Link Building Fundamentals

I knew I would screw up before the day was out. But after setting up in the wrong presentation room, I got myself over to the right place. Time to jump right in. Link building is a critical part of SEO, and links have become increasingly more important in the Web 2.0 world. It’s time to break down link building basics in this boot camp session.

Debra Mastaler, Alliance-Link, starts us off.

Why links are valuable

Links connect the Web and are the way search engines and users find things. Link building for SEO isn’t rocket science, but there is rocket science behind link earning. Back when the U.S. space program was just beginning, the group of scientists came together from across North America and realized that there was no way to share their information. That was what started the development of the Internet. Over time, search engines and directories were started. Some fizzled while those that improved their algorithms survived.

What is link popularity? Link popularity measures the quality and quantity of links pointing to a Web site. All the major engines use it. It’s considered an off-page factor. Some of the terms include link juice, link pop and link love.

Quantity, quality, anchor text and relevance are the four factors that play into link popularity.

Link quality is determined by the authority of the host sites and the sites linking to them. Quality flows from one site to another. PageRank is the most popular of these factors. PageRank is a link analysis algorithm used by Google to determine the quality and quantity factors a page and its inbound links.

Anchor text is a query ranking indicator and endorsement of what’s to come. Anchor text is the clickable part of the link you see. It’s also known as link text. Off all of the components behind the concept of link popularity, anchor text is probably the most powerful. We know this because just based on anchor text, rankings can occur (i.e., “miserable failure”). Use keywords in your anchors for maximum ranking effect. It’s better to hyperlink your keyword phrases as anchor text.

Relevancy helps establish where you belong. Search engines read the text around links. Linking out and being linked to establishes a connection, helps classify your site and where it belongs. Build links within your neighborhood. Links to and from contextually relevant or thematically-related sites convey more authority.

Authority sites are those that rank well or are well known within your niche or in general. They have strong inbound links and are insulated against algorithm fluctuations. Spend the most time and greatest resources securing authority links. Focus your in-linking efforts on securing as many solid, quality authority links using keyword rich anchors as you possibly can.

Ranking influences

Link factors to avoid:

  • Control your rate of link acquisition. Build slowly, increase content, and vary link types.
  • Repetitive anchor text should be avoided. Avoid using same anchors and URLs. Deep link when possible.
  • Don’t use the same tactic over and over. Implement a wide array of linking tactics.

If you do these things, these links will be ignored. For optimal linking success:

  • Screen partner sites carefully. Avoid partnering with sites hosting “excessive” reciprocals and site-wides.
  • Place links in content areas. Avoid navigation and sponsored areas. Perception is everything.
  • Understand that all links have value. Even nofollow links are good because the traffic will follow it. Also, when content is scraped, the link’s nofollow will not be copied.

For optimal linking success, remember that redirected links or links passing through third-party sites (affiliates) will not pass link popularity. Avoid losing PageRank by being consistent in the way you link (i.e., www and non-www).

Link Building Tools and Learning Resources


Webmaster blogs by search engines:
Matt Cutts blog (SEO feed only):
SEL Link Week:
Search Engine Roundtable:
Search Engine Guide:
Search Engine Journal:
SEOBook blog:

Link Building Tools:

  • Link Harvester: pulls back all the information in an Excel spreadsheet. It gives you the number of unique linking domains, the number of unique Class C Block, the number of .edu/.gov/.mil links and how many are linking to the home page versus deep in the site. She recommends using the tool on competitors.
  • Hub Finder: compares the backlinks of two or more sites and points out their co-occurring back links.
  • The Langreiter Tool: compares Yahoo and Google rankings and where they agree or disagree.
  • SEO Nofollow Links Highlighter: turns all links using nofollow pink. It cuts your time down so you don’t have to go to the code source to find out if the page nofollows links.
  • The Bad Neighborhood Tool: will give you an idea of links coming from risky neighborhoods.
  • Google Alerts: is a discovery tool that will let you know anytime one of your articles has been used and you can go there to see if they’ve linked to your site.
  • The Utility Linking Tool: will pull up directories and forums that you can submit your URL to based on your keyword.

[ED: These are my best guesses at links for the tools referenced. Hopefully Debra will drop by and correct me if I got them wrong. — Susan]

Link building tactics

In the evolving Web, everything still works but link building strategies using content generation are the ones to focus on because they will get you the most value for your effort. This includes link bait, article writing, and content targeting.

