The Tell-All-Truth Guide to Modern Link Building
Link building IS one of the most effective SEO strategies. But do you have the courage to admit this?
For years now, we've heard Google saying SEOs should stop building links. And while it's a commonly accepted truth that in the post-Penguin world you can no longer use "manipulative" link building practices, Google's propaganda gave birth to a radical idea:
"Backlinks are no longer important in Google's ranking algos, and link building can be safely ignored"
But is there any truth to this? Let's dig deeper to dot the i's and cross the t's!
A little bit of backstory
In my 7 years of marketing the SEO PowerSuite software, I've come to accept the fundamental fact: the only way to make our tools a success is to build them not the way we think is right, but the way you want them to be.
And that is why every single day I look through your comments on our news pages and social networks, learning the way you run SEO and how we can better serve your needs. However, the comment I came across last week made me stop in amazement and even spurred me to write this article (thanks a LOT for sharing your thoughts, Reg! ☺)
Backlinks in Google's algorithm and SEO
Can your website rank high without link building?
"If you build links, they are only going to hurt, not help" says Reg.
I'm sure you've heard this opinion before. And, no doubt, the idea that link building is risky has some legitimate roots: Google Penguin algorithm and manual link penalties have forced SEOs to re-think the concept of link building (link earning, link acquisition, content marketing or whatever you like it to call), making the process sophisticated and very time consuming.
But the undeniable facts tell us link building is not dead and is far (if this will ever happen) from dying.
While doing their best to frighten SEOs off link building, never has Google ever told us they no longer rely on backlinks and PageRank.
And on the contrary, every now and then they have admitted that backlinks and PageRank (the algorithm Google uses to score websites based on their backlink profiles) are very far from being substituted by any other ranking factor.
"We have run experiments… and the quality looks much, much worse."
"It turns out backlinks, even though there's some noise and certainly a lot of spam, for the most part are still a really really big win in terms of quality for search results."
"It turns out backlinks, even though there's some noise and certainly a lot of spam, for the most part are still a really really big win in terms of quality for search results."
Even though the "public" PageRank scores aka Toolbar PageRank haven't been updated for a couple of years now, internally Google hasn't ever stopped to use PR in their ranking algos. (And well… if Google issues Penguin updates to protect PageRank from being manipulated, isn't it in itself proof that PageRank is an important and vulnerable part of their algo? ☺)
More to that, even the most recent studies show the number of domains linking to a page correlates with rankings more than any other factor.
"Build a great website and backlinks will come…" Does this phrase also make you smile?
While this may be true for large brands and popular websites (that already have a huge readership and can rest assured their awesome content will get in front of the eyes of the right audience), this is absolutely not true for a small and young site.
If there is no one to see your website, appreciate how good it is and link back to you…
You need to work hard to build each of your backlinks.
And while many SEOs now choose the easy path of saying "Link building is dead now, so I don't need to sweat over backlinks", you — the one who has the courage to admit that building a strong backlink profile is still the key to SEO success — get an unbeatable advantage over your SEO competition.
The Penguin-proof disclaimer
The do-not-ever-do's of link building
So, backlinks matter and they require your hard work. However in the post-Penguin era, link building plays into your hands only when done right.
And before proceeding with "what we can do" to build quality backlinks, let's talk about low quality links and how they can hurt your site.
1. Manual Link Spam Penalty
Manual penalty is issued by Google's webspam team, after they have reviewed a site's link profile and found it spammy. The review could have been triggered by:
- a spam report from a competitor,
- something in your link profile (detected algorithmically) that triggered a manual review,
- the fact you are in a competitive niche which Google actively monitors,
- or just… bad luck!
If you have received a manual penalty, you will generally receive a notification in Google Search Console.
2. Algorithmic Link Spam Penalty (Penguin)
A Penguin penalty is applied automatically by Google based on your link profile — no human review is required.
With an algorithmic penalty you will not normally receive a notification from Google that your site has been hit.
