You’ve hit a wall. You’ve tried Google Ads, your website is optimized for SEO, and you’ve posted articles on your site. And while these techniques brought in a lucrative traffic boost the last few months, now your results have plateaued.
You’re starting to feel defeated. You stare blankly at your computer monitor, lost for answers, as a million thoughts race through your mind: “What else can I do to find success online? Will my website and business ever take off? I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong.”
The situation is frustrating. But it doesn’t have to be.
There may just be a powerful SEO technique you’ve missed. One praised by influential websites like Moz, Backlinko, and Search Engine Land. And while no one ultimately knows Google’s #1 ranking factor, we and our clients have seen incredible results with this method. So what is this mystery technique?
Well, it can be summed up in a single word: backlinks.
If you’re new to the term, no need to worry. In this article, I’ll teach you the secret to backlinking success, as well as 11 tactics you can use right now to gain traction. But first, let’s start with the basics.
What is a backlink?
Backlinking is the process of getting another website to link to yours. This link is often referred to as an inbound link because it drives traffic “inbound” to your website. Why is this important for ranking? When Google first opened shop decades ago, the company’s founder discovered that links were very good at determining a page’s quality because it provided an objective way to understand if a page was a good source of information.
Think of backlinking like a referral system.
Let’s say you refer a friend to a job at one of your partner companies. Of course, you want to refer only a quality candidate: a person who shows up to work on time, is smart, respectful, and has a great work ethic. What happens if that referral lets your partner company down? You look bad. In fact, referring a bad candidate could damage your credibility.
Google’s philosophy is the same as above. A website will only link (or refer) to another site that is credible and trustworthy. And when the Search Engine Giant sees the inbound link, they reward said website with a higher ranking.
4 Factors that determine backlink success
So now that you have an understanding of backlinks, know that succeeding with them is not as simple as getting any old website to link to yours. Google employs some of the world’s brightest minds, and they have specific ways to determine whether a link will lead to a higher page ranking. Here are four factors to consider:
1. Domain Authority: Credibility can be measured
If you read our blog Why you’ll never rank on Google’s 1st page by tinkering with keywords, metadata, and similar SEO tactics, you may remember a metaphor about how search engines judge credibility. Here it is again for you:
When you wrote a report in high school or college, did you cite Encyclopedia Britannica or the National Inquirer? Probably the former because it’s a very credible source. Google thinks the same way. Websites with the most credible inbound links are rewarded with a higher ranking.
When it comes to credibility, the online equivalent to Encyclopedia Britannica would be Forbes or Business Insider. If you get an inbound link from one of these sources, you’re more likely to see rankings improve for the keywords you’re targeting.
You can figure out how credible your website is by learning its Domain Authority (DA). This metric, developed by Moz, measures the SEO strength of a domain based on a 0–100 scale, which is determined by the quality and quantity of a website’s inbound links. What does this mean for you?
The more backlinks you get from websites with a high DA, the more likely you are to see an increase in rank. You can discover your website’s DA by typing your URL into Moz’s Link Explorer.
2. Link Relevancy: Does the link make sense?
SEO specialists have known about the power of links for decades. But there was a time when the source of the link didn’t matter. In other words, every link to your website was good, no matter where it came from, or how relevant it was to your website. Link building was a numbers game; and the more you had, the more you’d rise in rank. This caused a lot of problems for search engines.
Website owners would game the system, getting as many links as possible, often from using what today would be considered unethical tactics. Google caught on. And nowadays, relevancy is incredibly important. What exactly is relevancy? Let me give you two examples.
- Let’s say you’re a dental practice. A link from Colgate, which has a DA of 76, would be incredibly relevant because, as we all know, a key part of dental hygiene is to brush with toothpaste. In fact, I usually get a small tube of Colgate from my dentist when I go for a cleaning. Point being, a link from Colgate would make a lot of sense for a dental practice.
