The Definitive Tier 2 Link Building Guide for 2021
You’ve heard a lot more about tier 2 links lately. Wondering why? It’s because they are a key part of some of the most ambitious SEO campaigns launched in recent months.
If you aren’t sure what it means to build tier 2 links, you’ve come to the right place. If you do know what it means, you probably also know that many strategies that worked in the past have been destroyed by algorithm updates. You need a reliable, up-to-date process.
In this guide, you’re going to see a tier 2 strategy that has produced stunning results for SEOs in numerous niches. But first, you’re going to learn what it means to build tier 2 links, how they make your links more powerful (and more credible), and how you can deploy a modern tier 2 strategy like a pro.
After all that, you’ll get to see how powerful this strategy has been for us in a single-variable testing environment by enjoying a peek at the live data from our most recent experiment.
Let’s get started. First, let’s look at what it means to build tier 2 links.
What is Tier 2 Link Building?
First, let’s define ‘Tier 1’ link. When a link to one of your money site’s pages shows up on another site (intentionally or not)—that’s a tier 1 link.
A tier 1 link goes directly to your website.
Tier 2 links are the links that are built to the tier 1 page that links to your website. It might make more sense with an example.
Imagine you are an affiliate marketer in the skiing niche. You write a guest post about your experiences on your favorite slope and include a link to a page on your money site. That’s your tier 1 link.
But now, imagine the guest post is so good that it starts getting shared on by social media influencers or in hobby forums. Now, there are a bunch of pages pointing at the link that points back at your site. Awesome, all of those are tier 2 links.
Those tier 2 links will make your original link a lot more powerful and credible. Even better, don’t have to sit around waiting for them. You can take the future into your own hands by developing them yourself.
Why does the credibility that tier 2 links offer matter? The answer to that question goes back to one of the oldest tools in Google’s toolbox.
Why is Tier 2 Link Building Important?
Tiered links matter because they send out important signals that are used by Google to determine the worthiness of pages.
One of Google’s oldest ranking factors is PageRank. As Google once defined it,
“PageRank works by counting the number and quality of links to a page to determine a rough estimate of how important the website is. The underlying assumption is that more important websites are likely to receive more links from other websites.”
That hasn’t changed much. Even today, the power of a link is determined by the power, quantity, and quality of other links going to it.
It gets a little more complicated than that, though. Over time, Google has acted to weaken the power of links from certain sources. You’ll get to see a list of those in just a bit, but first, let’s look at how links become more powerful.
How do Links Become more Powerful?
If you want to make your links more powerful, you need links to your links, and those new links need to be recognized as legitimate.
It’s not enough to just land a link, even if it’s a great one. To use an example, let’s assume you land a guest post on the New York Times website.
That’s a great placement. You’ll immediately get to benefit from the trust that getting featured on the NYTimes gives you. However, what you don’t have yet is power flowing from that link to your page.
It is only when you build out links to the post that it starts generating both trust AND power.
It’s hard to measure PageRank because it is no longer displayed by Google. However, it is indeed part of the algorithm, otherwise what I’m about to show you in the guide wouldn’t work.
Speaking of what doesn’t work, make sure you understand that some types of tier 2 links are no longer going to have a desired effect.
How Tier 2 link building was done in the past
Algorithm updates in recent years have not been kind to older strategies of building second-tier links. Don’t sabotage your strategy by throwing in one of these outdated tactics.
GSA Search Engine Ranker spam
GSA is one of the most prolific automated link building tools out there. It builds links by making automatic posts on a variety of sources, including—
• Social bookmarks
• Blog comments
It was as good as a ranking button for a brief point in affiliate marketing history. Those days are gone, of course.
The original Penguin update in April 2012 massively devalued the kind of links that GSA generated. And Penguin 2.0 started to penalize websites using GSA (and other tools) on tier 2.
That isn’t to say that the program doesn’t have any use anymore. It still has some important niche applications, especially for much higher-tier links—but it’s no longer a point-and-click way to rank.
