For as long as SEO has been around, it has been divided into two main categories: onsite optimization and offsite optimization. “Onsite optimization” once referred to a process of keyword stuffing and now refers to writing high-quality onsite blog content and great user experiences, while “offsite optimization” has mostly been synonymous with link building. Though Google’s algorithms have gotten better at detecting deliberate attempts to manipulate rank with irrelevant links, link building itself is still a viable—and some would argue, essential—strategy.
On the other side of the fence, you have people who claim that link building is a dead strategy. Google itself has repeated, time and time again, that posting links to your site is not the best way to increase your rank, and that instead, you should only focus on creating a great user experience. Unfortunately, many great sites find themselves climbing ranks at a painfully slow rate without some offsite SEO support.
First, it’s important to address the fact that what constitutes “link building” to one person may not match what constitutes it to another. This is responsible for the vast divide you see among SEO experts who periodically attack or defend the strategy.
The first definition is the traditional and most logical one. Under this definition, link building is exactly what it sounds like—it’s the process of tracking down external sites and manually building links that point back to your own in a deliberate effort to increase your rank.
For years, this was the accepted way of building authority, but Google’s Penguin update put a serious halt to that. Today, this method of link building is extremely risky, but if done well, can pass significant authority to your site.
What’s important is the type of sites you post to, the diversity of sites you use, and the context in which you post links. If you’re staying relevant, helpful, and high in quality, there’s no reason this type of link building can harm you. On the other hand, pursuing this type of link building by buying “packs” of links directly from third party providers can seriously damage your reputation. This is the type of link building that Google would have you avoid.
The second definition is a more modern one, and is more frequently used by experts in the SEO community. Under this definition, link building refers to any strategy you use to attract links to your website.
For example, if you produce a piece of high-quality content, which is hosted on your website, and you virally circulate that content on social media, hundreds or even thousands of users might link to you in order to cite your valuable information. In this way, you earn all the natural benefits of external links even though you haven’t formally “built” any. They’ve all come to you as a result of your effort, so you deserve the credit and can call it a strategic acquisition, but ultimately, it’s a hands-off model that doesn’t come with the risk of the first definition.
The final definition of link building is perhaps better represented by the term “relationship building,” as it sometimes features no links whatsoever.
These days, Google is able to recognize and measure authority in different spaces without the need to consult links—for example, it can subjectively rank an individual’s association with a given industry or use mentions of a brand name to boost a company’s domain authority. Because of this, search optimizers can use guest posts, brand mentions, social connections, and other forms of soft relationship building to bolster their own authority. No links are involved by default, but because this strategy uses similar channels and operates for the same purpose, it can be called link building.
Each of these definitions of link building is useful in some way, though natural link acquisition and relationship building are better, safer, more long-term strategies for building authority than straightforward link building (at least we traditionally know it). Without any of them, you will have no verifiable web presence outside your own website, and Google will have no definitive measure of how authoritative you are. Essentially, without any form of link building, Google will have no gauge for your authority, and anything you do onsite will be stuck in an isolated island. There is still a very strong divide between onsite and offsite content, and you’ll need both if you want any chance of succeeding.
Regardless of what others say, we continue to see the practicality of growing search traffic without directly soliciting or personally acquiring links. Here are some proven strategies that will help you increase your site traffic by naturally earning backlinks:
People share content that they love. And do you know what kind of content resonates with the majority of people? Visual content.
Research shows that approximately 80 percent of readers skim online content. And of the remaining 20 percent that actually read your articles and blog posts, they typically only make it through 28 percent of the content before moving on.
But guess what? Visuals – graphics, images, videos, etc. – increase the desire to read content by an impressive 80 percent! Here’s what that means:
In other words, people are physiologically hardwired to respond to visuals and, as a result, are more likely to consume content, engage with it, and even share it. This makes visual content a perfect tool for naturally bolstering your SEO efforts.
