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This in-depth article provides valuable link building tips, techniques and strategies for effective search engine marketing (SEM) including setting up and managing a low cost link building campaign.
We also cover some of the best ways of encouraging natural backlink acquisition, such as the use of 'link bait' to boost the Google ranking of your website. We also discuss the hidden risks behind artificial link building and provide recommendations to avoid Google backlink over optimization penalty (BLOOD) which can trigger a Google penalty or filter.
Search engine algorithm evolution has been significant over the last few years. One of the most significant algorithm changes in all major search engines has been a move away from assessing page relevance and ranking based largely on 'on-page factors' such as keyword density and prominence, to placing much more emphasis on the quality and quantity of inbound links (backlinks) acquired which point to the domain. These are known as 'off-page optimisation' factors.
For this reason, a website will no longer achieve high Google ranking by just search engine optimizing its content alone. To achieve a top search engine ranking in Google, Yahoo! and Live now requires a diverse number of relevant links from other Worldwide Web sites of a similar theme and significantly more search engine marketing (SEM) effort.
The principle works like this - When other WWW sites link to another website, they effectively "vote for it". Search engines consider an unsolicited link as an endorsement for the recipient site and an indicator of content quality. This helps weed out poor quality spam sites, which will normally acquire less backlinks as a result of them offering little useful content.
Subsequently, in order to compete against their competitors many websites need to consider link building campaigns to artificially boost the number of backlinks to raise their SERP prominence in Google and other leading search engines. But, as we demonstrate in this article, link building needs to be carefully managed so as not to trigger a search engine penalty, particularly from Google.
Generally, the greater the number of inbound links (backlinks) a website attracts through natural rather than artificial means, the higher it will rank in the search engine results (SERP). This emphasises the need to provide valuable information or a knowledge base within a website to keep visitors coming back and to attract natural backlinks from domains with authority to assist in search engine marketing and website promotion.
Of course, there will always be websites that due to the nature of their business will struggle to attract enough quality links to achieve a high Google ranking. For these sites, a low cost artificial link building service can offer a partial solution, but as with all artificial attempts to imitate natural backlink acquisition, extreme care must be exercised.
Various SEO companies offer one way link building services and do all the hard work for you, by contacting webmasters to request link exchange offering (in return) a directory link. The success of these link building campaigns depends on whether the SEO company manages to acquire trusted backlinks from related theme sites with a good existing Google ranking. It also depends on whether link triangulation exists between the linked sites, which makes it easier for Google to spot the existence of a 'link network'. Contact us for more details of our natural link building program.
When considering a low cost link building service, it's worth noting that search engines like Google assess link acquisition trends over time (I.E. they measure 'link accrual rate'). Thus, if a particular website has historically acquired few backlinks over the last year or two and then suddenly acquires hundreds of backlinks in a short space of time, suspicion can be raised.
In particular, if a large number of the new backlinks appear in a short space of time with optimised anchor text which differs from the site or brand name, Google may identify the links as an attempt to artificially manipulate the search results and place a Google penalty to the recipient website for backlink over optimization.
A Google penalty is even more likely if a large percentage of the added backlinks are reciprocal links, as this demonstartes collusion on behalf of the webmaster. So, to expect large numbers of reciprocal links from unrelated theme sites to provide ranking benefit in Google is very misguided as such practice is a blatant example of poor SEO practice.
When planning a link building campaign, you should check the current number of inbound links pointing to your domain using a free SEO tool like Link Diagnosis. If there are a small number of existing backlinks, our recommendation is to adopt a slower link acquisition rate during your link building campaign and to work on acquiring links to important internal pages rather than just the website homepage. This will help with the search engine marketing of your main products and services. This SEO strategy is known as "deep linking", a technique which (if done properly) will appear more natural to a sophisticated search engine algorithm.
When choosing potential link sources, choose websites of similar theme to your own website that have decent Google ranking in your particular field. Start by doing a search in Google for a number of different keywords related to the theme of your business and pick websites from the top 20 organic search results that display links to some of your competitors or you feel might link to you. Custom Google search techniques can really help when researching links from authority domains.
Bear in mind that sites which rank well for 'head terms' relevant to your industry have the highest trust and authority. 'Head terms' are highly competitive keywords with massive search volumes which include single keyword terms - examples being 'holidays', 'training', 'finance', 'news' and the like.
To research who links to your competitors to help in this process, we recommend www.linkdiagnosis.com with its Firefox plugin. Link Diagnosis displays all websites which link to your competitors - sites that may provide you with a free backlink if approached in a courteous way.
