In this instalment of Words that Bite, I look at the puzzling business of link building.
When it comes to links aim for quality, not quantity
What are links?
If websites are ‘places’ on the internet, then links are the ‘highways’ linking those places.
As I’ve mentioned before, Google’s primary concern in life is to keep its users happy. Using complex algorithms, Google and other search engines not only try to work out how pages are linked together but to assess how valuable those links are to their users.
How important are links?
Links are a crucial part of SEO.
Since the late 1990s, search engines have used links as votes in order to determine the importance and popularity of web pages. As algorithms have become more sophisticated, search engines can not only analyse the popularity of web pages, but also other factors such as their trustworthiness, levels of spam, and their authority.
How do search engines measure and weigh links?
How exactly the search engine algorithms analyse links or weigh the different factors is not known. This information is probably locked in a vault somewhere in the basement of the Googleplex in Mountain View, California.
However, from working with websites, you can make some assumptions about what algorithms look at. Experimenting with links will tell you quite a bit about how they work to boost a website’s ranking on Google.
There are eight main factors that search engines seem to consider when weighing links:
1. Global popularity of a link
The more important and popular a site is, the more being linked to from that site matters. A link from Wikipedia would be an example of a link from a very popular site.
2. Quality of link
The better quality a site, the more links from that site matter. Search engines favour websites they believe to be authoritative and rank the links coming from them accordingly.For example, if you had a blog commenting on political issues in the United States, the New York Times linking to it would be seen as one of the best links you could possibly obtain. In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald or The Age linking to a blog commenting on the political landscape in Australia would be ‘link gold’ for that blog.
3. Relevance of link
It also seems that search engines value links from websites that are relevant to a particular topic.For example, if you were a breeder of dachshunds in Sydney and the Dachshund Club of New South Wales linked to an article on your website, it would be more valuable than a link from a site that had nothing do to with dogs.
4. Trustworthiness of link
Since the web contains massive amounts of spam (about 60 per cent of the web’s pages are spam), search engines use systems for measuring the trustworthiness of links. So earning links from highly trusted domains can boost your Google page ranking.
5. Link neighbourhood
Spam links often go both ways. Basically, a website that links to spam is likely to have spam sites linking to it. This means that search engines look at all the links as a whole and see your site as part of a link neighbourhood. As a result, it is a good idea to choose the sites you link to carefully and be picky about the sites you attempt to earn links from.
6. Freshness of links
As the web is constantly evolving, the quality of links has a tendency to decay over time. Therefore it is important to continue to earn new links. Search engines examine the freshness of links, to judge their current popularity and relevance.
7. Anchor text
Anchor text is the visible clickable text in a hyperlink. It usually gives the user descriptive information about the content of the link’s destination. If dozens of links point to a page with keywords that match the text in those links, that page has a good chance of ranking well for the targeted phrase in that anchor text.
8. Links to social media
Although we know search engines treat social-media-shared links differently from other types of links, they still consider them. With the explosion of social media in the past few years, there is no doubt that it is important to cultivate links from social media.
What is ‘link juice’?
SEO professionals often talk about link juice.
It is the term used to explain how much weight Google attributes to links from a particular site. For example, the New York Times and Wikipedia are sites that have a high level of link juice. Wikipedia has a high level of link juice because of the popularity of the site; the New York Times has a high level of link juice because of the quality attributed to the site.
How do you build links?
Since link building plays such an important role in determining the page rank a website receives, and because it is both difficult and time-consuming to get high-quality links to your website, there will always be the temptation to use nefarious methods to get links.
In the end, you have two choices:
- ‘Black hat’ link building.
- ‘White hat’ link building.
What is black hat link building?
Black hat link building is the quick way of building links to your website. Instead of focusing on quality, you concentrate on quantity.
The vast majority of link-building companies operate on the basis that you pay them to organise links for you. This tactic is based on creating link spam and involves obtaining links from places such as:
- Social bookmarks.
These strategies may work for a while, but ultimately the search engines will detect that the links are spam and you will find that your link strategy has stopped working. In short, if you go down this road and end up buying dozens of links from a link-building company that has promised you the world, it can end with a big Google penalty.
With forums, you create a profile page and a signature link. Signature links allow links to be created at the bottom of posts or comments you leave in a forum. The problem is that these links are of low quality and are not merit-based. Search engines are getting better at ignoring these links and assigning them no value.
