7 rules of link building in 2009

Thu 14 May 2009 14:06, Eduard Blacquière

Link building is a vital part of SEO ever since search engines started using the link structure of the web to capture the relative importance of web pages.

The link building economy especially took off since Google introduced PageRank, their algorithm for prioritizing the results of web keyword searches based on analyzing the citation (link) graph of the web.

Link Building in 2009
But is relying on PageRank still the way to go with link building in 2009, 10 years after Google introduced it? I don't think so.

7 rules of link building in 2009

And what about these link building tips from 2002 for requesting a link (see the "131 (Legitimate) Link Building Strategies" article, which is worth a read anyway)?

  • Always have a link already put on your own site before you ask for a link in return.
  • Always give them the exact link text to use.
  • Make sure they actually have a links page.

I neither do think this is the best way to go with link building nowadays.

How to find and get those real juicy links
I think link building these days is fundamentally different from link building as it has been done for years now. I could tell you why I think that right now, but instead I like to point you to an excellent presentation of Christoph Cemper which he gave at the A4Uexpo Europe conference in Amsterdam two weeks ago.

In his presentation "Advanced Link Building in 2009 - How to find and get those real juicy links!" (embedded below) Christoph Cemper succeeds in pointing out what link building is about these days. My summary and a resume of what he added to his slides in his presentation.

What did matter in link building?
Christoph starts his presentation naming what did use to work in link building, being:

  • Precise anchor text
  • PageRank
  • Alexa Rank
  • Google backlink data
  • Google cache date

Google PageRank
Precise anchor text is discussed below. Talking about PageRank, that did matter a lot in achieving high rankings through link building. But its weight in Google's algorithm has decreased, as SEOmoz illustrated.

There's a lot more to search engine rankings than PageRank nowadays. Even pages with little or no PageRank at all are making it to the top of the search results.

Alexa Rank
The accuracy of Alexa Rank has always been discussed. Leaving aside the possible value of Alexa, it is clear that Alexa Rank is not a data point to trust determing the importance of a web page.

Google backlink data
The same goes for Google backlink data using the link: search operator. Google's Matt Cutts recently confirmed again that the link: operator returns random sample data, so please do not use this in anyway for link building purposes nowadays.

Google cache date
The Google cache date of a page is often used to conclude when Googlebot last indexed a page. However caching and indexing are not the same processes, so be careful drawing your conclusions on Google's cache date.

What does matter in link building?
Cemper proceeds his presentation with naming what does matter in link building these days. It comes down to 2 key elements: relevance and trust. To explain this, he names his 7 golden rules of link building.

7 golden rules of white hat link building
Christoph Cemper defines his 7 rules of link building from a white hat perspective (being to work in line with the search engine guidelines).

  1. Relevant page & in-content links
  2. Domain trust
  3. Natural anchor text distribution
  4. Nofollow
  5. Juicy page (page that passes value to you)
  6. Don't spam
  7. Don't buy links for PageRank

1. Relevant page & in-content links
The most important thing in link building these days is to have relevant links to relevant content. A relevant link means a link on a relevant page within the content. So a link in the footer or sidebar of a page is not the way to go anymore.

Think like a user, not like someone performing SEO. Therefore relevant external links are good as well. Don't worry about wasting PageRank, but think about adding value for the user.

2. Domain trust
Second to relevancy comes trust when performing link building activities. You need links from trusted sites to become trusted. And this trust is important for both links from and to a page. When it comes to trust the domain age of a site is a strong indicator.

But Christoph Cemper also coins an important term: "co-citations". This basically means that a page is part of group of unlinked pages that share the same inbound links, and are thus co-citated.

Co-citations and SEO
In 2006 link building expert Jim Boykin wrote an article on co-citation in relation to SEO.

There are 2 basic lessons that can be learnt here: it is important 1) who you link to with and 2) who is linked with you.

Build trust
Think about this for a second or two (and read Jim Boykin's article). Then you'll understand how Google can algorithmically determine if a link is relevant or not and if the link is within a "bad neighborhood".

So it is important to build trust through relevant domains, not only links. Because trusted domains respond differently and more quickly in search engines than 'regular' web sites.

Authority and PageRank
Trust is often referred to as authority, which is becoming increasingly important in Google's algorithm. A recent comparison of PageRank and SEOmoz's mozRank indicate that PageRank started weighting in authority as well.

3. Natural anchor text
A natural anchor text (or link text) means that not all links have the 'perfect' anchor text. But search engines can detect this and devaluate your site. So make sure you realize a natural anchor text distribution.

The problem is that there are too many companies (SEO companies too!) that fix on PageRank and precise anchor text, but even big companies (trusted sites) can get in trouble with it (see Cristoph's case study in his presentation below).

A natural anchor text distribution is reached by doing link building as follows:

  • Vary the anchor text
  • Add nofollow to some links
  • Add useless anchor texts (brand name, site-url, read more, click here)

The important thing here is that regular users don't care about anchor text. Therefore 'useless' anchor texts make sense. So vary the anchor text and don't worry too much anymore about a precise anchor text.

Basically you're in trouble if all your links look like they were built by an SEO. If a lot of the links to a certain web page have the same precise anchor text, search engines can figure out that is not a natural link profile.

