Creating Link-Worthy Content and Link Marketing : Types of Link Building (part 2)

1/10/2011 11:18:31 AM

4. Incentive-Based Link Requests

Incentive-based link requests use an incentive as part of the process of requesting a link. This can run dangerously close to violating the search engines’ Webmaster Guidelines, but there are also ways to do it that remain compliant with those guidelines.

4.1. Giveaways

The concept is to develop content with the intent of publishing it on third-party sites. The site that is publishing the content provides a link back to your site in return for being permitted to publish the content. Ideally, this content should be distinct from the content on your own site to avoid any risk of duplicate content issues.

Widgets are another way of syndicating content to third-party sites. They have the advantage of coming with a way to package the content so that it is not seen as duplicate content. This is because they are usually implemented in JavaScript such that the web page publishing the widget calls back to a remote server to fetch the content. The result is that a search engine crawler does not see the content.

This also results in any links embedded within a widget being invisible to the search engine as well. However, it is possible to implement a widget in such a way that it has an HTML wrapper around it with a simple HTML text link in it, a link that is visible to the crawler.

Popular widgets can get adopted by a large number of websites, and can result in a large number of links as a result. Widget campaigns can also result in links to deep pages on the site.

4.2. Dangerous tactics

Of course, the incentives can be over the line too. For example, proactively going out and buying links might be a way to rapidly acquire links, but the search engines are increasingly good at detecting these types of links algorithmically (and discounting or even penalizing them).

Google also provides a method for third parties to report paid links directly to Google on an anonymous basis. There is every incentive for those third parties to do so.

Based on these risks, buying links is a dangerous practice, and it is harder to safely execute than it appears to be on the surface.

Another dangerous tactic is doing a large percentage of your link building through reciprocal links. Once again, this is easy to do in principle. It is not hard to find sites that will accept the “link to me and I will link to you” value proposition.

However, the search engines potentially view this as barter. They are not likely to question a few selected link exchanges with sites closely related to yours. It becomes a problem when the link swapping becomes a significant portion of your backlink profile. That is a situation that looks manipulative, and they will most likely discount those links.

5. Direct Link Requests

If the site looking for links is a high-quality site with unique and/or authoritative content, the publisher may simply need to tell other publishers about what it has.

If there is already a relationship between the publisher requesting the link and the publisher being asked to provide the link, this process is pretty easy. The requesting site sends the other party a note with whatever pitch it wants to make. This pitch is easy to personalize, and the nature of what is said is likely to be guided by the existing relationship.

However, if the person requesting the link does not know the person from whom she is requesting the link, it is a very different ballgame. Table 2 summarizes how to decide how to contact a site, including how much effort to put in.

Table 2. Categorizing the value of potential links
Low-value sitesTargets may result from large-scale research. Contact is by email and is personalized but likely in a somewhat automated way. These types of sites are being relied on to obtain a volume of links. No customized content is developed.
Medium-value sitesTargets may result either from large-scale research or from industry knowledge by the publishers of the link destination site. Contact is by email and is personalized, likely done by a human but with only low to moderate levels of effort in customizing a template. No customized content is developed.
High-value sitesTargets are identified by principals of the business or senior marketing people, or through market analysis. Email contact is entirely customized and tailored to the targeted site. Phone calls may also be used in pursuit of these links. Content may be developed just to support a campaign to get links from these types of sites.
Very-high-value sitesTargets are identified by principals of the business or senior marketing people, or through market analysis. Email contact is entirely customized and tailored to the targeted site. Phone calls may be advisable in pursuit of these links. Face-to-face visits may also be involved. Content may be developed just to support a campaign to get links from these types of sites.

5.1. Creating a value proposition for direct requests

One of the key points is how the publisher can make its pitch interesting enough for the potential linking site. As noted earlier, this starts with understanding what content or tools the publisher has on its site that would be of interest to the potential linking site.

Sites do not link to other sites for the purpose of helping those sites make money. They link because they perceive that the other sites’ users might value the content or tools on their own sites.