If your website has sufficient high quality original content then other webmasters may be prepared to offer you a free one way link. This is far more beneficial than a reciprocal link for search engine ranking improvement purposes.
Concentrate on adding fewer high quality links from authority sites to achieve the greatest Google ranking improvement, rather than adding hundreds of links on low quality pages. Use optimised anchor text in some of these links and try to get your link positioned within the main content of the page, not the page footer or on its own in a "link partners" box.
One way links from content rich pages on trusted sites which have good ranking in your chosen field are much more likely to be beneficial to website ranking than high Google Page Rank links on irrelevant, content devoid pages stuffed full of links.
Google Page Rank is now a lesser consideration than the relevance of the page and its ranking as well as the number of outbound links it contains. Nowadays, a high Page Rank doesn't necessarily mean a decent Google ranking, so searching for pages which rank well in your chosen field is the best strategy.
Google custom search is a great way to find pages with authority which provide links relevant to your industry. For example one could look for highly trusted .ac.uk domains (UK Universities) which talk about your topic and feature links. In the example below we are researching university links for a client in the "translation" industry:
Here we use: inurl:.ac.uk + "keyword" + "links" to find pages on .ac.uk domains which include our keyword and the word "links":
Here we try a similar search for .gov sites listing links to translation related services:
Links from some High Page Rank Web Directories can still improve Google ranking, particularly when the directory is reputable and has retained good Google ranking. In particular, links from DMOZ (The Open Directory Project), Google's own web directory can really help to boost website visibility, but it can take years to get a listing in DMOZ and many good quality websites fail to meet DMOZ quality guidelines (they don't like affiliate sites for example).
Incidentally, KSL Consulting discourage our clients from heavily submitting to web directories. In particular never add a reciprocal link to a directory, particularly where the directory is just a low quality 'link farm'.
You might start by submitting to authority directories with high PR which do not require a reciprocal link in return for a listing. Always check the page where you will be listed is Google cached, using cache:page URL in a Google search box. If you can get listed on a page with some visible Google Page Rank then that is a bonus. Most web directories have thousands of websites listed and each page of listings may be incrementally further away (in pagination) from the homepage. Popular categories may contain thousands of website listings, resulting in your link (if added) being at the bottom of the pile on a page Google doesn't index or care about.
Google is often reluctant to index web pages that are significant number of clicks away from the homepage and such pages often end up in the Supplemental Page index or not indexed at all. Thus, to get your link on a web directory page which will count in Google, you will need a link on a Google indexed and cached webpage, preferably one with some Page Rank showing and with just a small number of other links present. If your chosen submission category is too full, consider an alternative category that is still relevant, but may have fewer other competing websites.
Article submission sites like Ezine Articles (one of our favourites) still have some value for search engine marketing purposes, albeit less than before the Google Panda algorithmm update. Not only do many article sites give a free backlink to article authors, but they also help to raise awareness of your business and website, particularly if you write an article which has sufficient merit.
The secret with article submission is to do careful research and decide upon a relevant, niche topic for your article which will make it stand out from the crowd. Then make the article title keyword rich and informative as this will become the HTML page title and help your article acquire high Google ranking. Refer to our list of article submission sites for more information about where to submit articles.
One of the most common SEO mistakes is to concentrate on building links solely to a website homepage and to ignore the need to acquire links for your site's important internal pages (deep linking).
Without external links from other web domains to provide endorsement, internal pages will struggle to rank for competitive keywords.
Over the last couple of years, the trust passed through internal links have been devalued significantly by Google, so this means that 'homepage trust' is not transferred to internal pages than it used to be.
The effect of this Google algorithm change is to reduce the search engine visibility of internal website pages which have few external links. This has caused noticeable traffic loss to many web domains, particularly those with mediocre content quality and few links to internal pages. This internal link devaluation effect has also been noted in Yahoo! over the last year.
More common SEO mistakes are discussed in our list of recommended link building tips and strategies below.
Link buying is rife on the web and Google has made considerable effort to identify websites which sell links in order to discount the value of links they provide - they even provide a "report paid links" link in Google Webmaster Tools to encourage the public to report sites which buy or sell links for Page Rank gain.
The promotional value of paid links is always uncertain, depending on whether Google is aware of the site's involvement in selling links. One of the most reputable suppliers is Text Link Brokers which represents a good source to buy text links. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that any links bought from them will provide any ranking benefit in Google!
