SEO can bluntly be divided into what happens on your site and what happens outside your site. This is what is known as on-page and off-page SEO. The later can also be summarized as the reputation of your site. The most valued reputation metric is Links.
The first thing that may spring to your mind is whether links are really that important anymore? To go out on a limb, I would say it’s more important than ever due to the fact that Google is open about what it considers to be good on-page SEO. Ergo, if everyone else knows what you know, how are you going to get an edge and climb to top positions?
This posts intention is to summarize and give you good insights into how you can improve your off-page efforts.
Why are links important?
Top-pages on any search term that generates money all have one thing in common, lots of links. While on-page has become a more important factor since the beginning of search engines, sites with no links are not going to get high rankings regardless of content quality.
Google’s early success as a search engine can largely be attributed to the invention of PageRank. The main purpose of PR as part of the algorithm was to measure the quality of a page, based in most part on the number of links pointing to it. Since then this part of the algorithm has received several updates and become evermore sophisticated. The sheer number of links is no longer the only factor, but one aspect of myriads of qualitative sign Google takes into consideration.
How does one get links?
Ask the typical SEO veteran with 100,000+ followers on twitter and they will answer – Write really good content. Let’s be honest, on WordPress alone over 1.4 million posts are created every day. Unless you are social media wizard your posts aren’t going to get you the get links you need in order to gain top positions on Google. No matter how great content you write, simply because no one will find it.
Outreach is another common approach. As the name implies the strategy is to reach out to website owners with the intent of getting links back. Typically this will involve more than just good content though. Usually the site owner will want something in return – i.e. money or a gift. At the end of the day I think this is fine, provided you research the sites you want links from, not only from a topical standpoint but audit the linking sites accordingly.
Buying Links from link networks, blogs and in general is as old as Google itself. There are plenty of operators who specialize in this niche with varying quality. My general advice would be to tread carefully. The shiny link package on Fiverr with a 5$ price tag, promising a 1000+ edu links is more likely to get you blocked on Google than actual results. You need to review in detail whatever domain you are buying links from.
Free links? In general I don’t believe there are any free lunches, however if you haven’t asked your loyal customers and partners for a link, you should do just that. Some companies i work with even offer a small discount or token, if their customers add a non-reciprocal link to their website.
The amount of truly free links you will be able to accumulate depends in large on how engaged people are in general within your business area. Take a look at your friends on Facebook, what do they share? I can tell you that payday loans, advice on casino and whoever is the best local plumber I rarely see, if ever… It’s the stuff that engage people on their spare time, things that they are really passionate about like music, politics, animals, news and so on.
Build your own network of links – commonly referred to as private blogging network. The blogging part I think is an outdated method and would personally go for a strategy with much more longevity. Building one’s own link network might be the most complicated approach of the aforementioned, but can also be to most rewarding one in the long run. The key to a great network that last, is quality and true user value. Later in this document I will describe this subject more in detail.
Discounted methods worth mentioning are submitting your site to web directories. This was a technique that Google actually recommended at one point, since then it became abused and overused, thus Google stopped passing as much value from that sort of links. Further to this list you can add blog comments, forum posts and guest comments, which have all been abused to absurdity and lost a great deal of their value.
Is this black-hat SEO?
By now I am guessing you asking yourself whether this goes Google’s guidelines? Absolutely. This is Google’s guidelines:
“Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.”
If you consider them meaning of “may” and “intent”, one could argue a majority of the efforts made by SEOs to be against Goggles guidelines. If you consider Google’s guidelines as a moral omnipresence building links might not before you. Personally i think Google offers a great service but it’s a company with one intent above all else, to make money for it’s shareholders.
Now how do we figure out what links are good?
Since Google stopped publicly displaying Google pagerank, there are no conclusive methods to assess a sites true value or a link for that matter. None the less, you should familiarize yourself with tools such a Majestic, Ahrefs and Moz which specialize in assessing website values and collecting link data.
The most common way to measure a domains or sites value is to use a metric developed by the previously mentioned SEO software companies. Their main metrics are;
TF – Trust Flow by Majestic
CF – Citation Flow by Majestic
UR – URL Rating by Ahrefs
DR – Domain Rating by Ahrefs
DA – Domain Authority by Moz
PA – Page Authority by Moz
My general advice is to use these metrics as an indication and not definite sign of quality. Remember, it’s what Google thinks that matters in the end. Below you will find my advanced guide to reviewing a site or domain. Ahrefs has the largest database on links where as it’s a must have tool for any serious link builder.
5 steps to evaluating a domain.
1. Backlinks – Total amount of links to a website. What you need to understand is that volume doesn’t equate to quality since it’s the easiest metric to manipulate.
2. Referring Domains – Is a metric to determine how many unique sites links to the website you are reviewing.
3. Unique IP-Addresses – This is a metric you should have you eyes on, since its in comparison to the above complicated to manipulate en masse.
4. Archive.org – Is a great source to find out a domains history. You want to look out for language changes , cialis, casino, short term loan or anything sex-related. Unless you are specifically looking for domains in these niches you might be getting a domain which hurts your website.
5. Anchor Text – This is the text people use when linking to the website. Look to see if they contain a brand name (which is normal), and avoid ones that are heavily keyword targeted, have big brand names that are often associated with selling of fake goods, and other more obvious things like Viagra or adult themed.
