Link building used to be the web’s magic formula, offering the quickest route to better search rankings and more traffic. Over the past year or so it’s suffered something of a fall from grace with some of the spammier tactics for acquiring backlinks ruining everyone’s fun.
After the chastening experience of Google’s Penguin update, many website owners have – with good reason – been hurriedly reviewing their link building tactics past and present in a bid to avoid losing their rankings.
But, while the role of backlinks has undoubtedly changed, they remain an important ranking factor when used in the right way. If you’re starting your strategy from scratch, here are 5 ideas you can try to get people linking to your site without risking a penalty or negative adjustment.
1. Friends and family
This is often overlooked but it should be one of the first avenues to explore when looking for useful and legitimate links. If you have subsidiaries, partners, customers or suppliers with good quality websites they may be willing to link to you. If you sponsor or attend industry events, there could be opportunities there too to get links back to your site.
Links are also a good reason to join the leading trade associations in your niche. Most trade associations have directories and some will allow members to create their own profile pages. This can be a good way to get a presence on and a link from an authoritative, non-profit domain.
Highlighting your commercial relationships will also help build trust and confidence with your target audience. If they see that you’re a member of a reputable industry group or that you sponsor established events, it can help raise your standing. Over time, activities like this that help to build up your online brand will start to filter through to stronger domain authority.
2. Guest blogging closer to home
When Google’s Matt Cutts called time on guest blogging as an SEO tactic recently he was really talking about some of the spammy tactics that have flooded the internet with low quality articles about everything from boiling an egg to redecorating your house.
The value of links from low quality blogs has been declining for some time, but it’s likely that a link in a guest blog will still add value to your site if it’s coming from an authoritative domain. If you want to make guest blogging part of your content marketing strategy, we would recommend looking at those commercial relationships again.
If you’ve got a supplier with a decent blog, maybe they would publish a guest post on what your customers think about their products. If you have a sister company in another geographical market, perhaps their audience would read a post from you about what’s new in your territory.
3. Real directories in your niche
Link building helped spawn a seemingly endless supply of directories. From general web directories to sites dedicated to particular industries or topics, we were never short of help finding our way around the internet.
The problem of course is that most of these directories offered very little user value and were set up and maintained simply to give out links. After Panda (lower rankings for low quality sites) and Penguin (removing credit for links from weak domains) these directories are exactly the kind of sites you would disavow if you were cleaning up your link profile.
But, there are still some useful directories out there where your presence can help your SEO and also build credibility with your target market. If you’re trying to decide whether or not a particular directory is worth the time and effort start by having a click around the site to see what the user experience is like. You should also see how well the existing entries rank in search or see if any of your competitors have created listings.
4. Something for nothing
Giving stuff away in exchange for something you want is a popular online model. Facebook gives us a platform to communicate with our friends for free, but gets access to our personal data in return. Google doesn’t charge us a fee for finding what we want on the web, but makes more than Uruguay’s GDP in ad revenue thanks to our collective eyeball time.
You don’t need to think up the next WhatsApp to get this model to work for you. Maybe you could create or commission a really useful widget, tool or website app and let other sites embed it or use it for free in exchange for a link.
5. Linkable content
It’s easier said than done of course, but your best link building tactic is to create something worth linking to. Just as Google wants to return popular sites in search, users want to link to popular sites or content that makes them look good.
All content marketing strategies need to start with a useful and informative website that is easy for both humans and search engines to navigate. If you’re investing in relevant and engaging content, from your blog updates and landing pages to Q&A sections, graphics and video you’ll create opportunities to earn natural links.
You’ll also have assets that you can actively promote to the people who might be willing to share your content or link back to it. Promoting your content can take various forms from search and social media to email and paid campaigns. Often the trick is finding the right combination of content type and channel for your particular audience or conversion objective.
By Kate Davidson