Advanced Link Building Tips & Tricks
Speed Up Link Prospecting With Lists
Say we worked in the gardening industry and wanted to find garden blogs to do some outreach. Our first instinct may be to search for “garden blogs” or something similar to that. This will certainly give you good results, but you’ll need to search through lots and lots of search results to get a decent amount of blogs.Speed Up Link Prospecting With Lists
As you can see, within the first few results are lots of lists of garden blogs that have already been curated by other people. This not only helps you find blogs quicker, but it helps you find better-quality blogs because the list has been curated. I wrote a blog post on link building using lists on the Moz blog which you should also take a look at.
Find Bloggers Using FollowerwonkFollowerwonk is a great little tool that lets you run lots of analysis on Twitter accounts and it is now part of Moz, so it is free to use if you’re a Pro subscriber. One of the features of Followerwonk allows you to find influential bloggers very quickly and easily. It is the Search bios option, and you can search for keywords such as this:
You can then export these results into a CSV which will tell you which of these people have websites listed next to their bio. If they do, then you can go take a look and see if they’d be a good person to start engaging with and eventually, promote your content to.
Get More Links From Your InfographicsLike guest blogging, building links using infographics has become very popular over recent years. In general, the process for getting links here is the same as the content-based link building process outlined previously, but there is an extra step here that you can take which could get you a few more links.The technique is based on the fact that some people will embed your infographics, but will not give you a link. This is actually quite common, so there is often opportunity for you to contact these websites and ask them for the link.To do this, we need to start by getting a copy of the filename where your infographic is hosted. Note that we want the actual jpg, png filename rather than the URL itself. We can get this by going to the infographic, right clicking on it and selecting “Copy Image URL:”
Now you simply need to go to these URLs and make sure that there is a link pointing back to your website. If there is not, then you can drop a quick email to the website owner and ask them to add a link to the original source.
Why Simply “Trading Links” Isn’t a Good Strategy
In years gone by, trading links with other websites was a good way of getting links. It also became known as “link exchanges” or “reciprocal links” as a tactic. However, like a lot of link building tactics, it was often abused and pushed to the extreme. Instead of trading links with other relevant, good quality websites, many SEOs would just trade links with anyone they could. Therefore, the link was no longer being given because of the quality of the website, but more because the webmaster would get a link in return.This led to some websites having pages that were set up specifically for trading links. These pages would have URLs similar to www.example.com/links.html. Such a page would consist of a huge list of links to websites that were often unrelated to the website itself and were not always great quality.Because of this, Google seek to devalue links that are only given because a link is being given in return. They can even penalize for excessive link exchanges and have a section in their webmaster guidelines for it:
Excessive Link Exchanging (“Link to Me and I’ll Link to You”)When it comes to link building, Google want to see links that you’ve earned. They want to see links that you deserve because you have something of good quality to offer – not because you’re happy to take part in link exchanges.Having said that, Google has no problem at all with websites linking to each other for legitimate reasons. It is a natural occurrence on the web if a news story on the BBC cites an article on CNN, then a few weeks later CNN cite a story on the BBC. This is technically a reciprocal link, but do you think Google penalize for it? No, because there are genuine reasons for these websites to link to each other and they are doing it in a natural way that is good for users.Contrast this with a page that has thousands of links on it, all going to unrelated websites with no relevance at all and you can see the difference in what Google does and doesn’t like.
Penalties and Black-Hat SEO
If you’re found to be in violation of webmaster guidelines, it is likely that you’ll be given a penalty by the search engines. Depending on the seriousness of the violation, the penalty can last from a few weeks to several months or until the problem is completely fixed. There have been some very public examples of large companies being penalized by Google for violating their guidelines.JC Penney, a very large US retailer was heavily penalized back in February 2011 for buying large amounts of links targeting a range of specific keywords. It was several months before they started to see a recovery and they were forced to spend time trying to take lots of the links down.Another example closely followed a few weeks later when Overstock were penalized for the practice of giving Universities discounts on products in exchange for links. Again, it was several months before they started to see a recovery.A famous example in the UK was the penalty applied to florist Interflora in February 2013 which was severe but only lasted eleven days. Google didn’t directly comment on this but it was widely believed to be link related.Penalties and Black-Hat SEOAll of these examples made headlines because the companies in question were very large and well-known. In reality, Google hands out penalties for this kind of behavior all the time, but most cases don’t receive the headlines that our example companies did.
