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At first sight, link building seems so darn simple, doesn’t it?
You just need to pick keywords you want to rank for, create amazing content, ask other bloggers to link to your expert piece in their posts, and BAM! As if by magic your site begins to climb up in SERPs.
Sure, there are some intricacies and ranking factors that you need to keep in mind when building links. For instance, as much as 21% of your SEO success depends on the anchor text you use on external links and 22% on link popularity. So as long as you follow these steps, you should be fine, right?
Tell me…how do you stay ahead when everyone else is doing exactly the same thing? Increase your efforts? Launch more content? Send more outreach emails?
Or…turn to strategies that your competitors would prefer to stay away from, like black hat techniques but used in a white hat way?
That’s exactly what I’m going to show you in this post: a couple of black hat SEO strategies that you can use without breaking Google’s guidelines in order to rank higher, attract more traffic, and increase conversions.
But first, a quick recap…
What Is (or Better Yet, WAS) Black Hat SEO?
The term black hat refers to aggressive SEO strategies that violate the search engine's guidelines and best practices. The basic recognizable trait of black hat SEO is its disregard for users and its sole focus on manipulating search engines and rankings.
Black hats used strategies like article spinning, content automation, and keyword stuffing to manipulate rankings and position low-quality content in the search results. They would also build link wheels and cloak links, create doorway pages, and use tiered link building.
Eventually Google caught on and tackled black hat practices by publishing Google Penguin, an update to the search results ranking algorithm Google Panda. From then on, a website would be penalized by Google when using black hat tactics.
However, I’m going to show you how to incorporate these strategies in your link-building campaigns in a white hat way to help skyrocket your organic traffic.
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Tactic #1. Link Wheels
Link wheels were a breakthrough link-building technique only a couple of years ago. Even some well-known white hat SEOs praised their ability to influence a site’s rankings in Google.
Black hats used link wheels to increase the strength of the links that they generated and, in turn, propel their sites higher up in the search results.
The premise behind link wheels was simple: to create a pattern of sites linking from one to another and also your main site. Each site in the wheel would power up the next spoke. And since it was a closed system, in theory their authority would constantly continue to grow, in turn sending a stronger link to your main site.
Here’s what a basic link wheel looked like:
To create link wheels, SEOs used high PR Web 2.0 properties (free blogging platforms like Tumblr, WordPress.com or Blogger.com) or article directories (like ezinearticles.com).
They created free sites on these properties, added some content (typically just one article), supplemented it with low-quality, spun posts, and included links to the next spoke in the wheel as well as to the main site. Eventually the search engines began considering link wheels a manipulative strategy.
But here is the catch: The biggest problem with link wheels wasn’t the wheel itself but what black hats used to build them with.
Let’s face it, free Web 2.0 properties featuring low-quality, spun content offered no value for the user. That, in turn, made the whole strategy vulnerable to the search engines’ scrutiny.
Here’s an example of a link wheel service on a black hat forum:
Keep in mind that the concept of a link wheel works. And you could still use it today. However, you just need to build a link wheel from reputable resources. Instead of using Web 2.0 properties, free blogging sites or article directories, build link wheel spokes from real websites with whom you have developed a relationship.
For example, let’s assume that you want to build links to an online store selling bicycle storage systems. You could write a series of guest posts on authoritative cycling sites, each covering different aspects of bicycle maintenance. Then you could link those articles as spokes in the link wheel as well as include a reference to your store from each article.
This way you are creating a link wheel that:
- Is built on high quality sites
- Offers high value to users
- Passes high PR to your main site
TIP: To ensure that the link wheel does not fall under Google’s scrutiny, don’t link back to your home page from each spoke. Instead, create another highly-relevant resource and reference it from each article.
Your link wheel would then look more or less like this:
Tactic #2. Blended Link Building
You don’t always need more links to increase a site’s rankings. Which is the premise of another black hat strategy, known as “Blended Link Building.”
You see, by including a reference to your site among links to other highly-authoritative sites (such as Wikipedia, New York Times, etc.), you can fool Google into treating your site the same way it treats those other sites—and, in turn, granting your site higher rankings.
To use this strategy, black hats would either find someone willing to link to their site as well as certain relevant authoritative sites or create those resources themselves. To do this, black hats would again resort to using Web 2.0 blogs, article directories, and other properties on which they could control the content in order to blend their links with authoritative websites.
