Free Link Building Tips For 2014
What is Link Building?
Definition: Getting other websites to link to yours to improve your ranking in Google. Basically. One man’s spam is another man’s quality link. Remember that, too.
Link building is a dirty phrase in 2014, because Google does not want to count any link that is not ‘editorial, or freely given. Google never has – but it’s algorithms don’t work as well as they would like or say they do, so people build links that affects how a links based search engine – like Google – rates the popularity of a particular website. Sort of. People can say link building is dead but the fact is – in 2014 – building links (any kinds of links) STILL affect your rankings in Google, in a BIG way, either positively – if from a trusted source – OR – negatively – if flagged as suspicious, over time. Getting and keeping a variety of different high quality links to your website is still THE most important factor in getting unpaid traffic from Google. Pre April 2012, after a few years of Google doing very little to combat it at scale, even an in-experienced link builder could make just about anything rank for anything by creating a 300 word article and building 500 unnatural links to it from (even very low quality blogs) with unique anchor text, spread out over a few months. It’s was very easy. So easy, in fact, that industrial scale link building services were dictating the very SERPS owned by Google, just by taking advantage of the way Google works counting links as votes. Just as many were about to turn the dial on article spinning to blogs up to 11 and go on holiday, Google nuked this and a lot of other low quality links with the Google Penguin algorithm change and an old mantra shouted louder – earn rankings based on merit. When I say nuked – of course it still goes on – and is still sold as linkbuilding services and packages to unsuspecting business owners). Next years unnatural links. Today Google has a few surprises for web masters bending the rules in this fashion. As well as investing more manpower to hand out MANUAL ACTIONS (penalties), Google introduced PANDA, to deal with those low quality pages, and PENGUIN to deal with those unnatural links. PANDA and PENGUIN are algorithm changes (as opposed to penalties) – but that’s splitting hairs. FYI I’ve very much simplified these two algorithm changes in Google, but trip a PANDA or PENGUIN filter, and traffic levels take a nosedive over night – and they might never come back. A kick in the balls is a kick in the balls – you’ll think you’re penalised and it will feel like one. This is not a black hat seo blog, so I won’t go into link wheels, link hubs, blog networks, three way links, tiered link building service, hacks or redirects (other than mention them) because I don’t do any of that any more (not that I did much anyway). For me (at least) the focus since PENGUIN (and especially since the disavow tool appeared) has focused entirely on building something useful that will attract links so I don’t need to build unnatural links and be looking over my shoulder. My notes are for money sites – sites you want to build something useful to people that makes money. If you’re going to break the rules, hire a link buyer who can help you with your business model, too, because you’ll need it – and that’s not me. I work with companies who focus on making the website better and richer in content. It’s much easier to get links to something that’s useful, and when you earn rankings, it’s a more stable existence in Google these days. Too many people submit spam reports and too many people engage in negative seo for me to invest too much in unnatural links these days – but that’s horses for courses. The truth is, if you work on your site and put a bit – OK a massive amount – of effort into it, you can still achieve top rankings and better traffic, month on month, while your competition is slapped about by Google. If you are totally new to building links to your website – I’d focus on creating the best page on the web for what you want to rank for – and then think ‘where is my next great link’ coming from. Or – do it the other way around. You can see the types of great content being linked to in your niche – and emulate that, to chase down similar links. If you want to rank in Google with any confidence in the long term, you are going to have to INVEST in GOOD content, and GREAT links. If you don’t want to do that – you better hire a great black hat spammer. The number of low quality links pointing at your site will affect your rankings adversely, and I’ve not seen many paid links age well. Eventually – those unnatural links will catch up with you. Get links from REAL sites that doesn’t sell links and you’ll soon see results. I spent 2013 cleaning up my blog. This page is an example and tbh I have not even finished cleaning up my grammar on this page – I deleted some old posts on the Hobo blog, reworked some out of date advice, added some videos from Google who now advise on the subject where they once did not, and created this one page that I hope is of some use to beginners to marketing a website in Google. I’m really focused on creating content these days – and I recommend you do the same – I expect this post will stand as an epitaph to my lower quality linkbuilding days of old.
