Link Building 101

What Are Backlinks?

Backlinks are links on other websites pointing to your website or page. They’re also called incoming or inbound links.

They help visitors and search engines discover your content via anchor links on other websites and web services.

Image Backlinks to your content

Why Are Backlinks Important?

It’s because someone thought your content was good enough to share with their own visitors by linking to it. Each backlink acts like a vote.

Search engines use backlinks as a vote in deciding your website’s search engine ranking. The more votes, the better. But more important is the quality of the link – which includes the ranking of the site linking to your page, the anchor text used and the relevancy of both websites.

So, for example, a link from a high-ranking website like The NY Times would count for more than a link from Joe Schmoe’s blog because of overall quality. However if Joe’s blog has quality content AND is in your same industry, it could count for more than a link from a well known website because it’s probably more relevant.

Another example might help. A link from a French restaurant pointing to the country veterinarian’s website probably wouldn’t help much because they’re in different industries. However… if there was a bacterial outbreak and this veterinarian is the USDA inspector for the meat served in the restaurant and he says this particular meat passed inspection, the link would make more sense. It would be relevant.

Search engines also analyze the anchor text because it’s usually relevant to the linked-to page. (There’s that word again.) Most important is whether the anchor text helps a visitor understand what type of content they’ll find when they click on the link.

History

To better understand what can help – and what can get you in trouble – we need to take a look at what’s happened in the past.

Back in the stone age of the Internet, Yahoo and AltaVista were the best-known search engines. They looked mainly at information webmasters put in meta tags and at keyword density to figure out what a page was about and used that to decide on rankings.

Some sample META tags as seen in the source code

 

Unfortunately that lead to keyword stuffing – the more the merrier – both on the page and in the meta tags. If the website owner thought there was a chance – even a teeny one – that the site would rank for a certain word or phrase, they added it. It didn’t matter much if it had anything to do with the actual content on that page. That made it hard for the search engines to tell what a particular page was really about.

Then Google came on the scene and started looking at the number of inbound links to a website. They reasoned if someone was willing to link to a website, it must be good. So the more backlinks, the higher the ranking.

At first it worked well because the search results were more relevant. Then people figured out how to ‘game’ the system and link farms were born. Everyone wanted links and it didn’t matter how they got them. The sheer number of backlinks was the only thing of importance.

Lots of crummy websites ranked high. For awhile.

Google took note and updated their algorithms. You may have heard of the Panda and Penguin updates.

After Panda, websites with rankings based on poor quality backlinks tumbled. Hard. Roughly 12% of searches were affected.

Penguin targeted websites that over-optimized the anchor text in the backlink. Basically, webmasters had found a way to stuff keywords into their backlinks. They were putting their main keyword into every backlink, hoping that would help the website rank high for that keyword. But in natural linking, the main keyword isn’t used very often. In most cases, the anchor text would be something generic, like ‘click here’ or ‘Acme Co’ or the website address.

These updates were aimed at webmasters who tried to game the system. Instead of providing quality content, they took shortcuts to get their websites ranked higher. As Google learns more about these black-hat techniques, the search engine results get better and more relevant.

What Does The Future Hold?

Here is a video of Matt Cutts, head of search at Google, discussing backlinks and the future. He believes backlinks will still be important for many years, however Google continues to work on more ways to determine whether a page meets a user’s expectations.

In a nutshell, backlinks are still important, as are the quality of the content and the reputation of the site.

How Do You Build Backlinks?

Now that you know why you should get backlinks and how the search engines have evolved, you need to know how to develop backlinks today.

Start by spying on your competitors to see where their backlinks are coming from and maybe add those links to your website.

  • Search for your keywords and phrases in Google.
  • Copy the URL for the top result – just make sure you’ve chosen a search result and not an ad.
  • Go to Alexa.com and where it says ‘Enter a site’, paste the URL and click Go. Scroll down to the section ‘Total Sites Linking In’ and make a note of each site listed as a backlink.
  • Go back to the search results and copy the URL for the next listing, submit on Alexa and make a note of each backlink. Repeat for the top 5-10 Google results for your keywords.
  • Take a look at each of the backlinks you’ve collected. Some may be good, some may be questionable and some may be terrible. Try to get backlinks from the good sites, but only if they’re relevant to your website.
  • When you find backlinks from directories, submit your website’s link there too.
  • When you find backlinks from forums, sign up and include your link in your profile or comments.
  • When you find backlinks from social sites, add some content of your own and include your link.
  • When you find backlinks from websites and blogs, check to see if you can guest post in exchange for a link.

More ideas that we’ll be covering in detail in future posts include:

  • Sharing your content on social media website such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest and others. Social signals and links can help increase your rankings.
  • Posting your content on Reddit.com and Delicious.com. Just remember not to post only your own content and look like a spammer. You don’t want to be banned.
  • Posting your own videos on YouTube.com and including links back to your website.
  • Submitting press releases online when your company does something news worthy. You can try some of the free sites, but to get the most link juice use the paid versions like PRWeb.com to syndicate your press release to a large number of news and TV station websites, local newspaper websites, popular blogs, and other mainstream web properties.
  • Write original content and submit to article directories. But be careful because some article directories were created as link farms and have been de-listed from the search results. A link from a directory like that would hurt your search rankings. Also submitting the same article to many directories will hurt your rankings and possibly cause your website to be de-listed.

These are only a few suggestions to consider. Just remember to try for quality and relevant links for the best results. It can be a long, slow process. Don’t be seduced by the dark side into trying to build links too fast or accepting spammy backlinks. You want your website to grow and prosper, not go spinning off into a black hole.

What have you tried? And how well did it work?

 

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