There are countless tools in the digital marketer’s toolbox. Email, PPC, social, PR, affiliates, inbound, content… The list goes on. They’re all popular, effective, and used widely across the industry.
Link building rarely appears in a marketer’s list of preferred strategies.
And yet, it is just as valuable as these other marketing strategies, delivering SEO value, coverage, brand awareness, qualified traffic, and more.
Here, we delve into the issue for beginners, looking at exactly what link building is, why links are important, how link building can help your business, plus a few other helpful things you need to know.
What is link building?
Before we get started, let’s look at exactly what link building is in layman’s terms.
For those not in the know, link building refers to the deliberate building of links to a specific web page, with the intention of increasing that page or website’s ranking in search engine results.
Links are a natural part of the internet makeup. Some links are achieved naturally, without any deliberate action from a website owner. For instance, a trade publication might link out to a business’ website in a news story, or a charity might link out to useful services.
Link building as a marketing strategy, on the other hand, is more planned and considered.
More attention is paid to anchor text (the linked copy), annotation text (the words surrounding the link), target pages (the page you’re linking too), and so on.
Alongside this is a focus on the kinds of websites that the link is placed on.
A link on a relevant website with good metrics is more valuable than a site with low metrics and not much relevance. For instance, an apparel brand with a link on a fashion blog with a strong DA (domain authority, a site’s relevance to a certain field) would provide more value than one from a blog about gardening.
How do search engines use links?
To understand the true value of links as a marketing channel, it’s worth getting back to basics, so let’s take a brief look at exactly how links are used by search engines.
Crawling web pages is a mammoth task, so search engines use crawlers (also known as bots or spiders) to explore the web.
These crawlers navigate the web by following links between websites and web pages.
Once a website has been crawled, it’s added to an index. This index lists all the websites, along with some key information about those sites. This includes:
- Keywords: what the specific web page talks about and refers to — this helps with search queries
- Engagement: how much engagement a page receives, and in what way
- Type of content: the kind of content that is being crawled
- Page freshness: a page’s freshness is judged on when it was last updated
- Links: other pages that link to the page help search engines understand what a page is about
Naturally, this is a great opportunity for businesses to demonstrate their value to search engines, helping them appear higher in relevant search queries.
How can links help your business achieve its goals?
There are a few ways links can help your business grow—here the key points you should know.
Increase your ranking in the search queries
It will come as no surprise that the top spots on search engine results pages (SERPs) dominate click-throughs, with clicks decreasing the lower down the page you get.
The first organic result in Google has an average click-through rate (CTR) of 28.5%, dropping to 15.7% for the second result, then 11% for the third. Evidently, it is the top spots in search queries that deliver the most value for businesses.
But getting there isn’t easy. It’s a competitive space, with countless competitors jostling for those precious top results.
Obviously, a great site with relevant content and strong technical SEO will help you get there. But you know what will really take your site’s A-game up?
Inbound links—that is, links directing back to your site from another—sow seeds of trust and authority to search engines. They are a direct ranking factor, signalling to Google that your site is trustworthy and credible, and so worthy of a higher place in the SERPs.
Of course, this comes with a caveat. Not all links are created equal, and clumsy, shoehorned links on irrelevant sites with poor metrics won’t get you where you need to go.
Google only really wants to see naturally-placed links from high-quality and relevant sites. These can be tricky to win, but are well worth it for the SEO value they provide.
Boost your business’ referral traffic
As outlined above, a good link can do wonders for your site authority, driving it up the SERPs as a result.
But it’s important not to underestimate the user experience of the link in context: its anchor, its placement, and how the page it links to can add value to the user.
This all ties into referral traffic, visits from one page to another via link.
As you might expect, driving referral traffic requires careful and considered link placement, particularly for guest blogs.
The surrounding annotation text provides context for your link, giving you a chance to communicate your target page’s value to the user and signal relevance to search engines in the same stroke.
Embed your link in enticing copy that taps into your target customers’ pain points and sells the value of your product or service.
Finally, if it’s referral traffic you’re after, you need a link on a relevant site whose audience overlaps with your own. This gets you qualified traffic, visitors who are likely to be interested in and purchase your product or service.
Landing a link on the Daily Mail is all well and good, but if you’re a B2B brand selling business communications software, you’re not likely to get valuable referral traffic.
Links & E-A-T
I alluded to this earlier, but links are big when it comes to building expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-A-T).
As confirmed by Google’s Gary Illyes, links from authoritative sites pass on that authority to the target site.
A site with a lot of good, natural links pointing to it from authoritative, relevant websites indicates to the user—and, as a result, search engines—that it, too, is authoritative.
In the same vein, a site with backlinks from trustworthy websites (governmental sites, established brand domains, etc) also enjoys the benefit of that trust.
In terms of assessing what sites are authoritative or trustworthy, a lot of this is common sense.
The NHS website, mainstream newspapers, non-governmental organisation (NGO) websites — these are all obviously strong sites with high levels of E-A-T behind them. As such, a link from a site like this would help increase your own website’s E-A-T too.
What does a good link look like?
It’s been mentioned throughout this piece, but it’s worth reiterating: when you’re building links, it’s really only worth building the right kind of links. This means bearing the following in mind:
- Authority: naturally, a site with higher authority will transfer more authority to the linked-to page.
- Relevance: a link from a site related to your industry (e.g. a link from a sustainability charity to your eco-friendly cosmetics site) is more valuable because users are more likely to follow that link.
- Traffic: if you’re after referral traffic, a site with higher traffic will provide more valuable links. This can also impact rankings, but only slightly.
- Page position: a link placed above the fold will provide more value than one placed in a footer or sidebar.
- Follow vs nofollow: in most cases, nofollow links don’t impact your SERP rankings. That said, a nofollow link can still positively impact your referral traffic, so it all depends on what you want from your links.
These are just a few elements you should consider. Anchor text also plays a role, albeit a smaller one compared to the other points.
The amount of control you have over these elements will also vary depending on your tactics. If you’re building links through general outreach, you’ll have less control than if you were landing a link through a PR comment, for instance.
Isn’t link building spammy?
Link building has a reputation in some quarters as a spammy, outdated practice.
But this is an unfair and dated idea.
Back in the day, link building was exploited by many SEOs, with the vast majority of people leaning on spammy tactics to win links. But today, most link builders in SEO use sustainable, value-led tactics that play by Google’s rules.
In the old days of SEO, way back when in the Nineties and early Noughties, link building was pretty rudimentary.
Private blog networks (PBNs), link exchanges, link schemes—these old tactics all involve links being built for the sake of a link, rather than taking the user’s experience into account and adding value to the web.
But link building today leans on a more value-led approach.
Editorial content that provides relevant and actionable information for audiences, digital PR that tells stories about brands, broken link campaigns—these are all sustainable, value-adding link building tactics that play by Google’s rules and deliver valuable SEO into the bargain.
If you’ve written link building as a marketing channel off, think again. Link building is a valuable and effective marketing strategy that is well worth the investment.
While it’s certainly possible to get started with link building yourself, for real results, it’s worth reaching out to the pros—get in touch with us to start building a powerful backlink profile for your business today.