Backlinks are the nitrous of every successful SEO campaign.
This new guide will teach how to build backlinks in 2016.
Every strategy you will read is battle tested.
Through hundreds of successful SEO campaigns, we now know what works best.
And of course…
What doesn’t work.
Ready to get started?
What Are Tier One Backlinks?
"Tier one" backlinks are external links directly hitting your website.
These links are a large piece of the ranking puzzle.
But before we get into the heavy link building strategy...
You need to make sure that your site is ready for backlinks.
How to Build Less Backlinks (And Get Better Results)
Here is the ugly truth about link acquisition:
It is costly and time consuming.
To combat these two issues you must learn how to get the most out of every backlink.
Here's how you can accomplish that goal:
- You must have a technically optimized site
- You must have a strong site architecture
- You must have valuable content
Here are the basics you need to cover before you jump into link acquisition:
1. Fix All Technical Errors
Technical errors hurt user experience.
When you hurt user experience, Google limits your organic traffic growth.
The first thing you need to do is avoid speeding through this process.
Otherwise, you may end up wondering:
“Why aren't my backlinks working!?”
Think of SEO as a puzzle.
You can't complete a puzzle without having all the pieces.
Making sure your site is technically optimized is an important piece of the SEO puzzle.
Here are the technical issues you need to look for:
- Site loading speed (use Google's PageSpeed Insights)
- Mobile friendliness (use Google's Mobile Friendly check
- Duplicate content (use Siteliner)
- 302 redirects
- Redirect chains
- 404 errors
- Canonical errors
- Duplicate META data
- Incorrect uses of directives (noindex, nofollow, etc)
You can use Screaming Frog SEO Spider to find most of these issues such 302 redirects, redirect chains, 404 errors, canonical errors, duplicate META data and incorrect uses of directives.
2. Develop a Strong Site Architecture
Your site architecture is how link equity gets distributed through your site.
The better your site architecture, the less backlinks you will need.
If you are using a content-driven SEO approach, then I recommend the reverse silo.
Here's how it works:
The reverse silo is great because it is the most natural way to build site authority.
Think about it:
Would you rather link to a high-quality blog article or a boring category page?
3. Produce VALUABLE Content
Content is the last and most important piece of the puzzle.
If you don't think content is important, then you might as well stop reading now.
Your content strategy will make or break your SEO campaign.
It doesn't matter how many backlinks you get.
It doesn't matter how well you optimize your site.
Your SEO campaign will eventually fail if you don't take content seriously.
Content is so important that I have dedicated an entire module to it in Gotch SEO Academy.
I'm going to be writing a lot on content marketing on this blog in 2016, but for now...
I want you to do one thing:
CARE about your content.
You don't need to be perfect, but do not publish garbage content.
Like real garbage, garbage content gets sent to the landfill where no one will ever see it again.
I'll end my content rant there.
Just know your content will determine the success of your SEO campaign.
What Is Your Risk Tolerance?
Before we get into the intense stuff, you need to gauge your risk tolerance.
The question is:
Are you willing to use risky tactics?
Are you risk averse and would like to take a "cleaner" approach that decreases your chances of a penalty?
I recommend you take the latter.
Two years ago, you could nail a brand new website with any PBN backlinks, and the site would rank within a month.
It was like taking candy from a baby, but Google caught onto this.
They introduced a "sandbox" that holds new websites back.
I’m not going to debate the existence of it because we've tested it.
Here's the conclusion:
Before: you could rank a site in 1 month with PBN backlinks.
Now: it takes two, sometimes three months to see the effects of PBN backlinks.
Knowing this, we have gone away from PBN backlinks.
But it's not just because they take longer to work.
It's because the time and financial investment isn't worth it anymore.
The time and financial ROI was huge two years ago when Google wasn't as savvy.
Now the amount of time it takes to run a successful PBN and the amount of risk involved, isn't worth it.
In 2016, a better approach is to focus on relevant backlinks from real websites.
This will help you avoid penalties and get you the long-term results you desire.
5 Rules For Creating Indestructible Backlinks
If you follow these 5 rules you will watch your site's organic traffic climb every month.
1. Keep It Relevant
Relevancy is the most important criteria for effective link acquisition.
