Brian Dean, one of the few people deserving of the title SEO guru, has identified 209 unique factors that influence your SEO rankings. There’s your web copy, blog posts, meta descriptions, backlink profile, click through rate, social media reach, and so much, much more. But when ranking those ranking factors, backlinks are at the top of the list. Without a high quality backlink profile, your SEO strategy is going to be incomplete.
That’s why businesses need to devote time and effort to quality, white-hat link building. In today’s post, we’ll discuss modern link building and backlinks at length, as well as some of the best practices for acquiring high quality link placements.
What are backlinks?
Let’s start with the basics: what is a backlink?
A backlink refers to when another website publishes a hyperlink back to your site. These links may be totally unsolicited (i.e., when a blogger happens upon your site and wants to tell their readers about one of your products) or they may be the product of a link exchange or other agreement (i.e., when a website owner agrees to include a link to your site website in exchange for a social media post linking to their website). In general those kinds of link exchanges are frowned upon by the almighty Google, but that’s just one way to get backlinks to your site.
Here are a few more important terms:
- Referring Domain: the website that is linking to your website
- Link Juice: an SEO term that refers to the overall value of a particular link
- Backlink Profile: the sum total of the backlinks and referring domains connected to a particular website
Why do these links matter?
A backlink passes “link juice” from the site on which it’s published to the site to which the link navigates. Basically, this signals to Google that the website publishing the link is endorsing your site in some way. When websites link back to yours, they’re telling search engines that your site is awesome. And when you get enough of these links, Google may start to see your site, or even a particular page on your website, as worthy of higher ranking. Plus, having a greater number of links that come back to your site will increase your traffic when Internet users choose to click.
Are all links created equally?
Not at all! You might assume that the best strategy is to secure every possible backlink you can. But that tactic can really backfire. While the number of backlinks you have does indicate your site’s relevance or importance, it’s not all about quantity. Since Google doesn’t give equal weight to every website that exists on the Internet, it’s not going to treat all of these links as equally valuable.
For example, obtaining 100 spammy links from irrelevant or bare bones sites probably won’t do you any favors. It’s a tactic that might have worked at one point, but Google has taken steps to ensure that websites aren’t able to increase their rankings this way. It’s a way of trying to cheat the system — and Google doesn’t like that. In fact, they could penalize you for banned link building practices.
What Google does like to see is a good number of links to your site from others that are pertinent to your industry and the information already on your site. Ideally, these links should be from websites that already rank well. Because these sites are in good standing with Google, they have more authority to say, “Hey, we think this website is pretty great!” Google will then take notice, which could result in a better search ranking for your site. The richer your backlink profile, the better.
What is link building?
Simply put, link building refers to the process of securing those coveted links from an independent site back to your own. While 45% of companies say content marketing is highly integrated with their SEO strategy, businesses also devote a great deal of their digital marketing and SEO services to link building. Since Google has actually said that backlinks are one of their top three factors for determining a website’s ranking, it’s no surprise that it’s now seen as an essential component of SEO. Link building is the means by which those links are placed.
How does link building work?
The basic foundation of SEO link building is to entice another website owner to place a link to your site somewhere on theirs. This can happen in a variety of ways, but it’s often done using a high-quality piece of content. By publishing great content that provides useful information, Google says you should be able to organically attract quality link placements.
Another popular form of link building involves guest blogging. By offering a publisher, blogger, or influencer a piece of unique content, they’ll often allow you to place a link back to your site — thereby passing on link juice and signaling to Google that they feel you’re a reputable and relevant resource.
What kinds of content may be used for link building?
Your link building content should be an especially high-caliber piece. It’s typically lengthier than a basic blog post and will often contain visual elements, too. Examples may include guest blog posts, infographics, how-to guides, videos, white papers, case studies, data analyses and surveys, e-books, interviews, long-form guides, interactive assets, and more. Typically, these pieces of content are more in-depth; they may be chock full of information, contain appealing visuals, and may potentially be able to go viral (or at least be shared on popular platforms).
What are the best practices to use for link building?
While Google and other search engines frown upon paid link building, this is the foundation upon which the modern SEO industry is built. Of course, paid link building is a broad term, which includes both super sketchy, black-hat techniques as well as white-hat content marketing.
For instance, you can easily (and cheaply) buy 3,000 links on the dark web from Chinese hackers. On the other end of the spectrum, you could hire a local SEO agency to acquire links from relevant publishers using a high quality infographic. Google works hard to detect spammy, paid links. Again, this method is seen as trying to cheat the system. In days gone by, these sketchy, spammy links could lead to penalties against your site. Today, Google has said that it merely doesn’t count the links at all.
Because an unnatural backlink profile can raise suspicions with Google, it’s far better to focus on a more organic (and long-term) link building strategy.
So how do you get started?
First, you’ll want to create the piece of content you’ll pitch to link creators who can provide you with a link. This content should have a lot of appeal to website owners in particular; if they don’t find it enticing and useful, they probably won’t want to feature it. It obviously should involve your field of expertise, but it should also fulfill a need that another website owner (or their audience) might have.
Once you’ve created your content, you’ll need to find and contact those you feel might be interested in featuring it. Email and social media outreach is typically the preferred way to do this. You’ll need to conduct thorough research on website owners, bloggers, and/or journalists who might be likely to provide you with a link back to your site using this content. Their high-quality websites should be very active (i.e., they’re regularly updated) and relevant to your industry. They should also have a good domain rating and an active following (even on social media). In addition, you’ll need to make sure you can actually contact them via email, Twitter, or Facebook, as that’s how you’ll want to get in touch with them. Remember: you don’t want to seem overeager. Leaving repeated Instagram direct messages or leaving tons of comments on their blog is not a good strategy, as it looks spammy and will likely go ignored.
Once you’ve vetted these websites and located the owners’ contact information, you should send them a personalized message (read: don’t copy and paste the same email for everyone you contact!). Be sure to get their name right and to point out something specific on their site that resonated with you. Then, you can explain why the content you’ve written might be of interest to them. You can choose to include the web address where that content lives or implore them to contact you if they might want to feature the content on their site in exchange for a link back to yours. Keep it relatively simple and follow up if need be (without being pushy or annoying).
With any luck, one of the people you’ve contacted may be interested in learning more or may choose to feature the content you’ve developed on their site. Keep in mind that even if the content you’ve written is incredible, some bloggers and website owners just may not be interested in posting it — and that’s okay. This piece of your SEO strategy can take quite a bit of time and effort, which is why it’s a smart idea to work with a local SEO agency that can devote themselves to securing fantastic backlinks for you.
Remember that anything worthwhile takes time. Because backlinks are such an integral part of SEO, you can’t afford to neglect them. And now that you know a bit more about building a high quality backlink profile, you can get to work.
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