Ah, link building. Our dear old friend. Perhaps the most misunderstood SEO tactic of the past two decades. Some webmasters avoid it, others give it a go internally with varying levels of success, and many choose to hire an outside agency to “take care of it,” hoping for the best.
But what’s the right approach to take? Which stakeholders should be involved? Should you even bother? These answers largely depend on several factors, but there are a number of methods to consider and avoid as we close out 2023.
Avoiding guest blogging for link acquisition.
Let’s start here. Did you know guest blog posts as a link-building tactic are against Google’s guidelines? This should be common knowledge by now, but often it is not.
After attending Pubcon last month, I was a bit surprised that most SEOs I spoke with weren’t aware of this and even more surprised at the number of vendors openly advertising their ability to source thousands of links per month from their network of bloggers.
Sure, you could apply a no-follow or sponsored link attribute and be in the clear, but without any ranking benefit, is it even worthwhile?
The appeal of guest posting for links is strong – sourcing links from “relevant” content & websites at an attractive price point is an easy sell.
Unfortunately, guest posting as a link-building tactic benefits the agency offering it much more than their clients.
Guest posting is a volume business. It scales incredibly well, allowing any company offering the solution to sell a nearly unlimited amount.
But it really does a disservice to their clients hoping to find success, embedding them into a network of blogs linking out to anyone with a few dollars to spare.
At best, budget and time are wasted using the approach. At worst, links fitting this description begin skewing your overall link profile in a way that can lead to additional problems down the road.
Takeaway: If you’re leveraging guest blogging, sponsored content, or article syndication for link building, the time to stop was yesterday.
The importance of links in 2024?
Google’s Gary Illyes recently spoke about links as a ranking factor (Danny Goodwin has a good summary on that here), and he cited content, not links, as Google’s primary ranking indicator.
To a large extent, we’d agree. There are certainly more pieces to the ranking puzzle than there were 20 years ago, and low-quality sites and low-quality content pieces won’t rank solely because of their link profile anymore. Those days have been long over.
From a content perspective, the basics still need to be covered. Keywords and related phrases need to be on the page, and the user intent needs to be satisfied to earn (and maintain) rankings. Ideally, you are going above and beyond to make your content the best it can be for any given topic, turning it into something that should objectively rank due to its quality.
But how does that content get found without links, especially in competitive verticals?
Gary pointed to an obscure and assumedly non-commercial Porsche car resource ranking without links (he did not specify the keyword or URL), but is the same possible if you’re targeting high-value, high-volume commercial phrases?
Can you rank a page about credit cards, web hosting, or even a local law firm without links? We’d argue not and believe most SEOs would agree with that assessment.
I suppose the contrarian in me assumes Google is trying to dissuade webmasters from spending time sourcing low-quality links (see “guest posting” above) and creating a lot of link spam noise their algorithm then has to deal with.
They’d rather businesses and website owners instead focus on making their website and its content the best for users.
To that end, we’re fully aligned.
Takeaway: It may be possible to rank a non-commercial page for an obscure long-tail keyword, but for most of you targeting commercial phrases with high search volumes, links are still an important and needed piece of the ranking puzzle.
Marrying outreach efforts to your content strategy.
Rather than providing content for another site with an embedded link back to you, focus on developing linkable content assets for your own website’s blog or learning center.
Unless your site overall may be viewed as a “true” resource, it’s unlikely sourcing links to any of your SEO landing pages will be a long-lasting strategy.
There aren’t enough reputable sites out there that will link to commercial pages, so you’ll need to use educational, value-added content on your website as a hook to earn links on a more consistent basis.
These linkable assets can take on many forms – resource articles, data-driven Infographics, interactive calculators, and so on.
You’re lead-gen for car insurance? Create a visual map of the most dangerous roads in America or a research article on DWI statistics, then pitch it to local news media from the cities or towns mentioned in each piece.
Are you an online fashion retailer? Provide content outlining where folks can recycle/donate their old clothes or the environmental impact of various fabrics, then alert local governments and non-profits about your resource.
Are you a B2B SaaS company? Interview subject-matter experts on trends within your industry or publish resource pieces for college students looking to begin a career in your field, then alert industry publications and universities to this content’s existence.
No matter your industry or audience, there’s always a way to find and execute these opportunities as the cornerstone of your link-earning approach.
This methodology will allow you to conduct outreach to a more authentic audience for link acquisition, including universities, governmental organizations, non-profits, industry associations and trade publications, news media and other valuable link targets across the web.
Link building done right via content creation and subsequent outreach can be a grind. The predictable, consistent, high-impact links achieved using this methodology are needed for some industries to remain competitive.
But what if you don’t have an outreach team to prospect every day?
When possible, look for resource and evergreen content opportunities around keyword clusters and user intents that have a high search volume and seek earned links by creating high-value content around these keywords.
Quick example: Sell bedding? You may be surprised how many searches per month relate to removing various stains from mattresses. Make the best page you can on this topic and others like it.
Often, great content on a strong domain will begin ranking naturally on its own and, in doing so, will earn you links over time without ever having to ask for them.
With that, don’t forget the importance of internal linking and how to harness your site’s link equity to rank better across your entire keyword universe.
Takeaway: Google rewards great content that receives authentic citations, so always begin your link-building campaign with a strong foundation of resource-based linkable content assets within your website.
As has been the trend for the past 10+ years, link building has transformed into link earning. Overall, linking has become an integrated part of the SEO strategy rather than a standalone activity of unknown quality.
The days of taking shortcuts or isolating link acquisition in a vacuum outside of your other digital marketing efforts are behind us.
Consistency with link acquisition in competitive industries is of key importance and often overlooked, and the foundation of any successful link-earning program always integrates with long-term content planning.
SEO leads, strategists, product teams, content writers, digital PR folks and link builders are working together towards creating a strategy in which compelling content can earn authentic citations regularly.
In doing so, your website and its content will be viewed as THE trusted expert in your field and be more likely to consistently rank in search results over longer periods of time.