The Definitive Guide to SEO Link Pillowing

If you lived in a perfect SEO world (or simply just 6-7 years ago), to get your site ranking, you simply would need to send as many target anchor links as possible and then sit back and enjoy the benefits.

In fact, this is exactly what I used to do.

The first site I ever ranked was an ergonomic chair review site.  How did I rank it?

I posted about 30 articles on EzineArticles (R.I.P.) all pointing to my money site with the anchor “best ergonomic chair”.

Now obviously this tactic would not work today.  Currently, we’re up against an algorithm that is built to detect unnatural patterns.

So, while we know what gets the needle moving with rankings…

We need to dress up our SEO story to look less unnatural.

 

This is what “pillowing” is.

In my example, the unnatural pattern was around anchor text.  But balancing your anchor distribution isn’t the only form of pillowing you should be concerned with.

I’m going to discuss 4 highly overlooked forms of SEO pillowing that you need to take into consideration if you plan to rank in 2018.

Special Note: Whether you’re white, grey, or black hat you need to pay attention to this article.

At the end of the day, the algorithm doesn’t care.

Even though might be getting your links “naturally”, if you happen to receive an unrealistic pattern on one of the factors you see below, you will find yourself struggling to rank.

Let’s get started.

#1 Anchor Text Pillowing

anchor header

In the example above, I referred to anchor text pillowing.

This is the most commonly understood form of pillowing that most intermediate to advanced SEOs have a firm grasp on.

But let’s review.

When the Penguin algorithm released, my ergonomic chair review website tanked… hard.

Why?

Because 100% of the links going to it were the exact same anchor text.

Google wants websites to rank naturally.  They want you to write amazing content and that’s so good, links magically start coming in.

Anyhow, more on this later.

But in the situation above…

If 30 different websites are linking to you, what are the chances that all of them are doing so with target anchor text?

Shouldn’t at least some of them be naked URLs, or a “click here”, or maybe the brand name of your domain?

Here’s a list of the basic classifications of anchor types.  You need to have a natural mix of each in order to look realistic and rank.

  • Target Anchors – “best ergonomic chair”, “ergonomic chair reviews”
  • URLs Anchors – SittingStraight.com, http://SittingStraight.com
  • Brand Anchors – Sitting Straight
  • Topic Anchors – office furniture, solutions to back problems
  • Misc – read more, click here

So, how do you surpass this limitation?

How to Beat It

Determine Your Niche-Specific Anchor Text Distribution

anchor text analysis

So now that you know you need to create a natural distribution of anchors going to your website’s URLs, what defines “natural”?

Instead of simply guessing what the algorithm thinks “natural” is, use the data that is already available to you to find out exactly what Google has already approved on page 1.

You do this by looking at the top 5 rankers and reverse engineering their anchor text with a tool like Ahrefs, take the average, and then recreate that anchor distribution on your own site (read the guide).

What Kind of Links to Use for Your Pillow Anchors

A “pillow anchor” is an industry term used to define any anchor that isn’t a target anchor; so URL anchors, brand anchors, etc.

It’s a common understanding that you should use your strongest links for your target anchors, and then use lower power links for the non-target anchors.

But this is where people go very, very wrong.

pillow anchorsPeople get carried away with saving money and end up getting poor quality links for their pillow anchors and burning their sites.

History Lesson:

  • Penguin 2.0 saw the end of sites pillowed with automatic tools like GSA and SENuke.
  • Penguin 2.1 was the first time we saw people get hit that were using Web 2.0s for their pillow links, backed by a tier 2 of spam.

In today’s “always running” Penguin mode, I see people tank their sites all the time with pillow links from Fiverr gigs that use automated blog comments and forum profiles.

So instead of pillowing with low quality links that can cause penalizations, I stick to what I call Class A and Class B links (learn more).

Business directory citations are great for URL anchors to the homepage.  The same goes for social profiles (Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Blogger, etc).

Quality press releases can get you dozens or even hundreds of anchors of your choice to any page of your choice.  The keyword here is “quality”.  Spammed out press release services will do nothing, at best.

But what I use for pillow anchors is outreach and PBNs.

Sure… the theory above about only using your most powerful links (like PBNs) for your target anchors makes logical sense… but if I can always send powerful or authorative links to my site, even for non-target anchors, I rank with less links and need less pillowing.

Less is more.

This is my stance on the matter.

#2 Nofollow Pillowing

nofollow header

There’s dofollow links and nofollow links.

A dofollow is your average link without any modifications.  They pass full link juice.

