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Category Archive: Link Building

  1. 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.

  2. How to Build Links Without Penalties in 2015

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    Link building has been under significant scrutiny under the past few years. New iterations of Google’s now-infamous Penguin update have been rolling out annually since its inception back in 2012, and John Mueller recently denounced the practice of link building altogether by stating “In general, I’d try to avoid that.” These actions and opinions would seem to suggest that Google is on a perpetual crackdown to prevent any link building from taking place.

    As a search marketer, I can see why. Many companies have taken advantage of the fact that external links pass domain authority, and have spammed the web with unnecessary or useless links purely for their own ends. When done improperly, it is an annoying and destructive process.

    However, even now, there are ways to build links that are constructive and beneficial to the online community as a whole. While Google could never explicitly condone link building for SEO and their updates are constantly refining what constitutes a “good link,” there are only a handful of fundamental principles you’ll have to follow in order to build links effectively in 2015.

    Vet Your Sources

    articleimage1006 Vet Your Sources

    This first step is also the most important. You can no longer post links wherever you please—you must carefully and critically evaluate your sources before using them. In doing so, you should have two main priorities, both of which must be met before you can proceed with link building on a particular source. The first priority is one of authority. How authoritative is this site? Is it known for providing valuable, accurate information to the public? Is it a major brand name? Does it have a .edu or .gov domain? All these things can help.

    Your second priority is one of relevance. Is this source somehow related to your brand or your industry? When dealing with a very high authority site, this isn’t as important, but otherwise, your source should be directly involved in your industry, and the more niche you can get, the better. Keep a running list of “acceptable” and “great” sources to use, and try to add more sources whenever you get the chance.

    Speak to Your Audience

    articleimage1006 Speak to Your Audience

    In the old days, link building was a sneaky process. You could hide your links in the deep corners of some far-flung website and still get authority from it. Today, you need to post with your audience in mind. Post a link with full knowledge that the online community is going to see and use your link, and consider what’s going to be important to them when they first encounter it.

    Get a feel for your target audience, including their demographics, their priorities, and their needs. Write a brief note or use an excerpt of content to explain the purpose of your link, and make sure you’re linking to an appropriate and valuable section of your website. If your readers don’t think your link is valuable, they could flag you as spam.

    Use Brand Mentions

    Using brand mentions is a way of building links without building links. As of the latest iteration of the Penguin update, non-linked brand mentions are capable of passing just as much authority as traditional links. For example, if you use your company’s brand name in the context of a blog comment, you could get just as much value as if you would have posted a link. This is advantageous because it gives you a similar value with far less risk of penalty.

    Bear in mind that links are still important. You should use brand mentions in an alternating fashion, and make sure to use variations of your name if there are any.

    Build Links Hands-Free

    articleimage1006 Build Links Hands-Free

    One of the best ways to build links without penalty is to get others to build links for you. The way to do this is to create a piece of highly valuable, potentially viral content, and syndicate it to the masses. Typically, infographics, videos, and whitepapers tend to circulate the best. If your audience likes what they’re reading, they’ll start sharing it and posting it for you, linking back to you as the original source. Essentially, you’re turning yourself into a magnet for links, and you won’t have to lift a finger once that content is out there.

    Diversify, Diversify, Diversify

    The most important strategy to building penalty-free links is diversity. Google hates to see patterns in your backlink profile—it’s an indication that you’re up to no good. Instead, diversify your practices at every level. Use multiple different sources, and work new sources into your lineup as often as possible. Post different types of links to different areas of your website, and work in brand mentions whenever you get a chance. Post at different frequencies and different times of day, and make sure you have plenty of natural links being built on your behalf by your audience.

    The more diversified your strategy is, the less likely Google will be to issue a penalty to your site. Force yourself to try new sources and post different kinds of material.

    The biggest key to building links without penalty in 2015 and beyond is to build them without the goal of increasing your authority in mind. Instead, focus on the value of each individual link. Ask yourself: is this link going to help someone? If the answer is yes, you’ll be fine. If you’re unsure, you should probably avoid building that link.

    Also keep in mind that while link building is still effective and, in my opinion, necessary for a strong SEO campaign, it isn’t the only important factor. In the context of onsite changes, ongoing content, and social media work, It’s only a small piece of the puzzle. Don’t neglect the other pieces.

  3. How to Write Great Offsite Content for Link Building

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    Link building has been under much scrutiny lately. Between Google’s Penguin update, which overhauled the way the search engine views offsite links, and John Mueller’s recent comments that he would avoid link building in general, many search marketers are wary about the state of link building and whether it’s a worthwhile strategy to pursue.

    There’s one critical fact you must consider above all others: Google still relies on offsite links to evaluate domain authority. That means even though links are more rigidly evaluated, they’re still an important factor for your SEO campaign. Building links isn’t the problem; instead, it all comes down to how you build them.