The Basics of Link Build
When you are not spamming it, ranking in Google today is about patience, ACCESSIBILITY, RELEVANCE, REPUTATION and above all – TRUST – however Google works that last one out. I prefer focusing on improving those signals, rather than just manipulating link popularity. A link building campaign devoid of any quality, or of any use to anyone, is not the type of back link profile Google wants to reward with any long term consistency. Google calls that spam, and will punish you for it if it detects an intent to deceive it’s algorithms. Not that that stops a good spammer of course. If you’re reading this, chances are you are not a good spammer, so I would keep it clean until you know what you are doing. And maybe even then….. Here’s some tips to get you started:
- Get links from real sites to build real domain authority
- Try and get links from authority websites in your niche. Find that circle of sites where authorities in your industry link to and are linked from and think about how you can get involved.
- Don’t worry too much about “theme” of websites linking to you
- Review the tactics your competitors employ to earn links and think about how you can emulate them
- Join social networks, not for the links themselves, but to get your content noticed by the linkerati, to build your personal network, and to build your ‘Authorship’ signal – you’re going to need those for the future!
- It doesn’t hurt to get a link from a low or high Google Page Rank page. Today’s No-PR page might be a PR 5 page in reality, as Google Toolbar Pagerank is out of date.
- Get links from relevant sites, but any editorial link is a good link, regardless of the page and site it is on.
- Focus on quality link building techniques and strategies to avoid future unnatural links notices in Google Webmaster Tools
- Don’t annoy folk with link begging emails without a good pice of content for them, and don’t bombard friends you make on social networks with your sales message.
- Help others achieve their goals today and some will help you in the future
- The more people abuse certain links, the faster they turn toxic. Don’t go with the herd.
- Automated link building or manual link building – if the end result is an unnatural link you’ve placed yourself, Google doesn’t want to count that
- Outsource link building with extreme caution in 2014.
Which Search Engine Gives The Best Advice?
Unless you have no clue about what is going on and think GooglePlus counts are the number one ranking factor, you’ll realise building high quality links to your site is STILL the single most important thing you can be doing to improve the rank of an already relevant page (if you haven’t been doing anything shady in the past, that is. If you have, you need to concentrate on dissociating your self first from unnatural links). In competitive verticals – you can easily follow Bing/Yahoo clear linkbuilding guidelines to rank in Google, but forget to try and rank in Bing/Yahoo with this same technique because to do so, you need to use Google Webmaster Guidelines as a rulebook for success, and that will penalise you in, em, Google, which no sensible person wants. Bing and Yahoo encourage you to outreach for relevant links to improve the rank of your website: Bing says:
“simply ask websites for them”
“Correspond with webmasters of related sites and other providers of relevant content in order to increase the number of links to your site.”
Google has a different view. Google says
“Any links intended to manipulate ….a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Additionally, creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links, can be considered a violation of our guidelines.
Basically two of the 3 major (UK) search engines encourage you to ask websites for links to specifically improve the ranking of your site, and the biggest, Google, tells you not to do it at all. Bing’s SERPS (which go a way to power Yahoo searches) look pre penguin and pre-emd Google serps. You can easily rank in Bing and tank in Google, these days. Actionable Advice From Yahoo and Bing: Get links from related sites. Ask for links to increase the number of links to your site. (quotes) Honesty From Google If we spot a linkbuilding footprint we will f*** you. (paraphrased)
Bing’s Position on Link Building Clarified
Here’s a post on link building and seo for “smart webmasters” on the Bing search blog.
- You contact webmasters of other, related websites and let them know your site exists.
- If the value that you have worked so hard to instill in your site is evident to them, they will assist their own customers by linking back to your site. That, my friend, is the essence of link building.
- Relevance is important to end users… We see the content they possess and the content you possess. If there is a clear disconnect, the value of that inbound link is significantly diminished, if not completely disregarded.
- If relevance is important, the most highly regarded, relevant sites are best of all. Sites that possess great content, that have a history in their space, that have earned tons of relevant, inbound links – basically, the sites who are authorities in their field – are considered authoritative sites.