But again, using these web properties made the strategy vulnerable to search engine penalties. Blended link-building techniques, on the other hand, still work. You just need to be more strategic about how you do it.
Here’s how I recommend you build blended links:
Start by creating awesome resource content that others would be willing to link to.
This could be a list of statistics, a resource page or a compilation of research findings, for instance. The key is to provide high-quality information that writers and content creators can reference in their own copy.
Why does this work? Because they are constantly looking for resources to enrich their blogs and articles. They know that by including or referencing relevant statistics, research findings, graphs, statistics, numbers, etc., they increase the perceived authority of their content.
From now on, your strategy can work two ways:
- Option 1: Find pages that already link to similar resources as your own and suggest yours for potential inclusion. Outreach the webmasters, bloggers or editors and outline the benefits of referencing your content in their piece.
- Option 2: Guest post on the industry’s top sites. Include links to relevant and authoritative resources in the content, along with the link to your own resources.
Note: Many authoritative sites don’t allow you to link back to an author’s site from the content, but if you have created a highly-relevant and amazing resource, their editors might be persuaded to link to it.
Bonus: To (passively) build even more blended links, optimize your resource for keywords that writers and content marketers might use when looking for reference material. For instance:
- “[topic] + research”
- “[topic] + stats”
- “[topic] + statistics”
This way you can ensure that they find and include your content among other authoritative resources.
Top results for “content marketing stats” query (guess how many writers link to or reference them every month?):
Tactic #3. Tiered Link-Building
I’m sure you already know this, but it bears repeating: the more authoritative the page that links to you, the stronger the backlink. It is, however, extremely difficult to build links only from high-authority sites.
Well, black hat SEOs came up with a simple solution—build links to pages that already link to them in order to increase their authority and rankings. This method is known as tiered link-building. Black hats would build tiers of links, with each link pointing back to the previous one, ultimately strengthening the backlink.
Once again, black hats would use Web 2.0 blogs and other web properties to build tiers. And once more, it made the strategy vulnerable.
But building tiered links and strengthening backlinks wasn’t a bad idea. In fact, you can certainly still use them today to improve your rankings. How? By using guest posts to link to resources that already link to you. So every time you write a guest post, think about whether there is any relevant content linking to you that you can reference in the post.
By sending a couple of links to that page you can strengthen it and ensure that it begins to rank in the first 100 results for the key phrase, making it a highly-relevant link source.
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Tactic #4. Contact Scraping
Scraping was THE black hat practice of choice.
Using apps like Scrapebox, black hats would scour the web in search of anything from webmasters’ contact details to keywords to content. They would then use this information to send automated link requests, spam sites with gibberish comments, and even create spun variations of the content they found.
Naturally, all this resulted in nothing more than an increase of spam across the web. But scraping in and of itself isn’t such a bad practice.
You see, the power of scraping lies in its ability to find information at scale. A scraping tool can help analyze your website for technical SEO issues, for instance. Bartosz Góralewicz posted a thorough tutorial on using Scrapebox to detect and solve many technical SEO problems.
It can also help you find contact details for webmasters who manage sites that are relevant to you. It’s just that instead of spamming them with irrelevant messages, you use this information to reach out and build connections that could result in links down the line.
For example: imagine that you’re running a broken link building campaign. You’ve found websites that contain broken links and you want to reach out to them to offer your resource as a replacement. But first you need to find those webmasters’ contact details. One way is to simply visit each site and manually retrieve this info. Of course, depending on the size of your list, that could take hours upon hours.
So to speed it up, you can scrape a list of domains in minutes to receive the information that you require. From then on you can use automated outreach software like Salesloft Sales Dialer or Growbots to reach out and connect with those people.
In this instance, the point of using scraping isn’t to generate spam but simply to scale your efforts. In fact, scraping is a popular strategy today. For instance, salespeople rely on scraping in their lead generation efforts. They use such apps as SalesLoft Prospector, LeadFuze, import.io, and Grabby to extract contact details from LinkedIn profiles or websites and add the info to their CRM systems in order to connect.
Link building might seem easy at first. But there are many intricacies in the process and certain steps to follow in order to expand your link profile. So how do you stay ahead when everyone’s doing the same thing?
My answer: use tactics and strategies that your competitors prefer to stay away from—black hat SEO. But always in a white hat way. When used properly and with integrity, these tactics can help propel your site higher in search results, attract more traffic, and increase conversions.