<a href=”https://diggitymarketing.com>Diggity Marketing</a>

Nofollow’s use the nofollow attribute and pass negligible juice.

Google encourages use to use them for links that they don’t want us to endorse with link equity – such as affiliate links.

<a href=”https://Amazon.com” rel=”nofollow”>Buy from these D-bags</a>

If we go back to the concept that Google wants all the links that are built to your site to come in naturally, then what are the chances that 100% of links going to your site are dofollow?

Let’s investigate…

Here we’re looking at the nofollow/dofollow ratios of some arbitrary sites.

ESPN.com

nofollow espn

TheWireCutter.com

nofollow wirecutter

GoatYoga.net (Chiang Mai SEO Conference inside joke)

nofollow goatyoga

Between these three example sites, they have a nofollow average of about 13%.

Just like with anchor text, you need to send a natural ratio of nofollow vs dofollow links to your URLs.

How to Beat It

Determine the Proper Nofollow/Dofollow Ratio

Again, as with anchor text, you look at the top 5 ranking URLs in your niche, load them up in Ahrefs, look up their nofollow/dofollow ratios, and take the average.

Let’s say for example you find out that the average nofollow link percentage going to the top 5 is 8%, then roughly 8% of your links should be nofollow.

What Kind of Links to Use for Your Pillow Nofollows

This one is tricky.

Because nofollow links basically pass negligible link juice you don’t want to spend a lot of money on links for pillow nofollowing.

I have an inexhaustible supply of PBNs, so I typically use them for nofollows, but I do it in a way to not waste the link juice, by linking out twice from the same article.

The first link will be a dofollow and will funnel the juice to one page of my money site.  The other will be nofollowed and go to a different page.

Double Linking

This way, the link juice is preserved as it will continue to flow through the dofollow link.

For those that do not have their own PBN, you need to get a little creative.

Citations are great for nofollows as many directories automatically nofollow their links by default.  But these are typically only good for pillowing your homepage.

You can also use guest posts for nofollow pillowing.

When you land a guest post, pre-negotiate with the site owner to get two links placed in the guest post, but one of them will be nofollowed.  Generally, I’ve met little resistance on this and have never been asked to pay more for that second link.

If you want to dip into the more affordable Class C links, forum links and manual blog comments are an option (see Charles’ guide for best practices).

#3 Image Pillowing

image header

Just as not all links are dofollow; not all links are textual.

One website can link to another through images as such…

<a href=”https://diggitymarketing.com”><img src=”http://blah.com/handsome-picture-of-matt”></a>

People link through graphics commonly through…

  • buy now buttonBanner Ads
  • Button Call-to-Actions (CTAs)
  • Infographics
  • Etc

Depending on the niche, the percentage of links coming from images can be quite high or quite low.

Below, I use Ahrefs to compare the percentage of image links coming to Celebrity Style Guide vs Ahrefs themselves.

image comparison

Mimic the niche’s average distribution of image vs textual links and you’ll not only look natural, but you’ll get a better result.

How to Beat It

Determine the Proper Image vs Text Ratio

I think you’re starting to see a pattern by now…

First you reverse engineer your niche and then you imitate.

Easy enough.  But where do you get image links from?

What Kind of Links to Use for Your Image Pillowing

The great thing about PBNs is that you can use them however you please.  Just as you could easily use them for nofollows, you can do the same by linking through an image.

You can also try to get link images in your guest posts, but from experience, this is more hassle than its worth.

More often that not, webmasters are picky about the images that are displayed on their site, and commonly strip out your images.

Or… they might not be tech savvy enough to paste in the HTML version of your article which would have ensured that your image link get placed.

Solution: Pinterest

pinterest logoDespite these challenges, image links are actually very easy to get through Pinterest.

Google recognizes, honors, and indexes image links on Pinterest easily.

Just make sure to get your various links placed on separate “boards” or else Google deems them to be coming from the same source.

Just as you wouldn’t send many links from the same referring domain without experiencing diminishing returns, the same applies to sending links from the same Pinterest boards.

getting unstuck from page 2Infographics

Infographics are a nice, scalable way to get image links.

There’s a catch though.

Most infographics are hosted on your site on a standalone page put up simply to post that infographic.  Like this infographic of mine here.

This page most likely isn’t your money page that you need image pillowing for.

You have two options here:

  • Place that infographic on the money page in a minimized format. It doesn’t need to take up the full screen, like mine.  Then when you perform your outreach, you would ask your prospects to link to your money page with that image.
  • Submit your infographic to infographic directories but when you do so, instead of putting the infographic page URL into the submission, put in your money page. Most infographic submission sites are automated, so they won’t notice.  Just make sure to index the link once approved.  They can be a pain.