A link farm can have a vast number of websites and web pages within it, all under the control of a link-building company you pay to provide links to your site. Search engines can now detect link farms, meaning that all the links from them soon cease to have any value.
Directories can be useful in attracting traffic to your website. However, they are also a form of spam because they are not merit-based, and therefore rarely have any weight in terms of increasing your ranking.
These are created by services such as Squidoo. In theory, they are useful because they allow people to create pages about subjects they care about. However, the spammers have also realised hubs are an easy way to create pages for link building so, once again, links from such sites won’t carry much weight.
Link spammers seek out blogs in the hope of leaving a comment and an associated link to their client’s website. These are not merit-based unless the blog is actively managed by its owner, and popular blog software such as WordPress automatically ‘nofollow’ links in comments anyway.
The ‘nofollow’ attribute was invented by the major search engine providers (Google, Yahoo, and MSN) to combat link spam in blog comments. When search engines come across links in comments, those links are blocked from having any value in SEO terms because the search engine:
- Does not follow the link to the new site
- Does not count the link towards its popularity score in their ranking engine
- Does not include the link text in the relevancy score for those keywords.
Link spammers have also targeted social bookmarking sites. These days, credible sites such as Digg and Marketing Land ‘nofollow’ links to deter link spammers.
White hat link building
In contrast, white hat link building is a slow and painstaking process of building high-quality links over a period of time. It works on the principle that you target websites that have authority and whose readers might be interested in the content of a page on your site.
There are a number of strategies you can use, including:
- Creating quality content for your website
- Having a blog
- Having guest posts
- Writing articles for online industry publications
- Asking your customers to link to you
- Including testimonials.
Create quality content on your website
The first and most basic principle of white hat link building is to create quality content on your website. Websites thrive by publishing new content that is targeted to their audiences and niches. Even if your content is read by only a few people but those people become customers because they like your content, you are on the right track.
For example, if I have a company selling antennas for mobile broadband devices to help people in rural areas get better internet reception, and include on my website detailed and useful information about how to install antennas, I might find I start getting links from companies selling mobile broadband devices because they want to help their customers. However, obviously that strategy won’t work if the company selling mobile broadband devices is also selling antennas.
The trick is to try to get links from non-competing businesses in the same field by offering high-quality content that those businesses might want to link to.
Create a blog
A high-quality, newsworthy blog is an excellent way of building links because, once again, it is a great vehicle for providing the kind of content that people might want to link to.
Write articles for online industry publications
Another strategy is to write articles for reputable online industry publications that will link to your website. Ideally, these sites should have a high level of link juice, so that the link is high-quality and helps boost your page ranking on Google.
Guest posts can be an excellent way of getting links to your website. The icing on the cake is if the guest is from a website in a related industry, so that its readers are likely to be interested in your product or service.
Get your customers to link to you
If you have loyal customers with websites, you can ask them to link to you.
If you have contractors or suppliers whose services or products you are particularly happy with, you can offer them a testimonial in exchange for a link to your website.
You will probably find that you end up preferring one link-building strategy in particular. However, it is important to understand that Google isn’t just looking for a mass of inbound links; it is looking for link diversity. For this reason, you need to try to attract links of different kinds. After all, if you focus on one kind of link and Google changes the algorithm and devalues all such links, your SEO efforts would collapse.
Tools for analysing links
A good way of monitoring the quality of links you are receiving on your website, as well as checking on the quality of links on other sites, is a tool called Open Site Explorer. It is easy to use but you need to know the domain name of the website you wish to research.
Another option is Majestic SEO. It enables you to measure not only the strength of your website links, but those of your competitors.
When it comes to building links, it is a good idea to keep in mind the story of the tortoise and the hare: the slow and steady approach will win the race. As with everything, if you develop a strategy and put in the hard work, you will eventually get results. However, if you try to be sneaky and pay for links, you will probably get caught out, and soon find that your beautiful link-building strategy crashes to the floor and sits at your feet in an unsightly heap.
In the next instalment of Words that Bite, I will look at an aspect of building a website that often gets overlooked – writing your website content.
Are you too busy running your business to look after your SEO? Would you like someone to look after it for you? If so, call the Pink Rottweiler on +61 (0)409 609 903 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Who is the Pink Rottweiler? The Pink Rottweiler is Genevieve Burnett – a copywriter who will take the time to research your business and come up with the smart words to sell your product or service.