Link building remains a cornerstone technique for improving your website’s SEO – provided you’re doing it right. Yet while most webmasters understand the importance of proper link building, too few know how to do it – and how to differentiate between a good link and a bad link (yes, there are appreciable differences, especially with regards to search ranking!).
If your goal is to rise above the competition – or maybe just improve your ranking – you need to prioritize a strong strategy for high-quality link building.
What is Link Building?
There are billions of websites and countless hyperlinks throughout the Internet. And every single day, new pages and links pop up by the millions. Social media alone is an absolute behemoth of information. Every minute sees over 350,000 Tweets, and over 500 hours of new video on YouTube.
So how does a search engine like Google cut through the chaff and help 5.6 billion daily search users find the content they need? Through its extensive algorithm, built over decades and designed around concepts like readability, relevance, and authority. Authority is particularly crucial here.
Real-world authority does have some role to play in the relevance and factuality of information displayed on the Internet – government resources, accredited institutions, hospitals, and multinational organizations are more likely to carry authority with the content they post, as there is a natural implication that they heed their sources and check their facts.
But online authority – or influence – also matters. The way search engines like Google take note of a website’s authority is through its place in the organic web of the Internet. Link building is a crucial element of this unseen formula.
The more websites link back to a page, the more relevant and authoritative that page proves to be. It is literally a source of information for countless other websites, something people refer to when they need to back up their statements, a useful resource shared multiple times across the web. That is extraordinarily valuable. But it can also be devalued.
If a network of pages owned by the same person, or multiple low-quality pages link to the same page, then it’s clear that there may be some tampering involved in the process. These aren’t organic links created to spread the word about useful information – they’re likely paid links, or the result of fabricated link building.
Google relies heavily on link building as a means to rank websites and determine their usefulness to the average search engine user by differentiating between high-quality and low-quality back links, and by taking into account metrics such as domain authority and content quality.
What You Need to Know
When it comes to successful link building, terminology is important. Understanding what separates a good link from a bad link and understanding the value of each of the different types of links used for SEO will help you implement better link building strategies, improve your current strategy, or better understand how an SEO expert aims to optimize your reputation.
Follow links are regular links to other websites telling Google that you are endorsing or linking to said content as a source, resource, or for other purposes.
Nofollow links are links that you don’t want to associate with your website. If you are inserting a sponsored or paid link into your content, for example, then you can disclose that link’s sponsored nature via a simple link attribute.
Alternatively, you can add the nofollow attribute if you don’t want Google to draw a line between your page and the linked content (i.e. you do not endorse it).
User-generated links, or UGC links, are effectively links to content you’ve created elsewhere on the Internet. It doesn’t have to be a proxy website you’ve set up to promote your product. It can be a mention of your webpage in an unmoderated comment section, user description on a forum, paid press releases, or advertisements on social media.
They are not the same as internal links, where a webpage links to another page on the same domain. User-generated links are frowned upon for link building, but you can avoid penalization for them by correctly attributing them.
Natural or organic links are links made to your content from other people on the Internet, mostly because they are referring to your content as a source or want to link to your page to discuss your product or share a resource or service you offer.
The Right and Wrong Way to Approach Link Building
Firstly, it’s important to address that yes, link building still matters in 2022. Google heavily relies on metrics of authority to determine how it should rank content on the web, and there are few metrics as reliable for authority than high-quality back links.
But there are good and bad ways to build backlinks to your content, and Google has gotten better and better at telling the difference.
Requesting Links, the Right Way
The simple truth is that good link building strategies involve a lot of well-targeted and meaningful legwork.
You can start by requesting back links from websites that are relevant to your niche and would legitimately benefit from including a link to your content on their pages. Examples include established non-competitor businesses and organizations with dead links, i.e. links pointing to sources that no longer exist. Dead link checkers can help you determine if any target pages might be affected by the good old Error 404.
This is hard to do. A lot of webmasters will ignore emails asking for backlinks or mutual linking.
Google generally frowns upon it as well. While there’s obviously an ulterior motive, it’s important to try requesting links with the primary goal of improving someone else’s content. Will linking to your page genuinely help the organization, such as by removing their dead links?
The same goes for guest posting, by the way. When abused and misused, guest posts can actively harm your link building efforts. When done in a way that is genuinely mutually beneficial – and not just because money changed hands – it can be a valuable tool
Aside from requesting links, the other way to build high-quality links is to produce content that is organically shared throughout the Internet. We aren’t talking about sponsored posts, affiliate links, and other financially incentivized reposting.
This is content that gets linked back to for its wealth of information, originality, and relevance. These are editorial links – meaning their placement was inspired by their value in any other given content.
This type of link building is the hardest to do, because it requires the most effort. But Google says it best: “creating good content pays off”.
Link building can backfire. Buying links wholesale, spamming your links across the web in user-generated content on other pages, or getting third-party links from low-authority, low-quality webpages can pull down your rank, and flag you as an unreliable source.
It isn’t just about the sheer volume of links leading back to you – it’s about the quality of the websites that decide to link back to you. As a basic rule of thumb, the better the domain authority and page rank of the website linking back to you, the more you’ll get out of that back link.
Measuring Your Link Building Efforts
Regardless of what strategies you employ – whether it’s developing interesting content, creating shareable guides, or working with other websites to build links with minimal penalization – it’s always important to measure the return on your investment. A few things to keep an eye out for when measuring the success of any given link building campaign include:
- Your follow to nofollow link ratio. You want more follow than nofollow back links.
- The relevance of the websites linking back to you. Relevance matters – if a seemingly unrelated page links back to you, that’s of little value for your ability to rank in a given niche.
- The domain authority of the websites linking back to you. Higher authority means more quality.
Link building is one of the toughest and most rewarding SEO tactics out there. But beware – there are no shortcuts, and it’s a lot of work. It may be in your best interest to contact an SEO expert to help you revise your link building strategy – or create one to begin with.