How to Improve Your Backlinks
Many people forget about their existing backlinks and focus only on building new links. But if you don't pay attention to your link churn, then all the new links will only make up for that.
Getting links is never an easy task when you have to approach someone out of the blue and persuade them to link to your site.
But what if they are already linking to you? Reaching out to someone who is already linking to you is so much easier than cold calling.
So how can you improve the links you already have?
We had a late night discussion in the LRT Associates Forum and came up with 13 ways to improve the backlinks that you already have.
Some strategies might be more obvious than others, but I’m sure you will have at least one ‘light bulb moment’ during this article.
Learn how to:
- Find mentions of your brand that can be converted into links
- Fix troublesome anchor text links
- Make people who already link to you, link again
- Keep your link profile looking natural by changing some links
…and much more!
1. Change Mentions into Backlinks
A mention is where somebody has mentioned your brand or one of your branded products on their site but hasn’t linked to you. This could be a raw URL, like http://yourdomain.com as well as the name of your brand.
If someone mentioned your brand, then why wouldn’t they want to link to you? A simple email like this will usually do the trick:
I'm [YOUR NAME], [POSITION] at [WEBSITE].
I see you mentioned my [WEBSITE] on [Your Page] about [The Subject]. Thank you for doing that I really appreciate it.
However, I was wondering if you would mind adding a hyperlink so that people can find out more about [The Subject].
I think it would be super-useful for your visitors.
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this.
Thanks a lot.
All the best.
1.1 Find Mentions in the Link Status Column
Most reports in LinkResearchTools have the column called Link Status. If LinkResearchTools finds links that have "MENTION" as link status, you will be able to filter these links and then sort them by Power*Trust. This way, you will find the best mentions that are worth changing to a link.
The example shows mentions of the bingo review site twobigladies.co.uk. I hid a few columns so that you can concentrate on the Power*Trust and the Power*Trust topdom:
The top result is a page from The Daily Mail website about the much-loved soap star actress Anne Kirkbride who died in April 2015. There are two mentions of the site on this page. If you are reasonably well connected with the news media it should be possible to get one of these changed to a link. At the moment the mentions are right in the middle of the article which would make a fantastic link on a popular page:
The Backlink Profiler (BLP) is a great tool for finding mentions that look like links but to find brand mentions that don’t look like URLs will take a little more digging.
1.2 Monitor Mentions with Link Alerts (LA)
LRT Power*Trust and reach out to webmasters to convert the powerful mentions into backlinks.
1.3 Find Mentions with Google Alerts
Let’s say that your client is Asda Tyres who have the domain asdatyres.co.uk which is a website that sells car tyres online. Please note that the word tyres is spelt tires in the US and Canada, this is also a common misspelling in the UK. The brand is ‘Asda Tyres’ which is part of the huge British supermarket chain Asda which has the website asda.com. Asda is owned by the US giant Wal-Mart.
You can use Google and Google Alerts to find mentions, by using footprints like this:
“asda tyres” OR “asda tires” -asdatyres.co.uk -asda.com
This will find mentions of ‘asda tyres’ and its UK misspelling which are not on the asdatyres.co.uk or the asda.com websites. This gives about 18,500 results in Google, so how do you find the best mentions to change to links? We have a tool for that.
1.4 Find Mentions with the SERP Tool
The SERP Tool allows you to do 20 Google search queries and then combine the results enriched with all the usual LinkResearchTools metrics. With a bit of thought you should be able to come up with some footprints like this:
“asda tyres” OR “asda tires” -asdatyres.co.uk -asda.com
“asda” “tyres” -asdatyres.co.uk -asda.com
“asda” “car tires” -asdatyres.co.uk -asda.com
Note that in the last of these three footprints I used the exact phrase “car tires”, this is to avoid picking up examples like ‘My husband tires of me indulging in special offers at Asda’.
To find the most mentions you should select all results from any time. It’s best to use the local search engine and language that your target audience will use too. In this case, it is google.co.uk in English.
In the metrics section, you can select the metrics you wish. I would suggest that you definitely want to look at the LRT Trust and LRT Power details.
