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16 min read

The Power Of Layers: Tiered Link Building

Stewart Dunlop


Chief Link Building Strategist

Tiered link building is a great way to elevate your off-page search engine optimization (SEO).

It involves building links in layers, and you start by building high-quality links that point directly to your website.

But you also build links to the pages that link to your site. And then, you build links to those pages, too.

tiered link building

The result is a network of links of varying quality that gives your website a strong and diverse backlink profile.

And a strong, diverse backlink profile is one of the main factors that search engines like Google consider when choosing which websites to rank in search results.

In this article, we will discuss:

➡️ What tiered link building is.

➡️ How the three tiers work.

➡️ The benefits and risks of this link-building tactic.

➡️ Some alternative link-building techniques to try if a tiered strategy isn’t for you.

What Is Tiered Link Building?

Tiered link building involves building links to pages that link to your content. In other words, each time you build a link, you build more links to that referring page.

The result is multiple levels of links—known as tiers.

  • The highest level of tier links points directly to your target site.

  • The next layer points to your referring websites.

  • The next layer points to the secondary referring websites.

This enhances your backlink profile and your website's authority.

💡What is a backlink profile?

A backlink profile is all of the links that point to your website.

Having a valuable backlink profile will make your website more likely to rank higher on search engines.

The value of your backlink profile is determined by:

  • The number of links.

  • The quality of links.

  • The relevance of links.

  • How diverse the sources of your links are.

You can think of tiered links as a pyramid:

  • At the top is your website

  • Beneath that are the first-tier links pointing directly to your website.

  • The third layer of the pyramid consists of tier-two links that point to first-tier links.

  • Finally, the lowest layer of third-tier links points to the tier-two links.

tiered link building

The reason tiered link building works is because of something called link equity.

Link equity is when the benefit your website gains from its backlink profile is passed on to any website that you link to.

This benefit is sometimes referred to as “link juice” by SEO professionals.

By building tier two and three links, you are maximizing the amount of link juice that passes to your website.

Tiered Link Building Layers

Let’s unpack the three different layers of the tiered link pyramid:

🔺 What are first-tier links?

Tier one links, also known as primary backlinks, are links that point directly to your website. This is the top layer of the pyramid.

For tier one, most SEO professionals will focus on building high-quality links from authoritative websites.

💡 What’s a high-quality link?

A high-quality link:

  • Appears on a page that is relevant to your website/content

  • Appears on a website that is relevant to your website/content

  • Supports or enriches the content it appears in

  • Uses anchor text that is relevant to your content

  • Fits the context of the surrounding text

High-quality links are also natural. In other words, the person who wrote the content linked to your website because they like it and think it will help their readers.

Here’s an example from the BBC News website. It gives the reader the source of the quote and allows them to find out more if they want to.

This makes it relevant and it enriches the content.

BBC News

💡 What is an authoritative website?

Authoritative websites are well-established websites that are usually run by trusted brands. They usually rank high on search engines and get lots of organic traffic.

Most national news websites are often high authority. Some other examples of high-authority websites include:

  • Forbes.

  • Entrepreneur.

  • HubSpot.

  • TechCrunch.

Let’s explore Forbes as an example. According to the SEO tool Ahrefs, they have a domain rating (DR) of 94/100.

Domain rating is a metric that Ahrefs assigns to websites that determines how authoritative they are. The site also has over 74 million organic visitors per month


Source: Ahrefs

A backlink from Forbes would make an excellent first-tier backlink because it would be:

  • Highly authoritative.

  • Seen by potentially millions of people.

  • Trustworthy, as Forbes is known for publishing world-class content.

Building links to authoritative websites like Forbes tends to be difficult. They set strict quality standards and guidelines. They will only accept contributions from genuine experts.

Plus, what counts as a high authority website depends on your industry and how authoritative your own website is.

For example, if you have a brand-new site, then even getting links from a DR 30 site might be considered high-authority.

However, the point is that your first-tier links will usually be harder to build and there will usually be fewer of them.

That’s one of the reasons to use a tiered link building strategy—you only have to build a few tier one links.

After that, you can focus on boosting them by building slightly easier tier two and three links.


Use do-follow links

All links are either no-follow or do-follow. These two terms refer to the way search engines index and follow links on the internet.

