You’re Probably Doing Link-Building Wrong

Google can be really frustrating sometimes.

If you’ve been in SEO for anytime at all, you know exactly what I’m talking about!

Google’s success and global search market dominance have largely hinged upon its ability to perpetually evolve and provide the best user experience possible.

As a result, SEO is in a constant state of flux.

It’s literally always changing!

But one thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that quality links are the foundation of nearly every successful SEO campaign.

Although many people have been predicting the demise of links as a primary ranking signal for years, link-building is still very much alive and quite well.

According to First Page Sage, links are still the number one ranking signal in Google’s algorithm in 2017.


As they point out,

inbound links have been the primary currency Google uses to determine its level of trust for a website since the search engine established itself in 1998.

It worked for them then, and it still works for them now.

So, yeah… Link-building is kind of a big deal, regardless of what the naysayers may think.

And this means one thing.

You need to have your link-building on lock.

Unfortunately, many link-building campaigns are full of holes due to misconceptions and misunderstandings as to what Google is really looking for.

It can be especially brutal for noobs, who are just getting their feet wet.

Here are some of the most common link-building mistakes SEO marketers make and how to resolve them.

Botching anchor text

The great anchor text debate has raged on for a few years now.

Okay, maybe that sounds overly epic, but employing anchor text is one of the most misunderstood aspects of link-building.

Back in the day, you could often outrank the competition by simply being obnoxious and going crazy with exact match anchor text (the keyword phrase you’re trying to rank for.)

But Google quickly discovered that way too many people were gaming the system and launched a counterattack with Penguin in 2012.


They tweaked their algorithm, and the sites that went overboard on exact match anchor text were penalized.

Of course, SEO marketers didn’t want to incur the wrath of Matt Cutts and his minions, so they did the only sensible thing.


They went the opposite direction.

Many people ceased to use exact match anchor text altogether.

And I can totally see why.

To be honest, I’m still a little sketched about using exact match anchors.

But here’s the thing. Doing anchor text the right way can be encapsulated in one word: natural.

If it’s natural, you’re good to go.

What exactly do I mean by natural?

You want to make sure you’re diversifying your anchor text and not going overboard with any particular format.

The different types of anchor text

When you break it down, there are six main types of anchor text:

  • Exact match – Like I already explained
  • Partial match – This contains the keyword phrase you’re trying to rank for but isn’t exact
  • Branded – The name of your brand
  • Naked URLs – This is the URL exactly how it appears in your browser
  • Generic (also known as junk anchors) – Some examples would be “check this out” or “click here”
  • LSI – This is latent semantic indexing, which is variations of your keyword.

If this still seems a little vague, here are examples provided by Ahrefs:


Speaking of Ahrefs… They performed some extensive research on anchor text fairly recently (mid-2016) to determine its impact on SEO.

There’s a ton of data, which can be a little confusing if you’re not an SEO nerd.

Allow me to give you the key takeaways.

First of all, anchor text continues to play an integral role in link-building, and SEO in general, and is unlikely to change any time soon.

Second, it’s completely true that you need to be careful when using keyword-rich anchor text.

Going overboard can definitely get you penalized.

However, this doesn’t mean you should never use keyword-rich anchor text.

It’s actually okay—as long as you don’t go crazy with it.

Ahrefs suggests “using exact match at around 2 percent and phrase match at around 30 percent.”

And that sounds about right to me.

The bottom line with anchor text is that it needs to be natural.

To achieve that natural effect, you want to use a variety of different formats.

This graph from Search Engine Journal offers their version of ideal anchor text diversity:


It’s usually all right to throw in some keyword-rich anchor text, but you need to be smart about it.

If you follow this formula, you should be good to go, and you can construct hyperlinks—both internal and external—the right way.

For more insight, check out the article from Ahrefs I referenced above.

In my opinion, it’s one of the best currently out there on anchor text.

The myth of never linking to directories


Most SEO marketers cringe at the mere mention of them.

And I totally get it.

I remember back in the mid-2000s, directories were popping up everywhere, and they were a cheap way to get links.

Most had little to no credibility and looked incredibly spammy. And quite frankly, many were.

So, of course, when you ask your average SEO marketer whether or not you should ever get links from directories, most would adamantly say “no!”

But I disagree (sort of).

Now, let me preface this by saying you shouldn’t get links from highly-questionable, spammy, irrelevant directories that have absolutely nothing to do with your niche/industry.

That’s a recipe for disaster.

However, Rand Fishkin of Moz made a really great point in one of his Whiteboard Friday sessions.

He basically said that there’s an ongoing myth that you should never get links from directories.

But this just isn’t the case.

There are plenty of high quality directories that can be very beneficial to your link-building campaign.

