Disclosure: “’Link Building’ can be risky! This article is personal opinion of research based on my experience of almost 20 years. There is no third party advertising on this page or monetised links of any sort. External links to third party sites are moderated by me. Internal links point to my own content and services. Disclaimer.” Shaun Anderson, Hobo
These are my updated notes on white hat, high-quality ‘link building’:
What is “link building” in SEO?
QUOTE: “We do use links as part of our algorithms” John Mueller, Google, 2015
Link building in 2020 is the process of earning links on other websites. Earned natural links directly improve the reputation of a website and where it ranks in Google, and other search engines. Self-made links are risky and come with them the risk of penalisation by the Google webspam team.
Link building can be a very risky strategy in 2020, and one that I would avoid until you have (at least) first dealt with the inevitable quality issues on your website. If your business or website content is not attracting organic links or social shares you may have a big problem on your hands, and unnatural links will not help you in the long run.
I should know. I used to be a ‘web spammer’.
It is important to know that in 2020, Google “discards” and “discounts” lots of links to your site, especially the low-quality links it identifies, and it takes a lot longer to see the effects of some types of link building.
Links still matter in most situations but Google is looking to demote sites that have no E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) and a big part of E-A-T is getting mentions and links on authoritative sites.
Google still rewards high-quality links, actively aims to ignore lower-quality links and will still penalise real-time spamming activity using manual actions.
Before I ‘built links’ to a site I would check the site for quality issues first and improve website content. It’s easier, cheaper and an investment in a pro-active activity that Google isn’t actively devaluing.
Table of Contents
How To Build Links In 2020
QUOTE: “in general I try to avoid that so that you really sure that your content kind of stands on its own. We do use links as part of our algorithms but we used lots and lots of other factors as well so only focusing on links is probably going to cause more problems for your website than it actually helps” John Mueller, Google 2015
There are many ways to build links in 2020.
Some techniques are ‘legitimate’, ‘white hat’ and ‘natural’, and many – perhaps most – are classified as ‘black hat’. Such techniques violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and are labelled ‘webspam‘.
This link building guide is for beginners – it’s not a guide on how to spam Google.
Off-page SEO, such as link building, can be a tricky business and, for some, is a tactic to avoid altogether. Some would claim that is because Google has, very successfully, equated linkbuilding with web spam, and the industry news machine is started almost entirely – all the time – and fuelled by Google PR saying something or enforcing its quality guidelines.
Not all link building is web spam and in fact, building links in 2020 is still an incredibly important aspect of search engine optimisation.
It is just not the only thing to focus on.
High-quality links do not live in isolation from a high-quality product, service or website.
Hopefully, this article helps you make a sensible choice when considering building links to your site.
Should I Copy My Competitors?
You do not need the same links as your competitors, nor do you need the same content.
But if you lack the inspiration to create something unique, you might want to, at least copy what your competitors do well.
As part of competitor analysis in my SEO audit, for example, I review the top competitors backlinks to see if they have managed to earn any extremely high-quality links and determine how they did it and if it can be replicated.
You won’t be able to get every link your competitor has but you may be able to spot links you should have or could get.
I look for evidence of high-quality content marketing on competitor sites and I identify the top linkable assets in the niche and who links to them.
With this information is possible to copy, learn from or emulate successful competitor link building strategies.
All my mid-level SEO audits come with this information reviewed.
You can also use a tool like Majestic to look at the links of any site and a tool like SEMRush to identify the top-ranking pages on a site, for instance.
You are only looking for examples of high-quality marketing.
You don’t want to engage in any low-quality SEO techniques just to take on one or two competitors. You have no way of knowing if those links are disavowed or devalued.
You may wonder how they get away with it and you don’t (lol) but competitors might rank despite unnatural links or because of them:
QUOTE: “How do they get away with it? I think another tricky part there is like you don’t really know if they get away with it. In the sense that for the webspam team as well we try to recognize those kind of links and just ignore them. And the webspam team when they run across like a bigger pattern of links like that they they also apply manual action there and they essentially neutralize those links. So you wouldn’t see that any of the link tools. And a site might continue to rank fairly well despite all of these links essentially being ignored. So what ends up happening is they spend a lot of time doing all of this stuff to kind of build these unnatural links and in the end they don’t really have an effect. And they could have spent that time actually doing something useful for the long term for their website.” John Mueller, 2017
QUOTE: “Our algorithms (and the manual webspam team) often take very specific action on links like these; just because the sites are still indexed doesn’t mean that they’re profiting from those links” John Mueller, 2017
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).
What you do want to do is find out what pages on your competitor’s sites are driving links to the site.
You are looking to identify the very best links your competitor has earned, and let historic competitor marketing activity inform yours today.
Competitor analysis is just one aspect of successful SEO in 2020. You can see an example of my SEO audit report online.
Content marketing, for me, is THE most legitimate and best ‘link building’ strategy in 2020 you as a business can employ to build links to your site. I use content marketing for this very site and you can see in the graph above (from Majestic) the results from such content marketing activity.
The (new version of the) article you are reading right now is an example of ‘content marketing‘ and it has over the years earned me lots of backlinks. I’ve focused solely on using content marketing strategies since 2012 to drive 100% of the link building activity to this site, and I enjoy it.
It is simple, too, but more importantly, risk-free. When I want to build links I simply write an article on this blog.
I use the following strategy and simply ‘rinse and repeat’:
- Pick a topic relevant to the subject matter of my blog (which is Google SEO)
- Offer my advice on the topic based on my 20 years experience
- Include original research on the topic
- Curate the best up-to-date advice out there on the topic from other experts (citing my sources as I go)
- Publish my article on my website and to my newsletter (which 40,000 people are actively subscribed to via Feedburner)
- Automatically syndicate my blog post to Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin to boost social activity
And that’s basically it.
What you will find, if you do it right, and you are passionate about your subject matter and clear about the purpose of your blog, is that by simply creating content on your website will generate natural backlinks to your site IF the content resonates with the target audience.
This strategy suits my aims and has worked for me. I am always learning – always consuming content. I do, however, aim to spend 10-20% of my time in ‘production’ mode, rather than ‘consumption’ mode.
Content marketing coupled with outreach (the act of actively promoting your content to those who might link to it) is a very powerful link building tactic indeed although I have managed to largely get by without that element on this blog. Check out my article blogging for SEO benefits.
I like making stuff, and when you make stuff people will link to it, and over time, that practice will inform Google of your level of E-A-T.
What Is E.A.T.?
Google aims to rank pages where the author has some demonstrable expertise on experience in the subject-matter they are writing about. These ‘quality ratings’ (performed by human evaluators) are based on (E.A.T. or EAT or E-A-T) which is simply ‘Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness‘ of the ‘Main Content of a page’
QUOTE: “Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness: This is an important quality characteristic. …. Important: Lacking appropriate EAT is sufficient reason to give a page a Low quality rating.” Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines 2017
QUOTE: “The amount of expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (EAT) that a webpage/website has is very important. MC quality and amount, website information, and website reputation all inform the EAT of a website. Think about the topic of the page. What kind of expertise is required for the page to achieve its purpose well? The standard for expertise depends on the topic of the page.” Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines 2017
Who links to you can inform the E-A-T of your website.
QUOTE: “I asked Gary (Illyes from Google) about E-A-T. He said it’s largely based on links and mentions on authoritative sites. i.e. if the Washington post mentions you, that’s good. He recommended reading the sections in the QRG on E-A-T as it outlines things well.” Marie Haynes, Pubcon 2018
Google is still a ‘link-based’ search engine ‘under-the-hood’ but it takes so much more to stick a website at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs) in 2020 than it used to.
Links are evidently still VERY important in 2020, and historic patents give us an indication of the link analysis Google might do.
