Good Links Help SEO: improves rankings, increases PageRank, supports authority.
Bad Links Hurt SEO: destroys rankings, no PageRank, no authority, poison.
And the average site owner cannot tell the difference.
So many times there is an email offering to get followed links on high domain authority websites. Sounds good, the rates are reasonable, and all links help, right? Well, absolutely the opposite. Google said “paying bloggers to write for dofollow backlinks is against our guidelines.” It is only a matter of time, and playing the odds seldom if ever wins on the web.
So, there is a right way and a wrong way, and we teach the right way to earn links.
In the last lesson, you learned how to structure your website’s internal linking. Now it’s time to turn your focus outward. Here you learn how to get those all-important external links to your website (and use two free tools in the process).
Photo by Les Chatfield (CC by 2.0), modified
Links were the lifeblood of search engine optimization for a long time. Ever since Google cofounder Larry Page invented PageRank, back in the late ’90s, links have been a primary way search engines determine rankings. Still today, getting quality inbound links from other websites (aka “backlinks”) is a crucial SEO ingredient — if they are obtained naturally, safely within search engine guidelines. Links are still important, but far less now.
In this lesson, you’ll get to use two free SEO link tools that will help you identify links, AND you’ll learn:
Why high-quality backlinks are so valuable
How to develop a link earning rather than link building strategy
What kind of backlink to avoid
How to attract links that increase your site’s link popularity and rankings
What Are Backlinks?
Backlinks are incoming links (excluding ads) that point from another website back to your own.
Search engines evaluate a site’s backlinks (or inbound links, or external links) to help determine the site’s popularity, authority, and relative importance on the web.
It’s about Link Popularity
In Google’s PageRank algorithm, each hyperlink to a webpage acts like a vote of confidence for that page. It’s expected that websites will naturally recommend high-quality resources to their readers. That’s the simple concept behind PageRank (and the link measurements used by other search engines).
For example, a site about fishing would link to a site where someone can get a fishing license. A site about stamp collecting might link to the U.S. Postal Service. And a marketing blogger might link to this SEO Guide.
Every keyword topic is like its own popularity contest. The top spots in search engine results pages (SERPs) go to the most-linked-to websites on that topic. Er, not exactly …
Actually, It’s about Authority, Trust, and Relevance
Unlike a popularity contest, the PageRank system doesn’t give every backlink an equal vote. In fact, some backlinks can even have a negative impact on your website’s ability to rank.
In an effort to stop sites from trying to manipulate PageRank and game the system, search engines analyze links and even penalize sites suspected to have unnatural backlink profiles.
In the next lesson, you’ll find out more about search engine guidelines and avoiding Google penalties in particular. But for now, suffice it to say that there are:
Good backlinks: These links come from authority websites in your field, experts who write about your topic, or non-spammy sites that have content that relates to your site’s subject.
Bad backlinks: Links from unrelated websites (for instance, a dog training website linking to an insurance brokerage) don’t do you any good and could look unnatural.
Ugly backlinks: Links coming from link farms, spam sites, sites known to sell links, or low-quality content (such as pages with lists of random links and no text) can put your site in hot water.
The screenshot shows Google’s description of “link schemes” — the kinds of things you want to avoid when thinking about link building.
To be safe, focus on link earning instead of link building. “Never buy links” is something Bruce Clay repeats in every SEO Training class.
Definitely ignore those emails that offer you “20,000 links for $29.00” — otherwise, you will rue the day you burned down your own site rankings for (knowingly or unknowingly) getting involved in a link scheme.
Link popularity is not a numbers game anymore. Even more important than the quantity of your backlinks are the quality and relevance of the sites where those links are coming from.
If enough relevant, quality sites link to you, then your site becomes a more trusted authority by association. So you want the best sites, not the most, linking back to you.
Outbound Links Matter, Too
If you link to quality sites in your field, then your site seems higher quality by association.
However, the destination page and whole website must be about the same topic as your linking page. This makes sense from a user point of view. The new page must be relevant if the link is going to be useful to your readers. If the two pages are not on a related topic, the link may appear unnatural to search engines and hurt your SEO.
One thing to recall is that the link probability to be clicked matters. Links high on the page are more likely to be clicked and the search engines know it. There are patents about this as well as our JUMPSCORE(r) calculation that computes the probability of a click. Google patents imply they can decrease PageRank transfer if the link is unlikely to be clicked.
SEO GUIDE BONUS VIDEO
Is website ranking really all about links? And is link popularity what search engines really care about the most?
