What is Tiered Link Building and Why is it So Powerful?

Creating a strong backlink profile is a fundamental part of optimizing your website for search engines, but if you’ve never heard of it, you’re missing out on one of the most powerful link building methods around.

In a nutshell, tiered link building is when you get backlinks to your website hosted on other websites and then build backlinks to those web pages, so on and so forth, for at least three tiers worth of pages. For example, say you run a website selling cat toys and you generate backlinks from 10 different popular online cat-related publications. You would then build backlinks to each of those 10 web pages. And then you’d build backlinks to the 10 pages that were created to provide you with backlinks to the pages that contain your original 10 backlinks.

In the end, the result is a series of backlinks that vary in quality and power, and that’s exactly what you want and need to generate a natural, diverse backlink profile. Google doesn’t take kindly to backlink profiles that look artificial, and most people do it wrong by only aiming for getting links on high-authority web pages. While those links are important, links that don’t hold as much power are equally important.

It’s not that those links are poor quality, but rather, they’re links from legitimate websites that just don’t rank as high. That’s what tells Google your backlinks are natural because websites organically collect a variety of links from all over the web, not just top sites.

What is tiered link building?

As discussed earlier, tiered link building is when you build backlinks to the web pages that publish your backlinks. For example, if you own a marketing company and get a backlink from a popular tech magazine, you’d then build some backlinks to the article that features your backlink. Doing this increases your website’s authority in the eyes of search engine algorithms.

  • First tier links. The web pages containing your first round of backlinks. These are also called “referring web pages” because they refer to your website with a link.
  • Second tier links.  The links you build to the web pages in layer #1. These are also called “secondary referring websites” because they refer to your referring web pages with a link.
  • Third tier links. The links you build to the web pages in layer #2.

Why does having tiered backlinks matter?

You might be wondering why you should start generating links to the web pages that give you your first set of backlinks and then adding another layer. It’s all about link equity, also known as “link juice.”

In general, your website’s backlink profile provides it with certain benefits that contribute to how well it ranks in the search engines. Anytime you link to another website from your website, the other site benefits a little bit from your backlink profile. The more powerful your backlink profile, the more positive influence you can “pass on” to other websites simply by linking them on your site.

With that said, tiered link building aims to increase the influence of your original backlinks by providing those pages with even more link juice, or link equity. For instance, when you build links to your second tier web pages, it increases the link equity passed on to your original backlinks. When you build links to your third tier web pages, it increases the link equity passed on to your second tier web pages, which also increases the link equity passed on to your original backlinks.

What are the three tiers involved?

The three tiers are broken down like this.

tiered link building


  1. First-tier links

These are your primary backlinks that point directly to your own website. You can think of these links as being at the top of the pyramid. These are the links you’ll generate from high-authority websites in your niche or popular news sites.

First-tier backlinks should always be published on authority websites with an overall relevant niche or subcategory, with natural anchor text relevant to the content on the page you’re linking. For example, if you’re publishing an article about how to get your cats to play with toys, you’d want that article to be on a website related to cats. Your anchor text would then be something along the lines of “get your cats to play.”

What makes a website authoritative can be somewhat subjective, but there are factors you can rely on, like the Domain Authority (DA) score created by Moz, the Domain Rating (DR) score created by Ahrefs, and making sure a website has a genuine readership. High authority sites tend to rank well in the search engines and generate a stream of relevant, organic traffic. When you get backlinks from these sites, they’ll pass some link equity on to your website.

First-tier links are often the most difficult to acquire, but it’s actually not that hard when you have experience in link building and/or you’re working with a link building agency. However, the good news is that you don’t need to generate too many first-tier links. You can get a small handful and then focus your efforts on building second-and-third-tier links, which are a bit easier.

  1. Second-tier links

Second-tier links are backlinks that go to the web pages that contain the links you built in tier one. These links aren’t required to be placed on high authority websites to work. Second-tier links can come from guest posts on sites in your specific niche.

Aim to get around 10 second-tier links for each first-tier link you have. If you’ve built five first-tier backlinks, then each one will have 10 links, which means you’ll need 50 second-tier links.

