The world wide web has changed a lot over the years, but from its earliest incarnation hyperlinks, clickable text or images that direct browsers to other pages and content, have been a fundamental means of sharing knowledge and traversing the information superhighway. Simply put, without links the web would be unnavigable.
Google co-founder Larry Page is credited with being among the first to realize that links were more than just a utilitarian means of moving from page to page, but actual stores of information themselves. Links indicate trust and are a recommendation that the click will lead somewhere useful and desirable.
Google’s PageRank algorithm judges websites on a variety of factors, most of which are jealously guarded and frequently updated, but chief among them has always been the quantity, quality, and relevance of the links pointing to them.
A Vote of Confidence
In the digital marketplace we all operate in today, your website is only as good as its backlinks. Also called inbound links, these hyperlinks from other websites direct their visitors to you. Google and other search engines analyze backlinks the same way a scholar pores over the citations and footnotes in a traditional text to determine the validity and importance of the content.
Websites with copious backlinks from highly regarded sources earn higher rankings from search engines which generates traffic and stimulates other webmasters to link to you, creating a virtuous cycle.
However, though every backlink may constitute a recommendation of sorts for your website, they aren’t of equal value. The quality of the source matters. A link from an otherwise blank page that gets no traffic is virtually worthless, but one from a site that is in a similar subject area, has a strong and active following, updates regularly, and is itself high ranking on search engines is extremely beneficial.
Anchor text (the visible, clickable language in a text link) is also important and must be appropriately descriptive of where the link is directing browsers. It should also be congruent with the context of the page (e.g. a link to purchase a product is standard practice for eCommerce platforms, but may be construed as out of place on an otherwise non commercial site).
High-Quality Backlinks come from websites that have:
- Similar Subject Matters
- Good Reputations
- Proper Anchor Text
Low-Quality Backlinks come from websites that have
- Unrelated Subject Matters
- Thin, Unhelpful, or Duplicative Content
- Misleading or Incongruous Anchor Text
- Been Penalized by Google or other Search Engines in the Past
- Identified as Infected by Malware
Google and other search engines also downgrade backlinks that originate from sources suspected of attempting to game their algorithms. Called Black Hat SEO or spamdexing, these link building schemes sometimes work for a time, but in virtually all cases, search engines eventually adjust their methods to root them out and can harshly penalize offenders.
Backlinks that will be devalued for using black hat techniques often come from so-called link farms, groups of websites where each links to every other. They may also derive from low quality directories and websites that automatically generate backlinks. Ultimately, none of these sources makes for a lasting SEO strategy.
By contrast, White Hat SEO:
- Adds Value to the End Users
- Abides by Google and Other Search Engines’ Terms of Service
- Leads to Sustainable Growth
- Encourages Higher Quality and More Relevant Websites and Content
Backlink Building Techniques
There are many ways to increase backlinks that don’t run afoul of Google and they are constantly changing in response to announced updates to search engine algorithms. Here are seven of the most recommended current means of building links:
Content, as they say, is king, and thanks to social media, there is truly never enough of it. Blogs are excellent places to share valuable, informative, fun, and interesting content that is relevant to your audience. Not only does it reflect well on your overall brand, but it engages social media followers who like and share your content and builds backlinks when others mention your articles.
2. Broken Links
Even great webmasters miss the occasional broken link (a hyperlink that brings up an error page). A common link building technique is to search for broken links on websites within your niche (tools like the Check My Links extension for the Chrome browser can make the task easier) and then to send a helpful note to the website’s owner informing them with a friendly request for a backlink in return for your assistance.
3. Competitive Research
Wouldn’t you like to know how others in your industry are building their backlinks? Well, with tools like the popular Link Juice Thief you can. By examining the outgoing links of your competitor’s websites you can find common places they connect to and approach those sites yourself.
If you want people to link to you, they have to first know and care about you. That’s where an integrated promotional strategy comes into play. Email campaigns, social media posts, and simply contacting journalists, bloggers, and other webmasters are all basic steps towards spreading brand awareness and generating the attention and goodwill that gives rise to backlinking.
Sometimes your website, products, brand, or its representatives merit mentioning on another website, but no link is given (or it’s faulty in some way). Tools like the Backlink Profiler can track down those mentions so that you can send a polite request for a backlink or a correction. Additionally, a simple Google search for your brand or the name of key employees can help discover unlinked mentions.
Not only will tracking backlinks let you know how your link building efforts are progressing, it can save you a lot of trouble down the road by finding links that lead nowhere or to websites that will harm your search engine rankings, such as low quality or spam sites (sites with a focus on sex or gambling are also typically smart to avoid). Often simply asking for the link to be removed will suffice, but if the webmaster refuses, you can use Google’s Disavow Links Tool.
7. Guest Authors
If you control a blog or other content channel, inviting a guest writer to post an article is a great way to create some new content while simultaneously expanding your audience. Plus, it works both ways. If you have content that would fit well on someone else’s channel, it can’t hurt to ask if they would like to collaborate. Both parties benefit from the added exposure and material to share and will naturally be open to exchanging backlinks.
Websites with copious backlinks from highly regarded sources earn higher rankings from search engines which generates traffic and stimulates other webmasters to link to you, creating a virtuous cycle. Link building is therefore both a good search engine optimization (SEO) practice and a smart way to increase overall exposure and brand awareness.