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Category Archive: Link Building

  1. 5 Link Building Obstacles That Stop Most Newcomers

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    Backlinks are necessary to improve your domain authority and rank in search engines. This is indisputable. Because Google uses links as an external verification of a site’s authority, it’s important that the integrity of these links be preserved; if Google believes you are deliberately and wantonly posting links around the web for the sole purpose of increasing your domain authority, it will penalize you.

    However, this doesn’t mean that “link building” is a bad thing in general. All it means is that you have to build links naturally by providing relevant content to external publishers, citing worthy material on your own site, and generally adding value to your target communities. Unfortunately, this raises more problems than it solves, especially for newcomers. If you’re just getting started with link building (or SEO in general), the whole system can seem confusing, unnecessarily complicated, and intimidating. Pro tip: it both is and isn’t.

    In some ways, navigating the pitfalls of link building is challenging and ambiguous (as there aren’t many formal guides for the process). In others, trusting your instincts and creating good material is the best of all strategies. For the former, I’ve taken the time to list the five most common obstacles that stop newcomers in their tracks, and hopefully, the productive ways to address them:

    1. Trusting the Process.

    articleimage1773 Trusting the Process

    It may sound strange, but the biggest obstacle most link builders face is getting started. Trusting the link building process manifests itself in three ways: first, you have to trust that link building is a benefit for your site, not a risk. Unless you’re buying links directly or participating in an elaborate scheme, your links will only increase the authority of your site. Second, you have to trust yourself to be doing things right. It’s likely you’ll make some mistakes along the way, but if you’re too intimidated to attempt linking out, you’ll never get anywhere. Finally, you have to trust that link building has you on the right path. It’s a long-term strategy, like all SEO tactics, so you aren’t going to see significant results the same week, or even the same month that you get started. Give it time, and trust that there’s a reason this strategy is still around.

    2. Finding Good Sources.

    articleimage1773 Finding Good Sources

    The next obstacle is more of a logistical problem: finding good sources on which to build links. Finding all the right qualities in a source is hard, even for experienced link builders, and it only gets harder as you start tapping the most easily available and appropriate sources. First, you have to find a source that’s relevant to your industry (or at least tangentially related to it). Then, you have to make sure their domain authority is in check—how long has it been around? How high is it ranking? How noteworthy is it in your industry? What kind of content does it host? Finally, you have to ensure that it accepts open publications—and if it does, that opens a whole other door of potential complications.

    3. Getting a Link Accepted.

    articleimage1773 Getting a Link Accepted

    Identifying a good source is no guarantee you’ll be able to make use of it. You have to produce content that’s valuable to the publisher in question, sometimes adhering to their rules on post formatting, subject matter, and other miscellaneous requirements. Different publishers will have different standards—some will mandate that you’ve had publishing experience with other noteworthy sources, creating a “where to get started” paradox, and some won’t accept submissions from any new writers at all. To top it off, even if you get the attention and acceptance of a publisher and submit a piece of truly great content, there’s a chance that your link will be removed by the editor or webmaster, negating much of the value you intended to build. Unfortunately, this is an obstacle that can only be overcome through experience—learning which strategies work and which ones don’t, while accepting that you won’t win every battle.

    4. Learning the Balance.

    articleimage1773 Learning the Balance

    There’s a careful balance you have to strike in many areas of link building. You have to maintain your relationship with publishers by posting new content, but not an overabundance of it. You have to seek new sources often, but you can’t build links too quickly. You have to balance standard links and nofollow links, home page and internal page links, and many different types of content all under the umbrella of the same strategy. The best advice I have for this obstacle is to start small and make gradual changes—otherwise, it’s too easy to get overwhelmed.

    5. Growing a Strategy.

    articleimage1773 Growing a Strategy

    Diversity and intensity are the two keys to growing a link building strategy—diversity in the types of links you build and sources you choose to host them, and intensity in terms of the number of links you post and the quality of the sources you use. It’s easy to get comfortable in a strategy and never work on scaling it upward, but you have to push yourself forward if you want to keep seeing results. Maintain an ever-growing list of publishers, including ones you feel are out of your league or ones who have rejected you in the past. Follow up with them as the months roll on, and strive to post better and better content. Your goal should be to do a little better each month.

    If you can overcome these obstacles, you’ll put yourself far ahead of the majority of link building newcomers. Once you establish a groove and become familiar with the principles and fundamentals of the strategy, you’ll wonder why you were ever intimidated in the first place. It takes time to develop a solid strategy, like any SEO tactic, but eventually you’ll find a rhythm.

  2. Are All Links Good or Bad? Or Somewhere in Between?

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    There are a number of ongoing, raging debates about link building in the SEO community, from whether manual link building is acceptable to best practices for a dofollow/nofollow ratio, but there are a few things we all can agree on. First, links definitely have a major influence on your ranks. Without backlinks, it’s virtually impossible to get any domain significantly ranked. Second, some links are better than others, and there are clear, objective traits that make those links better or worse than one another. Links from higher-authority domains are worth more than those from low-authority domains, and so on. Finally, “bad” links can hurt your domain authority, causing your rankings to tumble and possibly (though rarely) earning you a full-blown Google penalty.

    All this leads to a deceptively simple question about the nature of links in general. If there are “bad” links, does that mean any non-“bad” links are good links? Are there only two categories of links (“good” and “bad”), or are most links somewhere in the middle?

