A long time!
It’s impossible to say how much time you’ll need to spend building links, but you can be sure it’ll be a while. You just have to keep at it until you have achieved a high ranking. Even then, you’ll still need to dedicate some ongoing time to the task, otherwise your ranking will drop.
How many links will I need to get a top ranking?
Lots! Depending on how much competition you’re facing for keywords, and where the links are coming from, even 100 inbound links may not make much of a difference. So don’t expect anything to happen too quickly. But if you’re dedicated, and you’re prepared to work hard at your blogging and your social media optimization (and your other link building methods), you’ll definitely see results within six to 12 months.
- Use social media to get people talking about, and linking to, your content.
- Social media is all about community.
- Be authentic, transparent, helpful.
- Listen & help.
- Learn the culture and etiquette of any social media service you use.
- Be patient – social media optimization requires long-term commitment and delivers benefits slowly.
Use other link building methods too
The best backlinks are those that come naturally as a result of great content. But they’re not the only links you should consider. There are many possible ways to generate links. Some are dubious (like auto-generation software, and sites set up by webmasters simply to host links to their other sites) and I won’t be discussing them here. Others, like those discussed below, are legitimate.
- Look for natural link partners
- Submit your site to some directories
- Check where your competitors’ links are coming from
- Syndicate content
- Leverage 404 links
- ‘Legal’ link buying
- Check out http://wiep.net/
Each of these methods is discussed in greater detail below.
I call these ‘other’ link building methods because they’re not really core methods; they’re more things you’d do to supplement your core methods. They’re unlikely to deliver big results, and some won’t be for everyone.
Look for natural link partners
Probably the most well known method of generating links is to look for link partners. This is done in a variety of ways:
- ask customers to link to your site (possibly in return for a link to theirs)
- ask strategic partners and suppliers to link to your site (possibly in return for a link to theirs)
- look for relevant high ranking sites and ask them to link to you (possibly in return for a link to theirs)
- buy SEO software that locates high ranking sites and automatically emails their owners asking them to link to you (possibly in return for a link to theirs)
TIP: If you decide to manually look for link partners, one way of assessing a site’s importance is to look at their Google PageRank (PR). PR is how Google scores importance. It gives all sites a mark out of 10. Any site with a PR of 4 or above is generally considered a worthy link partner. By downloading the Google Toolbar (from http://toolbar.google.com), you can view the PR of any site you visit.
A note on reciprocal linking
Reciprocal linking is link swapping – “If you link to me, I’ll link to you.” Although it sounds convenient (particularly if you can automate it), it’s normally only useful if the site you’re linking to is very relevant (e.g. supplier and partner links) and you don’t email your request. This is because:
- In 2005, Google made a big change to its algorithms. This change, called ‘Jagger’, effectively neutralized all but the most relevant reciprocal links.
- Webmasters of high ranking sites receive many emailed reciprocal link requests each day (not to mention hundreds of other SPAM emails). They’re normally automated, irrelevant and from sites with low PR, so most are deleted.
- Even if you offer a reciprocal link, most webmasters of high PR sites won’t be interested because it’s extra work. What’s more, they won’t want to obscure the purpose of their site with hundreds of links. (Relevant or not, they don’t want to look like a directory to their customers.)
Submit your site to some directories
Another potentially useful method of generating links is to submit your site to local and industry web directories. Some of these are very good (such as DMOZ and Yahoo), but most are of questionable value. There are several reasons for this:
- Most directories are unrelated to the subject material of your website (and remember, ideal links come from related websites).
- Many directories will charge you annually for a listing (it’s only worth paying if the website is related and has a high PR).
- Search engines don’t pay them much attention. Most directories contain thousands of links. Every page can have hundreds of links to other sites. As mentioned above, it’s best if your link appears on a page with few (if any) links to other pages. In fact, Google has hinted that it might discount directory links altogether:
There’s always the chance that we’ll discount directory links in the future.”
- Most directories are not very good. Directories are about money; they either charge you to add a listing or they sell advertising space (or both). They can be a great income source for their owners, and this makes them a very inviting business idea. As a result, thousands of new directories are popping up every year, and very few of them are any good.
One caveat on my comment about most directories being of questionable value: a listing in your local business directories can contribute to your ranking in geographically specific searches (e.g. a search for a local florist). It’s not so much the backlink that counts here, as the fact that you’re in the directory to begin with.