- When probable manipulation is detected, a spam rank factor is applied to a site, depending upon the type and severity of the infraction. If the spam rating is high, a site can be penalized with a lowered rank. If the violations are egregious, a site can be temporarily or even permanently purged from the index.
Interesting and it gives an insight into linkbuilding and penalties for manipulation – we know the same sort of thing is happening at Google too. Bing’s policy on link building
Bing’s position on link building is straightforward – we are less concerned about the link building techniques used than we are about the intentions behind the effort. That said, techniques used are often quite revealing of intent.
Building Links Is Easier When You Have Content Worth Linking To
Getting other sites to link to yours is easy when you have content worth linking to. it really is that simple in some cases. Your content should be original, but it doesn’t need to set the world on fire. The more content you add to your site, the more likely people will link to it, today or in the future. I’m still getting links from stuff I wrote years ago. So first thing you should be doing is, er…., adding content to your site. I personally think How-To articles, or articles that discuss a common problem often discussed in forums etc – some call it timeless content – is best suited to linkbait (and visitors!). This is always going to get linked to at some point if it’s presented slightly differently, and interesting. Once you get enough links and you feature in the top 3 results, you’ll find you start to pick up more and more natural links. Where to start? See that crap little FAQ on your site? Those frequently asked questions nobody asks about? Those need expanded – each FAQ should be it’s own page with a good page title and in a well structured site. You need to ask your self what do people want to know about your products, or your industry – not necessarily your business. Having content on your site makes it so much easier to pick up links. If you have no content, while you can still rank in Google via links alone, you’re limiting yourself in a way you might not recover from. Try not to add content to your website that’s not just about your boring company. Most folk are not interested.
Tell The World About Your Site But Don’t Ask For Links!
Google used to say:
Have other relevant sites link to yours.
Then it’s guidelines changed to:
Tell the world about your site. Google
and in 2014:
create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it. Google
It’s clear. Google does not want you asking specifically for links or building links you make yourself because this is a clear attempt to manipulate rankings. It’s a bit slack advice when the key to ranking and traffic success in Google is getting other relevant authority sites link to your site. Links are what the web is about though and it is why Google is the number 1 search engine. Links were about before Google. There’s nothing wrong with getting other sites to link to you as long as it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb you’re looking for Pagerank or improved rankings for particular terms. Private discussions with people you know are another thing, but when I ask for links (which I don’t do very often), I very very rarely ask for specific keyword anchor text. If I send out an email, I’ll point someone in the direction of the page, and I’ll point out that linking to it might have some benefit to their own audience. On some occasions in the past, I’ve offered to reciprocate the link IF it is of benefit to the readers of the other page. I never specify any attribute of the link either e.g. whether or not it is search engine friendly, or not. I would not go on record these days sending an email out saying:
Link to me using the following keyword text on a page with Pagerank of minimum 2….
… and neither should you. You never know who will end up reading that and it makes it clear you don’t have a clue what you are on about and will take links from and link back to anybody. If you want people to link to you in a particular way, make sure the title of the page you want links to, has the keywords you want to rank for featured, and a lot of folks will use those words to link to you. I sometimes change the title of pages for this exact reason. This is presuming, of course, the page is useful in some way! And don’t send out spam email requests. I get hundreds of bottom feeder link requests and don’t answer any of them. It is a waste of time. There is many ways to skin a cat of course, but this is how my linkbuilding company does it – and I’ve said before, we’re a content focused link building agency. We don’t build links to crap anymore (not even crap links). How do you tell the world about your site? Twitter. Stumbleupon. Facebook. TV. Press Ads. Articles. Blogging. Linkedin. You pick – but start with building something on your website somebody will get use out of.
