Link building today is more complicated than it used to be at the dawn of search engine optimization – it is not enough to pay admission to a thousand link farms, and what’s more, nowadays it is literally harmful.
To be able to construct a powerful link profile for your site today, you need to make serious efforts. You must get as many powerful sites as possible to organically refer to you.
In the following article we will review the basics of modern link building, and how you can strengthen your online store’s position on the search results pages.
Here are the contents of the article:
- Basic concepts and the theory of link building
- What is link building?
- The nofollow myth
- How strong is a reference?
- Anchor texts
- Relevance of references
- Non-natural references
- Skillset to link building
- Creating content
- Spreading content
- Rating link building strategies
- Difficulty and budget
- Value of references
- Penalty risk
- The most effective techniques
- Creating quality content
- Guest blogging
- Ego baiting
- Dead references and exploitable opportunities
- Dead references
- Dead references pointing at you
- Brand mention
- Reissuing protected content
- Comment on professional platforms
- Acquire strong domains
- Special offers
- Organize blogger sweepstakes
- HARO: your way to the media
- Contact manufacturers
- Always use your head when building links!
Basic concepts and the theory of link building
What is link building?
Basically, the aim of this process is to increase the volume of the organic search traffic coming from Google or other search engines. Another aim is to increase the number of clickthroughs, organic traffic coming from other sites – if we acquire appearance at a priority site, for example on a major news portal, it might generate a significant traffic by itself.
Research shows that the variables linked to references are weighted at higher significance in search algorithms nowadays than the on-site factors ‒ more precisely, they demonstrate a higher correlation with the rank at the results page, regarding we do not know how algorithms work in detail. Among on-site factors, those linked to the content of the website, are keywords and meta descriptions, for instance.
Each reference pointing at our website is counted as one vote in the aspect of the algorithm, and as such, it positively affects its chance to get a better position.
However, these votes are not weighted equally.
How strong a site is from the aspect of Google is determined by the so called “site authority”. This basically shows how much the search engine “trusts” a given site.
A reference appearing on a site with high authority – significantly the news portals – are worth much more than the one that appears on a minor site.
How much this trust is, is well illustrated by two indicators:
- Domain Authority (DR): it shows how strong the complete site is in general from the aspect of the search engine.
- URL Authority (UR): it shows how strong a specific sub page is.
We can meet two types of references on the web. The “other” type, the one worth mentioning as an individual subcategory, is the so called “nofollow” references.
These are complemented by a rel=nofollow attribute, which indicates the search engine bots not to look “behind” the given reference, therefore theoretically they do not contribute to strengthening your link profile. (According to Google policy, all paid links must be complemented by a nofollow attribute.)
On the other hand, experts working on search engine optimization say it is by far not as simple as that.
If, for example, a reference is placed on a site with high authority, such as Wikipedia, to which almost the half of the Internet refers and is viewed as a very trusted site by search engines, experience shows that these kinds of references do actually strengthen the link profile.
The nofollow attribute is not a brick wall, rather like a dead-end street sign – the search algorithm may count it as part of the authority value depending on other variables.
How strong is a reference?
Search engines are generally likely to evaluate reference links stronger which are placed within relevant content, than those found in footers or in sidebars.
Based on Google’s “Reasonable Surfer” patent, we know that the search engine prefers references which users are more likely to actually click on. These are obviously the links which are naturally in the text and are surrounded by relevant content.
This, of course, does not mean that a reference link in a footer would be weak – we must take an enormous number of variables into account during link building. This is the reason why major brands operating sites with sturdy authority scores can efficiently use references placed in their footers or headers in their link building strategies.
Context is not the only thing that matters, but also what text is exactly linked.
Although in the past few years the significance of this has also reduced, figures say that completely or partly identical keywords found in anchor texts still show high correlation with good positions.
Of course, Google is watching in this case, as well: if each link pointing at us is completely identical with the given keyword, the algorithm will recognize that we are trying to manipulate it. The aim is to build an organic link profile where conformity does not dominate.
Relevance of reference links
Based on several aspects, Google is watching how relevant the references placed on a given site are. Among these are context (the content found on the site), anchor texts (see above) and the other some types of references on the site.
Sites linking a thousand pages in a thousand topics can by no chance be relevant. (And, of course, the content in this case has been limited to a couple of hundred characters, and we can hardly speak about stable visitor numbers or a trusted site.)
Google’s algorithm may mark specific references as “non-natural”, or it can also be done manually, based on reports. If there are more than one non-natural reference points at a site, it does not only mean that SEO will be less efficient, but it can also involve penalties.
