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Why Link Wheels Can Dodge Google Filters and Stand the Test of Time

After watching a recent video on Shoemoney and reading a rather excellent article on SEOmoz by Justin, I felt inspired to talk about a subject that everyone seems to dance around… Link Wheels, do they work? Don’t they? How can Google filter them.

Shoemoney interviewed one of the guys from Link Wheelers making some pretty bold claims about how effective link wheels are and Justin on SEOmoz gave an excellent break down of how the engines may filter out low quality links based on certain signals. Do links wheels get caught in these filters? Are they a valid link building model? Well, here’s what I think.

There is a little bit of stigma attached to link wheels, widely associated with spam and thin affiliate sites but the fact is, if done properly, link wheels or making use of your web properties can work really well.

If you are investing in link building then why not consider using that budget/resource to create your own ‘useful’ web properties and use these to link intelligently back to you main website? It makes perfect sense! Some smart affiliates have been doing this years.

Do you already have external sites? Are you using them to link intelligently back to your ‘money’ site?

At this point I think it would be a good idea to go over what link wheels are, how to use them and how not to use them.

What are link wheels?

Essentially they are web properties that interlink and point back to your main website or ‘money’ site, the technique has been around for years in the SEO industry but it still seems a lot of people aren’t familiar with them.

They are mainly used to create the illusion that your main site is the authority in it’s niche, building multiple web properties with relevant content and optimised links creates an external hub of info, if this hub of rich content cites your main website as the authority then of course Google is going to follow those optimised links and reward your main site.

Yes, this tactic can be used in a spammy way to manipulate rankings but if done with quality in mind the links you create will stand the test of time.

link wheels

What not to do

Let’s be clear about one thing, this tactic works, however if you want to sleep easy knowing all your hard work is going to last, then it’s best to do it right. A lot of webmasters looking for the quick win will do the following:

  • Create 10 – 15 Web 2.0 properties usually using free publishing websites like blogger, wordpress and squidoo
  • Copy and paste content from an article directory or Google news
  • Add the exact same anchor text on each site back to their money site
  • Link all the properties together with one link 1 to 2, 2 to 3 etc……
  • Never add content or build links into these new properties again

If you’re going to build an external hub of websites this is not the way to do it, don’t get me wrong, it will probably work but for how long? In my experience you’ll be lucky to get more than a month out of these links before they are devalued by one of Google’s many filters.

What to do…

Think about the traffic within your niche, what answers are they looking for that your site doesn’t provide for? For example, you may be running a beauty salon but a lot of the traffic within your niche is looking for teeth whitening or semi permanent makeup, it might not be appropriate to have content about this on your site but it doesn’t mean you can’t create one to cater for it.

What Kind of site should I register?

If I am honest, building a micro site on Blogger or on your own domain, it makes no difference, however you own your domain, you’ll always have control of it, plus you’ll have more flexibility in terms of design.

It has to be genuine

Make the content unique, add value and link out to some great resources on the web, invest some time in creating a decent design, have an about page and write at least 4 pages of content to get you started.

Yes! This is a lot of hard work, but the end result will be a link to your main site from a high relevancy, high quality resource that you own, run and control.

I have created 10 Micro sites, how do I link them together?

What ever you do don’t go and paste all the links in the footer to everyone of your web properties all anchor text rich!

Instead think more about quality, write a couple of articles on the topic thinking about how you could interlink with your main site, a micro site and another quality external resource.

Creating external sources this way will ensure the links you create continue to pass value in the long run.

DON’T interlink every micro site together!!

The idea is that Google need to believe these sites are all external properties, if you interlink them altogether it becomes easy to understand they are all controlled by the same person.

Linking between sites should look like something similar to the below:

Link Wheel layout

Second level link building

So you have:

- 10 – 15 relevant micro sites
- 3 – 6 pages of quality, unique content on each site
- smart linking patterns to all micro sites and to the main site

Now all these sites should all ready have some link juice from each other but you’re going to need to boost it and I find the best way to do this is through article marketing.

Write an article for each site and point it back to each of your web properties, as well as linking it to a random quality resource on the topic (remember it has to be natural).

This will give each site the boost it needs to flow maximum link juice all the way back to your main website.

