Link Building From Scratch

digital-number-zeroWith Google's Penguin knocking out some sites to the extent that webmasters are deciding it's better to start from scratch, many people are wondering how to formulate a link plan that will quickly bring them back to where they were ranking before. Site owners are scrambling to clean up link messes after receiving warnings or just erring on the side of caution.

This bears a great question: is there a template for starting from scratch, link-wise? I think that there is, of course, just as there are things you need to do to make your site perform at its best.

To get started, let's talk quickly about two free systems that I view as critical for any site: Google's Webmaster Tools and Analytics. While some may argue that giving Google information is a bad idea, if you plan to count on Google for anything at all, you need to be in synch with how they view your site, period. There are other free alternatives to their analytics platform of course, but I have not found anything that beats it.

Google's tools give you the two critical pieces of information that you need to build links: information about whose coming to your site and where they're coming from. Analytics is customizable and with the introduction of Dashboards, you can easily create a quick view that will show you the data you're watching as you start to build links.

Now, to get into the meat of the matter, let's break it down into the types of links that most people pursue along with what I'd recommend. Afterwards, we'll put together a quick basic plan to follow.

Directory Links

When I first started doing SEO, directories were a must. Today, not so much. Recently we've seen talk about some of the free directories being delisted in Google but as far as concrete results, I haven't seen anything.

My opinion? Some of the higher-quality directories like BOTW are still worth a submission, but I wouldn't waste much time submitting to any of the lower-end ones, at least not when you're starting out. I think there are better links to be had right now.

Blogroll Links

Blogroll links weird me out, honestly. They have been abused to the extent that they can potentially be less valuable than a regular editorial link, but you do see totally relevant and quality blogroll links. This is where you need to look at the whole picture.

If you see a site that has 10 blogroll links going to crazy types of sites that have no connection with the one you linking to them, I'd say you don't want a blogroll link on that site. If you find a great blog about parenting and there are 10 blogroll links that all go to other great resources, that might be OK. One of my issues with blogroll links is that they are sitewide and I'm not a big fan of sitewide links.

Sitewide Links

Sitewide links are links that appear on every page of a site. You commonly see them as blogroll links, footer links, or sidebar links. If you get a sitewide link on a 100 page site, well you've gotten yourself 100 links that show up in your backlink profile. While that might sound good to a novice, it's not, especially if you're the kind of person who relies on straight numbers for a gauge of progress.

Google doesn't count these 100 links as 100 links. They count them as one link. While that isn't what makes me dislike them, the clutter that they can bring to a link profile makes me want to tear my hair out.

Luckily you can ignore sitewide links in many link analysis tools, but still, you shouldn't intentionally pursue a sitewide link these days. Take one, sure, but don't waste time going after one.

Comment Links

Just like most other links, comment links could be relevant and legimate. However, they've also been abused to the extent that I'd say don't pursue them unless it really is done in order to add to the conversation taking place.

comment-link-example

Here's an example of a link I added to a comment on a blog that my company does. The backstory here is that our city was trashed in an article appearing in a New York paper, so many people in town were highly pleased to see us get a more favorable mention in the New York Times.

However, will Google properly analyze my intent? I doubt it, but I thought it would be good for users.

Still, comment links should never be a large percentage of what you do.

Social Media Profile Links

These are links that I really, really like. In a social media platform like Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest, you can list a link to your site. Links that you promote socially aren't usually followed (and if they are, that will change most likely) but these profile links are a great way to build links initially.

(Don't fuss at me about linking to Wikipedia...here's a great list of social networking sites.)

Editorial Links

These are definitely my favorite kind of links. These are the links you get just by having great content or being otherwise remarkable. They are links that you get without asking.

To get editorial links, you need to do what makes people roll their eyes when you say it: create great content and get people in front of it.

However, you can also get these kinds of links through networking, both online and offline. For example, let's say you start talking to someone on Twitter and he or she writes a blog post later on that includes a mention of you and your site. Yes, that definitely happens. Maybe you meet someone at a restaurant and give him a business card with your URL on it, then he includes you in his weekly roundup of local businesses.

Guest Post Links

I love these because, when you actually take the time to write a compelling piece of content, you're adding value and getting a link for it. I've gotten some great links by guest posting, and now that my company has a blog, I've much more aware of how awesome it is when someone helps you contribute content to the web. I'd definitely use these as part of my initial strategy.

To find guest post opportunities you can join a community like My Blog Guest or you can simply do some extremely basic searches like these:

  • keyword + "submit a guest post"
  • keyword + "write for us"
  • keyword + "blog for us"

I'd also set up some Google alerts that run at least once a day for queries like this. (You can definitely get much more advanced with your search queries to fine tune the results of course, so play around with it and see what gives you the best results.)

You get the idea...don't limit this to search engine searches though, as there are some fantastic tools you can use to search social media platforms for these opportunities as well. My current favorite is Icerocket.

Resource Links

Resource links are just that: links to resources, one of which is yours hopefully. You can find some older sites that still have a links page (and amazingly, some that are still quite good) and you can find sites that have a small list of resources in a post. If you're starting out, definitely look around to see if there are places that list resources similar to yours, contact the webmaster, and ask for a link.

