There was a time when backlinks were all there was to digital marketing. So much so that an entire ecosystem of service providers sprang up around them.
People offered everything from content spinners that spat out articles to link brokers who sold backlinks. Those were the days when article directories were the norm and link exchanges were common.
Then, Google unleashed Panda in 2011. The update rubbished low quality links and forced digital marketers to reconsider their backlinking strategies.
Digital marketing has evolved considerably since. Search engines today also use indicators like social media cues and mobile-friendliness to determine a site’s worth.
But even so, backlinks still form the backbone of search rankings. In fact, according to a senior strategist at Google, the top ranking factors still are — “content and links pointing to your site.”
That said, link building isn’t exactly easy. If you do it right that is. 65% of marketers even admit that it is the hardest part of SEO.
So, it must be doubly hard if your site is brand new, right? Not necessarily. There is an art to link building and when done right, it can yield rich dividends for years on end.
So, just what is link building?
If you’re just starting a blog, then chances are you’re not very familiar with link building. So, let’s begin with a quick definition.
Backlinks are any link which points back to your website. For example, if someone shares an article you wrote online, then their shared post will have a backlink.
Backlinks are important for two reasons —
- More backlinks online mean more people see your content. And,
- Search engines use backlinks to determine a website’s worth.
The first point’s self-explanatory. The second one is a bit technical though. In fact, Google used the idea of “citations” used in academic papers to build their own linking theory.
In academic circles, papers are cited to support theories and hypotheses all the time. If a particular paper is cited often, then it is considered to carry more weight.
The same idea is how backlinks work in relation to search engine rankings as well. So, if each published web page is a paper, then the links it contains are citations.
Consequently, the more backlinks a particular web page receives, the more importance search engines give it. Obviously, this means creating content that other websites will want to link to.
And that means getting a few things right. Let’s take a look at each one of them.
Get your keyword strategy right
A link in itself isn’t worth much. Sure, more links mean more importance. But, important in relation to what?
Keywords or phrases are the search terms that your audience is likely to use to find your website. But, they are also important in a backlinking strategy.
Links which have your targeted keywords as anchor texts are the most important. The anchor text is the word or phrase that’s hyperlinked to your website.
When building keywords, it’s important to provide the relevant context to your links by way of keywords. This helps both the search engine and the user understand what the linked resource is about.
Your keyword strategy should focus on both generic words and phrases relevant to your business and specific ones.
Let’s say you provide roofing services in San Francisco, Bay Area. Here, you should go for both keywords such as “roofing contractors bay area” “roofing companies bay area” etc.
But, you should also target keywords like “how to fix my roof” “different types of roof” “roof shingles” etc. Also, be sure to include your brand name in your list of targeted keywords.
Now, when you do build backlinks, use your keywords as anchor text. Make sure not to use the same keyword again and again. Your anchor texts should include as much variety of relevant keywords as possible.
Create share-worthy content
Before you can ask other websites for backlinks, you have to think of what you can give them in return. The old “I link you, you link me” strategy doesn’t work anymore.
The good news is you can write great content to get backlinks too. All websites want content that their audiences will enjoy. Since creating good content is hard, they’ll appreciate anyone willing to write it for them.
But, there’s a catch here. Quality means different things to different people. What might be important to you might not be so relevant to the people you’re writing for.
The keyword research you did can really pay off here. Are there any keywords with large search volumes in your targeted geographic area? If so, then they are a good place to start.
Let’s say our roofing contractor from the example above finds that more people are searching for “coolest roof material” in the Bay Area. He can now create content along these lines. Some ideas here —
- What roof material is the coolest
- Asphalt shingles vs metal roofs — which can help you keep your home cool?
- Dangers of Asphalt roofs
The same strategy can be followed for all major keywords.
Alternatively, you can also just steal content ideas. You can either use Moz’s Open Site Explorer or spy on your competitors to see what they are publishing.
Finally, your customer feedback is also a great source of content ideas. Your customers are literally telling you what they want, after all.
Keep an eye out for recurring issues, keywords, and phrases. These can be turned into content topics.
Use guest posting to get links more predictably
Publishing great content to your site may get people to share it from time to time. May.
Truth is the 80/20 rule applies to quality content publishing too. Meaning 20% of your content will result in 80% of all traffic and shares.
As disheartening as this may sound, there’s a way around it. Instead of publishing content only to your site, you can do so on other people’s sites to get instant traffic and search engine love.
When you’re brand new to web marketing, your overarching goal is to get targeted traffic asap. Self-publishing can take months or even years to produce results initially because you don’t have an audience.
By writing for them, you can educate your partner website’s audience about your services and drive traffic to your own website. But, guest posting can work the other way round as well.
Since you have a webspace, you can offer guest posters to contribute to it, too. According to Levi Olmstead, a link building master who co-led G2.com’s content marketing strategy and a team of 30 writers, link builders, and promotion experts,
“I focused a ton of energy on the guest posting program both internally and externally. Internally, I published 70+ articles from guest contributors to the Learning Hub in a month.
We funneled requests through a smartlist in HubSpot and set them up into an email campaign that pulls topics from a pre-selected group of articles we want to write for our Learning Hub, but doesn’t have the writer bandwidth to.
The guest posting program essentially created 2—3 additional writers for our team to cover topics we couldn’t previously.”
Essentially, you can have people contributing awesome content to your site in exchange for a link, or, for a fee. Your internal and external guest posting campaigns can make sure a steady stream of links and linkable content.
Target your competitor’s links
Regardless of your industry, you’re going to have established competitors. These are websites which are ranking well for your targeted keywords and have a respectable following online.
Obviously, they’re doing something right. And, if they’re ranking high, that means they’ve got their backlinking strategy down to a pat.
Tanishq Agarwal, a marketing analyst and outreach specialist at Beaconstac, says analysing their competitors’ backlinks gave them a solid understanding of what’s working for them and helped Beaconstac formulate an effective backlink strategy for their QR Code Generator with respect to their goals.
He also points out that while you skim through your competitors’ links, it is extremely important to look at specific things that you can improve on. Comparing the total number of backlinks built, particularly in the last 3 months, average DR and UR of the websites linking back to you and your competitors, and the total number of unique domains are some crucial metrics to evaluate to gain a competitive edge.
Now, make a list of all the links that each of your competitors has. Next, identify websites worth getting backlinks from as it’s entirely possible many of them won’t be worth your time. Ideally, you’re looking for sites with domain authority over 50.
Next, reach out to your targeted websites with content ideas. Be patient, chances are you’ll need to follow-up a couple of times to get a response.
Link building isn’t going anywhere anytime soon for a simple reason. It lies at the foundation of how the web works. Just like we all go for the company all of our friends and family recommend, so do the search engines go for pages that other pages cite.
As we stated above, most marketers think that backlinking is very hard. But, the reason it’s so tough to pull off is because it isn’t given enough time.
Backlinking as an SEO strategy is a marathon, not a sprint. It can take months if not years for a backlinking strategy to produce noticeable results. So, do give it the time it needs.
About the Author
“Vikas is a product-led growth hacker and B2B Marketing Specialist skilled in SEO, Content Marketing, and Social Media Marketing. He is a mentor at 500 startups and Newchip Accelerator. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.”