Link building is of course the core part of off-site SEO. In this post I’m going to dive straight in and give you two no-nonsense strategies that you can use to build up your link portfolio. You’re probably already familiar with them, but I’d like to cover them in detail nevertheless, just in case there’s a tip or two you may like.
Whenever attempting to rank under a keyword term with some form of competition, it’s always advisable to search for the backlinks of your top competitors. To do this I recommend utilizing some form of link analysis tool (for the ability to sort the backlinks by PageRank), however in the absense of such you can always use Yahoo Site Explorer (most link analysis tools pull results directly from Yahoo anyway).
You of course want to check for the most valuable incoming links that each competitor has. The easiest, most time effective way of doing this is to look directly at the PageRank of all the incoming links, and examine only those pages that have the highest PageRank (in comparison to the other backlinks). If you’re using Yahoo Site Explorer, a quick way to view PageRank of all search results is to use the SEOQuake web browser plugin.
Look for the location of your competitor’s backlink on the page, and work out how they managed to place their link there. Most of the time the backlink can be divided into a specific category, such as those outlined below -
Resources Directory: More reputable websites offer a genuine resources directory, or a recommended links page (not a link exchange directory) for their visitors. If your competitor is appearing in such a directory, you should contact the webmaster and recommend to them your own website as a resource to be added to the directory. If you receive no response, then find out the full name of the website owner and conduct Google searches in an attempt to find out how you can contact them via alternative means (think; LinkedIn, Twitter, an instant messenger handle, etc). If all these alternative means fail, why not contact them directly through phone? The worst case scenario is that they’ll tell you to get lost. The most likely scenario is that you’ll not only gain the backlink, but also someone you can network with.
Content Submission: Many websites offer people the ability to submit their own guest posts, create their own custom blogs, write their own articles, or provide some way for guests to submit their own content. The advantage of this is of course you can link to your own website in the content as a reference. The content may or may not be moderated before it’s published. A quick way to determine whether it is moderated is to examine your competitor’s content. If they’ve submitted content that is of good quality, then you too should submit good quality content. If they’ve submitted bad quality content and it has gotten through, then you too should attempt the same strategy without wasting your time writing good quality content.
Paid Links: Paid links are easily identified since they usually appear alongside other unrelated external links. If your competitor is using paid links, you should too. Contact the webmaster of the site in question and offer to co-sponsor their website in exchange for a backlink (to be really sneaky, pick the same anchor text as your competitor and have your link placed before theirs. This will devalue their link). If you don’t have the budget necessary for paid links and your competitor does, then you probably shouldn’t be targeting the keyword term you’ve chosen to begin with.
Blog Comment/Forum Post: This one goes without saying. If your competitor’s backlink is coming from a blog or forum post, then simply register your own account and make a reply to the same post. If submissions to the post in question are closed, then search the website for another forum thread, or blog post, that allows replies/comments. A good way to do this to find high PageRank posts that appear on the blog/forum. This will be covered in more detail in the second strategy later in this post.
Natural Link: These are usually the hardest types of backlinks to replicate, since your competitor didn’t build the backlink themselves, rather their site was naturally referenced by an external source. There are two ways to go about acquiring a backlink from such a site. The first strategy to attempt is to see if any of the previous strategies mentioned in this section can work. Does the page that your competitor’s link appear on offer the ability to submit your own comment? Could you e-mail the webmaster and request that your link be added to the article in exchange for something? If none of these strategies appear likely to work, then you should see why your competitor was referenced. What content specifically appealed to the referencing author? Once you’ve found out what it is, create your own high quality page on your website that covers this in more detail. Then, contact the author and suggest to them that they include a link to your resource as a reference as well.
Believe it or not, this strategy does often work provided that you’re able to contact the author. Remember that if you can’t contact them through the website, do a Google search for their name to find alternative contact methods. If their name isn’t on the website, a simple whois query will tell you who the owner of the website is. If the owner isn’t the person who referenced the competitor’s website, ask them to refer you to the person who did.
