Netlinking: building a link strategy according to SEMJuice
Netlinking, also known as link building or external linking, is certainly the most tedious part of SEO.
If we had to define netlinking, we would say that it is a technique that consists of having a maximum of links, called backlinks, pointing to a website in order to increase its visibility and credibility in the eyes of Internet users and search engines.
There are different ways, some more complex than others, to build a netlinking strategy. In order to see exactly what netlinking is and its complexities, I had the pleasure to receive the manager and founder of SEMJuice, Nicolas Mercatili.
What is the importance of netlinking in an SEO strategy?
How does link juice work?
Why the authority of a site does not necessarily increase despite a good linking strategy?
How to get backlinks?
What are the advantages and risks of using PBNs in a netlinking strategy?
Does the origin of backlinks matter?
Are all backlinks good for SEO?
Are no follow and do follow links still useful?
What are the points of vigilance of a backlinks audit?
What is the importance of netlinking in an SEO strategy?
Can we limit ourselves to netlinking to boost our SEO?
You will certainly think that I am breaking open doors by asking this question. Because, as Nicolas Mercatili says, "SEO is more than just backlinks. Google gives a lot of importance to backlinks. Links are at the heart of Google's algorithm. Page Rank is no longer displayed, but it still exists. [...] We always say that backlinks are what boosts everything that has been optimized before. [...] Netlinking is an off-site tool that will increase by tenfold everything that has been done in terms of site optimization. So netlinking works fine, it has a lot of weight. But we will get much more important results if the site is correctly optimized".
A strategy that Nicolas Mercatili applies within his netlinking agency, SEMJuice. "At SEMJuice, when a client comes to us for a specific need in terms of backlinks, we will always look at how their site is optimized. What we will often recommend is to optimize the homepage. Usually, we have businesses that have home pages that are too heavy, sites that are too slow [...], we optimize them to the maximum. We also optimize the title tag, which has a lot of weight in terms of SEO in relation to the backlinks we will receive [...]. The goal is to have a maximum of results for the link strategy and this necessarily involves site optimization. If you have a rotten and disgusting site, there is little chance that the links will be effective."
How does link juice work?
Link juice: definition
Link juice, also known as link equity, refers to the SEO benefits that a backlink can transmit to another site or another page.
Link juice: how it works
If link juice can be transferred from one site to another, it is also the case on a site, internally, from one page to another page.
For example, if I decide to concentrate a maximum of backlinks on a URL "A" of my website, can the other URLs B C D E of this same website benefit from the authority, via link juice, of the URL A thanks to internal linking?
"This is a question we get asked a lot," reveals our guest. "In a link strategy, you can't work on every URL. And if your water all over all the URLs, you're not going to have much effectiveness. At SEMJuice, we usually do a link profile audit, we will also audit the keywords that are being ranked, check the pages that are linked to these keywords. And we will define, with our clients, which are their "business" keywords, those that bring them the most money [...]. Often these are keywords that will be in the 15th, 22nd position on which there is a significant search volume and where there is potential. Once we have set this up, we will define the strategy. We'll come in and push one or two pages. We will send links to the home page because the home page must receive links. We can't just send links to internal pages. And what we notice is that the pages that we target in terms of links, in relation to the chosen keywords, will grow quite quickly. But the whole site will also grow. It will go up in keywords, all the keywords will go up and it is the whole site which gains visibility".
It is important to specify that "not all URLs will gain visibility as quickly", reminds Nicolas Mercatili before adding: "But the link has the effect of increasing the visibility. But, it will depend on the internal mesh, because the link is sent to the home page. When we talk about a site or someone, we send a link to its home page, so it is this page that has more juice and authority. This home page must therefore redistribute this juice internally. And, depending on how we optimize the internal mesh, we notice that the pages that we have optimized in this internal mesh are the ones that will rise faster than the other pages that do not receive backlinks."
What is the difference between domain reputation and link juice?
This is an amalgam that is often made in SEO. As Nicolas Mercatili reminds us, what differentiates these two terms is "the notion of domain authority", for the referring domain, and "the notion of juice transmission", for the link juice.
"At SEMJuice, we work with clients of all budgets [...]. For high-budget clients, we provide them with links adapted to their link profile. We look for important media that cost several thousand euros. These sites have a lot of authority, which means that when a link is made to the client's site, it is a strong signal because the site that makes the link is very powerful. On the other hand, the transmission of juice that we want on big media that publish a lot, when the article of the customer is on the home page of the site, we are not very deep compared to the home page of the site, so, at the moment when the article is published, there is a lot of juice that goes to the site of our customer".
