When it comes to controversial topics in SEO, it’s hard to find anything that generates more heated discussion than link building. Over the years, Google has sent out a lot of mixed messages about link building, and the result is that SEO consultants have some very strong opinions about the subject. Controversy aside, there are some things everyone can agree on and that’s what we’ll cover here. Below, we go over the basics of link building and why it matters for SEO.
“If you build it, they will link.”
Okay, that might not be how the famous movie quote goes, but that’s the outlook a lot of small business owners have about their website. My service/product/website is so amazing that people will naturally want to link to it and share it on social media.
In a perfect world, that might be the case, but in the real world, you have to put a little more effort into getting your website noticed and visited. Link building is one way to do that.
The Structure of a Hyperlink (HTML)
First, let’s back up a bit. What is a hyperlink in the first place? If you’re like most small business owners, you probably compose your blog posts in a visual editor (also known as WYSIWYG, or what-you-see-is-what-you-get), which means you never deal with the code involved in creating a link. Here’s an example of what the HTML looks like behind the scenes of your WYSIWYG editor:
Within this link is the:
- Link tag, which is this piece:
- Link referral location, or the URL contained within the link tag
- Anchor text, which is the Your Destination text in our example above
- Closing link/tag, which looks like this:
Why Links Are Important in SEO
Links are more than just tools for navigating the World Wide Web. They’re also the pathways through which Google and other search engines crawl and index the internet. Internal links are important for on-page SEO, but backlinks, or links from other websites, are equally important for the following reasons:
Search Engines Discover New Webpages via Links
The volume of pages on the internet grows every single day at an astronomical rate. How does Google find and index all of this new content? Through its Googlebot, which crawls the web by visiting new and updated pages and following all of the links contained within these pages, visiting them, following the links on that page, and so on. These pages are then indexed so people can find them when they’re searching for relevant keywords.
Links Determine How a Page Ranks on Google
Think of backlinks as vouching for the pages they link to. They’re a signal that tells Google, “Hey, this site is legit and it’s a good resource; it should be indexed.” The anchor text tells Google what a page is about and the search term it should rank for. In addition, the more backlinks a page has, the more value Google will place in it—with so many websites vouching for a page, Google figures it must be worthwhile.
Follow and Nofollow Links
Remember when we talked about the structure of a hyperlink? There’s one thing we left out: follow and nofollow.
By default, links are “follow” links, which is shorthand for, “Googlebot, go crawl this site I’m linking to! It’s worth indexing!” Follow links are the currency of SEO. But sometimes, a link is written as:
This tells Google, “Wait! Don’t crawl this site! I’m not vouching for it!” Nofollow links do not transfer PageRank or anchor text.
So why would someone not want Google to crawl a website they’re linking to? The first common use for nofollow links was in blog comments, to prevent comment spam from influencing search results. Bloggers could set links left in comments to “nofollow,” keeping their sites from passing PageRank to shady websites. Once nofollow became the default for comments on nearly all blogging platforms, nofollow was primarily used for paid links, as Google sees these links as potentially manipulating search engine rankings. These days, paid links can also be indicated with rel=“sponsored,” although nofollow is still used and it accomplishes the same goal.
Other uses for nofollow links include widget links and affiliate links, which are links to retailers like Amazon that offer websites that link to them a percentage of any sale sent their way.
How Can My Business Benefit from Link Building?
While SEO is the primary purpose of link building, there are other reasons for making an effort to get other websites to link to yours. These include:
Link building outreach can help you build relationships with other businesses and members of your community. These relations can then be leveraged for promotions, collaborations, and other networking opportunities.
If you’re able to get backlinks from popular websites—or even niche websites that have a lot of authority on their subject—you can generate referral traffic to your site. And that referral traffic can increase leads, sales, and revenue for your business.
Mentions and backlinks on other websites also help you build brand awareness. While follow links are always more desirable for SEO reasons, even a nofollow link from a big-name website can benefit your business by promoting your brand. (It can also help boost your E-A-T, which is important for SEO!)
How to Get Sites to Link to You
So how do you get other websites to link to you? We’re not going to sugarcoat it—it does take some work! It also takes a lot of time, especially to get those coveted backlinks from websites with high domain authority. Here’s some of our best advice for generating real links with actual value.
Create Content Worth Linking To
Maybe “If you build it, they will link” is a good strategy after all?
Creating worthwhile content is absolutely fundamental when it comes to getting other websites to link to you. In fact, we’d say it should be the foundation of any link-building strategy. Remember, links are a way of vouching for another website, and no one will want to vouch for you if your website churns out low quality, pointless content or is riddled with errors.
When content has real value to users, people are more likely to link to it—simple as that! Content that is created solely for the purpose of getting keywords onto a page isn’t going to generate interest (or links) from readers. Content should be useful, well-written, and engaging. It’s even better if you’re able to offer a unique perspective on a topic.
Mentions and Reviews
Customer reviews and even simple mentions on other websites are another way to build backlinks. Offer an incentive to your customers to get them to review your business, and keep an eye on HARO to find opportunities to share your knowledge as a source for editorial articles on big-name websites.
Build and Leverage Your Network
Finally, reach out to your friends, partners, and fellow small business owners to ask for linking opportunities. Offer to write a guest post, ask to be linked on a resource page, or come up with a collaboration idea. Social media links count, too, so be sure to ask your friends and family to share your business with others via their social media profiles.
What Not to Do
Here’s where the controversy comes in with link building: what not to do. These days, nearly all SEOs can agree that you should not spam your website links in blog comments and you should not pay for links on seemingly unrelated websites, both of which were popular (albeit shady) SEO tactics a decade ago.
Then, there are some gray areas. Are guest posts okay? What about text anchors with long-tail keywords? Google is all about natural linking, so we say there’s no right or wrong when it comes to these questions; instead, they should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, depending on the nature of the links in question.
Here’s a rule of thumb: if you’re creating value for users with your content development and link-building efforts, then you’re on the right track. But if you’re doing things solely for SEO purposes where the content and links provide little to no value to the user, then you’re likely veering off course.
When to Get Help With Link Building
There’s a lot involved in link building, and as we mentioned above, it can require a great deal of time and effort, particularly if you’re a small business owner or solo entrepreneur. If you don’t have room on your plate to take on content creation and link-building outreach, consider hiring an outside SEO team to help you out.
Need Help with SEO?
At Main Street ROI, we offer both on-page SEO as well as link-building services. Our team of professional, in-house writers will create the high-quality content you need to get your website noticed, while your dedicated SEO consultant will ensure that your internal linking is optimized. To gain those valuable backlinks, we can perform outreach for you, emailing potential partners based on our own research or on your recommendations.