    To answer this question, I’m going to look at the most significant factors that go into determining a link’s quality.

    Domain Strength

    articleimage1652 Domain Strength

    One of the most important considering factors for a link’s quality is the root domain it’s being linked from. If there’s a link pointing to your site from a scam site, it could compromise your authority. If you have a link from a major university, on the other hand, you’ll stand to benefit greatly. Domain authority doesn’t function in a pass/fail scale—as you’ve no doubt experienced, it’s much more of a sliding scale. There are good sites, bad sites, okay sites, and everything in between out there, so the domain strength can’t necessitate the creation of a good or bad link, exclusively. Imagine a link on an “okay” site, in the middle—could you consider that a good link or a bad link? The answer is “neither” for this factor alone.

    Page Strength

    articleimage1652 Page Strength

    Along with domain strength, Google also considers the page strength of the link in question’s source. For example, a link from a Home page or Contact page is automatically given more authoritative strength than a link on a blog, or buried in some far-off hole of your site. Again, this doesn’t necessitate a pass or fail—page authority functions on a sliding scale, and there are no pages that could immediately turn a link into a “bad” link. You could make the semantic argument that if no links can be “bad” links in this factor alone, all other links must be “good”—but do acknowledge there’s a sliding scale of quality.

    Anchor Text

    Anchor text has less middle ground to play with. The text in which your link is embedded speaks volumes about the quality of your link. If you have no anchor text and the link is free floating, the quality of the link dips. If you have irrelevant or spammy anchor text like “BUY NOW!!!” the quality of the link dips. Other than that, as long as your text is relevant to the link and the conversation, you’ll be good to go—keywords in anchor text aren’t as important as they used to be. For this factor, there are definitely “good” links and “bad” links.

    Context

    articleimage1652 Context

    Google is sophisticated enough to understand the context of your link. The nature of the site, the nature of the page, the topic, the conversation, and the use of your link are all taken into consideration. If it looks out of place, its authority dips. If it looks helpful and appropriate, its authority rises. As you can imagine, there are very few instances of flat-out “right” and “wrong” here—so this factor functions on a sliding scale.

    Diversity

    articleimage1652 Diversity

    The diversity of your link profile also comes into consideration, though this doesn’t affect any one link. More links on a wider range of sources is always a good thing, while piling all your links on one source can actually hurt you. Even if that one source has a high authority, participating in a link exchange or funneling all your links to one source can degrade the overall authority of those links.

    Truly “Bad” Links

    articleimage1652 Truly “Bad” Links

    Forget about the strength of the domain, the anchor text, and other “soft” factors for a link’s quality. There are some links that are truly, objectively, and inarguably bad. Google doesn’t hide this—in fact, it does a pretty good job of explaining exactly what constitutes this level of bad link, and exactly what kind of repercussions you can expect to face from trying to build one. Its short version describes any link deliberately intended to manipulate your PageRank, but really what it’s referring to are links you’ve spammed, stuffed, bought, or schemed into existence. This is a major black hat practice, and one you probably (hopefully) aren’t participating in, so these are the most egregious offenders. Chances are, they’re going to earn you a harsh penalty from Google itself.

    The Short Answer

    The short answer, which you’ve probably figured out if you’ve read any of the other sections, is that links can’t be separated into “good” or “bad” categories. Link quality functions on a sliding scale, much like the quality of content, or food, or movies, or anything else in life. Some links are objectively more valuable than others, but these broad categories are ambiguous and undescriptive. The only exception to this analysis are deliberate spam links, scheme links, or paid links, all of which blatantly and recklessly violate Google’s official policy and can earn you a manual penalty. Stay clear of those types, and aim to build the best possible links you can.

  3. Is Manual Link Building Worth the Effort?

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    articleimage1555 Is Manual Link Building Worth the Effort

    Link building has been the subject of controversy and debate in recent years. Thanks to the release of Google’s Penguin update, which greatly increased the quality and relevance of links necessary for a site to benefit, and statements from Google engineers themselves, the concept of “link building” as a strategy has been under fire. The major argument is that links should come naturally, as the result of producing high-quality content, and that manually attempting to build links is an exercise in futility.

    Two major arguments exist against manual link building. The first is that it’s a risky strategy, and manually building links will eventually get you penalized. The second is that it’s an inefficient strategy, and that the amount of time and money you spend on building links won’t yield enough of a value to your bottom line strategy.

    Links Are Necessary

    articleimage1555 Links Are Necessary

    First, understand that external links are necessary if you want a chance at attaining any search visibility whatsoever. External links from outside domains are what Google uses as third-party votes to determine the authoritativeness and popularity of yours. Without those third-party votes, Google has no reason to believe that you’re an authority, and you won’t ever rank—especially against a competitor who’s already established themselves.

    It’s possible that you could wait around long enough for your organic and in-person followers to start supporting your site through external links. However, unless you’re already an established, national brand, this is highly unlikely. If you want organic traffic to your site, you will have to take measures to build links one way or another.

    Two Kinds of Link Building

    articleimage1555 Two Kinds of Link Building

    The term “link building” itself is up for debate, because there are two kinds of modern link building. The first is the traditional kind—you evaluate the authoritative strength and relevance of various sources, find the best ones, and use content to link back to your site. This is manual link building, and is the primary focus of this article.

