While Link Building is a core tenet of SEO, paying for links is strictly forbidden by search engines and can result in harsh penalties. A paid Link Building Strategy is when a website pays a third-party domain for a followed backlink that points back to their domain. Links have been an important signal in search engine ranking algorithms since Google rose to its popularity.
The impact of backlinks on a website’s search engine performance led to abuses, one of which included paying for links. Even when site developers think they’re done hiding the evidence. Google’s algorithm uses links as a natural signal.
Because Google’s algorithm uses links as a natural signal, it strictly forbids the unnatural practice and it even developed complementary algorithms. With the explicit purpose of identifying websites that utilized unnatural linking practices. The most well-known of these algorithms was nicknamed “Penguin,” released in 2012.
Related Topic: How To Earn Links Organically | SEOs Link-building Tactics
Today, Google continues to seek out unnatural links and applies higher rankings to websites based on relevance, quality content, and mobile friendliness. Matt Cutts, who previously led Google’s link spam team, has discussed how the search giant typically has no problem identifying a paid link. So, with that in mind, what is Link Building, and why is it so important?
What Is Link Building?
Link Building is a key part of any successful SEO strategy that involves getting other websites to link to yours — a simple hyperlink from one site to another. It is also agreed by many that it is one of the hardest parts of ranking a website. Whilst, it’s also one of the most rewarding when you get it right. When website A links to website B, there’s quite a lot that takes place.
One thing is for sure, it’s a strong hint to Google’s algorithm that it deserves to rank higher for relevant keywords. And you might hear these referred to as inbound links, backlinks, external links, or, quite simply, just links. The more high-quality links that point to your website (and form part of your backlink profile), the higher you should rank on Google.
And, therefore, the higher level of organic traffic you should receive. However, links aren’t all created equal, and some can even cause your website to decrease in visibility, something that we’ll cover shortly. Now that there are many different tactics that you can use to build links.
Some are easier to execute than others, and knowing where to get started can sometimes be difficult. Especially, when you are aware that some can do more harm than good. This link-building guideline is full of valuable strategies and tactics that will help extend your knowledge on link building. So that you can earn those top-ranking positions.
Why Is Link Building Important For SEO?
By all means, if you’ve read anything about or studied SEO best practices, you’ve come across the term “Backlinks” at least once. And for those of you new to SEO, you may be wondering what Backlinks are too. Not forgetting, SEO Backlinks have become so important to the scope of Search Engine Optimization, that they are some of the main SEO building blocks.
In general, Google and other major search engines consider backlinks “votes” for a specific page. Pages with a high number of backlinks tend to have high organic search engine rankings. After all, while we battle daily to create an uptick in our analytics when we’re reviewing our “google / organic” or “google / CPC” traffic, there can be a lot of missed opportunities.
It’s important to realize, link building takes time and effort. And, there’s no hiding from the fact that it’s also quite hard to get it all right. Meaning that those who can successfully execute tactics to build better links than their competitors typically see significant growth in organic traffic and revenue.
And that’s why you need to understand why links are so important and should account for a considerable portion of your SEO campaigns’ resources. There are many reasons why you need to make sure you place a strong focus on link building as an SEO.
Some of these reasons include:
- You will rank higher on Google and other search engines.
- Google will find new pages on your site faster.
- You’ll enjoy increased credibility and trustworthiness as a business.
- You could benefit from targeted referral traffic.
You can’t ignore link building, and you need to make sure you are rolling out tactics that give you a competitive advantage. There is more to link building than it may seem, and not just in terms of the complexity of those tactics that deliver the best results and impact.
How To Plan For A Link Building Strategy
When planning a link-building strategy, you need to remember that not all links are equal. And that there are key elements that drive forward success. By that, I mean that you need to know what a great link looks like for you. And then fully understand that the more effort you put into getting the right links, the better impact you will see.
Sometimes it pays to take our blinders off and look at the myriad of other opportunities around us that can create bigger improvements in traffic and/or conversions with less work. Below are some of the key components that you need to focus on. For one thing, they make up a great link-building strategy. Whilst, helping you understand what a great link profile looks like.
#1: Have Quality Contextual Links
Links on a page that are more likely to be clicked are typically those that hold the most value. And can have the biggest impact on rankings and the way that Google measures the value of a link is with PageRank. Goggles ‘reasonable surfer model‘ parent indicates that different features associated with links change how this flows.
Bill Slawski explains this as follows:—
“If a link is in the main content area of a page, uses a font and color that might make it stand out, and uses text that may make it something likely that someone might click upon it, then it could pass along a fair amount of PageRank. On the other hand, if it combines features that make it less likely to be clicked upon, such as being in the footer of a page, in the same color text as the rest of the text on that page, and the same font type, and uses anchor text that doesn’t interest people, it may not pass along a lot of PageRank.”
