Once upon a time, when Yahoo! was one of the most dominant search engines and Google was nowhere to be seen on the ‘most popular search engines’ map, search rankings depended solely on web page content.
But then Google rolled out its PageRank Algorithm and completely changed the way in which search results were displayed. Rather than simply focusing on the content of a web page, Google would, through the algorithm, also seek to understand the number of other websites which linked to the page. The logic being that if a significant number of people linked to a page, it must be useful.
This quickly became a building block of modern search values. Link building is not dead – far from it – and it’s likely to stick around for a long time. It’s vital to any solid SEO strategy (link building is one of Google’s top 3 ranking factors) and it can also be leveraged to help you with your overall business growth strategy.
So what are the key ingredients of an effective link building campaign? I’ve laid out what I consider to be my top seven requirements below.
1. A plan
Before you kick off your link building campaign, create a plan of where you are, what you want to achieve, and how you intend to do it. Identify your objectives and record your definition of success. What would you have to achieve first before calling your campaign a success? Write it down.
It may sound obvious, but a plan helps you identify the type of links you want.
Start by considering the type of links that your site already has, then review the type of links your competitors have. Run your website through tools like Majestic, Moz’s Open Site Explorer, SEMrush, and Ahrefs. This will help you conduct link analysis to better understand about the sites linking to your site, as well as page performance, branded and non-branded anchor text, fresh links, etc.
A plan also helps you retain a firm idea of the niche and general industry you’re operating in. Sites that are popular in certain industries may not be as influential in other industries. Similarly, sites that are unheard of in certain industries might be very popular in your industry. You will want to have this information on hand.
2. A great product
Link building doesn’t just happen. The product or service you’re working so hard to promote must actually be useful to your primary target: the customer.
Google values links highly because they signify credibility and authority. In other words, links are the internet’s referral system. In order to gain online endorsements, you need to have a product worthy of endorsing in the first place.
First, create a website that highlights your product’s benefits, not just its features. If you don’t have a product that people would find useful, then SEO and link building probably shouldn’t be your main focus. Improving it should be.
Having a noteworthy product or service will make, not only your link building campaigns more successful, but your overall brand and business too.
3. High-quality content
Links help direct people to content. Therefore link building can’t work if there isn’t some form of content to refer those visitors to. For a successful and sustainable campaign, the content also needs to be high-quality.
But what does high-quality content look like?
High-quality content is unique and/or in-depth. Content such as research data, cases studies, and industry news coverage is bound to get lots of links. Other content such as ‘How To’ posts, visual content, videos, listicles and reviews – even when based on existing content – can generate incoming links too.
How do you develop high-quality content?
It might seem obvious, but most businesses are solely relying on their product pages to gain incoming links. Most site owners aren’t looking for product pages to link to. They want to link to actual content. So, starting a blog for your business goes a long way.
You also need to know your target audience: not other bloggers, but the reader and potential customer. Ask yourself what type of content they would find most relevant. That’s the type of content you need to create.
Of course, high-quality content alone won’t make the magic. You still need to promote it actively, but the link building process hinges on great content.
A link building campaign is a piece of a wider marketing campaign. Thus, for it to be a success, you need to treat it like it’s part of a bigger picture and not just an isolated initiative.
It’ll work best if you integrate it with other strategies such as content marketing, email marketing, public relations, social media and search engine marketing.
For instance, picture starting your link building campaign immediately after running a successful publicity campaign. You’d not only get a surge in links but also brand mentions, which you can turn into links too. A successful link building campaign could also boost the number of shares and mentions on your content. This would get more people interested; you’d get more followers on social media, and ultimately a rise in the number of email subscribers.
In 2017, you can’t isolate any strategy.
5. SEO knowledge
Seeing that you’re building links primarily for a higher ranking, it helps if you know how SEO works. And not just how the links help boost your SEO, but also how a boost in SEO can impact your bottom line.
Not all links are created equal. Two of the main factors to consider are relevance and the authority of your links. This is why you need to be familiar with the most authoritative sites in your industry.
If a pet food blogger links to your real estate site, it probably won’t help your link building campaign in any tangible way. The links aren’t very relevant or useful to the audience demographic. In fact, this could impact your site negatively through an increase in bounce rate, where a user gets to your site only to realize that the content on the site isn’t what they were expecting, so they leave immediately.
In essence, link building is relationship building. Once you link to a website, you link it to your own and vice versa.
Also, as discussed, a link is an endorsement of sorts. Linking, referencing, citing, or outright endorsing a site tells your readers that you trust the information from that page and that the website is reputable.
Therefore, that sense of relationship should be with you all the way.
Your relationships with other people in your industry can also help you increase your chance of gaining quality links. For instance, if you’ve already established rapport with a certain blogger or influencer, it will be much easier to ask them to link to you than if you didn’t know each other at all.
Similarly, engaging with your audience online leads to people talking about your business – and we’ve already seen how you can turn these mentions into links.
We’ve been talking about how you can turn mentions into links. But how do you know when people are mentioning your brand?
Using a tool like Google Alerts, you can easily conduct an analysis on where you’re getting brand mentions either by name or by URL. Simply paste your site URL into the tool then click on any of the results. From there you can get their contact information or just contact them directly on the site.
Since they have already mentioned you, it will be easy to pitch an idea such as a guest post or content collaboration, if it’s a blogger or brand. If it’s a potential customer, it’s your chance to engage with them and solve their needs.
Great content will help increase your website traffic, and your link building efforts will be more successful if you create valuable content that readers find useful.
When linking to other sites, make sure that your intention is always to provide value to the reader. Similarly, when developing your content, make it high-quality so that other people may find the desire to link to you.
SEO is an important piece of the larger marketing puzzle. It’s a consistent practice that, when done effectively, can have an incredible impact on your business. Don’t give up early. It’s a constant struggle to become a well-rounded marketer, but integrating these seven techniques will pay off in the long run.
Guest Author: Alex Jasin is the founder and CEO of X3 Digital, a Google Certified digital marketing, and design agency. He helps businesses grow through paid search, search engine optimization, web development, mobile apps, content marketing, and branding. Alex is also the founder and the CEO of Metapress, a rapidly-growing publication where visitors can learn new skills, gain inspiration and discover more about what interests them. Jasin’s writing can be found in Business Insider, Entrepreneur, The Huffington Post, CMI, Internet Retailer, The Next Web and other leading publications. Connect with Alex on Twitter, Medium, and LinkedIn.