Blog and Forum Comments: Unethical Means of Building Links?

There's a hot topic going on with SEO right now where the nature of building links via blog comments is concerned. What do you think: Ethical or unethical? Weigh in your thoughts here!
Written by Stephen Chapman, Contributor

Since the inception of my SEO column here on ZDNet, I have become somewhat of a target for people to fixate their angry SEO (Search Engine Optimization) woes upon (mostly via email). I don't mind, though, since I understand why so many people are up in arms over SEO. All it does is remind me of why I'm here and continue to ignite my fervor to dispel and discern bad SEO practices.

Recently, I have noticed an increasing number of people who feel that blog and forum commenting is unethical. Unethical? This issue has me thinking that perhaps a shift needs to happen with this particular facet of link-building. After all, I do agree that it's exponentially easier to act on the spammy side of blog comment link-building than otherwise (which means that it's also exponentially easier to interpret all blog comment link-building endeavors as spammy ones). I'm truly interested to know what the general perception of the practice is and I hope to turn this into an industry-wide discussion, so please participate and weigh in your opinions via the comments section!

When I personally recommend blog and forum commenting, I don't mean to go out there, find a ton of blogs and leave random comments like, "I found this on Google and what can I say outside of great post!" and then proceed to leave your keyword as your name and link to an interior page. No. That is absolute spam and if that's the only process you know as an SEO or as a Webmaster who has to deal with that garbage, then just know that any -- nay -- every decent SEO condemns that method of blog and forum commenting. You need to put more into it than that.

So, just how does one go about commenting on forums and blogs in an "ethical manner?" Is it possible to actually provide value to forums and blogs through your comments? I think so. The way I think of it is this: If I seek out your blog with the intention of building a link, the consideration and thanks I'm going to give you is a well thought-out comment that directly relates to your post. The goal is to simultaneously gain a link while providing content to help that person's page rank higher for the topic of the post. I mean, if you require me to give you my email address to leave you a comment and you also give me a user name and Web site box to fill in, then I'm going to make sure to use those to link to my site. That doesn't mean I'm going to use a keyword for my name and link to an interior page -- especially since "nofollow" comment sections are ridiculously common these days and most spam filters won't accept a comment that links to anything other than a home page (url shortners that 301, *cough, cough*). Now, with that said, if you can do it in a manner that doesn't trespass on the boundaries of what someone might consider spammy, then by all means, use your exact keyword, but there aren't too many ways to do that in a non-spammy manner.

While it's undeniable that using exact keyword terms for anchor text is where most of the immediate SEO value lies in this method of link-building, if you take a bit more time to gauge the strength of a blog and attempt to find out how likely your comment is to be seen by others, your SEO benefit may very well happen via alternate means. Thus, I suggest an alternate goal to building links with blog comments: Eyeballs. The goal should simply be to attract eyeballs and get people to at least visit your site because of your comment. After all, the end result of SEO should be leads/conversions (whatever those may be for you); not rankings or traffic. So, why not use blog and forum commenting as a means to attract leads and not simply to pull rank? There certainly are many more ways to build links than through blog/forum comments, so I still see SEO value in creating relevant and targeted content for that person's page and make your comment equally as much of a contribution as it is a link to your site. There isn't much wiggle room, but there are definitely ways to give back to those you stand to gain from. It may take a bit more research and effort on your end, but it can be done.

What are your thoughts? Do you think building links via blog comments is completely unethical? Do you have an ethical means of building links via blog comments that you would like to contribute? I'd love to hear from you!

Editorial standards