23 Link Building Mistakes You Must Avoid At All Costs (#19 is Plain Stupid)
You won’t like to hear this but internet marketers and politicians are quite similar.
Both pretend to care for their target audience, network with influential lobbies, follow the popular opinion and make every effort to stay in the news.
Because both need votes.
Politicians need them to get to the top government positions
Internet marketers need votes (backlinks) to their sites to conquer the top spots in Google Search.
For both, the formula is simple – create engaging content + get more votes (backlinks) = the top spot
The comparison sounds bizarre but it’s pretty well-documented.
For example, a study by SEMRush shows a direct relationship between the number of referring domains and the search ranking of a URL
Source: Ranking Factors 2.0
But there’s one key difference between the two
As a politician, you can rig the elections, make it to the top government post and never get caught (even when everyone knows what you did)
You can’t do that as an internet marketer.
Because in the SEO world, not all votes (backlinks) are equal.
A few high authority backlinks are much better than dozens of shady links.
In fact, if you get too many of the bad ones, your rankings will take a nosedive.
You can’t create fake, spam, cheap or irrelevant backlinks (or hire Russian link builders) and stay on top of Google SERPs for long.
Sooner or later, you’ll get caught and penalized by Google so hard that you’ll never get up again.
Don’t want to waste your time, money, and energy on useless link building techniques that’ll do more harm than good to your site’s rankings?
Then keep reading.
Because in this post I’m going to share some of the dumbest, but astonishingly common, link building mistakes that niche marketers, brands, and SEOs make all the time.
What You’ll Learn In This Post
- The reasons why people link to other sites
- Why hiring guest bloggers for link building is a bad idea
- Once small mistake that’s ruining your hard-earned backlinks
- Why you should stay away from bad company (even on the internet)
Why Do People Link To Other Content?
It’s a fundamental question.
But have you ever thought about it seriously?
Because knowing the answer could help you get more backlinks (which is what you want, right?)
Dejan Marketing surveyed more than 2000 webmasters, bloggers, and site owners to find the most common reasons why they link to other sites.
Here’s what they found
In short, people link to a piece of content, outside their website, when they see value in it.
They link to content that makes their content look more complete.
They link to content that makes them look more credible and trustworthy
They link to content that adds weight to their arguments.
It all about them, not you
Keep this in mind when you’re trying to build links to your site.
Is your content fulfilling any of those needs?
If not, you’d always struggle to get natural backlinks.
There’s only one core reason behind ALL link building mistakes – links that look artificial (not acquired naturally)
When Google thinks a link is not earned voluntarily, it penalizes both the linked and the linking site.
Here’s what Matt Cutts, Google’s former Head of Webspam, said about link building a long time ago.
Source: Search Engine Watch
Any links that you build to your site need to be natural or at least look natural
Because if they don’t, you’ll be in trouble with Google’s algorithms.
Good, let’s move forward and have a look at the common link building mistakes you should avoid.
1. Trying To Build Links To Thin and Worthless Content
Do you really think you can get backlinks from FastCompany, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider (or any other top site in your niche) to a useless 300-word article that has nothing but your own”expert” opinion?
To get links you need to create link-worthy content.
It’s not an option.
It’s only the first step to getting links.
Without useful, high quality, actionable, and problem-solving content nobody would see any value in your content to link to it (remember the top linking reasons I mentioned earlier?)
So stop requesting people to link to your site’s homepage, product pages or other content that has no value for them.
What exactly is link-worthy content?
Content that’s so good, so useful, so engaging, and so credible that people feel compelled to link to it.
Research shows that link-worthy content has the following characteristics
It Covers the Topic in Detail
Detailed, in-depth, and step by step content that covers a topic in full detail always gets more backlinks than thin and poorly researched articles.
