Chapter 6: Link building & ranking in search engines
Here we get into the link building elements of the Periodic Table of SEO Factors. Links were the first major “off-page” ranking factor used by search engines. Google wasn’t the first search engine to count links as “votes,” but it was the first search engine to rely heavily on link analysis as a way to improve relevancy when it introduced PageRank (as in Google co-founder Larry Page) in 1998.
Links, along with content remain one of the most important external signals for Google’s search rankings. That said, much has evolved, including how links are interpreted and treated by search engines.
Links are not created equal. After all, the sites that link to you may vary in quality as well as relevance to your industry. A link from a news publication with a strong journalistic reputation is going to be more valuable than a link in the comments section of a blog that has nothing to do with your industry.
Links from trusted, quality websites and sites that are relevant and reputable within your industry are likely to carry more weight.
Sites have long used the nofollow link attribute, first on comments and then to flag sponsored or advertising-related links, to keep those links from being counted for rankings. Some publishers went as far as to nofollow all outbound links in their content to avoid the appearance of being involved in link schemes.
This meant that any nofollow backlinks to your site would not pass credit through to your site. Now, though, Google treats the nofollow link attribute as a “hint” for ranking purposes and nofollow links to your pages may be used for ranking signals.
Anchor text refers to the clickable text used in a hyperlink. It will typically be a different color (blue, most commonly) than normal text and underlined. Here’s an example: this anchor text links to the Periodic Table of SEO Factors. The words used in the anchor test are seen by search engines as the way a website describes the content or site it is linking to.
“Anchors absolutely impact your SEO,” says Julie Joyce, director of operations for link building agency Link Fish Media. “They tell search engines what the associated link targets are about, but they have definitely been overused and spammed up in the past. They also give context to users, as they ‘should’ tell the user what the target they’re about to click on is about.”
“Although this is not always a top consideration (but it should be), anchor text is also used by visually impaired individuals who use screen readers. It’s difficult to balance using anchor text for SEO and for usability. Once SEOs overused exact match anchor text, we all got scared and started using anchors like ‘click here’ which are very bad for usability in some cases. It’s definitely a tricky thing to get right.” -Julie Joyce, director of operations for Link Fish Media
Of course, you often can’t control the anchor text others use to link to your site. You do, however, get to control anchor text on your own internal links. “An optimized internal linking structure is critical to link-building success,” writes Andew Dennis, content marketing specialist at Page One Power.
Here are some best practices for link anchor text that can provide your visitors with a better experience.
Use natural, grammatical language in your anchor text.
Spamming keywords in anchor text.
Use relevant words and terms.
Using keywords unnaturally within anchor text.
Stick to the highlighted, underlined anchor text users are accustomed to.
Generic anchor text (i.e., “Click Here”).
Keep it concise.
Using misleading anchor text to trick users into clicking.
Backlinks, also referred to as inbound links, are links pointing back to your pages from other sites. They send signals to search engines indicating the relevance and quality of your content.
A lot of links can add up to SEO success. Even more so if you’re getting links from many different sites. All things being equal, 1,000 links from one site will mean far less than 1,000 links from 1,000 sites. But what about quantity versus quality?
“It’s said that quality [of backlinks] matters over quantity, and that is ideal. But I have seen too many cases where sites with more links rank when that’s all they have going for them in comparison to the competition,” Julie Joyce, director of operations for Link Fish Media says. “In some cases, you can get away with having just a few backlinks though, especially when it comes to smaller industries where the competition isn’t as fierce. Sometimes you lose quality when your goal is more, more, more.”
Avoid comment spamming, link buying, guest posting schemes and link exchanges. You can expect to be penalized by search engines if you’re caught resorting to these or other so-called “blackhat” tactics. For more on schemes to avoid, head to the Toxins section at the bottom of this page..
When doing link building outreach, “Be concise. Don’t write emails that are five flowery paragraphs long where you go into great detail about how amazing the site you’re reaching out to is. You do need to research your targets though, as many emails are sent to completely irrelevant sites who will never give you a link, and even if they did, it wouldn’t be a good link for you.” – Julie Joyce
For more, check out the following resources:
- SEO: Link Building
- Is link building dead? Depends on who you talk to
- Why isn’t my fabulous content attracting quality links? by Julie Joyce
- Building links in boring industries by Jeremy Knauff