Contextual links are those placed in the body of a web page’s content as opposed to the footer or sidebar. And, as an example, are typically higher quality links and are key to a successful strategy.
#2: A High ‘Followed’ Links Percentage
Always remember, not all links pass PageRank and impact a site’s rankings. Simply, because links can have different attributes applied. The main ones you need to know to be nofollow, sponsored, and UGC links. Links that have a rel=”nofollow” attribute give a hint that Google should not crawl them. And that they should not associate the two sites from a ranking perspective.
By the same token, rel=” sponsored” attributes indicate that a link has been paid for (and therefore should not pass PageRank). On the other hand, rel=”UGC” showcases links that come from user-generated content. Such as forums and comments and indicates that these links are not editorially placed and may be manipulative.
If a link is referred to as a ‘followed‘ link (or sometimes, a ‘dofollow‘ link – even though this is technically not the right terminology), it means that there are no attributes in place. To prevent PageRank from being passed. A great link profile should contain a high percentage of these, so long as they come from quality sources.
#3: Get Natural In-Content & Editorially Placed Links
An editorial link is a link that results from a site having good content and marketing techniques. An editorial link is not paid for or directly requested, as is the case with acquired links. Editorial links are part of a strong link profile. It’s a form of citation on the web indicating that the destination of the link is the original source of the procured data, idea, concept, or statement.
In short, editorial links are simply those that exist because a third party has taken the decision to add a link from their website to yours. Rather than because of payment, or even some other form of incentive. Or that you were the one responsible for placing it and did so to increase your rankings. The most effective links are editorially placed.
After all, Google themselves highlight in their guidelines that links that don’t fall under this categorization can be deemed unnatural. In link building, I personally believe that these types of links – editorial or one-way in-content links – are the most powerful. They really carry weight in signaling search engines that certain content is offering so much value.
Thus, they should return this piece on their results for people to see. Whether the citation is a positive or negative evaluation of the source, it still offers a huge amount of weight. More so, in terms of linking, given that the anchor text of the editorial link depends on the discretion of the linker.
#4: Focus Links From Unique Referring Domains
Referring domains, also known as “linking domains,” are external websites that direct visitors to your site. These domains contain backlinks that drive traffic and views to your specific web pages. Understanding the value of referring domains in search engine optimization (SEO) is crucial to maintaining high search engine rankings and building online authority.
The quality and quantity of your referring domains make a difference in your SEO efforts. A great link profile will see links coming from a higher number of unique referring domains. Rather than the same few time and time again. As such, a successful strategy should always place a focus on those key tactics to see a link-building campaign earn organic links.
More so, in order to increase the number of unique linking domains. However, referring links are not measured with equal weight. This means two hundred backlinks from one website are not automatically better than one hundred backlinks from different referring domains. You need to acquire a sizable number of unique referring domains to get more traffic sources.
As well as unique site visitors, and page views. In addition to that, it’s widely reported that having links from a higher number of unique domains can help a site to rank in prominent positions. Oftentimes, when I see sites ranking with much lower authority, they tend to have a much stronger ratio of linking root domains versus their competitors.
#5: Create Strong Relevant Topics
Additionally, links should also be from websites and content that is closely related to your own site’s topic. Not to mention, this is another great example of ensuring that you are not just building any links, but rather the right ones. Remember that links originally existed on the web to navigate a user from page A to page B.
And on this assumption, why would a link take you to something that wasn’t related to the topic? It doesn’t make sense, does it? So be sure to follow this stance with your link-building efforts. A great way to get yourself into this mindset is when prospecting for link opportunities. Ask whether you would still pursue it if Google didn’t exist or use links as a signal.
If the answer is yes, perhaps it’s because you would expect it to send quality referral traffic. Or help to increase your brand’s awareness or authority. Usually, this means it is from a topically related website where your audience hangs out online. If you would answer no, it is a good indication that the link isn’t relevant to your business.
#6: Implement A Natural Anchor Text Mix
By definition, an Anchor Text is a text used to link from one page to another. Naturally, when linking to a website, you would likely reference the brand name, the article title, or perhaps even just use ‘click here or similar. That said, Google’s algorithm utilizes anchor text as an indication of what a page is about. And, therefore, it can highly influence rankings.
Use an anchor text that includes a variation of the keyword on the linked-to page. For example: ‘link building strategies’ linking to a page about link building. Or even use an anchor text as a brand name. For example, ‘jmexclusives’ can link to an article on the jmexclusives blog. SEO practices dictate that anchor text be relevant to the page you’re linking to, rather than be generic.
The blue, underlined anchor text is the most common as it is the web standard. Although it is possible to change the color and underline through html code. While anchor text is one of many Google ranking factors, it also tells your readers where they can find more information. As well as what is on the other side of your links.
