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WP Academy: Link Building Strategies to Move the Blogging Needle




Casey Markee: Hi, everyone. Welcome to this morning's call from the WP Academy: Link building strategies to move the blogging needle. It is going to be a fantastic discussion today. We are going to tell you what is true, what is not true, what is a waste of your time when it comes to the very topical discussion point of link building.

I know that it can be confusing. I know it can be downright scary for a lot of you bloggers on the call, like, "Oh my God! What am I going to do to build these links into my site? Are they really that important? Does Google really need these links? How do I do it?"

We have got some fantastic guests. I've known both Jim and Ann for a couple of years, fantastic professionals, very good at what they do. What we're going to do today is we're going to try to just separate the facts from the mess. We're going to go into some various strategies. We're going to try to get answered as many questions as we can.

The description of the seminar is basically “nothing causes bloggers more confusion, consternation, and downright angst than the process of link building. But links are not an optional companion to long-term ranking.”

When we always ask Google, "Hey, what do you consider the top ranking factors?” They always basically say three things: content, links, and they used to say RankBrain but there's a lot of discussion on that. But links are always at the top of the discussion, top of the funnel. We're going to talk about that today.

We're going to be talking today with two of the most successful and experienced link builders in the world, and that's Jim Boykin and Ann Smarty of Internet Marketing Ninjas. They're based in New York.

Jim Boykin: All right. I'm the CEO of Internet Marketing Ninjas. We've been in business for more than 20 years. We have about 50 people here and upstate New York, in our office. We do a lot of content creation, and content marketing. I think that the bloggers out there can appreciate our experience and the main focus of what we do.

The marketing is another way of saying, “trendier links to our content”. That's why most people come to us, as they want link building or content marketing. The majority of our team is centered around those areas.

Ann Smarty: I'm Ann Smarty. I actually started in SEO as a blogger, and that's where I got known. I have a little bit of insight into that; how to build a personal brand; how to blog your way to success, basically. Link building is a little bit different from what it was when I started, but I can still hear from inside and talk on how to do that.

How Google Defines Quality Backlinks

Casey Markee: Tell me a little bit about how Google uses links because there's been a lot of quotes over the years about. For example..."If you're making quality links to your site, then that would be considered against our webmaster guidelines. By that, those links would definitely not be considered quality."

Let's talk a little bit about that, Jim, because he's basically saying that anytime there's an intent-based focus on the link, that would be against guidelines?

Jim Boykin: Well, the majority of people that are doing techniques to build backlinks are going to be doing some type of shortcut. There are things like private blog networks and sites that are just there for the purpose of guest blog posts and things that are like that.

The majority of techniques out there that people use are things that aren't going to have any value and I see where Google's coming from. If you start with, “hey, in order to have other people link to my site, I've got to create one heck of a resource. I've got to create something that's either geared towards people that are going to potentially link to this”.

It can't just be anything that's so so. It has to be stuff that is many, many times better than anything else out there and has to encompass not just words but pictures and videos, and targeting things like feature snippets, People also ask; serving the user.

But content can be created with the goal of getting links. I think anyone who creates content, in the back of their mind there's “I want to get links to this content”. The question is, how do you go about doing that, which is not going to get you in trouble with Google and have value?

That's where we can do a deep dive into the marketing of that content. But there's a lot of people that judge, you had said earlier about toxic links and there's a lot of people that they value links on things like Domain Authority or Page Authority, and that's one of the biggest problems with people that are analyzing their links, that is they're using those numbers.

When we go to analyze backlinks, we're grabbing data from Moz, Majestic, Arefs, SEMRush, your Google search console, all of your referral links, and then we're taking that and organizing that to look for patterns and other items.

How to Check if a Website is a Good Link Building Opportunity

Casey Markee: Yeah, that's it. For example, we know that Domain Authority, Moz Domain Authority; that's just for Moz, Google doesn't use that. Google's come out and said many times, "Hey, that's a novelty metric. Can you provide a little bit of background on what you're looking to determine if this is a good link?

Jim Boykin: I guess there are two different methods. We're going to write content, and write to people to say, "Hey! Noticed you write about this particular content, or you have a content piece. Found this really great resource, we think you should add it to the page." And any site that we decide to write to, really the metric that we're going to use is, was this site put on the web to make the web a better place? Is this a natural resource?

Are they linking out to, you also can crawl a site and look at their external links of their other pages and see who are they linking out to? What is the anchor text? Are there reciprocal links? But a lot of what we're doing when we decide to write to someone is, is this a real person or is this a real site?

