Link building, also called “Off Page SEO,” is the most critical element of a successful strategy. Unfortunately, it’s also the most often overlooked. In fact, most small business website owners we talk to are surprised to learn that backlinks play a role in top search rankings at all!
The truth is that many SEO experts agree that your link profile (the quality and quantity of links pointing to your webpages) is the single most important search engine-ranking factor.
At the risk of oversimplifying, if you look at all of the websites that rank higher than yours on Google, I’ll bet that they all have more relevant backlinks to their sites than you do. Once you understand how Google, Yahoo! and Bing rank webpages, you will have an instant advantage over your competitors and most small business owners!
Remember, if 1000 websites all contain the same content, Google will rank these in order of popularity and trust — meaning the site with the most backlinks from popular sites within the same industry.
Here is a quick glossary of link-building terms. More detailed information on each term is provided in the “Link Quality” section further on.
Main links — Links to your main or home page.
Deep links — Links to internal pages on your site.
Anchor text — The clickable text within a hyperlink, describing the “destination” of a link. For example, this is anchor text to our home page.
Back links — Incoming links to a webpage.
Link neighborhood — A group of authoritative websites within the same topical community.
No follow links — An HTML attribute used to instruct search engines that a hyperlink should carry no value in search engine rankings.
Link juice — a term used to describe the SEO value or influence on search engine ranking passed on by a hyperlink.
Link Sources: So Where Do I Get All These Links?
The core strategy for effective link building is to obtain links naturally over time from high quality, trusted websites that are relevant to your niche/online community.
There are several sources of high quality back links, including:
- Good content on your site! People linking to your articles, blog posts, etc.
- General and topical online directories (both paid and free)
- Article and press release submission sites
- Social media and bookmarking sites
- Manual link requests.
Link Quality: What Constitutes a “Good” Link?
Link building is a true instance of quality beating quantity every time. The following section provides a brief description of link quality factors. (Please see our SEO articles section for our step-by-step guide to link building.)
Every small business website owner should evaluate potential backlinks based on the following quality factors:
As described above, the anchoring text of a link is critical, as search engines and human users alike use anchor text as the primary description of a link’s destination. Many sites make the mistake of using the home page URL or, worse yet “click here” as anchor text. This greatly diminishes the SEO value of such links. When a user searches for “SEO Services in San Francisco”, Google will rank web pages with backlinks containing these keywords. Links with the anchor text “Cobrametrics.com,” for example, would provide far less value for this reason.
Search engines use the term “topical community” (also called a “link neighborhood”) to describe groups of websites within the same community who interlink to one another. Backlinks from popular sites within your topical community carry far more weight than general ones. For example, if your website has articles and products related to mountain biking, your goal would be to gather backlinks from sites within this community, whereas a link from a large, trusted website about soccer would be of little value.
While relevance compares the topical similarity of two webpages, authority describes how influential a website is within its community. Within each online niche, a core community or hub exists. These sites have the most links (popularity) and are often the central sources of discussions related to their topics. For example, CNN.com and Thestreet.com are viewed as authorities within the news and investment communities.
Note: Some websites are so popular that they maintain a high level of authority within several online niches. Wikipedia is an example of this.
Link popularity is gauged by the total number of links to a webpage. Google’s PageRank serves as a rough measure of this. The bottom line is that you want to gain links from sites that are more popular than yours. For example, a link from Nolo.com, with a page rank of 7, would add much more value than a link from a smaller site with a page rank of 2 or 3.
Age matters. Google places weight and value on age — both of the linking site and the link itself. Trust is also gauged by the overall authority of the linking website and whether or not the linking site contains links deemed to be selling links. As with all ethical ranking factors, search engines want website owners to build links naturally. To this end, Google has been known to penalize sites that sell or buy links.
Location of Links on the Linking Page
Believe it or not, Google’s spiders are “smart” enough to measure the value of a hyperlink based on its location on the page! For example, links within the navigation/menu sections of a web page are seen to have obvious importance. Alternatively, a list of links on pages with no surrounding editorial content is given less value in search engine algorithms.
Total Number of Links on the Linking Page
The total quantity of links on a page does play a role in SEO value. The term “link juice” is often used to describe the amount of ranking influence that a hyperlink passes on to the linking party. Although Google’s page rank and linking protocols are ever-changing and can become quite complex, let’s keep it simple for the small business website owner:
All available “link juice” offered on a linking page gets divided by the outbound links on that page. This means that it’s better to have your backlink come from a page that contains few other links.
“Follow” versus “No Follow” Links
“No follow” is best described as an attribute used to turn off the “link juice” from a backlink. The no follow attribute started in 2005 when all three major search engines sought to reduce the effectiveness of automated spam (sites creating thousands of backlinks with software). Many sites use the no follow command when they wish to link to a web page without passing on an editorial endorsement.
Note: The no follow attribute is also used for internal linking, as a method for controlling the flow of link juice on larger sites/pages. Most links on the web are still “follow” links and you should carefully analyze the follow status of all backlinks, both free and paid.
The Bottom Line for Small Business Owners
Building links to your website is something you must continually do. SEO is a process, not an event. Content is king and nothing will produce better long-term, link-generating results than quality content. Your website needs more information to educate your audience and less sales pitch. Aside from quality articles, blog postings and other site content, you can build links utilizing any or all of the methods listed above. The important thing is that you remain in a health state of perpetual link-building. Because, trust me, your competitors definitely do.
Links. They’re not just for breakfast anymore.
Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon: SEO Link-building Basics by Aaron Fletcher