HubSpot examined the performance of all the blog posts they’ve ever published and found that the posts with 2500+ words had the highest number of backlinks
A separate joint study by Moz and BuzzSumo examined more than 1 million articles and found that content longer than 10,000 words had, on average, 11.07 links as compared to 3.47 links on average for content shorter than 1000 words.
One thing is clear, if you want links, creating short and thin content is a waste of time and resources.
Human beings are visual learners.
We not only understand images a lot faster than text (60,000 times faster to be exact) but also remember visual information much longer.
But a study by Moz shows that visual content gets more backlinks as well.
The study shows that blog posts and articles that include images and videos get significantly more backlinks than plain text content.
It Is Backed By Data and Research
If you want links to your content, make sure it has lots and lots of data in it.
A study by SEO Powersuite confirms this fact
The study surveyed almost 700 top marketers and SEO agencies and found that 70% of them regarded data and research as the best content type to get backlinks.
It Quotes Experts and Influencers
In my personal experience, adding 1 or 2 original quotes from industry experts (or creating a lengthy roundup post) is great for link building.
Because, just like data, expert quotes make your content look more credible and trustworthy.
It Shares Examples and Case Studies
Last, but not the least, try to include examples, case studies and success stories in your content.
Examples not only help readers understand your content better but are also great for getting links.
So there you have it.
To get links you need to create quality content.
Reaching out to credible websites and blogs for links to thin and useless content will only waste your time and energy.
Unfortunately, most link builders fail to understand this obvious fact.
2. Writing Poor Quality Guest Posts Only To Get Backlinks
I get a LOT of emails from brands, bloggers and link builders who want to hire me to write guest posts for them.
How many do I actually work with?
Less than 1%.
Because the vast majority think guest logging is some cheap way to get backlinks from the best websites in their niche.
Here are some of their common beliefs
- They can hire a cheap writer to write 1 great post for them
- They can create multiple spun versions of the same “great post” for multiple sites.
- They can use the same spun content to link back to their site’s money pages
- Any site owner would love to accept their guest post because it’s free
Change this mindset NOW!
Guest blogging is a legitimate and effective way to get links.
But it only works when you actually forget link building and focus on creating an awesome piece of content that a top blog would gladly accept
I’ve written more than 500 guest posts in the last 4-5 years so trust me on this.
Most of the top blogs in any niche are now wary of guest posts because it has become a spammy link building technique.
Matt Cutts even called out guest bloggers and strongly suggested not to use it solely for building links.
Matt later clarified that he was referring to low-quality guest blogging that’s done with the sole purpose of building links. Guest posts that share genuinely high-quality content are still useful.
So guest blogging for link building still works
But since blog editors are much more careful in accepting guest posts these days, the only way to get published on a reputable blog is by creating super quality content.
Doing so would not only get you backlinks but also strengthen your brand image and leave an impression on a broader audience.
3. Limiting Your Guest Blogging Efforts to the Top-Tier Sites
If I had it my way I’d always get backlinks from CNN, Harvard Business Review, or The White House
But that’s not happening, of course.
Limiting your guest blogging campaign to just the top blogs in your niche is never a good idea simply because these blogs have very high editorial standards and receive thousands of guest blogging proposals every day.
Even the posts that are accepted for publishing take months to go live.
Here’s my email exchange with the editor of a leading marketing publication (DA85+) to give you an idea
Notice that the editor accepted my guest post on 18th Oct 2014 and gave me an estimated publishing time of 2 months (which is already a lot)
But do you know how long it took the post to actually go live?
You read that right.
It took almost 5 months for the post to go live.
The editor gave me Feb 16 as the final publishing date but the post actually went live in the first week of March because the site’s editorial team kept pushing my article down for their in-house content.
It was a powerful link for my profile and brand image.
But 5 months is a lot of time.
A couple of other sites made me wait even longer.
I’m sure you don’t want to wait for years to get one backlink.
So the best strategy is to mix things up.
Focus your efforts on any blogs that are more popular than yours.