Many companies out there invest in link building and so they should, it works, however in my mind some investment should go into developing external hubs that focus on providing genuine content and assisting the main site in becoming an authority in it’s given niche.

Will it dodge the filters?

Early on in the post I made reference to a post by Justin Briggs, he details some filters your links can get picked up with, let’s quickly explore them and see if we’re vulnerable.

Truncated PageRank

This filter is based on a site having a lot of links from sources that aren’t well linked to, throw up spam sites, low quality content sites would all fall under this and if all your links are coming from sites that have few incoming links then you could get caught in the filter.

Link wheels like the ones described above will be secondary links, they will be linked together and then boosted with article directories, this means the juice passing to the main site are less likely to be impacted.

We’re safe!

Owned Sites

If you have a network of sites, all registered by you and on the same IP, this is going to let Google know these are ‘accessible’ properties and the link value could be filtered out.

The micro sites we build should be on different IP’s and where possible registered under different names.

Pretty Safe again.

Relative Mass of Spam Links

Again, the more spammy sources you have linking to you the more likely you’re going to trip a filter.

All our microsites will be full of genuine content, provide real references and be of genuine use to a reader.

They aren’t going to hurt our main site.

Link Growth / Speeds to Nodes

Again a simple concept that has been around a while, how quickly is your link profile growing, natural sites will develop more rapidly as the site gains more authority, spam sites gain a lot of links quickly but die off over time.

This is one where the link wheels could get caught out, build your sites gradually, don’t rush through them and risk building too many links too quickly.

Still safe.

Trust Rank

The closer you are to deemed spam sites the more likely you are to be spam???

In my opinion I’m not sure how important trust rank is, maybe it is a signal but one that only works with other ‘spam’ signals, otherwise it makes it far too easy to effect competitors just by spamming them.

Plus, you can unfortunately rank high on spam links alone. Either way our sites are genuine.

Nothing to worry about!

Anchor Text

If you go using the same anchor text on every property you will get caught, use your brain mix up the anchor text and stay safe.

Link Growth Threshold

Justin describes how some links can be devalued if they come through too quickly, it’s not difficult for Google to understand what should be being linked to and what is manipulation. Social signals and search trends can confirm if a site is worthy of links.

Again we’re being slow and steady, win win.

Robust PageRank

Genuine sites don’t rely on one or two powerful links, will you site fall if you remove 1 or 2 strong links? If so you’re potentially susceptible to a filter.

However building your micro sites will provide genuine diversity, bullet dodged.

PageRank Diversity

I published a post on this not so long ago:

- Sites with a link profile consisting of high PageRank sources looks unnatural and possibly paid

- Sites with nothing but low quality sources look spammy

You still need to be link building as well as developing these properties and building them will actually assist in the diversity of your link profile.

Diminishing Returns

This backs up the idea of domain diversity, no longer will site wide links be massively powerful but instead the more links you have from one domain the less powerful the links will be.

This tells us there is a threshold on the amount of link juice we can get from these micro sites, however that doesn’t mean their not worth developing.

The fact is there is nothing Google can do automatically to stop this type of link building, it works and as long as Google relies on links it will continue to work.

Do it intelligently and you will see massive returns!

Line Break

Author: Tim (254 Articles)

is the owner and editor of SEO wizz and has been involved in the search engine marketing industry for over 9 years. He has worked with multiple businesses across many verticals, creating and implementing search marketing strategies for companies in the UK, US and across Europe. Tim is also the Director of Search at Branded3, a Digital Marketing & SEO Agency based in the UK.

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{ 38 comments }

Benn August 1, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Great article Tim. It’s something that I’ll need to try out!

WB August 1, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Article marketing… as in paid auto blogs, or boiler plate spun old school articles…

As crazy as it sounds, i have never bothered with either and have gone even dirtier than that!

Tim August 2, 2011 at 12:48 am

Old school article marketing works using the article wizard tool, remember all we’re doing is making sure our micro sites have some links pointing at them, enough for them to be indexed and pass a little juice.

