SEO Case Study #6: Phantom Link Building

In this new SEO case study, I’ll show you what I call Phantom Link Building. This method helped Gotch SEO rank for “Paperform” with one backlink.

It helped one of our local dental clients go from #6 to #2 for his most important keyword phrase:

I’ve used the Phantom Link Building technique successfully (more times than I count), and now I want to share it with you.

Let’s dive in.

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What is Phantom Link Building?

The concept is simple, but the execution will need some explanation.

Here’s the concept:

Phantom Link Building is the process of strengthening your existing link profile. You can also call it tiered link building 2.0.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Create a page worth linking to

I’ve hammered this idea for years, and the members of Gotch SEO Academy are probably sick of hearing me saying it.

However, I can’t say it enough:

If you want more backlinks and want to be safe from algorithmic penalties, you need to create pages worthy of backlinks.

Most SEO experts call these linkable assets or SEO content.

Watch this to learn how:

Not every page deserves backlinks. If you come from the perspective that backlinks are votes, you’ll understand that this is true.

Think about it:

Does a local lead generation page for a plumber deserve votes? Probably not.

So the first step is to create pages that deserve backlinks.

2. Acquire the strongest and most relevant backlink possible

Notice how I said “backlink” in singular form? That’s because Phantom Link Building is an extreme version of quality over quantity.

I’ve tested this concept thousands of times at this point. I can tell you from experience that quality crushes quantity every single time.

Getting a single backlink from the New York Times will crush getting 15 links from weak blogs. I explain this concept in detail in the PROOF That Backlinks Matter for SEO section of my backlinks guide.

That said, you need to acquire a strong backlink to start.

I define “strong” as any relevant backlink from a website with an Ahrefs Domain Rating (DR) greater than 40.

You will need to make your decision based on how competitive the keyword is.

For example, in the case of “Paperform“, that keyword has a Keyword Difficulty (KD) of 3.

Knowing that is an established website with a strong backlink profile, I knew I wouldn’t need many backlinks to rank. I also knew that I wouldn’t need many super-powerful links.

Bringing me to an important concept: you need to acquire backlinks based on the competition for the target keyword.

In other words, don’t acquire extremely powerful links when it’s not required. That will be overkill in some cases. In other cases (i.e., competitive keywords), powerful links will be a necessity.

Now, why am I saying this?

It’s because getting powerful backlinks is EXPENSIVE. That applies to both a financial and time perspective.

If you’re using link building services, then you know that higher authority links are expensive. The reason for this is because they’re harder to acquire. So always acquire links based on the individual situation.

In the case of Paperform or our dental client, we didn’t need insanely powerful links. Instead, we acquired a DR 36 backlink.

For the dental client, we acquired a DR 15 backlink.

3. Use strong anchor text

Listen: you won’t get penalized from one exact match anchor text. For this method to work well, you need to use an exact or partial match anchor. The goal is to drive maximum relevance to the page.

For PaperForm, we scored an exact match anchor:

For the dental client, we used something more generic:

Why? Well, let’s just say things are different on the local level. I’ll get into that in a future post.

That said, in most cases, you should use a keyword-rich anchor. It’s not mandatory, and it is case-dependent. However, if you want this method to work to the fullest extent, you should use exact match anchor text.

4. Acquire links to your links

Tier two link building isn’t a new concept. However, Phantom Link Building is an iteration on the idea.

Back in the day (and some people still do it this way), you would hammer your tier one placements with any type of link. That’s a bad idea.

It’s much better and more effective to keep the quality high throughout your tiers. That said, the “quality” of the links can diminish as you go down each tier.

I recommend sticking with editorial links at each level, though. Don’t build garbage web 2.0s or automated links. Do real outreach and acquire real backlinks on all your tiers.

So in the case of PaperForm, we acquired 8 tier two links to our primary link placement. In this case, we used niche edits.

Use Fat Joe’s niche edit service if you want to streamline it (it’s the best one I’ve found).

Ahrefs hasn’t picked up everything, but here’s the DR distribution of those links:

And here is the exact tier two anchor text that we used:

  • Young Go Getter
  • revolutionize your business
  • they recommend Paperform
  • Paperform
  • this article
  • Young Go Getter

Notice that it’s natural? You should treat your tier two anchor text distribution just like you would your website.

5. Measure the results

Now that you’ve acquired your powerful tier one placement and several tier two placements, you need to wait and measure the performance (I use SEMRush to track keyword performance).

Sometimes (if you’ve done your keyword research well), it will be enough to hit the first page. This video can help:

But even with good keyword selection, you’ll usually need to add another tier of links.

6. Acquire tier-three links

Repeat what you did in the previous steps, except acquiring more links to your tier two placements. In essence, this entire process is to build a web around your link placement.

As a result, your primary backlink will become more authoritative.

You’re also forcing Google to recrawl your link placement multiple times.

7. Repeat

There will be scenarios where you’ll need to repeat this process. But at the same time, you need to be patient. It will take time for Google to crawl and trust all the links on each tier.

That’s It

Phantom Link Building is an upgraded version of tiered link building.

It’s powerful for two reasons:

1. You’re only hitting your website with the best backlinks possible. Then you’re strengthening those backlinks. Your competitors won’t “understand” why you’re doing so well.

2. You’re reducing risk because most of your link building activity is happening on tier two and three.

Now to you:

Are you going to try Phantom Link Building? Let me know in the comments and I look forward to your questions. Thanks for reading.

