Securing a backlink from high-authority sites like Forbes or Hubspot is expensive. Such links cost in excess of $1000, and it takes time to get them.
Consequently, many businesses can afford to build only a few of them. This may not be enough to boost the SEO performance of your website.
That’s why you may be tempted to try tiered link-building.
But does this strategy still work in 2024?
The article explores what tiered building is and how it could be used to help content climb in SERPs. We also discuss its advantages as well as risks.
Tiered link-building is an advanced SEO strategy that involves creating a pyramid-like structure of backlinks.
What makes it stand out from other strategies is that instead of directly linking back to your main website you build links to multiple layers of secondary pages.
Here’s how it works in a nutshell:
First, you build a link from a high DA site, for example, Search Engine Land, just like we did with our guest post on outsourcing link-building.
Next, you build links pointing to this site to boost its performance, and guess what?
You build backlinks to these sites to give them a boost as well.
The main purpose of tiered link-building is to increase the flow of the link juice to your money site.
The principle behind tiered link-building is simple: the lower the tier, the lower the quality of the backlinks but the higher their volume.
Tier 1 links are the highest quality links in your link-building strategy. They come from reputable and authoritative websites relevant to your niche or industry, like Hubspot (DA93), Forbes (DA94) or G2 (DA90).
Such backlinks can boost your SERP performance because search engines like Google view them as evidence that the site demonstrates expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness. If established sites link to the content, it’s a sign that the information is can be trusted.
A common way to get first-tier links is through link insertions, HARO, and guest posts.
Here’s an example of a guest post linking back to Editorial.Link site we’ve secured on Search Engine Land, a highly reputable magazine on everything SEO that boasts a domain authority of 91.
Securing guest posting opportunities at such sights requires a lot of footwork and cash.
A huge majority of editors ignore outreach emails and if you manage to reach them, you still need to through the painstaking editorial process to make sure your content is of the right quality.
That’s why getting 2-5 of such links per campaign is a good result.
How do you look for relevant high-authority sites linking to reach out to?
The easiest way is through competitor analysis. Just use a tool like Ahrefs Link Intersect or Semrush Backlink Gap to find sites that link to your main competitors but not you.
Tier 2 links point to your Tier 1 links, not to your main site.
Their purpose is to boost the authority of your Tier 1 links, making them more powerful and, in turn, passing more link equity to your main site.
Our Search English Land guest post about the best link-building companies has been linked to 119 times by 58 domains.
These include multiple websites with DA60+, like Hostpapa (DA67), which further increases the authority of the page.
If your guest post is of solid quality, it will attract some organic backlinks. However, to give your campaign a bit of a boost, you may still need to build some T2 links manually.
The good news is that these tend to be cheaper and easier to obtain than T1 links because they come from less authoritative sites.
For example, such sites have lower editorial standards, so creating the content costs less.
Just like for Tier 1 links, you can use guest posts and link inserts to get T2 links - for example in personal blogs or directories. Quality PBNs, article directories, other websites, publishing platforms like Medium.com, press releases, and other web 2.0 content are also good sources.
💡 Pro tip: Look out for opportunities to build T2 links organically.
For example, when you’re writing a guest post with a T1 link to your website, it may also be possible to include T2 backlinks to other T1 posts you’ve written in the past.
Or you can link to one of your partners’ pages in exchange for a similar link from theirs.
Aim for 5-10 second-tier backlinks for each Tier 1 link.
Tier 3 links come from profiles, forums (like Quora or Reddit), blog comments, social media posts, and directories, and their job is to support T2 links.
However, as third-tier links are usually nofollow, they don’t pass any link juice.
This doesn’t mean that they don’t have any impact on SERP performance though. Google uses link attributes as hints as to whether to include a page in search results or not.
📌 All the link attributes—sponsored, ugc, and nofollow—are treated as hints about which links to consider or exclude within Search. We'll use these hints—along with other signals—as a way to better understand how to appropriately analyze and use links within our systems.
