PHPBUILT's Idiot-Proof Guide to Authority Site Building

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May 16, 2011
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---- THREAD CLOSED 06/15/2015 ----

There's a lot of advice on BHW for doing backlinks. However, there is a lot of confusion on how to properly build a website, write its content and structure it properly. Someone recently asked for some assistance on troubleshooting their content and I decided to write a guide to help them out. I'm certain many of you will benefit from this advice as well. So here it is ... my guide on how to develop authority sites.


I'm going to write this article as though you're building your sites on Wordpress. You might not be, and that's fine if you're not -- many of the suggestions found here are applicable to any content management system.

Your #1 enemy when it comes to ranking your site is overoptimization. Out-of-the-box with default settings, Wordpress is an overoptimization disaster. The truth is that it injects far too many keywords into pages. Tags, tag clouds, categories, additional redundant menu systems, recent post titles widget, how you named your blog and its tagline, all these add up into an overwhelmingly high keyword density that pushes your articles completely out of Google.

There are a number of SEOs who will laugh at you when you mention "keyword density", as if the notion is a 5-year-old concept which is outdated and has been replaced by newer Google algorithms. The truth is -- keyword density matters, but not in a positive way. There is a threshhold your page can withstand for keyword density, and going over that pushes it into the overoptimization area -- where it won't even rank in the top 1000.

That magic number (in my opinion), has two different ranges, depending on conditions. If you are going to heavily link to that page via exact match anchor text, the acceptable percentage goes down. In other words, if your keyword is "fancy widgets", and you are going to perform a backlinking campaign to that page and often use the anchor text "fancy widgets", keep your keyword density to only .5% to 1%. Or if throughout your website, in content, if you are going to heavily link to that page using the exact keyword "fancy widgets", then you should also keep your keyword density from .5% to 1%. If, on the other hand, you will NOT do much backlinking to that page from external sources with exact-match anchor text, bump that percentage to 1.5% to 2%.

These two factors go hand-in-hand in both positive (ranking) and negative (overoptimization) actions Google will take towards your page. Consider for a minute that, instead of SEOing your page -- you're playing shuffleboard.

Shuffleboard and SEO are extremely similar. In shuffleboard, you push a "biscuit" (puck) towards a triangle. If you don't push hard enough, it falls short of the triangle (or in SEO ... you rank from 100 to 200 in the search engine result pages). If you hit the triangle on the head, you score big (top ten to top 50 in SERPS without any backlinking work). If you overshoot and hit the back of the triangle, you actually receive a huge penalty (your page doesn't even rank in Google in the top 1000).

On-page and off-page optimization go hand in hand. How greased the puck is has to do with your on-page optimization. How much you backlink to your page with exact anchor text is how hard you push your puck. If you're going full blast with both on-page optimization and backlinking to your page via exact anchor texts, you pushed the puck too far and are receiving a penalty. I hope that analyzation is clear -- shuffleboard is boring, moving on.

What does this have to do with your template? Consider for a moment that you start a blog about "fancy widgets". You have 5 categories, "blue fancy widgets, red fancy widgets, green fancy widgets, yellow fancy widgets, white fancy widgets". You name your blog "fancy widgets". Your tagline name for the blog is "We have the best fancy widgets". You proceed to write 20 articles named as such ... "best blue fancy widgets > goes in blue fancy widgets category", "how to use a green fancy widget > goes in green fancy widget category". All posts are similarly named. You've got a recent posts widget on the side which names each article by name. Every article has a tag of "best blue fancy widget" or something similar at least two times.

Lets do a keyword count now, BEFORE you even actually have written your next article.

Every page has "fancy widget" once as blog name in title, plus articles all have "fancy widget" ... meaning each title has the term "fancy widget" twice in it.
There is the "fancy widget" in the blog title H1 tag.
There is a "fancy widget" in the blog byline.
There are 5 categories with "fancy widget" in it.
There are 20 articles in recent posts with "fancy widget" in it.
You have a breadcrumbs showing "fancy widget > green fancy widget", etc. on every page.
You have a few tags on every page showing "fancy widget".

