Link Building 101 – The Almost Complete Link Guide
LINK BUILDING INDIA
Quite a few things have changed in my approach to link building since my first link building guide back in 2010. For starters, there was a mass of link based algorithm updates, there was Penguin, and to top this all off I’ve changed jobs as well (you can find me amongst the masses here these days). One thing that hasn’t changed is my view that 80% of positive (and negative) SEO ranking factors still come from external sources – I’m not just talking about links here, but social and citations, also.
Once again, most of the information I’m giving away here will most likely be available from a large number of other sources including SEOmoz, so I will try to attribute these where I can.
Creating your Link Building Strategy
Creating a solid strategy should be the starting point for any link building campaign, not having one in the current climate would be like running into a minefield wearing a blindfold – It limits your success of survival! Before you set out on any strategy you need to ask yourself questions like the following:
- What does the current profile look like? (if existing website)
- Do I need to remove links before I start?
- Do I need to gain authority or noise?
- Do I actually need more links or would I benefit from other factors?
- How will I generate the links?
- Should I run creative projects such as Infographics?
- Should I do blogger outreach / guest posts?
- Should I suggest webmasters replace broken links with my client?
- How will I reach out to webmasters?
- Social networks?
- Networking events?
- What type of anchor text should I work with?
- Is there enough covering fire from brand and phrase anchor text?
- What would Google’s web spam team look for during manual reviews?
- What type of anchor text would look most natural for the sites you want to target?
- Is there enough supporting pages for the landing page or should more be created?
Every website is different so no two people will have the same answers to these types of questions but hopefully it will give you a good starting point – just remember to document and track everything.
Since my last post a few changes have been made to how Google views link placement, back in 2010 I hinted that footer links still had some sort of value, since Panda and Penguin link placement in the footers and even sidebars could cause more damage than good and could leave you with either Keywords being filtered or even penalised in the SERPs.
These days the safest form of link building is gaining links from within content, even better if you can get these within the first paragraph – but remember to keep it looking natural.
Nofollow and Dofollow Links
Two years ago I was going on about how every website should have a good mix of Nofollow links and while this is still true I have been asked countless times what ratios I use when working on a link campaign.
The truth is there is no hard figure I can give you, although what you can do is research the average nofollow vs. dofollow ratios for the top ranking websites in your niche, just ignore spam websites while doing this as these will inflate the end number.
I still believe that Google have their own authority and trust metrics which attribute to Google’s internal PageRank algorithm (not talking about TBPR here but true PageRank) or if not this then some subroutine which feeds back into the ranking algorithm. With this in mind it is very important that you gain Brand links to not only your homepage but to landing pages across your entire website.
Keyword-Focused Anchor Text
Over the years every SEO has built his/her fair share of anchor text rich links, sadly this isn’t a feasible strategy since Google introduced automated keyword filters and even more so since Penguin came along. Anchor text profiles are something which is even reviewed manually by the spam team – this was confirmed by Andre Weyher, an ex-member of the Search Quality team at Google.
If you haven’t read the interview with Andre then do so now you can find it here.
Landing Page Distribution
At the strategy creation stage ensure you set clear volume levels for each landing page being targeted to ensure that a particular section of the website does not become over-weighted as this could be a hard issue to fix.
If you’re worried about volume of links going into pages the best option is to create additional supporting pages for each area and use these to spread out the load.
Content Quality and Relevancy
With Google’s unnatural link detection getting better and better and Panda penalising low quality content, I can’t stress how important it is to not only put effort into content generation but checking the quality of existing content on a website before even thinking about publishing an article. The last thing you want is to find the website you have just spent an hour or so writing a post for has been penalised and that post has no value to either users or search engines.
Try to keep the end user in mind when writing content. You not only want links to increase rankings, but to send traffic as well to provide a subtle call to action either within the anchor text or before the link without being too sales-focused. Also, keep the content not only on topic for your client’s site but on topic to the website your publishing to.
In the current climate there should be less focus on sourcing links and more on generating them. This is a topic which Rand has been going on about for a long time now (he has been ahead of the curve) but at the same time it takes time to get to the stage where you are generating enough links to make a difference to your client’s campaign. In the short term clients still want results so there will still be a need for sourcing links the old-school way.
Getting to grips with finding relevant websites and webmaster outreach can take a bit of work; here are some of the tools I use for the job:
- Open Site Explorer (Free / SEOmoz Pro Members)
- Majestic SEO (Paid from £29.99 ex VAT)
- Advanced Search Operators in Google (Free)
- NP Checker – (Free Software Download)
- Mozilla Thunderbird (Free)
Competitor Backlink Mining
When initially starting out with sourcing links it is worth reviewing what links your competitors have. While this will not help you overtake them, it will help you close the gap or add that extra dimension to your link profile. Just be wary when doing this not to go after their lower quality links but stick to the highest quality to ensure you don’t get yourself in hot water with the Google gods.
Advanced Search Operators
The best way to get ahead of your competitors in terms of manual link building is still to come up with creative link advanced search operator queries and scour the depths of the web. When coming up with these queries I do research on my topic using websites like Wikipedia to gain knowledge on related topics.
After two years my recommended query is still the same and has helped me gain some valuable links that I wouldn’t have found otherwise:
[search term] -site:Wikipedia.org -site:blogspot.com -site:telegraph.co.uk -site:wordpress.com -site:about.com -site:guardian.co.uk -“directory” -“add link” -“advertising”
This string does not work for every single niche and you may have to experiment with filtering out additional domains from your search (those that show up often).
This form of link building sadly is no longer as effective as it once was, so I don’t recommend you spend too much time on this. But, it is still worth investing some time into submitting websites into well-known/authority directories like BOTW and established, smaller niche directories as these can add a small boost to any link campaign.
Blog and Forum Commenting
All I can say here is don’t do it, no matter how hard you try it will still end up looking like spam, instead use this a way of engaging with the community to gain other link opportunities.
