Making Donations to Non-Profits for Backlinks: Good SEO Strategy?
It’s pretty common knowledge in the SEO industry that you can make donations to certain non-profit websites, and in many instances this will result in a valuable SEO backlink back to your site.
Supporting good causes is a great way for companies to give back, and it makes sense that the receiving organization might link to you for supporting their cause. Many large organizations do this, including Google. So it does not seem that making these types of donations will ever be considered an intrinsically spammy tactic.
However, some spammy websites are starting to exploit non-profit donations as a way to game Google. Their formula is to launch throwaway websites and quickly get them to rank on Google by making numerous donations to charity organizations to gain powerful backlinks from high authority websites, boosting them above more established websites.
Right now, this tactic seems to work well. I’m seeing spammy sites with fake or thin content popup on Google across a range of verticals.
Here’s just one example. This site in the online coupons space attracts a lot of visitors, reaching over 750,000 users per month:
Virtually all of this comes from organic search:
Just this one example, PromoCodeWatch, has very high SEO authority, and is continuing to build backlinks at a rapid clip:
I ran an analysis on PromoCodeWatch’s top backlinks. I was surprised to see that 93 of their top 100 backlinks (ranked by Ahrefs URL rating) were obtained through some sort of sponsorship or donation link (more details on each linking site below).
That’s over 90% of a site’s backlinks being paid in some form or fashion. If you told me that a site with over 9 out of 10 of its backlinks comprised of paid links could reach a million monthly users, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.
When looked at more closely, it appears that this is not one of the coupon sites with high quality content. I work with clients in the affiliate industry, and I know that legitimate coupon sites employ significant staffs to keep their databases of coupons up-to-date every day. After all, why does a coupon site exist other than to find, test, and editorialize coupons for shoppers? Mainstream players like RetailMeNot, Coupons.com, and Groupon have hundreds of employees who work to maintain high editorial standards on their coupons.
The above-mentioned site appears to have just three employees. On a quick test, I found several coupons that they listed prominently at the top of the pages as “verified” that were expired or invalid:
Most likely this is a small company run by a few people who lack the resources to provide high quality to compete with larger companies, but which invests in making charity donations to exploit a loophole in Google’s algorithms to outrank some more established coupon sites.
A more detailed look at these sponsorship links
Running through the above site’s backlinks, I was able to tell whether a link was likely a paid sponsorship or donation link by looking for a few things.
- Was the link listed in a “Donors” or “Sponsors” section of the linking website?
- Was it a banner ad, or other obvious advertisement, with a dofollow link?
- Was it listed as a “Recommended Resources” link, but alongside spammy links such as online gambling sites?
List of sponsorship and donation sites being abused by blackhat websites
I’ve compiled a summary of the above-mentioned site’s top 100 backlinks, ranked by Ahrefs URL rating. 93 of these backlinks can be clearly categorized as paid links. Mind you, this is only a sampling of one site’s backlinks, there are many other similar sites being abused by others.
Here are the details of the non-profit websites being used by spammers to game Google:
jpost.com. Ahrefs: 86. It seems that you can contact this newspaper and acquire a dofollow link through a text ad placement in their footer.
myrecycledbags.com. This site links to a few sponsors in their blog roll section with dofollow links.
vscp.org. This open-source software site lists dofollow links to spammy sites, including promocodewatch and others.
webdesign.org. Ahrefs: 80. It looks like you can contact this website and gain a backlink on their sidebar.
codelobster.com. Sponsors are listed on this long-standing website, and the links pass PageRank.
winpenpack.com. Supporters get a banner ad with a dofollow link in the sidebar of this high authority site.
sweatingthebigstuff.com. Sponsors of all types are getting dofollow links on this blog with great SEO metrics.
getafirstlife.com. Ahrefs: 56. Become a supporter of this website and apparently you’ll get a dofollow SEO backlink on their homepage.
scicentral.com. Ahrefs: 56. From the looks of it, if you email this website and purchase a banner ad in their sidebar, this will be a dofollow image link to your website.
