It’s nearly impossible to have SEO success without link building. Google simply measures your website’s credibility based on links from other websites.
You can’t look at links as a numbers game, although getting more links helps. Think about inbound links in terms of relevancy and quality.
If a popular cultural blog links to your painting website, you get a thumbs up from Google. If your cousin Jenny links to you from her hair salon website, Google kind of sighs and says, “Sure, we saw that link. To us, it’s like one vote. But that blog? You got yourself a high-quality link from a well-known Internet resource. That one link is like 100 votes just for a single link. Well done.”
You can get links many different ways. But it’s not easy and it’s a time killer. Think of it as mining for gold. You’ll invest considerable time just to find some legitimate link sources that send traffic and help Google respect you.
Sure, think about your contacts and get links from some of your personal and business friends. A few won’t hurt. By all means, if you’re in a local, state or national organization, you should insist on a link to your website.
One of my most successful link building efforts involved a start-up company in the entertainment world. Years ago, IMDb featured several headlines at the bottom of its home page. Earlier in my career, I worked with a team that pitched the new company’s original video content IMDb. We secured one of the coveted headlines and earned 10,000 referring visitors over seven days (the length of time IMDb displayed the headline and link). We obtained other inbound links as well, including several from celebrity fan clubs.
Keep in mind that some websites sometime apply the “nofollow” tag, which means you’ll get the traffic but not the value of the link. In other words, websites rank better when Google rewards them for getting quality links. The “nofollow” typically comes into play when you buy links or chase after easy ones like social media profiles. Basically, Google wants you to earn the natural links because of the content you offer.
Here’s the kicker: in 2019 Google announced that it may view a nofollow link as a “hint.” What the heck is a hint? I’m with you – Google is vague (maybe for proprietary reasons). The good news is that Google may actually give you credit for some nofollow links. Mostly, “hint” seems to be Google’s way of saying: “We’re thrilled to have discovered the nofollow reference. Now, we will decide whether it’s a legit link and maybe give you a pat on the back for attracting it. Or, we may view it as a spammy website or evaluate the nofollow link for other reasons we’ll never divulge.”
How can you get the best links?
Create Good Content
Few places will link to you just because you exist. Those category, product, and service pages? You may have a way with words, but they’re not going to attract links in most cases. Exceptions may be unique businesses or blogs. For example, I could see why someone might link to PlantBar
You don’t need A+ content (whatever that is) or text that someone rewards with golden stars for your forehead (yeah, that was a thing when I was a kid).
Think educational, entertaining or useful.
Top 15 Most Inappropriate Wedding Songs – that’s worthy of a link.
Here are some other ideas:
- Create a blog
- Make a video series
- Develop infographics
- Release a study
- Share results of a survey
- Create how-to guides
- Research and share lists of industry tools, stats, websites and resources
Become a Spy
It’s easy to see what competitors or related websites are doing to secure quality links. Tools like Moz and SEMrush let you explore backlinks they got. I call them “Me Too” links, meaning you can get some of the same places to link to you. You’ll come across everything from media to semi-related websites. A website that sells water ponds could get a link from a landscaping blog.
Just for kicks, I looked for websites about tiny houses and came across this article from the Tiny Life:
How to Build a Tiny House: The Complete Tiny House Building Checklist. Within seconds, Moz revealed thousands of links, including one from Money Crashers.
Let’s start with a word of caution. The Internet is littered with “SEO friendly” directories. Google isn’t keen on most because they’re considered spammy, meaning they don’t have much value. You can spot them when they list tons of unrelated websites on the same page. Over the years, some directories have earned decent reputations. The owners took the time to organize the directories. In many cases, they even charge to screen and process websites before adding a link and description.
Free and paid options include:
Best of the Web (paid)
I come across industry directories by searching for them on Google or uncovering them when I spy on client’s competition.
SoloSEO is an excellent tool that can speed up your search. Basically, it give you many search queries based on a keyword phrase. Maybe you sell audio equipment. SoloSEO will display a page with countless combinations like:
audio equipment “add url”
audio equipment “add site”
audio equipment “add website”
audio equipment “add your site”
But my favorite ones are:
audio equipment directory
audio equipment * directory
directory * audio equipment
Link building will feel like it takes forever. You can easily get excited by a directory. Once you poke around, you might not find a way to request a link. Usually, that means the list or collection is home-grown as a service to website visitors. The directory may be part of a larger website and someone or a team compiled a list of suppliers or manufacturers. They’re not necessarily on the lookout for more.
Find the Right Publishers (Blogs, Magazines and Newsletters)
Major online magazines and even lesser known ones may offer links. It’s easy to see whether they link to anyone. Research blogs and newsletters as well.
If you reach out, your primary goal should be to establish a relationship for future content. Sometimes publishers move on and won’t go back to an article just to add a link to your website.
Research College and University Professors
Over the years, I’ve seen website content produced by college and university professors and other staff. They may be willing to link to your content if it matches their interests. Unlike the media, you’re more likely to convince them to add your link to an existing page.
Look for Broken Links
With a little effort, you can discover website content that has broken links. With diagnostic tools at Ahrefs, Moz, SEMrush and others, you can determine when websites that broken external links. That happens when a website closes or deletes a website page. Essentially, you point out the broken link and ask the publishers to consider replacing the outdated link with a fresh link to your relevant content.
Search for Your Company Name or Products
Some websites may mention your brand without offering a link. But they may be open to linking to you if you ask.
Use the Moz Discovered Links Data
I’ve been in the habit of checking who links to me and thanking them. Sometimes my content gets picked up and I don’t know it right away (websites link to my SEO studies). It’s good to reinforce relationships that could lead to more links in the future.
Use the Moz Lost Links Data
Moz helps me figure out when links disappear.
As horrible as it sounds, you may lose backlinks from time to time. Websites change their content, delete pages, etc. One of my studies from 2013 enjoyed a link for six years from a major industry influencer. I thanked him for the link even though I may not get another link right away. It’s worth reaching out because you never know what you might work out.
Like I said, link building is time-consuming and it’s not always so fun. But it can be rewarding if you’re proactive and patient.