First let’s define some terms:
- Backlink: An incoming hyperlink to a webpage. It’s the major factor for ranking a webpage in Google, even though there are about 200 ranking factors. The quality of the backlinks wasn’t important when Google was getting started, but now the quality of the links is very important. You can think of each link as a vote for the webpage where low quality links won’t even count and high quality links have a huge impact.
- “Link Juice”: This is a concept more than a real thing. Pat Flynn has this analogy using juice boxes — a backlink sends “juice” to a webpage. The higher quality the link, the more juice there is to pass along. The “juice” helps the page rank. You can prevent the “link juice” or the voting power of a backlink from being passed by making a link “nofollow.”
- Nofollow Link: A backlink with a “nofollow” tag in the HTML code that prevents the link juice from being passed. After marketers started abusing the ranking algorithm with bad, low quality backlinks, Google introduced the “nofollow” tag. It looks like this: <a href=”http://www.somedomain.com/” rel=”nofollow”>Some Domain</a>. It’s generally said that nofollow links won’t help you rank, but I believe that they can help if there is actually traffic coming to your site via the link. Imagine if you were featured on a big website with a nofollow link and a lot of traffic showed up to your site via that nofollow link. I think that could only help your site rank in the eyes of Google and worse case you have more traffic
- Dofollow Link: A backlink that passes link juice. These are basically normal links. By default links are dofollow so there isn’t a tag for dofollow links. For improving site rankings, you want to have dofollow links.
- Referring Domains: The number of unique domains linking to a website. A website may have several (or dozens or even hundreds) of backlinks to your site, but all the links are from a single referring domain. This idea is good to apply since it can give you a more accurate picture of effective number of links.
- Internal Links: Links within a site. So it’s a link from one URL on your site to another URL on your site. It’s really effective to have a lot of internal links. You might hear people call this interlinks or interlinking (as a verb).
- Anchor Text: The text of the hyperlink. The anchor text provides context for Google for ranking the page that’s linked to for certain terms. The anchor text distribution for the backlinks of a page is an art and complex topic.
- White Hat SEO: Strategies that don’t violate the Google Webmaster Terms of Service. This is what I favor because it’s less risky.
- Gray Hat SEO: Strategies that don’t violate the Google Webmaster Terms of Service, but aren’t illegal, like Private Blog Networks or Web 2.0 blogs. Links that are created with the sole purpose of improving search engine rankings. Gray hat can be effective but it’s riskier than not violating the rules Google wants you to follow.
- Black Hat SEO: Strategies that are illegal, like hacking a site and inserting links.
There is a lot of noise out there about link building. There are internet-age snake oil salesman that will promise you the world with #1 rankings in 24 hours, then close up shop once they make the sale.
I generally avoid SEO services unless I know the service has a very good reputation.
Then there is another school of thought to not ever bother with links at all. It can work but it normally takes longer if you don’t have any links.
And just think about it logically:
If all things were equal with content and keywords for two sites, but one site had links and the other didn’t, which do you think would rank better in Google Search?
The approach I outline doesn’t have any shortcuts. Guess what – it takes time and you are going to have to put in the work. If you try to take any shortcuts, they might work but those tactics are higher risk.
It’s hard if you’re a beginner, but things will get easier as you gain more experience.
You can outsource link building, but it’s really important to understand the process first hand. You can’t effectively outsource a task if you don’t understand the process. While you could technically outsource something you don’t understand, the SEO industry has a bad reputation and for a good reason.
The big issue with outsourcing SEO is that people sell SEO services but don’t really have experience. It’s possible that someone knows all the buzzwords and the process, but it doesn’t mean they’re an effective practitioner.
You can read all about swimming, watch videos, study Michael Phelps for years, but it doesn’t mean anything until you jump in the water and SWIM. There are a lot of people that sell services but they have no clue what they’re doing — it’s sad and borderline unethical in my book.
A Basic Link Building Campaign for Niche Sites
A basic link building campaign includes:
- Social Profiles
- Blog Commenting
- Guest Posting
If you just do these 3 things, you’ll do fine. Spend a lot of time on blog commenting and guest posting and you can basically rank for anything.