Consider these patents:
Ranking based on Link Analysis using Historical Data
QUOTE: “In 2005, Google published a patent application that describes a wide range of temporal-based factors related to links, such as the appearance and disappearance of links, the increase and decrease of back links to documents, weights to links based upon freshness, weights to links based upon authoritativeness of the documents linked from, age of links, spikes in link growth, relatedness of anchor text to page being pointed to over time.” 12 Google Link Analysis Methods That Might Have Changed – Bill Slawski
A ‘measure of quality’ based on ‘the number’ of links:
QUOTE: “A system can determine a measure of quality for a particular web resource based on the number of other resources that link to the particular web resource and the amount of traffic the resource receives. For example, a ranking process may rank a first web page that has a large number of other web pages that link to the first web page higher than a web page having a smaller number of linking web pages.” Did the Groundhog Update Just Take Place at Google? Bill Slawski
Ranking based on ‘a decrease in a rate or quantity of new links that point to the document over time‘
QUOTE: “A method may include receiving a document and an initial score for the document; determining that there has been a decrease in a rate or quantity of new links that point to the document over time; classifying the document as stale in response to the determining; decreasing the initial score for the document, resulting in an updated score; and ranking the document with regard to at least one other document based, at least in part, on the score.” The Original Historical Data Patent Filing and its Children – Bill Slawski
Ranking based on ‘on the time-varying behaviour of the links pointing to the document‘
QUOTE: “A system may determine time-varying behavior of links pointing to a document, generate a score for the document based, at least in part, on the time-varying behaviour of the links pointing to the document, and rank the document with regard to at least one other document based, at least in part, on the score.” The Original Historical Data Patent Filing and its Children – Bill Slawski
What Are ‘Natural‘ & ‘Unnatural‘ Links?
QUOTE: “You should never know in advance a link is coming, or where it’s coming from. If you do, that’s the wrong path“. BING
In link building, A natural link is a freely given editorial link and an unnatural link is a link you make yourself. Both affect rankings in Google.
- Google is on record saying it does not want to count any link that is not editorial.
- Google wants to reward high-quality ‘user value add’ content that has earned organic or natural links. They want to reward a ‘good user experience’ and unnatural links don’t form any part of that concept.
- Google has never wanted to count manufactured links – but its 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. This affects how a link-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.
- The type of links Google wants to count does not scale easily, and in fact, the type of links that scale easily is exactly the type of links Google wants to (at best) ignore or retroactively punish the violation. Perhaps that is the whole point.
- Critics will say this is because SEO is the biggest ‘threat’ to Adwords, Google’s sponsored advertising channel – but if Google didn’t take action on industrial scale manipulation – it would make the existence of their guidelines redundant.
- If a link is manipulative – it is 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 generate as a result of your activity.
- 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 kinds of links. Ranking adjustments, I think, could be based on how long you got away with fooling Google – and what Google thinks that deserves.
- The website link building industry was largely based on that kind of unnatural link building activity. Many still do practice those techniques now, clearly, ignoring the guidelines. I know the first links I ever ‘built’ would today be labelled ‘unnatural’ today – and so would my first optimisation techniques – but it’s a recognisable trend in Google what’s grey hat SEO today is black hat seo tomorrow.
- Take note that if it works to manipulate Google without you jumping through the value-add hoop in the middle of that strategy, which Google demands you jump through – it’s spam. In short, it is evident if it is a scalable approach to manipulating Google – 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.
Spam identified by the ‘sudden growth in the number of apparently independent peers (e.g., unrelated websites)’
QUOTE: “A sudden growth in the number of apparently independent peers (e.g., unrelated web sites), incoming and/or outgoing, with large number of links to individual pages may indicate a potentially synthetic web graph, e.g., which in turn may signal an attempt to spam the search engine. This indication may be strengthened if the growth corresponds to anchor text that is unusually coherent or discordant. This information can be used to demote the impact of such links– e.g., in a link-based ranking system such as the one proposed by Brin et al. either as a binary decision item (e.g., demote score by fixed amount) or a multiplicative factor.” The Original Historical Data Patent Filing and its Children – Bill Slawski
Building Links Is Easier When You Have Content Worth Linking To
QUOTE: “The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to 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 Webmaster Guidelines, 2018
Getting other sites to link to yours is easy when you have content worth linking to. It is that simple in some cases.
This is exactly how I build links to the Hobo website.
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 the first thing you should be doing is adding high-quality content to your site.
I think How-To articles, or articles that discuss a common problem often discussed in forums, etc. – some call it evergreen, timeless, in-depth or flagship content – is best suited to link-bait (and visitors!).
High-quality In-depth content is always going to get linked to or shared on social, 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? That page needs to be improved. Each FAQ could be an individual page with a good page title, which meets its purpose, in a well-structured site.
Alternatively – you could turn a smaller FAQ into a long-form in-depth content piece focused on the topic at hand.
You are reading one of these expanded FAQ now.
You need to ask yourself what do people want to know about your products, or your industry – not just your business. And you need to add that content to your website.
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 folks are not interested.
Remember – Google wants to reward UNIQUENESS. It’s a pretty simple extrapolation to mean that translates into unique IN-DEPTH – or LONG FORM, INFORMATIVE PAGE COPY and guess what – that type of content picks up links when it DOES rank in Google.
How Link Building Has Evolved
Link building is designed to manipulate Google Pagerank and/or actual rankings based on anchor text manipulation.
QUOTE: “DYK that after 18 years we’re still using* PageRank (and 100s of other signals) in ranking?” Gary Illyes from Google – Search Engine Roundtable
We can only presume Google still uses Pagerank (or something like it) in its ordering of web pages.
QUOTE: “A method assigns importance ranks to nodes in a linked database, such as any database of documents containing citations, the world wide web or any other hypermedia database. The rank assigned to a document is calculated from the ranks of documents citing it. In addition, the rank of a document is calculated from a constant representing the probability that a browser through the database will randomly jump to the document. The method is particularly useful in enhancing the performance of search engine results for hypermedia databases, such as the world wide web, whose documents have a large variation in quality.” The Original PageRank Patent Application – Bill Slawski
QUOTE: “A high pagerank (a signal usually calculated for regular web pages) is an indicator of high quality and, thus, can be applied to blog documents as a positive indication of the quality of the blog documents” Positive and Negative Quality Ranking Factors from Google’s Blog Search (Patent Application) – Bill Slawski
Link building has always affected your position in Google SERPS, but in 2012 link building changed forever (for real businesses).
Just before April 2012, after years of Google doing little to combat this type of off-page SEO at scale, even an inexperienced link builder could make just about anything rank in Google, for any keyword phrase, without much consequence.
Simply by creating a 300-word article and building (for instance) 500 unnatural links to it from (even very low-quality blogs) with unique anchor text, spread out over a few months, you could achieve top rankings. Link builders could do this largely free from fear that Google would do much about it – because everybody seemed to be ‘doing it’ (in competitive niches).
I know I was.
It was relatively VERY easy, compared to today in 2020!
Industrial scale link building services were dictating the very SERPs owned by Google, just by taking advantage of the way Google works in counting links as votes and ‘ranking factors’.
So, 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 update and an old mantra shouted even louder – earn rankings based on merit and uniqueness, or be punished.
When I say, ‘nuked’ – of course, this practice still goes on.
It can still be effective, but this activity comes with an increased risk of Google penalty, even when you are an experienced black-hat. This practice is still offered, today, as linkbuilding services and packages to unsuspecting business owners – when it is not a suitable route for real companies to take with a single website.
Maybe it shouldn’t be THAT important going forward, to have only one website, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.
Google has a few surprises for Webmasters bending the rules using what they call spammy links.
QUOTE: “The manual actions team… can look at the labels on the on the links or a site gets. Basically, we have tons of link labels; for example, it’s a footer link, basically, that has a lot lower value than an in-content link. Then another label would be a Penguin real-time label. If they see that most of the links are Penguin real-time labelled, then they might actually take a deeper look and see what the content owner is trying to do.”
“So, if you think about it, there are tons of different kinds of links on the internet. There are footer links, for example. There are Penguinized links, and all of these kinds of links have certain labels internally attached to them, basically for our own information. And if the manual actions team is reviewing a site for whatever reason, and they see that most of links are labeled as Penguin real-time affected, then they might decide to take a much deeper look on the site and see what’s up with those links and what could be the reason those links exist — and then maybe apply a manual action on the site because of the links.”
“So disavow is again, basically, just a label internally. It’s applied on the links and anchors. And then you can see that, as well. Basically, you could have like a link from, I don’t know, WhiteHouse.gov, and it has labels Penguin RT, footer and disavow. And then they would see that — they would know that someone or the webmaster or content owner is actively tackling those links.” Gary Illyes Oct 2016
As well as investing more manpower to hand out MANUAL ACTIONS (penalties), Google introduced a myriad of algorithm changes including the Google Panda Update; we think, to deal with those low-quality pages, and GOOGLE PENGUIN; we think, to deal with those low-quality links.
Google says Google PANDA and PENGUIN are algorithm modifications (as opposed to penalties) – but critics will say that is splitting hairs.
FYI I’ve very much simplified these two algorithm changes in Google, but trip a PANDA/CORE QUALITY or PENGUIN flag, and traffic levels can take a nosedive overnight – 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, looking at your traffic from Google.