Google hands out several types of penalties which we will briefly discuss here:Manual PenaltiesIn this case, a member of the web spam team has manually applied a penalty to your website after finding something that was in violation of their guidelines. This can be anything from buying links to sneaky redirects or cloaking. To remove this penalty, you need to file a reconsideration request with Google that includes several things:
What you’ve done to fix the problem that you’ve been penalized for•How you plan to never engage in this kind of practice again•Clear evidence for both of these
Then Google will manually decide whether or not to lift the penalty. They can sometimes come back and tell you that you haven’t done enough and you need to keep working to fix the problem. A common example of this is if you’ve been penalized for low quality link building and you haven’t removed enough of the low quality links yet.In order to see if you’ve been given a manual penalty, you can check the manual penalties section of Google Webmaster Tools.
Algorithmic PenaltiesIn this case, Google have automatically found a problem with your website and applied a penalty because of it. This is usually some kind of on-site problem, such as hidden text or cloaking, and you need to fix the problem before you will see the penalty lifted. With this type of penalty, sometimes just fixing the problem can lead to the penalty being lifted next time that Google crawl and index your pages. Sometimes, though, you may also need to file a reconsideration request with Google so that they can manually see if you’ve fixed the problem.
A Few Words on Buying Links
Link building can be quite tough, particularly in the early days when you’re still trying to build your reputation, find the right people to connect with, and create great content. It is quite understandable that SEOs look for shortcuts to help make the process a little bit easier, and one of those shortcuts is often buying links.Buying Links is Directly Against One of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines:“Buying or selling links that pass PageRank: This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a ‘free’ product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link.”Google cares so much about this because buying links can change how search results appear for users. They want companies to perform well in search results because they deserve to, not because they have deep pockets and can buy links. Also, note that A Few Words on Buying LinksGoogle explicitly says “links that pass PageRank.” This is where the difference between buying links and buying advertising comes into play.Buying advertising that links through to your website is fine and can be a great practice for building awareness of your business. However, Google do say that if you’re going to do this, then you should make sure that the advertisement doesn’t pass PageRank to your website. There are a few ways you can do this:
These techniques mean that the advertisements will not affect how much PageRank your website receives and, therefore, will not affect how you perform in organic search results. In general, buying links is a risky business, and for most companies is not worth the risk. The short-term gains often outweigh the long-term benefits, and if you’re building a legitimate business that plans on using organic Google results as a means to get customers, then buying links can put that at risk. You can read about the Moz stance on paid links here, which goes into a lot of detail on the reasons behind not recommending it as a practice.
Why Sustainable, White-hat Strategies Are So Important
You are building a business online, and chances are that you want to compete online for many years to come. If you want to do this, then you need to carefully choose the tactics you’re willing to employ and make an assessment of how risky those tactics are. As with any business (offline included), there are tactics that carry a certain amount of risk with them. For example, an offline business may carry out some kind of PR stunt to try and build awareness of the brand. The inherent risk is that a stunt can misfire, negatively affecting the brand and deterring potential customers.As a business, you need to weigh up the risks and benefits of any marketing activity. This is why white-hat strategies are so important to a website: They pose the least amount of risk and are very unlikely to lead to you being hit with a penalty from Google. Also, just as importantly, white-hat strategies focus on adding true value to the Internet, your industry, and your customers’ experience. If you want to build a loyal customer base which not only buys from you but happily recommends you to friends, you need to focus on tactics that give the customer a great user experience. Providing them with genuine, useful content is one way to do this.What works today may not work tomorrow, and where might that leave you? Many black-hats will replace their former ways with other shady techniques, and the cycle starts again. The problem is that this is not good for most businesses. Most businesses can’t afford to take risks with their websites, or constantly be looking over their shoulders, waiting for the day the search engines finally catch up with them.Why Sustainable, White-hat Strategies Are So ImportantIf you contrast this with white-hat techniques, you know that you’re building for the long term, and while some efforts will yield better results than others, you won’t need to be looking over your shoulder or worrying every time you hear there has been a Google update. You can read an excellent post by Rand on this topic along with lots of examples of white-hat tactics working very well.