Domain Authority (a term coined by Moz) and Domain Rating (used by Ahrefs) are not the best indicators of a site’s popularity but they do give you an idea of its strength.
A high DA/DR score gives you a measure of a site’s popularity.
In my experience, blogs between with DR 30-70 give you the best ROI (reputable links, shorter publishing queues, easier to get accepted)
A study by Ahrefs also found a similar pattern
Define a minimum targeting criterion for your guest blogging campaign (eg. blogs with DA/DR score higher than your site) and then grab any opportunities that you get.
This way, your link profile will also appear more natural and well-distributed.
4. Hiring the Same Guest Blogger To Build All Your Links
Brands (and marketers) hire guest bloggers to get high authority links.
It’s an open secret.
But in doing so, many of them commit a fatal mistake.
They hire the same guest blogger to build all (or most) of their links.
This is a recipe for disaster.
Because it clearly shows Google that there’s one guy who’s going around all over the web, publishing content on different sites, and linking to the same site again and again.
These are clear footprints that strongly indicate it’s a paid link building campaign.
And once Google finds out that you’re paying for links, you’re in trouble.
Why Is This a Risky Approach?
Because Google comes down hard on paid links.
But that’s not the only reason.
- It’s a bad idea because it’s like putting all your eggs in one basket.
- You never know if a guest blogger has been involved in spammy link building practices in the past.
- The same blogger might be working with other brands/sites that are involved in spammy/prohibited link building techniques or Black-Hat SEO.
The Right Way To Hire Guest Bloggers
Guest blogging is not a mass scale link building technique.
But even then, whenever you hire guest bloggers keep the following things in mind
- Hire multiple guest bloggers to build links for you.
- Shortlist your target sites and approach the writers who’re already writing for them. For example, if you want to get a link on Entrepreneur, look for a writer who’s already covering a topic related to your niche on Entrepreneur.
- Make a list of all the potential prospects who can work for you.
- Make sure they’ve clean profiles on other reputable sites as well. You can do that using the following search queries.
“author [writer’s name]”
“written by [writer’s name]
- Contact all the shortlisted writers/contributors using the contact info in their bylines or their social media profiles and ask them if they’d like to feature your link for a fee (the link has to point to a link-worthy resource).
- Do this for all the sites you want to target.
This would help you diversify your link sources and help you avoid any catastrophe even if one of your guest bloggers is involved in any dubious SEO techniques.
5. Wasting Hard-Earned Backlinks Becuase of Poor Internal Linking
It’s hard to get backlinks from a top-tier site
But when you get one, it’s imperative to make the most of it.
Unfortunately, most sites don’t.
Because of their poor and inconsistent internal link structure.
How does internal linking relate to backlinks?
Let me explain.
A backlink is a vote of confidence from one web page to another.
If an authority site like MOZ, HubSpot, or BusinessInsider (or any other leading site in your niche) links to a page on your blog, Google considers it a massive vote of confidence for that particular page.
As a result of this backlink, the credibility of that particular page of your site increases.
Any internal links from this page will help transfer that authority to the other pages on your site.
This is how the benefit of a backlink is distributed to all the relevant pages of your site.
This illustration shows the flow of link authority with internal links.
The homepage of most websites is linked to the other internal pages.
So there’s no problem for the link authority to flow across the site.
But what if a blog post or a page in the lower hierarchy of your site gets a high authority backlink(which is usually the case)?
Do you have the internal link structure to transfer that authority to the other relevant pages of your site?
If you primarily rely on high-quality blog posts and articles to get backlinks (which you should) a poor internal link structure would largely limit the impact of any backlinks that you get to the linked page only.
Therefore, to make the most of your backlinks, make sure you have internal links pointing from your blog posts to all the other relevant pages of your site.
Here’s an internal linking model you could follow.
In this model, every blog post is linked to the other pages and articles of the site on the same topic.
This not only transfers link authority to the other pages on your site but also helps in building topical relevance (which is a key SEO requirement now).
