The article will be segmented into several parts, including:
1. A Short History: The Evolution Of Backlinks And Our Approach
- 1.1 Tiered Link Building
- 1.2 The Top – Tier1 Links
- 1.3 The Middle – Tier 2 Links
- 1.4 The Bottom – Tier 3 Links
2. Essential Steps To A Successful Link Building Campaign
- 2.1 Link & Content Relevance
- 2.2 Anchor Diversity
- 2.3 Link Diversity and Link Velocity
3. Putting it all together
4. Useful Tools & Resources
1. A Short History: The Evolution Of Backlinks And Our Approach
Majority of novice webmasters will think of backlinks as a quantitative factor, i.e. “the more the merrier“. As a result they will buy backlinks services that advertise a huge amount of backlinks for a comparably small price: “500.000 backlinks for $100? Count me in!“.
Back in 2003-2004 this approach worked well. The internet was fairly new and search engine algorithms were rather simple and not as complex as they are today. You were able to rank any static website by sending 10000s of blog comments, forum profiles and guestbook entries to your website, using your main keyword as the anchor, and you would end up at the top of the search results for months to come.
Since then a lot of things have changed and search engines have become smarter and more efficient at identifying unnatural links. Google, Yahoo! and Bing have made significant improvements to their search algorithms and rolled out several updates (Panda, Penguin et. al.) that changed the SEO ruleset in major ways. Of course, certain metrics from the age past remain important, if not more so. Things like age, domain authority, quality of content, indexed pages, social proof and on-page optimization. As a result a lot of SEOs had to change their link building approach and find new, more effective link building methods.
Note: we are not saying that spam does not work anymore – if done right, it still works. But it is not a long-term, sustainable approach and will only result in temporary rankings. If the ‘churn & burn’ approach is what you are after, then by all means go nuts with it. Here at SEOlutions GmbH however, we prefer long-term and sustainable rankings that are able to deliver a stable income stream for a long time to come. We will thus be covering this approach which we use for our own sites to achieve stable high rankings without needlessly spamming our sites with masses of low-quality backlinks.
1.1 Tiered Link Building
The drive to find more effective link building methods in the wake of the search engines’ refinement of their rulesets resulted in many experimenting with tiered link building to great success. The fundamental idea of tiered link building is to create several layers of backlinks with each layer pointing at the layer above it until finally you reach the first layer (tier 1) which points directly at your site.
This concept is very easily grasped by comparing it to the structure of a pyramid. Each level of the pyramid is one of the backlinks layers, with the best backlinks culminating at the top of the pyramid (tier 1). Subsequently, the links at the top of the pyramid point directly at your site.
The middle level of the pyramid (tier 2) is comprised of your secondary links. The preferred choice here would be highly contextual links (with niche-related content) and social signals (optional). The second tier is there to support your first tier. It helps with the indexation of your tier 1 links and passes additional link juice through tier 1, making those backlinks even stronger.
At the bottom of the pyramid (tier 3) you have the ‘spammy’ links, which point at the links in tier 2. These are backlinks that you can automate in very high quantities. You should not use these links directly on your site, unless temporary rankings are your thing. Spammy backlinks are great to use in tier 3 due to the extremely high quantities which they are available in and for a relatively cheap price. You can of course go down another tier or two, but we typically get the best results from a 3-tiered approach.
By tiering your links this way, you improve the trust, authority and the resulting value of the top tiers. This makes the links at the very top tier (tier 1) much stronger and effective. As a result, your site will benefit from the high quality backlinks in tier 1 much more than it would have without the additional supporting tiers. With this approach, you are able to eventually dominate even highly competitive niches for a long time to come, with fewer hiccups and fluctuations of your rankings. Finally, this approach allows you to even incorporate ‘spammy’ links (in lower tiers) without putting your site at risk. You see, there really are no ‘bad’ backlinks – just bad strategies. If you properly structure your link building campaigns, you can use any and every link you can find or buy.
Let us now move on to good link sources for each tier of the pyramid. This will allow you to easily identify which services/backlinks to use for each tier. To make this part straightforward, we will list certain link types/platforms which we have found to work well in their respective tiers and which we frequently use as part of our own link building campaigns. This is not an all-encompassing list, as there other link types which can be used as well, but the link types listed are the most popular and, as we have found, most effective.
1.2 The Top – Tier 1 Links
Premium Web 2.0s normally refers to sites (WordPress, Tumblr, Livejournal, Blogger, and many, many more) that allow you to create a blog and submit article(s) that include a link to your website. These links work exceptionally well in your first tier, as a lot of these sites have a very high domain authority, a high page rank, good indexation rate and get a lot of targeted traffic.
If you are just starting in the world of SEO and finances are tight, then focus on getting a lot of these manually-created Web 2.0s and build them out. They are absolutely worth it and will serve as an extremely effective, long-term asset in your SEO toolbox.
