Posted by BradyDCallahan
As experienced marketers, many who specialize in search, we have an obligation to educate business owners, small business one-person marketing teams, and anyone else who may not know the ins-and-outs of SEO.
While some of you may be worrying this would give away our “secrets,” I’d challenge that you’re missing the point. The new age of SEO is about users and less about technological gimmicks, and it’s time to put our money where our mouths are. As I said in the comments of Miriam’s recent Moz Blog post:
“The misconceptions of SEO can doom a campaign from the start, so by teaching people ahead of time, not only would our campaigns be easier to initiate, there would be a better understanding on both sides of the agreement from the start.”
The worst client engagements I’ve ever been a part of were riddled with misunderstanding, false expectations, lack of educational communication on my end, and a lack of SEO knowledge on the client side. Nobody wins in that situation.
Surely these unfortunate circumstances can be prevented with the creation of quality resources that provide the bare minimum of what’s necessary for businesses to avoid making the worst mistakes, hire the right people, or even conduct small-scale campaigns on their own.
As business owners, small marketing teams, or another non-SEO specialists, you have questions about link building. This post aims to prevent you from experiencing those disastrous situations and conquering one of the most critical and controversial aspects of SEO.
Understand What Search Engines Say About Links
If you’ve done any research about links and how they affect your website’s performance in search results, there’s one takeaway that everyone understands: links are important.
But why? Where does that notion come from?
The horse’s mouth! Google and Bing [editor's note: link redirected to home page, I've included cached copy here and reached out to Bing for correct URL] both use incredibly clear language to explain the importance of links in their search algorithms and to ranking higher for search terms. You must read up on this information to gain a true baseline of understanding about link building and how you should go about it. Now that you have the basics and see links should be considered “votes” for the website you link to, it’s time to dig a little deeper.
In addition to the small snippet of information in their Webmaster Tools Help section, Google’s SEO starter guide will help you understand the role your website plays in the search giant’s index, what impacts your website’s performance in that index, and how links play a role in improving – or diminishing – performance.
Moz has created an unbelievable resource in The Beginner’s Guide to SEO, and their seventh chapter focuses exclusively on link building and the role it plays in search. For best understanding, I’d recommend you begin reading from the start of the guide to get the full picture.
Search Engine Land also has a short chapter dedicated to links in their SEO Guide. They highlight the three main factors of a link that search engines look at when determining how valuable that particular “vote” is. That entire guide is worth a complete read-through as well.
Discover Why Users Link to Content
If search engines consider links as votes for particular websites and their pages, understanding why users link to other websites is crucial to your ability to attract links – and more importantly, traffic – to your website.
- Authority – Positioning yourself as an authority in a particular subject is a great way to entice people into “listening” to your message. What types of content can you publish on your website that will show your business’ expertise in your industry? Are common questions about your business answered and addressed through your website? If not, you may not be an authoritative figure in your space.
- Value – Let’s just be honest for a second: if what your business’ website brings to the table doesn’t appropriately showcase the value your business can have on prospective customers, you’re not doing it right. This is relevant for every aspect of your site: the design, content, features, business information, and more. Bring valuable stuff to the table and people will be more likely to link and reference your business’ website.
- Unique – Uniqueness is major factor that drives both value and quality of your website’s ability to earn links. If you can help readers understand what’s unique about your business and its website, you can increase the chances of earning links from relevant, quality sources.
Users will link to websites for a variety of reasons, but authority, value, and unique qualities enable you to stand out from the competition.
Good Link Building Tactics to Get Your Brainstorm Started
Link building is more about naturally earning links than begging people to link to you. While you can apply some basic SEO principles in order to maximize your website's potential for inbound links, but ultimately specific tactics do exist to build a qualitative link profile.
One of the best link building idea resources is Jon Cooper’s Complete List. The interactive user interface makes sorting through your ideas quickly and easily. Your best tactics will be populated depending on how much time you have and what resources are at your disposal.
Are you stuck in a “boring” industry that doesn’t lend itself to content, press, or other attention grabbing headlines? This Search Engine Land article from Nate Dame is a great way to think outside the box.
