Link building is the bread and butter of any SEO strategy, but many people assume that it is as simple as it sounds. While link building can certainly be a very straightforward process, it does not have to be – and sometimes, a complicated SEO strategy calls for extra steps.

Tiered link building is a unique strategy that focuses on managing backlinks through a tier system, maximizing the benefits of your link building strategies with only a few small adjustments.

What is Tiered Link Building?

Tired link building focuses on the idea of placing backlinks into tiers that feed into each other, with the ultimate goal of boosting your backlink profile. This is done by stacking the effects of different links to maximize the link juice you gain.

In simple terms, you have your third-tier links pointing to your second-tier links and your second-tier links pointing to your first-tier links. Those first-tier links are pointing back to your main website, which funnels all of the link juice to your website directly.

How does Link Tiering Work?

Tiered link building relies on sorting links into at least two tiers, often three or more.

A typical tiered link building strategy separates the links based on their quality and value in terms of domain authority. This means that all of the links are used in the link building process, but only the best are actually pointing to your site directly.

First Tier Links

First-tier links are the best of the best: dofollow backlinks from high domain authority sites that are pointed directly at the target site.

These need to come from relevant websites boasting high domain authority, meaning that they are high-quality links from relevant and respected websites.

These are essentially the core pieces of your backlink profile and the websites that you would be most proud of receiving links from.

Second Tier Links

Second-tier links are less important and less influential but are still quite good. Ideally, you want them to be dofollow links, but not all of them are – these could be links from personal blogs, directories, and so on.

In a tiered link building strategy, these are used to reinforce the first-tier links and to bolster their authority, making them stronger as search engine optimization tools.

Since these are less important as links, a balance of both quantity and quality links is ideal. They are not as powerful, so you want more of them.

Third Tier Links

Third-tier links and everything below them are much less restrictive and are low-value links (usually nofollow links) that are not very strong.

These could be things like blog comments, social media links, or anything that is not particularly useful and/or permanent.

Third-tier links are quite weak and not very useful, so they are pointed at second-tier links to bolster their SEO power. Quantity is more important than quality, although better third-tier links still have an advantage over worse ones.

Fourth Tier Links

In some cases, a tiered link building strategy might include fourth-tiered links pointing at the third-tiered links. These usually get into black hat territory, which is not a good option and should be avoided.

However, it is important to at least recognize that they exist since some less-than-legitimate SEO strategies rely on them as a core (but risky) part of the puzzle.

How is Tiered Link Building Meant to Benefit You?

While you probably understand what building tiered links means now, the benefits can take a while to understand. If you already have all of these links, wouldn’t having every first and second-tiered link pointing at your site still be better?

The important detail that you may have missed is the context of the links and how relevant they are. If you have irrelevant links pointing to your site, you might get more penalties than you do benefits.

By using this tiered system, you can “convert” unrelated links into more authority for sites that are related to you. You are not getting more links, but you are making the existing links better.

An Example

Let’s say you run an online furniture store. Guest posts on blogs about furniture are obviously relevant, but a link from a site like Forbes is obviously first-tier link material.

Of course, you might also get link opportunities on sites with articles about the fishing industry. These are not related to your furniture store, so they would be effectively useless if they point directly at your site. They might even get your site penalized.

By linking that fishing business article to Forbes, you would be slightly boosting Forbes’ authority, which would translate to more authority for your site too. The fishing site is not related to yours, but it relates to the middleman site.

Why This Matters

One of the biggest issues with link building is link quality. Low-quality links can be a big risk, and even middling-quality links are not all that powerful. If you create links from unrelated sites, that quality score does not even really matter since your site will barely benefit from them.

By using this middleman trick, you can rely on tiered link building as a way of converting unrelated content to related content. While you will not necessarily get the full effect of the authority, you are still getting a boost that your competitors may not have.

The main goal of any link building campaign is to boost your own website, and irrelevant links are worthless for that, anyway. Using them to enhance your highest-quality links sidesteps this issue.