But you can still diagnose a Penguin penalty by a sharp organic traffic drop that corresponds with the date of the update (since right now Penguin is not yet running in real-time and the list of penguinized websites is updated on specific dates SEOs keep track of).
3. Keeping your website safe
In any of the cases, getting your website from under the penalties is possible, but it takes LOTS of time and effort. So you'd better not be tempted to get into some obviously spammy link building schemes.
|The penalized practices||What we will do instead|
Creating spun versions of one and the same article and submitting them to hundreds of article directories.
|Contributing guest content
Providing high quality guest articles to leading blogs in your business niche.
|Automated Comment Spam
Spammy and irrelevant comments automatically submitted via tools like Scrapebox.
|Joining Relevant Discussions
Leaving relevant comments on a select number of authority sites in your niche.
Creating multiple forum profiles with a backlink in them, as well as using backlinks in forum signatures and spammy forum posts.
Joining forum discussions with relevant and interesting information to share.
Submitting your website to low-quality link directories created for link building purposes solely.
|Quality business directories
Getting your website featured in reputable business directories in your niche.
|Old-school link exchange
Reaching out to webmasters asking for a backlink in the "I'll link to you if you link back to me" manner.
|Quality link pages inclusion
Getting included into "links" and "resources" pages not in exchange for another link, but by showing the quality of your content.
|Buying links that pass PageRank
Buying DoFollow non-editorial links (when the fee is paid for the link placement itself, not for any kind of an editorial review)
|Reclaiming unlinked mentions
Getting backlinks from where your brand already has an unlinked mention.
Building links for YOUR website
6 ways to find link opportunities and earn backlinks
Ok, it's time get down to finding link prospects and building backlinks for your site. But since manual link prospecting is always an immensely time consuming task, I highly recommend you to download the LinkAssistant tool before we continue.
The software will search for high ranking websites on Google, using a combination of your industry keywords with a number of "footprints" specific to this or that link building technique. This means the tool will come up with thousands of link prospects for any technique you choose in a matter of seconds.
Tools you will need:
Here are the tools you'll need to automate data collection and speed up your link prospecting.
(link prospecting, outreach and link profile management)
The steps below show how to run link prospecting with LinkAssistant. Mind that if you're using its free version, you'll be able to work with up to 1,000 link prospects. To run an unlimited link prospecting campaign you"ll need a Pro or Enterprise LinkAssistant license.
2. AWAR.IO (or other social media listening tool)
3. Gravatar (globally recongnized avatar for blog commenting)
1. Guest Blogging
The days of scaled guest posting with little regard for quality are definitely over. And Google went after this tactic in a big way back in 2014 making internet marketers and SEOs wonder "is guest blogging dead?"
Well, the truth is, guest posting remains a highly effective way not only to build some high quality, authority boosting links, but also to get your business in front of a new audience.
However despite the obvious benefits, guest posting is surely a very time- and resource-consuming process. You'd need writers (be that you and your time, or hired freelancers), exceptional guest post ideas and a lot of outreach.
When looking for quality guest posting opportunities, the most obvious idea would be to search Google for terms like "guest posts". And this is exactly what every guest blogger out there is doing, meaning that blogs at the top of that search are completely inundated with guest posting requests.
Search by guest blogging "footprints"
The easiest way to find guest blogging opportunities is by using the corresponding search method in LinkAssistant:
1. Launch the tool and create a new project for your website.
2. Click in the right left corner and pick Guest Posting as your research method.
3. Now enter some niche-specific keywords. Since we're looking for blogs that don't necessarily talk about the exact product or service that you offer, a good idea would be not to stick to your branded keywords, but think of some industry-specific ones, including:
- Start with your broader "category" keywords ( "heart health" if you sell ECG devices)
- Modify with customer definitions (we can modify the initial phrase with a specific audience definition — "senior heart health", "women's heart health")
- Use specific types of content ("heart health tips", "heart disease prevention advice", "steps to a healthy heart")
- Add sub-topics (we can guess that a blog that writes about heart health is also very likely to cover "eating habits" and "physical exercise" for heart health)
4. Now the software will use all the keywords you've specified, automatically combining them with all types of advanced search operators ("allinurl", "allintitle", etc.) and guest blogging footprints ("Write for Us", "Submit Guest Post") and give you a list of potential guest blogging targets with contact emails of the webmasters already collected!
