This is the third in our series looking at the principles of SEO. Check out our other posts on setting up your website for SEO, writing compelling content and understanding Google’s search algorithms.
What is link building?
Considered one of the most challenging aspects of SEO, link building (or backlinking) is the process of getting other websites to hyperlink to yours. By doing so, it demonstrates to search engines that your website is trusted by other sources, and therefore improves its chances of getting ranked in search results.
Why is it important?
For every online search, there are potentially millions of websites that contain what the searcher is looking for. It’s the search engine’s job to work out which of these sources will provide the most value to the searcher, and rank them accordingly.
Search engines see backlinks as a vote of confidence in your website. The more high-quality websites that link to you, the greater your chances are of ranking well. In fact, Google counts it as one of its top three factors when ranking websites, so it’s worth making it a top priority.
Acquiring links from other websites happens either ‘naturally’ or ‘manually’. Getting them naturally is the sweet spot, as it involves other websites linking to your content without you having to ask. However, for many businesses (and especially those starting out), there’ll be a degree of outreach needed, which involves contacting website owners, bloggers and other online platforms, asking them to link to your content.
Developing a link building strategy: Cobiro's five step guide
Link building takes time and patience. Even when you’re getting some traction, it can take a while for search engines to take note. Reaching out can be nerve-racking, but it gets easier once you have a clear understanding of what your proposition is, and how it fits into your overall business strategy.
Here's our guide to getting started:
1. Write compelling content
Creating good quality, authentic content that people find useful and want to share makes link building a lot easier. It doesn’t have to be restricted to words, but it’s important to make sure there’s a high standard that’s consistent throughout your website, not just on the page you’re hoping to get links to.
Here are some content format suggestions:
Case studies: Think about an industry problem your business solved, how it went about it and what the outcome was.
Video interviews: Get insights, advice, tips and guidance from subject matter experts. If it adds value to your business, it’s likely to add value to others.
Long-form guides: In-depth content can add color to a topic and help to position your business as a thought leader.
Infographics: The latest data, presented in an engaging way is likely to attract interest from audiences that favour visual elements.
Finding a hook
When it comes to positioning content for the purpose of getting backlinks, it’s important to find an angle that people care about, and work this into your content from the start. Think about the latest market news and trends, and make sure your work is original. This can take time, but it will help you in the long run.
2. Identify link targets
Next, you’ll need to make sure you’re approaching the websites that are likely to be interested in your content. It’s one thing finding people who like it, but another trying to get them to link to it. That’s why it’s important to have your hook identified, so you’re fully briefed.
Mapping potential websites
You’d be surprised at how many sources there are that could potentially link to your content (industry bodies, community groups or news outlets to name a few), so cast the net as wide as possible to begin with.
List the websites you know, and find new ones via a search engine. After a few keyword searches related to your content, you should get a sense of who the key players are in that space.
However, just because a website doesn’t rank well, it doesn't mean it won’t be useful. Websites focusing on a niche area or service are likely to have very engaged users, and be more receptive to linking to your website - so it’s useful to have a mix of options.
And by websites, we also mean blogs. These can have a dedicated readership, and given their nature, link to several external sources.
3. Sort and filter
Once you have a list of potential leads, it’s time to read through the content and get a feel for who they are and what they do and don’t like.
Start a list and write down the pros and cons for each website. Pay attention to:
- Whether it’s already sharing links to external websites
- The type of content it tends to share
- If it has a ‘resources’ section or similar, that could offer a natural way in
- Social media activity, as this can often be used for sharing content
- The general look and feel of the website
- How easy it is to find contact details
No follow policy
A no follow link attribute is sometimes added to external links, which instructs search engines to ignore it for page ranking purposes. This can happen when websites don’t have complete control over the links that are added (think blog comments or forum posts), and therefore don’t want to give search engines a vote on confidence in these links.
4. Prioritize the right targets
Once you’ve discounted the sites that aren’t relevant, hopefully you’ll have a list that’s looking a bit more manageable. But, quality is key when it comes to link building, so further analysis is needed. A shorter, targeted list will give the best chance of returns. Make a note of each website’s:
Influence: Look at how popular and engaged it is on social media. Does it have a lot of followers and is it respected in its field? A high-level influencer can do wonders for getting your content out there.
Likelihood of linking: Use your judgement to consider your chances of success. Don’t write a website off if you think the chances are low, but you may want to focus on others first.
Relationship to yours: Check if you have a connection through a mutual contact, or if you’ve spoken to a representative in the past. You never know - a way in might be closer than you think.
Paying for links
Buying links goes against Google’s and other search engines’ guidelines. If you get caught, your search engine rankings are likely to experience a permanent dip. Buying links is a risky game. We recommend against it.
5. Reach out
Hopefully by now, your list is ranked in terms of priority, covering a diverse range of formats - from blogs and news websites to online directories and information providers.
You’re now ready to start contacting your targets. There’s not a huge amount to this, in that it typically takes the form of an email that introduces your content and asks for it to be referenced on their site.
But if you want the message to resonate, it needs to be targeted and personal. Refrain from sending a templated script - there’s a real person behind each email address so your approach should reflect this.
Here are some tips for creating a solid outreach email:
- Keep it simple: Informal in tone, but focused and to the point
- Personalize it: Demonstrate an understand of their work
- Find the connection: Explain how your content will add value
- Execute: Ask for your content to be linked to, politely
- Be respectful: Follow up to non-responses, but know when to move on
Reaching out can be hard and don’t be surprised if you don’t hear anything back - especially from websites that get inundated with queries. Be patient - if your content is first-rate and relevant, someone will eventually bite.
The time it takes to start seeing results will depend on a number of factors, such as the type of industry, what your competitors are doing and how established your website is. Producing top-notch content that people want to read should be your top priority, not just from a link building standpoint but from an overall SEO perspective. If you can create a proposition that people actively seek out, then you’ll be well on your way to online success!
Want to learn more? Read our top tips for improving SEO performance.