61 thoughts on “SEO Case Study #6: Phantom Link Building”

    • Thanks Jeff! There is always risk associated with buying links. However, if you reframe the way you think about it, it’s different. For example, I think of “buying” links as buying a process. You’re essentially paying for someone else’s prospecting, outreaching, and relationship building process. You can, of course, build those processes out yourself.

  1. Nathan I really like what you do and I frequent your site. It pains me to say this:

    Phantom link building is tiered link building, just with a new fancy name. I’m sorry but we don’t need more “Neil Patel” seo terms out there.

    Yes, tiered link building most of the time is spammy, including having Fatjoe niche edits.

    I 100% agree that tiered link building works, spammy and/or white hat. I just don’t want someone to asking me about “phantom linking building”

  2. Head Shot Nathan,

    This was something, That I started implementing a few days. I’m doing Amazon Affiliate Marketing. In my niche, There are two kinds of websites.
    1. Websites that are selling the stuff (Companies)
    2. Affiliates Sites.

    Niche was not too broad. It was very difficult for me to grab links. Affiliate sites are not too ready to link to my niche site. Now, I manage to get links from the company site. Can I start building some cross niche link building to the company site with creating relevancy in mind ?
    Is this a good practice?

  3. Hey Nathan, I’m curious on average how long do you wait until you see movement in the SERPS? Two weeks, One month? If I’m testing this out I want to allow enough time to decide if it was a success or not.
    Thanks, great article.

  4. How is this different than a link pyramid or link wheel? I understand the quality of the backlinks that you are suggesting are better, but isn’t this based off the same strategy.

  5. Hey Nathan,

    I totally agree with you, we should have great content that deserves backlinks before creating new backlinks. Good content is highly important that satisfy user intent.

    I will definitely try this Phantom link building strategy for my existing articles to achieve the top position that is ranking on the second page of Google.

    Thank you for sharing an informative article with us.

    Rajinder Singh

  6. Hi Nathan,

    2 questions.

    1) In order to strengthen your tier 1 link, would it not be better to just have another strong link hit your tier 1, rather than acquire 8 mildly weak links that are going to make the page where your tier 1 link currently sits susceptible to a penalty if the links are poorer quality? Especially if those 8 links are all on relatively weak unrelated pages in the first place?

    2) Is the phantom link building technique covered in Gotch Academy? I haven’t reached that far yet and wasn’t sure if it was a technique I had missed in the course modules.

    • Hey Dave,

      Thanks for the comment.

      1. You can do it that way as well. It’s just the more expensive route. Also, it would be better for a link of high-caliber to be on tier one anyway

      2. We’ll probably be adding it (more detailed version)

  7. Hi Nathan,

    This is what I had always struggled with.

    If you are pointing your niche edits to your backlinks aren’t you making the sites that linked to you subject to google penalties?

  8. Gotch, explain this to me my man. I’ve been following you for years and I don’t totally understand tier 2 links. Why not just build another quality tier 1 link? Is it economic? Are 8 Fat Joe niche edits cheaper than 1 DR 40 guest post link? Either in outreach time or money? Or are you just trying to throw the competition off your scent? I don’t totally get the idea of why tier 2 is useful in today’s algorithm when you could just build more tier 1’s. You’re not the only one using this strategy, so help me to understand here.

  9. Hi Nathan,
    I am liking your post for 2 reasons at least.
    First, because of the content itself – obviously very detailed as always.
    An second, because of the marketing reasons – nice to see how you named this SEO technique as Phantom Link Building. Hope eventually community will recognized it as many other SEO techniques from other experts (such as skyscrapper technique, etc..).
    Thank you for your work. Matija from Slovenia 🙂

  10. I have never heard of “Phantom Link Building” before. I will definitely give it a try. Also, I have shared this page with my link management team to take a look. Thanks, Nathan.

  11. I don’t understand why you’re calling it ‘phantom link building’ (unless you’re trying to leverage Brian Dean’s ‘Trademark Technique’), which makes sense. I’m wondering if the only difference between this strategy and a typical high quality tiered link building strategy is that you’re only building one link to your money page to reduce risk. Out of all the SEO’s out there, I probably only follow a dozen that I feel do it right, and you’re one of them. Anyway, I appreciate your work and share it with my team often.

  12. Hi Nathan,

    Thank you for sharing!

    “I can tell you from experience that quality crushes quantity every single time.”

    Is it still worth it in your opinion if these high quality links (DA 70 – 90 / UR 10 – 14) are dofollow, but go through a single 301 redirect and/or a one page/micro PBN?

    Obviously as a part of a balanced link profile. 😉

    Not looking to fire up a yay or nay PBN discussion in your comment section. Everyone can make an informed decision on that using your posts, video’s and training course.

    There are just so many cheap expired domains available with these high quality backlinks that fly under the radar on auction sites. Hence the redirect question.

    Curious to your opinion on the effectiveness!

    Also curious if you know of a trustworthy method of bulk checking domain names. Godaddy’s bulk checker isn’t it apparently, they still front run domains to this day.

  13. Nathan,

    Have you tried using niche edits and getting those re-crawled by building tier 2 guest posts? We have found that if you get a niche edit on a strong site (DR 70+) and then you build guest posts (we do 5 to 10 DA 30-50) to the niche edit, it will get indexed faster. Additionally, the old post on the high DR site has more page level authority. This gives you the best of both worlds and we have used it to rank some mega keywords with 250K to 1MM monthly searches.


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