The best chance you have of getting those “Holy Grail” backlinks is to develop epic content that acts as “Link Bait”. However, creating link bait in itself is not enough. Getting quality backlinks is a two-step process.
- Develop an epic piece of content.
- Promote that Content and ask for links.
- How to Get High Quality, Authoritative Backlinks
- What Makes Good Link Bait?
- Types of Successful Link Bait
- Getting Influencers to Link to your Link Bait
- Other White Hat Link Building Techniques that Work
- Gray & Black-Hat “Traditional” Back-linking
- The Disavow Tool – How to Fix Bad Links to Your Site
- Future Alternatives to Link Building
- Summary of Backlinks
In step two, you need to promote that content to the types of people that have the power to link to it. People who have a website in your niche, and therefore the power to link to yours, are called influencers. Think about this for a moment. Not everyone has a website, so not everyone has the power to add a link to yours. The average website visitor will be there to read your content, but won’t link to it. The average website visitor is not an influencer.
The fact is, if people are not linking to your content, you either:
- Don’t have good enough (or the right) content, and/or
- You haven’t promoted it to the right people.
That is what we are going to look at in this section of the guide. Of course, you should be developing content that your visitors love and want to share with others via their social media channels, but social media links don’t really help long-term search engine rankings.
Effective link bait and promotion strategies
As part of your content development strategy for your site, I am suggesting two different types of content for your site.
- Great content for the average visitor. The stuff they’ll want to share on social media, and comment upon.
- Link Bait specifically for influencers. You’ll then contact the influencers and ask for the link.
The Link Bait you create for your niche’s influencers, is not necessarily the type of content your average visitor will want to read. However, Link Bait can attract a lot of high-profile links, if done properly. Link Bait allows you develop pages on your site with high page authority, which in turn will increase your overall domain authority. As you create more Link Bait and promote it to the influencers, your website will increase in domain authority with each new backlink.
As domain authority increases, all of the pages on that domain will rank more easily. If there is a specific page you want to boost in the search engines, you can add a single keyword-rich anchor text link to that page, from the Link Bait post. Remember, with increased domain authority, comes increased ability to rank all pages on the site.
What Makes Good Link Bait?
When developing ideas for Link Bait, you need to consider the influencers. What are they already linking to? What are their interests? What are they writing about on their blog? How can you get them to react emotionally to something?
Let’s look at a quick example. I find an influencer in my niche that has written a controversial article on something. Their post got a lot of feedback, both positive and negative. The influencer himself received a lot of personal criticism. I could write a Link Bait post on my site that agrees and supports his article (assuming I do of course). If I then send him the details of the post, do you think he would share it? Link to it? Probably. It would help vindicate his position and make him look good. Any content you write that makes an influencer look good is likely to get a link from that influencer. But it’s only one link, right? R
emember quality over quantity! Of course, you can use the same principle to write content that makes a lot of influencers look good. If I created a page that listed the top 50 websites that were helping to save the bees, do you think that any of those 50 websites might link back to my page? Probably. Why wouldn’t they? As long as my site was high quality, then my page is making them look good.
They would want to share my page (social and/or link) with their audience. If I offered a “Top 50 #SaveTheBees” badge that they could post on their own site, some might even use that. Of course, the badge would link back to the site that awarded the badge (mine). Remember the process:
- Create Link Bait that makes influencers look good.
- Reach out the influencers to let them know the content exists.
Types of Successful Link Bait
There are a number of different types of Link Bait you can create. With any type of Link Bait, the number one rule is: Choose a topic the influencers care about, and if possible, make the influencer look good!
Of course, you can make an influencer look good in different ways:
- Stroke their ego.
- Give them something that they will want to share with their readers because it makes them look good. It could just be awesome content that tells the influencer’s tribe that he/she has a finger on the pulse. Or maybe an exclusive, “you heard it here first” type of post.
IMPORTANT: If you can create content that makes an influencer look awesome in front of his/her audience, then you have already won the battle. They will more than likely link to you. This whole strategy for backlinking relies on it.
With that in mind, let’s review some of the best formats for Link Bait.
Comprehensive List Posts
List posts are very popular on some of the most authoritative sites on the web: You can see the title on the left, and the number of social shares on the right. That top article has been shared more than 5,000 times on Facebook! The third article is simply a list of sights to see but has been shared over 3,000 times on Facebook.
