Link Cluster Building Ideas

Link Cluster Building Ideas

Courtney Tuttle posted this article, Introduction To Link Clusters on link clusters recently and I thought I’d go over some ideas I’ve tried when building clusters and some new things I’m working with in this area. I’m particularly going to be looking at free options that are available and some of the upsides and downsides of them.

What is a Link Cluster?

Well, in his article, Court defines a Link Cluster as, “A group of links designed to improve the credibility of a web page, according to visitors and search engines.” This activity is sometimes known by the more pejorative term, “Link Farm“. I like the term ‘entourage blogs’ or ‘entourage sites’ myself.  But, what is the difference between a plain old spammy link farm and a valid link cluster? In my view, a link farm is just a big collection of anchored links that look something like this snapshot of a Blogger blog.

Link Farm Example

A good link cluster site might look something like this Squidoo lens that Elliot created as part of Griz’s Asia’h Epperson SEO contest.

Asia’h Epperson

There is a notable difference in quality between the sites as you can see. While you don’t have to create something with the same level of quality that Elliot created you do have to bear in mind that Google’s impression of the quality of a link can make a difference in how they score it.

Now let’s look at some free places to build your link cluster sites. What we’re looking for are places where you can get followed links for free without too many onerous restrictions and that Google indexes reasonably well.

Blogger

BloggerGoogle’s Blogger service is almost tailor made for building a link cluster network. It’s free, of course, and they allow you to place your own ads on your free blog. You can’t get much better than that. I’ve previously discussed some pros and cons of Blogger in this post, Niche Blog Hosting: WordPress vs. Blogger. The only drawback to using Blogger 100% for a link cluster is that is creates a pattern of links from a single source that might be frowned upon. This is particularly true because there are automated blackhat tools that exploit this service for massive, and quite temporary, link building.

For my link cluster Blogger blogs I usually go with short posts with keyworded titles with one or two anchored links to my target. I also will throw in links to other, complimentary, articles and sites to break up the linking pattern somewhat. Keeping the number of anchored links to a maximum of about 2-3 per 300 words should avoid automated flagging. Don’t get hung up on the numbers though, just don’t be greedy and/or stupid and you should be fine.

WordPress.com

WordPress.comWordPress.com is the hosting arm of WordPress where one can easily get their own WordPress blog for free. Unlike Blogger, they don’t allow any advertising and take a dim view on anything that might appear overly spammy. Perhaps due to the lack of advertising, these sites can rank well on some terms, particularly long tails, since Google sees no ads as a sign of authority. When used in a meaningful way a WordPress.com blog can be a great addition to your link cluster.

For this service I use about the same technique as I do for Blogger but I’m much more careful about linking to ecommerce sites and I won’t link at all to affiliate offers or anything else that’s questionable. People who get stupid and/or greedy typically will get their accounts deleted.

GeoCities, AngelFire and Others

Yahoo! Geocities

While Blogger and WordPress are the big names in the free blog industry there are several other players out there such as Yahoo’s GeoCities and AngelFire from Lycos. (There are some others around if you want to Google for free blogs.) They offer ad supported free blogs. This means your blog has to show their banners and you can’t place your own advertising, including affiliate links.  They also have rules that you will need to follow concerning content but these aren’t too bad in most cases.

These are absolute beginner blogs with clumsy features as compared to WordPress or even Blogger. While these simple blogs aren’t that great for a big time social blog or even a niche blog they will work well in the context of a link cluster. Google seems to index them quickly, most of the time anyway, and they’re a good way to move off the beaten link trail.

As for content, I work them just like I do WordPress.com, avoiding blatant advertising and anything else that would go against their terms of service while writing good, although keyword oriented, material.

Squidoo and HubPages

Squidoo

Well, a lot has been said recently about these services where you create a single page on a topic. I don’t want to do a rehash of them so here are some articles I recommend:

The articles previously linked to here are no longer available, sorry.

I’ve only made about 30 Squidoo lenses at this point. I know some people have made 100’s. I typically follow the same pattern of using about 5 text modules, each with an internal link to the target blog and a couple of other things that make sense like a poll module or another widget. The text modules are just an intro paragraph, much like what you would use for Blogging Zoom, and there is a link to the full article on my site. I’m seeing a pretty good click-thru on the lenses to the target blog of between about 30-80%. Here’s an example I did for OpTempo: Niche Blogging Tips. Also see my previous post, Link Building Tips for Niche Blogs, for more good Squidoo and HubPages links.

Free Forums and Wikis

Encyclopedias

This is an area I’ve been looking at recently. If you Google on Free Forums or Free Wikis you’ll find several sites offering these services. Like many other free blog and website services they support their offerings by inserting their advertising onto your site and prohibit you from advertising yourself. 

Some of these services automatically nofollow external links, making them next to useless for link cluster building. Few advertise this fact though. One that does nofollow external links is wikispaces.com so don’t waste your time there.

I’ll be investigating some of these sites over the next few weeks and I’ll report back to you what I find. In the mean time, if you know of ones that work well for your link cluster building exercises or if you just have other questions or thoughts about this topic, please share it in a comment.

 


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21 Comments »

Comment by Justin
2008-04-15 19:05:13

great post Frank. I think you just about covered it all. I was going to do a post on the different places people can get links, but its just going to be easier to give you a plug on that post. Couldn’t have wrote it any better.