KSL Consulting advises our clients to treat link buying with caution and to be aware of the risks. Our recommendation is to avoid sites which blatantly advertise link buying/link selling in favour of a direct approach to webmasters of authority (hub) sites to come to a more discrete under-the-counter financial arrangement.
Buying links for promotional purposes is strictly against Google's terms and conditions and Google has detection methods for paid links in its algorithm as stated in Matt Cutts SEO Blog (head of Google's spam team). Interestingly, Matt says that websites which sell links may have their outbound link value reduced to zero, hence offering no Page Rank gain or search engine ranking benefit to the recipient.
In his SEO Blog, Matt Cutts also says that search engines will take "stronger action in future" against websites who buy links, implying that penalties or ranking reductions may be introduced. In fact, Page Rank penalties were handed out to high Page Rank sites suspected of selling links during a PR update in October / November 2007.
Consider creating a 'knowledge base' on your website which includes authoritative articles and a User Forum to attract more natural links. Remember that naturally acquired backlinks are more valuable to search engine marketing than artificially derived links and present little risk of triggering a Google penalty.
Aim for around 70% quality one way backlinks from related theme websites of which as many as possible should be from well Google ranked sources related to your website theme.
These can be worth their weight in gold. Even obtaining a few backlinks from .ac, .edu and .gov domains can boost Google ranking significantly. Sites with large numbers of .gov, .ac and .edu links can quickly become leaders in their field and dominate the organic search results in Google for competitive keywords.
For new domains aim to acquire more high quality links at a slower rate (maximum 5 links per week) and make sure that link anchor text and description are varied.
Ensure links are added to Google indexed and cached webpages. Most importantly, remember that it is much more beneficial to get a backlink from a page containing rich content which has some Google ranking rather than from a "link page" devoid of content.
Only utilise reciprocal linking as part of a more diverse link building strategy. Try not to exceed around 10% of your website backlinks being reciprocal links. Never add large quantities of reciprocal links to dissimilar theme sites and never link to sites with low quality content or obvious spam. Avoid reciprocal linking altogether when promoting very new, recently launched web domains as it can lower Google Trust Rank.
Avoid the common SEO mistake of link building purely to your website homepage. Websites which have unnaturally high weighting of backlinks to their homepage only, can appear more artificially manipulated (SEO'd) to search engines. This casts doubt about the quality of website content.
Site-wide links pointing to your site can lower Google trust if present in sufficient numbers and optimised anchor text is used. This can have an adverse effect on Google ranking.
When commencing a low cost link building campaign change the link anchor text and description regularly. Use the site name and brand name in many of your links to ensure they look natural to the search engines. Bear in mind that the value of inbound link anchor text has reduced since 2010 and over optimising links is a the single largest cause of Google penalties.
If targeting highly competitive "high paying keywords" be particularly careful. Changing the format of anchor text, by changing the order of keywords is not enough to constitute sufficient anchor text variation. Choose totally different keywords and link anchor text formats to avoid triggering a Google penalty. Check backlink anchor text using a backlink analyser tool.
When submitting to web directories and in particular when paying for submission, ensure that the link you are getting is placed on a fully Google indexed page. You can check whether a page is Google cached by entering the full URL of the page in a Google search window. Also check the Google ranking of the web directory before parting with your money, irrespective of Page Rank.
Article sites help raise awareness of your business and are a good source of one way backlinks for website search engine promotion.
Top press release sites can give a useful short-term traffic boost to your site and some offer a free link. Others have a paid submission service.
Approach companies you have a business relationship with to see if they are prepared to provide a free backlink to you website.
It's well worth considering link baiting for website promotion. Link bait is compelling original content about popular topics designed to attract natural linking to help improve search engine ranking. A good appraisal of the merits and pitfalls of "linkbait" in search engine marketing is provided on SEOMoz
Keep a database of your backlinks and use an automatic link checking script to check for removed links regularly. Contact offending sites to try to recover lost and removed links.
Managing low cost link building campaigns, search engine marketing (SEM) and website promotion strategies is complex and very time consuming.
At KSL Consulting, organic search engine optimisation is our speciality. Contact us for more advice and help to acquire more quality links for your website/s. We offer affordable SEO campaign management on a monthly retainer basis with no minimum term contract.
The link building tips and strategies provided on this page aim to reduce the risks inherently present with any form of artificial link acquisition process. This SEO article is provided in good faith and SEO is an ever-changing, inexact science.
We will not be held responsible for a drop in website ranking or the triggering of a Google penalty caused directly or indirectly by acting upon the SEO advice provided.