Creative Link Building
Looking into the future, the only viable way to safely get more links pointing to your website will be via content marketing. I myself have been a slow adopter of this way of thinking and missed the whole infographic and widgets craze that have been called out by Google as being ‘unnatural’.
As off-site SEO moves ever closer to being like offline marketing we need to be thinking as marketers and do the following to generate links:
- Create ‘good news’ stories
- Create external resources
- Create interactive properties (like Conflict of Pintrest)
- Create content that reaches out to your target demographic
- Sit down face to face with bloggers and find out what they really want
But above all you need to ensure all projects are in line with the client’s Brand or they might go somewhere else.
Guest Blogging Communities
Guest blogging communities are full of bloggers looking for free content; these can be used not just for link building campaigns but for promoting more creative projects as well. When using these types of services just ensure you keep a firm eye on the quality of the blogs being offered as although there are quite a few gems, spam websites heavily outweigh these.
Some of the services I have used previously include:
- Blogdash (Free to Join & Browse, Pay to Contact)
- Bloggerlinkup (Free)
- Guestr (Free)
- MyBlogGuest (Free)
With all this talk of penguins and negative SEO over the last year, chances are that a majority of SEOs have had to undertake backlink health checks to see if their clients are at risk. The unlucky ones within the industry may have had to actually remove links. Link removal itself is not a hard task but it does take quite a bit of time, in particular finding contact details.
If you want to save yourself a bit of time I would recommend using Link Research Tools as it does a pretty good job of analysing your profile and even provides some email address data but if you require more detailed analysis you will require the following:
- Majestic SEO
- NP Checker
- Mozilla Thunderbird
- MS Excel skills
- Loads of time
If you are going to do manual analysis an your profile I am currently working on an Excel document to do most of the work for me – I will be tweeting a link to it when it’s finished so follow me on twitter if you’re interested.
Initial Outreach remains one of the hardest tasks within the link building process. Why? Because you generally only get one chance to get it right. Of course you could just re-email everyone who didn’t reply but this tactic could soon see you in hot water unless you use multiple fronts.
To get higher response rates with outreach you need to ensure you are doing the following:
- Interact with them i.e. asking about their day/week
- Keep your request brief
- Use a female persona
- Email on a Friday
Don’t forget that you can also do personalised bulk emails to save you time.
If you’re looking for quality over quantity then sending out email templates isn’t going to cut it, you need to get yourself noticed in other ways to get the links that really matter. One of the easiest ways to get yourself on the radar of a high profile publisher / webmaster is to interact with them over Twitter.
Follow them for a while and look at the types of mentions they reply to before making your move. It may take a few tries to get this spot on but once you get the hang of it you should be able to strike up conversations at will and then potentially move the subject on what you can do to help them and vice versa.
Something else you can use Twitter conversations for is to arrange to meet your target for drinks at a conference, usually if you manage to bag one high profile publisher within a niche other publishers will come and join in the conversation free of will – a great way to get yourself known and build lasting relationships.
Since link building has become a more dangerous task you should be tracking each link built along with metrics, anchor text and the landing page the link points to. This data can be used to track progress, check metrics over time (checking back looking for sites gaining penalties) or looking out for overweighting specific parts of your client’s website.
At the end of the day the more data we track the better chance we have of spotting potential issues and getting them fixed quickly, most likely saving your client from future ranking issues. You can find a basic example of one I use currently over here.
What Does the Future Hold?
Looking at the direction Google has been taken over the last year, it has become very clear that they have started cracking down on a large number of unnatural linking activities — but as I mentioned that does not mean we need to step away from traditional link building.
At the end of the day if you use traditional techniques to find your targets then get out of the office and build relationships with your niche, you have a better chance of getting not only links that will impact your search rankings but start to build a connection between the publishers and the brand — which in turn will look natural to both algorithms and the human eye, especially if you use news stories and trends as a basis for your external content
It’s amazing to realize that another year has passed since the 2011 edition of 79 Link Building Resources where we listed various blogs, their top link building posts, and some great link building tools to add to your toolkit. Those blogs, to this day, are still great resources to visit when looking for posts on link building.
Since that post was published, a lot of things have changed in the link building world. In the 2012 edition of link building resources, we will cover the big changes that have happened in the link building world as well as what works (and doesn’t) when it comes to link building strategy.
Major Happenings in the Link Building World
First off, here’s a rundown of what has happened in the last year or so that has had a major impact on the world of link building.
- Google Algorithm Change History – This timeline is a great way to keep up with the latest algorithm changes Google releases.
- Another Step to Reward High Quality Sites – Google’s official announcement for the Penguin update.
- The Google Penguin Update: Over-Optimization, Webspam, & High Quality Empty Content Pages – SEOBook’s coverage of the first Google Penguin update.
- Google Penguin for non-SEOs – If you are not a SEO and want to grasp what happened with Google Penguin, here is your guide.
Thought Pieces on Post-Penguin Link Building
These posts are a little less how-to and have more insightful content on the post-Penguin link building era.
- Rethinking Enterprise Link Building in a Post-Penguin Era – Bigger brands are more likely to be under a microscope, not only from the search engines but also from competition. For enterprises, it’s even more important to remember how crucial it is to build links naturally.
- Links Are The Web’s Building Blocks, And Fear Of Google Has Them Crumbling – Google has been sending out a whole lot of messages to webmasters about problematic links. People are in a frenzy trying to get rid of links that may or may not be hurting their search engine rankings, and this is a frenzy created by Google. It may not be exactly what Google intended, but it’s happening.
- The New Link Ecology In A Post Penguin World – In a post Penguin world, Google is making it more difficult to achieve long-term success using link ecology tactics.
- Link Building Means Earning Hard Links Not Easy Links – The core message is the same. You don’t want links. You want good links. And sadly, Danny Sullivan thinks many people have completely lost track of what a good link is.
Link Building Recovery After Penguin & Unnatural Link Warnings
Speaking of Google’s Penguin algorithm change, here are some things to do if you were hit by this update or an unnatural link warning in Webmaster Tools.
