The number of sites we see penalized for bad link decisions is stunning. This used to be a group consisting mostly of link buyers - directly purchasing PR from toxic sites, or sites that had morphed into bad players. But now we're seeing more penalized sites whose link profile includes no paid links, but is slammed with huge numbers of blog comments, forum posts, signatures, and spammy, low quality links. We're starting to believe Google is giving out penalties for a new prohibition, unnaturally large numbers of low quality links - probably as a way to discourage them. And if they're doing that, there was no warning, just another rule change during the game. Link build accordingly.
2 November 2010 : Bob Sakayama
For most web businesses, getting the site's semantic house is in order is the first order of business. For our clients that means the content is organized into power centers with internal linking pushing PR out to the long tails and back again to the categories.
But even before the content build is completed, the marketing team needs to put some resources into strategies that will be building or attracting links, naturally or otherwise. We recommend offering user participation, specialized functionality, information or useful tools because links to these areas will bring traffic as well as PR. But beyond these kinds of investments in infrastructure, obtaining valuable, persistent inbound links is not a piece of cake.
Social media offers some opportunities that did not exist until very recently. For individuals, social media is empowering, because with very little technical skills you can build an interlinked universe investing only time.
For a large organization, social media requires that resources go toward participation on social sites - guidance is crucial. We strongly recommend a social media presence, but going social only for links is not as productive as other techniques. Social media works best when it's primarily a traffic driver, and then the links come naturally. That said, we do use social bookmarks because we see benefits from large numbers of them, they're free, and useful for obfuscation, not for the passing of PR.
Potentially Toxic Links
We are constantly pitched techniques that use technology to obtain links. I've seen a number of strategies dependent on software that can auto-submit posts to blogs and forums, or create signatures, comments, links, etc. An unforseen problem with these (worthless) links is that you are unlikely to be able to remove them should you find these sites corrupted or penalized. And if that happens, there will be a LOT to unwind, automation guarantees that.
There are several automated techniques that actually work, but they are considered black hat. One well known strategy involves giving away free hit counters embedded with links. Another focuses on the creation of free website templates with links built into the structure. Again, these work until they nuke.
As an enterprise level vendor, we know that the services we provide must not only be effective, but also do no harm. For link acquirers, that should be their first rule: do no harm. I mention that because as a market leader in penalty unwinds, we know the consequences of not seeing the risk behind the manner or type of acquired links. But avoiding risk can lead to another pitfall - obtaining lots of links that deliver no rank push.
There are also degrees of risk that have to be taken into consideration. For example, a brand new store might benefit from a robust campaign of paid links because it brings business that otherwise would not be there. On the other hand, we would never recommend that to a long standing business, where a more conservative approach is warranted. And then finally, we want a strategy that has some chance of creating links that persist - we'd like to see them there for years. Because of these concerns, it is in our clients' interests to avoid most techniques that come our way. We have tried most of these tactics and have settled on only a handful, based on site performance only (not numbers of links, PR of link source, etc.). Our white hat link strategies includes social bookmark links, software distribution links, and content aggregator links whenever resources permit.
Social Bookmark Links
Free, quick PR0 links, if you need to obfuscate. Don't waste you time if you're looking for muscle.
Software Distribution Links
We noticed that as a software developer, the PAD files (Portable Application Description - the standard file used to accompany new software to distributors) could be exploited for the purposes of obtaining links from software distribution sites. This is a very valuable tactic, especially if the software has value related to the keyword targets and/or is useful or provocative. The exact type of software is irrelevant. One of the best examples of a long lived software link campaign is our ebook on Google Penalty Unwinds (do the search - yes, it's weak, but this is still impressive - as of 19 Nov 2010 we hold positions 1-10 on page 1 - either via our sites, the software downloads, or sites that copied our content). The results, after 3 years, still show software results within the searches, in addition to our sites' positions. The trick is to make sure the software is useful, attractive, or provocative and can be created relatively quickly, because then the cost per link is miniscule. Software types include tools, screensavers, ebooks, apps, etc.
Content Aggregator Links
Like the software distribution links, this one is not without labor, but this technique guarantees semantic relevance - we control the anchors. Also referred to as article submission links, the value comes from real information distributed to sites that set high standards - because their readership depends on it. And while your posts may require approval (more time consuming), this process tends to ensure quality that is absent when all articles are accepted as is. This technique is also a traffic driver, since the content bearing the links is posted on sites where visitors actually go to read. The real trick is to find aggregators from whom you can get do follow links, since many are now only giving nofollow links in embedded content. When handled well, these tend to be persistent links with a real opportunity to gain in PR. And because the article can itself hold rank, you can achieve multiple positions in the search - blocking actions as we refer to them - keeping competitors out while claiming more search result real estate.
We advise clients to use their influence to inspire links to their sites from suppliers, customers, distributors, partner sites, etc. Many small sites thrive on only these kinds of bartered links, and large websites probably have an edge here if they chose to use it.
Another technique can be borrowed from cause marketing, where an engaged audience is already prepared to move in the direction of your campaign, based on common goals and objectives.
In the end, building links is real work - not something automation can handle effectively. The short cuts lead to dead ends and free falls. Unfortunately for the uninformed, it's very easy to discover a world where the solutions range from the very labor intensive (with very little payoff) to automated (with very little payoff). Don't go after links based on numbers. But start with the real need - relevant links from content on another site - because that leads you to the best solutions.