In my first and subsequent posts I’ve repeated my goal of self-employment as needing to be honestly earned. I don’t want to engage in any illegitimate practices or do any harm to others as I try to extricate myself from the corporate hamster wheel most of us spend our lives in. Having pinpointed internet marketing as a key element in my self-employment strategy, I’ve come to the not-so-shocking realization that a great many successful marketers out there leave their morals and ethics at the door. They do this in any number of ways including what they write, what products they push and how they build page position for their sites.
Each topic warrants its own lengthy post but, for now, I’d like to focus on ethical link building. Why? Because the links that come into your site are probably the single most important element in building an online business. They represent authority which, in turn represents page position. And, of course, page position means everything in terms of getting the visitors you need to click on your ads or buy your product. So that’s what today’s post is all about; link building and how to do it as honestly as possible to stay in Google’s good graces.
As mentioned repeatedly, the only real way to get your site on the map and ranking high in the search engines is through quality anchored text links. You can try a dozen different strategies but you’ll find again and again that the guy with legitimate anchored links coming back to his site will beat you every time. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “yeah, that’s great, Dave, and we keep reading that here and everywhere else but HOW do we get those links?!”
Look around long enough and hard enough and you’ll find solutions to your problem. There is, of course, the option of submitting articles to authority sites like Ezine or Go-Articles. There’s also the option of doing spammier article writing with anchored links to article submission sites or by using article submission software. Keep in mind these are low-value links but can make up a lot in volume for what they lack in quality. Then there are options like writing hubpages or infobarrel articles and linking back to your money site. Finally, there’s the option of building link farms or using link sharing techniques.
All of these methods are covered in great detail by other marketers so I won’t dwell on them. Just know that, used in moderation, these solutions can do a lot to move you up in the search rankings particularly if your keyword competitors aren’t engaging in any link building efforts. But, at the end of the day, none of these methods earn Google’s stamp of approval.
You may be wondering if that means you can get banned by Google for engaging in those practices. The answer really depends on degree of abuse. It is Google’s playground, after all, and if they don’t like what you’re doing they are perfectly in their rights to devalue the links you have coming in or ban your Adsense account entirely. But is their reasoning sound? What would they rather you do?
In a utopian Google world, you’d put up lots of great content and complete strangers would naturally link to your site (lending it legitimate authority) without any prompting by you. This “organic” link activity lends your site credibility in Google’s eyes and in that they are right. But their thinking is a bit naïve and misguided. Think about it for a moment.
Let’s say there are a thousand sites out there about fuzzy widgets and you decide you’re going to put up a blog about fuzzy widgets. You are the world authority on fuzzy widgets and have devoted your life to their study so, presumably, your fuzzy widget site will be better and more informative than any other fuzzy widget site out there. You’re also extremely altruistic and honest so you decide you’re going to play strictly by Google’s utopian view of the world and do no link building at all. You’re the master of all things fuzzy widget related, after all, so it’s a no brainer that people will be linking to you naturally.
You set up your site, write novels worth of brilliant content and, after a year, are still ranked 800th for fuzzy widgets. Nobody knows about your site, almost nobody comes to your site and you only have 3 or 4 links from people saying “click here” for fuzzy widget information. What the hell went wrong?!
Well, in Google’s view you did everything right. You wrote tons of great and helpful content. So why isn’t it panning out? Simple. In order for people to link to your site, they have to find it first and who in the world is ever going to find your wonderful content if your site is sitting somewhere on page 80 of Google’s search results for fuzzy widgets? I don’t know about you but when I do a Google search I check the stuff on page one, MAYBE even page two and go as far as page 3 once every blue moon. But page 80? Hell no. And nobody else bothers to dig that deep either.
While you’re playing an “honest” game, hundreds of competitors are out there soliciting or developing links in one way or another. Your most direct competitors are either already established or working diligently to get established. They aren’t just sitting there resting on their reputations in hopes of getting somewhere in the SERPs.
There’s the flaw in Google’s philosophy because it assumes a level playing field with all parties engaged in honest competition. That’s simply not reality and that’s why you’re unlikely to get banned for engaging in SOME conservative self-serving and self-motivated link building efforts. Google realizes that the best content simply can’t float to the top when there are so many people out there self-promoting their content. By them doing so, your very valuable and legitimate content never gets eyes on it and, therefore, never gets the natural link love it very much deserves.
Self-promotion isn’t a naughty thing in and of itself. Companies advertise their products all the time and nobody bats an eye, after all. What does matter is that the self-promotion you engage in be legitimate and legitimately warranted. That deserves a bit of elaboration.
