Link building best practices: Advice from four experts

SEO

Link building best practices: Advice from four experts

As professional Internet marketers, we’re always seeking to improve our craft. We stay informed of news, we research tactics and strategies, and we share stories from the trenches with peers. One challenging aspect of marketing online is the practice of link building, so today we turn to four expert link marketers for their lessons from the front lines.

I asked these experts to provide their best practice advice for link attainment and any warnings they may have for this potentially risky practice. Our expert panel of link builders is:

Now to their advice

1. If a marketer with basic to intermediate experience link building asks you for advice on bringing their practice to a more advanced or effective level, what strategy would you share with them?

Julie Joyce
Julie Joyce

Julie Joyce: I would put a strong emphasis on building relevant links that bring you traffic and not just an increase in rankings. A good authoritative site can send tons of referrals your way. However, if the site isn’t even remotely relevant to your niche, you may not get any traffic out of it, so why not go for the links that can actually bring you potential conversions?

Debra Mastaler: I’d encourage them to implement an offline campaign in mainstream publications to support and/or mirror their online promotions.  I’d reference and leverage that offline exposure when negotiating for content drops with new promotional partners.

Matt Siltala: I am a big fan of building links the natural way, and good content builds links naturally. That’s even if you are using normal link building platforms to push this content (such as article or blog networks, for example). If the content is good, people are going to share it and link to it. I would suggest going to answer-type sites (Yahoo! Answers, Answers.com, etc.) and seeing what people are asking in your industry. I would then create content answering these questions. These are questions that are being asked RIGHT NOW in your industry. You can also create viral content (infographics, video or just regular content) from these questions that are funny, informative, compelling, moving, etc. and share it everywhere. There are so many places for it to be picked up naturally, and it will be, if it is good
enough.

Matt Siltala
Matt Siltala

It is also important to think about your industry readers. It is good to have viral content that might appeal to the masses, but there is no problem with creating content that would only interest readers related to your industry. In many cases, these are the kind of links that will do the most for you if they are picked up on an industry related website for something you wrote.  

Kaila Strong: Content, content, content. It’s so important to have great link-worthy content piece that will naturally drive links in an Internet marketing campaign. “Build it and they will come” mentality doesn’t work here, however. Promote your content online through social media: niche social media sites, bookmarking sites, promote it in blog posts, etc. Drive traffic from each of these third-party sites, with links back to your original content. Not only are you link building, but you’re providing a useful piece of content to your industry and a permanent addition to a website. It even may have the potential of helping you increase conversions.

Kaila Strong
Kaila Strong

On a more traditional link building level, there are a few interesting tactics that have worked in the past which just take a little imagination and creativity. Something that I’ve done here at Vertical Measures is to do my usual research trying to find potential link building opportunities, often through the help of Raven’s Research Assistant. If I find a site that looks particularly old, or that isn’t optimized for SEO, I’ll contact the webmaster and give them some free advice. Even by running a tool like Link Checker, a Firefox add-on, you can potentially find broken links on the page, links pointing to redirect pages, etc. that the webmaster might otherwise not have known about. You’d be surprised how many webmasters 1) realize the extent with which it took you to find out these issues on their site and 2) might just give you a link in return. Instead of just outright asking for a link, scratch that webmasters back and every now and again they’ll scratch yours, too.

2. What’s a common mistake or risky tactic you see made in link marketing that you would recommend against?

Julie Joyce: Placing links on sites that truly offer little to no value, regardless of the relevancy of the site to the link client. Some sites are truly pieces of garbage with incomprehensible content, sites that just exist for spam purposes. I am appalled by some of the sites I find when I do a link audit. I think that linking from sites like this is more of a mistake than a risk (of course I’ve been known to change my mind!) because I think that you should properly manage your links and keep an eye on them and links like these just clutter your brain. We need to view links more in terms of quality than quantity.

Debra Mastaler
Debra Mastaler

Debra Mastaler: I think it’s risky to use the same keyword anchor text over and over in your linking efforts, even if it’s embedded in content.

Matt Siltala: Lately, it has been over optimizing for certain keywords, i.e. overuse of anchor text links. Think about how normal people (non-marketers) link to stories, they are not always going to be linking with “keyword phrase;” they might use “awesome story on keyword phrase” or “interesting write up on keyword phrase” or “found this story about keyword phrase here.” I think I would avoid making all of my links heavy on one phrase or keyword. It just does not look natural and I have seen sites get penalized lately for over anchor text linking with specific keywords and it not looking natural.

