People who don’t work with optimisation on a day-to-day basis sometimes have a hard time understading why link building is so important for organic search. It is though – it’s really really important. This is an essential guide to the basics aimed at people who perhaps don’t do it but who can make it happen (because they have the cash or whatever). Listen carefully…
What is a backlink?
Any link to your site from an external domain is classed as a backlink, although in SEO terms this usually refers to editorial links (PR, blogs, articles etc) as opposed to those from search engines, banner adverts or other paid traffic sources. Despite being a source of traffic for the site, these links are vital to organic search rankings.
Search engines index web pages and store them in a database, but the order in which they serve these pages is dependent on the perceived relevance of the page to the search term used; and to the quality of the site itself. The search engines use various pieces of information in order to determine this, but the most important is the volume, quality and nature of backlinks to the site and to the specific domain.
Whilst no-one really knows exactly how the search engine algorithms work, studies are regularly carried out to assess which factors have the greatest impact on rankings. The latest ranking factors survey from SEOmoz identified the following as the top most influential factors:
- Keyword focused anchor text from external links
- External link popularity (quantity/quality of external links)
- Diversity of link sources (links from many unique root domains)
- Keyword use anywhere in the title tag
- Trustworthiness of the domain based on link distance from trusted domains
As you can see, 5 of the 4 relate to external links. Almost all aspects of the site itself and its content are considered less important.
Therefore, if the site is to rank highly for high volume keywords, it is imperative that the right kind of backlinks are created and encouraged throughout the internet.
What makes good backlinks?
The following describes the characteristics of the best possible backlink (in no particular order):
- Relevant site – the domain/site on which the link exists is relevant to the destination site. It has appropriate and relevant content and appeals to the same target market.
- Quality and reputation of the site – the domain/site is trustworthy, popular and well respected in its field. For example, non-commercial sites such as Wikipedia will always score higher than content aggregators and directories.
- Relevant content – the editorial content of the page on which the link exists is relevant and similar to the content of the destination page.
- The link is embedded in anchor text which uses a term for which you need to rank highly. For example, “I highly recommend reading my web analytics blog if you get chance”
- The body text around the link and in the article in general uses keywords and phrases for which your site needs to rank highly.
- The destination of the link is a page appropriate to the article, context and the anchor text used.
- The sentimental context of the link is positive. Negative descriptive words around the link lead the engines to believe that the site is unpopular.
Backlink PR : Creating and improving backlinks
Links will appear naturally throughout the internet as the site gains popularity. But these links will not necessarily match the above criteria. There are several options for building new links and persuading content owners to amend or remove existing links:
- Press Releases – PR that will feature on-line can be crafted and distributed according to all the above guidelines. It may even be possible to pre-populate the copy with links and anchor text which can be used by the content/media owners. If this is not possible, guidelines can be supplied along with the press release. These may not be used, but it doesn’t hurt.
- Blogs (internal/affiliated) – blogs created by you or your associates on 3rd party domains can be fully crafted according to the above guidelines.
- Blogs (created by others) – if backlinks are found within 3rd party blogs, a polite and descriptive email to the blog owner can often persuade them to make small changes to the link, especially elements such as the anchor text. It is not appropriate to try to influence the editorial nature of the copy.
- Blog comments – other people’s blogs almost always include the ability to make comments. If the blog is relevant to the subject matter of your site, then a comment can be made including a link to the appropriate page. Some blog sites also provide the ability to use html href tags, therefore allowing anchor text. This type of link-building should be approached with caution. Absolute transparency about who is making the comment is essential. Also, the comment should be appropriate, relevant and meaningful. Bloggers are very quick to pick up spamming and underhand link building techniques.
- Articles/editorial created by others – relevant articles and editorial content are a prime target for link building. If the article already contains a link to the site, then (as with blogs) a polite email to the webmaster or editor can often result in subtle changes being made to the link copy. If the site is relevant and does not include a link, a similar email can be crafted to persuade the inclusion of a link. Media owners may get a large volume of these emails, therefore the email must be personal, the content relevant and the link must add something to their article
- Wikipedia etc – has high kudos with the search engines. If articles can be created or contributed to, then links and/or foot references can be placed. As with other links, these must of course be relevant.
- Directories – bespoke directories for your particular industry/topic/hobby often allow short descriptions to be created along with site submissions. However, only the most relevant and well respected directories should be used.
A note on etiquette
Aggressive link-building techniques almost always backfire and result in lower search rankings or bad publicity from bloggers and other online commentators. Link building communications should be approached with the same respectfulness as any other marketing communication. For example, the motivation for commenting on a blog post may be to create a link, but the content and relevance of the comment itself is far more important. If the comment is not relevant and does not reflect your brand then this is far worse publicity than anything that can be incurred by lower search rankings if the link were not there.