White-Hat Strategies vs. Black-Hat Strategies
You’ll often hear SEOs talking about “white-hat” and “black-hat” (or the questionable area in between, often dubbed “gray-hat”), particularly when it comes to link building techniques. This section will outline the differences and cover some of the pros and cons of each approach.
White-hat strategies are those that are very low-risk to carry out and usually fall well within the webmaster guidelines laid out by Google and Bing. Using white-hat techniques means that you stand very little chance of running into problems with the search engines when it comes to losing traffic because of a penalty. White-Hat Strategies vs. Black-Hat Strategies
A few examples of white-hat tactics are:•Creating your own unique, insightful, and quality content•Building a genuine, engaged community which interacts with your website and each other•Promoting your website to relevant people in a genuine, personal way by writing personalized message
Pros include not having to worry about getting yourself into trouble with automated or manual spam penalties from the search engines. White-hat strategies usually work best for real users, too, and can help build long-term assets that are strong and unlikely to disappear overnight.
Cons include having to focus on the long-term goal rather than short-term gains. White-hat strategies can sometimes take some time to have a big effect on your traffic and revenue because they are less aggressive.
Originally coined as a term to describe computer hackers, black-hat has also been used to describe techniques that directly violate search engine guidelines. These techniques seek to exploit loopholes in the search engine algorithms and rank websites higher than they actually deserve to.
Cloaking•Showing different content to the search engines compared to what you show to users•Injecting hidden links into a website you do not own by exploiting a security flaw•Hidden text on a page that is only shown to the search engines, not users, typically full of keywords you want to rank for
These tactics don’t work in the long-term, because the search engines are always looking to stop them from happening. This means that traffic and rankings can drop pretty much overnight if you’re caught using these tactics, so we strongly advise steering clear.
Link Building Metrics
There are various metrics associated with links that you should be aware of. These metrics can help you judge the value of a potential link, helping you assess whether it is worth pursuing and how much resources you should put into acquiring it. Knowing these kinds of metrics is also useful when you are doing link profile analysis (a holistic report of the number and types of links on a website), whether on a competitor’s website or your own.
Domain strength is the cumulative value of an entire domain. Instead of looking at the value of individual pages, we look at the domain as a whole to understand how strong it is.It is usually displayed as either Domain Authority or as the homepage’s Page Authority.PageRank is calculated by Google and based on the number and quality of links pointing to a web page. It runs on a scale from 0-10, with 10 being the highest. We can use the PageRank of a website’s homepage to get an idea of how strong it is. Although technically this is only the PageRank of a single page, it is still a good indicator of the strength of a domain, because the majority of a website’s links will be to the homepage and PageRank flows from there to internal pages.It should be noted that there is a difference between “Toolbar PageRank” and the actual PageRank used by Google. Toolbar PageRank is visible to you by installing the Google Toolbar on your browser or by using a browser plug-in/extension that pulls data from the same source. It is updated every 3-4 months by Google, which is different from the actual PageRank that is more fluid, constantly updated by Google to be fed into their ranking algorithm.
For that reason, the PageRank you see in the Google Toolbar could be several months old. This is why new web pages mainly have a PageRank score of 0: They need to wait for Google to update the toolbar.Domain Authority is calculated by Moz and runs on a scale of 0-100, with 100 being the highest. It uses a number of signals taken from the Moz crawler and tries to predict how well a domain will perform in search results. It is useful alongside PageRank as another indicator of how strong a domain is. In terms of link building, site strength is a good metric to use because you want to get links from websites that are very strong. If the links you get are from strong domains, they will pass more strength to your own website, which is a clear signal to Google that you have a good site that deserves to rank well.For example, CNN has a PageRank of 8 and a Domain Authority of 99. Lots of other websites link to CNN because it is an authoritative website with high-quality content. Because of this, CNN is not very likely to link to low-quality websites, so if you get a link from CNN, it is a signal that you have a good website, too.