    The alternative, which has gained more momentum and popularity in recent years, is more of a glorified form of content marketing. The goal here is to create pieces of content, particularly those born from original research, that have a mass appeal and potential for viral circulation. Most writers and websites will gladly link to content they find particularly enlightening, or content that serves as evidence for or against a point they’re trying to make. If you can produce a piece of content that provides this for a good chunk of your industry, you’ll naturally earn dozens (or even hundreds) of links without ever stepping into the manual game.

    The Risk of Penalty

    Many marketers are afraid to delve into the world of manual link building because they’re afraid of earning a penalty for their site. Under Google’s Penguin algorithm, if a link is found to be irrelevant, non-authoritative, or unhelpful, it can be flagged as spam. At that point, your domain authority will suffer a hit until the link is removed. If you make an egregious offense, or repeatedly build bad links, your domain could suffer a substantial and much longer-lasting official “penalty,” from which recovery is arduous.

    The likelihood of earning the latter kind of “official” penalty is extremely low unless you’re deliberately trying to spam people. Otherwise, if you adhere to best practices and keep your users’ best interests in mind, the risk of even a light penalty is virtually non-existent.

    Your goals here should revolve around building links that are actually valuable to people. Find sources that are relevant to your industry, valuable to readers, and welcoming of your content. Frame your links within content that is original, informative, and valuable, and make sure to link to pieces that expand upon your original points. Doing this virtually guarantees that you won’t earn any penalties from your work.

    The Time Factor

    articleimage1555 The Time Factor

    The big factor here, then, is time. Qualifying sources, producing offsite content, and checking over your past link building work all take hours of time. When the fruits of your labor only amount to a single link, all those hours can seem pointless. However, with practice, the speed and efficiency of your process will improve, and you’ll spend fewer hours for every link produced. Plus, if you write good enough content on an external source, other sources will link to that piece, and you’ll gain secondary link juice—essentially giving you the best of both worlds with both types of link building.

    On the other hand, consider how much time it would take to produce the kind of originally researched, high-quality content that attracts links naturally. That will probably cost you just as many hours, or hundreds of dollars to pay a professional to do it for you. Either way, link building requires an investment.

    The Bottom Line

    As long as you’re adhering to best practices, manual link building is worth the time and effort you put into it. Trying to cut corners could earn you a penalty and set you back further than where you started. Taking too much time can make your strategy inefficient. Try to find a middle ground for your manual link building strategy, and don’t be afraid to emphasize the more natural side of things, with high-quality content production serving as your link magnet. The more diverse your strategy is, the better equipped you’ll be to see a rise in rank without serious risk.

  4. 7 Big Hurdles That Can Wreck Your Link Building Strategy

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    Link building is alive and well, helping countless business owners achieve more domain authority and greater ranks for their business websites. Despite a rocky few years with the arrival of Google Penguin, and insistence from Google authorities that link building should be avoided, if executed properly, link building bears little risk and is almost a necessity for earning ranks in modern search engines.

    That being said, it’s not an easy strategy to pull off—it involves research, strategic direction, careful execution, and ongoing management. Throughout the process, you’ll encounter some major hurdles, some of which can ruin your campaign if you aren’t careful. Knowing those hurdles ahead of time and anticipating their demands is crucial to long-term success:

    1. Identifying the right sources.

    articleimage1511 Identifying the right sources

    The start of any healthy link building campaign is a proper selection of sources. You can’t distribute links randomly throughout the web like you could in the early 2000s; Penguin has added a layer of sophistication from Google that evaluates the power of a link based on a number of factors about the source. In short, the more authoritative and more relevant a source is to your business, the higher the value of the link will be. The trouble is, getting links on the highest authority sources is a challenge, and finding blogs and forums within your niche can be daunting. Find a good balance, and never sacrifice quality for quantity—in general, one good link is always better than three questionable ones.

    2. Convincing webmasters to host your links.

    articleimage1511 Convincing webmasters to host your links

    If you’re trying to earn a major anchor link on a company’s home page (or one of their other core pages), convincing the webmaster of your value can be difficult. You can always arrange for a quid pro quo exchange, such as donating money to an organization in exchange for being recognized via a link, but remember that buying links directly is inadvisable. Even if you post links through a public method, like embedding a link in a comment or response, you still have to get past the moderators preserving the quality of the site. Try to make the exchange as valuable as possible, either through the quality of the information you’re providing, or through other means.

    3. Earning regular spots.

    articleimage1511 Earning regular spots

    The first link from a source is always the most authoritative; subsequent links do carry power, but nowhere near as much as that first core link. Still, getting regular opportunities to post on a high authority site is often easier and more productive than seeking out new sources all the time. Despite that relative ease, earning a regular spot is still a challenge, especially as you move up the ladder. Again, the key here is to provide some sort of value, usually in the quality of the content you produce, which leads me to my next point.

    4. Producing the right content.

    articleimage1511 Producing the right content

    When you post content for a link building opportunity, whether that’s in the form of a guest article or just a comment in an online thread, you have to accomplish two goals; first, you have to preserve your brand and quality standards, and second, you have to appease your target source. The target audience of your link building source may be different from your usual crowd. Pay close attention to this, for if you sacrifice either your brand voice or the appeasement of your new target audience, you could damage your reputation and compromise your chances of earning further links.

