Link Buying Ain’t Dead Yet!

It’s been a while since my last comprehensive post so I figured I better come out with this epic guide to make up for it. That being said, I teamed up with an old colleague of whom I’ve worked with for over 5 years now in Canada, Romania and the Philippines. You may know him as Kurtov from Pornhub.com, Freeporn.com, Bangyoulater.com or more recently, SillyPlace.net. I brought Kurtov in on this project because the adult industry has always been at the forefront of SEO and link buying techniques, just as they were the first to invent eCommerce with the first online credit card transaction in 1996. Together Kurtov and I have come up with this definitive guide to link buying for the post Panda/Penguin era. We were going to offer this knowledge as an eBook but decided to share the information here to encourage feedback and keep the discussion going.

Is Buying Links Legit?

Google clearly states that buying links for the purpose of manipulating Google ranking is a practice that can get your site penalized if discovered. That being said, the trick is to not leave an SEO footprint behind for them to discover. The fact is that almost all sites that you find on the 1st page of Google got there as a result of their backlinks and most of these sites acquired their links through very similar practices. Link buying still works, post-Penguin and when done right can be compliant with the Google Link Scheme Guidelines.

Why Build Links?

Think of linking as a voting system. One website linking to another can be thought of as one site voting for the other to rank higher in search engines so this means you should be fishing for links daily. Sure social media is big and getting bigger but even Matt Cutts says it could be another 5 years or so before social signals replace links so, in the meantime, you should still do what works now.

matt-cutts-phishing

Why Build Relevant Links?

The best way to explain relevancy is to use the metaphor of comparing apples and oranges. If a page that talks about oranges, links to another page about oranges, Google applies more weight to the link because it is more relevant than if the link came from a page about apples. That being said, you want to get links from pages that are about the same topic as your page and the more relevant the topic is, the stronger the link will be. There are different levels of relevancy and there are legit ways to find and create relevancy within a site. It’s okay to use your imagination but don’t go too far out on a limb like trying to link an auto insurance site from a blog about women’s shoes.

Glossary to help with the lingo:

Page Rank: (PR) is a number from 1 to 10 given by Google as an overall score for your website.
Alexa Rank:  Alexa.com can be considered a better measuring tool because instead of using several complicated algorithms like Google PR, it only uses one metric; Shear traffic.
Link Juice: is the amount of page rank passed from one page to another through a link.
SERPs: (search engine rank positions) A jargon term referring to where a website is listed in a search engine for a given search term.
Anchor text is the text representing the URL of a link. These are the clickable word(s) that link to another page.
Money Site: The main site that you’ll be promoting in the search engines.
Bot or Spider: is a program sent out from search engines to read and index every page of every website. These bots collect and store this information and use it to evaluate websites. Google named its bot Googlebot.
Keywords: are the search terms you type into a search engine to get a result.
Reciprocal Link: when two pages or websites link to each other.
ABC/3way Linking: When site A links to site B and site B links to site C.
Site Networks A network of websites owned by the same entity.
Link Farms a site or network of sites whose sole purpose is to provide links to manipulate page rank.

Part 1: Getting Started:

Get Some Trading sites

These are additional websites that you can use in negotiation with link trades. Instead of offering links from your money site, you can offer links from these sites in exchange for a link back to your money site. This is known as ABC, or 3-way link trading. Using trading sites can save tons of money and help you stretch your link buying budget.

Where do I get Trading Sites?

Option 1: Build from scratch

  1. Register domains. Domain names with your keywords in them still perform better, however, exact match domains are not necessary. If you will be registering more than 10 domains in the same niche, you will want to register them under different names and also use private registration.
  2. Launch and publish relevant content to the sites. This content must be unique and preferably high in quality. Flash can be copied as long as the titles and descriptions are rewritten to be unique. You can double check your work in Copyscape.com.
  3. You can maintain these sites by publishing content regularly and building the occasional link to them.Option 2: Buy Trading Sites
    The quickest but most expensive way to acquire trading sites is to just buy them. I recommend buying trading sites rather than starting from scratch because they are already established with content, page rank and history.

    1. Look for webmaster forums and online communities to find sites for sale in your niche. Digitalpoint.com covers many niches but you can always find industry specific forums that can render some good deals as well.
    2. Buy from domain auctions such as Sedo, Flippa and Godaddy.
    3. Look for sites that already have Google or Alexa rank, history and SERPs. The higher any of these metrics are, the more you can expect to pay.

Part 2: Keyword Research

Tools to determine the best keywords- The best tool for choosing your keywords is the human brain. Ask yourself, “what would I search for if I was looking for my site, service or product?”. The second best keyword tool is Google’s Keyword Tool. I really don’t suggest using the paid services for this part of the process.
Top tier vs long tail keywords- Top tier keywords will have a higher level of competition and bring in more traffic while long tail keywords are less competitive but bring in less traffic. Choose only a handful of your favorite top tier keywords and keep at least 4 times that amount in longtail keywords.