Search by famous guest bloggers
Know of any prolific guest bloggers in your niche? If you read enough blogs in your industry (which you should), these will be the names you see over and over writing content for others. You can use their names to trace all the blogs they've published their content on.
5. In LinkAssistant, click again and select the Custom search method.
6. Now add your keywords by combining the name of the blogger you'd like to trace with phrases you typically see in guest posts:
- this is a guest post by + NAME
- contributing writer + NAME
- written by + NAME
- guest post courtesy of + NAME
- guest author + NAME
7. Once again, LinkAssistant will automatically query Google to bring you a list of blogs with webmasters' contact info.
Search for niche blogs that don't offer guest blogging publicly
Finally, don't forget that there are many bloggers out there who don't yet know what guest blogging means, or who simply don't run guest blogging at scale. However this doesn't mean they won't take your awesome guest post if you offer one!
8. Once again click , and choose the Topical blogs option.
9. Use the same list of keywords you've come up with when searching for blogs by guest blogging footprints and this time LinkAssistant will be looking for all kinds of blogs in your industry.
10. Once you're done searching for link prospects, you can right-click the contacts you found and hit Send email to selected partners to start your link outreach using LinkAssistant's in-built email client.
Guest blogging tips
Only post on relevant blogs. Ideally these blogs should also be larger than your website. In other words, do it because it will help with branding, traffic, and sales. Posting on bigger blogs that are also relevant will likely result in more exposure and traffic than posting on small, unknown blogs — not to mention that those links will also be more valuable.
Avoid using rich anchor text. Keyword rich anchor text (anchor text that contains your exact match keywords) will likely raise a huge red flag for Google and will probably cause your site to get penalized eventually, especially if you are building these links through guest posts.
Link out to other resources. In your guest posts, you won't be able to link out to your site only. From Wikipedia to your competitors, you'll have to link out to whichever site benefits the reader the most.
Reuse your content, but don't republish duplicates. You never want to publish duplicate content on other blogs, but you can reuse article concepts. As long as you aren't publishing duplicate content and are adding new takes on the topic, you can reuse some of your previous topic ideas. This should help you write more posts in less time.
Utilize the power of "second-tier link building". Of course, it's great to simply have that first-tier backlink to your website. But promoting your guest posts externally lets you "build more backlinks to that backlinks" and boost your first-tire backlinks. So do consider promoting your posts on social networks, adding them to relevant aggregator websites and send an email to anyone you mention in your post, inviting them to share it or comment.
2. Blog Commenting
For many of us, blog commenting raises the red flag of "Spam". And indeed, it becomes a truly harmful practice when you get to automated comments on spammy sites jammed with keywords where your name should be.
However, when done right, this technique is much more powerful than you could expect and gives you a great way to promote content, diversify anchor text and build out a natural link profile.
Search quality websites that have comments enabled
As usual, our primary goal is to find topically relevant and high quality websites. However, to make our job easier and save the effort of looking through dozens of websites in vain, we'll refine our search to only look for pages that have commenting enabled.
In LinkAssistant, there's a separate prospect search method for that. When this method is used, the tool automatically adds all kinds of commenting footprints (like "submit a comment", "leave a comment", etc.) to the keywords you've specified. So here's what you'll need to do:
1.Launch the tool and create a new project for your website.
2. Click in the top left corner of your dashboard and pick Commenting as your research method.
3. At Step 2, you'll need to specify our keywords. And here, you can choose to either:
- Find thematically relevant websites and then look through the different articles posted on them coming up with a comment idea for each particular case individually. (In this case, you will use your general "category", "customer description", and "related topics" type of keywords.
