After the first part of ClientsFirst’s ‘Art of link building’ series which dealt with internal link building, here is part two. This time I’m going to discuss the much trickier process of building external links on other websites that link back to your own. While not such a quick win, external links have a much greater effect than internal links on boosting your website’s SEO power and should be an essential part of any SEO strategy.
Why do external links matter?
Ever since the early days of search engines, search engines have treated links as votes for popularity and importance. The thinking is that websites that have plenty of people linking to them will be informative to the reader and that few websites will link to ‘spammy’ web pages. If another website is willing to direct their users away from their site and onto yours, you must be offering something of value.
Of course, writing great content that addresses a particular need is the best way to build links. You need people to decide to link to you as there’s no way of forcing backlinks... unless you decide to engage in a Black Hat SEO tactic like link buying. Thankfully, changes to Google’s algorithms have ruled tactics like this effectively futile.
Since the release of their first “Penguin” update, Google has become better and better at detecting - and subsequently penalising - unethical link building practices. On the flipside, since its release, the search engine giant has sharpened up when it comes to ensuring that natural, authoritative and relevant links are given the weight they deserve.
The fact is that it’s not just a question of the more links, the better. To be really effective, your links need to come from trustworthy sites. Links from untrustworthy sites can actually harm your credibility with search engines and have a negative effect on your ranking in the SERPs.
Getting quality external backlinks isn’t easy. However, by following these four tips, you’ll increase your chance of building a solid backlink profile:
Image link building
Images bring articles and blogs to life. This means that content writers always have their eyes out for images they could use to break up the text and demonstrate their point in a visual format.
You should think about creating custom images on your webpages. The easiest to create are graphs. They literally take a few minutes to create and you can make them free using a website like Plotly.
Over time, you might notice that websites begin to reuse your images without linking to you. Although this might sound like you’re giving away your content for free, it provides you with a great opportunity to ask for backlinks.
To find out who’s been taking your images, you just need to head over to Google Images and click on the camera icon. This lets you search Google by image.
After you’ve clicked on it, you’ll see a box which lets you paste your image’s URL inside. When you hit search, Google will display a list of sites who have taken your image. Go through these one by one and identify the ones which haven’t linked to you.
Send the ones who haven’t linked back to you a strongly worded request for a link as you own the rights to the image. As more people share your image, it will ‘snowball’ in popularity and more people will share it, thereby creating further opportunities for backlinks.
Reclaim your mentions
Over time, people will naturally give your company more mentions. However, when they mention your company name they won’t always include a link to your website.
Taking the initiative to email these people and asking them to turn the mention into a link is a great way to build backlinks.
However, you need to be on the ball. People are far more likely to respond if they have just mentioned your company rather than if they mentioned your company 3 years ago.
The easiest way to remain on top of it is to create alerts using Buzzsumo. Buzzsumo sends you email alerts when your website gets a mention, alongside a list of sites that mentioned you. Emailing within 24 hours of a brand mention will give you the highest chance of generating links.
Writing an article for a relevant industry publication or blog
This activity, known in the world of SEO as guest blogging, is a tried and tested way of building backlinks. It also does penty more; building relationships, creating exposure and rising your profile as a whole.
However, it’s not been without controversy as a link building strategy. In 2014, Matt Cutts, Google’s former head of web spam, claimed that guest blogging was becoming an increasingly ‘spammy’ practice and that - if you’re guest blogging - you should “stick a fork in it”.
Thankfully, while he may have been head of web spam, he doesn’t speak for the whole of Google. Their algorithms still favour external backlinks from high quality guest blogs.
The issue with guest blogging lies in the fact that it has been overused on low-quality blogs that exist to create backlinks without adding real value to the reader. So if you plan on guest blogging to build links, here are a few tips to keep you on the right side of Google’s algorithms:
Keep your audience at the centre of your guest blogging. Primarily, you should aim to educate and add value to your target audience. Your link building efforts should be secondary. Avoid stuffing your blog with links to your site and overtly promoting the service your company provides.
Only write for trustworthy and relevant sites. It’s worth doing a bit of research about any publication before you write an article. Have a look at their backlink profile using Ahrefs or Moz’s Open Site Explorer.
Be careful about the anchor text you use when you link back. Avoid using the same keywords for every link you get back from guest posts. It’s imperative that you have a varied and organic anchor text profile. Using a high proportion of the same anchor text to link back to your website could see you penalised. Write anchor text leading to your own site as you would to anyone else’s.
Be careful when repurposing content. As part of an attempt to build more backlinks, tweaking and editing parts of a post and then sending it to multiple sites has become a common tactic. Posts like this could fall foul of Google’s algorithms and might see you penalised. It’s not fine to take a piece of content and rewrite sections of it over and over again. At risk of repeating myself, writing original content that adds value to your audience is your best guest blogging tactic.
Public relations doesn’t sound very ‘digital marketing’, but can actually be a highly effective way of building links. Being cited as a source in a news article is a great way to build high quality links.
Bloggers and journalists are constantly on the look-out for new information. If your business accomplishes something significant or carries out some pioneering research, make the announcement and details easy to find.
Although this doesn’t guarantee coverage, you’ll be more likely to be linked to in articles related to the subject than companies who don’t. Appearing in respected news publications is a great way to position your company as a thought leader. Look at Hargreaves Lansdown as an example of a professional services firm who do this really well.
Again, use Buzzsumo to keep on the lookout for mentions of your company name. You might not always be linked when you’re referred to. If you’re not, reach out to the author or editor and ask for a link to your company’s site.
External link building is one of the most effective ways to boost your SEO power. As well as this, external links drive new visitors to your website - increasing your traffic and informing users of your service.
As older methods of link building become futile or actively harmful to your SERP showings, there is little to differentiate between a great content marketing strategy. Regardless of whether the above improve your SEO (which they should), they all have the knock on effects of helping and informing your users.
The ClientsFirst team have content marketing and SEO down to a ‘T’, so if you’d like to know more about them and how they can help your business grow, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’d love to help, whatever your inquiry.