What Is Link Building & Why Is It Important?
Link building is the process of gaining ‘links’ from other websites to your own. A link (backlink or hyperlink) is a way for users to get from one site to another. Search engines use these links to crawl the web.
There are lots of different techniques for building links, some difficult, some spammy, some tedious and boring but, we’re fairly confident most SEO’s will agree link building is one of the harder parts of their job.
Backlinks are one of the strongest ranking factors, it’s what Google’s algorithm has been built around from the beginning. Through the years it has developed and changed a LOT, so be careful what you read online. The importance of high quality links has never been as high as it is now.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve just started learning about link building or if you’ve been doing it for a while, this guide contains some golden nuggets we’re sure you’ll love!
What links mean for Search Engines
There are two fundamental ways that the search engines use links:
- To discover new web pages
- To help determine how well a page should rank in their results
Once search engines crawl these websites they extract the content and add it to their indexes. So for example, Google will come along and view Serpinsights.io. Once they’ve landed on our page, they’re going to add this page to their index.
So when you go to Google and you type in SERP Insights, you’re not actually searching the web, you’re searching Google’s index of the web.
With this method they can rate pages based on their content, how many links point to the page and a 100+ other factors. The thought process is, the more links you have the better and higher quality a page is. Generally speaking, the more high-quality links you have, the more likely you are to rank well in search results.
Throughout this guide I will mention animal named updates. When I say something like “panda” or “penguin” I am referring to a major algorithm update released by Google.
Algorithm updates are quite common, Google’s always tweaking its algorithm but…if it receives an animal themed name it’s been a big change! These are the ones you need to worry about haha.
What’s a do-follow link?
Not all links are the same. Do-follow links allow Google to follow them and reach our website which in return will give your website “juice” and a backlink. If a webmaster uses a no-follow link, Google will still follow the link but this time it won’t pass any “juice”. Therefore, it won’t make your website any better.
Why would I use a no-follow link?
So webmasters will use a no-follow link when:
- They don’t want to pass value onto the site
- To deter spammers abusing features like comment sections etc.
- They are taking part in a sponsored post campaign. Google’s guidelines state any link paid for should be made no follow.
Websites that typically use no-follow on all links are forum posts, blog comments, Wiki pages, Answer Websites like Yahoo Answers and website users signatures. Really, any website where you can signup and post content freely will probably automatically set all links posted to no-follow.
By default, all links are do-follow links, you need to manually change them when creating the link.
Q: Is there a benefit of obtaining no-follow links?
A: This is a blog post in itself. There’s a lot of debate about this topic too. A lot of SEO’s believe there is a benefit to obtaining these links and Google released statements claiming there isn’t just to throw us off the scent.
Types of Links
So there’s quite a lot of different types of links but don’t let it overwhelm you. Why don’t we categorise them as Low Quality and High Quality to start with. Back in the day, SEO companies would regularly use techniques such as article submissions and directory listings. At the time those tactics weren’t thought to be risky if completed correctly. However, Google brought out the Penguin update which caused sites who utilised these tactics to take a massive hit.
Here’s what falls into the high quality section:
- Naturally gained editorial links
- Sponsored links with the no-follow tag
The following tactics are classed as low quality:
- Irrelevant links
- Porn / Gambling
- Any link from an unrelated and untrusted source.
How do I know if a website is low quality?
Links you gain naturally that fall into the low quality category can be disavowed but we will come to more on that later.
If you are building links you should take the following three steps to stay out of trouble. To avoid having any bad backlinks you should do a quick audit on any website you plan on building links on.
1. Look at the website
Bad backlinks could actually have great SEO metrics but that doesn’t really mean they’re going to be a good link for your website. One of the key things you should keep in mind when looking at links is relevancy. If it isn’t relevant to your website then it’ll probably be a bad backlink. If your website is about bikes but gets backlinks from a website that sells computers it won’t help you.
2. Look at how often they publish new content
If the site hasn’t got any recent posts or hasn’t changed in months it could be bad news. Personally I’d take this as a warning sign, the website could have a penalty which caused the owners to just give up. Even if that isn’t the case links from websites that are updated would in theory be considered higher quality.