Count them up, that's 33 "fancy widget" on every page, before you even start writing. You lose. You could write a 2000 word article that doesn't even reference "fancy widget", and you're still going to receive keyword stuffing penalties on that term.

=== PHPBUILT now takes a break from this Authority Site Guide to address the nay-sayers ===

Some of you are going to chime in and say "but I rank articles just fine with 100% exact-match anchor spam and 5% keyword density". Not long-term you don't. This is a guide on how to build a stable authority site that will stand the test of time, not how to pump out churn and burn disposable sites that lose their rankings after a week or month.

Others will say "but I have a website that has 5% keyword density, I interlink between articles with 100% exact anchor text, all my backlinks to the site are with exact anchor text, and I still rank". Google is famous for its 200+ different signals it checks in order to rank a page. Its feasible to construct a scenario where a website will rank under those conditions, especially if it has some domain/page authority under its belt and if its aged website.

This guide isn't about using an aged website or existing pa/da as a crutch. You can write a decent article on competitive niches and still rank even without any backlinks, on a brand new website. You can rank for more competitive terms under the weight of your own internal backlinking. Its good to get this stuff right, so when you throw it on a domain with high da/pa or you get some decent backlinks -- your content will do all that much better. But if your articles can't rank in the top 100 on a medium difficult niche (200 to 800 exact match) or in the top 150 on a more difficult term (up to 15k exact match) ... you're not writing your articles properly and you're not structuring your website properly.

=== PHPBUILT now returns to the guide after addressing said nay-sayers ===

Another consideration when building your authority site, when it comes to how your wordpress theme fights against you, is duplicate content. Out of the box, on a fresh install with Wordpress using default settings -- you write your first article. It is an article on "Fancy Red Widgets". You tag the article with "fancy, red, widget". You put it under the red widgets category. You click submit.

Wordpress just published that article on your homepage.
And your author page.
And the "fancy" tag page.
And the "red" tag page.
And the "widget" tag page.
And the "red widgets" category page.
And if you're using calendar or archives, the archives page.

That's 7 duplicate content articles on your site. No, Google doesn't know how to sort it out without penalizing you. How do you fix all these issues with the Wordpress theme? Here is a checklist to follow.

#1) If the majority of your posts are going to reference a keyword that is also contained in your blog's name, rename your blog. A page should only have the keyword you are shooting for in the title only once.

#2) Don't use tags. Delete all your tags. Tags are evil. They inflate your keyword density far into overoptimization and produce a ton of duplicate content penalties for your site. Never use tags again. Of course, this by default means don't use tag clouds.

#3) Don't use your authority site's main keyword in category names. For instance, if your blog is about widgets, you categories should not be "red widget, blue widget, green widget". Your categories should be "red, blue, green".

#4) Wordpress has a section as you are writing your post called "excerpt". Make sure you write an excerpt, and then select to use excerpts on your homepage/categories instead of the actual article itself (Google how to do that). This makes your articles 100% unique on your website. It then sticks the excerpts on your homepage / category page. Technically, this still introduces duplicate content on your website (same content on homepage / categories pages). Download and install All-In-One SEO (the free version). In the options, select to "noindex/follow" on categories. This leaves your articles 100% original, your homepage 100% original, and category pages simply aren't indexed in Google. When you type, all you should see is your homepage, page 2 etc. of your homepage if you have a lot of articles, and your actual articles. No categories, tags or author page should be there, however -- "about" page and "privacy" pages are good to have.

#5) Figure out how to remove author link from your wordpress template. You might have to hack your theme -- get it out of there. It adds nothing to the site but another page that shows the same content as your homepage.

#6) Don't use breadcrumbs. If your navigation system probably already has the same links -- breadcrumbs is just another worthless overoptimized injection of keywords on your page.

#7) Remove duplicate navigational systems. It is extremely common for a wordpress blog to have a navigational menu on top, and then have the same categories listed in a sidebar. This usually results in keyword stuffing penalties. Remove the category if you like the navigational top bar, or remove the navigational top bar if you like the sidebar categories, you don't want both.

#8) Remove recent posts widget. All this does is inject a ton of extra keywords into all your pages. Keep your keywords in your articles, you don't need your template bumping up your keyword density.

