How to Make Link Building Irrelevant

For years, link building has been a critical part of any effective search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. If your site didn’t have quite a few backlinks, you couldn’t hope to get to the top of Google for even low-competition keywords. But thanks to the ever-changing landscape of Google’s algorithm, things are changing, and the days of being able to link for any term just by having a large number of backlinks are disappearing. In fact, moving forward if you’re devoting a large amount of time to link building I would recommend a different approach.

Penguin Changes the Game

We all know that Google considers incoming links when assigning search engine rankings; this has been the case since Google launched more than 10 years ago. But with new algorithm changes, links need to be highly relevant, meaning they should come from sites with a decent number of backlinks themselves that are relevant to your website’s niche.

As a result, linkfarms and private block networks, where you used to be able to acquire links fairly inexpensively, are no longer effective since Google unleashed its Penguin update this past spring. In other words, what had become a fairly common link building strategy in the internet marketing world, became obsolete overnight. The rules have become stricter than ever, and sites that have relied on black-hat tactics to acquire links are seeing their rankings plummet.

One thing’s for sure: building backlinks has become more difficult and expensive than at any time in the past.

But High-Quality Content Never goes Out of Style

If trying to drum up backlinks has become much more difficult, what options do you have? The answer is as old as SEO itself: the best option is to create fresh, unique, well-written content that’s optimized to include targeted keywords and phrases.

In other words, as always, content continues to be king. Before Penguin, content had to be unique and optimized to include the appropriate density of relevant keywords. Today, it has to bring real value to the table for those who read it…article spinning and similar methods of gaming the system won’t fly in a post-Penguin world.

Choosing the Right Keywords can Make or Break Your SEO Efforts

In all the excitement of generating backlinks, many people lost sight of what matters: identifying and using relevant keywords. If you make a major misstep in that department, your SEO efforts don’t have a chance. A prime example is focusing on keywords for which there is too much competition. When looking for new keywords, your first stop is likely the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. The problem is that you’re not the only person who’s using it (in other words, all of your competitors are using it as well).

As a result, the vast majority of the keywords and phrases you find will have competition. Competition is not bad, and you can certainly overcome it, but how cool would it be if you could find keywords that your competition didn’t know about?

Finding for Low-Competition Keywords

One approach I’ve seen used with much success is to find keywords that your competition does not know about because it allows you to rank very high in Google without building a single link. That’s where HitTail comes into play (disclosure: I own it).

HitTail is specifically designed to help you identify low-competition keywords and phrases. It does this by analyzing your existing website traffic to generate possible keywords and phrases that you have a high chance of ranking well for. Your competitors don’t have access to your traffic, so competition for those keywords and phrases is significantly less than what you’ll find in any other keyword tool.

The Switch from Linkbuilding to Long Tailing

There is a mental switch that takes place when you choose to focus on the long tail of search. Fewer backlinks are needed to rank, and long tail terms tend to convert better since they are more specific. But by switching gears and focusing on low-competition keywords, you’ll have a better chance of ranking well for relevant terms.

Keep in mind that a long tail approach requires a commitment to creating fresh, unique, well-written content. Without that, no matter what your approach is to search engine optimization, you don’t stand much of a chance in the post-Penguin world.


About the Author

Rob Walling is the Chief HitTailer at HitTail, a tool that helps you find the underperforming organic keywords for your website. His blog, Software By Rob, is read by about 30,000 web entrepreneurs each month and he co-hosts one of the leading startup podcasts, Startups for the Rest of Us.

Comments

  1. For someone new to the Niche Site/blogging world and who just purchased spinning software, do you feel it is useless or just doesn’t work as well.

    Also, any thoughts on Google’s new Disavow Links Tool?
    (http://www.jasonloveslife.com/disavow-links-tool)

    Your software makes a lot of sense and seems like a “no brain’er” but I currently have a very low traffic count for my main blog and have a very wide topic range (something I hope to fix in the near future). I wonder if this will hurt my results or accuracy of your product and if I should wait for my traffic to go in order to give it a try.

    Sorry for the long comment, but these questions instantly came to mind and would love to hear your thoughts.
    Thanks, Jason Love
    http://www.jasonloveslife.com

    • Thanks for the questions! These are good ones…

      >>For someone new to the Niche Site/blogging world and who just purchased spinning software, do you feel it is useless or just doesn’t work as well.

      Article spinning doesn’t work nearly as well as it did 8 months ago. But it can still have a place in your link building strategy if you use the approach Pat Flynn lays out here:

      http://www.smartpassiveincome.com/the-backlinking-strategy-that-works/

      >>Also, any thoughts on Google’s new Disavow Links Tool?

      I don’t know anyone who has used it, and from what Matt Cutts says, you should only use it if you can’t get a “bad” link removed by the site owner. If you have not received a notice in your Google Webmaster Tools that indicates they have detected unnatural links, I would stay far away from the disavow links tool.

      >>I currently have a very low traffic count for my main blog and have a very wide topic range (something I hope to fix in the near future). I wonder if this will hurt my results or accuracy of your product and if I should wait for my traffic to go in order to give it a try.

      To get $9.95/month in value from HitTail, you need about 1000 uniques per month and 10 pages of content. If the content spans many niches that’s ok, as long as you want to continue building your traffic for all of those niches. But if you really want to focus on a single topic, then you’ll want at least 10 pages/blog posts on that topic that collectively get around 1000 uniques per month.

