Link building is arguably the most difficult aspect of off-page SEO, but ultimately gives the most return on the effort put in. Today’s article gives you the basics of link building and everything you need to know before you strategize your campaign.
“If you build it, they will come.”*
I wish this were true when building a blog with great content, but it’s not.
You have to let people know that your blog exists through link building.
In this article, I discuss link building basics: what it is, why it’s important, how to distinguish a high-quality link, what link schemes, and how to ensure Google doesn’t mistake your efforts for participating in such link schemes.
Link building can be defined as the process of getting links from other websites to your own website. These “incoming” links to your blog are called backlinks.
Links are a way for internet users to navigate among different webpages. Search engines also use these links to discover new pages, as well as to determine which pages should rank in their search engine results pages (SERPs).
Link building is important for SEO. Backlinks to your blog are a signal to search engines that other webmasters/bloggers value your content. The more backlinks point to your blog, the more authoritative your blog becomes perceived by search engines, and the higher they’ll place you on their SERPs.
Link building can increase traffic. Link building also helps increase trust in your blog. People tend to perceive your blog as credible if a trusted website links back to your blog. Thus, your audience expands and this increases traffic to your blog.
Link building helps you become a better blogger. Getting backlinks also helps you become a better blogger in that you learn to build relationships with other bloggers in the same niche, from the beginners to the intermediate to the high-profile influencers in your niche. You learn to write better pitches because you learn what works and what doesn’t.
Google has always looked at backlinks as a ranking factor for a website aside from high-quality content. The idea was that site owners would only link to another website if it deserved to be linked to, i.e., it was a good resource/reference.
So initially, Google looked mostly at the number of backlinks to a website; that is, the more backlinks your website got, the higher the likelihood of your website being ranked higher on their search results page.
However, savvy webmasters, bloggers, and SEO experts quickly caught on to what Google was trying to do. This gave rise to techniques that are now called black-hat SEO methods.
I won’t be discussing the details of these techniques here because we really, seriously, absolutely DO NOT endorse this type of SEO technique. Suffice it to say that links to a website are being manipulated in devious ways so that it looks like plenty of other websites are linking to it.
Google, in turn, caught on to this practice and started punishing sites that had questionable links that do not adhere to Google’s webmaster guidelines. All the shady practices that they frown upon are also there in that page so you can find out if your blog has violated some guidelines, whether you meant to or not, and what you can do to fix them.
Bottom line: Build high-quality backlinks and you help your rankings. Build low-quality backlinks and you harm your rankings.
I’ve mentioned that the quality of links you build is now more important than it ever was. Thus, it will serve you well to know the types of backlinks and which ones you should focus on building.
Natural or editorial links are unsolicited backlinks that are posted on other websites because they simply want to link to your page. These are the most desirable of the three, but it’s out of your control; the only degree of control you have is to keep your content high-quality so they’re worth linking to. Google values this type of links because they’re difficult to acquire.
Manual or “outreach” links are those that were given by other websites because you asked them to. This involves reaching out to other bloggers in your niche or submitting your blog to a high-quality directory. Outreach links are the most common type of links that you’ll build, especially when you’ve only just started to blog and trying to get a foothold in your niche.
Self-created, Noneditorial Links
These are backlinks that you yourself created, like from your user profile on other websites, blog comments, or forum signatures. Among the three types of links, these have the least value and may even be considered spammy if there are too many of these links to your blog.
As you’ve probably noticed, the most desirable of these are natural links, followed by manual links, and lastly, self-created links. Thus, your link building efforts should be focused on getting the first two types of links. The last type is easier to obtain but more likely to be seen as low-quality links.
Remember: Fewer high-quality backlinks are better than plenty of low-quality backlinks.
Speaking of quality, how does Google “decide” that a link to your site is high-quality or not? Here are some factors to keep in mind.
Domain Authority (developed by Moz) is a measure of a domain’s ranking potential. Backlinks from domains that have high authority will have a greater effect on your blog’s ability to rank than backlinks from domains that have low authority.