Get Links From REAL Sites (Sites That Do NOT Exist JUST To Link To Other Sites)
Sometimes it’s hard to explain to people what a quality link is but in simple terms in 2014 Google wants you thinking nothing but a natural link is a ‘good link’. Links do not have to be relevant to your industry to build your domain authority (far from it), the linking site you earn a link from doesn’t have to be an authority in it’s niche, and it doesn’t have to be the same links as your competitors’ to get the same rankings. Even if the site is irrelevant to your site (and you just bagged a lucky link) – THAT is a good link. Any type of editorial link is a good link. What it should NOT be is a website (or websites) that ONLY exist to provide links to other sites to boost rankings. This is what is defined as a link scheme – and Google has a bit of an after hours hobby of going after a lot of link schemes in these days. Every link building specialist LOVES EARNED LINKS – although a lot of experienced link builders just won’t give up on manufactured links while spam prevails in Google’s listings – and there’s a lot of that. I think about how I get links from real sites, and the more authoritative the site, the better, of course. Ideally:
- You don’t just want a link on a useful links page, but as long as the links page is a useful resource, and not abusing anchor text, then it could still be a good link
- You don’t necessarily want it on a page on a site obviously selling links as chances are the links will not age well, at least
You do want it on a page that’s in Google’s index, on a legitimate website which pages ranks in Google. Earned contextual links within text content are the holy grail of building links, for me, but if the link is on a good domain, with a high PR and is not abusing anything, that’s a great link. If you want to increase Google Pagerank of your site, you better make sure the pages that link to you have PR, can transfer it and are making your link the focus of the article. This takes a bit of experience though…. you’ll naturally accrus Pagerank if you invest in remarkable or compelling content on your site – and that can take just about any form you can think of. Do the stuff above (and a lot of it) and you’ll have a natural link profile as is possible that will probably stand the test of time. I don’t use that many link building tools to identify opportunity because I don’t really want the same links as my competitors for my clients – you just need Google and your brain, in some cases. Of course there’s many ways to SEO the cat (and I don’t IGNORE competitor research) but if I was a link builder picking through a competitors back links instead of trying to think a bit more creatively about building a brand online I think I would shoot myself in the head. I filter competition back links and identify quality linking patterns – but often, competitor research is best for inspiration, rather than bagging the same link. Focus on building better content, a better user experience, and get links from REAL SITES. Remember that….and you will probably always be ok.
Go Off Topic & Get Natural Links From Trusted Sites
A lot of SEO & Internet marketing blogs will say pump out a lot of relevant content on your blog, build a resource all around a specific subject. Even Google says to do the same. What you won’t normally hear is to improve your traffic, improve the number and quality of your links to your website is to go off topic…. write about anything that is timely – especially when it’s even slightly topical. News jacking stories in related niches (or your own) is still a great way of picking up natural, socially driven links. I’ve went off topic on a number of times to chase links. Because of that I’ve been linked to by authority sites that wouldn’t have any reason to link to a seo company. I had a PR 9 link once because I wrote about something ‘slightly‘ off topic. Today I was linked to a .edu on a ‘slightly‘ off topic subject to an article I wrote 2 years ago. Last week this site got a home page link on what I can only determine was the Brazilian version of TechCrunch and sent me nearly 5,000 visitors on a link that was buried 4 pages in on the article (to an article that was a year old). The link was to a ‘slightly‘ off topic subject area but I rank number 1 for in the that competitive but similar niche. When you go off topic into less competitive niches, you can sometimes have a better chance of ranking on the first page of Google. The Best Way To Earn Natural LInks Is TO Be Top Of Google If you are the number 1 link in a SERP, you wouldn’t believe the amount of natural links you get just because you are already No1 – it truly is a self re-inforcing effect and can be a powerful way to attract links over time. The number 1 position truly is a self reinforcing position especially if there’s any semblance of a natural linking profile in that particular keyword vertical – ie tutorials, research, how-to etc. So – a strategy is to rank for as much as possible from the start – even if that is LONG-TAIL queries – and so that starts with IN-DEPTH CONTENT on YOUR SITE. If you are building links to 500 word articles – that’s not going to stand the test of time over even the next year or two. These links from trusted sites help ranking your content – especially your new content. A natural link from a trusted site (or even a more trusted site than yours) can do nothing but help your site. I would think when a trusted site links to your site, the trust Google places in your site because of that link raises your own trust levels, and while not helping you rank immediately for your main terms, can help you when you publish new content in the future. Of course if the off topic trusted site links to you with good keywords, you don’t get much better. THe art is to pull all that together in a way that benefits you the most, without giving Google a reason to place less trust in your site. Now for sure, I don’t go that far off topic and expect to get links that will really count. But certainly, going off topic every now and again, especially with a helpful article on your blog certainly gets you links, sometimes tons of traffic, some you wouldn’t normally receive in your boring niche. You know you can monitise anything if you can be bothered and take advantage of any page that’s been linked to heavily, but the point is the natural links you earn from this type of activity might well be the only links you need to beat off a competitor. Sometimes it’s surprising the quality of links you get with a bit of off-topic content.