Comment by jfc
2008-04-15 23:32:28

Thanks Justin,

I hope you do a post on getting links since it’s always good to have different perspectives.

 
 
Comment by baldeagle
2008-04-16 07:50:58

Interesting article! I particularly like the way you did a run down of the free blogging sites. Thanks!

Comment by jfc
2008-04-16 10:31:20

Hi Baldeagle and thanks,

There are a number of free blogging sites out there but Blogger is the best due to its association with Google and that they allow you to monetize with almost no restrictions. But, if you’re just seeking good, followed, links then most of them will do the job.

 
 
Comment by ronel fuentes
2008-04-16 08:32:49

Everything is clear in this article. It is very well explained and very interesting.

Comment by jfc
2008-04-18 07:47:00

Hi Ronel,

I hope Comment Demon is working out well for you. ;)

 
 
Comment by Dinheiro
2008-04-16 18:50:46

Frank great post and great advices. This complements very well what the 3 musketeers (grizzly, vic, court) say in their blogs. You’re going on the right track for the job of d’Artagnan. The four warriors of the net. I must think what is the place of splork in this group, because he’s beginning to complement this 4 blogs as well.

Comment by jfc
2008-04-17 08:44:43

Thanks Dinheiro,

I’ve tried to aim for how I’m applying some of the advice given by Griz, Vic and Court plus what I’m trying out myself. Splork and Justin (BloggingZombie.com) are also quite good. Everyone is a bit different but we’re all headed in a similar direction.

Soon I think we’ll have a whole army of ‘musketeers’ though. ;)

 
 
Comment by Vinny Lingo
2008-04-19 21:37:02

Thanks for this post, Frank. The more I read your blog, the more I find myself liking it. You’re definitely up there on the usefulness scale. Har har.

Comment by jfc
2008-04-19 22:18:15

Thanks Vinny,

I’m trying. :)

 
 
2008-04-26 23:19:30

How about the MSN Live blogs?

Comment by jfc
2008-04-26 23:48:05

Hi James,

I haven’t checked into them recently. I think I may actually have a blog of sorts on classic Visual Basic still out there somewhere. I’ll have to see if I can track it down. A quick search didn’t turn mine up but I did find one done by an old co-worker of mine.

Their blogs, as best I can tell, don’t have a nofollow attribute inserted on posts so that would be good. I wouldn’t do one where I wanted people to comment and so forth but for link clustering it should work fine.

 
 
Comment by Roman
2008-05-01 10:07:14

Be careful with what link swarm you join Google doesn’t always agree with that practice so you can get blacklisted.

Comment by jfc
2008-05-01 10:26:03

Hi Roman,

That is true. A lot of it depends on how natural it looks and the numbers involved. Certain blackhat tools, like YACG and Blogger Generator, can create 1000’s of links very quickly and they’ll also get blacklisted in Google very quickly. A natural link cluster will grow slowly and organically and stay relatively small which is almost always acceptable to Google.

 
 
Comment by Houseboat Rentals
2008-05-04 19:35:41

Frank, you could have used my lens on Asia’h Epperson. :-(

Thats OK some day I’ll make it to the big league.

On these Blogger link cluster? Don’t they require quite a bit of time to build them up in PR so you get good PR juice from them? I can spend months trying to get a Blogger blog gain low page rank. And that is if I focus heavily on that blog alone.

Link clusters seem like a lot of work when you could just write articles, comment blogs and forums.

Don’t clusters take years to build?

Denise

Comment by jfc
2008-05-04 20:15:00

Hi Denise,

Well, at least I put your houseboat site on my random blogroll. :)

PR is part of it but more important is getting an anchored link counted toward a target site or post. I’ve had sites with little PR or age show up well in SERPs just on this factor alone. Of course, PR and age and probably lack of advertising will give the site more authority in Google’s eyes.

Having a cluster is part of an overall link building strategy. The important thing with a cluster is that you have a little more control over the linking than you do with articles, dofollow comments and forums.

 
 
Comment by Houseboat Rentals
2008-05-04 20:51:19

Thanks Frank for the clarity! I get so confused on all this link building and how it works.

 
Comment by Vintage Coffee Tin
2008-07-04 19:20:29

Nice one again Frank,

We need an update on any forums that have dofollow. That in itself should make for an interesting post. A nice list of dofollow forums and wikis with a bit of filler info.
Have you had a chance to come across any?

Comment by jfc
2008-07-05 12:25:41

Hi Coffee,

I’ve found a few free forum sites where you can create forums that are dofollow. However, getting them indexed and getting traffic to them is a big challenge and I’d rather concentrate on more profitable and easy link building ventures at this point.

There are plenty of forums out there where you can get dofollow links from both within the post and from signature links. The further away you get from technology and blogging topics the more likely you are to find dofollow forums. Just be mindful of following the rules of the forum and confirm what kind of links they allow you to use.

As for Wiki’s I haven’t located one yet that had dofollow links that wasn’t paid. :(

 
 
Comment by All About Nothing
2008-07-13 14:43:59

I’ve tried Squidoo and Hub pages, and I need to revisit those. Hadn’t thought about GeoCities etc. … I see your point about the low value, but as a way to round out the links I’m directing they’d definitely serve a purpose.

 
Comment by Otooo
2008-09-01 03:44:12

So it’s designed not to look spammy, but just provide links?

 
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