Linking Building and Linking Strategy Articles by Eric Ward

In this section of my site I update and rotate through previous articles. For my most current content, subscribe to LinkMoses Private. I also maintain a library with links to over 300 link building articles, linking strategy columns, webcasts, and interviews I've published from the mid 90's to today. You can find that page at

A Linking Campaign Primer

A Linking Campaign Primer

Original: March 2001. Updated: 2005, 2007, 2009, 2015
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The attitude surrounding link building has changed remarkably since Google rolled out the Penguin and Panda updates. Linkophobia is rampant. Google went so far as to clarify statements about link seeking, telling marketers that yes, it is OK to pursue links.

Is Google now saying you can’t even ask for links without risk of a penalty? No, the search engine has clarified, after a post on its Portuguese webmaster blog suggested that. -Barry Schwartz

While it’s still possible to secure high-quality inbound links to your site at no cost, the process of overseeing an inbound link seeking campaign is far more complex and challenging than it once was.

Believe it or not, the start-to-finish process of an inbound-linking campaign is much more administrative than you might think. For the sake of example, let’s say you run an online archery supply site, and you have identified 50 other sites you hope will link to your archery site. Some of your link seeking targets will be obvious, like this directory of archery equipment manufacturers published by an archery industry trade group, or this topical guide. Some may be more specific to certain regions, like this target site, and some may be industry specific or BtoB. There are also numerous smaller sites devoted at archery enthusiasts that look very plain, but are highly credible. Here’s one example.

Why are these types of smaller niche sites credible? They are credible because they aren’t about search engine manipulation. In fact, these sites would exist even if there were no search engines at all. These sites exist because they are about a topic and people who are passionate about that topic. They are, in a word, real. And if you know how to search Google the right way, Google would be more than happy to tell you what is real. Staying with our archery example, here’s a search query that couples two specific advanced search operators, and the result of this search is a very large collection of viable link targets. The query is: archery club inurl:links


Click this image to see it full size

So, let’s say you’ve come up with a nice mix of target sites. You’ve vetted them, checked them for questionable backlinks, made sure they aren’t run by Dr. Evil.  Now comes the hard part: You need to actually begin asking these sites for links back to your site.

Starting off on the Right Foot: Managing the Link Building Process

I have my own set of link building process management tools, which are a mashup of Google docs and Excel.  The Google docs make it easy to share what needs to be shared with the client.  The excel docs keep sensitive data private. There are also several very good process management tools you can pay for, such as BuzzStream or Raven.

As you approach target sites to request links, here’s a list of the most basic data you’ll need to manage. Depending on your specific site, you may have many others.

1. The name of the target site
2. The site’s URL, as well as the specific URL of the page on their site where you are hoping to get a link
3. The contact method (email, online form, phone, FedEx, personal visit)
4. Name and email address of decision maker for the target site (hint: usually NOT the webmaster)
5. The date you contact that person
6. The date he or she responds
7. A copy of the sent link request
8. The response. Some will say yes, some will say no, others will not reply at all, others will want a link back from you, some may want money for links, some will be out of town and take weeks to reply.)
9. The status of the process
10. Verifying that the link is in place
11. Checking the site periodically for the link. They can vanish, usually by accident.

So, at any given time during your inbound-link campaign, you have many things keep track of.  And while there is a definite art to link building, there is a process that must be managed, and linking campaigns never really end; you should constantly be looking for opportunities.

Choosing the Best Expert: You
While I like helping clients with their link building, I am a long time advocate of the “teach the client to fish” approach. My goal is to put myself out of business by teaching clients what they need to know. I’m kidding but only a little. Fortunately there are thousands of sites that need help, and Google keeps them confused. So I offer training and workshops because I do not believe you should outsource all link building activities. Why? Because there are simply too many areas where mistakes can happen, and because nobody will care more for your site than you.  You need to take ownership of link building.

