If you’ve been keeping up with my five-part series thus far, you can go ahead and skip down to the “basic premise” section. If this is new to you, here’s all you need to understand: this article is the fourth entry of a five-part series intended to help novice users and newcomers understand the basics of search engine optimization (SEO). So far, I’ve covered basic strategy and planning, on-site SEO, and ongoing content marketing. After this section, link building and off-site optimization, all that remains is measurement and analysis.
Ready to get started? Here we go!
The Basic Premise
When Google determines rankings for a given search query, it looks at two primary factors: relevance and authority. I’ve already covered relevance in the strategy and on-site content portions of this series, so now it’s time to learn about authority. Essentially, authority is a measure of how trustworthy or your content is. Your site will have a qualitative “domain authority” score overall, along with individual “page authority” scores for each of your individual pages. Both of these depend heavily on the quality and quantity of links pointing back to your site — and the higher they are, the higher your pages will rank in organic search results, in general.
Anatomy of a Perfect Link
First, understand that not all links are alike. Google’s Penguin update looks at the quality of a link carefully before determining how much authority it passes. To build a “perfect” link, you need to keep the following in mind:
· Source authority. First, the more authoritative the source of the link, the more valuable the link’s going to be. That’s why links from low-authority or untrustworthy sources are practically useless, and might actively harm your brand’s reputation with search engines.
· Source relevance. The relevance of the external site to your site also comes into play. For example, if you’re in the woodworking industry and you’re posting on a niche cupcake-baking website, that’s going to raise some red flags (unless your content topic can bridge that gap in a logical way).
· Content value. The quality of your off-site content — the material “housing” your inbound link — matters significantly. Here, you’ll want to follow most of the same guidelines that you follow for your on-site work, but you’ll also need to make some adjustments for the specific publishers you’re using.
· Anchor text. It used to be a best practice to include target keywords into the anchor text of your links, but these days it’s better to use natural, journalistic language as your anchor text.
· Contextual value. Your link shouldn’t stand out as obvious. It should be natural, valuable, and helpful to readers.
With those criteria in mind, there are two “main” ways to build links: manually, which involves publishing guest posts on external content hosts, and naturally, which involves producing great content that attracts links on its own.
Guest Posting Best Practices
I covered guest blogging in-depth in The Ultimate, Step-by-Step Guide to Building Your Business by Guest Blogging, but the following tips are a high-level overview of what you need to know to be successful:
· Choose your sources wisely. First, be selective when choosing your guest blogging targets. You’ll want to pick publishers related to your area of expertise, but that also carry significant authority of their own.
· Work your way up. You won’t get published on high-authority sources immediately; instead, you’ll need to start at the bottom, with local publications and niche opportunities, slowly working your way up the ladder.
· Diversify, diversify, diversify. A diverse link profile is a good link profile. Go out of your way to include lots of different sources, and be sure you’re linking to different internal pages of your site.
· Quality over quantity. When you start to see results, you’ll be tempted to scale up the volume of your efforts, building more and more links. Avoid this; quality is far more important than quantity, so save your efforts for getting fewer links on bigger and better sources.
· Promote and syndicate. Your content becomes more valuable the more visible it is, so take the time to review, promote, and syndicate the content that you post off-site. Use your brand’s social media channels, and show off your latest publications regularly.
· Understand the peripheral benefits. Guest posting isn’t just about link building; there are dozens of peripheral benefits to the strategy. It’s beneficial for building your personal brand, you’ll gain more corporate brand visibility and reputation value, and you’ll earn a ton of referral traffic in addition to the organic traffic boosts you get from higher search rankings. Don’t neglect these bonuses.
Attracting Links Naturally
Attracting links naturally is a great way to build a diverse link profile without doing anything other than publishing and promoting great content on your site. However, the flip side is that your strategy will be far more volatile and less predictable — it’s extremely difficult to publish content that soars on its own, attracting links, mentions, and shares. To attract links naturally, you’ll need extraordinary content — truly the best of the best — and a heck of a good promotion plan to make that content visible to the right people.
How you go about link building and performing off-site SEO is up to you; personally, I recommend taking advantage of both manual and natural link building practices to get the best of both worlds. In any case, a diligent and well-planned strategy should have your domain authority iteratively growing over time, supporting your rise in organic search rankings. For a comprehensive deep-dive into link building for SEO, see SEO Link Building: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide.
From here, the last step is to review your progress with measurement and analysis — so keep an eye out for the final part of my comprehensive guide!