Jump-start Your Link Building (without Getting Sandboxed)

Link popularity has been written about ad nauseum, but most articles address the subject from a perspective circa 2001. The available information usually focuses on topics such as reciprocal linking or the current price of a PR6 link. But following outdated link building advice is more likely to get your Web site penalized than it is to help you gain top rankings.

Google's increasingly sophisticated algorithm has largely caught on to PageRank brokers and has successfully filtered out the benefits of many bought links, as well as those of reciprocal links. The risk of obtaining these types of links is even greater for a new site, as detection of an "unnatural" link structure has recently gotten many sites "sandboxed" to the bottom of the SERPs. For this reason, a link popularity campaign must be conducted carefully and yield relevant, "natural" links.

The methods described in this article will give your Web site backlinks that fit the following criteria, which are important for keeping a site out of the "sandbox":

  • The link is on a Web page that is hosted on a unique IP address.

  • The link is on a Web page that itself has a unique, wholly independent set of backlinks.

  • The link is on a Web page that is at least loosely relevant to your Web site's topic.

  • The link is created within a week.

    Numbers 1-3 are important so that your Web site's new backlinks are independent and natural, and do not trip a filter in the search engine algorithm; number 4 ensures that you can move on to more advanced link building tactics before your competition gets further ahead.


    Directories have always been cited as a basic starting point for a link popularity campaign. Listings in the Open Directory Project and the Yahoo! Directory ensure that a site will be spidered and indexed quickly and also provide a reputable backlink. In the past few years however many general and niche directories have sprung up, most charging a yearly or one-time fee to be listed. Webmasters have questioned the ROI from being listed in these second-tier directories, as most provide little traffic and charge 10-50 USD per listing.

    But listings in these directories provide important link popularity benefits for a Web site. A link from a directory fits the four criteria we laid out above-each of these directories has a unique set of backlinks and is hosted on a unique IP, the site's URL will be placed on a topical page, and all of the directories review and add new submissions within a week. With directory listings alone, a new Web site can gain a few dozen quality backlinks for under 1000 USD (not counting Yahoo!). Aaron Wall of SEO Book has provided a good list of directories at http://www.seobook.com/archives/000166.shtml.

    Press Releases

    Press Releases provide an opportunity to announce your Web site, and just as importantly, provide a backlink to your Web site from a relevant page (it had better be relevant-after all, it's an article about your Web site!). A press release should be well-written and submitted to multiple newswires. In less than a week, it will be published on its own Web page by each newswire and possibly by the newswires' syndication partners as well. The writer should be sure to include a link in the body of the press release in http://www.mysite.com format. Again, these backlinks meet the four criteria we laid out above. Newswires usually charge a fee to publish a press release, although a few offer this service for free. You can view the Open Directory Project's category of press release services at http://dmoz.org/Computers/!Internet/Web_Design_and_Development/Promotion/Press_Release_Services/.


    Another great method for gaining quality backlinks, as well as publicity, is to write and publish a helpful article. The author can write a relevant, informative piece on your Web site's subject, which of course includes a link to your Web site in http://www.mysite.com format. General "how-to" sites (and often, news sites in your particular niche) accept article submissions and will often reprint a relevant, well-written piece. It's free content for them, and a backlink for you-a win-win situation. The author of THIS article swears by this method, and once again notes that it fits all four of our criteria for a timely and quality backlink. Aaron Wall of SEO Book has provided a list of Web sites that accept article submissions at http://www.seobook.com/archives/000099.shtml.

    Just Say 'No'

    Although it may be tempting, you should stay away from reciprocal linking, except in the rare case where the link is relevant and helpful to your visitors. Likewise, you should avoid renting links from link brokers or networks; the links they sell are usually filtered by Google. These two types of links will have a minimal impact on your search engine rankings anyway and may even get your Web site "sandboxed."

    Instead, seek quality one-way inbound links by the methods described in this article; if you have exhausted these tactics, or if you have run out of money, you can always beg for links from relevant Web sites. If your site contains quality, original content, you may not even need to beg!


    The success of a search engine optimization campaign depends greatly upon link popularity. Getting a Web site listed in directories, distributing press releases and submitting articles for syndication are three ways to gain a slew of legitimate backlinks from unique IPs relatively quickly. This will keep the site out of the "sandbox" and give any SEO campaign a sound link structure to build upon.

    About The Author

    Andy Hagans is a search engine optimization consultant who specializes in link building and risk management. Visit http://www.andyhagans.com/ for more information.

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