SEO

Natural Link Building : Create an Online Presence and Linkable Brand

Link building is generally a term used around the SEO industry to describe building relevant links to a website in an effort to rank that site for specific terms while also building trust, value and equity to that website. All too often however, link building is associated with questionable SEO practices such as link buying or link spamming.

As an old school online marketer and PR guy, I tend to take a different approach to my link building philosophy, and see link building as more of a branding and web presence approach. The beauty of the Internet, especially the Internet of 2009 – 2010, is that so many different opportunities are out there to build an online brand, from video distribution to social networking to blogging. I think far too often, especially in the world of linking, too much emphasis is placed on buying static sitewide links in an effort to build “link popularity” and once a specific number of links is established, sites or businesses will “set it and forget it”, becoming complacient with their link numbers and or ranking … only later finding out that they ultimately lose such ranking to more diverse and creative online brands which take a more interesting approach.

The Fall of Sitewide Linking

Over the past year or so, I’ve noticed more and more devaluation of sitewide linking, that is links which are placed on all pages of a website. At one time, sitewide links may have led to higher rankings under the school of thought that the higher number of incoming links with targeted anchor text, but over the past 6 months or so, that value has diminished for obvious reasons.

One issue, especially in the field of paid linking, is that it is usually unnatural for a site to have the majority of its inbound links to come from sitewide linking, and sites which do partake in such link acquisition and development, tend to focus primarily on building those large batches of links, disregarding the more purposeful relevance of precisely targeting link acquisition.

In a nutshell; you usually have to earn the right to obtain a sitewide link, they don’t come out of thin air. Likewise, how natural is it for a newspaper website to link to a payday loan lender from all of its pages? Not natural at all.

Foundational Link Building

In order to earn sitewide links, which would come from links in a template, sidebar or other “sitewide” area under a “friends”, “links” or “resources” section, ideally a website would have to earn and establish its web presence. And how does a site initially establish web presence? Well, before jumping out of the gate by acquiring sitewide links via buys or other methods, I whole heartedly recommend waiting until the incubation period of linking, or a site’s link foundation is built.

Establishing web presence does not just equal linking, it equals site branding. This is done by writing and distributing press releases about your site launch and business news, contributing guest posts on blogs that you have taken the time to build relationships with, developing your branded social profiles across multiple social networking sites, building out your Facebook fanpage, your email newsletter, Twitter account and YouTube profile AND actually using these tools to build your brand. The more connections you make, the more natural links will come.

The incubation period also is the perfect time to build directory links in Best of the Web, Yahoo and other web directories.

Long Term Link Strategy

All too many times link builders, or link development strategists, get impatient … always wanting to jump the gun with hundreds or thousands of links in the first month. But before a site is really going to start ranking or really should naturally be pulling in thousands of links per month, its brand should be built. When I’m working on a client’s overall linking profile, I like to give the client a six month to one year timeline to achieve their long term linking and SEO goals. Sure, using shortcuts sometimes ranking can be secured sooner, especially for an established site, but by building out a long term strategy, the end result is not only going to be more effective, but more natural …. which means a long term result and not a flash in the pan or blip in the Google results.

I would say that generally 10% of the incoming links to the sites I work with come from sitewide links, I like to keep that as a rule of thumb. The real power in linking comes from utilizing the tools given to you by your employer, site or client. Obtain the following marketing material from your client in order to build the more diverse and structured link portfolio in your vertical :

  • Video : Video can be uploaded to YouTube and dozens of other online video sharing platforms which not only include links to the site behind the video, but also will show up in targeted search queries for the company name and relevant terms in Google, Yahoo and other search engines.
  • Documents : Many companies have PDF’s and libraries of other documents from offline marketing collateral including eBooks, guides, downloads, brochures, flyers …etc. All of these can be used online to assist with link building. Marketing collateral and white papers can be uploaded to your Scribd profile and other document sharing sites. eBooks can be housed on the website and links built to them via press releases or blog coverage.
  • Product & Press : Contests, giveaways, donations and joint ventures are a surefire way to build strong links. Holding contests for free product will get your site covered on contest sites and also give you fodder for a press release that can be distributed to news outlets and blogs in your vertical. To get the most out of a giveaway, partner with various non-competitors who attract a similar target market to do a massive giveaway. Also, instead of just donating money to a charity, giveaway a product and or get a giant check printed, call local journalists and make a press conference out of it.

For more info on building out diverse links, see the Link Building Evaluation Guide.

