What is link building?
Well, there are a couple of answers to this question. First of all, link building is the practice of getting links on other sites that are pointing back to your main website. But even more importantly, link building is an essential element of every SEO campaign.
SEO has two main parts to it:
- On-page SEO – things you can do within your website to improve its rankings.
- Off-page SEO – things you can do outside your website to improve its rankings.
While on-page SEO is the topic for a completely different article, off-page SEO has basically just one element – link building.
We’d risk taking it even further and saying that for some people SEO = link building.
Before we can take you through the basics of link building and teach you some actual techniques let’s discuss why link building is so essential … i.e. what makes links so special that Google builds its whole ranking based on backlink information.
The Importance of Links
You have to understand that Google doesn’t actually get that many pieces of information, which they can use when building rankings. Honestly, is there anything besides links that deserves attention and should be a ranking factor?
Traffic? Maybe, but there’s one problem.
Even though Google owns one of the most popular analytics apps on the internet (Google Analytics) they can’t use this data for ranking because it would be unfair and hypocritical… We’re not using Analytics to let everybody know what our stats are, we’re using it to keep this information to ourselves.
So when we take traffic stats out of the equation there’s really nothing left except for links. And it does make sense. Links are a very good measure of a site’s authority and relevance.
For example, if your site talks about “guitar chords” and there are 200 other sites that link to yours with the anchor text (the text of the link) of “guitar chords” then it’s a clear indication that you really are serious about guitar chords and provide some quality information. Otherwise, those sites would be no links pointing back to you.
Essentially, links are votes. Votes that one website can give to the other. And if we discuss the internet as a whole there are millions if not billions of votes given every day.
This is where Google comes into play and sends out its spiders (i.e. bots) to browse the web and search for different links pointing to different places. The most simplified version of Google’s ranking algorithm is that the site that gets the most links receives the best ranking.
Actually, here’s a more accurate look into the main ranking factors when it comes to link building:
Ingredients of a Quality Backlink
Note. No one knows the exact value of each of the following factors. Google keeps this data to itself, otherwise it would be very easy to trick them and fabricate the top results. The exact ranking factors are one of the best kept secrets in SEO.
- Number of backlinks. The more links pointing back to a page the better rank that page gets.
- Source of links. If an authority site links to you then such a link is much more valuable in Google’s eyes than a link from a new domain with no authority.
- Anchor texts. Every link has an anchor text – the text that’s actually linked. For example, this link: Google Panda 3.3 Released has the anchor text of “Google Panda 3.3 Released.”
There are more factors, but having in mind just these three is more than enough to get you started with link building. Speaking of which…
How to Start with Link Building
As you can probably imagine, simply going out and building 1000s of random links a day is not the best way to go. Instead, you need to plan everything out in detail and start with some solid research.
First of all, find valuable keywords – ones you want to rank for. Keyword research is a whole another topic, and quite a big one, actually. So for the purposes of this article let’s just briefly mention three things:
- Start by going to Google Keyword Tool and input your main keywords.
- Search for more niche keywords that have high popularity and low competition.
- Create a spreadsheet of 4-5 keywords to start with.
Once you have your list you should move to the second stage – testing.
Link building has one really serious downside to it – it takes time. You won’t see any results immediately, and that’s why it’s important to target only the keywords that have some potential for the future, and can bring good results for months or years to come.
Unfortunately, you can’t really know such a thing for sure free of charge. If you’re not willing to spend any money then the only thing you can do is guess.
The best way of finding out if a keyword is really worth pursuing in SEO is to test it with PPC. Networks like AdWords can deliver traffic almost instantly to any site. So the best way to start is by setting a test campaign with the same keywords you want to target in SEO. If the campaign ends with any satisfactory results (in terms of conversions or maybe even profit) then it means that the keyword is valuable, and it should be included in your link building campaigns.
After doing this step you should end up with 1-2 keywords.
Basic Methods of Link Building
Now it’s time to take your final keywords and start building some links. The phrase “building links” doesn’t quite give an accurate indication of what we actually mean here.
In essence, link building is the practice of actively getting backlinks, either by reaching out to other website owners and asking them for a link or by building new sites yourself and then linking them back to your main site.
But first, two ground rules:
- Build links to both your homepage and your sub-pages.
- Always try to use your desired keyword as the anchor text.
Over the years, many tactics of link building have been developed. Some of the most popular ones are:
- Article marketing. This is one of the oldest approaches for link building. Essentially, to make it work you just have to write an article, create a so-called bio box, and have everything published on a site like EzineArticles.com or others similar. Your bio box is where you get to place a link to whatever site you like (aka your site).
- Commenting on blogs. By default, all WordPress blogs create a link out of every commenter’s name and website address. This is a great opportunity to build some easy links, the only problem is that you can rarely use an anchor text here. Usually, links with anchored names get marked as spam, but it’s always worth to give it a try anyway.
- Forum posts. No matter what niche you’re in there’s surely a forum for it. The easiest way to build links there is to use your signature by placing a link pointing back to your site. We don’t advise you to link to anything from within your actual forum posts. For some reason, most forum communities don’t like this.
- Guest posting. This is where you actively reach out to other website owners, offer them a unique article you’ve written in exchange for the possibility of placing a link within that article.
- Social bookmarking. There are many bookmarking sites on the web. Such sites let you create a link to whatever site you like and have it stored as part of your bookmarking profile. The best thing is that those profiles are visible publically, so they are great for some free and easy links. Delicious.com is a prime example of such a site.
- Link exchanges. This is where you contact other website owners and ask them to place a link to your site in exchange for you placing a link to their site. This used to work really good back in a day, but now it’s no longer such an effective approach. Most importantly, Google doesn’t recommend you to do this.
- Buying links. The most obvious technique possible. Now, Google really REALLY doesn’t like sites that get caught doing this. It’s hard to see why because it’s as valid method of link building as any other, but Google has its moods, so the fact remains… Don’t do this if you don’t want to get penalized.
These methods are popular for a reason. The simple fact that almost everybody uses them is not a bad thing at all. People use them because they simply work (except for the last one), and have been working for years.
Every now and then a new technique sprouts out, that’s true, but the most basic principles still stand – the more relevant, quality backlinks you build, the better rank your site gets.
What are your thoughts about link building? Have you been using it actively as part of your SEO efforts?