    If you build links with the sole intention of artificially increasing your rank, you’re going to get penalized. If, however, you focus on building links with quality offsite content, you’ll be able to reap the benefits of a large-scale offsite link building strategy without facing the risks. The question then becomes how do you write high-quality offsite content for link building?

    Why Offsite Content Is Different Than Onsite Content

    There are two demands for onsite content. First, you must write in a way that’s pleasing to your users—your goal is to show off your brand voice, entertain or inform your users, and make them want to come back for more. Second, you must write in a way that informs search engines about the nature of your business, using keywords and topic choices that convey accurate ideas to its hyper-intuitive crawlers.

    Offsite content has a different set of goals. You’ll want to make sure your content is valuable, but making a striking impression isn’t quite as important. In fact, you may want to write in a style other than your brand voice, depending on your goals. For example, if you’re looking to guest post and build your reputation offsite, you should focus on maintaining a consistent brand and quality. However, if you’re merely looking for a vessel to build links, you can spend less time and focus on a standard production.

    Assuming you’re trying to write content solely as a vessel for link building, there are several qualities you’ll need to consider.

    Length

    articleimage997 length

    The length of your link building content needs to be substantive, but not over-the-top. Anything less than 300 words isn’t worth writing because it barely registers as a full article. Anything longer than 1,000 words is too much effort. As for the ideal range between those two extremes, that’s up to you. What type of content are you writing? How detailed do you need to be? The answers to these questions should point you in the right direction.

    Topic

    articleimage997 topic

    Because your offsite articles aren’t going to be directly posted on your main site, you have much more flexibility with the range of topics you offer. You won’t have to adhere to a certain theme or follow any particular protocols. However, you will need to select topics that are at least peripherally related to your industry. The goal here is to ensure that Google reads and categorizes your content appropriately; otherwise, it could get mixed signals about the nature of your business and your keyword rankings could become unpredictable.

    Structure

    articleimage997 structure

    Like with any piece of content online, your offsite link building content should be structured in a way that’s inviting to a reader. Include subsections, headings, bullet points, and stylistic differences that make it easy to navigate the greater article. This will make your article seem more valuable, and stray readers might eventually wander to your site, giving you some bonus referral traffic in addition to your domain authority building strategy.

    Link Presence

    The number and type of links you include in the body of your article both affect how Google crawls and interprets your material. If you include too many links, it could register as spam. If you include too few, you could waste your effort. If you include too many of the same link across multiple articles, your domain authority could suffer.

    Unfortunately, there’s no single rule that dictates the best link types to include. Your best bet is to diversify your strategy, using as many different links as you can and varying your link frequency from few links to many links. On the whole, one link per 300 words is a good rule of thumb, but you should still diversify regardless.

    Quality

    Your content needs to be well-written, no matter what. Google’s search bots can detect the unnatural use of language, so it’s going to tell if you’ve simply outsourced your article writing to developing countries. Double check your content for spelling, syntax, or grammatical errors, and make sure all your facts are both accurate and cited. Just because your content is offsite doesn’t mean that Google won’t dock you for the quality of your work.

    Frequency

    Generally, it’s unwise to post too many new links at one time. Spread your link building article publications out over the course of weeks or months, regularly and consistently posting to ensure an even build. The number of articles and links you can get away with building depends in part on the size of your organization; too many external links too soon for a new business might seem out of the ordinary, while that same number for a long-established major corporation might not trigger any red flags.

    While a content strategy is usually seen as the onsite portion of your SEO campaign, it’s also critically important for the success of your offsite strategy. Once you’ve mastered the process of writing, publishing, and syndicating linked offsite articles, you’ll be able to easily and steadily increase your domain authority without interfering with your other efforts.

  4. How to Build Authority Without Building Links

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    In order to get your website found in search results, you need to have a high domain authority. The higher your domain authority is, the higher it’s going to rank for relevant queries. For many years, the best way to build that authority quickly was to build external links pointing back to your domain on a diverse range of high-quality sources. However, after the crackdown of Google’s Penguin and subsequent updates, it became harder and harder to build authority using links as a primary strategy.

    The words of Google’s own John Mueller echoed a fear in the search marketing community. Recently, he was quoted as referring to link building: “in general, I’d try to avoid that.” While links are still valuable for passing authority to your domain and a high-quality link building strategy can improve your overall domain authority without much risk of a penalty, for the average search marketer, it may be wiser to stay away from link building altogether.

    That raises an important question; without link building, how can you increase your domain authority, and by association, your search ranks? Fortunately, there are several alternative strategies that can boost your domain authority just as much as—if not more than—a traditional link building campaign.