If I develop a minimal content, made-for-adsense blog about fuzzy widgets and then link build the hell out of it, that’s a serious evil in Google’s eyes. A site like this will be very thin on content, offer no real value to visitors and the link efforts will be geared solely at getting visitors to the practically useless site in hopes of getting ads clicked. Google frowns on this behavior and, frankly, so do I.
On the other hand, some self promotion for a valuable site with solid content geared at a specific topic or product isn’t evil and Google seems to agree. By self-promoting (through legitimate methods which do not include link-farms and the like), you don’t run much risk of a Google slap. By gaining some visibility you will draw in visitors to your high-quality content and that, in-turn, will lead to legitimate, unsolicited organic links gradually growing on your site. Ultimately, though, Google still wishes your content alone would be enough to draw in visitors who would subsequently build your authority by linking to your site. Believe it or not, there’s a way you can remain in Google’s good graces while gaining some visibility and getting those natural, unsolicited links Google really loves with minimal self-promotion. I call it bottom-up blogging. Here’s how it works.
Let’s say you have a ton of knowledge about carpet cleaning. You decide you want to develop a blog about the subject and sell some steam cleaners through Google Adsense. Now, the problem you face is that there are probably a lot of internet marketers and legitimate companies out there pursuing this market. How can you build ranking in the search engine to get visitors rolling in who will link to you and build authority for the term Steam Cleaners when there are already so many competing sites occupying the first three pages of Google’s search results?
Start with Long Tail Keywords
Long tail keywords are simply expanded terms associated with your main keyword. The longer they are, the less competition there is likely to be pursuing them. By extension, the less work you’ll have to do self-promoting your site to rank for those long tail keywords. Each long tail you rank well for (having invested minimal self promotion) will further result in more visitors and more natural, unsolicited links coming in (assuming your content is valuable).
Using our example of a site about steam cleaners, you might first try to rank well for “how to loosen stains before steam cleaning.” Compared to the keyword “steam cleaners” you’ll encounter far less competition for a long tail like “how to loosen stains before steam cleaning.” A nice long and informative post plus a few Ezine articles and hubpages linking back with anchored links for that long tail might be all it takes to get you to page 1 for that term. Next you might write some quality content geared around the super long tail keyword “a how to guide for maintaining steam cleaners for best cleaning results” and “why hoover makes the best steam cleaners” and then build some link love for those before going after even more long tails.
The point is that each of those long tail keywords (or key phrases) for which you gain authority also lends you some credibility for each of the words the phrases contain. For example, using the three long tails above, you’ve built up some authority for:
- Steam cleaning
- Steam cleaners
- Loosen stains
- Hoover steam cleaners
- Maintaining steam cleaners
- Best cleaning results
Every legitimate long tail you rank for which also contains your main keyword (and even those that just contain associated words in the field) will result in related searches reaching you. Some of those searches will result in legitimate links from people writing for other sites or blogs. You win, Google wins, the visitors win and Google’s Adsense advertisers win because the visits you garner are contextual, related and more likely to result in legitimate ad clicks.
Now I won’t lie to you. The simple truth is there are plenty people out there gaming the system and sucking up links by any means necessary. Competing against them honestly is a pain in the rear. But, by playing as close to the book as possible, you have one advantage over them. Sooner or later, Google will slap the daylights out of each and every one of them. Every one of them smacked off the top will result in your moving that much further up in the ranks with your valuable content and legitimate links. The closer you get to the top, the more searchers will find you and the more legitimate links you’ll get. It’s the tortoise vs. hare approach. By getting there legitimately (albeit more slowly) you will solidify your position until you will be practically unbeatable by most Google scammers and only vulnerable to those who can offer up legitimate content and links that genuinely compete with what you offer. That’s a good thing, like it or not.
The message here is that you should learn to work with the system rather than learn how to work the system. The black-hatters out there are exceedingly good at what they do. To my way of thinking, learning how to scam with the best of them would take up far too much of my time and result in far too much of an ethical sacrifice to be worth my time. I’d much rather get to the top page honestly. In doing so, I can be fairly secure in knowing that Google is happy to have me there and I deserve the visitors, links and ad clicks I get. Furthermore, my business is has legitimacy and longevity. I don’t want to be a flash-in-the-pan, self employed flop. I want something lasting that can carry me comfortably to retirement. Hopefully, you do too. If not, Google’s ethics police will someday catch up with you and you’ll be fighting a constant losing battle of short term gains vs bans. Consider yourself warned.