11 Unwritten Rules of Link Building

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With the quantity and quantity of inbound links pointing at a website accounting for an estimated 50-80% of its overall search engine results page rankings, there’s no arguing with the fact that link building represents a major pursuit for most website owners.

Unfortunately, following the wrong link building advice can mean disaster for your site.  For this reason, we’ve outlined the 11 unwritten rules of link building we follow here at Single Grain.  Pay attention, as following and implementing these rules can help improve your SERPs rankings and keep your site out of the Google sand box!

1 – Thou Shalt Publish Content that Attracts Links Naturally

In an ideal world, we’d all publish great content and be rewarded naturally with inbound links that recognize the true genius of our work.

Obviously, this doesn’t happen in real life, as you generally need existing backlinks to earn the high SERPs rankings necessary to get people onto your site before they can – in turn – create these natural links.  However, to avoid over-optimization penalties, you can still emulate natural-looking backlink profiles by pursuing links from a variety of different sources.

2 – Thou Shalt Not Acquire Links Too Quickly

The rate at which you acquire links – also known as your “link velocity” – matters to the search engine ranking algorithms.  If you attempt to generate too many links too quickly (before your site has been established as trustworthy by the search engines) you risk triggering penalties that could land your website in the Google sand box.

3 – Thou Shalt Not Buy Links

Or, more specifically, if you’re going to buy links, be wary of using paid links for the specific purpose of passing PageRank in order to beat your competition in the SERPs (just ask JC Penney’s why that’s a problem…).  Instead, stick to paid link building efforts that have been proven safe and confer an advantage beyond a simple rankings boost – for example, paid directory listings that send traffic as well as link authority.

4 – Thou Shalt Not Build Links in Bad Neighborhoods

Google has come out quite strongly to admonish links in “bad neighborhoods,” but unfortunately, they’re significantly more tight-lipped as to what constitutes a bad neighborhood.

However, most SEO experts have taken this advice to mean avoiding pursuing links from adult websites, thin content sites, sites that use black hat SEO techniques or foreign language sites with no relation to your own.  When you consider Google’s position that a link constitutes an “editorial vote” in favor of your site, it’s easy to see why “votes” from higher quality sites would be worth more in the eyes of the search engines.

5 – Thou Shalt Build Links Consistently

In the same way that developing links too quickly is perceived as unnatural, building a burst of links and then letting your promotional efforts lie dormant for months at a time doesn’t accurately mimic the way links are deployed in the real world.  Instead, build your links slowly over time, using consistent effort to ensure your site’s overall link authority grows steadily.

6 – Thou Shalt Build Deep Links

Remember how, earlier in this article, I mentioned how important it is that your links appear natural?  Well, how natural do you think it looks to the search engines if every single link you build points directly to your home page?

In a real world situation, most neutral parties linking into your site would point their links at the sub-pages on your site that containing the specific information they want to reference.  Mimic this natural occurrence by directing your links at a variety of different pages on your site.

7 – Thou Shalt Seek Out a Variety of Link Types

With how frequently the search engines change their ranking algorithms, pursuing a single type of backlinks at the exclusion of all others is simply bad policy.  Case in point – consider that Google recently deindexed the major private blog networks that constituted some webmasters’ entire link building strategy.  Instead of leaving your site in this risky position, develop a variety of different link types from a wide range of sources.

8 – Thou Shalt Vary Thy Anchor Text

Yes, it’s true that using your target SEO or branding keywords in your backlink anchor text confers a ranking benefit when it comes to where your website falls in the SERPs.  However, using the same anchor text for every single inbound link you create contributes to building a similarly unnatural backlink profile as creating a single type of link to a single page on your site.

Instead, vary your anchor text from link to link throughout your off-page SEO efforts.  You don’t need to use a completely different variation for every backlink you create, but do try to rotate at least 5-10 separate keywords through your campaign as you go.

9 – Thou Shalt Ignore Toolbar PageRank

Most advanced SEOs know that the toolbar PageRank pushed out by Google is notoriously inaccurate – to the point where it’s of very little use to webmasters seeking to build backlinks from high quality sources.

Rather than guide your promotional efforts by this meaningless metric, look for active, aged sites within your industry that have a reputation for quality.  These sites represent the best bang for your link building buck, making them ultimately more valuable than sites bearing an arbitrarily high toolbar PageRank.

10 – Thou Shalt Conduct Competitive Analysis to Find Link Sources

Nearly all webmasters worth their SEO salt can repeat standard link building methods from heart.  There’s article marketing, guest posting, blog commenting, forum commenting and so on, and so forth.

But really, the method that’s overlooked most often when it comes to finding new backlink sources is a simple competitive analysis of your competitor’s backlink profile.  This is unfortunate, as the data this type of analysis can yield can show you exactly how to beat these competing sites in the search engine results pages.

To conduct a competitive analysis, use tools like Majestic SEO or the Open Site Explorer to see which sites are linking in to your competitors’ websites.  Make a note of any link sources you haven’t already pursued for your own site, as well as your competitors’ weak points.  For example, if you see a competitor who’s beating you in the SERPs but lacks a significant social media presence, consider beefing up your efforts in this area to see if doing so pushes you higher in the rankings.

