What is link building in seo?
Definition: Getting other websites to link to your website to improve your own rankings in Google. Basically.
One man’s quality linkbuilding profile is another man’s spam-fest. Remember that, too, because if you has spammy links pushing up your ranks – Google is looking to tank your business in it’s free listings.
This link building guide is for beginners – it’s not a guide on how to spam Google. It’s not meant to be a soap box either – it’s just a note of where I am at when it comes to building links. Link building (a big part of ‘off page seo’) is, if you follow industry gossip, a dirty phrase in 2014 and for some, is a tactic to be shunned – and that’s largely because Google has, very successfully, equated linkbuilding with spam, and the industry gossip machine is basically started – almost entirely – all the time – and fuelled by Google saying something – or doing something. A LOT more than ‘influential seo’, in most cases.
The truth is – not all link building is web spam.
Natural Links V Unnatural Links
Google is on record saying it does not want to count any link that is not ‘editorial – or freely given. Google wants to reward ‘user value add’ highlighted by organic – NATURAL – links. They want to reward a ‘good user experience’, basically – and unnatural links don’t form any part of that concept. Google never has wanted to count inorganic links – but it’s algorithms don’t work as well as they would like or at least they say they do, so some marketers shortcut the ‘value add’ task of the job and just build unnatural links to a site that affects how a links based search engine – like Google – rates the ‘popularity’ – and so ranking ability – of a particular website. The more links Google hasn’t classed as spam – the higher you rank – and the more traffic you get. Sort of.
Google doesn’t want seo or linkbuilders to be able to….. scale, easily. Many say this is because seo is the biggest ‘threat’ to Adwords, Google’s own sponsored advertising channel.
If a machine can build it – it’s spam – according to the Googleplex. You don’t need machine automation to be classed as a spammer. Somebody sitting at a desk making these low quality links all day – manually – to fool only Google – that’s spam too – manual or not. Posting lots of low quality guest posts or low quality press releases on sites with a history of spamming Google – that’s spam too.
It all comes down to the end product – the type of link you make. If links are designed ‘JUST’ to manipulate Google – Google calls them unnatural links – and if you have too many of them – you get a ‘penalty’ – or at least swept up in the carnage of the next negative algorithm update designed specifically to de-rank sites with those kind of links. Penalties, I think, can be based on how long you got away with stiffing Google – and what Google thinks that deserves.
The website link building industry was largely based on that kind of link building activity – and of course many still do practice those techniques now clearly out-with the guidelines – – I know my first links I ever built would today be labelled ‘unnatural’ – and so would my first optimisation techniques – but it’s a recognisable trend in Google what’s grey hat seo today is black hat tomorrow. Read: if it works to manipulate Google without jumping through the value add hoop in the middle of that strategy Google demands you jump through – it’s spam. In short, it is evident if it is scalable – it’s spam.
The professional services industry, which is led heavily by the Google PR machine, has little chance of deviating from Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, for fear of, some say, Google’s heavy handed approach. Unnatural links can’t be the day job for any professional seo who has the responsibility for a real business’s website traffic these days.
Some can say ‘link building is dead’ but the fact is – in 2014 – building links (any kinds of links) STILL affects your rankings in Google, in a BIG way, either positively – if from a trusted source – OR – negatively – if flagged as suspicious, over time. Quality content drives the organic link building end-results Google claims it wants to reward.
Getting and keeping a variety of different high quality links to your website is still THE most important factor in getting unpaid traffic from Google in competitive niches not riddled with spam.
Note that Google ignores most of your links, and will reward any site with domain authority, over time, based on the ‘quality’ of the links you have managed to have pointed at your site. It’s been the case historically that more domain authority you have, the less unique offering you need when it comes to ‘content’.
Just before April 2012, after a few years of Google doing very little to combat this type of off page seo at scale, even an in-experienced link builder could make just about anything rank for anything by creating a 300 word article and building 500 unnatural links to it from (even very low quality blogs) with unique anchor text, spread out over a few months. They could do this largely free of fear that Google would do much about it – because everybody seemed to be ‘doing it’ (at the top of Google results anyway).
It’s was very easy.
So easy, in fact, that industrial scale link building services were dictating the very SERPS owned by Google, just by taking advantage of the way Google works counting links as votes. Just as many were about to turn the dial on article spinning to blogs up to 11 and go on holiday, Google nuked this and a lot of other low quality links with the Google Penguin algorithm update and an old mantra shouted even louder – earn rankings based on merit and uniqueness.
When I say nuked – of course this practice still goes on.
It can still work (surprising to some) for at least 6 months but only if you want to burn a site and entire network out of Google – and is still sold as linkbuilding services and packages to unsuspecting business owners). If you don’t want to burn a site – those are next years unnatural links you’ll need to pay someone to clean up, if you want to keep your web address that is (if that’s important. Maybe it shouldn’t be THAT important going forward, but that’s beyond the scope of this article…).
Today Google has a few surprises for web masters bending the rules using what they call spammy links. As well as investing more manpower to hand out MANUAL ACTIONS (penalties), Google introduced a myriad of algorithm changes including PANDA, we think, to deal with those low quality (see easy to generate) pages, and PENGUIN to deal with those low quality (see unnatural) links. PANDA and PENGUIN are algorithm changes (as opposed to penalties) – but that’s splitting hairs.
FYI I’ve very much simplified these two algorithm changes in Google, but trip a PANDA or PENGUIN filter, and traffic levels take a nosedive over night – and they might never come back. A kick in the balls is a kick in the balls – you’ll think you’re penalised and it will feel like one.
This is not a black hat seo blog, so I won’t go into link wheels, link hubs, blog networks, three way links, tiered link building service, illegal hacks or redirects (other than mention them) because I don’t do any of that any more (not that I did much anyway).
For me (at least) the focus since PENGUIN (April 2012 – and especially since the disavow tool appeared) has focused entirely on building something useful that will attract links so I don’t need to build unnatural links and be looking over my shoulder at every major seo update.
Negative SEO Killed Unnatural Links (for me, at least)
My notes in this article are for money sites – sites you DO NOT want to burn in Google – sites you want to build something useful to people (that makes money). If you’re going to break the rules, hire a link buyer or linkbuilding specialist who can help you with your business model, too, because you’ll need it – and that’s not me.
I work with companies who focus on making the website better and richer in content. It’s much easier to get links to something that’s useful, and when you earn rankings, it’s a more stable existence in Google these days. Too many people submit spam reports and too many people engage in negative seo for me to invest too much in unnatural links these days – but that’s horses for courses.
I’ve counted at least SEVEN Negative SEO attacks against this site in the last 2 years (as expected) so Negative SEO pointed at this site has basically killed any chance of me building ‘useful’ but lower quality links to the site, even if I wanted to. I would be stupid to build links to this site, now, EVEN MORE SO at the moment.
Today’s negative seo efforts now looks almost indistinguishable from genuine link building efforts a few years ago – but that’s the point – negative seo efforts want to basically make it look like YOU built the links yourself when they submit your site to Google next month to get you penalised for a year.
That kind of negative seo WILL work. Seriously.
It was a great move by Google to turn the game on it’s head – and get seo fighting themselves to kill cheap linkbuilding.
Fortunately, the truth is, if you work on your site and put a bit – OK a massive amount – of effort into creating a unique offering, you can still win top rankings and better traffic, month on month, while your competition is slapped about by Google’s algorithms.
If you are totally new to building links to your website – I’d genuinely focus on creating the best page on the web for what you want to rank for – and then think ‘where is my next great link’ coming from. Or – do it the other way around.
Google might have said recently (when they agreed with Bing) – a good link is a link you don’t know where it’s coming from. I don’t agree with that in every case because I have spent a career looking for links on really good, relevant sites and thinking ‘I would love a link on there’ and then creating content that might get me that link. For me – an editorial link is just that – editorial. If I put content in front of someone and THEY CHOOSE to link to it freely – that’s editorial enough for me, and a good way to track down some links – even today. Haven’t authors always yearned to be cited by the media, and specific media journals?
You can also identify the types of great content being linked to in your niche – and emulate that, to chase down similar links. If you want to rank in Google with any confidence in the long term, you are going to have to INVEST in GOOD, IN-DEPTH content, and a few GREAT links. If you don’t want to do that – you better hire a great black hat spammer and get some backup domains at the ready.
The number of low quality links pointing at your site will affect your rankings adversely, and I’ve not seen many paid links age well. Eventually – those unnatural links will catch up with you. Get links from REAL sites that doesn’t sell links and you’ll soon see results.
