Safe Link Building Strategies and 9 to Avoid

Link Building Strategies- | CC BY 2.0Is link building safe in 2014? Is it still worth it? Should I be doing it?

There is much confusion over if “SEO is dead”, or what link building strategies are safe.  This 2014 link building strategies guide will present safe and effective link building techniques as well as link building tactics that you should stay away from.

Links have been an important part of the SEO landscape ever since Google began using them as a key ranking factor back in the late 1990s.  Originally, Google used links as “votes of confidence” in a page.  The more “votes” (links) a page received as well as who voted for (linked to) you determined your search engine ranking.  As SEO practitioners began aggressively building links (and trying to game the system), Google began to revise their algorithms.  Other ranking factors were introduced and “illegitimate” link building practices were punished.  Even so, the quality (and to a lesser extent quantity) of links in your link profile has a significant effect on your search rankings.

Note: Links are still an important ranking factor for search engine results.  Google has deemphasized or penalized low value links.  Link Building is now more about “Link Earning” or creating a reason that another site should link to you.

It still makes sense to pursue link building to improve your search engine rankings and gain more organic traffic…you just need to focus on the right tactics and avoid the risky ones.

Safe Link Building Strategies for 2014

Content and Outreach

Overview:  Create compelling content and reach out to key influencers.

Process Summary:

  1. Develop quality content that:
    • Provides clarity and/or details on an emerging issue.
    • Analyzes and summarizes a complex topic.
    • Stirs debate by stating a controversial opinion.
  2. Create a hook/angle that you will use to pitch to influencers.  Your angle could be:
    • In-depth details of a complicated issue
    • Breaking news with insights/implications
    • Humorous
    • Ego-bait (appeal to influencer’s ego by highlighting them in content)
    • Controversy – take a contrarian approach
    • Case study – especially one that highlights the use of a software/service that your target blog provides!
  3. Find potential key influencer targets.  You can build your target list by:
    • Identifying types of influencers who would find the information valuable (e.g., parents, teens, foodies, fashionistas etc.)
    • Search on google (e.g., “top fashion bloggers”)
    • Search bios on Twitter.  I use followerwonk (paid), but you can also use Google (try this query: *topic -inurl:status)
  4. Prioritize your key influencer target list.  Priorities should be based on:
    • How likely they are to link to you (i.e., Are they an active site (frequent posts)? Do you already have a good relationship with them? Do they link to others? Are they focused exclusively on your specific topic or on a broader area?)
    • Authority of their domain.  Can be measured in multiple ways: domain authority, page ranks, search rankings for phrases related to your content
    • Social media influence – number of followers/fans.  Or use ranking tools such as Klout, PeerIndex, or Kred.
  5. Outreach: Contact your targets and pitch your content.  Keep these in mind:
    • Establish that you are real (not a spammer) and credible
    • Inform them why they should be interested in your content (your pitch)
    • Provide a call to action (tell them what you want them to do)
    • Keep it short and simple.
    • Make sure to follow up.

Time/Effort: Content Outreach is difficult.  You need to develop quality content and research/contact influencers.

Link Value: High (assuming you get the right influencers to link to you).

Risk: Little/None.  These are about as natural of a link as you can get.

Bottom Line:  Good (but time intensive) link building strategy to develop high value links.  Also helps you build/maintain a network in your niche.

Competitive Links

Overview:  Discover link building opportunities by analyzing the link profiles of competitors.

Process Summary:

  1. Compile a list of competitors.  You should already have a good idea of who your competition is.  If not, try a google search for your niche and see who has the top results.
  2. Create backlink profile for each competitor.  I primarily use Open Site Explorer (OSE).  You should use one or more of the following tools:
  3. Analyze the backlink profile of each competitor.  Using your chosen tool, compile the following metrics:
    • Total number of links
    • Number of linking root domains
    • New/Fresh Links
    • Categories of Links (source:edu, gov, blog, forum etc.)
  4. Discover opportunities.  When you manually go through the link profiles of your competitors (and compare to your own) you are looking to discover link building opportunities.  This process is as much art as it is science – and it will vary widely based on your niche.  In general, you should be looking for:
    • High domain/page authority links
    • .edu and .gov links
    • Links that several of your competitors share (but you don’t have)
    • Links from related sites (e.g., have a related keyword in their URL).
    • Which of their content pages have a lot of links (this can give you insight into what types of content is drawing interest)

Time/Effort:  Not complicated but does take time (probably about 1-2 hours per competitor)

Link Value: Varies.  You will discover easy to attain links as well as high value links that may require some effort/creativity to acquire.

