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Link building, a conventional form of SEO, has been part of the search engine marketer’s toolkit since the 1990s. Yet, in the post-Panda (Hummingbird and Penguin, too) world, Google places less value on old-school techniques than it once did.
To put it bluntly, Google is smart and gaming the search engine with a high volume of low-quality backlinks is counter-productive and can result in getting your website penalized, which will drive your site further down in search rankings.
So, is link building still an effective way to improve organic search returns?
The answer: Yes, so long as you meet the following criteria.
1. Focus on Quality Over Quantity
“Plenty of companies offer to get you thousands of links in a short period of time, but that’s a formula for disaster. Google’s algorithm will view it with suspicion, and it will call undue attention to itself,” said LaBauve. “Attention is good, but you want the right kind. The emphasis should be on getting high-quality links, not massive amounts of low-quality ones.”
2. Context, Not Just Content
Link building is not simply a matter of getting a link pointing back to your site. Context in terms of how it’s used is important, too.
“If you just have a link on a directory site that lists your company name, address and phone number, there’s not much context there for the search engines to get a real sense of your site’s value,” said LaBauve. “However, if your site is linked to within a news story on CNN.com, for example, the search engines have not only more content, but greater context to figure out your value.”
3. Get a Healthy Mix of Links
There should be a healthy mix of links pointing to your site including some that come from directories, and others from social bookmarking sites, content sites, blogs, news and press release sites, and social networks, advised LaBauve.
4. PageRank and Authority are Important
Authority plays a huge role in how much SEO benefit you’ll get from a backlink. The more authoritative the site, the harder it should be to achieve, so the more value it has.
To make authority easier to explain, think of it in terms of Google Pagerank (PR).
PageRank goes on a scale from 0-10 with ‘0’ being the starting point for all websites and 10 being reserved for the most authoritative. Sites like Facebook, Whitehouse.gov, CNN have high PageRank.
The PR scale is exponential, so going from 1 to 2 is more difficult than going from 0 to 1. It gets harder to advance up the scale, which means there are fewer and fewer sites the higher you go.
In terms of link building, if you get a link from a PR 10 site pointing to yours, it’s not merely twice as valuable as a PR 5 linking to you but 100 times more. In addition, for every link that points to your site, the website linking to you passes along some of its authority. Therefore, it makes sense to try and get links from sites with the highest authority possible.
Most directory sites are a dime a dozen and only rank about a PR 0, 1 or 2. According to LaBauve, there is some benefit to them. “Getting links from directories don’t pass a lot of PR value to a site, but they can help with a site’s link footprint. The more links you have pointing to you (assuming they’re not all spam/bot links), the more the search engines will notice you,” he said.
5. Content is SEO Gold
Creating quality content is its own form of link building because it attracts attention (especially when promoted), which results in others referring to it, linking to it, and writing about it.
The key is to create content that provides enough value that others will want to link to it. That can include blog posts, feature articles, whitepapers, ebooks, infographics, videos, press releases, guides, on-demand webinars, and case studies, just to name a few.
If the amount of time you can devote to link building is limited, put it toward creating and promoting quality content.
6. Promote Content Using Social Media and Email
Don’t think that just creating content – the “build it, and they will come” approach – is enough to improve rankings (that would be too easy). You also need to distribute it through social media and via email broadcasts where it can be consumed and shared.
Search engines use social data as signals to improve search results, so social sharing activity indicates that real people are consuming your content and value it enough to share with their friends and followers.
Email marketing is more of a closed environment, but that doesn’t mean people won’t share messages they receive any less than if it appears in their Facebook newsfeed, especially when you encourage them to share and build in functionality that makes it easy to do.
7. Don’t Build Links, Earn Them
Rand Fishkin, well-known SEO expert and founder of Moz.com, said that we have entered an era where we should stop trying to “build” links and, instead, make strides to “earn” them.
“I am not saying that all of the link building tactics of yore are gone. There are certainly some that still exist…by and large, Google is trying to end the practice of link building and renew the practice of link earning,” said Fishkin.
Embracing the use of content marketing combined with social sharing and email broadcasts are two good ways to earn links back to your site. Getting a mix of links, and placing an emphasis on quality rather than quantity will also help.
Image source: Flickr Creative Commons