In a recent Google Webmaster Central hangout with John Mueller, someone asked if link building was in any way good for webmasters. John's response? "In general, I try to avoid that."
Many people took this to mean that link building was something to be avoided. But if you continue to listen to John's response, he talks about making it easier for people to link to your content. He suggests adding an "if you like this" widget and making the URLs easy to copy and paste.
He goes on to say that Google does use links as part of the algorithm, but there are lots of other factors. So only focusing on links is probably going to cause more problems for your website than it helps. The keyword here is only.
Sure there are other factors to consider besides links. Google has over 200 ways to determine how to rank a page for specific keywords. In Google's How Search Works video, some of the ways mentioned include the following.
- How many times does this page contain the searched-for keywords?
- Do the searched-for keywords appear in the title, in the URL, and directly adjacent?
- Does the page include synonyms for the searched-for keywords?
- Is this page from a quality website or is it low quality, even spamming?
- What is the page's importance web page's importance based on how many outside links point to it, and how important those links are?
So, are links the only things you should focus on? Absolutely not. But they still are important. In this post, we're going to look at why link building is still important and what doing link building the right way looks like today.
The main goal of search engine optimization and link building is to get your website ranked on the first page of search results, or as close to it as possible, for your target keyword phrase. The question is, could you rank on the first page of search results without links?
Here's a quick look at some random competitive keyword phrases and the number of links the first ten search results have.
With an exception of one of the search results that had no links (or no recorded links because it was new), it's pretty clear that your content does not need a massive amount of links. But your domain does.
Of course, this isn't applicable for all searches. Here's a quick look at some local results for competitive local keyword phrases.
With local search results, you can see a mix of results with tons of backlinks and not so many backlinks.
When you check out a few random searches for content, you find that links to the domain are important again.
Overall, the less competitive the keyword phrase, the less links you will likely need to rank well. But the point is, for many competitive keyword phrases, links are still important.
Links still matter.
According to Google's Inside Search documentation, this is how Googlebot works.
We use software known as “web crawlers” to discover publicly available webpages. The most well-known crawler is called “Googlebot.” Crawlers look at webpages and follow links on those pages, much like you would if you were browsing content on the web. They go from link to link and bring data about those webpages back to Google’s servers.
Google depends on a few things when adding new webpages to its index. It depends on webmasters telling them about webpages by adding sitemaps to Google Webmaster Tools or the Google Webmaster Tools Submit URL Form. And it depends on links from websites that have been crawled.
Hence, search engines need links.
If you ignore the ranking factors, there's still the fact that people need links. Have you ever read an article where someone mentions a particular tool, business, person, etc. and you wanted to know more about it or them?
If the article includes a link, you're set - you just click through and find out more. If the article doesn't include a link, you may find yourself searching for the mentioned tool, business, or person. If you don't find what you're looking for quickly, you get frustrated and give up.
In this case, not having a link causes a problem for the person consuming content. Having links, in most cases, makes the user experience better.
The same goes for links on your website from one page to the next. Let's say that you have a general services page with a few paragraphs, one of which mentions that you offer web design, logo design, and app design. You should link each of those three items to the related page on your website.
Again, these links make the user experience better.
Hence, people need links.
Now that you know why both search engines and people need links, let's look at the specific types of links you need to provide for both.
Link building begins on your own website. You need to provide links that help visitors to your website get where they want to go easily and quickly.
Most websites will have their most important links in the header navigation bar and footer by default. If you don't, you should.
Next, you need to audit your website content. If you refer to specific products or services on your homepage, main pages, or blog posts, you need to link to them. You need to link to them with great keyword anchor text too.
You should be confident when creating internal links. Google actually wants you to create them. They specifically say the following about internal links in Google Webmaster Tools help.
The number of internal links pointing to a page is a signal to search engines about the relative importance of that page. If an important page does not appear in this list, or if a less important page has a relatively large number of internal links, you should consider reviewing your internal link structure. "
(Both of the above should also demonstrate the value of links, both external and internal.)
