As a link builder, I spend the best part of 7-8 hours a day scouting for links (and then another 4-5 when I get home for my own projects). “How can you spend all that time searching for links?” I hear you ask? Well, link building isn’t just about submitting articles and scouting for directories. It’s a common misconception amongst new and even veteran SEOs that link building is grunt work.
Sure low-level link building can be outsourced but newer algorithms try to dissuade people from engaging in sub-par link building techniques, stick to high-quality linking strategies and not only will your clients thank you for it – you’ll be saving time, money and your reputation as well!
I outsource all my link building because I don’t have the time to do directory submissions, join forums or spam blogs.”
You’d be amazed at how many times I’ve heard something similar to the above statement. Today I’m going to list 101 different link building techniques that range from pristine white to soot black.
It should be noted that on-page and off-page optimisation go hand in hand. If the website you’re link building for is a thin-affiliate site, a cookie-cutter made for adsense/clickbank/amazon/CPA, then you’re going to struggle to get to into the upper echelons of the SERPS (that’s not to say it’s not possible) but you need to be providing users with something original. Whether this takes shape in the form of adding UGC, Reviews or Videos. To succeed will take a lot of hard work, especially with the recent Panda updates but those determined enough will achieve results.
Ok, you’ve read all that, let’s get on to the main event:
White Hat Link Building Techniques
One could argue that high quality content will eventually be linked to organically and that is a white hat link builders’ wet-dream, for other marketers the truth of the matter is that it’s just not that easy. People probably won’t be linking to your blog post on “mulching lawn mowers” and you may be promoting a new business that simply doesn’t have any organic visibility or existing PR. Fear not! Below is a list of white hat link building techniques that should ensure you don’t run afoul of any search engine penalties and boost your organic visibility.
- 1. Directory Submissions – Directory submissions have been around for what feels like the best part of a century. There are a few major directories you need to apply to (DMOZ, Business.com, BOTW and Yahoo) – If you can find topical directories those will help as well, but try not to spam thousands of directories with your link as you may end up doing more harm than good.
- 2. Article Marketing – Many SEO’s were caught in the recent wake of the almighty Panda and you could argue that article marketing no longer works. Sure if you’re submitting the same article to 2000 auto-approve syndication sites you won’t be seeing the same organic improvements you saw before Panda but focus on authority sites and you’ll still make some headway against your competitors.
- 3. Guest Blogging – A particular favourite of mine at the moment as you’re trading your knowledge and expertise for a link that should be relevant to the topic you’re writing about. By guest blogging you’re providing high quality content and sharing it on trust-worthy sites, which in turn exposes your content to a reader base that may not be aware of you. Everybody wins – sure there’s a lot of work involved but ultimately you need to be thinking about long term linking strategies that adhere to search engine guidelines and provide users with content they want to read and engage with.
- 4. Social Bookmarking – Submit your site to major social bookmarking sites – (Delicious, Digg, Ping… etc etc)
- 5. Social Networking – Leverage your contacts, utilise linkedin / facebook / twitter and if you’ve got friends in on-topic markets see if you can organise a link exchange or deal.
- 6. Blog Commenting – Find blogs that are similar to your website, engage webmasters and users and if your site is beneficial to the user add a link (don’t go crazy).
- 7. RSS Feed Syndication
- 8. Become An Authoritive Figure In Your Arena
- 9. Create Link Bait (Infographics/Viral Videos) – An excellent marketing tool if you’ve got the information to populate it with. Sure it’s been done before but if you can do it bigger and better then go for it!
- 10. Submit Your Site To Local Directories – If you run a local business, you can create a number of links from sites like Yell, Brownbook, Thomson, Qype etc. These citations are also said to increase your organic positions within blended listings as well. Although with the new Google Places it may not have the same effect it once had.
- 11. Press Release Distribution – Extra, Extra. If you’ve got news, share it with the world.
- 12. Google Alerts – A powerful tool, if used correctly. Alerts can be used to scout out websites talking about your business, or tracking target key terms which could turn into linking opportunities.
- 13. Submit Videos To Youtube / Dailymotion / Etc – This is a two-fold strategy. If your video is well branded you stand a chance of generating enough of a buzz that people will link to your video and your brand. Failing that, you can insert links in your descriptions – Youtube videos have a tendency to be picked up by thousands of other video sites automatically and in most cases the links will be scraped with them.
- 14. The Dead Link Search – This particular technique has been popping up more and more frequently. Use a dead link checker on high PR sites (or topical) get in touch with the webmaster if there are any dead links, inform the webmaster and ask for a link. There are grey and black hat spins on this but play nice.
