The Definitive Guide to Link Building for Affiliates

Filed in Affiliate Marketing by on November 27, 2014

affiliate marketing word cloud

This is a guest submission by Pam Neely.

Link building ain’t what it used to be. Sometimes it seems downright dangerous. With the Googlebot snooping around, and even guest posting for links declared dead, are there any safe ways to build links left?

Yes.

And many of those link-building techniques can work especially well for affiliates. So brew up a coffee, get a pen and paper, and let us walk you through an affiliate’s link building strategy and plan.

By the end of this read, you’ll know everything about to build high-quality, long-term, profitable links for your business.

 

(P.S. If you'd like to download a free list of 101 expensive affiliate niches click here or the image below)

 

 

Link Building Strategy

Here’s what we’re gonna do…

 

• Only build quality links (from sites we won’t have to disavow later)

More is not always better, especially with links. You’ll have a far better chance of seeing long-term benefits from your site if you build good links from the start.

Cheap links might work for a few months, but you run a very high risk of having to just disavow them a few months after that. You also run the risk of having all your income cut in half just because you got impatient and sloppy with your link building.

 

Only build relevant links (make it contextual, baby)

There are exceptions to this, like if you can land a link on a massive, super-high authority site, but they’re rare. Still, there are a few SEOs that say links don’t have to be relevant. I’m not one of them.

Besides, even if you can get away with irrelevant links now, they’re low-hanging fruit for the next update.

As Google gets smarter and smarter, and more and more rigorous about which sites they’ll rank, they will have to continue to find ways to clear out second-rate sites and their second-rate link building.

So focus your efforts on relevant links. If a few “irrelevant” links happen, they’re fine. But put your focus into the relevant ones.

 

• Build a blend of different kinds of links

This is super important. It can save your bacon. Having all your links be from, say, blog comments, is almost a guaranteed way to get stung for an unnatural link profile. So don’t do it.

 

What is a safe link-building profile? There is no perfect example, but here’s something to aim for:

15% blog comments.
10% guest posts. Total 25%
10% directory links. Total 35%
20% social media links. Total 55%
10% blog roll links. Total 65%
20% links to content, apps or tools on your site. Total 85%
5% paid links. Total 90%
10% forum links. Total 100%

That is not the exact blend of links your particular site has to have, but it illustrates the point: Don’t build just one kind of link.

You need at least five different link-building tactics that you use on a regular basis. This can be a little frustrating, because once you find an effective, easy way to build links, you’re going to want to go to town on it. Resist.

Vary your links. It’s is some of the best link-building insurance and algorithm update protection you can buy. I learned it the hard way.

 

Link Building Tactics: Here’s how we’re gonna do it…

• See where competitors are getting their links
• Determine what quality of site you’re willing to get links from
• Use social media
• Use video
• Use blog commenting
• Use guest posting
• Create crazy great content, including round-ups, infographics, online tools, and controversial content
• Master outreach
• Find resource pages

 

See where competitors are getting their links

A word to the wise before we jump in: Don’t try to analyze every competitor. It takes too long. Analyze no more than five at a time or you will fall into the trap that kills more affiliates than anything else – endless education and analysis with no action.

Here’s another tip: Study the link profiles of your competitors that are doing the most white hat SEO.

There are a bunch of tools that do a great job of competitor analysis, including Moz, SEMRush, SEO Profiler, Majestic SEO and AHREFs. BacklinkWatch.com (http://www.backlinkwatch.com/index.php) will also give you a detailed tally of a competitor’s backlinks, and let you sort by anchor text, referring domains and more.

You can download what you find to an excel file. It’s even free, and probably one of the easiest competitor backlink tools to use.

 

BackLinkWatch

 

Also take a look at the link poaching post (http://nichehacks.com/link-poaching/) NicheHacks published earlier this year.

 

Determine what quality of site we’re willing to get links from

This is where you decide on your standards. While you probably won’t decide to place backlinks on any site you come across, you do need to define what’s the minimum quality you’ll accept.

Having a rule for this will save you time analyzing and finding sites, and it will keep you from getting lazy and just adding a link because it was a quick hit.

We still have page rank as a way to measure how good or important sites are, but most SEOs will tell you page rank’s days are over. Now we track “authority”, which is way squishier and less quantifiable than page rank.

Here are some basic metrics to look at when you’re deciding what your minimum quality link will look like, or when you’re evaluating any link:

1) What’s the Alexa ranking? This is hardly the last word on how worthy a site is, but it’s a start.

2) Social media presence: Facebook likes, Twitter followers, Google pluses, maybe YouTube subscribers.

