Online Marketing Lesson 34: Link Building Part 1


Backlinks are the currency of the web. Generating a good amount of quality backlinks to your website is paramount because it will increase your traffic, brand awareness, and overall popularity. The backlinks themselves will be sending you traffic as visitors will click on them (i.e., referral traffic). Secondly, the higher the quantity and quality of your backlinks, the higher your search rankings, and the higher the traffic that you will get from search engines (i.e. organic traffic). Finally, if your website is mentioned in several places around the web, it will be perceived as a trusted source of content, and visitors will be more likely to stick around and return in the future (i.e. repeat traffic).

In this lesson, we will go over three basic link building strategies that you can use on your websites.

The Nofollow attribute

Before getting started with link building, you need to understand the Nofollow attribute. It basically tells Google and other search engines that they should not follow the backlink (or backlinks) in question. There are two ways to add this attribute to the links of a page. The first one is via the meta robots tag that is placed in the head section of the page. This meta tag would look like this:

<meta name=”robots” content=”nofollow” />

This tag gives the nofollow attribute to all the links on the page. A second and more specific way of adding the nofollow attribute to the link is with the rel=”nofollow” tag, which is placed inside the link itself. The link below, for instance, has the nofollow attribute:

<a href=”” rel=”nofollow”>Click here</a>

What do Google and other search engines do when they come across a nofollowed link? They basically won’t follow it, meaning that they won’t crawl the page where the link is pointing to. Additionally, Google won’t transfer PageRank for that link, and it also won’t use the link itself or its anchor text inside its search ranking algorithm. Here is how Google itself describers how it handles nofollowed links:

We don’t follow them. This means that Google does not transfer PageRank or anchor text across these links. Essentially, using nofollow causes us to drop the target links from our overall graph of the web. However, the target pages may still appear in our index if other sites link to them without using nofollow, or if the URLs are submitted to Google in a Sitemap.

Why would someone use the nofollow attribute on its links? There are two main reasons. The first one is to protect oneself when linking to untrusted websites or pages. This will make sure that you won’t get penalized from linking to a malicious website by mistake, for instance. That is why most blogging platforms use the nofollow attribute on the comment section links, because it would be impossible for bloggers to manually check all the comments making sure that they don’t contain a link to a spam or malicious site.

The second reason is to separate editorial from paid links. Google argues that paid links should influence search results, so it recommends webmasters and bloggers to nofollow any paid links on their sites.

How does the nofollow attribute affect your link building efforts? It is simple: if you are building links also to improve your search rankings, you should focus only on sources that don’t use the nofollow attribute. Nofollowed backlinks can still send you referral traffic, but we cover those under the “Traffic Generation” lesson.

Finally, how do you go about identifying nofollowed backlinks? The first way is by examining the source code of the page. If you use Firefox, you can do that by clicking on “View” and then “Page Source.” After that you need to locate the links of the page and check whether or not they contain the rel=”nofollow” tag. An easier way, however, is to download and install the Search Status extension for Firefox. That extension has an option to “Highlight Nofollow Links,” making it possibly to visually identify the nofollowed links as you browse around the web.

Basic Linkbuilding Strategies

Free web directories, paid web directories and article directories are three basic yet useful link building strategies. Below we will discuss each of them individually.

1. Free Web Directories

A web directory (also called link directory) is a website that has a collection of links, usually organized into categories. The objective of these directories is to help visitors find quality websites on specific niches or topics. In the early days of the web, directories were very popular. As major search engines went mainstream, however, they lost importance and popularity. The only free directory that can still send a good amount of traffic to listed websites is the Open Directory Project, also called dmoz. We recommend that you suggest the URL of your website there (possibly once every six months), but keep in mind it will be a while before you get accepted if you get accepted.

Other free web directories will probably not send you traffic at all, but their links can still help, and on SEO every little bit helps. There are two things that you need to keep in mind while submitting your site to free directories, though.