fashionbombdaily.com. Ahrefs: 55. Seems like you can gain a listing in this site’s Bomb Shop’s section by making a payment.
procolharum.com. Ahrefs: 53. On this site, you can contact the webmaster of this site and gain a backlink by making a payment.
brightlightsfilm.com. Ahrefs: 52. Become an advertiser on this site, and it seems that you’ll get a dofollow SEO backlink from a banner ad on their homepage.
worldstatesmen.org. Ahrefs: 51. Contact this site’s email and make a payment and you may be listed as a text link on their homepage.
coolsmartphone.com. Ahrefs: 51. You can make an advertising payment to this website and looks like you’ll get a text backlink which will pass link juice to your website.
wanderingtrader.com. Ahrefs: 50. On this site, just become a sponsor and looks like you’ll get an image ad with a dofollow link to your website.
homebunch.com. Ahrefs: 49. You can be listed in this site’s Resources section by making a payment it seems.
brazzil.com. Ahrefs: 48. You can make a payment to this site to get a listing in their Suggestions area. This will be a PageRank-passing backlink.
designer-daily.com. Ahrefs: 48. You can sponsor this website and get a banner ad which will have a backlink back to your site.
simplysweethome.com. Ahrefs: 48. Get a backlink here by making an ad payment.
lifeoptimizer.org. Ahrefs: 47. Become an advertiser here and looks like you’ll get a dofollow backlink in the form of an image banner advertisement.
mommymandy.com. Ahrefs: 46. You can contact this blogger and make a small payment to apparently gain a backlink which is SEO-beneficial.
themusicninja.com. Ahrefs: 45. Contact this blogger to pay for a sidebar link and it looks like it will be dofollow.
landoftalk.com. Ahrefs: 45. Contact this site to make a small payment in exchange for a text link to your site it appears.
queenofsavings.com. Ahrefs: 45. Judging from this site, you can contact this blogger to negotiate a dofollow link in their sidebar via text link or banner ad.
myrecycledbags.com. Ahrefs: 45. Looks like you can contact this blog to get a dofollow link in their sidebar.
badjocks.com. Ahrefs: 45. Seems like this blogger will link to you in the Recommended resources section if you sponsor them, this link will pass link value.
artfaircalendar.com. Ahrefs: 45. It appears that you can make a small donation to this website and get a backlink to your website.
pelfusion.com. Ahrefs: 45. By making a small payment to this site’s owner, you can get a dofollow link it seems.
linuxbsdos.com. Ahrefs: 43. You can contact this site and become a sponsor, and it appears that they’ll give you a dofollow text backlink to your website.
emmysmummy.com. Ahrefs: 42.You can contact this blogger and advertise with them to get a dofollow link it seems.
sweatingthebigstuff.com. Ahrefs: 42. Apparently, you can contact this website and get a backlink in exchange for an ad payment.
eyesonthedollar.com. Ahrefs: 42. From the looks of it, you can contact this website and purchase ad space in their side bar. This will be a dofollow link to your site.
asiatoday.com. Ahrefs: 41. Seems like you can contact this website to get a backlink in exchange for an ad fee.
cincinnatibeacon.com. Ahrefs: 41. Apparently, you can contact this site’s webmaster and make a sponsorship donation and you’ll be listed with a backlink here.
bookroomreviews.com. Ahrefs: 40. From the looks of it you can make a payment to this site and get listed with a link on their homepage.
survivinggrady.com. Ahrefs: 40. Seems like you can make a donation to this blog and get a backlink in their sidebar.
mommyshangout.com. Ahrefs: 40. It looks like you can make a small payment to this website and you’ll get an SEO-valuable link.
metrojersey.com. Ahrefs: 40. Seems like you can contact this site’s contact email and you can make a sponsorship payment for a dofollow link on their homepage.
the2seasons.com. Ahrefs: 40. Apparently you can contact this site and make a small payment in exchange for a backlink with an image banner button.
