Backlinks: Let’s Start With the Basics
So, what are backlinks and does link building help your SEO? A backlink is a URL anchor on another website (other than your own domain) which links to a page on your site. These kinds of backlinks are sometimes also called inbound links. Along with great content, backlinks are one of the main ways that search engines like Google and Bing determine how relevant and trustworthy your content is and combined they help to determine how well your content matches a user’s search query (keyword search).
Since 2012, when Google updated its search algorithm with the Penguin release, the quality and integrity of backlinks became more important than ever. A part of Penguin’s job is to identify backlinks that are unnatural or are generated from untrustworthy sources. As a result, the quality of every link you achieve for your site is important.
The aim of the game with Google is to be a search engine that operates on a democratic basis and not one where sites who have the deepest pockets perform best. In this sense, backlinks provide a great way for Google to ascertain which sites have receive the most ‘votes’. If another website is linking to yours then they must be vouching for your content, but on the other hand, if this ‘vote’ comes from a questionable source (of low ranking domain authority) then it counts for little, nothing or worse and it can count against you. Quality backlinks are about securing genuine votes from real people who can vouch for the authority and relevance of your content. Securing these kinds of backlinks is usually hard work and takes time and effort but is ultimately more rewarding in terms of improving your SEO visibility than using ‘quick-fix’ or Black Hat SEO tactics.
To summarise, backlinks are an essential part of the success of any SEO strategy. Below, we’ve provide an in-depth link building guide, together with plenty of ideas and tips for building high-quality links that are effective in 2017.
Which Link Building Strategies Are Effective in 2017?
A powerful link building strategy should combine as many techniques as possible to secure quality backlinks in the most natural way. It should use natural White Hat SEO methods and be designed using the most up-to-date guidelines and best practice SEO techniques to avoid falling foul of any search engine guidelines for link building.
As of 2017, the most effective strategies for link building remain centered around creating quality relevant content that is informative and useful. It should be written for humans and not for search engines whilst be making good use of well-researched and targeted (but not over-optimised) keywords. Visual content marketing including infographics, video, and images also play an active part in a well-performing strategy as Google understands that visitors generally respond better to visual content than text. Lastly, and you’ll find us saying this more than once, quality over quantity is the key.
Types of Link Building Methods
There are plenty of ways to build backlinks, some good and some bad, so we’ve produced our Top 10 Tips for Building High-Quality Links in 2017 to help you identify the best of the bunch as well as some additional guides.
Online Press Release Distribution
Links from Press releases should be NoFollow meaning they don’t technically get you any link juice, according to Google, but applied correctly, an online press release distribution programme through the right channels can work very effectively.
The key to making this technique work is to first acknowledging that press releases aren’t likely to be a golden chalice but an opportunity for great exposure. Secondly, if you do succeed in getting your press release onto the right sites then it can generate some favourable returns. Sadly, too many companies believe that press releases are simply a great way to create backlinks and don’t craft these useful pieces of content well enough to maximise their potential.
As with other areas of an SEO strategy, planning is essential and targeting your press release correctly can boost its effectiveness.
People who run successful blog sites are now considered to be some of the most influential players online. Sites that have built a reputation for having a fresh and innovative voice often provide authority backlinks to other sites that are relevant to their niche. Getting a backlink through blogger outreach can, therefore, be a powerful source of link juice.
However, as with anything worthwhile, getting one isn’t easy and requires time and commitment to build a relationship and provide something useful in return.
Critically, researching your potential link sources is important and will inform your blogger outreach strategy to ensure that you aren’t wasting your time.
It’s a long-term investment for the payoff of a rewarding backlink that could generate organic traffic as well as boost your rankings.
Content marketing is a term used to describe a variety of link building techniques, including online press releases and blogger outreach. Well written and well optimised content is the primary way to get your site found on a search engine, text that is easy-to-read, unique, meaningful and engaging and has something of use for humans.