- 15. Reciprocal Link Building – Kind of falls into the white/grey area depending on how you choose to utilise this link building strategy. If you’re trading links with the sole intent of gaming search engines – you’re doing it wrong.
- 16. Create A Widget / Program / WordPress Plugin – Once again if done right this is an entirely legitimate way of creating links. (Sneaking hidden links into your widgets is not)
- 17. Charitable or Educational Donations – Genuine philanthropy can go a long way. By donating to charities and educational faculties you may find they’re more than happy to mention you on their website. This of course shouldn’t be the main reason for donating but comes as an added bonus.
- 18. Attend SEO Conferences / Gatherings (Pubcon, A4U, LinkLove… the list is endless) - Mingle with your peers, find out new ways of link generation. If you’ve been around long enough you may even want to present at these events. This tactic doesn’t have to be limited to SEO related industries. If your client is in the travel industry you may want to discuss going to conferences with your client. If you’re lucky you may even find yourself with additional business.
- 19. Use Q&A Sites – Yahoo Answers, Experts Exchange, Forums.
- 20. Create A Directory – Create your own directories for your clients and interlink the sites. If you can convince your client to link back to the site you may find their competitors requesting a link back as well. Of course you could put a grey and even black spin on this but done with no ill intentions this could be a white hat tactic.
- 21. SocialSpark Paid Blogger Network – These types of sites are on the lighter shade of grey than truly white but SS is different to the standard incentivised blog network. The SocialSpark system is a sponsored blog network that offers incentivisation for bloggers with a twist. It tracks clicks, encourages nofollow links and doesn’t infringe on freedom of speech. Effectively you’re paying for a relevant guest-post or review on a product that will be seen on high traffic sites (You could compare it to an advert or editorial in a magazine).
- 22. Stumble It – Stumbleupon is a powerful link building tool. Use it to find sites in the same genre as yours, contact the webmaster and get the ball rolling.
- 23. Competitor Research – Why start from scratch when you don’t have to? Scout out your competitors backlink profile using Yahoo Site Explorer / OSE etc. Be careful with this one, odds are you wouldn’t want someone using the same tactics against you and you don’t want to tread on other marketers toes but the information is freely available. If the competitor has a solid backlink profile you shouldn’t be able to emulate their backlink strategy anyway!
- 24. Review Other Services Or Projects With Videos etc – A spin-off of the linkbait idea. If you can provide users with something original, it doesn’t have to be funny to go viral (but in an age of memes and lolcats it sure helps). You can generate a number of good links by combining this strategy with others.
- 25. Write A White Paper And Distribute It Through Ebook & PDF Depositories – Kinda grey if you’re doing it wrong but if you’ve got something important to show the world then put it in a PDF and distribute it. Similar to RSS feed syndication.
- 26. Contests – Another linkbait idea. Hold a contest, if your client runs a travel site offer a free holiday for the most activity in a game or something similar. As a friendly warning however, don’t “do an overstock” or you will suffer the wrath of Google.
- 27. Create A Top “XXX” List *cough* – One of the oldest tricks in the book. Truth be told, I was going to start this post as a “top 250 link building techniques” post but after getting to 50, the harsh realisation that there probably aren’t all that many, unless you start listing thousands of different link bait ideas (which is another post in itself – “The Top 1000 Link Bait Ideas”).
- 28. Run A Webinar – If you’re confident enough to answer questions and offer something new, or are an expert in your field (or are just a great marketer) then you should be hosting a webinar.
- 29. Exact Match Domains – This may sound silly and in most markets it’s probably not applicable but there are still a number of surfers out there who will type an exact match query as a domain to find what they’re looking for. Although this may not be a link in the true sense of the term you’ll be picking up high quality traffic if you can manage to register “red leather sports gloves.com”.
- 30. Podcasting / Videocasting – Ever heard of Whiteboard Friday? Sure you have.
- 31. Create A Wiki Page – Not necessarily applicable to everyone but if your client is a big brand, educational premises or charity, you can create a company profile for their business or group.
- 32. Join Your Local Business Bureau / Local Chamber Of Commerce
- 33. Use Google Trends – Create websites based on trending topics and link back to relevant clients from these new sites.
- 34. Contact & Reward People That Link To Your Site – By giving recognition to people that have you linked to your site you are standing out from the crowd. By rewarding them with recognition or discounts you may find they are likely to link to your site again or tell their friends. This could be seen as grey-ish but as long as you’re not actively rewarding people before linking back to your site you shouldn’t fear the reaper.
