I’ve been doing SEO for several years now, and one thing I am regularly reminded of is how little most people understand SEO. Maybe that’s my fault. I feel like I write about it quite a bit, trying to elucidate the processes, planning, strategy, and actions that relate to SEO; however, I think that many business owners remain relatively clueless about what goes into SEO.
While there are plenty of back-end, technical, and analytical elements to my job, one thing that might be easy to explain is link building. This blog post attempts to explain what link building is, and how it can be done successfully.
What Is Link Building?
Link building includes all efforts to get other websites to link to your own website. Your site needs links that point to it, because depending on the quality, quantity, and authority of the websites that link to you, the search engines will decide that your site should appear higher in search.
It’s almost like an electoral college system. The more people who are voting for you, by linking to your site, the more likely you are to win in search. However, popular vote alone will not push you to the top five spots in search. Let me explain by dividing link building into two ridiculously basic categories: bad and good.
What Is Bad Link Building?
Bad link building is trying to get as many links to your site as possible, regardless of the quality of the sites linking to you. Google, Yahoo, and Bing no longer respond well to this type of link building.
In the past, SEOs thought that getting thousands of low-quality links to your site by creating websites for fake businesses, fake blogs, and fake business directories would move your site to the first page of search. And for a long time this actually worked. Google’s algorithm wasn’t advanced enough to determine that these links were not authentically placed on a website because someone actually liked your business, product, or service.
And so the Internet became like a trash heap of fake websites, all created with the purpose of linking back to real businesses to make them appear more well-liked than they actually were. In other words, bad link building is just like voter fraud. Imagine creating thousands of fake voter registrations and casting a vote for your candidate of choice a thousand times. That would be a corrupt election, and democracy would be a failure.
As an Internet user, you know when you stumble upon a site that is complete junk. In many cases it’s a WordPress or Blogger blog, written with horrible grammar, peppered with thousands of links to various businesses across all industries. You know that this site is pure junk. Now Google knows this, too.
Today, Google’s algorithms mimic actual user behavior to such a degree that in most cases Google knows which links are authentic and which links were artificially created to make your site appear more popular than it actually is.
To sum up, bad link building is creating or buying links from websites rather than doing good work that makes people want to actually link to your business.
What Is Good Link Building?
I’m so glad we got the bad stuff out of the way. As you can probably guess by now, good link building is doing the work that it takes to be popular. Why were the popular kids in high school popular? Well, at my school in suburban Kansas City, they were popular because they were really attractive, really rich, really good at something, or really nice. To some degree, the same logic of high school popularity goes for your website.
Many of us resented the kids who were popular just because they were rich or pretty, so let’s focus on the kids who were really good at something and really nice. That’s how you should approach link building.
Good link building is a natural extension of good business practices, good research, and smart marketing. Approach link building the way you would approach any type of marketing. What do you want people to know about your business and about you? What can you teach people about your industry? What can you give people to entice them to come back to you? How would you do this if the Internet wasn’t even around?
Let’s break it down by those categories I just mentioned: what you can teach, what you can give, and how to get the word out.
What you can teach: sharing knowledge builds links:
What do you know about your industry that few people know? Make a video about it. Write a white paper. Create an infographic. Respond to questions about it on forums like Quora.
One of the biggest mistakes that small businesses make is hording their knowledge. Share your knowledge in order to prove that you know your stuff.
News and information spreads and travels incredibly quickly with social media. Twitter is faster than the speed of sound (probably. Don’t quote me on that.). People don’t want to wait to discover what they need to know now. Find out what people want to learn more about, and then educate them and promote your knowledge as an extension of your business.
What you can give: free stuff builds links:
Giving away your product or service to the right people can get you links. Do you sell kitchen sinks? Give away one of your nicest sinks to a popular home remodeling blogger or Pinterest user. Approach them in a genuine way; read and respond to their blogs, follow them on Pinterest, get to know what they do, then share with them what you do. This is forming a strategic partnership that will benefit both of you.
Send your clients and vendors tokens of appreciation. Let them know how happy you are that they’re around. While there is no guarantee that they’ll link to you as a result, this is just a good business practice that leads to more trust and more passion for your business. Trust and passion build links.
We have tons of ideas for how to form great relationships with other businesses and other websites by giving away products, coupons, discounts, gifts, scholarships, and all sorts of other stuff that people want and need.
Make sure that there is always a link back to your site whenever you create something like a video, white paper, infographic, etc. And always include a link to your site in your social media and forum profiles. Consider a pay-per-click campaign with Google AdWords, Bing ads, LinkedIn ads, or Facebook ads to promote a giveaway. Research the best ways to contact people online who are doing great work, and then implement your marketing plan.
Include links to your website, Facebook page, and Twitter profile on your receipts and in emails and newsletters. Link building is like campaigning: you need to convince your constituency that you are worth voting for. Your site needs to be worth a link in the same way that your service is worth hiring, or your product is worth buying.
Remember: the better work you do, the more you share, and the more you give, the more you’re likely to get the high quality links (i.e. the Electoral College of votes), and the more likely you are to do better in search and better as a business.
Link building isn’t magic: it’s hard work, it’s real work, but it’s work that is worth it.