Bad Link-Building You Should Be Doing

I’m in the process of training a new staff member in the art and science of link-building. For those who read SEW regularly, you’ll know that for the past few months my articles have focused on link tools, ranging from a new favorite tool, SpyFu’s Backlink Builder, to classics like Majestic SEO and ahrefs. Going through those tools and discussing link profiles as a whole and not simply how to look at an individual one got me thinking…in a lot of cases, links from methods that many would consider bad are not just part of a natural profile but can drive traffic and PageRank.

So what am I talking about here? I’m talking about links that come from methods that have been heavily hit by Google in the past. Why would you want to build them? Because there’s a reason they were counted in the first place, and done right they can be part of a solid overall profile. The bad link-building methods I’m going to discuss here are:

  • Directories
  • Article writing
  • Guest posting
  • Forum commenting

That’s right; you just read those four link-building methods correctly. But a point I will repeat later just to make sure it’s understood – these are meant to be part of a link profile, not the extent of your link-building. A VERY important distinction. So let’s begin …

Link-Building With Directories

Large-scale directory submissions are a golden ticket to an unnatural links warning. Of the general directories there are a handful and it’s shrinking list of decent ones. What can be built into a solid link profile are niche and topics directories. That is, directories that are specific to what you do and a little more. This may be part of a larger site or the entire site may be a directory. Either way, the criteria when judging the site is pretty straight-forward:

  • Is the fee for a review? If there is a fee for submission, it should be for a review not for the link. If there’s no offer to refund your money if they don’t accept you or if the fee buys you the listings, it’s not a good directory.
  • Do they require a link back? If so, it’s probably not a great directory.
  • Is their PageRank three or below? Yes, it’s an old metric, but is still helpful to gauge general site health. A directory with a PageRank of three or less will, at best, pass virtually no weight; at worst, it’ll cause you problems. Generally, you should only look at PageRank three directories in the case of niche directories; with general directories, don’t even consider anything less than a four.
  • Common sense. Ask yourself, “Does it make sense that this link should pass weight to my site?” If you can honestly say “yes” to this then it’s likely a good link.

Link-Building With Articles

Article writing got a bad name due to its large-scale abuse. Generally in this abuse, a single article (generally poorly written) was syndicated to dozens, hundreds, and sometimes thousands of websites. The result…garbage. And thus the announcement of the death of articles and it’s vilification as a link strategy. But right now you’re reading an example of this method.

What needs to be understood is that Google was not out to kill people who wrote articles as a marketing tool or even people who got links from it. What they wanted to do away with (and rightfully so) was the mass syndication angle that had become prevalent.

Writing articles for other sites, preferably hubs in your industry (you know, like Search Engine Watch is for SEOs) is a great way to build reputation, trust, and of course…links. That said, unless scraped without permission, you won’t find this article anywhere else. It’s a lot of work, but to use articles as a link and marketing tool you have to be willing to generate quality content (hoping you agree that this is) and give it to only one other website for use.

Finding such sites can be hard or easy. You may have to contact your industry hubs cold but there’s also a good chance that they will have a “Write for us” page. Entering queries like:

my niche keywords “write for us”

can be a route to quick wins. Of course it’s a lot of work so you need to make sure the sites you offer to write for are high-quality and highly relevant.

Link-Building With Guest Blog Posting

There isn’t much to say here but it had to be included in the list. The reason there isn’t much to say is that what needs to be done is the same as articles; it’s only the cause of the method getting a bad name that’s different.

Where guest blogging went wrong is when people set up blog networks and selling massive numbers of low-quality posts (with a link of course), resulting in announcements like:


That said, there’s nothing wrong with blogs linking to you. There are two ways that this can be done, providing information or product to bloggers to review or to offer to write for other blogs on related subjects. With this said, please don’t send out emails on mass to tons of bloggers starting with “Hello webmaster. I’ve seen your site and I think I’d be a great fit to provide a 450-word article. I only need 2 links.” or some other rubbish. Remember: you’re building a relationship.

Actually read their content, wait until you have a great subject that would serve their audience well, and communicate with them as a human. Maybe via LinkedIn or other social avenue and not just another email so you don’t get confused with the litany of spammers or are at least lumped in with a smaller group of them. Alternatively, you can try reverse guest posting. Find industry authorities you know to be solid bloggers and who are strong socially and interview them for YOUR blog. There’s a good chance they’ll link to you from their blog (especially if they do industry roundups) or at the very least push it out socially.

Link-Building With Forum Commenting

I expect to hear a thing or two in the comments about this one. I first discovered the continued benefit of forums when looking up subject for articles and blogs. I mean, what better way to find subjects to write about than to look to forums and Q&A sites and see what questions people are asking about? What I found is that it often occurred that after writing up the post or article on the subject (or having the business owner do so) it made good sense to go back to where the inspiration came from and mention having written up a piece answering the question or discussing the subject.

So if when you think “forum commenting” you’re thinking “forum signature abuse and crappy commenting” then you’d be right to question its validity. But if you’re thinking as I am that it’s “gathering information on interests, genuinely answering questions using a profile that is honest and linking to points that add value to the conversation,” then you can see why it would work. Heck, even if it doesn’t help for rankings it’ll get you some trust and traffic and having been there will help you understand what people want to know about the industry and write better site copy.

As a note, people in forums don’t format anchor text, they just use http://. You should too.

As Promised

The link-building methods discussed above are meant to be used in conjunction with other methods to form an overall broad and healthy link profile. Used alone you’re almost begging for a penalty of one type or another but used properly and in conjunction with other methods you can achieve great results. I noted above I would repeat this and now I have. Now go forth and multiply (your link energies), remembering my motto in the area: Diversity is security. Cover all the bases and your signals can’t help but be good…Or at least not draw the wrath of an “unnatural links” penalty.

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