Link Building POST Penguin!

Quite a few things have changed in my approach to link building since my first link building guide back in 2010. For starters, there was a mass of link based algorithm updates, there was Penguin, and to top this all off I’ve changed jobs as well. One thing that hasn’t changed is my view that 80% of positive (and negative) SEO ranking factors still come from external sources – I’m not just talking about links here, but social and citations, also. So let’s get started. All of these methods have been used and proven to work through of the most successful web building and marketing companies Design ME!

Once again, most of the information I’m giving away here will most likely be available from a large number of other sources including SEOmoz, so I will try to attribute these where I can.

Creating your Link Building Strategy

Creating a solid strategy should be the starting point for any link building campaign, not having one in the current climate would be like running into a minefield wearing a blindfold – It limits your success of survival! Before you set out on any strategy you need to ask yourself questions like the following:

  • What does the current profile look like? (if existing website)
    • Do I need to remove links before I start?
    • Do I need to gain authority or noise?
    • Do I actually need more links or would I benefit from other factors?
  • How will I generate the links?
    • Should I run creative projects such as Infographics?
    • Should I do blogger outreach / guest posts?
    • Should I suggest webmasters replace broken links with my client?
    • How will I reach out to webmasters?
      • Social networks?
      • Networking events?
      • Telephone?
      • Email?
  • What type of anchor text should I work with?
    • Is there enough covering fire from brand and phrase anchor text?
    • What would Google’s web spam team look for during manual reviews?
    • What type of anchor text would look most natural for the sites you want to target?
  • Is there enough supporting pages for the landing page or should more be created?

Every website is different so no two people will have the same answers to these types of questions but hopefully it will give you a good starting point – just remember to document and track everything.

Link Placement

Since my last post a few changes have been made to how Google views link placement, back in 2010 I hinted that footer links still had some sort of value, since Panda and Penguin link placement in the footers and even sidebars could cause more damage than good and could leave you with either Keywords being filtered or even penalised in the SERPs.

These days the safest form of link building is gaining links from within content, even better if you can get these within the first paragraph – but remember to keep it looking natural.

Nofollow and Dofollow Links

Two years ago I was going on about how every website should have a good mix of Nofollow links and while this is still true I have been asked countless times what ratios I use when working on a link campaign.

The truth is there is no hard figure I can give you, although what you can do is research the average nofollow vs. dofollow ratios for the top ranking websites in your niche, just ignore spam websites while doing this as these will inflate the end number.

Branded Links

I still believe that Google have their own authority and trust metrics which attribute to Google’s internal PageRank algorithm (not talking about TBPR here but true PageRank) or if not this then some subroutine which feeds back into the ranking algorithm. With this in mind it is very important that you gain Brand links to not only your homepage but to landing pages across your entire website.

Keyword-Focused Anchor Text

Over the years every SEO has built his/her fair share of anchor text rich links, sadly this isn’t a feasible strategy since Google introduced automated keyword filters and even more so since Penguin came along. Anchor text profiles are something which is even reviewed manually by the spam team – this was confirmed by Andre Weyher, an ex-member of the Search Quality team at Google.

If you haven’t read the interview with Andre then do so now you can find it here.

Landing Page Distribution

At the strategy creation stage ensure you set clear volume levels for each landing page being targeted to ensure that a particular section of the website does not become over-weighted as this could be a hard issue to fix.

If you’re worried about volume of links going into pages the best option is to create additional supporting pages for each area and use these to spread out the load.

Content Quality and Relevancy

With Google’s unnatural link detection getting better and better and Panda penalising low quality content, I can’t stress how important it is to not only put effort into content generation but checking the quality of existing content on a website before even thinking about publishing an article. The last thing you want is to find the website you have just spent an hour or so writing a post for has been penalised and that post has no value to either users or search engines.

Try to keep the end user in mind when writing content. You not only want links to increase rankings, but to send traffic as well to provide a subtle call to action either within the anchor text or before the link without being too sales-focused. Also, keep the content not only on topic for your client’s site but on topic to the website your publishing to.

Sourcing Links

In the current climate there should be less focus on sourcing links and more on generating them. This is a topic which Rand has been going on about for a long time now (he has been ahead of the curve) but at the same time it takes time to get to the stage where you are generating enough links to make a difference to your client’s campaign. In the short term clients still want results so there will still be a need for sourcing links the old-school way.