Once the results are in, you can select the ‘Linked’ column to show the URLs that are not linked to your site. You can then look for the high LRT Power*Trust pages and consider contacting the site.
The SERP Tool might not find as many mentions as a straight Google search. However, it will find the most relevant results, so you can avoid wasting time chasing links that may be weak or irrelevant.
2. Change Anchor Text
There are many reasons why you might want to get the anchor text of a link changed, for example:
- Your ratios of Brand/Compound/Money/Other looks very different to your competitors on Google’s first page
- You have overdone money anchor text which could lead to Google Penguin hell!
- Your brand has changed
But how do you know what you need to change? You could begin by tackling the ones that are causing a problem.
2.1 Troublesome Anchor Text in Link Detox
In a Link Detox (DTOX) project you can easily filter links which are triggering certain rules that are related to anchor text.
It is highly likely that these links will also be triggering other rules too, so it would be wise to take a look at those carefully.
If you run Link Detox on your site you should look out for these rules:
The SUSP28 rule means that a money keyword anchor text was found in more than 5% of the backlinks in your link profile. You could try and get these links changed to ‘brand’ or ‘other’ keywords.
The SUSP29 rule means that the anchor text has been marked as a ‘compound keyword’ and appears in more than 5% of all backlink anchor text. You could try and get these links changed to ‘brand’ or ‘other’ keywords.
The SUSP31 rule means that the anchor text placement looks suspicious. It is worth taking a look at these links to see if there is a possibility of getting them changed. For example, you might have a site wide link in the footer of a website. In this case, it might be worth offering to write a guest post for the site with an editorial link and have the footer link removed.
2.2 Identifying anchor text ratios that look wrong compared with your competitors
If you run the Competitive Landscape Analyzer (CLA) for your site and your competitors you will get an excellent understanding of your niche. You can use the ‘find competing pages’ feature of the CLA if you wish, but I like to use the Organic Competitors report from SEMRush. The SEMRush competition takes into account how many keywords each site ranks for compared with how many keywords it has in common with your site.
You can export the report as a CSV file and then copy the first 10 domains and paste them straight into CLA as a domain list;
The CLA gives lots of results about every aspect of your link profile. The histograms provide an easy way to spot where your site is not looking like the others who are doing really well in Google.
2.3 Too many ‘money’ anchor text links
If you spot that your ratios between Brand/Compound/Money and Other keywords are looking very different to the competition you should do something about this. Most reputable websites will understand the dangers of unnatural anchor text links and will be happy to change Money anchors to Brand or Other links:
2.4 Too many Footer links
Sites don’t usually link to you in the footer of their website without a good reason. In the past, the footer was the most popular place for links to friend’s websites or those who you have a financial arrangement with. In the histogram below it would make a lot of sense to ask for those footer links to be moved to a link list or a contextual link in a block of text.
3. Changing NoFollow links to Follow links (also wrongly called DoFollow by some)
Every site should have a mixture of Follow and NoFollow links. You can get a good idea of the ratio that is expected by running the Competitive Landscape Analyzer (CLA) with your site and your competitors. From the CLA report, you can look at the Link Status and see how you could adjust your Follow/NoFollow ratio to blend in with the sites that are ranking in the top positions already.
In the above example the orange bars are you, so you can see that gaining some more Follow links and less NoFollows will help your site blend in with competition. Your aim here should be to increase the amount of Follow links from 70% to 75% and take the NoFollow link ratio below 25%.
Although you wouldn’t want to convert all your NoFollow links into Follow links, it might make sense to get a Follow link from a strong site that is linking to you for all the right reasons.
This won’t always be that easy because whoever is linking to you, may have a reason why they chose to No Follow your link. However this maybe something they have overlooked so it is always worth asking. It’s quite probable that an article was published by somebody following their standard company guidelines where they NoFollow all links.
4. Adding the alt attribute to image links
A link from an image is fine, but an image without an Alt-Text tag is not so good for you or the site it is on. Because this a potential improvement to the website the link is on, you should have no problem getting this added. You could point the webmaster to this article if they need reassurance. Ideally, the alt text should be a text version of what the image is, which should hopefully be related to your brand or a product that you sell.