On their own they are little help to link profile other than creating a bit of ‘noise’, we’re not bothered about the micro sites ranking, we just need to make sure they are legitimate and can benefit our main site/s

Tim August 2, 2011 at 12:48 am

Cheers,

it works particularly well when targeting low hanging fruit.

rishil August 2, 2011 at 1:06 am

Hey Tim,
Over a good analysis of link wheels. However I would add a key differenciation to building a wheel on your own domains – it can be costly if you have to build a wheel for more than 2-3 sites f you start looking at unique IPs, domain reg, not to mention a logistical nightmare.

My thoughts would be along the lined of using “free” properties that you are kind of reccomending against – hubsot, wordpress.com, blogger, tumblr, are all vlid, as long as you keep them “clean”.

What you need to do is treat each as unique microsite, ad because they are hosted by the serice providers, you dont need to worry about IP diversity, not for small scale sites at any rate – now about domain reg and costs.

In fact, the idea would be to pick 1-2 KWs that have some traffic – say about 1K-2K exact searches in GKwT – but related to your money site. Building hubs around each set of mini keywords, then get those micro hubs ranking.

A linkwheel specialist would be able to do this well, by supporting those microsites by links from a range of nofollow / dofollow areas, especially if each hub is naturally linkable.

Say I wanted to create a hub about Blue Widgets – I woudl identify 10-15 Kws around Blue Widgets long tails – for example: “How do I fix my Blue Widget” .

Knock up an article on Exactly that, find a related youtube video, then knock up 2-3 other supporting articles, such as “Fix Blue Widget in [Location]“. Get those some traction by making sure they are indexed and ranked, then over time add in reviews of “Blue Widget” which would be the money site :)

IMHO a decent linkwheel is all about a decent strategy, except instead of concntrating all your efforts into one big site, you spread it across a range of tiny ones…

Tim August 2, 2011 at 1:17 am

Hi Rishil,

Thanks for the in depth comment.

I didin’t mean to come across as ‘blogger/hubspot’ hater, as you say they can be used well and are much more scalable, from a continuity point of view though it cause issues down the line and their is nothing to squidoo or blogger etc…. making their links no follow, killing any hard work.

However, like you say doing it through these platforms is much more scalable, and as I said in the article they work just as well, sometimes better.

In terms of your strategy it sounds spot on, create all your micro sites around ‘low hanging’ relevant fruit, make them authorities in their own right and the links back to your main site will stand the test of time.

Moosa Hemani August 2, 2011 at 2:58 am

Awesome thanks for the clarification… while I was reading this I thought about one thing and that is IP like even if I go for all the free servers like wordpress blogger, hub pages and others… they will be created and operating from single IP…

But this makes sense like for micro websites this must not be that important….

Thanks for the awesome post and making people clear that Link wheel is not the trick but a technique that require equal amount of hard work!!

Kieran Flanagan August 2, 2011 at 5:42 am

Yeah, agree with Rishil, it’s far easier to use free properties. Building your own hubs, whilst good, would be really time consuming. If you had the $$, integrating dropped domains could get you a little extra kick, although I did notice a big drop off in performance of dropped domains before getting rid of my link network.
The guy you mentioned in the ShoeMoney video used an old school link wheel to get his results, articles, free properties, social profiles. After reading that post I went back to my writeboard and scoped out a link wheel, implemented as a test and it seems to have worked well.
I used to use them but stopped after their performance wasn’t worth the ROI, I realise now, it’s because the keywords you need to target in these are long tail/no overly competitive (if using free sites etc).

Tim August 2, 2011 at 7:38 am

Totally agree in terms of scalability, free platforms are ideal.

However when you consider some of the budgets companies are throwing into link building it’s quite easy to make a case for developing you own web properties.

Dropped domains definitely don’t work as well, I think Google has some sort of algo that checks for DNS and registration changes, we’ve just been discussing it this afternoon and believe Google resets the trust awarded to a site when these type of changes take place.

I think link wheels do work very well for longtail terms, however if done right you can also see good results on core terms, when I first launched this blog I ranked for the term ‘google seo’ within 2 months, this was on the back of a low quality link wheel that I let die out over a year ago, I know that’s not a major competitive term but it was good enough for a few hundred hits a month.

Claudio August 2, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Great article Tim, I am following you on Twitter!

