3 Link Building Shortcuts That Can Send Your Campaign Straight To Hell

Jul 5, 2012   //   by Julie Joyce   //   SEO Blog  //  23 Comments

When I was a kid, I’d always roll my eyes when my dad decided that he was going to try a new shortcut to get somewhere. Usually it meant driving through loads of backroads in desolate areas where the only signs of life were deer lurking by the side of the road just waiting to jump in front of our big station wagon.  We’d never actually be lost, but it would take us an hour to get to a place that was originally just 10 miles away from where we started. We’d definitely see cool stuff, and I’ll never forget seeing the little volleyball play area where, if the ball got away from you, you’d have to run through some old tombstones to find it. Fun times!

Link shortcuts are no different. They might look appealing, they might appear as if they’ll save you time, and they might be really, really fun. I’ve been guilty of taking them and many of you have too, and as busy as we all are, it’s only natural that we do try and save time whenever possible. The problem with link shortcuts, though, is that not all of them will do much more than create more agony for you in the future. To be fair, some are fantastic and some work really well for certain people. Some people consider certain things to be shortcuts whereas others see them as legitimate ways to build sustainable links. In considering all of this, I’ve tried to come up with just three shortcuts that I personally view as sub-optimal.

1. Considering rankings before, or in place of, traffic.

While it’s true that rankings are affected by links (and other things, remember, please please remember this) it’s not a good idea to only view links as being a way to make you rise to the top of the SERPs. Ever noticed how many fluctuations there are? If you get caught up in rankings, you’ll go crazy when you drop from number 5 to number 7, and even if it lasts for a day, there’s 24 hours of stress that you don’t need.

I do completely realize that for some sites, the difference in Google positions can indeed mean a massive loss of profit, and obviously if you’re in that boat, of course you need to consider rankings. I am also not saying that rankings aren’t important, only (remember) that building links to boost rankings is not as effective a long-term strategy as building links to boost traffic.

You know one really easy way to not get caught up in this? Don’t focus on metrics alone. If you find a great, relevant site that has regular posts, good social traction with relevant comments, and it’s a PR 0? Go for it. That PR 5 site in a completely unrelated niche, the one with content last updated 2 years ago…that might not be your best bet for traffic.

2. Copying the profile of a competitor.

This tactic has always really bothered me, as it’s based on the overly-simplified assumption that if something works for one site, it will work for you. It’s just not usually true. Looking only at a competitor’s backlink profile tells you nothing about the site itself. Maybe the site has amazing content and is being promoted very well on social media accounts that reach a massive amount of targeted users. Maybe the user experience on the site is off the charts amazing, maybe they offer great discounts to people who sign up for their email list, maybe they just have a better brand than you do. If you look at their links only, you cannot tell any of this. You cannot ignore on-page SEO, even if you’re doing what’s usually a mostly off-page method.

I do think that competitive analysis is very worthwhile…I just don’t think that you can copy a profile, only seek links from the same sites that link to your competitor, and get the same results. Even if you could do that, what happens when they change something? Do you change too, and keep following them around, or do you develop your own method of building links? I’d much rather do my own thing than copy someone else. That’s why I’ve always had bangs, worn boots that people make fun of (hello Uggs), and have never been afraid to play some Salt-N-Pepa on the jukebox.

3. Not fully vetting a site before approaching them for a link.

You can’t control who links to you (although you can disavow them in Bing! Bless their little hearts) but if you’re actively pursuing links by asking for them, don’t just ask anyone. Until fairly recently, I truly did not believe that crappy links could hurt you. I thought they might not help you, but that was before Google started warning webmasters and showing us that yes, bad links could harm you. If you’re going to approach a site and ask for a link, check it out thoroughly before you do. If it’s full of poorly written and useless content, if it’s changed hands 10 times in the last few years, if it’s clearly there just to host links…don’t bother. Go buy a Dickens book cover so people don’t realize you’re reading Fifty Shades of Gray or The Da Vinci Code.

And oddly enough, here’s something that can sometimes be the last thing you notice…really poor writing. I don’t mean poor writing like the afore-mentioned books (and for the record I have not read about Mr Gray nor shall I but I did read Dan Brown and am still taking antibiotics for it), I mean writing that is obviously the result of either cranking out nonsense just to fill up space or reworded and respun content. You should actually read a post on a blog you want to approach and not just think “oh wow, they have a lot of headlines about Kraftwerk and the site has some robots on it, I think, or maybe they’re dogs” because let me tell you, not paying attention to something as fundamental as the quality of the content on the site can bite you in the bum, big-time.

To summarize (which is kind of a shortcut really), don’t do these things unless you’re happy cleaning up messes and chasing something that you can’t catch. To be fair there are cases where people are perfectly happy just kind of flying blind on link building, and they do enjoy success with it. If you’re that guy, go for it. If you’re not (like most of us) then do try and figure out how to make things easier of course, but realize that some shortcuts just aren’t worth taking.

I’d love to hear examples of what you guys think are both good and bad shortcuts, so chime in if you can!!

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Julie Joyce

Julie Joyce runs Link Fish Media, a custom link building agency located in Greensboro, NC. She is also a founding member of the SEO Chicks and regularly blogs for several industry websites. She enjoys tacos more than she should. Follow her on Twitter and Google+ to learn more.

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  • Pete says:

    Hey, I loved the article.

    I will say, however, that there is a huge advantage to using a competitors profile for clients that have a small budget. Making them a fast follower can get the ball rolling, get them some more conversions, and get yourself a bigger budget to target high value keywords.