This relates to the fundamental structure of the Web, which is designed around the notion of interlinking related documents. Positioning a site or a section of a site as being related to the potential linking site is a requirement of each link-building request.

With high-value sites and very-high-value sites (as defined in Table 7-2), it may be worth spending a bit of time and energy on defining a compelling value proposition. In many cases, it is even worth doing custom content development to increase the perceived value and relevance of the content to the potential linking site.

In all cases, developing a link request value proposition begins with understanding the nature of the potential linking site’s content, and then deciding how to match up the content of the requester’s site with it.

Once you have done this you are in a position to contact the site publisher and communicate what you have to offer, and request a link.

5.2. Basic email pitch

The most important thing to remember is that the person you are emailing to request a link probably did not wake up this morning wondering what links she was going to add to her site. And certainly, she was not expecting or waiting for your email. Basically, you are interrupting her to ask her to do something for you, and she has no prior reason to trust you. Based on this, there are few simple guidelines you should follow when making a link pitch:

  • Keep it simple and short. The person you are contacting is receiving an email that is unsolicited. She is not going to read a two-page email, or even a one-page email.

  • Clearly articulate the request. It is an investment to get someone to read an email, and it is critical that the pitch be clear about the desired result.

  • Clearly articulate why your site deserves a link. Generally speaking, this involves pointing out the great content or tools on the site, and perhaps citing some major endorsements.

  • Follow each and every guideline of the CAN-SPAM Act. Unsolicited emails are not illegal as long as they follow the guidelines of the act. Do not even think about violating them.

6. Manual Social Media Link Creation

Some social media sites, such as LinkedIn (, allow you to link back to your own sites in your personal profile, and these links are not NoFollowed (i.e., they do pass link juice). Leveraging this can be a great tactic, as it is simple and immediate.

In the case of LinkedIn, the process takes a few steps. There are two major things you need to do:

  1. Make sure you list selected web pages in your profile.

  2. Go into the Edit Public Profile Settings section and let LinkedIn know you want the web pages you specified to be visible in your public profile.

The preceding process was what was required as of early 2009, but the specifics may evolve over time as LinkedIn releases updates, or LinkedIn may start NoFollowing those links. Other social media sites that do not NoFollow links in their public profiles include Digg, Propeller, Kirtsy, Technorati, MyBlogLog, and Mixx.

Two longer lists of such sites are at and The policies of sites regarding NoFollow change on a regular basis, so you should check the current status of the links they provide before investing a lot of time in pursuing this type of strategy.

Another way to create links manually in social media environments is by visiting social media sites, forums, and blogs and leaving behind comments with self-referential links in them. The major steps of this process, using blogs as an example, are as follows:

  1. Build a list of blogs that are related to your topic area.

  2. Start visiting those blogs and adding comments without linking back to yourself, and develop a relationship with the author(s). The early stages of the relationship begin when the author starts responding to your comments. You can even reach out to the author through one of the major social networks.

  3. Once the relationship has been built and seems solid, let the author know about a related value-add resource you have, either through direct contact with her or in a comment. Make sure there is a real connection between your resource and the content from the author (even if you have to create the content on a custom basis, that’s OK).

These steps are meant to be conservative to avoid a backlash from the owners and/or the authors of the blog. You can extend this process to forums or social media sites as well.

There are ways to be more aggressive with this. Some publishers do not really care about building relationships first and want to push the process much faster. However, there are two significant issues with this:

  • Depending on the level of aggressiveness, it may be a violation of the Webmaster Guidelines and the search engines may choose to take action against the publisher who pursues this.

  • There could be a backlash from the community itself. Offending one blogger may not be a huge issue, perhaps, unless she is very influential. Offending hundreds of bloggers would probably be much worse, particularly if you are trying to establish your site as authoritative in a topic area. In forums, blogs, and social media sites, offending people can quickly scale to a problem of large proportions.

7. Gray Hat/Black Hat

As we previously discussed, some publishers choose to push the limits or ignore the Webmaster Guidelines in their quest for links. On the next few pages we will look at some of the more popular tactics in detail.

