WHAT IS LINK BUILDING? The Ultimate Guide to Link Building and Why it Still Matters for SEO 1 WHY LINKS? You may have heard SEO experts talk about things like website content optimization, social media presence, and technical aspects of a website as important ranking factors in Google search results. It sounds like a lot of work, and it can definitely be a lot of work. As a website owner, you may even have been told that if you just do one of these things, your website will rank on the first page of the Google search result… Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Although all of these things are certainly important, it’s not enough to get a high ranking in search results. Especially not if your niche is competitive. To achieve a high search ranking, not only do you need all of the things mentioned above, but you also need backlinks pointing from other websites and back to your website. And you need these backlinks to come from high-quality, reputable websites. In general, the more such links you can get, the better it will be for your website. 2 QUALITY AND RELEVANCE OVER QUANTITY As many of you may already know, Google’s algorithms have changed quite a bit over the years. In the past, the search engine’s main ranking factor was simply the number of links that pointed to a website. The more links you had, the better it was. Today, however, things are a bit more complicated. Rather than just looking at the quantity of backlinks, Google now carefully evaluates the quality – or the authority – of the website that is linking back to you. And although this change may have been an unfortunate one for the many SEOs and link builders that had specialized in pushing out as many low-quality links as possible, it has definitely been good for the Internet as a whole. Link spamming in comments sections and forums, as well as garbage guest posts published on low-quality sites that sold links, have gone from being everywhere on the Internet, to now only being a minor problem. In addition to quality, however, another important thing to keep in mind when building backlinks is that the site you are building links from should be relevant to your own website. A good strategy could for example be to work on getting links from travel blogs if your company is a hotel or travel agency. On the other hand, it would probably not be very helpful for you to get links from generic link directories or blogs that focus on things like sports, gaming, or gambling. Those sites are not relevant to your niche, and too many links from unrelated low-quality sites could even hurt your search rankings. 3 A CLOSER LOOK So, let’s now take a closer look at what type of websites you should be targeting for your link building efforts, whether it’s in the Nordics or somewhere else: Is the website you’re targeting recognized within its niche? The more authoritative a website is, the more valuable a link from that website will be for your own site. What other websites does the website you’re targeting link out to? In general, Google knows that reputable websites tend to link to other reputable websites. If the website you’re targeting for a backlink links out to lots of low-quality sites, links from that site may be of less value. Does the website receive a lot of traffic? If yes, then that’s definitely a good sign. Google knows that one of the best indicators of a website’s quality is the amount of traffic it receives and the amount of time visitors spend on the website. Is the website relevant to your niche or industry? Let’s say you run a plumbing business. If you can manage to get a backlink from an industry magazine for plumbers, this would be great. But if you instead only get a link from a travel blog, that link is not likely to make much of a difference for your search ranking, given the lack of relevancy. Does the website allow links within the content? Research suggests that in-content links are more valuable in terms of SEO than links in the author bio or elsewhere on a page. 4 DOMAIN AUTHORITY Why do link builders talk so much about Domain Authority? Domain Authority (DA) is a term you’ll often hear when you start researching link building. The reason for this is that this is one of the simplest and most common ways to ascribe value to a domain or website we want to get a link from. DA was developed by Moz, a company well-known for a number of SEO tools that are popular among online marketers and SEOs. It is essentially an index that goes from 1 to 100, where 1 is the lowest rank and 100 is the highest rank possible. And as we have seen, link building is all about getting backlinks from as many high authority domains as possible. In our home region in the Nordics, including countries like Norway, Sweden and Denmark, you’ll typically see that various niche blogs have a DA between 15 and 30, industry magazines and local news outlets may have a rank between 30 and 60, and the bigger national news outlets are typically in the range of DA 50-60 and higher. If you’re curious about the Domain Authority of your own website or a website you’re considering for link building, go ahead and paste the URL in the Moz Link Explorer. 