This guide should persuade any non-believers of link building of its effectiveness in an SEO strategy. When reviewing SEO strategies, we notice that link building is often seen as a “last resort” or only considered a few months after technical and content changes have been tackled. In reality, auditing yours or your client’s backlink profile and establishing activity (based on priority actions and resources) should occur in the first month of an SEO strategy.
I’m cautious to be preaching to the choir about link building, so this guide is aimed at management, digital marketing managers or SEOs that might not believe that link building works or is tangible enough to incorporate into your strategy.
First, we will outline what link building is and why it is important, followed by new guidance from Google that will affect link building in 2020. We will also discuss vital factors to remember before going out and blindly building links anywhere that you can (read: don’t do this) or things to discuss with your PR team. We’ll also show you some SEO and PR campaigns that have led to awesome results for our clients, just to drive that point home a bit more.
What is Link Building?
Link building is the action of building hyperlinks from external websites to your website with the goal of improving your visibility on search engines. Common link-build tactics can include Digital PR and content marketing campaigns, citation building in directories for local SEO benefits, and broken link building or unlinked mentions.
Why is Link Building Important for SEO?
In short, Google’s PageRank Algorithm looks at how pages link to one another in order to establish their position in the search engine results based on authority. Back in the day, this could be easily manipulated and meant webmasters and black-hat SEOs would use spammy link building tactics (such as paying for links and private blogger networks) in order to play the system.
Google launched the Penguin update in 2012 to improve how they scored links in their rankings; it enabled the algorithm to focus on the quality of backlinks to a site rather than just the quality. This led to many sites that had engaged in spammy link building to decrease their organic visibility or, worst still, drop off the face of search engine results.
It doesn’t matter how many backlinks your page has if they are low-quality. To this day, backlinks still remain a ranking signal for Google but it is all about the quality and relevance of your backlinks rather than the number of backlinks pointing to your site.
Now that we’re all on the same page contextually (maybe you’re not convinced just yet, that’s fine), let’s discuss important factors to consider when link building.
SEO Link Building Tips for 2020
On-page internal links
Before we go off-page, let’s start at home. Focus on building internal links on your own website as well as conducting any off-page link building campaigns. Not only will this increase traffic to different areas of your website that might not get as much love, but it also signals to search engines of the connection and importance of pages on your site.
The less amount of clicks that a page takes to get to from the homepage (also known as click-depth) signals to search engines how important that page is. If you aren’t already, consider the below internal-linking steps:
- Make sure all blogs and long-tail content has a clear call-to-action within or at the end of the piece that internally links to a relevant service, category or product page.
- For large e-commerce stores or lead-generation sites with plenty of services, consider implementing a mega-menu navigation that allows you to internally link to all relevant pages.
- Implement breadcrumbs or internal links that allows users and search engine crawlers to decipher where in the site structure a page sits.
- Internal linking from “power pages” to other topically related pages on your site that you also want to rank well. Power or source pages are those on your site with high amounts of organic traffic and links. Make sure all blogs and long-tail content has a clear call-to-action within or at the end of the piece that internally links to a relevant service, category or product page.
Google places much more weight on editorially-placed links
“Editorially placed” is a fancy name for when someone links to your site because they want to. Maybe your product or service is topical or newsworthy, or you have created a useful piece of content that people want to share. If they linked to it, consider it editorially-placed.
This touches on what we discussed earlier about the quality of links and spammy link building practices. Google places much more authority on editorially-placed links and have noted that the below practices can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results or be a violation of their guidelines:
- Buying and selling links. This includes exchanging money or goods or services for links; or sending someone a free product or service in exchange for a link.
- Link exchanges. Please don’t email anyone saying “Link to me and I will link to you”. Please.
The value of the links determines their quality
Not all links are created equally. Google will determine the quality of your links by assessing the quality of traffic that the links are driving to your website. For example, a law firm would see the benefit of building links in local directories to their location and niche legal directories as this would drive relevant users to your site – hence, a quality link.
If you sent your marketing team to wildly comment on all mummy bloggers’ recent blog posts with links to a law firm’s site under the guise of it being helpful family law services, not only can this lead to a higher bounce rate but also degrade the ranking of your site in the search engine results page (SERPs).