3. Check if it’s indexed
Remember earlier I explained what indexing was? So if a website gets hit with a penalty, Google will remove their copy of your site from their index. To check if a sites indexed put site:domain.com into Google. If you get results the site is indexed.
“Natural” editorial links
This sort of link is the primary goal of every link builder these days. So, natural editorial links are links that you acquire naturally from other webmasters.
Here’s where it gets a bit more confusing again… there are two types of editorial links.
- Voluntary Editorial Links
- Requested Editorial Links
So a voluntary editorial link is a link that was found by a webmaster and they enjoyed it that much they found it so link-worthy they had to share your article in a post on their own website. THIS IS WHAT YOU’RE AFTER!
The second type is a requested editorial link. It’s an easier way of gaining editorial links. With this type you aim to push your content onto webmasters by interacting with them through social media or email in the hope that they loved your content so much they share it.
The only difference between the both of them is one method goes after attraction and the other is more proposition.
So why would people link to your content?
Well there are three reasons you need to keep in mind when thinking about your link building strategy. Webmasters will link to your content if:
- They found it useful or interesting. People tend to want to be the first in their circle to share content.
- People almost always like and share things they were mentioned in. Everyone loves to boast about a name drop!
- They have something to gain from doing so. i.e incentives like payment, badges etc.
Elements of a powerful link bait
Look, great content just isn’t enough these days to be ‘linkable’. There’s a lot of final polishing touches an article needs in order for it to be link bait. You need to have that little bit extra that catches a webmasters eye. It could be:
- Beautifully written content
- Sharp Images
- Strong headlines
- An unexpected hook!
Manual “outreach” link building
This is the most common type of backlink you will find in SEO. It’s a standard tactic that will yield you results every time. Essentially the process goes like this:
- Create a prospect list (a list of sites you want to contact)
- Contact everyone on that list and ask them to link to you (potentially provide them with content)
- Go through the responses
Self-created, non-editorial links
This sort of link is frowned upon in the industry as it can fall into what’s known as “black-hat”. So there’s three different types of SEO
- White-hat refers to any practice that improves your position on SERPS by following the guidelines provided by that search engine.
- Grey-hat techniques are SEO practices that fall into the “ill-defined” category. Essentially its techniques that some might disagree with but aren’t essentially written in black in white in your search engine’s guidelines.
- Black-hat tactics are methods of SEO that go against the terms of service provided by that search engine. So an example of a blackhat technique would be keyword stuffing or manipulative link building. Blackhat techniques are known to be incredibly effective but at the same time extremely risky because if your site is reported it could lead to being penalised and removed from SERPs.
So self created links generally carry less weight than other types of links. There are two reasons for this, the first reason is a self created link is much easier to get because they’re not editorially given and the second reason is black hat SEO guys used and abused this method of link building. So, since the Penguin update in 2012 this type of link has been devalued.
What falls into the self-created, non-editorial category?
- Unmoderated Blog Comments
- Press Releases with optimised anchor text
- Article Directories
- User Profile Pages
- Directories that aren’t moderated
Your SEO link building strategy should contain a mixture of different types of links but if you’re still unsure about what’s safe and what’s not I would recommend you avoid these types of links. Instead spend your time focussing on what will get you editorial links – it’s these links that will give you the most value anyway.
To build a natural link profile you should avoid using over-optimised anchor texts. Every link you have should be relevant in one way or another, you can use creative angles but if anything seems a little too far-fetched, it most likely is.
How to Build a Natural Link Profile
- Avoid over-optimised anchors (build out more Brand variations)
- Don’t do too many keyword rich anchors (especially if they don’t make sense when read)
- Avoid linking to the same target URL’s and link to other content assets like blogs and infographics
- Links in author boxes in volume suck. Links within the editorial flow of content look real
- Avoid repetitive link quantities, vary monthly and think about seasonal trends
- Avoid volume links like low quality web 2.0’s, directories and networks
- Vary your link type, get citations, blogger outreach links, links from infographic credits etc