We all know that one of the main objectives of an SEO agency is to build the backlink profile of a client’s website in order to boost visibility and therefore relevancy
When a user types in a search query they expect to be given the most relevant information possible. Businesses know this and know that it all adds to the user experience (UX). To that end Google and other search engines are constantly tinkering with their algorithms to make sure they best answer a query and therefore deliver the best UX.
As a business you will want to look at your offering and conduct keyword research based around the products or services that you actually sell. If you can do this, target your content towards the chosen keywords and optimise your site for voice and mobile you are on the right track. Of course this is a very simplistic approach and there’s a lot more that goes into it. Over the years we have covered SEO in great detail, especially in the SEO Uncovered series. But what about other aspects of improving your visibility like link building?
In order to understand the importance of link building, it’s important to first understand the basics of how a link is created, how the search engines see links, and what they can interpret from them.
Start of link tag: Called an anchor tag (hence the “a”), this opens the link tag and tells search engines that a link to something else is about to follow.
Link referral location: The “href” stands for “hyperlink referral,” and the text inside the quotation marks indicates the URL to which the link is pointing. This doesn’t always have to be a web page; it could be the address of an image or a file to download. Occasionally, you’ll see something other than a URL, beginning with a # sign. These are local links, which take you to a different section of the page you’re already on.
Visible/anchor text of link: This is the little bit of text that users see on the page, and on which they need to click if they want to open the link. The text is usually formatted in some way to make it stand out from the text that surrounds it, often with blue colour and/or underlining, signalling to users that it is a clickable link.
Closure of link tag: This signals the end of the link tag to the search engines.
According to Moz there are two fundamental ways that the search engines use links:
- To discover new web pages
- To help determine how well a page should rank in their results
Once search engines have crawled pages on the web, they can extract the content of those pages and add it to their indexes. In this way, they can decide if they feel a page is of sufficient quality to be ranked well for relevant keywords. When they are deciding this, the search engines do not just look at the content of the page; they also look at the number of links pointing to that page from external websites and the quality of those external websites. Of course there are many other factors but for the sake of this piece we are focusing on the link building side of things.
Generally speaking, the original thought process was that the more links you have plus the more high-quality websites that link to you, the more likely you are to rank well in search results. This train of thought has some traction but in truth it is now about natural, balanced link building.
Some of the key tools that we use when it comes to looking at the quality of links are Moz.com and ahrefs.com. Here we are able to identify the Domain Authority (DA) in Moz or the Domain Rating (DR) in ahrefs of a particular link. The names given to these two essentially relates to a unique tool built as a domain ranking score.
They predict how well a website will rank on search engine result pages (SERPs). The DA and DR scores range from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to a greater ability to rank.
The two are calculated by evaluating linking root domains, number of total links, into a single score which can then be used when comparing websites or tracking the “ranking strength” of a website over time.
Both of these tools are built on a “logarithmic scale” which means that the gap between DR/DA 77–78 is much bigger than the one between DR/DA 27–28. In other words, the higher your DR/DA gets, the more challenging it will be to grow it by another few points.
So, as a mathematical equation, yes the higher the authority of the link pointing to your site the better but is this the case in reality? I’d have to say no. Yes the better a link and the linking domain the more authority you should gain but is it really relevant to your business?
This is something that Google and the other search engines are going to focus on moving forward so it is far more important to have a natural strategy, where the links are highly relevant and answer the user query.
In the FAQs section of a blog by ahrefs the following question was asked: “My competitor doesn’t have links from high-DR sites, so why is their DR higher than mine?
“If a high-DR website links to thousands of other sites, we (ahrefs) value their links less. But if a low-DR website only links to a few sites, we consider these links quite powerful. Your Domain Rating doesn’t solely rely on the number of high-DR sites that link to you. It also takes into account how many other websites these high-DR sites link to.”
This is food for thought as are Rand Fishkin’s findings in whether or not to target links from the top pages from search results in your given market place.
He suggested that these were good link targets as those pages at the top of the SERPS get lots of real visitors interested in the topic who may click on/visit your site (if it’s linked-to).
They get a lot of search volume and Rand said: “Someone will click on the top result and then they’ll find me and they’ll click on it and they’ll go to my page instead. That would be great. So if it’s linked to there, you could get direct traffic from those pages, so it’s a nice link to have.
“It is also fair to suggest that Google has put some trust/indication of authority in these pages and sites. It’s saying, “Hey, you know what? This top result and these top results are all highly relevant and authoritative for this particular query.”
“So those are absolutely true things, but I think they bias SEOs and link builders to think in terms of, oh, if I want to rank well for this, these are the only things I should be looking at or the first things I should be looking at or the best places to get links from.”
It could be argued that there are some negatives to targeting high DA/DR links.