    5. Diversifying your sources and tactics.

    articleimage1511 Diversifying your sources and tactics

    Once you get into a link building groove, it’s easy to slip into a pattern. The methods you use to find sources, the tactics you use to earn positions, and even the types of content you produce can all fall into an indistinguishable, repetitive rhythm. In the short-term, this can help save you time, but diversity is king when it comes to link building. If you want to stay out of Penguin’s sights and continue an upward trajectory of authority, you need to shake things up from time to time.

    6. Scaling your strategy.

    When you’re first starting out, those highest-authority sources are a pipe dream. You won’t have the authority to appeal to those webmasters, or the skills to produce for those target audiences. Starting out with lower-authority sources that are still valuable is a challenge in itself, but then you have to find a way to gradually scale upward. This goes for the quality of your sources as well as the quality of your content, and even the amount of effort you put into your strategy overall.

    7. Maintaining checks and balances.

    Last but not least, link building isn’t a strategy you can “set and forget.” Like content marketing, it’s a strategy that needs your constant attention, evaluation, and adjustment. Occasionally (monthly for small companies and possibly weekly for large ones), you should be running through your link building efforts, evaluating links you’ve earned without deliberately building links, and evaluating both the effectiveness of your current strategy and possible new tactics to incorporate. As you spend months and even years growing your link network, this will grow to be an ever more difficult task, but it must be done if you want to continue refining your processes and earning better and better results.

    As you continue to improve and expand your link building strategy, watch out for these potentially deadly hurdles. One wrong move could lead to a penalty, and one flaw in your strategy could prevent you from achieving your true potential. Keep a close eye on your link network and don’t be afraid to experiment; unless you do something truly egregious (like buying links in bulk), there’s always room for recovery.

  5. 7 Qualities to Look for in Every Link Source

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    Few SEO strategies have received as much attention—or as much criticism—as link building has in the past few years. The Penguin update in 2012 (and its subsequent iterations) scared many search marketers away from the strategy, and John Mueller’s comments that link building is a process to “avoid in general” didn’t help.

    But there are multiple types of link building. As you might imagine, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. If you start posting links to your site all over the web with wanton disregard, you’ll undoubtedly earn yourself a penalty—and this is the type of link building John Mueller warns against. However, if you focus on building relationships with other sites and other authorities on the web, you can benefit greatly by the process.

    When you scout for new link sources, be sure to prioritize these seven qualities:

    1. Established.

    Established

    The length of time a domain has been in circulation contributes partially to the domain authority it’s given by Google. For example, of two otherwise equal sites, one with two years of history and one that just launched, the one with two years of history would automatically be weighted with more authority. There are a few exceptions to this, especially as domains get older, but as a general rule, it’s in your best interest to look for more established sites. If a new blog pops up and you can get an easy link out of it, that won’t necessarily hurt you, but it won’t help you nearly as much as a link from a source that’s been around longer.

    2.Respected.

    Respected

    Respected is a trickier quality to evaluate, because it can’t be objectively measured. It’s easy to see when a domain has been around for years and when it has just emerged, but it’s hard to tell how “respected” a site is. There are a few things you can look for, such as accreditations and its relationships with other sites, but generally you’ll have to trust your gut. Do the writers of the site have noteworthy personal brands? Do other sites in the industry reference this site often? If you mentioned this site to a coworker, would he/she be familiar with it?

    3. Relevant.

    Relevant

    Your ideal link building source should be at least partially relevant to your industry. For example, if you own an auto dealership, your source should have something to do with automobiles. It might be a forum for a particular make and model of car you sell, or a directory for auto dealers in your niche, or it might even be a high-profile general news source that also has a category or section specifically for auto news. The sources you want to avoid are ones that explicitly have nothing to do with your business—those types of sources can easily register your link as spam and compromise your attempts to build authority.

    4. Consistent.

    Consistent

    The best link sources are ones that are regularly active (and somewhat predictable). They should have consistent traffic, consistent posts, and a consistent history in the industry. Some of these factors may be difficult to measure as an outsider, but you can get a sense for the consistency or volatility of a site just by clicking through its blog and social media sites. How often do they publish new posts? How far back does this pattern go? Volatile sites are less predictable, and will pass less authority to yours.

    5. Social.

    This is a quality of both the site and the people who use it. How often do you see comments on the site’s posts? How often do the users of the site share posts on their personal social media profiles? How often does your source post on Facebook and Twitter to its audience and engage with others in the industry. Generally, the more social your link source is, the more valuable it’s going to be for your domain authority. It’s an indication of quality content, room for growth, and it’s going to give you more direct exposure to a wide audience.

    6. Reasonable.

    Some sites exhibit all the great qualities I listed above, but have unbelievably strict standards when it comes to allowing guest posts or links. There’s nothing wrong with striving for this level of quality, but in many cases, it simply isn’t worth your time to build a relationship with these sources—at least not until you build your authority with more reasonable sources. Seek long-term relationships with sources that are flexible, accommodating, and have reasonable expectations for your content and submissions.

    7. Different.

    If you’re looking for a new source, try to make sure it’s differentiated from your other sources. For example, if you already have two or three niche forums pointing to your site, don’t seek out another competing niche forum. Try for something in a slightly different niche, or try a personal blog, or try a news site. The more diverse your link profile is, the more authority you’ll build and the lower your risk of a penalty will be. Strive for diversity across all your sources, and be careful not to build too many links in one place.

