If you are like most webmasters and SEOs today, you are very careful about link building, and especially blog commenting. And with good reason.
Google has gone on record speaking out against link schemes as a whole. The passage below from Google's Link Schemes Page summarizes their overall stance on the matter:
Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site's ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.
This definition of a link scheme makes one thing very clear - any link building intended to manipulate ranking comes with a risk that they'll consider it a violation of their overall guidelines. As we all know, violating the guidelines can cause very bad problems associated with the various Google Penguin updates and manual penalties we've seen over the past two years.
At the same time, Google has gone on record stating that link building is not necessarily against the rules.
What's an SEO to do? The logical conclusion is to play it safe and avoid any link building that may come with a penalty. Blog commenting falls squarely in the ring of uncertainty.
Matt Cutts: Blog Commenting Is Fine for Link Building...
In this week's video released by Matt Cutts himself, he covers this very topic. The overall purpose of the video is to dispel the rumors that blog commenting as a practice will be harmful to your organic ranking.
He even goes so far as to mention his own behavior commenting online. The implication is that if it's okay for Cutts, it should be okay for most of us. I'm glad to hear this, because I never stopped commenting and don't plan to do so at any time in the near future. If social is important to your success, so is blog commenting.
...But Use Your Real Name...
As we all know by now, Penguin penalized overoptimized anchor text. This rule extends beyond on-page links to comments as well.
Use your own name, lest you be labeled a spammer. Not only is this an indicator to the search engines that you might be manipulating the system, but it will also potentially get you blocked by Akismet (and similar tools) and shunned by the community on the site where you aim to comment.
Imagine your own blog, where "Tommy Landry" comments something insightful. That will make it through all of the checks. What about if I changed my name to "Leading SEO Link Building Firm" or "Austin SEO"? You get the picture.
...and Comment on the Blogs Yourself
Matt also covers the idea of what is and isn't manipulation with blog commenting. Essentially, feel free to comment as often as you like, but do it yourself. He makes it clear that they will not tolerate scalable or automated commenting schemes, as those violate the link scheme rules without question.
Bottom line - blog commenting is a great way to build links, engage with an audience on a site you like, and enhance your own visibility. Just do it the right way, and you should have no concerns of a penalty.
Cutts Video: Are All Comments with Links Spam?
Here is the original video. Let me know what you think of it in the comments below.