Your BEST Backlink in Your Life: How Have You Earned It?

We cannot do without links: Links are still the major part of the search algorithm; Links drive referrals and links connect our sites to the rest of the web. We are well-aware what types of backlinks we need to stay away from but how to acquire links in a way that it would benefit our rankings and NOT put us under the risk of a penalty?

Here are some of the insights from thought leaders sharing their BEST backlink they have ever earned!

Expert Interview

Jice_Lavocat (Elokenz Founder)

The best backlink I ever earned was coming from W3C (not available anymore).

I got it after interviewing a semantic web Researcher about the future of web.

In addition to a W3C backlink, I got many BL and twitter citations coming from academic institutions. So, interviewing an (academic) expert was pretty efficient.

Editor’s tip: Read this article on finding experts to interview on your blog!

Go with THE Trend!

Randy Pickard (Marketing Director)

Prom Dress Manufacturers Are Ready to Wage a War Against…Google?

Goal was to communicate how horribly infested Google is with counterfeiters and the damage it is doing to our industry and the naive buyers that are getting ripped off by the search giant’s aiding and abetting copyright infringers. This campaign led to article in a leading fashion industry blog.

This blog link seems to have generated a very significant boost in our rankings, which led to a 1,000 visitor per day boost in visitor traffic. Love the irony of bashing Google to improve rankings.

Adam Connell (Founder of Blogging Wizard)

A while back I was featured in an article on CIO.com about SEO trends. 

Up till this point most of the SEO work I was doing was behind the scenes, managing a marketing agency – this was the first major step I took to share my insights with the Internet community.

The SEO in me was stoked to get a link from a PR8 site, while overall the link didn’t really matter to me – it was purely the fact that this was a major stepping stone to establishing myself and building visibility for my brand that was important to me.

Editor’s tip: “Catching the right wave” will always be a tricky thing with lots of trial and error involved. But tracking the trends should be an integral part of any content marketing strategy.

Build Relationships

Jonathan Bentz (Marketing Manager)

One of the favorite backlinks I’ve ever earned came from simply taking the time to be friendly and act as a resource to others in the SEO industry.

Back in 2011 (while I was still at ProspectMX), Jon Payne of Ephricon was interviewed by Stephen Chapman on his ZDNet blog, “SEO Whistleblower”. In the interview, Payne was asked “What do you find to be some of the most key factors for running a successful SEO agency?” In his answer, he mentions how valuable it is to build relationships with other agencies to share advice, opinions, etc., and then mentions some of the most valuable contacts he has made.

Now, J-Payne knows a bunch of people in the industry. But for some reason on that day in 2011, he included a link builder and client campaign manager from an agency in Lancaster, PA among a list of other industry leaders and CEOs. Chapman was also cool enough to allow a backlink to ProspectMX to be included in the piece, too.

Say what you will about it not having keyword rich anchor text… but we scored an in-content backlink from a DA 96 just by being nice! I’d say that was a pretty nice win! Link to the interview

Digital Asset + a Very Targeted Pitch

Kyle Sanders (Head of Search)

We pitched an infographic to one of our clients (a home builder) focused on the Austin real estate market. They were in, we wireframed, designed, and delivered it only to find the CEO change his mind at the last minute. “We need to niche down,” he said.

So there we were, stuck with a city-centric infographic about Austin. Well, since we liked and the idea and office in Austin, we tweeted it at the Austin Business Journal and the University of Texas. It ended up spending nearly 24 hours at the top of r/Austin, drove ~25K views, and now we have a permanent link from UT’s College of Engineering (among many others), right in the middle of their copy under “You’ll live in one of the nation’s coolest cities.” Win. 

Fix Their Errors

Jacob Curtis (Digital Marketing Strategist)

While it may not be the best one I’ve ever earned, I’ll always be most proud of my first backlink. 

When just beginning my blogging journey I had read numerous articles about the benefits of guest blogging for backlinks. And while I understood the advantages, I didn’t quite know where to start and more importantly who to approach as a newbie blogger. 

And though I had a wish list of blogs I wanted to write for, my first guest blogging opportunity came quite unexpectedly. 

As I remember it, I was on Twitter and randomly clicked-through to some blog article related to social media. After reading the article, the site’s design and energetic author, Amy Schmittaur, kept me intrigued and I persuaded me to explore around a bit. Next, upon trying to use an embedded button on her site to follow Amy on Twitter, I noticed the function was not working as intended and imagined she had no idea. 