No-Follow Links will have some value
Google created Nofollow link attributes for webmasters to allow them to link to other sites without passing over linking credit (“link juice”). They were first introduced in 2005 as a way to stop spam links from manipulating ranking signals.
Fast forward to 2020 and it is commonplace for a lot of publications and directories to only give out nofollow links. However, as of the beginning of March in 2020, Google began to treat nofollow link attributes as a hint (rather than directive). This is in acknowledgment of how the web has changed since 2005, but to also allow Google to better understand and analyse links within their search algorithms.
The key takeaway from this is to not be put off from outreaching to sites that historically only dish out nofollow links. Nofollow links can still be worthwhile as they encourage referral traffic and expose you to new audiences or customers to discover your business. If your backlink profile has a lot of nofollow links, it is worth reviewing your organic visibility in Google Search Console from March 2020 onwards as well to see if Google’s new stance has caused an uplift in impressions.
The difference between Follow and NoFollow link attributes
Here is a quick rundown of the visual code for different link attributes for Follow and Nofollow links.
Follow: I want Google to pass link equity to <a href=”https://example.com/”>this website</a>. So I will just use the normal <a> tag with the href attribute.
Nofollow: I do NOT want Google to pass link equity to <a href=”https://example.com/” rel=”nofollow”>this website</a>. So I will use the nofollow link attribute in addition.
Examples of Link Building Campaigns
The Hard Water Tool
The idea was to create a piece of content marketing that helps users understand the water hardness of their area of the UK for Harvey Water Softeners. Users were able to input their location into the interactive quiz-like page and were presented with an indexable landing page that detailed the water hardness of their city or county. Each “result” landing page was targeted with regional metadata to help gain organic visibility and traffic from users that might not engage with the content marketing campaign on-site, but were still researching on the topic.
We tracked 103 keywords for this specific campaign – all highly relevant and valuable for Harvey Water Softeners to attract new customers. These vary from local queries such as “hard water in Bournemouth” or “hard water in Nottingham” to other long-tail informational queries such as “how hard is my water” and “water hardness by postcode”.
Of the 103 keywords tracked, we were able to gain position 1 rankings for 77 keywords and first page results for 96 keywords. This equates to an average keyword position of 3.8 for all keywords tracked for this campaign with plenty of rich results too.
The first working Monday of the year is known as ‘Divorce Day’ to reflect the peak in couples filing for divorce after the festive period. We anticipated that plenty of journalists would be writing about this at the beginning of 2020, so prepared pre-approved comments from the family lawyers at Richard Nelson LLP with Google Trends data that would be useful for journalists putting together pieces around this topic.
To build awareness, we kept a close eye on all reactive PR opportunities surrounding Divorce Day through Response Source, PressPlugs, #JournoRequest and #PRRequest, and outreached a press release to lifestyle editors on the morning of Divorce Day.
We secured 32 pieces of coverage for this campaign, varying from unlinked mentions, nofollow links and dofollow links to the client’s homepage and deeper Family Law page. The tangible SEO benefits include an increase of 45,000 impressions for all family law pages and relevant queries to the site
Sick Leave in the UK vs the Rest of Europe
The premise of this campaign was to compare sick leave and attendance data from employees in the UK against the rest of Europe. The idea was to create content that is relevant to Mitrefinch’s hero terms such as ‘time and attendance software’ and ‘workforce management solutions’ with the aim of driving relevant links back to site and tangible keyword ranking improvements.
We secured 22 backlinks to the piece of content whilst internally linking to key product pages on the Mitrefinch site in order to funnel equity back to transactional pages. The blog itself now ranks for 33 different keywords on “average sick days per year uk” and similar. We were also able to gain page 1 rankings for their more transactional keywords such as “workforce management solutions”.
Link building is an important activity that needs to be considered in every SEO strategy. I do think there are a few certain instances in a strategy where it should not take priority – like a website that is so poorly targeted with plenty of technical errors that need to be addressed first. However, that is not to mean that link building should be forgotten entirely.
The success of SEO is driven by good data and a creative approach. We believe that this is encompassed by three pillars: technical excellence, content quality and promotion strategy – which is echoed by the many in the SEO community. So let’s stop ignoring link building and instead think. What is the point in having great content and a technically sound website if you can’t shout about it? You know your business is great and worthy of high rankings so prove it to search engines by getting others talking about it!