3) Any obvious blackhat techniques going on that they might get stung for soon? Do they have lots of pages with little content, or poor content. Lots of typos? Broken links? Pages that haven’t been updated in more than two years?

4) How many inbound links do they have from first-rate, or even second-rate sites you recognize?

5) Do they come up in a search for one of their article titles, or for a search of their URL? If they don’t, they’ve gotten a manual penalty or something similar. That means you don’t even want to think about getting a link from them.

Use social media

Building links on social media is really quite easy. Just follow all the basic rules:

Promote your content only about 20% of the time. The rest of the time, be talking to people or curate first-rate content

Read up on all the cool articles about best practices for the timing and formatting of social media updates. Dan Zarella is great for Twitter. Buffer just published a nice post about optimizing Facebook posts.

There are automated social media link building tools still available, like SocialADR. There are even credible reports (http://www.techtoucan.com/socialadr-review-case-study-29727) that they work.

You can probably get away with lightly using a tool like this IF no more than 10% of your overall links are coming from it. But this is a borderline strategy. If you’re paranoid about a penalty, avoid it.

 

SocialADR

 

Take note that there are other reasons to build links on social media than just to increase your rankings in Google or Bing. Ideally, you want to be building links that will drive real traffic to your site.

Why do this? Because if you ever do lose your search engine rankings, you’ll have at least some traffic from social media.

 

Use video

We’re all so obsessed with Google search, but we forget the second biggest search engine: YouTube.

Video is so effective some affiliates don’t even bother with building a website – they just build a YouTube channel. If you aren’t turning at least some of your content into videos, put a to-do item for that on your list.

Because YouTube and videos are such a huge topic, we can barely scratch the surface.

There is a great article here for link building with videos. There’s also a way to add an annotation called either a “website annotation” or an “external annotation” to drive people directly to your website. And, of course, you can add links to your video descriptions.

 

(P.S. If you'd like to download a free list of 101 expensive affiliate niches click here or the image below)

 

Use blog commenting

Blog commenting is a terrific way to build links, but you don’t want any more than 20-25% of your total links to be from blog comments.

That said, blog commenting is a fairly fast way to get links from extremely high-quality, niche sites. See this recent post  I wrote about blog commenting to learn more.

 

Use guest posting

Everybody knows about guest posting as a link building tactic. Most everybody knows Matt Cutts declared this link building tactic so dead that he said it was time to “stick a fork in it.”

Despite that judgment, thousands of marketers are still publishing guest posts every day, including people like Neil Patel.

Guest posts are mostly used to build reputation, and for the trickle of traffic they create, but honestly, there are still some link building benefits. If you want to use this technique, follow these rules:

Only post on high-quality sites in your niche, or closely related to your niche.

Do not over-optimize your anchor text. The screenshot below is a good example of how people are doing their author biographies now. Note the absence of any keywords in the anchor text.

 

Create crazy great content

Including round-ups, infographics, online tools, and controversial content

This is the smart affiliate’s way to build links. You can do especially well with “round-up” posts where you ask 10-12 experts a question and then post their replies in one long blog post.

You’re likely to get at least a couple of backlinks from their sites, and possibly some social media attention.

There is a trick with this, however. If you’re just starting out, don’t try to go after the mega-stars of your niche.

Go after people who have social followings about two or three times the size of yours. They’re more likely to reply to you, and they’re far more likely to link back to you or to promote your content.

 

 

 

Master outreach

This is one of the most valuable skills anyone can have. Doing outreach is basically about building and leveraging relationships, so if the word “social media” just popped into your head, you get it.

Outreach can take a lot of forms. One of the most common forms is when you create a piece of awesome content, then you reach out to people who tend to share or write about that kind of content. Aka, “influencers.”

Use tools like BuzzSumo to find influencers and sharers. Write them a short email that includes their name, their website name, and enough information about their site for them to know you actually looked around it, and maybe even spent 5-10 minutes reading their content.

If you try to speed this process up, and just send everyone the same email, you’ll get almost no replies. It’s the customization, and the time spent doing it, that gets the results.

You can also do outreach through blogrolls. BuzzFeed has a nice tool that can find you some opportunities for links. Just be careful with this tactic – keep blogroll links to 10% or less of your total inbound links.

 

BlogrollBuzzfeed

 

 

Find resource pages

Some sites put up lists of websites and online resources that they find useful. Sometimes, you can get on these lists if you ask.

Finding these sites is the hard part, but there is a tool that makes it fairly easy: LinkProspector. Even though I am generally very wary of link-building tools, this one could save you a lot of time.