Part 3: Building the Pipeline of Contacts

The easiest way to find people in your niche is to search Google to see who’s already ranked for your relevant keywords. Systematically go through each website looking for contact information. This could be on-page contact forms, email addresses, chat accounts or phone numbers. If you cant find their contact info on their site, you can always try Whois.net to try to look up the owner.

Keep in mind, the higher the website is ranked, the stronger the link will be, therefore the more compensation they will want in return. If you are on a tight budget or don’t have good trading sites, you may want to dig deep instead of just going after the big fish on the first page.
Dig down to at least page 5 to 10 per keyword, anything past that can be unreliable. Depending on your work style, you can either build a huge list of contacts and once you have your list, start contacting them or contact them as you go. The important thing is that you keep a record of who you’ve contacted, who you’re waiting to hear back from and who you’ve closed deals with.

Keep in mind, the higher the website is ranked, the stronger the link will be, therefore the more compensation they will want in return. If you are on a tight budget or don’t have good trading sites, you may want to dig deep instead of just going after the big fish on the first page.
Dig down to at least page 5 to 10 per keyword, anything past that can be unreliable. Depending on your work style, you can either build a huge list of contacts and once you have your list, start contacting them or contact them as you go. The important thing is that you keep a record of who you’ve contacted, who you’re waiting to hear back from and who you’ve closed deals with.

Organizing contacts
Some people choose to use CRM software for this like Brightedge.com or RavenTools.com but you can just as easily use Excel or Google Drive to track this part of the process for free. Create a spreadsheet and organize it like this:

contact-example

Freeze the top row because you’ll fill the above the fold section pretty quick, so it’s nice to always be able to see the top panel no matter how deep you are in your file. You can do this in Excel by going under View -> Freeze Panes -> Freeze Top Row.

Here’s the explanation for each row:
URL- Is the site that you found
Keyword- Is the term you searched
Found On Page- Is what page of the search engine you found the website on
PR- Is the Google page rank
Contact info- Usually it’s an email, sometimes a Skype, ICQ, MSN messenger, AIM, or phone number. I’ve noticed the types of contact info people use varies from industry to industry.
Comments- I like to make little notes of anything specific or unusual about the site or conversation I had with the webmaster. Maybe “Price was too high” “Not willing to trade” “Wants me to contact him next month”. Something like that.
Deal, Pending, and No deal- As you can see I marked each contact with a different color so that I can label a whole row based on the outcome of the conversation with the webmaster. You can put more details and notes in there if you like. Sometimes I add a “contact next month” one if I’ve gone over my budget or if the webmaster isn’t currently selling or trading.

Getting on webmaster forums

Search in Google to find webmaster forums related to your site. This is a great way to network and find other webmasters to trade and buy links with.

Part 4: Valuations and Negotiations

When appraising the value of a link, there are certain factors of a website that make it more or less valuable. Some of the main metrics are:

Content- Get links from sites that have high-quality content. In the world of SEO content is still king, meaning higher quality sites will pass higher quality authority when they link to you.

Relevancy- If content is king, then relevance is his queen. The more relevant a site is, the more authority and link juice it will pass.

Page rank– Page rank is not the sole determining factor (neither is any one metric) there are many websites with a page rank of 2 that get millions of clicks while some page rank 5’s only get a few thousand clicks.

Alexa Rank– Unlike page rank, you will never find a site with a good Alexa ranking that does not get millions of clicks, therefore, Alexa ranking is a more accurate measure of a site’s traffic but not its authority.

Domain Age– The age of a domain directly relates to the authority of a domain. Older domains are likely to get more love from Google.

SERPs– The most valuable links you can get are from the sites that already rank high for your keywords. These links are by far more valuable than any high PR or high Alexa sites.

In/outbound links- You should also bring into consideration the amount of links pointing to the domain and the amount of links pointing out from it. The reason is because the link juice of a page will be diluted based on the amount of outbound links it has. For example; if a page has 100 outbound links each link will only get 1% of the link juice but if the page only has two links, each link will get 50% of the link juice.

Network Links/Link Farms– When considering a trade or purchase on a network of websites the most important thing to look for is any SEO footprint or something that could connect the sites together. In other words, you don’t want the sites to be identifiable as a network. Instead, they must appear to be individual sites that are not connected.
Here’s what you need to look for to identify a network of websites…

IP address- A bunch of sites all being hosted from the same IP is a dead -giveaway. Each site should use its own IP address instead of sharing. You can check the IP of a site by using an online IP checking tool like that can check up to 10 sites at once.

Duplicate Content- Run a quick scan of the site using Copyscape.com to make sure they haven’t posted the same content on the other sites in their network or snagged the content from other sites.

Duplicate Links- Some website networks will post the same links in the same order on every website in the network and this also leaves a traceable footprint. Copyscape.com can also identify these.