These are easy to find using Backlink Profiler or Link Detox reports.
You need to filter for;
Anchor Text = [IMG no alt-text]
LinkType = image
You can now sort by Power*Trust and contact webmasters to try and get a relevant keyword in the alt-text.
5. Finding dropped links and trying to recover them
You can see dropped links in a Backlink Profiler (BLP) or a Link Detox (DTOX) report if you have disabled the Remove Dropped Links in the Advanced Settings:
My personal preference is to do this in a Link Detox report so that you can check the potential risk of those links. In many cases, I have seen large amounts of dropped links that I never want to see again.
Once you have your Link Detox report you can filter for Anchor Text = [LinkNotFound] and then look at the dropped links with a Low and Medium DTOXRISK:
6. Finding links that go to non-existent pages and recovering the juice
After a site re-launch, re-structure or old pages being deleted, it is highly likely that you will have inbound links to pages that no longer exist. We have a tool to find these pages, the Link Juice Recovery tool (LJR). Once you find these pages you can recover the link juice in one of these ways:
- Get the existing link changed
- Re-create the page
- Redirect to an appropriate existing page
Option 1 is the most preferable, but not the easiest to do. However, most webmasters would not object to being told about a broken link on their site and if an alternative was offered that would make their life easier.
Option2 is certainly something that is worth doing, if appropriate. It’s common practice for black hat SEOs to do this when they are building PBNs with expired domains, often they will just take the content from Archive.org and re-use it!
Option 3 is the easiest solution. You can implement redirects via the CMS or the .htaccess file. The 301 redirect used to be state of the art for passing link juice, but we found out that there are better alternatives today. You can read more about redirects here and pick your favorite.
Let’s try it with asdatyres.co.uk. Most large corporate websites are careful not to delete pages that might have links already. With asdatyres.co.uk I only found one and that wasn’t their fault. Normally it is possible to find quite a few links like this, especially with sites that regularly change their content.
Running the tools is easy, just enter your domain and start the report. When you get the results you have a list of URLs that no longer exist. If you want to find out more you can click the plus (+) sign next to the URL and see the links that are linking there:
In this case, the link had been garbled by whoever posted it in a forum about disability:
This is a page on a forum about useful resources for the disabled. I’m sure that this link could be fixed either by contacting the owner of the forum, or joining the forum and pointing out the error. If all else fails you could set up a redirect to take care of this.
I was slightly disappointed by only finding one non-existent page with links on asdatyres.com so I ran the LJR on asda.com. I found 48 non-existent pages which had a total of 527 backlinks going to waste. The juice from these links could easily be recovered with very little effort.
7. Undisavowing links that shouldn’t be disavowed
I covered this topic in my post about How to Perform a Disavow File Audit. It is for people who have submitted a disavow file to the Google Disavow Links tool in the past. This works because the web changes all the time and SEOs can make mistakes. Here are some scenarios where you can find the hidden gems:
- Previous SEOs have disavowed too many links.
- You had a link from a site with a Google Penalty, but the penalty has now gone.
- You had a link from a site that was listed as dangerous with possible malware or virus, but now the webmaster has cleaned it up.
- Your link was on a site that had no external links and looked dodgy, but now it has great links and great authority.
- The site had lots of spammy backlinks, which are now cleaned up.
- The site had a massive number of outgoing links, but it now has a new owner who has got it under control.
- The site was part of a link network but has now been purchased by a new owner who has cleaned it up.
You can read more about the Disavow File Audit mode here.
8. Unpicking Redirect Chains
This technique is all about finding redirect chains that eventually link to your site but have lost much of their power on the way. By reducing the number of redirects you can recover a lot of link juice. Dan Shure from evolvingseo.com wrote an excellent article about this in 2013 called Stop Pulling My (Redirect) Chain which you should definitely read. This has an in-depth tutorial with 5 different methods of unpicking redirect chains.