You can find a list of good and valuable Web 2.0s all around the web, but here are a few to start:
- http://blogger.com PR=9
- http://wordpress.com PR=9
- http://weebly.com PR=8
- http://tumblr.com PR=8
If you are looking for a service which takes the creation of these Web 2.0s off your hands, you may be interested in our Premium Solutions service. Not only do we manually create blogs on the top 10 of the highest rated Web 2.0 sites, the service also includes tiers 2 and 3 to significantly beef up these blogs from the start.
A backlink from a real website with good age (>1 year), great domain authority, good content and an outstanding backlinks portfolio, will work incredibly well to rank your site. These high performance links are highly sought after and should be one of your main sources of backlinks to target your primary keywords with. Even after the recent Google updates (Penguin 1.0 and 2.0), these links continue to show incredible ranking results. As part of our services, we track many clients in the high-end and very competitive niches that rely heavily on high performance links (in combination with other link types) and they all rank consistently well month in and month out.
Usually actual high performance links will be rented on a monthly basis due to the overwhelmingly high demand for them and very limited availability/supply. But imagine having 100’s of these powerful links pointing directly at your site? Are you ranking yet?
Obviously we would not be able to call ourselves a SEO company if we did not offer our own high performance links service. Our High Performance Solutions service provides hundreds of genuine high performance links from established, authority websites backed up with an effective tier 2 layer at an affordable cost.
A private network (like our PBN S) is a collection of aged websites, with a high performance and high domain authority, that serve solely as a link source to support your main site(s). Setting up a private network is a very time intensive and expensive process. Among many other things, it involves buying a substantial amount of aged high performance domains, posting relevant content on them and inserting a link back to your main site(s).
Due to the costs involved and experience required this tactic is not often used. A decent PR3 domain will go for $50+ on GoDaddy and then there’s hosting, content, videos, and other expenses. On top of that, the investment is very risky as you need a lot of expertise and know-how to keep your network operating under the radar. Quite often we see a lot of amateur networks leaving too many footprints which can be used to easily identify all of the sites in a particular network. As a result, the whole network gets deindexed, causing you to lose your entire investment painfully quickly. In most cases it is better to rely on other link sources discussed in this article.
However, if you have the knowledge and adequate funding, then outsourcing/creating your personal private blog network can be one of the most valuable assets in your SEO arsenal. Otherwise, you can always start with the Web 2.0 ‘mininet’ approach which we discussed in point 1.
3. Guest Posts / Outreach
Essentially, guest posting or outreach means publishing an article on someone else’s website with their approval/consent. It involves contacting webmasters (mostly via email) with sites within your niche and asking them to publish an article of yours with a reciprocal link back to your main site. This is great, if you can get a guest post from an aged website that already has traffic to it and a good domain authority / trust flow. This is obviously not as easy as it sounds, as not many webmasters will willingly publish an article linking to one of their competitors. It is nonetheless a really viable way to supplement your tier 1 link building.
It’s always a good idea to let professionals take care of your outreach campaign. But if you want to dabble yourself, we recommend to start with Ninja Outreach and/or Buzzstream – they are easy to learn and quite intuitive. Having a good content creator and email copy is mandatory, of course.
4. Press Releases
Press Releases are a great link source. Admittedly not as good as they once were, we still love them and use them quite frequently on our sites.
A press release is essentially an announcement/news article about your brand/company. The beauty of press releases is that they are picked up and syndicated (shared) by thousands of various news sites and news agencies, including even the biggest news sites. Not only will this provide you with thousands of backlinks from respected sources, but press releases are great for generating buzz and driving traffic to your site as well. If you can manage to write an excellent article for your PR or are promoting a unique service, you can expect to have your press release picked up by large newswires like PRWeb.com, Google News or even Yahoo News, which all generate a huge amount of targeted traffic on a daily basis.
Citations are basically mentions of your (local) business on authoritative websites & directories, either with or without a link. Usually the NAP (Name, Address, Phone) is used to create a proper and full citation. But most of the times, you can include a backlink to your website as well. Having said that, even just the phone number or the URL of your business can be defined as a citation.
Citations are usually used in local SEO campaigns, but they are a great addition for any link building campaign, as they are extremly safe and perfect to diversify your link portfolio.
If you don’t want to build citations yourself, you can check out our Local SEO Package, which will give you a very well rounded package: Local SEO Solutions
6. Social Network / Secondary Web 2.0 Links (mostly for Anchor/Link Diversity)
These links come from open source blog/article platforms like Drupal, PHPFox, Dolphin etc. Sites using these platforms allow anyone to register and create blog posts with a contextual link to your site. You could refer to them as the “little brothers” of the premium Web 2.0 blogs (discussed in point 1.), as they do not quite have the same domain authority or value of the premium Web 2.0s.
