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April 13, 2017 (Updated: March 2, 2020)
Over the past few years, link building has developed a bad reputation. Google’s Penguin update punishes spammy links and puts SEO professionals on notice that they can’t game the system. Unfortunately, these efforts have chased some marketers away from the practice entirely, as they would rather take the exposure they have instead of risk getting punished for trying to increase it.
For the most part, Google has been successful in weeding out the black-hat link builders, which means it’s time for white-hat marketers to step out into the sun and continue their valuable SEO practices. Find out why your brand should have a link-building strategy and how you can bring that strategy into your marketing plan this year.
Image via Flickr by DaveBleasdale
Link building doesn’t help search engines only; it also helps people. In fact, thinking about link-building from a human perspective often takes away the mystery that comes with it. For example, search engines primarily use links for two purposes:
Meanwhile, humans also use links for two purposes:
This element is particularly true in the current era of fake news and alternative facts, where website users questions whether they can trust what they’re reading. When they see a link on a page, they might use the link to check the sources and make sure the information is correct, or they could use the link to read more about the subject and similar subjects at the reference source.
In the same way that an authoritative link can credit a website and convince readers to stay on a site longer, a poorly cited source can discredit the story and the site. The same works for search engines. When Google identifies pages that have spammy or unethical links, the site gets discredited and the rankings take a hit.
Whether you’re actively link building or not, you’re leaving a footprint on the web with your own links and pages that link to you. While you can leave these links to chance, most marketers want to take their link reputation into their own hands with a proactive white-hat link building strategy.
While marketers primarily use link building to boost their search rankings, link building can be a valuable strategy for other parts of your marketing plan. Depending on your relationships with publishers and the types of exposure you need, you can use link building to drive traffic to your website, increase brand awareness, and possibly generate leads.
As we discussed earlier, people evaluate links to learn more about content and check sources. A few well-placed links can boost traffic to your website as visitors explore your site from external referral sources.
Further, SEO has embraced influencer marketing, the process where people associated with their respective industries share articles that mention other companies as a way to promote businesses and individuals. This form of marketing is ideal for companies that need to show immediate results from their SEO efforts to prove that link building is worth the effort.
One of the easiest ways to avoid black-hat practices is to approach link building from a branding perspective. Poor links show up out of context and appear forced in content. You might be reading an article about travel in Paris and see a link about refrigerator repair. This link placement is obviously distracting.
Meanwhile, link building from a branding perspective means that companies look for partners that match their audiences. If the same article about travel in Paris included a link for affordable hotel rooms or travel guidebooks, the link would be more natural and generate better results. This link placement would also allow for more exposure, as the travel site could dedicate a paragraph to the hotel brand or travel guide experience.
White-hat link building is about forming relationships with publishers in your industry. Strategic marketers will use this tool to collaborate and create content that benefits both parties and generates long-term results. As you continue exchanging traffic with your peers and influencers, the leads will follow. The difference between black-hat and white-hat SEO is that white-hat SEO generates high-qualified traffic that can turn into leads from a clear source. Isn’t that approach better than trying to game the system?
If you want to start reaching out to publishers and investing in link building, you can take a few steps on your own. First, brainstorm a list of blogs, websites, and news sources you can contact. These sources include:
Once you have a list of potential publishers, sort them into two categories:
This sorting allows you to start with the low-hanging fruit and reach out to people who would immediately be willing to collaborate with you. Traditional marketers can think about this idea from a public relations perspective: You can easily strike up relationships with local news personalities than you could with national CNN correspondents.
Set goals to reach out to two to five publishers per month and keep a calendar of the publish dates for your collaborated content. This way, when your content goes live, you will be able to track the results. For each publisher that you work with, you want to monitor what types of results you can expect from a link in their content. How much traffic do they bring to your website? What percentage of this traffic turned into leads for customers? This tracking will help you understand the value of each link on your business development and help you rank publishers by their value.
So many people do link building poorly that it seems like an impossible task. However, if you think about your audience and apply traditional marketing methods to the SEO space, you shouldn’t have any problems building links for your brand.
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