The Verdict on 10 Common Link Building Tactics (2013)

1376323078_compassFear, uncertainty and doubt – these can kill even a successful SEO campaign.

According to our recent survey over 11% of respondents don’t know which links are likely to help them and nearly 5% aren’t doing any kind of link building for fear of a penalty. So with this in mind, today I want to break down some of the most talked about link building techniques, offer my opinion on them and look at how they might be able to help your campaigns.

20% of respondents in our Link Building Survey 2013 said that there is a budget of $5-$10k per month to be dedicated to the building of links and some said even more than that, this arguably demonstrates that building links generates a solid return on investment for teams and organisations across industries.

If you want to believe that links don’t move the needle anymore then that is fine by me because it leaves more opportunities for my company and our clients :-).

1376322733_commentDoes Guest Blogging Still Work?

You will likely have seen the recent furore over guest blogging. Google condemns it and suddenly everyone runs for the hills. If you look back at the types of links Google denounce, they tend to be the links that algorithmically they struggle to deal with. Paid links for example, very hard for them to cope with at scale.

Now, some very obvious kinds of guest blogging are well, obvious. Leaving a big ol’ footprint is rarely a good thing in SEO regardless of the kind of hat you think you are wearing.

There is a need to evolve how you acquire links in this way if you want to stay ahead of the 80% of individuals, teams and companies doing crappy link building. We have evolved our service for example to include a standard tier and higher tier depending on the type of links that you are looking to attain. We also attempt to mix the link location, placement type and theme that we attain for clients to (where possible) keep things natural, varied, effective and useful to the user.

Our verdict

  • Valuable – but think carefully about your footprint and the quality of placements.

I did an interview with a super-affiliate client of ours at the end of last year (read it here) and guess what? That client is still going strong. Granted we are diversifying the strategy and incorporating other elements because I do not believe guest blogging alone is ever the route to long term success however don’t abandon the technique just because Google tells you to, it might be controversial to say so but if it is on Google’s radar and their PR machine is out there trying to denounce it, it is probably because it’s quite effective.

When is it appropriate?

Guest blogging can act as a solid, foundational technique in almost any link building campaign. It provides consistent returns and is easy to calculate investment against output – it isn’t necessarily the most creative approach but it is battle-tested as a worthy investment. It should be deployed with care against new sites or sites in less competitive niches and ultimately it should be a part of a broader campaign, any link type in isolation can create a flag.

1376322916_eye-openAre infographics still worthwhile?

Over 50% of our brain is involved in visual processing and in fact according to the Wharton School of Business visual content can be almost 20% more persuasive than text based- so the case for visual content is clear. However, should you still be investing link building budget in this technique?

There is no denying that the technique has spread like wildfire with automated solutions, template designs and poorly researched pieces there really is a proliferation of poor quality infographics online. In addition to this, the huge growth in infographic directories/submission galleries and automatic syndication of graphics has led to this technique being blamed for some really dodgy looking links.

As with most link building, it is all in the execution. An authoritative graphic in the hands of the right publisher is a real golden opportunity.

Our verdict

  • Valuable – but think carefully about placements and don’t do it for the sake of it. An infographic is a method for content delivery not the actual idea for content.

When is it appropriate?

Infographics are an excellent method of securing high-profile links and brand exposure. A well-researched, well-designed piece can convey thought leadership, create strong brand awareness and drive valuable inbound links, social signals and traffic.

In our link building survey, we found that 8.5% of those surveyed felt infographic gallery submissions were potentially harmful. Whether that is accurate or not I think depends on the quality of the gallery because some still hold real value from a syndication perspective such as

The important thing with infographics is to achieve diversity with the links being attained. Target top-tier publishers with well-crafted outreach, enjoy some quick wins by hand-selecting some infographic galleries and help increase distribution of the graphic with some outreach to mid-level, niche-specific blogs. Think carefully about the location of each link, whilst you may not have control over the placement you do have control over how you structure your campaign and if your profile consists solely of one type of link then you may be leaving yourself open to facing action.

Read our complete guide to infographic promotions for more information.

What’s the deal with paid links?