11 – Thou Shalt Measure the Impact of Link Building Efforts

While building good quality backlinks should be a consistent part of any webmaster’s marketing strategy, it shouldn’t be entered into blindly.  By taking the time to determine the impact of the backlinks you’ve created on your site’s SERPs rankings and overall traffic levels, you’ll be able to allocate future link building efforts in a way that’s most effective for your industry and its competitive landscape.

What do you think?  Are there any important “unwritten” rules of link building that you feel are missing from this list?  If so, share your thoughts and recommendations in the comments section below!

Image: cogdogblog

13 Responses

  1. Reg-NBS-SEO

    >”With the quantity and quantity of inbound links pointing at a website accounting for an estimated 50-80% of its overall search engine results page rankings, there’s no arguing with the fact that link building represents a major pursuit for most website owners.”.

    This is patently untrue. The effects of liking have been reduced to a point where they do not count towards SERPs.

    Please catch up with what Google is doing before posting erroneous information.

    1. Aaron Douglas

      Not sure if you meant “linking” or “liking” (ala Facebook). If “liking”, I agree that Facebook likes, while perhaps correlated, has no observed impact on rakings.

      If you meant “linking”, then I disagree. Regardless of what Google says, link building continues to have significant impact, although I believe it has become less critical in the last two years. At least the last couple updates have trimmed some of the fat…

  2. Scott McKirahan

    It’s funny. I was just discussing this with Dave (a.k.a. “Coach”) over at Store Coach. I was talking about how all you hear about lately is what not to do and nobody is discussing the basics of what people actually should be doing.

    Excellent article! It’s the fist time I’ve been here (I followed a tweet from Ross Hudgens). I’ll definitely be back!

    (Where’s your RSS feed? If you have one, e-mail it to me!)

  3. Bruno

    Hi mate, thanks for the article – really good one!

    But there is one thing I have to disagree: rule nr 6.

    I’ve seem a lot of people banging on about how we should create deep links to all our pages because that is how “natural” a site receive links. Unfortunately, I beg to differ.

    I’ve bought quite a few aged domains in the past and from analyzing these domains in depth (anchors and links) plus some regular competitive analysis, I can conclude one thing:

    it depends!

    If I were to come out with a thumb rule as how links develop on a site it would be as follows:

    1) Is the site topic popular or blogged about!?

    Think mobile, tech, mmo, etc.

    This kind of site indeed get deep links with many varied anchor texts simply because bloggers know how to do this!

    BUT …

    2) Sites about boring niches or niches that there is not a lot to blog about (probably a lot of the niches that many IMers work on):

    Nope, not a lot of deep links.

    As a matter of fact, I would say 90% links going to the homepage and 10% links going to internal pages.

    But here is the catch-22: the first type of site (sites that do get deep links and that are very ‘bloggable’) are site that you could indeed work in some kind of white hat seo since it might be a topic with several bloggers all around.

    BUT, for some plain old dull topics that we know it is damn hard to get those links to deep pages, that is exactly what happens: there is not a lot of deep links!!

    Example of this kind of sites are sites that offer a particular service or anything like that – people will simply link either in a list of “relevant websites” using the homepage or maybe something like “Site X.com offers this kind of service – check it out!”

    So when you think you are mimicking a natural behavior and deep linking, you might be doing right – but based on another’s niche perspective!

    If you think about it, you kow that some niches are great for natural links, others are not. It all depends on the niche.

    So if there is a google algo that compares top results for some sites, wouldn’t it be fishy if 9 out of 10 sites contained the majority of their links to their homepage and your beautifully crafted website has a lot of deep links because it is … natural!?

    Anyhow food for thought, but I don’t think saying “deep linking is natural” is, well, natural :D

    Thanks again for the article mate!

    Cheers!

  4. itinfozdotcom

    Ignoring Toolbar PageRank seems something new for me. we do build edu and gov links are they our bad neighbors ?

  5. Avirat

    Hi,

    Thanks for the great article!
    Really brushed my basics up! I would like you to write a brief article on 2 things you mentioned above. 1) Competitive Analysis and 2) How to effectively use Social Media.
    Past few days I’m searching on things which we can do after penguin update and I realized that Quality Content and Social Signals are the 2 points which can get you up and for the same thing I want a detailed article mentioning the basics of social media. My assumption might be wrong about the penguin update but you can always correct it.

    Thanks,
    -Avirat.

  6. Anne Iverson

    Thank you for this post. I am new to link building and this was very helpful. It gives me much to think about and to research. I will be watching for more good information.

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  8. Rafael Montilla

    Great Post Patel!

    To Conduct Competitive Analysis to Find Link Sources, I use Opensiteexplorer.com and Magesticseo.com, they are very good tool.

    if you do not have the money to pay for it, you can use alexa and links:compatitor.

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  10. Ydeveloper

    Worth to look into these rules.

  11. Business coach

    Nice summarized..Link building has to be done consistently..That’s even more difficult than getting high PR backlinks for your online business.

  12. Rohit

    Thaks for the great pot i like the most ” tools like Majestic SEO or the Open Site Explorer to see which sites are linking in to your competitors’ ” websites..thanks again