As with just about everything in the world of SEO, the best link building techniques change every year -- what works one year can yield paltry results the next. Worse, strategies that used to be acceptable can now result in a Google penalty. These are called “black hat” strategies, SEO practices that violate search engine guidelines.
Generally, black hat strategies are done intentionally to exploit loopholes in the way search engines compute their rankings.
However, if you don’t revamp your SEO methods regularly, you could accidentally fall prey to a Google penalty.
Which Link Building Techniques Aren’t White Hat?
What once seemed like a creative SEO solution can now get you into trouble. Before we get into specifics, the number one golden rule to avoid black hat link building tactics is to create links for people, not for computers.
Are there exceptions to this rule? Certainly. But if you remember nothing else from this article, it’s a good rule of thumb to keep in mind. Another good rule that Google includes in their webmaster guidelines is, “Would I do this if search engines didn't exist?”
Black Hat Link Building Techniques
Here’s a quick rundown of black hat SEO link building practices:
- Link Farms - Groups of websites that all link to every other site in the group
- Link Exchanges - Trading a link from a website you own to someone else’s for the same from them
- Link Spamming - Sending spammy emails to hundreds of websites with the hope of getting a few links out of it
- Commenting on blogs/forums - Commenting for the sole purpose of getting a link
- Low-Quality Directory Listings - Getting links from spammy websites solely devoted to large lists of links with no other value
- Private Blogging Networks - Posting links on low-quality PBNs that only exist for linking purposes
Grey Hat Link Building Techniques
There are also some grey hat link building strategies where context determines whether or not you should go for the link. Buying a link is a perfect example of this. Some “SEO experts” claim buying links is always wrong. Though it is technically against the rules, if you do it right, you can build helpful links that won’t result in a penalty.
Say there’s a local event where you get a link on the event’s website for being a sponsor. Would you sponsor the event if search engines didn’t exist? Probably.
Other links are less ethical and more risky to buy. Never buy links in bulk, and don’t buy links from someone offering them to you. If someone comes to you with a link, they’ve gone to hundreds of others before you. They’ll eventually go down, and you’ll likely fall with them.
Guest posting is also still a grey hat practice. Though technically, it can be white, grey, or black depending on how you do it. If you write content about topics you have expertise on for a trusted authority in your industry, it’s considered best practice.
You’ll need to be careful about which websites you target for guest posts. If you get links by guest posting on websites accepting content from anyone, you’re using a black hat technique. These are usually the same sites that post lots of articles with excessive amounts of do-follow links, and Google specifically states that “guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links” count as a link scheme.
These are the link building strategies that you should either use with caution or avoid completely. In contrast, the following inbound link strategies are as close to best practice as you can get.
White Hat Link Building Techniques
Resource Page Link Building
One of the most tried and true strategies for getting inbound links is resource link building. Simply search for resource pages in your niche. You can make things easier on yourself by using helpful search strings.
Not all links will be worth pursuing. You should be able to find a few high-authority, free resource pages with that are in your niche with do-follow outgoing links. Once you do, just submit your information (in many cases, you may need to email them or submit a contact form).
Example Search Strings
- [Keyword] inurl:resources
- [Keyword] “best resources”
- [Keyword] “useful resources”
- [Keyword] intitle:links
- [Keyword] “helpful links”
- [Keyword] “best sites”
- [Keyword] “best blogs”
- [Keyword] “blog awards”
- [Keyword] “places to learn”
Broken Link Building
Broken link building has a bit of bad reputation. However, there’s a right and wrong way to practice broken link building. When done correctly, it is best practice and adds value to your campaign.
Tip: You can use tools like Check My Links Chrome extension and Hunter.io to help you go about the process faster.
If you use broken link building the wrong way, it can easily become link spamming.
Broken link building comes down to the following three steps:
1. Find outbound links to dead pages.
The fastest free tool for finding outbound links to dead pages is the “Check My Links” Chrome extension. Find broken links by scraping resource pages or other pages in your niche with lots of outbound links. Use the “Check My Links” Chrome extension to easily highlight any broken links.
2. Find the contact info for a site linking to a dead page.
Try using Hunter.io, a Chrome plugin, to find email addresses for the website you’re reaching out to. It’s great for getting tested, harder to find email addresses. This is important because if you’re contacting a large company and all you can get is an “info@” or “support@” email, it might not be worth your time. Same goes for using contact forms.
3. Email them, politely suggesting your link as an alternative.
Send them a friendly email letting them know about the broken link on their site, and suggest your link as a replacement.
If you use broken link building the wrong way, it can easily become link spamming. A lot of people send out hundreds of emails in bulk because broken link building has a low success rate of under 10 percent. However, you’re more likely to get a response and less likely to get penalized if you personalize each email you send, instead of using a template that just inserts names.
Build Links to Valuable Content
Creating valuable content that generates interest organically will always be the most white hat way of getting quality inbound links.
Nothing signals to Google that your website should rank higher than having blog posts, podcasts, or videos that generate inbound links from websites genuinely wanting to share that content with their visitors.
Sometimes, your great content needs help finding those websites. About 90 percent of organizations rely on content marketing. The odds of your content ranking well without a little love is slim. Don’t worry, there are lots of great ways to market your content by earning inbound links.
Link outreach is the practice of contacting good candidates to link to your content. An easy way to do this is to check out your competitors and see what sites are linking to theirs. A good place to start is SEMrush or Ahrefs, which let you type in a competitor’s URL and see where they are receiving their inbound links. You can also look for link roundups in your niche using searches like:
- [your topic] roundup
- best [your topic] links
- best [your topic] posts
- best [your topic] articles
- top [your topic] links
Reach out to these site owners and convince them that your link is a valuable addition to their content.
Share on Social Media
It goes without saying, but sharing your content on all social media platforms is a must. It’s a free way to increase your content’s social exposure. Getting links is partly a numbers game: the more views it gets, the more in inbound links it may earn. Social links are generally nofollow, but they can generate relevant referral traffic and organic exposure.
Link Building in 2019, and On
Link building is still an essential SEO strategy. Some practices, however, have become dated. The times when you could get away with sketchy tactics like link exchanges, link farming, and link spamming are over.
Inbound links, for the most part, should be earned. This means link building should be used to bolster a solid marketing strategy that already has its bases covered. If you don’t have a useful website with valuable content, you won’t be able to get the inbound links you want without resorting to black hat methods.
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