Does Tiered Link Building Still Work – The High-Risk, High-Reward Approach

Backlink Footprints - IP Addresses

In the world of SEO, innovative strategies are constantly being tested to outmaneuver the competition and achieve rapid ranking improvements. Occasionally, instead of “innovative”, you get some of your old black hat friends rearing their heads making you wonder – does this really work? Does tiered link building still work? Recently, I conducted an in-depth investigation into a bold and aggressive link building campaign executed by a boiler installation company based in Scotland. This company, starting with a completely fresh domain name in October 2023, employed a series of sophisticated techniques to achieve impressive SEO results in a short period. However, this approach also carries significant risks. Let’s delve into the details and analyze the pros and cons of their strategy.

Tiered Link Building Still WorksThe boiler installation company, referred to here as BoilerCo (no need to out them, let them enjoy their 15 minutes of fame) launched their new domain in October 2023. With no prior domain authority, they faced the challenge of gaining visibility in a competitive market quickly.

To tackle this, BoilerCo hired a digital PR agency known for its expertise in rapid one-off link building campaigns.

The Digital PR Campaign

The digital PR agency employed a multi-faceted approach to boost BoilerCo’s domain authority and search rankings. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the steps they took:

1. Press Release Strategy

The agency crafted a compelling press release titled “Expert Tips on How to Avoid Frozen Pipes in Winter,” which they successfully pitched to several national and regional newspapers. These publications provided high-quality backlinks to BoilerCo’s website, significantly enhancing its credibility and authority. Mind you, a few of those links were “nofollow”, which kind of answers the question – do nofollow links help with organic ranking? Yes they do.

2. Citation Links

The agency built citation links on several dozen business directories, ensuring that BoilerCo’s business information was consistent and widely distributed across the web. The funny thing is that citation links take a long time to kick in because Google is extremely lazy when it comes to re-crawling directories. Sometimes it takes 2 – 4 months for a citation link to be discovered, indexed and taken into consideration. So how did they gain results quickly? This brings us to the crux of this article:

3. Tiered Link Building

For the benefit of those who started SEO-ing in the post-Penguin era (suh fam, zedders), the tiered link building approach involves creating multiple layers of backlinks. Tier 1 consists of high-quality links from reputable sources pointing directly to the target website. Tier 2 comprises lower-quality links pointing to the Tier 1 links to boost their authority and indexing speed. Tier 3 includes even lower-quality links, often from spammy or automated sites, pointing to the Tier 2 links. The trouble with tiered link building is the tactic is very easy to detect. It took me minutes to figure out what an how they were doing.

Detailed Breakdown of the Tiered Link Building Approach

The agency employed a three-tier link building strategy to maximize the impact of the high-quality links from the press release and citations.

1. Tier 1 Links

High-quality backlinks from national and regional newspapers directly to BoilerCo’s website. These links provided a substantial authority boost and were the cornerstone of the campaign. Additionally, links from established business directories to help the site surface in Google Map results and the “new boiler near me” type of keywords.

2. Tier 2 Links

Lower-quality blog sites linked to the Tier 1 links. This included niche blogs and less authoritative websites. The goal was to increase the authority and indexing speed of the Tier 1 links. It’s important to note that both the press release pages and directory listing pages received a handful of TIer 2 backlinks. In some cases, there were 50 Tier 2 links pointing back to a single Tier 1 link. So we’re actually talking about a substantial volume.

3. Tier 3 Links

Spammy, bot-generated sites linked to the Tier 2 articles. These links were used to inflate the perceived authority of the Tier 2 links, albeit with significant risk. Similar links were also pointed at the Tier 2 links pointing to the business directories hosting BoilerCo’s citation links.

Financial Investment and ROI from SEO

SEO ROI worksTalking about ROI from SEO, the guys did well for themselves. The cost of executing this complex link building campaign ranged between £3,000 and £5,000. Despite the significant upfront investment, BoilerCo achieved a remarkable return on investment (ROI) of approximately 500%. However, this rapid approach, while financially rewarding in the short term, poses long-term risks. If I told you that for every pound you invest in SEO, you get £5 back, you’d probably snap my hand off.

Essentially, if you have a lot of spare cash, you can churn the websites playing the short-term game for as long as this loophole exists. One thing that surely encouraged their digital PR agency to re-use a decade-old link building method was the lack of impact from the recent Google Core Update. The big March 2024 update promised to be a huge one. SEOs were waiting with a bated breath to see if there is going to be an action against link spam. You know what, there wasn’t, and BoilerCo is a living example of that. Their quick raise to fame happened bang in the middle of the core update and they came out on top as winners with many established boiler companies losing out on traffic. Ha! Thanks, Google for rewarding quality!

