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The Biggest Link Building Challenges and How to Solve Them #SEMrushchat Recap

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The Biggest Link Building Challenges and How to Solve Them #SEMrushchat Recap

Becky Shindell
The Biggest Link Building Challenges and How to Solve Them #SEMrushchat Recap

Link Building is ranked one of the most important SEO tactics by the experts, and while there are numerous guidelines and ‘best practices’ for getting quality links, link building is not a simple task. Julie Joyce, owner of Link Fish Media, a link building company, co-founder of the SEO Chicks Blog and monthly columnist for Search Engine Land, joined us last week to address the challenges that come with link building. In case you missed it, here is what Julie and the rest of our chat participants had to say:

Q1. If your goal is to get a link penalty in the shortest time possible, what is the first thing you would do?

If you don’t want Google to penalize your links, don’t do these six techniques:

1. Get Low-Quality Links or Buy Links

If you obtain numerous, low-quality links, either from a tool like GSA or from a number of Private Blog Networks (PBN), Google will most likely take a closer look at your link building strategy.

This goes for buying links, too via sites like Fiverr or by hiring multiple agencies to build your links at the same time. If you do this, your links will have no value to add to your website or your users. If you want to get penalized, this is a sure-shot way to make it happen.

2. Hire An Inadequate “SEO” Company

It is never a bad idea to hire an SEO specialist or agency to boost your rank or do the heavy lifting for you. However, it is important you hire someone who is competent and knowledgeable - not just someone who claims to be a pro or a guru.

3. Use Exact Match Anchor Text

Anchor texts are important, however, if you use the same exact matching anchor texts for every piece of content you create, this could raise a red flag for Google. It is important that you ensure that all anchor texts you use are relevant because the more relevant your article is to your target keyword, the better your rank will be.  

4. Use Black Hat SEO Techniques

While this one may sound easy, many SEOs are still following shady SEO practices to increase their rankings. If you are acquiring a large number of links in a short amount of time, Google may notice since they are frequently updating the algorithms to ensure that black hat SEO techniques are easier to spot

The fastest way to get a link penalty? Stephan Spencer - @sspencer says to post a question about your PBN to a Webmaster Central forum if you want a manual link penalty.

5. Use Shortcuts

Hacking your way to the first page is a huge no-no. Using article directories or scraping big brand logos on your website and using their content to improve your SEO will penalize you.

Q1 response recap

Q2. How can you tell if you should disavow a link? What exactly do you look at to determine this?

As a rule of thumb, the links that you accept should be both relevant and valuable to your site’s current content. If the link is spammy or self-promotional, it is always better to disavow it.

Your best bet is to check the quality and the context of the site you plan on linking to. Do your research and visit the site first to make sure that it is suitable for your website.

While it is pretty simple to get an idea of the website once you take a look at it, here is what you should look for to see if it is a good link building opportunity for you:

  • Where does the website get links and traffic from? In order to see this, you can utilize SEMrush’s Backlink Analytics tool to get a better idea as to where they are linking to.

  • The neighborhood of the link. When in doubt, look at how Google treats the website. If you link to a site or page that has content deemed to be spam by the search engines, there is a chance that your site will also be spammed.

  • Does it contain malicious code that could affect your website?

  • Is it indexed by Google? If not, then you should pass on this link building opportunity. An easy way to check if a site is indexed is to go to a Google Search and type in site:www.websiteyouwanttolinkto.com. SEMrush’s link building tools can help you with your site research. Use them to check for spam and then link detox to disavow non-compliant sites.  

Response Recap Q2

It is important to keep in mind that not everything is decided by metrics. If the site feels right and has great quality content, despite a low domain authority (which is not a Google metric), you still can keep it.

Q3. Which types of backlinks should be disavowed in the era of Penguin 4.0?

Typically, you can make an accurate call by looking at the page/link. If it looks too out of context, or even a little bit spammy, you can go ahead and disavow it.

The key is to ensure that the link pertains to your relevant area of interest and occupies the same niche so that readers get solid value out of it.

Otherwise, here are a few links you should typically steer clear of:

1. Malware and suspicious sites such as gambling or porn sites.

2. High-risk content like keyword stuffed anchor links without a nofollow link.

3. Low-Quality directories or article sites.

4. Link reciprocation sites which are typically link farms or link exchange groups; these are very popular within Facebook communities. By linking to these sites, you have a higher chance of raising up your risk score.

Every link doesn’t have to be disavowed. Like I stated earlier, if it is a poor link, but adds value and gives a new perspective to your reader, you should keep it.

Before disavowing a link completely, verify it with Google or seek advice from a pro. Even if the link is paid, like an editorial article that is well-written, this can give your site an advantage.

Response Recap Q3

Q4. What is your workflow to find potentially bad links?

As with any marketing or SEO strategy, it is crucial you stay organized with a set plan. Start out with a backlink audit and assess the results you get in order to identify which measures you need to take. Being organized or having a plan is critical.

According to our chat participants, here is what an ideal workflow should look like:

Step 1: Get a comprehensive list of sites that are linking to your website using tools like SEMrush, Google Search Console, and Majestic.

Step 2: Combine the data you get from whichever tool you use, remove the duplicates, and make yourself a master list. You can remove sites you have never heard of, sites with weird anchor text, and sites with foreign language links.