4. Nofollow
Did you ever build nofollow links, on relevant pages that is? Sounds strange for SEO doesn't it. But yes, you should! Because you don't care about PageRank that much anymore (do you?). Also realize that normal users don't care about nofollow either. Do do of course not see or know if a link is a nofollow link.

Turning this around: if you don't have any nofollow links that could be a footprint. But don't overdo it. Based on data, from the SEOmoz's index built for their Linkscape tool, 2.7% of all links on the web are nofollowed. Another interesting fact is that 73% of those are internal, so nofollow is actually far more popular as a link sculpting tool than a spam prevention device.

Remember the 2 key elements of link building nowadays: we want relevant and trust, not a 'filled green bar'. It need to look like it is built by users.

5. Juicy page
A juicy page is actually simple to define: it ranks. And therefore a juicy page is a page that passes value to you.

How do you check if a page is juicy? If we follow the definition that a juicy is a page that ranks, check if a page is juicy as follows:

  • Pick unique phrase from the page
  • Search Google for this phrase (with "quotes")
  • Check if the page is on position number 1

If the page does not rank on position number 1, it's not that much of a juicy page. In that case competitors probably stole the content of that page and, even worse, Google thinks that page is more relevant (or is the page you're checking a copy?).

How to find relevant pages?
Extending this approach you can follow the next steps to find a relevant page for link building purposes:

  • Search the keyword phrase you are targeting and look at the top results
  • Use combinations of the target keyword
  • Filter commercial, duplicate, etc. web sites
  • Check if the page is juicy
  • Are there any spammy looking links on there?

6. Don't spam
This is not a surprise, especially from a white hat perspective, but you should not spam links. Practices which do not look natural (= built by users), and therefore could be marked as spam, are:

  • Links on duplicate content pages
  • Adding links into pages which are years old
  • Links within a bad neighboorhood (see Co-citations above)

7. Don't buy links for PageRank
Especially since Google started manually adjusting the PageRank of web sites that buy or sell links for ranking purposes only, it's not a smart move to buy or sell links for PageRank only.

Besides that paying for links is against Google's guidelines, it doesn't align with the 2 key elements of link building these days: relevance and trust.

Not all paid links violate Google's guidelines. As Google states: "Buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web when done for advertising purposes, and not for manipulation of search results. Links purchased for advertising should be designated as such." [= adding a nofollow tag to it]

By the way, the PageRank value and weight in Google's algorithm is deflated anyway. So you don't look at PageRank anyway. (do you?)

So what works best doing link building these days? A summary of the learnings above:

  • Do not look at Google PageRank or Alexa Rank
  • Do obey the 7 golden link building rules above
  • Do not worry about wasting PageRank or anchor text
  • Think like a user! (not a SEO)



  • Comments (14)
  • SEO
  • Tell-a-cowboy

Comments (14)


  • hi thanks for giving this valuable info....can u tell me or update what is ppc and how we will start ppc work..what are the benefits with ppc...if u do so iam very thankful in advance.

    Do 14 mei 2009, 19:38

  • Hello, the presentation and your explanation has been done brilliantly. However, the big question today is not WHAT to do for Link Building but HOW to do it. For instance, how do you expect a webmaster of a 'Juicy' Web Page to give in-content links to you unless there is an incentive attached to it which shall contradict with Rule #7!

    Vr 15 mei 2009, 08:46

  • This really comes down to the age old question about whether you do link building to bring targeted traffic to your website, or you do link building to enhance your search engine rankings.

    I think in the eyes of Google if you do link building to bring targeted traffic to your website then you will naturally bring benefit to your search engine rankings anyway.

    Great points that you made above in relation to this discussion.

    Za 16 mei 2009, 00:36

  • I would place one golden rule above anything else; make your website such an invaluable source of relevant information, in a range of formats, that owners of good quality and relevant sites 'naturally' link to you.

    Ma 18 mei 2009, 09:58

  • @Shadab
    I understand your question, but that is not specifically covered in this post.

    Keep watching SearchCowboys for posts on how to do link building and there are plenty out there on the web as well!

    But that age old question is becoming less valid these days. Search engines are aligning those 2 objectives more and more.

    I agree with that 100%, but that is in line with the rules stated above.

    Vr 22 mei 2009, 15:10

  • To understand more on how to optimize your own site is to learn more of the basic strategies and techniques of SEO. There are lots of online tips and reviews on how to do SEO effectively for your site. In this way, it can help improve and establish the traffic for it. Also, by designing your site relevantly would also increase the quality rate of your site.

    Di 26 mei 2009, 15:47

  • These rules are great. It will really help people to come to know about link building.Link building is one of the best ways to make your site popular.

    Cynthia Kurtz

    Za 30 mei 2009, 11:12

  • hi thanks for giving the rules an this valuable info.

    Do 4 jun 2009, 18:59

  • Thanks for the useful article, this is going to help me a lot in future link building campaigns...

    Wo 17 jun 2009, 16:45

  • Thanks for the info, you have really helped me out with this. Cheers! :o)


    Wo 8 dec 2010, 04:56

  • Thanks for this great advice

    Di 26 jul 2011, 21:06

    • Social Media Marketing

    Good tips, It is very useful that you have get from this post.Really it was a priveledge for you to hear from these experts those tips.

    Di 10 jan 2012, 15:51

  • Nice Post

    Wo 5 okt 2016, 08:37

  • Great keep it up

    Wo 5 okt 2016, 08:38


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