The success of any online business hinges on good SEO (search engine optimization) practices, and webmasters need to understand its importance. At its most basic, SEO is a set of practices for optimizing a website so that it can achieve higher rankings in search engine results pages (SERPs). To put the importance of rankings into perspective, the top result in Google gets approximately 33% of all search traffic, and the numbers rapidly decrease for all lower results. SEO can be broken down into three basic categories.
On-site SEO: This refers to practices applied to your own site to make it as search engine friendly and as appealing to users as possible.
Off-site SEO: This is how you promote your site and content on other websites to increase your traffic.
Technical SEO: This is how you make it convenient for search engines to crawl and index your site so it’s easy to rank.
SEO is a complex and constantly evolving practice. Industry publications sometimes offer minor suggestions to improve your SEO strategy, but will always come secondary to link building. Link building is the practice of acquiring links, usually through content, on other websites. In every correlation analysis study of the factors influencing rankings, links and link-related metrics have always had the highest correlation with ranking better on Google. In this post we will dig into our favorite strategies for building backlinks to your site, but first it’s let’s unpack how rankings work and how they affect your site.
Google Rankings and Domain Authority
While users have many options in search engines including Google, Bing, and Yahoo, the fact is that Google is easily the dominant choice with nearly 80% of the global search engine market share. Google became the most used search engine largely because it prioritized building the best user experience possible, largely through its complex algorithms. These algorithms account for factors such as content quality, relevance, backlink quality, user engagement, brand signals, social signals, total site traffic, and many others.
One of the earliest tools developed for evaluating how influential websites are is domain authority. Moz developed this metric to predict how well a site can rank in SERPs. DA scores are measured on a normalized scale of 0 to 100. The scale is nonlinear, meaning its increasingly hard to increase DA. Google itself doesn’t measure or recognize DA in its algorithms – but uses calculations that are similar enough that DA serves as a very useful proxy for marketers. It’s a helpful indicator of how trustworthy a site is and can give you a good idea of how likely it is to rank. Moz allows a limited number of Domain Authority lookups using its Open Site Explorer tool, and LinkGraph also offers a free bulk domain authority checker, which uses Moz’s API to fetch their metrics for you for up to 100 sites at a time.
How your rankings affect your business
Getting higher search visibility on Google brings more visitors to your website. Billions of Google searches are made each day, and for most digitally-focused brands and businesses is the largest source of highly qualified traffic and revenue. Unlike other traffic sources like social or display ads, organic traffic allows you to access traffic with very specific search intent and provide them with highly relevant content. Of all marketing channels, organic search exhibits the highest ROI because its an earned, long-lasting source of traffic compared to Adwords or Facebook Advertising where marketers rent space at a very high premium. SEO is creative, dynamic, and challenging, making it the preferred growth channel for marketers looking for a differentiated edge.
How your DA impacts your SEO efforts
DA is a measure of a website’s authority and influence. Your DA is important because the higher your score, the more trustworthy your site is considered. Sites with a huge number of high-quality links (like large tech companies like Wikipedia, Yelp, FourSquare, Facebook, Soundcloud, etc) will rank highest in DA, while newer or lesser-known sites, like small businesses, will score on the lower end. This is because every site starts with a score of 0 and has to build up from there with backlinks. It’s important to note that DA is a comparative metric. This means that you don’t need to compete with the entire internet for your DA score; you just need to outperform your direct competitors. Looking up the DA score of competing sites will give you the best idea of how much work you’ll need to do.
How is DA determined?
Similar to Google’s algorithm, DA is a PageRank-based algorithm that uses backlink metrics to quantify how search engines may perceive a website’s influence. To make the most out of DA, you’ll need to work on your site’s overall authority, as well as your individual page scores by increasing the amount of pagerank on important landing pages through thoughtful internal linking. Internal linking, especially through elements on every page of your site like your navigation bar and footer, is how your website distributes its authority across its pages. Moz, like all 3rd party data sources that are attempting to proxy Google’s view of a website’s influence, is fallible and limited by its view of the internet. Slow crawl speeds, small index sizes, robots.txt crawling rules, and weaknesses with seeing through spammy strategies make it a very fallible metric. That’s why, once again, it’s important to remember that DA should only be used as a comparative metric rather than an absolute statement of quality. Generally the best way to raise your DA is to build up your backlink profile and site’s link equity by building quality backlinks from high authority sites.