It’s essential to Look at the links a domain has to it. If any are from adult sites, article directories, or hacked links pointing to a domain, it’s probably not a good domain. Furthermore, if a website is native to the UK, be vary of Indian, Chinese or Russian links in it’s history. What you want is a history which seems to be natural. Kim Kardashian’s blog is likely to have links from all over the world, however it’s rather unlikely a local car mechanic’s web page having an international link profile, consisting to a majority of links from overseas countries. Mind you, from a country where they don’t even speak the same language.
How many links do you need?
The easiest way to answer that question is for you reverse engineer your competitor’s link profiles. How many links do they have? How have they optimized their anchor profile and do you believe the links are of quality or not? In many cases you won’t need as many links as competitor websites, because their link profile will not optimized properly. Albeit, ranking a fresh site on a keyword that’s populated by professionals such as casino, insurance, SEO and so on is no small task and will demand a big budget.
Building your own link network.
My proposition to you is not to think of link networks as temporary “juice” for your projects or clients. Instead think of it as an investment in long-term web property with an annual dividend. Thus I will describe a way for you to build networks that will earn you money in both the short and long run, not just until Google makes a new update. Oh yeah, before I go on, even if everyone says they are not into link networks anymore, in reality nothing has changed since the big scary Penguin update in 2014. It just got more refined.
Briefly on the Google’s Penguin update. Penguin mainly hit sites with over optimized anchor profiles, not links per say. The reason why most sites got hit with a penalty was that SEOs overused the link network and over optimized with too many “hardcode”anchor links.
Finding a good hosting partner will be crucial to your networks success in the long run. Some will say seo-hosting doesn’t work anymore, to which I beg to differ. A small link network can in theory be put together using shared hosting, but it’s definitely not a viable strategy once you start accumulating sites.
The general idea behind SEO hosting is to create an illusion of diversification by spreading sites on different IP classes (C classes) to achieve the same character as a natural link profile. A natural link profile will have a majority of its links from the country which the website is targeting.
When choosing a partner make sure that they offer native IP-addresses, unique name servers, great IP-diversification and dedicated IP-addresses.
The evergreen strategy
This idea originates from Google’s all time favorite website – Wikipedia. Thus, let’s reverse engineer what makes Wikipedia great in the eyes of Google.
– Each page has one subject in focus and in general tons of content around the subject. If you will one search term, respectively tons of related keywords around it.
– Subjects which doesn’t decline in value over time. A blogpost about personal events in 2014 holds little to no value to someone browsing the web in 2016. However, an article about Mozart’s life will be relevant both in the here and now and future.
– Internal and external links in abundance both to outside and internal sources.
If you can find an evergreen angle on a domain in your network, a subject that’s content value doesn’t decrease over time, your efforts will also earn over time.
Best Practice linking
First off, authentic sites have internal links and therefore your sites should as well. This is often overlooked, and is indeed an easy way for Google to determine you are link building.
My second suggestion is to link to authoritative sites within the niche. Don’t link to your competitors but try to find institutions, government sites and so forth that you somehow can relate to your website. This does not only naturalize your site, but will boost your rankings in general.
Google has become great at understanding synonyms, as such your anchor texts should include just that and not only your main keywords.
Outgoing links to the same website shouldn’t exceed 1-2 unless you site is large. Besides, Google doesn’t count links, it counts unique links and quality.
Don’t use site- wide links unless it’s called for and keep it to a minimum.
A natural link profile will have a majority of its inbound links containing the domain name in variants. Remember that when you build links, over optimizing a keyword that’s not related your domain name or company name is an obvious sign of link building. Google is great at picking this up algorithmically.
Rather than starting out fresh you should add expired domains to your network, which will greatly enhance your money sites ranking potential.
What is it? A domain that the former owner has decided to not renew and is as such available for anyone to register. Once you’ve revived the domain, Google will index it on old merits. Note, just as you would review a site for links, you should follow my guide above to review expired domains.
Finding expired domains is best done via plenty of companies who specialize in brokering expired domains, auctions and marketplaces.
Angling a domain
Unless your money site is related to dogs or churches you will unfortunately not find many expired domains in your business area. Internet is full of sites with subjects that people are passionate about in their spare time, like music, fashion, horses and so forth. Nobody writes about casino, insurance or payday loans unless they’ve been paid. Thus we need to angle expired domains.
If your link target is a betting operator re-make the expired dog site to a site about racing dogs. If it’s an expired photographer’s domain, re-make it as such and have your target site as a customer reference.
Sometimes we will need to whitewash your links. This is where the intermediary site comes into play. It’s primary function is to boost the value of your total link profile and act as a bridge between none contextual sites and your money site.
The intermediary should be built with evergreen topics that has real value. Historical events, celebrities, musicians and how to’s are excellent for this purpose, be it topics doesn’t really matter as long as it’s formatted in a Wikipedia style manor and you’ve kept it evergreen. Use the site to link to your money site and have the expired pbn sites link to the intermediary.
If Google at some point deems the intermediary to be of malicious intent, you have the option to set your bridge on fire. E.g. a remove links to your money site.
Final words – outsourcing
By now I suspect you might have concluded that building and maintaining your own link network is a lot of work. Truth to be told, it is indeed hard work and demands a dedicated organization on your part.
The upside is that most or parts of what I’ve mentioned, can be outsourced to companies whom specialize in this area. Furthermore, a network built with longevity in mind is a long term investment and a corner in the market.