Step 3: In order to streamline this process even further, you can sort the sites according to their high-risk score. Then, check each website manually to see if you indeed want to disavow them.

Step 4: When you individually visit each site, check it is spam score. Then, verify it against the Marie Haynes’ database, just to be sure. This will give you a good insight as to whether the backlink is worth keeping or deleting.

Step 5: Disavow links only if it is purely necessary. Make two lists, if necessary, and see if the links can be easily removed. Then, double check your list before sending a disavow request.

Response Recap Q4

How you design your workflow can make a huge difference in your link-building results. If you need a more comprehensive outline, see how our SEMrush community manages their workflow.

Q5. Which link building strategy would you characterize as “the risk is far greater than the reward”?

It would be very tempting to get a whole lot of backlinks at one go, however, doing something like this isn’t sustainable. Using any black hat SEO techniques like cloaking, hacking, and link buying at a definite no.

Here are some hacks you need to avoid:

  • Getting ‘expert’ help from non-experts: SEO experts are a dime a dozen. Do not hire ‘specialists’ with a questionable reputation, who have either no link building experience or advocate black-hat tactics.

  • Paid link exchanges:  Avoid link for link triangles, ‘link farms’ or the regular run-of-the mill Fiverr link sellers. They will not help you in the long run and let’s face it – money cannot get you great backlinks.

  • Repetitive anchor text: Usual guest posting strategy of using your most pertinent ‘golden’ anchor texts across all platforms is a strict no. These are the exact match anchor text we spoke of initially, that will get you penalized in no time.

  • Public Blogging Network: Usually, the risk is higher than the reward and PBNs definitely get classified in our list of ‘tactics to avoid’.

Though all of the above techniques may seem to work well for a short time (especially sub-standard paid links), it is definitely not recommended. This is especially true if you are a small brand with a modest profile.

Sometimes, tactics that shouldn’t work may work very well for your brand, which makes it so much harder to decide which SEO tactics may actually hurt you. That is why you should frequently check GSC or your tool of choice of anomalies and monitor them constantly.

Response Recap Q5

Q6. What are the biggest link building mistakes you have made?

The art of SEO and link-building has definitely evolved; with the ever-changing Google Algorithms and a growing understanding of what can hurt or improve your site, a lot of practices have been discontinued.

Here are some of the biggest link-building mistakes our chat participants have made:

  • Not setting aside enough time for link building. So much focus goes into creating quality content and distribution that your link building strategy can end up on the back burner. When this happens, and you finally get around to your strategy, it is usually hurried and rushed. This is why you should make sure you have a regular routine of checking your backlinks profile and focusing on growing it with quality links.

  • Getting low-quality links. Before Google started penalizing sites who had bad links, a lot of sites utilized any link that came their way. Back then, it didn’t make a difference, but nowadays, these types of links can actually hurt your site.

  • Poor outreach. The secret to quality links is to reach out to the right people who have relevant content on their site. Your focus shouldn’t just be on getting a backlink, instead, you should also focus on building a relationship with the site owners as well. Spending too much time on outreach can also be detrimental, so make sure you know beforehand who you are following up with and when to quit and look for other opportunities.

  • Reaching out to people with competing content. Before starting your link building campaign, you should thoroughly research the site that you are requesting backlinks from. If the site you are looking at is a competitor and you end up sending a request for a backlink, your chances of ranking may not improve.

  • Reaching out to sites that sell links. Like stated earlier, site research makes a huge difference. Before approaching a website, you must fully vet their site - even if they don’t sell links.

To avoid such mistakes happening to you, check out effective outreach strategies that can positively impact your link building.

  • Preferring authority over relevance. While it is easy to get tempted by site authority and not focus on the relevance of the site, you need to look at every link that you receive; not just the authority or the authenticity. It is important to also look at the relevance, before making any decisions.

  • Not having the right team for the task. Link building is an important SEO tactic that is ultimately driven by the outcome. This means that you not only should have the best people on the job, but they should also have a clear idea of what their goals are so that they can make informed decisions.

Response Recap Q6

Needless to say, you need to have a clear idea of what a good link and a bad link is before starting out any link building campaign or strategy. If you are new to link building or want to up your game, see if these top 5 link building methods can help you and let us know what your top link building strategies are in the comments; we wouldd love to know!

Make sure you join us this week on #SEMrushchat with JP Sherman as we discuss How to use Onsite Search as a Conversion Multiplier!

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Becky Shindell is the Communications Manager at SEMrush and host of the weekly #SEMrushchat. Connect with her on LinkedIn and follow her on Twitter. You can find Becky at many of the US Digital Marketing Conferences, feel free to say hi!
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You spend much time talking about disavowing links. Yet in the recent SEMRush webinar on this topic ("Show Me The Links! What Makes Link BAD?"), the experts there were agreed that you should not bother with this task unless you have previously engaged in shady link building behavior. For everyone else, they said Google no longer would penalize you, so don't bother worrying about this.
Becky Shindell
Scott Hochberg
Hi Scott! Thanks for the input and reading the post. I'm no expert in this field, but from what I have read on this topic, there are a few different opinions about this. When writing this recap I went by what our chat participants had said, since it's a recap of the #semrushchat! I hope you have a chance to join in on one of our #semrushchat discussions to share your opinions as well — they are on Twitter every Wednesday at 11AM EST/4PM GMT :)

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