      • Glad to hear you have figured out a specific number of unique visitors to make it worth while.
        I believe I heard you talk about this product on a podcast, my memory is foggy on who’s podcast. It sounds like a great idea.
        After I hit that 1,000 unique visitors mark I will be looking to buy your software.

        Thanks for the information and have a great day.
        -Jason Love
        jasonloveslife.com

  2. You have some valid points in regards to using high quality content (a must), and I’m a big fan of focusing on the longtail and try and push people to shift towards that all the time for the easy wins.

    A lot of the other points though, I must completely disagree with IMO. Backlinking is almost just as important now as it was before. The exact same links that worked before penguin, still work after penguin. Penguin at its most basic level is just an anchor text over-optimization. You just have to change the way the the links are built, but you can still use many of the same types.

    I of course recommend that everyone diversify link sources like crazy to avoid a decrease in rankings if goog devalues one link type, but it still stands that they still work, and I would challenge anyone on any day to this theory. You can rank just as quickly, and just as easily as before penguin. in some cases penguin has even made it easier because there is less competition from lots of noobs. I have legitimate rankings to back this up, and I only lost 1 out of about 50 sites to a penalty over all of these last updates.

    • Thanks for the insight, Travis. Let me lend some thoughts:

      >>A lot of the other points though, I must completely disagree with IMO.

      Indeed…SEO is an art that’s constantly changing. I would be disappointed if someone didn’t disagree with something I said :-)

      >>Backlinking is almost just as important now as it was before. The exact same links that worked before penguin, still work after penguin.

      If you are going after “head” key terms with large traffic and large competition, then site structure, domain age, inbound link relevancy and authority, and social sharing should be your top 4 priorities. Links are less valuable than they were 8 months ago, but you are correct that they are still a solid factor in whether you rank for a term.

      The point of this post was to explore a completely different ranking strategy, which is putting together a list of low-competition terms that you don’t need links to rank for (or at most need 1 or 2 links).

      >>I only lost 1 out of about 50 sites to a penalty over all of these last updates.

      Congrats! You made out better than most :-)

  3. How does this differ from what Long Tail Pro does?

    • HitTail tailors the results based upon your existing website (I believe), to show what longtails you could easily rank for based upon your websites existing authority. Longtail pro simply spits out tons of longtails.

    • @Rebecca – LongTailPro is a “standard” keyword tool where you enter a phrase and it returns search volume for Google, but it has the added functionality of pulling out more related terms so you get a larger list. I think (though not 100% sure) it uses the Google AdWords Keyword tool data, which means that your competitors can also find these same long tail terms.

      HitTail analyzes your website’s existing traffic and, from the terms you already rank for, pulls out the top 5 or 10% of terms that you are most likely to rank for on the first page of a search engine if you write a single post on the topic.

      This means a couple things: 1) you are receiving keyword suggestions that your competition will not likely see, since your traffic patterns and keywords are proprietary, and 2) once you setup HitTail, you will receive new content ideas and keyword suggestions on an ongoing basis from that point moving forward. So it’s a bit more of an automated topic generator that works based on traffic your website is already receiving.

      Hope that helps, let me know if you have any other questions.

  4. I feel like the whole purpose of this article is to push your product. Can I really believe anything you said now?

    • I’m not sure what you mean Michael… Everything we write on this site is to show that we are trustworthy so that people will buy our products. Do you feel that if you have a product to sell you shouldn’t talk about all the ways the potential customer needs your product? I just want to make sure I understand your concern.

    • The purpose of this article is to show an alternative approach to SEO. Most people think that finding high traffic, high competition terms is the way to go, but it turns out long tail SEO actually works quite well and since it’s a less popular/known approach it’s very much a back-door method once can use to enter a niche that would otherwise be very difficult to tackle.

      You can implement long tail SEO without HitTail, and a Google search should turn up results on how to do this: http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2166510/4-SEO-Recommendations-to-Target-the-Long-Tail is a good start.

      So if you have the time and would prefer not to pay for a $10/month tool to handle the work for you, you can rank for long tail terms without it. Either way, whether you ever consider using HitTail, my hope is that your takeaway from this article is to give long tail SEO a shot.

  5. it would be interesting to see some case studies on this, especially after using such a tool which I am contemplating testing out as well.

    the premise is to serve results specific to potential searches, and thus means optimizing for those long tail phrases. that said, this is exactly what Google is trying to make irrelevant – it’d be interesting to see results.

    with all that said, I don’t think link building will ever be irrelevant. natural, organic and solid non solicited links over time will definitely deliver.

    I am already seeing this in my new authority website. the strength and quality of content alone is attracting natural links, which is certainly helping its rank and traffic levels.

  6. I am not an expert on HitTail or even use it (yet), but if it works as described I see a lot of potential for it. It would give you long tail keywords that people visiting your site are interested in. This can be more powerful than looking for keywords. It tells you what your readers are looking for and what you should be writing to bring them back to your site.
    In response to pushing a product.

    I feel it is fine to have the creator of the product write an article on it only because he was honest that he made the product.

    While my traffic is at about 1,000 page views a month, I feel this is not enough to get a good reading using this software and I am not making any money from the website so budgeting in will be awhile.

    -Jason Love
    http://www.jasonloveslife.com

  7. Proof read your posts! (just trying to help)

    Penguin Changes the Game

    ….In other words, what had become a fairly common link building strategy in the internet marketing world, *because* obsolete overnight.

    I’m guessing that word is supposed to be “became.”

  8. After the Update on Google Penguine 2.0, lots of people are approaching over Content and Social Media. It will really helpful to gain in the website visitor.

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