It is difficult to determine what a non-natural reference is. Google traverses algorithm manipulation in all aspects, therefore all references arising as a result of conscious link building are considered non-natural.
This, of course, is unmeasurable. It is a generally accepted fact that if our references appear to be built into editorial content in specific sites, or if they have been manually built (by guest blogging, content recommendation and so on), avoiding black-hat solutions, we have no penalty to be afraid of.
Skillset to link building
If you want to proceed with efficient link building today, you will need a team with excellent skills in the following 3 fields:
- Analytics (keyword research, competitor analysis etc.)
- Creative content creation
- Communication, spreading, sharing content (networking, recommendations, generating traffic)
Let’s see why these are essential.
We obviously need to know our current link profile, its weaknesses and strengths, for efficient link building. Besides, we must also be capable of understanding the competition’s link profile, and based on all this, we must draw up a strategy.
If you want to build a natural and strong link profile behind your site, you must observe how your competitors have done that. Maybe their link building was not conscious, perhaps you can even be better than them in several fields, using some tactics (we will discuss it later).
Your aim is to recognize the tricks your successful competitors have applied, and determine whether you can copy them.
If you want both professional sites and your audience to organically refer to you, you must upload great content to your site. That means relevant and quality content which serves as substantive answer to questions that they care about.
Such content (like an article made using the skyscraper technique or an individual survey) can interest lots of people, who will not only be grateful for this, but will voluntarily spread it as well. This is the most natural way of link building.
You will also need content to be able to spread it yourself, recommend it to major sites, share it in professional groups, recommend it to your target audience in forums.
For this you must know the content range of your own field. If there are strong blogs, you should copy their tactics and make even better content. If there aren’t, you must create the first and unbeatable content service on your market.
The aim is that your audience turns to you – not only because they want to buy from you, but also if they have any questions, if they are interested in the latest industry news, or if they would just like to read some interesting opinions about some exciting topic.
Content service today is an inevitable part of search engine optimization. Google “remunerates” quality content the most, just like the audience – this is why the entrance threshold has become higher, but it is good the way it is, as actually those sites are able to stay on top which respect their audience as much to provide the best service for them in this field, as well.
What will become viral content, what will spread well organically is unpredictable. If it were not, the online marketing experts would have a much easier job.
This also means that you must actively do things in order to reach your audience with your content. You must spread it on social media (targeting, for example, professional groups, question-answer pages, recommending your content in paid advertisements), through networking (targeting opinion leaders and specialists) and within your own network, too.
The latter basically means sending it out to your mailing list, as even today it is the most efficient tool.
It is also a good idea to set different notifications for events, like when a topic is mentioned on a page you hope for reference links from, you can be the first to respond to it and recommend your own relevant content.
Rating link building strategies
Before starting link building, you should assess your opportunities. The best is if you already have a list of several strategies, rating them from several perspectives.
Primarily you should consider the following four.
Difficulty and budget
It might happen that a strategy would work perfectly, still it is not ideal for you. The major brands may use techniques which would need resources you do not have access to.
Nowadays enterprises, for example, have content generating departments, sometimes separate subsidiaries work on this, or they even purchase complete media empires.
An ecommerce store generally does not have such a big team or budget to establish its own content generating department, therefore it is advised to only deal with content generating in the field where it is sure to create the highest quality.
Techniques that need an unrealistic amount of networking to get the reference links to appear in the appropriate places are also problematic (for example, on news portals or personal blogs of opinion leaders). Targeting smaller ambitions, a few of these appearances are also reachable, even at a lower budget, but a strategy based on this also needs more significant PR activity.
Value of reference links
Consider it in advance if the result is worth the invested effort. If in the end all you win is to have your reference link appear on a dozen minor blogs and forums, it is probably not worth the effort, as they will not strengthen you as much as if you acquired one major appearance with a powerful backlink.
Of course, it is difficult to predict the result, but the content spreading methods can be good basis for the strategy. Examine what audiences you can reach, who might be interested in what you can tell, how likely they are to refer to you. (You should observe the campaigns of the competition and their results.)
How likely is Google going to see your link profile expansion non-natural? How big is your risk to get a penalty?
Keep in mind that the algorithm is constantly changing, and is more likely to move in the direction of quality content service and natural link profiles. In case of each medium-risk method there is a danger that the search engine giant might give a penalty for that in a month.
If your domain is once penalized, it will be extremely hard to recover it. It will need much more work to regain your good position gained through grey-zone tricks than the “fairer” approach would have needed.
