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Sometimes when I start out on a blog, I feel like I have one oar in the water. I have an idea of where I’m goin’ but I’m not quite sure how I’m gonna get there. This is one of those days.

The adults decided I wanted to write about backlinks because several of our clients have been getting emails asking if they’d be willing to share a particular article. And I’ve seen several of those same kind of inquiries in my daily spam trawls, so it seems like a pretty good idea to write about it. While these requests might seem innocent enough, complying with one might not be such a good idea, so let’s dive on in and figure out why.

Full Disclosure: This is one of those topics on which I am woefully undereducated. And again, the more I read, the less sense it makes. Most everything seems a contradiction. But whenever I wrap this one up, we’ll all have a better idea about what’s what, won’t we Timmy?

The good, the bad, and the rule-skirters

For example, I started reading a piece I found on The Google after keying in “backlinks.” I soon discovered that there are several kinds of these critters – some wearing white hats, others sporting gray ones and yet others attired in their black hats.

And being as I grew up ‘60s and watched lots of Westerns, it was clear which of these here fellers are on the right side of The Google and which aren’t. The stereotype holds true. Avoid the ones wearing the black hats.

So me bein’ me, I wanted to see what the bad guys were up to first.

When I searched for “black hat backlinks” I came across an article that offered to tell me all about how the black hats operate. One of the first things I read was that their techniques were at best nefarious and most likely just plain unethical. What more do we need to know? Well, I was curious as to why and what to avoid.

Seems black hat techniques generally involve the exchange of money – lots of it. Apparently, the folks who are adroit at exploiting holes in The Google’s algorithms don’t work cheap. And the engineers over at The Google monitor this type of activity very closely and plug those holes quickly. Then the gang wearing the black hats look for new points to breach. It’s a never-ending cycle where a site owner just keeps throwing money down the black hat hole.

Crime does pay for a very short time

But does black hat backlinking work? Yup. For a bit. Once The Google flags folks using these underhanded tactics – and it’s way more likely than not they’ll nab ‘em – they’re gonna shut the water off Timmy. The Google Penguin, The Google Panda and The Google Hummingbird don’t play. They’ll put you on ice. Maybe for a period of months. Or longer.

Depending on how angry they get, they might just lock an offender up and throw away the key. And I imagine that The Google Gaol is a very cold and very dark place where there is little hope of escape. Offenders might eventually get paroled, but it feels like the journey would be long and arduous.

I think I can say with the utmost certainty those who opt to use black hat linking are gonna find out the hard way that the cost will far outweigh the benefit. So you’re on your own if you decide to go down that path.

Let’s jump to the white hat linking techniques. Yes Timmy, I skipped the gray because without knowing the components of both black and white, it’s hard to define what shade of gray we’re gonna come up with. Or not.

Okay. We know the ones wearing the white hats are the good guys. So what techniques does this methodology employ?

It starts with the concept of ‘organic’ linking. This basically means that in a perfect world, someone with a high Domain Authority (DA) finds an article or page on your site so engaging, so downright spiffy that they decide to link to it from their site without even being asked.

So what’s this DA thing how is it calculated?

In a nutshell, your DA is determined by an outfit called The MOZ and it can range from 1 to 100. The score is based on how likely it is that your site will show up on search engine results pages (SERPs) and in what position it might land.

Nothing about Google is simple

There are dozens of things that The MOZ uses to calculate your DA. They’re discussed in things like white papers and the mere thought of reading such a thing chills me to the bone. I can’t even digest what I read on The MOZ’s web page in one sitting, and they even had a video explaining it using dogs and everything. Much less reading a white paper. I need aspirin. And my brain is puttin’ in for hazardous duty pay.

But all that being said, it seems that your DA score has a lot to do with backlinks because they’re what The Google wants to see when they spit out SERPs. And The MOZ wants to grade your paper based on the likelihood that The Google will view your site in a favorable light. I’m gettin’ dizzy here Timmy. Feels like we’re trying to resolve a circular reference. I need to get off this merry-go-round.

Let’s just focus on getting some white hat backlinks. As mentioned back before my plastic snorting horse threw me off the carousel, organic links – in a perfect world – are by far the best. But getting that first one, which is liable to spawn more, seems like a random event to me.

How do I get on the A-List?

More so, it seems a classic Catch-22. If your site doesn’t have a decent DA ranking, which is largely based on how The Google sees you, it feels like you’re not gonna show up on The Google’s SERPs. And even if you have the greatest content in the world, it seems that the likelihood of someone – nay the right someone with a high DA – finding that greatest content is completely random. Perfect world scenarios. Wuf.

And knowing all this, you might be tempted to respond to that person who emailed you way back in paragraph two and say “Sure! I’d love an organic link!” But let’s whoa up just a second. There’s homework to be done.

I looked into the email that started this whole blog and found some interesting things. And not at all what I thought I’d find.

First, I went to the site that they wanted to link from. While it was absolutely within our client’s industry, I wasn’t impressed. Zero curb appeal (UI). An even worse user experience (UX). Had this not been a scientific endeavor Timmy, I would have bolted.

But you know how I love science. I kinda expected it wouldn’t be much to look at. It was basic and littered with ads from The Google. Popups everywhere. For products often completely unrelated to their industry.

Then I ran it through The MOZ to see where they ranked DA-wise in comparison to our client. That’s when the unexpected slapped me in the face. Their stats were better than I expected. Over 50K valid inbound links. A higher DA score than our client. Over 7K domains linking to their site. Wow.