- Now, let’s look at the opposite end of the spectrum. What if that same dental practitioner also got a link from a lawn-mowing service. Sounds a bit strange, right? I can’t think of a single thing a dentist and lawn-mowing company might have in common. Which is why this is an example of a non-relevant link.
While there is a debate online as to whether or not non-relevant links hurt your ranking, they likely won’t help. Instead, I recommend you focus on the links from relevant websites. Get a few of them with a high DA, and you’ll start noticing big results in your website traffic.
3. Amount of links: Numbers matter (kind of)
Let me be straight with you. The amount of inbound links to your website is important. But what’s more important is quality over quantity.
In the last section, I mentioned how people used to get as many links as possible, without caring about relevancy. This could be done with “black hat” techniques like link farms, microsites, and other link schemes. In other words, these are unethical tactics intended to trick search engines, instead of providing value to searchers.
At Pronto, we highly recommend you avoid using black hat techniques. While these tactics may score you hundreds of links and a coveted first page ranking in the short term, they could ultimately have devastating consequences — like getting your website banned from search engines.
Numbers matter. But when it comes to link-building success, quality over quantity wins the day.
4. Your local market: Why your business’s location has a dramatic effect on your success
While there may be little you can do about your office’s location, know that the size of your local market plays a big role in your link-building success, as well as your overall SEO efforts.
The reason is, you have a much higher percentage of ranking on page one in your local market than you do nationally, or even globally. For example, ranking for “remote IT support services Roanoke”, where you’re only competing with those in your city, would be much easier to rank for than the general keyword “remote IT support services”, where you’d be competing with websites across the globe.
If you’re in New York, Chicago, LA, or another large city, you likely have your SEO work cut out for you. “Likely” is the keyword here because there is another more important factor to consider.
If, for some reason, you’re located in a large city but have few competitors, then ranking on page one will be easier. When it comes to market, the most important factor to consider is competition. The fewer competitors you have in your market, regardless of the size, the easier it will be to rank.
If you’re feeling a bit nervous now because you’re located in a market flooded with competitors, not to fear. The next section provides you some practical tactics to gain links and start rising in rank.
How to win with backlinks: 11 Proven tactics
Now that you have an understanding of backlinks and how to find success with them, let’s get into the nitty-gritty details. Here are 11 proven ways you can earn links:
1. Be a digital “talk show” guest
No, I don’t mean podcasts (though that is a legitimate marketing strategy that may earn you links). Instead, I’m referring to one of the oldest link-building strategies in the book: guest posting. How is this like being a talk show guest? Well, it’s quite simple. A good talk show guest provides value to the audience. And when you guest post, that is your job: to offer your wisdom, insights, and strategies to help the reader. Do a good job and you may earn a link (as well as some publicity). Bear in mind: the more popular the website, the harder it will be to land a guest article. But the payoff can be huge.
2. Help a reporter out
Reporters are always looking for stories. So why not contact local news agencies to see if they’re interested in publishing an article about your business? Another option is HARO (Help A Reporter Out). Register as a source on their website, and every day, you’ll get a list of potential stories you may be able to be a part of. If you’re chosen as a source, you could get a link and some great exposure.
3. Publicly announce a business milestone
If your company has done something newsworthy, write a press release and send it to a distribution network like PRWeb or PR Newswire. An added bonus of this link-building technique is that you have full control over the content in the release, meaning you can choose the keyword you’d like to rank for in your anchor text. That said, keep in mind a few caveats. One, to gain an SEO boost from a press release, news outlets must pick up your story. Two, using this technique too often (like more than once a month) can make your website look spammy in the eyes of search engines, which could hurt your rankings.
4. Always be networking
Who else do you know has a website? Whether those people are friends, family, colleagues, or business partners, if their site is relevant to yours, reach out and see if you can get a link from them. In fact, any time you begin a new relationship, whether with the owner of a coffee shop you frequent or a doctor, ask yourself, “Would a link from their site to mine make sense?” If so, consider asking for a link as the relationship progresses.