- Find exact articles and blog posts, relevant to the page you're promoting. This works when you have, for instance, a very specific article on your website that you'd like to promote in a comment. Your keywords are then determined by the topic of this very article.
3.1. If you stick to the second option, you'll need to make a small extra tweak. By default, LinkAssistant collects URLs of domains it finds rather than URLs of individual pages. However, simply checking the Enable expert options checkbox at Step 2 will let you change that setting:
At the next step, set the tool to acquire the exact URLs of the articles it finds (you can also uncheck the Try to acquire contact information box to speed up the search — because you won't need to contact the webmasters by email).
4. Just as usual, LinkAssistant will run a quick Google search, automatically appending dozens of method-specific phrases to the keywords you've specified, and will end up presenting you with a list of blog commenting opportunities.
5. By the way, you can even use LinkAssistant's in-built browser to start commenting without leaving the software!
Blog commenting tips
Get a Gravatar. Using the email that you most often comment with, sign up for an account and upload a profile picture. This will ensure that a photo comes up next to your comments on most blogs, and will help blog owners tell the legit comments from spam.
Always use your real name in the name field of comments. This is yet another way to make your comment look credible and authoritative.
Look for blogs with CommentLuv. CommentLuv is a WordPress plugin that lets commenters add links to the latest posts on their blogs under the body of the comment. A blog that uses CommentLuv will have a checkbox with the CommentLuv logo beneath the "Add a comment" field. You'll be asked to enter the URL of your blog or feed, and the plugin will automatically pull the latest posts from there, letting you choose the articles links to which you'd like to include in the comment.
If a blog is using a third-party system like Disqus and Livefyre, sign up for a profile so you can include links to your site and a photo with your comments. You'll also receive a link from your profiles on those networks as well as a way to keep track of your commenting history.
Blog commenting is a great option for "second-tier link building". Discussing a guest blog post you published on another site (your first-tier backlink) in a blog comment is a great way to "build backlinks to your backlinks". As long as the comment and guest blog post is relevant to what you're talking about on the second-tier backlink, that will help boost your first-tier link, passing more link juice up to your website.
3. Forum backlinks
In addition to niche relevant blog comments, you should also be participating on industry forums.
Forums offer many of the same opportunities as blog comments, except forums can drive a lot more traffic to your website.
There aren't many forums that allow signature backlinks anymore, but the majority still allow profile backlinks, so the thing to start with is to create a forum profile.
After that, you'll need to actively participate in forum discussions to grow your post count, and number of friends. (Sure thing, your goal with forum interactions shouldn't be the number of posts; instead, participate in discussions in ways that add value.) This, in its turn, will increase the authority of the forum profile page that is hosting your link. And, more to that, it will let you become a trusted member of the forum community, letting you share links to your content on the forum without getting flamed or banned.
"If your site is rather new and still unknown, a good marketing technique is to get involved in the community around your topic. Interact and contribute on forums and blogs. Just keep in mind to contribute in a positive way, rather than spamming or soliciting for your site."
"A common example of unnatural links that may violate our guidelines are forum comments with optimized links in the post or signature"
Search for large industry forums
As usual, for a quick search for relevant niche forums, we'll use LinkAssistant — now selecting the Forums option for prospecting:
At Step 2, you'll need to enter your keywords — the best keywords for your forum search will be "category" keywords that broadly define your market (eg. "travel".)
At this step, also make sure to mark the Enable expert options checkbox. You'll need to disable the Try to acquire contact information option at the next step since you don't need the contact info of the forum webmasters. Make sure you also enable the Get exact URLs to get the URLs of forums and forums threads instead of the domain name.
By automatically combining your keyword with all kinds of forum "footprints", LinkAssistant will come up with a list of forums for you to consider:
Forum posting tips
Take the time to fill out your profile. Since your link will likely be a naked link, you need to leverage co-occurrence. If you didn't know, co-occurrence is when your keyword phrase or topic you're targeting is in close proximity to your link. With that being said, write a legitimate profile description and make sure to toss in your keywords where they look natural.