I have never, repeat never, had a site penalized that had a 100% relevant tier one of backlinks.
Google bases "relevancy" on these three things:
- The general content "theme" of the linking domain
- The content on the linking page
- The relevancy of the backlinks hitting the domain
To see a site’s link relevancy use Majestic’s Topical Trust Flow Topics.
Keep in mind:
Link opportunities that don't have Topical Trust Flow Topic relevancy can still be valuable.
Make you evaluate your opportunities beyond third party metrics.
If you are having trouble prioritizing link opportunities, then make you read more aboutRelevancy Pyramids.
2. Let Authority Sites Be Your Friend
The stronger the site, the better the results.
Since Google doesn't update PageRank anymore, you have to rely on third party metrics.
None of these third party tools are perfect, but they will do the job.
I recommend you analyze opportunities using all available options.
The best link analysis tools are:
If you hate paying monthly fees for these tools, then I recommend you check this out.
3. Focus On Real Websites (With Real Traffic)
Getting backlinks from sites with real traffic is another way to solidify your tier one.
These are the hardest backlinks to get, but are also the most rewarding.
Since you will never know the exact traffic data of a site without getting in their analytics, you will need to use SEM Rush.
4. Distribute Your Anchor Text Intelligently
Distributing your backlink anchor text recklessly can hurt you twofold.
First, wrong anchor text distribution will inhibit your site from ranking. Last and most important, aggressive anchor text can land you a penalty.
As a general rule of thumb aim to keep your exact match anchor text below 1%.
The majority of your anchor text should be branded or naked link anchors.
Click the link above to learn all you need to know about anchor text.
5. Let Your Backlinks Live in Clean Neighborhoods
Focus your efforts on getting backlinks from sites that have high standards.
If they are linking out to “scammy” industries, then you do not want your link to live there.
Examine every prospective website and ask:
- What are they linking out to?
- Are the outbound links relevant?
- Are the outbound links going to respected, trusted sites?
If you see “viagra” or “gambling” or anything of that nature, then avoid that website.
You now know what a squeaky clean link profile looks like.
Now let me explain what backlinks you should NEVER use on tier one.
Avoid These Backlinks on Tier One
There are certain backlinks that should never touch your site.
If you decide to use these backlinks, just know that your risk for a penalty is much greater.
I have seen websites get penalties for using these backlinks.
I’m telling you that because I don’t want you to think I’m guessing.
It is a FACT that these backlinks can land you a manual or algorithmic penalty.
(Almost) Everything That’s Irrelevant
Your tier one should be a wall of relevancy surrounding your site. I said "almost" every link should be relevant because there are some situations when pure relevancy isn’t a must.
More on this in a second.
You can go on almost any SEO forum and buy backlinks on public networks. These networks will often advertise their service as “private blog networks”. But that’s a lie.
Once you are advertising a network, it is no longer private.
Throughout Google’s short history, it has gone out of its way to smash public networks. After that, they go out and destroy every website that is using these networks.
It's easy for Google to spot these networks because:
A) there are an excessive amount of outbound links (typically 25-50+) on the homepage: homepages on REAL websites don’t have a ridiculous amount of outbound links on the homepage.
B) the outbound links are completely irrelevant to each other: there will be links going to gambling sites, SEO sites, fitness sites, etc. It doesn’t make any sense.
C) the content for each post is thin (only 250-300 words): Google's Panda algorithm hates thin content.
D) you can run, but you can't hide: some networks will attempt to block Ahrefs and Majestic crawlers, but its actually a footprint. On the other hand, networks that don’t block crawlers will likely get reported to Google because of an angry competitor. It’s a lose-lose situation.
DoFollow Blog Comments
These are some of the cheapest backlinks you can buy. They are also the perfect recipe for landing a penalty.
Large amounts of outbound links + irrelevant links + outbound links going to "bad neighborhoods" (gambling, pharma, porn, etc.) = a toxic backlink
Remember link building rule #5?
You don’t want your link to live in this environment.
Sidebar, Footer Backlinks
I'll admit that sidebar and footer backlinks can work, but they are also risky.
Standalone links look like paid backlinks and you know how Google feels about those.
Vendors that sell these backlinks are also selling them to other websites. Most of these website will be irrelevant to yours. That's because these vendors rarely turn down money.
