For the last few years private blog networks (PBNs) have been the link-building strategy of choice for many niche site builders and affiliate marketers. However, since the Google crackdown on private blog networks, many internet marketers are now looking for PBN alternatives.
Fed up with constantly battling Google, this latest wave of penalties does seem to be having Google’s desired effect; namely in encouraging many internet marketers to clean up their act, tidy up their link building and make a concerted effort to build long-term, white hat, Google-safe links.
Luckily, if you’ve got a high quality site (yes, I’m afraid it is a pre-requisite) there are all manner of alternatives to private blog networks that are cheaper, safer and just as effective. However before we take a deeper look at the strategies themselves, it’s only fair to issue an “SEO health warning”…
The fact is that when it comes to SEO, nothing can ever be guaranteed to be Google-safe. SEO will always involve risk. The next algorithm update could obliterate your business. It’s the nature of the beast.
However what I would say this that I’ve been doing SEO since 2000. That’s a long time, and the suggestions below are based on my own experiences and my opinions on the future. I could never, would never, promise that you’ll be 100% safe and secure by relying on them.
What I am saying is that if you’re looking for alternatives to PBN links, I think the following strategies are some of the most effective – and safe – link building techniques currently available.
White Hat Alternatives To PBNs
While the dust settles after Google’s recent manual penalties of several well-known private blog networks there are two trains of thought. One of those is the hardcore blackhatters who plan to continue on with their blog networks, making changes as necessary and hoping to stay ahead of the game.
I wish these people luck but I think there are some significant risks.
The alternative are those who are giving up on building links with PBNs and are instead looking for some alternative strategies. Something a little more white hat. Something a little more future-proof. Something that, we hope, will get you results that are just as good without having to rebuild all over again in six months time.
And it’s these folks – looking for a realistic alternative to PBNs that this article is for. If you’ve been building gray hat (or black hat) links for the last few months and you now want to go white hat, where do you start? What techniques are really working right now?
Well I’m glad you asked. You see, there are dozens of techniques that you could use, but I wanted to prioritize these for you. Working, as I do, with dozens of clients each month I get to see what is producing the best results right now.
The strategies laid out below therefore are those that I have cherry-picked as the most effective – and replicable – ways of building white hat links right now.
But what is really working?
Competitor Link Analysis
Possibly the best place to start your new link building campaign is through competitor backlink analysis. While this may sound like an unwieldy phrase, the concept behind it is very simple. In essence, you are going to find all the links that are pointing to your nearest competitors, then analyze these to find only the best and most juicy opportunities.
Once you can see what seems to be working for your competitors it’s time to try and replicate these links for your own site. Remember that these days the “wrong” links can harm your site while the “right” links can help. By attempting to replicate only the “best” links, you will often be able to rank much easier than your competitors whose link profile may be weighed down by lower quality links.
1) Create A List Of Your Nearest Competitors
Start off by gathering a list of those competitors of yours who seem to be performing well in the search engines. Ideally you’ll see that they appear for a range of keyword phrases in your niche and their overall website model will be very similar to your own. The closer their site is to yours, the more effective the strategy will be.
2) Find Their Backlinks
One at a time, paste your competitor’s websites into one of the many backlink analysis tools. Personally I like to use SEO Profiler and Majestic though AHREFs, Moz and SEMRush are all viable alternatives.
3) Analyze The Results
Depending on the number of competitors used, and the niche you’re in, you may find anything from a few hundred to many thousands of links pointing to your competitors. What you want to find are only the most powerful links, in the hope that you might be able to replicate them.
SEO Profiler is probably the easiest tool for this purpose as it provides a “link value” for each link. Simply sort the list by this number and record only those links with a score of 30 or more.
Other tools have their own metrics; Majestic has Citation Flow and Trust Flow while Moz has Domain Authority and Page Authority for example. The goal is to utilize these metrics, irrespective of the tool you use, in order to find only the most powerful links.
Once you have gathered a list of the most powerful links pointing to your competitors, consider how you might manage to replicate these. Each scenario is different, but visiting each of these linking pages in turn to see how and why they have linked to your competitor can quickly generate dozens of potential link building ideas to follow up on.