Understand the forum "etiquette". Every forum is different and you need to learn how each operates. Some tolerate a little self-promotion while others will ban you for it. Scan through the forum and see if members are actively sharing links in threads.
Make sure the community is large enough. Forum promotion is more of a long term investment in a community than a quick link building tactic. It will take time to earn trust. So make sure that the community or communities you're targeting are large enough to get you a return on your time.
4. Business directory submission
Directory links are often overlooked and thought to be spammy. And while it is true that many directories are practically worthless at this point, there are still some diamonds in the rough. Quality niche-targeted directories offer you both a relevant feature and a DoFollow link.
If you choose to build directory links:
- Make sure they're editorial (not automatic inclusion);
- Don't rely on them exclusively — make them only a small part of your link building strategy;
- Keep clear of directories that allow heavily optimized anchor texts.
"Directory entries are often mentioned as another way to promote young sites in the Google index. There are great, topical directories that add value to the Internet. But there are not many of them in proportion to those of lower quality. If you decide to submit your site to a directory, make sure it's on topic, moderated, and well structured. Mass submissions, which are sometimes offered as a quick work-around SEO method, are mostly useless and not likely to serve your purposes."
Search for business directories
LinkAssistant has a separate search method that lets you search for business directories exclusively. Use this option with "category" keywords that broadly define your market.
Note that just as before, you'll need to enable the expert options and set up the prefs at step 3 the following way:
Search for location- and industry-specific organizations
Chamber of commerce listings, and business association websites — those are link opportunities you can utilize depending on the type of your business and your location. But since they are not something you can utilize in bulk, it's easier to search for them using Google.
Run a few searches like:
- YOUR LOCATION + chamber of commerce
- YOUR LOCATION + BUSINESS TYPE + association
And other variants you can think of depending on your industry:
Directory submission tips
Don't forget about geo-specific directories. In addition to traditional business listing sites and niche-targeted directories, you should also consider submitting your site to geo-targeted directories. If you are a local business, then this is a no-brainer, but it is also a valuable opportunity for businesses targeting national audiences.
Get creative about directory types. Is your business green? Does it operate according to low energy standards or are you at least on track to be green? Why not help out the environment and get a link from an eco-friendly business directory out of it as well! Do you have a new beautifully-designed website? Why not try and submit it to web design examples directories then?
Mind the price. Be prepared that some niche directories charge a considerable editorial fee for reviewing your website and including it.
5. "Links" and "Resources" pages
One of the most effective methods I use for getting links is through "links" or "resources" pages.
Although generally out of fashion, these links can have excellent ranking potential. They won't typically send you lots of traffic, but can have many other benefits:
- They often lead to more links
Imagine you are listed on a "Top New Jersey restaurants" or "Top SEO blogs" links page. Whenever anyone wants to write a post with a similar list or put up a relevant links page, they'll do some research — and chances are they'll stumble upon this first list you're in, and include you in theirs just as well.
- They're often linked to from the home page of the website
Many of these "Links" or "Resources" pages are in the top-level navigation of sites, and will stay "high" in the site structure — as opposed to blog posts, which get buried over time.
- They can lead to category pages and other "deep" links
"Links" pages don't only link to home pages. You can also get links to your category pages, individual resource pages, and other "deeper" pages, instead of just home page links — and boost the link profile of individual pages you are promoting.
- Some of these are really excellent links
Some of these links are really excellent. Many of these pages are maintained by government or university organizations, and other high authority entities.
Search for "links pages" traces
Links pages are often very easy to find by their footprints (searching Google for "your keyword + inurl:resources" or "your keyword + useful links"). But we don't need to do that manually, since LinkAssistant has a separate search mechanism for this link opportunities.
Same as with blog commenting, you have two different types of keywords to use.
- You head SEO keywords and broad "category" keywords if you're looking for thematically relevant websites that will place a link to your site on their links page.
- Very specific keywords relevant to a certain page if you're in search for links pages that will let you build deeper links to individual blog posts, category pages, etc.