I immediately navigated to Amy’s contact form and informed her of the broken link in which she replied with her appreciation. I then used the opportunity to introduce myself and ask if I could contribute to her blog. Of course, I believe helping her first, helped in her decision to allow me to write my first guest article on her blog. 

Not only did I receive a valuable backlink without having to game, pay, or plead for it, but I also gained the confidence I needed to approach other bloggers for future contributions.

*Selective* high-Quality Guest Blogging

Matthew Anton (web designer / online marketer)

I have two “best” ones I’ve earned so far. One was completely organic, which was a Cnet article about the rise of social networks in the video game space. At the time, we were running CharacterPlanet (think Facebook for MMORPG games such as World of Warcraft). Unfortunately the project was under capitalized and lacked the coding knowledge to scale to the masses, but it was 2007 and we only wanted the link for publicity.

In 2011, after reading about guest blogging and seeing the success of Ann Smarty I decided to embark on a journey of reaching out to high quality blogs and writing posts personally. Even though I’m involved with online marketing, the one I’m most “proud” of comes in the form of an MMA/sports guest blog post:

Is it Time We Allow Teenage MMA Fights in the USA?

  • One link showed me the importance of creating something unique and having a true organic growth through press, coverage and natural backlinks.
  • The other post showed me if you provide value to someones readership, it will naturally get shared and help your core business. Both were good lessons in terms of furthering my marketing career.

SocialAlex

WD® Gives Consumers A Cloud Of Their Own @ Teksocial

I like the way the article looks on the site, and guest blogging is proof that I’m committed to being social online, not just digital. Plus, readers like the content and advice in it, and it was very easy to cooperate with the publisher Ann Smarty. The article is a cloud article and that’s where Ann published it from, the clouds –  via airline Wi-Fi! Seriously! 

Editor’s tip: Guest blogging is and will be a good tactic to obtain editorial links only if you approach it properly.

Use HARO

Nishadha (Freelance Digital Marketer)

One of the best links I’ve earned the link to my company Creately from this article in Inc Magazine. I got it by replying to a HARO query. I was replying to few HARO queries and was almost about to give up on the service when I got contacted for this link. Definitely a source worth considering for high quality authority links.

Editor’s tip: Read more on building media and PR relationships here

Post FIRST and BEST Comments

Hamlet

Okay, I think it is a backlink from problogger. It was a nofollow backlink to my blog flowingevents. I was the first commenter in that post ;)

Problogger is a famous and authority blog in this niche. So this backlink adding more value to my blog.

To get backlinks and traffic from blog commenting it is very important to comment first.

Fake it Till You Make it

CharlesFloate (God of SEO)

The best link I’ve ever achieved was when I first started reading Ryan Holiday’s “Trust Me, I’m Lying” – It teaches you how to manipulate the media online via Blogs, Anonymous Emails and various other tactics.. I wanted to promote my projects YouTube channel and so I added a few fake views, subscribers and hired a VA to put together a load of comments – Making the channel look a lot bigger than it was.

I outreached to a number of Facebook Pages and Twitter accounts that were based around the Niche (a certain Video Game) I was in about this new video that I’d seen. Quickly, the video hit the frontpage of the game’s Reddit (over half a million users on that Reddit), was posted to hundreds of Facebook pages and eventually got put on the eSports magazine Kotaku, along with a Do-Follow link back to both my channel and the project’s site. All with, only 15 minutes of fake emailing and social messaging. The video now stands at over 500,000 views and my DA went from 23 to 49 in one month.

Editor’s note: Of course SEOchat would not encourage you to go and buy fake views for mediocre content but “Fake it till you make it” may still be an effective tactic as you can see (after all, that channel would NOT spread unless it deserved it!!!)

Please share your best link or your case study!

Long-term SEO in Competitive Niches: How We Survived all Google Updates

[Disclaimer: Contributors' views are their own. They do not necessarily represent Devshed views ]

Barry Schwartz has listed the most competitive niches in SEO: gambling, mortgage, hosting, real estate, travel, etc. We are into grey/black-hat SEO in one of these niches for 7 years already. Our sites have been in TOP10 by “online casino/slots/blackjack/…” and still remain there by less competitive but high ROI keywords. We have started with black hat – still, we’ve invested much into long-term SEO as it was obvious that Google will be improving its algorithms. Most of the sites where we applied a long-term strategy were not hit either by Google Penguin or by Google Panda updates.