- Bad Link Building Recovery After Google Penguin – For those who were hit by Google’s Penguin update, the situation is dire. The big question is: Can you recover? Yes. But it won’t be easy. Here are some things you should plan on doing as you begin cleaning up a bad link profile.
- Why So Many Suffered from Google Penguin Update + How to Recover – A big reason why many blogs, businesses and websites have suffered from Google’s Penguin and Panda updates this year is due to inexperienced, Black Hat, or just plain bad SEOs. If you’ve paid for these inexperienced, Black Hat or bad SEOs, or are one yourself, you were waiting to be penalized. And now you may have a big mess to tidy up.
- Strategic Link Building Strategy in the Penguin Age – In this webcast two link building experts – Jon Ball of Page One Power and Erin Everhart of 352 Media – explain how they made key adjustments in their link building strategies to successfully recover and move forward with the Google updates. Click Watch Now and then register to see the previously recorded presentation.
- Unnatural Links: What They Are & What to Do About Them – Did you receive a warning that your site has unnatural links? Learn what unnatural links are and what to do in case you are affected by the Penguin update.
- How Pandas & Penguins Change Your Link Building Strategy – Their post-Panda lowest days (weekends) equal our pre-Panda peak days (Tuesdays – Thursdays). And Erin Everhart wants to tell you how they did it, all by just adjusting their link building strategy.
- How To Create an Excel Spreadsheet to Remove Link Spam Post Penguin – A comprehensive excel spreadsheet template that could be easily duplicated and handed off to an outsourcer for webmaster outreach in order to get the links removed.
- Strategies for Diagnosing Penguin and Recovering – Distilled discusses what Penguin is, how to diagnose a Penguin traffic drop, how to check the toolbar PageRank (TBPR) or Page Authority (PA) of links, how to check indexation of links quickly, and then gives some overview strategies about how to approach different Penguin scenarios.
- 4 Ways to Protect Your Website from Future Penguin Updates – In order to make sure your website isn’t hurt by future Penguin updates, here are four things you should do with your SEO starting now.
- Google Penguin Crashes Wedding Site’s Shady Link Building Strategy – For those who have been negatively impacted, what follows are details about one site that has been hit by the Google Penguin update. This site was guilty of doing some shady link building and had no idea what link building strategies were used due to outsourcing. You’ll also see what they are doing to recover.
- Google Penguin Update Recovery Tips & Advice – Struggling to know what to do in the wake of Google’s Penguin Update? Judging from all the comments and forum discussions Search Engine Land saw, plenty are. They’ve got a little initial advice from Google on the topic, mixed with their own.
- How to Clean Your Site after the Google Penguin Update – This post outlines the reasons why you might have been affected by the Penguin update and the next steps you should take if you were.
Post-Penguin Link Building Strategies
Next, let’s look at some posts with a wide variety of link building strategies, all written by experts post-Penguin.
- 8 Link Building Tips – For today’s Whiteboard Friday, Paddy Moogan covers eight tips to help you build more links in eight minutes. Read all 35 link building tips from Paddy at Mozcon here.
- Link-building Tips and Tools for Bloggers in a Post-Panda and Penguin World– While the title says for bloggers, these tips and tools can be used by anyone endeavoring in link building.
- 17 Experts Weigh in on How to Do Quality Link Building in Volume – 17 SEO experts have contributed their thoughts and experience on how to do quality link building in volume. Scaling link building is tough, read this post to find out how to do it.
- 131 (Legitimate) Link Building Strategies – A list and discussion of 131 (legitimate) link building tactics, some of which work today just as they did 10 years ago.
- Penguin Analysis: SEO Isn’t Dead, But You Need to Act Smarter (And 5 Ways to Do So) – Microsite Masters provides solutions on how to survive and thrive in SEO after the Google Penguin Update.
- Greg Boser at SEOpen House: Your Post-Penguin Questions Answered – BlueGlass put together 5 videos highlighting Greg Boser’s talk at our SEOpen House. See Greg speak about Penguin, link building, sustainable SEO business models, anchor text diversity, and more!
- The 6 Month Link Building Plan for an Established Website – This is not a six-month SEO plan, so it doesn’t cover site audits or keyword research, for example (although you should read this post if you are planning to conduct an SEO audit). James Agate focuses on the acquisition and optimization of links and content for links.
- The Four Keys To Post-Penguin Directory Submission Happiness – When it comes to directory submissions that are generally safe, a focus on quality, diversity, timing and relevance must play a central part in selecting which directories to submit to.
- The Definitive Guide to Qualifying a Link Prospect [with Video] – Link builders should look for cues that make a website a good potential partner. They should look at metrics like a SEO, but also at less tangible cues like engagement and trustworthiness.
- The Noob Guide to Link Building – Everything about link building including a six month link building plan.
- What Types of Links Should We Be Getting – Penguin has changed everything. Oh wait, no it hasn’t. All it did was penalize those who were doing what they knew was wrong, but the only difference is that Google actually followed through with some of their threats on bad links. So what SHOULD we be doing? We know what links we SHOULDN’T be pursuing, so it’s finally time to break down the links that you can get.
- Anti-Penguin Link Building Plan – The best way to protect your site from this uncharted territory is through your existing link profile. Especially if you already have obtained great and high value links pointing to your domain. Adding more of these types of links to your site make it more solid in the eyes of Google (given that they add to your site’s percentage of good vs. bad links based on their historic index).
- 12 Timeless Link Building Tips for Business Blogs – Here are a few timeless tips for building natural links that will attract (and engage) customers to your business blog.
- Link Building Strategies – The Complete List – This may have been done before Penguin struck, but it is still an awesome resource including tons of different ideas for links through content, customer service, design, development, and more.
Links to Avoid
Just as important as the links you should be building, here are some posts on links you shouldn’t be building.
