SEO is a totally different beast today than it was just a few years ago, and many would argue that link building is the aspect that’s suffered the biggest beating since then.
Yes, the process of link building today is nothing like how we did it in years past — but the qualities that make a good link have remained largely the same.
Amidst all the chatter of link building dying or content marketing replacing link building, we’ve forgotten the fundamentals. In terms of what actually makes a good link (and a good link-building tactic), it’s time to get back to basics.
Your Links Are Your Reputation
All it takes is one questionable action to ruin your personal reputation, and the same can be said for one shady link — especially since Google has lost all of its patience with spam and link manipulation.
Situate yourself in a good neighborhood of link sources, and Google will reward your good reputation (possibly with a good ranking). Do your potential link sources also have good backlinks? Do they link to reliable sources? Surround yourself with questionable crowds and, well, you know what happens.
Good Links Vs. Bad Links
Yes, I still look at Domain Authority and Linking Root Domains when evaluating potential sources for links. But determining a good link versus a bad link is more of a gut check than a number comparison. If it feels shady, it probably is. There are three key factors I look at to see how “good” this link would be for me:
- Credibility. Do you trust the source? Is their content engaging and educational? Does it have good grammar?
- Difficulty. How much time will it take to get this? The more valuable, the more difficult, — so before getting too far down the rabbit hole, consider your time investment against your overall marketing goals.
- Traffic. Will this link drive traffic to my site? That was the purpose of links long before Google had an algorithm, but it’s been forgotten by the allure of “link juice.” More often than not, the referrals will be more valuable than the “juice” to your rankings.
Internal Signals Matter
While the importance of exact-match anchor text is questioned due to the rise in co-occurrence, how you link between your own pages still gives strong signals to search engines about the hierarchy of your pages.
Before search engines ever decide where you rank, they crawl your site to determine your most important pages, and they do that through your internal linking structure. For more specifics, check out The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Internal Linking Strategy.
There Are Different Types Of Links
Links can typically fall into four types of categories:
- Organic. Links you get naturally from other sources that want to link to your content or company page. This falls under the “if you write good content, they will come” mantra.
- Outreach. Manually reaching out to bloggers, publishers or webmasters asking them to link to their site. This usually involves giving something of value to the source in question.
- Owned. Links you have created for yourself, through online profiles, forums or blog comments. Use with caution, as these are now starting to be heavily devalued.
- Social Shares. Not technically a link, but social shares on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter can influence search rankings.
A good link building strategy will encompass links from each category.
Start With Yourself And Your Competitors
The fundamentals of any good marketing strategy start with a competitive analysis, and that’s exactly where the start of your link-building campaign should take you. Using Open Site Explorer or a similar program, check the backlinks of your top competitors to see where they’re getting links and mimic those tactics.
Additionally, start with connections you already have before trying to build new relationships. Analyze your social media followers, your business partners and the sites already linking to you to uncover new opportunities. Run Fresh Web Explorer for brand mentions that don’t include a link, and search for your logo through Google Image search to find people who are using your logo but not linking to you.
Yes, these are basic philosophies, and some of you may shake your head at how rudimentary these tips are. But, the industry has gotten so wrapped up in “link building without guest posting” and “content is king” that we’ve become more focused on the content we produce than the links it could bring. Good content without links won’t get you anywhere.
What are some other link building fundamentals that we need to bring back?
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.