When you create a list post, it needs to be comprehensive. You want people to arrive on your post and just think “Wow”. List posts are one of the most shareable types of post. Guides Create in-depth guides on topics that are of interest to your influencers, and you could be onto a winner. These guides should be comprehensive. I’ve seen some that are several thousand words long. Again, you want influencers to arrive at your guide and think “Wow”. Think in terms of creating the ultimate or definitive guide to a topic your influencers care about.
You may even want to call it “The ultimate guide to …”.
Here are a few I found. Check out the share data:
To get ideas for guides in your niche, try a Google search for something like “ultimate guide to” KEYWORD Here is an example:
It’s worth checking out a few “ultimate guides” in your own niches. They’ll give you ideas, but remember to create yours around topics that interest your niche influencers.
Infographics are graphical representations of complex topics and data. They are favorites for sharing on social channels, e.g. Pinterest, but often get re-posted on other sites, so you can get a backlink. If you can create a great looking infographic that is of interest to your influencers, you may be able to get them to link to it, or post it on their own website. Infographics often contain a list of resource websites underneath, and these links can point to influencers. Contact them and tell them about it. They may feel their ego sufficiently stroked to offer you a link, or post your infographic on their site 😉
A great tip from Brian Dean of Backlinko is to offer to write a unique introduction to the infographic for each influencer. If they agree, then send them the introduction and infographic. Something they can copy and paste would be ideal. Then there are no real barriers for them posting your introduction, infographic, and link back to your site, on theirs. When you post the infographic on your own site, you can include the HTML code for other webmasters to copy and paste onto their own sites. This will display the infographic on their site, with a small link back to your own page:
Experts Opinions Post
I am sure you have seen this type of post.
This type of post leverages other people’s expertise and time, to create fantastic Link Bait for your site. Pick a simple question that your influencers are interested in, e.g. “What are your top 3 backlinking tools”. Send out an email to as many influencers in your niche that you can find, asking them if they’d like to be involved in your study. If they agree, send them the question. Compile answers into a post.
Include a biography of each influencer surveyed together with their answer. At the end of the post, summarize the results and publish the study. You can now reach out to the influencers involved in the study, and send them the link. You don’t even need to ask them to link to it, as most will anyway. It makes them look good to have been involved in the study. I’d recommend you search Google for some opinion posts like this. See how other websites have structured their posts, and what kind of information they include about the contributors. You can use Google search strings like: “top 20..100” and “experts reveal” “experts roundup”
Scripts & Tools
Scripts & tools that people will bookmark and share with others make great link bait. Webmasters will always link to useful tools, especially if they are free. The screenshot shows one example of a tool that searches for the nutritional information of food. Another good example is a currency converter script, where you can convert one currency to another. A time zone converter could prove popular too. What about a cholesterol conversion tool, converting between the two popular units for cholesterol – mg/dl and mmol/L. Any tool you can create, or have created for you, and that people find useful, will inevitably attract links from other websites as well as through social sharing.
Controversial posts are always popular. When people are controversial, they usually evoke a strong response. I cannot tell you how to be controversial in your own niche, but I would just say, make your controversy factual. Making something up just to be controversial won’t work, and it will annoy your visitors too. A while ago, there was lots of information coming out about how good intermittent fasting was for losing weight and improving health in general. Everyone was jumping on the bandwagon. One website went against the grain with a headline along the lines of “Intermittent Fasting Is Bad for Women”. It caused quite a stir.
The important point about this controversy was that it was factual. The article went on to explain that certain types of women developed problems during intermittent fasting (typically those with low body fat). This controversy resulted in a lot of natural backlinks as people debated it on blogs and forums. Of course, it also brought in a lot of extra traffic for the webmaster. Interviews
Interview an influencer in your niche, and use that interview to attract inbound links to your site. You needn’t buy expensive equipment or software for an interview. A cheap headset and Skype is all you need. You could, of course, conduct an email-based interview, but that would cut down on marketing options. If it is an audio interview, post the audio on your site with a transcript of the interview below it. The transcript will act as search engine bait, but apart from that, a lot of visitors actually prefer to read this type of thing rather than listen to it.