    It may fall under your advice to do competitive analysis, but if you do happen to be in a space where a direct competitor is great at SEO, it may just be the best thing to become a fast follower to get your client on board with an ongoing SEO plan.

    Loved the article though, Thanks Julie!

    • Julie Joyce says:

      Hi Pete…that’s a good point actually. Lots of things kind of have to happen when you have a smaller budget I suppose. However, as Gerald says below, trying to copy anything is probably not the best idea. It can definitely be a starting point in a campaign but I’d still rather see sites doing their own thing.

  • Gerald Weber

    While I appreciate and value the opinion of my buddy Pete here, I have say my personal point of view on mistake #2 Copying the profile of a competitor, is more in line with what Julie has posted.

    I’m not saying there is no value in competitive research/analysis. You definitely should take a look at what your competitor is doing. But trying to emulate 100% or replicate their link profile is a big mistake. I believe this goes for anything whether it be PPC, link building, web design, branding or whatever.

    In my opinion a business should never strive to be exactly like their competitor. They should strive to be unique and out perform their competition by finding their own way, own unique sales proposition, own brand identity. They should strive to be spectacular on their own, not by emulating their competition.

    *phew* I hope that didn’t sounds like a rant! LOL 🙂

    PS: Thanks a BUNCH for the post Julie!

  • I agree that you shouldn’t solely copy a competitor. That being said, looking at the link profiles of the 10 websites on the first SERP, and taking the top 5 links of each one, is usually enough to break you into the top 20 results with a new site / page. There are plenty of exceptions, and this is definitely different from vertical to vertical, but if you have a new site, and no idea where to start with links, looking at all 10 on the first SERP is usually a good starting point IMHO.


  • Victoria

    I will add, do not buy links! I have seen so many websites claiming that if you buy links you will climb the ranks. The problem with this is that you do not know really what sites those 5,000+ links will fall on.

    I have a new blog and have been busting my bum building my content, providing high quality backlinks, etc and I know doing all of this will pay off huge in the long run. 🙂

    Great post!

  • Marbella says:

    Work hard to get links within your niche, Google evaluates these much higher than other links.

  • Commenter

    Good advice, Julie, cheers!

  • Many webmasters have been receiving unnatural link warning in their Google Webmaster Tools account. After Google rolled out Penguin, it’s vital to take a close look at who you link to or where your site is linked from.

    Very useful tips, Julie! Thanks.

  • Ann Smarty

    #3 is GOLD! More often than not it takes less than 5 minutes to look through the site, check “About” page, do a quick search on Google, etc to better target your email pitch. It’s better to send 10 emails that will result in a good contact than 100 poor ones to only irritate the site owners.

  • Shiju Alex

    The key is to be cautious about all so-called shortcuts and apply common sense.
    All the above are good, when applied as thoughtful strategies and becomes bad, when applied as shortcuts.

    Thanks for the post, Julie.

  • Abhishek says:

    Hi Julie, I have seen a lot of business owners unable to resist the temptation of cheap and low quality link building services that are there in the market. The main reason is they are not educated about the quality of backlinks and they equate performance of the SEO company with rankings even though it can hurt them in long run. Adopting any shortcuts or putting your link building campaign in the hands of inexperienced providers can cause permanent damages since many of the backlinks once built cannot be removed (even if they can be, its such a painful process and involves a lot of time and effort in addition to the mental agony it leads to)

  • Julie Joyce says:

    Thanks for all the recent comments everyone! And Abhishek, you raise a great point…I think it’s totally natural for people to want to do things in the quickest, easiest, and cheapest ways.

    And Shiju, totally agree with your point as well.

    Thanks again guys!

  • Kamran says:


    This link building shortcuts which you share on your blog Julie Joyce is really good and most important this 3 link building shortcuts effect your website ranking also. Google do not love this type of link building shortcuts. Keep it up, this information give more benefit to webmaster and SEO expert to know this type of shortcuts.


  • Joanne says:

    Interesting stuff. Most shortcuts = short-term boosts. They won’t last. Quality content that people will naturally want to share is key, it may take time but 1 quality links holds far more weight than 20 rubbish links from rubbish sources!

  • Alyson Hawk says:

    Copying the profile of the competitor is definitely putting your campaign into dead. This is very interesting post. It is important also to make sure that the content bearing high quality.

  • I found these three tips very useful. SEO and specially link building is a very time consuming task that sometimes gives no results.
    Thanks for sharing such valuable information. Regards.

  • road cycling says:

    This is the right webpage for everyone who hopes to understand this topic.
    You know so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually will need to…HaHa).
    You certainly put a brand new spin on a subject which has been written about for many years.
    Great stuff, just great!

  • “Maybe the site has amazing content and is being promoted very well on social media…” Right on!

    Quality content is the best link building tool out there. There was a recent video on SEOmoz which focused on earning links rather than building links. And that’s what Google and Bing want webmasters to do–earn links, not use gimmicks to try and accumulate links in an artificial or shortcut way.

  • Megan

    Great article for anyone who needs to understand link building (including me!)
    There are many article like this but this one, it explain things in a simple way. No need for the jargons and stuffs. And yes, I agree with all of you’ve said. And quality content. Let’s not forget that. Content is King! hehe. 😀

  • Graeme says:

    100% agree with this, the same applies in SEO as to most marketing techniques, short term gain = long term pain.

  • It’s really a great and helpful piece of info. I’m glad that you shared this useful info with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thank you for sharing.