Link building has always been critical for SEO. The number of external websites linking to your site has a massive impact on your rankings. However, the way marketers obtain backlinks has changed over the years. Ever since Google’s Panda and Penguin updates, there has been a shift towards “white-hat” link building as opposed to “black-hat” methods.
What is white hat SEO?
The term “white-hat” is not limited to link building. It’s a broader term that refers to SEO tactics and techniques that do not violate Google’s policies. That’s opposed to “black-hat” SEO, which is a term that refers to shady, spammy SEO techniques that sometimes work but which can get your site penalized if Google notices what you are doing.
When it comes to link building in particular, “white-hat” refers to methods of obtaining backlinks that do not involve spam and do not violate Google’s rules. I’ll talk more about some white-hat methods you can use to build backlinks later in this article.
Sometimes, people use “white-hat link building” to refer to getting high-quality backlinks. Low-quality backlinks can hurt your site rankings, even if the methods you used to obtain them do not specifically violate Google’s guidelines.
To understand why white-hat link building is so important, however, we need to step back a bit, zoom out, and discuss a major Google algorithm update that changed the way SEO marketers created backlinks: Google Penguin.
What is Google Penguin, and why does it matter?
Google Penguin is a name given to a web spam algorithm update designed to stop spammy sites from achieving high rankings. Before Penguin, websites would achieve excellent rankings by building hundreds or thousands of low-quality backlinks.
Some practices used to get those backlinks included:
- Buying mass amounts of backlinks from “link farms,” or sites dedicated to providing backlinks.
- Using bots to leave hundreds of low-quality comments on other blogs with backlinks embedded in the comments.
- Setting up a PBN, or Private Blog Network, (a network of low-quality blogs all providing backlinks to the main parent site). Often, those low-quality blogs contained unoriginal content — either content that was outright plagiarized or “spun” with a bot to avoid plagiarism detection. Spun content might not contain word-for-word plagiarism, but it usually doesn’t sound natural and often makes no sense.
- Using link exchange networks to trade backlinks.
The problem was that those strategies worked. They fooled Google into thinking that a site was popular and well-known — the more backlinks a site had, the better it would rank, regardless of backlink quality. That’s why Google released its Penguin update, which changed everything.
Instead of looking at the number of backlinks a site had, Google started looking at the quality of each backlink. Sites that had a lot of backlinks from low-quality sites or “link farms” were demoted in the search rankings or even manually penalized. On the other hand, sites that had backlinks from high-quality and relevant blogs saw an increase in rankings.
The Google Penguin update followed the Google Panda update, which was designed to demote sites with thin content that used keyword stuffing to get better rankings.
These days content is more and more about quality and addressing the user’s intent effectively. Thin content can still rank but it depends on the context and intent of the search. Google has gotten much better at judging content in the last decade.
Examples of white hat link building
I already went over some examples of spammy link-building methods to avoid. For example, paying a link farm for backlinks is a link-building method you should never use. But which link-building methods can you use?
Here are some examples of valid link-building methods that you can use to obtain high-quality links without being spammy.
1. Guest posting
Guest posting is one of the best ways to drive more traffic, increase exposure, and get more backlinks. It involves reaching out to a relevant site in your niche and offering to write a guest post for them, for free. In the article or your author bio, you can link back to your site. If this sounds complicated, you can outsource guest posting to a white label company.
2. Broken link building
With broken link building, you find sites that have dead outbound links that lead to 404 errors. Reach out to those sites and suggest they link to your site instead. You both win — nobody wants broken outbound links, as that doesn’t help readers.
3. Reclaim mentions
Sometimes, people will mention your site without linking to it. You can “reclaim” those links by reaching out to those authors and politely suggesting they insert a hyperlink to your blog.
Usually, it’s not because they specifically don’t want to link to you that they left out the link. Most of the time, they simply forgot or didn’t have the time to find the right page on your site to link to.
Focus on quality links
As I mentioned before, Google now values quality instead of just looking at the number of your links. If you use a backlink-building method that Google specifically does not allow, you may receive a manual penalty, in which case your site will either drop dramatically in the search results or no longer appear at all.
Even if you use a white-hat method, such as guest posting, you still need to target quality sites. Getting a lot of backlinks from low-quality sites, even if you use non-spammy methods, can lead to a drop in rankings. While you may not get a manual penalty from a human reviewer, Google’s algorithms may decide your site is low-quality and automatically give you lower rankings.
So, what is a quality site? Here are some things to look for:
- It should have a good Page Rank and Domain Authority
- It must be relevant to your niche and the topics you cover
- It should not be a brand-new site; look for sites that are at least 1-3 years old
- It should have high-quality unique content that is long-form, helpful, and informative
Be wary of sites contacting you and offering you a link. Usually, they’ll want payment in exchange for that link, but that goes against Google’s guidelines. If a site is reaching out to you and looking for a guest post, the site quality may be poor — a high-quality site will have people reaching out to them.
Wrapping it up
As long as you focus on high-quality, white hat link building, you will be fine. One of the best ways to ensure you stick to white hat methods is to use a trusted agency that provides professional, white hat link-building methods. Feel free to check out our link-building services to see how we can help.