You can also upload audio interviews to audio sharing sites. Search Google for audio upload and look for opportunities where you can create a backlink to your site. You can create a very natural backlink on this type of audio sharing site by saying something like “Prefer a transcript? Read the full interview on…” and then link directly to your transcript page using the title of that page as the anchor text. Alternatively, you could upload the first few minutes of the interview on these audio sharing sites, and link to the full interview on your site.
If the interview is a video, upload the video to YouTube, and maybe Vimeo and Dailymotion as well. Create a post on your own site and embed the YouTube video. Include the transcript of the video (for the same reasons as above) on your site. In the YouTube description of the video, add the URL where people can “read the transcript”. Finally, remember to give the interviewed influencer the page URL so that they can find the video on your site. They will more than likely link to it, and possibly tell their own visitors/mailing list about the interview too.
It’s a great way of attracting a powerful backlink from an authority site in your niche. Attracted links are links you have no control over, and remember, these are the most powerful and natural links a website can get. These are the links that will increase domain authority and allow the other pages on your site to rank more easily.
Getting Influencers to Link to your Link Bait
- You’ve done your research and found the link bait topic.
- You’ve created your awesome Link Bait.
What next? You need to reach out to the influencers. You need to send them an email and try to get them interested in your Link Bait. If you have chosen your topic well, this should be relatively easy to do because it is a topic that they are interested in, and maybe even makes them look amazing.
Email outreach is best done using tools. One I recommend you look at is called Ninja Outreach. Ninja Outreach gives you the tools to:
- Find Influencers.
- Choose topics for your Link Bait.
- Email Outreach, to secure the backlinks.
You can register your email address with Ninja Outreach, then use the template driven system to contact influencers. Ninja Outreach keeps track of who you’ve written to, replies you’ve received, etc. Everything you can do with Ninja Outreach can be done manually. There is no need to get this tool unless you decide it’s worth it to you.
Other White Hat Link Building Techniques that Work
Broken Link Building
Broken link building is actually one of the least effort backlinking strategies that actually works. Essentially you look for broken links (related to your own site) on other websites. You then contact the owner to tell them about it, offering your own link as a replacement.
As an example, let’s consider a website on health and nutrition. If I owned that site, I’d go out looking for websites that have broken links to any articles on health or nutrition. Let’s say I find a page about the importance of vitamin A for good eye health, and one of the links on that page goes to a 404 Error – Page Not Found. I would contact the webmaster of the nutrition site, informing them that the link went to a 404 error, and tell them I have a page on the same topic if they need a good replacement source to link out to. Obviously, I would include my URL for consideration.
The advantage of this type of link is that it is often on an aged page, possibly on an authority site. A backlink from this type of site would be a good one, added by the other webmaster and giving you no control over the link text. Let’s now take a look at how you would go about finding broken links on related pages. There are actually a number of tricks we can use.
The first is to search Google for resource/links pages in your niche, using a “footprint”. Here are a few that work well:
- “KEYWORD links”
- “KEYWORD resources”
- “KEYWORD web links”
- inurl:links “KEYWORD”
Swap out KEYWORD for a phrase that relates to your niche / web page. That last one is an interesting search phrase as it looks for web pages that include the word “links” in the URL, and are about your keyword.
TIP: You could also email a webmaster and ask if they’d include your site on their “resource” page, even if there were no broken links. Using footprints like this offers the quickest way of finding broken link opportunities. You first find the links pages and then check them out to see if any links are broken. Now, before you think you need to go through every link on a page and manually check if it’s broken, relax. There is a free Google Chrome extension called Check My Links. Search the Google Chrome store for the plugin and install it. Once installed, you’ll have a button in the toolbar for the extension. Now all you have to do is visit the page you want to check for broken links and click the extension button. You’ll get a badge in the top right of the screen, giving you a breakdown of the links on the page:
You can see how easy it is to spot the broken links. If I had a good page on steroids, I’d be writing to this webmaster about swapping out that first link with my own. But what if my health site did not have a page on steroids? The answer is simple. I’d create one, providing it was viable of course. I’d probably head off to the Way Back Machine: http://archive.org/web/ That will allow you to check out the expired page. The Way Back Machine shows you what that page looked like in the past. Although that steroid page no longer exists today, the Way Back Machine keeps cached copies of most pages, of most websites.
