Two of the biggest levers we have to play with when improving websites’ organic visibility across search engines are content and backlinks.
Back in February I put together an outline of 5 keyword optimisation strategies that focused primarily on the former. Having a holistic attitude to content creation and serving the user intent rather than stuffing their keywords into titles is just one of the examples we listed.
In this article I’m going to examine the strategies you can pursue to maximise the potential of the second algorithmic lever: external link-building. Noted here, first and foremost, are two important caveats:
- Yes – external links can be accumulated naturally by creating good content and sharing via appropriate channels – this is covered below – but it’s worth considering alternative link-building strategies to supplement these efforts.
- It’s proving far more difficult to assess which of the links in your backlink profile provide the greatest benefit, as Google now ignores ‘tons of links’. This has lead to many in the SEO industry questioning the importance of backlinks as a ranking factor. Don’t be mistaken though: if their weight as part of the search algorithm has decreased over the last 10 years, backlinks still play a crucial role in boosting the average ranking position of a website (we know from proven experience time and again).
A sustained link-building strategy is therefore a necessary part of securing prominent SEO visibility. The advice provided here should supplement the previous How to rank for keywords in Google guide.
Bear in mind; much of the PageRank you receive from backlinks will likely point to your website’s homepage. For this reason it’s important you have a clear internal linking structure that flows authority to the rest of your website.
Here are a few link-building tactics, with a ‘priority’ score which judges their effectiveness based on the effort required to gain the link versus the probable benefit that link provides.
Priority ratings are given out of 5, with 1 being the most effective.
1. Creative Campaigns – Priority Level: 1
- Easter Eggs
Making use of internal graphic design and copywriting resource can help you create a campaign that will excite and engage website users.
One example is hiding an easter egg somewhere on the website offering a discount or promotion once its revealed to the user. The offer should automatically populate with a widget or badge that prompts the user to share it in order to receive it.
Once you’ve created the campaign it needs to be pushed out via suitable marketing channels, especially social media networks which can target at a granular level. Prior to launch you’ll want to research and contact influencers in the target space, incentivising them to push the campaign to their followers.
Influencer research and content marketing is a discipline of its own, but the general technique and methodology overlaps with SEO.
As a way of ensuring the campaign’s success it doesn’t hurt to mention influencers in your post (as well as letting them know you’re mentioning them) to increase the level of enthusiasm with which the campaign is shared.
To highlight an example of this – Blue Array recently published an article about SEO tools for 2018 that evaluated well-known software, such as the web crawler OnCrawl and keyword analysis tool SEMrush. We received a great response on Twitter from company representatives, helping to propel the article’s reach.
Infographics, done in the right way, can make great pieces of content that can be widely shared. Inserting the infographic in an iframe allows users to embed it on their own website, and ‘share’ buttons prompt users to do this, making it a great way of generating backlinks, if a link back to your website is embedded within.
Make efforts to ensure this doesn’t appear like spam: with a wide-targeting infographic campaign any embedded links should point back to the homepage and the website domain used as anchor text. Using keyword-rich anchor text looks unnatural and can be discounted, or worse penalised, by Penguin, the link-assessment part of Google’s algorithm.
2. PR Activity – Priority Level: 2
Always consider the value of backlinks whenever your PR team is distributing content. Work alongside PR to ensure SEO is embedded with activity, such as a product launch or newsworthy coverage of your brand.
You’ll want to ensure PR understands ‘good/great’ from an SEO POV rather than readership (e.g. educating the team about ‘dofollow’ versus ‘nofollow’ links). Another SEO ‘hack’ used by PR teams for several big brands is referring to themselves as “company.com” for circumstances where a CMS automatically converts website addresses into HREF links.
We’ve experienced painful situations when attempting to integrate digital with PR often becomes a thankless task: bludgeoning a journalist to death with a story about your company’s latest product release isn’t always effective.
At Blue Array, we’ve solved this struggle to some extent by creating a digital PR service called Press Pull. This pairs publishers already on the lookout for commentary on a particular story with your brand, that may be able to cover an aspect of it via expert commentary in that area.
3. Guest blogging – Priority Level: 3
Guest blogging is a great opportunity for driving traffic and obtaining backlinks, again, if done in the right way.
Five things to keep in mind when guest blogging include:
- Choose appropriate domains: tools such as Majestic and AHREFs can help you establish the authority of the domain and check for potential “spam” or quality issues
- Look for industry relevance in regard to the content on the blog
- Having a ‘dofollow’ backlink is ideal – whether from an ‘author profile’ page or as an inline link from the article
- Avoid paying for links. Even if a website accepts your proposal, the fact they’re making a habit of accepting money for guest features will render resulting backlinks worthless (and potentially even dangerous) in terms of the signals it passes. The SEO industry is really clamping down on paid-link tactics since The Outline’s exposé in December 2017
- Referral traffic can be a (very important) second-tier benefit of guest blogging and can lead to links as a second order effect
The practice of guest blogging comes at cost to your time and effort, because you’ll have to invest in creating great content for external sources that you could otherwise make use of internally. The cost-benefit relationship is something you’ll need to consider carefully, but targeting relevant, industry-specific websites can be a great vehicle for delivering your brand to a wider audience, as well of course – obtaining backlinks.
4. Sponsorship opportunities – Priority level – 4
Sponsorships present a great way of getting backlinks from high-authority domains, such as charity or community websites. If the causes are industry-specific, even better.
A charity sponsorship is the nearest representation of ‘White Hat’ paid backlinks you’ll find nowadays. Even Google has come under fire for making use of the strategy.
Paying to sponsor events or companies comes at a financial cost, however, and never guarantees ‘dofollow’ links. If you can successfully embed charitable activity with PR activity, using the coverage to convey your brand in a positive light, there’s no reason second and third tier effects of sponsorship don’t halo into SEO (increased brand searches and homepage entrances).
5. Acquisition SEO – Priority level – 5
Searching for domains that are already ranking for some or all of your target keywords with good backlink profiles can be a good opportunity for acquiring backlinks via acquisition and redirection. You can use services such as Majestic and AHREFs to analyse their existing backlink profile and ensure this is from organic linking.
If you’re happy with the domain, and you’re able to acquire it for a price you’re willing to pay, then you can 301 redirect the domain to your own website, hopefully passing much of the PageRank through to your own website at a like for like page level.
The cost of this strategy comes in the form of mapping and implementing redirects well as the price of actually acquiring the domain.
Another big problem with this strategy is that you can spend fruitless hours of searching for domains that ultimately are unwilling to sell at an affordable price.
There are other link-building strategies circulating internet forums varying in their shade of acceptability, from squeaky clean to ‘manual-penalty’ alert.
Webmasters and SEO’s have tried and failed time and time again to game Google’s algorithm with manipulative link-building strategies. One guarantee with “Blackhat” link-building is that, what works today if successful enough to capture the attention of Google, won’t by tomorrow. That’s why the above advice comes with the following caveat: SEO should be built with long term success firmly in mind. Therefore, keep link-building tactics as clean, natural and ‘whitehat’ as you possibly can.
There’s always the possibility at some distant point that search engines create an algorithm that ranks URLs in an alternative way than a system relying on third party links as signals. That future still seems imperceptibly distant, however, so link-building remains a key focus for SEO’s and digital marketers in the meanwhile.
For anyone in the industry, you’ll be well aware – without backlinks your SEO efforts count for very little.