Kaila Strong: Trying to get too many links too soon, pointing to over-optimized pages, with the same exact anchor text. We all know this looks unnatural, but it’s still practiced time and time again. I’ve been really interested in keywords lately, and the study of semantic analysis. Varying anchor text of both internal and external links is extremely important. Through personal experience I’ve seen prospective clients complaining lately about reduced rankings, and upon further research it’s largely due to the fact that they’ve had too many artificial links built to internal pages with the same exact anchor text. This screams unnatural, and I always recommend against this tactic.

Link building best practices takeaways

So, to sum it up, our panel of experienced link builders recommend:

Do

  • Focus on relevant traffic over rankings as the goal of link building.
  • Answer the questions your client base is asking, possibly through viral content.
  • Actively promote high quality content through social media sites, bookmarking sites, blog posts, etc.
  • Find targets for potential links with tools like Raven’s Research Assistant.
  • Mirror online promotions in offline campaigns in mainstream publications.

Don’t

  • Don’t waste time pursuing links on low quality sites.
  • Avoid attaining links with the same anchor text.
  • Steer clear of anchor text that is unnatural by ensuring varied anchor text phrases.
  • Don’t overuse the same anchor text on internal site links.

Link building is a resource-intensive and highly challenging aspect of Internet marketing that must be approached with caution and knowledge. The risks of poorly executed link marketing include wasted resources at best, and search engine ranking penalties at worst. Many thanks to Julie, Debra, Matt and Kaila for sharing their experiences and observations of link building best practices with us today.

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Virginia Nussey is a media writer at Bruce Clay, Inc. She writes for the company's search marketing blog and monthly SEO newsletter, liveblogging search industry conferences and reporting news and commentary on search technology and marketing best practices. She also coordinates and co-hosts the weekly podcast SEM Synergy.

More about Virginia Nussey | @VirginiaNussey

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14 Responses to “Link building best practices: Advice from four experts”

  1. Stevo says:

    I am Slap/Bang in the trenches of my link building expedition, so I have therefore completed a lot of research and article scanning. This article is concise and definitive, and is certainly up there amongst the best and most conclusive pieces. Thanks Folks, keep it flowing.

  2. Hey Kaila, thanks for your answer. Your answer inspired me for a new test :). In a few months I’ll post it on my blog and send you the link.

  3. Kaila S says:

    Christophe, great points all around and good for you – taking an honest stance on what many of us know: sometimes crappy links just work. From article distribution and directories, to commenting and blogroll links. In my experience it largely depends on 1) the current authority and diversity of backlinks built to a domain, and 2) the current authority and diversity of backlinks built to a competitors domain. In some instances (in my experience), building crappy links doesn’t work as effectively as using that same effort (hours/budget) building more authoritative links. Please note: I haven’t had a chance to do a lot of testing, or what @Melanie suggests here in the comments – to build a virgin site. It seems to be a grey area, and since my client’s trust is on the line, I’d rather err on the side of caution….err on the side of authoritative.

    As for your second point: penalties. I’ve seen many prospective client’s sites recently who have had a penalty of some sort, and they come to us asking ‘why’. Rankings that suddenly shoot down 20-30 points, pinpointed to a specific day…and then lifted 2-3 months on the same day thereafter. Sure, stating as a matter of fact that it was due to condition A, B, and C is hard to do. But after hours of evaluation on several sites with many experts, it has become “clear” (or maybe a bit murkily ‘clear’) that lack of diversified anchor text (over optimization of anchor text) is to blame.

    I look forward to reading your post about semantic analysis. And I’ll have to see about getting permission to publish a post about a clients experience with penalties due to possible over optimization of anchor text. It certainly would be a good post to share. :)

  4. I read every word, and this is an example of a post where the comments help answer a lot of questions as well. I kept looking for the “Like” button. :-)

    Bottom line take-away: Link building is “resource-intensive.” Wish clients understood why it takes so much time to attain a few quality links. These experts help shed light about the amount of strategy and labor involved. Well done!

  5. Excellent article! Kaila, great point about too many links too fast, over-optimized pages, etc. It’s all about natural. Bookmarked this one!

    -Travis

  6. Julie Joyce says:

    Hi Donna,

    I’ve seen it work once and seen it not work once. Very helpful right? Ha!