Having said that, they are a great and very resourceful link source. They work especially well for diversifying your anchor ratio (more on that later), as you can use them in relatively high quantities without compromising your site. Furthermore, the high quantities these links come in allow you to use many branded, longtail, generic and URL anchors all at once.
These links are particularly great for improving rankings of your site across the board. They also perform especially well on keywords of light to medium competition, making them one of the best forms of link building in local SERPs.
We provide these links as part of our best-selling service – Simple Solutions. The service is updated with new Web 2.0 sites and targets on a daily basis and comes with a lot of customization options, allowing you to tailor a package specifically to your site’s needs. You can check out the service here: http://seolutions.biz/store/seo-solutions/simple-solutions.html
7. Other sources
There are many other useful link sources that you can use in your first tier, e.g. Infographics, Crowdfunding Links, Logo Submissions, Video Sharing, Editorial Magazine Links, Wikipedia Links, etc. Most of these will cost you a hefty penny. So we will not go into them in this article for the sake of keeping things concise and interesting for those with a limited budget. But if you let your imagination and creativity flow, you can find a few untargeted and valuable link sources without any problems.
1.3 The Middle – Tier 2 Links
The second tier serves as a supporting link layer for the top tier. We rely heavily on contextual links and some social links that we can easily scale here. As a result, the main link sources don’t differ too much from our first tier and, as mentioned above, we always use niche related content on our second tier to maintain thematic relevance.
To keep things simple, here is a comprehensive list of targets/link sources we use in our second tier on a large scale. Although the links are grouped into a handful of categories, for each of the mentioned categories we post to as many different platforms as possible, resulting in an extremely diverse tier 2 layer:
- Premium Web 2.0 Blogs
- Private / Public Blog Networks
- High Performance Links
- Social Network / Secondary Web 2.0 Links
1.4 The Bottom – Tier 3 Links
In the third, and last, tier we use every link type under the sun that can be automated and used in huge quantities. Quality is not a concern here at all. The purpose of these links is to get as many of your tier 2 links noticed by the search engines. We usually stick to a very high volume of Social Network / Secondary Web 2.0 Links to include another contextual layer (like tier 2) in tier 3 and then we might add a few low quality links that we can scale to massive volumes, like
- Blog Comments
- Forum Profiles
- Forum Posts
- Social Bookmarks
- Social Profiles
- Open Source Web 2.0 platform
That’s basically it.
2. Essential Steps To A Successful Link Building Campaign
Now that you are aware of the available link sources and their best place in a link building campaign, we can dive a bit into the main aspects of any successful link building campaign.
NOTE: besides taking note of the about to be discussed aspects of link building, make sure to pay adequate attention to on-site and on-page elements. You can find a comprehensive guide covering on-site and on-page optimization in our previous installment of this series here: http://seolutions.biz/store/index.php/blog/seolutions-guide-basic-on-page-site-optimization/
Without further ado, the crucial off-page elements to a successful link building campaign are:
– Link & Content Relevancy
– Anchor and Link Diversity
– Link Velocity
2.1 Link & Content Relevancy
After the recent Google updates, we moved away from scraped articles for our contextual link foundation (tier 1 and tier 2), favoring unique content written by our team of writers instead. As of now, our team of writers creates almost all of the content that we use for our first and second tier. We still spin our articles in our link building campaigns, but we never use scraped content. All of our articles are spun on paragraph, sentence and word level ensuring a uniqueness higher than 90% for each spun version of the article.
Where and when you should use non-spun unique content, spun unique content and sometimes no content for your link building is listed below:
For most of our high performance links, we do not create contextual backlinks in the traditional sense, but rather place links in the header, sidebar, footer or in the advertising columns (not sitewide). These links are powerful enough by themselves and typically do not require contextual relevance to make them count.
Non-spun unique content:
As discussed earlier in this article, we create a lot of contextual links which require unique and informational content.
For the manually-created Premium Web 2.0s, the Press Releases and the Guest-/Blog Network Posts, we always use non-spun unique articles on a topic related to our particular niche. This means that we do not spin the articles for these link types at all and each property has its own unique article that is not used anywhere else. As a result, you can rest assured that these links will stand the test of time. We use our team of writers to create the content for all the link targets.
Spun unique content:
We also use deeply spun but unique articles (spintax on paragraph, sentence and word level) for the open source Web 2.0 sites like Drupal, PHPfox, etc, some Wikis and/or Bookmarks. We always make sure that we reach a uniqueness of 90% or more and that the spun articles remain readable, well-structured and on-topic.
Having a good custom spinning tool or a team of people capable of manually spinning content is important. You typically do not want to use the spun gibberish that a lot of the glorified spinner tools create.
Furthermore, we use these deeply spun but uniquely written articles for all of our tier 2 links.