This archived page will give me some ideas for my own steroid page before I contact the webmaster about the broken link. At the end of the day, if that webmaster ignores me, or just deletes the broken link without using mine, I still have a great new piece of content on my own site. The easiest broken backlinks to find are on this type of resource page. I know a lot of SEOs will tell you that links on link resource pages are a waste of time, but that simply is not true. Start judging ALL backlink opportunities by the quality of the page your link will appear on, rather than the type of page.
To find out if the page is of value to you, ask the following five questions:
- Is the page good quality?
- Does the page only link to sites within a very narrow niche topic?
- Does the page only link to quality sites?
- Is the page genuinely useful to visitors of that site?
- Is the page part of a quality website?
If these guidelines apply, then the page is a good one for your backlink(s). Broken backlink building is a good way to get quality backlinks on aged, authority pages in your niche. The only other recommended way of getting backlinks with SEO benefits, is guest posting (also called guest blogging).
Guest posting works like this: There are sites out there that are willing to publish articles from authority bloggers in the niche. You write a piece of content and submit it to these sites. If they like your article, they will post it on their website. When you submit your guest article, you include a resource box that can contain a link back to your website. You will need to check the terms and conditions of the sites you are writing for to see whether it’s possible to include links within the body of the article.
If you are allowed to use a contextual link in the article, don’t link to the same site in your author bio box. Instead, use that to link to your social media profile. Remember that Google expects author bio boxes to use the nofollow tag. That is especially important if you are linking to your own website. If you are linking to your social profile, that can be left as dofollow.
Finding Guest Blogs
The way most people find guest blogging opportunities is to use a search string in Google:
“write for us” + KEYWORD
KEYWORD is obviously your main niche word or phrase. e.g. “write for us” + health This will return all of the websites that have the phrase “Write for Us” and are related to the health industry. However, this type of site is not usually very high quality, and everyone looking for guest posting opportunities will find the same sites.
A better method is to identify high profile guest bloggers in your industry and see where they are posting their content. Try contacting some of the sites that are accepting their content, and see if they’d like to review some of yours. If you find some high-quality sites that do accept your content, bookmark them. Not only can you get backlinks, but you’ll also get to post your photo and site URL, which further boosts your personal authority in the niche.
OK, we’ve looked at the very best way to get high-quality backlinks. The number one method is the link bait and outreach, and that is the method I recommend you use for most of your backlinking campaigns. Identify topics that influencers care about, and write link bait posts followed by email outreach.
This is how all of the top authority sites generate backlinks. To supplement your backlinks, broken link building is also good. To a lesser extent, guest blogging. However, a discussion about backlinking would not be complete without mentioning some of the older ways we built links. Some can still be used today, with care.
A lot of the backlinking methods we used a few years ago, are no longer effective. We’ll go over the more popular methods here, and I’ll tell you my thoughts on their use today. If you simply want to get a few links to kick-start a new site and cannot be bothered with link bait and outreach, this is what I recommend you try.
Create a high-quality, text-based article and repurpose it:
- Try to get the article accepted as a guest post on an authority site in your niche.
- Re-write it a little (so it is not identical to the guest post), add images, and create a PDF version for submission to one or two of the more popular PDF sharing sites.
- Create a slideshow presentation of the main points of the article to upload to sites like Slideshare.net
- Create an infographic of the main 6 or 7 points.
- Create a video using the contents of the article. This can be the slideshow presentation with a voice-over
From doing one piece of research, you now have several different media types to use for backlinks. Let’s look at the types of places you can submit these documents to.
NOTE: What follows are the typical backlink resources recommended by most SEO courses and books. Use these with caution. And by the way, I really do suggest you ignore the popular advice to use keyword rich anchor text in your backlinks. Stick with page titles, site name or bare URLs, and try to insert the link so that it looks natural.
In 2017, Article directories are not worth considering for backlinks. I recommend you avoid them altogether. Instead, search out sites that accept guest posts and offer them exclusive rights to publish your articles.
Forums have been heavily spammed by webmasters in the past, looking for easy link opportunities. There are two obvious ways to get links from a forum. The first way is by adding your site URL to your forum profile. This backlink is called a forum profile link. Nothing good can come from this type of backlink, so avoid them at all costs. If you do get legitimately involved in a forum, by all means, fill out your profile, but fill it out completely so your forum profile page has a lot more information on it than just a website link. If you have 1 or 2 forum profile links in your backlink profile, Google won’t mind, especially if these pages are filled out with great information.