#9) Remove recent comments widget.

Now that you've ripped all that junk out of there, it actually is good to link to related posts. I would suggest that much of this linking is going to be done manually, as you edit your posts you will interlink between other articles in-content. However, a little automated linking won't hurt either -- check out a plugin called YARPP (yet another related posts plugin). This plugin examines all your articles and interlinks between related articles at the bottom of your page. Keeping it at the default 4 articles is a good idea, increasing that number any higher will start increasing the chances of keyword stuffing on your article (the titles of 4 related articles are going to share the same keywords, and thus elevate your keyword density). Keep that in mind when you're writing your article, if you want to hit 2% keyword density and you have 4 YARPP listings at the bottom of each article, stop when you're at 1.6% because YARPP will elevate it some.


You may be auditing your site and trying to verify that your articles are ranking well and not subject to overoptimization penalties. There are ways you can verify that your article is doing ok. Fortunately, Google fixes overoptimized articles very quickly -- in fact whenever you fix an article, you should see the results of the fix within 48 hours and its either fixed, or still penalized and should be reedited. Here is how you audit your site.

Go to Google and type It should give you a list of your homepage + all your articles (and hopefully no tags or categories, if so then fix that as explained in the first section). Here is a trick that will help you verify that your articles are ok.

Lets say you are trying to rank for "green fancy widget". You should come up with a title that references the keyword, but also has some unique twist to it that is easy to search for and also generates interest. Here is an example. "Buy Green Fancy Widget? This Girl Says They're The Best". In the Google SERPS, your title will appear like this "Buy Green Fancy Widget? This Girl Says ..." ... that type of title generates curiosity. This girl says what? They will want to click to find out.

It also gives your article something unique to rank for. Ideally, you want to rank for "Green Fancy Widget", that is the goal. If you wrote a decent article, even without backlinks, you should rank top 100 for "Green Fancy Widget". However, you are certain to rank for "green fancy widget this girl". You should be #1 through #5 for that term. If you're not even in the top 20 -- your article is keyword stuffed and penalized, it is time to rewrite it. Get the keyword density down to 1% to 1.5% and search for that term again in 48 hours, if successful your article will be found, otherwise revise your article again.

Another evidence that your article is suffering from overoptimization penalty is when your best page on your site should rank for "green fancy widget", however when you Google it -- another less-optimized page shows up for that query. Perhaps it is your homepage that ranks for the term, or another article that simply referenced your best article on the bottom of the page with the YARPP plugin. If you see this happen, your best page is overoptimized, its time to reduce your main keyword for that page again.

Every page on your website should rank for its keyword somewhere in the Google SERPs. You should be in the top 200 for your article at minimum. Preferably, as you begin developing your site (even with zero backlinks), every article you write will at least rank in the top 100 for its main keyword. If it doesn't, the article is either overoptimized or badly written.


You're starting a new authority site, and you want it to rank for its main keyword. You believe it will also get many long-tail searches. How should you go about building the content? That journey starts with proper keyword research.

The idea is this -- every page on your website should rank for something very calculated and unique. If you're making a dog training site, for instance, writing 1000 articles on dog training (often reiterating the same concepts over and over) will do you no good at all -- even if every article passes copyscape. Every page on your site should be tailored to rank for a specific set of keywords that are extremely related to each other, and somewhat related to the main keyword of your authority site.

For instance, if your main keyword is "Dog Training", one article might be "Puppy Training". A similar keyword would be "Training Puppies" -- you would assign this keyword to the same page, because they are so similar that if you were to write a separate "Training Puppies" page, it would most likely compete with your "Puppy Training" article and vice versa. This is called content cannibilization. What would usually happen is one page would be favored and the other page would have been wasted effort, as it will never rank for its keyword.

How big do you want your authority site to be? If you want 100 pages, then you need a main keyword, along with 100 subsets of keyword combos that are highly related and organized onto 100 different pages. Your first page would focus on "Training Puppies" as a keyword, as well as "Puppy Training", and you would do well to include "How to Train Puppies" and all extremely similar keywords. That is for 1 page. Your second page will be another related topic, but distant enough to warrant its own page. For instance, "Dog Obedience" and "Dog Obedience Training" and "Obedience Training for Dogs" may be assigned to page 2, because they are similar to each other.