Famous Moz Search Engine Ranking Factors Survey investigated on the weight of top SEO ranking factors in Google: 40% – links, 31% – content, 8% – brand, 8% – user/usage/query data, 7% – social, 6% – other. At the same time, in really competitive niches content and user/usage/query data are not an issue – you have already done everything possible by default – just because all of your competitors are doing this. Thus, sites with good content are competing for influence by means of a backlink profile.

If you have a “Dentist Eaton Colorado 7th Street” site you may use natural link building: local business directories, interesting blog articles, sponsored links. And you can claim that paid links are wrong just as Rand Fishkin does. Still, there are really competitive niches where it’s just impossible to get enough relevant natural links – casino is an example. All competitors use gray/black hat and you are forced to do the same. We are monitoring casino SERPs for years – there’s only couple of sites (out of hundreds) that use natural link building. One remark though: they all are more than 10 years old.

How to get links in competitive niches

1. On-the-budget techniques

Options

Pros

Cons

  1. web2.0 links
  2. bulk blog comments
  3. forum profiles
  4. wordpress theme footers
  5. hacked sites
  6. etc.

 

  1. very cheap (permanent link for $0.1-10)
  2. very fast (less than 1 month)
  3. easy outsourceable (a lot of freelancers/companies provide such services)

That always was a major target of Google’s webspam team. If they still work, it’s just a bug for Google which they will fix very soon.

Read LinkResearchTools article on how WilliamHill was penalized.

Conclusion: Cheap techniques should not be used directly for linking to the long-term projects.

2. Buy high-quality relevant / irrelevant links

Options

Pros

Cons

  1. Good guest posts
  2. In-content page links (forget about footers, sidebars, sitewide links)
  1. affordable (in casino niche 1 good link from PR2+ costs $150-500 per year)
  2. fast (1-6 months)
  3. outsourceable (if you agree to pay double price of course, as trustful mediators may be greedy)
  4. if done right you can stay in TOP 10 for a long time (we track SERPs and most of top-ranked sites use paid links)

You don’t control linking sites:

  1. Not agile: you want to change anchors because of Penguin 7.0 but webmaster doesn’t reply to your e-mails
  2. A lot of fraud:

    some middlemen pretend to be webmasters, take money from you for a year price, pay monthly price to webmaster and disappear

Need to monitor sites daily in order to:

  1. Keep a good neighbourhood: you don’t want to be posted close to “cheap viagra” link or at a page with 30 outgoing links nearby
  2. Source sites may be penalized
  3. Sites may be not working for weeks because for webmaster it might be not that important

Conclusion: Often worth the costs yet you don’t have any competitive advantage – competitors can see in Majestic where you buy ads and buy there too. Sometimes you just cannot find relevant links and are forced to buy irrelevant ones – they have less value and may dilute a site topic.

3. Build high quality relevant links

Options

Pros

Cons

  1. Own sites
  2. Own blogs
  1. competitive advantage
  2. complete control
  3. cheaper than bought links in long-term perspective
  4. additional ways to build links: exchange links
  5. additional relevant traffic
  1. need a proven way to make many high-quality Panda-proof sites
  2. need to support sites: add content, buy hostings
  3. need to make sure that nobody can connect your sites
  4. need to find ways to get many links to these sites

Conclusion: If you don’t make your own sites yet you should at least think about it. It’s very tempting – but you have to do it right.

What to choose?

Option

Price

Speed

Quality

Control / Agility

Risks

Buy cheap links

low

1 month

low

low

high

Buy relevant links

high

1-3 months

high

average

AVG

Build own relevant links

AVG

3-6 months

high

high

low

We recommend to combine 2nd and 3rd options:

  1. Stop buying low quality links immediately
  2. Start or continue buying high quality relevant links but choose partners carefully
  3. Make your own sites linking to your important sites to reduce risks; use them also for link exchange, reducing the budget for buying links

Creating hundreds of sites: how to make it wrong

Our first sites used automatically synonymized content. Links from our 20 relevant sites promoted our important site to #3 in “online blackjack” SERP for 6 months, same with other casino keywords. Unfortunately, these days are gone. You need to create a readable content and think about security because Google’s algorithms become more sophisticated every year.

