27 Jul SEO checklist part 10: Link building
LINK BUILDING CHECKLIST
The art and science of developing a successful link building strategy only takes three major components: patience, experience and really, really good content. OK, that pretty much wraps this article up. I’ll see you next time.
… Just kidding. I wouldn’t leave you out to dry like some sort of worthless nofollow link.
Don’t know what a nofollow link is? Then this link building checklist is for you.
The truth of link building
The truth of link building is that quality links are natural byproducts of a well thought out marketing plan. Are there certain tactics to building links that don’t necessarily require fantastic content? Yes. Am I going to teach you some of those tactics in this article? Yes. Do I recommend putting more effort into link building acquisition tactics than developing content-based link-building strategies? Absolutely not.
If your goal is just to go “build some links,” you’ll probably fail to reach the top of the SERPs for any competitive search query. The best link building strategies are ones that are scalable. Trying to outsmart Google with a couple of link tactics is not smart and only hurts you in the long run.
How links affect SEO
It’s hard to imagine the Internet without Google. In fact, my grandmother thinks that Google IS the Internet. But before Google there were other search engines like Aliweb, AltaVista, Infoseek, Ask Jeeves, Yahoo and many more. These search engines didn’t analyze links. Before Google, search engines used the content on a website as the main ranking factor.
What’s obvious now, but wasn’t back then, is that webmasters could manipulate rankings by stuffing keywords in meta tags. Over time this resulted in search engine results that were completely irrelevant to searches.
Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin changed the game by realizing that, on the surface the Internet was an infinitely complex system of interconnected web pages, but at it’s core the Internet was simple and is only comprised of two things: content and links.
They created a more accurate way to return search results by analyzing the relationships of links between websites. Think of a link from one site to another as a vote of confidence, or a testimonial. Google’s algorithm was constructed with the theory that websites with more external testimonials should rank higher.
But Google also realized that not all links are created equal. Some links, like ones from reputable .edu and .gov domains should be worth much more than spammy looking web pages with content that brings no value.
Enter the link building race
Google quickly became the leading search engine because of the quality of its search results. Practically overnight, SEO went from being about stuffing your website with meta keywords to trying to quality build links.
Now that I’m off my history soapbox, we can finally get to the good stuff – building high quality links.
Every website is different, which means that means every link building campaign should be different. The biggest factor that can affect your link building campaign’s scope is the type of linkable assets your organization has at its disposal.
Don’t have the time or resources for a blog? That’s okay.
What does your company already do well? If you have an email subscriber list of thousands of people, surely some of them are web publishers that you can connect with. Or maybe you make an amazing product that would serve as a perfect gift for non-profits and bloggers to use for online raffles and giveaways.
Think about what sets your organization apart and use that leverage as a linkable asset. Odds are that your organization is in business for a reason. Use that reason to help you build links.
Examples of linkable assets:
- Your organization’s unique story
- Thought leaders and experts
- Free apps or tools
- Unique products or services
- Valuable relationships, including vendors, customers and partners
- Job listings and events
- Discounts and coupons
- Entertaining videos or “how to” podcasts
Once you’ve taken an inventory of your linkable assets, you can start to pair each asset up with a link building tactic. Below is a list of useful tactics to build links.
Link building tactics:
- Industry specific resource pages
- Customer and vendor websites
- Web 2.0 submission galleries
- Video submission galleries
- Theme/template directories
- Podcast directories
- Logo design competition and submission websites
- Infographic competition and submission websites
- eBook directories
- Industry specific blog directories
- Vendor testimonial links
- Guest writing for trade articles
- Guest blogging
- Environmental resource websites
- Get interviewed
- Online contests and product giveaways
- Higher education resource pages
- Industry specific white papers
- Industry specific webinars
- Seasonal or holiday specific content
- Conduct surveys and seed the results to industry news sites
- Product and service comparisons
- Newsjacking on hot topics
- Blogs that are based on lists (e.g. 50 Best Link Building Articles)
- Extremely useful and detailed “how to” articles and videos seeded to the right people
- FAQ pages and detailed glossary of industry terms
- Free images, charts and graphs
- Case studies and complete guides/resources (kind of like this SEO series)
- Helping webmasters with grammar, outdated content, design, coding, etc. and then ask for a relevant link
- Broken link building (I’ll explore this topic in detail in future blog posts)
- Social media profile links
- Social bookmarking sites like Scoop.it, Delicious, Digg and Pinterest
- Event, club and contest sponsorships
The above list is large, but is just the tip of the iceberg. For a more comprehensive list of link building tactics and explanations, Jon Cooper’s Link Building Tactics – The Complete List by Point Blank SEO is essential.
Link prospecting techniques
Now that you’ve zeroed in on your organization’s linkable assets and matched them up with several link building tactics, you still need to discover potential websites to engage to acquire the links from. Finding these opportunities could be as simple as a Google search query or as complicated as cross-referencing thousands of competitor backlinks.
In this section, I’ll explain two different link prospecting techniques to help identify sites to acquire links for your linkable assets.