Tools to measure domain strength•PageRank extension for Chrome•MozBar for measuring Page Authority•Google Toolbar for PageRank (for Internet Explorer)
There will be occasions when you have the opportunity to get a link from a page that already exists on a website, as opposed to a new page that is created for a blog post or news item. An example could be an existing list of some kind to which your link gets added; perhaps your coffee shop is added to a page with a list of the best espresso in Seattle.In cases like this, you should assess how strong the page is so that you know how worthwhile the link is to you before you put too much effort into acquiring it. There are two main metrics, and they are nearly identical to those for domain strength: PageRank and Page Authority.We’ve already talked about PageRank. Page Authority is another Moz metric that is very similar to Domain Authority, except that it only applies to a single page rather than an entire domain.The higher the PageRank / Page Authority of the page you want a link from, the more likely it is to help you with your SEO efforts.
We’ve already covered the meaning of anchor text; now lets consider what it means as a metric for SEOs.Anchor text can give Google an indication of the subject matter of the page being linked to. So if I linked to a page using the words “fitness routine,” then it is likely that the page being linked to contains information about fitness routines. Google can then use this information as part of its ranking algorithms. In this case, they may decide that the page being linked to should rank higher for the keyword “fitness routine” and close variations.For many years, having a lot of links pointing to your website that contained your keyword as the anchor text was a very good way of helping you rank well for that keyword. While this is still the case to some extent, it does appear that the strength of anchor text as a signal is diminishing slightly. This is most likely because of the over-optimization of anchor text by SEOs and Google’s readiness to penalize such websites through the Penguin update.Rand talked about this in an episode of Whiteboard Friday and gave some indicators of what Google may use instead. Number of LinksDue to the changing nature of the perception and use of anchor text, it is probably best to be cautious when building links. Try not to build too many links that have the exact same anchor text in them, particularly if the links are not of the highest quality, such as links that are from low-quality domains, non-editorial sitewide links, or links that have too much anchor text (for more details on link quality, check out this post on State of Digital). You should try to make your link profile look as natural as possible, which often means getting links that use your brand or company name as the anchor text.
Number of Links
When link building, you will obviously want to keep track of how many links you have built. You will also want to check into how your website compares to your competitors’ sites to see how far (or how far ahead!) you have gotten. As we’ve discussed in previous chapters and seen in surveys, the raw number of links pointing to your website is a strong ranking signal. However, you do need to remember that the quality is equally, if not more important than the number. As a metric, number of links can be useful to us in two main ways:1. Measuring progress / success of a link building campaign2. For running comparisons between your website and competitors’ sitesBoth of these uses still need to factor in quality of links in order to be helpful to us. When we compare our number of links to a competitor’s number, it can sometimes show gaps that may explain ranking differences. If you’re trying to rank for the keyword “wooden tables” and the websites on the first page of results all have over 1,000 linking domains, that gives you a solid sense for the competitiveness of that niche and the kind of attention you need to earn in order to rank among those results.
Linking Root Domains
Not to be confused with the raw number of links, linking root domains is an even more powerful ranking signal to Google. When we say linking root domains, we mean the number of distinct domains that link to us, not the raw number of links.For example, if CNN linked to you from five different news stories, that would be counted as five links, but only one linking root domain, since all five links came from cnn.com.If the BBC linked to you from one news story, that would be one link and one linking root domain.Linking Root DomainsThe number of linking root domains is a stronger signal than the raw number of links because it is a better indication of the true popularity of a website. If we go back to how Google think of links as “votes,” then in this sense each website has only one vote to give you. No matter how many times they link to you, they still only count as one vote, which prevents the digital equivalent of “stuffing the ballot box.”Multiple links from the same domain can be the result of a number of things. Linking from multiple content pages is one way, but the most common ways are by what we call sitewide links. A sitewide link is a link that is placed in some kind of templated element of the website, such as the header, footer, or sidebar. The most common example is a “blogroll” link, as a blogroll is generally on every page of the website.In general, these types of links are not as valuable as in-content links from just a few pages. Sitewide links can sometimes be spammy, paid for, and not editorially given in the sense that Google would like. In fact, Moz published a case study of a site that was heavily penalized by Google for incorporating sitewide links on its clients’ pages. Therefore, you should treat them with caution, only get them from high-quality websites, and don’t be too aggressive with your anchor text.
