What are backlinks?
A backlink (also called an inbound link or an external link), is simply any link from one website to another. As search engines crawl the internet, they use these links to discover new webpages and determine how well a page will rank in relevant search engine results pages (SERPs). Search engines consider these links to be third-party votes of confidence. The website hosting the link is verifying the quality of the content it holds. Search engines consider ‘votes’ that come from high authority backlinks to be the most important. Link building for SEO is therefore about the quality of the domain endorsing the link, not just the quantity of links you can accumulate.
Why is Link Building so important?
Link building is the process of acquiring relevant backlinks for your website and is therefore a highly sought-after SEO skill. Obtaining these external links is essential if your objective is to achieve a higher ranking on SERPs. This is because backlinks act as an indicator to the search engine that the content on the page it is targeting is of a high quality, is relevant, and is worth ranking. The more quality backlinks you have, the more trustworthy search engines consider your site to be. Link building often involves outsourcing to websites relevant in your industry, which can be time consuming. However, becoming an expert in high authority link building will set your business apart from your competition.
White hat SEO
In the early days of SEO, it was effective to use tactics that are now deemed deceptive and manipulative. Black hat SEO tactics such as cloaking, keyword stuffing and buying links were previously powerful ways of ranking your website. Google began to clamp down on these tactics and introduced algorithm updates such as Penguin in 2012. The aim of this was to eradicate spammy websites and improve user experience, bringing high quality content to the top of SERPs. Google now algorithmically penalises black hat link building, meaning white hat methods are important for sustainable link building. You can avoid black hat penalisation by following Google’s webmaster guidelines. They are safe to use and usually better for your real life users too. Creating your own original content will engage with your audience in a genuine way. Building white hat, high authority backlinks will always ensure you are improving your page rank whilst avoiding penalisation by search engines.
What are High Authority Backlinks
A high authority site is simply a trusted source of information. They are considered much more desirable to link to than a potentially spammy or low authority website. Many factors that contribute to site authority, two of which are page and domain authority. Using tools such as MOZ Open site explorer, you can view an estimate of both of these scores which rank on a 100-point system. If a relevant link is hosted on a high authority page, this passes more authority due to the PageRank onto the page it is linking to. Furthermore, the domain authority is important when you are comparing two sites as a site such as theguardian is going to have a much bigger impact on your rank than a blogger who isn’t well known, even if that blog carries content which is more relevant to your site.
Ideally, you should aim to link to a site with a domain authority of 40/100 or higher. Linking to relevant pages with lower scores may be worth doing as it creates suitable traffic. The results, however, will never be as positive as with high authority backlinks.
Other factors influencing domain authority include domain age, and domain TLD (Top Level Domain). Sites with .gov or .edu have higher trust and authority and as discussed later in this article, linking to them can be highly advantageous. Traffic flow and amount number of return visitors is also an important factor. Sites with a higher flow of relevant traffic with lots of return visitors are of a higher authority.
The relevancy of backlinks is very important. In the past it has been effective to build lots of high authority links from any site. Due to Google’s algorithmic change, and their aim to deliver the best results for the user, the relevancy of the website you are linking to is increasingly important. Linking to sites completely unrelated to your content is known to have a negative impact your own rank, decreasing relevant traffic to your site. The trick is link to high authority sites which are relevant to the theme and content of your website.
Outsourcing high authority backlinks
The first step in building high authority backlinks is creating fantastic content that is worth linking to. Original, in-depth content which contains lists, images, diagrams, and infographics tend to generate the most links. Brian Dean, founder of backlinko carried out in-depth research into 1 million search results and found that content with an average word count of 1,890 words ranked on the first page of Google results. If you would like to know more about great content, we have created a step-by-step guide to content marketing which may be useful for your content strategy.
