Few SEO topics cause the fear and anxiety that link building does.
Once upon a time, all a site needed was a lot of inbound links from other domains — the more links, the better. Then Google and other search engines got wise to sneaky search engine optimizers who were gaming the system and hampering search engine user experience.
Sites with a massive quantity of links with no regard to the quality of the sites they linked to got a big, disheartening surprise in 2012 when Google rolled out the Penguin Algorithm to penalize sites that played fast and loose with their link-building strategies.
Then in 2014, the next link-building drama unfolded around guest blogging. Matt Cutts, former head of Google’s web-spam team, gave content creators a warning on his personal blog: “Okay, I’m calling it: If you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop. Why? Because over time it’s become a more and more spammy practice…”
Then in March of the same year, Google dropped this bomb on publishers participating on a guest blog network site.
Fast forward to today, and the idea of building links still strikes fear into the heart of some digital marketers. Even when a blogger shares a link in his or her post, a site owner may ask for the removal of the link if the blog’s domain authority is low.
However, it’s time for SEO pros and marketers to take a deep breath and get back into the link-building game — but responsibly, of course.
Expert advice on link building
Rob Mead is head of marketing for Gnatta, a software platform that uses automated and AI features to bring customers, operators and systems together.
Here’s what he told ClearVoice on the topic of link building:
Don’t listen to those who say links are dead. At the end of the day, just think: How do you get from the SERPs to a website? By clicking a link, Google still doesn’t have an alternative way of managing its index beyond the power of links. Authentic, white-hat link authority work should still be a key part of your strategy. Whether you do it via digital PR, traditional outreach or any other method; relevant, genuine links are still key to improving your standing with Google.
But what about the ever-changing complexities of Google’s algorithm, the pervasiveness of RankBrain and emerging voice-search technologies?
As for what the future holds, Mead sums it all up with a morsel that’s as relevant now as ever before:
Google’s algorithm may be getting ever more complex, and with the increased pervasiveness of RankBrain, new voice search challenges and more, it might seem tempting to forget the basics and chase new theories. These could all deliver value for your business, but don’t forget to keep your house in order. So long as you’re delivering relevant content on a quick site, which people engage with, you’re on the right track. Get your fundamentals right, smash the basics and you’ll continue to see search success.
Things to think about with your link-building strategy
Search engines no longer reward spammy link building or over-optimized anchor text, but they do still recognize and reward relevant links.
If you stick to these tips, you will put your efforts on the right track.
Here are a few other things you can do:
- Familiarize yourself with Google’s quality guidelines as outlined in its link schemes.
- Consider your audience’s interests and buyer’s journey when you build links and guest posts. Is your content relevant to the site where you want to place a link? If not, then don’t build that link or write that guest post. Google has gotten very smart in understanding relevance.
- Create content that influences and advocates and customers will want to share and link to it on their own sites. This takes time, research, preparation, resources and budget. Don’t skimp on your content creation.
Safe ways to build authority links
All of the above information is good to know, but maybe you are looking for some specific next steps. No problem.
We’ve got you covered with the below ideas for building more and better links.
Be a podcast guest
To get significant benefits from the podcasting craze without launching your own show, start hustling for interview spots on other people’s podcasts.
John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing says:
With each podcast you’re on, you’re generating more backlinks for your website. Podcast hosts often post show notes and transcripts on their website to accompany each episode. You and your business’s name will be tagged in all of the content for your episode, creating backlinks and driving more traffic to your website.
Of course, you get even more than backlinks for your contributions to another person or brand’s show. You’ll get social promotion and mentions.
You can also see better results than you would from running an ad.
Here’s what Liam Martin, co-founder of Time Doctor and co-organizer of the Running Remote Conference, had to say on the topic when he appeared on The B2B Mix Show in May 2019:
I’ve done about 300 [interviews this year]. We realized, well that’s something I can do that when you look at the ROI, putting me on a podcast for an hour or an hour and a half… It works out. It’s actually cheaper than Facebook ads.
Build pillar pages
PIllar pages, cornerstone content, hub pages — whatever you like to call it, this type of content attracts links.
HubSpot defines pillar pages as pages that go in-depth on a single topic that you build additional detailed content to support. Think supporting, internally linked blog posts, infographics, podcast episodes and other types of content.
The depth of a pillar page makes it sound a lot like an ebook. Yes, and that similarity may have you already thinking about ways to gate it. Drop the gate if you want to use this page to collect backlinks. The beauty of a pillar page is that it is (or should) be so informative, useful and authoritative that other people want to link to it.
Still not sure about totally dropping the gate? Try offering a downloadable version of the page (an ebook, essentially) for people to take with them, or create templates and related items that you provide in exchange for a form fill on your page.
A thoughtful approach to guest blogging gives you backlinks and helps build your reputation as a thought leader.
To get the most value and avoid penalties from your guest posts, ask yourself the following questions before you pitch a guest post:
- When you look at the site, does it look appealing and well designed, or is it a mess with tons of pop-ups and ads?
- Are other guest posts well written, or are they sloppy, obvious attempts at mass backlink acquisition?
- What is the site’s domain authority? The higher, the better.
- Does your target audience read this blog? Even if the site has a lower domain authority, it may be a great guest blogging opportunity if your audience spends time there.
Pitch your content as a resource
If you have a fantastic pillar page, awesome podcast or stellar infographic, start emailing people about them. Think beyond your email marketing list, too.
Do some one-to-one outreach with other site owners who may be able to use your content as a supporting resource.
Do a little research to find out where your competitors’ content receive backlink love and reach out to those sites about your brand’s content. If your content is more recent or more in-depth, use that as a selling point to get people interested in linking to it.
Work on unlinked brand mentions
Don’t you love it when you look at your brand mentions report, and you see new, positive mentions? Those mentions are great, but they’re golden when they are also linked back to your site.
You’ve already won half the battle when a site has mentioned your company or content. Your next step is to reach out to win a link.
Some important things to keep in mind when asking for the backlink:
- Don’t be too annoying or pushy. Nothing turns off a busy marketer or site owner than three weeks of follow up about linking back to your site.
- Don’t request links that aren’t useful. You won’t reach out to sites with negative mentions. However, there are those mentions that are meaningless in the big scheme of things. If the site mentioning you has a low domain authority, or your audience doesn’t really spend time there, don’t waste your time pursuing the link.
- Add value to the interaction. If you can help the author or site owner with any other information or help, do it. Being helpful makes your request more likely to get addressed.