Getting to grips with finding relevant websites and webmaster outreach can take a bit of work; here are some of the tools I use for the job:

Competitor Backlink Mining

When initially starting out with sourcing links it is worth reviewing what links your competitors have. While this will not help you overtake them, it will help you close the gap or add that extra dimension to your link profile. Just be wary when doing this not to go after their lower quality links but stick to the highest quality to ensure you don’t get yourself in hot water with the Google gods.

Advanced Search Operators

The best way to get ahead of your competitors in terms of manual link building is still to come up with creative link advanced search operator queries and scour the depths of the web. When coming up with these queries I do research on my topic using websites like Wikipedia to gain knowledge on related topics.

After two years my recommended query is still the same and has helped me gain some valuable links that I wouldn’t have found otherwise:

[search term] -“directory” -“add link” -“advertising”

This string does not work for every single niche and you may have to experiment with filtering out additional domains from your search (those that show up often).


This form of link building sadly is no longer as effective as it once was, so I don’t recommend you spend too much time on this. But, it is still worth investing some time into submitting websites into well-known/authority directories like BOTW and established, smaller niche directories as these can add a small boost to any link campaign.

Blog and Forum Commenting

All I can say here is don’t do it, no matter how hard you try it will still end up looking like spam, instead use this a way of engaging with the community to gain other link opportunities.

Creative Link Building

Looking into the future, the only viable way to safely get more links pointing to your website will be via content marketing. I myself have been a slow adopter of this way of thinking and missed the whole infographic and widgets craze that have been called out by Google as being ‘unnatural’.

As off-site SEO moves ever closer to being like offline marketing we need to be thinking as marketers and do the following to generate links:

  • Create ‘good news’ stories
  • Create external resources
  • Create interactive properties (like Conflict of Pintrest)
  • Create content that reaches out to your target demographic
  • Sit down face to face with bloggers and find out what they really want

But above all you need to ensure all projects are in line with the client’s Brand or they might go somewhere else.

Guest Blogging Communities

Guest blogging communities are full of bloggers looking for free content; these can be used not just for link building campaigns but for promoting more creative projects as well. When using these types of services just ensure you keep a firm eye on the quality of the blogs being offered as although there are quite a few gems, spam websites heavily outweigh these.

Some of the services I have used previously include:

Link Removal

With all this talk of penguins and negative SEO over the last year, chances are that a majority of SEOs have had to undertake backlink health checks to see if their clients are at risk. The unlucky ones within the industry may have had to actually remove links. Link removal itself is not a hard task but it does take quite a bit of time, in particular finding contact details.

If you want to save yourself a bit of time I would recommend using Link Research Tools as it does a pretty good job of analysing your profile and even provides some email address data but if you require more detailed analysis you will require the following:

  • Majestic SEO
  • NP Checker
  • Mozilla Thunderbird
  • MS Excel skills
  • Loads of time

If you are going to do manual analysis an your profile I am currently working on an Excel document to do most of the work for me – I will be tweeting a link to it when it’s finished so follow me on twitter if you’re interested.

Email Outreach

Initial Outreach remains one of the hardest tasks within the link building process. Why? Because you generally only get one chance to get it right. Of course you could just re-email everyone who didn’t reply but this tactic could soon see you in hot water unless you use multiple fronts.

To get higher response rates with outreach you need to ensure you are doing the following:

  • Personalisation
  • Interact with them i.e. asking about their day/week
  • Keep your request brief
  • Use a female persona
  • Email on a Friday

Don’t forget that you can also do personalised bulk emails to save you time.

Alternative Outreach

If you’re looking for quality over quantity then sending out email templates isn’t going to cut it, you need to get yourself noticed in other ways to get the links that really matter. One of the easiest ways to get yourself on the radar of a high profile publisher / webmaster is to interact with them over Twitter.

Follow them for a while and look at the types of mentions they reply to before making your move. It may take a few tries to get this spot on but once you get the hang of it you should be able to strike up conversations at will and then potentially move the subject on what you can do to help them and vice versa.

