What is link building?
A crucial part of any SEO campaign, link building is the process of obtaining links from an external source which points to your own website. These links, or hyperlinks’ provide clear pathways across the rambling maze of the world wide web, enabling both search engines and users to visit your website and get it on the search results map.
Why are links important?
No website is an island; The entire world wide web is a mass of interconnecting pages and platforms which uses links to encourage us to navigate it in a certain way. If you look at any piece of online content, you will see that it is strewn with link invitations to different pages and websites. The first webmaster-mind to realise the significance of these links was Google.
In the late 1990s, Google’s founders worked out that when content publishers used links within their work, they were doing so because they felt that the link pointed to something worth referencing. From this point on, links became treated as a vote of confidence, signposting a valuable resource. Google began to measure a page’s authority and popularity using links, and then ranking these pages in search accordingly. This revolution enabled the search engine to offer a far superior service, and it has dominated web search ever since.
Today, search engines have adapted and refined their algorithms to make sure that the links, which still act as votes of confidence, are genuine and organic. Any links which have obviously been begged, bought or badly placed are likely to be striped of their worth (no benefits for website rank or authority), or trigger a search engine penalty (website rank and authority would be decreased).
Google puts user experience first, and when its algorithms are manipulated by webmasters, it becomes much harder to deliver high quality search results and a positive user experience. Thus, a manipulative link which does not provide an accurate reflection of the page’s true popularity or quality, would enable poor quality sites to appear in search, unless removed with a penalty.
So how does Link building work?
If Google only takes notice of organic links, how can a link building campaign make any difference to a website’s position in rank? Well, it takes a bit of know how.
The purpose of a good link building campaign is to acquire links from a selection of well respected websites, and to do so in a way which is in keeping with Google’s ambition to enhance user experience. The focus for SEO campaigns is, therefore, to craft content which provides a natural bed for links.
Website designers, copywriters and technical perfectionists all start work to bring the client website up to speed, creating an appealing, informative resource that potential platforms would want to link to. Once we’ve mastered this, the link building work can begin in earnest.
Although no two campaigns should be the same, in this guide we are going to introduce the key components of a link building, and familiarise you will a lot of handy terminology. First, let’s look at the different type of link a business can may acquire over the course of a link building campaign: manual outreach, non-editorial, and organic links.
Manual outreach links
SEO involves a lot of hussle, especially in the early stages of a campaign. All website curators want their content to get noticed, shared and linked to. To do this, it’s important to have a digital marketing strategy which covers manual outreach.
Digital content marketers spend a lot of time identifying and liaising with bloggers, editors and content curators that could provide a link which would be particularly beneficial to a client’s site. A strategy to win these potential link platforms over, and build a relationship that will yield links, can then devised and implemented.
One important SEO rule in link building is quality over quantity. Search engines know the difference between an established news site and a small, seldom updated blog
Self generated non-editorial links
Most digital marketing agencies will pursue editorial links, those which feature within an article or online copy. These links often look more organic, appear on higher authority sites, and have higher levels of user engagement, ie traffic.
However, non-editorial links can be pursued by business outside of their SEO campaign. Directories, strategically placed press releases and user profiles on external sites are just a few examples of self generated link build techniques.
It’s incredibly important to consult your SEO agency before actively pursuing any non-editorial links. They will be able to advise you and steer you away from major pitfalls such as spammy directories and comment sections which can prompt search engine penalties.
These are perhaps the most vindicating links of all; they are a strong indication of a successful SEO campaign. Once a site becomes an established producer of outstanding content, or becomes a high profile company thanks to increased visibility in search, it’s only natural that people are going to start linking to your website of their own accord. These are known as organic or natural links. They’re not sought out within an SEO campaign, but occur as a result of a strong digital marketing campaign. All you need to secure them is high quality content.
Measuring how much a link is worth
Search engines work incredibly hard to keep themselves partially shrouded in mystery, especially in regard to their algorithms. We can’t pretend to fully understand the way links are currently being measured, but after tireless scrutiny, there are some search trends which provide a good indication.
This is what we think we know about ticking Google’s boxes and creating a good link building campaign:
The platform on which a is published
High authority and relevant sites are better
As you are probably coming to realise, not all links are equal. As in voting systems beyond the web, if a vote of confidence comes from an untrusted source, it is going to be thought of as less reliable and therefore less valuable. It has therefore been important for search engines, such as Google, to develop ways to measure how trustworthy a site is, in order to calculate the value of its outreaching links.
It’s pretty easy to understand why a website with a huge audience and a trusted reputation, such as the BBC news, would be a much more desirable link platform than a low status blog with a small following.
This has to do with trust metrics, measured across all search engines with their own algorithms, for Yahoo it is TrustRank and Google uses PageRank. Trusted pages, such as news, .gov and .edu pages are known as ‘seed pages’, pages with direct links from seed pages are more closely associated with their trust and authority, and are attributed these qualities by search engines. The more tenuous the link connection to these seed pages, the weaker the association and the site will have less trust attributed.
While digital marketing strategists will always keep an eye on high authority platforms, it’s also important to recognise that the relevance of the linking platform can play a huge part in determining the worth of the inbound links to your website. A successful link building strategy will pursue links from lower authority sites within the same or related field as the client site.
New platforms are worth more
One is silver and the other is gold, but in SEO an already established connection can be less valuable than a link from a new platform (websites that haven’t linked to you before). Once an SEO campaign has established a link building relationship between a client website and an external platform, this valuable connection should be preserved for future link building opportunities. However, becoming complacent and only requesting links from the same pool of connections will make for a less successful campaign.
Finding new contacts and obtaining links from new, trustworthy sites are important ongoing processes. These fresh links can push a site up in search results, attracting a higher volume of traffic and encouraging links to occur completely organically, outside of the link building campaign.
Internal < external
Webmasters often want the SEO benefits they receive from one link to be spread throughout their domain, not just to accumulate on the linked to page—the landing page. One way to do this is to link from that landing page to another page within the same domain (this is something you may have spotted us doing in our guides to make sure these marvellous insights into the world of SEO aren’t missed).
This is an effective method for spreading authority and rank throughout a website, but it’s thought that Google doesn’t measure these internal links in the same way it does external links. While digital marketing agencies will focus more heavily on obtaining external links, a website should have both internal and external links to maximise its ranking potential.
Avoid sites with spam links
As mentioned in the section above, Trustrank contributes towards determining page authority by analysing proximity to spam. Websites link to or receive a lot of links from spammy sites are not desirable link build locations. By establishing connections with these sites your move closer to them and further from high authority seed pages which will be highly detrimental to your position
Where A Link Appears In Text
The higher the better
If a link to a site appears early on within a piece of content, search engines tend to attribute it more value than links appearing further down the page.
In-text beats sidebar
Link building campaigns aim to get a link within the main body of text rather than in the sidebar or page header. Spammy, unnatural links or advertisements (those that have been bought or acquired through manipulative linking schemes) are much more likely to be found in these border locations, Google is therefore wary and views links outside of the main content as less valuable.
Also known as the link title, anchor text is the clickable words that contain the link. It should be made up of words which give an indication of what the site they are linking to is about. For example, a seaside hotel would be linked to with keywords such as ‘beach hotel’ or ‘coastal holidays’.
Google takes notes of these keywords so that when users search for these terms or phrases, relevant websites are more likely to appear. Choice of anchor text is therefore very important. If there is no relationship between the site and link title it may be treated like spam.
Recently, Google has also started to look at the text surrounding the link title to glean further clues about themes and relevancy.