In 2014, I’d rather have NO links and lots of content than lots of unnatural links pointing to a site I care about. You can ALWAYS pick up the odd decent link to good content.
I spent the last while cleaning up my blog. This page is an example. I deleted some old posts on the Hobo blog, reworked some out of date advice, merged similar content. added some videos from Google who now advise on the subject where they once did not, and created this one page that I hope is of some use for beginners in terms of marketing a website successfully in Google in 2014.
I’m essentially focused on creating content these days – and I recommend you do the same (to start with, at least). I expect this post will stand as an epitaph to my lower quality linkbuilding days of old – I don’t expect to be publishing again on this topic. I didn’t want any links advice on my blog that could actually hurt someone following what I do.
Most of my posts from this point forward will deal with offering a UNIQUE offering via traditional efforts focused on IMPROVING TRUST and RELEVANCE SIGNALS, meeting USER EXPECTATIONS and QUERY SATISFACTION – the essence of search engine optimisation in 2014 I think. At any rate – this type of optimisation is what I have forced myself to reacquaint myself with since Penguin 2012.
Because – even after a penalty – you can still increase free traffic from Google month on month without old school link building techniques (or adding much new content as my own case below illustrates when I was working on it):
Over the last year, I wanted to see if plain old seo still worked – that is – seo without unnatural links – and I effectively had to do it without publishing new content. Some bloggers did notice however.
But before that, let us look at the big traders or the warren buffets of this world. Neil Patel, Shaun Anderson, Jacob King are top search results when you type anything related to “seo”, try it!. The tips & tricks of these masters influence many websites.
including one or two of my peers:
Interestingly, you can easily see which sites you are in competition with in the SERPs by looking for similar ranking keywords. Take for example Hobo-Web.co.uk – which I would say is a really good ranking site for SEO terms in the UK:
I haven’t blogged recently (and I’ve been a hermit on social media too) because I have spent the last year and a half doing nothing but focusing on the same areas for clients, too, after testing it all out on the Hobo site. The good news for me is YES – the kind of seo I love to practice still works – but the bad news for some people is – it’s a LOT OF WORK.
I’ll be updating my free seo guide for subscribers shortly.
When you are not spamming the algorithm, and the Google webspam team is not on holiday, ranking in Google today is about patience, ACCESSIBILITY, RELEVANCE, REPUTATION and above all – TRUST – however Google works that last one out. It is evident Google wants to reward UNIQUENESS – because that scales not.
I prefer focusing on improving those signals above, rather than just manipulating link popularity. A link building campaign devoid of any quality, or of any use (or ‘value add’ to anyone, is not the type of back link profile Google wants to reward with any long term consistency.
Google calls that spam, and will punish you for it if it detects an intent to deceive it’s algorithms. Not that that stops a good spammer of course. If you’re reading this, chances are you are not a good spammer, so I would keep it clean until you know what you are doing. And maybe even then…..
How to do high quality link building that works:
- Get links from real sites to build real domain authority. It doesn’t hurt to get a link from a low or high Google Page Rank page. Today’s No-PR page might be a PR 5 page in reality, as Google Toolbar Pagerank is out of date, and not a metric to bet your house on.
- Try and get links from authority websites in your niche. Find that circle of sites – the hub – where authorities in your industry link to and are linked from and think about how you can get involved.
- Don’t worry too much about “theme” of websites linking to you but stay clear of irrelevant sites just for irrelevant links. In fact – going off topic once in a while on your blog can lead to great natural links from unrelated sites.
- Review the link building tactics your competitors employ to EARN links and think about how you can emulate the better quality strategies you may find. Don’t build links just to build links, or just to copy somebody else.
- Join social networks, not for the links themselves, but to get your content noticed by the people most likely to share your type of content, to build your personal network, and to build your ‘Authorship’ signal – you’re going to need those for the future!
- Get links from relevant sites, but understand that ANY editorial link is a good link, regardless of the page and site it is on (unless it’s a negative seo attack of course).
- Focus on quality link building techniques and strategies to avoid future unnatural links notices in Google Webmaster Tools which will be followed by penalties that can last – well – forever – depending on what you have been up to
- Don’t annoy folk with link begging emails and, for sure, not without a good piece of content for them, and don’t bombard friends you make on social networks with your sales message.
- Help others achieve their goals today, and some will help you in the future. I’ve always found that to be a simple truth.
- The more people abuse certain links, the faster they turn toxic. Don’t go with that link herd because you will be the weakest in it.
- Automated link building or manual link building – if the end result is an unnatural link you’ve placed yourself, Google doesn’t want to count that
- Outsource link building with extreme caution in 2014.
- If you want links, you had better have linkable assets.
Which Search Engine Gives The Best Advice?
Unless you have no clue about what is going on and think GooglePlus counts are the number one ranking factor, you’ll realise building high quality links to your site is STILL the single most important thing you can be doing to improve the rank of an already relevant page (if you haven’t been doing anything shady in the past, that is. If you have, you need to concentrate on dissociating your self first from unnatural links). In competitive verticals – you can easily follow Bing/Yahoo clear linkbuilding guidelines to rank in Google, but forget to try and rank in Bing/Yahoo with this same technique because to do so, you need to use Google Webmaster Guidelines as a rulebook for success, and that will penalise you in, em, Google, which no sensible person wants. Bing and Yahoo encourage you to outreach for relevant links to improve the rank of your website: Bing says:
“simply ask websites for them”
“Correspond with webmasters of related sites and other providers of relevant content in order to increase the number of links to your site.”
Google has a different view. Google says
“Any links intended to manipulate ….a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Additionally, creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links, can be considered a violation of our guidelines.
Basically two of the 3 major (UK) search engines encourage you to ask websites for links to specifically improve the ranking of your site, and the biggest, Google, tells you not to do it at all. Bing’s SERPS (which go a way to power Yahoo searches) look pre penguin and pre-emd Google serps. You can easily rank in Bing and tank in Google, these days. Actionable Advice From Yahoo and Bing: Get links from related sites. Ask for links to increase the number of links to your site. (quotes) Honesty From Google If we spot a linkbuilding footprint we will f*** you. (paraphrased)
Bing’s Position on Link Building Clarified
Here’s a post on link building and seo for “smart webmasters” on the Bing search blog.
- You contact webmasters of other, related websites and let them know your site exists.
- If the value that you have worked so hard to instill in your site is evident to them, they will assist their own customers by linking back to your site. That, my friend, is the essence of link building.
- Relevance is important to end users… We see the content they possess and the content you possess. If there is a clear disconnect, the value of that inbound link is significantly diminished, if not completely disregarded.
- If relevance is important, the most highly regarded, relevant sites are best of all. Sites that possess great content, that have a history in their space, that have earned tons of relevant, inbound links – basically, the sites who are authorities in their field – are considered authoritative sites.
- When probable manipulation is detected, a spam rank factor is applied to a site, depending upon the type and severity of the infraction. If the spam rating is high, a site can be penalized with a lowered rank. If the violations are egregious, a site can be temporarily or even permanently purged from the index.
Interesting and it gives an insight into linkbuilding and penalties for manipulation – we know the same sort of thing is happening at Google too. Bing’s policy on link building
Bing’s position on link building is straightforward – we are less concerned about the link building techniques used than we are about the intentions behind the effort. That said, techniques used are often quite revealing of intent.
That ‘spam rank factor’ is pretty interesting on a number of levels. I wonder if Google has a similar approach – it certainly feels like it..
Building Links Is Easier When You Have Content Worth Linking To
Getting other sites to link to yours is easy when you have content worth linking to. it really is that simple in some cases. Your content should be original, but it doesn’t need to set the world on fire. The more content you add to your site, the more likely people will link to it, today or in the future.
I’m still getting links from stuff I wrote years ago. So first thing you should be doing is, er…., adding content to your site. I personally think How-To articles, or articles that discuss a common problem often discussed in forums etc – some call it timeless content – is best suited to linkbait (and visitors!). This is always going to get linked to at some point if it’s presented slightly differently, and interesting. Once you get enough links and you feature in the top 3 results, you’ll find you start to pick up more and more natural links.
Where to start? See that little FAQ on your site? Those frequently asked questions nobody asks about? Those need expanded – each FAQ should be it’s own page with a good page title and in a well structured site.
You need to ask your self what do people want to know about your products, or your industry – not necessarily your business. Having content on your site makes it so much easier to pick up links. If you have no content, while you can still rank in Google via links alone, you’re limiting yourself in a way you might not recover from. Try not to add content to your website that’s not just about your boring company. Most folk are not interested.
