

If you are using this plugin, my advice is to stop using it right now, unless you are dead certain about what you are doing.

Thanks!
Dan

Comments

  1. Not the easiest plugin to configure so having it work properly might be a problem for some.
    Do you recommend a link plugin to replace it? Is cloaking affiliate links an issue a plugin you recommend would address.

  2. You write really a helpful post.But what i want to ask is, if you just modify the setting to use maximum 2 lsmart links inside one post, then still this will cause a problem?i really begin to doubt to use this plugin.waiting for your reply.thanks.

    • The PRO version allow config a number of links in each post or page, the free version not…
      http://www.prelovac.com/products/seo-smart-links/#new

      • I was about to purchased the plugin but i need more detail reviews if using the plugin is safer than to get site penalized. I was abit terrified with the result if the plugin does make the trouble. Anyhow i am still feeling the problem is causing from the user’s experience in using the plugin wrong. Of course, there’s a premium version we should have an investment with and limit the number of internal link which is the way to go. I agreed with you Bety!

  3. Thanks for this post. After reading all comments I’m sure it’s a good idea to stop using this plugin – already disabled. And yes, from time to time, wordpress admins simply think: “This plugin could be a good idea.” Dangerous stuff.

  4. Thanks for sharing! SEO Smart Links is great, but I also have some bugs with thig plugin. Is there a way to add title tags automaticly to my links?

  5. So what to do If we want to use some content linking plugin would you like to suggest some thing other than that ?
    Although post is great ..thanks for this write up..

  6. ngu long tranh ba says:

    The author is using a video from Matt Cutts on the sales page, which is a pretty naked attempt at borrowing Matt’s authority

  7. Thanks for the post. I was looking for a reviews on seosmartlinks.com and this post came up. I am not sure if this plugin is completely related to the services provided by this company (link building services), but it appears to be so and in any regard gives some insight into how the company provides their services which is too far blackhat for me to be interested.

  8. Thomas Lartin says:

    Thanks for the info!!!

  9. đông trùng hạ thảo says:

    Not the easiest plugin to configure so having it work properly might be a problem for some.
    Do you recommend a link plugin to replace it?

  10. dong phuc lop says:

    “If you are using this plugin, my advice is to stop using it right now, unless you are dead certain about what you are doing.”
    you say very accurate, google algorithm will have many more, they will also inform you of this much more than tools, SEO should be long-term and sustainable. Content is King

  11. Dan. Thanks so much for posting this. It is so refreshing to find a review that is an actual, honest review as opposed to some moron writing a post on a plugin they’ve never used just trying to get an affiliate commission. I almost installed this plugin across a network of my sites but you helped me see that this would have been a BIG mistake. THANK YOU!!

  12. Thanks for this post I had been toying with using this plugin but I cant take the risk of annoying the ‘Big G’ – they can be so tetchy on small errors that webmasters are not even aware of.

  13. I agree with you, it is a dangerous tool that I no longer use. I used the free version and found out that it didn’t limit the number of links it created on a page.

  14. Thanks for this post.. I hv been using this plugin on my 2 sites.
    The sites were getting good traffic from google but suddenlt, all traffic dropped.
    I think this plugin might be the issue

    Let me uninstall it completely
    Thanks for this post

  15. Useful information! Thanks.

  16. This is a good article, but you are missing a lot of details here. The SEO Smart Links plugin, specifically the Pro Version is a great plugin to create Silo Inner linking on your sites. Yes, doing it en mass is stupid, but even the free version allows you to limit this. I have used this plugin for years with great success and I never use more than 1-2 links per post or page with it and I focus it on specific keywords. If the keywords aren’t on the page, there are no links created.

    This is one of those instances where you have to understand the consequences of using it “en mass” versus using it smartly. Your article here suggests it is the plugin when in reality this issue was caused by how the plugin was used, not the plugin itself.

    Mike

    • Thanks, Mike. I agree that you can do amazing good things with this plugin, if you know how to bend it into something useful.

      There’s lots of discussion here on good ways to use it, especially if you buy the Pro version, but the way it was promoted, the way people were being told to use it, not so good. When used as directed, likely to cause harm. I’ve heard that the free version isn’t as bad as it once was, but whatever. Vladimir isn’t stupid, he does pay attention to search engines, and he’s made a lot of improvements.

      Still, this plugin can get you penalized, and people who can’t read the discussion here and understand the nuances should not install or use it.

      Here’s an affiliate guaranteeing you’ll make 10x as much money in a month – maybe even a week – by using it:
      http://www.wpbeginner.com/blueprint/seo-smart-links/
      I doubt the income claims there, but at least they’re using it as an ad plugin, and not to try to drive rank… again – not using it as directed, but using its “swiss army knife” capabilities to do something useful.

    • This post title is just too provocative, I use this plugin on one of my site, there are settings to limit how many links in a single post, and how many links created with the same keyword. There is no problem on my site caused by this plugin.

      I am agree with you Mike :)

  17. Hi Dan, Neil Patel recommended this plugin in one of his eBook. I was about to try it. I am glad that I came across your article on this plugin. It just saves me some time to experiment with it.

  18. Thanks for the heads up by writing this article. We will start doing everything manually from now on.

  19. Luckily you shared. Was researching if we should use this plugin for our clients, but looking at the situation now, better dont.

  20. This is a shocking information to me. I tried the free version, but now I’m using the business version, and I configured well. Anyway, thanks for the information…

  21. Hey,
    Thanks for the Important information to all but what i want to know is that i was just trying to use this plugin as an alternative to automatic seo plugin as this plugin seems to be not compatible with my Theme.
    so is smart links is providing limited links on a webpage counted to max of two will it be cool… or i must drop my idea of using it… (any alternative please)

  22. Yes now link penalty is all over by Google and we need to get away from it.

  23. I support the assertion made by the author in this post. I have lost 2 of sites to goolge (de-indexed ). I used the plugin in a website that has what they called “original content” no affiliate link whatsoever. I noticed that I was de-indexed. I didn’t know what the reasons were. Each time I submitted my site to google for reconsideration google always turned me down. I was later advised to remove that plugin and re-submit to google. I did and my site was put back again. I took my almost 7months to figure this out. My question .is there any plugin out there can really automatically interlinks blog by keywords without harm the site?

  24. I was just going to buy it, and your article saved my money & blog, these days it has become very tough to analyze of what will work and what will not work with google panda & penguin effects. Any suggestions or tips I can take to over panda affected blog ?

  25. Thanks for the useful information.

  26. As Mike said, I also think that the real issue is with the user, and how the plugin was used. Like any other seo tool out there, you have to understand the consequences of using it in mass, versus using it smartly. Every day, I see people complaining about how a seo tool has destroyed there blog, but in most cases the issue was caused by how they used that seo tool.

  27. I tend not to agree fully that SEO smart links will get you penalized. It depends on how we use it.

    If you are using SEO smart links out of the box, without configuring any of the setting or redefining your custom keyword in the custom box, this is dangerous. You’ve rightly pointed out that every occurrence of a keyword in a site should not be pointing to the same url. However, if we configure variations of it, then it would actually add to better user experience.

    For example, if I had a page on dog training, I would not shoot for short keywords as anchor text such as “training” since this would create a link on all “training” words on my site, even if I were to mention cat training. Instead, I would go for more specific long tail versions of my keyword, and different variations. Hence, my custom box would look like: “dog training, train a dog, training a dog, training your dog, training dogs, http://website.com/dog-training“. Of course, I would limit to the first occurrence of the keyword and ignore the rest that comes up on the webpage.

    Thanks!

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