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.
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.
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.
Google’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 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
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
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
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.