Link building, or link earning, is an art form in its own right, and a branch of SEO that helps to better position a website in the search engines. We link builders imagine a search engine saying, “tell me who links to you and I’ll tell you who you are”. It’s not about getting a massive amount of random links to your site, but about getting a range of good-quality links that are relevant to what you do.
Picture your site as yourself and the links as your social network. If you hang out with dubious people, they will do little to help you succeed in life; they’ll distract you from what you want to achieve and will probably bring you down with them. This is exactly what bad links do to your site; they rob you of a good position in the SERPs.
On the other hand, if you hang out with successful people, they’ll become great contacts for your business, they’ll create job opportunities and will generally help you get ahead. This is what good links do for your site; they are votes of confidence to help you achieve better rankings.
What makes a good link?
Metrics. Always be sure to check the metrics before attempting to link to a site. You can use SEO tools like the MozBar and Majestic Trust Flow to give you a good idea of what a website’s metrics are (download the extension for free using Google Chrome).
Moz will tell you a site’s domain authority, which shows a site’s strength. Above 60 is considered very popular. Using the analogy of celebrities (why not?), this would put a site into the category of Benedict Cumberbatch or Judi Dench. Above 80 and you’re talking about the major leagues, like the Samuel L. Jackson and Taylor Swift category. A link on one of these sites can be difficult to obtain but not impossible.
You often have a better chance of starting off a smart link building process by focusing on more accessible sites with a domain authority of 30 or above. This would be like socialising with successful people in your local area – they’ll give you a leg up but you’ll still be miles away from the likes of Jackson and Swift, which takes a lot of time, hard work and know-how.
When looking at metrics in Majestic, focus on two metrics in particular: trust flow and trust ratio. Trust flow predicts how trustworthy a site is based on how trustworthy its backlinks are. When it comes to trust flow, you’re safe if a site has a trust flow above 15.
The trust ratio won’t be visible but you can get this number by dividing the trust flow by the citation flow (the citation flow shows the amount of times a site has been mentioned or cited). The trust ratio is the percentage of the active backlinks that a website has. You’re looking for a result above 0.5 and as close to 1 as possible.
What else to look for?
Many sites have great metrics even if the site’s appearance leaves something to be desired. This can be achieved in part by a site’s age. An older, better-established site has the chance of accumulating more links (either organically or through link building) even if the content and the site itself are not great.
This is why it is important to look at different aspects of the website before making a judgment call on whether you’d like to have a link there. Determine when the site was last updated with fresh content – we like to see recent blogs posted on a site within the last month. This means the site is still active and the site owner is engaged.
Take a look at the general layout and design of the site and think about who you want it to appeal to. You’ll want to link to sites that are attractive and serve a purpose.
When you have high-quality, useful, outstanding content, link building can happen naturally, so it may be best to dedicate a good part of your budget towards the best content available for your market. Depending on your product or service, you can choose to invest in research that other sites can link to as a source, in press releases about new happenings, or in detailed guides and how-tos.
Content that answers peoples’ questions and helps establish your website as an expert in its field is the most likely to earn links organically. You can also reach out to sites to call their attention to your content: a free, friendly and accessible way to earn links.
Alternatively, ask other sites to review your product or service and provide their honest opinion of it on their website, in which case you’ll need to decide how much of your offering you are prepared to give away in order to gain that extra exposure.
Business owners should also note that link building and PR are becoming increasingly connected, with the lines blurring between promotional value and strict SEO value, meaning that certain tactics are worth the money, time and effort, even if there is no link involved. It is also important to keep in mind that it is against Google’s policies to ‘buy’ links, as those links are deemed unnatural.
How to find link building opportunities?
Sadly, websites are not like the movie Field of Dreams, where “if you build it they will come”. You have to go out and get those links!
Be creative with your search for keywords and relevant pages. Look for sites and blogs that are related to your site. If you like the look of a site and the metrics are good, pop the owner a message and ask for their media kit. Nearly every blogger is looking to create relationships online, and many will be happy to respond to a friendly enquiry. Some won’t be and will just ignore you, but don’t be discouraged! This is a numbers game, so reach out to as many websites as you can.
Also, be patient. Those rankings results won’t be noticeable straight away, as it takes time for the search engines to detect all the work you’re putting into your site, but with a little determination you will slowly climb up the SEO ladder.