Updated: Jan 20
As promised, we're diving a bit deeper into SEO this week.
I used my first few posts to explain the core focus of my blog: teaching everyday people the basics of digital content strategy.
In this post we'll take a look at link building and how it'll help your business.
Why are links so important?
In my first post about SEO, I explained that users navigate the internet using searches.
Which is why optimizing for search engines is the best way to drive more traffic to your digital platform.
Link building is a core concept of SEO — and one of the easiest for the everyday person to implement.
In a way, links determine your popularity.
"The more high-quality links that point towards your website, the higher you will rank in search engine results pages (SERPs)." - Anson Alexander
At the surface, this is obvious, right?
The more websites that link to your website, the more popular you are in Google's eyes.
More links from more sites = more traffic.
BUT, it's actually not that simple.
Most people don't understand just how intelligent Google is, and how much their algorithms have evolved.
In the early days, buying links and stuffing links were popular tactics... because they worked.
The idea was that Google would recognize the sheer amount of links to and from your site, and give you a higher ranking.
But this doesn't work anymore.
Google has become too sophisticated and will actually punish you for dishonest link building.
This is why quality is so much more important than quantity.
A few quality, relevant links from high ranking sites will benefit your site so much more than a ton of random, irrelevant backlinks.
Which leads us to the next question:
What is PageRank?
PageRank is an algorithm Google uses to decide the popularity of a site.
This directly impacts where a site shows up on any particular search engine's results page (SERP).
For those that don't totally understand SERPs — the following graphic from Backlinko is a very basic, great example of what the typical Google SERP looks like:
You'll notice that every Google SERP has 10 organic results (typically following one or two paid results).
Being in the top 10 results for any particular search is obviously ideal (nobody gets to the bottom of a SERP and clicks to the second page of results).
It's safe to assume that all of the top 10 websites displayed on the first SERP have a high PageRank.
Now, a lot goes into PageRank, but here's the most simple breakdown:
Google treats links as votes
The more votes for your site, the higher your PageRank
BUT, not every vote is equal
Votes from more popular, higher-ranking sites carry much more weight
Even simpler — a link to your site from a well respected domain (like a .gov or .edu) is much more important than 100 links from smaller, low-ranking sites.
In the most basic terms, PageRank is the popularity score Google gives your site based on the votes it's receiving from other websites.
It's important to know that PageRank is just one of multiple signals Google is using to determine the overall positioning of results.
As always, the links (or votes) from other sites, even with a very high PageRank, have to be relevant to the search.
Although PageRank is just part of the picture, it's a great concept for beginners to understand.
What is the perfect link?
So we understand why it's important for other websites to link to your site.
And we know it's even better when an already popular site gives you a backlink.
Next, we'll look at what the perfect backlink looks like.
BUT FIRST. It's important to understand SEO can be a rabbit hole, and get very intimidating.
Don't be scared.
Obviously it's hard to imagine big, important, well established sites linking to your platform. Especially when you're just starting out.
But what's important is not WHERE you start, but THAT you start.
Part of digital content strategy is believing in your content.
Even if it's just one person interacting with your platform, if you know you're adding value to their life, it's worth it.
So don't be embarrassed. Start with the smaller sites. Start with friends and family, and work up from there.
SEO takes time. Even the most capable, experienced SEO experts need at least 6 months for their efforts to start showing results.
So while we look at the perfect link, know that it's something to strive for. Not something that will happen overnight.
Okay — apprehension aside. Let's create the perfect link.
First you have to understand what anchor text is.
You can think of anchor text as the link label. It's the actual clickable, usually underlined, text that displays on the page.
Here's an article about anchor text. In this instance, "article about anchor text" is the anchor text.
It's important to use your anchor text to be very descriptive and tell the user exactly where you're taking them.
Avoid using "click here". This is especially important for accessibility, too.
Now, here's how you create the perfect link (I put this together after watching one of Anson Alethier's LinkedIn Learning courses):
Find a page, relevant to your site, with a high PageRank
Locate a paragraph or section of content where a link to your site would ADD VALUE to that person's page
Write great anchor text for your link
Reach out to the owner of the page and ask them to include your link
After they publish the page, Google will re-index
Your site, equipped with a new & very important vote, will jump in PageRank
Obviously, this is incredibly simplified. There's no telling if someone will agree to link to your site.
But, it never hurts to ask. I would suggest offering something in return.
Offering to write a guest blog post or to feature one of their posts/pages can go a long way.
It's also important to understand that if someone reaches out to you asking for a link, you need to make sure it's genuine and relevant to your audience.
You don't want to get in the habit of agreeing to feature links on your page, even (and especially) if they offer to pay you.