To check a page’s domain authority at a glance, you can download the free MozBar.
Note: If the difference between a domain and website is unclear, you can check this discussion about what a domain is here.
Google also takes into consideration if the linking page with your link on it is related to the topic of your article.
For example, if your blog post about a healthy smoothie recipe is linked from a cellphone review site, it’s not going to count, even if that cellphone review site is high-authority.
From the perspective of the audience, the visitors of the cellphone review site are unlikely to be interested in your recipe. Thus, you won’t gain much in terms of traffic. Hence, Google would conclude that the sole reason your link was placed there was because you wanted backlinks, and they really don’t like that.
Therefore, you want to get links from high-authority sites that are in the same niche or closely related to your blog topic.
The location of your link on a linking page may seem inconsequential, but Google reads into it as well. The rationale is that the more relevant your link is, the more likely it should be found in the body of the content in the linking page.
If your link is in the sidebar or the footer, then the signal is that your link isn’t very important or interesting for users. In addition, if Google senses that you have a good deal of links in sidebars or footers of other pages, that could indicate low-quality link building.
The clickable text displayed in a page indicating a link is called the anchor text. For example, if I were to link to the homepage of StoppingScams.com like so: Stopping Scams, the anchor text is “Stopping Scams.”
Historically, Google interpreted the anchor text and concluded that the link must be related to the anchor text displayed. Typically, this has been abused by early SEO experts and anchor texts tended to be stuffed with keywords. Nowadays, too many links with exactly identical anchor texts are considered spammy.
In addition, you don’t have control over what the linking page uses as anchor text for your link. Therefore, the anchor texts of your links should be a mix of some keywords, your blog name, and some call to action (CTA) phrases like “click here” or “read more.” This is more natural-looking to Google than having them all identical.
Dofollow and nofollow are HTML attributes that tell search engines whether or not to consider a particular link as a ranking factor.
I know we’re venturing into technical stuff here, but let me show you what it looks like in the code:
<a href="https://stoppingscams.com/">Stopping Scams</a>
Note: Dofollow is the default attribute for links, so you don’t need to indicate it in the code.
<a href="https://stoppingscams.com/" rel="nofollow">Stopping Scams</a>
The attribute rel=”nofollow” on the linking page tells search engines that they don’t vouch for that link and to not count this link as a ranking factor for the target page.
The nofollow attribute does have its uses, especially for affiliate links and for links on the comment sections. Websites usually place a nofollow attribute on the comments section because they don’t want to appear to be endorsing links that they haven’t vetted. This discourages spammers from posting inane comments for the sole purpose of placing links on reputable websites.
What does this mean for your link building strategy, then?
If most of your linking pages have the default/dofollow attribute, it implies that your linking pages trust your content enough to vouch for it. Thus, the more dofollow links you have compared to your nofollow links, the more likely that Google will see your blog as an authority.
Before you even strategize for a link building campaign, you need to first have an idea of what type of behavior Google sees as a link scheme so you don’t do it by accident. According to Google,
Let’s go over some examples of practices that MAY be considered as link schemes by Google if you’re not careful and learn how to do it the right way so your blog doesn’t get penalized.
First, let’s get this out of the way: Google has nothing against paid links in itself. Advertising is very much part of the online economy. Paid links only become a problem if they are designed to pass link equity and influence search engine rankings.
Remember this simple rule of thumb: if you pay someone (whether it’s with cash, goods, or services) to display a link to your blog, that’s an ad. If it’s an ad, have them add a nofollow attribute to the HTML.
Do: Only use paid links for advertising purposes and not to influence your search rankings. You need to make sure that your paid links have the nofollow attribute in their HTML so you don’t get penalized by Google.
Don’t: Use paid links just for link building.
Like paid links, exchanging links (i.e., “Link to mine so I’ll link to yours”) isn’t inherently wrong. It makes sense that you would link to other sites in your niche as a resource or in a roundup post. Similarly, they can link to you as a resource in their article.
However, Google will know something’s up if too many sites linking back to you, as well as if they detect that some of the linking pages aren’t even related to your niche.