1376328059_fireYou don’t have to dig deep to find Google condemning any links that have been paid for that pass PageRank. Whether you are paying in cash, services or swapping products for links – all these things are against their guidelines and against the rules (unless you’re Google).

To me the repeat announcements and reminders would suggest it is a headache internally so they’re approaching it from the angle of scaring web marketers and business owners into submission. Google is admitting that paid links work until [if] you get caught.

To be very clear, we are not condoning paid links and you should only engage in these campaigns if you or the client is fully aware of the situation. For the purposes of this discussion we’ll be grouping various kinds of paid links together including blog networks, paid placements, sponsored reviews.

  • Private blog networks – ask how private they really are. If you were given access, who else is sniffing around those sites? Is the operator capable of beating Google and avoiding detection? Maybe, maybe not.
  • Public blog networks – same question.
  • Approaching webmasters for links – be very careful, communities online are smaller than you think and many will talk to each other. Before you know it you have a reputation issue on your hands as well as a potential penalty.

Our verdict

  • Avoid – Potentially powerful but best avoided unless you or your vendor are highly-skilled at avoiding detection.


When is it appropriate?

In highly-competitive spaces if you or your vendor genuinely know what you are doing.

For microsites/RBTs(rank,bank, tank)/lead generation feeder sites – anything where you are happy to ride the storm, take the profits and let the domain go. In my mind, you can always use the profits to invest in your other websites, otherwise you could just be leaving money on the table for someone else.

1376329050_bullhornDoes blogging help to build links?

Below is a chart taken from Ahrefs which shows the increase in referring domains for a site we have been working on since January. It was basically a brand new website and the only work we have been doing is ‘blog management’ which covers content idea generation, content production and then sharing via social media.


I think this demonstrates the kind of result you’d expect to see from blogging. Initially there are only marginal gains but once the blog starts to gain some traction, we quickly see big steps forward despite the fact we didn’t change anything in terms of publishing schedule. Definitely a case of the flywheel effect in practice.

Granted, the client has seen consistent gains in traffic over this time period but they could have easily written us off back in March if we hadn’t managed their expectations accordingly about growth in the link profile and subsequent gains in rankings.

Our verdict

  • Valuable – but be sure you or the client is expecting to be in this for the long haul, there are quicker ways to acquire links.

When is it appropriate?

Blogging is applicable to most situations however there are a few caveats to this if your looking at it as a link building technique.

If it is being recommended as one of the primary techniques for acquiring links (not that this is being solely done to generate links but that it is the only way you intend to acquire links) then be sure that there are people out there who will read the posts, value them AND have the means to link to you. Not all markets are like the SEO industry where every Tom, Dick and Sharon has a blog or website they can link to you from – so bear that in mind.

Read our complete guide to blogging for your business for more information.

Are links from web directories dead?

1376329530_globeMost buyers of SEO services would be slightly alarmed upon spotting in their latest report but not all web directories are dead. There are a number of worthwhile (human-edited) web directories which offer useful links and a valuable service to users. For example; Legal500 or CSA UK both help their users to find businesses to contact. Those are two prominent examples but similar directories exist in almost every niche, helping individuals find the service providers they need.

The key to selecting web directories to acquire links from is look at who they link to (all relevant to your industry?), the reason they exist (‘for SEO alone’ is probably a flag) and how visible is your firm or your client likely to be (could a potential customer come across your site?)?

Our verdict

  • Approach with caution – as a bulk method of acquiring links this technique is over-the-hill but handpicking some sites that actually have traffic is still a worthwhile endeavour.

When is it appropriate?

The gains are likely to be had for newly established websites. Building links from human-edited web directories is still a viable option for acquiring links although the volumes are going to be significantly reduced when compared with the kind of directory submission campaigns from years gone by.

1376330452_map-markerWhat about Local Citation Building?

Whilst we are on the topic of directories, let’s cover a vein of this and look at citations as a means of driving visibility in local search results.

A citation is a mention of your business or your client around the web, with or without a link. Citations are a key factor in local search rankings. Citation related factors make up 25% of the top twenty factors in David Mihm’s Local Search Ranking Factors.