- 17 Types of Link Spam to Avoid – Going forward, the wise SEO would want to take note of the types of link spam to make sure that what they’re doing doesn’t look like a type of link spam. Google’s response to, and attitude toward, each type of link spam varies, but every link building method becomes more and more risky as you begin moving toward the danger zone.
- 10 Types Of Unnatural Link Building Tactics and 10 Quality Alternatives – How can you compete when the competitors are building links that are low quality, paid, or otherwise spammy? Here’s a look at 10 types of link building strategies that are spammy, low quality, or unnatural, plus 10 quality alternatives.
- 7 Link Building Mistakes You Ought to Avoid – Some significant changes have been made through Google updates that can affect your link-building strategy, so let’s explore those changes and others to help you maintain, if not increase, your rankings.
Link Building with Content
Since content is becoming increasingly more important, here are some posts on link building with content:
- How to Create Content Partnerships that Build Ethical Links and Authority – This article will give content marketers tips on how to effectively (and safely) link build in today’s post-Penguin SEO landscape by using quality content and forming long-term content relationships.
- How to Survive the Google Penguin Update with Effective Content Writing – The days of cheap and low-cost SEO articles are rapidly going away — thankfully. With its successive updates, Google is trying to push forward content that really deserves its place in the ranking index. In turn, this means pushing down content that doesn’t carry much value: Content that just rambles on will not be ranked well no matter how brilliantly it has been “optimized.”
- Why Link Building Strategies Fail – Learn how to create a content strategy that includes link bait (isn’t all link bait) and figure out where you can leverage the content for link building.
- 10 Ways to Use Images for Link Building – The great thing about using images for marketing is that it’s one of the most efficient ways to build brand recognition and acquire natural mentions/links to a website, seeing that the images can easily stimulate interest in an audience (particularly if they are really compelling and/or visually appealing), and the images are very easy to disseminate.
- The Ethics of Link Building Through Content – A look at the ethical / moral side of link building through content.
- 7 Reasons Content Marketing is Better Than Link Building – Content marketing and link building both have their merits in the realm of search marketing. However, the tale of the tape reveals that content marketing has a distinct advantage over link building for marketers. Here are seven reasons why.
- Content Auditing for Link Builders – Why You Should Do It, Tips, and a Spreadsheet – Find out why link builders should consider a content audit spreadsheet to organize link worthy content details in one place.
- Building Links with Video Content – Learn about the SEO benefits of video, where to place video, video sitemaps, and places to pitch your new video for potential links.
- 10 Ideas for Link Bait and 5 Ways of Getting the Word Out – Link bait ideas and ways to make sure your link bait content gets links.
Link Building Locally
If you have a local business, these link building strategies are made just for you.
- 5 Local Linkbuilding Ideas For The Post-Penguin/Panda Era – Andrew Shotland offers up some tried and true local marketing tips that just so happen to also help generate links, hopefully without infuriating any Google algo-beasts.
- The Complete Guide to Link Building with Local Events – Whether you’re a small local business or an international company, hosting local events is a great way to build your brand, both offline and online.
- Link Building for Local Search – Let’s say that the worst case scenario happens and you lose your search visibility in Google. Wouldn’t it be great if that didn’t completely cripple your business because you had such great local visibility? That’s just one reason why local links are becoming more critical than ever.
- 5 Practical Link Building Strategies for Local Businesses – A list of link building angles for local and regional businesses looking to expand their presence online.
- Ethical Wikipedia Link Building – Inbound Marketers, SEO’s (whatever you want to call us) are looking to drive relevant traffic, and Wikipedia can be a great source (no-follow or not) of that but also link value.
Link Building with PR & Social Media
Think PR and social media have nothing to do with link building? Think again.
- SEO Mindshift: Link Building As Online PR & Social Promotion – Isn’t Google Penguin putting the hammer down on many SEO focused link building schemes? Do links even matter anymore, now that social shares are being debated as the new electricity of the web? To help answer those questions, Lee Odden shares some insights to provide some context for an effective approach that is risk free, relevant, and high impact for building links and attention to a new website or social destination.
- How to Construct and Use Personas for Link Building and Social Media – How to use created personas in doing actual link acquisition and social media marketing practices, by using them as ambassadors that will help scale the process of marketing a brand over the web.
- Using Social Media To Build Links & Impact Your SEO – In this post, SEO.com will discuss using social media to impact your SEO efforts and how the two can work together to grow your business.
- Better Than Link Building: Authority Building with HARO – Rather than link building, Matt McGee has been doing authority building with HARO and sees great results from it, including increased search traffic.
Link Building with Conversions in Mind
If your ultimate goal is website conversions, then keep that in mind when link building.
- E-Comm Websites: Step Up your Q4 Content Game – Learn how to create content that leads to conversions and links.
- How to Develop Conversion-Oriented Link Building Strategies using Google Analytics – Instead of pushing your way to obtain higher search rankings through link building, why not use your link building efforts to hit two birds with one stone – to improve both rankings and conversions – by building two strong channels where you can generate conversions (via search and referrals).
The Top Link Building Tools
Nothing makes link building more productive and effective than the right tools. Here are posts reviewing some favorite link building tools of 2012:
- 15 Helpful Link Building Tools – A list of some helpful link building tools you can use day in and day out for guest posting, BLB, and group interviews.
- 6 Link Building Tools to Boost Your Traffic – Matt Beswick tested six of the most popular link-building tools over the last few months to figure out the pros and cons of each. Here’s what you need to know.
- 8 Link Building Tools I Couldn’t Live Without – Included in this list are tools that Jon Quinton uses for a variety of things such as valuing a link prospect, right through to identifying poor quality links that he might want to consider removing.
- 6+ Best Link Building Tools That Help Your Organize and Track the Mess – Link building is one of the most exhausting, frustrating processes associated with online business. Whether you run a shop or a blog, you are constantly trying to use SEO tactics to promote. Which means cultivating positive relationships that will lead to viable backlinks. These tools can help you keep track of it all.