Another red flag is when they discover that a link to your site is in one of those pages that contain nothing but a list of links to a lot of different websites.
Do: Exchange links only with bloggers who are in the same niche and that you’ve built some relationship or rapport with. Select these sites wisely. I’ve previously discussed how to choose bloggers to reach out to.
Don’t: Post your links with just any site, especially on pages that contain only links with no accompanying content to provide context.
Guest blogging is an effective way to present your content to new audiences and get additional traffic. However, there is a right way and a wrong way to do guest blogging.
Guest posting for the sole intent of building links the quick and easy way—that is, haphazardly writing articles and then mass pitching them to various blogs—is never going to be successful.
For you to get links out of guest blogging, you’ll have to NOT prioritize link building. You’ll have to think of link building as a major but secondary benefit of guest blogging. The right way to guest blog is to build relationships first with other bloggers before you even pitch your idea for a guest post.
Do: Guest blog as a part of a larger online strategy, which is to first build relationships and write high-quality content for new audiences. For more details on how to plan a guest blogging strategy, read this article.
Don’t: Send out pitches for guest articles en masse hoping to fast track your link-building efforts and quickly increase your search rankings.
Even something as innocuous as commenting may be mistaken for a link scheme by Google.
Sounds like overkill?
No, it’s really not.
Posting comments on other bloggers’ posts is one of the ways that you can get yourself on their radars as well as their audience’s. Likewise, posting on forums in your niche is a good way to introduce yourself and your blog to new audiences
However, if you’re posting comments just for the sake of an opportunity to drop your link in your signature or place links with overoptimized anchor texts all over your comment, this is sadly misguided.
First of all, any savvy blogger would moderate comments on their blog, precisely because of this practice. Plus, even if your spammy comment goes through, it’s going to look spammy, especially to Google. You can’t escape it; your blog is going to be penalized if you go this route.
Do: Always abide by the commenting rules of the blog or forum you want to comment on. Only post a link to your blog post or article if it’s actually valuable and relevant to the discussion or conversation.
Don’t: Post comments that are unhelpful or even off-topic with overoptimized anchor text. Definitely don’t automate this process.
Given all of these dos and don’ts, what is our main takeaway?
Google prefers high-quality, popular content, and they prefer any links to that content to be editorially given. If you’re in doubt whether you’re participating in a link scheme or not, the rule of thumb is: If you’re building a link other than to recommend an article or a blog post that would be useful to your audience, you’re probably in a link scheme.
Link building is the process of getting links from other websites to your own website.
Reasons to start a link building campaign:
Build high-quality backlinks and you help your rankings. Build low-quality backlinks and you harm your rankings.
Types of backlinks:
Fewer high-quality backlinks are better than plenty of low-quality backlinks.
What Google looks for in your links:
When doing link-building activities, ensure that Google doesn’t conclude that you’re trying to manipulate its search algorithm so you can get higher rankings.
These are just the basic concepts that you need to be familiar with before you start a link-building campaign. I just have one more (basic) point to make about link building.
Reading this article, you might be under the impression that we’re falling all over themselves to please Google. To some extent, that’s true, but only because we need Google SERPs to connect us to people who are searching for high-quality content that we can provide and asking questions that we can answer.
Any amount of link building won’t be successful without your readers in mind. When they click on a link and find nothing that’s helpful to them, they’ll never trust anything from your blog again.
Now that you know the basics of link building, you can now strategize an ethical link building campaign. Here’s how.
Do you have any questions about the basics of link building? Are you ready to work them into a link building campaign that benefits your readers as much as it benefits you? Talk to me in the comments!
*Yes, I know that the actual quote from the movie Field of Dreams is “If you build it, he will come,” but it undermines my point so I revised it.
JoAnne is your average, everyday, sane stay-at-home mom who believes in the power of the internet to make dreams come true. She has an insatiable appetite for chocolate, as well as all things internet marketing. She keeps up with the latest trends in blogging, affiliate marketing, e-commerce, and more.