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Niche Site Duel 2.0 (Research Post): Effective & Long-Term Link Building for Niche Sites with Jon Cooper

Niche Site Duel 2.0 (Research Post): Effective & Long-Term Link Building for Niche Sites with Jon Cooper

By Pat Flynn on

Niche Site Duel 2.0 LogoThe official launch of Niche Site Duel 2.0 will be this coming Wednesday!

On Wednesday, we’ll kick off NSD2.0 with a post about:

  1. How you can follow along and participate.
  2. The application process for joining the ‘learning group’ of 5 people who I will personally select to not only ‘coach’, but learn with while we build our niche sites together.
  3. And also details about the schedule and what to expect.

Because this is such a public case study, I’m going to be very thorough throughout the entire process. I know you’re all anxious and want things to move fast, but I want to be able to provide the best case study and information to you. I don’t want to speed through this because this is the type of thing that could change a person’s life, as I learned in NSD1.0.

Plus, this is the type of thing that requires patience and hard work anyway.

So, look out for that post on Wednesday. The podcast for this week will be rescheduled for next Wednesday, which works out because I (and the rest of my family) are incredibly sick, and my voice isn’t working right now. 😛

For NSD2.0, I haven’t conducted any type of keyword or market research yet , so this is going to be lots of fun! I hope you’ll join me.

In the meantime, I have one last pre-launch research post – a guest post actually – from Jon Cooper of Point Blank SEO.

This monster post will give you yet another vantage point of what’s working today in SEO and Link Building. After reading this post, I was blown away. With all of the research we’ve done so far (see the Niche Site Duel Hub for more), it becomes obvious that there are so many different strategies we can use to climb the ranks of Google. The challenge will be selecting which ones we want to use for our sites, and the long term viability of each, especially with Matt Cutt’s recent video about what’s to come in SEO this summer.

Thanks again to Jon for this wonderful guest post – I hope you enjoy. 

Effective & Long-term Link Building for Niche Sites

Whenever I get asked about how to build links for niche sites, one of the first follow up questions I receive is “should I use tactic X or strategy Y? Will it hurt me?”

9 times out of 10, they’re talking about something on the darker side of the SEO hat.

Don’t get me wrong – black hat SEO is still alive and well, but their cycles are getting shorter and shorter. This idea of burnout is the reason why, even though it can be effective in the short-term, I don’t like to play with it for niche sites, which usually have the goal of having long lasting passive income.

I wouldn’t call it passive if you’re back on Pat’s blog 12 months later reading Niche Site Series 3.0 wondering what new link building tactics will work for the next Google algorithmic cycle.

So for that reason, let’s throw both hats out the door, and just look at what’s a long-term approach, regardless if it’s Google approved.

Strategic Goals to Aim For

Before we get right into the nitty gritty, let’s understand some of the things we’ll be shooting for. The last thing we want is to invest a lot of time into tactical link building and to not see 100% returns on the effort we put in. I’ve definitely been guilty of this, because sometimes I’m so eager to get started.

First, you’ll be trying to get as many different link types as possible. Here’s a good list to get you started:

  • Editorial citations – getting mentioned within the context of an article from a blog or news website.
  • Resource links – getting mentioned in a list of links pertaining to the topic or subject matter.
  • Web directories – There are a ton of them, but for the most part, they can be split up into:
    • General – directories listing websites from every corner of the Web.
    • Niche – directories listing websites only on your topic matter; i.e. an environmental directory only listing environmentally friendly websites.
    • Local – directories listing websites only in a certain geographical area.
  • Blog comments – Leaving a comment with your name as the anchor text of what will most likely be a nofollow link.
  • Forum discussions – Getting mentioned in a forum in the context of a discussion.
  • Profile pages – Listing your website on your profile page if the website allows one.
  • Web 2.0 + article directories – Getting a link in the context of an article or Web 2.0 property.
  • Author Bios – getting a link in the bio you provide for a guest post or contribution.
  • Image links – linking an image, possibly with a keyword rich ALT tag, instead of text.

There might be a few other minor ones, but for the most part, a good portion of the links on the Web you’ll be trying to get can be split up into these categories.