If, however, you use an automated software tool to create 500, 5000 or even 50,000 forum profile links, get your flak jacket on. You going down! The second link opportunity on forums is within the forum posts themselves. Get involved in the forum discussions and help people. Pop in and contribute every now and again. As you get well known on the forum, you will be allowed to post the odd link to your site, if it helps people. However, this type of link is a huge amount of work, often for 1 or 2 links (possibly nofollow). In my opinion, it’s more work than Link Bait and outreach.
YouTube & Other Video Sites
Be aware that links in YouTube descriptions are nofollow, so they won’t help with search engine ranking. Videos are more a way to brand yourself, and build an audience on the YouTube platform. Creating videos that offer valuable information in your niche is a great way to increase authority and “social proof” (especially when your photo or brand image appears in the video). Videos that you create do not need to be 10 or 15 minutes long.
You can easily create short two or three minute videos that discuss issues briefly in your niche. Video descriptions can be quite long, and they can include a (nofollow) link back to your site. Popular videos can bring you traffic. YouTube allows you to create a video channel, which lists all of your videos in one place. Your YouTube profile can even have a link back to your site and your Google+ page. If someone likes one of your videos, they can check out your channel to see what other videos you’ve created. They may even follow you on social media, post your videos to their own social networks, and/or visit your website.
You can use twitter to include a brand photo and link back to your main site. As you add tweets, your photo goes through the twitter system and ends up again in front of people that have subscribed to your twitter feed. Even if you don’t have many followers, your twitter page will have links back to your main site, which adds further authority to your persona. Twitter links won’t help you rank in the search engines, though.
Another way that you can increase your authority is by setting up a Facebook page for your site or your business. Facebook only allows you to have a single Facebook account. One of the biggest concerns I hear from my students is that they don’t always want their friends and/or family to be aware of their business posts on Facebook. Don’t worry. If you set up a Facebook page for your website, it is totally separate from your personal profile account.
You need a personal Facebook account to set up a Facebook page, but that’s as far as the association goes. You can post specifically to your website Facebook page, and none of your friends or followers will even know it exists unless you tell them about it of course. You can have multiple Facebook pages if you like, promoting different websites or products. When you log into Facebook, you will see direct links to your pages in the side column of your personal Facebook account, but these are not visible to your followers.
Web 2.0 “Blogs”
A number of SEO “experts” still recommend setting up Web 2.0 blogs and then using them to link to your money site. I recommend you don’t. Google don’t like it, and believe it or not, you are leaving footprints that Google can follow. If you try to use Web 2.0 blogs for backlinks, you will get found out, and penalized.
Of course, it is also worth considering the huge amount of work involved in setting up a blog for backlinks. To make the blog truly useful it needs high quality, unique content. That’s a lot of work. Most SEOs that use blog networks actually use spun articles to generate content. This is something that Google can easily spot in 2017, so my advice is to stay clear of this technique.
If you use WordPress to build your site, then you already have an RSS feed for it. An RSS feed contains all of the most recent posts in a single file. You also get to define how many posts show in the feed from within the WordPress Dashboard. You can find the feed by adding “/feed” to the end of your URL (without the quotes obviously).
For example: http://trunk.ly/feed
Once you have your feed URL, you can then submit that feed to a number of different RSS Feed websites. Every time you add new content to your site, the feed updates on these sites automatically, and you get a link back to the posts listed in the feed. This type of link does not help improve search engine rankings for the pages that are linked to. On the contrary, if you submit to a lot of these sites, Google will probably just see you as a link spammer. I would recommend submitting your feed to only one or two of the highest authority RSS directories that you can find. The reason for submitting the feed is not for the backlinks (for ranking). It’s to help new content get indexed quicker. I’d also recommend that you set up your feed to only display excerpts (and a maximum of 10 posts). This should keep you safe from the spammers who try to scrape content by stripping entire posts out of RSS feeds.
Getting your site listed in directories is one of the oldest forms of back-linking. However, directory listings don’t give much (if any) of a ranking boost. There are software programs that can submit your site to multiple directories, but I recommend you stay clear. Site directories will not help your rankings in the search engine. Only submit to a site directory if there is another reason for doing so. i.e. you would even if search engines did not exist.
