Understanding Link Building for SEO

What are Links?

Many small business owners have been introduced to the idea of building links or “backlinks” for the purpose of increasing search traffic. For those of you that aren’t aware, links are part of SEO (search engine optimization) or what determines where your web pages will rank in Google’s search results. When I say links, I’m referring to the hyperlinks from another site pointing into your own site.

Example – One example would be a Resources page on a website that lists out related websites that are helpful to their users. Those are the types of links that can affect the visibility of your website in the search results.

The total of all the links that point in to your domain is called your backlink profile.

How Backlinks Affect Web Traffic

Search engines like Google use hundreds of ranking factors when determining the sites are shown on the results page or “SERPs” (results pages of the search engine). Links are one of those considerations which are taken into consideration. The site with the highest amount and consistency of backlinks would usually rank higher. The higher you rank in the search results, the more traffic you get on the Site

However, links can also harm your ability to rank in the SERPs. For instance, Google has specific guidelines for links. If you violate these guidelines, your website could suffer from a drop in rankings and in overall search engine visibility.

So although link-building is something that can increase traffic to a site, if done with malicious intent it can also be terribly detrimental. It is important to know what to do, and what not to do for your website’s sake. However, before we look at the actual link-building, let ‘s look at your backlink profile first to calculate its power.

Measuring Your Backlink Profile

As stated above, generally, the more links that point to your site the better. What I look for are the number of domains that link in to a site, as opposed to the number of total links in to a site.

For instance, it’s better to have 1 link pointing in to your site from 10 domains, than 10 links from 1 domain.

Also important are the quality of the links pointing in to your site. It’s important that the sites that link to you are related to your niche.

For instance, if you sell car parts, a link from Car and Driver would be far more valuable to you than a link from something unrelated, like a site about video games.

Not only does your backlink profile linked but the authority or power of the sites that link to you also matters. The more authoritative the website (and the whole site) the more “link equity” would be transferred to your domain. Connection equity is the sum of ranking strength that a site is moving by.

There are multiple ways to measure how authoritative a site is. Below is a screenshot of the SERPs using an overlay with the Moz Toolbar. With it, I can see the Page Authority and Domain Authority of each website. There is a strong correlation between the sites with the highest authority and the sites that rank at the top of Google.

I also like to look at the number of linking root domains, which is conveniently displayed.

Note: Although this toolbar is free to download, some information is only displayed to their Pro members.

Anchor Text
Search engines also look at the anchor text of the hyperlinks pointing in to your site. This means the text of the hyperlink.

For instance, the anchor text here is “peach” – Have a peach!

The anchor text is a signal to Google that your page is about whatever is in that text.

It’s very important to have a natural backlink profile. If you are a law firm and 95% of your backlinks have the anchor text “San Francisco Law Firm”, this is not natural and you run the risk of causing permanent damage to your site.

The frequency with which your site receives links is important. If you have a stale website that used to build links on a consistent basis, but now things are stagnant, you will tend to gradually rank lower in the search engines.

Conversely, if have built quality content and have pro-active link building efforts, you will be rewarded for your steady stream of new inbound links.

How to View Your Backlink Profile

There are many great tools out there that allow you to view the links that point into your site. I prefer Open Site Explorer. I’ve also used Majestic and ahrefs. Majestic has a Cumulative view that provides a good visual for links built to your site over time. Ahrefs is good for finding backlinks that you’ve lost.

Of course you can display your backlinks or your competitors with the tools listed above. Every each one has a version which is free and paid for. Google Webmaster Tools is one tool that is 100 per cent free. In the section Internal Links, you can see the links leading in to your domain, but there is no way to see anything about your competition here.

How to Build Links for SEO

There are many link-building methods used by professional SEOs to build up their rank and authority. And if you’re creative enough, the possibilities are endless.

Because there are so many possibilities and because I always have a tailor-made link-building campaign for each client, I’m just going to list out a few of the more common approaches to link building and summarize…

One great way to obtain a steady flow of links is to create a robust blog for your niche. The key here is quality over quantity. Spend more time writing fewer posts.

If you and your team of writers are consistently producing informative, meaningful content that can be appreciated by your users and your industry, then you will eventually build a following and the links will come.

Unfortunately , a lot of blogs are going stagnant before they ever hit the traction they wanted to make this happen. The best advice I can offer is to stay in the course and make any article you write the very best piece on the internet for the specific subject you cover.

TIP: Make the most of this via social media! If you have great content that is constantly churned out, leveraging a strong social media presence will drive your content faster towards more users, and the pace at which you create ties.