Remember – Google wants to reward UNIQUENESS. It’s a pretty simple extrapolation to mean that translates into unique INDEPTH – or LONG FORM, INFORMATIVE PAGE COPY and guess what – that type of content picks up links when it DOES rank in Google.
Tell The World About Your Site But Don’t Ask For Links!
Google used to say:
Have other relevant sites link to yours.
Then it’s guidelines changed to:
Tell the world about your site. Google
and in 2014:
create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it. Google
Google does not want you asking specifically for links or building links you make yourself because this is a clear attempt to manipulate rankings. It’s a bit slack advice when the key to ranking and traffic success in Google is getting other relevant authority sites link to your site.
Links are what the web is about though and it is why Google is the number 1 search engine. Links were about before Google,though. There’s nothing wrong with getting other sites to link to you as long as it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb you’re looking for Pagerank or improved rankings for particular terms. Private discussions with people you know are another thing, but when I ask for links (which I don’t do very often), I very very rarely ask for specific keyword anchor text.
If I send out an email, I’ll point someone in the direction of the page, and I’ll point out that linking to it might have some benefit to their own audience. On some occasions in the (long gone) past, I’ve offered to reciprocate the link IF it is of benefit to the readers of the other page. I never specify any attribute of the link either e.g. whether or not it is search engine friendly, or not. I would not go on record these days sending an email out saying:
Link to me using the following keyword text on a page with Pagerank of minimum 2….
… and neither should you.
You never know who will end up reading that and it makes it clear you don’t have a clue what you are on about and will take links from and link back to anybody.
If you want people to link to you in a particular way, make sure the title of the page you want links to, has the keywords you want to rank for featured, and a lot of folks will use those words to link to you. I sometimes change the title of pages for this exact reason.
This is presuming, of course, the page is useful in some way!
And don’t send out spam email requests. I get hundreds of bottom feeder link requests and don’t answer any of them. It is a waste of time for most of us.
There is many ways to skin a cat of course, but this is how my linkbuilding company does it – and I’ve said before, we’re a content focused link building agency. We don’t build links to crap anymore (not even crap links). How do you tell the world about your site? Twitter. Stumbleupon. Facebook. TV. Press Ads. Articles. Blogging. Linkedin.
You pick – but start with building something on your website somebody will get use out of.
Get Links From REAL Sites (Sites That Do NOT Exist JUST To Link To Other Sites)
Sometimes it’s hard to explain to people what a quality link is but in simple terms in 2014 Google wants you thinking nothing but a natural link is a ‘good link’.
Links do not have to be relevant to your industry to build your domain authority (far from it), the linking site you earn a link from doesn’t have to be an authority in it’s niche, and it doesn’t have to be the same links as your competitors’ to get the same rankings. Even if the site is irrelevant to your site (and you just bagged a lucky link on a well managed website) – THAT is a good link.
Any type of editorial link is a good link. What it should NOT be is a website (or websites) that ONLY exist to provide links to other sites to boost rankings. This is what is defined as a link scheme – and Google has a bit of an after hours hobby of going after a lot of link schemes in these days. Just about every link building specialist I talk to today LOVES EARNED LINKS – loves white hat link building – although a lot of experienced link builders just won’t give up on manufactured links while spam prevails in Google’s listings – and there’s a lot of that.
I think about how I get links from real sites, and the more authoritative the site, the better, of course. Ideally:
- You don’t just want a link on a useful links page, but as long as the links page is a useful resource, and not abusing anchor text, then it could still be a good link
- You don’t necessarily want it on a page on a site obviously selling links as chances are the links will not age well, at least
You do want it on a page that’s in Google’s index, on a legitimate website which pages ranks in Google.
Earned contextual links are the holy grail of building links, for me, but if the link is on a good domain, with a high PR and is not abusing anything, just about any type of link is a great link.
If you want to increase Google Pagerank of your site, you better make sure the pages that link to you have PR, can transfer it and are making your link the focus of the article.
This takes a bit of experience though…. you’ll naturally accrue Pagerank if you invest in remarkable or compelling content on your site – and that can take just about any form you can think of.
Do the stuff above (and a lot of it) and you’ll have a natural link profile as is possible that will probably stand the test of time. I don’t use that many link building tools to identify opportunity because I don’t really want the same links as my competitors for my clients – you just need Google and your brain, in some cases.
There’s many ways to SEO the cat (and I don’t IGNORE competitor research) but if I was a link builder picking through a competitors back links instead of trying to think a bit more creatively about building a brand online I think I would shoot myself in the head. I filter competition back links and identify quality linking patterns – but often, competitor research is best for inspiration, rather than bagging the same link.
Focus on building better content, a better user experience, and get links from REAL SITES. Remember that….and you will probably always be ok.
Go Off Topic & Get Natural Links From Trusted Sites
A lot of SEO & Internet marketing blogs will say pump out a lot of relevant content on your blog, build a resource all around a specific subject. Even Google says to do the same. What you won’t normally hear is to improve your traffic, improve the number and quality of your links to your website is to go off topic…. write about anything that is timely – especially when it’s even slightly topical.
News jacking stories in related niches (or your own) is still a great way of picking up natural, socially driven links. I’ve went off topic on a number of times to chase links. Because of that I’ve been linked to by authority sites that wouldn’t have any reason to link to a seo company. I had a PR 9 link once because I wrote about something ‘slightly‘ off topic. Recently I was editorially linked to a .edu on a ‘slightly‘ off topic subject to an article I wrote 2 years ago.
Once this site got a home page link on what I can only determine was the Brazilian version of TechCrunch and sent me nearly 5,000 visitors on a link that was buried 4 pages in on the article (to an article that was a year old). The link was to a ‘slightly‘ off topic subject area but I rank number 1 for in the that competitive but similar niche.
When you go off topic into less competitive niches, you can sometimes have a better chance of ranking on the first page of Google.
The Best Way To Earn Natural Links Is TO Be Top Of Google!
Ranking no1 in Google actually makes natural link building that much easier. If you are the number 1 link in a SERP, you wouldn’t believe the amount of natural links you get just because you are already No1 – it truly is a self re-enforcing effect and can be a powerful way to attract links over time.
The number 1 position truly is a self reinforcing position especially if there’s any semblance of a natural linking profile in that particular keyword vertical – ie tutorials, research, how-to etc. So – a strategy is to rank for as much as possible from the start – even if that is LONG-TAIL queries – and so that starts with IN-DEPTH CONTENT on YOUR SITE. If you are building links to 500 word articles – that’s not going to stand the test of time over even the next year or two.
These links from trusted sites help ranking your content – especially your new content. A natural link from a trusted site (or even a more trusted site than yours) can do nothing but help your site. I would think when a trusted site links to your site, the trust Google places in your site because of that link raises your own trust levels, and while not helping you rank immediately for your main terms, can help you when you publish new content in the future. Of course if the off topic trusted site links to you with good keywords, you don’t get much better.
The art is to pull all that together in a way that benefits you the most, without giving Google a reason to place less trust in your site. Now for sure, I don’t go that far off topic and expect to get links that will really count. But certainly, going off topic every now and again, especially with a helpful article on your blog certainly gets you links, sometimes tons of traffic, some you wouldn’t normally receive in your boring niche.
You know you can monitise anything if you can be bothered and take advantage of any page that’s been linked to heavily, but the point is the natural links you earn from this type of activity might well be the only links you need to beat off a competitor.
Sometimes – it’s surprising the quality of links you get with a bit of off-topic content.
Links That Effect Ranking Change In Google SERPS
Any link that sends you traffic could be seen as a good link, but what are quality links, what are good links and what are crap links, when it comes to improving the actual ranking of your own pages in Google SERPS? First, you need to be aware that the quality of a link (that effects a ranking improvement for your own site in Google) is dependant on the page and site it is on. Is the site trusted, is the page trusted, is the page in Google’s index at all, how many links point to the actual page your link is on, are people actually going to click this link (that in itself is a good measure of the quality of a real link)? Most importantly, it’s all about the page the link is on. Just because you get a link on a high PR domain does not automatically make that a good link. It’s the page you need to be interested in. You should have a light mixture of focused anchor text links, unfocused anchor text links and URL citations (www.hobo-web.co.uk etc) in your link profile to ensure long standing rankings (ie a natural link profile). What follows is my general rule of thumb:
- Your internal links Not THE most important links, but the best place to start. Get your site in order before you get links. Google loves a good site structure with plenty of text links pointing to each page on your site. I prefer a minimal sitewide navigation and a lot of in content links if you have a lot of useful content, and I consider all the time if Google is only counting the first link on a page. Don’t forget to link to your important pages often – ENSURE your get them into Google’s index in the first place.
