This guest post is by Corey Northcutt of Northcutt.
There have been several great link building posts so far this year on ProBlogger, including 10 No-Nonsense Ways to Build Links, How to Systematically Build a Mountain of Links, and A New Linking Strategy. And of course, Darren wrote earlier today advocating a more level-headed approach to backlinks.
So you might be asking what more can be written about link building for bloggers? The answer is, a lot. Bloggers have an advantage that static and retail websites don’t. There are tons of great link-building strategies that can be utilized to increase backlinks.
Link building post-Panda and Penguin
Before we get started, I just thought I would mention a few Google algorithm changes that you should know about when thinking about link building in 2012.
Google’s Panda update
In February of 2011, Google released the Panda update that took rankings away from websites with low-quality content and sites with more advertising than content.
This affected anyone who used article marketing as a way to build links and drive traffic to their websites, since article networks were hit the hardest, though some—like HubPages—regained their rankings in subsequent updates.
Later, social networks like Digg, Last.fm, and others were affected as well.
Not sure if your favorite website, link source, or network was hit by Panda? Check by going to the following URL, and replace domain.com with the website’s domain.
You will then see a graph showing the website’s estimated number of keywords in search. If you see the graph going up, that means they are gaining more visibility in search. If it’s going down, then they are losing visibility.
You can even use the Google Algorithm Change History chart to match a spike in search rankings with a specific Google update.
Google’s Penguin update
If that wasn’t enough, along came Penguin. Penguin, announced in April 2012, decreased search visibility of websites that participated in black-hat SEO, keyword stuffing, cloaking, link schemes, duplicate content, and other activities that violated Google Webmaster Guidelines. This affected anyone who built links through link exchanges, reciprocal linking, paid links, spammy links, and any links that Google interpreted as “intended to manipulate PageRank.”
Hence, if you want to avoid being penalized, avoid the following:
- over-use of keyword-based anchor text (aka, hundreds or thousands of links built to the same keyword phrases)
- lots of sitewide sidebar and footer links
- paid links (with the exception of those from directories)
- always linking to your homepage (as a blog, you should have lots of links built to your blog posts too).
The goal to any and all link building is to make your link profile look natural. Links from a variety of different types of websites with an extremely varied usage of anchor text make for a great, natural profile.
Link-building strategies for bloggers
Now that you know some things to avoid, here are some things you can actually do to build links to your blog. You have probably heard of some of these strategies before, but hopefully those will at least include an extra tip or two that you might not have tried yet.
Remember that link building should not just be solely for increasing search engine rankings or building up PageRank. The point to building links, in the eyes of Google, is to increase your traffic and build useful relationships. This should be your immediate goal as well. Links can do this regardless of whether or not they contain the “nofollow” attribute, contain redirects, come from a site with a high PageRank, and so on.
With this in mind, it’s a mistake to focus on any one type of link as if it were the most valuable trick in the bunch—the web does not work this way.
1. Submit your blog to blog directories
One advantage blogs have over other websites is the ability to submit to tons of various blog and RSS aggregators. These directories will either list just your blog, or your blog’s latest posts, or both. Although it has been several months since the list has been updated, there is a huge compilation of blog and RSS directories listed at TopRank.
2. Complete your social network and forum profiles
If you participate on any social media network, social bookmarking site, community, or forum, you will want to make sure that you have a link to your blog on that website in your profile.
If you are an active member of the community and contribute valuable information, chances are people will want to get to know you better by visiting your blog. Don’t leave them without a link to click on! And when it comes to forums, if the forum allows a link in your signature for each post you submit, be sure to include one as those will get more clicks than the ones in your profile.
3. Become a guest author
Guest blogging is really the best way bloggers can build links to their website that will not only count for search rankings (99% of the time) but will also lead to increased traffic generation. So how do you find blogs to submit guest posts to? There are a few good ways.
