Search engines rely on backlinks to determine site rankings. Here’s how to build an effective strategy.
Ranking factors are analogous to social credibility. Some people have a lot of social credibility. They have worked hard over the years to establish a positive reputation, and the strength of their reputation earns them a certain level of trust. If you’re new to a social scene, you don’t have a reputation yet, but you can gain trust by proxy if someone who is in good social standing gives you a reference.
In the online world, search rankings are a measure of your credibility. A site with good credibility will have high rankings, and if they link to you, Google sees that as an indication that your content is similarly credible.
However, the converse is also true. If you have domains that are known to be spam sites linking to your domain, it will drag your reputation down. So to rank well, you can’t get your links from just anywhere—they have to be good links.
So far, the plan sounds pretty straightforward: gain rakings by building high-quality backlinks. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. Like building a reputation, growing backlinks takes time and genuine effort on your part. There are, however, several proven ways to grow your digital reputation. Here’s where to start.
1. Create link-worthy content through blogs, DLCs, and infographics.
The first rule of backlinking is that you have to create content that will earn you backlinks. If your content is sloppy, spammy, or has a jarring tone, it won’t get you any attention. Or to put it differently, if your content is so bad that no one wants to read it in the first place, they certainly won’t link to it.
If you want to earn high-quality backlinks, the first place to start is through your blog. This will serve double duty: your blogs will build the SEO strength of your website by their existence, which means they are working for you even if no one ever links to them.
Blogs aren’t your only option, though. Downloadable PDFs (DLCs) can also earn you some links, especially if they come in the form of thorough guides, original research, or any other piece of content a person might reasonably want to take with them and save for later. Infographics are similar, and have the added benefit of being popular on social media.
2. Leverage your social connections—and build new ones.
Our most effective backlink strategy comes from the work we do through our clients and within our communities. Our past participation in local WordCamps has gained some backlinks through those connections, and many of our clients have agreed to credit us with the design of their site in their footer—complete with a backlink.
You can also grow your social network—both in person and online—and use these new connections to gain backlinks. This will mean making genuine efforts to build networking relationships, but it can pay off in high-value opportunities down the line. For instance, we reject nearly every guest blogging solicitation that comes our way, but if it were with a connection we had fostered over years of linkbuilding outreach? We would love that.
3. Garner attention through earned media.
You can write great content, but it often takes something exceptional to get others to pay attention to you. Earned media is exactly this kind of attention. Did you take part in a major charitable event? Did you make a newsworthy announcement? Have you conducted a ground-breaking study?
You can also earn attention through speaking at local events, where your talk might earn a credit on the event website. If its big enough for a press release, it’s the kind of content that should bring in a few links.
4. Engage on social media and promote your content.
Finally, don’t be too shy to promote your content on social media. Not only will frequent posts on your linked platforms send a positive signal to Google that your website is alive and well, it will also let people see it. And shares on social will get your content in front of more people, which will increase its reach and the likelihood that others will link to it.
This is just a classic example of how you have to show up if you want to win. It is amazing how many people will blog but never post their blogs to social. (It’s almost as bad as the social folk who are active on social but don’t write blog content.)
Of course, you will also need to engage on social if you really want people to see your posts, but building a platform for your brand on social media is a whole ‘nother story.
Can you solicit backlinks?
A lot of strategies out there recommend various forms of link building through solicitation. The best among these is the broken link strategy, where you find blogs that have broken links, email whoever runs the blog to let them know, and then suggest your own blog as a possible replacement.
This can be a little time consuming, but it has the benefit of being helpful. Honestly, if I got an email like this, I would think about it. Maybe.
The problem is that I get a lot of emails from people asking to link to our website—from the purely form email that demonstrates no effort or personalization, to the overly familiar that just ring a little false because they’re so obviously self-serving.
Most of these emails go straight into the trash, although a few have been awful enough to make it into my hall of shame, where I keep screen shots of the most cringe-worthy examples. Which is to say that, as someone on the receiving end of backlink requests, I don’t like them, and would baulk at sending them myself.
I did once (once!) add someone’s backlink to my post. They had clearly read my article, left a nice compliment, offered a link to a piece they had written which was actually high-quality and worthwhile, and even suggested exactly where in my blog I could include the link. It meant almost no work for me, and it did enhance the piece.
If any one of those elements had been missing, it would have gone in the trash. And no matter how great someone is with their email, if their content is poorly written and their webpage is covered in ads, I’m not linking.
Authenticity is your ally.
At the end of the day, most people want genuine content. They want resources that are helpful, and not pushy, and speak to their needs and interests. If that’s what you provide—well done! Eventually, over time, you will build high-quality backlinks to your site.