The Why's Behind Some Aspects Of Link Building

I recently got an email from a woman who had been reading through the link building articles here on SEOBook, she was new to the community and SEO in general and had questions she was shy about asking in our forum.   I’ve answered her directly but thought her questions were good and commonly asked so I wanted to share my responses in case someone else would benefit.

While I know her first name, I don't know what industry she is in or the name of her site so my answers will be given in general. Here's the first one::

Question: I’m trying to learn about link building and am going to try an article content creation tool. Where should I put my articles - can I put multiple articles on one blog site and each will act as a link or does only one article per blog website count as a link?  .

Before I answer, I thought I'd provide some background information on a couple of key concepts as they relate to the question and linking in general.

Writing articles is a common and basic link building method; most articles are between 400 - 700 words and use a couple keyword terms in the copy.  Articles created by automated content tools don't win Pulitzer prizes and aren't meant to; they're written and dropped as a way to secure a lot links which hopefully pass link popularity or "link juice".  Overall the tactic still works but works best when the content is dropped on "quality" pages.

What's a quality page?  In a nutshell it's a page ranking well for certain keyword phrases, has some age behind it and an active social profile.  Pages rank for a number of reasons, suffice to say if it's ranking well, it's doing something right and is a good place to secure links from. It's hard to definitely say the social aspect of things causes’ great algorithmic impact but my sense is this issue is being given more weight than we’re being told; it's just damn hard to prove. Plus, from a traffic and exposure point social can be huge; a site/blog with an active Twitter/Facebook presence is an asset, and one that can work to your advantage.

If you're using article marketing and content creation tools as a way to attract links, you're probably not going to create the type of content quality sites want to host.  The type of content those tools spit out tend to end up on low-quality blogs and/or in article directories, neither has much algorithmic weight behind them so you don't get the link popularity or content citations you're vying for.  Why?  To understand the "why" behind the question, we need to understand what link popularity is and how it's used to influence the way your pages rank.

Link Popularity

In its basic form, link popularity is comprised of three components and one influencing factor:  link quantity, link quality, relevance and anchor text.

  • Link quantity - the number of links pointing to a specific webpage.   Having lots of links is a good thing. :)
  • Link quality - quality is determined by the authority of the host pages/sites and the pages/sites linking to them.  Quality flows from one page to the next through links.  Most people know this factor as PageRank, (TrustRank for Yahoo and not sure what Bing calls it)
  • Anchor text - this is the clickable part of the link you see, it's a query ranking indicator and an endorsement, it tells both humans and bots what is about to come.  Anchors using keyword phrases provide additional "weight" and carry semantic value,  Google doesn't spell out much for us when it comes to the importance of ranking influences but they have in the case of anchor text:

"Anchor text influences the queries your site ranks for in the search results."

While the comment above was made in 2007 and recent events might make it seem like anchors are no longer a key ranking component that just isn't the case.   Anchor text itself is the not problem when it comes to poor rankings, aggressive webmasters are.  It's not smart to use the same anchor over and over, it never has been.   From a marketing and SEO standpoint it's best to use a wide range of anchors and to use them sparingly.  If it doesn't make sense to hyperlink a keyword phrase in your content - don't.   Nothing says "SEO article here" like multiple hyperlinked keyword anchors in the middle that lead to the same page or pages that don't support the conversation.

Make your content and your anchors conversational, if it makes sense to link out, do it.  There's nothing wrong with hyperlinking a "click here" or "for more information" in the body of your copy, it helps with the flow of information and to mix up your anchors.


Links to and from contextually relevant or thematically related sites/pages are supposed to convey more authority, relevance helps establish where you belong topically and/or geographically.  You don't have to get links from pages in your keyword niches but it helps.  Why?  From an editorial standpoint, webmasters in the same/ancillary areas are more likely to link to other webmasters or pages that support their content.  Like attracts like, the concept is the same here.