Nathan McDonald August 3, 2011 at 1:23 am

Brilliant article! This explained so much to me and the diagram demonstrating a good way to interlink micro sites really clarified things. I’ve whacked this post into my bookmarks so I can come back for reference as there’s a lot to remember in there for a newbie! :-)

Thanks for some quality info Tim!

Robert Kirk August 3, 2011 at 1:48 am

Another interesting post Tim. Weird you posted this now, last few weeks I have been testing out some link wheel techniques. I find the most important parts as you have also mentioned
1. Don’t just build the 2.0 properties then leave them decilitre, add more content over time, and also do monthly regular social bookmark and article links to the web 2.0 properties to keep link juice flowing to the pages.
2. Really mix up the anchor text and mix up links to inner deep pages, we find this really works well for passing strength to inner pages for longer keywords

Tim August 4, 2011 at 12:42 am

Thanks Nathan,

Hope you have some success with them.

Tim August 4, 2011 at 12:44 am

Good to have you on board Claudio, you might have to ignore some of my more random tweets :)

Tim August 4, 2011 at 12:45 am

Agreed.

For me it’s all about making them look genuine, if you can do that and not greedy with the anchor text they can work well.

Gordon McLachlan August 4, 2011 at 5:26 am

I don’t want to sound sycophantic but this is a flipping awesome article. In fact, I’ve just bookmarked it. You’re dead on when you say at the start that few people know about link wheels – it tends to be one of those “secret” things that SEO companies and marketers don’t want to disclose or discuss either in fear or someone beating them at their own game or in case they get seen as being immoral or underhanded. And yes, fact it is artificial link wheels are underhanded and certainly not in the spirit of natural growth (exactly why Google will blacklist obvious offenders) but the reality is that everyone is doing it – it’s why online marketing companies charge so much.

Tim August 4, 2011 at 6:15 am

Thanks Gordon,

Of course you’re right, to do these things properly takes a considerable amount of time, hence the high prices.

It shouldn’t be a secret, there is plenty of info out there but like with anything there is a lot of rubbish out there as well.

The-English-Webmistress August 8, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Damn! This is a fine article… Thanks for this post. Summarises all of the key issues surrounding the topic.

Innes August 18, 2011 at 8:39 am

Link wheels are a danger to any business and it is especially dangerous when a so called professional seo consultant tries to encourage them. We had this on both of our clothing websites when a consultant said “don’t repeat this but what you could do….”!.. We were bemused to say the least seeing as the website is so significant in building new leads to our business.

Tim August 19, 2011 at 1:39 am

Hi Innes,

Not really sure what you’re getting at here, building link wheels aren’t dangerous in anyway, I have yet to see a site penalised for it, have you? If:

- content is duplicated or scraped this can negatively effect the wheel
- if you use the exact same anchor text hundreds of times, yes this can set off a filter
- if you publish hundreds of links to all your sites on every hub, yes this can be penalised

Doing it right has no negative consequences that I know about and is no different to a large corporation intelligently using their web properties.

Link wheels aren’t a dark art, no Matt Cutts won’t advocate them but if you wait for him or anyone at Google to give the thumbs up you’ll stay well behind your competitors.

Tony August 22, 2011 at 10:48 am

Hey Tim,

Awesome post. A few questions.

You mentioned not to be worried about the micro site rankings in the link wheel. If we are putting good quality content the micro sites, wouldn’t it be wise to have the micro site act as a 2nd tier money site sand try to rank that for a few terms as well? What about creating a lesser quality link wheel for the micro site to get it ranking which then links to your main money site?

I understand it’s important to have your micro sites on different IPs. You mentioned to have them registered in different names too. How would you go about doing that? Should you use different credit cards or find other people to register them for you?

Thanks,

Tony

Tim August 24, 2011 at 2:05 am

Hi Tony,

You will find that your microsites naturally rank after you have done a bit of article marketing back to them, however I find it too time consuming to make them money sites in their own right, you could always stick some adsense on there and see what comes of it. My only worry with monetising micro sites is that it makes them slightly more susceptible to Googles devaluation algo, we have seen pages in the past devalued based on excessive ads or affiliate links.