    Creating Viral Content

    articleimage1creatingcontent

     

    Your first option still involves link building, but in a much more organic way. Rather than building any links directly on outside sources, you’ll be calling upon your audience to do all the work for you. The goal here is to produce a piece of content with a high potential to circulate virally—that means it’s highly informative, entertaining, shareable, and practical—and share it to a wide audience. Those audience members will share your content in turn, and eventually, it will catch the attention of several dozen (if not hundred) external sources. Those sources will link to you as a credit, of their own accord, which will pass ample domain authority onto you without ever having to get your hands dirty.

    Social Media Marketing

    articleimage2socialmediamarketing

    In addition to being a perfect outlet to begin syndicating your viral content, social media is a great platform for building your domain authority. While it’s not clear exactly which factors Google takes into consideration when calculating your social-related domain authority, there are many social signals that can actively improve your position. For example, companies with large social followings tend to have higher domain authorities than those that do not, and companies with high levels of engagement—that means your followers have a high tendency to like, share, or comment on your content—also have increased domain authority. Engage with your audience frequently and make an active effort to build your following. If you can encourage enough activity on your social profiles, you’ll earn a much higher domain authority without the need to build external links.

    Brand Mentions

    Google also considers mentions of your brand name on external sources when calculating domain authority. In a sense, you can consider brand mentions to be a milder form of external links. Because brand mentions do not trigger any spam-related red flags to Google, it is much safer to build brand mentions on external sources, and you can therefore use them as a simple substitute for your traditional link building strategy. Capitalizing on the same high-authority, industry-relevant sources, you can post occasional brand mentions to boost your domain authority, and you can also use nofollow links to attract referral traffic to your brand without upsetting any search bots. This works both for company brand names and branded names of individual products.

    Navigation and Interlinking

    If you’re looking to increase your domain authority, don’t exclusively incorporate offsite tactics. Onsite SEO implementation is just as important for building authority. For example, the navigation of your site has much to do with how much authority Google evaluates your site to have. Sites with a clear, simple, and intuitive navigation will have a higher authority than sites with a confused, jumbled, or overcomplicated system. This is because Google values high-quality user experience above all other factors when ranking websites. You can also increase your domain authority by interlinking your content; the fewer clicks it takes to get to any one page of your website, the better. You can improve this by implementing user surveys, finding ways to consolidate your pages, and redesigning your site to be more intuitive to the average user.

    Historically Great Content

    articleimage1greatcontent

    Everyone knows that great content is essential for SEO, but don’t forget the fact that one piece of content doesn’t trigger an increase in domain authority. Authority must be gradually earned over time. If you produce high-quality content, consistently, over the course of months and years, your domain authority will flourish. Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut for this. Domains that have been around for decades will always have more domain authority than similar sites with a shorter history. Stay patient and committed to your domain.

    Remember, as long as you’re posting on highly authoritative and industry-relevant sources with a diverse and appropriate style of links, you shouldn’t have to fear a penalty from link building. Link building can still be a valuable strategy, especially if it is used in moderation and in conjunction with the authority-building strategies listed above. The more diverse your strategies are and the more effort you spend trying to improve user experience, the more you’ll be rewarded in search engine visibility across the board.

  5. The Pros and Cons of Outsourcing Your Link Building Strategy

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    articleimage939The Pros and Cons of Outsourcing Your Link Building

    Link building is an important part of the SEO process. When Google evaluates the authority of a given domain, it takes your offsite presence into heavy consideration. The more links you have pointing back to your site, and the more diverse and highly authoritative those links are, the more credibility you’ll be given, and the higher you’ll rank as a result. But understanding the right approach to link building takes years of experience and training, and executing the individual tasks required to build backlinks is extremely time consuming.

    As a remedy to these problems, many businesses have begun outsourcing their link building efforts. Rather than buying links directly, which will earn you a firm penalty from Google, modern outsourcing usually involves hiring an individual or an agency to go through the manual, intensive process of vetting link source candidates and posting the actual links. There are pros and cons to outsourcing your link building strategy, so its usefulness to your business depends on your priorities.

    Benefits

    articleimage939 benefits

    The benefits of hiring an external link building partner generally depend on finding a partner you can trust. The quality of your partner means everything to the effectiveness of your campaign, but generally, you can count on these benefits:

    You Don’t Have to Worry About It

    Have you ever tried link building all on your own? It’s a pain. The process is tedious, repetitive, and sometimes confusing. If you try to take the task on all by yourself, you’ll likely end up wasting time or at least stressing over whether you’re doing it right. If you delegate the responsibility to one of your internal teammates, you’ll be taking them away from something more in line with their specialties. By delegating the work to an external partner, you’ll no longer have to worry about any of that. It will all be taken care of for you.

    You Can Hold Someone Accountable

    If you’re doing your own link building and something goes wrong, you can only blame yourself. What’s worse is you might have no idea how you caused the incident, and no idea how you can fix it. If you’re outsourcing your link building strategy, you can hold your partner accountable for results. If you get penalized, it will be your partner’s responsibility to analyze the penalty and take immediate corrective action.