Your goal is to try and not just get blog comment links, or just directory links, but to sprinkle in all of these different link types.

Second, you’ll be trying to get links at a consistent pace over time. This is called link velocity.

Don’t plan to have a link building binge on Week 3, then stop for 4 weeks, then go to town again on Week 7. Instead, set a steady pace for yourself. You can make this process manageable by doing the following things (just examples):

  • Grab the RSS feeds of different blogs you want to leave comments on and throw them in a feed aggregator like Feedly. Then, instead of leaving comments in mass, set aside 10 minutes every day to leave comments on the posts that went live that day.
  • If you’re going to submit to a list of directories, split them up into a weekly or daily submission calendar. I.e. set aside 10 minutes a day until you’re out of them.
  • (If there are any quality ones) Spend 10-15 minutes a day participating in forums, and only occasionally dropping a link to your site when it’s relevant. A good indicator of how you’re doing with this will be how many clicks your links generate and if the forum moderator removes them.

Again, these are just examples. You might have a lot of blogs in your niche, or very few. Same goes with anything else; find where opportunity is ripe, and make sure you divide up your time accordingly and not build a ton of links at once.

Third, you’ll be trying to have a healthy deep link ratio, even if your niche site is meant to target one particular head keyword.

One of the biggest upcoming factors in SEO that I’ve started to focus on is best illustrated by looking at the Top Pages of a particular website. If their home page has, say, 100 linking root domains (unique sites linking to them), while their next 5 most linked to pages have only 2 or 3, then that’s not a good sign.

You’re looking for a healthy deep link ratio. Deep links are links to your website that aren’t going to your home page. There’s no exact number you’re shooting for (consult your nearest keyword SERP to find your competitor’s average), but as an example, if I had 50 linking root domains to my home page, I’d try to get at least a couple subpages on my niche site to have around 10.

You don’t want Google thinking “well, it looks like people like this page on their site, but everything else is garbage,” because Google is increasingly looking to show brands in their search results, and brands usually don’t have only one highly linked to page, and no secondary pages being linked to.

Besides those 3 strategies of link diversity, velocity, and deep links, I’d also like to mention Alex’s rule of thumb in terms of anchor text. I think 20% of anchors being exact match is a little high, just because very few natural sites even have that high of a ratio, but for the most part, that shouldn’t be a deal killer.

The anchors I target are usually branded, partial match, and naked (URL). Those should cover the bulk of your link profile. For example, if my site was and I was targeting the keyword “blue widgets”, I’d aim for anchors like:

  • Bobs Place (this would be the most used anchor)
  • Bobs Place – Blue Widgets for Sale
  • Bobs
  • Bobs Place – Blue Widgets
  • Buy Blue Widgets at Bobs Place

Obviously mix in some exact anchors (find the average ratio of your competitors), your name as the anchor when leaving things like comments, and generic anchors like “click here”, “over here”, and “on this site”, but for the most part, these should make up the bulk of your anchors.

“But Jon, what about for Exact Match Domains?”

This is a valid question I get a lot, and they’re definitely a unique situation. Despite this, the biggest misconception I get with them is that you can get away with a lot of keyword rich anchors because your brand IS the keyword you’re targeting.

But that’s just not the case; sites hit by Penguin with heavy & unnatural anchor text ratios included a lot of EMDs.

So, instead of using your keyword as your brand name, use your domain name and URL more frequently. For example, use ‘’, ‘’, and ‘’ instead of ‘Blue Widgets’. Yes, you can be a little more lenient on anchor text (i.e. can aim a bit over 20%), but again, be safe and use domain & URL anchors.

Tactical Link Building

Now that you know what you’ll be aiming for, let’s get into specific tactics that will net you some high quality links.

Fail-Proof Content

Unfortunately, I’m not going to give you another lesson about why content is king or how content marketing is the new link building. I am, however, going to show you how to use content to produce measurable returns in terms of links.

In short, you’ll be creating content that you know, for a fact, you will be able to get links to. But to best illustrate this tactic, I’ll use a highly relevant example.