Search engines use bots to crawl the text on your website and they use sophisticated algorithms to rate your content on these factors. Great content can perform well in search engine rankings but the missing link is, of course, the human touch (i.e. what do people actually think).
This is why backlinks are so important, search engines rely on these little anchors to indicate to them that the content on your site is relevant and informative enough for other people to want to reference the page. So don’t ignore the ability of your content to gain organic and natural backlinks. Obviously, the more unique, well-researched and informative your content is, the better its chances are of attracting natural backlinks.
Utilising the directory networks of social bookmarking sites like Reddit, Digg and Delicious is about tapping into the power of community up-voting. Social bookmarking creates a digital repository of links and URLs related to any given niche or topic and other users get to ‘down-vote’ or ‘up-vote’ how relevant and useful these links are to the community. Are social bookmarking links effective for SEO? Used well, yes – links on social bookmarking sites can create a high volume of organic traffic as well as providing influential signals to search engines like Google.
As with any backlinks you generate, the onus is on the quality rather than the quantity so choosing relevant social bookmarking sites is important. Of equal importance is your online presence insomuch that you are a giver and not just a taker. Posting your own links continuously without providing balance, your bookmarks will quickly become buried as spam by other users.
Infographics are a powerful way to build backlinks and can create up to three times more engagement than other forms of content marketing.
A well-researched and well-designed infographic on a relevant topic can have serious momentum in terms of shareability and boost your organic backlink growth.
Creating infographics should follow the same method as with any content and start with good planning and research. Determining what you’ve got to say and who you are saying it to; spending time and effort simply producing a sales document is unlikely to achieve the reach you are targeting.
Just like infographics, video content is a fast way to engage your audience and can be up to four times more effective in creating engagement than simple text alone. Publishing videos to platforms like YouTube provides a great way to enhance your marketing strategy. YouTube videos can embedded on your own website, but also to gain exposure and traffic through YouTube itself (it’s a search engine), backlinks added via your YouTube video descriptions and also through Google video searches.
The cost of a Link Building Strategy
Getting Free Backlinks
The cost of a link building strategy doesn’t need to break your budget and we’ve put together the top 10 ways to get free backlinks to your website.
With ideas from claiming free backlinks to rewriting existing content there are plenty of ways to improve your reach with quality backlinks.
If it’s against the rules then can buying backlinks be a safe and effective way to boost your SEO performance? There is no short answer to this one; buying backlinks can land you in hot water with Google but can also work well. There is no doubting that wholesale link building is to be avoided at all costs and can lead to a swift reprimand from Google. However, legitimate links from quality sites that are relevant and authoritative can help your SEO growth so commissioning content to achieve this can be very worthwhile. Achieving organic growth should be the goal for any White Hat SEO tactician so understanding (and playing by) the rules is an important way to maintain the momentum of a successful SEO strategy.
The Importance of Tools for Link Building
Building quality backlinks requires more than just registering your site with several online directories and getting it right takes time and hard work. The focus is on research and networking to build trustworthy links that will stick. So, what tools are available that can help you climb the rankings?
Link Building Tools
Firstly, using tools like Moz’s Open Site Explorer can help you understand what is working for your competition so you can level the playing field. Next, finding the right keywords is important to maximise your outreach potential. Understanding the profile of where your backlinks are coming from is essential and URL Profiler can help you do this.
There are also tools that help you research a target network of powerful influencers so you can make direct pitches for blogger outreach.
Tools to Check Competitors Backlinks
Understanding why your competitors are outperforming you in the SERP stakes is key to planning an effective link building strategy. It’s a simple process of analysing what backlinks they have achieved and taking the same approach and stepping it up.
Fortunately, you don’t need to go undercover to get this kind of information as backlink analysis of any website is straightforward and easy.
We’ve found five tools that you can use to check backlinks from your competitors so you can stay ahead of the game.
