I've never been a big link builder. There are a couple of reasons for this.
Primarily it's because I hate it.
It's a tedious, menial chore that no one enjoys. I'm here to say that you don't have to build backlinks to succeed online.
In this post I'll outline 3 reasons why I've never (or only minimally) built links to my main affiliate site.
That's not to say I haven't heavily researched backlinking strategies- I'll also outline a couple backlinking methods I would consider trying and how I would outsource and automate the process as much as possible.
This isn't an exhaustive list and it won't walk you step-by-step through a complex link acquisition campaign- that's not really the focus of this site.
My main purpose with this site is to research interesting niches for online businesses- not be the millionth article online about how to get backlinks.
That said, these are my thoughts on backlinking having scaled a site to 6-figure yearly passive income (income reports available here). So I do have some credibility to speak on the matter.
Why I Don't Build Links
1. No One Likes Affiliate Sites
The first reason is because, historically, my primary money-making site is a general review site that doesn't produce the sort of 'informational', non-affiliate content that attracts webmasters to link to it.
It's naked ambition is to profit me, the owner. So, while the site content is actually quite good and provides solid value, there's very little incentive to link to "The 5 Best [product name]".
I also made the mistake of choosing a domain name that screams 'review site'. Instead of naming it something like Product Hunt or Sweet Home, I bought an expired domain that had the word Review in it. This made it doubly difficult for me to convince skeptical site owners to link to me.
That said, the site is a beast. It is an incredibly efficient operation. It's where I honed my SEO and digital marketing skills, transitioning from doe-eyed noob to 'passive income solopreneur'.
To the puzzlement of family friends who probably assume I'm on welfare.
2. I Hate Emailing People
The second reason is that I really don't enjoy the process of outreach. I hate sending people unsolicited emails.
I hate begging someone to do something for me- that's not why I got into niche site building.
And that's often what link building entails- scraping emails from sites you want to get links from and then soliciting them for backlinks.
I've dabbled somewhat in publishing informational content on my main affiliate site- mainly long list posts ranking things (best blogs on [topic]) and then outreaching to the websites I ranked.
This worked well enough, but was fairly tedious and even then it was a laborious process contacting other siteowners, making changes they requested, and disturbed my online 'anonymity', something that I have historically cherished.
As I've gained more experience automating and outsourcing my workflow, I'm sure at this point I could devise a strong outreach strategy using GMass or Buzzstream, two popular outreach tools, and training my Virtual Assistants on the process.
But, as I've mentioned, link building for affiliate sites, especially 'pure' affiliate sites like mine, is a real challenge- no one wants to link to money-making, review content.
3. My Site Has Already Succeeded
The third and primary reason why I've never really invested my time in link building is because my strategy of producing in-depth content for low-competition, buyer keywords has been so successful.
(Knock on wood!)
Since I (generally) don't go big game hunting for hard-to-rank keywords, I don't need super-strong Domain Authority, and the backlinks that create it, to achieve rankings for the keywords I target.
An Affiliate Backlink Case Study: 10Beasts
An illustration of how link-building can work in the Amazon affiliate space is provide by a Gaps.com case study of 10Beasts- a site that has made $80,000 in a month.
Top rated Reviews, Products, Buyer's Guides, and comparison charts are just a few things we offer to help you find the best available product in the market.
Even more stunning, the 10beasts website has under 12 pages- the publisher's strategy was to produce a small amount of content and inundate it with a lot of high-quality backlinks.
My strategy has been to produce a lot of content with few backlinks. This comes down to personal preference. It's much more interesting and fun for me to publish lots of content than to figure out how to get a lot of people to link to a small amount of content.
Thoughts On Link Building
All of that said, I would like to touch on some link building strategies I have used on my affiliate site, how I'm planning on building links to a new DIY site, and some link building strategies I would recommend if you're interested in increasing the Domain Authority and SERP rankings of your own site.
My Non-Outreach Link Building Strategies
Reverse Link Building
This is a strategy I've seen some webmasters have success with.