DMOZ & Yahoo Directories
Two directories that are actually useful are:
- DMOZ Open Directory Project (http://www.dmoz.com/add.html) – “…the largest, most comprehensive human-edited directory of the Web.” DMOZ does not charge for submissions. NOTE: This is the same as the Google Directory.
- Yahoo Directory (https://ecom.yahoo.com/dir/submit/intro/) – Yahoo charges for listings (at the time of writing, the fee was USD$299 per year).
The search engines regularly crawl these directories in search of new links, and they value them quite highly (largely because the directories are human-edited).
Check where your competitors’ links are coming from
Next, check who is linking to your high ranking competitors. This method takes a long time, but you’ll be surprised where some of their links come from.
To check on the links of your competitors:
- Go to Google and search for your keyword.
- Make a note of the top five competitors who appear (write down their domain name).
- Log in to Yahoo Site Explorer.
- Add each of these competitor’s sites to your list of sites (‘My Sites’).
- Click Explore for one of the competitor sites.
- Click Inlinks.
- In the Show Inlinks dropdown box, select Except from this domain (so you won’t see where your competitor has linked to their own site).
- A long list of results will display, showing you the site that’s linking to your competitor and a link to the page on that site which contains the backlink.
- Visit each linking page. (TIP: Use Shift + Mouse-Click to open the page in a separate window, so you don’t lose your search results page if you close the window instead of clicking Back.)
- Try to think of a way to get a link to your website on the same page (TIP: Unless they’re very relevant, and you think you have a pretty compelling reason why they should link to you, avoid sending them an email. Webmasters receive a lot of SPAM and your email will likely go unnoticed. Try calling them instead.)
Repeat steps 5 through 10 for each of your top five ranking competitors.
Syndicate your content
Content syndication means writing helpful articles (and to a lesser extent, press releases) and letting other webmasters publish them on their sites for free – on the proviso that they link back to your site. This method is also known as ‘article PR’, ‘article submission’, ‘article marketing’ and ‘article distribution’.
How content syndication works.
- You’re an expert in your field so you possess knowledge that other people want.
- You write a helpful article – sharing your hard-earned knowledge and expertise, without compromising your income stream or intellectual property. (See ‘’ on p.107 for some tips. The key concepts of this topic apply equally to article writing.)
- You submit your article to recognized and highly trafficked ‘article directories’ on the Web. Places like EzineArticles. (See ArticlePR.com for a good list of article directories to submit to. This site also features a list of ghostwriters who can write your articles for you, if you don’t have the time or writing prowess to write them yourself.)
- Webmasters and bloggers gather content from these sites for free.
- The only condition is that they must include the author bio at the end of the article, which includes a functioning link to your site (NOT a nofollow link).
- If 300 people publish your article, you get 300 links back to your site.
Benefits of content syndication
- Webmasters and bloggers are always hungry for quality content, and many don’t have the time or skills to write it themselves, nor the budget to pay someone else to write it. So helpful, well written articles are snapped up by hundreds of thousands – maybe millions – of webmasters and bloggers from all around the world, in virtually every industry. This means you can generate links quite quickly.
- Assuming you write quality, helpful articles, they’ll often be published on reputable, credible sites. Relevant sites with an established search presence, themselves. Furthermore, you get to optimize the page on which the link appears – because it’s your article! Often you’ll even get to choose the anchor text of the backlinks in the article’s author bio, so you can optimize them too. This means the backlinks in your bio pass on PageRank.
- Readers of your article will see that you know what you’re talking about, so you convey credibility. And because you’re published, they’ll see you as an authority.
- You’ll find web traffic and requests for quotes increase after every article.
- When you submit a site to an article directory, it’s published on a page of its own on that site, complete with author bio and PageRank-passing backlink. (Note, however, that many of those links have likely been devalued recently.)
- Your articles remain in the article directories indefinitely. This means your content continues to be syndicated for a long time. Potentially indefinitely. I’m still seeing years old content of mine being newly syndicated.
IMPORTANT: Despite what you may have heard (e.g. point 5 of Five Link Building Strategies That Work), backlinks from syndicated content ARE still valuable. The claim is that they are discounted because of the duplicate content filter. This is not true. The duplicate content filter affects merely what version of your article is shown in the SERPs. The backlink passes PageRank, either way. Indeed, Matt Cutts – the ‘Google Insider’ – has confirmed this: “if you do syndicate content, make sure that you include a link to the original content. That will help ensure that the original content has more PageRank.” However, it does appear that some links from syndicated articles have been devalued.