Web 2.0 property generation
After more-natural links became a requirement, some marketers turned their attention to cultivating blogs on platforms like Blogger and Tumblr. This was effective for some time because Web 2.0 blogs carried more authority (DA and DR) than the sites GSA was spamming on.
Once again, these types of links enjoyed a short golden age before Google caught on and laid waste to it. They were devalued when the later Penguin 2.1 update rolled out in October of 2013.
These links might have a niche role, but they’re not going to be recommended for tier 2 in this guide.
Tiers upon tiers
Some people realized that they could squeeze some extra juice out of their web 2.0 sites by tiering them further. That is to say, by building links to the tier 2 properties and then links to those links and beyond.
‘Beyond’ may be an understatement. Maps of tiered links can look like engineering blueprints. They often require dozens of different properties that lean on each other without appearing related to each other.
A few years ago, Matt Diggity was showing us how this was done. This strategy doesn’t seem to have been penalized to the extent the others were, but it’s a lot of work and doesn’t seem as effective these days.
So what does work? That’s what we’re going to get into right now.
A Tier 2 Link Building Strategy for 2021
Getting a tier 2 link building strategy off the ground used to take a lot more effort. A ton of different types of links were necessary.
Now? You can get by with a specific type of tier 1 link and a specific type of tier 2 link. This guide is going to recommend some steps where you can improve the chances of success. In most cases, that means making the right decision when it comes to…
• Choosing Tier 1 Links
• Choosing the Right Types of Tier 2 Links
• Choosing the right Anchor Text
• Wait for the Result
Let’s go into a little more detail on each one of these.
Choosing Tier 1 Links
We recommend that you choose high authority (DR) links for Tier 1.
If you find a high-authority site, the ideal way to approach them is with a guest post. This gives you the opportunity to build something that’s worthwhile and packed with information.
You can get these links either by purchasing them or performing outreach. If you decide to choose outreach, make sure that you don’t forget to leverage all the work you’re willing to do to promote it.
When creating the content, try to minimize the number of outbound links (OBLs) as much as possible. You want to avoid spreading any juice that’s generated to other properties.
That’s why guest posts are ideal since you’re likely to be the only link in the content.
Choosing the Right Types of Tier 2 Links
Once you get your link placement, you need to think carefully about the links that you’re going to build to it.
Now you know that you have to avoid automated links generators and 2.0 properties. Fortunately, there is one link authority engine whose niche applications fit perfectly into our puzzle—PBNs.
PBNs—As Good as it Gets
PBNs are not just a great second-tier link; they are, in our opinion, the best. The power of PBNs comes from the fact that they send links from homepages that already have many links going to them.
That’s a massive pre-built power source. The best part? A good tier 1 link will filter any toxicity from a tier 2 PBN.
In section 4 of our first ever blog, we showed you how even toxic PBNs could be engineered for positive gain.
That isn’t to say, using toxic PBNs is a good idea. It’s just a demonstration of the filtering that can happen through the Tier 1 link and how effectively this strategy can work.
Definitely stick to quality, even on tier 2.
PBNs aren’t your only option, but let’s look at how they compare to the competition.
Let’s look at the state of other places to put tier 2 links at this point in the algorithm’s lifespan.
Guest Posts: They simply aren’t effective according to our research, but you’re welcome to give them a try. What our tests show is that they don’t pass enough link juice to be used as a tier 2. That said, they’re great for passing trust, and you can still use them to drive simple traffic from a successful blog.
Link Insertions: Once again, these just don’t seem to pass on enough juice. However, it can be effective if you land a page that already has a healthy profile of links. This can be difficult to hunt down, though.
Web 2.0 Properties: These seem to be completely ignored. They may have a role in upper tiers, but they aren’t good enough for the 1st or 2nd.
GSA/MoneyRobot/SENuke Spam: Google seems to ignore these completely. If you try to use them as tier 1 or tier 2 links, you probably won’t see any movement at all and eventually will see a manual penalty.