6. Connecting With Other Marketers Only When You Need Them
“Your network is your net worth”
It’s a famous business quote and it fully applies to online marketing.
When you have good relationships with the other bloggers and marketers in your niche, getting backlinks becomes much easier.
But relationships aren’t built overnight.
You can’t reach out to people only when you need backlinks or any other favors.
Relationship building requires patience, consistency and the willingness to offer value to others for free.
Very few marketers are prepared to do that.
According to George Levinger, a leading psychologist, human relationships usually go through five stages.
You first make an impression and give the other person a reason to connect with you.
With time, you build trust by being consistent in your actions.
Online relationships are no different.
To build mutually beneficial online relationships you need to play the long game and start connecting with the relevant people much before you actually need them.
- Identify the marketers and bloggers you want to build relationships with.
- Connect with them on social media and subscribe to their blogs.
- Share their content and respond to their social media posts.
In case you didn’t know, Matt is among the top SEO bloggers with a large following
- Praise their work and give them honest feedback (because everyone likes to be praised)
- Ask questions and show genuine interest in the things they care about.
- Mention them in your content or link to their posts.
Consistently doing so will help you build rapport with your target influencers.
It will also trigger reciprocity, a psychological principle which states that humans feel obliged to return favors.
Once you have done the hard work, now’s the time to ping them about a relevant piece of content on your site that they’d find useful.
Just let them know about it without openly asking for a backlink or a share (don’t leave without reading the next point please!)
7. Using the Same Outreach Email Everyone Else Uses
Look, I know you’re lazy.
Most people are these days (including me)
But please for God’s sake don’t embarrass yourself by using the same email outreach template every other blogger and link builder in the world is using.
Just look at this email (I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it in a moment)
Here’s why this email is SO useless
- A popular blogger shared this EXACT email template on his blog a few years ago. So thousands of people must’ve copied it.
- I’ve have received this EXACT email from a dozen other people in the last 1 year.
- I have never published a guest post on my personal blog (see point number 2 in the image) and I’m not looking for more.
So please understand this.
When a popular blogger shares an email outreach template publicly, you don’t need to copy it word for word.
Because there are thousands of others who’d be using it.
It completely strips you of any credibility.
And it won’t help you get any links.
8. Automatically Generating Thousands of Links To Your Site
Do I really need to say anything more?
There are tools and scripts out there that can create hundreds or even thousands of backlinks for you in a matter of hours.
The only problem?
Most of them are spam and low-quality links that’ll get you penalized faster than you can blink
So keep your distance.
9. Not Using the “No-Follow” Tag For Sponsored Links
Ideally, you’d want to get contextual “do-follow” backlinks from the top blogs in your niche using guest posts.
But many blog editors are not taking risks anymore.
The moment they see brand mentions or links to a particular tool or platform, they either reject the content for being too promotional or suggest that you pay for it and publish the post in their “Sponsored Posts” section.
There’s nothing wrong with publishing sponsored posts.
As long as you make your links “no-follow”.
Google has a strict policy on sponsored links and requires all paid links to use the “no-follow” tag.
If by any chance your sponsored link doesn’t use the no-follow tag, both you and the publisher will get into trouble.
10. Not Keeping a Natural Mix of Do-Follow and No-Follow Backlinks
No-follow links don’t pass any page authority.
But they’re still useful for a couple of reasons.
- They still send you referral traffic and build brand awareness like normal do-follow links.
- They make your link profile look more natural
Remember what Matt Cutts said about keeping your links natural?
Is it natural for a site to have do-follow links only?
Or have all of its links coming only from forums or blog posts or any other singular source?
Not at all.
A natural link profile has a good mix of do-follow and no-follow links coming from a variety of different sources like articles, blog comments, images, social media, forums, resource lists, press releases etc.
This happens when your content is great and your promotion strategy is even better.
