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Link Building for SEO: The Basics

The Do’s and Don’ts of Link Building

Link building is so important in SEO, but good, true white hat SEO is all about building great quality links.  Links are a suggestion from the owner of the page you’re on to visit another with more or better information. The value of link building from an SEO perspective comes from others telling Google (through links) that the page on your site that they are linking to is valuable, authoritative, or useful to their audience. The goal of link building or link building campaigns should be to increase traffic to your site.  The added Google value is a bonus.  Until SEOs and companies understand that the user’s experience is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing to focus on, link building campaigns will fail and the ongoing algorithmic updates will ensure that black hat SEO will be punished.

So the question becomes – what are good links?

  • Good links are contextually relevant; they are relevant, related, and provide value to customers.
  • Good links have your keyword phrase in the anchor text.  Click here=bad.
  • Good links deliver you to the most relevant page of the site for that link (home page vs. product page)
  • Good social media links point to the right layer of your site.

A very common mistake in link-building is the mass email. Sending out one hundred emails requesting links is an easy way to get marked as spam, targeted by spammers, or waste valuable time.  You always want to target specific sites, bloggers, influencers, or forums to join the conversation. By being focused in where you seek your links, you develop a network that provides a benefit to your link partners.  You need to offer these sites something of value, then you can ask for the link. Give away something special and then ask for that link.  Give them a challenge and give them credit for their success on your site.  It’s more beneficial to build high value link networks than an endless stream of crappy inbound links.

Figuring out good keywords and good opportunities for link building comes down to looking at the searches in your masthead, searches you determine from analysis of keyword tools and analytics.  But never forget the importance of simply talking to your customers.  How informed are they when they conduct the search process?  If you work in a technical field (like a physician), most of your potential patients are searching for symptoms and problem lists not diagnoses.  In search, customers are actively looking for you, they are actively engaged in the process of looking for you.  Figure out what are they telling you, what they are asking for in their queries and reward them with the right information.

Always follow up with your partners and affiliates and look at what page they are linking to.  Follow up with them and request URL changes, if necessary.  For example, I have a client with vendors listed on her site and many of her individual vendors link to her.  But if they bake wedding cakes and are linking to the home page, the value in that link is less than if they linked to the wedding cakes page.

You also have to know and understand your audience and provide link bait that matches their expectations.  In some industries, video provides great link bait (media or entertainment).  But in other industries (say, financial), whitepapers or tools (like calculators) provide more value.  In real estate, apps and map functionality provide value.  By knowing your audience and their expectations, you can understand what features they want to see and what link bait is most attractive.  Funny videos and internet memes might be viral, but if you work in a technical industry like finance, it might fall on deaf ears – no matter how funny you think it is.

Action Items in Link Building:

  • Use the tools available in Google Webmaster Tools.  If you have a manual action listed, it means there are unnatural links.  Fix them.
  • Identify the links you have that are broken or 404’s. Fix them.
  • Follow up with bad links, broken links, or ask webmasters with irrelevant or bad links to remove your site.  It’s not a sexy job or a fun one, but it’s very effective.  Google’s disavow tool is a wonderful tool, so use it if you find links that you do not want connecting to your site or will not remove you without paying an exorbitant fee (yes, that can happen).
  • Follow up with your affiliates and make it a point to ensure that the link between Point A (their site) and Point B (your site) are contextually relevant.
  • Don’t push too many links too soon. That looks spammy.
  • Focus on quality over quantity.  Again, spam=bad, quality content=good.
  • Paid links in the form of sites like Chamber of Commerce or industry organizations are not negative links and provide viable, valuable content.
  • Content syndication is a valuable link building process that helps you disseminate your content in viable locations.  Use the tools available to distribute your unique content to your users and potential customers.