My blog is not a black hat SEO blog. I won’t go into link wheels, link hubs, blog networks, three-way links, tiered link building service, illegal hacks, PBNs or redirects (other than mention them) because I don’t do any of that anymore (not that I did much of that).
For me (at least) the focus since Google Penguin in April 2012 (and especially since the introduction of the disavow links device) has focused entirely on building something useful on my site that will attract links so I don’t need to build unnatural links and be fearfully looking over my shoulder at every major algorithm change.
Note that in 2016, Google modified Google Penguin to ignore links, rather than penalise you for them, with the ever-present threat of a manual action if flagged as spam by the algorithm.
QUOTE: ‘Penguin doesn’t… penalize anymore’ Gary Illyes, Google 2016
QUOTE: “I think with this release of penguin we did achieve something really nice because it doesn’t (like traditionally web some algorithms used to demote sides, even entire entire sites.
That’s not the case anymore with penguin this penguin managed to or can in fact discard links that are bad that’s the one of the nicest changes in this penguin it can be way more granular than the previous releases.
As I said previous releases usually demoted whole sites while this one can even go to a page level and discount the link but they won’t be penalized that’s the that’s the measure thing.
Penguin doesn’t work or doesn’t penalize anymore.
It doesn’t demote it will just discard the incoming spam toward the side and it will just ignore the spam and that’s it.
No penalty no demotion and it works in real time …basically if there are many or if there are bad links and other kinds of signals coming towards the side then it will just discard them and that’s what they need to know they can still see those links in search console and they can decide whether they want to disavow or remove.” Gary Illyes, Google 2016
QUOTE: “With negative SEO, most people mean that a competitor is creating bad links for your website…we work really hard to prevent these things from causing any problems. We work hard on our algorithms to try to recognize these kind of problems and catch them ahead of time. In practice I rarely see any issues around that and when I do see an issue where I think that maybe this is created by a competitor then usually the team is willing to look into the details and see what happened there and make sure that this isn’t an issue that is artificially causing problems for a website.” John Mueller, 2013
The perceived risk of negative SEO has reduced with the change to the Google Penguin algorithm in 2016, but it is still a real phenomenon some webmasters fret about despite Google claiming:
QUOTE: ““we haven’t seen a single case a single one where those toxic link campaigns work” Gary Illyes, Google 2016
There is documented evidence negative SEO can get you reviewed by the webspam team. That may or not be a problem for you.
My notes in this article are for money sites – real business sites – sites you DO NOT want to burn in Google – sites you want to build something useful to people (that makes money). If you know your only option is to break the rules and have a short-term focus, 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 are thinking of the long-term health of their business and who understands that the key to ranking in Google in the future is by making the website better, richer in content and the best user experience it can be.
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 any budget in unnatural links these days:
QUOTE: “Thanks for the report, Attila! I believe the team already saw this from the other forum, but thank you for taking the time to put it all together. The tricky part about issues like these is that our algorithms (and the manual webspam team) often take very specific action on links like these; just because the sites are still indexed doesn’t mean that they’re profiting from those links. In general I’d recommend using the normal webspam report forms for issues like these, it’s also fine to send bigger compilations to us directly. I realize it can be frustrating to see these kinds of sites seemingly profit from such spammy tactics, so thanks for your calm post with all the details.” John Mueller, 2017
I’ve counted at least TEN Negative SEO attacks against this site in the last five years (as expected).
Today’s negative SEO efforts now look almost indistinguishable from genuine backlink building efforts a few years ago – but that’s the point – negative SEO efforts want to 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 CAN work to get you on the webspam team radar.
It was a smart move by Google to turn the game on its head – and get SEO fighting themselves to kill cheap linkbuilding services.
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 chased down by Google’s algorithms.
If you are totally new to building links to your website – I’d recommend you focus on some sort of content marketing and create the best page on the web for what you want to rank for – and then think ‘where is my next great link prospect’.
Or – find a good link prospect with a history of linking out, and create content for them to attract links.
Google agreed with Bing that 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 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. Authors have long aimed 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 earn 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 as Google devalues them, 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 don’t sell links and you’ll soon see results and keep them.
You can ALWAYS pick up the odd decent link to good content.
I spent the last few years cleaning up my blog, for this is ‘new seo’.
This page is an example. I deleted some old posts on the Hobo blog, reworked some stale content and merged similar content.
I added some videos from Google, who now advise on the subject-matter where they once did not, and I created this in-depth page that, I hope, is of some use for beginners wishing to market a website successfully in Google in 2020.
I essentially focus 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 hurt someone’s business.
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 2020.
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-to-month without old school link building techniques (or adding much new content as my case below illustrates when I was working on it):
Over the last few years, 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 (in the very first instance).
Some bloggers did notice, however.
QUOTE: 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:
QUOTE: “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:” Rishi Lakhani
The good news for me is YES – the kind of SEO I am passionate about still works – but the bad news for some people is – it’s a LOT OF WORK.
NOTE – I published my free SEO guide if you are totally new to all this, and want to learn more.
Is Link Building Dead?
QUOTE: “a webmaster is out of his mind to still rely on techniques that were common practice 8 months ago. Purchasing links was always risky but resembled a game of roulette, you could get caught but many people also got away with it. Today it’s not a question IF you get caught, it’s merely a question of WHEN you’ll get caught” Andre Weyher, Ex-Google 2012 (disavowed statement by Google)
NO, but unnatural links can’t be the day job for any professional SEO, who has the responsibility for a real business’s website traffic.
Some can say ‘link building is dead’ but the fact is – in 2020 – 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 with visibility in its SERPs.
Getting and keeping a variety of different ‘INDEPENDENT’ 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.
For the most part, Google will ignore a lot of your links and will reward any site with what practitioners call, rightly or wrongly, 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’ – although recent Google Quality Updates seem to focus heavily on CONTENT QUALITY, too!
High-quality seo copywriting has never been so important.
Avoid 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. You can’t build links that way in 2020 and EXPECT to win the ranking wars in Google as Google is actively fighting to devalue your efforts.
A lot of cheap link building tactics are crap (no other word to describe it). Depending on how good the search engine optimisation company is of course – there are different varying colours of crap but generally speaking, you stand in it when you open your email, and it says:
QUOTE: “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 the link building company are good 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. 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 builds high-quality links.
Free link building software will probably have lots of free software you don’t know you’re installing on your PC.
TACTIC: “Backlink Reclamation“
You can also often find potential broken links using Google Analytics or a link building tool like Majestic, by looking into any old pages on the site that have been deleted or moved. This process is called backlink reclamation and this report comes as a standard with my SEO audit service.
Backlink reclamation is one of the most legitimate forms of link building in 2020 for sites that have gone through multiple site designs and restructuring over the years.
Essentially what you do is you look at your website backlink profile and make sure that all and any backlinks pointing to the site are pointing to pages that return a 200 OK server header.
Any 301 redirects should be checked to ensure they point to EQUIVALENT content.
For more on 301 redirects see:
- NOTE: Some Redirects May Be Treated As Soft 404 Error Pages
- NOTE: 301 Redirecting expired pages to your home page may result in ‘soft-404s’
- NOTE: 301 Redirects from Products To Categories May Result in Soft-404s
- NOTE: You MUST Redirect To Equivalent Content
- NOTE: How To Use 301 Redirects Properly To Preserve Rankings in Google
- NOTE: Rel Canonicals Can Be Treated As 301 Redirect
TACTIC: Earn 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 overdo it – and I would only do it for products I like.
Media links are often as good as links get, in terms of quality. Media links are usually best gathered as the result of an intentional marketing/PR push to get such links, and as such, can often be hard to acquire.
The best media links are organic media links generated from some sort of PR or content production. Low-quality PR and ARTICLE sites that actually manipulate Google’s SERPS are to be avoided.
The more popular the media site, the better the link will be if it is organic.
Media links inform your website E-A-T.
The Perfect Link Request Email
First, there’s probably no PERFECT link request email but here is an example I used to use to get high-quality links:
- I don’t send that many out (none, in fact, in the last 3 or 4 years).
- 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 IDENTIFY the exact PAGE I want a link on (after identifying it’s a relevant page I also look to see if the site and page rank high in Google, or is indexed at all, whether it gets traffic and is itself internally (at least) well linked to.
- It’s never a low-quality links page I want a link on.
- I never ask for links on their homepage.
- I never ask them to link to my homepage.
- I also correctly IDENTIFY if they have a habit of linking out to relevant articles.
- 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.
TACTIC: “Broken Link Building”
What is Broken Link Building?
