White Hat 2013: Seven Types of Authority White Hat Links I received in the Last Week & Why you can’t Fake Them

SMS Text

Unlike the 2.45 million other SEO posts on the Internet, I’m NOT going to start this one with a Epitaph of how Penguin changed link building practices forever and then link to Rand Fishkin’s video on co-citation.White-hat-image

Instead, I’m just going to face facts. If you want your website to rank, it needs to deserve to rank and provide plenty of value to users. This in turn, creates the links, social shares, user signals and trust that Google uses to rank your site.

Does Guest Posting Work? Meh…

Everyone in the SEO industry is now doing guest posts, because it’s pretty much the only way of manually building links that Google isn’t penalizing yet. However, if EVERYONE is writing guest posts than it doesn’t take a genius to work out that this is going to get devalued. I do agree HOWEVER that writing guest posts on high quality sites can improve your authority and brand as an author, which in turn could improve the rankings for your own site’s articles. So, I’m not completely against it.

But, there are other types of white hat of links come into play, which Google can now prioritize in value. I’m going to provide some great examples of white hat links my sites received in the last week as well as why it’s impossible to fake them.

7 Examples of White Hat Links that can’t be Gamed

I’m not going to use my actual sites’ names for arguments sake, since it’s just going to distract from the post. They are all in different niches.

  1. The first link I acquired was 100% natural link where the person linked to my content as a useful resource under his article. He/she just copy and pasted the URL with a live link. It’s from a pretty high quality site that publishes content on a regular basis and actually rarely links out at all.
  2. The second type of link was a link source from Wikipedia. A partner on one of my websites has written the seminal book in the industry and has also published unique strategies and concepts on our site. We added a resource link both to his book and to one of the unique strategies he’d come up with on the website. Before you said “oh but anyone can add a link on Wikipedia”, technically you can but it will be reviewed and probably removed. These two links on the other hand actually add the page and give proper credit to the author of the theories. Even though they’re no-follow, I think links from Wikipedia are a fantastic brand signal for Google and I’d put my money on it that they treat them differently.
  3. The third type of link was another natural link, where I participated in a live debate about the future of mobile advertising. The video was recorded and uploaded to a well-known marketing blog, which then linked to me and my site as a credit.
  4. The fourth type of link was an article that someone had re-written on their blog, using information and sources that I’d personally written for a major newspaper. This person linked to one of my own sites, which was a useful source in the original article.
  5. The fifth type of link I received was when someone emailed me to ask if they could have permission to republish one of my articles for their businesses’ blog. I said yes, and this person not only linked to the original article source but also the homepage too.
  6. The sixth type of link I received was credit for being on a judge panel at a recent awards ceremony in the gaming industry. Each of the judges that participated had their name linked to their website on the judges page.
  7. The seventh link I received was an interview I’d done with a reporter a month ago that published a quote from me and then linked to my site. This is actually a tactic that has working really well for me for the last few months, using a range of PR and journalism tools.

What Have I Learned from this and Why You CAN’T Build these Type of Links Manually

The main thing I learned is that it’s IMPOSSIBLE to recreate natural looking anchors and links to your site. I’ve read articles about how it needs to be 40% brand anchors, 20% click here, 20% natural URL etc…

Seriously, this WON’T work. It might work if you’ve only got 20 backlinks to your site, but if you’re aiming to get 100s or 1,000s of backlinks to your site’s backlink campaign than it will make it too difficult to look natural.

I realized that a high percentage of natural links actually have really random anchor text pointing to inner pages on your site. For example, I’ll get stuff like “you can read”, “made a statement”, “an increasing amount of students” and “the latest figures”.

These are completely non-commercialized, non-branded anchors that are just impossible to fake. Even if you spent your time making sure 10-20% of your links have completely random anchors, the opportunity cost is going to be huge and it would be more cost effective creating strategies to generate natural links in the first place.

Secondly, I realized that in the majority of cases when someone links to you there would be more than five outbound links on the page to other blogs too. It’s pretty unnatural to write an article and only have one random link it to a brand. It stinks of guest posts. Furthermore, even if you try to get around this by adding natural links to your competitors sites and other authority resources, you’re going to lower the value from the PR of that link and also do your competitors’ job for them. In other words, it’s just not cost-effective to fake it.