The relevance component can be a key factor in the phenomena known as "negative SEO". If you're not familiar with the issue, read here and if you are, you know how easy it can be to have this happen to you.  If you've always linked along in your topical and/or geographic niche and someone comes at you with tons of off topic backlinks, being able to fight back/defend your link history becomes easier.  Stick to getting links from pages your demographic frequents and follow your history patterns.

Now that we have the link popularity explanations and support information out of the way, let's go back to the original question:

Question:  Where should I put my articles - can I put multiple articles on one blog site and each will act as a link or does only one article per blog website count as a link?

Link building is less about what you do, and more about where you do it.  Ideally you want to find:

  • a lot of pages (link quantity)
  • with high visible PageRank scores (link quality)
  • using keyword anchors (anchor text) 
  • on topically or geographically relevant pages (relevance) ranking well.

Sound familiar?  Problem is, hitting all four points is not easy, even for a seasoned linker.  There is a very high probability quality blogs won't take basic/respun/or tool generated content, they have reputations and readership to satisfy.  You'll have to go to a blog with a less discriminating palate and offer your content.  As long as the blog and your post are in the index, you will receive some measure of link popularity but less than what you'd get from a well ranked topical blog.  In link building, the ultimate goal is to get your links on pages ranking well for whatever terms you are targeting.  Simple in theory, not so easy in reality so always strive to hit as many of the four link pop factors outlined for maximum results.

There's nothing wrong with hosting multiple articles on the same site or blog but it's never a good idea to put too many link eggs in one blog basket.  Spread the wealth, preferably on blogs within your area. You will have a wider audience and expand your link and social graph which works to help you algorithmically.

Next question:

2) In which way should I spread my created articles across blog websites - am I correct in thinking duplicate use of article is a bad thing - each one should be unique?

If you have the time and resources to develop unique articles, that is your best course of action.  If you don't, reusing content is fine as long as it's different enough that anyone reading it won't be able to quote a sentence verbatim. The engines frown on content spread around for ranking purposes, Google has a page on this subject here.  To be safe, freshen up your content with new material each time you drop it, include new images and video, change up the anchors and where they point.

3) Do keywords through an article's/blog's text (on a blog site not the promoted website)have any impact for link building or do only the keywords I attach to the posting matter?

To be honest, I’m not 100% clear on what this question is asking so I’ll answer about the impact a keyword anchor has when sitting on someone else’s page.

Words on a blog/site are considered content, even if the words are hyperlinked.  Your keyword anchor is content for the page it sits on and also a query indicator for the page it points to.  The page the link points to gets the bigger ranking bang because the query indicator is more important to the ranking process. If you hyperlink “click here” instead of using a keyword rich phrase, you lose the influence for the keyword but the engine will still follow the hyperlinks and make the connection between the pages.   It’s highly probable the term “click here” is seen as frivolous content on the site and does not add to the relevance factor.

Even though a lot of people feel anchors have been devalued lately, I don’t;  I think the dial on the number of times the anchor is used and how it’s used has been turned up. Way up.

Use all of your terms and their variations along with company and surnames, hyperlink verbs and call to action phrases so you motivate people to click. Above all, hyperlink words in a sentence when it makes sense and then link to content that reinforces what you’re saying.  Link to off topic content too many times and people stop clicking and reading. 

Anchors and on-page content are not the only ranking influences an engine uses, they each have multiple factors which include social and user-interactions. It’s best to use a wide range of tactics when you link and keep the four points of link popularity in mind as you work.  While it is best to try and link between two topically or geographically related pages to reinforce your intent, unrelated linking won't hurt, it just doesn't help as much.

Thanks for submitting your questions Laura, hope this helps :)

Debra Mastaler is a long time link building & publicity expert who has trained clients for over a decade at Alliance-Link. She is the link building moderator of our SEO Community & can be found on Twitter @DebraMastaler.

Have Any SEO Questions? Please Ask!

We are always trying to come up with good content ideas to write about, but we would love to get your feedback on what you would like to read. Here is a Google Moderator page where you can submit SEO, marketing, link building, pay per click, domaining, search, webmaster, or blogging questions and/or topics that you would like us to write about. In addition you can vote on which topics you want us to cover. We can't write about everything, but we will try to write about many of the topics that are covered here.