- Link Building Tools We Use at Distilled – Distilled gathered up a list of all the link building tools and resources they turn to daily across the company for data, analysis, research, customer relationship management, content promotion, and inspiration.
The Best Blogs Discussing Link Building
Want to keep up with link building news? Here are the top SEO blog’s link building categories.
- Link Building on Search Engine Land
- Link Building on Search Engine Watch
- Link Building on SEOmoz
- Link Building on Search Engine Roundtable
- Link Building on Search Engine Journal
- Link Building on KaisertheSage
- Link Building on WordTracker
- Link Building on Ontolo
- Link Building on BlueGlass
- Link Building on SEOgadget
- Link Building on Distilled
- Link Building on Point Blank SEO
- Link Building on Pole Position Marketing
- Link Building on Vertical Measures
Want to follow link buildling on Twitter? Don’t miss the 30 Link Building Experts You Need to Follow list.
Q&A on Link Building
Have questions about link building, or want to demonstrate your link building expertise? Here are some places where you will find lots of people asking about link building.
- Search Marketing on LinkedIn Answers (search for link building)
- Link Building Group on LinkedIn
- Link Building on Quora
- Link Building on Focus
There you have it! 79 great link building resources to chew on. Did I miss any of your favorite posts or link building blogs? If so, please share them in the comments, and happy linking!
The most common analogy of a link is to liken it to a vote. If page A links to page B then page A is suggesting page B is a good page, page A likes page B. The only slight complication is the nofollow tag. In a nutshell the nofollow tag allows links to be added to a page that create a click-able link to another page without the link passing a vote. These are used for text link adverts for example where they will send traffic to another page without passing a vote.
I’m not going to go into any more detail on the nofollow tag here but I’d strongly advise reading the WikiPedia page for an in depth explanation. In short if you want to link from a page on your site to a page on another site without inferring any kind of endorsement use the nofollow tag.
Why Links Are Important
Having established links are like votes it’s not too hard to understand why links are important. Just like a politician wins an election by securing more votes than other candidates, web pages secure the first position in a search result by securing more votes than other pages. However, unlike a political election where all votes are equal, where search engines are concerned this isn’t the case, and this is where most of the confusion arises.
Why Links Are Not All Equal
In order to explain this further I’m going to stick with the voting analogy and expand on it. When thinking about links as votes it’s useful to consider the term block vote or block voting. Most commonly associated with unions a block vote infers upon one person the voting rights of all members of an organisation. Let’s say there are 4 people in a room each representing one group of people.
- Mr Smith represents a group of 1000 people
- Mr Jones represents a group of 1500 people
- Ms Samson represents a group of 2000 people
- Mrs Collins represents a group of 5000 people
A proposal is put before the group and Mr Smith, Mr Jones and Ms Samson all vote in favour with Mrs Collins voting against. On the face of it that’s 3 in favour 1 against and the proposal would be carried. However, Mrs Collins represents a group of 5000 people, 500 more than the number represented by Mr Smith, Mr Jones and Ms Samson so in fact, the motion isn’t carried, it’s defeated by 5000 votes to 4500.
This is pretty much the same as the way links work. Simply put links carry different voting rights and it’s perfectly possible for a page with only 3 or 4 links to rank higher than a page with several hundred or even several thousand links. It’s this aspect of link building that’s so badly misunderstood and the reason there’s a whole industry offering to build links on the basis of X number of links for Y number of dollars.
How To Secure the Right Kind of Links
There are some people who will argue any link is worth having, they may be right. However, given that we now understand links don’t all carry the same weight it should be clear that securing links that carry a lot of weight will have a much bigger impact on your web pages than links carrying little or no weight. So how can you secure links that carry weight? Simple, create something worth linking to! The problem is this isn’t simple, it’s hard. It requires thought, planning, research, creativity and hard work and because of this most people revert to link spam.
The vast majority of link building companies operate by creating link spam. In simple terms they create links from places such as forums, link farms, directories, blogs, hubs, social bookmarks and an ever increasing number of other ways. There are also hundreds of article directories who, unlike EzineArticles accept low quality auto spun articles in exchange for a link. If you believe all that matters is link quantity you really are spoiled for choice and there are thousands of companies who will build you a set number of links for a set fee.
In order to allow you to make an informed decision let’s look at some of the more common link building techniques and discuss why they may not be worth the effort.
- Forums – The most common link building techniques using forums are to create a profile page and a signature link. Signature links allow links to be created at the bottom of posts or comments you leave in a forum. Signature links are at best very low quality and although they may send you some traffic are unlikely to have any long lasting impact on the pages you link to. This is because these links are not merit based, as is the case with all link spam methods, and it’s accepted the search engines are getting better at ignoring these links and assigning them no value.
- Link farms – These are employed by many link building companies. A link farm can often have a vast number of websites and web pages within it, all under the control of the link building company. By building a link farm link building companies are able to offer a set number of links for a set fee as they have plenty of web real estate on which to build the links. The problem with link farms is they can be discovered by the search engines and when they are, the links within them will cease to have any positive impact on the sites they link to. There are a number of variations on this theme including a technique where link building companies buy pages within legitimate websites in an attempt to appear credible.
- Directories – These are useful and can create links carrying some value in the sense of attracting traffic to your website. But, in another sense, they are a form of spam; and, as with other spam techniques, links from directories are generally not merit based and as such rarely carry any weight in terms of helping to increase your ranking. There are, however, some notable exceptions such as the DMOZ directory and Yahoo.
- Hubs – These are pages created on services such as Squidoo. In theory Squidoo hub pages or lenses as they are called by this particular service are a great idea and allow people to create pages about something they care about. Sadly the spammers have also realised it’s an easy way to create pages for link building so it’s a fair assumption using hubs such as this won’t have any lasting or hugely positive impact on your website.
- Blogs – Often referred to as SPLOGS (spam blogs) blogs are a favourite haunt of link spammers. They seek out blogs in the hope of leaving a comment and associated link to their client’s website. Again these are not merit based unless the blog is actively managed by its owner and popular blog software such as WordPress automatically nofollow links in comments anyway. This makes the links of little value other than the small amount of web traffic they can generate unless your comment is accepted on a high traffic popular blog.
