In an audit of more than 1,000 companies from around the world, BrightEdge said it found numerous examples of illegitimate backlinks or “link farming”.
This method of SEO optimisation is considered cheating by Google and has cost companies like JCPennies dearly in search rankings.
“Illegitimate backlinks pose serious risks to the finances and reputations of thousands of companies,” said BrightEdge chief executive Jim Yu.
“If search engines detect these unscrupulous activities, thousands of companies risk losing their high search rankings for terms that drive critical revenue.”
“Company executives need to take a hard, fast look at their SEO practices or run the risk of learning the hard way.”
BrightEdge said many companies may not know they are even using illegitimate backlinks. This is because SEO is often handled by outside companies that are judged on results rather than best practice.
Companies that are caught using “black hat” SEO tactics have been hit hard in the past. Google has punished them by burying their search results and in extreme situations some search engines may choose to remove offending sites completely.
That could have a devastating effect on web traffic and business in general. According to BrightEdge, the damage that backlinks can have on a company is still largely unrecognised among senior management.
It said only about 20% of officials requesting results from its audit reported they were vice-president level or above.