    You Can Save Money

    When you first review link building programs with high monthly rates, you might think it’s crazy to say that outsourcing your link building can actually save you money. But link building authorities have experience and knowledge of the industry, and are able to build better links at a much faster rate than you could internally. That means, for the same amount of links, you’ll actually spend more money doing it in-house than you will with an outside expert.

    Drawbacks

    articleimage939 Drawbacks

    Some of these drawbacks are subjective and won’t apply to all businesses, but they are worth considering when you’re preparing to make a major change to your link building approach:

    You Lose a Degree of Control

    This is important to a lot of businesses. Being able to control exactly which links are built on exactly which sites is a minimum requirement for some business owners. Outsourcing your link building campaign means you’re going to give up a portion of that control. You’ll still be able to set goals and provide general direction for the overall campaign, but the management and oversight of day-to-day tasks will be on your partner.

    You Can’t Trust Everyone

    Unfortunately, link building is an industry that has been tarnished by unscrupulous companies and so-called “experts” who really have no idea what they’re doing. The number of agencies conducting fantastic, high-quality link building campaigns is much higher in the modern age, but there are still occasional offenders who could compromise your domain authority and bring your campaign to ruins. If you do decide to outsource your link building strategy, be sure to thoroughly review your potential partners. Check references, talk with your account manager directly, and look for any red flags that might reveal the company’s true intentions.

    You Could Be Bound By a Contract

    This is another subjective problem, but it’s important if you’re skeptical about how link building will be able to improve your search engine ranks. Many link building affiliates mandate signups through long-term contracts, sometimes lasting a year or more, which can legally bind you to one service even if you’re dissatisfied with it after a few months. One easy workaround to this potential drawback is finding a partner with a month-to-month program.

    The Bottom Line

    If you have a dedicated expert and the resources available to complement his/her expertise, it’s probably worth it to have your own in-house link building team. However, if you’re depending on a non-SEO expert, or if you have limited resources available, it’s probably better to outsource your work. While the initial cost might seem prohibitive and the premise might seem risky, with a dedicated, reliable partner, your outsourced link building strategy will be far more efficient and profitable than an equivalent in-house effort.

    If you’re concerned about outsourcing your link building, find a partner with a flexible contract and experiment with it for a month or two. If you don’t like the results you see, you can pull out. Otherwise, continue on and watch as your ROI begins to grow incrementally.

  6. How to Get Backlinks From Major News Sources

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    There’s one solid rule in the modern world of link building; quality matters more than quantity. While in the old days of SEO, building lots of links all over the web was a smart and straightforward strategy to increase your domain authority and build your ranks, today Google takes the quality of your links into more consideration. Quantity still does matter, as building a handful of links can’t sustain you forever, but your first priority needs to be on building high-quality links.

    There’s a catch to this, however. As a general rule, the higher the authority of the site you choose to build links on, the harder it will be to build your links. As a perfect example, major news outlets like CNN or MSNBC are seen as highly authoritative sites, but getting a link published on their sites seems nearly impossible to the average user.

    Fortunately, getting backlinks from major news sources like these isn’t quite as difficult as many people have made it out to be. It will take a disciplined strategy and a consistent follow-through to be successful, but there are several tactics you can use to get your business featured on these highly authoritative sites.

    Use Google News to the Fullest

    articleimage927Use Google News to the Fullest

    If you want to get your link featured on a major news site, you first have to get noticed, and getting noticed by these sources isn’t easy. They’ve earned their place as an authority by carefully selecting only the most newsworthy content to publish, and their standards haven’t relaxed over time.

    Using Google News is pretty simple, even if you’re new to the medium, and it can help you get noticed by those giant corporations. Google News is a kind of aggregator that pulls in news stories from all over the world and displays the results for relevant queries using its sophisticated algorithm. Best of all, Google News doesn’t make any barriers—while there is a quality checker in place to weed out bad content, you can submit anything you’d like for consideration. Whether they’re short blurbs on your press page or full-blown press releases, there’s a good chance you can be featured in Google News.

    If you can get your content featured on Google News, you’ll have a much higher chance of getting your link picked up by a major news outlet. Even if it doesn’t work out, you’ll still have the benefit of getting a feature published in Google News, which can increase your domain authority and send lots of referral traffic to your site.

    Distribute Press Releases on a Regular Basis

    articleimage927 Distribute Press Releases on a Regular Basis

    Press releases should already be a part of your ongoing SEO strategy. They’re great pieces of content that tend to get more attention and more opportunities for links, and like Google News, they’re all about getting more attention from major news sites.

    There’s one golden rule for press releases: they need to be newsworthy. You can’t write a blog post and call it a press release, nor can you use the guise of a press release to write a sales pitch about your product. Press releases need to cover real news, and offer substantial content to cover that news. Otherwise, it won’t be picked up and it certainly won’t earn those juicy major news site links.