#4 Inner-Page Pillowing

inner page header

This is a big one and if you’re a grey hat SEO (i.e.: PBN user) then you need to pay very close attention.

This requirement started to come into play in late 2016, but in 2017 it’s mandatory that you take this into consideration.

Let’s say that you’re using PBNs to rank.

In 2016, I wrote an article called “The Truth about Link Diversity” in which I explained that you could completely use PBNs as your primary backlink.

This is still true, but in many niches, PBNs will only get you so far.

Consider this…

What is the average page count of a website?

I have no idea, but let’s just say, for example’s sake, that its 65.

This means that 1/65th or 1.5% of the internet is made up of homepages.

The main benefit of PBNs is that you can link from their homepages and thus utilize their superior link juice.

But does it make sense that your website has 100% of its links coming from homepages when only 1.5% of the internet is made up of homepages?

When you start to get more links coming to your site, you need to start pillowing with links coming from inner pages.

How to Beat It

All you Need are Links from ANY Inner Pages

home vs inner page

The problem isn’t with PBNs.  You can actually use PBN’s to supply these links from inner pages.

Consider the traffic graph below.  This is for one of my live money sites that had been stuck in the rankings for some time.

After proper analysis, I realized that this particular site was a bit late in the game when it came to pillowing with inner page links.

This is something I typically have timed very well and I discuss this in The Lab, but for some reason it slipped my attention.

Alas, this mistake turned into a great opportunity for a new experiment.

I decided to use PBN inner-pages to supply these pillow links.

Note that these links supply zero link juice.  They’re placed on brand new pages (not posts) that have zero internal or external links going to them.

Nonetheless, traffic and rankings started to climb because the link profile started to look more natural.

inner page pillowing effect on traffic

The problem with the use of PBNs for inner-page links is that is extremely wasteful.

As said above, PBNs do their magic because they give homepage juice, so if you’re not taking advantage of that, you’re paying way too much for a juiceless-link.

An alternative would be to use a PBN for multiple inner-page links to multiple money sites, but this will soon create an outbound link (OBL) footprint when done at scale.

Forum and blog comments are an option here, but inner-page pillowing needs to be done in large amounts, and I prefer not to send many, if any, Class C links at my site.

So, what do I use for inner page pillowing instead?

Outreach: The Best Solution for Inner-Page Pillowing

Hand’s down, the best supply of links from inner pages comes from outreach.

Getting links from real sites, with real traffic is your best bet because:

  • It’s actually the cheapest “quality” option for inner-page links – PBNs are out of the question because non-toxic ones are too expensive to use just for inner page links. But outreach, when done right can get links at low cost, from quality.  Thus, you’d rank with even fewer links, making the effective cost go down dramatically.
  • Futureproofing – We have plenty of ways to game the algorithm now, but as machine learning starts to enter the scene more formidably, then our list of permissible sites will come down eventually to real sites with real traffic. Get ahead of the game.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not going white hat.

I’ll wear whatever color hat gets me the best result, and what I’m seeing right now is that…

A combination of grey hat PBN links for link juice and power plus outreach links for authority, trust and inner-page pillowing is the combination to beat in 2018 and beyond.

 

Where to Get Outreach Links

For those who have an in-house team, outreach is best done in-house.

A typical outreach team consists of:

  • Link prospectors
  • Content writers
  • Outreacher
  • Project Manager

If you can setup this system properly, you’ll be able to have the precision and care to be able to get difficult links, as well as save money due to the in-house staffing.

For around a year, I modeled my in-house outreach team around what Ryan Stewart and Ninja Outreach teach (check out their module in The Lab).

It works.

Authority Builders Co. (ABC)

abc logoThis year I switched over to outsourcing my outreach links to another company, mainly because I was able to scale a hell of a lot faster.

They were able to get me as good of links (if not better than I was getting on my own), on sites that were ranking and had traffic.  And the cost was right.

I liked this company so much, I invested in them, became a partner, and we rebranded as Authority Builders.

Check us out.  We’ll place you on sites with at least 1k traffic or more or you’ll get a full refund.

Summary

While the golden days of link building were simply about making yourself look powerful and relevant, today’s age is asking for those things plus believability and naturalness.

That’s where SEO pillowing comes into play, but do not limit yourself to just anchor pillowing.

These four pillow types are what I’m currently working with today, but that’s not to say new types will emerge in the coming months.

Rest assured, when I know, you’ll know.

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