Something else you can use Twitter conversations for is to arrange to meet your target for drinks at a conference, usually if you manage to bag one high profile publisher within a niche other publishers will come and join in the conversation free of will – a great way to get yourself known and build lasting relationships.

Tracking Progress

Since link building has become a more dangerous task you should be tracking each link built along with metrics, anchor text and the landing page the link points to. This data can be used to track progress, check metrics over time (checking back looking for sites gaining penalties) or looking out for overweighting specific parts of your client’s website.

At the end of the day the more data we track the better chance we have of spotting potential issues and getting them fixed quickly, most likely saving your client from future ranking issues. You can find a basic example of one I use currently over here.

What Does the Future Hold?

Looking at the direction Google has been taken over the last year, it has become very clear that they have started cracking down on a large number of unnatural linking activities — but as I mentioned that does not mean we need to step away from traditional link building.

At the end of the day if you use traditional techniques to find your targets then get out of the office and build relationships with your niche, you have a better chance of getting not only links that will impact your search rankings but start to build a connection between the publishers and the brand — which in turn will look natural to both algorithms and the human eye, especially if you use news stories and trends as a basis for your external content.

Creating Backlinks in 2012

I don’t know about you, but nothing gets me more frustrated than seeing people online whine about how, “It’s sooooo hard to build links these days!”

Really – if anything – the number of link building opportunities available today has only increased as new and different types of web properties have proliferated online!

So if you’re one of those people on the link building fence, take a look at the following list of 101 different link building techniques I’ve compiled.  Surely, you’ll find something in there to get your creative juices flowing!

From Your Website…

  1. Add social sharing tools to your blog articles – Adding social sharing tools to your blog posts (which can be done manually or with plugins like Digg Digg or TweetMEME) is pretty much mandatory now that social signals are being weighted in the ranking algorithms.
  2. Ask your readers to share your posts – Adding a call to action at the end of each post is one easy way to boost social sharing significantly.
  3. Launch an RSS feed – RSS feeds increase your website’s exposure, which can result in backlinks when your readers share your posts on their sites or social networking profiles.
  4. Submit your RSS feed to directories – Boost the link building power of your RSS feed by submitting this link to industry directories.
  5. Create internal links between posts – Adding internal links between posts on your site isn’t just a great link building tactic, it’s also a good way to get your readers to engage further with your website.
  6. Add the code to your posts – Adding TYNT to your site automatically appends a backlink to the sections of your site or URL that readers copy and paste elsewhere.
  7. Produce a helpful email newsletter – When people encounter helpful newsletters, they share them with their friends, resulting in even more links back to your site.
  8. Run an affiliate program – It may take time to set up, but running an affiliate program secures you backlinks from both your participants and any program directories you’re a part of.
  9. Improve your site’s navigation crawlability – Graphic navigation elements may prevent the search engine spiders from properly indexing links in this section.  Resolving these problems automatically results in more backlinks.
  10. Ensure all site links can be spidered – Similarly, on-page issues (including the improper use of Javascript scripts or Flash files) can limit the search engines’ ability to index your links.  Take care of these issues right away to improve your site’s link equity.

Using Specific Types of Blog Posts…

  1. Write list posts for your blog – People love to share list posts, making this technique an easy way to build backlinks quickly.
  2. “Ego bait” big names in your industry – Appeal to industry leaders’ pride by writing the praise-filled blog posts they’ll love to link back to.
  3. Produce infographics – Same deal as list posts.  Infographics get shared more often than many other types of content, resulting in an automatic influx of backlinks.
  4. Experiment with instructographics – Instructographics are similar to infographics in format and style, but present “how to” information rather than facts.  They’re just now starting to grow in popularity and should present a great link building opportunity in the future.
  5. Draft controversial blog posts – There’s nothing new about this technique, but its viability as a link bait option still stands.  People love to argue online, which means that your controversial blog posts will be linked to far and wide.
  6. Be the first in your industry to post on news updates – Being a “first mover” in your industry is great from an authority-building perspective, but it’s a great way to build links as well!
  7. Create comprehensive “how to” posts – If you create content that solves peoples’ problems (and “how to” posts are especially effective for this), you’ll find that your posts get linked back to far more often.
  8. Run regular “live blogs” – Live blogs provide extra value to readers, which typically results in more interest and more backlinks.
  9. Interview others in your industry – When you conduct and publish interviews with industry authorities, you’re able to leverage both your audience and your authority figure’s followers for additional backlinks.
  10. Write a “debunking myths” post – Debunking popular myths is a strategy that’s commonly used in advertising, as it tends to attract attention.  Used in your blog posts, it can result in backlinks as well.
  11. Launch FAQ posts – For the same reason that “how to” posts are effective forms of linkbait, you’ll find that FAQ posts can help you build links by providing your audience with vital information.
  12. Create posts that take advantage of a national day or event – Tailoring posts around national holidays and other events can help your site to earn traffic and backlinks from priority positioning in Google’s fresh results.