Forums and blogs are great resources to obtain backlinks from, however most of the pages that your backlink may appear on will have little to no PageRank. There is a way to quickly scan an entire domain to search for blog and forum posts that do have PageRank however. Make sure that you have the SEOQuake plugin installed for this.
For the example, we will pretend our forum is located at http://www.example.com/forum
The first thing to do is to navigate to an actual forum post. The URL may look something like http://www.example.com/forum/viewtopic.php?topic=29183
What you want to do is copy the URL of the forum post and paste it into Google. You then want to delete the dynamic variable from the URL and conduct a search for only the persistent URL. What this means, is you want to delete the part of the URL that changes with every forum post you visit on the domain, and keep the part of the URL that doesn’t change. Looking at the URL in question, you can see that the end bit 29183 will change with every forum post you go to, whereas the http://www.example.com/forum/viewtopic.php?topic= part will always remain the same.
It’s the persistent part of the URL, the http://www.example.com/forum/viewtopic.php?topic=, that you want to search for in Google. You want to conduct this search in Google using the site: command. The site: command will restrict all search queries to the domain in question. This is a great way for quickly sorting through high PageRank pages on a domain. By adding the persistent part of the URL that pertains to forum and blog posts, you’ll only be searching for forum and blog posts on the same domain. The SEOQuake plugin will then display the PageRank of each result in the Google search results, meaning you can quickly scan every forum and blog post until you find one that is high in PageRank.
For our example, to do this, you would type the following query into Google search: site:http://www.example.com/forum/viewtopic.php?topic=
You would also need to make sure that your search results are set to display 100 results per page. That way you can find a forum or blog post with high PageRank much faster.
Keep in mind that this strategy will only work for forum or blogs that actually do contain posts with high PageRank. Before you begin, a good way to determine if any forum or blog posts on a domain will contain any PageRank is to check the PageRank of the forum/blog index itself. If this is low (2 or below) then odds are that none of the posts will contain any PageRank of themselves. If it’s high (5 or above) then you can be almost certain that you’ll find something.
Remember that every forum or blog you visit will have a unique URL structure. All that’s important is that you find the URL of an actual forum/blog post and delete the dynamic part of it. You then use the site: command to search for the persistent part of the URL. This rule doesn’t change, even though URL structures can vary greatly.
A common problem…
What happens however if you come across a post that has a persistent string after the dynamic string you need to delete? For example: http://example.com/forum/forumcat=34/viewtopic=34812
As you can see in the above example, the first part of the URL contains a dynamic variable (the 34) followed by the actual viewtopic variable of 34812.
In this instance, you want to restrict a single search query into multiple URLs. How do you do this? Quite simply, you make use of the inurl: command in addition to the site: command.
You put the first part of the persistent URL into the site: command, and the second part of the persistent URL into the inurl: command. For our example, we’d use the following search query –
An easy way to remember what to do is to simply think that a dynamic part of a URL breaks it, and therefore you need to continue it using the inurl: command.
What happens if a post contains three or more dynamic variables? You could separate each variable using multiple inurl: commands. Don’t become needlessly confused with all this however, because in most cases you can ignore most persistent and dynamic parts of a URL. For example, if the post URL was http://example.com/forum/forumcat=37&type=983&viewtopic=2431 then you could in reality truncate your search query to the following -
So much simpler to do it like that, isn’t it? So why did I teach you a more complex way initially? Only so that you could understand the way URLs work and the way that Google searches for things. Once you understand this, you’ll understand ways you can simplify sitewide search queries regardless of whatever the URL string may be.
The same strategy can be used for blog posts, or any other type of dynamic URL. It makes no difference. For example, if a blog post URL was http://example.com/blog/2010/12/an-example-blog-post we could search for blog posts from this domain in Google using -
We would obviously change the 2010 variable to the year we were searching. A little practice and intuition will allow you to use this strategy to pick up high PageRank blog and forum posts from domains very quickly. The same strategy can be used for guestbooks, articles, or any other type of page you want to find on a domain.