    If you’re not sure how to publish or syndicate a press release yourself, you can use a service such as PRWeb, which is pricey but very effective. Through PRWeb, you’ll be able to select certain publication and distribution channels for your press release, giving you instant visibility from major news outlets. Just remember that submitting a press release is no guarantee that it’s going to be published by your ideal outlets.

    Take Advantage of HARO

    articleimage927 Take advantageofHaro

    Help a Reporter Out, known better by the acronym HARO, can give you tons of new opportunities to get your link on major news outlets. Essentially, it’s a service used by news writers and journalists to enlist the help of outside candidates. By signing up, you’ll get free email notifications whenever a news writer is seeking a contribution from an outside party—sometimes it’s a quote or opinion, and sometimes it’s information related to an industry. Whenever you see a request related to you or your business, jump on it. If you provide the type of information the reporter is looking for, you’ll get your name, business, and link featured in a major publication.

    Comment

    Comments have always been a great way to build links, and you can even use them on major news sites. While posting in the comments section of a CNN article isn’t going to build nearly as much authority as being mentioned in the body of a CNN article, it can be beneficial to your strategy. As with any comment-based link building, you’ll need to make sure your link is relevant and valuable; otherwise, you run the risk of being flagged as spam.

    Due to the significantly higher effort it takes to earn news-hosted backlinks, it’s not viable to rely on only news sources for your entire link building campaign. In fact, doing so could actually work against you. The best link building strategies do incorporate high-authority sources, but they’re also highly diverse. They use a wide range of different sources and different links, creating a more natural backlink profile. Go after news sites and make those high-authority links a priority, but don’t forget that your link building strategy will require more than just those.

  7. The Difference Between Clever SEO and Link Schemes

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    Link building strategies require a delicate balance. In order to earn more authority for your domain, you’ll have to engage in some kind of link building strategy, but if any of your links appear unnatural or violate Google’s official policies, you could end up getting penalized instead of rewarded.

    In the early days of search engine optimization (SEO), it was possible to earn page rank through sheer force of will. Climbing to the top ranks of Google was a simple matter of posting as many links as you possibly could, using whatever tactics you could come up with to get the job done. Google has grown sophisticated, and today, it’s able to easily detect those link schemes and stick the perpetrators with a ranking penalty. Link building today requires tactful consideration and well-executed strategies, carefully toeing the line between what’s seen as a “link scheme” in Google’s eyes and what is simply a type of clever SEO.

    The problem is that the line between clever SEO and link schemes is thinner than you might think, and it’s difficult even for seasoned experts to tell the difference. In this article, we’ll take a look at the types of link building strategies that can earn you a penalty, and how clever SEO is distinguished from them.

    The Risk of Link Scheming

    articleimage884 The Risk of Link Scheming

    It should be no secret that link scheming will earn you a penalty if you’re aggressive enough. Ever since Google’s Penguin update in 2012 (and its subsequent revisions and follow-ups), Google has been able to clearly evaluate the quality of links on the web and take that quality into consideration when it evaluates rank. Google’s entire philosophy is to improve how people experience the web, and that means weeding out the people who abuse the system or fail to provide value to users.

    Put simply, link scheming is any way of building links that carries absolutely no value for the end user. This is a simple definition, but should allow you to evaluate whether your strategy falls into this category. Because these schemes have no value to users, and may even hinder their experience, Google will penalize domains who engage in them by throttling their domain authority and automatically or manually decreasing their rank for various queries. You’ll want to avoid link schemes at all costs.

    Types of Link Schemes

    articleimage884Types of Link Schemes

    If you’re having trouble determining exactly what counts as a link scheme, you aren’t alone. Since some people qualify a link scheme as any attempt to increase domain authority through link building, the lines are particularly blurry. Below are several examples of plain-as-day link schemes you’ll want to avoid no matter what; they should help illustrate what counts as a scheme.

    Article Directories

    Article directories are low-quality sites that host hundreds of poorly written articles as an excuse to build links. They don’t specialize in anything, they don’t provide value to users, and they don’t offer anything other than a place for random sites to post articles. Building links here or creating your own directory to pass authority qualifies as a scheme. The exception to this is niche directories, which cater to a specialized industry and try to connect industry companies and direct users to them.

    Link Farms

    Link farms are even worse than article directories, because they don’t have any content to back them up (usually). A link farm is a group of peripherally related websites that all link to each other for no reason other than to link to each other. Some people try to wedge their way into an existing link farm and others try to set up their own independent domains; either way, it’s classified as a scheme and will earn you a penalty.

    Automated Link Building

    Building links with any automated process, such as creating a bot to spam links across the web, is a bad idea. In fact, it’s one of the easiest types of schemes for Google to detect; you’ll be caught right away, and your domain will likely face a harsh penalty.

    Reciprocal Link Building

    Reciprocal link building can be good in small doses. Backlinking to a site and having them link back to you is not a link scheme by itself; however, when two sites exchange links constantly, and don’t diversify their strategy with other sites, it’s a clear indication of poor link building.