A 100 page authority site may entail some 300 main keywords if, on average, 3 keywords are assigned per page. You will also enjoy ranking for long tail keywords as well. As a rule, never write two pages on the exact same subject and shooting for the same keywords. An exception to that rule might be a "top 10" article, where you list the top 10 methods of dog training, and you end up writing paragraphs that cover the same concepts as you link to each of those 10 articles on your site which represent those keywords. This edifies your site, and this type of inter-linking between your articles is a good thing.


As mentioned in section 3, every page of your website should be targeting a unique set of keywords that are related to the entire theme of your site, but warrant their own page. On my sites, for the subpages, I like to target pages which focus on (a combined) 500 to 15k exact match keywords. When I say "combined", I mean if the singular of a keyword is 170, plurl is 170, and another keyword extremely similar is added to the page -- the total combined keywords are at least 500.

This of course is going to depend on your niche, and the difficult on getting traffic. On a product website, 500 is acceptable to me because the traffic I am shooting for has a certain value to it. If, on the other hand, I'm running a gossip website that is monetized with adsense, shooting for 500 exact keywords would be a huge waste of time. You have to decide what a certain type of traffic is worth, then decide how low of an exact match search you would go for that particular type of traffic.

Once you have selected the main keyword for your website, its time to start writing articles. What I like to do is write 10 articles and publish them at once. The reason I do this is that I can do my inter-linking as I'm editing them -- so if I'm writing a page about dog obedience, I can state in it "It is a good idea to start training your dog while they are still a puppy". I would hyperlink "while they are still a puppy" to my puppy training page.

This in-content linking is going to be one of the most important things you can do on your site. You should do it from between one and four times per article. Don't force it to happen -- do it where it seems natural to do. Every article you write is an opportunity for showcasing your previous articles. Every time you've written an article, it makes sense to go back to earlier articles and link to that new article (where it makes sense).

Keep in mind your keyword density as you write an article. Take into account the keywords that your theme automatically injects. If you are going for a 2% keyword density, and you know your theme starts a new page at .5% density because of all the keywords it automatically injects, then write an article that is 1.5% density.

Consider all the long tail searches that your page could qualify for. If you are writing about products, always include the words "buy", "for sale", "shop", "reviews" and "store" in your article at least once. Your page might be written for "fancy green widgets", and "buy fancy green widgets" might not even show up as having much volume in Keyword Planner -- but if you add in a little optimization for those terms your longtails will be as much, if not more than your main keyword set for that page.

After you have written and submitted your 10 articles, move on to other SEO tasks (write new articles, or write for a completely different site, etc). After 48 hours hopefully your new pages are indexed. Verify this with and see whether they are indexed. If you have written the articles properly, they should rank at least in the top 10 for your keyword + the unique phrase of your title (refer to section 2 above if they don't). If they don't, review the page for overoptimization, correct it and check it out again in another 48 hours.

As you begin your journey of building an authority site, you will be spending much of your time writing. However, by the time you have a 100+ page authority site, you should be spending much of your time grooming. Any page on your site that does not rank is dead weight, and is preventing the rest of your site from achieving what it otherwise could. If every page is ranking in the top 50 for its main keywords in the beginning, by the time you have 100 articles those "ranked 35" articles will become "ranked teens" articles through nothing else but the strength of internal backlinks. You'll have many top 10 articles at this point.

If you build a website like this, it will rank and do well with no backlinks. It is an excellent challenge to groom your site with no promotion work, just to make sure it is lean, mean and efficient -- without having to judge external factors (such as how backlinks are effecting your site structure).

Now it is time to promote your site. (Actually you could start promoting from day 1 if you prefer). I only suggest waiting to get your backlinks after you know how to properly structure your site, and after you know how to write articles that are not overoptimized.


You know how sometimes you search in Google and see an author's picture show up beside their website? You need to do that. Its easy to do, just Google "how to set up Google authorship for my blog" and follow the instructions. Make a pseudoname for it and use a picture who you think your target audience will respond well to.

