Manual link building is still quite common it seems. Does it make sense after Penguin? Does it work at all? When we think of manual link building we picture tedious hands-on inserting of backlinks to our sites on third party properties.

This kind of link building is often misunderstood as low quality and frowned upon by webmasters and Google.

It doesn’t have to be though.

Let’s consider a more objective definition of what manual link building can be: It’s any action that leads to getting a link directly instead of via proxies. A proxy is usually creating content for example or devising link bait (which in fact is just a specific kind of content usually).

What kinds of manual link building are left now that Google cracks down on so called “unnatural links“?



Outreach is still viable as long as you don’t ask for links but ask for publicity instead. You may ask for feedback as well but some people don’t have the time to “waste” on giving free feedback.ย  Reaching out to people is a bit embarrassing at first, it feels like giving out “free hugs” on the street. Some people will be grumpy or even aggressive. Other people will embrace you too.

Even not-linked brand mentions or crippled “nofollow” links given by webmasters who are scared of Google are still OK. After all you can get more real links, visitors and overall good press because of them.

Understand the difference between promotion and outreach.

When you promote (yourself) you ask for something and push your message. When it comes to outreach you give away something and listen. Google already frowns upon “freebies for links” exchanges so make sure not to ask for a favor. Some people are thankful and will provide publicity of their own accord. Don’t barter. Reach out but act without expectation. Be creative with the means and value propositions you approach people.

Guest Blogging

Guest blogging is despite all the recent Google scare-mongering still a perfectly legitimate practice. Successful startup Buffer uses guest posting as their sole marketing practice. Simply do not overdo it. Do not create dozens of guest posts per month.

Don’t add keyword rich anchor text links to your post.

Provide a bio that is specifically geared towards the audience of the blog you write for, don’t just copy and paste the same one everywhere. Make sure that you really get the editorial link in the introduction by the host blogger or the bio section instead of sneaking it in by adding it to the text.

Make the guest post useful by itself, don’t treat it solely as a means to get the link or a transit page to send over traffic. Make sure there is some value you offer in it. Google can’t forbid you to get exposure that way.


UGC aka User Generated Content can be a fruitful addition to your overall link profile. Are you too proud to get the low hanging fruit? Think again. Your link profile is indeed incomplete without at least some user bio, forums signature and microsite links. A healthy link profile includes of course links from:

  • social media
  • forums
  • microsites

and all kinds of other sites I can’t even think of right now.

  • A site that doesn’t have links from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ or LinkedIn looks fishy. Why would no one share it? It must be low quality, ugly or irrelevant.
  • A site nobody talks about you on forums and topical communities? How strange! It must be irrelevant.
  • A site without links from small private homepages from the likes of Weebly, Jimdo or even Google Sites does not look natural either to me.


No, commenting on blogs or online magazines doesn’t equal comment spam. Remember that the most wanted result of a comment is to get a link in the original article or follow up. So act accordingly by:

  • being polite
  • acknowledging the writer
  • giving positive feedback

(but not the bot-like “thank you great post” thing) and then add your own resource or opinion piece with a deep link. I have done that even before I knew what SEO was (10+ years ago). That’s simply the art of socializing among bloggers. In case you don’t have a blog , get one and link back to your related posts.

Of course pinging your favorite blog articles from a meaningful reply on your won blog is even better! Just don’t automate commenting or pinging and don’t use keywords and deep links for your name and URL input. That’s really spam.


Meeting People

Manual means “done by hand”, so when Google says “manual action” they mean “punch you”. On the other hand you can

use your hands not only reach out via the phone but to actually meet and greet real people.

You can just:

  • meet up informally at a bar
  • convene at your 10 – year SEO anniversary party
  • make people appear at your offices by providing free guidance and courses.

There are lots of reasons to meet people from your niche, industry or even city. You have more things in common that you think! For example bloggers meet up just because they are bloggers. They don’t even have to cover the same topics. That’s even better though!

I’ve noticed that the few SEO people I actually met in person (I don’t socialize as much in real life as I’d like to) are much more likely to remember me and follow my footsteps online too. They share and link to my articles much more often and I’m also more aware of them on the Web.

Meeting people in real life also makes manual link building scalable.

You can meet more than one person at a time and the same person can link and share your work more than once too! I know it because I’ve been there and done that.

(CC BY-SA 2.0) Creative Commons image by Heather Katsoulis

(CC BY-ND 2.0) Creative Commons image by Tambako The Jaguar

(CC BY-SA 2.0) Creative Commons image by Martin Fisch