- Social bookmarks – In their early days social bookmarking sites may have been a source of valuable links but the link spammers have put an end to that. Most of the credible bookmarking sites (Digg, Sphinn etc) recognised their platforms were being abused by link spammers and as a result they nofollow links to deter them.
We could go on looking at the methods and platforms used by link spammers but by now you should be building a general picture. Link spammers generally create links that are not merit based and as such the links you buy from them may work for a while but ultimately will stop working. It may take weeks for them to stop working (days in extreme cases), it may take months and occasionally it will take years but eventually they will stop working as the search engines become better at filtering out the spammy links from the merit based ones.
It may be worth employing a link building company who use the techniques outlined above but if you do you must be aware that you are potentially building your house on sand, which is seldom a good plan.
There are many ways of buying links. Again you can employ a link building company but you can also buy links directly from website owners. If you buy a link and the link is not nofollowed you are in direct contravention of Google’s guidelines. In short if Google discover your purchased links your site may be removed from their directory. In general they will simply remove any value from the links you have bought rather than directly penalise you, however the effect can be the same.
So who buys links? Sadly many companies buy links and as with link building in general there’s a whole industry offering links for sale on some impressive websites including many high profile mainstream household names! That said buying links can be very expensive with some organisations charging many thousands of pounds a year for a single link. To further compound this most link sellers require an ongoing payment in perpetuity to maintain the links you purchase. If you go down this route you need deep pockets and you will be running the gauntlet of the search engine spam teams.
How to Identify A Good Link Target
The term link target simply means a web page you would like a link from. Setting aside link spammers, who see all links as equal, identifying a good link target is very simple. A good link target is a web page whose readers might be interested in the content of a page on your site. That’s it.
Expanding on this you could argue a good link target is a web page with authority whose readers might be interested in the content of a page on your site, however this simply introduces a whole raft of complications that will see you mired in confusion. There are so many ways of establishing a site’s authority, including Google’s PageRank technology, SEOMoz’s MosRank technology, TrustRank, Spam Signals and any number of other metrics that you should simply consider a page based purely on the simple rule offered above, would this page’s readers be interested in my page.
If you adopt this philosophy with your link building work, you will build links that will send you valuable traffic whilst at the same time building your page’s authority. It’s a win win technique. Of course the link spammers will argue against this suggesting it’s time consuming and difficult, and they would be right. These same experts will no doubt want to sell you their amazing technique for search engine domination. They will no doubt have discovered the secrets of building long lasting and effective links with minimum effort and only a few hundred dollars. But ask yourself this. If they have indeed found a fool proof way of building valuable links why are they not simply dominating the search results themselves and making a fortune from affiliate marketing?
Do Link Building Systems Ever Work?
Yes. There’s no doubt some people do discover methods for creating effective links fast and cheaply. There’s also no doubt these methods are usually discovered by the search engines and they quickly cease to be effective. By the time you get access to these get rich quick schemes it’s a safe bet the person who discovered it has made their money and are now squeezing a few more dollars out of it by selling the technique to you. As with most things in life there’s no such thing as a free lunch and these schemes are best avoided.
Anatomy of the Perfect Link
If you are still reading this you should by now have a very clear picture of what a link is, why it’s valuable, and why links are a necessary part of your on-line marketing mix. As this article concludes I want to outline the make up of a perfect link. The perfect link should:
- Send valuable traffic to your website
- Tell the search engines your site is an authority
Let’s say there’s a company called Dive Dorset Ltd. They offer diving holidays off the Dorset coast in South West England. Their holidays are unique and have featured on several TV programmes and articles about the company and their unique approach have appeared in several national newspapers. This has resulted in the company’s website securing a number of top quality links, and Google often ranks them highly when people carry out diving related searches.
Your company, Diving Gear Specialists Ltd offer great prices on diving equipment and you are trying to build links to your company website in order to increase its authority and the search traffic it receives. There are many websites selling diving equipment and there’s no reason Dive Dorset Ltd should link to your site in particular. Calling them and asking for a link simply because you sell diving equipment is pointless, they probably get many such requests every week. They are more likely to offer to sell you a banner advert than give you a link and although a targeted banner advert can be very effective it won’t help your search engine cause unless it’s given a link directly to your site and the link isn’t nofollowed. Such a purchased link could ultimately have a negative impact on your site and would clearly be in breach of Google’s guidelines. A more creative approach is needed.
As Dive Dorset Ltd specialise in diving holidays off the Dorset coast you do some research. You establish the average water temperatures throughout the year. You establish the depth of some of the most popular dives, you source the most accurate charts of the coastal waters showing known wrecks and places of interest and you find some of Dive Dorset’s YouTube videos of diving expeditions.
Using all this info you create the definitive guide to diving off the Dorset coast. You establish the best equipment based on the water temperature and dive depths, you showcase some of the best dives and you embed videos telling people about Dive Dorset Ltd and their superb diving holiday packages. Note you haven’t actually linked to Dive Dorset Ltd from your newly created page even though you have mentioned them.
You now approach Dive Dorset Ltd and ask them for a link to your specialist page about diving off the Dorset coast. Reviewing the page they see the value of linking to it and bingo, you’ve secured a great link to your website from a diving authority site. The value of the link to your specialist page is passed to other pages in your website, for example the page selling the dive suit you recommended on your specialist page.
This is a simple example and it did require some work but the end result is a genuine quality link that will help to build your own site’s authority.
There are two clear paths to go down with respect to link building, link spam and merit based. It should be clear link spam will require less effort but won’t build long lasting links where merit based requires more effort but builds links that will stand the test of time. The path you choose will depend on many factors not least of which the resources you have available and your appetite for building a business that will stand the test of time.