When looking for authority links you must first identified the key players in your niche. You’ll want to mine their back links and take advantage for the sites linking to them. Separate their back links by media contacts and editorial/commercial sources. Media contacts, like publishing press releases, can get expensive. Use the majority of your time on the editorial and commercial type links.

Find top reviewers at large retail/comparison sites like Amazon and Epinion. There’s probably someone out there reviewing products like yours.

Directory submission is still a good way to get links. There are directories for everything (general, niche, RSS, article, podcast, blog, wiki, local). Avoid directories hosting excessive search ads because it detracts from your listing. Check pages for nofollow and robots.txt blocking. Niche directories tend to be less scrutinized. The ISEDB is a directory for directories.

Article writing is a traditional source for links. Write a long version for your site and use a shorter version for article directories. Pull topics from customer service questions. Add RSS to your resource center. Include a bio with each article, including those on your site.

Content networks let you publish content on any topic. They distribute content to engaged participants. Blogger outreach also works well in getting your content with your links out there. Offer to write a guest post.

Link bait is content created and submitted to the social news sites. Submit to sites like Digg and Propeller. The power behind the social news site isn’t in the individual links you’ll get from each profile, but from the community within. Linking is driven by motivating content. Look for niche social media sites.

What you really need to know before link building:

  • Look at partner sites carefully, avoid those with excessive reciprocals and sponsored links.
  • Link slowly and add content at the same time.
  • Use several different linking tactics.
  • Spend resources on obtaining authority links.
  • Focus on traditional content generation tactics.
  • Notify the media when you’ve added sizable content.
  • Find an alert service you like and use it.
  • Use the social media sites to spread emotional content.
  • Find your niche community and use it.

Eric Ward,, says he’s glad to be back on the speaker circuit. He retired for a while but he’s excited to be back at the podium. Things have changed quite a bit since he started link building. The Google algorithm changed it all. Links now serve multiple purposes and audiences. You have two audiences. People who click on links and search engines that count, analyze and judge links The best kind of link will help your traffic and your ranking.

The link building and content publicity required for any given site will vary based on each site’s focus, content and intended audience. Eric says you should remember these closing thoughts:

  • Since the link building approach required for any given Web site will vary dramatically depending on that site’s focus, content and intended audience. Each site deserves it\s own link building and content publicity plan or strategy.
  • Your links tell a story about your site, like a transcript or “rap-sheet”. Engines now use that story to decide where you should rank. You’re not going to be viewed through a single link. Google will judge you on your overall body of work.
  • The easier a link is to obtain, the less useful that link is likely to be for a person or a search engine.
  • If you aren’t sure why you are doing it, don’t do it.
  • The future of links and rank can’t be guessed, but we can figure that the sites trying to manipulate link popularity will be devalued in the search engines while the trustworthy sites will continue to pass signals.
Comments (6)
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6 Replies to “Link Building Fundamentals”

Not switching up your anchor text seems as though it has become even more of a problem over the years since so many automated systems try to build thousands of backlinks.

Thanks for the great post….Still just as relevant today as the day you wrote it! :)

Now that’s a post Bruce! It’s good to see you mention to switch up your anchor text because I’m seeing a lot of new clients coming in with problems regarding that. They’ve gone to some general seo company for link building and got hundreds of low quality links from directories, social bookmarks, article sites etc. I’m starting to see more and more problems when they’re not switchin that anchor text up enough. It might be in the grey area now, but most(likely Google), considers this spam.

Karl says:

Like this post suggest it’s all about getting links in a so called natural way.
I agree with everything said on this blog, and obviously link building is the single most important thing of seo, the thing that determines whether you rank or not… other things obviously do matter as well.

Obtaining incoming links to your website fulfills two main objectives. Firstly it increases the traffic you could potentially receive to your site because the more links you have the more traffic you should receive, and secondly, by obtaining links from pages with a good page rank you can increase your own page rank which, although not the deciding factor, will help boost your ranking in the search engines.
Link Building

A lot of people are thinking on old seo and just want free links for their sites. I was recently working for someone who wanted me to do a link building campaign for his site just out of blog and forum comments.

GREAT article! This is definitely one of the more thorough/informative posts about link building I’ve seen lately. Love the tools – some of them I actually have never heard of them so thanks for the heads up!

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