Just make sure to enable the expert options and have all the 3 checkboxes ticked at the next step:
Once you're done searching for link prospects, you can right-click the contacts you found and hit Send email to selected partners to start your link outreach using LinkAssistant's in-built email client.
Remember that you can easily edit LinkAssistant's email templates or create new ones:
Link pages tips
Consider how authoritative the site is. Legitimate links pages rarely occur at scale, so you'll need to look for real gems. 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 if the links page is indexed by Google at all. You can do that by running a Google search with the info operator — info:www.seoblog.com/resources.html
Find the right person. When you search for contact information, it will usually be easy to find an "info@" or "contact@" email address. While these can work, in some cases (when your target is really worth it), consider finding the exact person who maintains the website. Use the staff directory (very common for public organizations) or LinkedIn to find the person in charge, and reach out to them directly.
6. Reclaiming unlinked mentions
Link reclamation is the easiest way to earn editorial links to your pages from referring sites that mentioned your brand but didn't link to you.
And whatever business you're in, there are three sources of links you need to reclaim:
1. Brand mentions: This means aspects of your brand such as your site, company name, events you hold, your publications, etc. Other sites could be mentioning your site without linking to it. Through link reclamation, you can request actual links be added to mentions that already exist.
2. Product mentions: Several sites, media portals and discussion boards could be mentioning your product without linking to your sales page or homepage. And if you've got a great product, you will be able to easily turn these mentions into valuable backlinks.
3. Personnel mentions: What about your team, your name, your username or professional title?
Search for unlinked mentions
You can use social media monitoring tools like AWAR.IO to find all your website mentions across the social networks and the Web.
All you need to do is to create an alert for your keyword (you brand name, your product and your team names) and the tool will notify you as soon as someone mentions them on the Web.
You can look through all of the mentions, take a closer look at each one, and reply or leave comments right in AWAR.IO:
Link reclamation tips
Reclaiming links from someone who has used your brand's content. Whether an image, video, or simply a quote from your presentation — you have a legitimate right to reach out and ask for a well-deserved link. When it comes to images, the easiest way to do that is using Google's image search.
Consider offering some extra value. To increase your response rate, you may want to try adding some value in the email. It doesn't have to be anything crazy. Think of offering to promote the page on your social channels. Make sure including a link to your site is beneficial for the person you're contacting just like it is for you.
The 6 link prospecting ideas we've looked into today are surely just a small fraction of link building options SEOs now have in their arsenal (think infographics, product reviews, broken link building and what not). However… none of them will bring in dozens of backlinks unless you really invest your time and effort into it.
To build or not to build links? For anyone who understands how powerful links still are, this is no longer a question.
We need to build links to win over our #1 spots at Google. And even though link building is nothing like a walk in the blooming fields, the strong backlink profile you get as a reward for the hard job you're doing pays off with your business growth.
Need a reliable tool for link prospecting? Try LinkAssistant!
With the completely re-built link prospecting functionality, LinkAssistant now lets you discover dozens of quality link opportunities in a click.
More quality link prospects in less time.
One platform for link prospecting, outreach, analytics and management.
Take the new LinkAssistant for a free test drive
Find link prospects and manage outreach
Build links for clients and report on progress
News I can't hold any longer…
This is it, hope you've found this material somewhat helpful — please join the discussion below with your questions and thoughts.
Also, please, do share your ideas on further improving LinkAssistant's link prospecting functionality. And while you're thinking about how we can make this tool even better, I can't hold back the news of our coming releases.
In a week from now, on March 15th, something really big is coming to Rank Tracker's keyword research module.
Yet the biggest and the most important improvement is scheduled for mid-April.
In just a month from now, all licensed SEO PowerSuite users will get an in-built anti-block solution that will solve the problem of Google blocks and CAPTCHAs for good! From then on, all your search engine queries will be run on our own servers, without you ever having to use third-party proxy providers, purchase extra services, set search safety settings, or get your searches blocked by Google! We've been looking for a way to add this solution for you — and now it's coming!
Hope this news will make your day better! ☺