Most small business owners understand that it’s important to use search engine optimization (SEO) strategies to rank high — ideally No. 1 — on the search pages. You know that you can’t just build a website and then sit back and wait for new customers to come knocking on your virtual door, but sometimes it’s hard to know exactly where to start if you’re new to digital marketing. Assuming that you already have quality content on your website (blog posts, explainer videos, relevant infographics, etc.), one simple way beginners can start improving their SEO is with link building.
The Definition of Link Building
Link building is an SEO term for the process of getting other websites to link to a page on your own website in order to earn a higher spot on the SERPs. Because search engines value quality over quantity, it’s more important to acquire a few trustworthy links than dozens of inferior or spammy ones. The key to getting authoritative sites to link to your site or blog is to consistently produce relevant, top-notch content that naturally lends itself to being shared, commented on, or linked to.
Why Are These Links Valuable?
It’s all about relationships. When Google sees your content is linked on pages across the web, the search engine recognizes that your brand deserves more respect. That translates to a higher rank on search engine results pages (SERPs).
But it isn’t the number of links the bots find that’s most important, but rather the value of the links. Having your content shared in a post with just two or three views won’t generate as much buzz as connecting with a website that consistently has hundreds, preferably thousands, of views from unique visitors every month.
Let’s say you’re running a business that sells cookware or organic foods. You’ll get noticed faster, and rank higher, by building a relationship with someone like Lisa Leake — who has more than 1.6 million likes on her Facebook page — than an unknown mommy blogger who likes to cook but is just starting out.
Building Relationships, One Link at a Time
While linking to very popular sites won’t automatically catapult you to the top of the search page, it will help because a good webmaster (the person who manages site content) always checks out the people who are driving traffic to his or her site. If one of these webmasters comes to check you out and finds relevant, superior content that would benefit their readers, they will probably ask if they can repost your articles. If they find that you have relationships with other influencers in a common market or industry, they may even ask if you’d be willing to allow them to write a guest post. Score! That’s a win-win for both of you.
Building these online connections isn’t difficult, but like every lasting relationship, it takes time and thought. To get the most of that investment, focus on linking from your site to other websites that have a natural relevance. In other words, a cookware company who links to a blogger who consistently posts healthy recipes makes sense, whereas a cookware company linking to a government agency that monitors seismic activity doesn’t.
How to Get Started
Make a list of ten to twenty influencers you think would make great link partners. Not sure how to get started? Use free tools like BuzzSumo, which helps you “find key influencers to promote your content,” Followerwonk, which helps you find influencers on Twitter, or Traackr, which is an influencer marketing platform.
Here are some other ideas to start the conversation:
- Introduce yourself or join existing conversations in forums.
- Comment on blog or social media posts — Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit, and YouTube.
- Include links in your content to popular experts.
- Ask for permission to repost all or part of a stellar article on your own site.
- Reach out to bloggers, inviting them to write a guest post or review your offerings.
- Send a brief email to other webmasters with excerpts showing why you think their readers would enjoy your content.
- Build out your online business directory listings to inspire browsers to visit your website for more information.
Whether you use one of the above suggestions or all of them, remember to add only the links that add value for your readers. Keep in mind that the text you hyperlink is important, too. To get the most out of your backlinks, include your top keywords for the article or page. For example, don’t link to general phrasing like “read more.” Instead, link to keyword-rich phrases.
Don’t Forget the High-Quality Content
Now that you know what link building is and why you should use it, remember that success depends on high-quality, relevant content. Period.
In fact, you can work until the cows come home, but you’ll never build long-lasting relationships or rank at the top of the search engine results unless your website content is extraordinary. In the same way that you cannot gain and keep online customers unless your web hosting service delivers 99.9% uptime, you cannot sustain quality, traffic-driving relationships unless your quality content excites and resonates with audiences.
As Moz.com puts it, “All link building campaigns must start with something worth linking to.”