A notion of juice to be relativized when appearing on the homepage of a large media because, as our director of netlinking agency says, "these sites publish so many articles that after a while, the article takes depth and we quickly find ourselves several clicks away from the homepage. So we've lost a lot of SEO juice, but we still have the authority of the domain".
An advantage that SEMJuice exploits is by working "with what we call link to link. We go looking for small links, not very expensive, that we send to the page of the big media. This juice will flow through the big media page, to our client's site, transferring SEO juice to this page that links to our client's site, but recovering the authority of the domain."
In other words: "the juice lost internally from the homepage of the site, we will recover it via external juice, to keep the authority".
To summarize, it is good to create links on important media. This allows you to benefit from its authority, but the link juice received remains limited in time because of a too frequent turnover of articles on this kind of site. However, a good strategy of "external juice" allows continuing to benefit from the authority of the site in a sustainable way.
Netlinking takes time and the results are not always guaranteed.
Just like in many other SEO techniques, there are basics to know and master, but there is no real guarantee that an SEO action or strategy will be successful. Many factors must be taken into account to limit the risk of failure and promote the success of a strategy.
Obviously, netlinking is concerned by these uncertainties. We regularly see it on SEO forums, where many people wonder about the fact that they acquire quality backlinks, with good authority, but the authority of their site does not improve.
For Nicolas Mercatilit, "the misconception of buying a link and only the day after, realize its effectiveness. This is completely false. Google takes a long time to interpret what we do. So if I buy a link, you may see its effects in one or two months. And it's also hard to see the effectiveness of a link. At SEMJuice, we advise our clients to work on their link strategy over 6 months, because that's the minimum time frame over which we will see results [...]. There is real inertia in Google's strategies and interpretations. Google has become "lazy" and takes time to interpret what we do so that we manipulate it less".
Netlinking is therefore a "work of endurance", as our guest describes it. "Over 6 months, we work on a query and keywords. We monitor its positions on SEO tools and, depending on the backlinks we put, we see the rankings evolving. We can then draw conclusions".
How to get backlinks?
You will tell me, just read tutorials, the web is full of them. But none of the tutorials really describes the reality of things. Because there is always a gap between theory and practice.
For Nicolas Mercatili, there are two ways to get backlinks :
- Link baiting, that is to say, that we will propose extraordinary contents and hope that they are shared, taken up and that we receive links. It worked well a few years ago. But the web is now so full of content that it is harder and harder to get links naturally through content, even if it is still done."
- Link building, that is to say, that we come to manipulate the links and generate them ourselves. There are different ways to do this: we can do cross-link exchanges [...]. We can also buy links on sites, we can canvass bloggers, or go to SEO groups. We can also offer a turnkey strategy like SEMJuice.
"So there are different ways to make links. The only recommendation I have is to do it intelligently, that is to say by paying attention to over-optimization [...] to go under Google's radar and not risk being penalized [...]".
Advantages and risks of PBN in a netlinking strategy
It is a trend in the SEO world to take advantage of the implementation of PBN networks to boost its SEO. The principle is simple, create or take advantage of a network of interconnected private websites, ideally optimized, to create backlinks and boost the SEO of the main site.
A strategy that can pay off, but also carries some risks.
For our expert, there are two ways to use a PBN:
"Have a private PBN, that is to say, that I have a site with a certain theme and I will create several sites in this theme, by buying expired domains. I will be the owner of these sites and I will be the only one to have a link from these sites. This is a good practice because it allows us to have links that our competitors will not have. But be careful, it should not represent too many links compared to the backlinks we receive.
There are also networks of shared sites. If I am an SEO expert or an agency, a blogger specialized in a field, and I have several sites, I put them at the disposal of a platform like SEMJuice and the agency will put from time to time customers in this or that blogger, agency, ..."
Of course, such practices are not without risk, as our guest describes. "The danger is to come across someone who will mismanage their network of sites by leaving footprints between the different sites. At SEMJuice, if we have 30 links to place for a client, we will place them with 30 different partners. There will be no fingerprints between the sites. It's easy to trace a fingerprint nowadays and there have been several reports of this on the Google forums. A referrer who has not passed his competitor and who has given up will dig into what his competitor has done. He identifies networks of several hundred sites that belong to the same owner and denounces him on the Google forum. This is a disaster for the network of sites, for the client and for all the others who are pushed by this network of sites".
A world of tricksters, right?!
So," it's better to sprinkle in different partners to have no footprint", insists Nicolas Mercatili before adding: "But you can set up a dozen different and varied sites in your theme. This will give you a link and is a good complement to a link strategy".
Does the origin of backlinks matter?
