One digital marketing technique I’m frequently asked about is link building; what does it mean and how big of a focus should it be in an online branding strategy. The premise of this method of marketing is to help a business gain authority throughout the search engines by having links to their website on other pages. Think of each link referral as “vote” in the overall race to the top of the search engine results page: ideally, the brand with the most vote wins. When done effectively, creating good links within relevant content on similar sites (in industry, geographic or otherwise) is a fantastic means of building value and attracting new customers.
Spammy tactics (such as throwing link referrals into irrelevant or not reputable places) have become all too common amongst black-hat SEO “specialists,” despite being the target of Google’s algorithm changes in recent years. The widespread use of this less-than-kosher method has consequently resulted in it becoming cheesy and arguably insincere. Search Engine Land author Kyle Becker nailed it 100% when he described aggressive link building in 2016 as “fishing for compliments” where the integrity is always questionable. Despite being a beneficial part of any off-page campaign, relentlessly trying to make link referrals seem natural (instead of obtaining organic ones through awesome content) will actually make your brand seem insincere and work against you online. (Google will likely penalize your website for it, too.)
So, where do I actually start?
Well, by remembering the basics of course. People, like Google and other search engines, are always looking to obtain valuable information in the most effective way possible. Legitimate companies with an attractive product or service offering that produce unique, authoritative content will attract attention — and link referrals — naturally, with little effort on the part of the web admin or marketer. Focus on answering a recurring question or solving a common problem for your target demographic when producing marketing collateral. Over time you’ll establish a reputation for being an expert, with human visitors and search engines alike.
Is it really links you're going after, or is it engagement? Brand awareness? Traffic that converts? Links are an outcome not goal #1.
— Adam Audette (@audette) May 15, 2015
While there is nothing wrong with being active in your link building campaign, it is important to know how to effectively conduct one and with whom. First of all, remember link building is essentially a conversation that should go two-ways. Each respective site should reference the other to establish a mutual connection. Secondly, cross-collaboration is be great for link building but quality (not quantity) needs to be the focus. For the link reference to hold any true weight (with human visitors, Google or otherwise) it must come from an influencer within your brand’s industry or geographic location. Otherwise, it’s just stuffing the ballot box; except you’ll get caught and receive shitty results, each and every time.