  1. Third-tier links

A third-tier link goes to the pages containing your second-tier links and the quality isn’t entirely important. You’ll want to generate as many of these third-tier links as possible, as long as you’re not getting your links from spam websites or sites that Google will de-index or blacklist.

For each third-tier link, you’ll still want about 10 links to each one. If you have 5 tier-one links, you’ll have 50 tier-two links, and 500 tier-three links.

Is there a tier four?

You might be wondering if more is better, and if you should be building a fourth tier of links or even more. While it’s impossible to know for certain, since Google never releases their actual algorithm details, SEO research has shown that the further back a link is from your website, the less impact it has on your rank. Google may or may not factor in a fourth tier, and since nobody knows how far the algorithms go, you’ll get better results by sticking to just three.

6 Tips to get good backlinks for a tiered strategy

  1. Try to get as many do-follow links as possible

It should be noted that you’ll need to generate “do-follow” links in order to benefit from the link equity. In this context, links are divided into two categories: do-follow and no-follow. These attributes mean exactly what they sound like. Designating a link as “do-follow” tells search engines to pass link equity onto that website. A no-follow designation tells search engines not to pass on link equity. There are also additional link attributes that Google has created that do not pass on link equity, like “sponsored,” which is reserved for ads and paid link placements.

Since the point of tiered link building is to generate link equity, you will need do-follow links, and that’s why it can be tricky to generate a lot of first-tier links. Some publishers mark all or most links no-follow. It’s not bad to have no-follow links, since those can generate some good traffic, but ideally you want to aim for as many do-follow links as possible.

  1. Avoid risky link building practices

The only risk involved in tiered link building are the typical risks of building backlinks in general and potential penalties for using black hat methods. Black hat link building techniques are against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and can get your site penalized (this will drop your search rankings), de-indexed, and potentially blacklisted forever.

Never use the following link building tactics:

  • Buying links in bulk. Purchased backlinks are seen as spam and come with unhelpful anchor text. They’re also usually posted to random websites that may not even exist in six months.
  • Getting links on any website possible. If your content is about technology, don’t get a link on a gambling website just because it’s free, cheap, or easy. Google cares about relevance and this type of mismatch will make Google struggle to tag your site on the back end as an actual tech website. In turn, this will hurt your ability to rank for tech-related searches.
  • Link cloaking. This is when you make a search engine think your content is different from what human users see.
  • Using a Private Blog Network (PBN). PBN websites are basically link farms owned by the same people. The content is low-quality and Google almost always knows what sites are part of a PBN and nullifies the link equity for all links posted to these sites.


  1. Create high-quality, authoritative content

People will want to link to high-quality content. Crafting high-quality content requires knowing your topic and hiring a professional writer. You have to truly be an expert in your field. Pretending won’t get you anywhere.

All of your content should be helpful, entertaining, or informative based on your market’s wants and needs. It should be focused on the reader’s benefit to help them gain knowledge, insights, and solve their problems.

  1. Target sites in your niche

Whether you’re building backlinks through manual outreach or guest posting, it’s important to target sites within your niche. Google will assume your website is somewhat related to the topic of the website that gives you the backlink. To get Google to see your site as an authority in your particular industry, you need links on industry specific sites.  

  1. Use data in your content

It’s imperative that you back up your claims, especially when they’re controversial, scientific, or little known. Statistics and quotes from experts will go a long way to make your content stand out as authoritative. It shows that you’ve done the work and know what you’re talking about.

  1. Hire a link building agency

When you’re new to link building, figuring out the entire process from scratch can feel overwhelming. A link building agency will eliminate all of the guesswork by using their expertise to get you the best quality links that will help your site rank.

Need an effective backlink profile?

If your backlink profile is weak, you’ve acquired the wrong kind of links, or you’re just not sure what to do, we can help. Contact us today for a professional SEO audit and we’ll help you strengthen your backlink profile so you can start getting all the high-quality, powerful backlinks you need to rank at the top of the search results.


Samuel Edwards