A big part of success in SEO comes down to how many links are pointing to your site and where those links come from. Your domain authority is dependent on these metrics, but you can’t just go out and build links with abandon. Instead, your best bet is to use guest posts—custom-written content for external publications that contain a relevant, informative link pointing back to your domain. It’s hard to get featured as a guest contributor until you’ve built up some credibility, so one of the best places to start building links through guest posts is on sites relevant to your industry, such as industry news sites or forums.
As you gain more experience, respect, and followers in your specific niche, eventually you’ll want to move up to higher authority publications, where you’ll get more visibility and reach. Niche industry sites give you tons of opportunities to develop relevant content, but their authority scores tend to be on the low side. Instead, start making pitches to major national players that see hundreds of thousands of visitors a day. It’s hard to break into these sources, since they have high standards of quality to maintain, but even one link from a landmark source will justify your efforts. See The Ultimate, Step-by-Step Guide to Building Your Business by Guest Blogging for help here.
While it’s a great thing to become a guest contributor or columnist at a relevant publication, you’ll see diminishing returns from the value of each new link you acquire from that publication. You probably don’t need more than three links from any single publication, from an SEO perspective (though there are still benefits to having more links if they are driving referral traffic!). That’s why it’s a good idea to seek new publication sources in order to diversify your link profile.
Some pages of off-page sources are able to pass more authority than others. For example, getting featured on the blog is a noteworthy achievement and you’ll earn substantial authority that way—but you could get even more SEO value or “link juice” if you’re featured on a “Partners” page, or if you have an entire page dedicated to your brand. Building links on more prominent, important pages can help you squeeze more PageRank flow out of every link you build.
“Authority” actually exists at both the domain and page level. A link pointing to a specific page of your site will pass authority to your domain overall, but also to that specific page. If you’re interested in getting higher rankings for one specific page of your site, you can use this to your advantage by funneling many of your links to that page. For example, if one of your products or services yields a significantly higher ROI or conversion rate, you can focus SEO efforts on that product or service by building more links to its corresponding page URL on your website. If you do this too excessively, though, it might appear unnatural to Google, so be sure to mix it up plenty.
Anchor text—the text that features the embedded hyperlink to your site—used to be a huge deal. Before Google’s Panda algorithm in 2011 (and then Google’s Penguin algorithm in 2012), anchor text manipulation was rampant because it worked so damn well. In those days, to get the most out of your link, you’d embed at least one keyword into your anchor text. Today, this could still theoretically be beneficial, but to a much lesser degree; aside from that, it’s actually the #1 way Google identifies link spam, so I recommend avoiding it altogether. Having too many links with unnatural anchor text (such as anchor text that includes a keyword within it) is the easiest way for Google to identify rank manipulation, and can quickly earn you a devastating penalty that can be extremely difficult to recover from. It’s far more important to ensure your anchor text flows naturally in the context of the article. Besides, assuming you’re building links through content marketing, like I recommend in SEO Link Building: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide, then you’re not only dealing with Google catching your fishy anchor text; you’re dealing with real editors at the publications with whom you’re working. Many of them are trained to look out for manipulative anchor text, and if they see something suspicious, they could either refuse to publish your content, remove your link, or refuse to work with you at all.
If you’re guest posting regularly, you’ll find that guest posting has a ton of advantages unrelated to SEO, including passing referral traffic and building your brand awareness and reputation. If you’re interested in doing more guest posting but don’t want to spam links back to your site for fear of being accused of exchanging links, rely on the “nofollow” tag, which tells Google to not consider the link as a vessel for authority. You can also use the nofollow tag on your own site, to link to external sources without Google associating you with those sources.
The rate at which a piece of content or a page earns links over time is referred to as “link velocity.” For example, the typical link velocity for a standout piece would be a high velocity in the beginning as links rush in, an average velocity after a few days, followed by a slow taper of links as the piece begins to age. If your content doesn’t have a link inbound link velocity, Google is less likely to consider it a “trending” or “timely popular” piece, and thus less likely to rank it highly in search results. What this means is you should focus on promoting your content extensively after publication so it can earn as many links – and as quickly – as possible. For help, see Content Unleashed: The Ultimate Guide to Promoting Your Published Content.
Wikipedia is a major authority, and earning a link there could be a major boon for your SEO. Wikipedia is also open to the public for editing, so you can link yourself wherever it seems appropriate. Keep in mind that the Wikipedia crowd takes their responsibilities seriously, so if your link isn’t 100 percent valuable, it’s probably going to be removed.