 

It doesn’t automate the link-building for you - it automates finding the sites you could link to.

You can use it to find guest posting opportunities, forums, and every other possible kind of inbound link. The cost is about $2 per report if you go with the “pay as you go” program. This is what a report looks like:

 

LinkProspector

 

If you have even $20 to invest in link building, this is probably the best bang for your buck you’re going to get.

 

Here’s what we’re not gonna do:

 

Use broken links

I expect to get flack from at least one of you for putting this on the “don’t do” list. Many backlink pros, even the likes of Brian Dean, are still endorsing this tactic. But it smells of spam, and it has all the earmarks of a technique that’s eventually going to get slammed by a Google update.

That’s because it’s sneaky, it’s not based on benefiting the user, and it involves paying for links. But if you insist on doing it anyway, at least learn how to do it from the best.

 

Use paid links

Can you get away with a few of these? Probably. Are a lot of people still using these? You bet. Does that mean it’s a good idea to risk your business to buy paid links? No. That said, you’ll probably see at least one of your competitors using at least one paid link.

 

Buy blog reviews.

Why not? Because it’s a paid link. Also because any site that is selling reviews is probably selling out in other ways, too.

 

Private blog networks (PBNs)

They had a great run, but Google has made several swipes at private blog networks, and given the devastation, it’s just not smart to use these anymore.

 

The Hoth (and pretty much every other service like them)

This is a link-building service that will give you backlinks on Web 2.0 sites. Despite a few case studies done by Hoth affiliates, I have yet to see statistically valid ranking improvements from using their tool. That’s the first strike against it.

Second strike is that building links on Web 2.0 sites is an old, increasingly grey hat technique that could definitely get hit in an upcoming algorithm change. In other words, it’s a link-building technique on its way out.

Third strike is that the Hoth is fairly expensive for an affiliate budget – their smallest package is $60 a month. Fourth strike is that in the time you spend paying for Hoth and managing your account, you’ve lost that time to build long-term high-value links.

But are people using The Hoth? You bet. Are some of them getting results from it? Probably. But this is a borderline link-building technique, and while I hate to not recommend a company, I honestly do not recommend you use them.

 

 

Buy hundreds of directory listings

Do NOT do this. Do not tell yourself it’s okay if you just vary the anchor text. Link building through mass directory listings wasn’t a good idea five years ago, much less now.

 

Try to over-optimize your anchor text.

No matter what kind of links you’re building, vary your anchor text as much as humanly possible. Use tools like Majestic SEO or Removeem.com (https://www.removeem.com/ratios.php) to make sure your link profile stays varied. Over-optimized link-building is what let Penguin out of the box.

 

Removeem

 

Any automated link-building tactic.

There is one clear rule about link-building. If it’s automated, it’s probably a bad idea.

Any paid or compensated links.

Again, sorry to be a joy-killer. There was a time when you could rank very well just by buying links on all your competitor’s sites. Those days are over.

 

Swap links.

If you’ve been around a few years, you remember getting dozens, if not hundreds of emails from webmasters you’d never heard of, with them offering to swap links. I haven’t seen many emails like this recently (thank you, spam filters) but if you do get one, delete it.

You do not want to be swapping links with the kind of sites still using this tactic.

 

A Word About Negative SEO

Negative SEO is when somebody – a competitor, or just someone who’s gratuitously malicious – rounds up a few of the worst, most black hat, guaranteed-to-get-you-banned link tactics… and applies them to your site.

Google tried denying that negative SEO exists for awhile, but there’s just too much proof to deny it anymore. Fortunately, negative SEO is extremely rare, and even if it does happen to you, the Google algorithm has measures in place that reduce the damage someone can do to your site.

Also keep in mind that a lot of what people think is negative SEO is actually old paid link packages they bought several years ago coming back to bite them. What looks like negative SEO can also happen from a current SEO trying to “boost” your results.

It can also happen if your site has been hacked.

The truth is, true negative SEO is fairly rare. But that doesn’t mean it never happens, and some niches in affiliate marketing are very, very competitive. Anything is possible. So while I don’t recommend you get paranoid about it, stay aware:

• Check your link profile on a regular basis, like once a month.
• Get to know the Google disavow tool.
Read this article on Moz about negative SEO. It will give you an extensive understanding of what it is, how it works and how to deal with it. That article will also drive home that the vast majority of us do not need to worry about negative SEO. There are plenty of things worth worrying about, but negative SEO is very low on the list.