- Link building queries
Inevitably, one of the best tools for link prospecting is Google itself. By using special Google advanced search operators in combination with targeted keywords you can discover sites that fit your link tactics and linkable assets.
Use market-defining keywords in combination with these special search operators to narrow down the list of possible link opportunities:
- intitle: Limits your search results to pages that contain your keyword(s) in the title tag of a page
- inurl: Restricts results to only those that contain your keyword in the URL of a page
- site: Only pages from the domain that you enter
- intext: Ensures the results returned have your keyword or phrase in the body of the page
- – (minus): Enables you to eliminate keywords or entire websites from your search results for a more targeted approach
- “” (exact phrase): A very useful operator that returns results for an exact phrase
- * (wild card): Allows you the ability to fill-in-the-blank with keyword phrases. For example, a search for “charlotte seo compan*” would return results for “charlotte seo company” and “charlotte seo companies.”
- Competitive backlink research
Analyzing the links to your site and to your competitors’ sites is an important part of understanding your organization’s link landscape and is helpful to identify excellent link opportunities.
Of course, when it comes to your own website’s backlinks you can use the Google Search Console’s “Links to Your Site” section for a pretty comprehensive list of current links. But when it comes to finding link prospects based on who is linking to your competitors’ websites, you’ll benefit from a backlink checker tool.
Link building tools:
Using one of the tools above, do an analysis of several of your competitors. Are there some websites that link to more than one of your competitors, but not you? These are excellent link prospects.
Export an excel spreadsheet of all the backlinks you can find and then prioritize them based on their value. Moz, Ahrefs and Majestic all have their own proprietary metrics for associating links with their individual value.
Once you’ve prioritized your list, you can examine which ones are relevant to your website. Take the ones that are most relevant to your website and pair each opportunity up with two or three different link building tactics from this link building checklist.
Take your time and remember that quality over quantity is important in link building.
Link to others as you would have them link to you. I’m sorry for butchering that Bible passage, but the good will of linking out to worthy content comes around full circle. Do it without expecting anything in return and chances are you’ll be repaid.
There is a great tendency among SEOs to “turn and burn” when it comes to link building. That kind of mindset never builds high quality links.
Link trust is extremely important. How Google assigns trust is not based on a webpage, domain or IP address. They assign trust based on people. That’s why building relationships is an integral part of building links.
Take Neil Patel, for example. He is the co-founder of Crazy Egg, Kissmetrics and Quick Sprout, and a genius digital marketer. Whenever he posts a new article on his blog I’m quick to retweet and comment on it.
Imagine my surprise when ABZ Creative Partners received a backlink from his Beginner’s Guide to Google’s Knowledge Graph. Neil doesn’t know me. I didn’t necessarily “build a relationship” with him. But, he repaid my loyal readership with a fantastic link to content that perfectly matched his article’s topic.
Auditing your link profile
The keywords in a link’s anchor text, the keywords that surround a link, the root domains that a link comes from, the ratio of follow to nofollow links – these are all components of your website’s backlink portfolio. Use the information below to boost your website’s SEO.
Disavowing bad backlinks
In 2012 Google released an algorithm change that has since become known as Penguin. This update was aimed at de-valuing the rankings of websites that violate Google’s Webmaster Guidelines by using “black-hat SEO” tactics. The algorithm took special aim at websites that Google believes are using link schemes to artificially inflate rankings.
This update and its subsequent algorithm “refreshes” have made it very important to audit your backlink profile and disavow links that Google may deem inappropriate. SEO specialists can use Google Search Console’s disavow tool to request that Google not to take them into account when assessing your website.
Google recommends you only use this tool if you’re not able to contact the webmaster of the page that has the link you’d like removed.
Follow vs. nofollow links
By default, links are considered “follow links” in that search engines crawling a page will follow the link to the source and give the linked page credit, or “link juice.”
A nofollow link is a HTML attribute that tells search engines not to follow the link. In doing so, nofollow links do not pass any SEO benefit to the website being linked. But WAIT. Just because a link is a nofollow doesn’t mean it’s worthless.
Links from Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia and similar websites are all nofollow, but they’re important because they are brand signals. They help validate your website and can generate great referral traffic.
The key is to watch when other blogs or resources link to your website using nofollow links. They may be trying to receive a reciprocal link from you without you knowing. Modestos Siotos offers a great resource for conducting a comprehensive backlink audit for those of you with a thirst for this sort of thing.
Link building management systems
If you find yourself asking, “how can I manage all of this?” you’re in luck. BuzzStream and Raven offer dedicated link building CRMs that help teams coordinate link prospects and conduct SEO campaigns.
These tools aren’t designed for the casual link builder, but they do give you a hint to how important link building can be. I mean, companies are making money designing software based around helping entire teams of link builders.
No one expects a small or medium sized organization to have an in-house link building team to execute this link building checklist. That’s where digital marketing agencies like ABZ Creative Partners come in. We have the experience, skills, templates and relationships needed to build authoritative links in a time-effective way.