(Image Source: Wikipedia)
If you’ve ever built links or hired a company to build links for your website that could be considered spammy or questionable, then those links may be holding you back in the rankings. Unnatural links are algorithmically caught and monitored by Google – too many of them can cause a ranking penalty. That’s why it’s a good idea to routinely check your link profile and scan for any “bad” links. You can use Google Search Console (Search Traffic à Links to Your Site) to download a list of links pointing to your site, then analyze them using a tool like Screaming Frog or Scrapebox. When you find a spammy or suspicious link, first try to remove it yourself. If you can’t, contact the site’s webmaster and request its removal.
Sometimes, you’ll reach a wall—you won’t be able to remove a link at all, either manually or with the help of a webmaster. In these cases, use Google’s Disavow tool. Disavowing links should only be used after you’ve already tried to get the links removed (which is optimal), but is a useful second-best option.
Google categorizes link exchanges as a link “scheme,” or a deliberate attempt to manipulate rankings. The “scheme” part of it comes into play when two sites agree to reciprocally link to each other to boost both parties’ search rankings. If you’ve engaged in a link exchange, either remove one or both links, or add the “nofollow” tag to one or both of them. If Google suspects you of engaging in link exchanges in such a way that it deems excessively manipulative, it will either nullify the value of the links, or, worse, hit your website with a ranking penalty.
Using a tool like Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs, SEMRush or SpyFu, you can take a closer look at your competitors’ link profiles to see what sites they’re getting content posted on, how much authority they’re getting, and what types of content they’re getting published. Odds are, if they can do it, you can do it too. It’s not a good idea to straight-up copy a competitor’s strategy, but you can use this as a research and learning tool to fuel your own strategic approach.
Local citations aren’t “links” per se, but they are an important part of how Google measures your authority, especially in the context of local SEO. Broadly defined, these are instances of your business’s information listed in popular third-party resources, such as local directories and review sites. Google draws upon this information to gain insight on local businesses, and how you’re listed can have an impact on your visibility. For starters, you’ll want to hunt down and correct any errors you find in your existing local citations; make sure your company name, address, and phone number are correct at a minimum.
Like with links, local citations aren’t necessarily a game of quantity, but having more citations in more diverse places can help you achieve more authority—as well as earning you more visibility on other outlets. Take the time to build new local citations in directories and review sites where your business isn’t currently featured. As you might suspect, some directories have more weight than others, and are updated more frequently, so bear that in mind when searching for new places to establish references to your business. For most platforms, the submission process is free and simple—they’re incentivized to offer the most information.
On many of these local review sites, you’ll earn reviews from your customers; the more reviews you have and the more positive those reviews are, the higher you’re likely to rank in Google search results for local-specific queries, so take some steps to encouraging more positive reviews. You can’t pay for or modify reviews (if you do, you could be de-listed), but you can make your presence on Yelp and other review sites known by displaying their logos in your establishment. Furthermore, you can comment on good reviews to reinforce them and thank their respective authors, and reach out to negative reviewers to try and correct any regrettable situations.
Instead of building links manually or intentionally, you can go the route of attracting them naturally with the power of the content you produce. This method is far less predictable, but it also has great potential; if you can get a piece of your content to go viral, you could earn thousands of links in a single go. There are some factors that can increase the potential “virality” of your piece, such as making it long and detailed, adding elements of humor and surprise, and giving it an early push on social media, but it’s also a game of timing and pure luck.
If you have a piece of content that you’re using to earn more links (such as a research report), you can try to ask for links from people who use your research in their own pieces. Ideally, they’ll do this on their own, but the visibility of your request could be enough to make them pull the trigger. For example, at the end of your piece, you could say something like “like what you read? Feature our work in your own piece—just be sure to cite us.”
This isn’t a strategy that can increase your search rankings all by itself, but it can increase the effectiveness of your link and local citation building campaigns. When you start to see early momentum, it’s easy to get excited and think that you’ll see even more impressive, faster results if you just build more links in a short period of time. However, building links too quickly can work against you, because doing so often decreases their quality; instead, it’s better to slowly escalate the authority and frequency of your link posting efforts. Draw up a plan and stick with it.
Use Google Analytics or a similar platform to track the popularity of your best posts. What types of content seem to earn the most referral traffic? What external channels are passing the most authority to you? Which breakout features helped you earn the most inbound links? Learn which content qualities made these feats possible, and integrate them further into your ongoing efforts.