As anyone should know if they’ve spent any time building a search engine optimization campaign, on-page optimization is only going to get you so far; without links, your site isn’t going anywhere if you have any competition. Let’s say your goal is to rank for “Los Angeles” instead of “Modesto”. With the term “Modesto” you’ll probably not need much if any inbound linking, but to rank for “Los Angeles”, link building will be the dominant part of your SEO effort.
According to Google, link building shouldn’t even be something you do, because it is inherently a manipulation of the search results. Instead, you should focus on creating great content and promoting your site and links happen on their own. Okay, if are creating shocking and scandalous content then yes that can sometimes be enough, but for most it is not! And so then what? Well, you may decide to just write your content and post it to see what happens, but eventually reality will set in when a few months have past and you’ve received NO TRAFFIC – thanks Google! So then you must face reality and get serious about link building.
In SEO we talk about “black hat” (bad) and “white hat” (good) methods for SEO. Actually, I think of it more as a spectrum of gray, from light to dark. And yes, most off-site methods of SEO such as link building fall into that gray abyss somewhere, some on the darker end of the spectrum than others, but those are often the methods that work the best, at least in the short term (such as link networks). Just be aware of the risk trade offs and factor those into your goals, long term versus short term. With that said, here is a comprehensive list of link building tactics and the resources I recommend for those tactics. I’d generally recommend a holistic strategy and incorporates all of these at some level (link networks being an exception for high value sites). Your goal is to create a natural pyramid of links, with a lot of low value discussion type links, with increase value links layered on top of those at a decreasing number as you go up the stack.
Note – I’ve given a score (1-10) to each of these to help indicate how “white hat” it is; 1 is white hat and 10 is black hat.
1. OpenSiteExplorer (1) – OSE is a tool provided by the folks at SEOMoz that pulls together a number of internal and external criteria to try to understand the real “link juice” power of certain sites that you may target for inbound links. The MozRank in particular is a proprietary algorithm used for this purpose, with this tool. You have only limited access to try it out unless you signup for an account at SEOMoz. In my opinion, this single tool is so valuable that it alone justifies the account expense for SEOMoz. This can be used for seeking out high value sites that you may ask for inclusion into their reviews or perhaps even to instigate conversation with a reporter or writer to review your product, etc.
2. Angela’s Packets (7) – Under the radar somewhere, is a small army of outsourced link builders in the Philippines quietly building inbound links with forum and blog comment spam. We’ve all seen them – those comments on our blogs that say something generic like “good work, I like the post” and meanwhile, they’ve placed a profile link back to some unrelated site. Most of the big sites of course try to circumvent this issue with nofollow attributes on their link tags, but many of the more common WordPress and Moveable Type blogs, as well as many other older installs don’t have this limitation. And so “researchers” such as Angela and Paul have scoured the Internet finding these resources with good PageRank and providing monthly reports called “link packets” which are the battle blah for these small armies to find and conquer what they seek.
3. Scrapebox (7) – Okay, above when I said those small armies were fueled by “researchers”, what I really meant were resourceful individuals most likely using tools like ScrapeBox. This tool will literally scour the Internet specifically seeking opportunities for dofollow links with good page rank and provide a report back to you. It comes with a pretty sophisticated tool with link management tools, rotating proxies, auto commenting, etc.
4. Link Networks (8) – Okay, we’re definitely getting into the darker-gray hats with link networks but it wouldn’t be am honest review of link building resources if it were not covered. Google of course hates these because they’re highly potent resources for gaming their search rankings, and they tell people you’ll get in trouble if you use them in order to cast doubt on the practice and scare most web masters from going this direction. But the unfortunate reality is, they work very well! At least for now. Now granted, there is risk here and so you wouldn’t use these for a client site or even an owned site with any substantial investment tied to it. But this can be very effective for those sites for which you’re confident you’ll achieve positive ROI quickly, or even just as a minor part of your overall mix. Just don’t let that be a dominant part of your linking mix for your brand or “money” site.
- HighPRNetwork – The best quality links of the networks.
- LinkVana – A well-established and well-regarded. 100s in network.
- SEONitro – Smaller network. High prices for exclusivity.
5. Article Directories (5) – These are websites full of community contributed content. Often you’ll see slogans such as “you make the news”. These sites have become very popular among SEOs because you can submit content under the Creative Commons license which may contain a link or two back to your site. You publish these here and then other web masters may also borrow and republish your content, provided they don’t remove the links back to your site. To make this cost-effective, webmaster would often source content from overseas and then put it through a content spinner to create multiple “unique” versions of the same article, and then submit to these depots. This was probably the single most effective link building strategy under the Google “Farmer” Panda update. The primary goal of that update was to reduce the effectiveness of these depots and discourage the low quality content. That’s not to say it completely doesn’t work now though – it does! It can still be an effective part of a holistic link building campaign. Here are my favorite resources:
6. LinkWheels (3) – Another popular linking strategy is to setup a series of your own micro blogs, populate them with content and them link them back to your primary site in the content of those articles. In a traditional link wheel, you’d link each of these satellite sites to each other in a circular reinforcing way to increase link value of each page, though in more recent days I’ve heard its more effective to NOT interlink these and just form more of a hub and spoke pattern back to the website. Google has apparently become a little too smart for this tactic now.
7. Directories (2) – Once the mainstay of initial link building (circa 2002), website directories were the original way to discover who’s who on the Internet, prior to search engines really becoming so ubiquitous. They stuck around for a while and were generally considered a good signal or quality and authority, particularly if it cost money to sign up, or in the case of DMOZ was hand-selected to ensure premium quality. Over time, these have become overly manipulated like so many other things and so their value is not what it use to be. Nonetheless, this can be an effective component to a holistic link building strategy. The goal here is to keep costs under control, and not spend money on every directory you find. There are far more directories out there than you’ll get value out of. The main directories that are known to provide maximum value are DMOZ (though its impossible to get listed anymore), Yahoo Directory (though it costs $300 per year),and BOTW.org (though their prices have gone up considerably in recognition of their value). Those tier 1s are probably not necessary for most SEO projects, but if you’re in a hyper competitive space and have the budget, you may be able to justify the spend. Here’s the short list of the one’s I’d recommend, in order:
8. Social (2) – There’s been a lot of buzz in the past year or two that social signals such as Twitter retweets, Facebook mentions, G+ likes, may be factoring into search rankings now. In fact, this seems like a very natural evolution in search rankings, since social conversation monitoring can do a very good job of filtering what everyone is truly excited about, compared to what’s merely being promoted online. It can also be a much more interesting and fulfilling way to build search rankings by promoting your product, rather than gaming the search engines. Below are a few of the better social resources to consider when building your campaigns. Ultimately, yes, there are ways to game this too (there’s already a small cottage industry with companies such as SocialKik who will sell you retweets etc), but these are the sites that really matter and that any campaign you design should ultimately point back to:
- Facebook Fanpage
- Yahoo Answers
- Wiki Answers