Most of us are familiar with the old fairy tale, Hansel and Gretel. Two children overhear their parents planning to abandon them. They prepare a pouch of white pebbles and, when taken deep into the forest, leave a trail of pebbles leading back to their home. They are able to follow the pebbles back to their parents.
The next time their parents try to abandon them, however, they’re only able to leave a trail of crumbs. The animals of the forest eat these crumbs and Hansel and Gretel become lost.
In this post I’ll be outlining the Hansel and Gretel link-building method. I believe it is the only link-building method that works.
Are your back-links bright white pebbles? Or are they crumbs waiting to be forgotten?
A simple metaphor
Each link to your website or blog should be considered a pebble (or a crumb, depending on its strength) which leads back to your site. Like Hansel and Gretel, your goal should be to build the strongest trail possible.
The ingredients of a solid trail are the quality of links, how easy they are to find, how numerous they are, and how permanent.
Think of your network of back-links like a trail leading to your site and certain ways to make that trail as strong as possible become apparent.
Quality links to your site are in-content links on popular websites or blogs. These links are big bright pebbles, not only sending many visitors your way but also telling search engines that your site is a quality resource.
The best link-building strategy is to focus on getting in-content links on sites that are bigger than your own. Generally you’ll achieve this either by having your own content linked or by writing guest content for that site. These are the strongest pebbles you can add to your trail, and they are also permanent. Your link will exist as long as the content does. Pitch guest-content ideas at bigger sites in your niche and you’ll start building up these solid links. You could also politely submit something you’re really proud of to a site that regularly publishes link round-ups.
The first comment on a popular post will get far more views than the 59th comment. When considering where to place your link, keep visibility in mind. How many eyeballs are likely to pass over it? What might encourage those eyeballs to consider your link rather than passing over it?
Think about the context and how you can make the link more interesting to readers. This can generally be done by attaching your link to worthwhile content: a thought-provoking comment, an informative forum post, an intriguing message.
Similarly, a guest-post on an A-list blog will have more prominence than a guest-post on a new blog. Always remember to weigh the prominence of the link against the time commitment required to create it.
While you should strive to build quality, prominent links to your site, you should also keep in mind that most of your visitors will come from the combined weight of your comments, track-backs and other ‘little’ links, as long as they are numerous. The more quality comments you leave, the more forum posts you write, the more track-backs you make, the more blogrolls you appear on, the faster this network of little pebbles will grow.
Alone they may not count for much, but when taken as a whole these numerous, little links can form a strong trail leading to your site.
Links in places that will continue to be trafficked over weeks, months and years can be more valuable than any other form of link.
Examples of links with permanency are links embedded within content that has enduring use, such as stickied forum threads, frequently used resources, and material which encourages bookmarking.
Links inside content that is likely to be consumed and discarded in one read should be considered crumbs rather than pebbles. They can provide short-term traffic but will eventually stop contributing to the trail as readers consume and discard the content.
Links which can’t easily be discarded are sign-posts on the trail leading to your site.
If your content becomes popular on a social network this can have the effect of dropping not crumbs but a whopping loaf of bread in the middle of your trail. Thousands of birds and other animals converge on the loaf over a short-period of time, but the loaf is soon gone. You can only hope that some of those new visitors remember the way.
Tiny, muddy crumbs
Poor quality link directories, large-scale reciprocal link exchanges, link farms, traffic buying and other tactics add only specks to your trail. They’re quickly lost in the darkest corners of the forest: the internet’s so-called bad neighborhoods, or Google’s supplemental results. Google might even take you site with them.
Avoid these tactics and spend your time writing link-worthy content or a guest-post instead. The rewards will be far greater for the time you spent. One white pebble is worth a thousand minuscule crumbs.
A holistic view
There is no mystery to the process of link-building, though it seems to remain a major stumbling block for many webmasters and bloggers.
The trail leading to your site should contain numerous, varied, and prominent links — carefully placed pebbles. Here are the steps to building just such a trail.
- Write content which naturally generates interest and back-links.
- In doing so, be unique, so that people link to you rather than others writing on similar topics.
- Write guest-content.
- Showcase your best articles to prospective linkers.
- Leave thoughtful comments on prominent content. Try to be among the first to do so.
- Participate in forums and establish yourself as a pillar in the community. Write a post that gets ‘stickied’ and never drops off the forum page.
- Try to create a number of new links to your site each day. This will go towards building a stronger trail.
- Encourage submission of your content to various social networks, and don’t discount any of them. Those loaves of bread carry the weight of a thousand crumbs.
- Don’t link to any sites you wouldn’t want to spend time on yourself (a good rule of thumb for avoiding bad neighborhoods) — even if they are offering to link to you in return.
The key ingredients to strong link-building are link-worthy content and a strong trail of pebbles (and sometimes crumbs) spread across the internet — a trail your ideal visitors can follow in order to reach you. As you grow more established you can afford to put greater emphasis on the first ingredient (link-worthy content) and focus less on the second. By that point, other people will have start to build the trail for you. In the beginning, though, it will be you alone, and progress will be slow.
Hansel and Gretel Link-building takes time. It may take months, or more than a year, or several years, until you get where you want to be.
Just like a house built in a week is unlikely to stand, long-term, holistic link building is the only kind that truly works.