First of all make sure to submit only to quality directories, and avoid the low quality, junk directories. Low-quality backlinks will not help you at all, and if you have too many of them, they might even harm your SEO. How do you identify a junk directory? Here is a quick test that you can run:

1. Does the directory have a low PageRank? (e.g., lower than 2)
2. Does the directory have a bad Alexa rank? (e.g., higher than 500,000)
3. Does the directory have a low number of external backlinks? (e.g., fewer than 1,000)

If the directory in question checks for at least two of those points, it probably is a junk directory.

The second point that you need to consider is the rate at which you will gain backlinks. It is easy for Google to spot websites that are mass submitting to web directories, and usually, it will discount those links. It is therefore, wise to have a gradual approach, where every day or every week you will submit only to a handful of directories. Needless to say, that automated services that promise thousands of directory submissions for a small amount of money should be avoided. Manual directory submission services can be worth it, but you would need to make sure that they would submit only to quality directories, and do it gradually over time.

In the “Resources” section of the members area you will find a list of free web directories that you can use.

2. Paid Web Directories

Paying for inclusion in web directories is not necessary. If you have a marketing budget for your website, though, submitting it to half a dozen paid directories could be worth the investment. These directories are trusted by Google and other search engines because they are human edited, and because they require a minimum quality standard to accept submissions. As a result, a handful of backlinks from those directories could give a boost to your SEO efforts.

Links from trusted directories are especially useful in the first few months of your website, because they will give you some initial authority and reduce the risk of getting penalized for having low quality links pointing to your site.

The only word of caution here is to make sure that your website is ready to go (both in terms of design and content) before you submit it to those directories. Remember that even if you are paying, they might still reject your submission.

In the “Resources” section of the members area you will find a list of paid web directories that you can use.

3. Article Marketing

Article marketing involves writing articles and submitting them to article directories. Most article directories allow authors to include a byline at the bottom of their articles, and you can use that spot to place backlinks pointing to your site. Many directories also allow third parties to republish the articles, as long as they keep them intact and include the author information. This means that a single article submission might generate several backlinks to your site.

Apart from having SEO value, those articles can also be used to generate traffic. The most popular directories are very large and trusted websites. As a consequence, with some search engine optimization, it is possible to get your submitted articles ranking very high for competitive keywords.

The first question that people have about article marketing is whether or not they can re-use articles or blog posts that are already published on their sites and submit them to the directories. The answer is “no.” This is not a good idea because it would be generating duplicate content.

You will, therefore, need to write the articles specifically for this link building strategy. If you don’t have time, you could consider outsourcing the production of the articles. If your main objective is to generate backlinks, after all, the quality of the articles doesn’t need to be outstanding.

Another common question is whether or not you can submit the same article to multiple directories. The answer is “yes.” Most article directories don’t require exclusivity. Instead, they just require the article to be original, which means that you should have the copyrights over it. Ideally, however, you want to submit different articles for different directories. If you submit the same identical article to many directories, Google might still filter some of those articles out due to duplicate content. This won’t affect your website directly, but you will end up wasting time on submissions that won’t have value. One solution to this problem is to use a core idea and then write many different articles around it.

Finally, remember that with article marketing you can generate deep backlinks. That is backlinks that will point to specific pages inside your website and not to the homepage. This is useful to diversify your backlink portfolio and to optimize internal pages that are targeting specific keywords.

In the “Resources” section of the members area you will find a list of article directories that you can use.

Action Points

  1. If you have not done so already, install the Search Status extension for Firefox and enable the “Highlight Nofollow Links” feature.
  2. Start submitting your website to quality free web directories. Remember to use a gradual approach, submitting to a few of them every couple of days or so.
  3. Evaluate whether or not submitting to paid directories would be worth it for you.
  4. Produce or outsource the production of some articles to be submitted to article directories. Remember to include a byline with links to your website (most directories allow up to two links), and link to internal pages where appropriate.

Navigation Links

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Next Lesson: Linkbuilding Part 2