- 35. Create A Quiz Or Test – Linkbait again but people love them. There will be a linking test on this site as soon as I get around to it.
- 36. Tumblr – This particular social phenomenon deserves a mention. Although Tumblr may not seem like an obvious link building tool by building a viral site or sharing content through this medium, you can generate links back to your site.
- 37. Contact Journalists – HARO is a great site that allows you to connect to journalists that can give you real world exposure.
- 38. Create An Android / Apple App – Not the easiest thing in the world to achieve but if executed well can result in a number of high quality links.
- 39. Build Micro-Niche Sites / Blogs – If you are link building for a major company or project that has sub-genre or significant long-tail search volume, you may find that creating micro-sites and linking back to your money site is a viable linking strategy.
- 40. 301 Old Pages – Have you changed your site structure recently but neglected to 301 your old pages? As Arnold would say – “DO IT NOAAWWWWWW!”. The hard work has already been done, don’t waste previous efforts. You’ll be kicking yourself otherwise.
- 41. Run A Deal On Groupon – Not only will you experience a significant influx of traffic but if you’re offering a great deal you’ll find yourself with a boat load of links as well.
- 42. Discover The Meaning Of Life – That would make for some excellent linkbait.
- 43. Create & Distribute Discount Coupons – Does your client deal with ecommerce? By distributing coupons or discount codes one can expect an influx of traffic and additional conversions as well as backlinks.
- 44. Hire A White Hat Link Building Company – If all else fails and you just don’t have the time to work on your site, then hire someone else to work alongside you.
- 45. Find Sites That Have Mentioned Your URL – Sometimes you’ll find your site url listed but not hyperlinked from other sites. This could be an accident. In some cases it’s done intentionally but it never hurts to contact the webmaster and see if can be converted to a link.
- 46. Install Tynt Or An Equivalent Copy & Paste Script On Your Website – People will copy and paste your content. Sometimes with malicious intent, others, because it’s informative and of a high enough quality to be shared with their readers. Thankfully there are a few scripts out there that automatically attach a link with content to anyone copy and pasting your content. I’ve had a similar script installed on a site that receives about 5000 unique visits a day and in the 6 months it’s been live, it’s generated approximately 1,100 backlinks from a plethora of sites including Youtube, Break, Facebook and more.
- 47. Submit Your Site To Web Design Contests – There are a number of competitions running for sites that have invested a lot of time in an amazing or unique web design. (CssElite etc)
- 48. When Signing A Guestbook Or Leaving A Testimonial – Include a URL in your signature.
- 49. Submit Images To Flickr / Other Image Sites – You’ll be able to build backlinks from these repository sites. If you’re interested in letting other people use your images as well you may find yourself with a few links this way.
- 50. Offer “Free” SEO Services – Search for a few people that need SEO services and offer a free consultation in return for a link back to your website.
20 White/Grey Hat Link Building Techniques
Now we’re going to look at 20 white/grey link building techniques that aren’t too sinister and you may get away with it. You should still be able to sleep at night after using these techniques.
- 51. Find Open Wikipedia Sites And Populate Them With Quality Content – If you’re a linking super slueth you should be able to uncover a number of open Wiki sites on EDU/Org domains that accept user submissions. Populate these pages with high quality contributions and add your link in a profile or on the page if it’s topical.
- 52. Run A Top List – Although top lists aren’t particularly popular anymore, this could be seen as a valid way of building authority within a domain. Make sure the script doesn’t give out 302 redirect links or you’ll lose any link juice from them.
- 53. Incentivise Your Employees To Blog – Get your employees to blog about their lives and convince them to link to the workplace in their blogroll.
- 54. Run A Reciprocal Link Directory
- 55. Create Multiple Social Network Profiles & Link back to your business.
- 56. Build A Plugin Or Widget that automatically places a link back to your website. Users should be able to choose whether or not the plugin displays the link. (If you charge a fee it’d be a bit more Grey/Black).
- 57. List Items On Ebay / Craigslist – Then link back to your website from these listings.
- 58. Run An SEO Contest And Get People To Blog About Your Post – Recently run by a reputable SEO blog, not really white hat, but not really grey either. I’d certainly run something similar.
- 59. Buy Sites From Flippa and link back to your site.
- 60. Translate Your Blog then submit it to non-English directories. You can obviously put a blackhat spin on this but if your content is useful to others internationally, then this is a valid technique.
- 61. Nag Your Peers – Begging/Constantly Pestering/Never Let Up. Hassle your peers to link back to your website. You’ll come off needy as hell but you may get a few links.