See the chart below to give you an idea of the kind of impact this technique can have when applied correctly over a sustained period of time. We were doing some other kinds of link building for this client but citations in niche-specific industry directories were by far the dominant factor in the campaign.


Our verdict

  • Valuable – a solid tactic which can also drive new business for localised clients.

When is it appropriate?

For any business looking to compete in a localised SERP with a physical location.

1376331752_bookmarkIs Social Bookmarking Effective?

Quite some time ago, I asked Does Social Bookmarking Still Work?… the idea with that post was to look at the power of some niche specific content-curation and social bookmarking sites as both traffic driving and link building opportunities.

Much of the same applies now and social bookmarking sites are a valid way to increase distribution of content, drive some additional traffic and diversify a link profile.

Our verdict

  • Useful – but proceed with care.

When is it appropriate?

We often use social bookmarking in a tactical way to bring some additional diversity to a link profile and always as part of a broader campaign. They can be utilised as a way of strengthening content placed on other websites or blog posts written for your main website.

Can You Still Use Tiered Link Building?

1376333817_battery-fullBy tiered link building, I am referring to link wheels, link pyramids, content hubs … all of the kinds of linking structures that are artificial but designed to mimic natural linking practices. Each tier gets power from the tier before it. The idea being that you can have all kinds of links at the bottom (which added together count for a decent amount of authority) and by the time the equity finds its way to the top of the structure you are left with in theory “clean”, powerful links.

There are all sorts of variations on the model and even on a small scale, creating a second tier is one way of boosting the visibility and authority of your existing links. Why might you want to do this? Well imagine your competitors not knowing that you are actively building links because you are focusing on strengthening your existing ones and they’re only running your main domain through a site explorer? Or imagine you have a blog post that drives incredible amounts of high-converting traffic, why wouldn’t you want that post to be more visible?

Our verdict

  • Useful – it certainly has its place but understand the risks.

When is it appropriate?

Typically recommended for microsites/RBTs(rank,bank,tank)/lead generation feeder sites. We do a fair amount of tiered link building for internal projects and many of these have sustained rankings for considerable lengths of time however, it is important to remember that whilst many of the links as individual entities may well survive a manual inspection from someone at Google (i.e. the quality of the content is good), I’m not sure you could say the same about the entire structure of links if that were to be trawled through. This is why we recommend it for non-critical websites that can fly under the radar to a certain extent.

I think that one of the key reasons that our sites with tiered link building to them have survived numerous updates is because of the huge level of diversity in the profile.

1376336634_starHow effective is Linkbaiting & Content Outreach?

Linkbait is content with the specific aim to attract links – controversial, emotional, useful whatever the reason, it demands attention and as a result earns links and shares. Creating content and then closing your eyes hoping it goes viral (or worse… thinking your agency or department has some kind of magic “go viral” button) is rarely a good strategy and most content needs a bit of a helping hand.

In theory, we could have included infographics in with this but seeing as these have their separate issues and points for discussion (placement vs infographic gallery for example), I wanted a section where we could look at content outreach alone as a link building technique.

The content could be a blog post, a video, whitepaper, eBook, competition, survey or even just an image. There are so many different types of content out there to be utilised.

Our verdict

  • Valuable – use alongside “more consistent” techniques for maximum impact.

When is it appropriate?

In situations where a budget allows for some to be allocated to a “big content” project whilst the other part is allocated to the grunt work that’s going to deliver the results for a little while to enable the linkbait style project to get off the ground.

With some link building techniques you know if you feed in X you are going to get out approximately Y in terms of output. With a linkbait project (even with some content outreach), you find yourself with an undefined potential output which could be huge or abysmal. That’s why we recommend this technique be utilised alongside others.

1376335625_wrenchShould We Be Doing Broken Link Building?

This technique, for anyone unfamiliar with it, involves finding relevant pages that may link to you, identifying broken links and then letting the website owner or editor know about the broken link then either get yours added as a replacement or as an additional link (by way of a thank you). You can also look into recreating content that is no longer live and asking anyone who links to that now dead content to link out to you instead.

