Are There Any Safe Ways Left to Build Links?

Published Aug 24, 2014 by Dan Virgillito in SEO
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Much has been said in recent months about the final death of guest blogging for SEO, ever since Matt Cutts wrote a piece on his blog about how guest posts are dead. He since clarified that it’s the intent, not the method, that’s dead; guest posting for explicit SEO benefit is gone, but guest posting for value with SEO on the side will work out just fine. Even so, it caused an uproar, with many webmasters terrified to guest post and many more searching for alternatives.

What link building strategies work these days, and what should you avoid?

Working Strategies

Guest posting. Yes, guest posting isn’t dead. You just have to remember to focus on value with a link to your site taking the back seat. No overly-optimized keyword anchor text here, and don’t even think about cramming 3-4 links to pages on your site in the text unless you’re providing a ton of value with them. See, the thing about guest posting is that it’s indistinguishable from being an irregular contributor to a blog, unless that blog explicitly calls out your post as a guest post. As long as you’re providing value and your opinions align with the host site, there should be no issues.

Social links. Sure, social links are generally nofollowed, but that doesn’t mean they’re worthless. After all, they funnel a lot of traffic to your site, and that traffic can then perform actions that further increase your search ranking. You should, at minimum, have a presence on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. Use Instagram if you can support it, due to the sheer value of engagement from the site. Also, investigate specialty social networks that maintain prevalence amongst your audience.


Editorial links, especially local. If you’re a local business, there is virtually no better link than that of a local news agency or publication including your business in a link with a positive spin. Pigeon ensures that these editorial sites are going to appear highly in the search results, and if you show up in their lists, your site will receive a significant boost. Online-only businesses and blogs can benefit from industry-relevant publications, particularly authoritative sites.

Natural links. Links you earn, rather than links you scheme to build, are incredibly valuable. There’s almost nothing better than a link coming in from a site based on the owner of that site genuinely liking your content and encouraging readers to read it. There’s just something ineffably valuable in the genuine recommendation that paid recommendations just don’t have. Of course, some natural links are better than others, and some might come from domains you may rather disavow, but that’s entirely up to your analysis.

Interviews. An interview brings mutual benefit to the sites of both the interviewer and the interviewee. As interviewer, you get to post valuable content on your site and have the interviewee link back to the text. As an interviewee, you get wider exposure for your opinions, as well as a boost to your reputation. After all, if someone is asking for your opinions, you must be a reasonable authority.

Inforgraphics. Graphical depictions of information are highly attractive, and good infographics can easily go viral. Include a short description at most, but make sure you include your link etched into the graphic. You don’t want people reposting duplicate content descriptions with over-optimized anchor text. Instead, you want people linking to your site naturally using the image as the anchor, or with a description of your site below.

Brand mentions. Some time ago, Google patented a system whereby they can recognize contextual mentions of a brand name and use those to provide search relevance, as a sort of implicit link. While there is no sign yet that they are implementing such a system, it could come in the next few years, and it can’t hurt to build a larger reputation just in case.

Broken Methods


Buying links. Any link you have to pay for is a link that’s circumventing Google’s rules for good, organic links. Sure, Google might not realize you purchased the link, and it might provide you with a little value for a little while, but if and when they catch on you’ll suffer for it. This is particularly dangerous if you rely on paid links for a large portion of your backlink profile. Google wants to keep money out of SEO, so trying to use money for search benefit – outside of paid ads – is a surefire way to cross the line.

Link spam. This one has been dead for quite a while. Automatically posting spam comments with links to your site? That’s firmly in the realm of shady online pharmacies these days. Unless you’re peddling bootleg Viagra, don’t let a robot anywhere near your link building. Automation is a killer.

Reciprocal links. Two sites that mutually respect each other and reference each other all the time is perfectly fine. Two sites that don’t really have much to do with each other, but trade URLs on a 1:1 basis constantly, are going to suffer. Reciprocal links, particularly in high volumes, end up causing more harm than good. Don’t be afraid to link to a site that linked to you, if it’s natural and valuable; just don’t take anyone up on an emailed offer of several links if you just link to their not-so-high-quality page first.

Press releases. The problem with press releases is twofold. First, you have the issue of duplicate content. If you write a compelling press release and send it to 100 news agencies, and half of them publish it, that’s a lot of duplicate unnecessary content out there. The second issue is a spinoff of the first; overly optimized and duplicated link anchors. One sign of an unnatural link profile is too many links using the same anchor text. Cut out both of them by eliminating press releases entirely, or limiting them to just certain sites with customized press releases for each.

Link wheels and pyramids. The concept behind a link wheel or a link pyramid is like making apple cider from crabapples. You start with bad, otherwise-worthless fruit. You squeeze and squish and filter the fruit into pulp, then juice, then cider, each step of the way making the product more pure. At the end, you have filtered cider ready to consume. The problem with these methods is that they rely on all sites, even the spammiest low-tier sites, to have a tiny amount of valid link juice, which is filtered and amplified until it becomes quality references linking to your main site. Unfortunately, like cider, rotten apples can spoil the batch; when Google flags those sites as spam, the entire foundation is kicked away and your house of cards crumbles.

Directory submissions. Submitting to a few highly targeted, legitimate, filtered industry directories is a perfectly fine link building tactic. Submitting to dozens or hundreds of low-content, unfiltered generic directories is doing nothing for you but putting your link on a site with little or no link juice. It’s an old link scheme, and it does nothing to help your site.

Overall, link building isn’t dead; it’s not even particularly harder to do. You just have to be careful about where you put your link and, more so, how you put it there. Don’t pay for links, don’t trade for links; earn links.

Written by Dan Virgillito

Dan Virgillito

Dan Virgillito is a freelance content strategist with a passion for good storytelling and all things digital. He lived in the Netherlands, Poland, England and Sicily. Say hi on Twitter.

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