But if you’re going to invest in visual content, you need to make sure you’re maximizing your resources and properly channeling your energy into the right content mediums. Here are a few types of visual content that perform best:
From 2012-2019, digital marketer Neil Patel has generated an average of 53,459 visitors and 875 backlinks per infographic. He’s also been able to produce an average of 879 tweets and 443 likes. And while you might not have quite the same audience as Patel, the principles behind what makes infographics effective holds true. They appeal to a reader’s visual preferences, while also providing cold, hard objective data that builds trust. That’s a recipe for success – no matter the audience or application.
Video performs especially well when it’s between 15 and 120 seconds in length. The key is to start with a bang and to immediately get to the point. Cut out the fluff and focus on speaking directly to the viewer.
The key with memes is to use them sparingly and to seize on the moment. While there are exceptions, most memes have a finite lifespan. They might only be popular for a few days or weeks. The more agile you are in creating clever memes, the more shares and exposure you’ll earn.
There are more than a dozen different types of visual content, but these three stand out. They’re magnetic, engaging, and have the ability to help you earn links and generate traffic. Set a goal of creating at least one of each per month and track the results. You’ll like what you see.
Not all website traffic and clicks are created equal – at least in the eyes of Google. The search engine firmly believes in something it calls “long clicks.” These are sessions where a user searches for something, clicks on your page, and then doesn’t return to the results page afterwards. A long click is an indicator that the visitor found what they were looking for.
Want to cultivate long clicks? Try developing newsworthy content that’s timely and relevant.
If your brand is like most, you aren’t exactly swimming in newsworthy information – but that’s okay. Rather than writing boring press releases and company updates, you can try something known as “newsjacking.”
Marketer David Meerman Scott defines newsjacking as “the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story so you and your ideas get noticed.” In other words, it’s taking a breaking news story, finding a relevant detail or connection, and then attaching your brand to that story via strategically crafted content.
Oreo provided us with one of the earliest and most effective examples of online newsjacking when they took advantage of the unexpected New Orleans Superdome power outage during the 2013 Super Bowl. They posted a simple black and white graphic on Twitter that read, “You can still dunk in the dark.” It was funny, witty, and – most importantly – timely. It could be argued that they got more value and exposure that night than the brands that paid millions of dollars for 30-second TV ad spots.
There are plenty of other examples of effective online newsjacking, but it’s not something you can copy and paste into your strategy. In order to utilize it well, you have to be plugged in to what’s happening and have the creativity to latch on to hot subjects before they exit the news cycle. This is why it pays to stay engaged with current events.
Listicles and roundup posts consistently out perform other types of traditional written-form content. Here’s why:
If you want your content to get clicked on, engaged with, and shared, try turning your ideas into digestible listicles and roundup posts. And as you do this, keep the following in mind:
Not every listicle will be a major hit, but if you develop 10 list articles and one of them goes viral, it’ll be well worth your time and creative energy.
Are you familiar with the halo effect? In the marketing world, it’s the phenomenon by which consumers show favoritism and trust toward brands, products, and people that they’re already familiar with. You can tap into the power of the halo effect by partnering with authoritative brands and influencers that have pull with your audience.
The halo effect is especially valuable for small brands and startups that don’t yet have visibility in the marketplace. It affords the opportunity to stand out and acquire credibility.
In terms of boosting SEO, here are some good strategies and techniques to consider:
Each of these strategies requires differing levels of effort, engagement, and promotion. Find the ones that work best for your brand and go from there.
If you’re defining link building as the cut-and-dry process of constructing individual links on external sites, the answer is yes, it is possible to be successful in SEO without it. However, if you’re using link building as a collective term to refer to any process of building offsite authority, then no, it’s impossible to make any significant progress without it.
If you’re concerned about the risks of penalty associated with old-school link building, pursue softer approaches like naturally attracting links with valuable content or building relationships with well-written guest content. You need to establish your authority in some way offsite, or else Google will have no idea how to rank you and you’ll never be able to make significant progress. How you establish that authority is up to you.