Here’s a screenshot of an example he provides about a monthly list of bars in Portland, Oregon:


The point here is that you should definitely take a link like this.

It’s legit and going to help your SEO.

Once again, I’m not condoning getting spammy links from low-quality directories.

But in many cases, the right directories can be quite beneficial.

Just use your best judgment.

Having a “quantity over quality” mindset

If you look at it on paper, it might seem more sensible to get a high volume of so-so links rather than only a handful of high-quality links.

I get it. It’s much easier to grab the low hanging fruit and take the path of least resistance.

But like with many areas of online marketing, you’re much better off opting for quality over quantity.

Just like it makes more sense to create one in-depth, longform, high-quality blog post than three or four mediocre, generic 500-worders, a single high-quality link can be much more valuable than dozens of low-quality links.

Think of it like this.

High-quality links do much more than just improve your link profile and provide you with SEO juice.

They can enhance your brand equity and bring in quality referral traffic as well.

If you’ve had a quantity over quality mindset up until now, it’s time to change it.

Forgetting about social signals

One of the other great SEO debates is just how big of a factor social signals are.

Some people seem to think social signals are a significant ranking factor, while others believe they’re just a waste of time.

I’m in the camp that believes they’re a substantial ranking factor. At least nowadays.

While I’m not saying they’re super high on the totem pole, you definitely don’t want to overlook social signals in your link-building.

In fact, Backlinko includes social signals in a recent list of Google’s 200 ranking factors.

More specifically, they mention the following social signals as having a considerable impact:

  • Number of tweets
  • Authority of Twitter user accounts
  • Number of Facebook likes
  • Facebook shares
  • Authority of Facebook user accounts
  • Pinterest pins
  • Votes on social sharing sites
  • Number of Google+1s
  • Authority of Google+ user accounts
  • Social signal relevancy

You get the idea.

A few years back, Moz broke down the potency of some of the more powerful social signals:


I know it’s a little outdated (2012), but I think this data is still fairly relevant today.

The bottom line here is that you should do everything within your power to maximize your social signals.

This starts with creating epic content that outperforms that of your competitors (see the skyscraper technique).

You should install social media buttons if you haven’t done so already.

This is super easy to do if you’re a WordPress user. Just install a plugin.

Also be sure to ask your audience to share your content.

Sometimes that’s all it takes!

And don’t forget that social signals do much more than just boost your SEO.

They can also have a considerable impact on your brand’s reputation and whether or not readers will stick around and read your content.

Just think about it.

Which brand would you take more seriously?

One with an article with a high volume of social shares like this…


Or an article with only a handful of shares?

I rest my case.


Like it or not, link-building is essentially the lifeblood of SEO.

And I really don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Until Google radically changes its algorithm, links are likely to remain one of the top ranking factors.

But like with many other areas of SEO, what constitutes proper link-building can be a little confusing.

There’s plenty of room for misunderstanding even for the most adept of SEO marketers.

By acknowledging any mistakes you’re making, you can tighten your link-building and make your overall campaign run like a well-oiled machine.

Can you think of any other common link-building mistakes SEO marketers make?


  1. Improving ranking for keywords in Google is not an easy task in nowadays. Optimization of website to building quality links, writing content and be active in social media, everything is required. Once there was a time when SEO work totally depended upon submission work. But now, you will have to invest in content, social media, website improvements and various other activities.

    Keep pushing regular efforts and have patience because there is no magic to happen in overnight.

    Many clients get panic in a very first month when they don’t see ranking improvement even for highly competitive keywords. But they need to understand, various people are investing for a long time and they are at top because of that reason.

    @neil, your posts are always awesome. Good Luck!


  2. Neil,

    Links are the base for the web and search engines are a web crawler. They need links to crawl content, page, etc. Links are and will be highest priority for the SEOs.

    But, the type of link gets changed time to time. Earlier in 2000s, as you mentioned, getting links from directories was first selling point for the agencies but now they’re selling Guest posting, broken links etc.

    If I get an opportunity to get a link from a directory. I’ll say yes to it unless its a spammy one.

    I like your ideas and you’re right also Rand was right about directories.

  3. Hi! Thanks for this info
    Have a question: what do you think about using SerpStat for link-building?

  4. J.Ustpassing :

    Link Building – yuk and ouch!
    The whole subject area is a mess – mostly due to the sheer number of “SEO Pro’s” spouting garbage and misinformation, (not to mention people that cannot interpret what Googlers say, can’t read patents properly and are more interested in hyperbole headlines than real content).

    So, what have we got?
    {Warning – huge comment!}

    LSI Links?
    G does not use LSI, or LDA etc. These are methods for examining content and identifying topics/themes. They are resource hungry and moderately slow when compared to older, less accurate methods that you can smooth out with larger quantities of content (which G has).
    Further – when you look at the word-pattern system G now has (Rank Brain), and the word-association system G used to use (their Syn-Sets), they never needed things that heavy.