As a reminder:
You don’t want your link to live with irrelevant or “bad neighborhood” links.
One more important note about sidebar/footer backlinks:
These links are almost always sitewide links.
This can destroy your site if you are using a keyword-rich anchor text.
It will wreck your anchor text profile.
I know web designers, marketing companies, and web hosting companies love footer backlinks.
So, if you do decide to use them, I recommend you use branded anchor text.
There is one exception to this rule:
If you can manipulate the code so that your link only shows on the homepage (where most of a site authority resides).
If you are using WordPress, you can use this Restrict Widgets plugin.
As a general rule of thumb, you should avoid automated link building tools on tier one.
Some of these softwares include GSA, Ultimate Demon, and SENuke.
These softwares leverage spammed platforms and will likely land your site a penalty.
You now know what links you need to avoid like the plague.
Now let me show you how to preserve your site's authority.
4 Quick Wins to Grow Your Site's Authority
Before I jump into "Foundational" backlinks, I want to show you how to boost your site’s authority. Remember, the purpose of link acquisition to build the authority of your site.
The more authoritative your site is, the easier it is to rank for keywords.
1. Fix Broken External Links
Remember, every external link you place on your site leaks authority.
That's why it’s important to audit your site (here's an SEO audit checklist) to find broken external links.
This applies to both external links in your content and in the comment section.
To find broken links use one or all the following:
- Screaming Frog SEO Spider
- Google Search Console
2. Reclaim Lost Link Juice (404 Link Reclamation)
404 link reclamation is at the top of the list because it is the easiest.
To find all 404 errors on your site use Google Search Console or Screaming Frog.
If you find 404 errors, run the pages through a bulk check on Ahrefs or Majestic.
I recommend doing both just in case you miss some links.
When you find pages with link equity, you must 301 redirect them to a relevant page on the site or to your homepage.
3. Find and Fix Redirect Chains
Sometimes the most obvious solutions are right in front of your face. Redirect chains are another simple problem that can boost your site’s authority once fixed.
This is what a redirect chain looks like:
Do you see the problem with this picture?
The problem is that "Page B" is acting as a buffer between "Page A" and the final destination "Page C".
This technical issue is robbing "Page C" of authority.
To fix this you need to 301 redirect "Page A" to "Page C" like so:
By fixing a redirect chain you will send authority/link equity directly to the page.
That is more effective than making the link equity pass through a buffer.
Use Screaming Frog SEO Spider to find redirect chains.
4. Change 302s to 301s
302s redirects block authority flow and could be stealing authority from your site. Identify all 302 redirects on and off your site, and change them to 301s. Once again, use Screaming Frog to find 302s.
You now know how to improve your site's authority without building new backlinks.
Now it's time to learn how to build foundational backlinks.
How to Build "Foundational" Backlinks
"Foundational" backlinks improve your site's TrustRank.
The more "trustworthy" your site is, the better you will perform in the search engines.
The Foundational backlinks will create a layer of trust around your site. That's because you will be using nothing but unoptimized, branded backlinks on authority sites.
We use this exact approach with every client we take on and it works extremely well.
You should only use naked link or branded anchors for foundational backlinks.
The first thing you need to do is secure all your social media properties.
At the very minimum, your business should have:
- Google + (Personal & Business)
- LinkedIn (Personal & Business)
You don't have to actively market on these platforms, but it certainly wouldn't hurt.
For example, for Gotch SEO, my social media manager decided that Facebook was our best social media platform based on referral traffic and engagement.
That’s why we are “all-in” on Facebook and not as active on the other platforms.
Choose what platforms work best for your business.
At the minimum, populate these accounts and share some content, so that you at least have a base.
Google values business listings so much that it is apart of the local search algorithm.
This should be more than enough for you to use them for ANY SEO campaign.
The cool part about listings is that about 50% of them give you a DoFollow, unoptimized link.
Business citations are a perfect way to build a foundation of trust around your site.
Remember earlier when I said that not all backlinks hitting your site need to be 100% relevant?
I was referring to business listings and social media profiles.
Google trusts these platforms and is well aware that all types of businesses will be using them.
In a sense, they get a pass for not being relevant.