Blogging and Linking

Besides the obvious benefit of bringing in longtail search traffic because of the variety of content and natural language on a blog, hosting an informative company blog or third party blog around your vertical can also bring in a lot of links, and also redirect that sitewide link equity you may be looking for. Sitewide links don’t make search sense a lot of the time, unless they point to a blog. One of the basics of blogging is blogrolling; linking to other industry blogs in your blogroll, and vice versa. By doing so, you can attract a lot of links from other relevant blogs and their link equity.

Don’t stop there however. Make sure that if your blog is hosted on your own site (via blog.site.com or www.site.com/blog) or on a totally different domain, that the blog spreads equity to the main business site. I like to be open and brand a blog as being the editorial arm of a business, therefore it is natural for that blog to link over to the main business site, therefore spreading that relevance to the target page.

Blogs, especially those hosted on third party domains, can assist your overall site and brand in other ways too. First, a targeted news oriented blog around a specific vertical is more likely to be picked up by Google News than a corporate blog. Or if a business plan is generally that of a resource, I would suggest building the site off of a blog.

Case in point : launch blog, get links, get listed in news site, go social on Digg & Stumble Upon, then build out the bulk of the MONEY part of the site off of the already established authority domain.

Like I eluded to above, a blog is much more likely to get picked up in social news sharing networks and it’s also against the terms of services of some of these sites to submit ecommerce or commercial material, so establishing a blog to push socially, then taking advantage of that equity in a responsible manner, may make more sense then first building the ecommerce site then launching a blog off of it.

To add to the equation, it’s also much more natural to start link building via blog commenting. If you represent a blog, chances are you will have a much better chance of being approved by a blog comment moderator.

Here’s some advice on blog commenting in an effort to build links :

By taking the time to comment on blogs, even one or two comments per day can lead to extremely positive results such as reputation building, expert positioning, and the building of inbound links, even if said blogs use the no follow attribute in their comment fields (and if they do not, all the better).

Why not worry about No Follows? Because ALL humans ignore No Follow. If you participate in a blog comment discussion and link to your site, chances are readers of that blog will follow the link … building to your site’s traffic. The more popular the blog, the more traffic you can build.

But do not place a signature link in the comment body itself except for critical circumstances. Linking to your own site in the comment body is not only spammy in nature, but can also get your name, site, email and IP flagged by ’social’ blog spam software like SpamKarma, and get your comments automatically deleted from dozens of blogs which use the application.

Using blatant Anchor Text instead of a handle or name in the Name field of blog comments can have the same result, so don’t do it!

blog comments Natural Link Building : Create an Online Presence and Linkable Brand

Now Go After Your Sitewides

The reason I started writing this post was to talk about how sitewides may not be as valuable as they once were as they could be an instant red flag for spam, especially if they make up the bulk of your linking profile. After you have first established your online presence, I then would recommend going after some sitewides. This does not always mean you have to buy them, and you should attract some nice natural links by building your online brand, but if you do acquire them in a questionable manner, be smart about it and also keep in mind that if you build smartly, your established linking presence will justify the sitewides you acquire.

Just like traditional marketing and branding, link building should never have a set it and forget it mentality, the industry and serps are always changing, and this is going to influence the way you build links. By keeping your linking on an even keel and setting a natural strategy however, those changes at Google or Bing should not have a massive effect on your ranking, at least your ranking which is attributed to linking and branding, as this core method of smart linking has worked for 10 years, through changes and updates, because it is natural and web presence does not go away.

Screen Shot 2014 04 15 at 7.21.12 AM Natural Link Building : Create an Online Presence and Linkable Brand
Loren Baker is the Founder of SEJ, an Advisor at Alpha Brand Media and runs Foundation Digital, a digital marketing strategy & development agency.
Screen Shot 2014 04 15 at 7.21.12 AM Natural Link Building : Create an Online Presence and Linkable Brand

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55 thoughts on “Natural Link Building : Create an Online Presence and Linkable Brand

  1. Great tips. I am working on doing just that. blogging to build my own personal brand. I have found much success in providing new content each day on my blog and commenting on others blogs (not spamming them)

    1. Christian, that’s great to hear. I like how you’ve identified a profitable industry AND your expertise in design, and have gone after it in an organic fashion. Good work and hope to see more coming out of PrintedProof.com

  2. Loren,

    Wow there is so much information in this post that I had to go back and read it again. I started my link building with my wordpress blog. I initially started with articles. Now I am reading and commenting on blogs in a similar market as mine. According to your post, I think I am on the right track with that. I don’t know a whole lot about sitewide links so your post was very informative. Thanks for the post.
    Larryj

  3. I always appreciate the knowledge of others that have been marketing online linger than I have. Although I am not college educated and have not studied in a school setting I do follow the buzz online about how to Brand, SEO, online Social networking. This is a great article about linking and I am glad to have reinforcement of other things I have heard elsewhere but never laid out in such an easy to understand concept.

