Links, the original ranking factor! A once easily manipulated and gamed metric by SEOs is now no longer so malleable. Gone are the days of purchasing hundreds of links and shooting up the search results overnight.
In today’s day and age is link building still a reliable and worthwhile SEO strategy? Absolutely! As much as Google tries to get away from using links as a ranking factor they still rely on them heavily to determine a website’s authority and relevance in the organic and local SERP's (search engine results pages).
While the quantity of links is still important, it is an increasingly less important factor. In modern link building and search engine optimization the overall quality, diversity and relevancy of your inbound links are far more crucial than the sheer number.
Not all Links are Created Equal
When embarking on a link building campaign remember that not all links are created equal! Overtly spammy or untrustworthy sites should be avoided at all costs. Likewise, links from highly authoritative or trustworthy sites are worth the additional time it may take to acquire.
There are multiple tools available to help you check the quality of your potential links. I recommend keeping it simple and using Moz to check the Domain Authority, Page Authority and spam scores of a website before trying to get a link from them. By using Moz’s Link Explorer or the Mozbar Chrome extension you can quickly get all three scores and an entire site overview.
A Word on rel=”nofollow” Links
A “Nofollow” link is a hyperlink that uses a Nofollow link attribute. The Nofollow link attribute gives webmasters the ability to instruct search engines to not follow and crawl specific links. This is a useful tool for webmasters who want to stay in the good graces of the search engines. It is common for Nofollow links to be used when linking to untrusted content, paid links, or when a webmaster want to prioritize the pages that a robot crawls.
While Nofollow links will continue to pass traffic to your site, they are not beneficial to your SEO efforts. Typically, when a Nofollow link is used Google will not crawl the link and will not pass PageRank or anchor text information to the linked site. Because the webmaster is telling Google (and other search engines) that they are unsure of your content, Nofollow links will not help with your search engine optimization. When possible always ask that your links are “followed” links.
Link Building Strategies
If you spend any time reading about link building you are bound to come across the same few strategies, techniques and advice time and time again. While these best practices are repeated for good reason it does get old to be told over and over to focus on creating good content that other webmasters and content managers will share.
In this post, I wanted to highlight two less passive approaches to link building. The first is a strategy we use to steal links from our client’s competitors. The second will show you how to get interviewed by reporters in your industry.
Find and acquire your competitor's broken links
One of the most powerful SEO techniques we have encountered is broken link building. Using this strategy, you will find broken links that are pointed to outdated or no longer available content on your competitor’s websites.
Do you have a competitor who has gone out of business, merged, been acquired or changed their name in the last few years? If the answer is yes then there is a strong possibility that you can pick up some of their forgotten links.
When done properly, this strategy can be a real win, win situation. You get the benefit of additional links pointing to your domain and the publisher is able to fix a few 404’d links on their website.
This technique has three basic steps:
- Find broken pages with good inbound links
- Create great content that webmasters want to link to
- Contact all the sites that were previously linking to the now broken webpage
To find missing or broken pages with good inbound links start by running your competitor’s websites through a tool like ahrefs’ Broken Backlink Report. Once the report has finished generating search through the list and identify a 404’d page that has a good number of backlinks and is about a subject you can create content for. Finally, once you have identified a page with good backlinks that no longer exists you can move onto creating the content.
Now that you have identified a missing page you will begin to write, and design the best possible replacement you can. Whether your replacement content is a blog article, a research paper, an infographic or a dedicated page isn’t important. What is important is that the content is great and will add value to the pages previously linking to the now broken page.
Once you have published your new piece of content begin reaching out to the webmasters and ask them to link to your new resource. Often times the webmaster's contact info can be found on the contact page. If you are unable to find their information you can use a tool like hunter.io to get a viable email address. Don’t get discouraged if most of your requests fall on deaf ears. Many webmasters simply do not have the time to respond to emails and fix outdated links, but if you do this enough times the links will absolutely start adding up!
Be a credible, newsworthy source
You’ve probably wondered how some companies are able to be quoted in numerous newspapers, magazines or article after article online. There is no secret that many of them are volunteering to be a reliable source for reporters in need.
A reporter's job is difficult. Deadlines are constantly looming, they’re assigned to a wide variety of topics, many they know little to nothing about and the research needed is enough to kill a grad student.
Lend a hand to these poor reporters by signing up for “Help a Reporter Out” (HARO). HARO is a website that connects credible sources to reporters in need. After signing up for HARO you will begin to receive emails three times a day with roughly fifty queries.
Simply reply to the queries that are relevant to you and make your pitch to be included in the article. When replying to a HARO query remember to establish yourself as a credible source and answer the reporter's questions in full.
I find it helpful to keep track of all the pitches sent and reuse content for similar source requests. There is no need to throw out perfectly good content that didn’t get picked up! Likewise, if you have pitched the same response multiple times with no success, it’s likely time to change your content and approach.
Put The Time In
It’s clear that link building is still an area that demands attention from any digital marketer hoping to harness the power of SEO. While it is true that link building has changed over the years the changes have largely been for the better. The fly by night schemesters have lost their easy wins, marketers with good content can still be found and the quality of the search engine results pages have never been better for users. If you use the strategies found in this blog to secure quality links and build a diverse link profile you will reap the benefits of increased organic traffic and conversions for years to come.