This is one of the things impossible to control if you don't have an SEO tool, like Cocolyze which offers a backlinks checker, to know the degree of toxicity of a backlink. Because not all backlinks are good for your SEO, especially if they come from poor-quality sites.
This is one of the most frequent questions we receive at Cocolyze: is it better to have backlinks considered as highly "toxic", i.e. coming from a low-quality site, spamming, etc., but focused on our field of activity? Or is it better to have "correct" backlinks, with good authority, but from a different industry?
This is not an easy question to answer for our experts. For him, "spammy links are rarely themed [...] These are mostly poor quality sites that will generate a lot of backlinks to the same site. In my opinion, there is no interest in receiving a spammy link. We are lucky that Google does not necessarily take this into account. We realize that a site, which has a certain ranking and certain visibility and receives a lot of spammy links at once, the site will not move. Their metrics will go down, in terms of trust flow, etc. But, it won't impact the visibility of the site".
So, spammy links have no direct influence on your ranking. "But ideally, you should have links that are theme based on the page and not necessarily on the website where they come from. Some studies have shown that what has the most weight is the semantics between the page that makes the link and the one that receives it," adds our expert.
Is it good then to receive links, of good quality, even if the site where they come from is not in the same theme?
For Nicolas Mercatili, "it is always good to have links from a quality site that is not in the same theme. It can still be good to receive, but it must be a link among others. We must try to have a maximum of links coming from sites on the same topic, with pages close semantically to the page we are promoting on our site".
Do not underestimate any backlink!
When we are immersed in the development of an SEO and netlinking strategy, we inevitably want the best content and backlinks. However, we can tend to underestimate the impact of some links, especially those from websites with low authority. However, these links can also bring you link juice, even if it is in small quantities.
As our guest says, "it takes all kinds to make a world! You can't just get high-quality links. At SEMJuice, when we have clients who have just started with their site, we can't give them only high authority links, it's not possible because they are not eligible to receive these links. [...] So authority is important, but small links also do the job very well. We manage to launch small sites with small links and a small budget, and these sites take off quickly because we are on well-themed, qualitative sites, ... It remains a good signal and the quantity of links also plays.".
Manage the delay between the setting up of the netlinking and the Google crawl
As our netlinking expert reminded us, there is a certain amount of time between the moment you get backlinks and the moment Google will start to take an interest in what's going on with your site.
But during that time, if my link loses authority, will that affect my SEO?
"I think Google sees the backlink pretty quickly because, depending on the site, it will crawl them more or less often," Nicolas Mercatili said. "Generally, when we make links on a site, we do it on rather qualitative sites that are often crawled. Google sees the link quickly, but it will defer the moment when it begins to give importance to this link and make sure that this link is effective for the site that receives it. [...] So it's not necessarily going to impact the page [...]. I don't think there's a period of time where you lose the effectiveness of the link, because the link is ranked at a certain level. Google sees that you get a link and the link is generated at that point. I think it will take this into account. [...] "
What is the use of nofollow & dofollow tags?
This is one of the big questions in SEO today, what is the purpose of nofollow and dofollow tags?
Originally, these tags were used to indicate to Google that it could follow a link or, on the contrary, that it was "forbidden" to follow it. Today, it seems that there are some holes in the racket and that Google does as it pleases regarding the instructions issued in these tags.
As Nicolas Mercatili says, "Google has clearly announced that it no longer takes into account nofollow links. [...] For the transmission of link juice, it is only done by dofollow links. So if you buy a link, make sure it is in dofollow to have the transmission of juice that is done. The nofollow links can be removed from any strategy. It is better to integrate the link blockage, that is to say that I hide the links to Google's robots, but I leave them visible to Internet users. This remains a good practice [...]. As long as you don't try to fool users and that it is to optimize the crawl, as well as Google's budget, there is no problem to use link obfuscation [...]".
What are the "points of vigilance" during a backlinks audit?
Just like finding the right SEO keywords, finding the right backlinks requires knowing your environment before you can choose the links that will be most beneficial to you.
"At SEMJuice, when a client comes to us, we do a backlink audit. We will look at the links they receive, their typology, the type of link anchors, how many backlinks they have, etc. From there, we are able to define a strategy. We will especially look at the link anchors because this is where the point of vigilance truly is since this is what Google will monitor and penalize the most [...]. The very short anchors, with one or two words, can create over-optimization and this is what will penalize your site. [...] When we see that the anchors are over-optimized, we will try to "de-optimize" them. We will buy small links for our customers, to blend in the mass of over-optimized anchors. We will try to bring the SEO to a "natural" level before pushing it up again. [...] The goal is to have logical and natural link anchors [...]".