5 "NOFOLLOW" LINKS What are “nofollow” links and do they still count? When we talk about getting backlinks to our website it’s important to keep in mind that not all links are created equal. For quite a few years now, we’ve had to types of link attributes; so-called “nofollow” links and ordinary links (sometimes called “dofollow” links). In addition to these two, Google, in 2019, introduced two new link attributes known as “Sponsored,” to be used on paid links, and “UGC,” short for user generated content, to be used on links that have been added by users on for example social media sites. In short, it is the ordinary “dofollow” links that we still want to work towards getting more of as link builders. These are known to be one of Google’s most important ranking factors, and serves as a sort of endorsement of your own website from the website that is linking out to you. And although “dofollow” links still is what we focus our efforts on, a slight change in wording in the communication about these link attributes from Google may also be worth noting. In fact, Google said in its update from 2019 that “nofollow” links and the two new link attributes will no longer be ignored by the search engine’s crawlers, like they used to be. Instead, these links will now be taken as “hints” about the value of a link for Google’s algorithm. In Google’s own words: All the link attributes – sponsored, UGC and nofollow – are treated as hints about which links to consider or exclude within Search. We’ll use these hints – along with other signals – as a way to better understand how to appropriately analyze and use links within our systems. In our view, the new massaging from Google could mean that “nofollow” links in particular have now become more valuable for the site they are pointing to than was previously believed. As a result, adding in some “nofollow” links as part of a broader link building campaign is something you may want to consider. Also, keep in mind that even if Google completely ignores your “nofollow” link for ranking purposes, the link can still drive valuable traffic to your site if it’s well placed. 6 ANCHOR TEXTS Use of anchor texts (and how to avoid patterns in link building) Another very important topic to consider before launching a link building campaign in the Nordics is the use of anchor texts, essentially the words that a backlink is attached to. The reason why the anchor text is important is because this is one of Google’s primary clues as to what the page being linked to is about. In other words, the anchor text you choose for your link building efforts should be descriptive of the content on the page being linked to, and should preferably also reflect the search keywords that you want to dominate the results pages for. However, there is still a bit more to a successful anchor text strategy than this. You see, the problem with the strategy of simply using your targeted search keywords as anchor texts is that you end up with an unnatural anchor text distribution. Keep in mind that a natural linking pattern would never look this way, since we’re here talking about links created by other people that point back to your website. Why would they want to only pick your favorite keywords when they add links to their content? Instead, the anchor text on a naturally earned link will quite often be just the URL of your website, your company’s name, and perhaps the words “click here” or “more info.” Take a look at the anchor texts of the backlinks pointing to Amazon.com as an example: ×Close Anchor Text Chart Top 10 anchor texts for links pointing to Amazon.com. Given this, it’s perhaps needless to say that building out all your backlinks with only anchor texts that exactly matches your targeted search keywords may not be the best strategy. It will be an easy pattern for Google’s algorithm to detect, and they may even penalize your site for it. As a result, we like to mix things up a bit to help you get a more natural-looking anchor text distribution. And as a rule of thumb here, following the natural anchor text distribution of large and reputable sites like Wikipedia is something that makes sense. However, it’s also important to bear in mind that the anchor text provides an important signal to Google about the site being linked to. It essentially tells the search engine what the site is about, and we should therefore make sure that our targeted keywords are included in at least some of the backlinks we get. One way to do this is to focus our efforts more on what we call partial match anchor texts rather than exact match, for example by linking an entire sentence that contains the right keywords instead of just linking the keywords. 7 TAKEAWAY ADVICE Link building is about getting “dofollow” backlinks from high authority sites that are relevant to your niche/industry. Quality is more important than quantity when it comes to backlinks. In-content backlinks are more valuable than links in author bios or elsewhere on a website. “Nofollow” links may still bring some SEO benefit after Google’s 2019 update. Avoid patterns in SEO in general and in link building specifically. Don’t overuse exact match keywords in anchor texts for your backlinks.