Algorithms can change
The way Google perceives content quality and link equity continues to change over time with periodic algorithm updates. Two major updates were the Panda update in February of 2011 and Penguin in April 2012.
Google’s Panda update lowered the rankings of low-quality sites and improved rankings for unique, high-quality content. This was done mainly due to complaints from users who were seeing high amounts of irrelevant or repetitious content in searches. Websites had to adapt to Panda by cleaning up their existing content and making efforts to produce more unique and interesting content for users.
The Penguin algorithm update was launched with the intention of cutting down spam and lowering the rankings of sites that were using manipulative practices to climb the ranks. The algorithm has been updated several times since launch, with the most recent update allowing Penguin to evaluate sites in real-time. Google also makes regular minor updates to their algorithms which are worth keeping track of. Webmasters need to be aware of all relevant algorithm changes so they can begin making adjustments to their sites when needed.
3rd party SEO vendors, in an attempt to keep up with Google’s changing perspective of domain quality and backlink profiles, occasionally introduce updates to their software and metrics. In March of 2019, Moz introduced an updated DA that switched their algorithm to a neural network in an effort to produce more trustworthy rankings and keep pace with changes to Google. Even still, internally we see significant room for improvement and numerous domains for which their metrics produce inaccurate conclusions.
Link Building Methods
There are several methods of obtaining links, some of which are more effective than others. All of the methods we advocate are white-hat methods which will stand the test of time because they align with what search engines value long-term and Google compliant. Be wary of black hat methods, which are shortcuts that look to manipulate search rankings in spammy and unethical ways. Strategies like keyword stuffing, cloaking, forum posting, comment section spamming, content spinning, spammy link building with exact match anchor text, and other black-hat methods were once strategies that worked but now can get your website blacklisted or algorithmically penalized. At LinkGraph, we’ve had to help webmasters through challenging remediations when these strategies have resulted in high-value websites getting a rankings drop and losing over 50% of their traffic. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s go through some winning strategies.
Contextual links on reputable publications: A contextual link is a link that appears inside relevant content that enhances or informs the reader. One of the most common examples of high-quality contextual links are hyperlinks within articles on blogs or publications with an engaged audience. Well placed contextual links can greatly improve a site’s trustworthiness. LinkGraph’s outreach-based link building campaigns are directed at emailing the editors and webmasters of high-quality publications with good organic traffic and pitching them content. Effective content marketing requires a large sample size of authoritative sites as well as high-quality linkable collateral that is attractive to publishers. This is easily the most effective link building strategy today and will continue to stand the test of time because it adds value to the publications, readers, and the internet.
Creating High-Quality Linkable Assets on your WordPress Blog:
This strategy is all about creating valuable content that other websites will find and link to. Doing original research, like publishing whitepapers, technical case studies, free software tools or analyzers, and long-form well researched and keyword-targeted content are all effective strategies. Promoting these assets on social media to increase social signals through facebook likes, comments, and shares are effective ways to grow your audience and increase your link velocity around these assets. Many SEOs claim that creating content on your blog on a regular basis is very important, but we would argue that posting on a regular basis is only a good idea when the content you’re creating is actually getting traffic and social media engagement. One great strategy to guide content strategy is the “skyscraper technique” of identifying a piece of content in your niche that has received a lot of engagement across social media as well as with links, and redeveloping and improving upon it. Make sure to do your keyword research when creating a new piece of content, to make sure you’re building content that targets a target keyword that actually has search volume and low organic difficulty. We suggest using our content optimizer to make sure you include all relevant terms within your content and are targeting a keyword with a low enough organic difficulty that you actually have a chance to show up in search results.
HARO: Help A Reporter Out (HARO) is a free database of sources for stories and a great way for potential sources to get media coverage. Once you sign up as a source, you’ll start receiving three emails per day containing topics you can potentially contribute to. Any reply you send should answer all questions asked by the reporter in detail to raise your chances of being credited as a source. You’ll also need to include an author bio and link to your site to secure some exposure. Backlinks from high authority news sites are among the best you can get, which makes HARO an extremely important resource.
