In 2012, Google rolled out the now infamous Penguin update, which targeted sites that were using manipulative link building tactics to boost search engine rankings. Prior to the Penguin update, link building was relatively easy to game. SEOs used a combination of paid links, link networks, guest blogging, broken link building, press releases and blog networks to push their sites to the top of search results. However since then, many SEOs have put link building on a back burner to avoid potential penalties.
Back in 2013, Google’s head of web spam Matt Cutts said that although not all link building is bad, webmasters should focus on creating a great website that people want to link to, rather than focusing on the links themselves. More recently, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller shared his thoughts on link building, saying that although Google uses backlinks as a part of their algorithm, focusing only on link building can do more harm than good.
Link building is still one of the most effective ways to boost your authority on the web. But as Cutts and Mueller pointed out, your SEO strategy should be based on more than just links. In this article I put together a few post-Penguin link building strategies that I have found to be effective, sustainable and scalable. If you’ve tried anything that works that I didn’t mention here, feel free to leave a note in the comments section below.
Back in January of 2014, Matt Cutts published “The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO” where he called out SEOs who were still using guest blogging for the sole purpose of building links. The title was admittedly a bit misleading, since there is still plenty of value in guest posting. But the main takeaway here was that just like any content you publish, quality should be the top priority. Guest blogging is a great way for brands and authors to gain exposure, build a following and generate leads. In my opinion, the link is a nice added bonus, but the value goes way beyond the link itself.
This is why I recommend writing for sites that are not only relevant to your niche, but also have a decent amount of authority in your industry. Since Google cracked down on link spam, one of the things they look for is relevance. Google now looks beyond the old school link metrics, such as domain authority, page rank and so on. Instead Google evaluates the relationship between the millions of sites on the web and determines how relevant they are to one another. As long your guest posts provide value to the publisher site and their audience, you have nothing to worry about.
Media and PR
Similar to guest posts, media and PR opportunities can be a great way to build authority on the web. In most cases, online publications will include a link to your site if you contributed to an article or story. There are a few ways brands can find these types of opportunities. The first is using a service like HARO or ProfNet. These services allow journalists to post queries for sources to respond to. I’ve helped clients get links from all sorts of great publications, including BuzzFeed, Forbes, Huffington Post and The New York Times.
The best part is that it doesn’t cost a thing. I get email alerts on a daily basis that keep me informed as to what specific topics or experts reporters are looking for and whenever I see something that pertains to me or a specific client, I have the option to email the reporter directly with my response. Another way brands can find media opportunities is by connecting with local journalists in their area. Nothing beats personal relationships. The more you network, the more opportunities you’ll have to build credibility within your industry – and that includes links!
Strategic Content Development
This may seem like a no-brainer, but the easiest way to get more links is to create content that you know people will want to link to. Most SEOs refer to this as “link-bait,” but the concept goes much deeper than that. It’s about creating content that’s so amazing that your competition feels compelled to share it. Your goal should be to provide value to your industry as whole. Additionally, in order to maximize the viral potential of your content, you might want to ditch the pitch. The less salesy, the better. There’s a reason people don’t share landing pages for products and services.
In addition to creating content that others can link to, you can also create content that you can link to from other sources. For instance, I’m a contributor at Search Engine Journal. If I were to write an article on link building and I wanted to include a link back to my site, there is no way that SEJ’s editor would allow me to link back to a page that talks about link-building services. However, I highly doubt that SEJ would have an issue with me linking to a link building guide that offered additional value for their audience. The goal here is to create content that provides long-term value.
Citation building is the new link building. Ok, well not exactly, but citations are becoming just as important as links, especially for local businesses. In fact, according to David Mihm, citations make-up roughly 25% of the overall local ranking factors. Local citations are essentially mentions of your business on the web. They typically include your NAP (name, address and phone number), a business description and if you’re lucky enough, a link to your website. Keep in mind that not all citations are created equal.
According to Moz, the most valuable citations are those from “well-indexed portals” such as Yelp, Superpages and local chamber of commerce sites. In addition to providing businesses with authoritative links, citations also help to legitimize brands by validating that they are a part of a specific community. Once again, relevance is of utmost importance. Many online directories are a complete waste of time, which is why I would recommend sticking to the well-known sites. If your business has multiple locations, you might want to consider a citation management platform like Yext.
Link building isn’t dead. It’s just a little bit more complicated than it used to be. These days it’s quality over quantity. There are still plenty of effective tactics for building quality links. The trick is having a “content-first” strategy that focuses more on creating value, rather than creating links. I’ve had a lot of success using a combination of the tactics I mentioned in this article and I can honestly say that I’ve yet to run into any issues with Penguin.
Image Credit: Flickr User Pascal