If anything, T3 links can increase a website’s online visibility and generate referral traffic, which could bring organic backlinks.
For such links to make an impact, you need a lot of them.
🚨 Although not recommended, lots of people do it through automatic link-building services like GSA or RankerX. After a quick setup, they literally churn out backlinks 24/7.
Some SEOs may try to get an edge by adding yet another tier to the pyramid, Tier 4, through bookmarking sites and index submission site links or URL shorteners.
Are they worth your effort and time?
Having covered the theory behind tiered-link building (and a bit of practice), let’s have a quick look at the main advantages of the approach.
The main reason why tiered link-building became a thing was that it allows you to increase the flow of link equity to your money site at a lower cost.
That’s because it’s considerably cheaper to build lower-tier links than Tier 1 links.
While capitalizing on low-quality links to improve SERP performance, tiered link-building limits your exposure to their potentially harmful effects.
That’s because these links don’t link back either to your main site or your first-tier links. Even if SE algorithms pick up anomalies in the link structure, they may not be able to track them back to you.
It gets even better.
If you see that a particular branch is causing you damage, you can easily cut its connections with the rest of the network.
Because of the protective buffer that the 2 or 3 tiers above offer, you can freely experiment with different link types and acquisition methods without worrying about potential backlash.
You can try any kind of tactics and see if you can get away with them as it’s unlikely to negatively affect your SEO performance.
A healthy link profile is far from uniform. It’s made up of all sorts of links - with different DAs, from various sources, with both dofollow and nofollow tags.
Tiered link building emulates this.
And it’s not only about the structure of the links but also how they’re acquired.
These links build up gradually which resembles an organic growth pattern.
Considering its benefits, tiered link-building may seem like a no-brainer.
Hold your horses though! There are some serious downsides and risks to consider before you dive in.
Despite the protective bubble that separates your website from spammy links, the strategy may still backfire.
That’s because, ultimately, a tiered link structure is still a scheme created to artificially boost the SERP performance of your site, and as such it’s against search engine guidelines, like Google’s:
📌 Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.
While it may have been easier to get away with that 10 years ago, the SE algorithms are increasingly better at picking up unnatural patterns.
For example, if you’re relying exclusively on guest posts to earn backlinks on very similar sites or build links too quickly, you create a footprint that’s easy to identify.
How can you avoid it?
Building links, regardless of their quality, requires time and money. These costs increase dramatically when you have to set up and maintain a fairly complex structure of backlinks.
For example, you may need better monitoring tools to keep track of them.
As most links in your pyramid don’t point to your website, you may be wondering if the investment is justified.
Instead, you could spend these resources on securing editorial links and link inserts that already have links pointing to them.
That’s why it’s generally agreed that tier link-building can only generate short-term results.
In some situations, this might be exactly what you need. For example, it can help you get the initial momentum when entering a new market.
However, if you’re after a sustainable process that will benefit your site in the long run, this is not the way to go.
That’s because the SE algorithms will catch up sooner or later and it’s hard to maintain such a complex structure forever.
Assuming that link-building is not the only thing you’re doing to improve the SERP performance of your content, it’s hard to attribute the positive changes to acquired backlinks.
And that’s just one tier. What if you have 2, 3, or more tiers?
It’s especially the case that it takes quite a bit of time for any results to show. While it takes 1-3 months for the effects of regular link-building campaigns to start showing, it’s going to be considerably more if the link juice has to make its way up the tiers.
Tiered link-building used to be a popular link-building strategy because it allowed SEOs to quickly boost the performance of their sites in no time.
However, the current reality is more complex.
Search engine algos have evolved, and for this approach to work, you need to build quality links to T1 sites with decent metrics:
Considering how much effort it takes, you might as well spend your time and money developing relationships, growing your topical authority and building links via different methods, like editorial links.
Having said that there’s no reason not to exploit opportunities to build tier 2 links when an ‘organic’ opportunity presents itself.
Do you need help building a healthy and natural backlink profile for your site? Contact the Editorial Link team?