Modern SEO is built almost entirely on the backs of two things; content and links. Content is a complex subject we’ve covered in depth before, so I’m going to spend time today talking about links.
Links essentially act as votes for the sites they link to. When I link to a site, I’m saying I like that site and that I think it has value. It’s an easy way for search engines to assign value to various sites. When a lot of people link to one site, it must be because that site has value, right?
Well, this has been exploited quite a bit over the years, as you can imagine. One of those ways, for example, as to build a whole bunch of sites you controlled and have them all link to your own site. These networks of private sites could be turned in any direction you wanted, and people would sell their services as ranking boosters. All of this led to Google implementing various ways to control for abuse and demote such sites.
This is how they ended up with things like the Penguin algorithm, which penalizes bad links. These days, you have to do more than just accumulate links. Links have different values based on a number of different factors.
- Links from high quality sites are worth more in general than links from non-high quality sites. A link from this site won’t be as valuable as a link from a site like Moz, in the same niche.
- Links from sites relevant to your niche in some way are more valuable than links from unrelated sites. For example, a link from this site is going to be relevant to people in the marketing, SEO, and web management niches, but won’t be very useful to a cooking blog or a gaming news site.
- Links from irrelevant, low quality sites are generally simply valueless, but if Google has an algorithmic reason to believe you bought or otherwise artificially acquired hundreds of such links in an attempt to game the system, they can be turned against you and made detrimental, forcing you to clean them up to restore your previous search ranking.
A huge component of modern SEO is links, but it’s difficult to get away with buying them in bulk or creating them yourself if you want those links to have value. What you need, then, is valuable natural link building. How can you go about building links without triggering penalties?
Here are 15 of the best methods.
1. Guest Blogging
Guest blogging is considered somewhat controversial ever since Matt Cutts declared it dead, but it’s not actually dead. That was more or less just a scare tactic to drive away the worst of the spammers. You can still get valuable links out of guest blogging, you just have to – guess what? – provide great content. Treat any post you write for a site that isn’t yours as if it was yours, and you’ll be on the right track.
The trick is to find guest blogging opportunities that will still give you valuable links. A lot of sites, in response to issues with guest blogging, implemented nofollowed links for their guest posts. A nofollowed link doesn’t give you any benefit, so that guest post is a wash for links. On the other hand, good guest posts can still get you traffic and raise brand awareness, so they aren’t all bad.
2. Becoming a Contributor
Think of this technique as Guest Blogging 2, the more advanced version of guest blogging. It’s the same in every way, except your hair is longer and blonde.
Okay, so you don’t have to actually change your hair. The idea here is that rather than just getting the occasional guest post, you become a semi-regular or regular contributor to high quality sites. By becoming a regular contributor, you have more flexibility on what to write and your links are likely to be given more leeway.
Kristi Hines is a good example; she has her own primary site, but she’s also a frequent contributor to Search Engine Journal, Social Media Examiner, Hubspot, Crazy Egg and a host of other sites. This took her from a basic – if high quality – freelance writer into one of the more well-known names in marketing.
3. Hub Marketing
Why guest post when you can post on a hub that doesn’t have editorial oversight? Well, the number one reason is because it’s a hub that doesn’t have editorial oversight. Editors keep the worst of the spam at bay. Sites that allow anyone at all to contribute tend to have low quality content and thus low value links.
Some sites, like HubPages, are the last bastions of this model. They’re still packed with content but they’ve managed to stay ahead of the curve, so writing for them can be valuable. Fill out your profile with a link to your site, write high quality content with the occasional link, and you’re good to go.
4. Video Marketing
YouTube has a special place in the marketing plans for most blogs. It’s complex, it requires a certain degree of investment into tools and skills, and there’s a ton of competition out there. However, videos have an enduring value that not many forms of content can achieve. Even out of date videos can still attract visitors, much more than out of date blog posts.
The primary benefit you get out of YouTube, in addition to being able to put your link in the description, is that you’re able to reuse blog content. Take an existing blog post, convert it into a script, hire someone to make some basic animations over it, and you’re good to go.
5. Social Sharing
This heading includes all of the various shares you can get from Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and whatever other social networks you want to use. Just posting your own link isn’t going to get you a ton of benefit, but the more shares you accumulate, the better off you’ll be.
Now, it’s questionable whether or not Google really takes into consideration social shares as links. I’m pretty sure they don’t, but they do look at social exposure as a minor metric. At the same time, more shares means more exposure to more people who might have blogs of their own and might link to you, so it’s a win either way.
6. LinkedIn Blogging
I’m including LinkedIn as a separate category here because one of the primary bits of value you can get from it is from using it as a minor blogging platform. Think of this as hub marketing where LinkedIn is the hub, and you have the right idea. The difference is, you combine it with all of the value of a social network, as well as all of the value of LinkedIn as a professional networking tool.