Broken linkbuilding is all about hunting for and spotting an opportunity.
A long time ago (site-wide links are not really in fashion now – although they are still valuable if they are editorial):
QUOTE: “Generally speaking, site-wide links can be fine. That’s not something where we would say that if a link is across a whole website then it’s automatically considered bad. So, I wouldn’t automatically treat those site-wide links as being problematic. Sometimes what happens is that we will run across site wide links where it’s like, “Oh, these are our partners.” And, you look at those partner websites and they also have this partner block on the side that point to the same sites and it’s more like a link exchange. But, those are essentially just normal unnatural links. It’s not that because they are site-wide they would be considered bad. It’s more that there is just this link exchange happening.” John Mueller, Google 2013
I used a very simple method to get 500 site-links from a PR 5 site with over 3000 links to it. Yes, a real site.
I’ve used the same method to contact ten other sites with the same request about the 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 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 backlinks 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!).
I ran the expired suspended domain through a backlink 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 six months)
- I had the same (perhaps better and more 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.
Backlink creation for me is all about opportunity – spotting it and actioning it to get real backlinks 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 link builder – 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 dropped domain sites in Google today, but you still can crawl sites easily to look for broken links.
TACTIC: Links On ‘Links To Useful Sites‘ Pages
Do I want a link to my site on a ‘Links To Useful Sites’ page? Sometimes, yes!
The problem is that a lot of these type of pages are created just to manipulate ranking in Google search engine result pages and if there are lots (100+) of links on there, 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).
Do not buy any of these types 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 on a reputable site, with a lot of backlinks to it itself. The more relevant the page is to your business, the better.
There are some indications the ‘useful links’ pages are, after all, helpful’ link:
- Check if the links page is indexed by Google at all using the site: operator
- Consider how authoritative the site 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 how many backlinks point to the links page from within the actual site (my favourite link building tool (reviewed on my list of the best SEO tools) is probably Majestic.
- Check how the site itself performs in third party tools like SEMRush. A site that ranks for many keywords and gets a lot of organic traffic itself from Google is probably a good site to get a link from. I also use Semrush to rank link prospects.
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. Stick to higher quality sites and well managed ‘links-to-useful’ pages.
‘Useful links’ pages are an age-old link building tactic and much abused in the past.
Some of these types of pages do have incredible value. It is also perfectly natural to have some of these types of links in your link profile if you have a reputable site.
These type of link opportunities are worth investigating.
- AVOID overdoing keyword stuffing rich anchor text links with important keywords in links to your site
- AVOID links pages with no review policy or that link to many other unrelated sites, as they normally link to low-quality sites.
- AVOID (where possible) obvious ‘link to me and I will link to you’ schemes
- GET links from sites with ‘useful links’ pages related to the topic of your website and that link out to competing sites of yours.
- You can get links from ANY useful links page that is kept high quality and offers some real value, but most of these higher quality opportunities WILL be more related to your niche, anyway.
Use Google and ‘operators’ to find resource pages that link to the type of content you are promoting – just type into Google some variation or combination of the following search operator and keyword phrase:
- “Keyword Phrase” + inurl:”useful-links”
- “Keyword Phrase” + inurl:”external-links”
- “Keyword Phrase” + “helpful resources”
- “Keyword Phrase” + “useful resources”
- “Keyword Phrase” + “useful links”
- “Keyword Phrase” + inurl:resources
- “Keyword Phrase” + intitle:resources
- “Keyword Phrase” + inurl:links
- “Keyword Phrase” + intitle:links
You can also search for specific type of sites and pages on them:
- site:.edu“Keyword Phrase” + “resources”
- site:.edu“Keyword Phrase” + “links”
- site:.ac.uk “Keyword Phrase” + “resources”
- site:.ac.uk “Keyword Phrase” + “links”
‘Useful Links’ pages are a decent link building opportunity and there ARE some pages like this that offer great value to your site.
TACTIC: “LinkBait” With Information-Rich Content
QUOTE: “If you’re making it easy for other people to link to your site, then that’s absolutely fine. On the other hand if you’re trying to trick people into linking to your site or doing some kind of link scheme like, ‘You link to me and I’ll link to you,’ then that’s something that we treat as an unnatural link.” John Mueller, Google
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: https://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 backlink 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=" https://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 overdo anything these days.
It’s kind of the same strategy as the now more traditional INFOGRAPHIC (although if you are embedding links in infographics with keyword rich anchor text, I know for a FACT that is penalty material after advising a client against it, who subsequently got a penalty for it – and it took MONTHS for a third party to get the penalty lifted).
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.
A few years back Lyndon Antcliff was kind enough to share some insights of ‘Linkbait’ – or ‘Baiting Links’ using social media – and that advice is still sensible in 2020.
QUOTE: “Social media marketing is more complicated than you think, in certain ways it’s simple, but you have to adapt tactics to suit the situation and that’s wear instinct is important.” Lyndon Antcliff
Five things you need to think about before you post a piece of linkbait:
- Headline: I would say the headline is the most important as if you don’t have this you have nothing. But a good headline can still get people to look at bad content.
- Formatting: This is actually quite important, by formatting I mean the way the thing looks. There are specific looks which certain people associate with something they would like to link to, the aim is to emulate the “look”, which is different to different target groups.
- Images: The web is multimedia, so use it. A great picture can do the work for you, a video even more so. If you can get an image in your linkbait do it, but not everyone has a good eye, check it with friends you know will tell you it’s crap if it is before you press submit.
- Audience: Absolutely crucial, you have to know who the piece is intended for. You have to craft your idea to be able to fit snuggly into the minds of your intended audience.
- Spelling: I work very fast, so I make a lot of spelling mistakes, and I don’t usually bother with grammar. But diggers, for example are Nazis for grammar and spelling, so if you want anything dugg, it’s best to triple check.
If you are new to social media marketing, check out this: How To Get Started in Social Media.
TACTIC: Guest Posting On Blogs & Sites For Links
QUOTE: “Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice, and if you’re doing a lot of guest blogging then you’re hanging out with really bad company. I wouldn’t recommend relying on guest posting, guest blogging sites, or guest blogging SEO as a linkbuilding strategy.There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future. And there are absolutely some fantastic, high-quality guest bloggers out there. I changed the title of this post to make it more clear that I’m talking about guest blogging for search engine optimization (SEO) purposes.” Matt Cutts, Google 2014
Google does not want you guest posting on blogs for links. If you are guest blogging for links, they should have a nofollow attribute on the links.
QUOTE: “Think about whether or not this is a link that would be on your site if it weren’t for your actions…When it comes to guest blogging it’s a situation where you are placing links on other people’s sites together with this content, so that’s something I kind of shy away from purely from a link building point of view. It can make sense to guest blog on other people’s sites to drive some traffic to your site… but you should use a nofollow.” John Mueller, Google 2013
QUOTE: “I would almost go so far as to say well, even those those kind of guest posts where you do contribute significantly to the site maybe it makes sense just to have those links as nofollow.” John Mueller Google 2017
TACTIC: Attracting Editorial Links From Bloggers
These types of links can be very valuable, but you should probably avoid paying for blog links (most links, in fact). Google is on record as having a real issue with ‘low-quality’ blogging for link benefits.
If you have a piece of content worth sharing, it can often be useful to try and get bloggers to cover it.
You can also see from these posts the type of content that picks up links in your niche.
- Paying for blog links or any blog article marketing scheme
- create useful content on the site bloggers may link to
- reach out to specific bloggers with high-value sites and request coverage of your site
TACTIC: Forum Linkbuilding
Forum owners TYPICALLY add rel=nofollow to outbound links if the forum in question follows Google guidelines on user-generated content. Some forums drive some decent traffic, though, so it could be useful monitoring the feeds of particular forums and actually be answering questions on forums that in turn drive traffic to your site.
This type of activity is a significant effort, over a long time, with NO first-order effect on your Google organic traffic levels and rankings.
HOWEVER – the second-order benefit to forum activity is that is DOES drive real traffic to your site, and can lead to a greater exposure for your site.
MOST REPUTABLE FORUMS require some activity on the forum before you can post links, however, adding another hurdle to get over with this strategy.
- posting to forums that are unrelated to the content on your website
- posting on forums that are purely self-serving and self-promotional
- sitewide links from forums using spammy anchor low-quality
- low-quality forums with lots of self-promotional spam
- don’t ALWAYS just link to your own site, unless you want to be labelled a spammer
- Create content for the site users in forums are looking for, and have that URL on hand when answering questions
- participate in the conversation on forums where the conversation is relevant
TACTIC: Links From University & College Sites
These types of educational links from universities and colleges can be invaluable.