If you opt to pay based on numbers of links generated, set some quality-control standards right up front. And reserve the right of approval for any links

One problem is judging performance. If you pay someone only for the links he or she generates for you, then he or she will be more inclined to look for the sites that are most likely to grant a link, regardless of the site’s quality. There are a million free-for-all-links pages out there; but I wouldn’t pay a cent to be on any of them, because their quality is, well, lacking…

So, if you opt to pay based on numbers of links generated, set some quality-control standards right up front. And reserve the right of approval for any link deals.

The Truth About Outsourcing 
The other challenge with having someone else handle your inbound-linking campaign is that since each site contacted will have different demands, your third party will have to be given the right to negotiate on your behalf. Are you willing to give this person that authority over your site?

If this person contacts someone who says you’ll be given a link in exchange for a link back to your site, do you want someone other than you making that kind of decision? And what if a site says that it will give you a link for $100 a month? Do you want your money spent this way?

Know Your Options
One option (the one I prefer) is to reserve the right to say yes or no to any linking agreement someone negotiates for you. However, if you do this, it slows the process down so much that it makes it nearly impossible for your third party to make any money. Other problems include verifying that the link is up and working right and reviewing the site from time to time to make sure it hasn’t dropped the link (yes, that can happen) or done something else unexpected.

All this before you even know if that link on their page will generate one single click and deliver someone to your page. The bottom line is that it will take weeks, possibly months, to coordinate and possibly negotiate with each site you’ve located. Without a tracking tool or spreadsheet, it’s impossible to do an efficient job.

All this brings me back to the key point: You must take control of your inbound-linking efforts on your own, because nobody cares about your site as much as you do.

Get expert help along the way
I know from 20 years of experience what it takes to plan and execute a link building campaign. The tactics and approach need to vary based on the client’s site. There’s not a “one-size-fits-all” approach you can implement for an archery site and again for an arthritis site. Link building training is, in my  opinion, the best way to help clients prepare for a future where link building must be part of an ongoing strategy.

For those who are already accomplished link builders, another viable approach is to use a third party to help with target-site discovery. It can take a long time to locate legitimate target sites. I’m getting more and more requests for Link Building Blueprints and Plans, where I do the research and discovery and provide my client with a vetted set of high value, high trust sites that make strategic sense for link seeking. The client then manages the link building process in-house.

The client saves time and money, we each use our individual strengths to full advantage.

Link and share wisely,

Eric Ward


About the Author
Eric Ward founded the Web’s first service for announcing, linking, and publicizing Web sites back in 1994. Ward is best known as the person behind the linking campaigns for Books,, and the AMA. In 2009 Eric was one of 25 people profiled in the book Online Marketing Heroes. In 2013 Eric wrote The Ultimate Guide To Link Building – How to Build Backlinks, Authority and Credibility for Your Website, now in its 3rd printing. Eric has spoken at over 150 industry conferences and now publishes LinkMoses Private, a subscription based link opportunity and linking strategy newsletter. Eric has written linking strategy and advice columns for SearchEngineLand, MarketingProfs, ClickZ, Search Marketing Standard, SearchEngineGuide, Web Marketing Today, and Ad Age magazine. Eric, his wife and three children live in the shadow of the Smokies in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Ten Commandments of Link Building

Ten Commandments of Link Building (updated)

I – Linkest not just to seek favor from Google*
(*If your site’s success is dependeth on Google alone, it shall destroy you, or worse, be featured in the Knowledge Graph without attribution. The irony…)

II – Those who link in exchange for gold are link whores*
a) Linking in exchange for return link is sometimes kind of slutty
b) Philosophically, I agree that all links are paid in one form or another, but this discussion gives LinkMoses a headache.
c). Offering discounts to students via links on .edu domains has may have jumped the temple. I recently saw one for paternity testing kits. Demographically relevant? Sure, but slimy. Saving 10% on a paternity test is the least of your worries.

III – Thou shalt not link to thine own site from 367 different social media profiles. And don’t get me started on link wheels.

IIIb – Thou shalt not take advantage of Google’s current love-fest with Pinterest (look who ranks#1 for link building infographics even though LinkMoses has never created one), nor will thee send an email to all employees telling them to Plus the corporate homepage.

a) It is acceptable to include a couple of those cute little share, add, tweet, plus, etc., buttons on your own content.  They work nicely. Here, try one Tweet this

b). If you seed YELP with fake reviews, a swarm of locusts will follow you to the next SMX conference, or worse, you might get sued.

