Since the dawn of SEO, search engine marketers have been building links both manually and naturally. Link building can have an impact on a website’s search engine rankings, although not as much as it did just a few years ago. Inbound links account for some of the several factors search engines like Google consider when trying to rank a web page. Read Moz’s Search Engine Ranking Factors to learn more about what part links play in SEO performance.
3 Popular Ways to Build Links
The process of link building can take many different forms. Some companies passively build links by creating great content their customers share. Other companies conduct an outreach program designed to connect with related industry websites. Then there are the spammers of the SEO industry that will take any link they can get, free or paid. Let’s take a deeper dive into each activity.
1. Content Marketing
At the very top of the link building food chain lives “Content Marketing”. As I’m writing this article, some of you may be at Content Marketing World learning about all the new tips and strategies to create better content. Creating more engaging content is often the goal of this activity, the end result is often more social media shares and more inbound links. We’re talking about video, infographics, how to articles, white papers, etc. Any form of content that can generate an action on the part of readers. Content is very much “leading the horse to water”. Getting them to “drink” or convert is another post.
Getting the Boss’s approval
Wouldn’t it be great if your boss said one day, “Hey, let’s do this content marketing thingy and we’ll be on the road to riches”. The challenge with content marketing for some businesses has to do with corporate politics and getting the “buy-in” from your executive team. Content marketing takes time and resources away from other activities with a shorter “time to see a return”. Your boss may look at SEO and think, “Hey, we need links. How do we get more links?” This is where some companies end up hiring an SEO firm that can “get them links”. Or, you’ve got the buy-in from the powers that be to invest in content, but it’s been four months of article posts and they’re asking, “Where are the links/traffic?!” Not a great situation for any marketer.
Don’t give up!
Content marketing is a long-term strategy that can take several months to see results. Don’t jump ship after only a few months of publishing and promotion. If your content isn’t getting shared or getting links, try more research or better headlines. It may not be the fault of your content, but the lack of exposure. Paying for exposure in social advertising is a great way to push your content out to the masses and test different headlines.
2. Manual Link Building
In a past life, I spent several days/weeks/months building links manually. Let me tell you, this activity stinks! Nothing is worse than spending hours of your time on this earth combing through spreadsheets of link data, looking for a diamond in the rough. Then after you have spent hours collecting a list of prospects, creating an outreach email for each prospect, only to have 95% rejected. I’m pretty sure if they made prisoners at Guantanamo Bay build links manually, there would be world outcry.
Relationship Building, Not Link Building
The only scenario where manual link building makes sense is in PR outreach. If you’re conducting link research with the intention of connecting with publishers, then it’s “relationship building” not really link building. Getting published on industry media sites can be a powerful way to improve SEO. The catch to this activity is some industry sites are blocked from search engines or behind a member login. Review these opportunities on a one-off basis to see if it’s worth your time.
3. Buying Links
Don’t do it! In fact, don’t ever hire an SEO agency that does it and not realize they are doing it. Buying links is bad news for the future of your organic search performance. Several companies that did SEO in the 2000s are now hiring companies like ours to go through their link profile and clean up links. They spammed Google with garbage links and now can’t seem to get back rankings. The days of spamming Google with purchased links are over. That being said, some paid links are OK. Have a local Chamber of Commerce with a web directory? Are you listed on the Better Business Bureau? These are technically paid links but will not flag your website for spam. The paid links I’m talking about are from inside a stinky blog post with several other websites that paid for links on other stinky blog posts. Just don’t do it.
Building Links the Easy Way
Building links the hard way takes hours and hours of research, outreach, and follow-up. Building links the easy way also takes hours and hours of work. The difference is you’re not just building one link via a directory, you’re putting great content out there (perhaps for as long as your website lives) that can build links over time. One really good graphic or video can generate 10s-100s of links, where manually built links often generate just that one link.
To Build Links or Not Build Links?
If you are doing content marketing with the intention to build links, then go for it! If you are doing PR outreach to connect with publishers, go for that too! If you are paying for a handful of directory links from a select group of quality industry websites, go for that as well. If you are doing anything else outside of these activities to generate links, take a good hard look at the activity and read Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. If you hired a company to help build links know what your SEO firm is doing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Review the section at the bottom labeled “Avoid the following techniques”. Good luck and happy link building!
photo credit: Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis) (license)
photo credit: Live 8 Nosepicker (license)