Brian Dean has spent a lot of time perfecting link building and email outreach, which all culminates in this comprehensive “definitive" guide. It’s a long read – with a lot of other links – but a good one.
If you’re sick of reading articles, how about a presentation? Paddy Moogan from Distilled delivered an epic 2012 MozCon Presentation on 35 Ways to Get Links.
If you’re reading this looking for introductory-level advice on link building, you’ve come to the right place. This next resource is also perfect for you and your business. It specializes in how to start building a great backlink profile when starting with no links. SEER Interactive’s Adam Melson rocks it with a good mix of “quick win” tactics and long-term strategies.
Keep in mind, these resources and the specific tactics mentioned are useful, but should only be suggestions that get your link building efforts started. Your best link building efforts will include a variety of tactics and pull from multiple strategies centered around information and opportunities unique to your business and its vertical.
As you learn more about link building and begin crafting your own strategy, I’d encourage you to go out on your own and search for additional case studies, resources, and guides. But, be careful whom you listen to, bad link building can be a very bad thing.
Learn How NOT To Build Links (and Why)
That reminds me, knowing what NOT to do in link building is just as important as what to do.
If you remember from earlier, search engines want links to be “natural.” While politicians can encourage you to vote one way or the other, they aren’t paying citizens off or literally forcing people to vote for them. Google and other search engines want linking among websites to operate similarly.
Paying for links? Please don’t. Bugging people to put links to your website on every page of their website? Nope. Only getting links from cheap, unseen online directories because they’re promising you a certain number of links? C’mon, man.
"Natural" means links that are relevant, useful, and valuable.
Getting some press coverage in your local online newspaper for community work? That’s natural. Creating a large content resource for your average customer? That sounds like something a blogger would like to write about (with a link included). Reaching out to publishers and gently encouraging them to add a link to the story they did about your company culture? They were talking about you anyway, right?
Also, review Bing's resource to know how not to build links, but the best advice I can give is “use common sense.”
Link Building Isn’t Everything, But It’s Really Important
One thing I want to communicate clearly: link building isn’t the magic bullet of SEO. You’re about five years too late for that. A "magic bullet" in SEO doesn't exist.
However, links are really, really important and one of the most powerful signals search engines measure to determine a website’s authority. Don’t believe me? There are two recent news items that show links won’t always be as important as you think they will.
- Matt Cutts – Head of Google’s Webspam team – frequently records videos for the Google Webmasters YouTube channel in order to answer common SEO-related questions. Recently, he answered a question regarding backlinks and their importance in the future. His answer? Take a look for yourself.
- “The Panda Patent” – A recent Google patent included a very interesting piece of information that references brand mentions (mentions of your brand without a link) as “implied links.” If we put two and two together, you’d assume that in the future, Google’s algorithm will value mentions of your company the same way it measures links. While this is more projection and speculation than fact, it gives us reason to believe the future could be less about links and more about general buzz.
For an expert-take on the patent itself, read Bill Slawski’s post that takes on each element of the patent one-by-one.
While simple citations or brand mentions may become more important in the next few years, links are still going to be one of the more powerful SEO tactics. However, if you don’t spread around your investments, build links the right way, and invest in building a brand, you’re probably doing it wrong.
What Have I Missed?
- Knowledge is power and links are an important part of SEO.
- Search engines value links and treat them as “votes” for a particular website and its pages.
- Users are more likely to link to content that is relevant, authoritative, valuable, and unique.
- There are a lot of good link building tactic resources on the web that can help you brainstorm, however leveraging the unique aspects of your business and the industry is the best strategy.
- Don’t pay for links, don’t participate in link schemes, and don’t do anything stupid.
I’d encourage you to take the information from this post and turn it into valuable link opportunities for your website. This blog post is a good, small start to what can be a daunting task, so I’ve purposely kept things brief.
However, you may feel I’ve left a few questions unanswered writing this post: what have I missed? I’d be happy to keep the discussion brewing in the comments and would love to see some input from fellow inbound marketers, link builders, and SEOs.
Business owners: use this newfound knowledge, go forth, and take advantage of opportunities through link building and earning!
Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don't have time to hunt down but want to read!