- Search Google using queries with the keyword of your niche plus “submit guest post,” “guest post guidelines,” “guest author guidelines,” “guest post by,” and so on.
- Check out lists like the 202+ High Quality Internet Marketing PR3 – PR8 Blogs That Accept Guest Posts.
- Join communities like My Blog Guest.
- Use Google Authorship. If you know a blogger who writes a lot of guest posts, search for their name and Google+ on Google. For me, you would search Corey Northcutt Google Plus. Then, under the link to my Google+ profile is a link to More by Corey Northcutt. Click on that link to see what blogs I and other prolific guest bloggers have contributed content to.
Of course, finding opportunities to guest post is only a quarter of the battle. If you want have a high rate of guest post acceptance, you will likely need to meet these criteria:
- Be a recognized name to the blog owner by commenting on the blog (with valuable comments) as often as possible.
- Follow the blog for a little while to get a feel for the topics, length of posts, writing style, and formatting. If the blog has guest post guidelines, be sure to follow those in your submission.
- Research the topic you are about to propose to see if someone else has already covered. The easiest way is to use the search box on the blog itself or go to Google and search site:domain.com topic keywords and change domain.com to the domain of the blog.
- Submit only original content. No one wants a post that you’ve already published elsewhere.
- Make sure your post content includes links to the blog’s other posts. See the first paragraph of this post as an example.
- Format your author bio similarly to other guest authors. For example, if they generally have no more than two sentences, a link to their blog, and a link to their Twitter, then yours should not be five sentences with three links to different websites.
4. Contribute unique content to quality article networks
Article directories get a lot of legitimate scrutiny by professional SEOs, but I’m going to mention this anyway. I’m not talking about hiring someone in India to write you a $2 article. I’m referring to legitimate, high-quality editorial contributions to only the sites with the highest standards.
While guest blogging has many more benefits than article networks, some bloggers may find it difficult to score guest posting opportunities if they are new which makes article networks the next best thing. When I say unique content, I mean content that hasn’t been “spun” or published elsewhere. And when I say quality article networks, I mean ones that:
- have some sort of moderation: they shouldn’t just let anyone post anything they want
- fit your niche, like Self Growth for the self-improvement and personal development niche
- have a built-in community that actually wants to read articles, like HubPages and Squidoo (You can typically tell this from the number of followers authors have and quality comments their articles receive. Note that the comments also need to be recent.)
- feature authors on their homepage, newsletters, etc.
- don’t have too many ads on article content or the site as a whole. This is because A) Google tends to penalize sites that do (see Google Panda update information above) and B) the more ads on your content, the less likelihood that anyone will click on your link.
- allow you to add more than just text to your content—include images and video.
5. Get your content on weekly roundups
A trend in the blogging world is to create a weekly or monthly roundup of the latest posts on particular topics. For example…
- Laura Crest of SEO Copywriting Blog does a roundup on Wednesdays covering content marketing, SEO, and social media.
- Robert Bruce of Copyblogger does a weekly must read links on Fridays covering content marketing, copywriting, social media, and writing links.
- Jon Norris of Freelance Advisor does a weekly digest on Fridays covering a variety of topics for freelancers.
- Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Land does a daily news recap covering business, all things search, and social media.
- Matt McGee of Marketing Land does a daily recap covering blogging, conversion optimization, copywriting, email marketing, mobile marketing, search, and social media.
These are only a few examples, and mostly in the online marketing niche, but chances are there are others in other niches. Your goal, if you want to be included in these roundups, is to get on the radar of the people who create them. Ways to do this include interacting with them on Twitter (I included their Twitter handles for this purpose) and commenting on their blog (especially recap posts) with your blog link.
6. Comment on blogs
Blog commenting is powerful for a variety of reasons beyond just link building. Again, this is not to be abused for anchor text links and generic comments, but if you leave valuable engagement, you will likely get the attention of the blog owner and authors of the blog plus other members of the blog’s commenting community. This will inevitably drive traffic back to your website.