Having things on different IP’s and registering them separately is a matter of budget, large companies who have 6 figure SEO budgets can afford to do this and do it well, if you’re running a smaller business you will have to take advantage of the online publishing outfits and maybe have a couple of hosting accounts as per the above comments.

Innes August 24, 2011 at 2:09 am

Hi Tim, this does make a lot more sense already from what you have pointed out here. Where my concern had been in the past was where our webmaster at the time wanted us to create dummy / duplicate pages. This was one of the several things which did worry us at the time.

Tim August 24, 2011 at 3:10 am

Ye, it has to be done right, doing it wrong will be a waste of time and money as Google will devalue the links faster than you can build them.

Donnell October 31, 2011 at 8:42 am

This answered so many questions I had about backlinks! Finally someone put it in a way I could understand!

Rufus Kagan November 15, 2011 at 9:56 am

Tim,
Just stumbled upon this post and I want to thank you for writing such an informative article. Building a link wheel if done right can reap some huge dividends in the long term, but I find that most people want the results NOW and rush into it all. Like you said, a natural progression is the key to staying under any radar and climbing that SERP ladder.

Kukzee @ Web Traffic Kiosk February 10, 2012 at 2:11 am

I totally agree that the strategy is not bad. Its about the purpose.
If you made it to reach more readers and to give value to the community you registered to… then your site is doing the right thing.

@SEOperks February 16, 2012 at 11:39 pm

Great article Tim. You definitely added some clarity for the filters as well. I really enjoyed reading the whole article and ALL comments too. Great stuff!

Brandon Cook February 17, 2012 at 11:30 am

Great Article! I’ve been looking for some information like this recently as I have a few micorsites that I need to develop. I’ve taken baby steps with these sites because I don’t want them to come off as spammy.

Thanks for tips!

Avin Klien February 17, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Thanks for the good article Tim.

Let’s say there are 6 microsites. Do you feel it’s less effective if they have similar branding (company name, etc) as the main website (as long as they all have unique and valuable content)?

Great post.

Tim February 20, 2012 at 10:36 am

I think you need to keep the sites as unique as possible. Don’t want to raise any eyebrows with your link building.

Avin Kline February 20, 2012 at 11:42 am

Thanks Tim, I appreciate your thoughts. Again, great article.

Robert Kirk March 27, 2012 at 5:12 am

So Tim do you think with all recent Google changes and updates, linkwheels are still worth doing if done right in 2012?

Tim April 1, 2012 at 2:07 pm

I am seeing private networks being hit as well as public ones, I just don’t think it’s scalable any more.

Simon May 11, 2012 at 3:47 am

Hi Tim,

I am seeing a lot of sites do well using this method and I imagine it will become more popular with the devaluing of private blog network links. I can see how they work, unique, relevant and fresh content.

Question though: You say you should juice the sites up with articles. Could this potentially create the problem of keyword.blog.com only having links from article sites and 1/2 other web.20 properties therefore it could be deemed to be low quality?

thanks,

Tim May 14, 2012 at 12:37 am

Hi Simon,

I think this article needs updating somewhat, if you are going to use your own network of websites to do this you had better make sure it is 100% genuine going forward. Google’s clamp down has left me very nervous about any of these type of tactics, so if I was going to do it, I would make sure every property served a purpose.

I personally wouldn’t use article marketing (spinning and submitting) in any sense moving forward, this will automatically set off an unnatural links message, despite what the owners of these tools say. Tried and tested.

I’d use something like, myblogguest to look for genuine opportunities to provide content, you can pick and choose between the sites that bid for your content.

Hamlet September 3, 2012 at 4:48 am

It will be problem if a create micro site from Same IP? I think it’s not hard for google to find out who is maintaining any site.

David @ Link Wheeler September 3, 2012 at 11:14 pm

Hi Tim and Simon,

As you said Google are clamping down hard on “questionable” SEO strategies with their recent updates (Panda and Penguin). This means a lot of low quality techniques are doing the reverse – actually damaging your search ranking.

However what makes Google and other Search Engines penalize your website is rarely the technique used, but the execution of that technique.

If you are using very low quality spun content – your results with any technique are going to be bad. But if you use high quality, engaging content that people actually want to read Google and other Search Engines will always be on your side.

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