    Link Buying, in Any Form

    As a general rule, if you pay for the link to be built, it qualifies as a link scheme. The only justifiable reason to pay money for a link is when you’re using an affiliate link strategy—and affiliate link building is acceptable.

    What Constitutes “Clever” SEO

    Clever SEO can take advantage of Google’s algorithm and find ways to link build without risking the threat of a penalty. Diversity is the key here; you can build links on almost any source, as long as you hedge your bets by including many other sources. Use varying types of anchor text, grounded in the body of great, contextually appropriate content, and link to different internal pages of your site. You can even use nofollow links and link-less brand mentions to keep your strategy even more diverse.

    The Best Strategy

    articleimage884The Best Strategy

    If you’re worried about what constitutes a link scheme and what’s simply an execution of clever SEO, go the safe route. Let your audience build your links for you. By creating and syndicating high-quality, informative, entertaining content, you’ll encourage viral sharing of your material, and by extension, you’ll be the recipient of hundreds to thousands of inbound links. Creating viral content takes time and isn’t an exact science, but you’ll never have to worry about being penalized for links you earn as a result of it.

  8. Is Google Easing up on the War Against Link Building?

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    articleimage883s Google Easing up on the War Against Link Buildin

    The war against link building has been going on for years now. Starting in the mid-to-late 2000s, Google began an initiative, cracking down on shady link building schemes around the web in any way that it could. Back then, backlink building required no tact—it was just a matter of quantity, and the more links you had pointing back to you the better. People would readily buy up backlinks or build them using questionable practices like article directories or link farms, and user experience suffered.

    Google started clearing up the spam by de-indexing or manually penalizing sites that existed solely to help people build backlinks. A few years later, in 2012, it released the Penguin update, a massive algorithm change that rewarded high-quality links and penalized any that appeared to be built solely for the purpose of passing page rank. Since then, Google has continued to make it abundantly clear that anyone caught buying or selling links, along with anyone who built links using questionable practices, would face the search engine giant’s wrath.

    Now, that storm appears to be calming, and it could mean that Google’s war against link building is starting to subside.

    The Slowing Momentum of Penguin

    First, we have to take a look at the Penguin update as it exists today. When it first debuted in 2012, it was a massive game-changer, sending webmasters scrambling to try and pick of the pieces of their lost campaigns. Anyone who was hit by the update had to remove the offending links in short order, and anyone not hit by the update had to update their strategies to ensure they remained in compliance.

    A new version of the update, Penguin 2.0, came a year later, but had a significantly lessened impact. It refined a few processes and added some more criteria to how Google evaluated the quality of links, but beyond that it was a straightforward data refresh.

    In 2014, the SEO community expected a similar update, informally known as Penguin 3.0, but the update was delayed until much later in the year. When the update finally did arrive, it appeared as though the changes were even less significant, making little to no waves in the SEO community at large.

    It could be argued that the slowed momentum of Penguin is due to the fact that Penguin is still doing its job; bad link builders are punished and good link builders are rewarded. However, it could also be an indication that Google is starting to lighten up when it comes to penalizing link builders. It recognizes that millions of sites rely on link building to gain authority, and furthering the struggle against them isn’t worth the effort.

    The Emergence of Link Buying Ads

    articleimage883The Emergence of Link Buying Ad

    According to a recent post by Rand Fishkin of Moz, Google AdWords has apparently removed its ban on advertising from link building companies. Previously, any advertisements that explicitly mentioned the buying or selling of backlinks for the purposes of increasing Google rank were explicitly banned in Google AdWords. Now, a quick search for “link building” or “buy links” reveals several top ads for link building companies.

    Keep in mind that Google’s official policy still forbids the buying and selling of links for the purpose of passing page rank. Allowing advertisements for companies that shamelessly violate that policy is a seeming contradictory decision. It could be a further indication that Google is starting to realize that no matter how hard they try, they’ll never be able to win the war against link builders. If they’re going to exist anyway, Google might as well stand to make a little money off of them through advertising in the process. But does this mean that Google is implicitly agreeing that link building is a necessary strategy to increase rank, or that it accepts the process?

    “I’d Avoid Link Building in General”

    articleimage883I’d Avoid Link Building in General

    Google’s own John Mueller recently gave his opinion on the matter. As part of the Live Hangout, a user asked the question “is link building in any way good?”, directly calling the matter to Mueller’s attention. Mueller responded, “in general, I’d try to avoid that,” then elaborating that pursuing a link building strategy would ultimately cause more problems for your site than it would solve.

    Mueller reinforced the accepted truth that links are still an important part of the Google ranking algorithm, but there are so many other factors that link building should never be your top priority. If you try too hard to build links, you’ll ultimately end up hurting your domain authority, instantly ruining any of the benefits you may have picked up along the way.

