Over the last several posts we’ve been looking at search engine optimization. When most people – even so-called experts – think SEO, they think about on-page SEO, the keywords and search terms that are visible to visitors and/or search engines. A much-overlooked aspect of SEO is link building: that is, encouraging other websites to link to our content.
Why is link building important? And how do we build links to our site? First, the ‘why’.
When someone types a query into a Google, Yahoo!, Bing or YouTube search field, the #1 objective is to return the most relevant and credible results. On-page SEO speaks to the relevance. If your copy and meta data contain the words the seeker is looking for, ostensibly your content is relevant to that search.
However, is the information you’re providing factual and based on expertise? Is it credible? That’s where links come in. when another site links back to your site, it conveys to search engines that the site finds your content of value.
Not all sites that link to yours are of equal value. The more traffic and authority a site has, the more valuable a backlink from them is to your search engine rankings. So work to get important sites with trusted domains to link to yours.
Now for the ‘How’.
In general, we – and other SEO specialists – do not recommend paying for links. In particular, don’t fall for pay-for-play schemes that promise high rankings in exchange for a paid backlink. A link from some of these sites can actually demote your site in rankings. Google doesn’t like scams and is expert at ferreting out bogus, low-quality sites and content. (Note: The link above is a backlink to seomoz.org. Also see the discussion on anchor text at the end of the post.)
There may be legitimate industry directories with far higher traffic than your site that you can list in for free or for a fee. But don’t rely on directory listings for link clout.
The best way to build link authority is to create great content and publicize it to your online communities through social media. If your content is topic-specific to their interests, they’ll link to it.
As in all web-based marketing, building relationships is the key concept in link building. Social media offers access to influential people – including bloggers - in your industry. Engage these influencers in conversation on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+, adding to the conversations they and their other followers are having.
As they get to know you and value your contributions, they’ll feel comfortable linking back to your site. Commenting on their blog posts can be an excellent way to become a known quantity. If it’s truly relevant and adds to the conversation to put a link to your content in a comment do so, but be judicious. Self-serving actions don’t help in social media. In addition, links in comments of most important blogs are set to have the ‘no follow’ attribute, which means they carry no value from an SEO viewpoint.
Ideally, relationships with online influencers can lead to online opportunities like guest blogger gigs and offers to participate in webinars and other forums. These all add to your credibility.
Remember that links show search engines the relationships among pages of content. When you link to other blogs or to other pages within your own site, instead of creating a link from words like ‘click here’, use a keyword or search term as what is called the ‘anchor text’ for your link. The link earlier in this post is an anchor text link. Here’s an example of an anchor text link tied to one of the keywords this post is optimized for - 'improve seo': In case you missed the first post in this SEO series, learn why you should improve SEO for competitive advantage.
Next time we’ll talk about how usability figures into the SEO picture.
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The image of anchor links is from the Flickr photostream of chefranden umder Creative Commons license.