Ann Smarty: Yeah, I can add a very quick tip here. If there is a blog that you think people would get a link from, and you're not sure whether it's a good blog or not, the first step I would definitely check its rankings. Its history of rankings.  

Google is very good at identifying good content at this point. If the history of that blog is pretty consistent throughout the years, it hasn't dropped any rankings, any major traffic drops, anything, you can see that. Chances are that's a good place to get a link from.

Jim Boykin: Yeah, I do want to add to that because one of the biggest metrics that we do use to measure the potential value of a website, is we look at SEMrush or their organic value for a site. That's a big number we use within our analysis.

Casey Markee: Okay.

Jim Boykin: We also look at backlinks. Let's say we find site A links to us. Then we look at what are the backlinks to site A? If that site has a thousand backlinks to it, and that links to us, but that site A has an SEMrush value of zero, that site’s penalized.

Casey Markee: If you're a blogger on the call, you're thinking, okay maybe I'm looking for link targets. You should be putting those domains, possible target domains in SEMrush and looking at that metric. I know a lot of bloggers on the call are using SEMrush.

Again, that's a good way to qualify if someone is sending you a cold outreach email as well right. We're going to pop that link into SEMrush that they can evaluate the bottom line monetary value of that domain as well.

We're going to get into some questions here really quickly. Stephanie Keeping submitted a question here...she says, "What about link building strategies for bloggers, who are already content-, quality- and reader-focused?"

The problem is that they're trying to pull in links based upon the recipe first content. A lot of them have tried to expand over the years and put things like “How-To” resources. In many cases, it's the same resource.

I don't know how many audits I've done where they've got a How To be a food blogger resource, and as you can imagine that those resources do not do well because there are so many of them and because relatively they're all the same. Of course, there's always the Bluehost recommendation for hosting which, to me, immediately takes down the quality considerably.

Broken Link Building Guide

Ann Smarty: One thing I've always suggested doing is to create content with links in mind. If you want to get links, you create content that creates those things. One of the opportunities is to pursue broken link building, which is huge in bloggers here because blog just go down and resources get returned for errors so creating content and then pursuing those backlinks is the most effective way to get links in blogging. Because there are so many broken resources in the blogosphere these days.

Casey Markee: Let's talk a little bit about that because most of the bloggers on this call have no idea what broken link building is.

How would you go about telling a blogger who's never heard of that term, broken link building, how would they go about doing it?

Ann Smarty: Let's put it very simply. You know a blog...it's been around for ages, but one day it goes down. The blogger quits, dies, God forbid, whatever happens. Life happens, right? That blog is no longer there and it's about pretty much the same thing which you were writing about. You grab those, you go to way back machine (you just can Google that).

Casey Markee: That's archive.org folks, archive.org.

Ann Smarty: You bring that blog back up to see what it used to be and to try and build the best your own content on your site, which can be better than the one that blogger had. You go out to see who linked to that blog.

SEMrush has backlink reports, right? You check backlinks that go to that blogger. Chances are those links will be to those broken guides, references, How-Tos. The first step will be finding the resource on that broken blog that has the most backlinks. It will be the same resource but better on your own site. Don't copy, just build it, brand it your own one.

You go to every site that links to that blog, trying to find the contact information of that site and say, "Hey, you are linking from this page to this resource but unfortunately it's no longer there. Here is mine, I even updated it with the most recent information, mention that something that makes you stand out.

You claim those links. Why I'm mentioning this; again in the blogosphere, there are so many broken links. There is so much outdated content that you can go ahead and update. It's not exactly building links to existing content. You need to build that content, to target that opportunity. But maybe you already have something to offer on that broken link.

Tracking Links and Using Metrics to Gauge Link Value

Casey Markee: We had a question here regarding Domain Authority and Page Authority, which rank is more important when considering the value of the bank link? Domain authority or Actual Page Authority? If PA has more link, does DA have any value? I think we briefly touched on that. But, very briefly again, Jim.

Jim Boykin: Stop looking at those numbers, they don't mean anything. I don't believe in those numbers at all. Again, I would look at the SEMrush organic value and see if they've taken a hit. But if the link is really natural, that's great.

One of the biggest things that haven't been mentioned yet, I know Ann talks about this as well, is will it get clicks? It's another interesting thing when we analyze someone's backlinks to determine is this good or bad.

We pull in the analytics. What if a link has never brought a click? Is that even a link? No one's ever clicked on it? Is a link that's been clicked 30 times worth more than a link that's only been clicked on twice?

Casey Markee: I'm of the belief that the link has more value when it actually is clicked on or when it sends traffic. That's certainly something that we'd want to try to track or qualify whenever possible.