  • Do-follow links: Search engines follow these links and they pass link juice from one website to another. When a search engine crawler detects a do-follow link, it will automatically follow the link and consider it as a signal of trustworthiness.

  • No-follow links: These links tell search engines not to follow a link and not to transfer any link juice or authority to the website being linked to.

The best tier-one links are almost always do-follow links. No-follow links aren’t a problem, but they usually don’t provide much of a ranking boost.

Now we’ve seen what a tier-one link looks like, let’s take a look at tier-two.

🔺 What are second-tier links?

Second-tier backlinks link to the pages that you built first-tier links from. Let’s continue with our example above and say that you have built a first-tier link to your website from Forbes.

Tier two links don’t need to be as high quality as tier one links and can be placed on less authoritative websites.

For example, you might decide to pay for a guest blog to appear on a trade association website for your sector.

The guest blog could refer to the Forbes article and could be on a similar subject. Of course, the link to the Forbes article would still need to be helpful for the reader.

But it wouldn’t be as difficult as building a link on Forbes. This means you can build more of these links.


Many link builders aim for about eight to 12 tier-two backlinks to support each link on tier one.

This means that if you have three top-tier links, there should be around 30 backlinks in your second tier.

Some examples of ways to build second-tier links include:

Example: Wombo

Let’s look at an example of a tier two link.

Wombo is an app developer. The company has created software called DreamAI. The image below is a review of DreamAI on the technology blog TechCrunch.


Source: TechCrunch

This review is then mentioned in a post on another website, Mac World.

Mac World is relevant and reputable, but has a lower DR than TechCrunch. Importantly, the link to the TechCrunch article has been used in context.

We don’t know whether Wombo did this on purpose, but it makes it a good second-tier link:

MAC World

Source: Mac World

It’s second tier because it doesn’t directly link to Wombo’s website. It links to an article with a direct backlink to the company’s website.

🔺 What are third-tier links?

In the third-tier, the authority of the linking websites and the quality of the links becomes even less important.

In fact, it’s better to focus on quantity over quality. Following on from the previous example, below is a link to the Mac World article on Dream AI:


Source: Techilive

It is a poor quality link because it’s:

  • A no-follow link.

  • It’s not used in the body copy in context.

  • It doesn’t use relevant anchor text.

However, it’s fine as a tier-three link. Third-tier links might also come from:

  • Forums.

  • Blog comments.

  • Social media platforms.

Tier three on our pyramid is a much larger section, which means that it’s made up of many more backlinks than tier one or two.

If you really want to strengthen your tier-two links (and, in turn, your tier-one links), you’ve got to have a lot of tier-three links.

Using the example above of 30-tier two links, you’d need 300 tier-three links to pass on enough link equity.

link equity example

🤔 Can I build tier four links?

Some link builders push their tiered link building even further and create tier four or even five backlinks.

There is some debate as to how many tiers Google factors in. However, it is likely that the further removed a backlink is from your website, the less impact it will have on its ranking.

Also, remember that for each subsequent tier, you need to multiply the number of links you build. This means that you’ll have to build a LOT of links at tiers four or five!

Tactics to Avoid When Building Tiered Links

As already mentioned, the quality of links matters less the further down the tiered link building pyramid you go.

However, we don’t recommend using black-hat SEO techniques to build them. Black hat techniques are link building practices that go against Google’s guidelines.

Using these practices could result in a manual action or penalty from Google, which will reduce your rankings.

Link building practices you should avoid include:

👎 Spammy blog comments: Avoid posting links on irrelevant websites.

👎 Private blog networks (PBNs): PBNs are networks of websites that are designed purely to make money out of publishing backlinks. You should never use them.

👎 Cloaking: When a website presents content to search engine crawlers that is different from what is shown to users who visit the site.

👎 Paying for low-quality links: Paying for a link on an irrelevant website that publishes poor-quality content for the sole purpose of getting a link. Such links are unlikely to give you any rankings benefit and will be a waste of your money.

Focus on White Hat Techniques

One of the best ways to attract first-tier backlinks to your website is to create high-quality content.

If the content on your site is really good, there’s a high chance that other websites will want to link to yours.

For example, if you provide an invaluable source of information like an authoritative list of statistics, your chances of earning backlinks are high because people will use your content to enhance their own.