So, yes, we share the opinion that PBNs are the best choice for tier 2. This isn’t something you’ll need to take our word on. You’ll be able to see a lot of proof after the next couple of sections.
Even after you’ve chosen your network, it can take a little refinement to make the strategy work. You need to pay close attention to your anchor text.
Choosing the right Anchor Text
There are some standards you need to follow when choosing your anchor text. Applying the following two principles will keep you on the right path most of the time:
1. Keep them balanced
2. Send them same anchors you’d want to send if you were trying to rank the page you’re linking to
Balance means that you need to focus on a good variety of different anchor texts, including the topic, URL, brand etc. You can find some data into the right proportion of different anchors to use in our detailed anchor text guide for PBNs.
In it, we go into about as much detail as you’re going to find anywhere on how anchors should be customized for PBNs.
The second principle applies to pretty much any link building scheme. You get what you give. If you’re building tier 2 links that you would never have associated with your money site, they’re going to have a minimized effect.
There’s one more factor you need to take into account if you want to build tier 2 links properly: a dash of patience.
An important part of using this strategy is not getting twitchy if it doesn’t start working right away. You need to delay your result expectations of the tier 2 links by about a month to 2 months after the links go live. It takes time for the link juice to propagate up the tiers.
After that point, the growth can be stunning.
For the below tests, we tried various combinations of 5, 10, 15, & 20 tier 2 links per boosted URL.
We felt that the sweet spot is around 15 links. At 20, the linear result starts to taper off.
Let’s see how our test project panned out in the next section.
So enough anticipation. Let’s break down what happened when we applied this strategy to our test properties.
Our Test Results
We completed several tests to try to isolate the effects of tier 2 links, and measure how their power changes over time.
Note that for testcases #1 and #2 we sent 5 tier 2 backlinks to the tier 1.
First, we wanted to understand how these links were behaving. We performed an examination of the data to determine what kind of impact adding links had on our test site by linking through a guest post.
The key to this experiment is to first send the tier 1 link with a miscellaneous anchor (e.g.: read more) to reduce chances of a sizable result.
In this case, we did indeed see a gain, so we let the result settle. After that, we applied the tier 2 links.
Overall we ramped from #46 to #22.
You can see how this experiment unfolded in the graph below.
This set targets a much lower ranked piece of content than the last one, but we saw many of the same effects.
After an initial drop when the links were introduced, the content went on to improve its position by more than 30 points.
Again, there were impressive results, but we weren’t sure we’d isolated the effect of tier 2 links. That’s why our next example focuses on the effects we saw from removing the links.
Testcase 3: Seeing the Effect of Adding and Removing Tier 2 Links
Were the first examples flukes? This next example suggests that they weren’t. Over almost a year of testing, we tracked what happened when tier 2 links were added (improvement), what happened when they were removed (decline).
After adding the tier 2 links a second time, the improvement reliably happened again. In just a couple months, it had almost fully recovered all the traffic it lost after tier 2 links were originally removed.
So this process is not just predictable, it’s repeatable.
Now that we can make this happen, we’re ready to offer the power of this tier 2 network to you.
Announcing: The Tier 2 Network
Our Tier 2 Network is our newest product. It’s the outgrowth of the network that we curated to perform this experiment.
The PBNs in this network have been built from the ground up to serve the specific role of tier 2 links.
We took special care to develop niche-specific networks as well, and we have a large enough network to make sure your placements are relevant to your money site.
For example, if you’re in the technology niche, then your tier 2 links will also be in the technology niche. That’s the goal. We’re thinking about relevancy requirements that might be necessary 2+ years into the future.
Where are we sourcing these PBNs?
These PBNs are taken from our premium PBN service. The main difference is that they have smaller metrics that aren’t appropriate for Tier 1.
We also relax the strict outbound link requirement that is required for Tier 1 links.
The great part: these PBN links are available for a one-time payment.