Some optional strategies are:
- Answering Quora
- Press Releases
- Wikipedia Link Building
Here are the main Gray Hat strategies, but they are riskier and I don’t use them anymore:
- Web 2.0 Blogs
- Private Blog Networks (PBNs)
If you do Gray Hat properly, then the risk is lower, but it’s easy to make a mistake. All my issues with Google came because of sloppy Gray Hat techniques when I was first learning. It didn’t seem like a big risk when I was just making $20 per month, but fast forward to when I was making $10k per month. Losing $10k per month overnight feels really bad! Trust me— you do not want to experience that.
Let’s look at social profiles.
A social profile is a page on a site like Twitter, Pinterest, or Facebook that has fields that you can fill in with your niche site’s information. Mainly, the thing we care about is your website URL. It will be a backlink to your site, which is great! However it will be a nofollow link.
You should be thinking, “If it’s nofollow, then why the heck are we doing this??”
There are 3 main reasons:
- It makes your site look like a real site, not a site with thin content. How many great sites do you see that don’t have social profiles? Probably none.
- The profiles can help you network with other bloggers that may let you guest post on their site.
- A nofollow link can still be valuable, even though it’s less valuable than a dofollow link.
These are fast to set up, too.
Personally, I’m not much for social sites. I don’t know exactly why…other than maybe Instagram. It’s a HUGE distraction. There is an endless feed of interesting posts that are there to capture my attention. So, I guess that’s why since every social media platform is there to distract the users.
The reason I’m telling you that is because you should still set up these social profiles even if you don’t intend on using the social sites. Later you can use them if you want. For example, in 6 months you may find that you want to start publishing videos on YouTube. Your profile will be ready for you to start publishing right away.
What sites should you set up profiles for? Here’s my baseline for social profiles:
- Google Plus
And if you know of other social sites, then go for it. Set up those profiles too. The main thing to remember is to add your URL to the profile so you have a link on the profile page.
You don’t need to worry about setting up a fancy wallpaper image, logo, or profile image. You can simply use Canva to create one universal image that you’ll use everywhere for your social profiles.
After you publish 2 articles, it’s time to start blog commenting. These are genuine, real comments on real blogs, related to the topic and niche. The target blogs are highly relevant and that’s important!
These are not the spammy, automated backlinks that are pushing Ray Bans or Uggs. You know what I’m talking about…
Blog comments are normally no-follow and that is fine. It’s quite normal for a website to have a healthy percentage of no-follow backlinks.
Make 5 – 10 comments every day for a month. Not all of the comments will be approved so you need to make a lot of comments.
This is really important about the comments to get the highest number of approved comments:
- Do not put a URL in the actual comment text since it is far less likely to be approved.
- Put a name in the “Name” field, not your keyword phrase.
- Put your URL in the “Website” field.
Your link should have the anchor text of the name you enter with a target URL of the website you enter.
My guest posting process is far more deliberate and surgical than most others I hear about. The other people talk about finding a bunch of email addresses, then blast the internet with terrible pitches using automated emails that annoy people.
It’s not authentic and I believe that shotgun approach won’t work well in the future.
I’ll cover Guest Posting for Affiliate Sites more thoroughly in the next section since it’s a big topic.
I’d avoid free directories and only target ones that make sense. Free directories usually won’t be helpful for ranking since anyone can get those links. Actually, you should think of links that way: if a link is free or easy to get, it probably isn’t a very effective link.
Depending on your site, you might be able to get links on a relevant directory.
For example, if you have a site dealing with plumbing products, you should look for plumbing directories or trade organizations.
The reality is that if you have an Amazon Affiliate site, you might not be able to find a related directory. So, don’t worry about it and move on.
If you Google just about any general term or phrase, it’s safe to assume that you will see a Wikipedia page in the top 10 results. Wikipedia is highly trusted and highly esteemed by Google.
Wikipedia backlinks are super valuable, hard to get, and can actually drive significant traffic.
Imagine having your niche site listed as a reference for a highly trafficked Wikipedia entry. That’s passing some link juice!
Wikipedia backlinks are no-follow but no one will argue that these backlinks are not valuable.
The process is simple:
- Create valuable, epic level content for your niche site.