However, Google’s guidelines clearly state that optimized anchor text (using your main target keywords or commercial terms) is a violation of their guidelines. And also, excessive use of this is a known contributor to both manual actions and algorithmic filters. Your link profile should contain a natural mix, with no obvious spike of links with optimized anchor text.
#7: Differentiate White Hat vs. Black Hat vs. Grey Hat Link Building
If you are new to SEO and, more specifically, link building, you may have come across references to black hat, grey hat, and black hat tactics. These need quick addressing. Quite simply, White Hat SEO uses tactics that strictly abide by Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. They take an ethical approach to earn top-ranking positions. By focusing on optimizing for human audiences.
And as such, it’s seen as a long-term approach to earn sustained visibility on the search engines. While on the other hand, Black Hat SEO uses those that violate these guidelines. By trying to rank a site higher with manipulative tactics, usually looking to gain quick wins. At the same time, the Grey Hat SEO sits somewhere in the middle.
Grey Hat SEO is using tactics that could be seen as manipulative and is riskier than white hat tactics. Yet, they aren’t as obvious in violation of Google’s terms as a black hat. In that case, Google employs a webspam team. The main core focus is to ensure that websites using black hat tactics do not rank.
The Potential Negative Impact Of A Wrong Strategy
If you build the wrong links and use risky black hat tactics, you run the risk of having toxic links in your backlink profile. Toxic links that could negatively affect your rankings and organic traffic.
More about this is explored in detail in the guide to running a backlink analysis and finding toxic backlinks. Not forgetting, this comes as a highly recommended reading. But, you need to be aware that using the wrong tactics to build links can have disastrous consequences.
Things to Keep in Mind:
- It is not unusual for it to take months, or even years, to recover from such a negative impact.
- If Google determines that you are building links that violate its Webmaster Guidelines, you could see your site being impacted. By either a manual action or by an algorithmic filter (most likely Google Penguin). Both of which can see your site drop rankings.
- Time to recover is one thing to be aware of when balancing low effort. Whereby, high-risk tactics are those that are lower risk but need a higher investment in effort.
In reality, the most successful strategies deliver sustained success. And you need to be using tactics that aren’t going to see your hard work impacted by a webspam filter. Or even fall foul of a manual review.
The Best Link Building Strategy
Given how critical links are to your site’s SEO, it’s wise to have a clear and clean approach towards your website links management strategy. And just as authoritative content helps you to rank for relevant keywords, backlinks also reassure the search engine of page authority.
To build the right links that actually have a positive impact on your organic rankings and traffic, you need to make sure you are using the right strategy. But first, you need to be clear on the difference between strategies and tactics and then explore:
- Strategy = what you are going to do.
- Tactics = how you are going to do it.
Applied to link building, different strategies typically balance different levels of effort and resources. With the potential rewards and returns (i.e., the more difficult a tactic is to implement, the better results you will see as it is harder for competitors to do the same). As well as the level of risk surrounding either algorithmic or manual actions taken by Google.
Despite being a straight-up violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and a tactic that is clearly defined as a link scheme, paid link building is still relatively common. For the simple reason that it guarantees results. Earning links is hard work; there is no denying that. And even manual link building and the wealth of quick-win tactics available still require effort.
Some things to remember:
- Using paid links is, in the opinion of many, lazy link building.
- Paid link building is a clear manipulation of Google’s algorithm and a low effort yet extremely high-risk tactic.
- Most paid-for links end up coming from sites that are not topically aligned, that have a high count of outbound links and are generally low quality.
- Aside from this risk, don’t forget that if you can buy links, so can your competitors.
There are, of course, a few exceptions to the rule here — those being when earning links to support your SEO strategy isn’t the primary focus, and you are either looking to land referral traffic or build your brand authority.
And then, are doing so with sponsored placements and advertorials on quality sites and have either a rel=“nofollow” or rel=“sponsored” attribute in place to prevent negative impact on your search rankings. As a general rule though, paid links purely to help increase your rankings should be seen as a no-go.
Quick-Win Link Building
It is a common misconception that all link-building approaches are resource-intensive. That is simply not true, and while many certainly are, if you are looking for tactics that can help you quickly pick up some good links, you will find plenty of them.
- Low-hanging fruits are usually the easiest links to get, and that means they are also those that your competitors will also reach for first. (That is not to say you shouldn’t be building these links, because you should.)
- A quick win strategy often sees a high return for the lower effort you will need to put into the tactics.
- These wins are what build a solid foundation and put you on a level playing field with competitors who have already put these tactics to work.
However, you need to be realistic. Understand that this strategy is rarely enough on its own, in competitive sectors, to see you land top-spot rankings. To take your SEO performance to the next level, you usually need to pivot your strategy towards others once you have landed the quick win opportunities. Learn more about Quick Win Link Building Tactics in detail.
