At the core of search engine optimization (SEO) lies a fact that has been driving this field forward ever since the first websites hit the search engine results pages (SERPs): the main currency in digital is visibility.
All efforts made by SEO specialists are ultimately directed toward shining the brightest lights on their employers’ and clients’ websites. To put it bluntly, everybody wants to rank first in the SERPs that are most relevant to their industry.
SEO specialists agree that no two businesses have gotten to the top of SERPs the same way, meaning there is no definitive recipe for SEO success. However, most SEO success stories are centered on link building and follow pretty much the same basic scenario.
You start off with a unique product or service, and you create a website to present and support it. You study your competition, conduct thorough keyword research, and decide what SERPs will bring the most relevant leads. Based on this research and a sound content strategy, you publish additional quality content to attract the industry’s attention, including concepts viewed from a new perspective, the improvement of existing services on the market, as well as interviews with influencers. A structured inventory of quality content helps you build a natural profile of inbound links. Link building, along with on-the-page optimizations and a “likable” social media presence, allows you to climb to the top of SERPs.
Why are Backlinks so Important?
As much as you might like to go about your business without interacting with other websites, you will find that link building is important because it is a major factor in how search engines rank web pages. Google notes that “in general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by increasing the number of high-quality sites that link to their pages.”
Websites with high-quality inbound links and a natural link profile with no traces of forced or unnatural backlink building have much better chances of ranking higher in Google searches and risk next to nothing every time a new Google algorithm update rolls out.
How do I Build a Natural Link Profile?
According to Moz, there are three basic types of backlinks, entailing three different sets of tactics:
- Natural Editorial Links: These links occur naturally and come from websites that find your content compelling (or at least interesting) on some level. They require no specific action from the SEO specialist, apart from creating valuable content and making it visible.
- Manual Link Building: The SEO specialist obtains these links by requesting them, submitting sites to directories, guest posting, or paying for listings. The SEO specialist usually engages the link target by offering a value proposition.
- Self-Created, Non-Editorial Backlinks: A huge number of websites offer visitors the opportunity to create links through guest book signings, forum signatures, blog comments, or user profiles. Although they offer the lowest value, these links may still have an impact.
A high percentage of low-quality links, such as forum profiles, social media profiles, and blog comments, suggests an attempt has been made to game the algorithm. An unnatural sudden influx of links is also an obvious sign of SEO scheming. Furthermore, an abnormal amount of inbound links from sites hosted by the same server may be a sign of a black-hat SEO tactic called blog network link building. MicrositeMasters.com found that sites with an unnaturally high amount of backlinks from unrelated sites were more susceptible to Google Penguin penalties.
What do I Need to Consider When Link Building?
For the purpose of discussing only white-hat, sustainable link building, I am going to refer mostly to natural editorial links and manual (or outreach) link building. The following is a collection of tested practices that address actual algorithm ranking factors divided into five essential insights:
1. Stay Relevant
- Publish relevant, valuable, and unique content. Do not neglect grammar and spelling. Well-written content constitutes an on-the-page quality signal, but most importantly, it attracts natural editorial links.
- The relevance of the linking domain proves to be important in establishing the quality and legitimacy of a page. For example, if you are marketing shoes online, links from blogs about cooking will not weigh in as much as links from lifestyle or fashion blogs.
- The diversity of link types is a strong indicator of whether a website has a natural backlink profile. For example, if most of your incoming links originate in blog comments or in social media profile descriptions, Google will categorize this as web spam and de-rank your pages.
- The link title (the message listed when hovering over links) is a relevance signal for Google. Make sure it contains relevant information and even relevant keywords.
- In comparison with new domains, having backlinks from older domains might offer an edge in SERPs. Make no mistake, experienced content editors and webmasters handling older websites will link exclusively to relevant, valuable, and unique content.
- Internal and backlink anchor texts often provide more accurate page descriptions than the pages themselves. For this reason, this is one of the original Google algorithm factors still in use today.
2. Keep an Eye on the Numbers
- The number of incoming links is obviously important, but the overall “scores” are not the result of simply adding up all the sources linking to your pages. So where should you look for numbers?
- The number of linking root domains is a key ranking factor. It shows that, thanks to your trustworthiness and quality content, you are not invisible to relevant established publishers.
- The number of linking pages is definitely a ranking factor, even when some of those links originate on the same domain.
- The number of links from separate C-Class IPs is a strong indicator that your backlink profile is natural and spanning across multiple sources.
