Link building is hard. The days of article spinning, comment spamming and automated tools that quickly drop thousands of links for you are over. With the crackdown on webspam that Google has made over the last few years, link building today is about hard work, developing content assets that are worthy of links, thinking creatively and building real relationships.
If you're new to the world of SEO, you might be wondering why people make such a big fuss about links. In this video, I discuss why search engines care so much about links, the different aspects of links that are used in determining rankings and some tips on where to get started. If you're interested in learning more about link building, below are a few resources and tools that I've found very helpful.
- Point Blank SEO
- The Moz Blog - Link Building
Hey there, Pronto people, Tim here. Today, we're going to talk a little bit about links. Links are perhaps one of the most important aspects of SEO but also one of the most difficult and time consuming. To understand why links are so important, we first need to go back to the early days search engines and think about how they determine rankings. Back in the early days of search engines like Lycos, the only way that they determine rankings was through page relevancy and that means is that they would scan every document on the internet that they could find with all of the words in that document and see how many times certain words appear throughout the page.
Then by figuring out what word occurred most often or how those words interrelated with each other, they can help figure out which page was most relevant for the term being searched for and that page would rank higher in the search results. The problem with this is that it made it really easy for webmasters to manipulate the rankings. If they wanted to rank for a certain phrase, all they need to do was throw that phrase onto that page hundreds of times and they'd shoot right up to the top of the rankings, so you'd end up with these really messy search results with a lot of pages ranking to top 10 that didn't really deserve to be there. They just had webmasters that knew how to manipulate search engines.
When Google came on the scene, they built upon that, that relevancy algorithm and added another algorithm that only looked at linking. The reason they wanted to include linking was because building a link requires a third-person outside of the website owner to build a link to that page, so it sort of works like a voting system. Each link pointing into that website is a vote for the popularity or authority of that page. The more links pointing to it from quality sites, the more likely that page actually deserves to rank. Sergey and Larry called this algorithm PageRank after Larry Page and went on to found Google based on that algorithm and expand upon it for years to come.
In the 15 years or so since Google first came on the scene, their algorithm has gone insanely more complicated. Today, it looks at over 200 different ranking factors to help determine what should appear in the top 10 search results and specifically links have gotten a lot of new factors involved as well. It’s not just counting the number of links like it was in that very first algorithm that Sergey and Larry developed, it also looks at the quality of those links. A link from a website that has more links pointing to it is more valuable than a link from a website that only has one or two links pointing to it. The more quality links you can get from other quality websites, the more ranking strength or more link strength that that gives to your site.
Google also looks at things like trust and the way that they determine trust is by starting with a seed set of websites that are very, very high quality, say like university websites or government websites. They go through all of those websites and say for instance that government websites only rank to spam .001% of the time one step away from them and then those sites that they’re linking to link to spam .01% of the time. The further away you get from that seed set of trusted websites, the less trust that those links carry. A lot of link builders today try and go directly after educational websites or government websites and those are really difficult links to get but they can also be really valuable.
Google also looks at the placement of the link on a page. It’s really easy to throw a link into the footer of a website and it goes back to your page; but Google realizes that that’s really easy and gives less value to a link that appears in the footer than one that say appears in the content of a blog post. Google wants to only count links that are achieved naturally, not something where you just built this website, threw a link in the footer and it points to your other website. That’s sort of trying to manipulate the rankings. Another factor involved is what’s called link velocity and this can be sort of thought of as how the number of links that you are receiving increases over time.
Let’s say a new person throws out this infographic and it goes viral. Everybody is sharing it; everybody is linking to it. Google sees that over maybe a one week period that one info-graphic gets a hundred links to it and they know that that infographic is really popular right now, but over the following months it might fall out of favor and get fewer and fewer links, and it becomes less popular and maybe less likely to rank. Another really important factor that people or SEOs tend to obsess over is the anchor text of a link. The anchor text is the little highlighted blue and underlined text that you actually click on to go to another website. What Google does is look at that text in that link and use it to help determine what your page is about.
Let’s say for example you want to rank for computer support, if you had some links that pointed to your website that included the words computer support in them, that’s a big sign to Google that you’re page is about computer support and deserves to rank for that term. You also need to be careful though because if you go overboard with this, it can really be a clear sign to Google that you’re trying to manipulate the rankings. You don’t want to focus too much on one keyword over another, you need to keep things really diversified and appearing natural. When it comes to actually building links, there’re a lot of tactics to choose from. Some might seem really obvious and some need a little bit of creativity to come up with.
A few of the more popular link building tactics right now are guest blogging, competitor research and broken link building, but rather than go into the details of those and talk about any of the other link building tactics, I’m just going to link to a few resources down below the video here that you can check out on your own.
Backlinko which is run by Brian Dean and Point Blank SEO run by Jon Cooper both have great resources on link building tactics and I highly suggest signing up for their newsletters as they’re always sending out emails with new tactics that they thought of and tested out that you can try on your own.
As with the anchor text that I mentioned before, it’s really important that you don’t focus on a single tactic over and over again. When you go only after one single tactic, again, that’s a clear sign to Google that you’re trying to manipulate the search results and that could end up hurting your website. There’s also specific tactics that you really want to avoid that Google is cracking down on and penalizing sites for or making less and less valuable. Buying into blog networks, buying paid links and obviously, hacking into websites and forcibly putting your links on there are really frowned upon by Google and can end up causing a lot of damage to the performance of your website.
I’ve already hinted at this a little bit but to me one of the most important aspects of link building is diversification. You should think of your link profile sort of in the same way that you’d think of a stock profile. You don’t want to throw all your eggs into one basket because you don’t know how things are going to end up in the future. A tactic that might seem really safe today and really easy today might end up hurting your website down the road when Google decides that that tactic has become too spammy. A good example is guest blog posting.
It’s widely considered pretty safe today but people have already started just turning out terrible blog articles, throwing them out to every website that they can find that will accept guest blog posts and building as many links as they can. Now even though that those links are probably somewhat valuable today, say in six months or a year from now, Google might decide that this guest-posting problem has gotten out of control and decide to devalue all those links and then you’re back at square one or even worse they might penalize your site for engaging in spammy tactics.
Like I said, the same thing goes with anchor text. Anytime you do something over and over again, it becomes really glaringly obvious to Google that you’re building these links on your own and not earning them naturally. You’re essentially trying to manipulate the search results, which is exactly what Google does not want you to do. Be really careful when you’re paging your tactics and don’t get stuck in the same rut. Even though it’s really easy, it might end up coming to bite you later. When you’re really getting in to your link building campaigns, it can end up being really complicated, but fortunately, there’s a bunch of tools that can help you make the process a little bit easier.
There’re several tools that can show you all the links that are already pointing to your site as well as a bunch of information about those links like Open Site Explorer by Moz, Majestic SEO, Ahrefs and even a little bit from Google themselves through Webmaster Tools. A lot of link building tactics today involve outreach to other webmasters or influencers in your industry and there’s a few CRM-type tools that can help you keep track of all your outreach efforts and know who you've already contacted, know if they've already rejected you or if they've already even given you a link. Some of those tools are BuzzStream, Ontolo and Raven Tools. All this together can help make your life a little bit easier and help you sort of focus your campaign in a direction that you want.
This video is by no means a fully comprehensive lesson on link building. Link building is far more complicated than what I've discussed here today and if you're interested in working on link-building on your own, I suggest you do a lot more of research before you get started. I’ll link you even more resources that I found helpful for myself and you can go check those out and start building links and improving your ranking. That’s all for now guys. Bye-bye.