Whilst looking at many reports as I created this article I kept noticing that there seem to be many links to asda.co.uk which now redirect to asda.com. I dug around in Archive.org to find out when this happened and it looks like it was in June 2013:
This might be a good example of where some link power and trust got lost in a redirection. To analyze this further I ran a Backlink Profiler (BLP) report on asda.co.uk. In the Metrics section I made sure that I enabled the Domain Registration metrics, because I wanted to check if their own domains were involved in a redirect chain:
In the BLP results, I filtered in the REG (Domain Name Registrant) column for "ASDA" which gave the following domains:
These all redirect to the home page of asda.com but would be better redirecting to the appropriate pages of asda.com.
When you have decided where to redirect these domains, you can also look at the backlinks to these domains also.
Clicking the plus (+) sign next to the URL opens up the extra dashboard from where you can launch a Quick Backlink Checker (QBL) or Backlink Profiler (BLP) report for that domain.
You could then tell the webmasters that they are linking to a redirect, but now you have a superior page that they could link to instead.
It's important to have in mind that whenever you do a redirect, you must point the target link to the most relevant source. This way, the users will be happy to still find a relevant page related to the information they were looking for in the first place. Furthermore, even for SEO purposes, it's always better to redirect links to an in-depth page, rather than the homepage of a website.
A great tool I always use to quickly check redirects and detect all sorts of on-page and off-page issues is the free Link Redirect Trace browser extension.
9. Building links to your link sources
The idea of tiered linking with linking pyramids and link wheels was a standard SEO method until 2012. The concept is simple; if you already have a good link, then that link could be made stronger by building links to the link source.
9.1 The 2011 Black Hat approach
This strategy was wide open before Google Penguin arrived in 2012. It was often automated with software like SENukeX which would build networks for you on autopilot.
Tier 1 was usually Web2.0 sites like MySpace, Tumblr, Blogger and Weebly as well as tons of free article directories. With reasonably well-written content these would be sufficient.
Tier 2 were usually links in places where no human would ever check anything, forum profiles, random wikis, web 2.0 profiles.
Tier 3 was where all the hardcore spam happened, mass bookmarking with Pligg sites, comment spam etc. The only real goal here was to get the Tier 2 pages indexed.
On the whole, since 2012, this black hat tiered linking has not worked. This kind of linking is a quick way to get your site penalized. Having said that, I do have a friend who is doing very well in the ‘marijuana equipment’ and ‘sex toys’ niches in a non-English language, by using this strategy. Once again, you need to know your niche and the risks involved.
9.2 A 2017 tiered linking idea
Today it would make more sense to stick to authority websites that are closely related to your niche.
The problem we have these days is that good links are hard to come by, so if you can persuade someone to link somewhere, it may as well be directly to you. However in some circumstances it may be easier to get somebody to link to your link source rather than you, if that site is more on topic.
Let's suppose that asdatyres.co.uk, which is about buying car tyres online, was lucky enough to get a link from tyresafe.org on a page talking about winter tyres. Now imagine that you had the opportunity to do a guest post on an authority blog about cycling, such as londoncyclist.co.uk. In this case, it would make sense to link to a page about driving in winter on tyresafe.org rather than your own site that sells car tyres. Similarly, if you happened to get a link from the Top Gear TV show site, it would be easier to get TV based sites like FreeSat.co.uk and TVGuide.co.uk to link to TopGear.com rather than your site.
The reality is that sites like TopGear.com and TyreSafe.org have amazing authority already so your extra efforts may be negligible. I am sure that done properly, tiered linking can help your site, although I do not believe this is the best use of your time.
9.3 Social Signals
This has to be the hot topic of 2017. As much as Google say that they do not use social signals as a ranking factor, we all know that content that does well usually has plenty of social activity. In fact, most sites that have no social activity, look wrong today.
A strong social presence can also help to create other positive signals. If Google considers returning visitors to be a positive signal then these social signals can only be a good thing. If this is good for your site, then it is good for sites that link to you. When you find your link on somebody else's site, like it, comment and share it.
10. Improve the content on the link source to improve relevancy to your site
If you have access to the site where you have a link, you could boost the power and relevance of that link by improving the content quality. You need to treat this post like it was on your own site; great content, great meta description, original images etc. If you can improve the relevance by tweaking the co-occurrence with some semantic keywords then do so.