    1. I really do not believe that an education equals creativity, although I do recommend finishing up your degree in some manner, even if it is an AA or some sort of certification, because without it, you may find yourself running into brick walls.

      I appreciate your feedback on the article, I try to write from the heart, and sometimes the meaning can be lost … but getting feedback like yours reassures me that there is something to be learned in my 10 years of experience.

  4. I particularly like your thoughts on blog commenting and I agree you should only post if you are adding something to the conversation and spamming has killed a lot of this now. Just like the comment above which I don’t understand why you haven’t deleted it. As this has nothing to do with your article and is clearly spam.

    1. Sorry about that Kevin, it got through our spam filters and we’ve deleted it. Thanks for adding to the convo, the more we add and share, the more we all learn and further the growth of search marketing.

  5. I have just moved from writing a “whatever I feel like” blog to a much more focused blog. I think I have a better understanding of the weight of link building in the overall SEO scheme. One thing I would not do even if money was not the issue is pay BOTW / Yahoo for inclusion. Maybe I’ll never be at the top, but somehow this has never set well with me. All in my opinion of course.
    Thank you for the great info you post.

  6. Hey,

    I really like the point of getting the giant check printed and calling local journalists. Fantastic idea!

    You have touched on some ‘off the beaten track’ and innovative ideas.

    Thanks very much.

    Keep up the good work.

    1. Hi Shaun and thanks for the comment. There is a lot of synergy in real world connections and online linking, especially in your local community and in the world of activism, which goes hand in hand with Hiking, does it not?

      As an example, look at Patagonia. A ecommerce site which has positioned itself as being a mission site for environmental activists and education.

  7. I am a relative newbie to link building. All of the ideas you’ve discussed here are golden. I am working on link building and will be implementing your ideas. Thanks much!

  8. Hi Loren,

    Very comprehensive article, especially for those who are just starting with their linking strategy. I like your approach and I also see linking more as a branding effort. There’s a huge difference between posting high-quality content and linking to our site than paying some company we don’t know to post 1000 links a month for us.

    I like the idea of posting 3 comments daily. It’s achievable and can make a difference at the end of the month/year. Comments as well as articles or blog posts should present value and show a person’s involvement in the subject. If they fail to do so, then our links will not be published and we may loose in a bigger game.

    Thanks for that article!
    Marta

  9. Based on your comments, I was right on the money with my “guesstimate” to include a blog as a part of our website. We are starting to see results from our efforts to provide a source of information not just about what we do and products we sell, but trends we see in the market place, as well.

  10. You got secret……
    how your site could be in 1st place when I search for “facebook” on google that bring me here? It’s not an adwords…

    how powerful your software that can beat Big G

  11. Simply and succinctly stated. Thanks for your information! You’ve given me a few new wrinkles and opportunities to think about and try.

  12. Thank you for this resourceful information for link building. It seems that link building has been one of the most over looked area in my site development. So, I am quite excited to find your article on link building while in the midst of building and re-building more sites.

  13. I’m sorry but I have to say this. The usual BS spouted by a SEO Pro who clearly wants to attempt to justify taking clients money and making the process of SEO sound mystical and complex. It just aint that hard!

    1. Not really Pete, I’m giving advice for free on this blog. No justification, if someone wants to use that advice themselves, more than happy to help them. If they’d like to hire the company I work for, more than happy to help there too.

      Your burgers look damn tasty, especially around this time of the day. If you only had the town your place is in and the state, I would want to stop in sometime and woof down a couple along with some of those onion rings.

      These directions really help :

      “3905 Maynardville Highway.
      Across from the Roy Acuff Museum”

  14. Your article is very interesting and gave the present trends towards building the traffic for ever. I like your linking strategy and approach towards natural link building. I hope you will post more articles about some more tips to optimize website for site owners.

    Best Regards

  15. Hi Loren! Once more, a helpful post! Let me ask you: do you consider follow/nofollow links in your link building efforts differently or do you just try to get the link, whatever it is a follow or nofollow link?

    1. I take nofollow into account with certain types of links about 10% of the time, but really feel that the engines will ultimately ignore most of the implemented nofollow tags just like people do.

  16. I like your article. As someone who is fairly new to the business it is always nice to hear the voice of experience. Your article also reinforces the notion of pursuing SEO in a way that makes sense. When someone provides a link there should be a logical connection for that link.

    cheers,
    Victor

  17. Hello Loren,

    First I would like to point out that it is considerate of you to get back with everyone. I know it takes time and it is appreciated.

