I could have easily padded this out to “100 Link Building Mistakes” but, like #1, I wanted to provide quality over quantity. Substance over fluff. Jedis over Storm Troopers (too geeky?). I also wanted to keep these strictly to “link building”. This could have easily gotten out of hand if I had gotten into on site mistakes, social media faux pas, etc. Some of these you’ve heard 6 times since Sunday. Some might be new to you. There are even some great tips from heavy hitters like Brian Dean, Chris Dyson, and Jason Acidre. I sincerely hope this helps your linkbuliding endeavors. Live long and link on.
1. Focusing on more links vs. better links. I started my list with this one because I believe it is the most important tenet of search engine optimization. 10,000 links from low quality, irrelevant sites with hundreds of outbound links to other crappy websites are not worth 10 high quality, relevant links. I’ll break that down into a math equation. 10,000 crappy links < 10 great links. The time you waste submitting your site to directories and commenting on auto approve blogs would be better spent writing one piece of great content, emailing a webmaster in your niche about a broken link you found on his resources page, or learning how to play “Wagon Wheel” on the guitar.
2. Too many “exact match” anchors/Not enough branded keywords/Not enough semantic keywords/Not enough natural and generic anchors. These could be broken up into four separate items but they are all part of the same problem: Anchor Text Diversity. The Penguin update penalized webmasters whose link profiles consisted of too many exact match keywords in their anchor text. Since then, SEOs have changed their tactics to include more “natural” anchor text patterns. There are many formulas out there for how much of each you should have (Moz has a great post on it) but I wouldn’t get too caught up in following it exactly. It is hard to predict which links are going to get accepted, get indexed, get lost, etc. So use the ratios as a rule of thumb but mainly, use your common sense. How do you link to sites? How would you think a “natural” link profile will look? While we’re on this subject, ask yourself how many times you’ve legitimately used the phrase “click here” as anchor text for a link.
3. Focus only on high PR links. We all want links from high PR pages. They are search engine catnip. But remember that a link on a low PR, high trafficked site can drive TRAFFIC to your site as well as passing you a bit of link juice. A good mix of both would be ideal. A link from a high PR site with loads of traffic would be worthy of a naked lap around the office.
4. Not understanding the Nofollow attribute. The simple explanation is that a link with this attribute will not pass link juice to the linked page. There are a couple of schools of thought on this. Many linkbuilders see these links as useless and disregard them entirely. Personally, I don’t agree with this. First, a link profile that is 100% dofollow looks suspect to me. Second, I don’t think these links pass NO juice. You can bay at me all you want but I think these still have some value. Lastly, and most importantly, a link of any color can still drive traffic to your site (more on this in #5). Recently, press release sites got a lot of heat from Google about people gaming the system and getting dofollow links from high DA websites (Domain Authority, a metric compiled by Moz that highly correlates to rankings). So, as a whole, all of the big Press Release sites changed their external links to nofollow (Raven Tools does a much better job of explaining this than I ever will). Does that mean you should completely abandon press releases? No. Not if you have something that is actually newsworthy. If your business just merged with another big company in your city, that might be something your local newspaper would like to report. How many more visitors do you think your website will get after that? How many more sales?
5. Ignoring referring traffic. The purpose of linking to another website is not to give it a bump in the SERPs. We link to other sites because we want people to visit them. We think they provides value, information, or cat videos. So even if it is nofollow, that link can still drive traffic to your site. And isn’t that the reason we want to rank higher? More visitors -> More $$$.
6. Not using alt text on images. I’ve seen this more times than I should. Google’s fancy little arachnids can’t see images so if you post an image with a link, make sure to have an alt tag that describes what the picture is about (great place for keywords).
7. Focusing only on your niche. Yes, relevant links are key but if there are some great link opportunities in a semantically related niche, go for it. If you have a mobile phone site, does that mean you can’t get links from iPad blogs? Or VOIP websites? Not at all. Make your paper, boo boo.
8. Writing for spiders. Is it important to have keywords in your title/description/article/URL? Yes. You know what’s more important? Writing engaging copy that makes people want to click, read, and share your content. Stop writing for Skynet and start writing for your audience.
9. Freaking out when you lose rankings. Yeah it sucks. But it’s part of the game we play. Some days you’re up and some days you’re down. The thing to focus on is whether the overall trend is steadily improving. Which is why I only check rankings once or twice a week (OK, I break this rule a lot but it’s a good one to follow to avoid wasting a day because you’re depressed one keyword out of 50 dropped 10 points). This also goes for losing backlinks. Checking Ahrefs all day will have the same effect. Take your punches and move on. Not to say don’t ever check them, just don’t obsess.