    If you find a source with all seven of these qualities, you can count on it as a reliable fixture in your link building campaign. Of course, don’t forget that the heart of any good link building strategy is great content, in the form of guest posts, responses, and comments that bring value to your target audience. Follow these rules consistently, and you have nothing to fear from link building—the relationships you make can only increase your domain authority and your ranks over time.

  6. 7 Big Challenges Every Modern Link Builder Needs to Overcome

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    Link building has always been one of the biggest and most important elements of SEO, second perhaps to a high-quality content marketing campaign. Of course, thanks to Google updates like Penguin, evolving landscapes of available publication channels, and differing trends, link building tactics have changed dramatically over time—but the basic premise is still here, and still worth pursuing. Having a greater number of well-placed links on high-authority sources is still a boon for your domain authority, and correspondingly, your search rank.

    Still, the new developments and frequent changes have caused some headaches for modern link builders, who are still trying to get the most out of their campaigns. These are seven of the most common challenges I see (and feel) every day:

    1. Greater risks.

    articleimage1359 Greater risks

    First, thanks mostly to the iteratively evolving Penguin update, the risk of building a bad link is greater than ever before. One truly bad link can get your site penalized (though this is rarer than you might think), and a chronically poor link building system can drag your ranks down further than they ever had the potential to raise them. There’s no easy solution to get around this, other than diversifying your sources and playing your strategy as conservatively as possible. There are also a greater number of tools than ever before, dedicated to helping marketers understand the risk potential of their links—Moz’sOpen Site Explorer has an unofficial risk score you can use to gauge such potential.

    2. The rising power of social signals.

    articleimage1359 The rising power of social signals

    “Social signals” is an admittedly ambiguous blanket term that refers to a number of different influences that are carried by social media users’ behaviors. For example, when an article is shared a large number of times, that sends a “signal” that Google can use when calculating the corresponding brand’s total online authority. Follower counts, likes, shares, and other forms of connections and engagements can all have an indirect influence on rank this way. The increasing prevalence of social signals’ influence on domain authority is a problem for link builders because it complicates an already complicated relationship between offsite engagements and domain authority.

    3. The balance of brand mentions.

    articleimage1359 he balance of brand mentions

    Similarly, the rising importance of “brand” mentions makes life more difficult for link builders. Brand mentions share much in common with external links; they’re built offsite, usually framed in content, and they confer domain authority when noticed by Google. The difference is they can exist without any formal linking structure. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; in fact, it actually adds a new tool to the link builder’s arsenal, but since limited data is available about brand mentions’ influence on domain authority, it becomes a more debatable, less predictable weapon.

    4. Increasing publication competition.

    articleimage1359 Increasing publication competition

    Content marketing is a fantastic, cost-efficient strategy, and everyone is starting to finally realize it. Because of this, the content market is tighter and more competitive than ever before, with an increasing number of writers and a decreasing number of publishing opportunities. Of course, niche publications still have a way of popping up where you least expect them, but the number of contributor positions at major publishers is shrinking, and the competition is heating up. That means in some ways, it’s harder than ever to get your links hosted by high-authority or commonly sought-after sources.

    5. The threat of mobile.

    articleimage1359 The threat of mobile

    First, let me say that mobile is not a direct threat to link building or link builders in general—some might not even have considered it—but the social and search changes that mobile popularity is influencing are starting to make things more difficult for link builders indirectly. For example, because apps are starting to become more popular than websites, one day soon Google could increase the domain authority passed by a brand having an app (or being listed on a third party app), and correspondingly decrease any authoritative conference from traditional websites. This is an extension of the possibility that traditional websites might entirely go obsolete (which would render most traditional SEO programs null and void), but it’s separately a troubling consideration for link builders.

    6. Continuing diversification.

    Another problem facing modern link builders is one they faced early on in the development of link building: the challenge of diversifying the sources you use in a link building campaign. Early on, it was a problem because there was a limited number of platforms. Today it’s a problem because a “natural” diversification is easier for Google to detect and much harder to achieve when you’re using any kind of manual process at any stage of the link building process.

    7. Emerging stigma.

    Finally, this isn’t a direct challenge, but it has put added pressure on link builders. Thanks to comments from Google engineers and a rising overreaction to institutions like the Penguin update, the phrase “link building” now has a stigma attached to it, as if link building were a black hat practice. Overcoming this stigma is difficult both for professional agencies using it as part of a broader SEO strategy and for individual search marketers trying to showcase positive results for their supervisors and employers. The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with link building by itself—there are some potentially shady specific link building practices, but if you’re smart and tactful, there’s nothing preventing link building from being a viable, helpful strategy.

    These challenges are certainly tough, so it’s no wonder why more search marketers are trying to either avoid link building or treat it with kid gloves, but they aren’t incapable of being overcome. As long as you understand these challenges and find alternative strategies to compensate for them, you should have no trouble maintaining a link building strategy that continues to pay dividends for your search ranks.

  7. How to Earn Links Without Link Building

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    articleimage1286 How to Earn Links Without Link Building

    According to some recent studies by Moz, it’s virtually impossible for your website to rank well in Google unless you have lots of links pointing to your site. But according to official Google sources, link building is completely inadvisable. Of course, Google has a vested interest in dissuading people from link building; the fewer people are building links to manipulate their ranks, the healthier the online environment will be. But still, Google has historically been open and honest about what it takes for a site to rank. So is Google intentionally deceiving site owners? Or is the Moz data wrong?