Google always encourages ‘natural’ editorial links which you don’t have to outsource yourself by contacting other websites. Search engines regard these links as holding the most value as they are editorially and voluntarily given by someone because they contain great content. However, even when you do create fantastic content, natural links are hard to accumulate and can take time to achieve. The more popular link building process is known as ‘manual’ outreach link building. Manually contacting websites may not be as efficient as naturally acquiring links but it is much more effective for small businesses or start-ups who are not yet well known.
A good place to look when starting your link building campaign is to check out competitor backlinks. When searching for keywords relevant to your site in Google, the top results will provide you with a list of competitors who will definitely have high authority backlinks because of their position. Entering these URLs into software such as SEO profiler or ahrefs will display a list of backlinks and their domain authority. These websites are also more likely to link to you as they are already linking to websites similar to yours. Once you have gathered the email addresses for these websites, you have a solid starting point of potential leads to reach out to.
The next step is to create a customisable script that you can adapt for each website. You can see an example created by Brian Dean here. It needs to be personalised for each website, but be careful not to ask for a link outright as this doesn’t sit well with Google’s webmaster guidelines. This is where your high quality original content comes in to play. If you can provide a link to a piece of content they think is amazing, you are more than likely to get a link. This can be a highly effective way of achieving high authority backlinks.
Broken Link Building
Broken link building also provides you with an opportunity to reach out to websites for a link. This is particularly useful as you are effectively helping someone improve their website, meaning they are more likely to want to link to you. Using software such as link checker, you can find links which are broken on any given website. This is particularly useful for high authority websites as older pages may not be well maintained, and full of links that are no longer in use. Emailing these websites and offering your content in place of that broken link is a highly effective strategy when trying to build links and comes with the added bonus of bettering someone’s website.
Brian Dean has developed a method for this that he calls the ‘Moving Man Method‘. This involves searching for links that have changed name or moved URL and offering this content in place of it.
.EDU and .GOV Websites
Even a few .edu and .gov backlinks can have a positive impact on your SEO as these domains carry much more value than a .com or .org. site. Due to their official and quality content, the domains of government and educational bodies carry more weight than other domains. These backlinks are not easy to get but if you have the right content, you can offer your information on, for example, a university writing resource page that students use. These pages also present another opportunity as they are not often updated and may too contain broken links or moved URL’s.
Offering highly researched, quality content as a guest post can be an effective way of landing backlinks. This content needs to be relevant to a publisher’s website. Guest posting opportunities can often be found on Twitter and other social media which can then in turn improve your social following. People commenting on your post may also be potential people to link to. Replying to commenters with helpful and original answers may lead to those people wanting you to guest post for them, or them linking back to your website from their site.
Even though blog post comments are a good way to build backlinks, it can be very risky. Posting many comments can raise red flags with Google, resulting in penalisation. Matt Cutts, is the ex head of the web spam team at Google. He explains that organically representing yourself and writing topically on relevant sites is completely fine. He warns however to be sparse. MOZ recommends identifying a list of 10 sites or communities you want to engage with. Leaving 15-20 consistently good comments will help to build a positive reputation within these communities. This helps to build your brand which may intern lead to a better chance of engagement and lead to link in future posts. People may also be led to check out your social media profiles which can lead to increased follower growth. MOZ also recommends that you keep comments on topic, and be respectful of the author. Provide unique value and be transparent.
Disavow and ‘NoFollow’ backlinks
There are times when spammy or low quality links may have been built in the past or by accident. Even after trying to remove them all you may not be able to make further progress to get the links taken down. In this case, you can disavow backlinks, asking Google not to take these links into account when indexing and assessing your site.
The ‘nofollow’ attribute can sometimes be applied to links too. This instructs Google to not pass on any PageRank for things like blog comments and forum posts that aren’t trusted. This simply tells the search engine you don’t want to pass on page rank.
The initial starting point for anyone wanting to build their online reputation should be to create quality, unique content that contributes to their field. Building many relevant high authority backlinks is the best way to improve your page rank but this can only be achieved once you have good quality content to link to. This article outlines a number of available options for you to start creating backlinks without fouling those all important Google Webmaster Guidelines.
The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of CodifyMedia.
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