Contributor Opportunities and Guest Posting: If you’re an industry expert with specialized knowledge, look for publications in your niche that could benefit from having you write pieces for them. TechCrunch, Forbes, and several other sites accept contributors and will often permit you a link from your author byline. This strategy can help you secure some very high authority links that are otherwise very challenging to acquire, but also requires hard work and perseverance. In this age of the internet, high-quality journalistic outlets are inundated with myriad pitches each day from brands looking for press coverage. Nevertheless, it’s one that we’ve worked over the years to develop successfully at LinkGraph. One important disclaimer here is to make sure you’re targeting sites that get meaningful organic traffic, link out to websites with do-follow backlinks that provide at least some referral traffic, and are relevant to your niche… otherwise you might be wasting your time. SItes that don’t externally link or use nofollow links aren’t going to positively influence your search rankings. Remember that with each link you secure from the same domain there are diminishing returns, so focus more on improving the number of referring domains in your backlink profile over the total number of backlinks (read more on the “dampening factor” in PageRank). Our link building campaigns focus on securing only a single topically relevant link from trustworthy publications because of this. There are loads of sites on the internet that look great but get no traffic from search engines (potentially because they were penalized or aren’t creating useful original content).
Directories: A directory is simply a cataloging system that contains references to relevant resources. Some popular online directories include Yelp, LinkedIn, Google My Business, and Facebook. In SEO, directories are websites that accept submissions that allow you to create backlinks to your website. Directories are great for local or niche marketing, and targeting your site toward relevant directories with detailed descriptions can be great for your traffic.
Good or bad: while there are some web directories that do provide do-follow backlinks, these are generally ineffective because the links they provide are low quality and transfer a minimal amount of PageRank.
Broken link building: This is a technique where you find a broken (dead) link and recreate content for the link. You then tell everyone linking to the broken content to instead link to your recreated content, thus creating new backlinks for your profile. The process of finding worthwhile dead links can be a bit complex and time-consuming, but the following ahrefs video explains how it works in detail.
Quora responses: Quora is basically a question and answer site, and while it may not be the best for traditional SEO methods, it still has indirect benefits. Links for Quora are no-follow, meaning they won’t build your backlink profile, but they can be useful for long term traffic. You can create a profile representing your business on Quora and look for questions with high view counts that you can offer solutions to. Creating highly detailed responses shows your expertise on the topic, and you can leave a link to your site for additional information.
Image link building: These are popular for a variety of reasons. Firstly, users generally love images that can break down complex content into easy to absorb chunks. Content creators also tend to like using images as much as possible for this reason. You can build your backlink portfolio by contributing images to other sites that link back to your page. You can create new images by either revamping outdated ones or by converting content into images yourself. Providing unique and valuable images to big influencers can be a great way to promote your content. This Moz guide can show you more on how to create image links.
Links to avoid
Link swaps: Also known as link exchange, this is a situation where you work with another site to provide backlinks for each other. While there may be some rare instances where this isn’t a bad idea, such as if they are a high-quality site that is relevant to your niche, the practice is generally best avoided. Sites asking for link swaps are often low quality or will be unrelated to your topic, and backlinks like this do more harm than good.
Forum/comment spam: Forum and comment spam doesn’t necessarily have a strict definition, but spam is largely considered anything that doesn’t ask a relevant question or provide any appropriate information. It’s easy for bloggers and site owners to try and promote their sites with spam in forum threads to get some free links, but the practice isn’t a good one. Firstly, it won’t provide particularly valuable links for your profile, and secondly, it’s disruptive to the forums you’re spamming on. Stopping comment spam is a top priority for many forum moderators, and any links you do make are likely to be removed.
Exact match anchor text links: Anchor text is simply the clickable text in a hyperlink, typically appearing blue and underlined. Anchor text can say anything, though it’s generally best if the wording is relevant to the page it’s linking to. An exact match is when the anchor text mirrors the page it is linking to. This is generally considered a bad practice for a few reasons. Firstly, it clearly signals an attempt at link building. The links often don’t look natural, and too many of these could even result in search engine penalties. Also, users don’t respond as well to exact match links anymore, as they see these more like advertising than ways to obtain valuable information. When in doubt, focus on linking to your homepage or blog posts, and use branded anchor-text so it doesn’t look like you’re trying to manipulate rankings for a specific search term, especially ones with high CPC.
Securing high-quality backlinks requires high-quality linkable assets that are well researched, novel, and add meaningful value for readers and make other sites want to link to you. In today’s SEO world, there are no shortcuts for creating great content. Depending on your industry, this could be in the form of well-researched blog posts, engaging podcasts, writing whitepapers and case studies. Using your unique, relevant, and useful content if you really want your efforts to pay off. You’ll also have to link to outside sources in your own content to support your points and build trust with your audience. The following are some things to keep in mind when choosing content to link.
