The idea that a web page’s quality could be determined by the links pointing into it was the revolutionary idea that set Google apart from all other search engines when they burst onto the scene nearly 20 years ago. But it didn’t take long for many SEO practitioners to figure out ways to manipulate the number and sources of links pointing into their websites to increase rankings.
Link spam has always been the Achilles Heel of the search engine giant, but Google’s search algorithm updates have substantially changed the role and value of backlinks over the years.
At this point, most SEOs have shifted their focus to the quality of backlink profiles, rather than quantity. Frequently referred to as “white hat link building,” Google recommends creating high-value, unique, informative content to attract natural backlinks.
Algorithm & Ranking History
Everyone who was in SEO in the early 2000’s eagerly anticipated the monthly “Google Dance,” with many SEO discussions and observations taking place at WebmasterWorld (at least for me). Early on, the SEO community was focused on PageRank as a guide to drive SEO efforts. Soon after, Matt Cutts, head of Google Web Spam Team, began issuing SEO statements and warning webmasters who were engaged in link building schemes to manipulate PageRank.
Fast forward to 2011, and Google penalties for violations started to go mainstream with coverage from news sites like the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Google began releasing the Panda update, continuing to penalize sites for low-quality content violations throughout the year.
Backlink profiles went under the microscope in early 2012 as panic about the new Penguin Update spread. Following Penguin, Google went so far as requiring webmasters to monitor their own backlink profiles and submit “disavow” files via Google Search Console to avoid a dreaded Penguin penalty. They’ve since eased up on that approach, focusing more on devaluing the spammy links rather than penalizing the sites they point to.
Google White Hat Link Building
White hat link building sounds great, but it’s silly to think you should just create amazing content, publish it to your site, and call it a day. There’s plenty you can do to tip the scales in your favor, ensuring that the great content you publish has the greatest chance of performing well in search over the long run.
Google isn’t as forthcoming as Bing. SEO marketers must combine the most up-to-date information provided by Google, performance data from client SEO campaigns, and news from search engine sites like Search Engine Land and Search Engine Journal to drive backlink initiatives.
Top white hat link building methods include:
- Brand mention outreach
- Guest posting
- News articles
- Pipeline outreach
Brand Mention Outreach
Brand mention outreach is a no brainer unless you’re using Google Alerts as a notification system. Google Alerts has had numerous problems with reliability, the most recent problem popping up in 2017. Use Mention or Talkwalker instead. Every time someone uses your brand name on a website, you’ll receive an alert. If they didn’t link to your website when they mention your brand, simply reach out to the webmaster and ask them to include a link.
Your request may look something like this:
Your website recently included our brand in a blog post, thank you for the coverage!
Here’s a link to the page: (insert a link to the page)
I would like to submit a request to insert a hyperlink to my website with the brand mention. My home page URL is (link to home page), my blog URL is (blog URL) and my service page that relates to the topic is (link to service page). Please use whichever URL will be the most relevant to your readers.
Thank you for your time and assistance with my request, I really appreciate it.
Your name, your title
Follow-Up: If the webmaster does add a link to your brand name, be sure to follow-up with a thank you email. Take it one step further and let everyone know on social media how awesome the webmaster is at the company.
If you can’t find the webmaster email address or the blog author email, send the email to all of the following combinations:
One of those addresses should work, and hopefully, they’ll forward your request on to the appropriate party.
After Penguin, guest posting became a landmine topic in the SEO world. The takedown of MyBlogGuest shocked the SEO community; many thought they were using white hat link building methods with MyBlogGuest and lost confidence in gaining value from their efforts.
In 2017, backlinks are still part of SEO, and guest posting can deliver value if done correctly.
Here are a few of those guidelines:
- The sole purpose of a guest blog post should be a content contribution. If a backlink is given, it’s a bonus.
- Submit content to sites that are relevant to your buyer personas.
- Focus on quality. Can you provide a quality guest post in 300 words or less? Probably not. Don’t submit “thin” content or copy that has been recycled and used before in another post. Make it unique, and make it count for readers.