Linkable Assets
A linkable asset would be like a tool, calculator, in-depth guide, things that are extremely unique and useful to your visitors. If done properly, these types of webpages can earn a huge amount of links, especially if they get picked up by an authority in your industry.

Here’s one example of a linkable asset – swissotel’s Guide to Etiquette

TIP: Don’t be passive about your link-building efforts here. Go out and tell the world about this amazing tool you’ve built. Ask bloggers and news sites that cover your niche to write about it. Don’t even ask for a link. Just let them know about your awesome creation and if it’s good enough, some WILL cover it and most will end up linking back to you.

Oftentimes, your brand, site, or some property of your site will get mentioned somewhere, but there won’t actually be a hyperlink that points to your website. If you can locate these mentions and ask for a link, more times than not, you will get it.

Simply do a google search in quotes of your brand name, or whatever you’d like to find mentions for. It might be more efficient to filter this by time.

TIP: Set up your Google Alerts so that every time your brand or property gets mentioned, you receive an email about it.

Guest Articles
If you have something interesting to say, you will have the opportunity to write a piece on someone else’s website – and yes, this usually comes with a link to your website.

Look for sites specific to your niche, including news pages, blogs, organisational pages, the list continues. The trick is to approach them with a good idea and come off as a trustworthy, credible source, not a spammer.

TIP: The pitch is very important. If they don’t like your idea because it’s not relevant enough, not compelling enough, or it’s been covered a hundred times, you won’t even hear back from them. Once you’ve located the target site you want a link from, do research. Look around their site until you come up with a fantastic idea that their users will eat up that has yet to be covered.

Competitive Analysis
Again, back to Open Site Explorer – using this, we can see the links that point in to the sites of our competition. You want to look at the backlink profiles of your top competitors and find 1) specific pages they’ve acquired links from that you too can get and 2) any link building strategies they’ve implemented that appear to be working out well for them and 3) DO IT BETTER THAN THEM!

TIP: You can also set up Google Alerts for your competitor’s brand. This way, you will see the new mentions and links they get, which will keep you on top of their link-building tactics.

Link Building Tactics to Avoid

As I mentioned above, links that point in to your site can actually cause quite a bit of harm. If you have focused on tactics that Google has specifically said to avoid, your site is at risk for algorithmic and/or manual penalties – here’s how you can find out if your site has been penalized.

A quick shoutout to Penguin – Penguin is the name of an algorithmic penalty Google introduced in 2012 that (amongst other things) targets websites that have an over-optimized backlink profile. Many of the items listed below are examples of things that can cause a Penguin penalty or some other form of penalization.

Press Releases
Press releases in the last couple of years have been talked about a lot. People have been building links to their pages for a long time now, by publishing press releases on distribution platforms such as prweb. These have been spammed so often, that all these connexion forms are now being devalued. It is a bad practise to issue press releases for the shear purpose of having links from the publication.

That being said, maybe well-known web sites still use press releases – they use them to push newsworthy initiatives, acquisitions, etc. and others use them to discover news stories. So, if you truly have something newsworthy that you want the world to know about, then press releases could still be valuable from a link-building perspective. For instance, if you send out a release and it gets picked up by other sites, they will often link back to you. The link that you obtained from the press release distribution site won’t help you, but the link you obtained from the site that picked up your release will.

Link Exchanges
This is a practice that used to be very successful years ago. You would have a Links or Resources page and either manually or automatically have people’s sites placed on your page, in exchange for a link placed on their Links page.

These link exchanges or “reciprocal links” have been devalued for quite some time. You should stay away from this.

Guest Posts (or “Guest Blogging”)
Yes, I know I mentioned this as a GOOD link-building topic above. But I differentiate between guest posting and guest articles. There is a major difference between writing a guest article on the site of the governing organization of your industry and writing as a guest on someone’s site that will accept submissions from pretty much anybody.

Guest posting is being devalued by Google and is definitely something you should watch out for. Here is a post from Matt Cutts, head of Spam at Google, talking about how bad Guest Posting has become and warning everyone to stop – http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/guest-blogging/

Buying Links
This is a formidable no-no. Buying links to artificially inflate your authority and rankings will often lead to a Google penalty – one that your site may or may not ever recover from.


Low Quality Directories
That also used to be very big. In fact , many companies would offer hundreds of online directories to submit your website, which would in turn build hundreds of links pointing in to your site. This isn’t a good idea any more and should be avoided.

However, there are some decent directories out there, which would be fine to get a link from. For instance, many directories that cover very specific niches are often okay.

I could go on and on about bad practises in building links, but this article is already long enough! However, I will do a follow-up to detail specific link building tactics that work and those that should be avoided completely.

Understanding Link Building for SEO