LinkedIn has the benefit of having followed links, which isn’t common among social networks. Links in your profile can be rotated out or can just direct to your main site and a couple of site sites.
7. Blog Commenting
This technique can be valuable to getting you links, but not in the way you might think. Blog commenting is a tricky technique, because it’s so often used for spam that many blogs simply disable comments.
The idea is to read relevant posts and leave lengthy comments with value of their own. These don’t need to have links to your site, so long as you actually have a comment profile or Gravatar set up with your link on it. If you DO choose to include a link in the comment, make it specifically valuable to your comment.
The link you want isn’t the comment link, though. These are generally nofollowed. What you’re doing is proving to the blogger that you have valuable insight. The blogger then may link to you in their content, or their social feeds, or elsewhere. You establish a relationship and take it from there.
8. Community Participation
The same concept applies here. Find communities centered around your industry. They could be Facebook groups, they could be forums, they could be comment communities, they could be Twitter hashtag users, it doesn’t matter. The idea is that they’re all of similar knowledge levels and they’re all in the same industry.
Participate in these communities. Ask questions, answer questions, talk to users, offer our knowledge, and generally be a benefit to the group. This won’t get you links on its own – and the ones you do get may be invisible to outside sources – but it will help earn you links on the sites of other group participants.
9. Question Answering
Back in the day, Yahoo Answers was an amusingly effective way to earn links. The site itself was terrible, but because of it’s widespread coverage and millions of pages, it had a lot of SEO weight.
These days, Yahoo Answers is dead, and the reigning champion of the question and answer site is Quora. Quora does happen to have a great deal of value for experienced users, though, up to and including links.
The general process for using Quora is actually the same as blog commenting, in a sense. You find something you can answer, you post an answer, and you hope you get visibility from it. The difference is, Quora benefits from posting frequently and answering as often as you can, whereas blog comments tend to be more restricted.
10. Influencer Outreach
Any industry has its influencers. People who have large followings, who are greatly present on social media, and who are generally well placed to have a good view on what’s going on in the industry.
The idea with influencer marketing is to locate these people and get in close with them. Start sharing their content. Comment on their posts. Promote them in an organic way. Ideally, they will take notice and investigate your site. If you have great content and opinions to add to what they have to say, they may link to you in their future content. They can share your Facebook and Twitter posts. They can, in short, benefit you.
This is sort of a combination of the previous techniques, rolled into one header. If you’re doing the rest of this list, you’re most of the way here already.
11. Broken Link Building
Broken link building is something that I think some people put way too much time into. There are two ways to approach it. The first is, when you’re passively browsing industry sites, check out some of their older content. See if their older content is linking to sites that no longer exist, and if they are, see if you can create content that replaces what existed at the destination of that link. Once you do, send a message to the site owner saying “hey, I noticed X link on Y post is no longer available, but I happen to know <my link> is a pretty good replacement.” Ideally, they make the change, and you get a free link.
The other method is to go more intensive into it by searching for sites that are disappearing and pulling their link profiles so you can snipe as many of those links as possible. I figure that it’s rare enough for a decently linked industry site to disappear that you’ll have a hard time doing this, so it’s not worth the constant time investment.
12. Local Press
Do not confuse this option with submitting press releases. Press releases are terrible and are mostly just a spam technique these days. If you’ve ever seen one of those kickstarters with 40 “listed on X site” logos, none of which you’ve ever seen before, that’s what press release marketing does.
No, what you want to focus on is more valid, local press coverage. Even if you’re a global business, local press can be highly beneficial, and can lead into syndication with higher tier news sites.
Whenever you buy and use a product, submit a testimonial to the developers. Devs are always looking for social proof, and many will be happy to add your testimonial to their product pages. Many of them will want to know who you are, and by sharing a picture, brief bio, and link, you give them everything they need to create a great link to your site.
On the other side of the spectrum, if you have a product, even something as simple as an ebook, you can submit it to various other industry personages as a review copy. Give them a free month of service, give them a free copy of your product, or what have you. Get them to review it, and you can both use the review as a link and the testimonial as social proof.
15. Unlinked Mentions
This is a bit of a controversial method, but not why you might think. The idea is to use a tool like BuzzSumo to find places where people mention your brand but don’t link to your site. If that mention is positive, and it’s not just a reference on a post that has linked to you elsewhere, you can send the poster a message to ask them to turn the mention into a link.
Why is it controversial? It can lead to an unnatural looking link profile. Most brands have a high number of unlinked mentions, and Google is even starting to consider them valid implied links. Getting rid of too many of them, even converting them into links, can be detrimental.