Image credit Meetup.com - A great place to expand your network through personal relationships
5. Be as easy as possible to find online
How can you do that? Think directories. You can get a backlink in the Better Business Bureau, the Yellow Pages, Thomas Local, your local chamber of commerce, and many others. Also, consider partner directories (like Microsoft, Google, and Cisco) or associations (like Australia’s Master Plumbers Association or BNI). There are literally thousands of directories and associations online, and you are likely to find a handful of solid options with a quick Google search.
6. Report a broken link
Broken links are a fact of life on the internet. They’re as synonymous with the web as cheese is to pizza. But what if you did another website a favor, identified a broken link on their site, and then offered similar content to replace it? Like content from your website, for example. Sounds simple in theory, but you’re probably wondering, “How do I find broken links?” Google Chrome’s Check My Links plugin can do it for you. Of course, once you contact the webmaster about his or her broken links, there’s no guarantee you’ll get a link in return. But if you’re friendly and polite, you have a good chance.
7. Volunteer your business for a study
But not just any study. One way to score links with high DAs is to reach out to influential sites and offer to write a case study. At Pronto, we’ve done just this for Hootsuite, Zendesk, and other sites, which have led to some powerful backlinks. Why can’t you do the same? Just ask yourself, “Is there a service or business I love? Is the company popular?” Ask if they’d like you to share the story of how their business helped yours, and you may just win a link.
8. Sing another business’s praises
Similar to the case study tactic, and a less time-consuming way to get a high DA link, is to offer to write a testimonial for an influential site. Just remember to insert your link into the endorsement, and you may get the backlink if the company publishes it.
9. Become a social media butterfly:
While social media doesn’t directly affect your rank in Google search results, your activity on various platforms can attract more traffic, followers, and backlinks. In other words, being a social media butterfly can indirectly boost your rankings. The key — like with all effective link-building strategies — is to create quality content people want to read, share, and link to.
10. Think outside the blog box
When many people think of linkable content, they think of blogs. While we love blogs at Pronto, did you know there are other content types that have a high percentage of earning a link? A study by BuzzSumo analyzed one million articles and blog posts and found that quizzes, videos, and infographics also earned a large amount of links. My point? Mix up your content creation strategy with some of these blog alternatives, and more websites will likely link to your content.
11. BUT, also blog like your business depends on it
Wait a second. Didn’t I just suggest creating other non-blog content? Well, yes, I did. But what I didn't tell you is that BuzzSumo’s study listed six specific types of content that gained a high degree of links. The three I didn’t mention were blogs. Specifically, “How to,” “Why,” and “List” posts. While these aren’t the only style of blogs that get links (some of our most popular blogs don’t fit into any of these content frameworks), the point is that websites will link to content that provides value. Blog consistently over a long enough period and focus on providing value, and the links will come.
The journey to page 1 begins with a single backlink
And the momentum builds with each link.
As you get comfortable using the tactics above, you’re sure to find a few that appeal to you. Maybe that’s guest posting, HARO, or notifying others about their broken links. Whichever tactics you choose, if you stick with them, in time you’ll rise in the rankings and see a high and sustained ROI.
However, to be completely honest, the road to backlink success is a long and tedious one. Success requires perseverance and patience. Which is exactly why we offer our Advanced SEO program — to help businesses that don’t have the time, expertise, or connections required, to win with link building.
With our service, not only do we take the time to understand your business, budgets, and goals, but we also offer advice on how your website can leverage your new organic traffic source.
That said, if you choose to move forward alone, keep one practice in mind: always offer value online. Do this enough and the links will come.
If you’re unsure whether or not link building is the best marketing solution for you, we may have a simpler option. One that will not only attract links, but solely requires you do a single thing: blogging. Our last post in this series [insert Blog 4 title and link] shares our secrets of how we’ve gained hundreds of clients from blogs, and how you can do the same.