Back at the end of 2011, the niche site series Pat created was about a year old. He created a page on his website that outlined the entire series, and he also (at the time) linked to other participants in the duel outside of Tyrone Shum.

After realizing this, I went out and created a niche site series of my own (not linking to because it wasn’t anything special), then I sent Pat this email (I’m paraphrasing):

Hey Pat, your niche site duel series is over a year old, and from an SEO perspective, a lot has changed since then. That’s why I decided to create a more recent series showing how to do a niche site in today’s search engine environment, so is there any chance you could list the posts on your niche site duel page with the rest of the participants?

Being the kind of guy he is, Pat said yes, and within 24 hours I got a few links to my blog. Even better – they were sending clicks (according to Google Analytics, about 1,800 over ~12 months).

Even though that’s a very small example, and only yielded one link opportunity  (Pat’s site is highly authoritative and sends clicks, so it was still worth it), that should give you a good gist of what I’m talking about.

Let’s look at another example. Google this: “history web links”. As you’ll see, there are numerous university pages that are linking to history related content. If your niche site could host an original, quality article on a history topic that was somehow relevant, then in theory, you’ve got a huge list of high quality prospects that have already proven they’ll link to you.

“But Jon, how do you actually find these opportunities?”

A lot of times, you just have to keep your eye out for them, because there are only a few cookie cutter ways to go about finding these content opportunities. However, I’ll show you the one I use most.

  1. Look at the best links the biggest authorities in your industry have (could be competitors, organizations, trade shows, etc.) by throwing their domain into Ahrefs or Open Site Explorer. Make sure you’re looking at all the links to their domain.
  2. Starting with their best links, look for pages that link out to a fair amount of different resources, i.e. Resources pages.
  3. Be on the lookout for links on those pages, both working links and dead links (use this to find dead ones), that have a large number of LRDs (linking root domains). I usually aim for 100+.
    1. If you find a working page of content with a lot of LRDs, look at their best links and see if you see a theme in terms of the pages they’re getting links on. Can you also create similar content, and get links from these pages and similar ones?
    2. If you find a dead page of content with a lot of LRDs, use the Wayback Machine to see what content was on that page. Was it content you could recreate, then get in touch with those webmasters to switch out the dead link with a link to your newly created resource?

One quick check you should do when finding fail-proof content ideas is to ask yourself,

“If you reached out to those pages to ask for either them to add your link, or them to replace the broken link with a link to your newly updated resource, would they add it? Or would they have a valid reason not to?”

If you’re wondering what are some of the valid reasons for a webmaster not to add your link, here are a few I’ve run across from experience:

  • The domain name looks spammy. I.e. link to my resource at
  • Your website’s main theme is irrelevant. I.e. link to my resource at
  • Your website has commercial intent. Check the prospect pages to see that they’re linking to other commercial sites ahead of time.
  • Your resource is crap. They won’t say it with those exact words, but it needs to be up to par with the other resources listed.
  • They’re no longer updating the page. Yep, it really sucks sometimes.

I went into some pretty good detail about fail-proof content, but if you’re looking for some more examples and a different format to learn this tactic, check out my first podcast on this topic (WARNING: don’t expect a podcast with Pat Flynn like quality).

Everything Else

It sounds lame to go into such detail for one tactic, then group everything else as another, but the truth is, most of link building is pretty straight forward and has been talked about. I’ll try and guide you through these well-known tactics and give specific & essential tips for each.

Note: you can find a lot of opportunities for these different tactics simply by looking at the links your competitors have via a tool like Ahrefs or Open Site Explorer. 

Broken link building

In the same way that we looked for broken resources that had a lot of links to them, we’ll be looking for broken links on pages we already know we can get links on (i.e. if the page already lists a few different competitors).

For example, let’s say we had a niche site related to fountain pens. With a quick Google search, I found this PR3 page. It would be an awesome, relevant link to get. But instead of pitching the webmaster to link, like everyone else, check the page for broken links.