What are the Benefits of Tiered Link Building Strategies?

Tiered link building is a useful idea on paper, but understanding its actual benefits can be important if you are considering it as a strategy.

Like many SEO tactics, using tiered link building correctly can be tricky. If you misunderstand the point behind the tiers, it is easy to sabotage your own search engine rankings in the short term.

Some of the core benefits of tiered link building include the following:

Improved Link Equity

Using lower-quality backlinks to boost higher-quality ones allows for a transfer of link juice, making your best links stronger without actually adding any more to your link profile.

This gives you an easy way to make existing links better by funneling more domain authority into them while also skipping the issue of connecting too many links to a single page.

The cumulative effect of the tiered link building strategy ensures that both entire websites and individual web pages can be given a stronger position in search engine results without needing any more links pointed at them directly.

A Healthier Backlink Profile

The hierarchy system used in a tiered link building strategy creates a solid, multi-topic backlink profile that all points back to your main website.

This creates a healthier backlink profile made up of only good first-tier links, all of which are relevant. Any irrelevant or lower-quality links are used to feed the high-quality backlinks so they are not harming your main link profile.

This effectively means that you have a profile of only high-quality backlinks while still getting the link equity from all of the backlinks connected to your site, completely skirting around the problems with large-scale link building.

Most search engines prefer this kind of backlink profile, meaning that your own website could technically rank even higher than if you used conventional link building tactics.

Reduced Risk

Since all of your poor or quantity-over-quality links are third-tier backlinks, they are not pointed at your main website directly. This means that none of your third-tier backlinks are harming your backlink profile.

Doing this reduces the risk of harming your search engine rankings, but it also means that spam links impact their target sites instead of your own.

While you can still suffer if search engines start to penalize a lot of second or third-tiered links, this is not very likely.

This means that your backlink profile is very safe from potential problems, ensuring that low-quality backlinks can’t cause any damage to your rankings if something goes wrong.

Improved Content Relevancy

While you only want primary links from relevant sites, this strategy allows unrelated content to still boost your web rankings.

Not only can you transfer page authority from unrelated sites, but a tiered link building strategy can often snowball into a great way of boosting your entire site using any links you can find.

Even the third-tier backlinks are useful, and the fact that you are not pointing them at your own site bypasses the problems that can come with using too many of them.

Shared Burdens

One of the biggest concerns you can run into with search engine optimization is stacking too much onto one page. Using too many spam links or low-quality links can backfire on a site, especially if they are not relevant.

Not only does building tiered links allow you to use a wider range of links, but you can also spread them around multiple first and second-tier sites. This means that you will never need to worry about any site getting penalized for having all of your bad links pointing at it.

Being able to spread links around multiple sites also means that you can avoid stacking too many links to one page or focusing too much on one kind of link topic over another.

Link Disposal

While not really a “disposal” method, tiered link building allows you to collect different first-tier and second-tier links that can be used to get rid of links beneath them.

Once you have enough links in the higher tiers, you may be able to cover so many topics that almost any link is relevant to one of them.

This effectively gives you a way to dispose of irrelevant link building opportunities while still getting some value out of the link itself.

Building Tiered Backlinks

Building backlinks at three different tiers sounds easy, and it can be. However, you also need to put a bit more effort into defining the three tiers and keeping track of which links point where.

First Tier Link Building

The easiest way to get first-tiered links is to put a guest post on established sites in your niche. A guest post can be a great way to link back to your site from a very relevant source, especially since a typical guest post might be a completely free option.

Not only does a guest post give you control over what you say, you can usually slip in a link or two – especially if you get their permission.

Be sure to use the right SEO tools to identify sites that your competitors are not using, and try to choose ones that are clearly open to guest posts. These are easier to place a linking guest post on and are less likely to cause issues with your competitors.

Remember that you should be limiting yourself to respected and high-quality sites that offer dofollow guest post links. This leaves you with a very small pool of options for ideal primary backlinks.