Robots.txt vs Rel=Nofollow vs Meta Robots Nofollow

I was just fixing up our Robots.txt tutorial today, and figured that I should blog this as well. From Eric Enge's interview of Matt Cutts I created the following chart. Please note that Matt did not say they are more likely to ban you for using rel=nofollow, but they have on multiple occasions stated that they treat issues differently if they think it was an accident done by an ignorant person or a malicious attempt to spam their search engine by a known SEO (in language that is more rosy than what I just wrote).

Crawled by Googlebot?
Appears in Index?
Consumes PageRank
Risks? Waste?
robots.txt no If document is linked to, it may appear URL only, or with data from links or trusted third party data sources like the ODP yes

People can look at your robots.txt file to see what content you do not want indexed. Many new launches are discovered by people watching for changes in a robots.txt file.

Using wildcards incorrectly can be expensive!

robots meta noindex tag yes no yes, but can pass on much of its PageRank by linking to other pages

Links on a noindex page are still crawled by search spiders even if the page does not appear in the search results (unless they are used in conjunction with nofollow on that page).

Page using robots meta nofollow (1 row below) in conjunction with noindex do accumulate PageRank, but do not pass it on to other pages.

robots meta nofollow tag destination page only crawled if linked to from other documents destination page only appears if linked to from other documents no, PageRank not passed to destination If you are pushing significant PageRank into a page and do not allow PageRank to flow out from that page you may waste significant link equity.
link rel=nofollow destination page only crawled if linked to from other documents destination page only appears if linked to from other documents no, PageRank not passed to destination If you are doing something borderline spammy and are using nofollow on internal links to sculpt PageRank then you look more like an SEO and are more likely to be penalized by a Google engineer for "search spam"

If you want to download the chart as an image here you go

How to Determine the Effectiveness of Your Internal Link Structure

Question: How do I determine how I am best utilizing my PageRank? How do I know if my navigation is successful?


  • Google Webmaster Tools shows your internal link counts to different pages. You can use that to show which pages are being emphasized on a crude level.
  • Optispider ($129) shows on site link structure and compares link text to page titles
  • SEO4Fun has a free PageRankBot tool which shows internal link flow. I think it is a bit complex to set up, but is cool when you get it set up.
  • If you have pages of limited importance but link to them frequently (like sitewide links to your privacy policy, shipping, or about us page) consider using nofollow on those links.
  • Track a few pages of your site with a tool like CrazyEgg to see what links users are clicking on and if you are drawing enough attention to the most important assets on your site.
  • Use data from your web analytics tools to focus more link equity on your most important (highest traffic and best converting) pages

A few more advanced ideas

  • If your site is large and you keep producing new content, use Google's date based filters to look for new pages that are of low quality / noisy (like a page dedicated to a photo but with no text on it, or other common duplicate content issues)
  • Use analytics to track how many pages (and which pages) are pulling in traffic. Compare those pages with all the pages on your site to see if you can free up some dead weight, or if you have a valuable section of your site that is not well linked to. You can use Xenu Link Sleuth, a sitemap generator, or data from Google Webmaster Tools to see what pages are linked to (and perhaps getting indexed).
  • If a particular page works well for you consider adding more content to that page to pick up a broader basket of related keywords. If a particular query works well for you consider creating a second page to target that query.
  • If you have a high authority page that links out to many other websites consider adding more internal links to that page to keep more of the link flow internal.

How Long Does it Take to Rank in Google? How Many Hours do I Have to Work Each Day?

Question: How long does it take to rank a website? How many hour of work do I have to do each day to compete and rank my website at the top of the search results?