Using WordPress or other widespread CMS is a bad idea

That’s the first thing that comes into SEO’s mind. Many SEO gurus will tell you how to use WordPress for SEO. Still, if you want to make more than 10 sites – don’t invest your time and money into it.

If Google can detect that most of sites linking to you use the same CMS (like WordPress) – it’s not a natural pattern so it’s a good reason to penalize the site.

Here are some ideas on how Google can detect WordPress:

  1. Inline text
    1. Powered by WordPress
    2. <meta name=”generator” content=”WordPress 3.8.3″ />
    3. <!– This site is optimized with the Yoast WordPress SEO plugin

      <!– Performance optimized by W3 Total Cache

  2. Source files in the same directories
    1. Images, CSS, JS in /wp-content
    2. Links to /wp-includes
  3. Existing URLs
    1. /wp-admin (shows login page) and /wp-login.php
    2. /xmlrpc.php (shows “XML-RPC server accepts POST requests only.”)
  4. RSS Feed format
    1. <generator>http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3</generator>

      (that’s my favorite because all forget about it; Google sees that all your linking sites have the same WordPress version, all are updated the same day – not suspicious at all)

Considering the fact that 10% of all the sites are using WordPress, Google obviously has a WordPress detection algorithm in the ranking formula and updates it regularly. If 50% of your links are from WordPress sites you may be penalized soon.

Same goes with all other popular CMS: Joomla, Drupal and even frameworks like Symfony, CakePHP. The common rule is to use technologies that most webmasters use (PHP is more preferable than Java), or those that are used by less than 1%. Google is smart enough to detect widespread technologies. It will notice that you use PHP (as most sites use it) and having all the sites linking to you built on PHP won’t be an issue. At the same time, WordPress is used only by 10% of webmasters. Therefore, you’re unlikely to wish Google recognize that all the sites you’re being linked to are built on WordPress.

It’s better if your CMS is not open-sourced: in such case, it is much harder for Google and people find connections between your sites.

Fingerprints in custom CMSs

The first thing you should remember – “NO FINGERPRINTS”. If there is something same in all your sites then Googlebot will find it; if not – your competitors will find and send to Google team. Here are some ideas on what you can do wrong:

  1. Tech stuff:
    1. Same IP or C-class network (11.22.33.44 and 11.22.33.45)
    2. Same NS-servers (IrishWonder has article how Interflora got penalized)
    3. Same WHOIS
    4. Same domain registrar
  2. Nearby code
    1. Google Analytics (UA-1043770-1, UA-1043770-2, …)
    2. Google AdSense
  3. Same code
    1. Your own statistics code
    2. Your banner management system
    3. Same code in header/footer
  4. Paranoid
    1. Log in to Google services (Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools) from the same computer
    2. Visit many of your sites in Google-controlled software in one session: Google Chrome, Browser with Google Toolbar
    3. Find many of your sites in Google in one session: “site:example.com”

It’s hard to go too paranoid in this matter. Check everything so there is nothing common:

  1. HTML code
  2. Scripts code (own and 3rd party like Google Analytics)
  3. Filenames
  4. URL structure
  5. Server headers
  6. Outgoing links format
  7. Same unusual robots.txt format
  8. etc.

Find a good hacker and ask him to point out what’s in common for the given sites. Give him several of your sites and some of competitors, give a task to realize which ones belong to the same owner.

Hundreds of sites: what we did

Content & Design

Content should be cheap yet unique and readable. Make sure that checks for duplicated content are either a part of your business process, or it’s automatically integrated in your CMS.

It’s a bad idea to get a free/paid WordPress template and use it. Google knows it doesn’t take much effort to create your site. It’s easy for Google to replace all content blocks with “Lorem Ipsum…” and compare screenshots. Consequently – yes, look also matters,and synonymizing <div> classes is not enough.

Many CMSs make creating design templates overcomplicated. Make sure that it takes no more than a day per site to created – and you should be guaranteed to get a unique design.

Support

Things you should do:

  1. Track all domain and hostings information:
    1. When domains/hostings expire
    2. Which domain at which domain registrar, hosting, identity (WHOIS)
    3. What are the contact details, login/passwords, secret questions for each registrar and hosting
    4. What is IP (track if it’s changed; don’t buy hostings nearby)
  2. Check if your sites are live 99% uptime means that 3 days in the year your sites will be down; if you have 100 sites than in average each day some of your sites will be broken and you need to fix it or move to other hosting as soon as possible
  3. Track and check all external links. If you have 10-50 sites, you can still use Excel. Otherwise, find a more automated solution.