Links That Effect Ranking Change In Google SERPS
Any link that sends you traffic could be seen as a good link, but what are quality links, what are good links and what are crap links, when it comes to improving the actual ranking of your own pages in Google SERPS? First, you need to be aware that the quality of a link (that effects a ranking improvement for your own site in Google) is dependant on the page and site it is on. Is the site trusted, is the page trusted, is the page in Google’s index at all, how many links point to the actual page your link is on, are people actually going to click this link (that in itself is a good measure of the quality of a real link)? Most importantly, it’s all about the page the link is on. Just because you get a link on a high PR domain does not automatically make that a good link. It’s the page you need to be interested in. You should have a light mixture of focused anchor text links, unfocused anchor text links and URL citations (www.hobo-web.co.uk etc) in your link profile to ensure long standing rankings (ie a natural link profile). What follows is my general rule of thumb:
- Your internal links Not THE most important links, but the best place to start. Get your site in order before you get links. Google loves a good site structure with plenty of text links pointing to each page on your site. I prefer a minimal sitewide navigation and a lot of in content links if you have a lot of useful content, and I consider all the time if Google is only counting the first link on a page. Don’t forget to link to your important pages often – ENSURE your get them into Google’s index in the first place.
- Links on mainstream news sites, and other types of authority sites – or in short, links from Brands – the holy grail in my opinion – promotion, old style. Purely because they are trusted and have a lot of links to them.
- Related industry site (the aim of seo, and excellent quality, but depends on the site, niche and the type of link – can be very useful) – usually, they too have a lot of links.
- Link on a high PR old style aged trusted page – like a university or government resource page – excellent if you can get the webmaster to link to you
- Links from unrelated but non abusive sites (depends on the site and the type of link – can be very useful for improving your Google ranking & PR)
- Link on a blog post (good, dependant on the site, but easily deteriorates over time as a post is gobbled up in sometimes very crap site architecture.
- Social media site links (opinion, I think these are very very weak as a ranking signal in themselves, but they do get your page out there, and that’s how you pick up organic links.
- Link on a useful links page (often very low quality, but sometimes very high quality – it’s all dependent on the INTENT of that page in question)
- Reciprocal links (often very very low quality, but sometimes just a natural part of the link graph, if it’s done with user experience in mind)
Links to avoid include any link that is self made and obviously self made, on a site with only self made links. It doesn’t matter if THEY WORK to manipulate Google in the short term – if you use a lot of low quality techniques and there is an obvious INTENT to rank using low quality means, these links might very well cause you ranking troubles a few months later. I would avoid:
- Dofollow Blog Comments – PENALTY MATERIAL
- Site wide links & blogrolls (generally low quality in terms of anchor text transference – used to be good for PR transference but not nearly as effective as it used to be) PENALTY MATERIAL
- Article submission & syndication services – PENALTY MATERIAL
- Directory Links – PENALTY MATERIAL
- Forum Signatures (generally low quality, dependant on page and forum, perhaps dependant on number of links too) PENALTY MATERIAL
- Widgets – PENALTY MATERIAL
- Unnatural Sitewide links – PENALTY MATERIAL
I will say you can still get away with quite a lot, but actual penalty material as I claim above is all to do with your INTENT as GOOGLE interprets it to be. Nofollowed links (like those on most blog comments – are not counted as links (though can be used to generate traffic if you link to a popular blog post or comment on one). Remember too though links need to be complimented by well structured title tags, good content, and a good site architecture. It’s not enough to be ‘popular’ – you also need to be ‘relevant’. For me, another rule of thumb is, often, the EASIER a link is that everyone can get to get, the LESS quality it is.