What are Links and Why Are They Important?
A link is simply a piece of text or an image which, when clicked, takes you to another website – they’re the ‘streets’ which lead between various pages on the web.
In order to understand why links are so important, we first need to understand how search engines work.
Modern search engines typically index sites using robots or spiders, which crawl between web pages, looking to find (and rank) sites so they can deliver a great search experience for end users.
Nobody’s quite certain about the algorithm used by search engines like Google – it’s very much their ‘secret sauce’ – but what we do know is that they aim to deliver high-quality, authoritative, trustworthy and relevant results to searchers.
So what part do links play in this? Well, they have two benefits:
1) the number of links to a page plays a part in how frequently your website is crawled…the more links, the more regularly it’ll be crawled and indexed.
2) pages which receive many, high-quality links are recognised by Google as particularly trustworthy and authoritative.
Essentially, we can think of each inbound link as an independent ‘vote’ for your page…something which carries great sway with the search engines, and can massively help to boost your rankings!
Quality over Quantity
So, that being the case, should you just head out and get as many links to your page as possible? Not necessarily.
The truth is, while a high volume of page links can, of course, be good thing, it’s very much a case of quality over quantity here, and this is only going to get more important as time rolls on.
Search engines are constantly at war against spammy, black-hat practices, and, given the significance of links in search ranking, link building is an area they police particularly rigorously.
There was a time when, by building thousands of spam links, you could elevate your site right to the top of the first page, but those days are over. Black-hat techniques like link-farming, free-for-all (FFA) websites and unnatural links simply don’t work anymore, and – if they do – you can expect that success to be painfully short-lived.
So what can you do instead?
Gone are the days when blogging was a niche – dare we say slightly nerdy – pursuit!
Blogging is here to stay, for businesses and individuals alike. The benefits of getting involved are huge. It’s been reported that blogs can give websites a staggering 434% more indexed pages, and 97% more indexed links, while 82% of marketers who blog see positive ROI for their inbound marketing.
It’s surprising how much industry knowledge you have in your head and writing it down – as well as being strangely fun and cathartic – powerful, useful content is pretty much a magnet for high-quality links.
If you don’t feel confident with writing articles, why not try simply speaking to camera about a particular topic? Videos are really quick to create and often perform really well as link-builders. It’s been shown that blog posts incorporating video attract 3 times as many inbound links as those without.
Directories sound like they could be questionable, but as with anything ‘link-related’ it’s all about the quality of the directories you choose to submit to. Make sure you’re only positioning links where they ‘make sense.’ Linking for the sake of it is rarely worth the risk! Check out the ‘Submission Based’ section on this link.
Posting On Blogs and Forums
Again, we’re not advocating spamming forums here. Quite the opposite – this can spell seriously bad news for your search ranking. However, if there’s an industry forum on which you feel you can genuinely add to the discussion or answer questions, this can be a great tactic. As well as generating a backlink with each post, you can raise your profile within the industry and develop friendships and partnerships with others.
This approach was actually recommended by head of Google’s Web Spam Team, Matt Cutts, with a few cautionary caveats, of course! While these links have lower value than editorial links such as blogs, content and outreach – and can be penalised if you pursue them too aggressively – they can still have an impact for certain sites.
Removing (or disavowing) low quality links
If you’ve previously taken part in low-quality link-building, it’s not too late to turn over a new leaf. Clearly, the best way to get rid of these links is to contact webmasters, etc. and ask for them to be taken down. But, if you don’t have any luck this way, you can use Google’s ‘disavow’ tool, which asks Google not to take them into account when assessing your ranking.
So many people are creating and sharing content right now that, if you can produce something that’s genuinely insightful and useful, you can bet that many other people in your industry will be queuing up to link to your piece.
You can get particularly good results if you’re able to carry out some original research and include your findings in your piece. This doesn’t have to be particularly taxing – we’re not talking about surveying millions of people.
However, there are certain things you can test yourself or using a small sample that can produce really nice statistics. With a growing number of marketers creating their own content, people are always on the lookout for eye-catching statistics to backup their points – and, since its best practice to link back to the original source, this is an easy win in terms of building high-quality links.
Another crucial component of content marketing is to perform thorough outreach once your work’s done. Many content marketers make the mistake of adopting a ‘build it and they will come’ policy. But the truth is, content is a two-step process: creation and promotion. By getting your content ‘out there’ in front of the people who you want to see it, you can maximise its results.
Links are an essential component to your SEO efforts – but the most important thing is quality, not quantity. Pursuit of spammy, low-quality links used to be the way to go, but these days, it’s likely to land you a heavy penalty. By using some of the steps outlined in this beginners guide to link building, you can ensure that you build high-quality links that supercharge your SEO.