    This little discussion makes it clear that even though Penguin is losing momentum and Google AdWords now allows link buying companies to place advertisements, Google is firm on its position that buying or artificially building links is a bad idea.

    The Bottom Line

    Google isn’t fighting the war against link building as hard as it used to. However, that doesn’t mean that excessive link building is suddenly okay. The search engine’s policy on buying or improperly building links is still intact, and some of its highest ranking officials are explicitly warning against it. If you want to build links to increase the authority of your site, the best way to do it is by writing or posting great content, and making it easy for your users to share that content and link back to you. This strategy generates hundreds to thousands of links, but doesn’t carry the risk of a penalty since it constitutes a form of natural link building. Otherwise, build your links on relevant sources in context with the conversation, and never resort to buying links directly or spamming users.

  9. The 11 Ingredients of a Perfect Backlink Profile

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    Backlink building has become more of an art form than an exact science, especially since Google’s Penguin updates have all but eradicated the old ways of building links. Today, quality matters far more than quantity, and if you want a chance at SEO success, you’ll need to make sure your backlink profile is as perfect as it can be.

    These 11 ingredients of the ideal backlink profile will help you increase your domain authority and ranks without worrying about the risk of a penalty:

    1. Authority.

    articleimage865authority

    Authority is the first ingredient you’ll need. The more authoritative the source you’re building a link on is, the more authority you’ll gain from the link. The highest authority sources you’ll find are .edu sources, like colleges and universities, and .gov sources, which are government sites, but other high-authority sites, like major publishers and well-respected sources, are also valuable. You don’t need every link to come from a high-authority source, but the more you have in your profile the better.

    2. Relevance.

    articleimage865relevance

    The relevance of your sources also plays a factor in how your links are interpreted by Google. Google knows what your company is and what your industry is, so it’s going to evaluate how your backlink sources fit into that description. For instance, if you work in manufacturing and you have links pointing back to your domain from manufacturing forums, that’s considered a relevant source. If you link from a site about veterinary medicine, that probably won’t be seen as a good fit.

    3. Context.

    articleimage865context

    The context of your links is also vital. Google looks at links to determine not only how relevant they are to the source, but also how relevant they are to the conversation. For example, if you include a link as part of a comment on a particular blog post, the text in your comment better have something to do with that blog. You can do this by ensuring all of your links are valuable to visitors when they’re built.

    4. Social Value.

    Not every link you post on social media is going to pass authority to your site, but Google does look to see how often people are mentioning or linking to you on social channels. Your backlink profile definitely needs a social element, and that means syndicating links to your content on social channels and giving users the opportunity to share your content on their social channels as well.

    5. Natural Support.

    Google loves to see naturally built links, and that means you’ll have to create situations where people naturally want to link to you. The best way to do that is by creating pieces of exceptionally high-quality content—usually original research, infographics, or impactful videos—and making them available for the public. If your piece goes viral, you’ll get hundreds or even thousands of inbound links, and all of them will be 100 percent natural.

    6. Navigation.

    It isn’t enough to simply link to your homepage every time you build a backlink on an external source. The direction of your links has a significant impact on your overall domain authority. For example, if you’re responding to a forum question about installing a water heater, it’s better to link to a blog on your site that talks about water heater installation than it is to simply link to your home page. You have detailed internal pages, so use them.

    7. Consistency.

    Consistency is also important for a good backlink profile. Google checks to see when your links are built. If it looks like you have one big influx of backlinks, followed by a period of total inactivity, it can reflect poorly on your website. Build your links steadily, and stay consistent in your patterns.

    8. Mentions.

    It may seem strange, but links aren’t the only thing you’ll have to build for your backlink profile. You’ll also have to work in brand mentions, which are non-linked instances of your brand name on external sources. This is often easier to work in, and it passes authority without setting off any red flags with Google.

    9. Timelines.

    Like with content, Google favors sites who have updated their backlinks recently. Your backlink profile needs to have ample juice from links built in the past few weeks and months; even if you have a powerful backlink profile from a few years ago, those links may no longer register with as much authority.

    10. Anchors.

    Anchor text used to mean everything for your backlinks. Using text that was optimized for your target keywords would pass keyword-specific authority to your site, and increase your rank for those keywords. Since the Penguin update, anchor text is no longer as important, and over-optimizing your text with keywords can actually harm your overall authority. Instead, make sure your links are anchored in natural words—words that aren’t forced, but have a meaningful value to the conversation.

    11. Diversity.

    I mention this last, but it’s probably the most important ingredient of your entire backlink profile. The diversity of your strategy is fundamental, and it applies to almost every area of link building. You need a diverse range of sources, a diverse range of link types, and a diverse range of text to back them up. The more diversified your strategy is, the more natural it seems, and the less likely you’ll be to get a penalty.