Next, integrate links to Facebook, Google+, Twitter and other popular social sharing on your site if you reasonably expect your audience would respond to it. If you're writing about the best vacuum cleaners -- just do the Google+ and Facebook like buttons (we're going to fake it til we make it).

Just go easy with it. You don't need thousands. You don't need hundreds. Slow but steady, get some legitimate or faked Google+/Facebook likes and retweets. I make my own accounts for this, I don't buy them -- you can if you want (I like to have 100% control of everything going on with my project).

I'm not an expert in this area -- I know slow but steady works for me. I don't know if blazing a billion hits/likes that were purchased works or not. I have a personal phobia since panda/penguin of overdoing stuff like that and I haven't even tried it out. If you feel confident and have prior experience buying 1000s of links, then you know its ok. If you don't know, just stick to adding them slowly over time and you will be fine.

Each of the social accounts that you create, fill out their profiles fully. Make a Gravatar for them. These accounts will be the only ones commenting on your site to begin with. These will comment, using a backlink to their Google+ profile in the "website" field as you submit their comments on your site. You will respond to their comments. Over time, your articles will completely fill out at the bottom with real-looking comments from people with real-looking Google+ identities. Make it sound natural and keep the comments relevant to your article. This gives a signal of social participation to Google -- I can only guess that it makes a big difference. I believe it helps rankings.


Promoting your site with backlinks is a big deal. There are two main methods of doing this, and many, many bad ways of doing this. The two main ways are high quality web2.0s and blog networks. When I say high quality web2.0s, I mean the web2.0 itself is quality (a highly indexed, high mozrank, high pagerank, high quality website like blogger, wordpress, etc. and NOT like, and quality content on your subdomain of that high quality web2.0. Write quality, unique articles for each one.

There's a reason for this. If you really are building an authority site, you have to cover your tracks. You have to be at least 1 step away from crap signals. This is for Google's algorithm. This is for potential future buyers of your authority site. The last thing you need is to hit 100k uniques per month from Google in a competitive niche, and they initiate a manual review of your site to see whether you deserve that kind of traffic. If that happens, you don't want the manual reviewer to view your backlinks as obvious spun, low quality content and have half of your links devalued. Does Google do that? I don't know that they do. I don't know that they don't. You don't know that they do or don't either. Maybe they have an algorithm that does it. Who knows -- but you don't need to lose it all just because you wanted to spin 100 articles instead of hand-write them on your first tier.

Again, this is for a site you want to last a long while. This is not a churn-and-burn setup you're making. Do people have success with spun content? Absolutely. Do people get dinged up when Google comes out with algorithm updates? Absolutely. Invest in a quality fist tier of backlinks. If you want to introduce spins, low quality content, lower quality links ... that is what the first tier is for, to act as a buffer between low quality and your money site.

Which web2.0s should you use? If you all remember, I used to maintain a list of over 100 web2.0s here. Sometime soon I will be posting another mega thread that has all the greatest web2.0s you can post to.

What about blog networks? They're powerful. They can also be dangerous. There are various public, semi-public and private blog networks available to choose from. Google loves to infiltrate them, if they can. Your site can receive penalties if Google figures out that you have links from a blog network.

There are various levels of risk when dealing with blog networks. The risk assessment goes a little something like this:

Blog network that advertises itself on blackhat forums and generates backlink reports: 100% threat
Blog network that advertises itself on blackhat forums and doesn't generate backlink reports: somewhat threat
Blog network that advertises itself on blackhat forums, but has limited signup and closes when full: limited threat
Blog network that barely advertises itself, except through word of mouth: virtually no threat
Blog network that you own yourself: no threat

All of these blog networks are built off of expired domains. These expired domains never truly expire, their registrar holds them so they cannot be re-registered and puts them up for auction. These blog networks, or you, can buy these expired domains, add them to your website inventory -- and their original registration age stays the same (if it was an 8 year old domain, it is still 8 years old).

These domains have various statistics that Google loves. Its not all about PR, though PR is one of the great benefits these blogs can pass along. Other metrics are domain authority and page authority (da/pa). These domains have extremely diverse backlink portfolios and as such, Google gives their outbound links far more credit than they would give a freshly-registered domain.

