Google’s search algorithm places such great emphasis on the accumulation of backlinks that link builders can forget the value of a link beyond search. Yes, quality backlinks can carry enormous weight and help bring your site to the top of a competitive SERP.
That’s not the only purpose of a link, however.
Even though the majority of clients at my company are interested primarily in search traffic, link building can certainly be used for other purposes. Here are a few off the top of my head:
- Referral Traffic
- Building Authority
- Building Relationships
I understand there’s some hesitation when it comes to pursuing links in today’s SEO environment. Even though links are unquestionably an important ranking signal, Google likes to engage in a large-scale FUD offensive every-so-often. They are currently in the middle of one of those every-so-oftens. They do this in an effort to ward out spammers/black hat SEOs.
My mentor Eric Ward once said, “Seek links you would want even if Google did not reward them.” I have long echoed this. Not only will it actually lead to links that Google is likely to value, it will provide other marketing benefits as well.
According to Conductor, search engines direct about 47% of online traffic. Of all the sources, search engines represent a plurality of directed traffic. But that means the majority of traffic is independent of search engine rankings. According to the same Conductor study, non-social referral visits account for 15% of the internet’s traffic. Even using Conductor’s sample size of 310 million hits, that’s 4.7 million referral clicks.
This is my way of saying that links don’t only lead to search engine traffic. A well-placed link on an authority site can direct an abundance of referral traffic.
Never underestimate the value of a good click. You should always prioritize the chase for search traffic over referral traffic. Just think of referral traffic as the pretty bow on the present.
Consider this. The University of Arkansas recently conducted an experiment in which they had subjects listen to two different mixes of the same piece of music, one in it’s original form, the other edited so that a segment of it was looped. The subjects reported to liking the latter version far more. The researchers attributed this to the mere exposure effect, a phenomenon in which people grow to like things and concepts simply out of familiarity.
Links are visible to the public, or they should be anyway. If you’re building links that aren’t visible to the naked eye, wait for your penalty.
Because links are viewable to the users and not just search engines, link building can be used for branding.
Branding is marketing 101. Consumers/readers trust established brands, even if those brands have done things that would ordinarily lead to a negative reputation.
Right now in the world of SEO, it’s more important than ever to be cognizant of anchor text diversity. Google is not fond of sites that use the same keyword-rich anchor text over and over.
So along with keyword and white noise anchors, branded anchors should absolutely be part of your link profile.
This is a good thing. Being “forced” to use your brand name as an anchor is a way of simply getting your name out there. Even if a user doesn’t click the first time seeing your name, the more that user sees your name, the more that user is going to be compelled to click. And once they click, they are led to the biggest branding opportunity you have: your site.
There’s no better representation of your brand than your website, and link building is a valuable way to get people to look at your brand in all of its glory.
So your name is out there now. As I said before, established brand names can still thrive even when having a negative reputation. Denny’s had a great 2013. Now take a look at what their customers think of them.
Having said that, wouldn’t it be better if your brand had a reputation as an authority within your niche?
I’m not talking about authority in numerical form like domain authority; most consumers don’t know what domain authority is. I’m talking about being associated as a “know-it-all.” Sure everyone hated the “know-it-all” in the k-12 school years, but it’s 2014: geeks are pretty cool now.
Getting links on authority sites is a great way to have some authority rub off on you. Not only is the link viewed as a vote of confidence by search engines, more importantly, it’s viewed as a vote of confidence by users.
If you’re building links without building relationships, you’re doing it wrong.
I can’t emphasize enough how much easier link building is when you have relationships within your niche to rely upon.
Let’s say your primary online strategy to gain visibility is through the usage of social media. Building a legitimate following on social media is one of the most trying tasks of going that route. When I say legitimate, I mean gaining followers without bios like this:
Did you ever think that you can gain followers outside of the parameters of social media? It happens to me frequently. I attract a few followers every time I get a link, and the majority of the time the followers are people I’ve never talked to in the realms of social media channels.
Relationship building leads to visibility, no matter where you want to be seen.
Our link building campaigns have often created new relationships for clients, relationships which have provided benefits outside of SEO. Think partnership or advertising opportunities. Without our link building services, those relationships would not exist.
So you have great content. Now what? As awesome as, say, your infographic might be, people aren’t going to find it without being pointed towards it.
You might be saying, “What about social media? Wouldn’t it be easier to share it on our social media channels?”
I’m never going to advocate being absent on social media. Even if social signals are not part of Google’s algorithm, they have indirect effects on rankings.
Even though social media is an effective method of promotion, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be building links as well in your promotional efforts.
Without repetitive sharing, social media shares have a tendency to get buried fairly quickly. A link can ostensibly live forever. Example:
This is a screencap of the links page for the 1996 movie Space Jam. Yes, the site is still live.
You’ll notice the first link is clicked on. It points here:
It’s the site for the National Basketball Association, and not a cached copy from 1996. There was no such thing as the Wizards that year.
Having a link on a curated list of resources has the potential to send traffic for years.
If you have an important product launch or change in policy/personnel you want to submit to the world, simply submit to a press release site. Not only will you get links from the press release sites, you’ll get even more from any other sites that pick up the press release.
Press release links may not carry a ton of SEO value, but again, we’re not talking SEO value here. Submitting press releases has been and still is an effective method of promotion.
To recap, links have benefits beyond increasing visibility in search. Links can:
- Drive referral traffic
- Help to build your brand
- Help to establish authority
- Build relationships that will be beneficial in the future
- Promote whatever it is you want promoted
Of course, I would argue that building search visibility should be the number one focus of any campaign. I’m just arguing that you should keep these five things in mind as well.