Answer: I get this question almost every day, and it is one of my least favorite questions to answer. So I figured I would answer it as best I can once here, then point people to this page when I get asked again. To compete in competitive marketplaces you have to out-think the competition or invest more than they do. When you start from how little or how quickly you have the wrong mindset. Ask not what your search results can do for you, but what you can do for your search results. :)

Keep launching quality original content, keep working at brand building, keep making social connections, and watch the traction build. When you are new, can you predict what one idea is going to make the difference? For most people I don't think so. Some types of success are deliberate, but for most independent webmasters, I think they accidentally step into success by working hard, being ignored, and then watching something blossom that they did not realize the importance of when they first launched it.

After you have some success then you can engineer further success, but for many it starts out as an accident or a byproduct of constant motion.

How long does it take to rank?

If the search results are uncompetitive (use SEO for Firefox to survey the competitive landscape) you might be able to rank in a month even if your site is brand new.

Is your site brand new? If so, how old are the top ranked competing sites. If they are a number of years old then it is probably going to take at least a year to catch up unless they are bad at marketing and link building or you have a great marketing idea that will help you build many organic links. If the companies that are ranking are multi-billion dollar corporations then you can't outrank them with a one man website unless your site is integrated into the conversation of that marketplace and/or your site offers valuable tools and/or original linkworthy content.

If your site is brand new, you probably want to develop links over time in a fairly consistent manner. If you grow x links this month then you want to create x or more the next month. And that number sets the baseline for the following month. Months where you have no viral marketing ideas try to list your site in a few quality directories, join trade organizations, and get other clean links.

If you are sitting on an older site you may be able to grow links a bit more aggressively, and you may be able to get away with being a bit more aggressive with the anchor text you use in the inbound links.

In many regional search markets outside of the US the competition is much less fierce than it is in the US, and it is easy to rank for some fairly competitive keywords.

An exact match domain name may also provide ranking benefits in some search relevancy algorithms, which allows you to rank quicker without needing to build up as much link authority.

How many hours of work will it take?
I have ranked sites on 5 hours of work, and I have put hundreds of hours of work into sites that do not rank as well as I want them to.

  • How hard are your competitors working? If you are unsure track their current link count and their link growth. Also look for signs of public relation and the quality level of their inbound links.
  • How big is their head start?
  • How much are they investing?
  • Are there ideas they forgot to focus on?
  • Is your brand more focused than their brand?
  • How much risk are you willing to take?
  • Are competitors weighed down by bureaucracy?
  • Are you more passionate about your topic than the leading websites? Eventually people will discover that, especially if you are not afraid to market yourself.

Ask not what your search results can do for you, but what you can do for your search results. :)

How do We Add Affiliates to Our Site?

Question: We were thinking of mirroring our website by giving affiliates subdomains with our content like Is this a good idea or a duplicate content nightmare?

Answer: Giving affiliates the same set of data is indeed a duplicate content nightmare, and it makes it hard for the affiliates to push their sites into the core organic parts of the web. If they have a product database and the same reviews and content that exist as the core branded site there is nothing remarkable about what they are doing. You can look back to this post on leaked human review documents to see how Google views affiliate sites.

Instead of cloning all your content and giving affiliates access to that, I recommend encouraging affiliates write personal journals on their own subdomain. I would encourage them to promote your products and blog about topics other than your products. This will allow some of them to work their sites into the organic parts of the web while encouraging them to write content interesting enough for people to want to subscribe to it. Sure some of the affiliates will not get much traction, but enough of them try it a few will, and they will boost your brand whenever people visit their sites.

You can include a bunch of Wordpress themes and extensions with their blogs, create a free guide to blogging, create an affiliate directory, and other offers that make it easy to get affiliates into sharing information. Maybe even install a Vbulletin forum and write a blog just for your affiliates. Bonuses to further entice a sense of community might be highlighting daily or monthly top posts, offering free design services to top affiliates, giving away prizes like link building, and interviewing some of your better affiliates in a monthly community newsletter.

Creating a platform for sharing passion is a much better affiliate strategy than duplicating content is.

Open Q&A Thread for Internet Marketing Questions

Let me know if you have any questions about SEO or internet marketing stuff. I will try to reply to your comment right below it in less than a day, often within minutes, for as long as this thread is open.

Please ask do not ask for in depth site reviews or questions that would be applicable to just one website.