The search engines are continuously trying to purge their search results of pages employing link spamming techniques although it’s clear they have a less than 100% success rate. The link building methods you adopt will depend on your view of how effective the search engines will be at detecting link spam in the future. If you believe they have the resources to overcome it you are left with no option but to build merit based links. If you believe as many do, that the search engines are fighting a losing battle then you might throw your hat in the ring with the link spammers.
Hopefully now you’ve read this article whichever route you choose you can make an informed choice. If you take nothing else away from it you should understand that links that require minimum effort will likely bring little benefit in the long term. Link building is a cause of much frustration even for SEO specialists and it’s easy to see why so many spam techniques are employed. The web is awash with poor quality content created for no other reason than to create a link to poor quality websites that can’t attract links based on merit. Indeed many website owners simply can’t see a way of creating anything worth linking to on their sites and resort to link spam out of desperation. This author believes there’s a better way and ultimately taking this road less travelled will create a website that will stand the business it represents well for the future.
Happy link building!
You are offered a position with a great company that pays well, has a fantastic health plan, incredible bonuses and personal time options, and it’s conveniently located close to home so you don’t have to suffer through long commutes in crowded traffic. The only catch is that you have to promote a Website without links. In fact, you are expected to bring in 1,000,000+ visitors a month without using links.
“Links” is defined as “any hypertext link that would normally be used by a search engine to find and rank content within its index for one or more queries.”
Do you take the job?
A Strategy Uses All Necessary Resources
I define link building as the practice of placing links yourself that point to whatever Website you are promoting. Hence, writing “link bait” articles is not link building because all the links that the articles attract are placed by other people. If you’re going to talk about link building strategies for 2013 then you need to leave out all passive linking acquisition ideas, because that is not “link building”.
Furthermore, you need to present strategic advice, not bland space-wasting generalizations. A common flaw among SEO bloggers’ “link strategy” articles is that they usually leave out the strategy. A strategic plan outlines a set of steps you take to accomplish a specific goal. In the example I provide above, the goal is to bring in 1,000,000+ monthly visitors without using links that pass anchor text or PageRank-like value in search indexes like Bing and Google’s.
You’re not likely to get those 1,000,000+ visitors by using Scrapebox or some similar tool to drop links in forum profiles and blog comments. Hence, link spamming software is not necessary or even helping for productive link building.
The first step in developing a productive link building strategy is to identify the kinds of links that you yourself can create in sufficient volume to have a reasonable chance to hit your target. Success is determined by only one metric: the number of visitors you drive toward a Website with your links.
High Visibility Link Building Strategies
You know, there are Websites out there which already receive millions of visitors per month. One option in your strategic arsenal is to buy links from those Websites. Since these links are not allowed to play in the search indexes you are only buying links that use “rel=’nofollow’”. The factors you need to consider for this plan are:
- Location on the page
- Format/style of the link (image? text? widget?)
- Call to action (brand name? consumer-oriented? non-descript URL?)
- Inventory (sitewide link? homepage link? deep content link? multiple pages?)
- Cost (what are you willing/able to pay?)
- Disclosure (not required by US law but other jurisdictions may apply)
You should be able to write up several different strategic plans of this type. You may be able to use advertising brokers, link brokers, or go directly to Website sales associates.
Of course, Google’s crackdown on paid links has all but ensured that many people have gone looking for different jobs. You may find it difficult to obtain good paid links. A few services now exist that sell/broker links on blogs and news sites through widgets the search engines either do not see or do not follow. There is room for growth in this market.
Low Visibility Link Building Strategies
Guest posting is fast becoming another Web spam practice. The best guest posts create value for the blogs that publish them. This is the secret ingredient for creating a successful guest posting strategy (that relies on non-search link traffic). The factors you need to consider for this plan are:
- The frequency/regularity of contribution to each partner site
- The depth and detail of information you share compared to that of the blog owner(s)
- How much your content will help the blog increase its natural traffic
- Being featured in any prominent sitewide or external promotions
Your end-game is to earn as many regular visitors from each site that accepts your content as possible. If you have to bring in 1,000,000+ visitors a month through non-search links you don’t want to fool around with lonely articles placed on low-traffic blogs. You want to help truly useful blogs become so popular that they send your site thousands of visitors a month.
If you cannot build up a reflective channel that sends you 10,000 visitors a month you have a problem. You’re not creating sufficient value.
Guest posting that eschews links-for-search is a powerful reflective marketing practice. But you have to create an audience expectation that you will fulfill on a regular, frequent basis: that they will find a new article from you they want to read.
Social Media Link Building Strategies
We can’t all be Justin Bieber or Ashton Kutcher. We’re not all going to build up hundreds of thousands or millions of friends/followers/fans. You can surely inflate your social media audience by friending/following/circling random strangers or buying fans/followers but inflated social media audiences don’t click on links. You’re not trying to impress anyone, you’re working for clicks from real people.
Factors to consider for this plan are:
- How much you differentiate your social media outreach from everyone else’s (by providing distinctive, positive value)
- How much you support others involved in social media communities (versus simply publishing links for people to click on)
- How active you will be in a positive, supporting function
Your goal with a social media link building strategy is to be the “go-to” person in your niche. You want people to click on your links so they have to believe you will only provide them with helpful links. They’ll forgive the occasional misfire but they won’t forgive a self-promotional shmuck.
Social media link building that has no impact on search is the ultimate reflective marketing channel on the Internet. I say “ultimate” because it’s really hard to build large volumes of regular visitors this way.
Mobile App Link Building
If you can create an app that will so intrigue people they click through to your Website from their mobile devices (without you tricking or coercing them into doing so) you should be able do well with this reflective marketing tactic.
Think of the app as a micro Website. It is a publishing channel on a special branch of the Internet.
If you cannot create the app then create a mobile-friendly Website that is so useful and helpful in the mobile environment that people won’t mind navigating to it through their mobile browsers/RSS readers/etc.
