Link building strategies can help bring your SEO success to the next level. So, let’s look at what backlinks are, why they’re important for SEO, how to easily earn quality backlinks, and more.
What are Backlinks?
Backlinks are any link from one website to another. If you’re referring to your own website, backlinks are links to your site from an external site. They’re also referred to as incoming or inbound links.
Think of them as recommendations or referrals from all your friends across the internet. If another site links to yours, they must think you have reputable, trustworthy information. These links create opportunities for visitors to come to your website. They also serve as opportunities for search engines to follow those links and crawl your website.
Why are Backlinks Important for SEO?
Those referral links from other websites help search engines understand your site’s authority. If you earn links from other respected websites, you’re going to receive referral traffic in addition to building more authority for your domain.
Imagine you have a web page that ranks on the second page of Google results. Unfortunately, barely anyone clicks to the second page, so your web page receives very little organic search traffic.
Now imagine if some of the web pages on the first page of Google results start backlinking to you. You’ll start getting some referral traffic from the highly-ranked results and Google will catch on too. We can’t speak on behalf of the Google Search algorithm, but we expect that it works something like this: “Results #3 and #7 are linking to result #11. Result #11 must be more of an expert than we thought. Move result #11 to position #4. Beep bop beep.”
Even Google’s new “About this result” feature explains why specific results are included on the Search Engine Result Page (SERP). One of the reasons Google often lists is, “Other websites with your search terms link to this result.”
To impress Google, you need to get other relevant sites (or sites that also rank for your target keywords) to start linking to you.
How to Determine the Quality of a Backlink
Certain backlinks provide much more value than others and many factors determine that value. For the most part, it all boils down to these three factors: the quality of the domain that published the link, the amount of referral traffic that comes through the link, and the ability for search engines to follow the link.
- The quality of the linking domain
- How many backlinks does the domain have?
- How much organic traffic does the domain receive?
- Does the domain rank for related/relevant keywords?
- A quick and easy way to determine domain quality is to check the domain authority score (there are several free tools that can display this metric).
- Whether the link can drive referral traffic
Check your analytics to see how much referral traffic you get from any domain; factors that can influence referral traffic include:
- Position of the link – placed in a relevant location towards the top of a relevant page
- Link text (or anchor link text) – when a link contains relevant text it can provide context to both humans and search engine bots (e.g. if domains were to link to this blog we’d prefer the link to contain words like “backlink building strategies” opposed to “click here”)
- Quantity of links – earning multiple links from a page increases your chances of receiving referral traffic
- Type of links – text links, buttons, images, or other CTAs can all be clickable links
- The link destination – does the link send referral traffic to a relevant page on your site?
- The ability for search engines to follow a link
It’s possible to add “nofollow tags” to backlinks. In short, this tag tells search engines to ignore the links. Here are some common sites that tend to add nofollow tags:
- Social media sites
- Press release sites
- Many forums or comment sections
- Some news sites
- Note: you shouldn’t ignore nofollow link opportunities altogether because the referral traffic can be valuable in many ways including indirectly benefitting SEO
Now that we’ve covered the importance of backlinks and determining their quality, let’s get into the real question of how to earn them.
How to Build Quality Backlinks
There is a ton of information already published about backlink building strategies. But unfortunately, it can be extremely intimidating and challenging to earn quality links successfully. So, the official Element Backlink Building recommendation is ranked by priority. And to us, priority doesn’t just mean focusing on the highest quality links; it means focusing on the highest quality links that are achievable in your specific budget or time constraints. Here is how you should get started (in order of importance):
1. Earn links by leveraging your existing network
You probably have more quality domains in your network than you realize. Depending on your business, you could have customers, retailers, partners, subcontractors, multiple brands, related companies, suppliers, other websites you own, etc. that can and should be linking to your website.
Leverage those connections and ask for links from the highest quality and most relevant domains in your network. It’s entirely possible some of these websites mention you or your products/services already.
2. Determine how link building can fit into your marketing strategies
Like our first recommendation about leveraging your existing connections, this is a low-hanging fruit opportunity. It doesn’t require stressing time or money over building links; instead, just keep SEO and link building top of mind while going about your marketing efforts. For example:
- Are you collaborating with any other quality domains in the future?
- Are you doing any public relations work?
- Are you contributing content to external domains?
- Do you provide products or services for other businesses?
Identify which of your existing marketing efforts has the potential to earn you quality backlinks and try to make it happen. Asking for a backlink only takes a minute; you won’t have a 100% success rate, but the more you ask the more links you’ll earn over time.
3. Copy your competitors’ backlinks
There are several tools you can use to spy on your competitors’ backlinks. We use software that can track backlinks for multiple competitors and organize the linking domains by quality and number of competitors linked to them. E.g., if a domain is linking to only one of your competitors, it might be tough to secure the same type of link from the same domain. But if that domain is linking to all five of your competitors, you can feel more confident that the same domain should also link to your site.
4. Put your PR team (or agency) to work
Earning mentions in the media, other forms of PR exposure, and publishing contributed articles are all great ways to earn quality links. This type of effort isn’t as easy as our other recommendations, but it truly is the best way to earn high-quality links.
You might find other backlink-building guides that tell you to message domains and simply ask for backlinks (without any prior communication or relationship). We disagree with this tactic for a couple of reasons:
- Asking for something without doing anything truly valuable in return usually leads to a low success rate
- These requests can feel annoying and potentially ruin a relationship before it even starts
Instead of just asking for links, you need to build a valuable relationship that’s mutually beneficial. PR experts help you provide something of value to editors and journalists in your industry. Building a positive relationship may require contributing time, money, or effort upfront, but PR pitching in a respectable way will give you the best chance at reaping meaningful backlinks in the long run (not to mention various other PR outcomes that will benefit your ROI).
5. Publish Link-Worthy Content
You’re an expert in your industry so prove it by publishing primary research, white papers, infographics, videos, guides, and other forms of premium content that are extremely resourceful and educational. You need to ask yourself, “what type of content would editors, journalists, bloggers, or other big personalities in your industry want to reference constantly?” If you produce that type of content and support it with your other marketing efforts (paid digital, social media, email marketing, etc.), you’ll give yourself a great chance at earning backlinks naturally. Plus, having link-worthy content will support the four other backlink building strategies listed above.
An Integrated Effort
The best news about everything we’ve recommended here is that it leverages an integrated marketing strategy. If you follow these backlink building tips, you’ll undoubtedly start to produce some quality links, but you’ll also support a variety of other marketing efforts and create valuable business relationships. Connect with us if you need assistance with PR, SEO, or any of our marketing services.