Any (reputable) link on the primary domain and pages of a major university, college or school website is (usually) going to be of a great help to your site in terms of Google traffic.
If you have any reason for any university, for instance, to link to you, then you should take FULL advantage of it.
Some tactics I’ve used in the past are:
- Job Vacancies for graduates
- Sponsorships for students
- Discounts for alumni, students and staff
- Scholarships for students
- Interviews with alumni
Take care: Any tactic you come across is often abused and as such comes with some risk to your business.
TACTIC: ‘Partner’ Links
I think it is essentially the responsibility of the site in question to nofollow these type of links. It would be very cynical of Google to punish these type of links. Some partners do not know they will receive links from recipients.
HOWEVER. If ALL your links come from these type of sources and are created in a manipulative way that could be seen as a problem.
Links from obvious PARTNERS may be counted as ‘self-made’ or ‘self-promotional’ links designed to manipulate Google and as such should NOT be used for the purposes of manipulating any SPECIFIC SERP (using keyword rich anchor text). Those type of links should come from better sources in 2020.
- AVOID overdoing keyword stuffing rich anchor text links with important keywords in links to your site
- AVOID obvious ‘link to me and I will link to you’ schemes
- GET links from reputable high-quality sites where possible
‘Partner Links’ pages are a low-level link building opportunity, but there are some pages like this that offer some value in terms of organic traffic and referral traffic. The more reputable or popular the site is the more useful this type of link will be.
TACTIC: ‘EVENT’ Links
Event links can be VERY powerful links indeed. If you are at exhibiting at an event or supplying any service to an event, AIM to get a link form the event website.
These websites tend to be trusted websites, and in turn, liked-to by more reputable sites like news and media sites. This type of linking is the type of linking that Google rewards.
- AVOID overdoing keyword stuffing rich anchor text links with important keywords in links to your site. One or two of these type of sites would be ideal, though, if it can be done naturally.
- AVOID obvious ‘link to me and I will link to you’ schemes
- AVOID obvious deals where you offer a service SPECIFICALLY for a link, where that deal is not entirely PRIVATE. Avoid emailing details of this sort of thing to anyone, too.
- GET links from high-quality reputable sites where possible
- GET the odd important anchor text if you can.
- GET more links than one, to multiple pages on your site if possible.
‘Event Links’ pages are an excellent link building opportunity for those where it is practical. The more reputable or popular the site is the more useful this type of link will be.
TACTIC: NHS Health Service Links
National Health Service sites are usually very reputable because they are in turn linked-to from other online authority websites. As such an ideal link to get to increase the trust and reputation of your own site – IF your content is related, of course.
- AVOID anything too obvious or spammy
- GET links from high-quality reputable sites where possible
- GET important anchor text if you can on a trusted site like this
- GET more links than one, to multiple pages on your site if possible.
NHS and Health Service Site links are an excellent link building opportunity for those where it is practical. The more reputable or popular the site is the more useful this type of link will be.
TACTIC: “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 three 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 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 have no denomination. Discount anybody?
- Local charities – a link you can probably buy! Sponsor a charity site for a mention – Google would be 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 you’re 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., 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 on Google. 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.
When hunting for links – I always remember some advice Jim Boykin gave me:
QUOTE: “Well, if I were to see a link somewhere, and were ask to value it’s SEO’s worth, then I’d look at the page where the link is located on, and compare it where that link links to. From the “ad” page, I’d see what percent of the internal links link to that page, then I’d check the internal link text used to link to that page, then I’d check external links to that page, and link text used from other sites that link to that page, then I’d look at the title tag of the page, then I’d look at the content of that page, I could peek at the age of the url, edu’s, edu’s to page, other links on that page (co-citation), related pages of that page, and a few other things too….there’s tons you can analyze, and all have a certain value. In the end it comes to “you get what you can get”, it’s not always the “perfect link”.”
TACTIC: Directory Submissions
Are directory submissions worthwhile in 2020 for SEO?
If I did submit a site to any directory, it would meet these criteria from Google:
QUOTE: 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 its 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.” Google
I don’t think many links are worth paying to be ‘reviewed’ by, and many of these SEO friendly directories end up turning into low-quality link farms.
Most directories send you VERY little or no referral traffic and on their own in little numbers have little impact in SERPs. Low-quality directory links are clearly not the type of links Google wants to count as a ‘vote’ – which render most SEO-friendly directory submission services redundant in 2020.
In short – I would not bother with directory submissions at all if you’re focusing on creating good content on your site, and you have an ‘aged’ site. If you have a new site, a site with low-quality links or in a difficult niche to build links, then submission to high-quality directories is an option for you.
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 another link cleaning company to remove the link next year!
Directory links are an age-old link building tactic. As such, Google will probably ‘frown’ upon a lot of manipulative links from low-quality directories.
Directory links should NOT be the main focus of any link building campaign – creating content or buzz that attracts links should be. However, if you are desperate for links, having a % of links from relatively high-quality directories WILL be of some (limited) use.
Links from directories are ‘self-made’ links and as such should NOT be used for the purposes of manipulating any SERP (using keyword rich anchor text). Those type of links should come from better sources in 2020.
Some directories probably do have some citation value. It is also perfectly natural to have some directories in your link profile. Links from directories can also help place you in a topical niche online. Remember what Google said about being ‘on-topic’.
You can pay for a review, but the rules state you cannot pay for a link. It is a bit of a catch-22 with directories. You are unlikely to get into severe issues with directory links (in terms of penalties) if you avoid low-quality techniques to manipulate the SERPS (in the short-term).
QUOTE: “Don’t dismiss directories completely. I have heard people talking about directories being altogether bad and advise people to avoid them. This is not the case, good quality, moderated directories, or niche directories are still worth looking in to.” Andre Weyher, Ex-Google 2012 (disavowed statement by Google)
- AVOID keyword stuffing rich anchor text links with important keywords in any directory link to your site
- AVOID directories with no review policy, as they normally link to low-quality sites.
- AVOID directory submission programs as they often link your site into a low-quality link network
- AVOID having a large percentage of your links coming from directories.
- AVOID specifically directories that spout ‘seo-friendly’ offerings
STICK to using your brand name or URL for your directory listing. If your brand name has a valuable ‘rich’ keyword, I would usually stick to the URL, and avoid TOO many directory links.
- Use a unique description for every submission to any directory.
- ONLY submit your site to a number of high-quality directories
- Get listed in directories that specialise in the niche the website operates in
Directories are a low-level link building opportunity. While a few links from a few select directories might be worth a listing, do not rely on directories as large part of your future marketing campaigns. If you have very few links or a poor link profile, a few directories can be useful. Stick to higher quality directories.
If you have a very poor link profile – non-manipulative links from high-quality directories probably won’t hurt.
Basics of Link Building
When you are not spamming the algorithm, and the Google web spam team is not on holiday, ranking in Google today is about patience, ACCESSIBILITY, RELEVANCE, CONTENT QUALITY, REPUTATION, USER EXPERIENCE 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 backlink 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 its 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:
QUOTE: “the manual actions team… can look at the labels on the on the links or a site gets. Basically, we have tons of link labels; for example, it’s a footer link, basically, that has a lot lower value than an in-content link. Then another label would be a Penguin real-time label. If they see that most of the links are Penguin real-time labelled, then they might actually take a deeper look and see what the content owner is trying to do. So, if you think about it, there are tons of different kinds of links on the internet. There are footer links, for example. There are Penguinized links, and all of these kinds of links have certain labels internally attached to them, basically for our own information. And if the manual actions team is reviewing a site for whatever reason, and they see that most of links are labeled as Penguin real-time affected, then they might decide to take a much deeper look on the site and see what’s up with those links and what could be the reason those links exist — and then maybe apply a manual action on the site because of the links.” Gary Illyes, Google 2016
How to do high-quality link building that works:
- Get links from real sites to build real ‘domain authority’.
- 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, as a beginner, 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 2020.
- If you want links, you had better have ‘linkable assets, ‘ e.g., pages on your website need to be a ‘destination’ that users engage with.
What Do Search Engines Say About Link Building?
QUOTE: “if you want to please Google with your SEO, then forget about SEO. Google wants you to create a site as if you don’t intend to manipulate their algo, but as if you are doing it because your passionate about the topic of your site. If you really are, your content will be great and your target audience will love you, this will do the best possible SEO you can imagine” Andre Weyher, Ex-Google 2012 (disavowed statement by Google)
Which Search Engine Gives The Best Advice?