Limitations of content syndication
Nonetheless, there are a few problems with content syndication:
- Because they’re free, your articles will end up on a lot of spammy sites. Spammy sites are those that exist purely to accommodate Google ads. They’re full of keyword rich content written by someone else – and obtained for free. In other words, their owners hope to earn something for nothing. They’re certainly of no value to visitors. If a high proportion of your site’s backlinks come from spammy sites, you may be penalized, particularly if your site is relatively new. And even if you’re not penalized, many of those links will be pretty much worthless, because the host site will have no PageRank. So although content syndication generates a lot of links relatively quickly, the relative value of each link is a lot lower than it is for links generated through, say, link baiting. (See ‘Link baiting’ for more information on link baiting.) The best way to avoid penalization / low value backlinks is to write high quality articles. This will increase the proportion of high quality sites that will re-publish them.
- The duplicate content filter can be a problem. In Google’s words: “If duplicate pages are detected, one version will be returned in the SERPs to ensure variety for searchers.” Let’s say you write an article, publish it on your site, then submit it to EzineAritlces.com. Then someone searches for a phrase that you might expect your article to rank for. Because EzineArticles.com is such a high-ranking site, its version of your article might appear in the SERPs instead of the version on your website. If you’ve used that same content in a blog post, this could be a problem, because you want your blog post to appear in the SERPs (in order to generate more buzz). So you should always publish the content on your blog a few days or a week before syndicating it, and you should always link back to your blog post from your author bio. If you find this doesn’t work, and your content is consistently ranking on other people’s sites, I’d advise you to cease syndication altogether. (If you’re not using your syndicated content in your blog, then it’s not such a big deal if your version of the article appears in the SERPs. Your primary objective is to get the backlinks. And you’ll still get them, regardless of which version of your article appears in the SERPs.)
- The anchor text of backlinks from syndicated content doesn’t vary much, so the links won’t be as valuable as links derived from link baiting.
- Because of the tendency for syndicated content to appear on spammy sites, and because of the high volume of low quality articles being distributed, Google appears to have devalued backlinks from some syndicated content.
The variable value of backlinks from syndicated content
Until 2008, my high ranking was built almost exclusively on article syndication. (Certainly I made no conscious attempt to engage in any other link building activities.) And despite widespread discussion about devalued backlinks from some syndicated content, I’ve suffered no significant drop in rankings. But still, I believe it has happened.
Broadly speaking, I think that backlinks from articles syndicated on spammy sites have been devalued, but backlinks from reputable, credible sites with an established search presence have not. Here’s my logic:
- It makes sense. Spammy sites tend to use articles (good quality and bad) without regard to visitors. Quality sites tend to use only quality articles, and only when they are likely to be of value to visitors. So it makes sense to devalue links from the former and not from the latter.
- A Google spokesperson recently advised: “If you’re thinking of boosting your reputation and getting to be well-known, I might not start as the very first thing with an article directory. Sometimes it’s nice to get to be known a little better before jumping in and submitting a ton of articles as the first thing.” (Sourced from a transcript of a WebProNews interview with Matt Cutts, Maile Ohye and other Google representatives.) Although this person is actually talking about the quality of the article directory, a broad hint like this is about as close as Google ever comes to revealing the inner workings of its algorithm.
- The general consensus in the SEO community is that backlinks from syndicated content have been devalued.
- My articles are all high quality, and many of them are published on sites that Google recognizes as credible. These links are key to my ranking. Although I have thousands of backlinks, it’s these quality links that are most valuable. Now if ALL backlinks from syndicated articles were devalued, my ranking would have dropped, despite seven years of domain authority. So either backlinks have not been devalued, or only backlinks from articles syndicated on spammy sites have been devalued. Given points 1, 2 & 3 above, I’m inclined to think that the latter is the most likely explanation.
Use content syndication to supplement your link baiting. They make a perfect match, anyway. Write and publish your blog posts, then distribute them to the article directories a couple of days to a week later. And don’t spent too much time trying to distribute to all the article directories in the world. Just choose the best ones – those with the best Alexa traffic rank and those that cater specifically to your niche. The others get very little traffic, and you can be guaranteed the backlink from your article on the article directory site, itself, won’t be worth the time you spent submitting the article.
What’s more, if you find your content syndication is undermining your link baiting (because of duplicate content issues), abandon content syndication.