Make sure you check out our citation building service if you don't want to waste your time building citations.
While most directories are pretty much worthless, there are some diamonds in the rough.
Niche-targeted directories offer both a relevant and DoFollow link.
As you know, backlinks with both of these characteristics are hard to come by.
Use these search strings in Google to find niche directories:
- NICHE + Directory (Example: “fitness + directory”)
- NICHE directories
- NICHE + "submit site"
Geo-targeted directories are a must-have link source for local businesses.
Here are some search strings you can use to find geo-targeted directories:
city + directory
directory + city
submit my site + city
niche + city + directory
city + directories
Niche Relevant Blog Comments
I’m always amazed why so many SEOs skip out on niche relevant blog comments. Too many SEOs neglect them because of the dreaded “NoFollow” tag.
I highly recommend you don’t neglect them.
My agency uses niche relevant blog comments to:
A) create a layer of relevancy around our client’s site
B) improve to the ratio of DoFollow and NoFollow backlinks
C) diversify our anchors in a meaningful way
D) sometimes get small amounts of referral traffic
Back in 2013, I was the first person comment on one of Brian's article:
This one comment has sent my site 143 visitors since:
E) build a relationship with the blogger that you could leverage for backlinks in the future.
Point “D” is the most important and where most SEOs mess up.
Don't go to a top blog and write a "me too" comment or something general/useless.
This doesn't build relationships.
You have to contribute to the blog in a meaningful way.
You have to give VALUE.
This doesn’t mean you need to write a five paragraph essay.
In fact, I advise against that.
Focus on one point and leave a concise, well-thought out comment.
Niche Relevant Forum Backlinks
Participating on industry forums is an excellent way to build brand recognition.
And if you do it right, you will drive some relevant referral traffic to your website.
Here is the traffic the BlackHatWorld.com has sent my site since 2014:
This is referral traffic coming from 18 different threads in the forum.
Forum members have linked to my content, but it wouldn't be hard to orchestrate it if you are creative.
There aren’t many forums that allow signature backlinks, but many still allow profile backlinks. These profile backlinks are valuable because they are relevant and DoFollow in most cases.
To get the most out of your forum profile backlinks, I'm going to show you some quick techniques.
1. Prospect for relevant forums
Use the following search strings in Google to find forums:
- forum + NICHE
- NICHE + forum
2. Take time to fill out your profile
Since your link will likely be a naked link, you need to leverage co-occurrence.
Co-occurrence is when your website’s target keyword phrase is near to your link.
Just write a legitimate profile description and make sure to toss in your main keyword.
3. Understand the forum "personality" / etiquette
Every forum is different and you need to learn how each operates.
Some tolerate a little self-promotion while others will ban you for it.
Scan through the forum and see if members are sharing links in threads.
4. Increase your post count & start adding friends
The more posts/friends you have, the more trust you build on the forum. Also, more connections send more internal links back to your profile page.
This will slowly build the authority of your profile page.
5. Start a thread
Starting well-thought-out threads is a great way to build credibility on the forum.
Okay, now you might be asking what’s the point of doing all this?
The goal is to increase the amount of internal links hitting your profile page.
This leverages the forums authority. As a result it will increase the authority of your profile page hosting your link.
The second goal of all this work is so you can become a part of the forum community and so that members trust you more.
If you have a good reputation on the forum, you can share your content without getting flamed or banned.
You now know what it takes to build a solid foundation of backlinks. Now it's time to get into what I like to call "Power" backlinks.
"Power" backlinks will accelerate your results because:
A) they are the most relevant and
B) they are the most authoritative
As hard as it is to produce quality content, there is no better way to drive quality backlinks to a site.
There are only three things you have to do with a content-driven approach:
- Find the right keywords to target
- Create a great piece of content around that keyword
- Promote the content (social and backlinks)
When you create quality content, you are creating ASSETS for your business.
No matter what Google does, it can never take away your content.
You need to approach link building with a long-term mindset in 2016 and beyond.
I use the investing analogy pretty often, but it's true for SEO.
There is a compound effect of producing and promoting content on a consistent basis.
Keep in mind:
The following tactics are effective without content.
But you will get even better results if you build links to strong content assets.
For a link to be "editorial" you can't have access to the site and your link must pass editorial review