Links are the blood vessels, the highways, the synapses of the Internet. They are how Google discovers new sites and ranks existing sites. They’re how users find their way from one place to the next, if they don’t know the address by heart. They are, in short, one of the most important aspects of any website.
Much has been written over the last decade about links and link building. Much of the information currently available is, unfortunately, wrong. Some of it is old and out of date. Some of it is based on other old and out of date ideas. Some of it is advocating black hat techniques quite willingly. Some of it is legitimate, but it’s hard to tell what.
There are a wide variety of strategies you can use for building links, but they all come back to a few core concepts.
• Try to gain links from high quality sites.
• Try to gain links from sites related to your industry.
• Try to gain links organically; never pay for links.
• Avoid spam links.
• Avoid links from low quality sites.
• Avoid links from unrelated sites.
Any link that Google determines comes from a poor, spam or unrelated site can penalize you. Any link Google determines you paid for or that you’re using to artificially game the search results can penalize you. Avoid these kinds of links.
Organic Link Building
One technique that’s not discussed on this list is purely organic link building. That is, publishing high quality content and advertising that content through social media, paid ads and other information streams. The reason this strategy is not discussed is because it’s not a secret in any sense. It’s what you should be doing by default. Any other technique, if you’re using it without a base of quality content, is going to be flagged as bad link building.
Keep in mind that any technique that follows can be used improperly and cause the opposite of the intended effect. There’s a fine line between black hat link building and legitimate link building, and a large part of it comes down to intent. As Matt Cutts says about gust posting; if you’re doing it to game the system, it’s going to hurt you. If you’re doing it to spread the word organically, it’s still a viable technique.
Technique 1: Guest Posting
Speaking of guest posting, it’s at the top of the list for a reason. Even with Google’s looming threads regarding the quality and misuse of guest posting, it’s still an effective technique. After all, look at it from an outsider’s point of view. If you post on another blog, what’s the difference between a guest post and an irregular contributor? How can Google tell the difference between a blog your friend owns and a blog you guest posted on?
Well, the most obvious answer is in the text. If the post is introduced by the blog owner with some variation of “in this guest post…” it’s obvious it’s a guest post. The thing is, that’s not bad. Being a guest post does not automatically mean the post and any links it contains is worthless.
The key to guest posting properly is to provide value in the post. Essentially, just treat the post as you would any post on your own site. Don’t make it any more advertorial. Don’t make it any less valuable. In fact, hold your guest posts to a higher standard, just in case.
When guest posting, make sure that the blogs you approach for a guest post are related to your business. Industry blogs and partner blogs work well. Blogs unrelated to your industry have no reason to host your post. Also, be willing to post guest posts of your own; some bloggers may want a return favor. Just make sure it’s a mutually beneficial relationship, not a thin reciprocal link exchange.
Technique 2: Directory Submissions
Directories have a bad rap from years of abuse and hundreds of scam directories that have popped up over the ages. In the past, directory-based link building meant finding every possible directory – a list thousands long – and submitting your site to all of them. Today, obviously, this is a fast way to a Penguin penalty.
Modern directory submission can be quite valuable, once again if you do it correctly. The key here is to choose specific, relevant site listings. For example, if you have a local branch of a business, check that city for a chamber of commerce website. If the chamber of commerce has a website, see if you can get your business listed in their directory. Boom, instant backlink from a high quality, authoritative source.
Of course, there are only so many similar local style directories, and only so many relevant industry directories. Make sure you vet any directory you submit to, to make sure it has a good reputation and a real base of users. You don’t want to submit to any directory that’s more likely to send spambots than users your way.
Restraint and quality are the key. When you start stretching into too many directories, your link profile begins to look like spam.
Technique 3: Infographics
Everyone likes a good infographic, so make one. Share that infographic anywhere you can; on your site, on social media sites, in guest posts and everywhere else. Don’t try to shoehorn in descriptive text; the duplication will cause problems own the road. Instead, inscribe your link in the footer or header of the infographic itself. A branded image guides users back to your site and encourages bloggers to link to you to make it easier on their readers.
The key here is to make a good, compelling infographic. What topic should you cover? Who knows! Pick anything you can cover in sufficient detail with graphics to show statistics. You need real statistics and real advice, or else your graphic falls flat. A good graphic has infinite viral potential; a bad graphic is a sad attempt at imitation.
Technique 4: Business Citations
Throughout the Internet, there are websites that specialize in creating databases of businesses, in order for users to rate and review those businesses. Yelp, for example, is one of the most famous of these and has gotten a huge boost with the recent Google Pigeon updates. Yelp is, of course, geared firmly towards businesses with physical locations. Other directories further specialize; TripAdvisor covers hotels and not much else, for example. Some generalize, and cover any business, even those based entirely on the web.
Here’s the thing; every one of these sites builds a profile for your business. Most of them want to have as much accurate information as possible, and so they will jump at the chance to let you claim and maintain your own profile. This is your chance to establish a link back to your site; a natural link from a high quality business review site. These business citations are extremely valuable, though of course the value of the link depends on the quality of the site. As an added benefit, you get to make sure more information about your business online is accurate.