Unless you 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 high-quality page (if you haven’t been doing anything shady in the past, that is. If you have, you need to concentrate on dissociating yourself 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 Google, which no sensible person wants.
Bing and Yahoo recently encouraged you to outreach for relevant links to improve the rank of your website: Bing said:
QUOTE: “simply ask websites for them” BING
QUOTE: “Correspond with Webmasters of related sites and other providers of relevant content in order to increase the number of links to your site.” Yahoo
Google has a different view. Google says:
QUOTE: “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.” Google
Two of the 3 major (UK) search engines (recently) encouraged you to ask websites for links to improve the ranking of your site, and the biggest, Google, tells you not to do it at all.
Bing’s SERPs (which power Yahoo searches) look pre-penguin and pre-EMD (Exact Match Domain Update) 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 Backlink 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
QUOTE: “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.” Bing
That ‘spam rank factor’ is interesting. I wonder if Google has a similar approach – it certainly feels like it.
Tell The World About Your Site But Don’t Get Caught Asking For Links
Google used to say:
QUOTE: “Have other relevant sites link to yours.” Google
Then it’s guidelines changed to:
QUOTE: “Tell the world about your site“. Google
and in 2020:
QUOTE: “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 no longer 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 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:
QUOTE: “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 have had thousands of bottom-feeder link requests, and I don’t answer any of them.
It is a waste of time for most of us – and harmful in the long-run.
There are many ways to skin a cat of course, but this is how my linkbuilding company does it – and as I’ve said before, we’re a content-focused link building agency.
We don’t build links to crap sites in 2020 (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 find useful.
That is the start point.
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 2020 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 reputation (far from it).
The linking site you earn a link from doesn’t have to be an authority in its niche, and it doesn’t have to be the same links as your competitors to get the same rankings.
Even if the site is unrelated to your site (and you just bagged a lucky link on a well-managed website) – THAT is a GREAT link in 2020.
Any editorial link is a good link, as long as the PAGE it is on, is relevant to the PAGE it is linking to.
What it should NOT be is a website (or websites) that ONLY exist to provide links to other sites to boost rankings.
Sites that are designed just to link out to other websites to help seo are toxic in 2020 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, still.
I think about how I get links from real sites, and the more authoritative the site, the better, of course.
- You don’t just want a link on a useful links page, but as long as the links page is a valuable resource, and not abusing anchor text, then it could still be a good link – perhaps even a great link
- You don’t want your link on a page, on a site, openly 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 that ranks in Google for what is in the title tag.
Earned contextual links are the holy grail of building links, for me, but if the link is on a good domain, with a suspected high PR and is not abusing anything, just about any 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 want the same links as my competitors for my clients – you just need Google and your brain, in some cases.
There are many ways to perform link building (and I don’t IGNORE competitor research), but if I was a link builder picking through competitors backlinks 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 backlinks and identify quality linking patterns – but often, competitor research is best for inspiration, rather than getting the exact same link as your competitor.
Focus on building better content, a better user experience, and get links from REAL SITES. Remember that….and you will probably always be ok.
Do Off-Topic Links To My Site Count?
QUOTE: “getting a link from a high PR page used to always be valuable, today it’s more the relevance of the site’s theme in regards to yours, relevance is the new PR.” Andre Weyher, Ex-Google 2012 (disavowed statement by Google)
Yes – although not as valuable as they once were. 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 slightly 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 gone 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 an SEO company.
I had a PR 9 link once because I wrote about something ‘off-topic’.
Recently I was editorially linked to, from a .edu on a ‘slightly‘ off topic subject to an article I wrote two years ago.
Once our 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 four pages in on the article (to an article that was a year old).
The link was to an off-topic post on my site that ranks pretty good because of my domain authority – for want of a better word – and that new link will only increase that domain authority.
When you go off topic into less competitive niches, you can sometimes have a better chance of ranking on the first page of Google – and so – pick up natural links even further down the line.
The Best Way To Earn Natural Links Is TO Be Top Of Google!
Ranking no1 in Google makes natural link building that much easier!
If you are the number 1 link in a SERP, you wouldn’t believe the number 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 – i.e., 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 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 count.
But indeed, 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 monetise 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.
Which Links Affect A Website’s Ranking In Google SERPs?
QUOTE: “There are a good few elements taken into account here, like how many links are there in total? A very important one; what is the quality of the pages they come in from? Do the pages look “real” or are they just there to host the links? What anchors are used? The commercial vs. non commercial ratio of the anchors. In reality it’s very easy to recognise a blackhat profile” Andre Weyher, Ex-Google 2012 (disavowed statement by Google)
Any link that sends you human 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 pages in Google SERPs?
First, you need to be aware that the quality of a link (that affects a ranking improvement for your site in Google) is dependant on the page the link is found 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 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 useful link.
It’s the page you need to evaluate, and how important that page is on the site.
The relevance of the page is probably even more important in 2020.
Google used to tell you through their cache results if a link was being ‘counted’ at least in some fashion.
Back in Nov 2011, Google removed the cached message:
QUOTE: “these terms only appear in links pointing to this page“
While this was regularly an inaccurate statement for the cached pages to declare I always found this information in cached pages useful – when looking at backlink profiles to investigate weird ranking results – or ranking anomalies/false positives – that shed light on how Google worked on some level.
This feature of Google cache was also very useful when testing, for example, first link priority.
It was also helpful to investigate why a page ranked for a keyword, for instance, when the word was not on the actual page.
You could often catch a glimpse of backlink building efforts that worked looking at this – which led to a few surprises, more often than not.
Now Google cache only tells us:
QUOTE: “These search terms are highlighted:”
Another small window on determining how Google might ‘work,’ at a granular level, disappeared to lead to more obfuscation.
Which Links Are Worth Addressing?
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 (e.g., a natural link profile).
What follows is my general rule of thumb:
- Internal links are Not THE most important type of links, but the best place to start. Get your site in order before you get backlinks. Google appreciate a good site structure with plenty of text links pointing to important pages on your site. On smaller sites, I prefer a minimal site-wide navigation and a lot of in content links (if you have a lot of useful content), and I consider first link priority. Don’t forget to link to your important pages often to ensure you get the pages crawled in the first place. On larger sites, keep it simple with concise anchor text and simple, contextual navigation systems, like breadcrumb navigation systems. See my article on internal link building.
- Links on mainstream news sites, and other types of authority sites and online brands is the holy grail in my opinion – promotion, old style. They are trusted and have a lot of links to them. This type of link will add to positive E-A-T.
- 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. If the page is thematically related to yours, then that is a GREAT link (if it is an organic editorial link). This type of link will add to positive E-A-T.
- A Link on a suspected 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. I still use PR (PageRank) when describing such a link, but at our end, all we have to work with, in 2020, is something like TrustFlow (or another third party metric) unless you are working out PR (or rather a proxy of it) yourself. This type of link will add to positive E-A-T.
- 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 dependent 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). Social media could be useful for ‘sentiment analysis” – do people like or hate your site?
- 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 low-quality, but sometimes just a natural part of the link graph )
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
- Paid Sitewide links & blogrolls (generally low-quality in terms of anchor text transference – used to be good for PR transference but not nearly as useful as it used to be) PENALTY MATERIAL
- Article submission & syndication services – PENALTY MATERIAL
- Low-Quality Directory Links – PENALTY MATERIAL
- Forum Signatures & Forum Profile Pages (generally low-quality, dependent on page and forum, perhaps dependant on number of links too) PENALTY MATERIAL
- Widgets – PENALTY MATERIAL if Abused
- Unnatural Sitewide links – PENALTY MATERIAL
- Private Blog Networks (PBNs), Directory networks and just about any other type of link network – PENALTY MATERIAL IF DISCOVERED!
- Any Unnatural Links – Potential – PENALTY MATERIAL, Eventually
- Paid Links, of any sort (if you are rumbled) – PENALTY MATERIAL!!
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.
Google Penguin devalues a LOT of links in realtime but if you are flagged to the webspam team to deal with you have a greater risk of receiving a manual action.
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 that links need to be complemented 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’.
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.
Links Like Lasers
QUOTE: “stay focussed on quality of pages linking in to you, Google judges your link profile by the quality of pages linking to your site, getting 3 links from authentic pages will do much more than 1000 links from splogs, so invest your time into getting quality, not quantity” Andre Weyher, Ex-Google 2012 (disavowed statement by Google)
Google often still relies on links to find, index, categorise and rate websites (and pages) in 2020.
