Marketers are safe if they're leaving organic comments in their own names and linking to useful information, but responding to web content on behalf of a brand can seem spammy.

It seems Google is still drawing a line in the sand to divide white- and black-hat SEO practices. In the latest Webmaster Help Channel video, Search Engineer Matt Cutts tackles the tactic of including links back to brand content in the comments section. The final verdict: If done in a way that’s organic, relevant and helpful, there is nothing wrong with linking to an external article. But, if links are planted in a purely self-referential way that doesn’t improve the online conversation, it could be targeted by Google’s Webspam team.

“At a very high level, we reserve the right to take action against on any sort of deceptive or manipulative link schemes that we perceive to be distorting our rankings,” Cutts said.

That being established, he explained he frequently posts in comments sections and leaves links pointing to helpful information.

“If someone posts an SEO conspiracy theory … I’ll show up and I’ll leave a comment that … shows that’s not correct or [provides] the official word or something like that. And I’ll just leave a comment with my name and I’ll even often point to my blog,” said Cutts.

This is an important point of distinction to make. For instance, Cutts doesn’t respond as “Google Webmaster Help” because he is representing himself in those comments, and not the brand at large. Marketers risk crossing the line into link schemes or spam if they are logged in under their brands’ handles and link back to their companies’ digital content.

“It’s better often to leave your name, so someone knows who they’re dealing with, rather than ‘cheapstudytutorials ‘ or ‘fakedriverslicense’ or whatever the name of your business is,” he added.

“We reserve the right to take action against on any sort of deceptive or manipulative link schemes that we perceive to be distorting our rankings.” – Matt Cutts

The details may be different, but the overarching message is the same. Marketers shouldn’t be trying to optimize against Google’s Quality Guidelines by finding loopholes in its ranking system. In the long-run, brands are better served by spending time creating high-quality content that website visitors will take the time to read, offer replies and share with their own online audiences.

Want more information about what’s considered spammy or safe when it comes to links? Check out Brafton’s Penguin resource and accompanying link guide, which reveals trademarks of punishable citations.

Lauren Kaye is a Marketing Editor at Brafton Inc. She studied creative and technical writing at Virginia Tech before pursuing the digital frontier and finding content marketing was the best place to put her passions to work. Lauren also writes creative short fiction, hikes in New England and appreciates a good book recommendation.