When we’re asked, “What is link building?”, the simplest way to respond is to explain it is a way to build your brand’s online profile.
The slightly more technical answer is it’s the process of getting a third-party website to hyperlink to your website. Of course, it’s not as simple as that.
There are many different types of link building. Some are frowned upon by search engines.
Link building could involve:
Setting up business profiles on directory sites that include a link to your website e.g. yelp
Adding a comment to someone’s blog post and including a link to your website in the comment
Getting your business partners to add your business logo to their site – the logo contains a hyperlink to your website
Buying websites and linking to your website from these new sites
Creating really valuable content and advertising it to your business’s stakeholders in the hope they link to it because it’s so useful
Writing opinion pieces for a trade magazine related to your industry in which you get a link back to your website as part of the author attribution
Watching out for instances of your brand name being published online and then contacting the sites it crops up on to ask them to include a link in your brand mention back to your website
Of the above, you do not want to be caught engaging in the practices detailed in points two, three or four. The others are all accepted methods of building links and ones we advocate as a leading B2B SEO agency. But that brings me to another point worth making – Google and other search engines don’t want you to build links per say, they want you to earn them, by being an excellent internet citizen. Create great content and third-party sites will naturally link to you; be an authority in your field and you will earn links without trying.
And that’s important, because links are like votes. The more of them your website has, the more likely it is your website will be returned for a relevant search query. E.g. if you sell blue widgets and you have a load of amazing links pointing at your blue widget site then there’s a good chance your site will be returned when someone searches ‘Blue widget supplier’.
Not all links are born equal – follow versus nofollow (vs sponsored vs UGC)
Just to clarify, all links are designed to be ‘followed’ by a search engine spider to their destination. However, it’s possible to make a link ‘nofollow’ by adding ‘rel=nofollow’ to the html tag. An example would look like this: <a href= “https://www.website.com/” rel= “nofollow”>. With that simple addition, the search engine spider will stay put and your website won’t gain any PageRank (link juice).
It seems a little unfair. After going to all the trouble of writing a kickass piece of content, passing it by the powers that be at your desired publication and seeing it published online – only to realise you got a nofollow link. What is up with that? Well, let’s go back in time a bit.
Once upon a time Google mentioned that it measured the quality of a webpage (and therefore the likelihood that it’ll be returned in the search results) based largely on the number of links pointing at it (or pointing at the general domain it resides upon).
And then a whole lot of badly behaved SEOs messed things up with their cheap (yet tbf at the time, effective) backlinking tactics involving forums, comment boxes and guest blogs – anywhere they could insert a hyperlink.
Google now roots out and largely ignores low-quality links (unless you’re taking the mickey and building them on a large scale, in which case it’s likely you’ll get slapped with a Google penalty or ‘manual action’ as it’s known in the trade).
The first to be used for links in paid for content and the second to be used in user generated content (UGC) i.e. comment boxes.
Google then made an interesting observation.
It said (regards nofollow links):
“Use this attribute for cases where you want to link to a page but don’t want to imply any type of endorsement, including passing along ranking credit to another page.”
BUT – then it said:
“All the link attributes — sponsored, UGC and nofollow — are treated as hints about which links to consider or exclude within Search. We’ll use these hints — along with other signals — as a way to better understand how to appropriately analyze and use links within our systems.”
This is pretty big. It means Google’s now confident enough in its algorithm to use all links for ranking purposes. We suspect this is because Google realises a lot of important links are nofollow.
Most notably, editorial links. Loads of online news outlets make their links nofollow – normally because of a combination of two factors: they’re worried they’ll get hit with a penalty if they accidentally make advertorial links followed (this famously happened to The Daily Telegraph) and they also labour under the illusion that they’re somehow making their sites ‘weaker’ by routing PageRank away from their domains.
“Links contain valuable information that can help us improve search, such as how the words within links describe content they point at…By shifting to a hint model, we no longer lose this important information, while still allowing site owners to indicate that some links shouldn’t be given the weight of a first-party endorsement.”
“…how the words within links describe content they point at” i.e. Google loves descriptive anchor text (the text that makes up the link).
“…shouldn’t be given the weight of a first-party endorsement.” i.e. all things being equal, a followed link is best, but a nofollow link on a decent website with descriptive anchor text is now really worth having.
The blog post concluded by announcing nofollow would become a hint as of March 1, 2020 (no mention of sponsored or UGC links in that line either which suggest to us it is these editorial nofollows it’s keen to use in its algorithms).
But wait, not all followed links are born equal either…
Followed links from popular and important sites carry more weight and push webpages higher up the search engine rankings. Google calls it TrustRank; if you have a lot of very high-quality links, then Google will trust you more and so your ranking improves.
Back in 2011 Google said: “So PageRank is the most well-known type of trust. It’s looking at links and how important those links are.
“So if you have a lot of very high quality links, then you tend to earn a lot of trust with Google.”
But, and this is crucial, you have to assess what a lot of very high-quality links looks like to your company.
If, for example, you specialise in fintech, you need to pursue reputable sector specific sites for links back to your website. A huge spread littered with links in The Angling Times won’t earn you nearly as much TrustRank a nod from Fintech Futures. So, focus your resources appropriately and be sure to fish in the right waters.
Why do we build links?
When considering what link building is, it’s more important to understand why you would build links in the first place – links can help build better relationships, boost your business’s profile and drive more traffic to your website.
At their most brilliant, links ultimately help generate qualified leads which turn into new clients which result in increased revenue and business growth – ta-da! But remember, if you put lipstick on a pig it still goes oink. If you earn a load of links but your website isn’t ready to perform then you can wave goodbye to all those lovely, ready to buy leads.