Update: thread closed... I have to start working on a big project. Thanks for the questions everyone.

Q & A Open Thread

Feel free to ask any SEO or internet marketing related questions and I will try to answer them below.

I prefer to answer broader industry questions than site specific questions. It can take a day to do a strong site review, and I could miss a lot of things that are wrong if I give your site a 5 minute once over.

Questions like "I have a new site and want to know where to start with link building" are better than comments "please review everything about my site". Also I can't guarantee that I can do anything to get your site unpenalized by Google if you were recently penalized.

[Update: I just closed this thread after a few hundred comments, so I have time to write more new posts.]

Should I Launch My Website With an Affiliate Program?

Question: I am new to the market and have a product I am going to launch soon at a similar price-point to SEO Book. I am wondering if I should launch with an affiliate program, and if it will provide a substantial return prior to

Answer: I would say off the start don't enable an affiliate program until you have a better feel for the amount of effort required per purchaser and have brand awareness. I like launching without an affiliate program because it makes citations appear more natural. If you are launching a MLM hype program then a multi tiered affiliate program is a must, but if not the best option is to wait until you better learn your market and are well integrated into your market.

Why it is Best to Launch Without an Affiliate Program

  • If you test your marketing first you are going to be able to achieve a higher customer value and attract better affiliates.
  • If you are uncertain as to how to best sell your product and you have a new brand then it is going to be pretty tough for affiliates to sell it for you.
  • The best marketing looks organic. With a new product it is best to get reviewed by top editorial channels and earn a few organic citations to help others see your product as more than just hype. If a product is primarily or only hyped by affiliates off the start that can undermine your brand.
  • Some of my customers who did not sign up as affiliates have read my book and misquoted me to make me sound dumber than I am, and have misquoted to make me sound much smarter than I am. If others have profit incentive behind describing who you are or what you offer many will take the low road and use empty hype. Repositioning a brand after others have positioned it incorrectly is tougher than positioning it correctly off the start.
  • Another advantage of waiting on establishing an affiliate program is that by the time you launch it you have built enough trust that people will be willing to sign up with you directly.

The Dangers of a Loose Affiliate Program

If you start off with an affiliate program I think your best best is to make the affiliate program invite only off the start to ensure your brand is not dragged through the mud before you were able to build brand equity. Some of my affiliates have done things like

  • stealing content from my friends and wrapping it in banners for my site
  • mass email spamming (while signing my name to it)
  • a list of other dirty things I will not mention ;)

Because affiliates are hard to control, it is best to have a direct affiliate program rather than going through a third party website. This takes more time to manage, but enables you to

  • immediately warn affiliates and/or remove the profit incentive if they are doing things that are illegal and/or undermine your brand value
  • altert affiliates in advance of price changes, special promotions, or other changes to your offerings
  • keep in contact with your affiliates, protecting you from drastic cost increases seen at third party affiliate management firms like MyAffiliateProgram
  • more easily track historical trends
  • create your own dirty affiliate sites without risking your main brand

Some affiliate software also tracks referrals, which enables you to learn the difference between what sorts of traffic streams and marketing sell and which do not.

Corporations have sued other corporations based on ad targeting. Even if the lawsuits are bogus they still eat up time and valuable resources. Affiliate control is useful for mitigating some such conflicts.

A few years back a well known SEO said that I was deplorable for bidding on a broad basket of keywords including their name. One of their affiliates was bidding on my name, amongst others. Once questioned about the hypocrisy, this person eventually admitted that they were too lazy to police their own affiliates, which showed their complaint had no validity. If their complaint had validity they would have better been able to claim it by hosting their own affiliate program and holding their own affiliates to the same expectations they try to hold others to.