On Social Media Websites…

  1. Set up both a business and personal page on Facebook – Doing so will help you to reach a wider variety of potential link partners.
  2. Tie your blog to your Twitter profile to create links automatically – This way, every new posts results in a highly-shareable backlink to your site.
  3. Create a personal profile on Google+ – As your presence on this site may help boost your SERPs rankings, it can help increase your backlinking opportunities as well.
  4. Add your link to your LinkedIn profile – Not only can this boost referral traffic from interested business contacts, it’s a valuable link from a high-profile website.
  5. Ask power users to share your social network updates – If your audience is small, asking power users to share your content with their followers can boost your linking opportunities.
  6. Release documents on file sharing websites – Posting to sites like Scribd and Slideshare will earn you links on these sites, as well as possibly on sites that embed your documents on their own pages.
  7. Form a blog commenting network with fellow site owners – As part of a blog commenting network, you’ll leave comments on other peoples’ sites (resulting in backlinks) in exchange for messages on your own pages (which builds social proof).
  8. Share videos on Youtube – Take advantage of Youtube’s current standing as one of the web’s largest search engines to get your content discovered, shared and backlinked.
  9. Answer questions on Yahoo Answers, Quora or other similar sites – If you become an authority user on one of these sites, you may be able to share a link to your site with every question you answer.
  10. Find blogs that allow trackback links – Not all blogs allow trackbacks, but finding ones that do can be an easy way to build links quickly.
  11. Set up free blogs for others – Setting up blogs is a quick process, and offering this service in exchange for a backlink can be extremely popular.
  12. Register expired Blogspot blogs with link equity – Conducting competitive analysis may occasionally turn up abandoned Blogspot blogs that still retain link equity.  Re-registering these accounts and posting a link to your site can help you to harness this leftover authority.  Just be careful to focus your efforts on acquiring old, failed business (aim for PR5 or higher) and don’t include more than 4-5 of these links in your backlink profile.
  13. Claim your listings on local listing websites like Yelp – If you run a local business, setting up profiles on sites like Yelp is a “must do” link building activity.

Through Promotions…

  1. Release coupon codes – Coupon codes are shared far and wide online, making them a great type of link bait promotion.
  2. Create a giveaway contest – People love the chance to win free things, and you’ll accumulate backlinks when entrants share your giveaways with friends.
  3. Use seasonal or holiday-oriented promotions – Building promotions around the holidays is an easy way to build both public interest and backlinks.
  4. Sponsor a community event – Although you’ll need to make a donation to become a sponsor, many events add links to sponsor sites to their websites.
  5. Leave feedback on product review websites – Depending on your reviewer status, you may be able to add backlinks to your reviews along with your feedback.
  6. Write testimonials for other businesses – Many business websites include testimonial pages, so see if the services you’ve used offer this link building opportunity.
  7. Run a “best of the web” contest and encourage winners to link to your post – When webmasters are given awards, they naturally want to link back to the awarding site’s announcement post.
  8. Donate to charities that list donors on their sites – Instead of sponsoring events, you can also build backlinks by donating to entire charities that include donor backlinks on their websites.
  9. Give a presentation at your local college or university – Doing so has the potential to earn you tons of high value “.edu” backlinks if your presentation is advertised internally.
  10. Sponsor an industry conference – As a conference sponsor, you’ll likely earn a backlink from the event’s website, as well as other possible opportunities for recognition.