Second Tier Link Building

Second-tier backlinks are easier – a blog post on a blog site, a guest post on a smaller unrelated site, or even just directory links in other niches and industries.

Try to keep these second-tiered backlinks diverse when connecting them to a first-tier site. This helps the second-tier backlinks seem more natural as inbound links.

Third Tier Link Building

Third-tier links are more about volume than quality. Even if they are lower-quality backlinks, and many will disappear over time after being penalized or not indexed, you have so many that it does not matter.

Try to create thousands of these links if you can. Blog comments or comments on guest posts, article comments, article directories, forum links, social media profile links – anything that leaves a link.

It is best to keep the ball rolling with third-tier links, too. Second-tier backlinks are fairly sturdy, but third-tier ones can vanish rapidly, so you always want new replacements coming in.

Should I Use Fourth Tier Links

Do not create fourth-tier links. They offer very little to your ranking on search engine results pages and would require automated link building tools to produce the sheer amount of automated backlinks you would need to make a difference.

Their link equity is also terrible, and they are almost always black hat measures. Do not bother using them.

The Risks of Tiered Link Building

Tiered link building is considered a gray hat SEO strategy, which means that it is not necessarily against Google’s webmaster guidelines but also is not exactly following them to the letter. For some people, this is enough to make them avoid it entirely.

For others, there are still some risks to tiered link building, especially if it is handled in an incorrect way or misused. However, learning to mitigate these risks is part of making tiered links work well.

The Resource Costs

Tiered link building is inherently more complicated than conventional link building. It requires a pre-prepared structure, an understanding of which links go where, and a lot of consistent planning to implement properly.

Beyond that, creating backlinks in a tiered links system means that you need to waste a lot of time (and potentially money) setting the system up. Even a simple tiered link building strategy can be painful to prepare on your own, which is why many businesses leave it to SEO agencies instead.

Finally, a tier link system is still link building. Each tiered link needs to be gained somehow, and that can mean a lot of money and effort spent on links that are not directly benefiting your website.

The Penalties

Search engines, and especially Google, prefer natural links. While they will tolerate most link building tactics to an extent, paid links are often seen as a no-go, and a tiered link system is gray-hat enough to sometimes get penalized.

Google penalties can range from manual link and link equity removal to being entirely deindexed, so it is important to build a main website backlink profile that looks fully legitimate.

It is entirely possible to make tiered link building work, only for a single search crawler to bring the entire thing down. The more obvious the tier system is, the more likely this can be.

It is also entirely possible for your tiers to suffer other penalties that are not even related, such as second-tier sites being deindexed.

Black Hat Issues

A gray hat or black hat tiered link building strategy can be a massive risk. If you leave evidence, eventually, a search engine will notice, especially if your tier system is full of low-quality backlinks anyway.

Tiered link building should only be a part of your overall strategy – something that you can afford to lose. It should never be the whole strategy itself.

Other Losses

Sometimes your tiered link building system can just fall apart. Maybe a few site owners in the first tier stop linking to you, or directory links are accidentally erased. Maybe user-generated content gets deleted, or you change your target pages, and the authority drops.

Many website owners will naturally lose backlinks over time, whether this is due to sites closing or for other reasons, like content being deleted. If you lose high-quality links, your tiered backlinks take a massive hit.

Again, never rely on tiered backlinks as your entire strategy. The SEO benefits are meant to be just a small part of your SEO plan.

Is a Tiered Link Building Strategy Worth It?

Link building is all about link equity, also known as authority – the thing that keeps your keyword rankings high.

There are thousands of link options out there, from major direct links to simple profile links on little-known social media sites. While some of them only offer a little page authority, they still have something to give you.

If you want to maximize the authority that you are gaining, a tiered system can be a very powerful tool. The only downside is that it can take a lot of time and effort to create, and luck is usually a factor in your success.

For some businesses, a tiered link system is exactly what they need to succeed – but before you jump into it, you need to consider whether it is the right option for your website.