Affiliate Software Options

  • Some of the larger affiliate networks (like CJ) have a wide array of affiliates, but typically the best affiliates will hunt out the best affiliate programs wherever they are (instead of staying inside third party networks), so it might be just as easy to attract the best affiliates by ranking well for your keywords + affiliate program.
  • Google offers cost per action based referral ads, but they don't have much inventory, and most of the best affiliates do not like using Javascript or sharing their business model with Google.
  • Some of the smaller affiliate networks (like, as an example) have pitched me as a merchant for rates far below their published rates, but after seeing what happened with MyAffiliateProgram it does not make sense for me to pay a third party to place a roadblock between me and my affiliates.
  • ClickBank does not cost much to set up, but I have found that I get an extraordinary return rate there when compared with Paypal. Paypal does not have affiliate features baked into it, but does work with many affiliate software programs.
  • I use Idevaffiliate on Seo Book. Fully featured it costs $300.
  • As ShoeMoney recently highlighted, BOTW has a custom affiliate program which even tracks direct links to any page on their site. Creating such a program would probably only cost about $1,000 at most. And that link for BOTW may have been an affiliate link, and Google has no way of knowing.

When Does a Google AdWords Advertiser Become a Can't Ban Whitelist Top Ranking Organic Search Result?

Question: I am reading your book. On page 53 you mention using different search engine optimization strategies for small websites and big websites. How do you classify a site as small or large?

Answer: There are two big things that sort the classification of a site as large or small

  • whether your optimization is manual or algorithmically driven

  • whether search engines consider your site as spam when it ranks

Within those two ideas I think there are 4 big things that separate a small and large website

  • brand awareness, and search engineer's perception of your brand

  • ad budget, and how a search engineer will perceive your ad buys
  • inbound link profile
  • number of pages

Brand Strength:

The more well known your brand is the less likely a search engineer will be to penalize your site for doing shady things. When BMW was caught cloaking they were removed from Google's index for only 1 day. Google also has a whitelist of sites that should not be penalized based on human review:

Here is a non-exhaustive "white list" of the sites whose pages are not to be rated as Offensive (nor as Erroneous):

Notice that not only is Bizrate whitelisted, but so is a Bizrate subdomain on another site. Simply put, big brands should spam.

Ad Budget:

If I buy a link, Google is likely to view it as spam. If I buy a website, Google is likely to view it as spam. If a large established site sponsors a conference or buys other ads that tend to have links in them then they are more likely to get away with it. If a large corporation buys a site and slaps a network-wide footer link to it then Google is fine with that.

A large AdWords ad budget allows you to buy links indirectly. Beyond that, if you have a large Google advertising budget, Google may also offer you the following perks: free SEO advice (this is rarely talked about outside the corporate world), take your feedback on search quality (this is rarely talked about outside the corporate world), and they are more lenient with what you can do to rank (robotic content, anyone?). They are afraid to lose large AdWords ad accounts. Google backed down from eBay after eBay stopped buying AdWords ads.

If you are a large Google AdWords advertiser it is expected for you to buy sites and links at will with no risk. People like me, who do not spend heavily on AdWords, are branded as spammers if we follow those techniques. Going forward, a large AdWords ad budget might be the #1 SEO tool.

Inbound Link Profile:

The cleaner your link profile is the more dirty stuff you can do. The more link equity you have the more pages you can get indexed and the better they will rank. It is all about ratios.

Keep in mind that if you are branded as an SEO, a Google engineer may decide to wipe out your site on principal, even if your content quality is greater than the top ranking website, and you built almost all of your links using non-spammy marketing.

Number of Pages:

As you build authority status some search algorithms will become more lenient. For example, it is easier to rank new content based on site trust (some news sites even get immediate inclusion at the top position) and easier to get around duplicate content filters. If you have many pages (like a large product database) then some of your SEO strategy will need to be automated and formula based. With a smaller website you would create hand crafted content for most of the page titles, meta descriptions, page headings, and on page content for almost every page.

Google's official stance is that they do not want to index search results, but if a site scores decently on the brand front or it gives Google reason to fear forms of blowback they can also be more aggressive with creating automated low value content.

In some cases a small content website that builds a strong brand and amazing link authority can bolt on an offers section, and have that portion of the site treated more like a large site while the day to day brand building content is still treated as though it is a smaller website.