11. Replacing direct links with social profiles where appropriate
SEO's are obsessed in gaining links to their website, but sometimes it can hurt their rankings if the link source is risky. If you were to get links to your company profile in any of the social networks, it could increase the audience with no risk at all to your main site. This is a more abstract approach that does not really involve SEO, but focuses more on the community engagement.
12. Linking to the more relevant inner page on your site rather than the homepage
I have an excellent example of this. I have a site which involves camping in all areas of the UK and Europe. One of the strongest links is from a site that is all about walking in Scotland. The link went to my homepage, from where they would have to find the relevant section about Scotland. I asked the site owner to change the link to my page about Scotland and almost immediately my conversion rate on that page more than doubled.
13. Make existing linkers link to you again
Most businesses tend to own at least a few domain names as well as their main one. They also have LinkedIn pages, YouTube Channels, Tumblr blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages etc. If people are already linking to one of your other sites, the chances are that they would be happy to link to one of your sites that they perhaps don’t know yet. If we can find these people we can ask them for a link to our site. This way you are getting them to link to you again.
The Missing Links Tool (MLT) is perfect for this strategy. You would normally use this to find the links that your competitors have that you don’t have. This time instead of comparing our domain with your competitors you can compare your domain with your other domains and social profiles:
In the advanced settings you should also set the commonality = 1. This means that if a link is found on only one site, it will be included in the report. Even if someone is only linking to one of your sites, you need to know about it:
The MLT report has two pre-made Filter Slices, ‘Good Links’ and ‘Bad Links’. The results are displayed in a grid where you can click on any of the points to launch a QBL report.
The QBL report will show the relationship between the domain that you entered vs. your other domains or social profiles. In the example above, you can see that lovemoney.com already has links to one other domain. These were actually links on multiple pages which were all about saving money. Specific topics covered included saving money on food and school uniforms, paying less tax and finding Halloween party bargains. Surely this would be an ideal site for an article on how to save money when buying car tyres?
Link building (and link editing) involves contacting webmasters and businesses. If the link is going to be really important to you I would suggest doing this manually by email or phone. If you have a large list to work through, then you might like to automate this. If you do this your email must look as natural as possible. The best tool to do this is PitchBox. PitchBox is integrated into many of the tools such as Backlink Profiler (BLP), Link Detox (DTOX), Competitive Link Detox (CDTOX), Missing Links Tool (MLT), Common Backlinks Tool (CBLT).
To learn more about PitchBox and how to improve your outreach campaigns please read this excellent article by Geraldine Edel: How to do outreach by using LRT and Pitchbox.
The World Wide Web is continuously changing. People link, redirect, delete, sell, buy and modify their domains and pages all the time. Your links are the most powerful external asset your site has in terms of how well it ranks. You should look after your links and keep your link profile looking natural and healthy. I hope that my ideas have given you some food for thought about your existing links.
If you would like to get involved in brainstorming sessions with other LRT Associates, LRT Certified Professionals and Xperts, take the first step today with the training offered by the LRT Academy.
Comment from: Gary Visitor
Hey, can really tell you know your stuff.
To have been doing this 1997, wow - you will have seen so many updates I’m sure your head spins ;-)
Comment from: Alena Sham Visitor
I landed on this on this post when searching for backlink checker.
I would say, the natural backlink building strategies are amazing and will definitely implement these for my blog.. especially I didn’t know about Reverse Guest Post. Thanks for sharing such a post.
Comment from: Alena Sham Visitor
Good resource. Although I am sure I read somewhere Matt Cutts saying Facebook and twitter are not counted as direct back links anymore as google doesn’t crawl them totally because of its ever-updating nature. Can you throw some more light on it?
Thanks Rick, I bought my domain 3 years ago but now it shows i bought it just over one year ago. My SEO people said it’s because of my low quality backlinks. Not sure how true that is but your article has been really helpful.
Comment from: Anuj ghai Visitor
Thanks for sharing important elements related to Backlinks.
All the posts are very productive and had a great impact on aspects related to SEO.