- Links on mainstream news sites, and other types of authority sites – or in short, links from Brands – the holy grail in my opinion – promotion, old style. Purely because they are trusted and have a lot of links to them.
- Related industry site (the aim of seo, and excellent quality, but depends on the site, niche and the type of link – can be very useful) – usually, they too have a lot of links.
- Link on a high PR old style aged trusted page – like a university or government resource page – excellent if you can get the webmaster to link to you
- Links from unrelated but non abusive sites (depends on the site and the type of link – can be very useful for improving your Google ranking & PR)
- Link on a blog post (good, but dependant on the site, but easily deteriorates over time as a post is gobbled up in sometimes very crap site architecture.
- Social media site links (opinion, I think these are very very weak as a ranking signal in themselves, but they do get your page out there, and that’s how you pick up organic links).
- Link on a useful links page (often very low quality, but sometimes very high quality – it’s all dependent on the INTENT of that page in question, and the quality of the site it is on).
- Reciprocal links (often abused and very very low quality, but sometimes just a natural part of the link graph, if it’s done with user experience in mind)
Links to avoid include any link that is self made and obviously self made, on a site with only self made links.
It doesn’t matter if THEY WORK to manipulate Google in the short term – if you use a lot of low quality techniques and there is an obvious INTENT to rank using low quality means, these links might very well cause you ranking troubles a few months later.
I would avoid:
- Dofollow Blog Comments – PENALTY MATERIAL
- Site wide links & blogrolls (generally low quality in terms of anchor text transference – used to be good for PR transference but not nearly as effective as it used to be) PENALTY MATERIAL
- Article submission & syndication services – PENALTY MATERIAL
- Directory Links – PENALTY MATERIAL
- Forum Signatures (generally low quality, dependant on page and forum, perhaps dependant on number of links too) PENALTY MATERIAL
- Widgets – PENALTY MATERIAL
- Unnatural Sitewide links – PENALTY MATERIAL
- Blog Networks, Directory networks and just about any other type of link network
- Any Unnatural LInks – Potential Penalty Material, Eventually
- Paid Links, of any sort (if you are rumbled)
I will say you can still get away with quite a lot, but actual penalty material as I claim above is all to do with your INTENT as GOOGLE interprets it to be. Nofollowed links (like those on most blog comments – are not counted as links (though can be used to generate traffic if you link to a popular blog post or comment on one). NOTE many claim Google DO follow nofollow links in certain cases – but I perform seo not expecting nofollowed links to have much impact on my rankings either way. If they do – good – but I don’t rely on them.
Remember too ,links need to be complimented by well structured title tags, GOOD IN-DEPTH content, and a good site architecture. It’s not enough to be ‘popular’ – you also need to be ‘relevant’ and ‘unique’ and have it in ‘spades’.
For me, another rule of thumb is, often, the EASIER a link is, that everyone else can get, the LESS quality it is for you in the long run.
Assimilate Competitors Successful Strategies For Natural Back Links
As part of my analysis, I ALWAYS scan competitors back links to see if they have managed to earn any quality links and determine how they did it and if it can be replicated.
In 2014 – you are only looking for the very best links. You don’t want to engage in any low quality seo techniques just to take on one or two competitors. It’s not worth it – you’re probably better off just outing your competitor on Google’s forums (or competing with them with another domain).
Should I Buy Links To Improve Google Rankings?
SHORT ANSWER – NOT IF THEY LOOK LIKE PAID LINKS!
Buying links that are search engine friendly and “flow Pagerank” is against Google TOS.
If you buy links you take the risk that Google will penalise you for unnatural links.. If buying links was ineffective, it wouldn’t be against Google TOS. Think about what that means.
I can’t remember the last vertical I checked there wasn’t people buying links to improve search engine placement – so the competition is doing it. Last time I checked, they were ranking pretty good, but it’s not all plain sailing in 2014.
Google is getting better at dealing with some form of paid links. It depends what you are trying to achieve – although I will point out again Google will take you down if it finds out.
If you are buying links, make sure your links aren’t obviously paid links, though. That is, don’t buy links from obvious places. If Google gets better at detecting these, it’s the obvious paid links that will be hit first.
I can say, I don’t buy links, and I would recommend you not do either.
It is too risky at the moment in 2014 and there are still plenty of ways to get links without paying for them.
Problem is – Link Sellers Are Rarely Discreet
I don’t out individuals for seo tactics, and I don’t out the myriad of purveyors of link prospects who contact me every day, non-stop.
This one takes some beating, from a MIDDLE EASTERN NEWSPAPER:
Hello, The (A MIDDLE EASTERN NATIONAL NEWSPAPER) is currently offering outside companies to purchase links from within our articles. To place a bid, simply send a document with the keywords you would like to purchase, and your price bid. Feel free to search the site for yourself, to find the perfect article for you. Since we are just starting this venture, we have no fixed price, thus you can choose the amount of links, period of time, and so on. We are allowing the first 1000 S.E.O. companies to send in their bids, without the limitation of a starting price. We will accept lucrative offers. Mind you, we also sell conventional links, such as: * Link on “sites of xxxxxxxx” (footer of master page) priced @ $500 per month (6 months minimum). * Text link on the home page priced @ $1,300 per month. * Text link on the inner pages priced @ $1,000 per month. Once a bid is accepted, you will be contacted by a sales representative, to process the campaign’s details. Have a good day, (REMOVED).
Hmmm… I looked at where some of the links are featured, and sure enough, a list of totally unrelated sites. Paid links.
Now say I see one of my competitors in there? I could just report the site for selling links and my competitors for buying them (not that I personally bother with that).
Or I could out them on a public blog. Lucky then I don’t out SEO tactics is because I think outing seo tactics themselves is a little self serving, and slimey, these days. Everybody knows selling links is against Google TOS whether you listen or not. AND if I did buy links in footers like this (which I don’t), I wouldn’t be happy there was an email to 1000 seo companies telling THEM my clients was buying links.
Would a rival newspaper use this information against you too if they new, especially given the polarising nature of your content (again, not that it bothers me)?
If you are buying or selling links that are search engine friendly you better be doing it more covertly than this….. you need to build relationships to get decent links, even like the ones above.
UPDATE 22 February 2013 – News Media sites get a Pagerank penalty.
I’ve long thought it quite funny the situation between the mainstream media v Google. Some media sites say it’s all one sided and Google are stealing their content, are putting up pay-walls, even when seo have been saying for years about how Google is falling over themselves giving them tons of trust, tons of traffic AND making their links some of the most valuable on the web.
Google uses big trusted sites like news media sites, and their links, to help them sort out the cess pool of the web (when they Google is not ranking news sites own content above smaller businesses). A quick look around some newspapers websites (the top UK ones) and some of the seo efforts are shocking – they don’t even seem to know how to make sub domains rank well.
Yes, some newspaper sites HAVE cottoned on to the fact they have massive domain authority and are rolling out everything from dating sites to – wow – low quality business directories.
I would do some of that too I suppose. I mean Google has made newspaper sites authority sites in niches like online dating.
A quick look around some local newspapers too and you see they don’t link out to anyone, anywhere. Oh wait – there’s some paid link articles to personal injury lawyers lol and an advertising network of links that have clearly affected the site’s ‘trust’.
Yeah – you need to know when to get out of those things before it goes t*ts up as they say in Scotland.
I don’t buy links but at the same time I don’t think it’s hypocritical to say the least that search engines frown on bloggers selling links and do little to deter newspaper sites obvious link selling tactics.
Some newspaper sites are so stupid they send out crazy link selling emails too, like above, and indeed, some folk do out them. The fact is – only SHOCKINGLY bad – not just bad – seo will get these sites penalised in a NOTICEABLE WAY – and even then – only if outed, then a discussion about inappropriate domain authority in particular niches might focus the spotlight.
I don’t out seo strategies, but I wonder if it’s worth examining newspaper seo in the future. They do make a business of outing other folk. Right? To be honest at this time, I think as a link builder, it’s more appropriate NOT to out others under just about any circumstances but it is something I think about.
It’s probably more useful to think how you are possibly going to combat mega domain authority gate crashes impact on your business, or in turn work out how you can look like a brand to Google. Guess what – that involves newspaper / big media websites at the moment…..
Reciprocal Links With Unrelated Websites
Another question I get asked daily.
Many new clients send me unsolicited emails from companies that ask for “reciprocal links between their site and yours”, usually because it will “improve search engine rankings” for both websites. I can tell you I usually ignore all reciprocal link exchange requests via unsolicited emails and recommend you do to.