Broken link building was highly-rated in terms of effectiveness in our link building survey and with good reason – you can pick up some superb quality links and a campaign can be very cost effective.

Our verdict

  • Valuable – serving the web and your clients. Be smart with your outreach.

When is it appropriate?

A useful and valuable tactic in almost every situation. There may not be immediately obvious opportunities for every single niche out there but if you dig a little deeper you can nearly always find a corner of the web that needs your help to be tidied up in return for links.

It is important to explore other link building techniques alongside BLB because although it is highly-scalable and a very efficient way to generate links, it can sometimes take a little bit of time for the links to start rolling in.

Looking to learn more about broken link building? Have a read of this post by Jon Cooper or get on Garrett French’s paid course (non-aff).

We plan to keep this post up to date as the marketplace develops and we see different factors coming into play.

14 Responses to “The Verdict on 10 Common Link Building Tactics (2013)”

  1. avatar
    Emma August 12, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

    Nice post – the only one I’m inclined to disagree about is Social Bookmarking – you’re right to say “proceed with care”. I’ve done a lot of link audits, and I’m beginning to find that these kind of sites are going the same way as directories – enough legit ones that can be well utilised, but there are a growing number of spammy ones. Essentially, people have to learn the difference between the “Yelp” of Social Bookmarking and the “” of social bookmarking.

    Going to have to refer a few people to this post – it highlights a lot of things I’ve been trying to explain in a quite a simple, easy to read way!

  2. avatar
    James Agate August 12, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

    Thanks for reading Emma. You are quite right there is a definite undercurrent of crappy links that originate from social bookmarking but I wanted to highlight that there is still some value to be had if executed correctly :-)

  3. avatar
    Miguel Salcido August 12, 2013 at 10:58 pm #

    Fantastic post and topic! Its like you’re my long lost link building brother because I agree with just about all of your thoughts and preach the same things every day. But I do think that Linkbaiting/Outreach consist of Infographics and Guest Posting, although you do admit to this somewhat and it was nice to hear thoughts on all three separately.

    As far as paid links go, they still work great but you have to do them the smart/right way. Making sure the sites are in good standing, that others buying links there are seeing success with their target anchor text, getting contextual paid links whenever possible, not buying sitewide links, only buying links from relevant sites, and spacing out the timing of when each link goes live so that your link velocity is not too high. I mean one does not normally get seven pagerank 5-6 links all in one day organically typically. You have to be stealthy about it and follow a natural pattern. Paid links are also a green light if you see most of the sites on page one using them. Many niches are still ripe with tons of paid links propping up rankings. Still work on building long term links so that someday you can remove all of your paid ones and still rank. But sometimes you do need to level the playing field.

    And let’s just say that tiered link building is where its all at! It is an excellent strategy, especially to boost the other more credible links you are obtaining.

    @Emma – Regarding social bookmarking, the ones where you buy like 100 social bookmarks are crappy and won’t help much and may do more harm than good. But targeted ones where you follow and target specific social accounts in order to generate the bookmarks organically are fantastic.

  4. avatar
    James August 13, 2013 at 1:03 am #

    I don’t agree 100% with the directories point, I feel if you have a high quality directory as noted will always be worth it (I mean you kind of noted it). The point is usually you can spot a poor quality directory with a 10 foot pole, or if they are a bunch of dirty pligg based sites or if they are just run on the same network for example its a sign of poor quality. Usually a sign of quality is how much verification information they have. I have done a bunch of research work in niches I and i notice sites with a link profile of 60% + directories doing well, that been said if they are higher quality.

    Even an ex Googler has noted not to totally wipe them out as a strategy here if you focus on higher quality –

    But overall some good points agree with every thing else, I guess you just have to do your research with many areas of link building and know what you are getting yourself into.

  5. avatar
    Daniel August 13, 2013 at 8:26 am #

    Interesting article. I would like to try Tiered Link Building but I dont know which tools I should use. Any recommandations? (maybe in private;)

  6. avatar
    Gareth August 13, 2013 at 9:13 am #

    Just because companies have link building budgets of $5k-$10K doesn’t demonstrate building links gives solid ROI. So many clients will simply build links as they think they have to and not fully measure the impact. Also, very few link builders actually run link tests which would determine the true SEO value.