Other sites link to you naturally and you end up with a natural looking link profile.
But even if you’re faking a natural profile, don’t overdo any one kind of links otherwise you’ll get into trouble.
11. Link Spamming on Forums and Blog Comments
I just mentioned the links from forums and blog comments in the previous point.
They’re fine as long as you get them naturally or use them sparingly and only when it makes sense.
But if you’re into automatic comment spamming or hiring cheap Fiverr gigs (like the one below) to get you hundreds of forum links, you’re paying money to get penalized.
Don’t get me wrong.
There’s nothing wrong with leaving insightful, detailed, and genuinely useful comments on blog or forums that are relevant to the discussion and add value. In fact, they’re great for networking and building brand awareness.
Here’s an example of a useful comment.
This one, however, is not such a great comment
Ever seen a real human named “iMediaDesign”?
Such comments are not just a waste of time, they’ll also get you penalized pretty quickly if you do this on a mass scale
Look what Matt Cutts says about blog and forum comments.
Source: Search Engine Watch
In short, don’t try to play smart with Google and only leave comments that add value to the discussion (using your own name please!)
12. Using The Same Over-Optimized Anchor Text All The Time
You know what’s an anchor text, right? The text content used in your links.
Newbies love backlinks with exact match anchor text (also called over-optimized anchor text)
An exact match or over-optimized anchor is made up of exactly the keyword you want to rank for.
It can help you rank for that keyword.
But if most of your links use optimized anchor text (more than 1-2%), Google Penguin (an algorithm update that targets over-optimized anchor text links) will get you.
Source: Gotch SEO
For a natural anchor text distribution, you can use a combination of the following anchor text types (Hint: keep it natural)
- Branded Anchor Text (your brand name eg. NicheHacks, Stuart Walker, NicheHacks Insider).
- Naked URL (https://nichehacks.com).
- Generic Anchor Text (eg. Read More, Click Here).
- Brand + Keyword anchor (eg. Niche Marketing Tips by Stuart Walker).
- LSI/Synonyms (eg. how to learn niche marketing, what is niche marketing).
- Partial Match Anchor Text (eg. this niche marketing case study).
- Exact Match Anchor Text (eg. niche marketing tips).
Natural link profiles don’t have 50% links with exact match anchor text.
In fact, post-Penguin, any site with more than 1-2% exact match anchor text is flirting with danger.
Ideally, your links should be distributed between branded, naked, partial and generic anchor text (the branded links, the better)
13. Getting Backlinks From Sites With No Editorial Control
There are sites where you can submit an article (with your backlinks) and get it published within minutes.
Is it a good idea to get links from them?
Because sites with no editorial control are breeding grounds for spam links, spun content, and link schemes.
Which brings me to my next point
14. Associating With Poor Sites That Are In Bad Company
Backlinks from sites that also link to copied articles, thin content, spam, adult and gambling sites can only do one thing – destroy your reputation and get you penalized
After all, a man is known by the company he keeps.
This happens when you keep getting cheap backlinks from sites with no editorial or quality control (my last point)
15. Building Links From Sites With Excessive Outgoing Links
This is also connected with the last two points.
According to Link-Assistant any backlinks from web pages with excessive (1000+) outgoing links should be avoided.
For two reasons
- There’s a good chance many of the linked sites are spam and low quality.
- Even if they’re not, so many outgoing links from a single page decrease the strength of the backlink
16. Linking From Sites That Have Nothing To Do With Your Niche
Under normal circumstances, would a blog about “knitting sweaters” link to a CCTV Camera company, a dog food recipe blog, and a site promoting running shoes?
I can’t think of any reason why it should.
How about getting links from websites in Chinese, Russian, or Spanish when your target audience speaks English?
Irrelevant backlinks are a HUGE indicator of artificial and paid link building (and you know what Google does with paid link builders)
Any links pointing to your site should be relevant and make sense in the site’s context.