Using Traditional Techniques…

  1. Submit your website to high value directories – Avoid “no-name” directories, but do take the time to submit your site to DMOZ, the Yahoo Site Directory, Best of the Web and for backlinks.
  2. Identify high value specialty directories – If you run webinars, distribute free ebooks, build web apps or take part in any other type of content creation, you may be eligible to list your site in specialty directories (for example, the Appolicious directory for iPhone apps).
  3. Comment on other peoples’ blogs – Leave your comments on the blogs you read (even if they’re “no follow” links, they’ll still confer some benefit).   Do this in moderation, though, as these types of links are generally regarded as being low value.
  4. Post to forums – Maintaining a presence on industry forums has the potential to build both referral traffic and backlinks to your website.
  5. Set up profiles on public websites – If you’re an active member of a forum or web community, your profile page may offer the opportunity to include a backlink.
  6. Distribute press releases – If your website has something newsworthy to publicize, distributing press releases through services like PRWeb can be a great way to build links quickly.
  7. Publish articles to Web 2.0 properties – Building a following on popular Web 2.0 properties by publishing quality content to your pages gives you an additional opportunity to point links back to your website.
  8. Build and promote related micro-sites – Creating small sites outside of your main property gives you the chance to build even more backlinks.
  9. Contact webmasters in your industry directly – If you feel that your website’s content might be valuable to readers of another site, contacting the site’s webmaster directly to ask for a link can be an effective link building method.
  10. Write guest articles for other blogs – As a guest author on other sites, you’re usually entitled to at least one link back to your main site.
  11. Post your links to social bookmarking websites – If you’re a member of any social bookmarking communities, posting your links to these pages can help to get your content noticed by others.
  12. Buy expired or parked domains – Occasionally, you may encounter expired domains that still have links pointing to them.  Registering these addresses and pointing them at your site is a good way to capture this link equity.
  13. Get interviewed by the media – Just one mention on a major news website can represent tremendous link potential for your website.
  14. Participate in blog carousels – As a blog carousel member, you can submit links to be shared with others – representing a number of new link building possibilities.

Via Product Creation…

  1. Give away a free ebook – Free ebook download opportunities get shared amongst friends, potentially resulting in more backlinks for your site.
  2. Launch a podcast – Not only will running a podcast get you referral links from your listeners, you’ll also pick up backlinks from any directories in which your podcast is listed.
  3. Build widgets – Again, if you decide to take this approach, don’t spam.  Make sure users are aware of your link and give them the option to turn it off if you don’t want to get kicked out of the WordPress directory.
  4. Provide free software – Free software programs get shared widely and often (resulting in loads of new links), though you’ll want to be sure your software is protected from spam and malware distributors.
  5. Run a Youtube video channel – Youtube is hugely popular, so running an informative or entertaining channel can be a great way to build both an audience and new backlinks.
  6. Release an app – Apps are huge right now, and represent not just a potential revenue source but an opportunity to build backlinks via reviews as well.
  7. Publish a whitepaper – If you’re in the B2B market, whitepapers represent one of the best ways to build backlinks, as these resources may be shared widely amongst professionals.
  8. Post quizzes to your website and enable “sharing” functionality – Online quizzes have always attracted attention, but adding a “Share your score with your friends” feature makes it possible to turn these fun activities into link building powerhouses as well.
  9. Put together informative case studies – As with whitepapers, people love to read case studies, making this an ideal way to both build a reputation and create new backlinks.
  10. Host and distribute webinars – Webinars can be highly engaging, making their distribution and promotion a great way to build links.
  11. Share photos and images under the Creative Commons license – Webmasters and bloggers are always looking for royalty free images, which makes releasing your own pictures under the Creative Commons license (that is, in exchange for a backlink) a quick way to build links.
  12. Publish icon sets – Same goes with icon sets.  People are always looking for new icons, so if you offer them in exchange for links, you’re going to get new links!
  13. Create website badges – Developing a graphical bag that webmasters can post to their sites as measurement of some criteria is another way to send a stream of backlinks to your site.
  14. Develop your own toolbar – As with software and apps, people love to link to free programs – and toolbars are no exception.