- 62. SEO IS DEAD / I KNOW HOW TO STOP PANDA – We’ve all read a post claiming the end of the world is nigh or how to solve Panda (hell I’ve even rickroll’d a few SEOs) – It’s been done before.
- 63. Job Boards – If you’re recruiting then you could add a few sneaky links in to your post.
- 64. Charities & Non-Profit Organisations – Instead of asking for a donation, ask for a backlink.
- 65. Release Shareware Software – Request backlinks as a method of payment for the software.
- 666. Get The Devil’s Help – Probably more redhat tbh?
- 67. Place A Link To Your Website From Your Client’s Website Footer – A common practice amongst SEO and design agencies. It’s not really white-hat and it is a legitimate way of link building, but in an ideal world linkback should be optional.
- 68. Sponsor WordPress Themes
- 69. Corporate Sponsorship – By increasing brand awareness you’re generating a buzz about your business or company. This in turn could lead to indirect links, or links directly from the company/team/whatever you’re sponsoring. That’s the white hat done, time for a little bit of nostalgia – 69 DUDE!
- 70. PayPerPost / InPostLinks (other pay to blog networks) – Kinda greyish because you can choose the “white hat path” and request nofollow links but the option is there to have follow links.
15 Grey Hat Link Building Techniques
Not quite black and definitely not white. Grey hat techniques are for those looking to get ahead in the short term and don’t necessarily consider the long-term implications of their actions. Many affiliate sites were born from Grey / Black techniques and are now authority sites in their niche. (Moneysupermarket) Use these tactics with caution, as not only will you be treading on other people’s toes a simple spam report could see you slapped back into the dark ages.
- 71. Untargeted Mass Forum Marketing – this could be hiring 20 outsourced workers to scout high PR forums and create generic posts or thin responses with the sole purpose of building links.
- 72. Mechanical Turk / Microworkers – Used to manipulate Google Suggest.
- 73. Paul & Angela’s Links
- 74. Purchase Expired / Old Domains with High PR – You could transform the site into something different or simply 301 redirect the site to yours (be-warned that Google are currently heavily clamping down on this technique)
- 75.Buy Sidebar / Footer Links On Blogs / Themes or Sitewide Links – There is a thriving virtual market for purchasing anchor text based backlinks (TLA / PPP / Too many to list) and many major brands are often ill advised to use these networks. If these sites are used clients should be informed as there are penalties involved for obvious link purchases.
- 76. Build A Private Content Network
- 77.Buy Facebook Likes / Twitter Followers / Google Plus’seses’s. – Although not a traditional link building technique if you believe social signals are an influence on organic visibility then this one is for you.
- 78.Blog Commenting On Auto-Approve Sites with +1000 Comments – Ok so you’ve found a site that’s obviously auto-approving comments, it has a PR6 and best of all, it’s is an EDU. But do you really want to be “that guy”. The one that has a link below “Lose Weight Fast Fatty” and before “Make $1,000,000 With Forex While Growing Your Shwing-Shwong With Herbal Poker.” Just imagine the awkward conversation with your client later. “Dear Mr Client, I’ve managed to build a PR6 link EDU link for you!” “Really? That’s great! – What’s the URL?” “Oh it’s www.ohwaitimgoingunderatunnel.com”.
- 79. Text-Link-Ads / Link Brokerages
- 80. Comment Luv Enabled Blog Spam – Comment Luv is a system generated to combat spam and the nofollow attribute. However it is quite easy to manipulate and create follow links en-masse through CL enabled blogs.
- 81. Auto-Blog Generation - Have you ever seen blogs with hundreds of thousands of posts that are automatically generated, spun and then populated with contextual links? A common practice amongst advanced SEOers.
- 82. Mass Article Marketing Spam – There are a few programs out in the wild that enable you to submit to 2000+ articles at the click of a button, they’ll even spin pre-written articles to increase uniqueness. (AMR etc)
- 83. Link Wheel / Pyramid / Magnets / “Random Object” Generation – Web 2.0 sites are frequently abused by users creating automated and multiple Squidoo, HubPages, WordPress etc pages, interlinking them and then pointing them to their money site. Although this could be seen as a white hat linking process, when automated and populated with garbage it clearly isn’t. The wheel is then added to, with lower quality linking. E.G Tier 1 – Web 2.0. Tier 2 – Blog Commenting. Tier 3 – Forum Spam etc. While this strategy still works you are taking a gamble with your site and this shouldn’t be done on clients’ sites if they aren’t aware of the consequences.
- 84. Automated Dripfed Links – Now we’re getting to the darker side of grey. Automated scrapebox/squidoo/link pyramids etc on targeted sites but on a low scale is more grey than black because your site may be relevant to users. If acquiring links in a gung-ho fashion then it’s black.
