Link Wars: The Force Awakens
Link building looked different a long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away). Columnist Winston Burton explains how things have changed and what works today.
Google’s algorithm to impact website visibility takes hundreds of factors into account, but none of them have been as important and impactful as the almighty link.
“When I first started in SEO more than 10 years ago, the link was the most powerful factor in improving your search engine rankings, especially if you secured links from high-quality, trusted domains with keyword-rich anchor text from sites with high Page Rank.”
Getting a link used to be the way Google found and indexed sites. A lot of companies made a lot of money by selling links, because back then it was easy to manipulate rankings in various ways, including:
- getting links from affiliate networks;
- purchasing links from high-authority sites;
- obtaining links from .gov and .edu sites by exchanging some services or items;
- using blog networks;
- procuring links from microsites;
- and purchasing domains just for links.
Those were the good old days. But now, a link is just a link, unless it is clicked on many times by humans with specific intent, which is the new force in search.
Search engines have been devaluing some link tactics over time because of past abuse, which is evident by all of the Penguin updates. However, securing high-quality links is still absolutely necessary for ranking high with Google, Bing and others.
In short, a lot of tactics and strategies that were used back in the day no longer offer any value and, in fact, can be harmful. These days, it’s all about building high-quality content, securing (and maintaining) links from relevant and authoritative sites and weeding out spammy backlinks to your site.
Offering High-Quality Content
One of the best ways to secure links is to offer high-quality content that meets the needs of users based on their intent. Offering content in a user’s moment will increase conversion rates and drive more sales.
Consider a consumer’s path to purchase. For example, if a person’s car battery dies, he or she may turn to the web and do a search for “car battery.”
This is the beginning of the research phase, just seeing what’s out there. The consumer will continue to refine the search based on the kind of battery that fits their vehicle and price range. Once the consumer figures out exactly which battery to buy, he or she may perform a branded search (e.g., “DieHard Advanced Gold AGM PowerSport Battery 9-BS”) and make a purchase from there.
Each of these searches represents an opportunity for a car accessory retailer to be found by the customer and gain brand exposure. Brands must have high-quality content for each stage of the user journey to maximize this opportunity.
Having great content at all stages of the user lifecycle provides consumers with a great experience that has the potential to keep them coming back for more.
Pro tip: When you build new content, test it through paid social media to give it the extra boost it needs to get in front of your target audience and attract more endorsements and links.
Monitoring Your Existing Links Closely And Taking Action Where Necessary
Always monitor your existing links, keeping track of the good ones and pruning the bad ones.
Ensure that your links are contextually relevant and provide value to the user by offering additional information, products or services that will help them. Remember that Google is taking user engagement into consideration in its algorithm.
Carefully monitor any losses from high-quality and authoritative sites. For example, if you’re a computer manufacturer, and you had a link from CNET with a great review of your product, you want to ensure that you keep that link. Not only is it a relevant link from a well-respected site saying positive things about your brand, but the presence of an easily clickable link has the potential to drive sales.
If you lose such a link for some reason (e.g., you change domains or someone updates the page), you must contact the webmaster to get it back. Otherwise, this could have a negative impact on your search engine rankings.
Additionally, you should seek to remove any suspicious or unnatural links to your site that have the potential to cause website penalties. This might include paid links, links from spammy blog networks, links from questionable sites or links from pages/websites that aren’t relevant to yours. If the webmaster doesn’t want to remove those links, you can use the disavow tool in the Google Search Console.
While the very fabric of the web originally was built around links, that was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. It pays to keep in mind that links were invented to be clicked on, not just for search engines to consider in their ranking algorithms. Thus, end-user behavior is the new force in link power.
Obtaining high-quality links is still very important for improving search engine visibility. Brands should focus on creating high-quality, engaging content that meets the needs of end users based on their intent at all stages of their journey.
Always focus on quality over quantity, because it is not about who has more, it is about who is more trusted and offers value and a great user experience. Quality and relevance win every time.