    Despite what it seems on the surface, there isn’t really a contradiction here. Links are necessary for getting a site to rank, but traditional “link building” (the manual process of placing links on external sites that Google warns against) isn’t the only way to get them. It’s far more efficient, and less risky, to earn those links naturally from the material your site produces.

    So how can you do this without tripping Google’s spam alarm?

    The Basic Premise

    articleimage1286 The Basic Premise

    I’ll dive into the details of this strategy momentarily, but first I want to establish an overview. The idea here is to earn links, rather than building them directly, by promoting content that people want to link to or cite in their own efforts. The keys here are to create content that people want to link to, and then make sure that content is seen by as many people as possible.

    Developing Great Content

    articleimage1286 Developing Great Content

    The first step of the process is developing content that people will want to link to. This can’t be your ordinary, run-of-the-mill article (though if you do write an article with sufficient depth, it could earn links on its own). There are a handful of qualities you’ll need to make sure it contains:

    • An original premise. People won’t link to content that covers something they’ve already seen a million times.
    • A detailed headline. Catchy headlines are nice here, but they’re secondary to a concise description of your approach. For example, “new data on raccoon migration patterns” performs better here than “you won’t believe what we learned about raccoons!” even though the latter may earn more net shares.
    • Statistics and data. You need hard numbers that other people don’t have if you want to be cited as an authority. It can be hard to secure these numbers, especially if you’re working with a limited budget or a team with little experience in original research, but this is a necessity. Try calculating these numbers based on observable data you can find on your own, such as through surveys or general perusal.
    • A visual element. Strictly written content might earn you some links, but if you want to make a sizable impact, you need a visual to go along with it. many have found success by creating infographics or videos that convey this original research, but as long as you have some kind of accompaniment, you’ll be in good shape.
    • Great writing. This should go without saying, but your content does need to be well-written as well. Otherwise, people will lose interest. Write in a colloquial style and don’t be afraid to inject some humor into your work.

    Distributing Great Content

    Once your content is created, all you have to do is work on distributing it. The original piece of material should reside on your main domain (probably on your blog)—otherwise, you won’t get any of the authoritative credit if people link to you. From there, the options are open to you. You’ll definitely want to distribute the piece on every social channel you can find—Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are just the beginning—and do so on a regular, rotating basis for as long as your findings remain relevant. Try phrasing your introduction of the piece in different ways to appeal to different audiences.

    Then, submit your piece to different forums and blogs in the industry. Appeal to individual followers and readers who might be in need of the information you present. Hopefully, your followers will take it from there—as long as you get a few dozen people sharing the first edition of your work, their followers will share it with a new ring of followers, and the circulation will explode. A portion of readers who find your material interesting or helpful will end up linking to you on their own blogs and social profiles, resulting in a massive increase in total links pointing to your domain.

    Honorable Mention: Brand Mentions

    articleimage1286 Honorable Mention (more…)

  8. 7 Reasons Your Inbound links Aren’t Increasing Your Rank

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    Despite Google’s insistence that link building isn’t a good way to increase your rank and regular naysayers warning that traditional link building is either useless or counterproductive, it remains an integral and valuable part of a well-rounded SEO strategy. Building the right links in the right places can greatly increase your overall search visibility and drive tons of new traffic to your site.

    However, with the wrong approach, your links might do nothing at all for your search ranks—and you might not even realize your mistakes. If you notice your ranks aren’t moving despite link building for weeks or months, there are seven probable causes that could be interfering with your efforts:

    1. You’re Posting on the Wrong Sources.

    articleimage1152 You’re Posting on the Wrong Sources

    Remember that the quality of your source has a direct bearing on the impact of the link you build on it. Building a link on a low-quality article directory won’t have the same positive impact as building a link on a well-established government organization’s site. In general, links on .edu and .gov sources are the most authoritative, followed by links on highly renowned and well-respected publishing sites and major brands. The lower you go on the totem pole, the easier it is to build links, but if you go too low, you won’t build any authority for yourself.

    2. Your Link Diversity Is Low.

    articleimage1152 your Link Diversity Is Low

    The types of links you build also have an impact on your authority. For example, if you use the same link over and over—such as one pointing to your home page—you probably won’t see much of an increase in your search rankings. Instead, you need to use a diversity of different links pointing to multiple internal pages of your site. If you can, avoid using the same link multiple times and instead focus on using only the most relevant link for the context of your post. Having a wealth of blog posts and articles to choose from can help this considerably.

    3. You Use the Same Sources.

    Let’s say you have three or four high authority sites that you use as link building sources. Because they’re high quality, the authority they pass to your domain should be proportionately high. But over time, you’ll notice your rankings start to level off; this is because having highly authoritative sources simply isn’t enough. You need to have a wide range of different sources pointing back to your domain. Otherwise, Google will assume you’re involved in some sort of link exchange scheme, and your domain authority will never increase.

    4. Your Content Isn’t Relevant or Valuable.

    articleimage1152 Your Content Isn’t Relevant or Valuable

    Google’s search ranking algorithm is incredibly advanced. It does more than just detect where you build links and where they point—it also analyzes the context of your links and uses that information to determine how relevant or valuable your links are to the conversation. If you post a simple link with a simple comment in a thread that is otherwise ripe with valuable contributions, that link won’t end up passing much authority. On the other hand, if your link helps support the author’s argument or if it deeply adds to the conversation in some way, it will appear to be far more valuable.