7.1. Buying links for SEO

One of the more popular techniques is to buy links. This has two significant advantages:

  • It is easy. There is no need to sell the quality of the content of your site. The only things that need to happen are determining that the third party is willing to sell a link, and setting a price.

  • Since the link is an ad, you can simply specify the anchor text you want. Anchor text is a powerful ranking signal, and this is one of the major reasons people engage in link buying.

7.1.1. Google’s policy on paid links

The major downside is that buying links for SEO is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Here is a brief summary of Google’s policy on paid links:

  • Links given in return for compensation should not be obtained for purposes of increasing PageRank.

  • The link should be freely given, and the publisher of the potential linking site should be informed of what the publisher is doing. An example of a link where the publisher is not informed is one that is hidden in the NoScript tag of a JavaScript-based widget.

Google is not saying that publishers should not be able to buy ads on the Web. Its policy is that links should be purchased only for the traffic and branding value they bring. Google also recommends that publishers selling ads on its site use the NoFollow links, which means they will have no SEO value.

On another note, PPC campaigns using AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing, and so on are not considered a violation of the policy against paid links. This is because such links are easy for the crawlers to recognize, and due to their paid nature, they do not pass link juice.

7.1.2. Methods for buying links

There are three major methods for buying links. These are:

Direct link advertising purchases

This method involves contacting sites directly and asking them whether they are willing to sell text link ads. Many sites have pages that describe their ad sales policies. However, sites that openly say they sell text links are more likely to get caught in a human review, resulting in the link being disabled from passing PageRank by Google.

Link brokers

As we mentioned earlier, link brokers are companies that specialize in identifying sites selling links and reselling that inventory to publishers looking to buy such links.

The major danger here is that ad brokers may have a template of some sort for their ads, and a spider can recognize a template as being from a particular broker.

Charitable donations

Many sites of prominent institutions request charitable contributions. Some of these provide links to larger donors. Search for pages such as the one at that links to its supporters. This may be considered a legitimate link if there is an editorial review of which sponsors receive acknowledgment via a link on the institution’s site.

Sometimes these types of links do not cost much money. However, Google frowns upon this tactic, so it’s best to use it with care. One way a publisher can potentially make the tactic more acceptable is to support causes that are related in a material way to its site. However, it is not clear that Google would find this acceptable either.

Finding these types of sites may seem hard, but the search engines can help with this. One way is to use a series of related searches that will expose sponsor sites. For example, you could go to the search engine of your choice and search on sponsors.

This should bring up a number of sites accepting sponsorships. However, you may want to target that search a bit more. If you have a nursing-related site, the next step might be to search on nursing sponsors, or even sponsors inurl:nursing. You can also try other related words, such as donors, donations, or patrons.

7.1.3. Strategies that are not considered buying links

It is worth noting that in some strategies, money is involved in obtaining a link, yet such links are not considered to have been bought. Here are some examples:

  • Using a consultant to help your articles reach the home page of social media sites such as Digg (note, however, that this practice may not meet with the approval of the social media site)

  • Paying a PR firm to promote a site

  • Paying a link-building firm to ask for (as opposed to buying) links

The key point is that these strategies do not compensate the site itself for the links given, and the links are given freely.

7.2. Link farms/link networks

In the early days of search, publishers developed link farms and link networks as tactics for gaining cheap links. A link farm is a website or a group of sites whose primary reason for existence is to cross-link between themselves and other websites. Generally speaking, the links are created through aggressive reciprocal linking.

Since these sites are typically very heavily interlinked, they can be pretty easy to detect. Part of the reason is that since they have little redeeming value, they typically do not have high-value links coming in to them from other sites, and most of the links result from various cross-linking schemes.

Link networks are a similar concept. The network exists for the purposes of creating links between sites, and it can be a bit more sophisticated than a link farm. For example, you could create a club where publishers agree to contribute a link in return for getting a link from somewhere else.

If managed with great care, the clustering of links between sites can be limited, and this can be a bit harder for search engines to detect. However, the tactic remains highly exposed to a disgruntled webmaster simply reporting the scheme to Google.