Pros and Cons of BoilerCo’s Approach


1. Rapid Domain Authority Growth

From October 2023 to March 2024, BoilerCo’s domain authority (DA) increased from zero to 17, a substantial achievement for a new domain. This will resonate with a lot of white hat SEOs – you know how you promise the client to boost their DA and then 4 months later the DA is still the same despite your link building effort. Because the link analysis tools (SEMrush, Ahrefs, Moz) take an equal time as Google to come across the newly built links and include them in the calculation.

2. Quick Organic Rankings

 Within four months, BoilerCo began ranking within Google’s Top 10 for several crucial keywords, driving significant organic traffic.

3. Local Map Results

Thanks to the combination of press release links and directory links, they receive traffic both from regular web search and from Google Map results. The company also experienced a swift boost in local map results, enhancing their visibility for location-based searches almost immediately.


1. Unnatural Link Velocity

The campaign-based approach to link building resulted in an unnatural spike in link acquisition, which can trigger red flags with search engine algorithms. A natural link velocity graph would show a gradual and consistent acquisition of backlinks over time. Looking at their link velocity graph, it’s exactly what you DON’T want to see.

Unnatural Link Velocity

2. Short-Term Strategy Risks

Relying on short-term tactics is inherently risky. While BoilerCo achieved quick gains, their long-term sustainability is uncertain. Algorithms evolve, and what works today might incur penalties tomorrow. Of course, if your business is not location-based, you can apply “churn” almost indefinitely and just keep burning through domain names as and when they get penalised, however in this case we believe a lot of their success was down to the business having a brick-and-mortar location. “Churning” sites that represent a physical location is extremely complicated and expensive. You’ll need a lot of proxy addresses and proxy phone numbers to pull this off.

3. Footprint Concerns with Tiered Link Building

See the top image. Tiered link building, especially when involving spammy or automated sites, creates noticeable patterns or “footprints.” Unless meticulously executed with unique content and IP diversification, these footprints can be detected by search engine algorithms, potentially resulting in penalties. This is where their digital PR agency laxed their standards.

We took a snapshot of their Tier 2 and Tier 3 links and there are three main problems with what we’re seeing. Types of footprints that don’t sit well with us. FIrstly, there is the content footprint – all articles are on the same topic. Secondly, they made a mistake of sometimes mixing Tier 2 and Tier 3 in the same article. So an article linking out to a directory page would also link out to an article that links to the same directory page. Meh! Thirdly, private blog networks (PBNs) were used to create these tiers as evident from the IP column of the snapshot.

Analysis and Recommendations for Tiered Link Building

BoilerCo’s link building campaign is a textbook example of high-risk, high-reward SEO tactics. Their rapid success in improving domain authority and search rankings demonstrates the potential efficacy of aggressive link building. However, the inherent risks associated with such an approach warrant a more balanced and sustainable strategy.

Here are a few recommendations for a more balanced link building strategy:

1. Gradual Link Acquisition

 Aim for a steady, organic growth in backlinks. A natural link velocity graph means that backlinks are acquired gradually and they are evenly dispersed along the Time axis. This approach reduces the risk of algorithmic penalties and ensures long-term sustainability.

2. Focus on Quality Content

Continue creating high-quality, shareable content that answers the search intent of your ideal customer profile. Evergreen content, comprehensive guides, and valuable resources can attract natural backlinks over time. Although we all know to well that it won’t happen unless you’re reaching out aggressively to ask for links.

3. Diversified Link Sources

Ensure a diverse backlink profile, including guest posts, industry partnerships, and community involvement. This diversification helps mitigate risks associated with any single type of link.

4. Avoid Over-Reliance on Automated Links

While Tier 2 and Tier 3 links can boost authority quickly, over-reliance on automated or spammy links is risky. Prioritize genuine, high-quality links to maintain a clean backlink profile. Employing a limited amount of tiered approach can be considered as means to getting your citation links indexed quicker, however if you are going to do it, again better go for quality than quantity. Pointing 50 duplicate articles with spammy links to your directory profile is just a little bit stupid.

BoilerCo’s aggressive tiered link building campaign offers valuable insights into the potential and pitfalls of rapid SEO tactics. While their short-term gains are impressive, the long-term sustainability of such strategies remains questionable. For businesses looking to build a strong, resilient online presence, a balanced approach focusing on quality, diversity, and gradual growth is advisable.

It will be interesting to monitor their organic traffic. Our best guess is that it is going to start to deteriorate any time soon. And not because of a penalty but because of the link velocity graph. Lack of freshly-generated backlinks will dissuade Google from sending organic traffic their way.

Arvid Linde

Leave a Reply

Cat Biscuits (AKA privacy cookies)

By clicking the "agree" button you're agreeing with our Privacy Policy. It is compliant with GDPR and all that jazz. This is standard stuff so unless you're in a super stealth mode, you're ok.