Risk:  Varies.  Don’t copy risky link strategies from your competitors!

Bottom Line:  This is a must do.  You will learn a lot about your market space (competitors, influencers, marketing activities etc.)

Broken Link Building

Overview:  Suggest better links to webmasters who have broken/out of date links on their sites.

Process Summary:

  1. Identify or create content.  You can use existing content or create brand new content depending on the situation.
  2. Identify target pages.  Easiest way is to follow this process:
    • Identify target search phrase.  Example would be “gardening”
    • Use Google to search for target pages that have links related to niche (“gardening”) by adding the following terms to your search
      • Links, resources, sites, websites, blogs, forums
      • Further refine search by using inurl: or intitle: qualifiers (e.g., intitle: links or inurl:resources)
      • Continue refining by throwing more qualifiers in the mix, such as: useful, recommended, favorite, related, suggested, more.  See these examples:
        • Gardening “suggested resources”
        • Gardening intitle:”useful sites”
        • Gardening inurl:”recommended links”
    • View the potential pages and identify which ones have merit.
  3. Locate broken links.  There are many ways to identify broken links.  I use scrapebox ( to check large volumes of links.  Free tools are available, including: where you can just enter the URL of the target page (from step 2 c) and identify broken links.
  4. Reach out to webmaster/content owner.  Identify out of date/broken links and recommend replacements.  May help to recommend some links that aren’t to your own site.

link building strategies - suggested resources

Find Resource Pages

link building strategies - broken links

Locate Broken Links

link building strategies -  404 error

Verify Link is Broken

Time/Effort:  Varies based on tools you use.  If you use some automated tools you can comb through a lot of pages and identify dozens of link opportunities.  If you do it manually it will take longer.

Link Value:  Varies.  You can uncover high value resource pages (especially on .edu or .gov sites) that have broken links.

Risk:  Very little as long as your target linking sites are legitimate (not spammy directories).

Bottom Line:  Definitely give this tactic a try.

Guest Posts/Blogging

Overview:  Guest posts are when other blogs or websites post articles authored by you.  Your goals for guest posting should be to position yourself as an expert in your niche as well as gaining traffic to your site.  You will also receive a backlink to your site.  Unfortunately, overzealous SEOs turned guest posting into a spammy practice that Google has tightened down on.  But, don’t despair, guest posting on high quality blogs is still a worthwhile endeavor.

Process Summary:

  1. Locate Guest Blogging Opportunities.  There are many ways to find blogs that may publish your guest post.  Here are some techniques to try:
    • Search queries.  Try some of these:
      • Topic “guest post”
      • Topic “write for us”
      • Topic “submit blog post”
      • Topic “contributing writer”
      • Topic “become guest writer”
    • Search on Twitter.  Try Topic “guest post”
    • Find where other Guest Bloggers post.  Identify prolific guest post bloggers in your niche. Then just do a google search for “guest post by Author Name”
  2. Identify the Best Opportunities.  In general you want to stick to respected blogs that have “authority” status.  To determine which blogs are the best, make sure the blog has:
    • A focus directly related to your niche
    • A sizable social following (Twitter followers and/or Facebook fans)
    • A significant traffic volume
    • Quality content
    • Good search engine results
Hint: I use to research a blog.  You can see estimated traffic, top organic keywords, referring and destination sites, time on site, bounce rates and more.
  1. Select the Right Topics.  After you have narrowed down your target list to a manageable size, it’s time to select the right topic to pitch.  The key here is to select a topic that resonates with the owner of the blog.  It’s like sending in a resume to a job offer – if you tailor your resume and cover letter to the specific job and company, you have a much better chance of landing the job.  For blog posting, here’s how to select the right topic to pitch:
    • Understand the type of content the blog publishes (i.e., the topics, news, tutorials etc.)
    • Understand the blog’s target audience (will help in selecting your topic as well as the tone that you write the post)
    • Review other published guest posts.  This will give you a strong indication of what they are looking for.
    • See if they have any out of date posts.  If you can find some posts on their site that are seriously out of date, you can offer an updated version.
    • Review their posts from the past few months.  They won’t be interested in something that they have recently posted on.
  2. Prepare your Perfect Pitch.  To create the best chance of having your post accepted, you need to create a compelling pitch.  Here’s how:
    • Understand the blog’s guest posting guidelines.
    • Show your familiarity with their site.  Reference specific items (articles, features etc.) that you appreciate about their site.
    • Show them you are credible.  Identify yourself and your website.  Touch on any “accomplishments” (such as other guest posts, speaking engagements, press mentions etc).
    • Provide a few (2-3) headlines of topics for them to consider
    • Keep it short and to the point.  Your pitch should be less than 200 words.
    • Include all of your contact information (email, phone, twitter etc.)
  3.  Create the Post.  Once you have been accepted, it’s time to create the killer post.  Here’s what to keep in mind.
    • Quality first.  If you’ve been accepted on a true authority site, make sure your content is as good as or better than what you would post on your own site.
    • Craft custom images.  Your post needs to be visually compelling.  Make sure to include custom images, graphics, flowcharts, screenshots – whatever is necessary to tell your story.
    • Follow the rules.  As mentioned previously, if a blog has posting guidelines, make sure to follow them.
    • Hook them.  Make sure your title click-worthy.  Insure that your first sentence and first paragraph will entice the readers to finish the article. See How to Write a Powerful Blog Post for more insights.