I spend some of my time looking for quality links and believe me, I’ve not found ANY in any email like I describe above.
It’s also against Google TOS to do this type of reciprocal link exchange:
Your site’s ranking in Google search results is partly based on analysis of those sites that link to you. The quantity, quality, and relevance of links count towards your rating. The sites that link to you can provide context about the subject matter of your site, and can indicate its quality and popularity. However, some webmasters engage in link exchange schemes and build partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking, disregarding the quality of the links, the sources, and the long-term impact it will have on their sites. This is in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines and can negatively impact your site’s ranking in search results. Examples of link schemes can include……
- Excessive reciprocal links or excessive link exchanging (“Link to me and I’ll link to you.”)
Now I suppose that’s rich advice coming from a seo (whose supposed to be manipulating search engines if you listen to some of the bollocks some big name web designers linkbait with these days), but reciprocal link exchanges like the one I mention above offer NO MASSIVE SEO benefit to YOUR site (especially when they are on link partner pages) and Google says link schemes might NEGATIVELY impact your rankings.
IF YOU TAKE A SECOND AND VISUALISE in your head the link scheme in place and the relationship between pages via links in the reciprocal links hub scenario, you can see how easy it is to do so.
Google can probably compute and identify that one a lot faster than you can its so obvious. I IGNORE ALL SPAM EMAILS ASKING FOR RECIPROCAL LINKS especially if they are from some company who sells something totally unrelated to my site.
I honestly can’t even remember the 0.1% I’ve responded to but I assume I did at least once back in the day – I know I asked for them when I started out over a decade ago, now, but that’s when this type of link was of some use. Usually they will put your link on a “useful links” page that’s not useful at all to anyone.
A useful links page out to unrelated sites on a low quality domain is just spam to Google and more often or not the pages your links are on will just be ignored by Google so there is no point getting a link from these pages.
Too many of them and you WILL get a notice of unnatural links.
- Should you reciprocate links with irrelevant unrelated websites? NO – It’s a waste of time and potentially damaging.
- Should you link out to other unrelated sites at any other time? OF COURSE YOU SHOULD BUT NOT JUST TO MANIPULATE SEARCH RANKINGS. If the page is relevant to an article on your site, then it’s a good link. These types of links are the currency of the web.
- Should you worry if unrelated sites link to you? No. Although Negative SEO is a concern for some and should be checked out.
Linking is the foundation of the web, without links, there would be no web as we know it, no Google even, so never be scared of linking to good sites or pages – in fact, Google WANTS or at least EXPECTS you to do this and will thank you for it at some level…. probably.
Bear in mind reciprocal links with a website may indicate to Google the two sites are ‘related’ in some fashion. Do you really want that?
Should You Ask For Reciprocal Links?
Of course, you should ALWAYS be LOOKING for high quality links, wether you link back to those sites or not. One-way links are better for ranking in search engines as they indicate editorially approved links from other sites, to yours.
That’s the best kind of links you can get.
I am working with a client at the moment in a global market who makes something amazing a lot of blue chip companies pay a lot of money for. Their website has a very poor link profile. We are currently asking for them to contact all these big brand companies and ask them for a link on their websites to the client website because this COULD NEVER HURT ANY OF THE SITES INVOLVED and links from these big brand websites who have bought their products – ie testimonial links from REAL sites that dont just link to anybody, are good quality links.
We’ll probably reciprocate those links (if they ask us) but only AFTER Google sees the big brand sites linking to us first (thats a habit) – I use a few methods to ensure this is the case.
The aim is to get the BRAND websites to VOTE for our site FIRST, so OUR search engine rankings improve, because Google now TRUSTS our site because of these new quality links on sites it already trusts.
The brand websites don’t need our links for search engine purposes – all we need to ensure is we are linking out to their sites in a more appropriate manner that is probably more useful to them…. I think all Brand managers would like another good-news-page in the SERPS, so creating a case study for their brand, on your website, is probably better than a link on a links page google will probably eventually ignore.
Easier to tweet, also.
Should I Always Avoid Reciprocal Links?
Theory – If someone links to my site, and I don’t link back to them, that’s said to be a good link. A one way link. When you link back to that site, that’s what a reciprocal link is.
If a very trusted site links to my site, and gave me a ranking boost, am I expected to believe that linking back to them will remove my ranking boost? I don’t believe that to be the case. I don’t think it aligns what Google is trying to do (when not trying to make money) – ie improve their search results for the end user looking for information (and thats the vast majority of Google users).
When a trusted site, or a site with online business authority, links to a site it deems trustworthy, and boosts rankings to improve it’s SERPS in line with it’s algo, it’s not going to dump that site back down the rankings just because it reciprocates. I don’t think, anyway.
Linking back to a site that links to you is actually a very common thing on the web. All these links build your own sites trust and authority in Google, which you can unlock with fresh topical content via a blog for instance – which I think is more useful these days than ranking for a major key term.
Consider the small site that links to it’s industry body, and a year down the line the small site is a big player, with links from the industry body. Is that link useless? I would think Google is a lot smarter than that, at some level anyway.
I think Google would at all times take into account the trust and authority of the sites in question, and wether or not it has any reason not to trust the sites. My rule of thumb is I don’t mind reciprocating links at all, especially if the other site is more authoritative or is highly relevant to my audience.
I don’t use low quality reciprocal linking between untrusted sites as an actual ranking improvement strategy, wether it works or not. I never link to a site JUST BECAUSE THEY LINK TO ME, because the chances are, they are linking to ANY site out there regardless or not if it is in, or has the potential to be one day, a bad neighbourhood, and Google reserves the right to penalise you badly if you link to one of these, or are linked from one of them.
- avoid low quality reciprocal links where possible, and avoid get-links-quick schemes
- try and get other sites to link to you first
- don’t worry about reciprocating links with real trusted sites
- don’t use reciprocal links as a ranking improvement strategy (most link builders focus on one way linkbuilding
- don’t just link to just anyone, especially just because they link to you
The Perfect Link Building Strategy Is To Mix It Up
The best piece of advice I can give you is to FOCUS ON BUILDING A LINKABLE ASSET, and VARY your linking strategy while ensuring to avoid low quality links.
It’s the only way to be sure you’ll achieve good rankings, and keep them – which I always thought was the point. Remember that what works today might not work “tomorrow” – so it’s worth experimenting while all the time hunting for those “quality” links.
Surely everybody knows by now, Google, and indeed the Internet, is powered, by HTML Links. Good rankings, and success, in all the search engines results pages, eventually lies in getting links from other sites to your site. Effectively, the more the better.
Bearing in mind “Content Is King” on the web, no matter how great your content is, no matter how search engine optimised your page is, if you don’t have inbound links, you’re usually next to nowhere in the Google SERPS – especially in competitive markets – probably because a competitor has got in there first and generated some content and links before you.
But what is the perfect link? What is the best linking strategy? The answer is – everybody has a different view of a perfect link, and everybody has different ways of measuring exactly what a perfect link is. Here’s my take on what I look for when i am link hunting (all, I think worth thinking about and in no particular order).
1. Pagerank Did I say Pagerank? Yes. Google Pagerank is still important regardless of what some seo people claim. Google (well, Matt Cutts, said (a long time ago admittedly) the easiest way to get your internal pages out of the supplemental index (Google’s back up listings) is to get PR to those pages. A high Pagerank can also mean your site is crawled more frequently than it might be (good if you are constantly adding content to your website – which of course, you should be doing.) Don’t blindly ‘trust’ Pagerank – but it can be a good indicator. If Pagerank is real – it’s a great indicator somtimes.
2. Anchor Text Anchor text is simply the text in the link. If I want to rank for something and I have an optimised page waiting to get links to it, I’d like a link with my actual desired keyword or keyword phrase in the actual link ie “link building expert” instead of “click here” or something. My thinking is, I’m not trying to rank for “click here” am I? I would be VERY careful though – Google is on the look out for anchor text abuse. I would encourage it, rather than overtly advertise it. For instance – what you put in your page title often ends up in links…. so changing your page title every now and again can mix this up.
3. Contextual Link within text, surrounded by text Google can easily spot a long list of links (like navigation arrays etc) so I would always try and get a link from within the actual text on a page so it looks more “natural”. Ideally the surrounding text would also be relevant to my page. Sometimes the only sure way of generating these links is to write good content on your site to “force” people to link to you (unless you own the other site of course). These type of links are in my opinion the creme de la creme of links (which is why some seo’s actually buy these type of links (I don’t).