Relevance of the Linking Page
There has always been some debate as to whether relevance is a strong signal used by Google to calculate the value of a link. Logic tells us that it should be, because it is natural for relevant websites to link to each other. However, what if you get a link from the homepage of the BBC to your website about coffee? You wouldn’t reject it just because the BBC website isn’t about coffee.If we look beyond link building for a moment though, you still want to bring targeted traffic to your website so that you can try to convert visitors into customers. For this reason alone, you should be trying to place links on websites where potential customers may visit. This means that the value of the link goes far beyond SEO and can become a source of direct income.As discussed in the anchor text section above, there are some indications that Google is moving away from anchor text as a strong signal and, instead, could be using analysis of an entire page to attribute relevance to the link. If this proves to be the case, then getting links from relevant pages could become a strong ranking signal.Right now, best practice should be to focus on quality to make sure you’re being passed link equity and on relevance in the sense that you want to attract the right kind of traffic.
Position of Links on the Page
Imagine you live in Seattle and you have a blog about coffee. You’re going to share a link with your readers to the website of a local coffee shop that serves the most amazing fresh coffee ever. Where would you place this link on the page?If you really wanted your readers to see it, you’d position it somewhere obvious. Probably in the main body of the page, probably near the top of the page, and probably within some content that explains how amazing the coffee shop is.You probably wouldn’t place the link in the footer, right? Many users may not scroll down the page that far, and even if they do, they wouldn’t expect to find useful links in that section.Google is able to work out the position of a link on a page, and from this could choose to value it differently. If the link is in the footer of a page, then Google could reduce the value of that link because they assume it isn’t a great link for users (otherwise, it wouldn’t be hidden away in the footer).Google can also use the position of links on a page in aggregate. For example, they could see if 50% of all the links pointing to your website are in some kind of footer. This could indicate low-quality link building, and Google may decide to take a closer look.Position of Links on the PageAnother example could be if Google finds that 50% of the links pointing to your website are from sidebars. Again, on its own, this may be legitimate, but it could also be a signal to Google that you’re buying links. Many link brokers will place links in the sidebar of pages as opposed to within the content.Because of this ability, you should make sure that you are getting links from websites which are happy to link from within content wherever possible. There is nothing wrong with the odd sidebar link, but too many of them does not signal a good link profile.
Broken Link Building
The Internet is filled with broken links. Often, these broken links exist on valuable, high-quality pages. Broken link building is a very popular practice that works on the premise of helping webmasters fix their broken links by providing a superior alternative for them to link to.
Although the specifics can vary, the basic process looks like this:
1.) Research broken links and find good targets2.) Content creation3.) Outreach
This process can be repeated over and over again. Sometimes you use your existing content as a suggestion to replace broken links, other times you create new content specifically for this purpose.Here are a few additional resources on how to perform broken link building:
Slightly different than broken link building is the practice of link reclamation, where you fix or “reclaim” links that once pointed at your site, or point to your site but fail to provide any SEO value.•The Broken Link Building Bible•Broken Link Building Guide: From Noob to Novice
There are many different types of link reclamation strategies.404sThese are links that point to pages on your website that no longer exist. Open Site Explorer is a good tool for finding these. (Preform a “Top Pages” search and sort for 404s). You can either redirect or fix these links on your end, or ask the webmaster to change the link.This chapter only describes a few of the hundreds of different link building tactics you can use (or even invent!). The specific tactics you choose will depend on your resources, creativity, niche, audience, and available time.For more inspiration, we recommend checking out Jon Cooper’s Link Building Tacticsor the Moz Blog’s Link Building category.A World of Link Building TacticsNon-linking Brand MentionsIt’s sometimes common and easy to find others writing about your site without linking to it. Often a simple email to the author is enough to secure a link. Tools like mention.net, Google Alerts, and Fresh Web Explorer are great at digging up mentions.Non-linking ImagesIt’s common to find websites that have posted your own images without attribution. Instead of filing a copyright or DMCA takedown notice, this presents a terrific opportunity to earn a link instead.