The most effective techniques
Creating quality content
The clearest way of link building: simply create quality that will definitely be referred to. The acquired reference links are generally more valuable than paid references – on the other hand, you will definitely need content spreading to draw the attention to what you have created, why it is worth dealing with.
Surveys: Statistics, research results which first appear on your site. There is a number of ways you can create such things: you can examine your own database, other sites using various analytics software solutions, you can review databases, or even send out questionnaires. It is essential that the figures and consequences are original. They should refer to your site as primary source.
Infographics: The Internet community loves infographics, and this is not a coincidence. The audience loves to have information appear in a simple, transparent and creative form.
If you make good infographics in a specific topic, others are also likely to use it. They will insert it in their articles, blogposts, and refer to you as source. It is worth it for both parties, as they gain an excellent spectacular content – while you gain a quality backlink.
Newsjacking: If a current and important topic takes wing, try to insert in your own story. Timing is crucial: it does not matter if you post your own opinion, survey results or relevant experience about a certain topic, the most important thing is to be among the first. You will have to fight enormous competition in the time when these topics start to wear out.
Watch the news portals and professional groups relevant to you. You might spot something actuality which could thematize the discussion on your target market in the next few days.
For this, you will need some previous networking. Find some successful blogs which are preferably not your competitors, but your audience likes to read them.
Contact the authors and get them to publish one or two of your own articles on their blogs. Theoretically everyone wins with this: if they are open to guest blogging, they get quality content, in return you get reference links which is good from the aspect of the search engine, easy to see for your audience, thereby generating organic traffic on your site.
However, Google is not happy about guest blogging. The main reason is that in most cases people try to trick the algorithm by poor quality content and poorly trusted sites. If you indeed publish high quality content on popular and high quality sites, there is no penalty to fear.
It is basically the opposite of guest blogging: instead of appearing somewhere, publish or mention opinion leaders on your site hoping to be recognized.
For example, if you build your article on some previous content of an expert, they will probably soon know about this by quoting or referring to them. This has positive effect on their ego, therefore will share your article on their own platforms, as well.
It is also useful for traffic generating and for building contacts too. But you must create outstanding content and pay attention not to accidentally offend the targeted person’s ego.
It is also a good solution to reach out to them: if for example you make an interview with an industrial expert, or ask for their opinion about a current topic. But you can also mention them in list articles, like “the opinion leaders to be followed”.
Dead references and exploitable opportunities
You can find lots of opportunities on the net that make your life easier, because you do not need to create your own content spreading campaign behind link building.
Nothing is eternal on the net. You can find plenty of professional sites referring in their articles to already inaccessible content, as those sites have ceased, transformed, moved since then, and so on. Using various tools, you can search these.
After this, you can make similar content on your site. Things that make up for those that are no longer accessible on the previous links. Draw the sites’ authors’ attention to this, and you already gain quality references, as you have provided them the new sources instead of the old ones, thereby strengthening their authority as well.
(These tactics can also work in case of Wikipedia link building.)
Dead references pointing at you
You can examine how many references are pointing at your site, but the given content for some reason is no longer available on the link. You can draw the attention of those who have made the original references, or you can transform your site so that the links will again be accessible.
This, by the way, is very important from the aspect of link profile: Google does not tolerate if the links pointing at your site end up on a 404 error site or redirect.
Set notifications that watch if brand names associated to you are mentioned somewhere. If your name, company, site or product is mentioned, visit the site. Contact the authors, thank them for mentioning you, and ask them to refer to the relevant site or content instead of simply mentioning it.
(They also win with this, as Google evaluates link profile not only by inbound, pointing at various sites – but also outbound, pointing outwards – links.)
Reissuing protected content
If someone republishes your content without permission, without reference to you, you can do two things. One is that you make the person remove it (either by request or using legal tools).
In some cases, however, it can be much more useful to simply tell them the solution: if they appropriately refer to your site (so that it is also clear to Google that it is not simply a content duplication, but yours is the original source), they can keep the content.
It can be the good solution, for example, in case of infographics, as your original aim was to spread it – in return for reference.
Comment on professional platforms
Find forums, message platforms, where your audience converses. Observe what questions they have, what problems come up, what are the topics they are most interested in.
You have acquired loads of new excellent content ideas – all you have to do is produce them, answer the questions, offer solutions to their problems, start spreading your content.
Be careful to only refer to yourself if absolutely necessary, do not fall into the trap of spamming, as the community might also dismiss you, if they see you are only active to promote your site.
Give real and useful answers, get them to see you as a helpful expert. Although the value of the reference gained this way will be low, but you can get to know your target audience, generate traffic and build a community for yourself.