If you do get contacted, and you do think the link would benefit your audience, make sure it opens in a new window.
If you know HTML, this would mean including the target="_blank" attribute.
This way, the link will open in a new window and keep your page open in the user's browser.
Also, you should know that nofollow links, while not ideal, are also important.
What is a "nofollow" link?
A nofollow link refers to a link that Google is instructed not to crawl.
In other words, these links will have no effect on your PageRank, because Google sees it's a nofollow link, and essentially ignores it.
(In HTML terms, this means there is a rel="nofollow" tag applied.)
Why do these exist?
These are links that you think might penalize your PageRank.
For instance, let's look at my blog posts. I invite any and everyone to leave comments.
But, we all know internet trolls.
To have a presence online, you gotta embrace these guys.
But in the event that a troll or a bot starts stuffing links to their own websites in my comments, I wouldn't want Google to think I personally am placing these links.
So, I make sure links within my comments have the nofollow attribute.
In fact, most social media platforms have set up commenting so that links embedded are nofollow.
But, that's not to say it doesn't help to link to your site within comments or forums.
As long as it's genuine, relevant, and adding value, comments and forums are sometimes the best places to start.
Speaking of that...
Where should I start?
Grab the low-hanging fruit.
If you're a brick and mortar shop — take advantage of Google My Business.
This is a free, easy-to-use service that allows you to give Google info about your business (location, hours of operation, images, menus, etc.)
There's specific ways to optimize your My Business profile (leave a comment if you want me to write a post for local SEO) — but for now, just imagine this scenario:
You own a restaurant in Newport Beach that's been in business for 20 years.
Across the street a young couple opens their own small restaurant.
You're not worried because their store front in much smaller than yours, and they don't even have a sign yet.
But despite their lack of physical presence, you notice they almost always have a line out the door.
How is this possible?
Google My Business.
These days people aren't asking their friends for restaurant recommendations — they're asking Siri.
And when they say "Hey Siri, show me places to eat near me," she has no idea your restaurant exists.
Don't make this mistake, fill out your My Business profile.
Get listed in business directories.
Do a quick search for your industry and place of business with the term "directory".
For instance, "Newport Beach restaurant directory".
The more directories you're listed in, the more linking potential you'll have.
Work with bloggers.
Bloggers are great to work with for link building, especially if the focus of their blog is relevant to your business.
Remember, Google doesn't like when people pay for links — so don't offer money, offer value.
If you see an opportunity within their posts to link to your site, show them how a link to your site might help their audience.
Maybe offer to create a promo code they can offer their audience.
If you're a blogger, offer to write a guest post for them, or offer to link to their site within your posts.
Again, as long as it's relevant and you're adding value to the user's experience, you won't be punished by Google.
Take advantage of social media and forums.
Despite nofollow links not being crawled by Google, they still serve purpose.
If you find places within social media comments or reddit forums where a link to your site will add value, you'll get rewarded in two ways:
People may interact with your link, see your site, and decide to link to it within their own web content
While Google ignores nofollow links, they still see them, and a site with some nofollow links looks a lot more natural than sites without any of them
Lean on friends and family.
Family is everything. In more ways than one.
There's nothing wrong with asking friends and family to help you promote your business, especially since almost everyone has a social media presence these days.
If you're struggling to get sites to link to your platform, start with asking those close to you to post about you on facebook or instagram.
Once you've exhausted the low-hanging fruit, you can take it up a notch.
Take Link Building to the Next Level
Here's where you start to get serious: using SEO analysis tools.
I would consider Moz or Ahrefs.
These are full-suite tools with an overwhelming amount of data on keywords, links, and SEO in general.
With these, you can start to get competitive. This is the fun part of SEO.
Like anything online, most strategy involves seeing what's working for others and trying to emulate that.
Remember that example I gave with the two restaurants?
I guarantee that with some SEO strategy, and the help of a tool like Moz or Ahrefs, the restaurant with 20 years of experience could dominate their corner.
Moz and Ahrefs will help you develop a complete SEO strategy, determine competitive keywords, and digitally compete for your target market.
But even if you're not prepared to get that involved with SEO just yet, it's still worth mentioning that SEO is a fluid technique.
You have to implement, monitor, and tweak strategies throughout the year to see results.
This is not something you can do once and forget about.
Web development is a constant practice.
There's a lot more to link building, and SEO in general. But as you know, I like to keep my posts short and easy to digest.
Next week I'll get into keyword strategy, which will in turn cover link building in more depth.
But it's the weekend, so we won't get ahead of ourselves.
As always, let me know your thoughts, I respond to every comment!