How to Create a BackLink Strategy

Hello, I am tired of seeing “how to create a link (building/acquisition) strategy” articles that don’t include any strategy. Strategy has nothing to do with what link research tools you love; strategy has nothing to do with what valuation metrics you trust; strategy has nothing to do with which SEO bloggers you want to promote.
A strategy is an action plan that is designed to achieve some goal. Unless your goal is to collect a lot of useless information about other people’s backlink profiles, you can toss your link research tools in the wastebin of Stupid SEO Tricks and just focus on what you need.

Step 1: Decide What The Links Are For

Links contribute value to a Website in the following ways:
  1. Traffic
  2. Visibility
  3. Crawling
  4. Trust
  5. Anchor Text
  6. PageRank
Cf. “SEO Theory for Beginners”, April 2007
The more of these types of value you want from a link, the more difficult it will be to acquire the link. Your strategy should determine which type(s) of value you’re seeking and what timeframe you’re allocating to hit all those marks.

Step 2: Decide How Long You Want the Links to Last

Some “link builders” create links that are programmed to die quickly. These are the illiterate morons who proudly sell their blog comment spam services to unsuspecting clients. Some of these folks use software to shotgun links at random blogs; some of these folks make the effort to “research good blogs” and “write thoughtful posts”.
So let’s assume you actually want your links to last longer than six months (Cf. “The Average Lifespan of a Link is Six Months”, February 2012). You want “permanent, one-way links” or “long-term reciprocal relationships (from relevant business partners)”.
Sure, if you’re just buying links you might be able to buy some permanent links or you may be able to sign your client up for a brokered package where the links vanish as soon as the money stops coming in.
You have to make a decision, a choice.

Step 3: Decide How Much Risk You’re Willing to Take On

Most SEOs don’t get this. I’m not talking about how much risk the client is willing to take on — I’m talking about how much risk the SEO is willing to take on. Because if you create a lot of spammy links for a client, he may out you if his site tanks or if you get into a dispute; or you could be real lucky and be outed by a third party.
All SEOs build manipulative links, even ex-Googlers who practice the whitest of white hat link acquisition strategies because without their intervention in marketing practices those links would never come into existence — hence, even Vanessa Fox produces paid, unnatural links for clients if she helps them develop link strategies they would not have devised on their own. (NOTE: I am not talking about link fraud, Cf. “The Full Spectrum of SEO Linking Strategies In Black, White, and Smudgy”, August 2012.)
People will cut you some slack if your paid link strategy is passive. In fact, I cannot point to a single Bing or Google guideline that forbids a Website from paying someone to help ATTRACT links. Paid passive linking is still manipulative, mind you, because it would not happen if the search engines didn’t encourage people to get links — but the manipulation is far less efficient than active linking.
Nonetheless, if you’re not willing to put your livelihood and your family’s next meal on the line for the client, you need to be Vanessa Fox, Jr. and just propose white, white, white hat linking acquisition strategies. If you don’t care — if you feel like Google is your worst enemy and you just want the money — well, then at least you know the risks.

Step 4: Decide What Types of Linking Resources You Will Use

“Ah, this is where I get to use my link research tools!” you say.
Well, if you want to be inefficient, sure, you can follow in competitive footsteps and dilute the value of linking resources for everyone. This is a low-value negative SEO strategy that I and others have used for many years. If you want to pull the rug out from under your competition, that’s a goal. But if THAT is your goal you don’t want to point these links to any site you care about.
So your list of linking resources should include:
  • Websites that are closely related to the destination (same owner)
  • Websites that are closely associated with the destination (business partners)
  • Websites that support sites like the destination (niche directories, news sites, etc.)
  • Websites that have an active interest in the destination’s raison d’etre
  • Websites where it’s acceptable to mention and discuss the destination
So if you or your client own 200 Websites does that mean you should use them all to link to the destination? I wouldn’t. I’ll just leave it at that.
Business partners are now a common target: vendors, customers, professional associations, sister companies, parent companies, child companies, non-profit organizations, local events, sponsored events, etc.
Niche directories, news sites, and other resources that a normal PR professional (not an SEO) has access to can produce a lot of great links. The average “link building” SEO doesn’t have the connections to get these kinds of links. These are real Websites that exist for reasons OTHER than to promote spammy Websites.
Websites that have a natural interest in your (client’s) site’s existence may be blogs, they may be forums, they may be signpost pages and classified advertising sites — it depends on what type of site you’re promoting and who its natural online audience is. These sites are NOT “SEO friendly”, they are NOT laden with links that your competitors have obtained, they are not interested in playing the SEO game. Real people use these Websites to discuss, dissect, analyze, promote, complain about, or otherwise refer to whomever is making their lives happier or miserable. There is no concise list of these types of sites. The variations run into the thousands — maybe even tens of thousands — and no SEO blogger will ever be able to list more than a small fraction of these types of sites.
“Websites where it’s acceptable to mention and discuss the destination” — yeah, that’s pretty much the social medium of the Web: Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Web forums, Web blogs, MySpace, Google+, whatever. This is the low-hanging fruit of the linking Web. The amount and types of value you obtain from these kinds of sites’ links varies. Some linkers just focus on this easy stuff.