4. Trust / Authority Trusted sites pass “trust factor”. Basically the thinking is, trusted sites rank well in Google, because they are, well, trusted! (stop me if this gets too complicated!). Trusted authority sites rarely link to spammy sites – they only link to quality, probably related, sites. If you can manage to get a link from a trusted site in your niche, this could be worth it’s weight in Gold. How do you tell if a website (or page within a website) is trusted? Well that’s the question that’s on the lips of every seo! How do i determine it? Well, if you think simply, if it’s all about HTML links, then trust would be calculated by Google by the number and quality of links to that site / web page. Simply, get links from sites with links and pages with links!
5. Relevance / Relationship / Theme How relevant is the page that is linking to you? I mean, if you have a seo site, are you trying to get links from search engine optimization related websites? Where possible, I’ll try and get a link on a page that is actually about the same subject matter as the web page i want a link to. HOWEVER – a site with massive domain trust that has NOTHING to do with my site is still a very powerful link in building your sites REPUTATION.
6. Hub / Neighbourhood Every niche has an authority hub, an inner network of sites every other site in the niche links to. This is the “neighbourhood” a (remarkably!) few seo, including myself, harp on about. Getting a link from these sites has got to be a good idea in any campaign, as these sites, that Google already trusts and rates, pass along a portion of this “trust” thingy Google calculates. Linking out to these sites is also thought to be useful, as these links determine the online neighbourhood your site resides within.
7. Any old link! Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take a link from anyone! Feel Free! But links vary in everything from quality and trust etc – I just spend my time trying to get quality links where possible, and at least from relevant pages. It’s these kind of links that will help you in Google. And don’t think I dreamt all this up myself. I read a lot of seo blogs on the subject and try and take a subjective view on what’s best for my purposes and what mood I’m in that day and what sounds “intelligent” to me, and I’m always experimenting with every option! It’s always a good idea to vary your link building strategies, so your not susceptible to massive ranking algorithm changes when one strategy is devalued. The best piece of advice I can give you if you are intent on coming at backlink building from this angle is to vary your linking strategy. Mix it up. It’s the only way to be sure you’ll achieve good rankings, and keep them. Remember that what works today might not work “tomorrow”. While you’re mixing it up, you’ll also make it harder for others to reverse engineer your hard work, creating “noise” in the search engines, but I would be VERY CAREFUL in 2014 – avoid unnatural links.
The aim is to get sites with more domain trust to link to you so your domain trust will increase.
Why Vary Anchor Text When Building Links?
Imagine you could see Googlebot record your links as it finds them by spidering sites in real time.
Even, consider, that’s your link profile recently generated. Hmmm. I wonder how hard it is for the brainiest people in search to pick out your natural links and ignore / devalue the rest :) -but can you spot the worthwhile manufactured link that might slip past?
Unnatural mass link acquisition might well be discounted or be totally ignored. I think it totally depends on the site you are getting the links from though. 5 trusted sites? Hell, don’t bother mixing that anchor text up at all. Most times you need a gun at a gun fight, but you have to do it smarter than the above in 2014.
Note – This is a visualisation I use. I don’t know if this is the way it actually works of course, nobody does – it just KEEPS ME RIGHT. (Check out our beginner’s guide to search engine optimisation for more).
Are Directory Links Still Worth It?
In 2014, I would avoid most, if not all directories. If I did submit a site to any directory, it would meet these criteria from Google:
Directory entries are often mentioned as another way to promote young sites in the Google index. There are great, topical directories that add value to the Internet. But there are not many of them in proportion to those of lower quality. If you decide to submit your site to a directory, make sure it’s on topic, moderated, and well structured. Mass submissions, which are sometimes offered as a quick work-around SEO method, are mostly useless and not likely to serve your purposes.
I don’t think the links are worth paying to be ‘reviewed’ by, and many of these seo friendly directories end up turning into low quality link farms.
One thing’s for sure, most directories send you little or no traffic and on their own in little numbers have little impact in SERPS. Directory links are clearly not the type of links Google wants to count as a ‘vote’. In summary – I wouldn’t bother with directory submissions at all if you’re focusing on creating good content on your site. It’s worth remembering that just because a strategy may work on some level, it still might get you into trouble further down the line. You’ll probably end up paying the same company to remove the link next year!
Broken Link Building
Broken linkbuilding is all about hunting for and spotting opportunity.
A log time ago (site-wide links are not really in fashion now) I used a very simple method to get 500 links from a PR 5 site with over 3000 links to it. Yes a real site. I’ve used the same method to contact 10 other sites with exactly the same request about the exact same matter.
I’ve used this method a bit over the last couple of years. Looking at the SERPS I was interested in, I spotted an expired suspended domain that was ranking for a term I cherished. The site was actually suspended, and had been like that for the last six months. There was no content on the site, so I knew immediately it was the strength of the incoming back links alone that was keeping this high. I could of course look to buy the expired domain (but it belongs to a competitor – I’m sure if I expressed a value in it I’d lose out!) So i ran the expired suspended domain through a back link checker, identified the most powerful links, contacted the site owners in question and explained to them:
- They were linking to a dead site (and had been that way for 6 months)
- I had exactly the same (nay better and up-to-date) content on a site that they could link to if they wished.
Not only did I get a friendly email thanking me for pointing out they had broken links on their site (broken links are never a good thing), I now have 500 new links on a real site pointing to my site.
Back link creation for me is all about opportunity – spotting it and actioning it to get real back links from real sites. If you can see a win-win (something as simple as links in return for pointing out another site has broken links on it) jump on it. If you can’t see win-wins – you’re not a linkbuilder – hire somebody. By the way, the result is I now rank and that suspended domain has sunk – oops :) TIP – Find a site you want a link from, spider it, find broken links – see if you have content that matches it. Email them (and send them the list of all the broken links).
It’s not as easy to find such sites in Google today – but there are many sites out there that discuss this in more detail.
‘Links To Useful Sites’ Pages
Consider how much value these links really are, especially if there are lots (100+) of links on there – as any benefit to your site could be microscopic (and potentially damaging to your rankings if the site in question is of a very low quality). Certainly – do not buy any of these type of links, and I would AVOID like the plague any of these types of pages where you can spot obvious anchor text abuse, often to unrelated sites.
When you have a choice of where a link is going, don’t just take a link from “useful links” pages, unless the ‘useful links’ page is a on a reputable site, with a lot of back-links itself. The more relevant the page is to your business, the better.
There are some indications the ‘useful links’ pages is a ‘decent’ link:
- Check if the links page is indexed by Google at all utilising the info operator – info:www.hobo-web.co.uk
- Consider how authoritative the site in question is – is it an important site within your industry or known as a reputable source throughout the world? (If it is, get a link if you can!)
- Check the Google Toolbar Pagerank of the actual page the link is going to feature on – not just the PR of the home page. Note that Pagerank, or what we see of it, is not a 100% positive proof of the reputation of a website, but it might be an indicator of recent quality.
- Check how many backlinks point to the links page from within the actual site (my favourite linkbuilding tool is probably Majestic SEO, reviewed on my list of the best seo tools)
Links pages can be a useful target for any link hunter if the page is on a very authoritative site, but a lot of link pages go the way of the Dodo within time.
Avoid Article Marketing Syndication
Article syndication (for search engine optimisation purposes) is a big no-no for me in 2014. You just don’t know where that article will end up, or on how many low quality sites.
I’ve learned to live without it, after a few years of abusing it a little. I still think the place for your articles should be on your own blog, on the whole, to attract traffic and links, and to build your own reputation as an authority.
I’ve always found article syndication useful for finding the odd trusted site willing to link to your content, albeit on a more trusted domain than your own. I once wrote an article that had a signature link back to my site, and while testing how well it had penetrated the SERPS and in how many instances, there was one trusted domain with the content republished, and THAT had attracted a link from a then PR 9 page on a very old trusted site. Bonus!
I immediately contacted the PR 9 (page) site owners and asked them to link to the original source of the article, on my site, and they did – which was nice. I also found another couple of sites that were willing to link to that kind of content for future reference. The moral of the story is – track where your content is being published, if you publish a lot of it, and watch out article syndication does not backfire on you, if you’re using it for seo purposes.
Be wary of extremely low coast article marketing services, article submissions services & free press releases. In todays SEO, you do not want your article links duplicated across only low quality domains – and that is where most of these type of articles end up.
Use sparingly and with GREAT caution. The problem is – you lose control of where you syndicate your articles to, and that can turn problematic very quickly. I avoid article submission sites these days. Period. The first place for your articles is your own blog, next, it’s getting those article noticed via social media sites.
Avoid Low Quality Press Releases & Advertorials
Some traditional companies create press releases and don’t think for a minute how these could be used to successfully promote their website when syndicated online. Every time you send out a press release, you should be ensuring you’re getting a few things right.
