Link building is a buzzword in the search industry and for good reason. What many believe to be the most powerful correlation to ranking higher in search engine results, the art of link building has transformed from something automated to something highly specialized and unique. The story of link building itself and its transformation has been written a thousand times over, and we simply don’t have time to cover the entire history in this post. That’s what summaries are for.
The short and sweet of it is: Google – and to a lesser extent other search engines as well – has cracked down on examining the quality of links pointing back to your website. Spam websites or directories, techniques that involve hiding links, and article spinning are just a few examples of links that may result in your website receiving a manual penalty. Major losses in organic search traffic will ensue, and if you’re not careful, you could lose your business. There are countless examples, so let me know which ones I’ve forgotten and should’ve included instead in the comments.
There Is a Right Way to Get Links
If you’re attempting to acquire links to your website the right way, here are 15 questions to ask yourself before getting a link to your business’ website.
- Did I pay for the link in any way, shape, or form?
- Is the content linking to my page relevant to my customers?
- Is the link site-wide?
- Can the webmaster of the site linking to you be contacted?
- Recognizable brand name?
- Would you still want to acquire the link if search engines didn’t exist?
- What’s the catch?
- Where is link located on the website?
- What other websites does the domain link to?
- Does the website have active social accounts?
- Would your competitor want a link from this domain?
- How easy will it be to acquire the link?
- How likely is it that traffic from this link will result in revenue?
- Would the link acquisition “win” be short-term or long-term?
- Will acquiring this link help me grow my business?
Paying for links used to work. Now, Google and other search engines have been extremely clear: paying for links will get you penalized. It’s pretty easy to tell if you’ve paid for a link, and your business isn’t worth risking traffic and business leads through organic search. If you paid for the link in any way, shape, or form, it’s not a link you’d like to acquire.
The page the link comes from should be relevant to your local business. If you make blue widgets, it probably makes sense to receive a link from a blue widget manufacturer’s page or a blog post that reviews blue widgets made by your company and your competitors. If your customers are unlikely to be interested in the content that’s linking to your website, they’re probably never going to care about the piece of content linking back to your website.
One notoriously “spammy” link tactic that will trigger a red flag with Google is getting a site-wide link. Site-wide links are from domains that link to you from every single page of their website. There is literally never a reasonable use for this and you should never pursue acquiring a link that is site-wide.
“Contact Us” pages are extremely popular across websites of all shapes and sizes. If there’s a relevant industry website that you’re thinking about getting a link from, but can’t find any information on how to contact the business or where the business is, you should pass on this opportunity. It’s almost definitely a spam website.
The popularity of the company’s brand name you’re hoping to get a link from is something to take into consideration. Now, you can’t only seek links from major national sources like Mashable and the New York Times. What about the local and regional communities? If the brand has credibility and owns a powerful online presence, that should reinforce your hopes of getting a link back to your website from them.
This is a really cliche question in the SEO industry, and I didn’t want to include it because of that reason. However, the logic behind it is good. Search engines use links as one of hundreds of different identifiers to determine which websites are most relevant for a particular string of keywords. You should be getting a link from another website because it will produce sales leads, is good news coverage and exposure, or will grow your business in any way — not because you think Google will rank you higher. Another way to ask this question is, “Would you acquire this link with Matt Cutts or Duane Forrester looking over your shoulder?”
Reciprocal linking is the act of (essentially) trading links. If acquiring a link from a relevant business requires reciprocal linking on a large scale, requires payment, or anything else the search engines may deem unnatural, the catch probably isn’t worth your trouble.
This won’t necessarily stop you from acquiring a link, but rather help you understand which links are more valuable than others. Links included in an article that appears above the fold, for example, are typically more valuable than links included in the footer. If a link to your website is included at the beginning of a blog post that was inspired by a piece of content currently on your domain, the link is essentially acting as a source, giving that webpage extreme value from both a user and search engine’s perspective. On the other hand, a link in the footer speaks to it being an afterthought, unimportant, and may even be the result of poor linking practices.
The SEO community is blessed to have so many wonderful free tools that help us do our jobs better. There are several tools — free and paid — that help with analyzing the link profile of websites. One effective way to evaluate the legitimacy of the website linking to you is by seeing what other websites they’re linking out to. Do they link to and source other industry leaders? Or do they link out to almost any website regardless of industry and business type.
Social media went from being a fad to having a major impact on search results seemingly overnight. But I don’t want to talk about the impact of social media on search results, rather just common sense. If the company has active social accounts that produce a lot of great, unique content for their followers to share and engage with, that’s a positive sign about how the company operates. If no social accounts exist or, even worse, the accounts exist but there’s no engagement or following to speak of, that should prompt you to dig deeper about the company you may be receiving a link from.
Put yourself in your competitors’ shoes and stop thinking about it from a search marketing perspective: if your competitor wouldn’t really care to receive a link from this website, then your business shouldn’t be worried about it either.
Other than dMoz, I’m not sure there’s a truly difficult link directory to get your website into. Hence why search engines began looking at directory links in mass quantity as a possible spam warning. Getting a link from the New York Times is difficult, but it would also be an excellent opportunity for a business to pursue. Links that are naturally difficult to acquire are difficult for a reason: they’d be incredibly ideal.
Now we’re drilling down to what really matters. At the end of the day, search marketing is about increasing your business’ revenue. Acquiring a link shouldn’t be about getting to the number one position in Google — which is barely even measurable in 2013. As an SEO, your goal should not be to increase traffic to a certain number per month or stabilize a website’s ranking in the top three for over 100 keywords. The goal is to grow the business through relevant traffic, sales leads, and revenue.
A link that provides short-term value is far less superior than one that provides long-term value. Let me explain: a humorous, viral piece of content that comes and goes as fast as twerking did will drive a large amount of traffic to your website, but how likely are those visitors to become customers? On the other hand, creating an informative tutorial video that details and explains intricate problems within your industry and how to solve them is an evergreen piece of content that people will come back to again, again, and again. That content also establishes your brand as an authority, and will almost certainly attract business based on people seeing your video, understanding their unique problem, but not having the capacity to be able to solve the issue by themselves. That’s good business.
This. Ask yourself this question before you start any link building effort.