For example, in the image above, a page about cats is linking to a page about kittens which makes total sense.
But does a page about motorcycles linking to a page about kittens make sense? Not so much
It doesn’t mean you can’t get links from sites on a different topic.
As long as a site’s content naturally connects with your topic, the link is fine.
But even then, links from the same niche are worth significantly more.
17. Participating in Link Exchange Programs
Reciprocal linking (exchanging links with other sites) has been a common SEO practice for a long time.
And there are times when it’s totally natural and makes sense.
So if you’re doing it occasionally, there’s no problem in it.
But participating in mass link exchange programs where you’re exchanging links with hundreds of sites is a clear red flag and should NEVER be done.
18. Using Risky Link Building Techniques Like Scholarships and PBNs
Link building with Private Blog Networks (PBN) is a hot topic among SEOs and affiliate marketers.
A PBN is a network of sites, usually with a single owner, set up for the sole purpose of creating backlinks to a particular site to increase its search rankings.
There’s disagreement whether this is a Black or Gray-Hat SEO technique.
But Matt Cutts (and Google) doesn’t have any doubts.
PBNs can help you rank for your target keyword pretty fast.
But there are a couple of problems because of which you should stay away from them.
- It’s VERY difficult to create a PBN that stays under Google’s radar. Sooner or later it’ll get exposed.
- When a PBN is penalized, all the sites associated with it are also affected.
The same goes for the shady scholarship link building technique which became quite popular after Brian Dean first revealed it.
10Beasts, the famous affiliate blog that sold for $600+, used scholarship links excessively and raked for some of the most competitive keywords in its niche.
But in a matter of months, it got hit by a manual Google penalty because of those very links.
Moral of the story: Stay clean and stay safe if you wish to remain in business for a long time.
19. Not Using Alt-Text in Image Links
Alt-Text is the text used to describe an image.
When you create an image link in a guest post, never forget to add “Alt-Text” to it because Google uses it as the anchor text for images.
Using it makes your image links much more useful.
20. Building Links Only To Your Site’s Homepage
Backlinks to your site’s homepage are good for brand awareness.
But too many of them can get you into trouble with Google algorithms.
Because natural backlinks are usually pointed to resource pages, data references, interviews or any other page that actually has something useful and is contextually aligned with the content.
Your site’s homepage rarely has any contextual relevance to other sites unless you’re giving an interview or doing other PR activities.
Just keep a niche mix of homepage and internal page backlinks to stay safe.
21. Getting Sitewide and Footer Backlinks To Your Site
Footer or site-wide backlinks offer zero value to the users and are mostly used as a quick and cheap way to boost search rankings (which rarely happens)
It’s another obsolete link building technique that, for some reason, many marketers still use (and suffer later)
22. Building Backlinks from Article/Web Directories and Bookmarking Sites
Remember Ezine Articles? The site where hundreds of thousands of articles (mostly thin, spun and copied) on almost every topic could be published to get cheap backlinks
They were one of the worst-hit sites by Google Panda update (look how their rankings fell after the update)
As surprising as it is, people still build links from Ezine and other such article submission sites.
Needless to say that they’re a total waste of time because the sole purpose of the content on such sites is link building, not the users.
The same applies to low-quality web directories where anyone can submit their sites and get instantly accepted.
If you need web directory links, stick to the popular site like Dmoz, Alltop etc. that have proper approval processes and quality control.
23. Not Guarding Your Site Against Spam and Low-Quality Links
Always keep your eyes open for any bad links pointing to your site.
Change Your Mindset To Avoid ALL Link Building Mistakes
It’s not about the number of backlinks your site has.
If they’re unnatural, low quality, and irrelevant, even thousands of backlinks to a site won’t help its rankings (they’ll get it penalized though)
Change your mindset.
Think about your target audience, create link-worthy content that is useful to your readers, and the promote it to people who might be interested in linking to it.
Stay natural, stay safe.