Asking others for links—the subject of our second post in this series—may well work, but it puts you at the mercy of webmasters who, frankly, may not give two hoots about your link building efforts. But there are ways where you can take matters into your own hands and do the backlinking yourself. The way to do this is to get out there on the web, creating content for other websites and then linking back, carefully and strategically, to your site.
Be their guest
How? Guest blogging is one great way to do this. Guest blogging—which is exactly what it sounds like: contributing posts to others’ blogs—can be abused by mass-producing craptacular work and that’s something Google could potentially penalise you for. But, done well, it’s a smart way to take control of your link building.
Like broken link building, it’s win-win: blogs, on the neverending quest for more content, get something for nothing, while you, on the hunt for evermore backlinks, get to share some useful know-how that links back to your site. Some sites are more open to guest blogging than others. If you’re looking to guest blog on books, search on Google’s dedicated blog search for “books guest post” or “books write for us” or something like that. These sites are the ones that are perhaps easiest to post on. Perform these same searches on social networks like Twitter too, since most blogs tweet out informing their followers when a new post has been published. Of course, if you can finagle your way into a guest blogging opportunity on a more selective blog—one that doesn’t necessarily openly recruit writers—that’s even better.
Once you’ve identified some potential guest blogging opportunities, make contact with the blog through its prescribed channel or through good ol’ fashioned email. Go in armed with three or four excellent blog ideas that you can pitch to them. As for the content itself, the same rule applies for guest blogging as it does for all your content: make it great.
While most of your focus should be on producing something high calibre, don’t forget the backlink! The most obvious place for a backlink is in the author bio at the bottom of the page. That’s okay but not ideal. What Google really likes are links that are embedded in the main body of text (called contextualbacklinks). Steer at least some of the content of your guest post towards topics you’ve blogged about on your own site, then simply work in a link to those posts. For example, let’s say you’re a book-blogger writing a guest post, “16 Reasons Why Books are Better Than E-Books”. In it, one of the reasons you give is the joy of cover art. At this point you could easily and quite naturally link to a post you wrote on your own blog on “My 20 Favourite Book Covers of All Time”, even if the link is just in brackets. That contextual backlink will be a bigger shot in the arm of your rankings than the one in your author bio.
Leave a link
Some people leave their business card pretty much everywhere they go. Doing the same thing with your links—leaving a link trail of links during your cyber-travels—is a viable, if fairly limited, strategy. There are countless places on the web where you can drop a link quite easily, like blog comments or user profiles, both of which usually allow you to include a link to your site. Low-hanging fruit, to be sure, but there’s a few problems with this sort of tactic.
- They don’t carry a lot of value and will only a very limited impact on your rankings.
- They’re likely to become even less valuable in the future.
- Some blogs designate commenter’s links as “nofollow”, meaning the link is not factored into Google’s calculations when producing search results, rendering the link worthless in terms of SEO value.
It also takes you disconcertingly close to the crossing the line from respectable link building to its seedy, spammy underbelly. The comment sections of some blogs have been completely overrun with spam-comments that have nothing to do with the blog post and are a cheap n’ nasty way to get links. They don’t work well, possibly won’t work at all in the future, and that pristine white hat of yours could start to turn black.
On the other hand, if you’re leaving thoughtful, insightful comments on a blog, why not include a link (“nofollow” notwithstanding)? And at the end of the day, that’s a pretty good rule of thumb: get “out there” on the web but only with consistently worthwhile contributions.
What about social media? No-one outside of Google really knows how links posted in social media are factored into search rankings but it seems that they have some effect, though not as much as a regular backlink. Nevertheless, Facebook, Twitter et al. should be a crucial part of how you spread the word about your mind-blowing content. Check out our guide to sharing your blog on social media.
Further reading: please sir, may I have some more?
But we’re really just scratching the surface. Link building is easy to learn, hard to master. So there’s a lot more to be learned. Here are some of the most useful resources that I’ve drawn upon:
A very short, but helpful, overview of link building. It’s not detailed but it’s an easy-to-read introduction to the fundamentals. And as one of the web’s most respected hubs of all things SEO, this site is the motherlode if you want further reading.
A resource page pointing to you to some of the best blog posts on the topic. The various blogs are conveniently organised into sub-topics.
An argument for a more balanced, less “content is king”-oriented paradigm. It’s a tad jargon-heavy, but it’s is worthwhile reading for anyone starting out in link building.
A glossary of terms. Given how much jargon there is in SEO in general and link building in particular, a glossary like this will help you stay sane while you do your research.
A clear, visual summary of what makes a link powerful or not. The number of “link signals” that Google et al. use may be a bit overwhelming at first, but you’ll soon get a feel for what constitutes a worthwhile backlink.
A detailed look at how to create content that attracts backlinks. Creating outstanding content is easier said than done. Creativity and panache go a long way, but there are also plenty of tried-and-true methods that work and can be learned.
A massive bullet-point list of practical things you can do to build links. It’s essentially a “to do” list, something to use once you’ve got a grasp on how link building works.
A detailed and incredibly transparent guide to taking your link building to the next level. This guide is comprehensive and is particularly excellent in how it walks you step-by-step through some sophisticated techniques. It also includes a goldmine of handy tools you can use.
An expert round up on link building. Question 4 (the experts’ favourite tools) and question 9 (the first five things anyone should do when they start link building) are helpful.
A video explanation of the difference between content marketing and link building. Content marketing is sort of implicit in white hat link building, but this video explores the differences and what approach is best for certain types of businesses.
Conclusion and re-cap
Wanna figure prominently in your customers’ Google searches? There’s a lot you can do to make sure you do, but link building is undoubtedly one of the best. Let’s review the territory we’ve covered:
- Backlinks are like signposts and, crucially, like votes. The more (and the better) the votes, the higher you’ll rank.
- Now that Google is cracking down on black hat tactics, it pays to play it safe with your link building strategy.
- Links aren’t created equal—some will give your rankings a bigger boost than others.
- Your main priority should be creating excellent content that attracts links naturally.
- But the backlinks won’t always happen automatically; you need to actively and strategically promote your content in order to garner more links.
- You can take control of your backlinks by creating them yourself.
- Guest blogging is a very effective way to create your own backlinks.
- Leaving links in footers, profiles etc. has limited value but can still have an impact.
I know what you might be thinking: this is overwhelming. Like a lot of SEO arts, link building can be more than a little daunting. But as the old proverb goes: how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. So start simple, pick just a few things and do ‘em. Like Rome, building links isn’t something you’ll do in a day—so give yourself time and build slowly.
And, hey, you’ve already invested some time reading these posts in order to understand link building—that means you’re already on your way. You’re a link building dummy no more!