Check Backlink Quality and Trust Flow with Majestic
UK based link intelligence company, Majestic has produced their own unique tool to help webmasters identify sources of quality backlinks. Using two key flow metrics (Trust Flow and Citation Flow), Majestic indicates not just how authoritative a backlink is but how useful it is in terms of traffic generation.
Both are similar to metrics used by large search engines and can help you analyse the performance of backlinks your site already has. You can use Majestic to check backlink quality as well as other SEO performance criteria.
Analyse Backlink Metrics with Moz
Checking the domain authority of a site is an important way to ensure that the backlinks you are building come from a quality source and are likely to help your SERP rankings rather than damage them. Moz, the SaaS marketing company has produced a powerful SEO tool to help deliver important backlink metrics to analyse your existing links and inform your research on your growth strategy. Moz’s backlink tool closely mimics the PageRank algorithm that Google uses to perform its searches and can be an extremely powerful way to monitor backlink data.
Sticking to the Rules
All backlinks are not created equal and whilst some can boost your SEO rankings, others can harm your online presence. We take a look at the impact of playing to the rules and what kind of trouble you can get into if you fall foul of the guidelines.
Link Building within Google’s Webmaster Guidelines
Google’s aim to create and collate results of quality sites that have an organic growth of their own has resulted in a sophisticated algorithm. Designed to reward sites that are regarded as trustworthy, authoritative and relevant within any given keyword search, the Google Webmaster guidelines are simple; your website should be designed for humans not for search engines. Within this premise there are plenty of specifics, all of which are intended to promote natural link building and not encourage Black Hat SEO techniques.
Knowing the Google SEO rules and guidelines for link building you can dodge the Penguin update penalties.
Effective link building within the rules includes avoiding:
- reciprocal link building schemes.
- wholesale content marking.
- automated link generation software.
- link trading.
Do NoFollows Affect your SEO?
Whilst most backlinks are automatically picked up by search engines, a good number of sites convert your well-meant backlinks to ‘NoFollow’s. So, do NoFollows affect your SEO? An HTML value attributed to links that only humans can follow, a NoFollow is effectively a link without the ‘juice’. Being aware of how and when this happens is important.
Avoiding Google Penalties with White Hat SEO Tactics
The differences between Black, White and Grey Hat SEO techniques can make a huge difference in how well your domain performs in the search engine rankings. Get it right and you can enjoy the rewards that a successful SEO campaign can reap but, get it wrong and you could significantly damage your standings with Google as well as affect your online visibility.
Ostensibly a way of determining whether an SEO tactic legitimately falls into Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, White Hat tacticians are the good boys of the link building world. They create natural links using content that is well optimised but with humans in mind. They generate inbound links from domains with good levels of trust and authority.
Conversely, Black Hat SEO tactics are employed by companies looking to manipulate their page rankings using techniques that could incur penalties if they are detected by Google. Plagiarism, cloaking and paying for links are all examples of Black Hat techniques.
What’s the Worst That Could Happen? Pitfalls of Black Hat SEO
Black hat SEO tactics are employed by plenty of companies building backlinks so, can Google penalise bad links and what’s the cost to your business?
Since Google launched the Penguin update to help create a fairer page ranking system there have been many high-profile cases of companies being penalised for falling foul of the rules. Expedia, BMW and Overstock have all been reported as having their sites castigated for flouting the rules on link building.
The results of these penalties resulted in significant drops in their rankings resulting in a loss in traffic and revenue; in some instances, this has had a huge impact on share prices as well as resulting in negative publicity.
Found Our Link Building Guide Useful? Find Out More with Opace
You should be in no doubt that performing well in SEO and improving your rankings is no accident and requires a well-informed, well-prepared strategy around content creation and backlink building. At Opace we don’t just understand SEO, we consistently deliver successful strategies to help our clients achieve the best results for their websites. For those of you looking for some practical suggestions relating to other areas of SEO, please read our SEO predictions for 2018 post. We hope you’ve found our link building guide useful but if you want to learn more about how we can help you to achieve your goals then contact us today or call on 0121 222 5757.
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