You can distribute PDF files, which contain links to your website, to a number of special PDF distribution sites. Again, each site you distribute the PDF file to can include your profile picture and link back to your own site. To create PDFs, you can use existing content or simply write new content for the file. Microsoft Word or the free OpenOffice suite, both have built in features to convert text documents into PDF format.
One of the best-known examples of a site that you can upload PDF documents to is: http://www.scribd.com/ You can find a lot of websites that accept PDF submissions by searching Google for “submit eBooks” or “submit PDF”. Again, like everything else, look for quality sites and think less about quantity.
Blog commenting is easy. Go to a blog post related to your own niche, and leave a comment with a link back to your own site. Blog commenting has been heavily abused by spammers over the years and gets a lot of bad press because of that. It’s not something that will help your search rankings very much, so only leave comments if you would anyway, even if search engines did not exist.
To leave useful comments:
- Read the article you are commenting on and also read other people’s comments too.
- Add a comment that interacts with the original author, or another commenter. The comment should add to the conversation on that page. Add something that the webmaster will want to approve.
- When adding a comment, you’ll have fields for “your name” and “website URL”. If there is no website field, don’t waste time leaving a comment. In the name field, add your real name (or the pen name you use on your site), either first or full name is fine. Never add a keyword phrase in the name field. In the URL field, enter your website homepage URL.
- Note that many webmasters will delete comments with URLs in the body. Never add links to the body of your comment, unless there is a good reason for doing so, i.e. answering someone’s question.
Backlinks to Backlinks
Whenever you build a site you should be tracking a lot of information so that you can fine tune things when necessary. One of the most important things to track is the backlinks pointing to your website. I would suggest you login to the Google Search Console at least once every couple of months to check what links Google is reporting there. If there are any spammy links, on poor quality pages, consider disavowing those links. See later for detail on how to do this. But what about those links that are good?
One thing that is common in SEO is the process of backlinking backlinks. This is something called “link reinforcement” and can give more power to the pages linking to your site. I would actually recommend you do not engage in this type of practice. Instead, concentrate on building high-quality links through Link Bait and broken links (and guest posting). It’s no more work, and you’ll end up with better links and authority naturally. If you do decide to backlink the backlinks to your site, then I would recommend you only point quality links at these pages. This obviously means more work on your behalf, but it’s important.
The idea behind this strategy is to make each page linking to your page stronger, and therefore able to pass more link juice (authority) to your site.
Here it is as a diagram:
Many webmasters make a critical mistake with this strategy. They don’t worry about the quality of the backlinks they create. I mean it’s not their site, right? Instead, they blast thousands of profile links, social bookmarks, spun articles, etc. at these backlinks in an attempt to boost them. It doesn’t work.
Most webmasters who use this strategy assume that their site is safe since these spammy links DO NOT point directly at their own site. They think the site they are linking to acts as a buffer, protecting their own sites from a penalty. That may have been the case before negative SEO (and the Disavow tool) became a reality, it’s not anymore. Google hates linking schemes, and pyramid systems like this areno exception.
Is it too far-fetched to think that the negative SEO we saw earlier could render this type of link pyramid not only useless but also harmful to your site? In the diagram above, if those links to your backlinks are good quality, you have nothing to worry about. However, what if those links pointing at your backlinks are low-quality, spammy links? Let’s re-draw that diagram.
The penalty passes down the pyramid and your page is penalized as a consequence. When Google decided to pass negative ranking factors through links (allowing negative SEO to work), it allowed penalties to pass down pyramid linking schemes, thus removing any immunity that was previously available through buffer sites. A few years ago, everyone assumed that negative SEO was impossible, that is, if you wanted to take out your competition by pointing a lot of poor links at their site, it simply wouldn’t work. Google even told us it wouldn’t work. However, today we know this is no longer true. The reality is that poor-quality inbound links can hurt any web page, so don’t contribute to the problem.
The Disavow Tool – How to Fix Bad Links to Your Site
Several years ago, webmasters were not held responsible for the links pointing to their own sites. Negative SEO just did not work, and Google themselves told us that bad links could not hurt a site’s rankings. In the last few years, things have changed. Google changed the rules so that bad backlinks could now hurt page (and site) rankings. However, because of the whole negative SEO angle, Google needed to provide a system to make webmasters truly accountable for the links to their sites, whether they had created them or not.
