Link building is the secret sauce to search engine optimization. It is one of the most important factors in how search engines rank a website and its pages. Link building can be accomplished through a number of different means, but there are some key ingredients that need to be part of any successful link-building strategy.
Step #1: Find the right audience.
First and foremost, you want to ensure that links to your site are in line with your content. At the heart of link building is one key strategy: You want to place links to your pages and content in thoughtful, relevant places that make sense to your audience and the audiences of other websites. For example, if you have an article on coffee beans, you’ll want to place it on websites that cater to coffee lovers. Think about taking that one step further, too. Seek out placement on the sites of coffee bloggers, coffee manufacturers, and coffee aficionados.
Many not-so-savvy marketers thought they could generate a lot of links quickly by utilizing link farms — and they ended up losing in the long run. Their attempt to game Google’s algorithm is the reason that the Penguin update was born. Google introduced this update to penalize folks who were using the latest tricks, gimmicks, and link farms to create artificial site popularity.
There are a whole host of options for link placement, but to achieve success, you need to understand which sites are most valuable — to your target audience and ultimately your SEO strategy. You can then target those sites and structure your outreach effectively.
Step #2: Do your homework.
First, research your competitors, and see who is linking to their sites. There are a number of tools out there that can help you with this research. Ahrefs and MajesticSEO are very popular. Ahrefs is a favorite, as it will not only help you learn where links are from, but can also provide insights into the quality of links. MajesticSEO has a number of different tools within its site. One of these, Site Explorer, is a simple tool that shares backlinks and referring domains for any domain that you enter. There are many more out there, too. They all offer different tools to help you understand your competitors’ link structures and where they are getting their links.
Once you start using a tool, stay consistent. Various tools measure different things, and if you are switching between them, you won’t be able to compare apples to apples. Throughout your link-building research, SeoMoz toolbar is an essential resource — and it’s also a great way to view key SEO metrics while you browse the Web. It is especially useful for providing a quick snapshot of competitors, potential partners, or outlets.
Step #3: Devise a plan.
After you know the number of backlinks a competitor has, you can build a targeted strategic plan to outperform that company. It is very important to set goals and measure progress!
Come up with a list of sites whose audiences overlap with yours. Be thoughtful — and also creative. If you have an infographic on popular baby names, you could place it on sites that cater to expectant parents, and also on genealogy sites, graphic design sites, and even (anticipating your prospective future audience) ob-gyn sites. Links to your site need to be valuable and relevant, but that doesn’t mean they can’t also be numerous and diverse.
Step #4: Consider a content strategy.
One link-building tool that can be very helpful — although not essential — is good content. This strategy is an example of good karma at work. You create valuable content for a site whose audience will appreciate it. That site can then post the content and link back to your site. You win because you get a link to your site. The other site wins because it gets valuable content. And audiences win because they get to discover new and valuable resources: the original site and, now, yours.
While this practice positions your strategy nearer to content marketing than strict link building, it can yield many of the same benefits. Assets for your content strategy can include (but are not limited to):
If you decide to produce content, keep in mind that it needs to be rich and valuable. Having content for content’s sake will not help your link-building strategy. You need to provide real, unique, and measurable value for the consumer.
Step #5: Put it all together.
Once you have your idea mapped out, brainstorm who would find this info the most valuable. Just as in the coffee and baby-name examples above, you should think outside the box to identify different types of websites that will find your page/website/content valuable.
Make a list of potential targets that you want reach out to, and find their contact info. There are sites out there that can also help you locate info. A popular one is who.is.
In this post-Penguin era, not all links are created equal. Paid links, submission sites, and link farms will result in a penalty. High-quality, relevant, and valuable inbound links will grow your Google rankings, brand awareness, and revenue. Proper link building will always be an effective way to improve your Google rankings. It will also help your site become better — and better known.