A related concept is the notion of three-way link swaps (a.k.a. triangular link swapping), where Site A links to Site C in return for Site B linking to Site A. In this scenario, Site C may be the site the publisher is trying to promote, and Site B may be a site it uses to provide low-value links to people it trades links with.

This is almost always a scam, because Site B is probably a low-value site with little to recommend it. So, the publisher of Site A is providing a good-quality link in return for a low-quality one.

7.3. Automated link dropping

Spam tactics can include the concept of creating a bot that crawls around the Web looking for open forums and blogs and leaving behind automatically generated comments. Clearly this is spam, as no human is involved in the comment process (other than the programmer) and no effort was made to read the blog post or forum where the comment was left.

The great majority of these comments are deleted or NoFollowed by the blog or forum software content management system (CMS), but the spammer does not care because she is operating on a large scale. If she leaves behind 1 million comments and 98% of them are filtered by one means or another, she still ends up with 20,000 links.

This is, of course, a very risky tactic. The search engines may be able to detect this behavior algorithmically, or competitors can recognize it and turn you in via a spam report. We do not recommend this tactic.

7.4. Spammy giveaways

As we previously discussed, you can use widgets as part of a link-building campaign. However, this tactic can be abused as well. One popular way of doing that is to develop a JavaScript-based widget and then embed a link back to the widget publisher’s site in the NoScript tags. Since this is the code the browser presents to users who do not support JavaScript, and the search engines do not run JavaScript, the crawlers see the link and not the widget.

An example of someone who did this is discussed in the post “Another Paid Links Service Disguised As Hit Counter” ( Four days after this post went up, the sites referenced lost all of their high rankings in Google, and therefore lost most of their traffic.

However, be aware that making the link visible is not enough to make this practice legitimate in Google’s eyes. Google has confirmed that it considers tactics such as the use of unrelated widgets for link building a no-no, even if the link is visible.

The underlying reason for this is that if the link is unrelated to the widget, it is pretty unlikely that the link given actually represents an endorsement of the web page receiving the link. The goal of the person installing the widget is to get the benefit of the widget’s contents.

As another example, Google considers the use of so-called sponsored WordPress templates with embedded links, even if they are visible to be spammy as well—unless, of course, the publisher distributing the WordPress template is in the WordPress template business. The key issue that needs to be addressed in these types of link-building campaigns is relevance.

7.5. NoFollow uses and scams

One of the most common uses of NoFollow is to NoFollow all links in comments on a blog or in a forum. This is a common and legitimate use of the tactic, as it is used to prevent spammers from flooding forums and blogs with useless comments that include links to their sites.

However, as you might expect, people did implement some common scams using NoFollow. One simple example of this is that someone proposed a link swap and provided the return link but NoFollowed it. The goal of the site using the NoFollow was simple: to get a link that passes link juice, but not to provide any link juice in return.

However, Google announced that it had changed the way it handles NoFollow in June 2009. At this point in time, NoFollow still prevents the passing of link juice to the site receiving the link, but it is lost to the linking site as well. As a result, this scam no longer benefits those who attempt to use it.

  •  Creating Link-Worthy Content and Link Marketing : Further Refining How Search Engines Judge Links
  •  The Art of SEO : How Links Influence Search Engine Rankings (part 2) - Additional Factors That Influence Link Value
  •  The Art of SEO : How Links Influence Search Engine Rankings (part 1) - The Original PageRank Algorithm
  •  Developing an SEO-Friendly Website : Optimizing Flash (part 2)
  •  Developing an SEO-Friendly Website : Optimizing Flash (part 1)
  •   Developing an SEO-Friendly Website : Content Management System (CMS) Issues
  •   Developing an SEO-Friendly Website : Redirects
  •  Developing an SEO-Friendly Website: Content Delivery and Search Spider Control (part 3)
  •  Developing an SEO-Friendly Website: Content Delivery and Search Spider Control (part 3)
  •  Developing an SEO-Friendly Website: Content Delivery and Search Spider Control (part 2)
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