- Competitor research. Which brands rank on page one for your target keyword phrases and topics? Use a backlink tool like Majestic SEO to find out where competitors are getting links from guest posting and follow their lead.
Building backlinks with news articles lost traction when Google announced that press release links have no SEO value. News sites still have value in a white hat link building strategy; they frequently that publish industry-specific articles and news, giving brands the opportunity to submit unique content with backlinks.
White hat link building with news articles takes some research and organization, but it can be done. Keep these tips and guidelines in mind when submitting to news sites:
- Work with PR teams. PR professionals have rich contact lists at high-value news outlets and websites, making it easier to get branded news published.
- Answer queries from Help A Reporter Out (HARO). Your submissions aren’t guaranteed to produce a backlink, but the outlets are worth the effort.
- Pitch directly to reporters. Reporters still review pitches for news articles. When your brand has something newsworthy to share that relates to a trending topic, send them an offer to help cover the story with a C-level quote or interview.
Pre-outreach is the opposite of blogger outreach. Instead of pitching a topic and an article to a blogger or webmaster, it involves making a connection before the pitch. In order for pre-outreach to deliver results, you should only work with blogs or sites that share a branch of the target audience.
Before launching a pre-outreach campaign, identify a team member from the company you are servicing. Pre-outreach from an SEO professional with a different domain email won’t generate as many results as personal outreach from someone who works for the brand. You may need to work with more than one company employee to drive results, especially if you are pitching industry influencers and blogs. If the subject matter and content line up with the person who is doing the outreach, you’re chances of earning a backlink are much higher.
Create a pre-outreach list, customize the email, and ask the employee to send them out on a certain pre-publish date.
Here’s a sample pre-outreach email for an IT blog from a brand that specializes in Citrix deployments and products.
I watched your webinar on Citrix XenDesktop last week, it was incredible! I’m using it to help our sales team gain a better understanding of streamlined management with secure remote access.
My team is putting together a similar on-demand webinar for XenApp next month. Once it goes live, I’ll send you a link for your review; perhaps your audience will enjoy it as well.
Note: In this case, the employee sending the email should be part of the Citrix consulting team; not the VMware or Nutanix consulting team. Including a link to their LinkedIn profile in the signature can help build credibility.
Once the asset is live, send another email with a link to the page. The pre-outreach email frames the upcoming content piece as a valuable asset for the recipient, increasing the chances that the new content will earn a backlink on the target website.
Every business has partners and supporting industries. Realtors are partners with mortgage companies, closing attorneys, title companies, and more. Tech companies have channel partners. PR and SEO agencies partner with web designers and developers. A formal partnership is not needed; if your company has done business with another company in the same industry or you refer clients to each other, consider them a partner in this effort.
Gaining a backlink from a contributed article on a partner blog is almost a guarantee; companies are constantly scrambling to release the next blog post, news article, or shareworthy piece of content. Create a list of partners – companies who have referred business to you, receives referrals from you, or helps your company close deals or deliver services. Evaluate their website for a blog, a news section, or a resources section. How can your company add value to their content library? Once you’ve identified a topic that will appeal to their target audience and give value to readers, send a pitch to your marketing contact.
Find blog posts or news articles that discuss the same topic as your most recent podcast, and get in touch with the author. Personalization is key; don’t pitch the link outright. Discuss the topic and let them know their readers may find the podcast helpful; leave the publishing idea up to them.
If your website doesn’t have a dedicated landing page for podcasts, now is the time to create one. Podcasts are valuable assets, and industry bloggers and influential brands love to promote them. Podcast content provides the perfect opportunity for a pre-outreach campaign as well; two for one in terms of SEO value. Podcasting is easy with all of the latest tools like Zencastr and Audacity.
Still worried about your link building efforts? Steer clear of Penguin penalties with our link building cheatsheet + bonus methods.
Bing White Hat Link Building
Don’t forget about Bing! Bing uses similar core search algorithms as Google, but they don’t change as often and aren’t as confusing. Bing’s Webmaster Guidelines gives clear SEO guidance and recommendations.