What is Link Building?
Simply put, link building involves getting backlinks to pages on your site from other sites. If you’ve ever linked out to another site from your site, you’ve effectively “built a link” to that website owner’s site. External links from other websites, or “backlinks” are an important part of Google’s algorithm. Backlinks are essentially “votes” for your website from another website. Let’s see how this plays out with an example from the industrial world.
If you do a quick Google search for “construction equipment” you’ll see John Deere’s construction equipment page ranking 2nd or 3rd for the term. You might think John Deere ranks because it’s a well-known brand, or because John Deere provides some useful information about construction equipment that’s relevant to the searcher. What you might not realize is that this page has over 3,000 backlinks pointing to it, and the John Deere domain (deere.com) has over 6 million backlinks. That’s not just correlation, folks; backlinks are an incredibly important ranking factor that function under the hood of your site.
Let’s dig further into exactly why Google uses backlinks to rank pages and how link building has changed over time.
Why Link Building Matters: PageRank
Clearly links help sites rank, but are they really that important? One of Google’s original algorithms, and what separated it from other search engines in the late 90s, was PageRank. While other early 90s search engines were only using on-page factors like keyword density to determine rankings, Google used PageRank to use information from other sites to determine a pages rankings. The geniuses at Google came up with the following algorithm:
PR(A) = (1-d) + d (PR(T1)/C(T1) + … + PR(Tn/C(Tn))
Before you smash your head into your keyboard, here’s the big takeaway:
- Google uses PageRank to get input from other sites about your site. Each link from another site is essentially a “vote” for your site, meaning that site is endorsing your site for whatever their web page is about.
- They tally up these “votes” and assign your page a PageRank, which is a major factor in their overall ranking algorithm.
- More links = more PageRank = higher rankings.
PageRank is arguably still the most important ranking factor, but almost all SEO experts agree that backlinks in general are still incredibly important. Google cares about the quantity of backlinks pointing to your website, but Google also cares about the quality of your backlinks.
Link Quantity vs. Quality
Google wants to provide the best search results possible. Their business model doesn’t work if their search results aren’t excellent. If you can’t find what you’re looking for on Google, chances are you’ll switch to another search engine like Bing or Duck Duck Go. That’s why bad search results caused by people gaming Google’s PageRank system are detrimental to Google’s business model. PageRank was the foundation for Google’s search engine, but they certainly didn’t stop there. Dubious marketers and SEOs who abused the PageRank algorithm forced Google to consider both the quantity and quality of backlinks.
How nefarious marketers capitalized on backlinks affecting SEO
People quickly realized PageRank was an important ranking factor and developed spammy strategies to manipulate rankings. Link exchanges, link farms and other link schemes became rampant. If you’ve ever seen comments sections with nonsense anchor text like “Buy Louie Vuitton Purse” spammed 100 times, you’ve seen a link building scheme in action. The idea is to get thousands of backlinks to specific pages using keyword-rich anchor text (the blue text containing the hyperlink) by whatever means necessary.
Google cracked down on this sort of spam manually, but eventually they developed the Penguin algorithm in 2012 to detect link building schemes and penalize perpetrators algorithmically.
Now-a-days, good digital marketers are hesitant to engage in blackhat SEO activities, because we’ve seen Google crack down on link schemes to better their search results.
Here’s the problem: PageRank still matters in 2016. In fact, according to an industry survey done by Moz, page-level link features (e.g. PageRank) are the second most important ranking factors. Google has evolved, and now the quality of your backlinks matters as well; a link from a crappy directory carries less weight than a link from an industry publication referencing your site as a credible source.
The bottom-line is you still need to build links in order to rank pages, but you need to be smart about how you build them.
Building backlinks the right way
Backlinks can’t be bought anymore (well they can be, but don’t—just don’t). Instead, smart marketers are using content marketing to build links. The idea is simple: create amazing content that people will want to link to.
However, you can’t stop there. 2 million blog posts are written every day, so you’ll need to make amazing content AND promote it. There are hundreds of link building tactics, but I’m going to share the most effective tactic for industrial companies: guest publishing.
What is Guest Publishing and Why Should I Use it?
Effective guest publishing entails writing content for high-quality industry publications and getting links back to content on your site. This has two huge benefits. First, you can link back to your content with keyword-rich anchor text, which will help content on your site rank for specific terms. Second, you’ll get highly qualified referral traffic back to your site from the links on these industry publications—which is where your audience lives, after all.
We’ve seen clients get 5+ leads directly from a single guest article on an industry publication. If your guest content is informative and useful, referral visits will naturally occur, as potential customers look for more information from your company to solve their problems. You establish your brand as a thought leader, with the added SEO benefit.
Here’s how this looks in action, using “construction equipment” as an example:
- Write an excellent piece of content about construction equipment. Include your keyword in the title tag, h1, h2s and sprinkled throughout your copy.
- Write a timely article that talks about how construction equipment has changed over the past few years, trends and advances in the technology. Make sure to insert a link to the construction equipment piece living on your site.
- Find relevant construction industry publications online that cover different kinds of construction equipment.
- Pitch those publications your article. Ideally you’ll get 10-15% of the publications to pick up the article.
- Keep an eye on your rankings—you should see some movement!
Guest Blogging vs. Guest Publishing
Guest blogging, a close relative to guest publishing, has come under attack from Google in the past couple years. Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam team, explicitly denounced guest blogging in a 2014 article, and many content marketers and SEOs swore off guest blogging. However, I’m going to make the distinction right now; guest publishing is not guest blogging. Cutts is referring to spamming guest blogs on low quality sites, which falls within the category of a link scheme. In many cases, guest blogs end up on irrelevant sites and won’t bring in any referral traffic.
The key difference between guest blogging and guest publishing is that you should want to be published on a guest publication. These are the kind of sites you get to brag to your boss about (pro tip: when you get published, throw out the buzzword “thought leadership” for nods of approval from the higher-ups).
Guest blogging is hazardous and ineffective in the long term; guest publishing is a safe and effective over the long haul.
As you’ve likely gathered, this tactic takes A LOT of work. You need a steady stream of high quality content to really get the “link juice” flowing, which is where an inbound marketing agency can really shine. We happen to be such an agency, offering both content writing services and promotion. We’ve seen this strategy work, and we’d love to develop a similar plan for you. Click here to request a free consultation.