    5. You Aren’t Using Brand Mentions.

    articleimage1152 You Aren’t Using Brand Mentions

    Mentions of your brand on high authority sources, without a link, can also pass authority to your domain. They’re practically risk-free, since Google won’t penalize you for building brand mentions, and they serve as a perfect complement to a core link building strategy. If you aren’t using brand mentions regularly in addition to building traditional links, it could be the reason why your ranks haven’t moved much lately. Be sure to wrap your brand mentions in well-written content, and post regularly on high-authority external sites.

    6. Your Bounce Rate Is Too High.

    articleimage1152 Your Bounce Rate Is Too High

    It could be that your links are fine—they’re spaced out appropriately, they’re diverse in nature, and they’re built on a wide range of different high-authority sources—but your website’s quality is preventing Google from moving your ranks accordingly. For example, if Google notices that users who follow your links on external sources tend to leave within a few seconds of landing on your pages, it will keep your rank fairly low. You’ll need to improve the design, layout, navigation, and writing of your website to ensure that your incoming visitors like to stay there.

    7. You’re Only Focusing on Links.

    Link building is a valuable SEO strategy, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a bit player. Site relevance, content marketing, proper onsite structuring, mobile optimization, and social media marketing are all more important to Google when it comes to determining a site’s overall rank. If you’re neglecting any of these strategies in favor of link building, it’s no wonder why you haven’t seen results—instead, you need to focus on the fundamentals first, and then work on the peripheral items like link building.

    Take action to correct these link building errors immediately. The sooner you perfect your link building approach, the sooner you’ll get on the right track for SEO development, and the more time your domain will have to cultivate authority. Successful link building campaigns are the product of years of effort, and only when complimented by more valuable strategies like content publication and social media marketing. Remember that there are no shortcuts to great SEO: results are only the product of hard work and dedication.

  9. How Risky Is Your Backlink Profile?

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    articleimage1063 How Risky Is Your Backlink Profile

    The strength of your backlink profile is going to dictate the eventual success or failure of your overall link building campaign. With a strong, diversified portfolio of sites linking to yours, your domain authority will skyrocket, but if even a handful of your sources are low-quality or are considered spam, it could compromise the results of your entire SEO campaign—even if your other strategies are in perfect order.

    Occasionally, it’s a good idea to take a snapshot of your backlink profile and audit your current status. Take note of your profile’s current quality, and take action accordingly.

    Where to Find Your Backlink Profile

    articleimage1063  Where to Find Your Backlink Profile

    There are a variety of free tools available to monitor and track the number and position of your current backlinks. One of the most useful and easiest to learn I’ve found is Moz’sOpen Site Explorer, appropriately nicknamed the “search engine for links.” Here, you’ll be able to plug in your site’s URL and instantly generate a list of all the sources on the web that are currently pointing back to your domain.

    Unfortunately, at this point you’ll have to manually go through each source and determine how you stand—there is no automated tool that can accurately tell you how risky or safe your backlink profile is, though there are a handful of existing and upcoming tools that can evaluate the strength of a given source.

    Overall Factors

    articleimage1063 Overall Factors

    For now, let’s take a look at the overall nature of your backlink profile. You should have no problem forming these types of conclusions at a simple glance, without digging into each source individually.

    Source Diversity

    First, take a look at all the different sources you have currently pointing to your site. As you might already be aware, Google takes source diversity very seriously—if it looks like a vast majority of your links are coming from one or two sources, there’s a good chance your rankings will suffer. If, however, you have a large number of different external sites pointing to yours, you’ll be in good standing.

    Page Diversity

    Source diversity isn’t the only type of diversity that matters. You’ll also have to make sure that the links pointing to your site aren’t all pointing to the same page or same group of pages. For example, you probably have several hundred pages on your site. If you notice the majority of your inbound links going to your home page, that makes your link profile more risky. If most of your links go deep into your site, connecting to specific and unique pages, your backlink profile is much more secure.

    Frequency and Volume

    You’ll also want to get a feel for the volume and frequency of your link postings. In some ways, having more links is a good thing, but if you find your link volume is overwhelming compared to the current size of your business, it might be a red flag (especially if your diversity is low in either of the above areas). If the bulk of your links are created in large-volume chunks, that could also be a bad sign. Work to improve your volume of links, but only on a consistent and gradual basis.

    Source-Level Factors

    articleimage1063 Source-Level Factors

    Once you’ve analyzed the overarching themes of your backlink profile, you can dig a little deeper into the strengths and weaknesses of the individual sources comprising it.

    Relevance to Your Industry

    First, take note of any sources that appear to be totally unrelated to your industry. These tend to be red flags for Google. For example, if you’re in veterinary medicine and a bolt manufacturer is linking to you, there’s probably no valid reason for that link to exist. If there are lots of pet-related and medicine-related pages linking to you, however, that’s a good thing. Evaluate the relevance of each source as you work your way down.

    Authoritative Strength

    The strength of each source also matters; if a spammy site links to yours, it could bog down the relative authority of your site. Don’t let this happen. If you see a site with particularly low authority (anything that appears spammy or annoying when you visit it), try to get rid of the link. Any sites with major brand recognition or cemented authorities will drastically improve your overall profile strength.