When someone outreaches to them to post on their site in exchange for a backlink, they'll arrange a link exchange across (and not between) different websites.
For example, if they outreach to my Site A, wanting a link to their Site B, I would link to their Site B from Site A and they would link to my Site C.
I've done some blog commenting, as well- but I've never really settled into a habit of doing it. I've also scoured the internet for easy backlink wins like this one that gets you a dofollow backlink from Amazon.com.
Optimize Existing Properties
I've implemented Matthew Woodward's social media backlink strategy to optimize backlinks from existing social media properties.
I've submitted the site to Blogarama- a reputable blog indexing site. This means that all of my posts receive a backlink from Blogarama as it indexes my site for new content.
Backlinks On Auto-Pilot
Since I write about such diverse topics on my general review site, it frequently acquires many backlinks from sites that scrape the internet. As you can see above, I have nearly 10,000 backlinks from 548 referring domains, according to Ahrefs.com.
This isn't a great ratio, and Google Search Console doesn't even index some of the spammier site backlinks, so I'm undecided how much they help or hurt my site.
It's just an interesting side effect of publishing such a large amount of content in obscure niches. Not all the links are are from scrapers- but many are.
My DIY Site Link-Building Strategy
That said, I do have new sites that I will have to devise backlink strategies for.
One site in particular assembles lists of DIY project blueprints.
A strategy I'm considering is alerting every blog that I've included their plans by commenting on their site.
This would get me a relevant comment backlink and hopefully an 'editorial' backlink from the site owner if they choose to promote their inclusion in my roundup post.
I also create a YouTube video and Canva-created graphics for each post- this helps spread the reach of the content, potentially attracting passive backlinks.
The DIY site more readily lends itself to backlinking than my general product review site. So as I grow it, it's likely I'll conceive a link strategy that I can automate.
The best bet will likely be acquiring backlinks from DIY publishers who appreciate having their builds profiled on my site.
Read More Of My Niche Reports
If I Had To Do It All Over Again
If my main money site was wiped off the internet and I had to do it all over again I would create a site that balances affiliate and informational content (like HerePup.com, one of Authority Hacker's editor's former sites).
This would make it easier to reach out for links because the site has less of an overt affiliate focus.
And these backlinks would help super-charge my affiliate content rankings.
A site like HerePup effectively splits content between affiliate and informational, with informational often containing display ads like AdSense and Media.net.
This informational, non-review content (think: How To Help The Elderly Get Dressed vs The 5 Best [Elderly Dressing Products]) solves half the equation- it would at least have 'link-worthy' content.
I would then solve the other half of the equation by employing one of the link building strategies below. Most importantly, I would focus on that one strategy until I had perfected it. It's crucial you avoid the 'shiny object syndrome', hopping between strategies randomly- that will guarantee failure.
I'd probably follow Brian Dean's famous skyscraper technique and modify it using some of Authority Hacker's suggested strategies. I'd stick to a white-hat link building strategy that I would automate as much as I could.
Meaning, that the informational content would be run through an outreach process handled by my virtual assistants.
The way I might structure it, I would use a Google Search Operator to find 10-50 websites that might be interested in the content that I published for manual outreach. Perhaps I'd outreach with an infographic custom-made for the post, or a YouTube video.
I would probably have different styles of informational content posts that would require different methods of outreach.
So, for example, say I'm in the health niche, some of my posts might specialize in ranking other websites- like "The 25 Best Diabetes Blogs", or the "30 Best Cosmetic Surgeons in New York City". The aim would be to get backlinks from the sites I've listed.
I would have my virtual assistants compile all the contact information of the sites I've profiled and systematically 'ping' them on social media and by email once my post is live.
By both privately and publicly publicizing my content, I increase the chances of acquiring a backlink as well as other referral traffic to the post and my site. You could do this process over and over.
Once the process is nailed down, you can automate and scale it up- writers and virtual assistants can handle nearly everything for you.
Or perhaps I find a piece of content that has a lot of backlinks, make something better, and have my virtual assistants compile all of the contact information for the sites that have linked to it and shoot them an email promoting my better piece of content. That's the classic Skyscraper Technique.