    • avatar
      James Agate August 13, 2013 at 5:57 pm #

      Thanks for your comment Gareth – agree and disagree with you there.

      Many of our clients certainly, very carefully measure the impact of the links that we build and whilst this isn’t the case across the board, I would say the majority who are spending that kind of budget are taking (well, at least they should be) into consideration the impact the links are having…

      So whilst that fact alone doesn’t indicate ROI, you are quite right. My intention was to I suppose highlight the fact that by continuing investment in this area most clients who are measuring the results must be seeing a justifiable return on their investment to warrant the continued spend.

      Nobody can deny links are what moves the needle though.

      Thanks for reading


  7. avatar
    sean August 13, 2013 at 9:33 am #

    Smart idea for a post James. I think there is a lot of unsure people out there at the moment.

    The issues that people have about link building at the moment is whether their link building tactics will…

    * See positive results in the short term?
    * See positive results in the long term?
    * Be unlikely/likely to be penalised in the future.

    • avatar
      James Agate August 13, 2013 at 6:00 pm #

      Agree completely Sean. I’d never lie to anyone and say tactic X or Y is going to last forever (or be like some people who call things “Penguin-proof”) but it feels like common sense to me, approach link building in a balanced and diversified fashion and slowly add more of those longer term techniques like content outreach for example as you see the results from them increasing or returns from other methods diminishing for example…

      Thanks for reading :-)

  8. avatar
    brett opace August 13, 2013 at 11:58 am #

    Hi James – a very clear summary of whats hot and whats not with ref to SEO; the playing field changes so quickly that areas which are OK today may be less favoured soon but what will never go out of fashion is well crafted, unique, appealing, shareable,relevant CONTENT – words, photos, video, infographics etc and business need to focus on content creation: if you create it, they will come (to coin a phrase).
    keep up the good work

  9. avatar
    Anthony Trollope August 13, 2013 at 12:02 pm #

    Really good round-up, James. The industry has talking a lot about getting smarter and more creative with your link building strategies, those who never adapted or didn’t think it would happen to them have reaped what they have sowed, and I for one have unfortunately been affected by recent algo changes (who hasn’t?!). I haven’t seen many examples of people who were involved in buying or selling paid links not be penalised by Google in recent months (in my niche at least), so Google have well and truly caught up with those people participating in this tactic. I think guest posting is next in their sights and they will work towards authorship being the only way to legitimise content on the written web.

    • avatar
      James Agate August 13, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

      Thanks for reading Anthony… Google haven’t managed to catch up in all industries but there are certainly getting there. That’s why it is so important to evolve, not necessarily ditch a tactic but re-evaluate how you execute it.

      Appreciate the comment :-)


  10. avatar
    Kevin from GuestBlogPoster August 13, 2013 at 8:24 pm #


    Excellent write up and you did a fantastic job of showing that Google goes after spammers, not link building methods. It’s so frustrating to see SEO’s generalize an entire link building method just because spammers got a hold of it.


    Kevin W. Phelps

  11. avatar
    John Abrena August 16, 2013 at 8:36 am #

    Good post James!

    Wow, it’s been so long since I checked out your blog, and you never fail to impress with outputs like these! Hands down one of the most insightful reads I checked this week.

    Google has been trying to combat a lot of link building tactics, since well, we all know that they want link profiles to be as natural as possible. Yet the fact remains that many link building strategies are ALWAYS legit, it’s just that the intent to use them varies from person to person.

    Take social bookmarking for example. It works, but only if you play it smart. Avoid using your homepage as a your bookmark/keyword/whatever. Actually mark content or categories that you’ll know people will need. Not only will it provide link value, but it will drive trust and traffic to your site if you placed them on social bookmarking sites that actually matter. Same for infographics; you create them for people, not for the links they will bring.

    As long as the intent to share information is there and not just to build tons of links, it will always get value.

    Wondering though, if Google crawlers measure intent, cause that’s what it all boils down to.

    Again, great post James! Definitely sharing this.

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