Content will always be king (especially in the future) but without links, content can still be a moot point.
You can have the best content in the world, but if you don’t have links pointing to it from other sites, it may lose out to optimised content on ‘hotter’ sites, even if that content is of poorer quality.
To properly visualise this ‘lasers’ or “SEO heat” analogy, you’ve got to accept success in search engines for competitive terms comes down very largely to links – the number of links, the number of right links… the number of ‘hot’ links.
Links are like lasers. A link to another site “heats” that site up a little. Links have the potential to make a site hot and send that site to the top of the results.
Some links get hotter in time, some get colder, and some disappear as each site is affected by those linking to it and from it.
With this constant shift, every site’s heat signature is in constant flux, and there’s little you can do to it except getting more of the right links to keep your site hotter than the competition for particular terms.
Some burn hot and then go cold, and vice versa.
OK – Now Forget about the links. That’s been worked out – Google’s counted the links, and filtered the crap.
In the diagram below, you can see in any collection of pages, there is natural heat and naturally hot and cold sites, because of the natural interlinking going on between pages.
In this model, popular sites are hotter than unpopular sites, and this is a reflection of the real web
Hot Sites and Those Out In The Cold
So Google now has Hot sites in its index, and Cold sites.
Everywhere in-between, Google has sites that generate some “heat signature“.
Hot sites are well known and well linked to and more likely to rank for any term if a page is properly optimised on-page and via the internal navigation structure of the website.
Hot sites are relatively trusted to inject content “directly” into Google’s index, especially if it’s “unique”, probably with a good amount of natural words to keywords.
‘Cold’ sites are not well connected (by links) to any neighbourhood or heat signature and virtually invisible in Google, except for very specific terms.
Hot sites are authoritative and trusted.
Cold sites are sites starved of heat, with a linking profile that’s very cold. Hello, Google Supplemental Index! Or whatever Google calls it in 2020.
A hot site has the potential to rank in Google SERPs regardless of site-theme & domain relevance although from my observations these ‘irrelevant’ pages can disappear in time.
Over the years – Google has done a really good job of balancing domain authority, relevance and a whole host of other ranking factors to spread that free traffic about and stop sites ranking for terms they probably should not rank for (think, Google Panda).
If its on-site architecture is tuned to promote a certain term leading to an optimised page, it will rank – if the page itself meets ranking requirements on page quality, utility and user experience.
Why Google Hates Paid Links
Google hates paid links because it is an obvious way to generate heat signature, and ranking ability, a site might not deserve.
Identifying one or two hot sites, and purchasing links on hot pages within that site, is enough to ignite an “undeserving” site and entire network and send it to the top of the SERPs.
Google likes it natural, because, that way, we do Google’s work for it and identify hot sites by linking to them. One thing is for sure, though.
If Google were confident they could via algorithmic calculation clearly identify paid links, the whole internet marketing industry would not have been talking about the war on paid links.
In this example we see a hot site linking to a cold site – instantly generating a heat source on this new site.
This is not natural in Google’s eyes. It’s not democratic in ‘that’ sense.
An Example Of A ‘Hot’ Site
Wikipedia is an example of a hot site. Everybody links to it.
It’s probably one of the hottest sites on the planet alongside Google, regarding link equity.
Wiki ranks for just about anything, and could be optimised further to rank for everything – (and not ONLY because it’s a REAL AUTHORITY – it’s an INFORMATION site! Many critics ask if this the real reason Google ranks Wikipedia at the top of a LOT of TRANSACTIONAL SERPs).
Of course, Wiki’s a natural phenomenon now.
It has links from cold sites and hot sites in both related and unrelated markets.
Features Of A Hot Site
- A hot site is one which a lot of sites link to it from other sites, all with a different heat signature.
- Hot sites can rank for anything if a page on the site is optimised in both the architecture of the site and on-page SEO.
- Hot sites are natural phenomenon created by other sites linking to them – the more popular the site, the more hot and cold links it will accumulate. Its possible neighbourhood and relevance are just natural occurrences of sites dividing the heat up within a particular network.
- Hot sites link to other hot sites. Generally speaking, a hot site won’t link to a typically cold site unless that site has content on it that’s nowhere else or is “new”, in turn making that a hot(ter) site. e.g. a high-quality site rarely links to a spam site.
What You Need To Do To Get More Visitors From Google
Let’s assume your page is optimised, you need heat. The hotter a site, or rather a page, the better the link for your site.
If a keyword is in the anchor text of the link, even better, but only if it is an EDITORIAL LINK, in 2020. Most ‘link builders’ build ‘brand’ links these days (links without important keywords in them).
The problem is the easiest links to find out there are on pages with very cold, or at least very diluted heat signatures.
It’ll take a lot of these to get hot – and now – too many ‘cold’ links could be a sign of unnatural link activity – and they often leave a nasty footprint Google can easily identify!
Should I Buy Links To Improve Google Rankings?
QUOTE: “If money changed hands in order for a link to be placed on a website then it should not flow PageRank, in essence, it shouldn’t affect search engines rankings …. we’ve taken action on this sort of thing you know for years and years and we’re going to keep taking strong action” Matt Cutts, Google 2013
The SHORT ANSWER is no – ESPECIALLY 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 were ineffective, it wouldn’t be against Google TOS. Think about what that means.
I can’t remember the last vertical I checked there weren’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 2020.
Google is getting better at dealing with some form of paid links. It depends on 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 prominent 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 in 2020, and there are still plenty of ways to get links without paying for them.
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:
QUOTE: “…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.” ((A MIDDLE EASTERN NATIONAL NEWSPAPER)).
I looked at the available links, and sure enough, a list of totally unrelated sites.
Visibly 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 bother with that).
Or I could expose them on a public blog.
Lucky I don’t ‘out’ SEO tactics is because I think outing SEO tactics is self-serving and slimy.
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 were buying links.
Would a rival newspaper use this information against you too if they knew, 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.
Note – expectedly – these newspaper websites soon got hit by Google – the first public indicator being a lack of toolbar Pagerank…..
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 is 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 cesspool of the web (when they Google is not ranking news sites own content above smaller businesses). A quick look at 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 subdomains rank well.
Yes, some newspaper sites HAVE woken up to the fact they have massive domain authority and are rolling out everything from dating sites to 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 at some local newspapers too and you see they don’t link out to anyone, anywhere. Oh wait – there are 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’ other people’s SEO strategies.
I think like a link builder and it’s more appropriate NOT to ‘out’ others under just about any circumstances.
Are Reciprocal Links With Unrelated Websites Safe?
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 too.
I spend some of my time looking for quality links and believe me; I’ve not found ANY in any email as I describe above.
It’s also against Google TOS to do this type of reciprocal link exchange:
QUOTE: “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 an SEO (whose meant to be manipulating search engines if you listen to some of the bollocks some big name web designers link-bait with these days).
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 will 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? Generally speaking, 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 useful 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?
Of course, you should ALWAYS be LOOKING for high-quality links, whether 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 that 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 – i.e., testimonial links from REAL sites that don’t 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 (that’s 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.
QUOTE: “‘You link to me and I’ll link to you,’ then that’s something that we treat as an unnatural link.” John Mueller, Google 2013
Scenario: 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) – i.e., improve their search results for the end user looking for information (and that 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 its algorithms, 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 a very common thing on the web.
Consider the small site that links to its 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.
I think Google would, at all times, take into account the trust and authority of the sites in question, and whether 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, whether 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 a bad neighbourhood.
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
What Is The Best Way To Build Links?
QUOTE: “You should never know in advance a link is coming, or where it’s coming from. If you do, that’s the wrong path“. BING
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.
QUOTE: “Try to work on your website as if SEO was not part of your plan, create content out of a sincere interest and enthusiasm for the topic of your page. This is what Google and your users want from you, I know it’s tempting to think about financial gain but remember that Googles primary concern is valuable information!” Andre Weyher, Ex-Google 2012 (disavowed statement by Google)
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.
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).
- EARNED I am only interested in organic link building e.g. non-paid links.
- 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 i.e., “link building expert” instead of “click here” or something. The thinking is, I’m not trying to rank for “click here” am I? I would be VERY careful, though – Google is on the lookout 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. Remember, too, that what Google can easily identify in your link profile, it can penalise, filter or demote your for.
- Contextual Link within the 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 buy these type of links (I don’t).
- Trust / Authority Trusted sites pass “trust factor”. 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 its 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!