Be Best In Class
The content you promote should really be 'best in class'. Nailing down how to create top-quality content is imperative. Find the best content in your niche and figure out how you can at least 1.5x it. You can:
- cover the topic more in depth;
- format it so that it's more attractive and digestible;
- update it with new information;
- conduct your own proprietary research and provide unique data;
- include extra assets- a video, a downloadable checklist, an infographic;
- perhaps you offer added value in even more unconventional ways- provide free consults or software that helps provide a calculation, like this max bench press calculator from Muscle and Strength.
51/49 Value Exchange
The second precept you should keep in mind is when you reach out to a site owner you want a backlink from, make it a 51/49 value exchange. No one explains this strategy more emphatically than Gary Vaynerchuck (check out the Give More Than You Get video below).
When I receive outreach emails, the value exchange is always weighted in the favor of the sender.
Since I, myself, receive so many requests for backlinks or even promotion of their products, my attention only perks up when something valuable is offered to me. Since I'm being solicited, it's only rational that I'm the one who wins the value exchange.
Perhaps it's by offering me a free product, or 500 words of unique content to go along with the backlink, or valuable promotion on their own site.
It's usually not enough that the sender thinks their content is better- even if it's true, I'm not morally obligated to link to it.
The content should be exemplary plus there needs to be further compelling reason to incentive me, the webmaster, to take time out of my day to update old content.
An example, recently, where this was the case- a VPN site reached out to me to embed their video, offering me review access for a year of their service.
The video was highly related to something I had published + they incentived it with subscription access to their software so that I could verify its quality before promoting it.
What I Wouldn't Do
I wouldn't buy links- that's for sure. If Google detects that you're gaming the SERPs you can attract their wrath.
It just isn't worth it- especially if you've invested in building a legitimate content site online, my advice would be to keep it white-hat.
If someone is selling you a link, they're probably selling it to other people, and you're essentially entrusting the future of your website to this link seller. If Google notices and decides to crush this link-selling operation, you can be caught up in the chaos- it's just not worth it.
That said, perhaps you have high risk-tolerance and you're fine with a site of yours ranking for 6 months before its rankings are demoted by a Google penalty. I'm not moralistic about this stuff- I rest easier at night knowing I haven't built my earnings on a foundation of sand.
Private Blog Networks
When it comes to Private Blog Networks (PBNs) I'm somewhat ambivalent. I've never used them, but I know they can be very powerful. A PBN is essentially a network of powerful domains that you can purchase links from that, ideally, provide contextually relevant backlinks to your money site, dramatically improving your Domain Authority and keyword ranking potential in the search engines.
The problem is that, again, you're essentially placing your site's 'life' in the hands of the PBN's builder, betting that they're skilled enough to create a quality PBN that remains undetected by Google.
I also believe that Google assembles unofficial user profiles of site builders. Meaning that if you are consistently running afoul of their recommended practices you will tarnish your online reputation and potentially find even your 'clean' sites on the outs with the best source of traffic: Google organic search.
Link building is obviously crucial. But, depending on what your site is and how you plan on getting traffic, it isn't life or death if you don't feel like link building.
So, for example, if you're trying to create a health site and compete with the likes of the Mayo Clinic or WebMD, you're going to need a super-powerful backlink strategy.
On the other hand, if your focus is competing in the 'long-tail', ranking for keywords that are not very competitive, you can get by without much link building. Plus, if social media is a natural fit for your content, a DIY site, for example, you can get both traffic and backlinks more easily during the natural social media process, all while side-stepping the manual e-mail outreach that I personally find so boring.
That said, it's probably best to plan for white-hat link building. I'd be remiss if I didn't advise site builders to incorporate it, though I've had a great deal of success without ever (or only minimally) doing it. There are tons of tutorials online regarding link building.
It's an ever-evolving field- but keep in mind that to link build, you'll want your content to be awesome, not overly promotional, and you should be LOSING the value exchange, 51/49, at least.