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Link building tips and strategies

Building links for SEO

Getting other websites to link to yours is a critical component of improving your search rankings, with each site that links to you acting as a 'vote' for your content. John Straw explains how to improve your link strategy

Links give Google important clues about the content contained on your site via the words contained in the anchor text of the link or the alt text of the graphic linking to you. Search engines will look at:

  • How many sites link to you?
  • How many trusted and authoritative sites link to you?
  • What the context of the link is as defined by the link anchor itself and the content of the page the link is on?

The best links come from websites that specialise in your business area and which contain your keyword in the link anchor or is a page all about the keyword.

There are lots of ways of acquiring links. You might consider:

  • Blogs - a great source of links because they are easy to engage with, they’re sociable and they can boost your rankings significantly.
  • Customers – it is likely that many of your customers will have their own website. Encourage customers to link you your site.
  • Suppliers - companies that supply your business are all potential link targets. 
  • Resource pages – typically these list sites that might be of interest to their site visitors. Try contacting these webmasters to introduce yourself and your site.
  • Directories - there are thousands of online directories. The most trusted directories only let the best sites in and often ask for payment but can add authority to your site. 
  • Forums - establish your credibility by making useful, on-going contributions. Link to your site only if you have a page that adds value to the thread. Don’t be afraid to link to other sites that add value, this helps establish your credibility.
  • News sites – these tend to be authoritative and can be great for improving rankings.
  • Local links - getting linked to by local directories, blogs, news sites and resources is a good way for local businesses to increase their ranking.

The relationship between content and links

It’s clear that good quality content is vital. The way search engines work is changing. Low-quality content, re-published content and content published purely to generate links are being devalued. Strategies that involve you creating and promoting your own brilliant content through direct engagement and social media should be increasingly used.

Quality links is also much more important than the quantity. Links that come from sites that aren’t trusted, that have low amounts of unique content or which have high levels of reciprocal links will be of little benefit to you.

In addition to how many links you need, another KPI is how fast you should build them — known as link velocity. One of the ways search engines detect link spam is to look for unnatural link velocity. For example, if a website had been naturally acquiring a link a week but suddenly acquired 200 new links all with a similar commercial link anchor text, it’s going to look suspicious.

Make sure your links use natural language patterns, synonyms, related keywords, combinations of your brand name and anchor text.

The value of a link changes over time

Lots of the links you’ll create will lose their value over time, and just a few will increase their value. The ones which will help you the most for the longest depends on where the link is and what type of page it is.

If the link to you is from a permanent resource, you’ll get much more benefit than if the link is from a page that is destined to be relegated to the archive. Sites that suffer most from this 'link decay' are blogs, articles or PR submission sites.

If you push content to sites where links get relegated quickly, you will need to regularly publish content to as many different places as possible. If you get the high quality links from pages designed to be read and referenced (linked to) for a long time, then you’ve got yourself a link that won’t decay and might even increase in value.

Turning prospects into links

Getting other websites to link to you can take time. It’s about making friends. The website owners you want links from get lots of requests every day, so you need to stand out from the crowd. Here are my top tips:

  • Take it slowly and get noticed — comment on their posts before emailing, follow them on Twitter, mention them and re-tweet.
  • Get to the point — what do you want them to know about? Content they are likely to be interested in could include news, interesting and relevant research, competitions or promotions, useful resources and interviews with influential people.
  • Suggest where you think they should link to it.
  • Remind them of your credentials on the subject.
  • Make sure you have a “What’s In It For Me”. This could include making their own resource more authoritative, free quality content, sponsorship, product samples or discounts, exclusive information or interesting research. As a general rule, the better and more relevant your content the less commercial the WIFM needs to be.
  • Make friends and be approachable.

Is it all worth it in the end?

You bet. Building links will have a dramatic effect on your ranking. Links help your website and its pages gain trust, authority and relevance. Search engine optimisation can have a huge ROI, which in my experience far exceeds that of paid search. It also lasts a long time.

John Straw is an expert contributor to Marketing Donut and the founder and VP of Business Development at SEO specialist, Linkdex.

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