  7. Well, it’s been a long time ago that I took more than 2 minutes of my time to read a post about link building. If you’ve read 5 of those, you’ve read them all. The best tip in this article btw is Kaila’s advice on ‘scratch their back and they‘ll scratch yours sometimes’ :).

    When people are talking about link building, you always hear things like, ‘get some quality links from authoritative websites’ or ‘one link of a website with a good PR is better than a lot of links from crappy websites’, and much more of those arguments are coming back and back all the time. Like Julie mentioned, ‘We need to view links more in terms of quality than quantity’.

    I asked myself a few questions when I was reading this post.

    Why not a lot of links from crappy websites? Not that I encourage this kind of practice but like we all know, it’s used a lot in the past, it’s used still now and let us be honest, it still will be used in the future.

    The answer is simple, just because it works! I wrote an article about a year ago on my blog. I made a comparison between the tactics used by 2 SEO companies (didn’t mentioned the names).

    The second question I asked myself was, “can you really get a penalty from Google when you use the same keyword phrase in your links too much”? How many links with a particular keyword is too much? One hundred, a thousand, thirty-five thousand, …….? You also have people who claim that you will receive a penalty for duplicate content :). Sorry, but I did a lot of tests on this topic and guess. I got very good rankings.

    Not that I don’t believe it but I would prefer to see it myself, maybe it would be interesting if you could publish an article on this subject with some screenshots to prove that statement.

    Last but not least, thanks for the interesting post on this subject (link building), I enjoyed reading it and for Kaila, if you really are interested in semantics, you can find a lot of information on my blog about it.
    http://tips-search-optimization.blogspot.com/2009/07/het-semantisch-web-evolueer-jij-mee.html, in the reactions and comments you can find a lot of links to other websites with information on this subject. You can also search on my blog for “RDFa” and “microformats”, also semantic technologies.

    I don’t blog in English but you can give the Google translator always a try :), my two cents on this post.

    Cheers

  8. Raj says:

    I am strongly agree with Kaila and Julie, contents and relevancy to build links play important role in link building and boost up the site traffic via referral and search engine as well.

  9. Matt Siltala says:

    @DAZZLINDONNA Yes, I have seen where the focus has been switched to brand & making links more natural looking etc. fix a problem.

  10. DazzlinDonna says:

    I have a question for the pros here, regarding overuse of the same anchor text. Have any of you, after identifying overuse of anchor text and a subsequent penalty, been able to successfully undo the overuse (internally mostly, i’m assuming), and see a lifting of a penalty, or an increase in ranking?

    In other words, has anyone successfully fixed this problem, thereby proving a correlation between overuse and penalty?

    It sounds like I’m being provocative, but I’m really not. I’m seriously wondering about this, and am hoping someone has done some real testing. Because I don’t see the vast amount of link profiles that y’all do, I don’t get to verify some of these things myself – except on a very small scale sometimes. So I’m truly curious.

  11. Kaila S says:

    Your welcome @Amanda. Glad I could give some helpful advice.

    Wow @Melanie, some great answers as well!

  12. Virginia says:

    Thanks for the excellent additions, Melanie. I could change the title to five experts now. :)

  13. Excellent piece Virginia! Really top notch advice ;)

    I might humbly add:

    RE; Question #1 (getting more advanced and effective) – Get more creative and work harder and smarter for a link than most would. Along with having relevant content, implement techniques like the Reciprocity Method, where you find and report 404 errors. Contact editors/writers directly for networks such as about.com and any niche specific news sites. Approach every blogger in your industry and pitch them unique ideas for content. Successful link builders see opportunity where others just see hard work.

    RE; Question #2 (common mistakes and risky tactics) – Wasting time on links that offer little benefit is a common mistake (i.e. spam commenting on blogs/forums). This is why learning how to *identify* a good link prospect is just as important as knowing how to *get* the link. Along with over using anchor text and getting too many links at once, risky tactics can also include; buying from link directories or brokers (if you’re gonna buy, approach site owners directly), getting involved in bad neighborhoods (do your homework!) and getting links that are only visible within a site’s source code (i.e. blackhat).

    As a new link builder, if you’re worried about making mistakes or you’re unsure of which tactics are going to be risky, then pick a hobby to write about and set up a test domain so you can muck around a bit ;)

  14. Great article guys! Special thanks to Kaila Strong for her advice.

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