Finally, I realized that all of these natural links were earned because I managed to get my content out there in front of 100s or 1000s of people and had content that was worth linking to, or my sites were linked to because my partner or I was a credible authority. Content written by an authority, worth linking to, is completely different to hiring copywriters who can rehash existing content for the sake of guest posting for links. It’s less likely anything new or interesting will be linked to or shared in this format, and the types of blogs that accept content from anyone are going to be devalued.

Adam Grunwerg

Adam Grunwerg

Adam Grunwerg runs a digital media agency Searchable, which provides SEO, PR and other inbound marketing services to small businesses and startups in London, UK.... Read Full Bio
Get the latest news from Search Engine Journal!
We value your privacy! See our policy here.
  • Hey Adam,

    Great feedback. I’ve been doing guest posting on several blogs, but have pulled back and only written for high authority sites. Granted, I get most of my traffic from Facebook and Twitter, but I would love to start spreading the online wealth!

  • Krinal

    These are all good and in-line with what is commonly referred to link earning versus link building. My question is: How scalable are these techniques ? Also note, if you are a SEO agency and doing this for your clients, you cannot act as an authority on their behalf, because they have the domain expertise for their own business 🙂

    • Excellent question. Please just bear in mind I could’ve written 10,000s words on SEO, scalability, distribution etc so I had to limit what I mentioned here. There’s always certain things I’m not willing to give away on a public blog too!

      In terms of scalability, this is an extremely interesting question for me because I think there’s a massive difference between an authority author promoting his own site using his following and contacts/relationships, and then an SEO agency trying to repeat that for a client in a niche industry. I also think an SEO consultant shouldn’t be limited to offpage things and technical implementation – SEO is also about expanding the site, adding quality and vision to the project, adding value and engaging with users. In other words, a SEO strategy arguably needs to be in tandem with the full control and vision of the business.

      If I was helping a client out, I would first be realistic about his ambitions and goals based on his budget and resources. I would start off submitting to relevant niche directories and government sites where relevant, aim to build some sort of following on forums or run competitions for bloggers. I’d encourage him to do a few guest posts on high quality sites (as part of a wider SEO strategy,), there are a number of tools I use for PR and building relationships with media contacts which I’d prefer not to go into here, and I think over time building the business up will help with SEO.

  • Great post Adam.
    I for one agree with you that “how Penguin changed link building practices” is the new surrender cry in the industry. There are still quality ways to build links, as well as using the old and true methods of just practical website architecture to send the right signals for ranking and usability. I spend a lot of time with some of my private domains running test and have yet to see the old methods failing me. Guest posting is something I have yet to try but you may have convinced me to write.

  • It’s an amazing piece of writing in support of all the online visitors; they will obtain benefit from it I am sure.

  • Adam G

    SEOMoz’s WBF from a few weeks back suggested a compelling ‘golden rule’ to link building in 2013 – if you can choose the anchor text, it’s probably not a link worth having. I think it’s essentially what you’re saying, and it’s absolutely right. If links are votes in the democracy of the web, then Google’s algorithm updates are a series of election oversight reforms. Links are a ranking signal because they’re endorsements, and endorsements are only significant if they’re from a third party. Guest blogging continues the old and ineffective SEO (and marketing, really) tradition of self-endorsement. Guest blogs are written by you with end goals that revolve around your priorities. For a significant amount of guest bloggers, the priorities of the site to which they’re posting are a distant second to their own. Article syndication, guest blogging and press releases (mostly) are all forms of self-endorsement. Traditional advertisement is the most egregious example of self-endorsement in marketing, and you know what, it’s going the way of the dinosaur for a reason. Anyway, good article, good point and it’s something I think a lot of us in the SEO/marketing community agree with.

    Having said that, here’s my rub with this article and other articles about content marketing: most content marketing articles (too many of em out there) discuss the generation and tracking of content, but rarely do they go in depth about distribution. Your article is no exception. The article is a testament to the effectiveness of genuine content generation, but does little in the way of explaining distribution, “Finally, I realized that all of these natural links were earned because I managed to get my content out there in front of 100s or 1000s of people…” That’s awesome. But how? Just by virtue of your content being so good? If you could explain this process in a bit more detail, it would be much appreciated.

    • You’re right, distribution is just as important as important as the content and authority of the author itself.

      However, I think authoritative authors = the knowledge in the industry and partnerships/contacts/bloggers/social following to get their content out there in the first place.

      If you’re a new site and author, how can you really be an authority? Authority to me = years writing producing content at the higher level, getting followers and building relationships.