- 85. Sponsor A Recent Posts Widget – A great way to diversify your link portfolio; definitely a paid link though.
15 Black Hat Link Building Techniques
Some of these techniques are illegal and shouldn’t be used under any circumstances, they are listed to demonstrate the different styles of link generation techniques out there, and ones that you need to be aware of in case your site becomes compromised.
Please note that there is a difference between Black Hat SEO and fraud / illegal hacking – Black Hat SEO is primarily based around automation and exploits. I.E Techniques that are frowned upon by search engines but aren’t illegal. (Until the Google police becomes a legal entity of course).
- 86. Xrumer / Scrapeboard – Automated forum spamming software.
- 87. Scrapebox / Automated Blog Spam / Trackback – An overly used and abused tactic. Part of the reason why the nofollow tag was adopted. Scrapebox is however an amazing tool if used for good!
- 88. Cloaked Link Requests – There are many automated scripts that will leave comments on competitor blogs claiming to have added a link to your site. “Hey I really like your site, I’ve added you to my blogroll here”. Once you click on the link your referral data is read and your site appears to be in the blogroll. However upon accessing the site from an external source your link is now gone!
- 89. Injection Of Links + Cloaking – A tactic seen quite frequently for adult / pharma sites on EDU / high PR sites. Not only is this practice illegal, but it is quite difficult to detect for average webmasters that do not have their site in GWT, as the site will show no obvious signs of having been compromised.
- 90. Immitate Your Competitor – Something that we’ve possibly all thought about doing in times of despair. Does your competitor have a hyphenated domain but has left the non-hypen available to register? Duplicate the entire site and contact the sites they’re linking from and request they switch the URL’s across. This is entirely illegal and could have serious legal repercussions.
- 91. Automated Social Spamming / Web 2.0 / SENuke – As mentioned in the greyhat linkwheel section these programs can kill web 2.0 platforms and populate them with so much crap that users just aren’t interested anymore.
- 92. 1000 PR10 Links For A Dollar – Anyone that’s been in the link building industry long enough has seen ads similar to this promising thousands of high PR backlinks for an obscenely low sum. Don’t do it, you’ll be getting .ru/.cn/spam sites linking to you and although you may see a short-term increase in organic positioning you’ll sandbox your site quicker than Cartman on Chipotle.
- 93. Chinese High PR Backlinks – There are a number of PR8+ sites that you can buy links from for $50/month. Don’t waste your money look for longterm strategies instead of short term gains.
- 94. Hidden Links – (div style=”margin-left:-1000000000px; colour:samecolourasyourbackground;”) don’t do it. You won’t pass a manual review, it’s not worth it.
- 95. Doorway Pages – Creating keyword stuffed doorway pages still works but your site won’t last long.
- 96. DNS Hacking – Naughty Naughty.
- 97. GWT Hacking – If you can get into someone else’s GWT account you could request a domain name address change.
- 98. Canonical Hacking / XSS – Similar to a forced 301.
- 99. Impersonate Matt Cutts At A Convention – More stupid-hat than black hat.
- 100. Referrer Log Spamming – A very old and annoying technique but can still yield results.
1 Bonus Link Building Tip
- 101. Make It Easy For People To Link To You! – I’m not talking about shameless self promotion or popup ads that ask people to link to you. If you’ve got something to offer customers or readers, make sure you make it easy for them to share your content. If it’s truly great you’ll probably get the share anyway but why take the chance? On that note if you’d like to share this post on twitter/facebook please use the sharebar on the left or if you’re feeling really generous, a link wouldn’t go amiss – <a href=”http://www.sebastiancowie.com/seo/link-building/101-link-building-techniques-for-2011-inc-white-grey-and-black-hat/” target=”_blank”>101 Link Building Techniques for 2011 inc. White, Grey and Black Hat</a> feel free to modify the anchor text to whatever you see fit ^^’
I’d like to thank the following people for inspiring me to write this post and if you’re still yearning for more link building debauchery give these guys a shout.
Jon Coopers – 152 Link Building Techniques – Gave me the inspiration to write this post.
SEOmoz – The Pro’s Guide To Link Building 2011 – Read it, absorb it. Then read it again.
Distilled – Link Building Essentials – A great post on why we build links. Covering trust, authority, distribution and the theory behind it. A must read.
If you’re looking for a professional SEO company to handle your onsite optimisation and link building campaigns, leave me a comment or stalk me on twitter and mention this post and we’ll discuss your requirements and I’ll be sure to organise a special discount for you!