Acquire strong domains
One of the difficulties in link building is to acquire really strong domains with high authority – both as referrer and owner. In other words: it is difficult to build such, and it is also not easy to convince others to refer to you.
However: Enterprises are born and terminate every day on the free market. Among them are those which were really successful in link building, but for some reason they had to leave their online world.
In certain cases, thousands of high-quality references point at their domains.
Throughout the years enormous amounts of backlinks were collected, simply as a result of the news about them, too – Blockbuster.com, for example, over 175,000.
Of course, you could spend thousands of dollars or even more on a domain of such high value, if you wanted to acquire it – others also watch available domains. Therefore it is suggested to watch the industrial news (searching for ceasing, fusing, exiting companies in your field), and also parked domains (on sites of domain providers, such as Godaddy.com).
If you acquire these, you already have a domain with a great link profile at your hand – all you have to do is fill it with relevant content, and try to clean the link profile of the since outdated references. How to do that? You can read it in the previous section.
You can find sites promising some sort of membership, companies that offer something relevant compared to what you sell in your online store.
Think of an offer for their target audience. Say, for those with membership at the certain company, can shop at a 10% discount in your online shop. Contact the owners of the site with this offer.
Everyone can win with an agreement like this. It will make it easier for them to sell the membership to their own audience, as they give extra value by offering more advantages (as their members shop cheaper in your online shop).
In return, you get a good quality backlink on their site and traffic, and what’s more, they will guide customers to you. All you have to pay attention to is that the offer is worth for you, too, and do not give too high discount.
Organize blogger sweepstakes
It is a more complicated and somewhat more risky solution from the aspect of Google’s policy, but, on the other hand, there is a chance of getting great results.
You have to do the following:
You choose the most popular product on your site – preferably something that is easy to make a story of, can even have PR value, because, say, it can simply be integrated in a vampire, zombie or similar topic. (These are just random examples: it should be connectable to a phenomenon popular among your target audience.)
Organize sweepstakes: publish that the best X number of people to write a blogpost about why they want to win the product, what they would do with it, who writes a good story or anything similar will get one of the products for free.
Choose the best ones and really send them the prizes, and quote and refer to the posts on your site.
With a little luck, if your product and topic was well chosen, and the sweepstakes were widely communicated, well-targeted, you win dozens of new backlinks, as your visibility also increases.
HARO: your way to the media
This is a method that presumes you are already an expert in content creation.
How many articles have you read or how many reports have you seen in the past week in which experts were interviewed? Depending on your media consumption habits, this can be somewhere between 10 and 50.
This is obvious: a good journalist always tries to “authorize” his or her article by experts’ opinions. The beauty of the Internet today is that not only those can be “experts” who are qualified for that.
Gastro bloggers, beauty bloggers and others appear not only on news portals, but also on television channels. People who simply create quality content about a topic.
You can even optimize your content for keywords which journalists usually search (“nutritional expert”, for instance), but you need not wait until “Muhammad must go to the mountain”.
There are services like HARO (Help a Reporter Out), where journalists and experts are connected with each other. It is a similar method as if you were commenting in professional forums: you simply listen to what relevant questions are asked, and you answer them.
You can even hire someone, a freelance journalist, for example, who specializes in the particular field, and can do it for you, on behalf of you, instead of you. With a bit of luck you can even get your foot in the media, win posts as an expert of the given field – and beside that, of course, really valuable links pointing at the expert blog operating beside your online store.
The advantage of this is that it can significantly enhance your expert authority, it builds your personal brand and it has good effect on your site as well.
If you have not yet done so, and you are not selling your own products, it can be a great way to contact the sites of manufacturers of each product. Look through them all and find resellers’ lists.
If they have one, you can immediately contact them and recommend your site. This will hardly generate real traffic (most of us originally turn to Google, we do not search the manufacturer, but the store with the best offer that is the most comfortably accessible for us), however the backlink you get from this site will be extremely valuable.
At the beginning of the article we have already mentioned: practically everything we know today as link building strategies are theoretically only tolerated by Google, of course, with the exception of content creation.
Therefore, you must always assess the risks with common sense in all cases. Try to apply organic link building techniques, win or deserve your links instead of buying them.
Build up your expert authority, your personal brand, generate content that will – with time – provide your reputation and high reach. Everything else comes after having built your long-term content strategy.
You do not want Google to penalize you, as there is rarely a way back from the black list. If possible, consult with an SEO expert, and avoid buying links in catalogues or spamming posts.
Take our advice above, and you can give your site a strong link profile not only providing a good position on the results page, but also building your brand.