 

Just to recap, here’s what you should do for your link-building:

• See where competitors are getting their links
• Determine the quality of site you’re willing to get links from
• Use social media
• Use video
• Use blog commenting
• Use guest posting
• Create crazy great content, including round-ups, infographics, online tools, and controversial content
• Master outreach
• Use resource pages

 

(P.S. If you'd like to download a free list of 101 expensive affiliate niches click here or the image below)

 

What you shouldn’t do:

• Private blog networks (PBNs)
• The Hoth (and pretty much every other service like them)
• Buying hundreds of directory listings.
• Try to over-optimize your anchor text.
• Any automated link-building tactic.
• Paid or compensated links.
• Swapped links.

I am sure there’ll be some debate about what’s safe or not safe for link-building. I look forward to hearing from you in the comments.

 

Author bio: Pam Neely is a freelance writer and content marketing creator with 16 years experience in Internet marketing, specifically in SEO, SEM, email marketing and content marketing. Visit PamNeely.com to get "115 Ideas for Content Creation" when you sign up for her email updates.

 

 

NicheHacks
To date, Stuart has revealed well over 1,500 hot niches.

He's living his dream of being location independent, and having traveled the world, thanks to internet marketing.

The aim with Niche Hacks is to help you live your dream thanks to online marketing, whatever that may be.
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Comments (14)

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  1. Hey Pam,

    that's a nice overview of tactics to use in 2014 and beyond. I can agree with most of these, but of course the kind of backlinks adapts to the kind of website you build.

    I would add another tactic that works well for me:

    not only publish great content, but also make it LOOK fantastic so people can't resist but link to that piece of content!

    • NicheHacks says:

      Great advice Philip, proper formatting and lots of white spaces with good use of images can make all the difference.

    • Pam Neely says:

      Hey Philip.

      Definitely agree. Making content look good would help with bounce rates, too. We all judge books by their covers, and websites by their looks. Good design makes people more likely to share a page, link to it... maybe even stay around long enough to read it.

  2. Hi Stuart (and Pam),

    Awesome post - and thanks so much for the mention. Plenty of useful advice here; must have taken an age to write! Just off to tweet this now 🙂

    Richard

  3. Mike says:

    Awesome post

    Enjoyed reading it a lot, the only thing I disagree with is broken link building as a bad technique (yeah, I am that one guy =) )

    i don't see it get penalized in any possible way, and don't see how It really can be done. If a have a broken link on my site, then I delete it and put something relevant as a replacement, will the site I link to now penalized for that? I really doubt that.

    Still, super helpful posts, must-read for any starting internet marketer

    • NicheHacks says:

      Yeah I think it would be hard for them to punish and isn't really a bad thing anyway IMO. You'll only get the link if you create something worth linking to. And that's a win win for everyone.

    • Pam says:

      Hey Mike.

      You had to be the one guy... just kidding.

      The thing I don't like about broken link building is that it smells like a huge time-waster. I'm a content creator, and I can't keep up with even my best ideas for content to create, so these techniques of going into the older, less used pages of the internet to find links just makes me itch. But if you could hire someone to do some broken link building, that might work. It would be a great use of a smart VA, especially if you had existing, first-class content you could suggest for the new links.

      I did so many link building schemes back in the early 2000-2010s, and then lost a third of my income one morning due to Penguin. I just immediately dislike link building schemes, and it is probably limiting the link building I do now... which is almost exclusively guest posting or blog commenting or social media. Or getting links from other sites because I created blow-their-doors-off quality content.

      Also, if I had a broken link on a site and someone pointed it out to me, I'd be far more likely to either delete the broken link and ignore the request, or to link to some other, better resource than what the link builder suggested. They'd have to be recommending content that was better than what might pop up in the first 2-3 results on Google. Otherwise I'd ignore them. I am skeptical of any email from anybody suggesting a link. Usually those emails are instantly deleted. I am just old and cranky. It's terrible.

      But link rot is one of the invisible laws of the Internet (kind of like our 2nd law of thermodynamics). Leveraged correctly you could probably get it to work.

      And you're right, I'm not sure how Google could ever bust you for this technique, unless they have a way of measuring the age of links and slowly downgrading them. That would probably triple the server requirements of their already ridiculously large databases - link age probably wouldnt be worth their resources to track.

  4. Dukoff says:

    hi nichehacks, i've got some questions

    1. does EMD still work? I haven't been in SEO business in long time due to other business commitments and now have some free hours every day to do SEO. so i would like to know if buying EMDs still worth it for ranking purposes?