Top Quality Content + Outreach
Sometimes, building links and promoting your website is as simple as just asking.
The sad fact is that while many bloggers and website owners truly believe that they are producing top quality content, the truth is often something rather different. The content they’re putting out is mediocre at best. It doesn’t stand out in any way (well, not in a good way, anyway).
Yet when you consider some of the blogs that really stand out in the content marketing world – blogs like Backlinko, Blogging Wizard, Entrepreneurs Journey and CoSchedule and more – the things that really make them stand out is the depth and quality of their content.
In essence, they’ve got better content than anyone else; and this content naturally attracts links and, over time, ranks for all manner of keyword phrases.
1) Find Content That Is Performing Well
Some topics are just more “sharable” and “linkworthy” than others. So don’t try to reinvent the wheel; instead use the plethora of online tools that will show you how well a certain piece of content performed.
Classically, you could use tools like Social Crawlytics or Buzz Sumo to search for broad keyword phrases and see which articles have gotten the most shares recently. However I’m not overly impressed with this technique because it’s natural that a blog will gather more social media followers over time, which will result in more social shares.
In other words, the same article published more recently will likely receive more shares than the same article published some time ago. I hope that makes sense.
While the concept of social shares isn’t valueless, would I recommend is an additional step to give yourself the best chance of finding topics that perform.
You remember that list of competitors you found in the last step? Well navigate over to Open Site Explorer, paste in each website address in turn and click on the “top pages” tab. This will show you the pages on competitor sites that have the most links pointing to them. If you find any content-rich pages here, you may well have a winner on your hands.
2) Use The Winners As Inspiration
The ever-reliable Brian Dean recommends a process known as the “skyscraper” technique, whereby you aim to create a piece of content like the winners that you’ve found, but even better. You make yours longer, more complete, more interesting. Just more. In this way you’re taking inspiration from a piece of content that is already successful, and making it even better.
There are other techniques. Your content doesn’t necessarily have to be longer; it could simply be more attractively presented, it could use more images and multimedia, it could just be more up to date.
Whatever the case, you’re looking to make content that offers more value than the original pieces you found.
3) Reach Out To The Original Promoters
The final stage here is to contact the authorities who shared or linked to the original piece of content, and let them know about your version. With any luck they’ll be equally interested in your piece of content and will help to promote it for you.
Link Bait + Outreach
“Link bait” is the name given to a piece of content that is specifically designed to attract links. Most commonly, this is because the article contains flattering information about one or more people or companies.
However these individuals aren’t chosen at random; they’re very carefully selected for their existing authority, current audience size (social media following, newsletter subscribers etc) and their willingnes to share, or link to, other people’s content.
One then simply writes an article that features a number of these carefully-chosen targets and then fires them off an email to let them know they’ve been featured.
1) Locate Websites In Your Niche That Link Out
The sad fact is that many companies and individuals won’t share your piece of content no matter how good it is. They quite simply don’t share other people’s content. No matter how old-fashioned this may seem, producing link bait for sites that don’t link out defeats the whole object.
What you’re looking for ideally are well-known companies or individuals who have a decent audience. Ideally you’ll want a reasonably well-known blog or social media profiles with thousands of followers, so that if and when your site is mentioned you’ll see a bump in traffic.
Pro Tip: try using Google to search for companies in your niche who maintain a “press” page. Many of these list and link to articles where they have been mentioned. Try searches such as:[your broad keyword] + intitle:mentions [your broad keyword] + inurl:press
…and so on. Doing so you will often be able to turn up a list of potential companies you can feature in some way.
2) Create The Content
Just how “link baity” you choose to make your article is up to you. You might, for example, want to write a balanced review of a product that you truly love. It’s no surprise that the originating company you’re writing about might be willing to share your post or link to it if you’re truly flattering them.
Alternatively you might want to create a list post, such as the “Top 10 Premium WordPress Plugins” – ensuring that the plugins that you feature are not only top notch but also maintain some kind of online authority that you may be able to leverage.