IV – If thou beginest thy link request email “To whometh it may concern”, it shall hastily be deleteth

IVb – Please stop telling LinkMoses “You just came across my site“. No, you didn’t.

V- Thou shalt not refer to content as “link bait”, any more than thou shall refer to your site’s users as “carp”

VI – Thou shalt study or analyze, but not covet, thy neighbor’s links*
(*if thou doest covet them, please try and limit your desires to highest trust TLDs. Links from .info domains are pretty much penguin bait already.  Extra shame is reserved for those who volunteer to be webmaster at child’s school and then secretly add anchor text links back to company site.

VII – Thou shalt never use the name Matt Cutts in vain*
(*at least not where it can be crawled, and be careful with javascript and flash, they can index it now)

VIII – Just because you thinketh bing search is stupideth does not giveth thee permission to link spameth them

VIIIb – Although if you do so under the guise of “testing”, it’s not a formal violation of this commandment.

IX – If thou has truly reformeth, beg forgiveness via the reconsideration formeth
(If you receive no response, do not hang thine head. Contact LinkMoses and he may be able to deliver a formal scroll documenting your heathenism so it can be cleansed in an attempt at link reformation. LinkMoses does of course charge for this as he has three children who require 15 Happy Meals per week)

X – The link schemer may eat today, but the link earner eateth from a bountiful table for a lifetime*

Link and share wisely,


Is White Hat Link Building a Myth?

Is White Hat Link Building a Myth?
Updated August, 2015 (Originally posted May, 2006)


The original Weather Channel widget

At what point does a link-building tactic make the leap from acceptable to not? When does white hat become black hat? Or gray hat?

See this little Weather Channel box? Once upon a time I helped The Weather Channel with a project that was designed to give any webmaster the ability to add a snippet of code to their site that would allow them to show the current weather for their site’s visitors. The project was extremely successful. Thousands of sites added that code, extending The Weather Channel’s brand online quite quickly and in a useful, clever way.

Today you’d call that a “widget”. Back then they called them “magnets”.  Today you’d better make sure you “nofollow” any link in widget code. Back then it didn’t matter. The widget/branding mattered more than the link.

And who is to say what is acceptable and what isn’t? Google? Isn’t what works is what’s acceptable, and vice-versa? It’s not your fault blog comment spam got out of control. It’s the other guy. It’s not your fault your competitors are all buying links on PBNs. If they’d stop so would you. Right?

I think the whole white hat / black hat link-building and SEM argument clouds the larger point. Appropriate link building tactics will be different depending on the site you are seeking links for. This site needs a different approach than this one. Your link pursuits should always be driven by your content, and yes, I agree sometimes your content can even be driven by link opportunities, though that’s a slippery slope.

In its most simplest terms: to me white hat link building means the links you seek are not being sought for organic search rank improvement. This does not mean you can’t improve your search rank via that approach, but that it’s a residual effect, icing on the cake, if you will.

If I can go Miyagi on you for a moment, I would say “high rank is the by-product of content judged well, then well linked”. But this isn’t all. Even non-SEO links can be spam and make the web an uglier place. “Intent” is at the core of the white hat / black hat debate. Why do you want that link? Answer that queston honestly and you’ll see why I wrote last week’s post.

The sad downside of the algorithmic link analysis is that when combined with increased user generated content and links, the intent of the linker can no longer be trusted. So links today are becoming like meta tags 10 years ago. Anything goes as long as it gets me traffic, right?

Nope. Not for me.

So, either I don’t get it, or you don’t.  I’ll bet on myself, and let’s see who ranks for link building expert in a few years.


.edu Link Strategies, Fallacies and Common Sense

.edu Link Strategies, Fallacies and Common Sense
Updated August 11, 2015. Originally written September 12, 2006
eduOne of the ongoing link building hot topics is the impact that inbound links originating from .edu domains can have on your search rankings. Lost in the discussion is that the quality of links from within the .edu domain varies significantly.

