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7 Preferred Link Building Alternatives to “Link exchanges: The poor man’s SEO” by CNET

Yesterday morning I received an email with a link in it to a new cnet article titled “Link exchanges: The poor man’s SEO”. Since link popularity building is an integral part of any search engine optimization campaign, I had to see what this longstanding publication had to say on the subject. I was more than a little shocked when I read the second sentence:

“Everyone else has to rely on the poor man’s search-engine optimization: the link exchange.”

I could hardly believe that cnet would seemingly recommend to website owners to participate in trading links to increase search engine rankings. There are many other free and low-cost link building alternatives that are actually endorsed by SEO professionals.



While we cannot stand behind the content of cnet’s article, we can try and provide some insight into link building as it pertains to today’s best practices.

7 Preferred Link Building Alternatives

1. Custom Local, Industry & Keyword Themed Link Research

Some of the best sites that you can obtain links from will be related to your niche industry or geographic area. These sites are easy to spot as they are probably already ranking well in the search engines. Most will typically provide links that pass link juice and also have the potential to deliver targeted traffic. Finding these sites is often as simple as doing a Google search for a targeted keyword searched in combination with an additional qualifier. Here are a few examples:

  • Local links can be found though searches that consist of a location keyword + business directory like: Portland business directory.
  • Industry links can be found by searching for industry keywords + directory like: Internet Marketing directory.
  • Keyword themed links can be found by searching for keywords you are trying to rank for + directory like: SEO directory.

  • 2. Write Guest Blog Posts

    BloggerGuest Blogging is where you write a quality article that is intended to be published on another blog. It is typical for guest blog posts to provide attribution to the author through a bio, links back to the author’s site and links that may be found naturally within the post itself.

    One easy way to find blogs that allow guest bloggers is to do a search for a keyword related to your industry/locality + guest blog. In a sample search looking for blogs about our hometown of Portland that allow guest posts, I searched Google for Portland guest blog. 7 out of the first 10 listings are posts from guest bloggers.

    3. Submit to Quality Directories

    There are many quality web directories that accept submissions free of charge or for a small review fee. While not all directories are created equal, many are worth pursuing. Here are a few basic tips that will help you get the most out of your submissions:

    • Focus on quality! Directories that have a high PageRank or long internet history are preferred.
    • Do not utilize a submission service that will submit your site to hundreds or thousands of web directories for an unbelievable low price. They will usually hurt your rankings more than help them.
    • Do not use spammy anchor text that does not represent the content of your website.
    • Stick to an 80/20 rule. Try to only have 20% of your links be from web directories and then focus on obtaining the remaining 80% from other link sources.

    To speed up your search you can check out the large list of directories that Directory Critic has put together.

    4. Photo Sharing & Attribution

    flickrWebsite developers and blog owners are always on the lookout for images and photos that they can use on their sites for free. By uploading photos that you have taken to photo sharing sites like you will be able to gain additional links by allowing your photos to be used in return for attribution through a Creative Commons license. Most attribution will come in the form of links to the photos that have been used, to your profile, or to your Flickr Stream like WebRanking’s. Once a site or blog has added your photos and provided attribution, you should consider contacting the owner directly and request that they link to your site instead of your Flickr account.

    Wikipedia maintains a list of online photo sharing websites that will allow you to expand your reach beyond Flickr.

    Secondary Linking Through Online Social Activities

    There is secondary linking benefit that can be gained through steady and positive participation in related industry websites, local communities and online social sites. As you build awareness and influence within your niche, you can start to attract links from other community members from their websites, blogs and news publications. Links gained in this manner tend to be of higher value than the ones gained directly from the social sites and will often times be worth the effort all by themselves. The best way to approach social participation is to be an upstanding community member, participate regularly, and to provide value and support to your fellow members.

    5. Create Social Community Profiles

    These days there are an abundance of online social communities that you can search out and make connections at. You can go with the standard Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter, or you can branch away from and find a unique niche that better represents your interests and industry. Most of these will provide you with a link to your website of low value or that makes use of the NoFollow attribute that will tell the search engines not to pass ranking benefit, AKA “Link Juice”, on to your website. Because of this the true value of these links will vary from one site to the next.

    The folks over at Inside CRM have produced a nice list of “50 Social Sites That Every Business Needs a Presence on” that will give you a head start on finding social media sites that will fit you.

    6. Comment and Add to Blog Conversations

    Typical blog platforms will place NoFollow tags on outbound links and pass little or no “Link Juice”. However you should be able to find a hidden gem now and again that will provide you with a good link. Some newer platforms and plug-ins have an option that will automatically remove the NoFollow attribute for members that maintain a profile in good standing or post a certain amount of good comments that add to the conversation. This also encourages further participation and repeat visits.

    Blog Catalog is one of the more popular and complete blog directories online and also a good place to find blogs relevant to you industry.

    7. Participate in Community Forums & Message Boards

    Community Message Forums will usually allow you to have a link that points to your website. These will be from either your member profile or directly on the forum threads. Most of these will pass on little “Link Juice” to your site, but diversifying your domain link profile is a recommended best practice of today’s SEO.

    Big Boards is a website that currently has over 2,300 message boards in their database that you can search to find forums that are related to your website.

    Something Missing? Feel free to comment below if you have any additional poor man’s link building suggestions that did not get included here. If your comment does not get trapped in our spam filters and is not spammy in nature, then you will have just completed Link Building Alternative #6.

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    Reader Comments

    • Jason Capshaw | July 24, 2009

      This is really a great list. Thanks for sharing. I have been doing research on many of the different link building techniques out there. I have seen some recent link networks take a huge dive in value.

    • Sandy Allain | August 27, 2009

      Great post! We all know how hard it is to get those backlink. I think that in the past it was easier to get links because people didn’t know the value of it. Now everyone with a good website with a good PR know that it won’t get you a link for free. Unless you really importe value but even that sometimes for some webmasters, it is not enough. You need to offer something in exchange. I notice that giving something for free help a lot. I even did some small design tasks as designing a banner to offer the webmaster my help. So here is another way to offer something in exchange, a link, an article, a free banner etc…

    • Doug | October 19, 2010

      I have to say this is a great article for people wanting to learn and do seo the right way. One of the best postings I have read anywhere. I really appreciate your efforts and willingness to put it out there for us all to benefit from. Thanks. I will refer to it often.

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