By now, everyone should be intimately aware of the recent Google smackdown. A few blog networks have been completely nuked, while others have shut their doors to new members.
Many are now struggling with unnatural link warnings, big ranking drops, and the new possibilities for negative SEO.
Face it. The SEO landscape is constantly changing. The first Google Panda updates hit sites more than a year ago. And there were plenty of algorithm changes, big and small, before that. Google is constantly changing its algorithms and if you want to keep ahead of the curve, then you need to start adapting.
So that got me thinking…
If blog networks aren’t working anymore, then what is?
My New Project
About that time when all these changes were starting to happen, I read this really great post by Eppie Vojt called How Garbage Ranks in the SERPs: a Case Study. It was a really fascinating post that generated a ton of positive (and negative) buzz.
What interested me most from the article though was the Link Detective tool he developed to analyze a website’s backlink profile and categorize the types of links that were pointing to it. It can identify many different types of backlinks, from footer and sidebar links, to comments links, profile links and even blog post links.
Although you can sign up for free, I didn’t like the fact that it would only work with backlinks download from Open Site Explorer.
Inspired by his idea, I decided to build my own version that incorporated my own custom link types and would work with any set of backlinks I could throw at it. I had my programmer work on this project, and a week later I had my own Link Classifier tool to experiment with.
The Case Study
While the tool is still a work in progress, I wanted to test it out with a simple case study and look at a couple of sites in niches I was very familiar with. More specifically, I looked at two high value keywords I saw ranking drops with on my own sites and examined the backlinks profiles of the sites that had replaced them.
My two favorite sources for downloading backlinks are Ahrefs and Majestic SEO. By combining the results from both services, I am able to build a more extensive backlink profile and get more complete results.
Keep in mind that my goal here is not to out any particular sites, so I won’t be sharing any of the urls. I am mainly interested in taking a more in-depth look at my competition’s backlink profiles to see what link building techniques they are using and see what’s currently working at this point in time.
Currently ranks #3 for a very popular IM product name keyword.
Comment – 44
Not Found – 69
Redirect – 1
Dead – 93
Unknown Links – 12
Total Links – 339
I was already quite familiar with Site 1 as I have observed this site on the first page of the Google search results for a long time now. While my own targeted post dropped down to the 3rd page of the SERPs, Site 1 has taken hold of the #3 spot for this very lucrative keyword in the IM space.
Site 1 is your classic sniper product review site with an exact match domain. Objectively, the content on the site is average at best, with no screenshots or video. There is no social engagement either. (0 Tweets, 1 FB share)
Site 1′s link profile is quite interesting to look at. As I take a deeper at the In-Post links, it is quite obvious that they certainly have used blog networks as a main component of their backlinking strategy. I was able to identify Authority Link Network and Article Ranks as two networks that were used for sure.
What is funny is that their In-Post links were definitely affected by the Google’s recent updates as all but 6 of them (94%) were de-indexed.
So what’s keeping the site at the top? If you look at the linking profile it looks like the blog comments are doing the trick. These are not your normal hand-written, thoughtful comments though…
Instead, it’s obvious from examining the comments themselves that Site 1 is using Scrapebox (or similar program) to find auto approve blogs to post their comments on. All of the comments I looked at were short, nonsensical blurbs of text. However, each one of them contained 2 or 3 anchor text keywords links in the comment body.
I was a bit surprised at the effectiveness of these types of links, but there doesn’t seem to be any question that they do work.
Currently ranking #2 for a generic web hosting related keyword.
In-Post – 84
Comment – 3
Forum Signature – 6
Sidebar – 8
Not Found – 54
Unknown – 28
Redirects – 1
Dead – 39
Total Links: 232
Site 2 is your standard web hosting review site. Web hosting is an extremely lucrative niche because of the high affiliate commissions you can earn from each web hosting sale. It is also one of the most competitive niches for SEO.
Site 2 really shows the linking power of relevant, paid links. Looking at the site’s backlink profile, I see a handful of paid sidebar and footer links combined with a large amount of paid In-Post links. They have also done a good job mixing up their link profile by throwing in some forum signature links, web 2.0 blog posts on their own WordPress.com created blogs and a few legitimate blog comments as well.
Drilling down into the In-Post links is rather enlightening. First of all, I see some really nice contextual links on real, legitimate websites. These are paid text links of course, but they’ve done a good job of making them blend in.
I also noticed some blog network post type links. Not paid blog networks mind you. But a private blog network only used by Site 2 and a few of their other sites. I can tell this because these blogs aren’t filled with thousands of posts covering random topics. Instead each blog has a handful of relevant blog posts that only link to a select number of sites.
Obviously, it’s hard to make any concrete declarations by cherry picking the results of a couple of sites.
Still, a few observations:
1) Blog comment spam works. I am actually quite surprised by this fact, as I thought this would be the first type of “unnatural link building” eliminated. Does that mean I’m going to start doing it myself? No. because even if Google hasn’t targeted these types of links yet, they can easily do so in the future. I’d rather focus on something more long-term.
2) Paid links are king. Google went to war against paid links long before the blog networks. But they still work, and they will always work as long as Google continues to place a heavy emphasis on link building. With blog networks losing steam, paid links are still the most effective “black/grey” hat links you can get.
3) Are Private blog networks the future? Will private blog networks become more and more popular? I’ve heard lots of chatter about people building up their own private blog networks. It’s an expensive, and potentially time consuming process to do it right so it will be interesting to see how effective they become in the future.
Got any thoughts on my experiment? What do you think the most effective links will be in the future?
Image source: mushroom-cloud-300×225 By Whatsername?