    Link Types
    People may be better of thinking of links as 2 groups;
    a) Crawl-able & Follow-able
    b) Crawl-able & Non-Follow-able
    c) Not crawl-able (so Non-Follow-able by default)
    1) Blank (“generic”, such as “here”, “click here”, “view more” etc.)
    2) Exact match (“word1 word2 word3”)
    3) Disorder match (“word3, word 1 word2”)
    4) Partial match (“word2 word3”, “word1 word2”, “word1”, “word2” etc.)
    5) Branded (Company name, Site name, Author name etc.)
    6) Plain URL (“naked”)

    Link Text type quantities?
    This is where people go way off the mark. G are looking for “natural” link patterns.
    There are multiple facets to this – and the quantity of link-text-types is part of it.
    There is No magic number or percentage!

    Instead, you are looking at gradients and large grey areas.
    It’s all a matter of ratios, and chances are that it varies by industry/sector, type of site etc. (no confirmation from G on this – but logic, common-sense and experience covers it well enough :D)

    Other link factors?
    As mentioned, Link-Text-Type (and the quantities) is only one part of what G looking at.
    Other factors would include things like Acquisition Rate, Location of Link, Quantity of links from Domain, Domain diversity, Domain Type etc. etc. etc.

    Basically, G can look at links and tell if they are from Blogs, Social profiles, Forums etc.
    They can see if they are in-context, or footer spam. They can tell if the linking site is trusted or considered spammy, and whether the site/page appears relevant to the topic of the link destination, or not etc. etc. etc.
    They can see if you constantly get links in bursts, or slow drips, or a mix etc.
    (Hint – G have way more than 200 ranking signals – and a large % of those factors revolve around Links!)

    Link Value?
    Here’s another area where people need to stop and think.
    Links have value, and pass it to the destination.
    What we don’t know is how much value gets passed (even with PR reports (and patents), we only guessed).
    There are patents that cover things like;
    Link Position (whether it’s the 1st, 3rd, 50th link on the page etc.),
    Link Size (font-size/weight, how “different” it is to normal text on the page etc.),
    Link Frequency (how many times that domain/site links to that page/site),
    Relevancy (how similar the linking page is to the destination page)
    All of these suggest that the value can/does vary.

    Add to that things like the Type of site, whether the link is Self-made (directories, forum signatures etc.),
    or editorial (appears in content from non-associated pages/sites (not GPs!)) etc.,
    and you can see how some links could easily be worth more than others.

    This one’s a “gotcha” for many.
    Nofollow does Not mean G does not pass value through that link!
    It’s a suggestion, a hint, a request and a statement.
    G will decide whether to use that link (they still use them for discovery/crawling etc.).
    If G trust the origin and the destination, and believe the link to be “natural” – they may decide to treat it as a normal link, or pass some value through etc.

    Link Patterns.
    So – now we can see the types of links, the types of sites/content, how G may decide to use the links (or not) and how they may value them (or not), how they look at things to find patterns etc.
    Where does that leave us?

    With the reality that links are a far more complex area than most people realise.

    Link Spam
    But there is another factor that people should consider – and it’s one that many people that follow the Google Guidelines are more than aware of;
    G doesn’t care!

    There are no shortage of sites out there with hundreds/thousands of bad links – and they are killing it in the SERPs!
    The reason is that they are in small/minor industries that have small search volumes.
    G has not allocated resources to look at such sites/search terms etc.
    Which is;
    * why your forex site is being beaten by someone with 800 directory links,
    * why your dog-walking site is in position 7, below 6 pages from 3 sites all owned by the same person who interlinks them all
    * why your car sale site is on page 2, where as page 1 is literally owned by 6 companies that run 50 sites each and arrange links between each other,
    * why so many spammy/scummy sites run private blog networks, utilise pre-monied domains, collect expired social platforms etc. etc. etc.

    Now, take all of the above into consideration.

    G want to see “natural” links and link patterns.
    But they don’t look at everyone/everysite, nor all the time.
    There are thresholds.
    There are spam-flags that tell G they should look at a site more closely.

    So long as you are careful – you can spam.

    But ideally – you should have a site and content and social presence that encourages people to link to you.
    Yet, that doesn’t mean you cannot have Directory links etc.
    Believe it or not – those are Natural!
    What business doesn’t get themselves listed in local business directories or e-phone directory sites?
    What site doesn’t link from their social profiles to their site (and vice-versa).