    Context

    articleimage1063 Context

    While going through your individual entries, take a look at the context of the links that have been posted. If they’re floating in the middle of nowhere with no grounding content and no apparent reason for existing, they will likely be considered spam links. Instead, make sure the majority of your links are practical to other users and relevant to the conversation at hand.

    If you notice that your backlink profile is exceptionally risky, take this time to take action. Work to actively remove any backlinks that are particularly risky or are posted on a harmful source. Then, revise your entire link building strategy to ensure that your backlink profile never sinks back to the level of risk it once was. On the other hand, if your backlink profile appears to be in order, simply keep executing your strategy the way you have been and create a follow-up task to re-audit your profile after another month of work.

    By taking initiative and keeping a constant eye on the state of your backlink profile, you’ll avoid the possibility of getting penalized out of the blue for your link building practices. Instead, you’ll forge a clear path toward consistent, measurable organic growth.

  10. The Difference Between Natural and Unnatural Links

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    Link building has been the subject of heavy scrutiny lately. Between advancing iterations of Google’s link-judging Penguin update and some scathing comments from Google’s own John Mueller, many in the SEO community have come to think of link building as a new taboo.

    Since the dawn of online search engines, external links have been a major factor in calculating a domain’s overall authority, which in turn influences its ranks for various keywords. Google Penguin introduced a new determination algorithm, which scouted whether or not a link was “natural.” So-called unnatural links would earn penalties or hurt domain authority, while natural links would improve domain authority without issue. To get around this, many search marketers simply adjusted their link building tactics to make their links appear to be more natural, rather than relying on the cultivation of purely natural links.

    Now, Google’s ability to detect natural links is more advanced than ever, and with some Google employees insisting that link building should be avoided altogether, it pays to know the real differences between natural and unnatural links.

    The Strict Definition

    articleimage1060 The Strict Definition

    In the truest sense of the definition, and the one Google uses as the basis for its algorithm development, natural links are ones that you had no part in creating. Some neutral third party decided that your domain was worth linking to, so they posted a link somewhere to prove a point or offer a resource.

    Unnatural links, on the other hand, are any links that you put into place yourself. That means even your most carefully-placed, intelligently created, authoritatively sourced links are considered unnatural if you placed them with the intention of increasing your rank.

    That being said, Google still isn’t all-knowing (though it gets a little closer every day). Its algorithm can only use certain indicators to judge whether or not a link is natural, and as long as your link passes those tests, you won’t be penalized. Learning these indicators can help you understand what types of links are considered natural, and how to structure your own links so they appear to be natural in Google’s eyes throughout the course of your link building campaign.

    Types of Sources

    articleimage1060 Types of Sources

    First, Google takes a look at the type of source being used to host the link. If the link is pointing to a domain in an industry wholly unrelated to that of the source, it will be considered unnatural. As a result, keeping your links to only the most relevant sources of your industry or business is a wise strategy. On a related note, higher authority sources tend to pass more authority than lower authority sources, so getting a link featured on a major publisher or .edu site is much more natural and much more powerful than stuffing one into an article directory.

    Source Diversity

    articleimage1060 Source Diversity

    Google also looks for patterns in how and where you’re posting links. Essentially, it can tell if a particular series of links have been placed by the hands of a single individual or company. For example, if all your links are confined to only two or three different sources, Google will conclude that you’re either spamming the links or you’ve engaged in some kind of mutual link scheme with those other sources. Either way, your links will appear unnatural—so make sure you’re using a wide variety of different sources.

    Link Destination

    If all the links pointing back to your domain point to the same page, Google will deem them to be unnatural. For example, if you use your homepage as your primary URL when posting external links, eventually Google will pick up on your habits and penalize you. Instead, use a variety of different link destinations, getting to the deepest pages of your site whenever possible.

    Anchor Text

    There was a time when anchoring your links with keywords or words related to your industry was a good idea. That time has passed. If Google notices too many of your links using the same keyword or keyword phrase, it will become wise to your tactics and judge your links to be unnatural. Instead, try to anchor your links with words that actually describe what your page has to offer, or better yet, let your link sit naturally in a bed of text.

    Link Context

    articleimage1060 Link Context

    The contextual placement of your link also matters. For example, if you post a link by itself with no explanation as the only comment on an external blog, your link will definitely appear unnatural. If, however, you introduce your link with a thoughtful explanation of why it’s helpful in response to another member’s comment, your link will appear to be natural—even more, it will be natural. Work to frame your links in a real, natural context and you should have no problems building authority.

    Your Best Bet

    articleimage1060 Your Best Bet

    There are two things to consider here. The first is that link building is really only a small factor in what determines your overall authority—your social presence, onsite structure, and content are all far more important.

    The second is that “natural” link building can be achieved relatively easily—arguably more easily than by using unnatural tactics. Instead of trying to meticulously plan the placement and structure of your links, let them come naturally. If you’re browsing a forum and you see a way to help, introduce yourself and make your links genuinely helpful. Produce and syndicate high-quality content that will make people naturally want to link to you—doing so will create far more links than you could possibly create yourself, and they’ll all be natural too.

    Understanding this, work to perfect your strategy in a way that is most beneficial for your customers, including more SEO tactics than just offsite link building. If you do so, Google will reward you.

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