We have only 1-2 sites at the same hosting. It’s your choice to decide how many sites are allocated to a hosting.

Also, don’t register all domains under the same registrar. It’s too suspicious if your sites have links only from GoDaddy sites.

Link placement

For example, you have 100 sites linking to your 5 important sites. You have decided to publish 3 links from each homepage. In total you will have 300 links – that means 60 links for each important site.

You should post links not only to your sites but also to other trustworthy sites in your niche (even to your competitors) to make it look more natural. Let’s say you have decided to make 4 additional links from homepages and 7 additional links from inner pages to other sites. That comes up to 1300 links.

You can find relevant sites and ask them for link exchange. This is how you get 1300 links from other sites. That is 5 times more than from your sites only and is less risky because it’s looking more natural.

Tip: Always make a noticeable “Contact Us” link from the homepage so that people who want to exchange links could contact you.

Get a good software to track links because:

  1. You want to link only to live sites (no broken links)
  2. If your link exchange partner removed your link, you should know about it in the same day

Usually 2 programs suffice: CRM and link checker, despite it would be nice to have them all integrated.

Budget

That really depends on your needs. We have several kind of sites: simple ones (15 pages) costing around $300 per site and more advanced (30 pages, better design and content) – $600 per site.

Therefore, our budget for creating 100 sites is $30,000 to $70 000. As we’ve calculated, you can get 1600 links from those sites (300 links from sites directly and 1300 using link exchange). That’s $20-40 per permanent link. Hope you expect your sites to live at least 3-5 years so you can split expenses between several years – estimated expenses are $4-13 per link per year. That comes up to a much lower price than buying links from other sites on one hand ($150-500 per year), and you can be completely sure of the quality on the other hand.

Of course you should add:

  1. Support costs: domains, hostings, maintenance
  2. Linkbuilding price for these sites (cheap ways can be used here)

Automate everything

The catch is that you need to have the process and software to fit in the budget described. It may take from 6 month to a couple of years if you decide to develop it by yourself. Still, safe future is more important, isn’t it?

CMS features you may need:

  1. Backup. Hostings can be down and sometimes you lose all access. We always have the latest content and some real-time data like contact us forms, subscriptions, polls, visitor statistics are collected each 3 hours
  2. Easy migration. If some hosting becomes slow or not working at all, you might want to move your site to another hosting. This should be a very easy process. It should take minutes, not hours to transfer site from one hosting to another, and it should be simple to configure a site at a new hosting.
  3. Checking site availability. Pingdom will cost you a fortune if you have hundreds of sites to check. Still, if your sites are down this may eat up a part of your budget that exceeds your costs on Pingdom or similar services. We have developed our own system for that because we needed additional information: which hosting is used now and was before, how important is the site. Also, we needed to detect some errors that Pingom considers acceptable (visible PHP-code, missing </html>, etc).
  4. Easy learning curve
    1. HTML-developers. Use templating system that allows you to copy other site design and slightly modify it. If they spend less than a day per site and your sites don’t share same HTML – that’s enough for a working model.
    2. Copywriters. Make sure adding, modifying and uploading a page takes seconds, not minutes. Also, the process should be simple: your copywriter doesn’t have to spend a month on puzzling out your CMS.
  5. Automated error check. There is a lot of typical mistakes like unclosed tag. It’s not hard to check them automatically.
  6. Content history. If copywriter has accidentally removed something important that should not a problem.
  7. Automatic randomization. Even outgoing links to affiliate partners should have different format.
  8. Access control. Copywriters, HTML-developers and administrators should have different access levels
  9. Multi-user. If 2 copywriters decide to edit the same page the same time CMS should not allow that or at least notify.

Conclusion

It’s tough to do natural linkbuilding in competitive niches. Thus, you should make it look as natural as possible. It’s a good time to stop using low quality links and raise the bar even for relevant links. If you start making your own sites now you will be prepared to the next Google updates and will have a competitive advantage on top.

There are a lot of issues with public CMS. Subsequently, you may need to develop custom solution. Development of a CMS and several hundreds sites may cost $300,000-$500,000. Still, it will pay off even in current conditions. If Google continues to tighten the screws, it may be the only way to survive.

Featured image is used under Creative Commons License