Link building has often been the more challenging role facing SEO (Search Engine Optimization) agencies, and that could be down to the ever-shifting ‘rules’ applied by major search engines, such as Google.
A link, or hyperlink, guides visitors to your website from another web page. In reverse, you can place a link on your own site, linking to other places on the internet. Good linking practices put a website in a very healthy position as far as search engines are concerned and “link building” refers to methods of actively seeking new links back to your site.
What do Search Engines do with links?
Search Engines can see and understand hyperlinks on web pages and use very sophisticated algorithms to process them. Links are a fundamental part of how Search Engines rank web pages. Mapping all the various links to your website is often referred to as your link profile. At a basic level, the higher the quality of the links to your website, the better return you will get in Search Engine rankings. For this reason, link building is an essential part of any SEO strategy.
How do Search Engines find links?
To start with, Search Engines will notice the anchor tag. In HTML this would usually start with something like “<a href” – code that produces a hyperlink. The Search Engine can see and understand what this code means.
Users and visitors to your website will often not see all this confusing code language. Instead, the hyperlink will be a visible link on the page, something that people can understand. When a user clicks on the link, it will take them to where the link is pointing. Search Engines also follow links to see where they go. Therefore, it’s important to make sure that you receive links from reputable sources and also link out to safe destinations.
What is a High-Quality link?
As mentioned, Search Engines use sophisticated algorithms to process and analyse websites so they can be ranked according to various search queries. Links are an essential part of the criteria that Search Engines use to judge the standard and relevance of a website.
While Search Engines keep their algorithms a closely guarded secret, some information is known through their published guidelines and industry research. Linking has been a particuarly hot topic in the SEO industry as it was something that people could exploit many years ago. Since then, measures have been taken to prevent methods that exploit link building. These spammy tactics violate the guidelines set out by Google and other search engines, and Search Engines actively punish those who try to circumvent their “rules” to protect their users.
PageRank is Google’s algorithm that measures the number and quality of hyperlinks to a webpage to judge its importance. PageRank was named after Google founder, Larry Page, and was one of the first algorithms used by the favoured Search Engine. Therefore, PageRank is considered by many as a way to measure the quality of a link.
Although PageRank is unique to Google, it was often considered to be the industry standard to analyse link quality. However, over the years, many other SEO tools and industry experts have developed ways to score the quality links.
Ultimately, no one can ever pinpoint the true quality of a link; it can only be estimated. Different Search Engines each have their own secret algorithms that change on a daily basis making link quality impossible to quantify. Therefore, SEO agencies have developed methods to grade the value of hyperlinks using software, knowledge and experience.
How to improve rankings with link building
Link building is a complicated and time-consuming process but built on a single, basic principle: to improve the ranking of your site you need to increase the number of high-quality links. While this may sound simple, as we have discussed above, figuring out the quality of a link is far from straightforward.
The complexity of link building increases when you start to consider the other factors involved. We have outlined that a high-quality link is a hyperlink from another good website, but there are lots of considerations that determine the standard of a website or webpage. For SEO purposes, we must also take into account the relevance of where the link comes from and exactly where it points.
Newly-launched websites often do not have a great deal of clout as they don’t have many links. Alternatively, an older, more established site with high volumes of traffic is much more likely to have accrued links over time.
Taking all factors into account, attracting high-quality, relevant links to a well-optimised page is the basis of improving rankings through link building.
Best Methods for Link Building
Link building strategies can take an infinite number of shapes and sizes. While there are common link building tactics within the SEO industry, link building should be unique to your site – taking into account the topics and industry you are operating within.
Proven methodologies to naturally acquire links include creating unique, useful and engaging content and promoting this around the web. The idea behind this technique is that people will want to share your content due to its exceptional standard and add a link from their website to yours. This approach may seem fortuitous but is still one of the most popular methods to get external sites to link to your pages.
Other strategies involve directory submissions (which work better for Local SEO), reviews and utilising social media to spread the word. Also, directly contacting relevant websites and requesting a link can sometimes be more fruitful than hoping your content might get spotted. Building relationships with other sites in this way usually encourages reciprocal linking which can be a positive exchange of links between websites.