Time/Effort:  Acquiring a guest post on a top blog will require a significant amount of effort.

Link Value:  There will be some link value, but the main value will be the exposure for your brand/blog.

Risk:  As long as you stay away from low quality blogs this is a safe activity.

Bottom Line:  Guest posting is a time intensive activity but the payoff can be enormous.

 “So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy.”

Added (later):  “It seems like most people are getting the spirit of what I was trying to say, but I’ll add a bit more context. I’m not trying to throw the baby out with the bath water. There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future.”

– 1/20/14 Matt Cutts

Risky/Not Recommended Link Building Strategies

Paid Links

  • What It Is: Paying a website or service to have your links appear.
  • Why It’s Bad: Against Google’s TOS (will result in manual penalty if discovered).  It’s expensive.  Definitely not genuine – it’s manipulative.

Article Marketing/Article Spinning/ Article Directories

  • What It Is: Creating low quality articles with spammy links and attempting to have them published as often as possible (in low quality sites/directories)
  • Why It’s Bad:  Recognized by Google as a spam technique.  Articles are not meant for human viewers and offer little value.  Google can easily detect the footprint.

Profile Links

  • What It Is: Creating accounts on hundreds of forums solely for the purpose of adding your link.
  • Why It’s Bad: Google has cracked down on this practice – it is very easy to detect.  Also hurts your anchor text diversity.

Web Directories

  • What It Is:  Low quality directories that display thousands of links in hundreds of different categories.
  • Why It’s Bad:  Low value links with negligible SEO value.  Google identifies these directories as spammy.

Overuse of Reciprocal Links

  • What It Is:  Creating 100s of links to other sites in exchange for a link back.
  • Why It’s Bad:  Links are usually irrelevant.  Google can easily discover.  Links are easy to achieve which makes them low value.

High quantity/low quality Blog/Forum commenting

  • What It Is: Using software/services to leave generic comments on thousands of websites, usually with spammy anchor text links.
  • Why It’s Bad:  Negligible SEO.  Low value and irritating to webmasters and the community.

Sitewide links (footer or sidebar)

  • What It Is: Links to your site from every page of another website.
  • Why It’s Bad:  Google views them as artificial and not an “editorial vote”.  Can hurt the diversity of your anchor links.

Anchor Text Spam Links

  • What It Is:  Using your “money keywords” (versus naturally generated anchor text) in your link profile.
  • Why It’s Bad:  Google targeted this tactic in their Penguin updates and will apply an algorithmic penalty to a site for over use.

Link Networks/ Link Wheels

  • What It Is:  Network of sites that link back and forth to inflate page rank.
  • Why It’s Bad:  Google is actively searching link networks out and shutting them down (and penalizing their users).  It is a serious effort to set up or expensive/risky to use others.  Most sites won’t have relevance to your topic.

What Are Your Link Building Strategies?

Do you have any secret link building techniques that you want to share?  Let us know in the comments!


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