For a lot of people, link building is a hard earned win.
It takes research, planning, lots of work and, most importantly, plenty of perseverance! It’s also considered one of the most important factors that Google uses when deciding how high up the results page it should rank your page.
The advice many experts will give you is to create amazing content that people want to link to. Google themselves offer this as their guideline to gaining backlinks:
“The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community.”
However, this ‘if you build it, they will come’ strategy is of little help to those just trying to get their site or brand name off the ground. You might also find yourself faced with something of a minefield, as Google hands out penalties to those who it sees as violating its link building guidelines.
To help out those embarking on an SEO link building strategy for the first time, we’ve put together a brief guide on what you need to know about the do’s and don’ts of link building…
1. Prioritise research
Research is fundamental to a link building strategy. If you are looking to build new links, you want to make sure you are getting placed somewhere that is relevant, trustworthy and valuable to your target audience. The only way to guarantee this is to dedicate some time to research.
There are a few key things to think about before you begin to start creating your content.
You need to:
- Know your audience
- Identify the websites they visit
- Take a look at what type of content these sites publish
- Find writers for these sites who you think would be interested in your content
Taking the time to go through these steps should be a priority. If you don’t, your link building strategy will be more like firing shots in the dark. It is essential to get some grounding and foresight into what you are creating and where it will be going. Try and get an idea of what has been linked to in the past and think up an idea you think will genuinely get their interest.
Outreaching to journalists or bloggers before you’ve started to create your content is a good way to put some feelers out into the world. Once you have found somebody who you think it would be beneficial to pitch to, ask them if they would be interested in your idea or if they need any help with future articles. You never know what insights they could reply with.
2. Analyse the Competition
As with any digital marketing strategy, seeing what your competitors are up to is a wise plan. When it comes to link building, it can also provide some leads for you to follow that are much more likely to pay off than a ‘cold calling’ practice.
Using software such as Ahrefs, you check up on similar sites to see where their inbound links are coming from. This can provide you with a goldmine of link building possibilities and ideas!
If you find your competitors on any lists, reach out to see if you can be placed on them, too. Take a look at where your competitors have written guest posts and see if there is potential to do the same, only better. If your competitors have been mentioned on news or magazine sites, find out which authors published the story and pitch them a new one. Found a broken link pointing to your competitor? Swoop in and send the site one of yours to replace it with!
Your competitors are the ones you are trying to outrank in the SERPs, so if they have more, better quality backlinks than you, this is a sign that you need to ramp up your link building strategy to overtake them.
3. Put Quality Over Quantity
If you have noticed your competitors have seriously outdone you with link building, it can be tempting to want to go pedal to the metal and reap as many new links as possible – stop right there.
It is important that you learn to prioritise the quality of a backlink over the quantity. While setting yourself a target can be helpful, aiming for a set number of links regardless of quality will backfire on you. Get into the habit of being selective about the links you chose to build.
Reciprocal links are a common practice for link building, but are a perfect example of knowing when to put the brakes on. Reciprocal links are ok when they provide the users of both sites with valuable, relevant information. If, on the other hand, you have a number of reciprocal links from only totally unrelated sites, this will do you more harm than good.
Think of them as guests at a dinner party. Which is better: a handful of guests who bring you a bottle of wine and who share great conversation with you? Or a hoard who have no interest in what you have to say and bring literally nothing to the table?
4. Find a Tactic That Works for You
There is an endless supply of tactics and processes for link building. One quick Google search will bring enough ‘tips’ to drown you in advice for weeks. However, as with most things in life, what works for one may not work for another. Try not to get too bogged down in what the experts do, but instead try and identify what your site currently needs most to get on track.
For example, if you have lots of broken backlinks, a good starting point is to go about fixing these first. If you already have some great content on your site that hasn’t been linked to, see if you can outreach it as a starting point.
If you are very active in your local community, this could already be providing some great PR opportunities; if you sponsor local events, charities or teams, see if you are linked on their websites, too. Be creative about how you can make the most of any opportunity.
One of the golden rules of digital marketing is to learn from your mistakes and successes. If the way you are going about building your links isn’t working, take a step back and see if there is a better way to go about things.
1. Use Shady Tactics
This is link building 101 and should go without saying for any digital marketing strategy: tricking search engines is very risky business.
It’s common knowledge that before Google’s Penguin update, there was plenty of shifty link building practices going on, the most common probably being paying for links. After a series of hefty penalties were handed out to the worst offenders, it became clear that Google can, and will, catch you out cheating its guidelines.
Nevertheless, there are still sites that will offer you a link in exchange for money. This is rarely a good idea, even if they seem legit. If this website is offering links to a large number of other unrelated sites, you could end up being penalised, no matter how good your intentions were.
2. Act Unnaturally
This point can be boiled down to how you perceive your link building strategy. If you go into it with the mindset of ‘links by any means’, you are approaching it dangerously. Link building should be seen as a natural part of your digital marketing strategy that benefits not only your site authority, but your brand too.
For example, if you are writing a guest post, there should hopefully be a natural cohesion between both your sites. It’s ok to widen your topic within reason; if your website is about garden supplies, writing for a bird watching blog could be a good idea.
If, however, your site is on pet supplies, it wouldn’t make much sense for you to have a backlink from a mechanic’s website. A guest post should benefit the readers of sites – your goal is to be of value to real people, not just to get a tick off a search engine.
You also shouldn’t stuff your post with keywords. You wouldn’t do this on your own site, so don’t do it on a guest post. Not only will this yet again make your brand look untrustworthy, but Google could easily pick up on it and send you a penalty.
Similarly, posting irrelevant links on forums or message boards looks spammy because it is spammy. Again, you should only do this if it is naturally beneficial to readers to do so.
3. Disregard NoFollow Links
Whether nofollow links are worth the time of your link building strategy is often a contested point.
On the one hand, in theory they don’t offer any direct boost in your site ranking. Since nofollow links were designed to put a stop to the practice of buying spam links to unfairly increase authority, this makes sense.
However, this doesn’t mean you should disregard nofollow links which have other benefits to your site. If you have a link placed a page that is relevant, beneficial to your brand, gets lots of traffic and helps increase sales, why would you say no? The number of factors Google takes into account when ranking a page is basically unknown, so gaining links by fair practice can only do more good than harm.
4. Stop After One Link
Your hard work has finally paid off! You’ve got a great followed link on a trustworthy, relevant site that is sure to send plenty of new traffic your way.
Unfortunately, though, the job of link building is never done! While you can enjoy seeing your hard work paid off, you need to make sure you have a strong number of links that push you to the top of your game.
It’s also a good idea to keep a mixed bag of links. For example, reciprocal links are ok when done in moderation, but you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket. Try and spread your links around a bit to make sure you have a few bases covered. It’s also good to try and get links to a range of your site’s pages. If a lot are going straight to your homepage, try and build some links to category pages, blogs or landing pages – easier said than done, we know!
At the same time, don’t be tempted to go overboard. As we said before, quality over quantity is good advice for link building. No backlink is often better than a bad backlink.
Link building is an important part of an SEO strategy. However, it’s important to not get too hung up on the number of backlinks you are accumulating. Remember to focus on quality rather than quantity and other ways links benefit your site, such as brand affinity, increased traffic and awareness.
There are other ways that you can improve your site, too. Making sure it’s fast, has a great user experience and answers search queries effectively are all just as important. Link building is a long term strategy, so don’t let it take your eye off the ball of other important matters that also need your attention.
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