"How do you track clicks from links?"

Jim Boykin: We have our own tools at ninjabacklinktool.com. On that particular tool, you connect it to your analytics. When that tool pulls from Moz, Majestic, Ahrefs, you upload your Google Doc links from Google Search Console. It also looks at all your referring links.

Another source that we look at to get backlinks is your referral links. We also hook in the analytics so we can look at what links are getting traffic or not. One of the first filters that I put in when I go to analyze links, is all links that have never brought a click, and all links that are worth a dollar or less in SEMrush. Let's start the analysis there.

Should You Use Medium to Build Links?

Casey Markee: We had a question earlier submitted about using Medium for link building. The question is as follows, "I have a recipe cooking blog that I've considered using medium.com to write about food-related topics that are not necessarily a good fit for my blog readers: food policy, food waste, et cetera. Topics for which there will be a natural opportunity to link to something on my blog. Will that link provide any benefits since it will be a medium.com address, even though technically I'll be linking myself?"

The reason that this is important is, as you guys know, Medium is nofollow. What benefits could he have for cross-promoting that content on Medium?

Jim Boykin: I mean, in a perfect world, if you're writing that type of content, I'd rather it be on your own site so that anyone that links to it, you're getting that link. In order to understand the advantages of putting a Medium we're going to get more views and more eyeballs.

The link is going to have zero value because it's nofollowed. I'm personally of the belief that if the link is not followed, there is no value. At least as far as SEO juice flowing.

Now, of course, if people are on Medium and they read it there, if they end up going to your site, and then writing about your site, that's great. I personally wouldn't put that content on Medium.

Ann Smarty: On Medium, you can actually publish your content. It doesn't have to be original because you can use the URL to link canonically to the original.

Casey Markee: It has built-in canonical, built-in canonical options, so yes.

Ann Smarty: It's more about networking than getting links from that. It's very similar to how you would use Facebook, Twitter networking, anything. You build content there for the sake of getting your name out there and getting to the community of established writers and build yourself a name.

Casey Markee: Let's recap that really quick. Medium is nofollow. The backlinks won't generate authority, but it could generate traffic. You can consider republishing on Medium because it has built-in canonicalization.

You can have a canonical text pointing back to your sites. You could use Medium to increase exposure and allow you to build a new audience.

Brand Mentions and Link Building

Let's talk a little bit about Brand Mentions and link building. If your website is only mentioned on another well-known website, does it have SEO value? So, it isn't a real link, just text.

Jim Boykin: In our own tool, we do look at Brand Mentions as part of the analysis. I'm a believer that Brand Mentions are worth a link. I was discouraged; about six months to a year ago, this was brought up in a Facebook group. Bill Slosky who I give tons of respect to, he knows all the Google patents, believed that Mentions didn't have value and cited some Google patents.

I guess no one really knows. There's data on both sides. I personally believe that a mention on another site has value.

Casey Markee: Okay. Again, Google has actually come out and said that ... if you guys type in, “Brand Mentions and Google and John Muller,” there are some quotes out there about, that they do consider those as a signal. Whether or not they're unlinked or not, that provides some value to the average site.

Jim Boykin: I just wanted to throw in that external links are really important and shouldn't be overlooked. You should link out to other sites. You should link out to other pages that are relevant to a page. Don't be afraid to, it's going to help you.

Reciprocal Linking Programs: Good or Bad?

Casey Markee: Very good points. External links also dovetails into our next question here, which is a reciprocal linking question. This is about a program. I've worked with a lot of food bloggers, they sometimes will network together with each other and do a lot of shared link pieces, a lot of reciprocal linking strategies.

Here's the question, "When doing events with other bloggers, such as Brunch Week, where there is a long list of HTML links, should those links be follow or no follow?" Then part two is, "Can Google penalize you for follow links and a link list for an event post."

Jim Boykin: Who links to you is the most powerful piece of the equation. Who you reciprocate with is in a sense that your closest neighborhood. If you link out to a hundred websites on your site, let's say across your site you link out to a hundred other websites. If all those hundred other websites all went back to you, that's easy for Google to figure out that you're doing something that's not natural.

To basically negate all of that. If you have a thousand external links and maybe if a hundred or reciprocal, what they're right within your neighborhood they make sense, they're good sites, then that can be a good thing.

Now, who you link out to is something that can devalue your site. If you're linking out to a whole bunch of other sites or pages that have been penalized in Google, that says a lot about your site. Part of the value of the pages, part of it is the links that are out of that page and how trusted are those links.