Factors to consider for this plan are:
- Multiple platform appeal/usability (smart phones vs tablets)
- How much you can promote the app/mobile site to the right audience
- Amount of work required to publish/update the app/mobile site (static content probably won’t work in most cases)
- Designing a call to action (the “link”) that fits with the mobile presentation
So, Is SEO Link Building Dead?
No, you can still engage in all sorts of search-influencing link building. The risks involved in this kind of linking have increased, as have the severity of the consequences of being identified as a manipulative linker. The consequences have been severe enough that many marketing agencies no longer want anything to do with “SEO link building”.
Some of the fakery that has recently become popular in this market includes:
- Varying the anchor text on your links
- Distributing infographics
- Harassing journalists who use Help A Reporter Out
- Giving away swag
Links can still influence search results. The search engines don’t want to give up on links; they just want to ignore manipulative links. Yes, Virginia, you can still find ways to engage in manipulative linking but you have to ask yourself how much risk you’re willing to take on — and what consequences you are willing to live with.
Every SEO who helps clients attract links through a “white hat” strategy is essentially selling links because those links would not come into existence without the SEO’s intervention. However, if the links are only placed due to editorial decision-making that doesn’t take search indexes into consideration, then the search engines are more likely to tolerate the linking services.
Marketing agencies don’t have to run away in fear when SEOs come knocking with their link acquisition services. The marketers just need to lay down the law and say, “We’ll accept THESE kinds of links and not THOSE kinds.”
Substituting guest posts and infographics for paid links is just asking for trouble because, frankly, these are manipulative linking practices that have already drawn scrutiny and will continue to draw critical review. If you’re trying to be a “content marketer” with the intention of influencing search results you’re just link spamming by a different name.
Some people are comfortable with link spam. I see their attempts to register profiles in my forums and leave links on my blogs all the time. But if the only difference between search spam and productive linking is the use of “rel=’nofollow’” then a lot of people are ignoring a potentially great source of revenue: good, old-fashioned HTML links placed on Websites.
Link building isn’t dead. It’s just waking up and shaking off the bad dream that was imposed upon it by lazy search engine optimization snake oil salespeople who didn’t have the foresight to see that they had created a huge problem for their customers.
The next generation of link builders will include plenty of spammers — I have no doubt about that. Some people are just dedicated to leading miserable marketing lives. But there is a lot of newly opened-up opportunity for innovative, creative people to step into the void and produce some high-value link placement services.
Just keep the search engines out of the mix and don’t try to fool anyone about what you are doing.
Remember, link building is imperative in achieving high organic search rankings.
How To Build Links
To implement effective link building, it’s important to understand why link building is important and how it works.
With this link building guide, you will learn:
The definition of link building
Why link building is an important part of SEO
How to build reliable and trustworthy links efficiently and with minimal or zero cost
Link Building tool, tips, and additional resources
Link Building : Why It’s Important
Link building is important because it is a major factor in how Google ranks Web pages. Google notes on their site that:
“In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by increasing the number of high-quality sites that link to their pages.”
Imagine that we own a site promoting wind turbine equipment that we sell. We’re competing with another wind turbine equipment manufacturer. One of the ranking factors Google will look at in determining how to rank our respective pages is link popularity.
While the above example provides a general visual understanding of how page rank works and why link building is important, it’s very basic. It omits key factors such as:
The trust and authority of the linking pages.
The SEO and content optimization of the respective sites.
The anchor text of the incoming links.
For a more in-depth explanation of how PageRank is calculated, read through these resources:
The original Google paper
An in-depth discussion of the formula behind PageRank
The Wikipedia page on the subject
The most important concept to understand is that, as Google says, you’re more likely to have your content rank higher for keywords you’re targeting if you can get external websites to link to you.
Link Building Strategies: How To Get Other Sites Linking To You
There are a number of link building strategies used to get external websites to link to yours:
Content Creation & Promotion – Create compelling content that people will want to reference and link to, and tell people about it.
Submissions – Submit your news to press releases, submit your site to directories, etc.
Reviews & Mentions – Put your product, service, or site in front of influential bloggers.
Links from Friends & Partners – Get people you know and people you work with to link to your site.
There are several other resources that will offer you more extensive and granular lists of ways to get links, but there are two main issues with all of these tips and tricks for developing inbound links to your website:
They take a lot of time – Building out quality content and developing links from parties who may be interested takes a long time. It also requires certain resources: good copywriters, man hours to dedicate to the promotion of your goods or services, etc.
They’re dependant on external forces – You’re reliant upon sites you don’t control. This means you’re unable to have a say in the quality of the linking page, the words they use to talk about your product, or the specific pages on your site they link to.
Best Ways To Build Links For Free
There’s a better (free) link building strategy to build links to the pages you’re attempting to improve search engine rankings for. In attempting to get a Web page to rank, there are a few key factors to consider:
Anchor Text – One of the most important things search engines take into account in ranking a page is the actual text a linking page uses to talk about your content. So if someone links to our Good Guys Wind Turbine Parts site with the text “wind turbine parts”, that will help us to rank highly for that keyword phrase, whereas if they had simply used text like “Good Guys LLC” to link to our site, we wouldn’t enjoy the same ranking advantage for the phrase “wind turbine parts”.
Quality of the Linking Page – Another factor taken into account is the quality of the page that is sending the link; search engines allow links from high-quality, trusted pages to count more in boosting rankings than questionable pages and sites.
Page the Link is Aimed At – Many times, when people talk about your site they’ll link to the home page. This makes it difficult for individual pages to achieve high rankings (because it’s so difficult for them to generate their own link equity).These are all elements we can’t control in attempting to get other sites to link to us. We can, however, control all of these elements in linking to our own pages from our own content.We can:
Determine what anchor text to use.
Decide which page to point that anchor text at.
Ensure that the quality and content of the linking page is high (since it’s our page!).Building external links to your site is important, but in focusing more of your efforts on the optimization of these internal links you can build quality in-bound links with rich anchor text to the proper pages, which will provide you with an unparalelled ranking boost (for free!).