Traditional Link Building
Traditional link-building tactics rely on you manually placing a link through your efforts. As in, link building is typically in full control of the outcome of the tactics. More so, as opposed to relying upon a journalist or other third party to want to link back.
And, that’s exactly why these tactics are often referred to as manual link building. But, let’s get one thing straight; links that you are in control of usually aren’t the highest quality.
Consider the following:
- In the eyes of Google, any links that are not editorially placed (the decision being taken to link being made by someone else) are manipulative.
- Therefore, they are likely to either have less of an impact on rankings, be straight up ignored, or, if the tactics are executed at scale, could harm your site’s performance.
That said, these aren’t bad links, as such, and they can absolutely drive many benefits. Such as referral traffic or help to position you as a thought leader, aside from an SEO impact — just be sure to take the time to understand the tactic properly.
Likewise, know the risks associated with them and use them carefully. Another point to make is that, as with quick-win tactics, a strategy based around traditional link-building tactics is likely to be one that can pretty easily be copied by competitors. It is not going to give you a significant competitive advantage.
Organic Links Earning
If you really want to gain this competitive advantage through links, you need to adopt a strategy that will see you earn editorially placed links. Link earning tactics are high effort but give a high reward.
You need to be prepared to invest time and resources into earning links. Doing so will see you land links that competitors struggle to replicate. And let’s not forget what Google has been telling us for years, as of its Webmaster Guidelines, that:
The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content. Content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice. Meaning, the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find it valuable. More so, to their readers and link to it “— Google Webmaster Guidelines (Link Schemes).
When you earn a link, a third party is actively taking the decision to do so. Meaning, they are linking because there is a reason to do so; that adds value to their own audience. These are the true holy grail of link building and the tactics that are essential to success in competitive niches.
Beware Of Common Black Hat Link Building Tactics
Black hat link-building strategies are often aimed to manipulate search engine rankings. As I outlined, it often focuses on unethical tactics that directly violate Google’s guidelines. And then, it utilizes those methods defined as being part of a link scheme. Whereby, there is little, or no, focus on the user, rather, looking to game the algorithm.
These tactics usually result in a manual action or algorithmic filter being applied. And, as algorithms continue to develop, they can also see links that don’t trigger such an adjustment and are simply being ignored. Black hat strategies aren’t sustainable and shouldn’t be considered a viable option to pursue in this new SEO era.
Generally, it is important that you are aware of the type of tactics that fall under black hat strategies to ensure you can avoid them. More so, if they are recommended by anyone you are working with, or you come across while learning yourself.
Consider the following:
- Paid links that pass PageRank
- Private Blog Networks (PBNs)
- Large-scale article marketing and guest-posting campaigns that use keyword-rich anchor text
- Low-quality directories that exist solely to build links from
- Keyword-rich links that are embedded within widgets on other people’s websites
- Links obtained from hacked sites
- Links built using automated programs or services
- Requiring links as part of a Terms of Service or contract
- Comment spam
- Widely distributed footer or sidebar links
I won’t be sharing or exploring black hat tactics in-depth. For one thing, I wouldn’t want to give them any exposure. Since they are not tactics that we believe should be used. Especially, unless the risks are very well understood.
So far, I am sure you’ve learned all that there’s to know about link building for your site. To rank high in SERPs like Google, Bing, Yandex, etc. Particularly, in regards to all those tactics that are wasting time and resources. As well as how some well-known tactics may be harming your organic visibility. Like any other aspect of SEO, you’ll need to be consistent.
Furthermore, link building feels like more effort is required than most SEO strategies. But, it’ll be rewarding in the end and last for the long term. With enough persistence in implementing your link-building tactics, over time, your website may improve greatly. So much that you won’t need to work as hard to acquire links from referring domains.
Instead, you can focus on developing great content that other websites and brands will want to link to. Bearing in mind, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is often seen as a very daunting task. This is quite a shame! As it means a lot of businesses never get to experience the incredible results it can bring. That’s why you need to put in a little more effort to stay ahead.
- Broken Links | What Are They & How Do They Affect SEO?
- What Are Nofollow Links? How They Impact Site SEO Rank
- What Are Dofollow Links? How To Build Quality Backlinks
- Outbound Links | Why Do They Matter & How To Track Them
- Inbound Links | 10 SEO Tips To Increase Your Site Ranking
Perse, I mean, who wouldn’t want a constant stream of highly-targeted traffic landing on their site every day? The good news is, there are some quick wins you can implement. Some that can have a significant impact on your traffic! On that note, the tactics above will help you lay some really solid SEO foundations. In order to get you ranking higher in the search engines.
Finally, if you’ll need more support on this, you can always Consult Us and let us know how we can quickly sort you out. You are also welcome to share some of your additional thoughts, suggestions, contributions, or even questions in our comments section. All in all, don’t forget to share this guide with your friends and other web readers as well.