Second-tier link building is an SEO strategy tapping into the citation model search engine’s use to determine rankings. At the most basic level, when an authoritative website links to another site, part of that authority is passed along. Of course, most modern search engines use hundreds (if not thousands) of different factors to determine where websites rank, but inbound links are unlikely to ever go away as a major contributing factor.
Traditional link building efforts typically rely on reaching out to websites and trying to secure a link from them. Second-tier link building is different because it effectively adds a step in the middle. Instead of building links to your main website, you can build links to a secondary site and then link from that site to your main one.
Now, you might be wondering why bother. After all, each extra step in the chain risks diluting the authority that’s being built up by the inbound links. But while that’s true to a certain extent, it can also protect your main website from risk. If the worst comes to the worst then it’ll be the tier two sites and not the main site that get penalised.
Tier 2 Links and Tier 3
Instead of risking problems with your main site, tier two link building allows you to pass the value of those links on to your main site through a sort of pyramid of links, with those low-quality (tier three) links pointing to your medium-quality (tier two) sites. Your tier two sites can then act as tier one links back to the main site.
Some less scrupulous SEOs will create entire tier two sites of their own that they fill with sub-par content. We usually find that a better option is to use blogger outreach and other link building methods to create high-quality tier one links and to then take your pick out of those sites to find your tier twos. That ensures that the tier two sites are of high quality with regular updates as opposed to just being repurposed content farms.
You can think of the different tiers as being in the shape of a pyramid, with the quantity increasing as you go down from tier one (at the top) to tier three (at the bottom). Here are the three different link tiers:
- Tier One Links: Links directly to your website from tier two websites.
- Tier Two Links: Links to the tier two website (i.e. to the site that links to yours).
- Tier Three Links: Links to the sites that link to the tier two sites.
Most SEO marketers focus on tier one links, but tier two link building can also be an effective way to boost your website’s authority in the eyes of search engines. Don’t worry, though, because we’re not going to suggest building tier three links. You’ll just need to know that they’re there because there’s no point building tier two links if the tier three sites have no authority.
We’ve already talked about how second tier link building can help to improve your search engine rankings while simultaneously protecting you from a potential backlash, but there are plenty of other advantages too. For example, second tier link building can be an effective way to drive referral traffic.
Referral traffic is often overlooked by SEO obsessed digital marketers, but the great thing about bringing in referrals is that this will continue even if the worst happens and your primary site is pulled from the results pages. In fact, if you go into this thinking more about the referral traffic than the SEO value of the links then it doesn’t matter too much if the links are follow are nofollow links. Picking up the occasional nofollow link will also help the link profile to look more legitimate.
Tier two link building can also work well if you’re building links to a site that has more authority than your own, whether perceived or otherwise. For example, if your tier two site is a specialist publication within your industry’s niche, webmasters may be more happy to link to that then they would be to link to your own site. Sometimes it’s the only option available to you.
It’s important to remember that tier two link building doesn’t have to be spammy, and nor does it require you to purchase huge numbers of low quality links if you want to be successful. In fact, the best way to carry out tier two link building is to focus on adding value. For example, you can use social networking sites to promote third-party sites that link back to you or you can contact contributors to other sites and suggest they link back to one of your articles.
In fact, as you start to build relationships with people, you can reach out to them specifically when you have something that they might be interested in. If they’ve linked to one of the tier two sites with posts before then they might be interested in doing the same thing again, especially if you have something that’s super relevant to them and their interests.
You also need to make sure that you still maintain a certain level of quality. You should focus on going after the most valuable links and only promote the very best of the tier two sites. The chances are that if you’re carrying out blogger outreach and other SEO strategies, you’re already picking up a number of tier one links. You can always just pick a half dozen of the best and use those as the tier two sites that you start with.
One of the most effective ways to build tier two links is to scan a target website for broken links and then to find one that could point to your tier two site instead. By following this approach, you’re actually doing a good deed and helping a webmaster to improve the browsing experience for their visitors, which makes it a win/win for all parties.
If you’re carrying out guest blogging and you’ve written a post that you’re particularly proud of, there’s nothing to stop you from writing spin-off pieces on the same topic for other sites. Of course, this can be just as time consuming as guest posting in the first place, so it often becomes a trade-off. If you’re working with a team of freelance writers or have an internal content team, though, then it might not be too difficult to churn out dozens of posts in a day. If they all linked back to your website, you’d risk building up an unnatural link profile, and that’s not good news for anyone.
As a general rule, the tier one sites that you target should be the leading publications in your niche. We’re talking dedicated online PR for digital newspapers and magazines to create high quality links that will already add a certain amount of value to your website’s link profile. The tier two sites should be the medium-sized websites, such as industry blogs and forums and other relevant websites.
The tier two sites might not have as much clout as the tier one sites, but they should still at least be legitimate websites with an active publishing schedule and social networking profiles with a reasonably attentive audience. You’ll need to use a subtle mixture of science and art to pick out the sites that are the most relevant, but it’s a skill that you’ll develop over time.
Tier two link building is looked down upon by many because they think of it as an illegitimate way to build traffic and boost rankings. We’d argue that those people are just unimaginative, and that they fail to see the true potential of ethical tier two link building. In fact, done correctly and with quality in mind, it benefits everyone from the people who link to the tier two site to the tier two site itself and, of course, your own website.
Honestly, we wouldn’t recommend relying on tier two link building as your only SEO strategy, but if you think of it as a useful tool that you can take out of your toolbox, it can add a lot of value. As with most things, tier two link building works best in moderation, and we’d always recommend measuring the results and keeping an eye on your overall return on investment. If it works, do more of it. If it doesn’t, reinvest your time somewhere else.
Still, tier two link building works. We’ve seen it in action. Just remember that slow and steady wins the race and that it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you’re not sure about a site, don’t chance it and try to build only good quality tier two links in such a way that it adds value to their readers. As long as you’re not trying to game the system, you’ll get along just fine.