In other words, if a website became the target of a negative SEO campaign, Google wanted the webmaster to fix it, and so the Disavow tool was born. The Disavow tool allows webmasters to report bad links pointing to their sites, in the hope that Google will not count them as part of that site’s backlink profile. Therefore, if a competitor points a lot of spammy links at your site to try to get it penalized, you have a way to combat them.
Google gave you this tool so that you could tell it about those links, and hopefully get them devalued to the point where they no longer contribute to your rankings. Before we look at the Disavow tool in more detail, let me just state something: Just because we can report “bad” links to Google, it does not mean Google will listen to us or take action. Google has said that webmasters should use the Disavow tool as a last resort. The first step should always be to contactwebmasters who are linking to you and ask them to remove the offending link(s).
If those webmasters refuse to remove the links, or simply ignore your requests, then that is what the Disavow tool is for. I should also mention that if Google does disavow links, it could take some time. One of my sites was the victim of negative SEO, and after disavowing those bad links, it took around six months for the site to recover.
I recommend you constantly monitor the backlinks to your site (Google Search Console will show you the recent backlinks it has found) and disavow spammy links as you find them. Google wants you to try to get the link removed by contacting the webmasters first, but this is not practical.
In many cases, there can be thousands of spammy links to a site.
Checking Your Link Profile & Creating a Disavow File
The first step in using the Disavow tool is to find the links that point to your site and evaluate them. You need to identify the links that may be causing your site harm. These links include:
- Links on pages with scraped content.
- Links on pages with spun content.
- Links on pages with very poor/limited content (in terms of language, spelling, grammar, etc.).
- Links to sites that have been penalized in Google.
- Links to irrelevant sites, or sites with dubious content.
- Site-wide links that appear on all of the pages of a linking website.
- Any link that you would not want Google to manually inspect.
Fortunately, Google Search Console provides us with an easy way to do a link audit. You need a free Search Console account for this, with your site linked to that account. Assuming you have linked your website to your Search Console account, Google will list the backlinks to your project. It can take a while for these backlinks to start showing, so link up your site as soon as possible To see the links, log into Search Console and click on the site you want to inspect.
In the menu on the left side, select Links to Your Site from the Search Traffic menu.
On the right, you’ll see a list of links to your site: Google only shows you a few links by default, but if you look at the bottom of the list, you’ll see a link to “More”. Click it. You now have a button to “Download latest links”. Clicking this button will allow you to choose the format of the download. The CSV format will download a spreadsheet that you can view in Excel or similar spreadsheet programs. Alternatively, you can download the file in Google Docs format.
If you don’t use Google Docs, I recommend you give it a try. Just go to docs.google.com You simply login to Google Docs with your Gmail email address and password. Now if you select Google Docs from Search Console, and then click the OK button, the spreadsheet opens directly in Google Docs: This spreadsheet will list all of the links Google is counting towards your rankings. Not only do you get the URL, but you also get the date that the link was first discovered. This means you can check all of the links the very first time you do a link audit. Then, in a month or two, you only need to check the new links that Google is reporting since your last check. You need to work your way through the list of links and pull out any that you suspect are harming your website.
Google gives you two ways to deal with bad links. You can either report them on a link-by-link basis, or you can report a whole domain. If you report the domain, then all of the links from that domain are disavowed. You can create a plain text file to use as your disavow list. To disavow a single URL, just list the URLs, one on each line.
The format for reporting an entire domain is as follows: Domain:somebaddomain.com
Google also encourages you to use comments in your disavow file. These comments can be for you, or for Google, outlining the steps you have carried out to get the links removed. For example, if you have tried contacting a webmaster to get links removed, and they have ignored your requests, you can include that information in a comment.
Comments start with the # symbol, so a valid comment would look something like this:
# Webmaster has ignored my request to remove these links.
Google provide the following example as a valid disavow file: In the example, the webmaster wants two URLs disavowed, plus all links on the shadyseo.com domain. Once you have built up your disavow file, you need to upload it to Google.
One thing I recommend you do is add the following comment to the beginning of the disavow file:
# Last updated 10/10/2016 Save the file to your computer when you’re done. The next time you want to do a link audit, you will know the date of your previous audit and can just look at the new links since that date (remember that Google gives us the date a link was found). Uploading the disavow file to Google is simple. Go to this URL: https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/disavow-links-main You will need to log in using your Search Console login details. Select the website from the drop-down list, and then click the Disavow button:
You will get a warning before you can upload the disavow file: If you want to proceed, click the Disavow Links button. Now you have a button to Choose File. Click that and select the disavow text file that you saved earlier. Finally, click the Submit button to upload the file to Google. Updating the Disavow File When you need to update the disavow file, e.g. to include more URLs or domains, simply add the new URLs and domains to the file. Make sure you change the comment at the top to the current date so you can keep track. Once done, go back to the disavow tool and re-upload your updated file.