10. Links to only the homepage. Tell me how this looks. A website with 8 pages and 30 posts, 1,600 links to just the home page. Sounds fishy right? Is that the way normal people link to websites? Probably not. If they think a post on the site is relevant, they link to that page. If they want to show their Nana which Power Ranger pajamas they want for Christmas, they send her a link to them, not to eBay.com. Deep linking is something we all do naturally so make sure your backlink profile reflects that.
11. Link velocity. I haven’t heard much about this lately. I don’t know if that means it is no longer a factor or that everyone knows it and it isn’t worth talking about anymore. I’ll side with the latter. Basically it looks very suspicious when a website gets 10,000 links in three days and then none for the next nine months. If you are consistently building links then this shouldn’t be an issue. But if you drop 30 bucks at fiverr and call it a day, you might have something to worry about. Though your bigger problem will be the thousands of trash links pointing to your site…
12. Ignoring social signals. There has been a bit of a squabble this month about how much +1s affect rankings. Even Matt Cutts got into it. Whichever side you fall on, I think it’s safe to say that social signals, whether they be Facebook likes, Twitter retweets, Google Plus +1s, or Reddit whosadunnits (I’m not a fan of Reddit. I don’t care what they’re called. Bite me). A recent study by Searchmetrics lays this out point blank. Or as point blank as correlations can be. Even if it doesn’t affect your standings, social sharing is a good way to increase visibility and traffic.
13. Abusing social networks. I know you read the last item and decided you’re going to go tweet the link to every one of your pages to all of the followers you bought off of fiverr. Don’t be that guy. Don’t be the dude who contributes nothing and just yells about how great his website is. There are enough Mike TheGuyFromJerseyShore’s. Blatant self promotion won’t entice visitors to check out your site. You know what the best way to get social mentions? Write good content. Add value to the internet instead of stopping it up with more trash.
14. Analysis Paralysis. “The biggest mistake I see advanced link builders make is to spend WAY too much time link prospecting. I see a lot of agencies spend hours pouring over DA,PA,PR and LDRs…instead of just sending their pitch and getting their links.” –Brian Dean. It is easy to fall into this trap. Getting into the “research zone” is one thing but when you’ve spent two weeks looking for the perfect link and you’ve got nothing to show for it, how effective is your strategy?
15. Not thinking long term. “I’d say the biggest mistake advanced link builders make is not thinking about the future value of their links. Many people consider themselves great and that they build links that “work”, but many of them are on domains that will erode and/or go down in value. Sometimes the lowest authority site will have the largest future value, and sometimes the highest authority site will not be the one you really want to put a lot of effort into obtaining a link on. I think the best link builders today think in terms of the future value, even if present isn’t great.” – Ross Hudgens
16. Expecting results immediately. We’ve all done it. Gotten a great PR6 link and run straight to our rank checker to see how much we’ve risen. And more often than not, there’s a big steaming pile of nothing. Results don’t happen overnight. As much as we preach this to our clients, I think there’s a small piece inside of us that still expects A to equal B in that order and just as quickly. Patience is required in this industry. Keep yourself busy and go get another awesome link.
17. Only having one type of link. I’m going to say it again. Does it look natural to have a backlink profile consisting of only blog comments? Just like the stock market, you should diversify your portfolio. Especially if big G decides to devalue article directories and that’s all you’ve been building (they already did this. Stop posting to Ezine Articles).
18. Exchanging links on a large scale. Your buddy has a blog on kiteboarding and you want to exchange links for your surfboard site? Be my guest. You want to create a blogroll and exchange links with 300 other sites about cooking, penis enlargement, and baby clothes? Get out of the internet. I shouldn’t have to say this but I will. Exchanging links with a bunch of other webmasters, especially ones who run sites COMPLETELY unrelated to yours, is dumb. I don’t care if it’s a three way exchange, a five way exchange, or a nine way, pick and roll exchange. Grab your ball and go home.
19. Limiting yourself to a few strategies. “I think the biggest mistake link builders (especially advanced) make is being too myopic. A lot of link builders will look at a web site and if they don’t see a quick win such as a guest blog opportunity or a broken link on a resource page they give up. Some links are worth a bit of extra work than just the usual tactics and you need to think outside the box a little.” – Chris Dyson
If you’re using the same strategies, getting the same links as everyone else, why would you expect to stand out? I read something recently and can’t for the life of me find it again. The point of it was to go out and find the links that are hard to get, that webmasters don’t usually give out. Not only will it be a solid link but it will be one that your competitors won’t be able to duplicate.
20. Concentrating focus on only main site. “I would say the biggest mistake is plunging in and building links to a website without thinking way outside the box, i.e. answering this question:
Would these links I’m about to build better benefit the existing site, or would there be a higher ROI in linkbuilding for a completely new website?