The key is to comment on active blogs. In days of yore, link builders would search only for dofollow blogs (blogs that removed the nofollow attribute from comment author’s links) and seek out posts that were months or even years old simply because those posts have gained some PageRank over time. Doing this is pretty much worthless in terms of getting attention from people in your niche or driving traffic to your website. Instead, aim for new blog posts, and aim to be the first comment on the post.
When it comes to leaving links, leave behind our blog’s URL in the website field. And use your real name—preferably first and last name because John Johansen will stick more in someone’s mind that simply John.
To get an extra link to your blog in your comment, look for blogs using the CommentLuv plugin (do a Google search for your niche keywords + CommentLuv enabled to find them). They allow you to add a link to your latest blog post to your comment.
Also, if you use the Livefyre comment system on your blog, look for other blogs using Livefyre. Some have a feature called My Latest Conversations enabled which will automatically link to your latest blog post at the end of your comment. These links back to your latest post are even more powerful than the link to your main blog since people can easily see your latest and greatest headline and click through to it.
7. Use your blog’s design
Looks can get you far when it comes to building links. If you have a unique design, there are galleries that exist purely to showcase blog designs. If you use WordPress, there are galleries that are all for WordPress designs (like We Love WordPress) or at least have a category for them (like Best CSS Gallery and CMS Designs). Some theme designers even have a showcase of blogs using their designs, like Organic Themes, WooThemes, DIYthemes, Templatic, and StudioPress (to name a few).
So search for galleries for your blog’s platform and theme, then see if your design has what it takes to get listed in their showcase.
Of course, a link building guide wouldn’t be complete without some helpful tools. Here are some inexpensive (and even free) tools you can use to research link opportunities, keep track of your links, and measure the fruits of your link-building labor.
- Spreadsheets: If you need a place to organize your top links, spreadsheets can be an inexpensive (if your use Microsoft Office) or free solution (if you use Open Office or Google Docs). Be sure to enter the URL your link will be placed upon, the URL of your website that you are submitting, the anchor text you use, and whether the link is live or pending. Marking pending links will help you be able to go back and follow up on them later.
- Webmaster Tools: If you want to take inventory of the links you already have, you can find them by visiting either (or both) Google and Bing Webmaster Tools. Both are free to set up and can give you lots of valuable information about your website.
- Open Site Explorer: Open Site Explorer is part of the SEOmoz toolset. You can use it to get limited information about any website’s backlinks by signing up for a free account, or get full information by signing up for a Pro account. It’s pricey at $99 per month, but if you are planning on doing lots of link building, it’s a useful tool set to have access to. If you just need it for a short amount of time, you can get full access to all of the pro tools for 30 days with a free trial.
- Authority Labs: Authority Labs allows you to see your website’s rankings in Google, Yahoo, and Bing for keywords you specify. Once you have completed the free trial, you will be asked to either enter your billing information of stay on with a free account that will monitor the rankings of ten keywords for one domain. Additional keywords and domains start at $9 per month.
- Google Alerts: This counts as a tool and a strategy. Chances are, there will be people who mention your name or your blog on their website but don’t actually link out to you. Set up a Google Alert for your name or blog name, and Google will email you any mentions it finds. Then all you have to do check out the mentions (which is good for reputation management anyway) and kindly ask that someone who mentions you links to you too!
There are lots of other link building tools out there (almost too many to mention), so shop around. Often, the best tools are simple hacks that are almost too obvious to cross your mind. You can learn about more of these little tricks and reviews of the larger titles in these posts by Point Blank SEO, Search Engine Journal, and SEOmoz.
I hope that the information, strategies, tips, and tools help you in your quest to attaining more links to your blog to help increase your visibility in search and overall traffic. Any questions? Let me know in the comments!
This is a guest post by Corey Northcutt , CEO of Northcutt, an inbound marketing agency.