Google only keep one file per site, so the last one you upload will be the file it uses for “disavowing”. I’d recommend you do a complete link audit on your site, and then recheck new links every month or two after that. Now that you are responsible for all links pointing to your site, you need to know who is linking to it, and whether those links are potentially harmful to your rankings. If they are, contact the webmaster and ask for removal. Failing that, disavow them without hesitation.
I also want you to think about something else. If there is a spammy web page linking to you, and you know that it can only be harmful to your rankings, it is possible that the site in question has more than one link to your site, even though you are not aware of them all. In cases like this, I always disavow the entire site rather than just the URLs. If the page on that site is so bad that you want to disavow it, the chances are the whole site is pretty bad as well.
Future Alternatives to Link Building
Google is pretty good at detecting backlinks created for ranking purposes. It is also happy to slap any site that runs aggressive back-linking campaigns. So, what does the future hold? For the foreseeable future, backlinks will continue to be a major ranking factor, but there are other things you should start doing now.
Build Your Brand with Mentions A “brand mention” is simply your “brand” mentioned in an article on another site. There is no physical backlink, just a mention of your brand. There is a growing number of SEOs who think Google can actually recognize (and reward) brand mentions, associating the mention with the correct website. Quite often, your brand will be your domain name, so the more brandable your domain name, the more chance you have of Google correctly associating your brand mention with your site. For example, if your site is buycontactlensesonline.com, your domain is essentially a commercial keyword phrase that you have turned into an exact match domain (EMD).
Any mention of “buy contact lenses online” on another site will not help your site since your site is not a recognized brand. However, if you named your site BetterVisionContacts.com, and your site had some authority, then another site mentioning “Better Vision Contacts” would probably work out as a brand mention in the eyes of Google. SEOs think that brand mentions will form part of the ranking algorithm, if not now, then in the near future. They certainly already help build your authority, and authority, in the eyes of Google, is King. The beauty of brand mentions is that this is a very safe way to get a ranking boost. Google won’t be penalizing unlinked text anytime soon. If you write guest posts for other websites, try inserting your brand into your article instead of a backlink. Build Backlinks for Traffic Instead of Rankings, Using Nofollow I mentioned previously that if you would build a backlink, even if Google did not exist, then it is natural in the eyes of Google.
The reason is that you are not building it to improve your rankings; you are building it because it can benefit you in other ways. A good example of why you might build a link, even if search engines did not exist, would be for click-through traffic. If you can get a link to your site on a high traffic web page, then the chances are that link would bring you some decent traffic since it’s visible to a lot of eyeballs. The only danger here is whether or not Google accepts the reason for the link.
Google might consider it a link to improve rankings, rather than a link for natural reasons. Don’t worry. In cases like this, where your intent is to drive extra traffic from the web page, just nofollow the link. Google will then understand that the link is natural and not there to give you a ranking boost. It’s always nice to get a boost in the rankings, but in this case, that’s not why you placed the link on the page.
The temptation is there to never use nofollow tags on links, but it is becoming increasingly important to prevent penalties. It might all sound a bit too much right now, but I can promise you that once you get these things into your mind, you will intuitively know what to do in any given situation.
Just remember these simple guidelines when getting links:
- Try to get links from as many different places as possible (we want IP diversity).
- Look for quality rather than quantity. A handful of quality links will do more for your rankings than hundreds or thousands of spammy links (which could actually get your site penalized).
- Focus on Link Bait and email outreach methods for the majority of your backlinks.
- Don’t use keyword-rich anchor text in links you obtain on other websites. Always use your website title, URL, page URL or title of the page you are linking to as the anchor text.
- Use internal linking (links that go from one page on your site to a different page on the same site) to introduce keyword rich links to a page.
- Carry out a link audit periodically on your site, and ask webmasters to remove any low-quality, spammy links that may be affecting your rankings. Failing that, use Google’s disavow tool.
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