Comment from: Tushar Visitor
What a pure gold article!
I will surely give it a go and use those methods. If you change your anchor text it is a pretty clear sign to google that you are trying to manipulate them and they don’t like that very much. Always play it safe if you want to move your rankings up.
Great article. If you change your anchor text it is a pretty clear sign to google that you are trying to manipulate them and they don’t like that very much. Always play it safe if you want to move your rankings up.
I don’t agree with that Nick, people could change anchor text for all sorts of reasons. Playing ‘too safe’ won’t get you anywhere, you need to understand your niche and what everyone else is getting away with. Tools like CLA and CDTOX help you to understand your niche really well.
Nice and decent article. But is it ok to change anchor text ..? I think any change in anchor tag can alter the rankings of keywords. Can we change anchor text with positive result on rankings ..?
The BIG one being —> keep a constant eye out for anchor text ratios, and change when required - thanks for sharing Rick :-)
Comment from: Izabela Wisniewska Visitor
Great one Rick. I will surely give it a go and use those methods.
Thanks for this :)
Thank you Izabela, much appreciated. Hopefully I’ll see you at BrightonSEO again in September.
Really great post Rick! There’s some real gems in here. I have to say unpicking your redirect chain is certainly an interesting one. I’ll take a read of that article thanks!
Hey Rick, I really appreciate this post. It’s helped me more than you can know with my local SEO clients!
Comment from: Glenn Sojourner Visitor
Excellent article….lot of work to get quality backlinks but the results are much better and sustainable.
Indeed Glenn, these days I see some sites performing beautifully with very small numbers of backlinks. This is very different from 2011 when you would see a 3 page affiliate site with 10,000 links!
This article is pure gold. Thanks.
Thank you Marcin, it was a great collaborative effort that I am proud of, thank you.
Thank you, Rick, for the clear how-to descriptions of link building.
I have a question about No 1: Changing Mentions to Backlinks. Somewhere I have heard that big G finds it suspicious, if a link suddenly appears in an article, which was not there the last time big G came along.
Do you have any experiences about that technique?
I’ve not heard that Marco. For sure if a out of context money link suddenly appears in an article, that might seem strange. I am particularly talking about brand mentions here. If somebody is already talking about your brand, I can’t see that it would be suspicious at all.
Comment from: tswiatek Visitor
This is so detailed thank you. It’s also crazy, when do you find the time to do all this? Is it just the setup of this takes a while and then the upkeep is not so time consuming.
Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day: assign yourself a task for a day and spend a day doing that and don’t let yourself get distracted. Good luck!
Wow, super in depth, and a great article Rick.
Cheers Chris, much appreciated.
I heard from an ex Google employee that if you change the anchor text then Google will trust the link less. Is this true?
This was said on Twitter by ex Google employee Pedro Dias, on July 1st 2014. Later on in the day he said “Like I said, “less trust” doesn’t mean it’s bad or negative. Especially if it’s on a reputable site.” Personally, I believe that if there is less trust it is negligible and probably outweighed by the positive effects of ‘improving’ the anchor text. I’ve had anchor text changed on powerful sites linking to my money sites and seen dramatic positive changes in ranking :)
Definitely some great strategies here to look into! But I can’t help but feel that changing any pre-existing link (anchor, No Follow/dofollow) is by definition “manipulative” as it shows you have some form of influence whether direct, or indirect towards that link. It would technically not be a “natural” link anymore. Naturally there’s a lot of grey areas in the middle here, but just always something I think about.
Although it’s been done on link cleanup campaigns before and a needed task in some clean up scenarios, I’m curious what other people’s opinions are on this?
Thanks for your comment Michael. Indeed with any kind of link strategy there is a risk. However it is not one single link that is going to get you in trouble, it’s when this is done ‘en masse’. As always I would recommend regular Link Detox maintenance to make sure your overall link profile looks healthy and natural. Using tools like CDTOX and CLA helps you understand what is ‘normal’ in your niche - you should always aim to blend in and not stand out. Happy link prospecting.
Comment from: Dewald Swart Visitor
Very nice guide on link building. Never knew that linking out to link sources can help your links be stronger.