Watch Out for Link Farms

Sharing IPs and duplicate content are dead giveaways so do your due diligence to make sure the site(s) you are buying links from is not part of a network of sites. You will surely come across these as there are people out there that build these networks of sites just for the sole purpose of selling links.

Check Their Backlinks Too

Since link building is the name of the game, why not look at what sites link to your trading partner to help gauge the value of the trade. You will want to do a deep analysis of their backlink profile by using tools such as Ahrefs.com or OpenSiteExplorer.org. Check to make sure they have high-quality links pointing to them and be on the lookout for spammy links as well. If a site has tons of spammy links pointing to them, you don’t want them to link to you.

Link Purchase Terms

Try to negotiate your deals for at least 1 year instead of month to month and the main reason is because links can take up to 3 months before they affect your SEO and up to 1 year before they become seasoned. Furthermore, you don’t want to rack up a bunch of monthly charges that will exhaust your budget and keep you from acquiring new link deals.

Closing the Deal

When negotiating a link trade, try to come to a mutually beneficial agreement. There are different levels of sites ranging from low quality, low traffic to high-quality high traffic but the best way to evaluate a trade is to appraise the value of the sites so you can make a fair trade and sometimes this means you may need to bundle sites together. There are countless situations that can arise but one common example is if you want a link from a site with an Alexa ranking of 10,000 but you don’t have a comparable site to give him in return, then you can offer a few less trafficked sites in exchange. In other words, it’s common that webmasters will trade equal valued sites. However, sometimes other factors such as domain age, SERPs, PR or how frequently content is being updated, could be considered when a straight trade won’t cut it.

Only offer to buy links as a last resort, when all attempts to trade have failed. You’ll want to set aside a monthly budget for buying links, and once you see your traffic increase, you can increase your budget accordingly.

Part 5: Adding the Links in a Penguin-Friendly Way Don’t Add All the Links at Once

penguin-linksGoogle likes natural progression of links being added to your site. If you’re periodically getting large clumps of links pointing to you, it looks unnatural and is not good SEO practice. Remember as a site grows, more and more people will find out about it and link to it naturally. That’s why adding large amounts of links to your site needs to mimic this process. Don’t add a ton of links one month and very few the next. Keep a consistent and progressive schedule. If you buy a large package of links, it is very common to request that the links are added gradually and not all at once.

Anchor Text Diversity

Don’t exceed more than 15% of your anchors having exact match anchor text. Use your brand name, domain name or even the full http: raw link and make sure that the keyword that you are trying to target is in the nearby text and this way Google will contribute it as a link and a citation.

Placing the Links on the Site

Follow Googles link scheme guidelines by not putting links in the footer, site-wide sidebar or on the links page. It’s been known for years that footer links, links page links, and blogroll links are very low in value but in this post-Penguin era, they can even hurt you. The most ideal place to put your link, even though it may not always be possible, is inside the body of the page, inside the text. Depending on the type of site you are getting the link from, there may be other options. For example, if you are getting a link from one tube site to another, some of the strongest and most natural links are in the form of video embeds. If it’s a photo site then get a link from the image description or even insert the image source from your site. If it’s a blog, offer to contribute a post and put your link in the body of the article. Things to avoid are site-wide links, blogroll, footer or a links page. Links pages are also referred to as friends, sponsors, and other terms but stay away because Google knows what that page is all about and getting links from these pages will surely blow your cover with Google.

Part 6: Stay Consistent With Your Strategy

This is important because Google tracks the rate at which the links are being added and are looking for “unnatural” behavior in link flow. As a website grows and becomes more popular there will be a naturally increasing trend of incoming links to the website, so your strategy should be consistent to emulate this natural behavior. Therefore, as your website grows, you should increase your budget and link building efforts accordingly.

Manual Link Building vs Automated Software

SEOs like myself got away with using automated link building tools like SeNuke, Scrapebox, Xrumer and more but those days are long gone! I used to have servers hosted in Moscow where I would run software 24 hours a day building hundreds of thousands of spammy (black-hat) links and this helped me dominate the SERPs for many years and in many different niches. I would even use programs like TheBestSpinner.com to rewrite aka spin articles so I could then post the content over and over to different sites. I stopped all black-hat activities in 2009 but there are still many companies, (mostly overseas) that still use these automated tools.

Adding links too fast, using black-hat tools and not following these rules will make it obvious to Google that you are trying to manipulate their algorithms. Hear what Matt Cutts, the chief engineer on the Google Webspam Team has to say about it.

Link Monitoring

You will want to check your backlinks on a regular basis. There are many tools out there like RavenTools.com and  SearchEngineWatch.com that will automatically check your backlinks and notify you if one has been removed. If you don’t want to pay monthly fees for these kind of tools, you can just hire someone on Odesk to code you a little script that will do the same thing as suggested by this Moz user. Webmasters will sometimes remove your links by accident and even intentionally so make sure you run a check once a week or so. I’ll even do manual checks to make sure they haven’t moved me to the footer or something like that.