If it has any (I found 4), then I’d reach out to the webmaster emailing him about it. In the first email, I’d just say I stumbled across a few broken links, and if he’d like, I can point them out to him. If he responds and says something like ‘yes thank you’, I’d say i.e.:

Of course, no problem. Here they are (

  • Link #1
  • Link #2
  • Link #3
  • Link #4

Hope that helps!

By the way, are you taking suggestions for new websites to add? I recently launched Fountain Pen Mania (, and so far I’ve gotten some great feedback on the resources I’m putting out. It would make my day if my site could somehow be added.

Well, thanks for your time!


To get the best results, mix up your templates and A/B test. Believe it or not, almost every niche is different in terms of the types of things they respond to. And personalize, personalize, personalize! If it’s obviously a template, they’ll be less likely to respond or add your link.

If you want more info on broken link building, checkout the Broken Link Building Bible by Russ Jones. It’s a lot more advanced, but it’s 10x as awesome.

Guest posting (cautiously)

I won’t talk about guest blogging much at all, just because it’s talked about so much and its low quality form has the potential of being hit in a future Google update, but I will say this.

A few guest posts won’t hurt, and they’ll help diversify things. Make sure you’re contributing content that’s of decent length (600+ words) and includes a link to you, but mix it up in terms of where it’s located. Also include links to social profiles in your bio, such as your Google+ author page to get authorship markup.

I do barely any work guest blogging because I use Blogger Link Up. Sign up, get the emails, and let the prospects come to you. A great walkthrough of this is actually a post on my blog written by Daniel Callis.

Blog commenting

Search for a curated list of blogs in your industry (i.e. “top pet blogs”) or by going to blog aggregators like Alltop. You’re looking for blogs that allow you to leave a comment and get a nofollow link as your name.

As I said before, throw 10-20 of these industry blogs (or however many is good for you) into a feed aggregator, then check it daily and leave comments on new posts.

One common mistake is trying to use your keywords as your name. There are two issues with this. 1) Your comments are unlikely to be accepted, meaning you don’t get the link, and 2) you ruin a potential relationship with the blogger (which could yield editorial links in the future).

Forum participation

Not always are there relevant, click-driving forums in your industry, but when there are, take advantage. Just ask Pat –his Green Exam Academy site was built on sales driven from links on relevant forums.

Forum links are really unique & awesome because, as I said, they drive clicks, as well as SEO value. But make sure you’re not dropping links everywhere you can. Only include links when you’ve written something on your niche site that either answers someone’s question or sheds some extra light on a topic. Don’t drop a link just for the sake of SEO.

Remember: forums are a great opportunity to get links to deep pages on your site (because you’ll be linking to content that provides context), which, as I outlined before, is very important.

Article/Web 2.0 submission

I wouldn’t make it a priority, but if you’re still needing some diversification, have a few articles written that can be submitted to the following sites:


I wouldn’t submit more than one article per site (you can do more if you really want), and I’d never include more than 2 links.

Get the content written with a service like Textbroker, because the only thing it needs to be is readable; you’re really only doing it for the link.

Yes, some sites allow you to submit articles already published on your site, but don’t submit them thinking those links are going to have much (if any) impact on the bottom line.


I wouldn’t waste my time with general directories; there are a few good ones that can be diamonds in the rough, but even still, they won’t provide a ton of value long-term as they get overrun.

However, niche directories are worth going after. For example, if you ran a arts & crafts niche site, this would be a solid link.

The best rule of thumb, as Alex mentioned in his niche site link building post, is to sort through sites by whether or not they have PR. I usually look for PR2+ for niche directories, and PR4+ for general directories.

If you have a beautifully designed site (doubtful; it’s a niche site!), you can also get some quality links from CSS showcases. Just use Google to hunt them down; the most worthwhile ones aren’t hard to find.

 Use HARO (optional)

I guess really any of these tactics are optional, but I say this one is the most optional because it depends on whether or not you have any credentials in the field that your niche site is about.

HARO (Help A Reporter Out) is a tool that connects journalists with sources. For example, I use it for my personal blog by looking out for press inquiries relating to SEO & Entrepreneurship, but it can be used in really any field, and best of all, it’s free.