- Having a healthy ratio of incoming nofollow and dofollow inbound links is crucial for establishing whether the link profile is natural.
- Link velocity, or link building speed, is an essential dynamics signal for Google. For entrepreneurs, it is a reliable indicator of their own and their competitors’ growth status. Too many inbound links in short time spans will raise black-hat SEO suspicions. However, having few inbound links coming in slowly will get you nowhere. Generally, a positive link velocity secures higher rankings in SERPs, and a negative link velocity will hurt rankings since it signals the decreasing popularity of the page.
3. Never Compromise on Quality
- PageRank, or the authority of linking domains and linking pages, is a crucial ranking factor. And having backlinks from pages competing in the same SERPs may boost your rankings for specific keywords.
- The quality and word count of the linking content make a big difference in link value. For example, receiving a link from a 2000+ word well-written article weighs in much more than a link from a short comment or a badly written blog post.
- Links from top resources’ websites (hubs) might offer an extra boost in SERPs.
- Contextual links (links placed within the content of pages) are more valuable than links found in sidebars, footers, or anywhere else on the page.
- Google values the use of your keywords in the titles of linking source pages. It might actually be considered a sign of expertise.
- Poisonous anchor text pointed toward your site may be a sign of spam or a hacked site. Either way, it can hurt your ranking, particularly when the anchor texts in question are stuffed with pharmaceutical keywords.
- If there are low-quality links pointing to your website or you receive unnatural link warnings from Webmaster Tools, you can always use the Disavow Tool. It will not remove the harmful links themselves – that is still your concern – but at least it will eliminate them from Google’s assessment of your site.
4. Reach out with Caution
- TrustRank gets passed to your page whenever a website links to it. How much of that TrustRank gets passed depends on the trustworthiness of the linking site.
- Buying or selling links, or plotting any type of link scheme with the intent of manipulating page rankings, is frowned upon. Google specifically warns webmasters about link schemes that will negatively impact rankings, including:
- Buying or selling links that pass PageRank.
- Excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking.
- Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links.
- Using automated programs or services to create links to your site.
- Guest posts are a great way to gather links since they benefit both you and the publishers hosting your posts. As long as you contextualize your links and avoid overstuffing your posts with links and keywords, guest posts are helpful for gaining momentum in SERPs. Nevertheless, excessive link exchanging must be avoided, since it is considered an attempt to game the Google ranking algorithm.
- Sponsored links, especially when they are presented as such with descriptions containing words like “paid link” and “sponsored link,” may hurt the results of backlinking. Furthermore, the words used to contextualize links in source pages are an important signal. From these contexts, Google extrapolates what your page is about. They also can differentiate bad reviews from good reviews linking to your page – 10,000 links to your page will not lift your page in SERPs if most of those links originate in devastating reviews from trusted sources.
- Having identical links on every page of a website pointing to the same exact page on your website will not boost the page in question. As far as Google is concerned, site-wide links are compressed into a single link.
5. Pay Attention to Details
- Having links from country-specific top-level domains (TLDs) can boost your rankings in searches from that country.
- Although somewhat controversial, the idea that links received from Wikipedia send trust and relevance signals to Google is not completely far-fetched. It may not be a strong signal, but lasting links from wiki pages are a sign that your content is on the right track.
- The idea that DMOZ-listed websites get boosted in SERPs is very plausible. Google has to evaluate a website’s trustworthiness from multiple sources, and DMOZ is a reliable judge of “online character.”
- It is uncertain if Google directly favors pages which support microformats or if such pages rank so well because of higher click-through rates. Regardless, using microformats seems to lift pages in Google searches. Adam Thompson argues that using Schema.org is actually preferred by Google over RDFa or Microformats.
- Google differentiates between user-generated content and site-owner content. This is particularly helpful for large blogging communities (such as Blogger and WordPress), as it helps Google distinguish user-generated links.
- The HTTP response status code “301 Moved Permanently” is used for permanent URL redirection. Having too many 301 redirects to your page can hurt your PageRank. However, in reasonable amounts, they score just like all other backlinks.
Wrapping it Up
As Michael Martinez suggests in this evergreen Moz article, every link should serve three purposes:
- It provides a legitimate opportunity for conferring non-search traffic.
- It helps search engines crawl and index a site.
- It helps validate a site.
The best way to climb to the top of SERPs is to build high-quality backlinks. Furthermore, link building is going to prevail as the SEO decider for the conceivable future. After all, without links, there is no World Wide Web.