Next, you may decide to approach these individuals for an interview, then publish it on your blog.
Lastly, you may simply write an article about something totally different and simply mention a particular product or person in passing (and when appropriate).
All of these four strategies can help you to effortlessly create quality content that in some way helps out the companies mentioned.
Just like our last strategy, you really don’t need to do anything fancy here. Just hit them up with an email, letting them know that you just featured them in a blog post. Provide the link so they can check it out and ask if they’d be willing to share it on social media or link to it.
Resource Page Links
Let’s imagine for a moment that I’ve set up a blog all about metal detecting. It’s done pretty well over the years, has naturally attracted all manner of links and receives hundreds of genuine visitors each day. I’ve built up genuine authority, thanks to years of effort and application.
But all is not well. Every day it seems my inbox has people asking the same questions. What books should they buy? What metal detectors are the best? How do they find out about the legalities of metal detecting on private land? And so on.
Sooner or later, to stem this tide, I’ll most likely create a “resources” page that links out to all the key resources I keep on sharing. In all likelihood I’ll probably also chuck in some links to the blogs and websites on my metal-detecting friends too.
And herein lies an opportunity. You see, the internet is littered with these “resource” pages. And each one is a potential link-building goldmine. Even better, many of them can be found on older, more established sites. This is good because older sites have normally received all manner of natural inbound links based purely on their length of service. These resources pages can therefore be very powerful.
Even better, this is one of the few PBN alternatives that doesn’t involve the production of all manner of content. Quite the reverse; if you’ve already got a decent website then this one technique can quickly build you dozens of high quality, Google-friendly link.
1) Find Resources Pages
The process of building links with resources pages is relatively simple. There are two main ways to find them. Firstly, there are a number of Google searches which can yield some positive results.
[your broad keyword] + inurl:resources [your broad keyword] + inurl:links [your broad keyword] + intitle:resources [your broad keyword] + intitle:resources [your broad keyword] + “useful resources” [your broad keyword] + “helpful resources”
Alternatively, if you’re like me dealing with dozens of clients each month and only having limited time, you could invest a few dollars on a subscription to Link Prospector. This tool, mentioned before here on the blog, will quickly help you find hundreds of potential links pages, as well as providing you with the SEO metrics for each page found.
2) Analyze The Results
Whichever method you use to locate resource pages in your industry, the mechanism for building links is still very manual. You’ll need to go through the lists that you generate and visit each one in turn to try and decide if your website is a suitable match for them. Is there resources page trusted by Google? Do they have many outgoing links? Do they have plenty of broken links?
And who are they linking to? Realistically, based on who they already link to, what are the odds of them linking to you? Is there anything you can do to increase your odds?
Sort slowly through the list, keeping a note of only the most appropriate pages. I normally find sites in the PR3-6 range most appropriate to my clients; they hold enough weight for the links to be beneficial but aren’t so high as to be unachievable.
Lastly, it’s just a matter of doing to donkey-work, contacting each site in turn with a polite email, asking whether they might be willing to add a ink to your site.
Here is a sample email:
I just found your [NICHE] resources page at [URL].
I currently run a website all about [NICHE] and thought I’d drop you a line to see if you might be willing to add it to your page as another useful resource for your visitors?
You can take a look at our site at:[URL]
I look forward to hearing from you.
Everyone loves to hear from an expert in their field. Hearing from someone who has already achieved what you want to can be a great source of inspiration and motivation. Of course, the expert provides much of the content and so it’s only fair that the publishing blogger normally links back to the expert’s site as a small thank you.
This is where you can come in; by being “the expert” and responding to interview questions you should normally find that the blogger in question provides a link to your site. Keep up a regular number of interviews and you’ll manage to quickly build your inbound links in a safe and ethical manner.
It can be tough to get interviewed initially, especially if your site is new and nobody has heard of you. There’s a great article on the subject here but possibly the most helpful tip I can give you is to join My Blog U.
This service, run by veteran online marketer Ann Smarty makes finding and taking part in interviews a breeze. I have used it several times myself and can attest to the ease with which one can build authority and traffic by merely sharing top quality content and answering interview questions.