That’s what critics of search engine optimization sometimes claim. Watch this video by Google’s Matt Cutts to hear the answers.
SEO GUIDE BONUS VIDEO #2
In order to get high quality backlinks, you need to have high-quality content.
In this video, Matt Cutts (sporting a moustache and goatee this day) describes why trying to build links to your site without having great content is an uphill battle. BOTH are needed for SEO to succeed.
How to Get High Quality Backlinks
Links should be a byproduct of having expert content worth linking to. hat is our methodology. Links should be earned.
In order to improve your link popularity and earn better SEO rankings among the major search engines, you need to attract links to your website — not beg or barter (or spam) for them. To earn backlinks and stay within search engine webmaster guidelines, here are some SEO best practices for attracting links.
Link Building Strategies That Work
Make high-quality content: The key to getting quality inbound links is having expert-level, unique content. Your site will accumulate backlinks naturally over time if people find your high-quality content valuable or enlightening enough to share with others. (See Steps 5 and 6 of this tutorial for tips on creating great content that uses keywords.)
Keep your content fresh: A regular supply of new high-quality articles or other content can get people’s attention and help you compete against sites that may have only static, stale content. In fact, Google instructs its raters to look for content that’s “added and updated over time” as a sign of a quality site. How can you do this? Posting regularly in a blog, building up an articles section for your site, or adding new support pages are all ways to freshen your content, strengthen your brand, and help establish your website as more of a subject matter authority.
Promote your content in social media: Social media posts that link to your website do not pass link popularity in most cases. (One exception: Google+ posts actually do affect Google’s search rankings because results are personalized.) Nevertheless, social media gives you a way to publicize your content and attract traffic (i.e., visitors) to your site. The buzz and traffic you generate from social media, especially if you take time to interact with people there, builds your audience and can net you some worthwhile backlinks as people write about your content — not to mention earning you fans and customers!
Link to experts: Within your own website, occasionally include links to reputable sites and subject matter experts in your field. Do this primarily for your users’ benefit, to give them related resources about the subject on that page. Linking to known authorities helps legitimize your website in the search engines’ eyes, too.
Use traditional PR: Press release links can no longer pass PageRank directly to your website safely, as they once could. (SEO tip: Make sure to put a rel=”nofollow” attribute on links to your site in your paid press releases, so the search engines won’t look at you suspiciously.) However, you can use press releases to seed ideas that you hope a media outlet will pick up. If a journalist writes about your news, that article will likely have a high-quality link pointing to the original source — your website. For this traditional PR technique, news that’s non-promotional and interesting to many people works best.
Create videos, podcasts, and other shareable objects: What topics could you turn into engaging videos or audio podcasts? Videos attract viewers, whether embedded on your website or uploaded to a video-sharing site such as YouTube. Podcasts available for download can also increase audience interest. Infographics, images, and other multimedia elements you create can become popular, talked-about and shared on the web. Exciting, rich media content helps make people aware of your brand and result in short- and long-term links to your website. (See Step 11 for tips on optimizing multimedia content.)
Be patient, be awesome: Focus your efforts on creating great content, optimizing it for SEO, and building relationships with your target communities online. Backlinks will follow in time.
How NOT to Get Backlinks
Webmasters should steer clear of these tactics for obtaining backlinks: sending mass email requests; participating in link farms; purchasing links (though paid links identified clearly as ads and nofollowed are fine); getting run-of-site links (where the backlink appears on every page throughout an external site); and having links from irrelevant or disreputable websites.
Links obtained by any of these activities might be seen as “unnatural” or “spam.” They could cause ranking issues and damage your E-A-T (expertise, authority, and trustworthiness).
Where Does My Site Stand Now with Backlinks?
To get a feel for how your site currently stands with link building, you’ll need to look at link reports.
The Links report in Google Search Console lets you export up to 100,000 sample external links. Or you can export the latest backlinks to your site to see recent activity.
Some paid SEO tools do more than just list pages that link to your site. They can analyze how trustworthy they are and much more. Two link tools that we recommend are Majestic (whose link reports are integrated into our SEOToolSet®) and Ahrefs.
Next up! Let’s go deeper into how to avoid Google penalties. You’ll learn how to monitor backlinks to spot any “ugly links” that may be threatening your site AND how to get rid of them.
Need more SEO tips? If someone has done damage to your site’s SEO with low-quality link building in the past, talk to us about our Penalty Assessment & Recovery Services. For beneficial link-earning tips, check out our book Content Marketing Strategies for Professionals.