Through Link Reclamation…

  1. Use Google Alerts to find unlinked company mentions – Setting up Google Alerts for your website’s branded keyword phrases can help you identify other sites that are mentioning you without linking back.
  2. Set up Copyscape alerts to find scraped content – The Copyscape service allows you to receive notifications whenever people copy and paste from your website.  Instead of asking for content removal, these plagiarisms represent possible backlinking opportunities.
  3. Reclaim 404 error pages with backlink equity on your site – If any of the 404 page errors recorded for your site have links pointing at them (due to moved or deleted content), replacing this content allows you to reclaim these existing backlinks.
  4. Notify webmasters of spelling and grammatical errors in exchange for a link – If you encounter mistakes on other websites, try emailing these webmasters with corrections and asking for a link in exchange.
  5. Monitor link partners and notify them of broken links – Several services allow you to monitor the sites linking back to you; if these change, notify webmasters immediately to see if they’ll reinstate your links.
  6. Contact other sites with broken links on your link partner pages – As you encounter these links, see if you can identify other webmasters that your partners have linked to.  Informing them of the broken links may lead to a link back to your site from these third parties.
  7. Identify hacked or malware-riddled sites and offer to repair them for a backlink – Searching for common hacked site phrases and contacting webmasters via Whois lookup to exchange a repair for a backlink is another potential link building technique to consider.
  8. Build secondary links to sites that are linking to you – In some cases, doing so may increase the value and authority of the first-tier links that are already pointing at your site.
  9. Conduct competitive analysis to find competitor backlink sources – Sifting through your competitor’s backlink profiles may turn up potential link building sources you hadn’t yet considered.

With Unconventional Techniques…

  1. Start a petition on a subject you’re passionate about – Petitions get forwarded and shared, resulting in links back to your site (assuming your petition is hosted there).
  2. Claim your listing in 1-800 directories – If your company has an 800 number, claiming your listing on 1-800 directory websites will provide a few extra backlinks.
  3. Post a job listing for your company – If you’re looking to hire a new worker, make sure your URL is contained in your job listing, as these posts are often syndicated across multiple sites.
  4. Give away a scholarship – Creating a scholarship (no matter how small it may be) is a great way to get your company’s name out there and to get new backlinks flowing in.
  5. Post ads on Craigslist (when relevant) – Don’t spam, but if you have something to sell or give away, include your backlink on your post.
  6. Update wikis in your industry – Contributing to the wiki pages in your industry is a good way to increase authority amongst your peers and secure high value backlinks to your site.
  7. Join the Better Business Bureau – For a fee, you can join this organization, increasing consumer trust and providing an opportunity to link back to your website.
  8. Participate in your community’s Chamber of Commerce – Similarly, joining your local Chamber of Commerce should get you a directory listing on the organization’s website.
  9. Contact your local library – Many libraries maintain resource lists, and getting your website mentioned on one of these collections can help you to secure a high PageRank link.

If You Have a Lot of Time or Money…

  1. Build your own social authority tool (like Klout) – Measuring social influence is going to be one of the hottest new trends in digital marketing over the next few years, so launching your own tool could result in a tremendous number of backlinks.
  2. Build your own directory – Directories are easy to create, and may provide a revenue stream in addition to the opportunity to build backlinks.
  3. Hire an industry authority whose connections you can leverage – If you aren’t making much headway on your own, hire a more experienced authority in your industry to leverage existing connections and build links to your site.
  4. Buy advertising appropriately – As long as they don’t pass PageRank inappropriately, the paid links you acquire through advertising campaigns may still offer you the opportunity to increase traffic and revenue.
  5. Build your own authority – When you’re regarded as an authority figure, people tend to naturally link back to you more often.  It isn’t easy to do, but can be a lucrative pursuit over time.
  6. Form a new online community – Running your own social network, forum or other online community takes time, but can be a great way to build backlinks if you’re successful.
  7. Create a local listing website – You don’t have to be the next Yelp, but creating a small, targeted listing site for local businesses should help you to pick up additional backlinks.
  8. Give presentations at industry conferences – Not only will presenting at conferences boost your perceived authority, it’ll earn you a backlink from the conference website as well.
  9. Hire a public relations firm – It isn’t cheap, but using a PR firm to get your name out there will result in many more backlinks than you may be able to achieve on your own.
  10. Hire an SEO agency – Finally, if you don’t have time to do your own link building, why not pay someone else to do it?  SEO agencies often have tools and systems in place that enables them to build backlinks for clients much more efficiently and cost-effectively than webmasters working on their own.