Link building has always been a risk:reward proposition. This continues to be true in 2013. What has changed over the years is the degree of risk associated with operating outside of the Google Webmaster Guidelines.
By improving their algorithm and supplementing their spam control with Human Quality Raters, Google has made it increasingly difficult to manipulate search rankings via spammy backlinks. Many would argue that’s a good thing. Generally speaking, I would agree.
Risks vs. Rewards
High Risk : Low Reward Link Building: Includes automated link building programs like SENuke and utilizing link networks like BuildMyRank.com. Every client that has come to us, after receiving an unnatural link warning, was engaged in one or both of these practices. This may not be the only path to a Penguin penalty, but it’s probably the quickest one. There is no reason to use this approach in 2013.
High Risk : High Reward Link Building: Most notably, paid link building. Google’s war on paid links went nuclear in 2008 and they have made it very clear that they have a zero tolerance policy. The reason that Google is so vocal and pro-active in fighting paid links is because they work so damned well – even in 2013. That said, are you prepared to handle the Google penalties and bad publicity that Dun & Bradstreet, JCPenney, Forbes, and Overstock received when they were found offering compensation for links?
Low Risk : Low Reward Link Building: Best characterized as “Penguin Paralysis”. After the Penguin update, many webmasters became adamant about adhering to “ethical SEO” practices. This has resulted in many webmasters falling into the “content is king” trap; creating content with no particular end game or audience in mind. Sure it’s safe, but content creation without the marketing component is a wasted effort.
Low Risk : High Reward Link Building: These methods will be the standard for link building in 2013 and beyond. Acquiring links that require a manual action or editorial review means offering a value proposition. Link earning is the future of link building.
Before You Start Link Building
Perform an evaluation of the existing backlink profile. Does it meet the “Penguin” test?
- Audit and remove bad links. A tool such as Link Detox can be useful.
- Find or create something to leverage that is link worthy. Perform outreach to facilitate a content / social strategy. The best links require editorial approval – target those links in your link acquisition efforts.
- Invest in backlink analysis tools, like SEOMoz or Majestic SEO.
Incorporate Anchor Text Diversity
A natural backlink portfolio contains an assortment of link types, pointing to your website. Focus your link strategy around these common link types:
- Brand links: Variations include: Your Domain, YourDomain.com, www.YourDomain.com, YourDomain.
- Exact-match anchor text keyword links: These anchor text links should point to the most appropriate page on the website (the one you are optimizing).
- Partial-match keyword links: It’s important not to over-optimize with exact match keywords, otherwise you could trip a phrase based filter.
- Generic Links: Like “Read More” or “Click Here.” Keep in mind that good content should fill this need with little if any work required on your part.
- Page title links: Some of your links should be the same as your page title.
Penguin winners, on average, have 53 percent of all links pointed to the home page. In contrast, the losers had 68 percent of their links pointed to the home page.
Focus on Quality Over Quantity
The Penguin losers have a link portfolio in which 20 percent of all backlinks come from low quality Spam sites with no trust or authority. Compare this to the winners, which have only 1 percent coming from those types of sites (primarily scrapers).
The Death of Exact Match Anchor Text has been Wildly Exaggerated
Penguin winners have a 46 percent mix of trophy keyword phrases in their backlink profile as compared to 30 percent for the losers. Brand links account for 41 percent of the mix for winners and 48 percent for losers. This was corroborated by MicrositeMasters.com. Their studies concluded that if: “under 50 percent of your anchor text for incoming links were “money keywords” it’s all but guaranteed you weren’t affected by (the Penguin) update” and “every single site we looked at which got negatively hit by the Penguin Update had a “money keyword” as its anchor text for over 60% of its incoming links.”
Key Penguin Takeaways
- In every case, the losers had a higher proportion of links from websites with no trust or authority.
- In every case, the losers had a considerably higher distribution of brand links vs. exact match anchor text or money links.
- In every case, the losers had a higher proportion of home page links.
- It’s not enough to just build links. More links and better quality is the right way to build links in 2012 and beyond.
- Diversity Traffic Sources – look for other sources of traffic (social media) to help protect against future Google updates
Step one to creating an effective link building strategy is to assess the current situation. Start with the low-hanging fruit that requires no outreach.
Top 7 Link Building Strategies that are Penguin Approved and Require NO Outreach
- Reclaim links that you already “own”:
- Use GWT to discover broken links
- Go to GWT, click on your website, then "Site health" then "Crawl Errors" in the left nav. A list of URLs and response codes will appear at the bottom of the page
- "Repair" the broken links by using a 301 redirect
- Automatic Attribution:
- Get image links:
- If your website is designed in CSS, submit it to CSS directories like CSS Mania, Best Web Gallery, or CSS Elite.
- Niche Directories – it’s all about the quality and relevance:
- Quality – Make certain the directory is indexed. Most quality directories are paid directories – the cost of entry is a barrier to spammers.
- Relevance – must have a suitable category for your listing
- Donate to Charities and Nonprofits:
- Run a search for “donators page” and “donations page” and you will be presented with a virtual menu of options for organizations to donate to.
- Typical cost $100 - $200
- Join Local Business Groups:
- Links from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the Chamber of Commerce are great for both link building and Trust Building.
- Consider your membership fee as a cost of doing business. Not only do you benefit from some powerful links, but you're building trust and adding a new source of local traffic
- Use your Twitter profile for Link Building:
Follow these guidelines and you will be off to a great start for link building in 2013 and beyond. Stay tuned, as we will discuss several advanced link building methods here in the coming months. Have some link building tips of your own? Please share them in the comments!
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!