What the Heck is Link Building and Why Should I Care

Link building is the process companies use to get incoming links to your website from a variety of web sources.  Because inbound links have been cited as a large piece of the Google algorithm that determines where you rank when people search it has become a large focus for many companies. While there are mixed reports of how much inbound links effects Google results, the bottom line is that every link can help drive more traffic to your website, even if it is only from the original source. This post will break down what you need to know about link building and why you might want to consider creating a strategy.

Link Building Glossary

First of all, let’s look at some common terms you will come across when you are researching link building.

  • Anchor Text – This is the text you use to link to your website.  For example, SocialToaster could use their brand name as anchor text by getting a link to their site using the words SocialToaster.  This can impact the types of results that will come up when you search for the company name. They might also choose to get links to a particular keyword phrase such as social marketing platform in which case social marketing platform would be the anchor text.  This can help them rank higher in the results when people search for this phrase. For best results in link building, it’s best to mix up the anchor text for your links between different keyword phrases and your own brand name.
  • Black Hat – Black hat link building refers to techniques used by people to build tons of links in a way that is viewed as sketchy.  Black Hat link building includes spam commenting on blogs & forums, creating link farms (websites created solely for the purpose of linking to hundreds to thousands of other websites), and paying for links.  The opposite of black hat link building is white hat.  This is where you are creating links to your website that Google views as credible including social profiles, content, and getting links from other relevant websites.
  • Link Profile – Your website’s link profile is the collection of incoming links it has.  If you want to stay on good terms with Google, you will want to have a natural link profile.  This means getting links from a variety of different types of websites, having a mix of dofollow / nofollow links, and varying the anchor text.  Nothing signals an unnatural link profile like having thousands of links built to one keyword phrase as anchor text.
  • Nofollow – Whenever one website links to another website, they have two options.  They can create a link and include a tag in the HTML code for the link that says rel=”nofollow” which will tell search engines to ignore the link (thus giving it little SEO value).  Or, they can leave off the rel=”nofollow” when creating the HTML code for the link which will tell search engines to notice the link and “follow” it.  Although it’s not an official term, you will likely hear the term dofollow in reference to links without the rel=”nofollow”.  Dofollow links will get the most value when it comes to helping with your website’s search rankings.
  • PageRank – This is the score Google gives websites based on the number and strength of their incoming links.  The score ranges from 0 to 10.  Sites with a PageRank of 10 include Twitter, USA.gov, and the United Nations.  When it comes to link building, people consider links from pages with high PageRank valuable – getting 5 links on pages with a PageRank of 5 is better than getting 100 links on pages with a PageRank of 1.  That said, some sites have been built by SEO providers for the sole purpose of link building.  While the site may have a high PageRank, it has little to no incoming traffic and very little relevancy.  Therefore, the PageRank isn’t the only indication of a quality link.
  • Prospecting – This is the process where you search for possible websites to create a list of relevant websites to try and obtain a dofollow link from.  During this process, you may want to research the backlinks of your competitors by using tools such as Link Detective, Link Diagnosis, and Open Site Explorer.

How to Build Links

Now that we’ve looked at some of the common terms associated with link building, lets look at some ways that people build links to their websites and whether they are good.

  • Article Marketing – Writing content for article networks like EzineArticles, HubPages, and similar sites has lost its appeal since Google updated their algorithm and took away many article directories’ ranking in search.  Nonetheless, there are still great article directories out there where you can create content and freely submit the content and get a link back to your website.  You can learn more about popular article directories and their value today in this post on article marketing post Panda.
  • Directories – One of the easiest ways to get links is through online directories.  Two of the strongest directories to get links from are DMOZ (free, but difficult to get accepted into) and the Yahoo Directory ($299 per year).  Your best bet is to look for good quality directories and especially industry specific directories.  You can get some ideas on where to start on the SEOmoz Directory List which shows 15 directories to non-members and over 400 to members.  Also, try Directory Critic which lets you see free vs. paid directories, niche directories, and more.  Analyze each directory before you submit your website to them to ensure they do not link to adult websites, online pharmacies, and casinos.
  • Guest Blogging – Guest blogging is a great way to get backlinks and can help build your business’ authority in your industry.  When you contribute content to a blog, you will typically get a chance to link back to your website in your author bio.  These links will usually help you boost your search rankings as well as get clicks directly from the blog’s audience.
  • Link Requests – Link requests are simply the outreach process where you email the website owner or webmaster of a prospective link opportunity and ask them for a link to your website.  The key to making these work is to personalize the email so they know it’s not an automated message and let the website owner or webmaster know how their website’s audience will benefit from linking to your website. Further, you should clearly explain how linking to your site will provide value to their visitors. Sending unsolicited emails requesting a link to your site can be viewed as spam. Therefore, you may want to consider offering a piece of valuable content for their site that contains a link, rather than simply asking for a link.
  • Reciprocal Links – Reciprocal links are those where you link to another website in exchange for them linking to yours.  Reciprocal linking is considered borderline black hat – they can be good if the website you are linking back to is highly relevant to yours and you wouldn’t mind your audience going to them, but if the website is not relevant, then it is obvious you are doing it just for the link.
  • Social Profiles – Links from many social media networks like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn do not offer any SEO value because they are nofollow.  But nonetheless, it doesn’t hurt to include them for click through value – if someone finds your social profile before your website, you will want them to easily get to your website.

There are many more ways to get links back to your website, but these are some of the most popular.  Be sure that you only choose link building practices that result in quality links back to your website as Google is constantly cracking down on low-quality link building. At the end of the day, if your link building strategy is to provide valuable content to relevant websites for your target audience than it will pay off in more ways than just higher Google rankings.

Do you have a link building strategy in place? If so, what are you doing? Do you have tips you would recommend to others? Please leave a comment and join the discussion.

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