- Relevance / Relationship / Theme How relevant is the page that is linking to you? I mean, if you have a ‘link building’ site, are you trying to get links from websites related to ‘link building’? 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 (E-A-T).
- 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” link builders, 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.
- 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 this kind of link that will help you in Google. 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 you’re 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. 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 2020 – avoid unnatural links – and you can avoid somebody copying you by coming up with something original or valuable in the first place.
The aim is to build E.A.T., not just links.
Why Vary Anchor Text When Building Links?
QUOTE: “What anchors are used? The commercial vs. non commercial ratio of the anchors. In reality it’s very easy to recognise a blackhat profile” Andre Weyher, Ex-Google 2012 (disavowed statement by Google)
The theory is simple. Mix up your anchor text to avoid important links being filtered out of your link profile. But in 2020 – it’s got a lot to do with the ratio of low-quality sites involved – rather than just the anchor text used.
This is the sort of thing you do not need to worry about if your link building is “natural“.
Imagine you could see Googlebot record your links as it finds them by spidering sites in real time.
If you consider that’s your link profile, it is probably not that hard for the smartest people in web spam to pick out your natural links (the INDEPENDENT links Google wants to count) and ignore, devalue or penalise you for the rest of them.
Consider this too:
Ranking based on ‘Unique words, bigrams, phrases in anchor text‘
QUOTE: “In one embodiment, the link or web graphs and their behavior over time may be monitored and used for scoring, spam detection or other purposes by a search engine. Naturally developed web graphs typically involve independent decisions. Synthetically generated web graphs-usually indicative of an intent to spam a search engine are based on coordinated decisions; as such, the profile of growth in anchor words/bigrams/phrases is likely to be relatively spiky in this instance. One reason for such spikiness may be the addition of a large number of identical anchors from many places; another possibility may be addition of deliberately different anchors from a lot of places. With this in mind, in one embodiment of the invention, this information could be monitored and factored into scoring a document by capping the impact of suspect anchors associated with links thereto on the associated document score (a binary decision). In another embodiment, a continuous scale for the likelihood of synthetic generation is used, and a multiplicative factor to scale the score for the document is derived.” The Original Historical Data Patent Filing and its Children – Bill Slawski
Ranking based on ‘changes over time in anchor text‘
QUOTE: “In one embodiment of the invention, the time-varying behavior of anchortext (e.g., the text in which a hyperlink is embedded, typically underlined or otherwise highlighted in a document) associated with a document may be used to score the document. For example, in one embodiment, changes over time in anchortext corresponding to inlinks to a document may be used as an indication that there has been update or even change of focus in the document; a relevancy score may take this change(s) into account.” The Original Historical Data Patent Filing and its Children – Bill Slawski
AVOID: Article Marketing Syndication
Article syndication (for search engine optimisation purposes) is a big no-no for me in 2020. 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 blog, on the whole, to attract traffic and links, and to build your 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 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 today’s 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 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 – but you should also include a ‘nofollow’ tag on any links in 2020.
A big thing to remember in 2020 is to watch Google doesn’t think you’re intent is to spam their algorithm with press releases. 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 notice, 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 i.e., https://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 an 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:
QUOTE: “Links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases distributed on other sites.” Google
Google published a pretty comprehensive video on advertorials, too (above).
Are Social Shares the ‘New Links‘?
Are tweets or Facebook likes the new links?
No. 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, 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. Google certainly has lots of manual quality raters in 2020.
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, to find if something is popular, they compare Twitter & Facebook shares.|
It’s clear that 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 (RIP) calls it right for me:
QUOTE: “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” Eric Ward.
The rewards from building artificial links will narrow – as the rewards from the social activities 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 agree with Eric on this too:
QUOTE: “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.” Eric Ward
If I get a choice between a 100 Tweets and a one 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 Facebook or Twitter to help my search engine rankings improve – especially with my new sites. I may use Twitter or Facebook to get new content INDEXED (Bing apparently followed FB fan pages links) 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.
Ten things I care more about than most social media links
- Google’s classification system: How Google classes your site – or rather YOUR INTENT, will have a major impact on your rankings. If your intent is to be an end-point of the traffic stop – to make money from Google’s free traffic – and offer little in return – then Google is not your friend. If you are willing to play the long game Google’s way (which isn’t easy), there are still plenty of opportunities, plenty of organic listings to be filled – even if they are under a number of ads Google’s top heavy algorithm would choke on.
- Domain Reputation: I don’t keep up with the terminology – but this is about how much Google trusts your site. This is the main reason as to why certain pages rank at the top of Google without (many) inbound links and sometimes have lots of social activity noise, and hence why we see crazy articles about social media having a bigger impact on rankings than links. Domain trust – or online business authority, I think – is based on factors I go into below. But getting, and keeping, domain trust, is all important now for real businesses that want to rank in natural listings using a quality content programme.
- Low-quality links: The low-quality links well is poisoned. Get out, now. Disavow them, remove them. Google killed low-quality link building techniques in most of the competitive niches I am in – probably yours, too. It’s NOT just a matter of ‘does this technique” work anymore. Low-quality links are not a defensible link strategy for most small businesses these days.
- Low-Quality SEO: If Google has a reason to put you in the sin bin, they will. Usually – they will do this by algorithmic means or lately by MANUAL ACTIONS in Google Webmaster Tools. So if flagged for manual review, your site had better not scream “SEO!”. You don’t want to be caught milking Google’s cash cow for yourself, whether that be pushing limits of technical SEO or just plain old keyword stuffing. Not unless your business model allows for this.
- High-quality links. Still, THE most important ranking factor. Link building just got HARDER, and MORE EXPENSIVE, just as Google wants it to. Low-quality link building is not defensible anymore and WILL get you into trouble, now that Google is policing its guidelines. The game now is to get high-quality links your competition CANNOT get (by hook, or by crook, you don’t want to be caught doing it). This is not an easy task when Google’s PR is making people even scared of linking out to reputable sites, for fear of appearing manipulative.
- Original, in-depth, passionate content: If you side with the visitor, you will win, Google says. Ultimately – it’s a moot point if you believe them or not. If you want free traffic from Google, you better get used to giving it free, high-quality content that will satisfy their visitors. Google wants to be the best search engine – it does want to satisfy certain users intent to find information. Google wants in-depth articles in organic listings – we even have the new code for ‘in-depth articles’ too.
- The correct keywords – this is genuinely the simplest thing you can do in SEO to get free traffic – proper keyword research. Sometimes – having A word on the page can be the difference between ranking no1 and not ranking at all, even with very relevant traffic. This is one way Google uses to share all that lovely free traffic about.
- Availability of your site – if Google can’t find your site for a few days – you will lose rankings that in some cases take some time to regain (smaller sites). If you block content from Google, you don’t rank. It’s a simple error I still see a lot of folk making – even theoretical physicists can foul of this**.
- User Satisfaction – the duration of time people dwell on your site, and the ‘success’ rate of your visitor actions (e.g. did you help Google satisfy their customer? Did they stay on your site for a long time, and not go back to carry out the same search?) And it’s not just visitors from Google – if you want a page to rank – it better satisfy the curiosity of a Google web spam team reviewer, too, or a Human Quality Evaluator.
- The speed of your web pages: I’d wager this was more important today than first introduced. Google even said that mobile sites rankings WILL suffer if not fast enough(and I have witnessed this I think). It’s all about – user experience and satisfaction. If you make your website faster, everybody is probably happier.
Even as I write those – I can still think of other factors. In fact, I can say I don’t factor Google Plus votes – or any other social share – in at all (at this time).
Google Plus, for my purposes, is a channel to get the word out – to get real links to a post (if I have my SEO hat on). If they are in play – it’s far too lightweight a factor for me to have noticed above other things I expect to have an impact.
Are there more ranking signals?
TONS. The above are some of the main things you can do SOMETHING ABOUT without knowing the most technical aspects of SEO or falling foul of Google’s guidelines.
Google is in constant flux, constant testing, constant UI change. Where you are in the world, and how often you’ve used Google from that location, and whether Google knows it’s YOU that is searching, has a MASSIVE impact on the listings Google personalise for you.
I am not saying ignore Google+ – there ARE reported benefits in other areas – just not when it comes to ranking your content about other content using more traditional methods.
I just don’t think Google is turning off links as a source of identifying quality anytime soon, not when they are raking in the cash, and not when they are putting so much effort into punishing low-quality link building.
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 it’, ‘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.
I hope you found these linkbuilding tips useful enough to comment or share.
If you are not technically minded, we can help optimise your site as part of our fixed price SEO service or ad-hoc SEO audit service.