  • Gina

    Why is it so (freaking) difficult for most human beings to fathom that quality content can be the basis of SEO? Is our species really so lazy, unimaginative and without soul that we cannot create quality content to share with one another? What is the point of gaming one another to death just for numbers? Why not create from what is true and have the guts to see what emerges? Because these analyses are nothing but life-sucking lies.

  • Nice Article, Google never changes link building strategy. Google will update it’s spam protected algorithms so it will affect on spam activity that is the reason SEO experts change their link building strategy. If you go with old practice you can just follow limitation of Search Engine algorithms, with new update you can earn good backlinks for your site.

  • Charles Woods

    I love the observation that Guest Posting is the last bastion of manual link building. The prediction that the practice will have diminished link value down the road is debatable IMO. It’s different than a link building practices of old because it requires some level of quality content creation – at least enough quality to satisfy the publisher of the post. In that sense, it has a a built in quality control aspect to it which may mean that there is no reason to devalue the practice in Google’s eyes.

    To your point about content value which is strongly made here – the investment and time that goes into a book for example is high and it yields a super high value – or the years required to gain Wikipedia level credibility – this is type of investment in value that generates the highest quality links and you clearly illustrated that here.

  • Hey Adam,

    First of all I want to say thanks for posting such an Awesome article. You’re write that wikipedia link are useful, since they are no-follow, but have a good advantage

  • I like the idea of adding value to Wikipedia’s content with relevant resource links. The idea is not to be spammy but to actually great value for both Wikipedia and your website.

  • I agree 100% with the notion here. It’s great when you publish something that gets picked up and the links happen naturally. That said, few people are in the same position as you. Somebody throwing up their very first eCommerce website, for instance, is hardly in a position to be interviewed by newspapers, invited as a speaker on a widgets webinar or asked to be a judge on the Widget Innovation of the Year panel. If they miraculously get a link here and there because someone accidentally found their great content or saw it in a tweet, it’s a major victory.

    Far too often, niche-specific social groups are little more than self-promotion yawn fests. What do you suggest that brand new people with brand new websites do to increase their exposure so that they can obtain more natural links?

    • @Scott what an excellent comment!

    • If you’re a brand new person, with a brand new website, then what right do you really have for your content to have grand exposure?

      I honestly think that people need to stop looking at SEO as a form of gaming and start looking at it as something that has to be earned. I never said there were any quick wins for SEO in this article.

      I think if you’re a brand new site then you need to find a way of providing distinct value and exposure – just like if you have a new business you need to bring something new to the table that isn’t offered by everyone else.

  • I find it quite stupid that google seem to be penalising everything why sure the black hat automated software did get out of hand but natural manual hand written comments like this w.t.f I have read that the only thing they wont penalise is there ads basically, so you spend all this time building links only for somebody else to beat you because they have paid google very contridically if thats a word!!!

  • Gotta say, most of the comments on this post are spam… so that’s frustrating.

    Also, 3/7 of the tactics above aren’t really tactics, nor methods, nor anything really. 3, 6 and 7 are all related to you personally being a wealth of knowledge. Naturally, credit to you for getting there, it’s awesome, you’re respected and that’s for good reason.

    But being interviewed by a journalist, or being selected for a judging panel is simply not something everyone can achieve, be it because of the niche or because they aren’t at that level yet. At no point should any of these even be mentioned as white hat SEO, it’s not even SEO. It’s a link for reputation.

    However, you gained that reputation while SEO was easy… what advice would you give to someone asking about “link building and link earning” who was starting from the bottom, this second, today? Aside creating good content…?

  • Jim

    I really like your 7 examples of white hat links, and completely disagree they can’t be faked. Cheers.

  • Lexy

    “The main thing I learned is that it’s IMPOSSIBLE to recreate natural looking anchors and links to your site. I’ve read articles about how it needs to be 40% brand anchors, 20% click here, 20% natural URL etc…”
    100% true – you won’t success unless you forget about schemes in link buidling. Hovewer, it’s usually easier to tell less experienced webmasters to get X% of links with brand anchor texts, Y% of link with keywords as anchor texts, so that they have any imagination of the work they should do. Everyone has been a beginner some time ago and needed detail information instead of just saying “try to get natural links and forget about schemes”.

    Another natural and powerful link idea is when a website prepares a list of tips from specialists and then publish their name, surname, photo and of course a link to their websites. But it’s similar to what you’ve already wrote in pt 6.