    2. you mentioned PBN is worthless but I see in forums they still believe PBNs as effective link building method as long as you don't buy links from commercial PBNs but you create your own PBN with dedicated outgoing link for your main site only. is this true?

    3. you mentioned that we need to look at how our competitors get their backlinks but how if their backlinks come from something that we cant figure out how...for example he put link in website A and we have no idea how can we get a link from such website (i.e. his own PBN or his own other sites), what to do with such links?

    • NicheHacks says:

      1. EMD's don't give you any additional ranking benefit.

      2. I never said PBNs were worthless. I didn't even write this article. As you can see it's a guest submission. PBNs can and DO still work if you know how to do it properly but Google is catching up all the time. Definitely don't buy from any openly advertised network as it's so easy to track.

      3. Get better links. 😉

      • Dukoff says:

        ok thanks for the reply. i hope you can answer me one more time, i promise i wont ask another questions because i dont want to waste your time so hopefully you can answer me for the last time here:

        1. i want to make affiliate site again and try to rank it with SEO, like i used to back in 2008-2010 with good success (i was hit by panda/penguin/whatever and moved on since then). i dont know how important content/bounce rate/user interaction with our site and all that for today's SEO, but back then I can just create a website where I try to sell my affiliate item 2 clicks from homepage.

        So it was like this: homepage -> review page -> affiliate link
        so what i tried was making a homepage where i put 10 products, put ratings on them, and just write some lengthy text, and then when the user click on the top ranking, he'd get to my review page where i put affiliate links there.

        I would like to know if such practice still works for today SEO? I mean, is it still effective? What kind of affiliate website works best now? I remember some people few years ago mentioned about personal blogs, like they sell weight loss products, and they make fake blogs about their personal journals, but I dont want to make such blog as it's very unethical and they lied to their users, and I still prefer to make review sites again. nonetheless i have doubts because some rumors say Google target review sites specifically, If it's true, what kind of affiliate website should I make?

        2. Do you try to target your keywords with homepage or with inner page or both? If i have, let's say, X.com and I want to get ranked for "payday loans", is it better to try to rank X.com or "X.com/payday-loans-explained" for the keyword?

        3. regarding SEO, does web 2.0 still work if we create them manually? I am thinking that my SEO campaigns should be focused around web 2.0 and my own PBNs as i cant think anything else that work better than these two (although I will still try to diverse my link types). but i dont want to waste my time writing articles in free web 2.0 platforms if they dont work anymore. does it still work?

        4. about PBNs, I'm thinking to buy domains separately in different registrar and use different hosting with them altogether, just so they would look natural. is it good for link building campaign? And how do we build tier 2 links to these PBNs? With blog comments or web 2.0?

        5. affiliate sites often find it hard to get natural social signals because most people won't promote commercial content in facebook or twitter (as far as i know), how do you work around this? Do you buy fake social signals or you just write one good content in your website then promote it naturally in social media? Then from that one specific web page, you link it to your main page where you try to sell your affiliate product?

        6. I have spontaneous thought that SEO might not have much future because people are shifting to mobile and now apps seem to be much more popular than websites. for example, if i go to ebay from my phone, i rather use ebay app than typing ebay.com from my phone browser. People behavior in mobile world seem (imo) affect how they purchase things. People using their phone probably won't trust buying things from websites but they rather use apps/google wallet/apple pay to purchase something. What's your opinion about this, does SEO still hold much future when people don't use computer/desktop as much as they used to?

        7. I try to gather info about how people make money from affiliate world but 99% seem to make money with either media buys or SEO. i couldnt think of any other method to make money from being affiliates except if you are a popular figure in instagram or you spam social media (spam usually don't last for long time). How do you make sales from affiliate websites beside from SEO?

        Thanks. sorry for a lot of questions btw.

        • NicheHacks says:

          1. Well everyone would love to be able to make easy money from SEO & affiliate marketi back like in 2010 but the fact is this isn't all that effextive anymore as you know...so time to move on and do what works now, right?

          2. I don't do much in the way of keyword research or SEO as I don't rely on search engines for traffic nor do I build small review sites...we both know these are difficult to make money from these days due to it being harder to rank on Google...so why keep trying something that doesn't work? Progress.

          3. No idea.

          4. See this article: http://nichehacks.com/google-sandbox-effect/

          5. You stop creating crappy sites that offer no value to anyone and create sites that are actually worth people visiting.

          6. There will always be search engines and people using laptops so there's gonna be SEO.

          7. You stop making "thin" affiliate websites around products and start building valuable sites around wider niches that don't rely on SEO traffic, and can be grown and expanded, have more potential for traffic and customers and earnings, and so on.