Building links to your website from others doesn't have to be avoided. As we have shown earlier, most of the websites that rank in the first page of search results have lots of incoming links. Here are some ways to get great incoming links that go beyond search value.
First off, you will want to acquire links to your website that you know will get clicked. Start by searching for keyword phrases you target and looking at any directories, local review sites, blogs, or other non-competitive sites that come up on the first page of search results. For example, say you were a local acupuncturist.
The highlighted sites are local directories people will find in search. If you include your listing and link on those directory pages, it gives you the chance to be discovered (and clicked upon) from the first page of search results.
Next, you'll want to make sure you get links from all of the pages where your business is mentioned (preferably, in a positive manner). Start by doing a search for your business and your unique product or service names, and go through the first few pages of results to ensure that each of those mentions is accompanied by a link.
Local businesses especially may find lots of profiles for themselves, but many have to be claimed and updated to include a link.
Continue claiming links for yourself by setting up a Google Alert for your business name and your unique product or service names. It's great for reputation management and link building, especially if you catch mentions that don't link to you. Sometimes, it's an honest mistake, and a quick email will solve the problem.
If you don't find a lot of good options for your business name, Google your competitors. You'll quickly see their top profiles and the top sites upon which they are mentioned.
Finally, you will want to acquire links to your website from sites where people (specifically your customers) get information about your industry.
Depending on your industry, this could be an easy or difficult task. For example, if you offer anything to do with SEO, you'll want to contribute to sites like Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Land, etc. You'll also want to contribute to broader sites that cover topics related to your industry like Forbes, Entrepreneur, and The Next Web.
Guest blogging may be considered dead for link building, but it's still great for gaining exposure for your business. And if you're writing for top publications, you'll get links from those top publications. Just choose your publications carefully. One way to do it is to search for keywords related to your industry and looking at the publications whose articles appear in the in-depth articles on search results.
This strategy could effectively land you an in-direct spot on the first page of search results if you author a featured in-depth article. Even if the effect on your search rankings is slow, the referral effects will be immediate, as your author link will get plenty of clicks.
Don't let the "I don't have time to produce that much content" be an excuse for ducking out on this great strategy. There are plenty of ghostwriters out there that would be happy to create content that you can submit to great publications in your industry. It will save you time and help you build your business's reputation.
Competitor research is a great way to discover links that you might be able to attain for your website. The goal isn't to get all of the links your top competitor has, but rather to get the best links that several of your competitors have.
How do you pick your competitors? Start by searching for keyword phrases you target and choose the competitors that rank on the first page in search.
You can use the Quick Backlinks Report to find the strongest links your competitors have, sort the list, and start with the top ones and work your way down.
Rinse and repeat until you have collected a lot of great opportunities to pursue.
As a part of your competitive link research, you'll likely discover lots of other great online marketing opportunities. These will include great publications to contribute to, social networks to join, forums to participate upon, Q&A networks to become an expert upon, and much more.
Don't look at link building as just a strategy where you send an email and get a link. Look at it as a way to build your reputation.
According to Google's quality guidelines, there are several things you should avoid. Primarily, they include buying links, exchanging links, spamming, and over-optimized keyword anchor text.
Note that Google doesn't say not to do guest posting, not to do press releases, not to do widget links, etc. Google says not do these things with keyword-rich or keyword-optimized anchor text.
How do you avoid keyword-rich and keyword-optimized anchor text, but still optimize your link for the keywords you target? Include it, but not as part of your link. Create a sentence that you can use in most places where you can get a link that goes something like this.
Your business is your keyword phrase.
Your product is your keyword phrase.
You are your keyword phrase.
Attach the link to your business name, product name, or your name. Your keyword is close enough that Google will associate it with your link correctly. Plus, if your link is on a page that is related to your keyword phrase, then your link will be associated with your target keyword that way. For example, a pet grooming company's link in the pet groomers section of Yelp will be associated with pet groomers.
I hope that you see that link building still has value beyond just helping you rank well in search results. If you approach link building with people value and user experience, you'll likely do well with Google too!