We know that it is not always possible to get all of your links from websites that are active in the same niche. The good news is that you don’t necessarily need the website to be in the same niche, as long as you use topic-related and niche-relevant articles for your link(s). As a result, we always use unique articles on many different topics within our niche, targeting various short- and longtail keywords with each new article. By doing this we are able to keep the entire tiered link structure on a relevant theme.
2.2 Anchor Diversity
A balanced link profile has become more important than ever before. The recent Google updates and algorithmic changes penalized many sites that used more than 50% (sometimes even sites with 30%) of exact match anchors (main keywords) for all of their backlinks. MicroSiteMaster did an interesting study after the first Penguin update rolled out, which points out some very noteworthy things regarding anchor diversity – you can check it out here.
To avoid anchor over-optimization, you need to be mindful of the anchors/keywords you use for your link building campaigns. Always keep an eye on your site’s anchor ratios to make sure no single (main) keyword is making up too high of a percentage of your site’s anchor base. A great tool for checking anchor ratios is ahrefs.com.
As a general guideline, you should strive for the following anchor text distribution to avoid having your site negatively affected by one of the many Google updates:
– Main Keywords: maximum 10-15% (combined) of your entire anchor base.
The combined percentage of your main anchor texts (your big money keywords) should not exceed 15% collectively.
– Secondary / Longtail Keywords: 10-15% (combined)
– Brand Keywords / Raw URL: 40-50%
Lately, branded anchors have become the fundamental way to keep your anchor profile natural. Search engines want to see a real brand, a website that they can trust and that provides value to users/readers. Show them that you are running a real business by heavily relying on brand terms as your main anchor text.
Useful variations include:
- The title of your site
- The titles of your H1-H3 headers
– Generic Keywords: 25-35%
The principle behind generic keywords is similar to brand keywords. Generic keywords look natural as most people use generic phrases like “click here”, “here” “this link”, “link”, “source” or “website” to link to external websites. As a result, you should include a good chunk of different generic anchor texts in your link building campaigns.
If you take the guidelines from above into consideration, your anchor profile should resemble the percentages above after some time. If you can only take one thing from this article, this should be it. Anchor diversity is key!
2.3 Link Diversity & Link Velocity
As already mentioned, a diverse, natural link profile is essential to claiming the top spots of the SERPs and staying there, whereas a homogeneous link profile is a red flag to any search engine and will result in a penalty sooner rather than later. Thus keeping your anchor texts and backlinks well-diversified will help your site get through all the Pandas, Penguins (and whatever other animal updates are yet to be released) unscathed.
The key to a natural link profile is using a lot of different link types. By utilizing the various link types discussed in the first segment of this article (for example Web 2.0s, Guest Posts, high performance links and a few Wikis, Bookmarks and Forum Posts here and there), you will create a very natural and well-diversified link profile for your site. Your links will come from a huge variety of CMS, platforms, TLDs, regions and websites.
Furthermore, you should always link to your site’s inner pages too. Do not focus solely on your homepage. A good ratio would be 30-40% of the links to your homepage and 50-60% of the links to your inner-pages. As mentioned in our on-site and on-page optimization guide, inner pages can be used to target a lot of different longtails and variations of your primary keywords. Make good use of this!
Finally, you don’t want to build your links too fast or inconsistently. If you use a link audit service like ahrefs.com, the link acquisition graph should show a steady and gradual increase in backlinks over time. A lot of services give you the option of drip feeding your links – make use of that option if you can!
Below is a great example of the type of link velocity you should strive for :
3. Putting it all together
You should now have all the information you need to properly plan and structure your link building campaigns. You know what link types work to rank well and how to keep your site’s off-page portfolio well-diversified and natural.
Now it’s time to go out there and begin your link building campaigns. Keep a careful eye on your anchor ratios, your link velocity and always go down a few tiers to get the most out of every link you buy or create.
If you keep everything in mind you will eventually rank well and stay there. Here is an example of one of our sites which we have been working on:
4. Useful Tools and Resources
To finish off, here are a few tools and services that will definitely be of use to you in your link building efforts:
- Ahrefs.com – Very extensive site explorer and off-page audit tool.
- majestic.com – Similar to ahrefs, however it can help you find additional metrics and data that ahrefs does not aggregate
- Ninja Outreach – For your first outreaching campaigns – very intuitive and easy to manage.
- BuzzStream – Similar to ninja outreach. Great to start your outreach campaigns.
- Buzzsumo – Find content that’s worth writing about.
- KWfinder – Find and explore keywords within your niche.
- WooRank – Provides the basis for an extensive SEO analysis of your website
This concludes the second installment of our new web-series. We hope you have enjoyed the article as much as we have enjoyed writing it. As always, all feedback is welcome.
(Updated last: November 11th, 2018)
Search Engine Optimization Done Right