Opportunity knocked but we said no

Did we recommend that our client gleefully share their article with them? No, we did not. While the numbers looked good, this felt like a case where you might be known by the company you keep. Even though they were in the right industry and on paper things looked good, the site seemed more along the lines of a personal blog that had grown legs, but still had its tadpole tail. And it seemed largely designed to generate revenue from click-thru ads. Overall, it just seemed a bit too “commercially” for my likin’. And the more I Iooked at it, the less I liked it.

So not all organic links are necessarily for you then. And getting them seems more random than not. So just exactly how do you go about getting the right white hat backlinks? We know that they’re very difficult to come by organically.

There are hundreds of articles out there that purport to tell you what you can do to generate quality backlinks. But they all seem to end with a pitch. Seems most of the folks writing those articles are more about selling their link building services and less about actually telling you how to do so yourself.

The bottom line appears to be that unless you’re willing to pay someone to do the work for you, you best be prepared to buckle up and knuckle down because it is a process. And as discussed in Instant Gratification, nothin’ related to SEO is happenin’ overnight.

Then I question what happens if you turn over the reins to someone else. Are you sure they’re 100% above board? Or might they be taking some shortcuts that could irk The Google? And what does their service cost? It certainly doesn’t appear to be cheap. A lot of unknowns for me.

Or there are sites where you can buy backlinks. Even though some would argue that The Google would never know that you bought this link or that one, the people selling them don’t have to suffer the penalty if you get busted. So after you’ve ponied up whatever amount you can afford, you’re pretty much on your own. I for one don’t like lookin’ over my shoulder Timmy. And goin’ down that road smacks more of black hat than white to me.

It all comes down to content

No matter if you decide to go it alone or hire a white hat agency to do it for you, getting backlinks isn’t going to happen unless you have great content, or a product/service that’s in high demand.

Think about the release of a new phone – every geek site on the internet with a writer or content manager worth their salt is gonna offer up their assessment and they’re likely to link to its product page. Clearly, companies like Apple, Samsung and The Google don’t have to work very hard to get backlinks. Like they even need them at this point in their respective evolutions.

But for the rest of us the road is a little rougher and a lot longer. And we’re not gonna get very far unless we have something to offer that appeals to someone who has a site with some of that coveted DA we all seek.

So what’s your selling point? What makes your content link-worthy?

Maybe like me, you like to look at things in a little different light than the rest of the world. If that’s not obvious from this writing that that’s what I do, then wuf – I’ve failed miserably. Maybe because this is an assigned topic (of considerable depth) and not an organic one. And you might have to read more than this one blog to figure that out. But I hopin’ the real me is still comin’ through.

I’d invite you to check out my thoughts on AI if my approach isn’t all that obvious. And I know I’m an acquired taste that not everyone will appreciate. Just ask my first wife.

Or I’m told that folks love infographics and if you come up with an interesting one, the linkers out there will link to it. I’m working on one in my head right now. Maybe to sum up what I’ve learned about backlinks. But they’re apparently quite effective, and the internet loves them. I think it has something to do with the Labrador Effect which is basically my take on the reality that people are easily distracted and you need to sate their appetites quickly. A well-designed infographic apparently serves that purpose.

Perhaps your thing is being counterculture or controversial. People seem to love havin’ someone to disagree with these days. I jumped off that boat more than a few years ago. It was too tiring. And it wasn’t fun. But it could work.

Find your pitch

There are other selling points you might employ as well, but no matter your pitch, you have to have someone to sell to. And finding these people feels like the hardest piece of the puzzle for me. Maybe it depends on your industry – but it seems like everyone who might be able to help me is potentially a competitor – who would have no interest in aiding me as I try to advance our cause here at <engine/>. But if we’re in completely different markets, maybe that’s not such a big deal.

So once we identify the folks we’d like to approach, we have to make our pitch. Likely by email. And you obviously don’t want it to appear spammy. Use a good subject line that encourages the recipient to want to read further. Personalize it as best you can, perhaps referencing their work so it’s clearly not a bulk email you’re sending to a thousand or more people.

This is where your talents as a content creator will truly have to shine. Keep your message short and simple without seeming terse. Give them a reason to consider linking to your article, or perhaps even asking you to post on their site as a guest author. Hopefully, you’ll get a reply. It may not be what you want to hear, but maybe you’ll get an inklin’ for what they might be more interested in, and you can have another go at it a couple weeks down the road.

But what if you’re greeted by crickets? Well, don’t get discouraged. Maybe you got lost in the shuffle. Make a note to try again in few weeks. There are programs that will help you track things and remind you when to reach out again.

So there are the basics of hunting for white hat links.

And while you’re waiting for your efforts to get white hat backlinks to bear fruit, there are other steps you can take to get the ball rolling.

This may seem like another GGO (Glaring Glimpse of the Obvious), but leverage your social media marketing. Post your articles on whatever outlets you use. If your employees have accounts on LinkedIn, ask them to share their thoughts and link to your pages. One of their contacts might just be one of those somebodies who has a site with a high DA who might decide your stuff is worth a second look.

And Timmy, I know I mentioned using a gray hat approach and that we might talk about it, but we’re not gonna. Seein’ as gray hat is a mixture of good and bad ideas and us not knowin’ just how The Google’s algorithm is gonna like whatever shade of gray we choose, I think this is one time we best let the world be black and white.

We don’t want to irk the Penguin. Or the Panda. And definitely not the Hummingbird. They can be flat out ferocious when riled.

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