Can we trust internet forums?

by Tim Hill (aka Doodled)

April 16th 2011
Users building links can bring down a forum or seriously mislead visitors
Users building links can bring down a forum or seriously mislead visitors

Many internet forum discussions are full of very questionable advice - I'll explain why and how you can spot a genuine comment

What's going on?

In short people want to create links from forums to their own websites because they hope this will make their websites rank higher for certain words in search engines like Google.

Very often they are so obsessed with this that they don't care, or think, about what they write.

In certain forums (especially health related ones) the impact on unsuspecting users can be profound. On others they are just unhelpful to those seeking genuine advice from others.

The link builder issue

The problem is that forums actively invite this kind of link building behaviour in a round about way. Here's how:

  • In most forums you are not allowed to create links straight away, you have to be a member for a certain number of days and/or post a certain number of comments.
  • Once you are a full member you can place links related to the subject in your comment
  • Once you are a full member you can post any links you like in the signature area

Here are those bits of jargon shown graphically: a sample forum entry

How to spot a genuine comment

We'll start with the above image as an example. Here we can tell the comment may not be genuine because the links in the signature are not related to the topic (which is about SEO).

What we do know is this person is link building and trying to get viva-holidays.co.uk ranked higher for the words "Multi Destination Holidays" and "Multi Centre Holidays" so we should treat the comment with caution.

Here are the rules for spotting who is genuinely taking part in a forum and who is just link building.

  • If there are no signature links and the person has made less than 30 posts and the date they joined was within the last 30 days then this is a new person who is not allowed a signature. We cannot draw any conclusions as he may be posting in order to achieve the number of comments required so he can have a signature.
  • If there are no signature links and the person has made more than 30 posts and the date they joined was over 30 days ago this person is probably a genuine member of the forum offering well meant advice.
  • If there are signature links and the links are related to the discussion then this person is probably a genuine member of the forum offering well meant advice.
  • If there are signature links and the links are not related to the discussion then this person is probably a link builder and their advice should be treated with suspicion.

Summary

Treat forum members who make short comments and/or have unrelated links in their signatures with extreme caution.

They may well be link builders who know little about the subject under discussion.