When the first website was published back in 1991, search engine optimization, or SEO, was barely a glimmer in the most aggressive marketer’s eyes. Even as everyone braced themselves for Y2K, trying to drum up traffic for websites was not yet a full-time job.
To say things have changed since the turn of the century would be a massive understatement. Especially when it comes to SEO.
Search engines have changed the way consumers search for information and research products and services. They have changed the way we decide where to eat, how to entertain ourselves, and even how we connect with other people.
In 2000, Yahoo made a huge mistake by allowing Google to manage their organic search results. Yahoo branded each search result with the words “powered by Google.”
Spoiler alert: Google became a household name.
SEO After Google
Until Google got involved with them, search engines primarily evaluated and ranked a site based on:
- the site’s structure and content;
- its domain name; and
- which directories listed it.
Google’s algorithm revolutionized SEO because it considered not only the factors on the site itself but also factors that were “off-page”.
Essentially, because Google decided to use the quantity and quality of inbound and outbound links, it changed the SEO game.
Google basically realized that the way to really know if a site is worthwhile is to find out how many people are talking about it and what they are saying.
An entire SEO market was created and, over the next ten years, companies were in a mad rush to gather as many inbound links as possible to improve their rankings. The practice became so overdone that the quality of the links began to diminish. Keyword stuffing and spammy backlinks - that didn’t even try to hide the fact that their only reason for existence was to climb the Google rankings - were nearly ubiquitous.
Because of efforts to prevent this, using links to maximize SEO isn’t as easy as it used to be.
Google wants to connect users to meaningful content. As such, they established an algorithm that weeded out unethical optimization tactics and rewarded brands for ethical marketing practices.
How Do Links Impact SEO?
Link building, when done correctly, is a challenging task. However, companies that work to understand SEO, link building, and how the two work together end up building better links.
When you build better links than your competitors build, you will see more organic traffic and create more revenue.
First, let’s look at the different types of links.
Outbound links send users from your website to other sites across the internet, generally for more information. Most often, outbound links are provided to verify facts or reference sources.
There is much debate about whether outbound links contribute to SEO.
Recently, Google hosted a Q&A session with Webmaster John Mueller. Mueller advised that outbound links are a great way to provide value for users. He did not mention SEO, but one can infer that if content quality is king when it comes to SEO, an outbound link that provides value and improves the quality of content for the user should improve SEO. If A=B and A=C, then B=C. Right?
But because there are types of outbound links that can hurt your SEO rank, the question of whether or not outbound links are worth it remains.
The short answer is: Yes.
Outbound links help your site in the following ways:
- Outbound links help Google understand you. Because outbound links help structure the web, they tell search engines that you’re here for the right reasons. The search engine gains confidence in your site via outbound links.
- Outbound links provide connections. When you link to high quality, legitimate sources that have authority according to the search engines, you seem like you hang with the cool kids. If users can count on you pointing them to the best information, they will remember that.
- Outbound links create traffic that establishes authority. When users keep coming back as a result of you consistently pointing them in the right direction with your outbound links, the search engines see that traffic and are likely to give you a significant authority boost in their algorithms.
Sometimes called external links or backlinks, inbound links point users on other websites toward your website. Inbound links are the most important kind of link and should be an essential pillar in any SEO strategy because they establish several important indicators about your brand:
- Recognition and Trust. Google perceives inbound links as votes of confidence and popularity that indicate your brand is a trustworthy and recognized authority.
When someone mentions your site in their own content to back up the information they are trying to convey, it indicates that that person trusts your site. But the real question becomes: Does Google trust them? In order for a backlink to have value, it must come from an important and authoritative site according to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
- Your site will rank higher on Google and on other search engines. A study by Backlinko found that sites with a greater number of backlinks rank higher on Google.
- Google finds new pages on sites with backlinks faster and easier. Image a Roomba searching in its automated way around your living room carpet. Google navigates through the web in the same way but is guided by links from page to page.
- Your business welcomes targeted referral traffic. Backlinks are often the way targeted users find your business. They are already interested in your product or service, so much of the qualification has already happened. Without backlinks, these valuable prospects may never have made their way to you.
Successful Link Building Strategies
1. Be Natural
You’ll find a recurring theme throughout the strategies that follow. Be natural and do the right thing. Let the guiding light of your content be useful and valuable information for users.
If you lead with that, your writing will be natural and opportunities to create outbound links will organically occur. You’ll want to back up your assertions with a study or a report. Or you’ll want to provide users with genuinely useful information that might not be on-topic, so you’ll provide an outbound link to some tangential information or data.
2. Ensure Your Site Doesn’t Get Lost in the Shuffle
Obviously outbound links are going to take users away from your site temporarily. To ensure they are only gone temporarily, it’s important that the outbound link opens in a brand new tab. It’s simple to do. Add target=”_blank” to your link HTML.
