Backlink Research : Essential Checklist

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I have posted a lot about backlink research previously:

With all that actionable advice in mind, let’s go through some essential tips to help you implement that in practice:

You never know for sure which one of those links really matters for rankings (both for Google and Yahoo). You can make educated guesses (numerous SEO tools can help) but you can never be sure.

  • First and foremost, we build links for Google but are forced to rely on Yahoo (or independent sources, like Linkscape and Majestic SEO).
  • Secondly, the real algorithm is a mystery even for most advanced experts: you are never sure how much value can be passed through some link.

Not all competitors’ links should be pursued: don’t waste your time on:

  • links that flow within one network of sites (we are pretty much sure that this tactic is old, dangerous and low-effective but these links are still numerous) – be sure to recognize those links (here are some tips on discovering networks of sites);
  • links that were paid for: I for one avoid pursuing links on a website that clearly states they are paid-for-review or selling/exchanging links – chances are they are or will be under radar – so why risk?
  • links that appeared as the result of an exchange: just don’t waste your time there…

Keep an eye for “time-wasters”:

  • same-domain links;
  • nofollowed links;
  • directory links;
  • multiple links from closely related sites (see site networks), etc.

How you are going to spot those links depends on the tool you choose: with Linkscape you can filter those links out; Majestic SEO uses flags for some of those link types and with Yahoo you will need to use tools.

Some of your competitors’ tactics might have been a really bad idea. Sometimes you find multiple duplicated site reviews distributed throughout a low-quality blog or article directory network or overwhelming number of blog comment “Great post” spam – even if your competitor seems to be doing well (thanks to or rather despite) those backlinks, that doesn’t mean you should do that too.

Ann Smarty

Ann Smarty

Brand amd Community Manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas
Ann Smarty is the blogger and community manager at Internet Marketing Ninjas. Ann's expertise in blogging and tools serve as a base for her writing,... Read Full Bio
Ann Smarty
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  • Very interesting, Ann..
    But how to know which links are paid links?

  • @Nicola, like I said, I primarily look for some apparent flags: “buy a link here” note, etc. Also, completely irrelevant links in the sidebar (or footer) should also mean they were paid for.

  • Yes, I understand, but we can’t know if a link in a good article has been paid.. isn’t it?
    So with paid links we mean links that are irrelevant with site content.. then if they have really been paid doesn’t matter.

  • @Nicola, no of course we can’t know that. But we try to put ourselves in Google’s shoes and see if this could be taken for a paid link 🙂

  • Paid links to generally stick out like a sort thumb, i blogged about it a few weeks ago where i found some really bad examples of it

  • Very good, that’s more clear now! Thanx

  • Here’s a very, very obvious one for you. Check the very bottom left corner of this site – dark text on dark background – links for financial products etc:

    Moneyexpert are one of the biggest link buyers out there. They are incredibly successful at it and rank #1 for most financial terms in the UK because of it. For them, link buying pays off immensely well. Anyone who says Google has a handle on link-buying is naive when you consider companies like that who do it blatently and make millions from it.

  • Excellent. Just ran on our site and competitor’s. Very revealing.

  • We still recommend a competitive analysis, but I agree, careful in following the crowd.

  • nofollow-fellow

    So any link which is non-relevant to a site topic is paid – this is what you are saying… So if a competitor (they are nice people) point to your site, it is not considered a paid link, right? There must be millions of website [link traders] according to this theory. Congratulations – quite a smarty comment. What if google follows sites which take part in paid link schemes and flags those that point to these link-buyers? Google is more sophisticated than you would think. And who said that you cannot be successful if you base your linkbuilding merely on paid links??

  • Great advice, Ann!

    “Secondly, the real algorithm is a mystery even for most advanced experts: you are never sure how much value can be passed through some link.”

    I don’t think it’s worth fretting too much over the mechanical minutia. For a lot businesses on the web, all that counts is: did someone follow a link, and 2. did they perform the desired action on arrival?

    Even a nofollow counts for nothing if you’re an ecommerce shop, so long as people are visiting from those links and buying something!

    Of course, the long-term lack of link value will hurt in some respects, but there’s a lot to be said about the transaction and timeliness of a link, too…

  • Very good. Essentially you are saying that one should never get a link just because of a search engine. At least I think you are saying that.

    You blog for sej; just wondering how you feel about some of these ways?

  • Marcus

    @Gary – its surprising to see them still doing so well when everyone knows their doing obvious link buys (now back at #2 for credit cards). I guess it means the less obvious buys like blatantly bad paid posts such as will also continue to be effective.

    Nice article Ann – thanks

  • I always love these link debates. For me, I do whatever it takes to get a site ranked. Regardless of what Google says, they’re really about controlling spam. If a dog bowls website is ranking for “dog bowls” and is buying links, should they be penalized? What if they have a really low bounce rate…should they be removed from the first page? What if conversions are 25% of traffic, does that make them irrelevant to the keyword “Dog Bowls” in which they’re spending money on inbound links for? …no.

    It’s Google’s fault for the whole link algo anyway, they need to make better indicators of quality, like bounce rate, social aspects, etc… rather then focus on who’s purchased a link.

  • Hasn’t the ‘paying for links’ topic grown stale, as it’s obvious that, in the longish-haul, it’s a waste of time and money. Get reciprocal links with your partners, with your company set within the landing pages URL (common sense is terribly uncommon, as is forethought). I can’t see the Google link algo having an issue with this suggestion.

  • Great article as always but I was a bit surprised to see the comment that directories are a time waster. Aren’t there still high quality, niche directories that provide value and can be a good kick start for links to a new site? I think yes.

    The best line in the article, sums up SEO in general: You never know for sure which one of those links really matters.

    Great stuff!

  • @Doug, lol… I wasn’t expecting 100% positive comment from you any way 🙂 (ok, kidding). The page you are referring to outlines some tactics that can be done in various ways… You can submit to hundreds of spammy (networked) directories or pick just a few niche ones – and still call it “directory submission”. You can choose to trust my word or not but SEJ is doing quality work.

    @Christopher, I wouldn’t be that sure. And the post wasn’t all about link buying. Most of the comments focused on that – that tells me the ‘paying for links’ hasn’t really topic grown stale yet.

    @Purple, you are quite right, there are really good niche directories (which are few but still can be targeted).

  • We still recommend a competitive analysis, but I agree, careful in following the crowd.

  • Interesting, I have been doing my research and still looking for the all inclusive right answer, as we all are.

  • oh.. so you’re talking about me here.

    @ marcus, “blatantly bad paid posts” huh.