As stated, if you don’t have any credentials or experience that shows you’re somewhat of an expert on the topic, then your chances of the journalist using your response in their story (as well as a link in 90% of cases) is dismal. Social proof is great evidence of expertise, so if you’ve got a following on social media or a website with social metrics that show people enjoy your content, then you’ve got a shot.

But to be clear – these links are usually VERY authoritative. A link from a few news outlets can go a long way.

If this sounds like something that you could take advantage of, Matt McGee wrote a great post breaking the entire process down.

Other quick tactics

There are a few others that don’t take too much explaining, so I’ll just fire them off:

  1. Press mention pages – Find high authority pages from relevant sites that list their mentions in the press, and see if they link out to more than just the CNNs of the world. If they do, interview their founder or CEO (by email), then ask if the interview could get listed on their press mentions page.
  2. Update old content – if you find a highly linked to page that’s severely outdated, ask the webmaster if you could help them update all the information (say you’ll do it all yourself). When you do, try and get a link to a relevant article on your site (where it fits).
  3. Fight Viagra hackers – or hackers injecting links about really anything. To best explain it, search intitle:“buy Viagra” KEYWORD/NICHE. You’ll find relevant sites that obviously have been hacked. Go let the webmaster know, help them fix it if they ask (do some research if need be), and if they give a big Thank You, ask for a link on an appropriate page.
  4. Q&A content – use a tool like to find mentions of relevant questions that get asked a lot, then create a really detailed article on the topic. Next time it’s mentioned on a Q&A site or forum, give a short answer, and link to your article for more details. Sure, the link might be nofollow, but it still provides value (and possibly clicks).
  5. Link Roundups – find relevant bloggers that do daily, weekly, or monthly roundups (they’re few, but out there; i.e. Kikolani), and get on their radar by leaving comments. Next time you produce something worthy of a mention, drop them an email letting them know. They’re quality editorial links, but tough to get.

If you’re looking for some really creative & outside the box ideas, I asked some of the top experts around the world what was the most creative link they ever built. Some of them are really only possible with a decent budget to work with, but regardless, hopefully they can help spark some ideas.

Domain Disclaimer

Whether or not you realized it, the domain you choose plays a huge role in terms of the link building tactics you’ll be able to take advantage of.

For example, if you chose a 3 or 4 word exact match domain (i.e., don’t blame me when people are rejecting your requests to link. Your domain is screaming spam, and doesn’t look like a brand at all, so it’ll definitely be overlooked by human eyes.

However, if you choose to grab a domain that looks more like a brand (i.e. I don’t know,, then you’ll get a lot more positive responses, because you look like a real company.

Also, if you choose to enter a notoriously spammy vertical (i.e. insurance, poker, adult, etc.), then don’t be surprised either when you’re not getting any positive responses.

Final Words of Advice

If you do decide to take advantage of tactics like fail-proof content, broken link building, HARO, etc. that require an actual human to decide whether they should link or not, make sure you use zero SEO terminology. For example, I never use the word “link” in outreach emails. I’ll say something like “list” or “mention” instead. Once they know you’re doing it for SEO, you almost never get the link.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, if you choose to go the route of grey/black hat SEO, don’t be surprised when a year later you’re reading all the latest SEO posts on what’s working because your site(s) got torched.

If you’re looking for more link building goodies, check out my link building blog, Point Blank SEO, and follow me on Twitter (140 characters is all I need sometimes). If you have questions, I’ll try to answer as many in the comments.

Thanks for reading, and thanks Pat for the opportunity!

Thanks again to Jon from Point Blank SEO for the great link building tips. There’s definitely a lot here that I will implement during NSD2.0. Jon actually has a popular course about link building that I checked out myself and was extremely impressed by. I know we’re not quite there yet in the NSD, but if you’re interested in Jon’s course, he has offered a $10 off discount to SPI readers for a period of 2 days after this post goes live. You can get the discount and information about that course by clicking here. This is an affiliate link so I earn a commission if you purchase and I was given free access to his course, but as you know I wouldn’t share anything that I didn’t find value in.

Look out for Wednesday’s post, and let the Niche Site Duel begin!

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