What is Link Building, And Why Should You Care?
What’s link building? Simply put, link building is the process of acquiring links from other pages to your own. Hyperlinks (usually just called links) connect one page to another via a click — they’re the most basic way that people move around the internet.
More importantly, they create a sort of network of interconnected pages, both within your site and between your website and others. Search engines don’t look at websites in isolation — they also consider all the pages that link to and are linked from a given page.
Link Building and SEO
First, it’s important to understand that search engines don’t see links the same way that you do. When we tell you to click here, all you’re seeing is the phrase “click here.” But what a search engine sees behind the scenes is much more complicated.
They’re seeing the anchor text (what you see) and the page to which the link directs. But they’re also seeing a potentially huge amount of extra HTML code that tells the search engine and the websites at both ends of the link where the link came from, which page it linked from, who clicked on it, and a host of other information.
Have you ever copied a link from Facebook Messenger or Amazon and noticed that it’s hundreds of characters long? All that information is useful to the pages involved and to the search engines crawling them.
Search engines use links to discover new pages (by following links) and to determine how well a page should rank in their results. From day one, Google’s PageRank system used links to help determine the quality of a page — if the page wasn’t any good, the thinking went, there wouldn’t be so many links pointing at it.
SEOs quickly learned how to exploit that system, so Google’s algorithms have become much more nuanced, but the fact remains that the number and quality of links pointing at a page are a big factor in how it shows up in search engines.
Best Practices for Link Building
Is That Link Worth It?
Consider the value of a link you’re pursuing. Almost every link will be at least a small bump to your search rankings, but is that all you’re getting out of it? Is it also going to add traffic to your site, or lend you some extra credibility or authority? Focus your attention on links that are going to help you in more than one area, and think about what your site needs the most.
Look for Unlinked Brand Mentions
Let’s say someone writes an article about the best inbound marketing agencies in Colorado, and they say lots of nice things about Madison Taylor Marketing. That phrase is in the article, and Google can find it, but it’s not helping us directly.
If you set up Google alerts or Twitter alerts for your brand name and find people talking you up but not linking, take the opportunity to contact them and ask for a link to your page. It’s a minimal edit at their end and it helps out your SEO a lot.
Find (and Fix) Broken Links
At some point in the past, someone may have linked to a page on your site that doesn’t exist any more, or has moved to a new URL so that the link no longer works. That’s not good — you’re losing traffic and SEO ranking. Broken internal links are even worse — you’ve frustrated a visitor who wants more information from you.
There are lots of free link checker tools out there as standalone software and as browser extensions. Take the time to run them on your site — some will even run on a schedule and email you a report — and make sure all your links are going somewhere relevant and helpful.
For incoming links that go to a page that no longer exists or has moved, you can ask the publisher to change the target of the link itself, but 301 redirects are also a great tool. Any time you change or move a site, a 301 redirect forwards links to the old page so you don’t lose any traffic or rankings.
A great way to get a link is to get people talking about you, and a great way to get people talking about you is to get involved in your community, whether local or online. Sponsor events, whether it’s a fundraiser or a trivia night. Partner with companies that share your values. Get your name out there and links will naturally follow.
Content, Content, Content
This is the simplest, if not the easiest, method to build links. You don’t need to ask or pay people to link to your site if they’re genuinely interested in the material you’re producing. That doesn’t mean that link-building isn’t useful — it certainly is. But you can take some of the emphasis off of link-building if you engage in a little link-earning instead. Keep focusing on great content and the links will come naturally.
Link-Building — What Not To Do
Don’t Tell People How To Link
Soliciting links from other websites is fine, but don’t tell them what anchor text — the visible portion of the link — to use. Their writing style is their own, and it looks very forced if you try to shoehorn in a particular corporate piece of copy.
Don’t Try To Hide Links
White links on a white background aren’t fooling anyone that matters anymore. Sure, it’s invisible on a page, but browsers and search engines can see right through that little trick and won’t give you any credit for them.
In fact, Google is starting to crack down on deceptive practices like unnecessary slideshow pages and keyword stuffing, so trying to hide your links might be actively hurting your SEO.
Don’t Abuse Guest Posts
Guest posts are great — you write about someone, they write about you, you both link to each other, we’re all one big happy family. But don’t just agree to a guest posting arrangement to get some extra traffic.
In recent years, Google has placed a lot of additional focus on related topics. If you search for inbound marketing, it takes notice of the fact that a lot of people who search for inbound marketing also search for content marketing, and it might show you content marketing pages as well.
What that means is that your best SEO strategy is to stick to what you know, and to show off your expertise in a few interconnected areas. If you’re going to do a guest post or allow one on your site, it should be just as timely, relevant, and useful as the content you post yourself. The extra links between your page and theirs is just an added bonus.