For instance, you should know by now you should always include your web address.
A big thing to remember in 2014 is to watch Google doesn’t think you’re intent is to spam their algorithm with press releasees. A responsible press release agency will add rel=nofollow to your links to prevent it from passing Pagerank (and possibly prevent you from getting an unnatural links warning in the future).
Google wants the secondary links (from buzz about the news in your press releases) to count toward your ranking, not the actual press release links.
Example: If I were sending out a press release to a third party and relying on them to publish it (which I don’t but hey!) I’d previously ensure my web address was in it. I’d ensure my website address was written in the correct manner ie http://www.hobo-web.co.uk (with the http:// because on some sites they’ll automatically make this a link.)
Your web address appearing just like www.hobo-web.co.uk (not a clickable link) won’t obviously help in Google rankings when compared to a html link. Be careful publishing too many press releases without rel=nofollow on the links.
Stay WELL AWAY from anchor text rich article marketing, press releases and advertorials. Google made that clear when they added the following to their guidelines about what not to do:
Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites.
Google published a pretty comprehensive video on advertorials, too (above).
Are Tweets, Facebook Likes & Google Plus Votes the ‘New Links’?
Is traditional linkbuilding dead? Are tweets or Facebook likes the new links?
Not for me, just yet….. I don’t think Google is about to throw away it’s multi billion a quarter link-count scraper to rank tweets above links. Not just now anyway – and not in isolation. The idea of people picking the best sites, rather than counting links the traditional way, is an ideal situation, of course – but I don’t see much real evidence of this in competitive verticals so I need to say traditional links are still relied on HEAVILY, by Google at the very least – and what I would prefer if given a choice.
While I don’t think I see much of evidence of tweets having a massive impact (compared to traditional html links) in Google’s competitive SERPS – it is worth considering what search engines SAY they are working towards with regards to social ‘buzz':
|Are Regular Search Results affected by social media buzz?||Yes. It is used as a signal especially for news.||Yes it is a signal. Some weight is passed and regular results are affected.|
|Are Social/Realtime Search Results affected by buzz?||Heavily affected||Heavily affected, Authority metrics are used to determine the hot posts.|
|Are Twitter links taken into account (aka do they pass link juice)?||In some limited situations the data are used.||The data are used. The weight depends on how often a link is posted, the number of tweets & retweets and the authority of the people that post it.|
|Are Facebook links taken into account?||The shared links from Fan pages are treated similarly to Twitter links. No links from personal walls are used.||Only the publicly shared links from Fan pages and Profiles are taken into account.|
|Is there an Authority Rank for Twitter Profiles?||Yes, the author quality is measured. Google calls this Author Authority.||Yes. Several metrics are taken into account. Bing calls this Social Authority.|
|Is there an Authority Rank for Facebook Profiles?||They are treated similarly to Twitter Profiles.Note: Normally if this is true, they measure only public profiles like Fan pages.||No. They take into account only the Facebook data that are publicly available.|
|Does the Twitter Authority have an impact on the weight of the links that are shared?||Yes. The weight depends on the authority of the person. The Author Authority is used in limited situations and it is independent of PageRank.||The Author Authority affects the link weight.|
|Does the Facebook Authority have an impact on the weight of the links that are shared?||Similarly to Twitter. The weight of each link depends on the authority of the profile.||They don’t use Facebook authority. Instead in order to find if something is really popular they compare Twitter & Facebook shares.|
It’s clear search engines are looking at social signals and these WILL only increase in value. We’ve been saying this for a long time, though. Eric Ward calls it right for me:
the rankings effect can be directed at specific known circles, friends, connections, etc. The one size fits all search result is headed for the museum. Also, I believe the highest caliber most credible link sources will become that much more important as a trust signal for engines.
The rewards from building artificial links will narrow – as the rewards from social increase – that’s for sure. Even at the moment – to compete in Google organic results, a top 2 or 3 is essential – and you need links from websites to do that. I actually agree with Eric on this too:
I’d take the blog post link because it can continually provide traffic, new tweets, shares, etc., whereas a single tweet, even if by an authority, is fleeting and has a shorter half-life. Much more hit or miss.
If I get a choice between a 100 Tweets and a 1 link on a real website, today – I would take the links from real websites or blog posts every time. The safe answer is, yes, you should be on social sites – and you should be getting your site mentioned on these sites, regardless of exactly where the search engines are on social links at this point – as they will only get better at determining links to trust.
‘Great content’ probably has lots of links from many sources, and lots of tweets, too. I will tell you, though, I am not active on Google+, Facebook or Twitter to help my search engine rankings improve – especially with my new sites. I may use Google+, Twitter or Facebook to get new content INDEXED (Bing certainly follows FB fan pages links and there is evidence Google Plus gets a page indexed) but I don’t expect aged content to rank that much better because of tweets- NOT at the moment, in Google, at least.
I much prefer to use social sites to reach real people, and I don’t expect Google to factor in any ranking signal they can’t control themselves. Would they base their algorithms around a 3rd party metric? It would surprise me if that were the case.
Matt Cutts Debunks Google Plus Votes as Important Ranking Factors
Do Google +1’s Improve rankings in Google natural SERPS?
There’s a lot of strange seo news about at the moment. Mostly down to ‘correlation’ studies showing Google Plus votes correlation with high rankings. That observation may well be true – but important ranking factor it does not automatically make them, and that’s what a lot of people on the fringes of seo think when they see these studies. Google +1s are NOWHERE near as important as good link from a trusted site, in my experience.
So I chimed in:
google plus votes are not the no1 ranking factor. You can tell, by looking.
— Shaun Anderson (@Hobo_Web) August 20, 2013
… though shortly afterwards, somebody with a lot more clout than myself chimed in too…. Matt Cutts (Google)
Just trying to decide the politest way to debunk the idea that more Google +1s lead to higher Google web rankings.
Let’s start with correlation != causation: http://xkcd.com/552/ But it would probably be better to point to this 2011 post (also from SEOMoz/Moz) from two years ago in which a similar claim was made about Facebook shares: http://moz.com/blog/does-google-use-facebook-shares-to-influ… .
From that blog post from two years ago: “One of the most interesting findings from our 2011 Ranking Factors analysis was the high correlation between Facebook shares and Google US search position.” This all came to a head at the SMX Advanced search conference in 2011 where Rand Fishkin presented his claims. I did a polite debunk of the idea that Google used Facebook shares in our web ranking at the conference, leading to this section in the 2011 blog post: “Rand pointed out that Google does have some access to Facebook data overall and set up a small-scale test to determine if Google would index content that was solely shared on Facebook.
To date, that page has not been indexed, despite having quite a few shares (64 according to the OpenGraph).” If you make compelling content, people will link to it, like it, share it on Facebook, +1 it, etc. But that doesn’t mean that Google is using those signals in our ranking. Rather than chasing +1s of content, your time is much better spent making great content.
Do we always listen to Matt Cutts? Well, in between his PR, there are a lot of truths, too. I think so, anyway…. Do you listen to Moz? This seo community has a history (some of which is seen in the above quote) of producing, at least, controversial studies.
Read how Matt Cutts debunks Google+ as ranking factors – see the full discussion here – https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6243451 (hey remember to come back and give me a [insert relevant social network vote as you are probably not really allowed to ask for them])
Ranking correlation does not = ….. ranking factors. I usually do without “correlation’ analysis.
I wouldn’t be spamming Google+ for votes. Not yet – and hey, do you really want to be spamming Google’s social network and not think Google will punish this later, like it has done with low quality links?
Note – a few people have said they will share with me some data on this that might prove otherwise. If I am blogging something different tomorrow, you’ll know I have changed my mind. I will be swayed with empirical evidence.
Being INVOLVED IN GOOGLE PLUS IS important in 2014, though – and maybe even – a must-have marketing tool for your business:
Is there anyone out there who still wants to say that being on Google+ doesn’t matter? Anyone? Because when being on Google+ means that you potentially can have your Google+ page leap to the top in those sidebar results, Google+ matters. It matters more than ever before. Danny Sullivan – Search Engine Land
Do Blog & Forum Bait With Information-Rich Content
Adding information rich content to your site is a great method of attracting natural links from forums and blogs, and the more in-depth the article, the more chance of it ranking high in Google for(especially) long tail variations of high traffic high value keywords.
When you are at the top of the SERPS for particular keywords, particularly how to tutorials, you start picking up organic links from forums and blogs who see these articles as trusted articles because, well, they are at the top of Google!
