Backlinks are the backbones of successful SEO strategies and help drive long-term success. Earning quality links to quality content on your website will, in almost all cases, work to rank your site well for targeted keywords. One way to make your backlinking efforts more impactful is to deploy a tiered backlinking strategy—often referred to as a “link pyramid.” This article will cover the basics of these types of structures, their benefits, and potential pitfalls.

Tiered Backlinking Basics

Tiered backlinking is a link building tactic that helps boost the SEO value of existing backlinks. Tiered backlinks are sometimes referred to as “link pyramids” but are the same thing. Simply put; link pyramids are created by building backlinks to existing backlinks. You increase the power of a page by building backlinks, right? So what happens when you build backlinks to a page that links to your page? You supercharge that backlink! How’s that done? By increasing the Page Authority.

Understanding Page Authority

Page Authority (PA) is a metric used by many SEO professionals to help describe the ranking potential of any single webpage. This metric is provided by MOZ and considers many different factors, many of which are other MOZ metrics like MOZ Trust and MOZ Rank.

This score is given on a 0-100 scale with advances in value being of a logarithmic nature. That means, it’s much easier to take the Page Authority of a webpage from 20-30 than it is to take one from 50-60. As stated by MOZ; the single most assured way to increase Page Authority:

to improve its link profile, which influences its MozRank and MozTrust scores. This can be accomplished by getting external links from other high-authority pages, which in turn act as “votes of confidence” for the authority of your page.”

Quick Tip: Another way to think of Page Authority is like Domain Authority on a page-by-page basis. Links to any pages build Domain Authority for your website but only links to specific pages build the Page Authority of those pages.

Example:  Site A has a DA of 40 and its main article has a PA of 35. Site B has a DA rating of 80 and its article targeting the same keyword has a PA of 10. In many cases, website A will outrank website B for the keywords associated with these two articles. This isn’t always the case, but it’s a fairly common scenario which helps illustrate the use of the Page Authority metric’s predictive ability.

Tiered Backlinking Diagram moneymound

Tiered backlinking involves creating links of easier acquisition and lower quality to boost the Page Authority of other links.

How to Build Link Pyramids

You can probably tell from the picture above how link pyramids got their names. One of the biggest things to keep in mind about building a link pyramid is that each successive level needs to have more backlinks than the last. Not just a few more either—you need a considerable amount. Here’s a sample setup:

  • Tier 1: These are your best backlinks. These point directly to your website.
  • Tier 2: Lower quality backlinks that may or may not be manually created. 3-5 links per Tier 1 target is recommended.
  • Tier 3: Borderline spam. Should be on unique domains obtained from verified GSA lists. 500 backlinks minimum recommended to be split among all Tier 2 links.
  • Tier 4: Absolute spam. Directory links, bookmarking sites, and other pages that anyone can create a backlink on. Minimum 1500 links to be split among all Tier 3 backlinks.

This dynamic is why most link pyramids fall into the category of Black Hat SEO. It’s not economical to hundreds of backlinks to boost the Page Authority of 2-3 backlinks. Software like GSA Ranker can build millions of backlinks if properly configured. Here’s a more in-depth breakdown of each level of backlinks in a link pyramid.

These are your best backlinks that you’ve gone through a great deal of effort to build. These can be things like guest posts, resource page links, PBN links, and Web 2.0 mini-sites that you’ve created with extremely high-quality content. All these pages contain unique content and in most cases will likely rank for some related long-tail keywords themselves.

Link Types: Outreach links, High-Quality Web 2.0 Links, Resource Page Links, PBN Links

These are backlinks that have been built with a much larger focus on volume than quality. These links should still all contain human-readable content but can err towards the side of being not 100% original. Another often overlooked source for these links is profile links from smaller random websites that allow for larger amounts of content to be added to the user profile—as well as in-content links.

Link Types: Human-readable Spintax Web 2.0, Quality Profile Links, Document-sharing Links, Social Media Links, Comment Links

Tier 3 links are only economic when created through automation. The tool-0f-choice for this level is the GSA-SER software. These links will look like garbage to any on-looker but can help boost Page Rank of higher tiers.

As of Q3 2016, Penguin has become part of Google’s core algorithm and is applied in real-time. Also important; Google’s approach for dealing with such spam has changed considerably. As Search Engine Land notes:

“the new Penguin algorithm managed to devalue spam instead of demoting.” 

That means that spammy low-quality links get ignored rather than passing along a penalty. However, it’s also important to note that if a manual review were to conclude you were using such tactics for your website you could still receive a manual action towards your website.

Types of Links: Similar to Tier 2 but can be a little lower-quality. Feel free to use automated software here to create comment links, directory submissions, profile links, and document-sharing site links.

Google Penalty Moneymound

Important Considerations

You’ll note by just visually glancing at the above paragraphs that each successive link Tier requires a lot more context and consideration. Just ripping out backlinks willy-nilly is—at-best—not going to help your website rank and likely put you at risk of being penalized. The types of backlinks you can used in these structures can help to make voluminous link strategies more economical—but they aren’t carte blanche to create spam. This strategy still falls under the umbrella of what is considered to be a Link Scheme by Google and could get your site penalized. Before some of the more intelligent algorithm updates (in our opinion anyway) one could build millions of backlinks and see continued impact within their link tiers. Those days are long gone for most use-cases, but the underlying concepts of Tiered backlinking are still alive and well in our experience.

Benefits of Link Pyramids

Link pyramids work well for many reasons. They help leverage the calculation of PageRank in favor of the topmost website; they help expand the context in which a website is linked to (more long-tail keywords), and they help displace risk from your website. Let’s look at that last one for a second:

Link pyramids have to use spammy links. Unless you have the marketing budget of a Fortune 500 company that’s just how it’s likely to pan out. Each tier of a link pyramid has more backlinks of decreasing quality. That means by the bottom, you’re looking at maybe hundreds of thousands of spammy backlinks.

To remove the impact of ALL those backlinks one need only remove the tier 1 link to which they eventually pass their SEO power. Losing a Tier 1 backlink isn’t ever ideal but it’s better than having to disavow 150,000 links if a penalty is ever suspected. Better yet—it’s much better to just remove 3-5 Tier 2 links! By gradually increasing the number of links and decreasing the quality, one can build link pyramids in a way that helps to minimize risk of such approaches.

Final Thoughts

Tiered Backlinking strategies allow the use of lower-quality links in such a way as to mimic the ranking power of higher-quality links while also lowering risk of penalty for taking such a shortcut. There’s no mistake—this is a link scheme that Google wouldn’t approve of. These strategies used to be very effective and could be done in a very cavalier manner. Millions upon millions of automated links could be built among tiers and would pass along a tremendous amount of Page Rank. Websites could be ranked in a matter of days for number 1 positions for very valuable keywords. Those days are long gone but the fundamental principles that allowed them to work in the first place still remain—building authority to backlinks helps pass along more authority to sites they link to.