    Building a great backlink profile takes time, so don’t get discouraged if you have trouble making immediate progress; if it were easy to build authority through backlinks, everyone would be able to do it. Stay focused on these 11 priorities, and eventually you’ll build an indomitable backlink profile that will carry your domain forward for years to come.

  10. The Difference Between High and Low Quality Backlinks

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    articleimage850 The Difference Between High and Low Quality Backlin

    Backlinks are still a big deal. You can define SEO in two major contexts—onsite and offsite optimization strategies—and one of those, offsite optimization, is almost exclusively reliant on the power of backlinks for development. The more backlinks you have, and the more powerful those links are, the more authority you’ll build, and the higher you’ll rank for relevant terms in user searches.

    Unfortunately, not all backlinks are created equal. High quality backlinks are extremely valuable, increasing your reputation, improving your domain authority, and ultimately increasing your visibility in Google. But low quality backlinks can actually have a detrimental effect on your SEO, lowering your authority and earning manual penalties that can seriously compromise your inbound traffic.

    Knowing the difference between high and low quality backlinks is crucial if you want your SEO campaign to succeed.

    Low Quality Backlinks

    articleimage850lowqualitybacklinks

    Low quality backlinks can damage your reputation with Google and compromise your visibility in searches.

    Typical Source

    The source you use to build your backlink is the most obvious indicator of its quality. As a general rule of thumb, the lower the quality of the site, the lower the quality of the link will be. Posting a link on a disreputable, very low-ranking, or poorly designed site is going to carry a negative impact. Similarly, posting any link on a source designed specifically to manipulate rank is sure to earn you a penalty.

    However, you’ll have to consider more than just the quality of your source; you’ll also have to consider its appropriateness. Anything completely unrelated to your industry could qualify your backlink as low quality due to its lack of relevance to the source.

    Intention

    The intention of your link is also a contributing factor to its quality, and yes, Google has ways of telling why you build the links you do. The biggest thing to watch out for here is the intention to directly improve your domain authority or rank; if Google determines that a link has no purpose other than to artificially generate traffic, it will be treated as low quality.

    Structure

    The structure of your link usually correlates to its intention; for example, if your link is posted by itself in a blog comment, with no introduction or explanation, it will usually be seen as spam. However, if your link is structured in the context of supporting content that’s free from spam indicators like “click here,” you won’t have to worry.

    Link Type

    If Google starts to see that you’re posting the same link on all your external sources, such as a link to your homepage, it can be treated as a bad link. You want your links to be relevant to specific conversations and platforms, so avoid relying on one or two common link destinations.

    Frequency

    Finally, the frequency at which you post backlinks can determine their quality. If you post backlinks on the same source multiple times a day in different instances, your links could be treated as spam. The same rule applies to multiple sources; if your backlinks suddenly skyrocket with no explanation as to why, you could be seen as spamming and your link quality could suffer.

    The bottom line for low quality backlinks is that they serve no function other than to increase the target site’s traffic.

    High Quality Backlinks

    articleimage850highqualitybacklinks

    High quality backlinks will, when accumulated, reward your site with greater domain authority and higher search visibility.

    Typical Source

    The authority rule works for high quality backlinks in reverse; the higher the quality of your source, the higher the quality of your backlink. High quality sources generally include very reputable sites, with the most credible sites being those with a .gov or .edu distinction. Well-known authoritative sites, like major publishers and sources of information, are also great sources for high quality links.

    You can also earn high quality backlinks by using highly relevant sources to your industry. Industry-specific blogs and forums are great opportunities for this, and the more specific your niche, the better.

    Intention

    The primary intention of high quality backlinks has nothing to do with rank manipulation. Instead, the highest quality links are built for a valuable purpose; for example, links that are built in order to establish credibility, elaborate on a point, cite a fact, or connect one important site to another all share a common goal to increase value or provide substance to existing content.

    Structure

    High quality links have a more reputable structure than a standalone link. Typically, they are framed in explanatory text; for example, a link could be introduced in a forum comment with a quick explanation for why it’s being posted, or the link could be housed in the body of a high quality guest blog.

    Link Type

    Link quality increases with the diversity of links you use. Simply pointing to a homepage time after time is going to earn you a negative reputation, but high quality links tend to point to very specific internal pages as sources, serving a specific function and getting to a specific point.

    Frequency

    High quality links also enjoy a reasonable frequency. They are posted sporadically over time, rather than in fits and spurts, and they are never spammed into one source all at once.

    The bottom line for high quality backlinks is that they’re intended to improve a user’s overall experience.

    Keep your offsite SEO strategy ripe with high quality backlinks, and avoid those low quality backlinks like the plague. If you’re ever concerned about the makeup of your current backlink profile, or if you’re interested in auditing your current link building efforts, use a tool like Open Site Explorer to analyze your backlinks and watch out for any low quality offenders. It’s a good idea to clean up your profile from time to time, and actively work toward keeping your links as high quality as possible.

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