When helping each other out, forum contributors often use Google to find an authority article, and link to it to help newbies. Often they will usually just copy and paste the URL like so: http://www.hobo-web.co.uk/***** Not ideal.
Sometimes it’s worth it go one step further and provide them with the BBcode and HTML versions of a nice anchor text rich link to start getting those keyword rich links to your site. Every now and again, change the anchor text to mix your back link profile a little. Sometimes you do pick up that natural looking keyword rich link.
Link to this page using BBcode
Check Out[URL=www.hobo-web.co.uk/blog-forum-baiting-get-anchor-text-rich-links/] Blog & Forum Baiting - Get Anchor Text Rich Links From Forums & Blogs[/URL] on the Hobo website.
Link to this page using HTML
Take a look at <a href=" http://www.hobo-web.co.uk/link-building-strategy-for-beginners-a-month-of-free-tips/"> Blog & Forum Baiting - Get Anchor Text Rich Links</a> on Hobo.
I have used this with varying degrees of success in the past. Might work for some of your very best articles, especially if desperate to get particular anchor text in your profile.
I wouldn’t overdo this though. I wouldn’t over do anything these days.
It’s kind of the same strategy as the now more traditional INFO-GRAPHIC.
Social media platforms have all but replaced the old forums – but some can STILL drive a lot of traffic, and some can also offer some seo value. If you do nothing else to help people share your content – ADD SOCIAL MEDIA BUTTONS for the most appropriate social media channels. Those links themselves might not carry much weight, but secondary links from such activity can.
Do Hunt For Local Links
A quality link for me is an editorial link on a real site – a site that’s been around for years. The site in question is well linked to itself, and doesn’t sell links – and is careful who they link to. These sites are kind of hard to get links from – but that’s the point…
Strategy? Well you live somewhere. You live in a town or a city, in a region, in a wider region. Just type these 3 regions – one at a time – into Google, and Google will return a list of potential link partners. Hundreds of them. Live in the wilderness? Look at your nearest city.
Deployment? Offer a discount, or give away free stuff (Google does this) for a mention on their site IF they don’t have any real reason to link to you.
Other sites will link to your site if you give them a reason to:
- Your local Council – a lot of council sites have local business directories
- Your local College or University – offer a student discount
- Your local Chamber of Commerce – join, or offer a discount to members
- Your local Newspaper – you should always be trying to get a mention in the local press – consider a competition
- Local football club & supporters club – discount = mention on their site
- Local sports clubs – there’s a ton of them in every town usually with crusty old sites – offer them a discount, donate or sponsor them for a mention on their site.
- Local Business Directories – More often than not, somebody has built a local biz directory covering your local area. Get in there, as long as they are not a low quality directory just made to spam Google.
- Local faith groups or other local community groups – When it comes to business, I ain’t got no denomination. Discount anybody?
- Local charities – a link you can probably buy! Sponsor a charity site for a mention – Google would be REALLY MEAN to penalise this sort of link buying on a small scale – and anyway, their attention is probably on bigger sites.
- Local businesses – offer a discount to staff
These links aren’t all easy to get and will take time to get (if your comparing them to how fast you can buy or get links on sites these days that offer no value to your site in the long term). See what I did there.
So while your competitors are off buying links on crap third world domain hosting companies, submitting to 100,000 useless search engines, submitting to 100 useless directories, spamming dofollow blogs and forums or hiring a social media consultant to get 10,000 non-paying visitors from Stumbleupon or Facebook etc etc you are picking up nice little, quality long term links on trusted sites that probably are not being abused, and will fly right under any Google manipulation-radar, and all will help to build your domain authority and trust in Google results pages. And all these kind of links above can be mixed and match to a national campaign if you know how to scale your efforts in a sensible manner.
These are good links for beginners to chase down – but remember – the best links will need some GREAT CONTENT to point to.
Beware Building Low Quality Links
When you build a wall, you do it bit by bit, with the same kind of identical bricks until you have a lot of bricks that all look the same… presto, you have a wall. That’s building. My mate does that. You can’t build links that way in 2014 and EXPECT to win the ranking wars in Google as Google is actively fighting you.
Your ‘bricks’ kind of need to be different, ‘brick’ to ‘brick’, to avoid annoying Google or a competitor. There’s a thought out there. Get 200 or 300 or 400 links and you’ll rank. So it’s natural that you think I’ll buy some links from that mob (and I mean mob) for $200 and I’m sorted.
You’re not. Those cheap link building effrots are s*&t (sorry no other word to describe it). Depending on how good the search engine optimisation company is of course – there’s different varying colours of s*&t but generally speaking you stand in it when you open your email and it says:
We noticed you don’t rank for any of your keywords. We are an expert link building company…..
They’ll come from spammy blog and forum comments that might hurt your brand, or web hosting companies with an obvious unnatural paid link profile.
Even if they are decent at their job – a competitor will just report you for buying links if you do it too much. It will stick out like a sore thumb you’re buying links and that’s against Google TOS. Stop thinking about building links. Start thinking of creating and promoting useful content. Beware buying any ‘affordable’ linkbuilding service promising you guaranteed top rankings, even if they do have apparently great reviews on forums or blogs.
There’s no automated link building program that will not get you penalised, eventually, in my experience, but maybe I wasn’t doing it properly.
Conversely, I’d give advanced link building courses a miss too, and just focus on making your site a better landing page. Free link building software will probably have lots of free software you don’t know you’re installing on your pc.
Earning Media Links
I love picking up media links. The best way to get them is to be an authority on a subject, and that usually means WRITING posts that illustrate some expertise on the matter. A PR agency is a great way of getting you these types of links – they have the contacts. Legitimate PR is one of the most valuable assets in your link earning strategy.
I also like trying to get (or give) testimonials for links although I don’t over do it – and I would ONLY do it for products I like.
The Perfect Link Request Email
First, there’s probably no PERFECT link request email. :) but here’s how I do it (for the Hobo site, every so often).
- I don’t send that many out – only one in the last year – which I got.
- I keep the email short and to the point
- I use a title like “FAO Organisation Website Name” Website
- I never automate them – each one is crafted personally and (much like the blog) in a laid back manner.
- I CORRECTLY IDENTIFY the exact PAGE I want a link on (after identifying it’s a good page (and yes, Pagerank comes into it regardless of what others say but I also look to see if that page ranks high, gets traffic and is itself internally (at least) well linked to.
- It’s never JUST a links page with no content I want my link on, and it’s never on their home page.
- I also correctly IDENTIFY if they have a habit of linking out to relevant articles.
- I NEVER ask them to link to my home page.
- I always provide them with the URL I desire them to link to
- I ALWAYS have a piece of content that’s of value and WORTH linking to – after all, I wouldn’t link to pap.
- I NEVER specify anchor text that should be used.
- I NEVER even mention reciprocal links
- I only contact them once (ok, maybe twice over the course of a year, as it turned out)
- I am honest as to who I am, when doing it for myself
Most importantly – I am honest about why I want a link.
I don’t tell them it will help them, I tell them (usually) it’s more up to date information than they currently link to and it will help us and might be useful to their readers. And it is. I don’t tell them it will help their rankings, or that I was “browsing the web and came across their site”.
I’m not exactly sure what above is the ‘killer’, but this method works more often than not. Lastly, if I spot something amiss on their site, I’ll point it out in a friendly manner, and tell them to contact me if they need any assistance in the subject of what I do – SEO. Not exactly rocket science is it.
Don’t let anyone tell you ‘link building is dead’ – because that’s not true.
You SHOULD STILL be thinking of WHERE your NEXT BEST LINK should be coming from – it’s incredibly important if you have no links. You should avoid unnatural links.
I’d focus on building better in-depth content than your competitors have, and spend time making friends online who might throw you a bone and share your content, so you have a chance of picking up those EDITORIAL LINKS you need to rank in Google with.
I would certainly avoid like the plague link building packages with promises of guaranteed ranking – even with ‘no footprint’ claims – even those you spot on Adwords. Those are VERY rarely going to be expert black hats pimping those services – and often – the end result is your site will ‘burn’. If you don’t want to jump through all these hoops and avoid penalties – get some aged domains together for your business and hire a good black hat – it’s redirect, burn and churn time – but look out – Google is out to burn you :)
If (for educational purposes, of course) you want to learn more about other aspects of marketing in Google with link strategies that I have deliberately steered clear of, I’d consider running it by Paul Madden, Rishi Lankini or Irish Wonder, – three smart influential people I know with their ear to the ground on such matters.
Avoid the riskier stuff running past Matt Cutts, however!
I hope you found these linkbuilding tips useful enough to comment or share :)