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”

  1. Amazing tips Nathan but how do I make a link building strategy for a tech website.

    I have seen bloggers working on Marketing Niche gets links easily if they write valuable content, but what tech bloggers should do to get natural backlinks?

  2. his thought about link is very interesting and makes perfect sense. There is no point in finishing work on the first layer, since we are putting in effort, so why not dedicate yourself a little more and improve the quality of the link layer.

  3. That strategy has a very high risk associated with it. What happens if you suddenly get your link removed or that domain is penalized? You’d automatically lose all your investment.

  4. Hi Nathan,
    Great article. Do you have an article that explains tier 2 and 3 links a bit more?
    Sure it’s a beginners question (I am!) but what I’m wondering is much ‘power’ you sacrifice by using links as tier 2 and 3 rather than pointing them directly at your site or is the point that you’d never point these links directly at your site?

    • Hey Ben, thanks for the comment. There isn’t a set % or number. We just do it in cycles until the page ranks. The formula is: 1 high-authority (editorial tier-one link > 5-10 tier two links > Wait and measure > Tier three if it isn’t moving > Wait and measure > Acquire a new tier-one link. This process works well because it basically concludes that the tier one placement wasn’t very effective.

  5. hello Nathan

    Thanks for Sharing this information. I am following your techniques from last couple of years and always get positive result. Thanks for sharing such a great information!

    Just 1 Question: we need to boost our tier 1 links, Can we use Cheap PBNs? i did test one of my testing project and i have choose like 10 Cheap Links hit to one of my Tier 1 link with Same Secondary keywords; for eg: on my main website, i am targeting ” Best Fish Finder” and in tier 1 , i have DR50 link point to my main website with exact match . then i purchased 10 Cheap links with DA20+ and hit this DR50 link with anchor like: fishfinder guides, top rated fishfinder, and other similar relevant keywords. ofcourse these 10 PBNS have content related to fishing as well.

    Could you please let me know if i have done this correctly. if not then where i did the mistake.


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