1) Sign Up For My Blog U
The process is simple enough. Sign up for free here.
2) Answer Appropriate Interviews
Search through the list of existing interviews sought and, wherever appropriate, leave your answers to the questions.
3) That’s It!
Assuming you have provided good quality answers to the questions provided, you should find yourself being featured on other blogs soon enough. Even better, as you take part in these interviews, over time you’ll start to be remembered by those in your niche and should find yourself invited to all manner of other interview opportunities.
High Level Guest Posting
If you’ve been marketing your website for any period of time then you’ll no doubt remember the furore that surrounded Google’s attack on guest blogging. However Google’s guidelines have since been changed, rendering guest blogging an effective link building strategy if done right.
The fact is that writing dozens of crummy posts and submitting them to blogs of questionable quality is dead as a link building tactic. And rightly so.
But what isn’t dead is producing top quality content and publishing it on other top quality blogs. The kind of blogs that will send you droves of traffic, irrespective of the search engine benefits. That’s how you want to guest post these days.
1) Find Blogs To Guest Post On
You probably already know the top blogs in your niche. You know, the ones that seem to rank for every keyword phrase you type in. The ones that everyone in your vertical has heard of. These are the blogs you want to be targeting.
If you don’t already know them, take the time to do your research and find them. Good places to start your search are AllTop, Blog Catalog or some broad Google searches. You’ll soon uncover some goodies.
Alternatively, my preferred method is to use a tool like Link Prospector for finding guest blogging opportunities. It not only turns up far more blogs than I could find manually, including all manner that I would likely have never found, but they’re already carefully organized with their SEO metrics. This makes finding the highest quality blogs in your niche as easy as pie.
2) Analyze The Blogs
Just because a blog used to accept guest posts doesn’t mean it does now. And just because it doesn’t have a big blazing “Write For Us” link on every page doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t accept guest posts.
You need to take your time, do your research and manually go through your list. Remember that if you’ve used a tool like Link Prospector it will at least be quicker because you can immediately dismiss those blogs with less-than-stellar results.
Then visit each one. Check to make sure that each blog is still being updated regularly. Also, take a look to see how long it is since they published a guest post and see if there are any guest posting guidelines given anywhere on the site. If a number of guest posts have been published on a great blog over the last few months, you could be in luck.
3) Contact The Owners
Hopefully by now you’ve got yourself a decent list of prospects who might be willing to let you contribute. If they have a page specially for contributors then follow their guidelines to the letter. If they don’t just drop them a quick line, providing links to a few articles you’ve written before, and ask if they might be willing to accept a contribution from you. If so, discuss possible topics.
4) Write & Submit The Content
No special help needed here; except to say that if you’re targeting the top quality blogs like I recommended, you’ll need to make sure your content is truly epic. So put the effort in; the results will make it worthwhile.
Regular Contributor Opportunities
If you stick to Google’s guidelines, guest posting is still an effective and white hat method of building your audience, but there’s a problem.
The kinds of blogs that you want to publish your posts are few and far between. It can take weeks to track them down, get in contact, suggest a topic, write an article, edit as necessary, get it approved and then wait for publication. I’ve personally waited over 3 months in the past for a single guest post to be published.
Appreciate also that each blog will have it’s own requirements, it’s own processes and so on.
Getting half a dozen guest posts published these days can be a truly impressive feat in some niches.
However there is a solution. The fact is that if you look hard enough, there are a surprising number of blogs looking for regular contributors. They don’t want one-off guest posts; instead they want people who will contribute a new article on a regular basis.
These gigs are often worthwhile because it means you can not only build continual new links to your site without needing to constantly find new blogs to post on and you also get to build up some authority in the eyes of that blogs regular readers too.
The process is essentially the same as before though I would use phrases like “regular contributor” or “staff writer” along with your keyword to turn up potential sources of guest blogging opportunities.
As you can see, all of these PBN alternatives take time and effort. They require a little legwork. But I’d argue that they’ll produce far better results for you long term and will be far safer. What link building techniques are you using right now? Have you been affected by Googles PBN de-indexing?