hollywoodchicago.com. Ahrefs: 40. Get listed with a text backlink in this site’s Partners section by contacting them and making a small donation.
fashionallure.com. Ahrefs: 40. This site offers banner advertisements for a fee, which include a dofollow link it appears.
prommanow.com. Ahrefs: 40. Contact this site owner to make a payment in exchange for a PageRank-passing text link it looks like.
speedwaymedia.com. Ahrefs: 38. You can email this site and get a text link by making a payment it seems.
worldoffemale.com. Ahrefs: 38. Looks like you can email this webmaster and you can become a donor. You’ll get a text backlink to your website.
theurbanhousewife.com. Ahrefs: 36. Looks like you can make a donation to this blog and you’ll get a text link here.
blondeandbalanced.com. Ahrefs: 36. This blogger links to websites with a PageRank-passing link in its Partners section. Likely that you can pay a fee to obtain a link here.
mensflair.com. Ahrefs: 36. By sponsoring this blog with a small monthly fee, you can obtain a dofollow image banner link in their sidebar.
darwinsmoney.com. Ahrefs: 35. You can obtain a PageRank-passing backlink in this site’s Weekly Links section by making a small donation.
miniaturetrading.com. Ahrefs: 35. This site posts text links on various places on its homepage. You can probably pay a small donation to obtain a link here.
queenofreviews.com. Ahrefs: 35. Websites are advertising on this site with banner ads, and these link back with dofollow links to the advertiser’s website.
projectspurs.com. Ahrefs: 35. ProjectSpurs links to sponsoring websites in its siderail.
smartypanties.com. Ahrefs: 34. It appears that you can be listed in the Resources section of this website by paying a sponsorship fee.
iheartheels.com. Ahrefs: 34. This website offers dofollow banner ad links to your site if you sponsor them.
aphnetworks.com. Ahrefs: 34. This website displays dofollow backlinks to sponsoring websites in its side bar.
ninjacrunch.com. Ahrefs: 34. On this website, it appears that if you sponsor a banner ad, you’ll receive a dofollow link to your site.
bluntmoney.com. Ahrefs: 32. This site links to sites with dofollow links in its sidebar. These appear to be sponsored links.
digitalreviews.net. Ahrefs: 31. This site posts commercial-looking links with dofollow backlinks on its sidebar.
versatile-fashions.com. Ahrefs: 31. The related links on this website appear to be sponsored links.
shortandsweetnyc.com. Ahrefs: 30. The links in the Sites We Like section of this website appear to be sponsored or paid links.
hot-travel.org. Ahrefs: 30. In the Love These Tips section of this site, it looks like you can advertise here for a dofollow link.
creativecommons.org. Ahrefs: 29. You can sponsor Creative Commons and get a link on their Supporters page.
homestead.com. Ahrefs: 29. You can sponsor this webpage and gain a textlink back to your site.
newyorkcitymetro.com. Ahrefs: 29. Looks like you can sponsor this website by contacting the webmaster to get a backlink.
carbl.com. Ahrefs: 28. It appears that these sites have paid a sponsorship to obtain dofollow links on this site’s homepage.
usafestival.net. Ahrefs: 28. These banner ads are dofollow.
simplygrove.com. Ahrefs: 25. This site’s banner ads contain dofollow links back to the advertising sites.
sitebar.org. Ahrefs: 24. Become a Donor of this site and you’ll get a valuable dofollow backlink for your site.
floridametroguide.com. Ahrefs: 23. Looks like you can sponsor this local site to get a backlink on their main page.
Additional sites being used by spammy sites to build backlinks through sponsorships and donations
phpMyAdmin — This site has a Moz DA of 91. They link out to online casinos, options trading sties, web hosting sites, coupon sites, travel affiliate sites. Valid way to get links, or is this risky? Report this site to Google for selling links.
Vim.org — DA of 86. They link to coupon sites like PromoCodeWatch and ChameleonJohn.com, cheap travel sites, options trading sites. Again, this is a very reputable site, so is this high risk or low risk? Report this site to Google for selling links.
