In the SEO world there are two factors that most professionals agree are the most important when it comes to the organic ranking of your pages – probably because Google themselves revealed it – content and links.
For the foreseeable future, being able to build high quality links that point back to your site is going to be an in-demand skill. Most content does not attract links on its own (as was revealed in the Moz & Buzzsumo study).
But how do you go about building these links in a way that’s going to reap the SEO value you’re looking for? Here are 4 best practices that will help guide your efforts.
1. Create links that offer substantial user value
Here’s the skinny of it – links that have specific value to users are less likely to be removed or no-followed as time passes. The reason for this is because sites tend to change over time. Websites are bought and sold, webmasters come and go, and site redesigns occur regularly. Any one of these events can trigger a site audit, and in series, a pruning of pages or links that are no longer seen as valuable to the user. Making sure that your links offer value helps protect them from being removed in the future.
One example of this is a link within the author byline of a guest post contribution. That link serves as a place for readers to click through to learn more about the author or follow them on social media. As a counterexample, posting thoughtlessly within certain forums with the sole intention of including a link back to your site does not have users in mind, and is more prone to removal.
2. Build relationships with authoritative and relevant publishers
The reason that search engines use links as a measure of a site’s authority is because they are seen as an endorsement from one online publisher to another.
With that in mind, isn’t it only natural to pursue a relationship with these publishers? When you put in the work to build that relationship (the formula is consistently offering value over time) any number of things could happen that involve links as a byproduct. The result could be as small as a publisher referencing your site or as as large as a full blown partnership.
BONUS TIP #1: Michael Smart (a media relations wizard) suggests a simple habit to adopt to start building these relationships. Here’s an excerpt from his newsletter:
So here’s the secret…
It’s in the form of a new habit I’m recommending you start TODAY.
Once a day, when you read or watch a piece that you like, immediately email or tweet at the author and tell them WHY you liked it.
I don’t mean: “I loved your post today. You always have such interesting stuff.”
I mean: “Today’s post motivated me to write. You’re the first blogger I’ve read who has the guts to call out Tim Cook for being tone-deaf, but at the same time, the thoughtfulness to explore how it might be in his best interest. Thanks for the piece.”
What does this do?
It installs in you a behavior that is common to master media pitchers. Master media pitchers are always talking or corresponding with the media. Every day.
This quick habit will break down apprehensions you might have about reaching out. You’ll be surprised how many positive replies you get. And you’ll begin to replace potential stereotypes about media members being brusque and cynical with the realization that they’re people like everyone else – terse when under pressure, warmer when receiving compliments.
If you’re already past those concerns, then target your reactions. Use those five minutes each day to react to key influencers you want to cover your organization.
Watch how some of these cold contacts turn into conversations and then ultimately pitch opportunities.
It really does make a difference. And really, most PR people are not going to do this. That’s how you stick out. That’s how you build a superior network of influencers. That’s how you generate bigger results with less effort.
BONUS TIP #2: Use Google Alerts or another method to track mentions of your brand online. Get into the habit of reaching out to publishers to thank them and offer additional resources that your brand publishes.
3. Prioritize publishers and relationships that offer valuable link opportunities
Unfortunately, there has been a lot of confusion among publishers as to how Google interprets external links. This has led to many publishers adopting misguided policies against “linking out” to external sites, or policies in support of no-following all of their external links. In reality, Google doesn’t like this type of behavior. However, it doesn’t change the fact that conversations around links with publishers can be difficult and convoluted.
In order to maximize your success building high quality links, you will need to navigate this complex link culture. The best way to do that is by avoiding those convoluted conversation altogether. Identify publishers that have historically offered followed, external links to credible sites that have earned that exposure. Those are the publishers that are worth prioritizing. And if you’re already in a conversation with a publisher about links, here’s a resource that can help you in your communication.
Side note – of course, there may be other benefits to prioritizing certain publishers if they are highly authoritative. If their readership is engaged and large enough, some of those benefits might even result in some SEO value. However, that SEO value is less certain. The perspective I’m offering here is focused on being able to create remarkable SEO results in a more tried-and-tested way.
Additional side note – if the concept of “no-followed links” is new to you, here’s a piece that can bring you up to speed on their history and the misguided perceptions around them.
4. Prioritize highly relevant publishers over high authority publishers
Having a list of publishers to focus your link building plan around that are highly authoritative and highly relevant is always the ideal scenario, but this is not always available (especially for B2B brands). When faced with a trade-off of relevance and authority, from a B2B perspective, relevance should always come first. Creating as many touch points as possible with potential customers becomes a magnified priority, as I explained in more detail in a separate article.
The term “link building” has gotten a bad wrap over recent years due to some spammy practices, but that doesn’t change the fact that links are a valuable signal to Google and other search engines. Taking a thoughtful approach to building (and earning) these links should be a primary focus to anyone that is tasked with growing the organic traffic of their website.