I'm going to say something now, which is true, but I'm also saying it to appease all the blog network guys here on BHW. You can find a ton of backlink packages available from blog networks available in the buy/sell section. They all have value. All links have value, even the crappy ones you can get from GSA/nohands SEO. The question is, whether you want those crappy links pointing to your money site, or your tier 1 buffer sites. I'm not knocking anyone's blog networks here -- all links have their value.

If you are shopping for blog network links that point directly to your money site -- be cautious. Find blog networks that promote themselves as limited availability -- these are small enough that Google probably wouldn't bother trying to crack in. If a blog network is highly public (sorry but I'm pointing at you now high PR society), those links have a risk, so if you want to take advantage of their links, point those at your high quality Tier 1 blogs on the high quality web2.0s (not directly to your money site).

The holy grail of backlinks is owning your own high PR blog network. I've worked with a lot of SEO companies, as well as my own network, and this has no risk. I can't imagine how Google could, or would, ever do anything about a well designed private blog network. Of course you will want to cover your tracks by eliminating footprints and proper hosting.

In a future article I'll be writing everything there is to know about creating your own high PR blog network.

I'm going to claim this article here and link to my blog. Reason I'm doing this is to help DMCA takedown any idiots who are bound to copy/paste this guide and claim it as their own.

so each article I write should automatically be ranking the top 10 two days after I write it?
so each article I write should automatically be ranking the top 10 two days after I write it?

Yes, and no.

After you write it, it should rank within the top 100 if it is well written, for your desired keyword.

However, if you've added additional words to the title as instructed, you should rank for your full title, or the unique words in your title, in the top 10 within 48 hours, correct.
ah ok that makes a little more sense - cheers
Good information, wish you posted this before, it packs a lot of the things I learned in the past few weeks nicely into one solid post. I just want to ask, if I have volunteer writers would it still be smart to remove the author pages, since now they actually have use? And secondly you say every post that doesn't rank is dead weight, but what about the reader's pleasure, I could have written a post on something very interesting, but too competitive, however, if the reader is already on my website he can still see it, read it, share it, and increase the quality of the website in his eyes?
Good information, wish you posted this before, it packs a lot of the things I learned in the past few weeks nicely into one solid post. I just want to ask, if I have volunteer writers would it still be smart to remove the author pages, since now they actually have use? And secondly you say every post that doesn't rank is dead weight, but what about the reader's pleasure, I could have written a post on something very interesting, but too competitive, however, if the reader is already on my website he can still see it, read it, share it, and increase the quality of the website in his eyes?

Author pages are useless. If your site has the proper architecture, Google doesn't need a dozen different ways to find a post. Those excerpts will compete with your homepage for ranking, and Google considers it duplicate content.

I write articles that are too competitive too. If you write well, your article should rank in the top 200 under nothing but the weight of your own internal backlinks -- unless its something like "payday loans". Even so, write the article. As long as the article isn't penalized, you're fine. If you were to write an article "payday loans that even a monkey qualifies for", your article should rank for "payday loan monkey qualify". If it does, the article is fine (even if it can't rank right now). Even if it doesn't rank for "payday loans" in the top 200 ... that's still fine. Just as long as the article isn't penalized, and just as long as that article doesn't directly compete with another article on your website.

I have articles I write that I know I may not rank for until my site ages a bit -- and that's fine. Just make sure they're not penalized.
thanks! I needed this! :p
Can you free up your inbox? its full, so i cant pm you

Ah, yeah. Seems I just lost my Jr. VIP subscription and my paypal is empty at the moment ... that seems to have reduced my message box. Got to wait until I get an affiliate payment in to resubscribe lol. My skype is phpbuilt
Long time no see former neighbor. Happy to hear you weathered the storms well. Great post, very thorough and rock solid advice there. Thanks for taking the time to type it all up.
Just wondering how we would know if a post was "penalized" and whether or not we should remove it?
Happy to see some quality content coming in BHW. Well done! Rly helpful
Just wondering how we would know if a post was "penalized" and whether or not we should remove it?

There's a whole section about how to know if your article is penalized and whether you should remove it, check section #2 again.
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