    You don’t need to worry about NoFollow links either.
    Again – G may decide to pass value through them.
    More importantly – other people may see that linking content, see your content and decide to write and link to your themselves.
    So who cares if you get 20 links and only 2 are normal (18 nofollow).
    So long as some of those 18 nofollowed links are on trafficked sites, the chances are you will generate secondary links through the initial nofollowed ones, and some of the secondary links will pass value!

    The keys here are “moderation”, “diversity” and “variance”.
    Link acquisition should vary (not 20 a week!).
    Linking site types should vary (forum, social, review, blog – mix it up).
    Link text types should vary (links to specific pages should have relevant text, or be near relevant text etc., links to the homepage/about-page etc. should be branded, and every so often there should be plain URLs etc.).

    The final key is “common sense”.
    What can indicate spam can also indicate quality.
    Consider “domain diversity”. Some people advise against getting too many links from the same few sites.
    But, when you look at quality sites, (such as this one), you will notice that they often link out to quality pages ……. on the same sites!
    Good sites that produce good content will get links – that’s natural!
    Good sites that reference good content will link to good sites – that’s natural!

    So – if you are going to link-build … follow those keys.

    And, as certain Googlers used to be fond of saying, ask yourself the following;
    “If I was Google, what would I think of X”
    If you can honestly answer “I’d think it was ok” – then it’s good.
    If instead you answer akin to “I’d think it was a little off” – then don’t do it.
    (Tip: “Yet”, “don’t do it – yet” – if you are going to do a little manual link building, mask it when you are naturally gaining links from Social, due to a great content piece getting traction/attention etc.).

    There – all done.
    Go rest your eyeballs 😀

  5. J.Ustpassing :

    ROFL – I love that.

    Here’s this informative post about BackLinks, and the fear people have of G catching bad links,
    and you go around dropping links in comments 😀

    • Commenting can help but it does need some consideration like when and how you do it.

      • J.Ustpassing :

        What makes me laugh is that it takes less than 5 seconds to see that comment links here are nofollowed.
        And the chances of a manual override for drivel comments like the one I replied to is pretty much non-existent.

        If they spent just a few minutes, and made a worthwhile comment – their comment would remain, and then there is at least some chance of G seeing the link (if not using it for ranking).

        It’s 2017 – comment spam is a generally ineffective link building method as most sites/platforms auto-nofollow.
        What are these people thinking?

  6. J.Ustpassing :

    So either, that app company needs to hire a real SEO,
    or you work for them and are utterly clueless,
    which is it?

  7. Nice post Neil, on back linking and bad linking. We always research a lot on back ling so that we can get positive response for our website. But there is always chance to learn something more. Great sharing.

  8. The anchor text types mentioned are useful. Link building requires research to know on which relevant site in which a do-follow anchor text can be included.

  9. Hey, What happened to NutritionSecrets. I saw that you had abandoned the website as no new content was published in months and now it is redirecting to a different URL. So, what happened? Was the digital product you were offering didn’t convert well or something else.

  10. photo-restoration Services :


    Thanks give information for building wrong to how to do anything work with website in this some probaly link in quality and quantity website.

    ThanK You.

  11. Jeffrey Ito :

    Relevance and keyword in URL I have found to be extremely helpful for boosting Google search engine ranking positions.

    A link or two from a niche related blog can really do wonders, which is why guest blogging is still one of the best methods.

    Great article Neil. Always picking up one or two valuable tips from your posts.


  12. As SEO Services is concerned, I do believe that link building is the back bone of SEO Services. As a SEO Company in Kolkata, India, we always keep this point in our mind & act accordingly. Here you mentioned a very important point about Anchor Text. It is really helpful.

  13. Alessandro Bogliari :

    Hi there,
    And what do you think about Fred update? It killed a website of mine and also after a lot of work on disawov, it’s still the same 🙁 the thing is I did the same work on other website that weren’t kicked out from serp. Maybe because the website penalized was pretty new? (only 6 months and a quick growth?)

    Alessandro –

  14. shawnmartin :

    Social media is a very most valuable part of digital marketing field, and social media is to connected to the people and share and update to new tech. and Mobile Queue Management and mobile tech is great helpful to connect to digital marketing to people.

  15. Hey Neil,

    Another great post.

    Although we all know we should do anchor text naturally, most site owners still feel a bit anxious when doing it, asking ourselves ‘Is this what Google wants?’

    One question, though. On the graph from Search Engine Journal, naked urls seem to be a big part of the whole picture, with %20.
    And now that I think of it, never have I used a naked url (linked) anywhere throughout my site although there are more than 1000 articles in the archives, and internal and external linking are key components of anything I publish.

    Thanks in advance and keep up the good work.


  16. SEO is such a tricky but a straight doubt today social media plays an important role for SEO. thanks for sharing such a nice article.

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