Often a new website, focused perhaps on a narrow topic area, might bear more fruit and results than just piling links onto an existing site. Not to mention, there is a lot of wisdom in splitting your risk across multiple sites. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – why modify a site’s link profile when you can build an entirely new link profile?” – Ted Ives.
Say a cooking website that wants to specifically target “slow cooker recipes” creates a new website, slowcookerrecipes.com, with quality articles, etc. Then they write an in depth article comparing the top slow cookers and reach out to other food bloggers to possibly use them as a resource. This is more topical and would allow a hyper focused site to rank quickly. “And in an ideal world, try to get people to convert right on that site, rather than driving them to their main site.”
21. Not doing competitor analysis. You know the easiest way to find links that work well in your niche? Check out the links that the people already at the top have. I feel like this isn’t used enough. This is low hanging fruit. Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs, and Majestic SEO are all great tools to easily find out what is already working and where to start your campaign. Most likely, you won’t be able to get all of their links but it’s a great place to start.
22. Not adapting. One of the reasons I love this industry is that it is always changing. You have to stay ahead of the curve to stay relevant. Doing the same thing you did in 2011 isn’t going to be as effective as it was back then. I have a competitor who bases most of his strategy around PRWeb. As of a week ago, he’s got to change his process or he’ll get lost in the dust.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change. In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.” –Not Charles Darwin
23. Quantity over conversions. “I think one of the most common challenges that link builders (intermediate and advanced) face is trying to meet the client’s expectations through the quantity of links acquired – when it should be the results (or the value) that the links can contribute to the business as a whole (branding, relationships, traffic/lead generation, customer acquisition, rankings, etc…).
The problem is in the mindset more often than not. When your campaign’s goals are based on what the business really needs to achieve, then it’s easier to come up with conversion-oriented strategies. But many practitioners are only doing link building for a sole purpose (to improve search rankings) – which I believe is wrong – given that there’s so many areas that link building can impact.” – Jason Acidre
24. Sending canned, automated emails to webmaster. Whether you’re contacting them about guest posting, broken link building, or just straight up link begging, it’s pretty easy to tell that you just threw a bunch of crap at the wall to see what sticks. I don’t want your crap. Webmasters don’t want your crap. Take the time to let me know you actually visited my site and that you’re interested in helping me improve it. Not to say that you can’t have a template for these emails, just make sure you make me feel like I’m important. Because I am.
25. Black hat techniques. Do black hat techniques work? Somewhat. Depends on how good you are. I won’t lie to you and tell you that there aren’t a bunch of people killing it with some less than savory methods. I think the best analogy for this is that blackhatters are like drug dealers. Stay with me here. Can you make a lot of money quickly selling drugs? You’re damn right. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, if you aren’t careful, if you don’t stay one step ahead of the fuzz, you’re going to get caught. And you’re going to lose everything that you built. It’s not a great long term strategy. For the vast majority of us, just like dealing drugs, the risk isn’t worth the reward. And we like being able to tell our mother that we have a steady job and not a “street pharmaceuticals salesman” position. I’ve heard a lot of definitions of what black hat is. The real definition has to do with automation and violating Google’s TOS. But it’s like knowing the difference between right and wrong. It varies person to person and there is a lot of grey area. To me it is not adding value to the internet. Trash like spun articles, press releases, and web 2.0 profiles. Pointless automated blog comments and spammy forum signatures. You know it when you see it and it makes you feel a little unclean.
26. Focusing only on getting more links. “Improve old Links: Perform a Backlink Audit on your clients website. Isolate low PA10-19 & PA20-29 page links and build links to those pages to increase their pages value. This will increase the value of the existing link to your page.” – Pieter Verasdonck (More on that in this great article on actionable linkbuilding tips). Whether you’ve hit a wall with your linkbuilding efforts or you just want to change gears, this is a great strategy. An added benefit is that you don’t have to be as careful when building to these second tiers. Brian Dean has a unique twist on this technique that’s worth checking out.
Before I wrap this up, I want to add in one point that I took out of the list. After doing my research, I can’t definitively say that this is a bad method, if done correctly. Buying links. Stop. Before you say anything, let me qualify this. There are totally legit reasons to pay for links. Donating to a charity to get on the sponsors page, buying ad space on a popular mommy blog, paid directories like the Better Business Bureau or the Yahoo! Directory are all great tactics to set your site apart. And yes, you can buy contextual links from sites like CNN.com and Reuters.com, which I have seen work extremely well. This is against Google’s TOS but it still works. If you aren’t convinced, here’s what Rand has to say about it. Whatever hat you wear, you can’t deny that it’s effective.
What are some mistakes that you’ve seen? I’d love to hear from you. I’m sure I missed a couple so let me know. We all know the search engines are constantly changing, tweaking, improving their algorithms so there are constantly going to be new mistakes to add to the list.