Originally published on Hubspot on April 23, 2015 by Nicole Rende
As a result of the recent Penguin updates, link building has changed … again.
Google Penguin is an algorithm update aimed at decreasing search engine rankings of a website due to a large number of spammy, low authority links in their backlink profile.
Over the years, this type of algorithm update has only grown smarter, which calls for a strong focus on white hat tactics as a means of more efficient link building.
To help you make sense of the recent changes, I’ve gathered some insight on which link building strategies to avoid and which you should gravitate towards.
What is Link Building?
By definition, link building refers to “the process of acquiring hyperlinks from other websites to your own.” A hyperlink allows users to navigate between pages on the internet, while also providing search engines with a way to crawl the web.
While link building strategies vary in difficulty, many SEOs (including myself) believe it is the hardest part of their job. In other words, if you can master the skill of link building, you’ll have a leg up on the competition.
The Importance of Link Building
According to a study by Search Metrics, the fourth highest-ranking factor is the number of backlinks in a website’s backlink profile. However, unless these backlinks have high authority, they mean very little.
For example: obtaining one backlink from a site with high authority, such as The Huffington Post, is more beneficial to your site’s ranking than having 50 backlinks from a website with low authority.
Black Hat Link Building Strategies
If you haven’t already, it’s time to ditch any and all black hat link building strategies.
These techniques violate the search engine guidelines of both Google and Bing due to the poor quality of backlinks they generate, and they also put you at risk of receiving a penalty.
1) Link Schemes
According to Google’s Webmaster Tools Quality Guidelines, “Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.”
To avoid a blow to your site’s rankings, or worse, a penalty, you’ll want to avoid the following practices:
- Buying or selling links that will add to your backlink profile: This includes exchanging money for posts that contain links, exchanging services for links, or sending someone a free product if they link to your website.
- Too many link exchanges: This is when you contact a webmaster and say, “I will link to your site, if you link to mine.”
- Using automated services: This includes paying for a service designed to distribute and build your links for you.
2) Advertorials or Large Scale Guest Blogging
Advertorials are pieces of paid content disguised as editorials (think wolf in sheep’s clothing.)
The use of advertorials is categorized as an all-too-common link scheme, and since you are paying for it, you run the risk of being penalized.
In addition to advertorials, it is important that you limit the number of guest posts you contribute, as this is yet another tactic that can get your website penalized.
This isn’t to say you should give up on guest posting all together. In fact, I don’t recommend that at all. As long as you closely follow Google’s quality guidelines, guest posting on a smaller scale can be incredibly beneficial to your business.
3) Press Release with Highly Optimized Anchor Text
If you have something newsworthy to write about, press releases aren’t a bad way to acquire links.
Unfortunately, companies often abuse this concept, using press releases as an excuse to create links to their website using keyword heavy anchor text.
If you are going to use this strategy with newsworthy content, it is important to use a mixture of the brand name and URL as the anchor text.
Press releases aren’t something you should be afraid of. In fact, as long as you execute them correctly, they can be one of your most valuable links. Just make sure you are writing for the human, not just the search engine.
White Hat Link Building Strategies
White hat link building strategies are your friend.
Unlike black hat techniques, these strategies are often very low risk and usually fall within the webmaster guidelines laid out by search engines.
In other words, these are the type of strategies that you can employ without having to worry about running into any trouble with Google.
To ensure success with these strategies, focus on creating unique content that will effectively engage your community. You’ll also want to define a strategy for promoting this content through relevant distribution channels to expand your reach.
1) Existing Relationships
The best (and easiest) way to build links is to take advantage of your existing relationships.
For example, if you have a list of partners that you think would be willing to link to your website, don’t be afraid to explore those opportunities.
Need ideas? Here are a handful of specific relationships you can leverage:
- Community Organizations
- Tradeshows and Conferences
- Brand Mentions
It’s important to note that you should be very straightforward when you initiate this type of outreach to ensure that they understand what’s in it for them. This type of specificity will increase the likelihood that they’ll agree to help you out.
2) Small Scale Guest Blogging
While guest blogging is very much a legitimate form of link building, it shouldn’t be your sole focus.
When contributing to other blogs, you want to be sure that the content that you are creating is high value, not just something you pump out for the sake of a link. To ensure success, look to the following guidelines before getting started:
- Does the site have high authority? One way to check this is to look into the website’s backlink profile to make sure they have ethical standards and are not at risk of a penalty.
- Who is their audience? Make sure they are relevant to your industry.
- Is it a reputable source? Audit the content to ensure that everything is supported and up-to-date.
- Do they have a strong following? Look to their social media followers and shares to gauge their popularity.
Again, this is a strategy that you don’t want to neglect nor exhaust. A good rule of thumb is to focus your attention on writing a couple of strong, well-aligned articles, and then move on to something else. Don’t forget, you can always revisit it if it delivers a high reward.
3) Linkable Content
While this one may seem obvious, it’s often overlooked.
Quite simply, if you want to build high quality links, you need to create high quality, linkable content. This could be in the form of a great blog post, an infographic, interactive content, surveys, or definitive guides.
Once these great assets are created, you’ll need to define a clear, thoughtful plan for distribution. This means ensuring that these resources are not only readily available on your website, but also included in a social media strategy defined by the platforms in which your ideal audience is hanging out.
The hope is that those who come across your content will find it so valuable that they’ll be willing to share it and credit you for your helpfulness.
Before you go, remember these three important takeaways:
- When building backlinks to your website, make sure to steer clear of black hat tactics (stick to white hat techniques instead.)
- Relevant, high quality content will ultimately lead to high quality links.
- When creating content, don’t hesitate to switch it up. Focusing on more than one tactic will help you generate a better understanding of what works best for you.
Building links can be a great way to get your website to rank higher, but you have to be conscious of how you approach it to avoid getting penalized.