What is link building?
Link building is the process of procuring hyperlinks from other websites and integrating them into your own. The goal of link building is simple: promoting your website to others with the intent of securing a link from their website to yours.
Why is link building important?
While this may seem simple enough, it is, in fact, one of the most powerful skills in SEO. Moreover, true mastery of link building requires a complex, interconnected set of knowledge and skills that includes content, sales, programming, psychology, and, of course, marketing. It is also why many SEO experts consider link building one of the hardest aspects of their job.
So clearly link building is both essential and challenging for any SEO, but why is it important? The answer is actually quite simple — much simpler thank link building itself! Search engines like Google add the content of the innumerable websites on the internet to their indexes. In the process, they evaluate webpages in various ways with the goal of, among other things, figuring out the quality of said pages so they can be ranked appropriately when relevant keywords are searched.
Looking at the number of inward-bound links from other websites, particularly ones that are already well-rated, is one way in which search engines figures out how highly to rate your website. This technology was first developed by Google founder Larry Page when he came up with PageRank technology in the 1990s that relied heavily on links as a measure of quality.
Nowadays, it is generally agreed that holding all other factors equal, the volume and quality of inward-bound hyperlinks — also known as backlinks — are a decisive factor in a website’s ranking. That said, recent changes by Google, including the release of Penguin updates and the introduction of Google+, seem to suggest that the impact of links will gradually reduce, the shortfall being made up by social signals like tweets or upvotes.
How does link building work?
A link — also known as a hyperlink — is the primary mode of navigation between webpages. Search engines, which are the whole reason that Search Engine Optimization exists in the first place, use links to “crawl” the web, both between the individual pages of a website and between entire websites.
Link building can be done in several ways, but the most common and viable in the long run is by earning them i.e. investing the time and energy in having your webpages considered by and linked to by high quality, highly ranked websites.
Even if you are buying a service, make sure that they provide 100% pure white hat links like this company does.
Building these relationships often involves outreach to websites and blogs in your industry to promote relevant content in the hope of securing a backlink. While the end result may be acquiring said backlink, such outreach is valuable in and of itself because it opens up the possibility of a regular interaction that will have a far greater cumulative impact on your site than a single link ever could. As such, it is advisable to go about this process in an honest and ethical manner.
That said, there are many less reputable tactics like buying backlinks or hiring “black-hat SEOs” to manipulate results of varying efficacy; these approaches also run the risk of being penalised by search engines.
There are essentially three types of “links” that are generated: “Natural” editorial links, manual “outreach” links, and self-created, non-editorial links.
The first category, natural links, are the most valuable. They are ones that are created by the referrer themselves and did not have to be asked for. They are highly efficient because there was no effort expended in acquiring a backlink. They are usually the result of creating highly regarded or valuable content or assets.
The second category is the most common type of link building and involves actual effort on the part of the builder. The key distinction here is simply the time and energy dedicated to getting a backlink on another website — the efficacy of these efforts and the quality of the outcome is variable.
Finally, we have self-created, non-editorial links — these are frowned upon nowadays and are considered part of a “black hat SEO’s” arsenal. Examples of this include links in comments sections of other websites, press releases with optimised anchor text, links sneakily embedded into images, advertorials, etc. These channels have already been devalued with the introduction of the Penguin update to Google’s search engine and run the risk of incurring penalties.
The broader impact of link building
The primary purpose of link building is, as previously mentioned, improving your page rank. However, there are two additional important effects of link building: increasing incoming web traffic and brand building.
A prominent link from a highly rated website can lead to a significant influx of web traffic that can raise a site’s profile, increase online sales, or have any number of other positive effects. In this case, the value of link building extends beyond pure SEO to client or audience acquisition.
Similarly, good link building practices can help websites create a strong brand and establish themselves as authorities on a topic or the “go-tos” when it comes to a particular product or resource. Again, the kind of outreach associated with organic link building will only have a positive impact on this front.
The limits of link building
As soon as people discovered how to manipulate technologies such as PageRank, which was almost immediately, an arms race began between search engines and SEOs. Search engines are constantly trying to discern the abuse of link building techniques. Approaches that were once acceptable, such as submitting one’s website to directories so they get linked back, lost their impact. The excessive use of techniques such as this is known as over-optimisation and can lead to a website being penalised for a breach of a search engine’s guidelines.
It is also important to remember that link building relies on strong underlying assets or content — one cannot make bricks without clay, as they say, so there must be something of value to be linked to in the first place! Sometimes these assets are in place on your website long before you start a campaign; other times, they are developed specifically in order to engage in link building. In either case, there must be something worthy of attention. Types of content can include a blog post, tool, research study or infographic.