Rather than making this concept more complex than it needs to be, let’s boil it down by example. A link from a student homepage or school paper web site isn’t as valuable as a link from a professor’s page, or better yet, the University library site. Why? because it’s easy for those who are into black hat stuff to buy links from students, whereas a librarian isn’t likely to be bought. Thus the content EARNED the link, and the source and citation can be trusted. Engines know this and will tweak algos until they get it right. I hope, anyway.  Give me 10 library links instead of 100 student page links any day.

About 155 Years Before The Link Spam Would Begin

Another .edu link seeking tactic that’s been used to death is the “discount” approach, where you offer a discount on your products to the faculty, staff or students at a University, and by doing so you end up with a link on their discount page, like this. I’m not saying this is a bad strategy 100% of the time, but if you are doing it just for organic search rank, it could come back to bite you.

Likewise with .gov and others. Any TLD has junk, and any TLD has gold.

Another linking topic that gets “experts” all excited is geographic IBL variety.  This is another way of saying you need links from a bunch of countries.  Not true.  Links from around the world may not matter one IOTA for your particular site.

More fallacy regarding directory inclusion. I can say with certainty that the older the site the more useless those directory IBLs are. I rank 1st for all key terms and I’m in only two directories. Why do I rank? Simple.  Because a). I never went after rank, and B). I stayed true to my content and expertise.  That said, since I do rank high I can reverse analyze my links and learn why.  I can say with an absurd confidence what your links need to look like in order to rank well, but just because I can tell you doesn’t mean you can get those links.  You have to earn them via meritorious content.

For a newer site, the game changes. The new site’s IBL profile or “link transcript” or “link signature” needs to slowly percolate towards becoming something that looks natural and trustworthy. I see evidence every day that the links that help me rank 1st will not help every site site rank 1st.

So what works for one site WILL NOT work for every site, which is why it’s such a challenge to create software/tools that can analyze links with any degree of confidence. In the end, a human still has to make some very tricky decisions about whether or not ANY link is worth pursuing. The answer will be different for every site, and thus the potential link target sites need to be different as well.

If you’d like to learn more about this topic and others, I cover them in detail the LinkMoses Private

Link well my friend,


Teeny Weenie Bikini Linkbait

(In this section of my site I rotate through my older articles for your reading pleasure. For my most current content, subscribe to LinkMoses Private.)

I always get bummed when I don’t clearly state my position on a link building topic and it gets blown out of proportion. I had the pleasure of being a guest on the SEO Rockstars podcast last Friday, where among the topics discussed was linkbait as a link building tactic.  To be funny, I mentioned industrial ball bearings. A listener (well known SEO pro whom I greatly respect ) thought I implied linkbait was not possible for certain sites about certain topics, and went on to blog about me in a way that I feel needs clarification.

Just to be clear, I never said you couldn’t link bait certain types of content. I’d be wrong and that would be silly for me to say, since that’s how I got started in 1994 when I suggested to a local coffee company that they run an online special Christmas offer, which back then was unheard of.  The site is gone, now, but here’s the original post.  A few months later a local boat company (Sea Ray) with a vanilla web site went with the idea of giving 360 degree views of the boats and interiors. That’s linkbait circa 1995. Site gone, but bones remain.

Don’t pin your hopes for business success 
solely on linkbait. Use it as part of a larger strategy…

Like anyone, I can sit here and think up endless types of link bait. Girls in bikinis for ball bearings. Yep, no brainer. That’s sort of what Ridgid tools has done in the offline world forever with those calendars you see in auto shops. They make an unsexy topic sexy.  And by the way, pssst… hey, what are you waiting for?  You are sitting on a vein of linkbait gold and all you give us is this? With no real online linkbait you managed to get quite a few mentions and links. Imagine if you actually tried.

So again, I NEVER said you couldn’t linkbiat any given topic. I said it may not be the best approach for every site, and if you DID do it, remember it’s just one piece of an overall link building strategy. I’m not out to bash anyone or any tactic. But please don’t misunderstand me. Yes, you can link bait for any type of site.

Linkbait Directions:

Step one, create site.
Step two, add bikinis.


Link and share wisely,

Eric Ward