To find resource link opportunities try something hyper-simple like this:

  • keyword + "resources"

You can also just see if the sites you'd want to be linked from have a place for resources. Sometimes that can be an easier way to get a link (suggest that you could be added to that specific list and explain why) than cold-calling via email and asking for a link.

"May I Have A Link?" Links

These are the kind of links that you ask for, nicely of course. These are definitely not mutually exclusive with any of the other types with the exception of the editorial links.

Basically, you find a site that you think is totally awesome and you email the webmaster asking for a link. You'll get turned down a lot and you may even be accused of being a scam artist, and getting links this way is definitely seriously hard work, but you can get some fantastic links this way. While you can pay for a link in many cases, this isn't recommended if you're starting from scratch.

Legitimate Business Links

These are your links on sites like your local city business listings, your Chamber of Commerce, relevant trade organizations, etc. Definitely pursue these types of links as a priority, as they can be fantastic for traffic. You can find opportunities through searches for both local and industry resource sites.

Local Links

I like these although many people report problems when they need to change a listing. However, they certainly won't hurt you so go for it.

Here are the big three:

There's a great resource for more though, so if you have time, there are some great potentials listed here as well.

Reciprocal Links

Once the darling of the link building world way, way back, reciprocal links generally aren't seen in a flattering light, and they usually aren't recommended. A typical reciprocal link scenario means that someone links to you and you link to them in one experience.

There isn't anything wrong with linking back to someone who links to you...especially if you do it later on. For example, let's say you write a blog post and you link to a site. Three months down the road, your site is referenced as a resource. That's kind of a reciprocal link but the reciprocity isn't immediate.

Infographic Links

Infographics range from the truly fantastic to the absolute abysmal. An infographic is a graphical representation of a story, basically, and it generates links through various methods, one of which is the placement of your site's link in the code that people use to put it on their site.

The idea of a great infographic is that it goes viral and gets republished on other sites, thus linking to you. Infographics are a great way to build links, but someone starting from scratch should put it on the back burner, in favor of other types of link building, but keep it in mind if a great idea comes to you.

Widget Links

Widgets are little bits of code that do something cool. You know how you're on a site and they're raising money for a charity and you see a fundraising thermometer? That (probably) is a widget.

Widgets are super cool when done well, and like with an infographic, they come with lovely embed code that has your link in it. While they can be a good way to build links, they can become problematic if coded poorly, used on spammy sites, etc. For a person beginning a new link campaign, focus on other links first.

Image Links

An image link is simply an image that links to your site. I love these as a small part of a link profile and find them no more difficult to build than text links.

Create a cool image and ask for a link just as you would with a text link. I wouldn't create a silly image and try to get a respected business site to put it up though, so if you're going to ask for an image link, make sure you have a reason for it. Initially, you can take the opportunity if it presented itself but I wouldn't spend much time pursuing these, at least not just yet.

Text Links

These are the gold standard for links. They are links in text, not an image link. That's really very self-explanatory I think but hey, maybe it's not.

To conclude that section, let's talk about the issue of paid links. Saying that paid links violate Google's guidelines is true but it doesn't give the full picture.

If you nofollow a paid link, it should be fine. The idea is that you shouldn't be able to pay to get a link somewhere that will be used to raise your rankings. People do this of course, some get caught and some don't, but if you see the chance to get a great nofollowed paid link on a site that could send you lots of converting traffic, I'd say take it.

The Plan Itself

  • First Wave: Business listings, local links, resource links, social media profile links, guest post links, and begged-for links.
  • Second Wave: A good directory listing like BOTW, more of the links listed for the First Wave.
  • Third Wave: An infographic and a few image links, plus the same continuation of the First Wave links.

Action!!

How do I get any links? Social media promotion of your site, sending content to bloggers and webmasters, asking for links, guest posting...there are tons of ways and I'd say figure out what works for you.

As IT people a lot of us aren't fans of picking up the phone, but if you like to actually speak to someone, the phone's a great way to get a link. Actually at my company when we have a webmaster ask to speak on the phone, we almost always get that link.

How do I find good sources to pursue? Good old-fashioned manual discovery works for me, but there are countless ways to do this. There are tools that generate search queries to use (my favorite is Solo SEO's Link Search Tool) or you can enter some keywords into the search engine of your choice.

Can I really just ask a webmaster for a link? Yes you can. You can be turned down of course, but if you have a great resource to point a webmaster to, you can definitely ask. People ask for links without offering any value all the time anyway.

What About My Competition? Where Do They Fit In?

Competitive analysis isn't the best way to build a link profile. It can be extremely useful in showing you patterns and giving you an idea of where to start, but remember that in any backlink profile that has been around for more than a few months, you're probably going to find some crap there and you don't want to spend time trying to get tons of sitewides from article distribution sites just because your competitor has lots of sitewides from article distribution sites.

As long as you realize that a competitive analysis is not the full picture and that you shouldn't totally copy a backlink profile, it's definitely an insightful practice.