3. Moderation Is the Key
There are a few reasons why you don’t want to overdo the outbound link. First, it can be distracting for the user. The goal is not to push the user out of your site. Outbound links should only be used in moderation and only when truly necessary. Introduce the link with enough description that the user will know what they will get by following the link. Second, Google can suspect you’re trying too hard and faking your authority and might very well penalize you in the rankings.
4. Be Discerning About User-Generated Links
Just as linking to respected sites can improve your standing when it comes to trustworthiness, the opposite is also true. Linking to low-quality sources will erode any credibility you have established. When you protect the quality of your content, you protect the quality of your brand’s image and reputation.
1. Ask Suppliers for a Backlink.
If you sell another company’s products, ask them to include your site on the ‘where to buy’ section of their website.
2. Help a Reporter Out (HARO)
HARO is a platform where journalists seek out sources and quotes for upcoming stories. Sign up for platforms that are relevant to your industry and you will receive source request emails. If you are selected and the reporter uses your submission, they are likely to link back to your site.
3. Guest Post With an Industry Publication
High-quality guest posts are a powerful method for establishing thought leadership. Identify the most respected publications that are popular with your target audience and contact the editor to request a content calendar and opportunities to become a guest author.
4. Monitor Your Brand Mentions
The majority of businesses will be mentioned in the press for one reason or another. Maybe you launched a new product or service, filled a notable position within the organization, or made a charitable contribution. However, often the press release will not include a backlink.
Reach out to the editor of the publication that has mentioned your business and request that a link is added.
Brand monitoring tools are out there that automatically alert you whenever your organization is mentioned in the press. Or you can periodically perform your own searches. Either way, be sure to develop a formalized strategy for link reclamation.
5. Become a Cited Resource
You have invested a significant amount of time and effort in creating meaningful content. Leverage that content to become a respected resource and build a network of backlinks.
Notice related sites with links to platforms in your industry. With a personalized email, reach out and demonstrate why you should be added to the list of resources they typically cite. For example:
Good Morning Jane,
I was looking for information about [Insert Topic], and I came across your well-created [Insert Name of Page].
[Include a customized sentence or two about something specific you liked on the page.]
As I was reading, I realized that a page I recently published [Insert Link to Your Page] might be an effective addition to your page in the area of [Insert Section Title].
You could also point out any broken links that you notice and suggest that your site is fully operational and the content is well aligned.
Opportunities exist in all markets. You just have to spend a bit of time looking to see what makes the most sense for your business.
6. Conduct and Publish Valuable Research
Unique surveys, infographics, state of the industry reports, and other types of research are effective tools for creating backlinks and driving targeted traffic to your site. When you share the research with the press, you further increase your chances of getting backlinks. Journalists and industry analysts love sharing data-driven surveys, infographics, and other forms of research.
However, this approach requires some serious effort. Collecting, compiling, and double-checking the data is only the first step. Then you need to design a compelling value proposition for it and find the right channels for distribution.
The good news is that most data is readily available and easy to find. You just have to approach it in a unique way that nobody else has thought of before.
Data is everywhere. All different kinds from different sources. The possibilities are infinite. You just need to know what you’re looking for and where to look. Then you can begin converting that data into valuable industry insights that will help build backlinks and drive targeted traffic toward your site.
7. Check Out Your Competitors’ Backlinks
An analysis of the competition is an effective way to identify gaps in your own link building strategy. By analyzing the backlinks of your competition, you can skip the trial-and-error. Save time and effort by leveraging the work that they have already done.
There are many tools out there that can generate a list of competitor backlinks.
While you’re at it, explore your competitor’s content that has been backlinked. Is it better than yours? If so, then you know where to begin. Just a few minutes examining competitor content that is successfully generating backlinks will provide information for producing content with better quality and improved SEO.
There is more to SEO and link building than meets the eye. Neither should be taken lightly or executed haphazardly. They require a careful, thoughtful, and strategic plan.
The Internet has developed the highest of expectations for consumers. They expect nothing short of a personalized, custom-made experience that instantly satisfies a need or a desire. And they don’t want to exert much effort to get this experience. In essence, consumers are becoming accustomed to brands predicting what it is they want, sometimes even before they know they want it.
Rest assured that SEO will continue to evolve in order to satisfy these needs and expectations.
As automation, AI, and data analytics become more sophisticated each day, brands will grow right along with them by driving engagement with targeted content that, when optimized, properly finds its way into the hands of the right people, at the right place, at the right time.
SEO and link building aren’t going anywhere. As time goes on, expect to see more emphasis placed on SEO, link building, and high-quality marketing content. If you take one thing away from this article, remember that the best way to maximize SEO and incorporate links is to operate ethically. Build relationships with users and other content creators. In short, do the right thing and you’ll be glad that you did.
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