    My question is – Is there a way you know of to get those things you post listed high in Digg? We have sent a lot our stuff to Sphinn. However we are not getting a lot of views or Sphinns. I am curious of why that is. The information that we are writing about is informative and honest.

    Just a question. Any help would be appreciated.

    Thanks,

    Brett

  18. I definitely agree with you when you say that blog commenting helps increase traffic to your website. It’s best to just drop your company name in your commentary, which is what I tell my staff here at DragonSearch (see how easy that was? LOL).

    -Siobhan

  19. Loren,

    Thank you very much for your tips on this subject. I have been doing much research on this in the last couple of months and your article resonates clearly in my head. It has been a bit frustrating dealing with SEO and getting the desired ranking for my clients. One in particular has been a thorn on my side http://www.robertgoodmanwinery.com has gone up and down on the google rankings in the last few weeks. It went from top of second page to completely out of the rankings and now its back to about the second page but its no the index page but another. I have done plenty of Keyword optimization and are now in the process of creating a back link catalog.

    Thank you for your time,

    -Vico

  20. Thanks I have learnt some valuable lessons reading this article, although i do want linkbacks i do feel guilty if i spam sites as i see it as a bad thing.

    being discreet is always better, and it is important to actually read the blogs you linkback to, most make very good reading.

  21. I think where a lot of advertisers lose the value of link building is the quantity vs quality of links. Many webmasters that I talk to seem to value a higher volume of links, even if the link quality isn’t there. Now I know that you need both (and probably quality more), but it never ceases to amaze me how many website owners are willing to try the “Get Link Quick” schemes out there.

    1. You can compare the “more is better” mentality to people boasting about the number of sex partners they’ve had. It’s a lot easier to spout off a high number than it is to describe what was great about each one I guess.

  22. I don’t agree with sitewide links and you find them being sold on newbie forums. But if you look at most #1 sites for good keywords they will have a lot of sitewide links – 20k links from 2k domains for example. It still has some impact, but I think they will be even more devalued over time.

    One thing I do like about them, is they bulk out your link profile and hard to look at over 1k by your competition – there is only one piece of software that will show 20k of backlinks.

      1. Wouldn’t mind hearing which software that is, myself. The vast majority of backlink checking tools are just pretty wrappers for a yahoo backlink check, and as such cap at 1k. This is the first I’ve heard of a supposed 20k backlinks…

  23. I’m not quite as optimistic as you regarding the nofollow links being indexed by the search engines. However, even if zero nofollow links are followed by search engines. The number of people who follow those links on a relevant comment is very valuable.

    Thanks for starting an excellent discussion!

  24. I found this post very useful to promote the CRM softwares that I have develpoed , it is the first time I am promoting my own software before i use to outsource it for some SEO’s. and i will be looking forwrd to more & more posts regarding link building to software websites. Thanks a lott!!

  25. I got a lot from this article – thanks so much.
    Can you provide an example of a website that has sitewide links?
    Maybe it’s too early in the morning for me, but I don’t understand how/why these are considered inbound links. They’re linking TO other sites, aren’t they?

  26. Thanks for the tips, just starting to look into quality linkbuilding and content sharing so plenty to bear in mind and to start to put into action.
    So much better than some of the basic re-hashed ideas and strategies out there, thanks,

    Tom

  27. For someone that is new to the idea of SEO and linking, this was a really informative page. It’s interesting to see how many different ways there are to build a successful online brand. Starting out with an e-commerce site for pet supplies was a difficult decision but you have given me some great strategies to generate links.

    Thanks!

    Kate

  28. Very nice article and I really like how you explain the link process in such detail. Makes it easy to follow. My question I have is if you get a sitewide link, does it count as one backlink? I’ll have to search that out.

  29. Thank you for the tips. Unfortunately i think 20% is a high number for people giving out links to your site… people have this incorrect thinking process that linking out will devalue their page rank. Good content is also required for for getting high PR value. And one more point outgoing links must not be more than 700 to 1000. Well, anyway thanks for sharing this to us.

  30. Great article, its always nice to see well written link building content. I think a lot of SEO’s get set in there own ways and it always helps to take two seconds to read others ideas.

    I agree 100% with you when you state that site wide links are starting to lose their value. I don’t see too many circumstances outside of just a couple niches in which obtaining site-wide links aren’t obtained by $$$

  31. SIte wide links are definitely losing value – likely a result of abuse.

    Because of all this algorithm-changing, I believe we’ll see a matthew effect where the “high ranking sites continue to get higher rankings” and “the poor get poorer rankings” over time (mimicking development in r/l).

    Thanks for the insightful post.