First of all ranking is not actually an explicit signal from Google that they are the best quality links. By putting a page at the top of the results, Google is saying, “We, Google, believe that this page will do a great job of solving the searcher’s query,” not, “We, Google, know that if you get a link from here, you have a very good chance to rank for this keyword.” That’s not explicitly or implicitly said. It’s not an implication. Google has never stated that publicly.
Google and searchers also expect that the pages that rank highly are going to solve the searcher’s query themselves (not force another click), not they’re going to link to something that’s going to solve the searcher’s query.
Google wants to rank pages here that solve the searcher’s problem directly.
Rand’s final point centred on the fact that earning links from the top pages is incredibly difficult.
He said: “These people, especially if they’re ranking for a commercial, non-branded query, like “stylish sofas,” they really, really don’t want to link to one of their competitors, to someone who’s trying to actively outrank them. That would be pretty challenging.
“I recognise that many times when link builders go about this, they look at, okay, this page is ranking. Let me see if I can find another page from this domain from which I can get a link.
“That’s not terrible logic. That’s a totally reasonable way to go about link building. But whether it’s the best or the only one is what I’m going to challenge here. I don’t think it is necessarily the best or only way that you should go about doing your link building for all these reasons we’ve just talked about.”
So, what’s the solution?
Well, it really boils down to a thorough targeting strategy as far as keyword research goes. You must compile a complete list that looks at:
- All of your key products and services
- Terms that your audience are actually likely to search for and convert from
- Terms with high search volume
- Terms targeted by direct competitors. Especially those they rank well for that you do not
- All branded keywords
Once you have this you are able to begin with the content creation and outreach phases. Whilst the saying that nobody knows your business like you rings true, what about the industry? This is where agencies like ourselves come in, we create content and research key influencers in order to develop a relationship before producing the content. At the content stage it is important that you not only get the balance right between producing pieces that contain the relevant keywords but are not subject to keyword stuffing. You want to make posts look as normal as possible and make sure that you are outreaching them to the right site.
Like Rand mentioned, it might not be the best plan to go after sites that share ‘any old link’ as you ultimately devalue the work that you have put in beforehand. Look instead for a selection of links, the number depends on the strategy – and do so in a structured manner so that the profile remains trustworthy and not ‘spammy’. As the name ‘organic search’ suggests you want to do everything organically and naturally. Think hard about the types of links you want, see what performs well and make sure keywords and content are relevant and you’re on the right track.
Add value with your outreach content
Probably the most important thing to remember, is ‘success before scale’ – it is more important that you succeed with each email than that you email a lot of people. It takes a lot more time to
rebuild a burned bridge than to cross each one with caution. It is for this reason that building lasting relationships within blogging communities relevant to your industry is the best way to ensure your outreach endeavours are successful, but if one is just starting out, then it should be with the idea of building relationships, not contacts – your list of potential bloggers for outreach is not a business rolodex but an address book of colleagues and friends.
Reach out to the right people
This will require research – and though there are tools mentioned later which can help, you will need the knowledge you accrued in the initial stages of planning and development to ensure that
step is successful. It is not enough to be looking for high traffic and Domain Authority (DA). Though these are clearly important, it is also necessary that an outreach campaign approaches relevant
third parties. There are online tools and directories which will allow you to refine your blogger search by keywords and interests; therefore the more you know about your target demographic and your brand’s ideal consumer, the easier it will be to find the right person.
So what are the outreach aims?
Authority building (SEO focus)
Authority building outreach is practiced in order to build a brand’s Domain Authority (DA) and improve rankings through link generation. For this reason, the campaign will focus on achieving as
many healthy DA links as possible to relevant sections or pages of the brand’s site.
The aim here is to aid the site in ranking for key terms and so content produced will be more keyword specific, and anchor text for inbound links will need to reflect this. In doing this, the brand
will be able to improve rankings on search engine result pages (SERPs) by benefiting from the received authority of inbound links (sometimes referred to as link juice).
Awareness building (branding focus)
Awareness building outreach seeks to expand the brand’s audience by leveraging key industry influencers and publishers. This aims to reach an audience that, while they may be interested in your
industry, may not necessarily know your brand.
One of the best features of using outreach for brand building is that trust in and loyalty to a blogger from their audience is already present (needing no additional work to establish by a brand) and, if selected appropriately, the blogger’s or publisher’s audience will have interests aligned with your own.
More difficult to achieve true success in than a campaign focused on one target or the other, hybrid campaigns seek to achieve both of the above aims with a single campaign. Difficulty should be no bar to endeavour, however, and a hybrid campaign can even save time and money by killing two birds with one stone.
The stone should, however, be perfectly rounded and polished. The aims of SEO focused and branding focused campaigns, while not mutually exclusive, do require serious thought. It is better
to run two separate and well executed campaigns with each aim in mind than one which could be compromised by too little research and achieve neither.