Link building 101

Many factors determine which keywords a website ranks for and in what positions on search engine results pages (SERPs). On-page factors such as the actual text, images and other content found on the webpage, and how that information is organized and coded, play a big part in rankings. This is often referred to as ‘on page SEO’. Off-page SEO mainly consists of backlink building and local SEO tactics such as ‘citation building’.

Link building refers to a strategy in which contact is made with hundreds or thousands of websites in an industry, with the intention of collaboration with that site resulting in a link to another website. The purpose is to build up the number of links coming from authoritative websites in the client’s industry and pointing to the client’s own site. 

In this way, a link can be looked at as a vote, or vouch, by other industry sites. These votes add up, and depending on where and how the links are placed, they often have an effect of improving the amount of keywords, keyword rankings, authority scores, and organic search traffic. Naturally, these become great key performance indicators (KPIs) to track progress in a SEO campaign.

Awesome SEO KPIs

  • Number of keywords ranked for in Google
    This is the number of keywords a website ranks for in Google’s top 10 pages (or top 100 results.
  • Keyword rankings
    This is the position a particular keyword ranks for in Google for a given website.
  • Authority scores
    These are often referred to as DR(Domain Rating) or DA(Domain Authority) and reveal the strength of a target website’s backlink profile)
  • Organic search traffic
    This is really the ultimate goal of any SEO campaign – improving the number of visitors a website gets from natural search results, and targeted traffic with the proper user intent.

How long before seeing results?

Although the above KPIs are great to track progress, it can take up to 2-3 months from the time a link is built before it starts to really help. And it usually takes a lot more than 1 link.

Not every link is equal.

When determining how qualified a potential backlink source is, it’s often good to start with the KPIs mentioned above. Ahrefs, a popular SEO tool, will reveal the amount of keywords (KW) search traffic (ST) and domain rating (DR) a website currently has. Next, it’s important to check for known spam issues, often revealed by:

  • Toxicity scores
    These are scores that generally reveal whether or not a site has known spam sites currently linking to them. These are usually either the Moz spam score or a toxicity score from SEM Rush
  • Sniff test
    A visual inspection of the site. Are there hundreds of external links on a given page? Do they talk about selling placements on the site? Is there an editorial process?

Types of Links

There are various links types. This is a good topic for discussion at the beginning of a backlink project. Knowing which types of links are preferred by the client will allow the link builder to target better prospect websites. It will also affect the nature of the pitch within the email outreach copy.

1. Resource Links

Resource links come in many formats but generally consist of a topic-related list of websites. A great place to find high quality resource links are on college .edu websites. Specific industry sites may contain pages of additional resources and information. Links pages on authoritative sites are often carefully selected from a long list of options. For this reason, and from the authoritative nature of many .edu websites, it’s recommended to try to obtain these types of links.

2. Sponsored Content

This is one of the most common forms of digital advertising outside of pay-per-click and social media marketing. While it’s true that sometimes websites talk about other businesses organically, often the reason they were brought up is that someone was paid. 

The easiest way to gain backlinks is through sponsored content. This is because many website owners pay the bills with proceeds from their sites, and when you are looking to pay the close rate tends to increase!

3. Content Upgrades

Content upgrades are when there is a great opportunity for on a web page to include additional information that will result in a link. Often it’s simply asking that a link be added because of the additional benefit and insight gained from the information it would link to.

4. Lists/Listicles

Lists come in many forms but often take a familiar form such as “Top ten places to go for vacation in Florida” or “Best SIP trunk providers”. 

5. Authoritative Industry Directories

It’s generally best practice to generally stay away from directory links. However there are authoritative directories in various industries that can improve SEO. 

Gaining links from general directories is almost never a good idea, unless it’s very authoritative like Yellowpages.com. In that case it’s safe but generally not too helpful.

6. Unlinked Mentions

Whenever a website mentions a brand but doesn’t link to their site, that opportunity is referred to an unlinked mention. Simply reaching out to these websites and asking for the link can result in many gained links.

7. Broken link building

Finding broken links on a site, and recommending replacements, can result in great links. The close rate tends to increase with this link type, since it’s very helpful to webmasters.

8. Guest Posting

Guest posting is very similar to sponsored content, except there is no fee paid to the website for editorial review, publisher’s fee, editing fee or anything else. Just content is provided, generally in the form of an article, and often a backlink is included in the article.

Types of Links to Stay Away From

Reciprocal links

More popular pre-2005, which was when Google stopped assigning value to this type of link, reciprocal links are a result of collaboration between two different websites. All you need is for Site A and Site B to agree to help each other out by including links to the other person’s website. It’s even possible to set up reciprocal links using link exchange directories; however, search engines won’t increase a site’s SEO ranking on the strength of these links. 

Forum links

Think of this as a phone book, but for websites. Instead of being listed alphabetically, however, websites are sorted by category first. Certain directories will list websites for free, while others charge per listing. 

Comment links

Comment links are found in the “comments” section of a blog or website. The user often inputs a web address to result in a high spam backlink. Stay away from these type of links!

Non-Industry related sites

Stay away from links from websites that are not related to your industry. It’s not natural and doesn’t provide much context when a random link pops up from a non-related web page/site.

Anyone can build tons of links from non-industry related sites. The best backlink builders will only build links from pre-approved, high quality websites in or closely related to the industry of their client.

Dude, is that even in my industry?

If a luxury lifestyle blog is linking to a pizza shop, the link probably won’t help much at all. The relevance would be off, and relevance is a major factor in qualifying link opportunities. 

Black Hat vs. White Hat Link Building

Before preventative measures like Google’s Penguin algorithm had been developed, black hat link-builders were able to use all kinds of shady techniques to artificially bloat websites’ SEO rankings. A common method was to create a host of websites whose only purpose was to provide links to the main site. Since everything comes from the same source in this scenario, the practice is seen as manipulative and unfair – especially to the sites that are building up their SEO organically. 

Black hat methods can even be used to damage the SEO ranking of other websites, a practice called “negative SEO”. 

These black hat practices aren’t just used by smaller entities trying to get a leg up; quite a few big companies like BMW, Overstock.com, JCPenney, and Forbes have been penalized for their spammy link-building practices. 

Once Google’s Penguin algorithm started regulating the way link building affected SEO, these methods became much less successful. The algorithm was specifically designed to identify these “bad” links, and make sure they didn’t add to any site’s ranking. Every link that had the characteristics of coming from a link-building scheme was taken out of the mix; the new priority was quality, not quantity. 

White hat practices, on the other hand, take more work and add more value than any of the black hat methods. These types of links are in line with search engine guidelines, and provide steady SEO improvement rather than sudden, unsustainable rates of growth. Not only do they contribute to the status of websites, but they also ensure a better online environment by mitigating spam and meaningless websites. 

Good SEO helps Google to crawl and understand the content found on web pages. The best SEOs know how to be rewarded by Google by doing things that Google sees as natural and white hat.

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