Jerusalem Post — DA of 87. They link to coupon sites including PromoCodeWatch, hotel affiliate sites, car rental affiliate sites in their footer. These should technically be no-follow, but they do pass PageRank, and the rank they pass must be significant. The question is whether this is a good tactic over the long term or not? Report this site to Google for selling links.
Bavotasan — DA of 91. They link out to binary option sites, furniture stores, essay writing services, coupon sites, all with optimized anchor text and do-follow. Very high metrics on this site, and it looks like many commercial sites are taking advantage of this. Report this site to Google for selling links.
The Daily Californian — DA of 70. They link to Chinese wholesale stores, coupon sites, bankruptcy attorneys, with optimized keywords. These links are dofollow. Seems like these links will have massive effectiveness for these sites. Report this site to Google for selling links.
The Daily Bruin — DA of 64. UCLA’s school newspaper sells links? Yes, that whole section called Sponsored Links are dofollow links to all sorts of sites like injury attorneys, dentist websites, and coupon sites. Report this site to Google for selling links.
FontFreak — DA of 53. They link to lots of dangerous sites. Fraudulent medical card sites, bankruptcy attorneys, casinos, spammy coupon code sites — all with optimized anchor text. Report this site to Google for selling links.
FashionAllure.com — This blog is displaying dofollow banner links to PromoCodeWatch and DHGate, two sites which actively purchase dofollow links against Google’s guidelines. Report this site to Google for selling links.
TheMusicNinja — The have text links without the nofollow tag, pointing to sponsor sites. These two sites, PromoCodeWatch and DHGate are active in buying dofollow links. Report this site to Google for selling links.
Transposh — DA of 72. Linking to travel sites, coupon sites, medical translation services, coin collecting sites. All seem like SEO driven e-commerce sites that are buying links primarily to manipulate PageRank. Report this site to Google for selling links.
ProMMANow — This blog links to sites in their sidebar, leading to known sites that buy links against Google’s guidelines, and they do not add the required nofollow tag. Report this site to Google for selling links.
DNJournal.com — This website offers banner ads for sale on its website for a monthly fee. The banner ads are displayed without the required nofollow tag per Google’s guidelines. Report this site to Google for selling links.
TopRightPartners — Purportedly a marketing consulting firm, TopRightPartners links to a spam site like PromoCodeWatch, concealing the link with the anchor text “empowering customers with choice” — in an article about “From Retail to Restaurants, Category Management Yields Big Returns.” Apparently this website is being used to sell guest post links to spammy sites. Report this site to Google for selling links.
BlondAndBalanced.com — This blog has a module at the bottom of their page where they list “Partners” — these are paid links to sites like PromoCodeWatch which actively buy links against Google’s guidelines. This site does not attach the required nofollow tag to these links. Report this site to Google for selling links.
QueenofSavings.com — This blog is displaying a banner ad to PromoCodeWatch, a site that actively purchases dofollow links, and in this case it is also dofollow. Report this site to Google for selling links.
What do you think?
Do you think sponsoring non-profits is a safe approach, and if so, should you limit how much you do it? Or do you think this is just the latest spam technique that Google will soon clamp down on? You can take a look at some of the sites that are benefiting from this strategy and decide for yourself whether this is a viable strategy or not.
An update on 12/29/16
After many conversations on this topic and speaking with a few experts, I’ve come to the conclusion that these donation links will soon be devalued and even penalized by Google. Therefore, I’m going to use this list to highlight sites that you should report to Google via webmaster tools in an effort to clean up spam in search results. If you’re a webmaster, please take this chance to report the sites on this list to Google. You’ll be helping to keep search engines free of spammy and even harmful sites.
If you know of any additional sites that are either selling links deceptively, or are offering dofollow links in exchange for donations, please email me and I’ll review and include on this list if appropriate.
If you’re a webmaster or site owner and your site is on this list, you can request me to remove you from this list by first removing all paid links from your site, then emailing me. I’ll review your site and remove you from this list if no further deceptive, paid links are found.
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