Step 5: Make a List

If you’re going to hand the assignment to someone else (preferably an in-house employee where you have accountability) or if you’re just going to do it yourself, you need a list of linking resources. You can dress it up with all sorts of qualifiers but all you need for SEO is a place where you can check off the placement of the link.

There Are Different Types of Strategies

Some strategies are short-term, single-function campaigns. Maybe someone decides there is a need for “social media links” so you devise a strategy to acquire social media links. Maybe someone decides it’s a good idea to syndicate articles to major Websites, and that in itself is a strategy to acquire high-visibility links from popular Websites.
You can have multiple strategies in play at the same time.
You can run multiple strategies in succession, one after the other.
And you can have a comprehensive strategy that works to achieve other goals (non-linking goals). This super-strategy might be to build a Website from scratch (zero visibility) to a high-traffic Web destination, such that it gets a lot of traffic from other Websites (including search, but that’s not required). The super-strategy may be to alter the SERPs or it may be to improve a Website’s ability to project its content into less competitive SERPs without links (the most efficient way to do search engine optimization).
Real linking strategies don’t deal with issues like “is the link natural?”. There are no natural links that come from linking strategies — none, zippo, nada. But not all unnatural links are bad (Google’s definition of “unnatural links” is more limited than this one, so be careful not to confuse the two).
A link is natural if and only if someone else decides to place it “without the intervention of the destination owner or marketing representative” (Cf. “SEO Glossary”, “Unnatural Link”).

Why You Don’t Need Link Research Tools

SEO bloggers love to tell everyone about the latest and greatest “link research tools”. These tools inevitably only show you which Websites are participating in the manipulative link market — you cannot seriously expect those kinds of linking resources to escape search engineers’ notice forever. If you believe they will, you deserve all the penalties that await you.
Chasing the same links your competitors have obtained is a strategy (“My goal is to get a link from every page my competitor got links from”) but it’s a really stupid strategy. This is what a beginner does because he has no better idea of where else to get links.
It’s okay for a first-time SEO to chase competitor linking resources, but after that he needs to have the good sense to say, “Well, last time around I got a link from a BUTTERWIGGIE Website — maybe I can find one that none of my competitors will ever be able to get a link from”.
The greatest link you can obtain in a competitive market is the one your competitors cannot dilute or transmorgrify into spam. Good linking resources die quickly once they are named on Websites like SEOmoz, Search Engine People, Search Engine Watch, Daily SEO Tip, et. al. These kinds of linking resources are heavily abused by the sheer volume of SEO placements that fall upon them in the wake of being “promoted” or “shared”. The last thing you want to do is use a linking resource that everyone else is thinking about.
There are no “secret” Websites — they are all hoping for traffic and so they do what they can to promote themselves. But you would do far better to work with linking resources the SEO community doesn’t talk about, doesn’t promote, doesn’t crush with endless nasty links. Of course, there are exceptions. For example, anyone who has subscribed to Eric Ward’s Link Moses Private Newsletter knows he has shared a TON of high quality linking resources with his subscribers — but these aren’t your mamma’s nasty-assed SEO resources. Most of these sites would never accept links from the vast majority of “link builders” simply because they have specific focuses and are editorially managed.
Any Website that turns to the SEO community for help in building its business had better have ironclad security and oversight because people who follow the linking advice on popular blogs don’t care about how much spam they create (and most of them believe they are NOT creating spam). There are certainly sites that do a good or reasonable job of policing their users in some way. You’d be surprised at some of the high profile Websites that allow anyone to link from them, where the SEO community remains generally clueless about how to use those links.
Link research as taught by the majority of the SEO community is an endless waste of time because it only leads you to engage in the least productive linking tactics, to use the least helpful linking resources. It’s not just how much value you think you can get today that matters — it’s also about how much value you think the linking resource can provide in two years.

You Want Exclusive Links, Not Easy Links

The best linking strategies allow for the extra time and effort required to obtain the desired links because, frankly, those are the only links really worth having. You are not optimizing for search if you have to constantly replace the links you have already obtained. You’re not a real SEO if you think it’s just a matter of grabbing as many links as you can today