Good content is:

  • Helpful and insightful: If your content is generic and too broad, you won’t be providing much value to your readers. High-quality content provides plenty of helpful, original information and insights that users can benefit from.

  • Data-driven: Content that is based on solid data typically performs really well. For example, backing up what you’re writing with statistics makes your content more impactful and authoritative.

  • Well-written: Crafting good content is an art. It’s worth investing in resources to generate high-quality content for you if this is not something you’re comfortable doing yourself.

  • Concise and skimmable: It’s tempting to jam as much information as possible into the content on your website. But large walls of text and articles that never end will make people leave your website quickly. Keep your writing succinct, and ensure it’s presented in a way that is easy to skim read.

  • Enhanced with visual elements: Using video, infographics, graphs, and photos adds additional value to your content and enhances the reader’s experience. Infographics, in particular, are known for attracting backlinks.

  • Error-free: Grammar and spelling mistakes immediately lower the credibility and authority of your content.

Here is an example of a website with high-quality content:

Charity Water

Source: Charity Water

The content on this website is good because it:

  • Uses data to drive home a point.

  • Is easy to skim and absorb due to the headings and layout.

  • Is visually appealing.

  • Is concise and succinct.

💻 Delve into the world of guest posts

When done right, guest posting is an excellent strategy for tier-one or two links. When you guest post on the right websites, you’re getting a backlink that is:

  • High quality.

  • Hyper-relevant to your niche or industry.

  • Authoritative.

  • Contextual.

So how do you get guest posting right? Here are a few steps to get you started:

  • Find the right guest posting website: Spend time researching guest post sites and looking for ones that clearly publish high-quality content. You can also use a tool like Ahrefs to determine whether they’re an authoritative site—although, remember that sites with a high authority score aren’t always the right choice.

  • Pitch your idea: You need to come up with a topic idea to pitch to a website that accepts guest posts. For your backlink to be relevant, you’ll want to choose a topic that resonates with your specific industry or niche.

  • Create superb content: Your guest post should be well-written, provide loads of original insights, and be free from grammar and spelling mistakes. Hiring a proofreader on a site like UpWork to check your writing is invaluable.

Let’s say you run a holiday resort. A good guest post website to pitch to would be Travel + Leisure:

Travel + Leisure

Source: Travel + Leisure

This would be a good site to submit a blog post to, as it:

  • Has a domain authority score of 87.

  • Clearly accepts guest blog posts.

  • Would be highly relevant to your holiday resort and probably result in a relevant backlink.

  • Only seems to publish high-quality content.

Target sites with good authority

High-quality backlinks are those that are relevant, contextual, and authoritative. Search engines love high-authority backlinks placed on authoritative sites because they signal that your website can be trusted.

Before you start to contact site owners of high-authority websites for a first-tier link, you must first identify the right websites. The right target website is one that:

✔️ Is relevant to your business’s industry or niche.

✔️ Publishes high-quality content that you could benefit from.

✔️ Is aligned with your target audience.

Let’s say your business is a bakery. If you want to build high-quality links that improve your search rankings, websites you could target include:

  • Food bloggers: Get them to mention your business on their blog, and you’ve got yourself a highly relevant backlink.

  • Parenting resources: Parents looking to bake with their children might find your expert cupcake recipes helpful.

  • Recipe websites: You could send the site owner a recipe you’ve created and ask them to link to your website in the recipe as the source thereof.

  • Party stores: Obviously, no party is complete without baked goods.

Here’s an example of a food blog called Cookie and Kate, which would be an excellent website to target:

Cookie and Kate

Source: Cookie and Kate

This is a good website to target, as it:

  • Has a domain rating (DR) of 80.

  • Gets over five million visitors a month.

  • Is highly relevant to your bakery.

Partner with a Professional Agency for Link Building Success

Building backlinks is by no means an easy feat. Whether you use a tiered link strategy or any other white-hat technique, it requires a massive amount of time and resources.

At LinkBuilder, our team of SEO professionals can develop a link-building strategy tailored to your business and build the links you need to rank well and achieve high authority.

Working with a professional link-building agency saves you time and helps you achieve long-term success at an affordable price. It also helps prevent incurring a Google penalty!

We’ve helped hundreds of companies just like yours build high-quality links, excellent backlink profiles, and high authority. Visit our website to start working with us and see our link building magic in action.