So if you're linking out to a bunch of people, the people that are doing SEO stuff and a bunch of those sites end up getting penalized in Google later then it's going to lower the value of your pages as well. Who you link out to does matter.

You should definitely audit look at who you link out to. Again, that magic number to look at is the SEMrush value. If a value is low in SEMrush the organic value, it's okay if it's like a hobby site but 98% of the time if the domain value is zero in SEMrush the Site might be penalized in Google.

Homepage Vs Deep Link Building

Casey Markee: I think one of the things is visual, does it look natural to you? We've got several other questions here. This is would be a good one for you. It's homepage versus deep link, link building.

“Should I focus my quality link building on that homepage branding with the theory that a rising tide lifts all boats or do I have to build local individual links to all those money pages I want to move the needle for them." Can they just build links to the homepage or they should they build into those money pages specifically?

Jim Boykin: Ideally, I would try and get as many subpages of the site to get backlinks as possible. If you have a thousand backlinks to your site and they all go into your home page, it says your content is empty.

The home page is usually going to be the most valuable page. It's usually, it's going to be the page that has the most backlinks and majority of the time. But you've got to build some pages. I mean, no matter what your site is, if you're trying to build links to your homepage, there's only x amount of sites that you can write to that were linked to whatever category your homepage is.

If link building is important to me, I need to start writing other stuff that's going to attract backlinks and I'll use that content internally linked to my content or I'm trying to push that power too.

Casey Markee: Got it. So bottom line, deep linking whenever possible, not necessarily just to the home page.

Jim Boykin: Yeah.

Casey Markee: Okay.

Can Comments Work to Build Links?

Fantastic. Moving on. Let's talk about comments for link building. I know that I still get a lot of questions on that. Do you have any thoughts on that? We know that comments are predominantly nofollow.

Well if it's nofollow, there's really very little value there from a link building standpoint. Would there be any other benefits for someone trying to leave comments and this would be good for you?

Ann Smarty: I would discourage using commenting as link building method even if it's like one 10th of your brand building efforts, just don't do it. It's a waste of time. I don't think Google really views that those links as real backlinks.

It's a good networking tool if you want a guest post position on each site, just keep being active there and post comments if you can. That's a good trick to get known and get invited to do your own guest post. That's how I managed to secure some of my best platforms where I contributed to.

Bottom line I'm not like pulling the thing if it ever is to accountability that you have something to say, by all means, do that, but not for the sake of a backlink.

Casey Markee: Let's go ahead and talk about the next question. It's about scaling link building. How do you scale the backlinking process? Do you have any tips on that?

Jim Boykin: Yeah, we found that there's only so far that you can scale at least with our company. I think two years ago was the first time we set a limit as far as how many links that we're going to build after rating the people are doing things the amount to come in because you can't, you don't have it.

There are only so many great sites you can rate you. I haven't found a good way to scale real link building.

Casey Markee: Okay. What are some ways to promote pages with great resources so that we can get those to rise in the SERPs a little quicker?

Ann Smarty: The first step, and it's very obvious, but it's very well, very often missed, is to identify which keywords you wanted to write for. So identifying keyboards with not too high competition, but with a good search, volume is your first step. And then the outreach.

What I always do, I check common connections. If I want to link from some media outlet or blog, I'm checking if there is anyone I know or anyone I know who knows that media outlet. One thing, one first tool to check is Linkedin. That's the only way of using it. The platform. I've been there for ages. I add everyone to my contacts. I never check my messages there because there is a lot of going on there.

The first step for me is always checking, hey, do I have to know anyone there? Chances are there is second to your connection with some, but someone I'm interested in terms of the backlink contribution opportunity or anything like that.

Casey Markee: Fantastic. Okay, so we're going wrap things up here. We're going to do one little final question here. What should a blogger be concentrating on, is it relationship link building? Is it working with qualified professionals? Is it publishing better and higher quality content?

Jim Boykin: You've got to do stuff to get the links. You have to race off to somebody who's maybe a bit outside of the box of what you're doing and a bit of a different market than you might traditionally think

Ann Smarty: Now that content has been mentioned, I'm going to bring up relationship building. There are several reasons for that, especially for blogging. It pushes you to do more, it helps you do content for search and see what others are doing.

It helps you with backlinks. I've been doing relationship building for my whole life. I think that's a big aspect or big factor in my whole career that made it work.

Casey Markee: Fantastic. On that note, I want to thank again Jim and Ann, both of you for taking time in your schedule to do this. I know that people are going to get a lot of value out of this. We'll see all of you again next month.

Jim Boykin: Thank you.

Ann Smarty: Bye.


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