When making your content, you have to ensure that it’s valuable to your target audience, which requires a deep understanding of your audience and their problems. Anything you link for them in your content should also be relevant to your audience and your efforts. Good links could include anything from reviews of your products/services, material that backs up your points, or stories about events in your industry.
Naturally, when choosing your links, you need to make sure they’re actually helpful for your rankings. You’ll want to check the authority of any outside links you’re making because the more high authority sites you can link to, the more your own authority will increase. This goes both for Moz and for the trust your audience places in you.
It’s long been a matter of debate within the SEO community as to whether linking to pages that have high traffic provides any concrete advantages. On the surface, it would seem that linking a page with a high volume of traffic would increase your authority, and therefore your rankings, but this isn’t necessarily the case. In fact, an ahrefs traffic study found that referring domains with high traffic often didn’t correlate with higher traffic than the total number of referring domains in web pages. This certainly doesn’t mean that referring link traffic isn’t at all important for rankings, but it does suggest it shouldn’t be your main concern.
Building Better Backlinks
Earning high quality backlinks can often be difficult, particularly if you’re trying to build them all on your own. Luckily there are some ways that community involvement can help you out, so you don’t necessarily have to purchase any backlink building services. The following are some strategies that won’t cost you anything more than a bit of time and effort to implement.
As previously stated, it’s crucial that you make all of your content relevant to your target audience, but you can go a step further. Create content specifically designed for the user’s convenience. One great way to do this is by creating video content that’s useful for your audience. Online video is staggeringly popular with 55% of people watching videos online every day. This is especially true of mobile users, and over 90% of mobile users report sharing videos with friends. Your video content could include tutorials, product demonstrations, or informational videos appropriate for your niche. Shared videos give your brand more exposure and can link back to your site.
It’s also a good idea to put images into your content whenever possible. One easy way to do this is by placing infographics in your written content to sum up concepts and engage your audience. These are simple to make with Adobe Spark or other online infographic makers.
Arguably one of the best ways to get high quality backlinks is to create guest content on other sites in your industry. Guest blogging is a common method of doing this. Guest blogging on high quality sites can help quickly establish yourself as an authority in your industry as well as boost your traffic. Finding opportunities can be as simple as a Google search for submitting guest posts in your niche. You might even make some outlines and pitch ideas to well-known sites to uncover additional opportunities. This ahrefs video covers the topic in greater detail.
If you want to spread your name around more, it’s a good idea to become more involved in your online community. This can include more activity on social media, but it can be even better to engage more directly. Search forums for questions your business can answer, and start answering them. You might also consider using surveys for multiple purposes. Firstly, surveys can be great tools to gather insights from your current customers/users to gauge their satisfaction and discover ways you can improve. You might also create some surveys with questions relevant to your industry and post them around online to see if your business matches up with your audience’s expectations. You can create your own surveys online with services like Survey Monkey, Typeform, and more.
Local SEO, as the name suggests, refers to optimizing your website to rank better in local searches. Countless local searches are made every day, particularly on mobile devices, and 50% of customers who conduct local searches visit a store that same day. Local searches are most frequently done to check the hours of a location or to search for specific services in the area.
To start taking advantage of local SEO, you’ll need to create a local landing page with keywords optimized for your area in the headline. The content of your landing page will generally include your opening hours, address, phone number, and a brief description of the products or services you provide.
To start gaining backlinks for your landing page, you’ll need to create a listing in Google My Business. This gives you a chance to appear in the top three results in a local search, and these spots dominate all other search results. You can also gain backlinks from local news sources, by sponsoring local businesses, or by listing your business in local directories.
Now that you have some strategies for new backlinks, it’s also important to know how to clean up any bad links you might have. You can use any free backlink checker online to get an idea of how many harmful links your content may have before cleaning them up.
Once you’ve identified your bad links, you have a couple of options for dealing with them. The simplest way is to find the contact information for the webmaster of the site you have a bad link on and request for them to remove it. If they are unresponsive, then you’ll have to resort to using Google’s disavow tool. This is typically seen as a last resort and is only recommended if you’re certain you have bad links. The tool basically tells Google not to count disavowed links toward the ranking of the page. This won’t affect any Google penalties you may have already incurred for toxic links, but it can protect against getting any more.