- Make sure that the content has solid, true information that can be used as reference material in Wikipedia.
- Keep the content free of affiliate links or any kind of commercial content.
- Create a Wikipedia account.
- Make some edits over 1 to 2 weeks by helping out on the “backlog” – Wikipedia Backlog list. You can see they need lots of help!
- Edit your target article in Wikipedia that’s related to your niche.
- Add a reference to your article that is on your niche site.
Web 2.0 Blogs (Gray Hat)
This step consists of creating a free blog, publishing niche relevant content, and adding links to your niche site. The blogs are free platforms like wordpress.com, blogger.com, or blog.com – and there are countless others.
Note: Building websites like this violates the Google Webmaster Guidelines but is in no way illegal. It does mean that Google frowns upon the approach. If you took the Web 2.0 blog seriously, you could actually make it a valuable resource to the niche. Large media companies do the same thing by creating smaller websites and funneling traffic back to the main site.
At a minimum, you should:
- Create a blog on the three platforms I listed above.
- Publish 3 to 6 originally written posts on each one that are related to the niche of your site.
- Add 1 or 2 links to your website from about half of the posts on the Web 2.0 blogs.
- Include 2 to 3 links to other websites in the niche that are non-competitive in each of the posts on the Web 2.0 blogs. (For example, Wikipedia, About.com, CNN, NY Times, or other big media outlets.)
When it’s time to take your link building to the next level, here are some more advanced Gray Hat strategies.
An advanced approach includes:
- Tiered Link Building to the Web 2.0 Blogs.
- Private Blog Network links
I don’t know how to use automated link building tools, and I would NEVER recommend them for linking to your money site. But some people like to build a lot of links to the Web 2.0 properties.
The Web 2.0 blogs provide a layer of insulation from the automated backlinks. You can outsource this part to fiverr. Most contractors at fiverr can deliver the backlinks in about a week or less. After Penguin 4 rolled out in the Fall of 2016, I expect these kind of tiered, spammy links to lose their effectiveness.
Private Blog Networks (PBNs)
A private blog network (PBN) is a collection of expired domains that you use for link building to your niche site.
An expired domain is a domain that was owned in the past and had content – the website was cared for. But for some reason the original owner decided not to continue caring for the website. Expired domains are harder to come by nowadays. A better way to get domains is through auctions since the domain usually hasn’t expired, it’s just being sold.
A PBN is extremely powerful because you control the content and you control the links within the domain. This means that you can create or alter the content so it relates specifically to your niche.
In addition, an PBN link is likely to pass along a good amount of link juice to any website with a link from it. Link juice can be thought of as ranking power (moz.com) – so a PBN backlink can pass more ranking power than a brand new domain.
Setting up a PBN is not simple. I wouldn’t recommend that you try to build a PBN if you are just getting started. It’s too overwhelming so just buy or rent links — just make sure the service is reputable.
However, once you’re established then a PBN can be a HUGE asset.
Link Building Resources
From the blog:
- Get my off page SEO checklist now.
- Private Blog Networks – PBN 101
- PBNs Explained in Simple Terms – Infographic
- Find Blogs to Comment on Quickly (Video)
- Strategy for Getting Powerful Wikipedia Links – This is much harder to do these days. But it’s possible and Wikipedia links are great even if they are nofollow.
- The HOTH: A way to outsource link building and content. I’m an affiliate so I get a commission if you use the HOTH.
- SEO Plan for Niche Sites and Affiliate Sites
- Amazon Affiliate SEO Tip: How to increase rankings for a keyword for your Niche Site
- Blog Commenting for Niche Sites
- White Hat versus Gray Hat LINK BUILDING for Affiliate Sites
- Why Build Links for SEO
- Guest Posting for Niche Sites
From the Five Figure Niche Site Course:
- Select a Niche or Market
- Build Out the Framework
- Develop a Content Management Plan (PREVIOUS)
- Plan Your Niche Site SEO (You are HERE)
- Execute an Guest Posting, Outreach, & Promotion Campaign (NEXT)
- Execute an Email Marketing Campaign
- Continue Growing the Niche Site
- Frequently Asked Questions about Niche Sites
- Aged Site Case Study: Done-For-You, Ready Made Site [in progress]