Part I: Branching Out
Link building is a great way to build your site’s reach and influence. However, if not executed properly, link building can cause some disastrous results. Like most SEO practices, the exact workings behind link building are not completely understood and the rules routinely change. This leads to a lot of myths about the dangers of link building, or poor advice that can end up doing more harm than good. Separating fact from fiction can be a challenge, but I’m here to help. Keep reading to learn how to effectively integrate link building into your content marketing strategy by avoiding these common myths.
What is Link Building
Link building is the process of connecting sites via hyperlinks, except no one uses the term ‘hyperlink’ anymore – we just say ‘link.’ This practice makes it easy for users to navigate the internet and learn more information about relevant topics. Link building creates connections and provides value for your readers. This value helps your site stand apart and shows search engines that you have something worthwhile to offer.
Including links out to other sites can help your standing and ranking with search engines. Receiving links into your site from other sites is an indicator of the value you provide and can also help your standing with search engines. These tips are intended to help you determine the best practices for including links on your site to other sites (i.e. linking out). Check back for Part II in this series to learn more about handling links from other sites back to your site (i.e. backlinks).
Understanding the Value of Links
The thing that’s tricky about link building is that not all links provide the same value. In some instances, including certain links can actually hurt your ranking. Search engines will understand exactly what is happening if you link out to sketchy sites for the sole purpose of including links. The key to effective link building is to use quality links. This is very much an instance in which quality outranks quantity.
Factors that determine the quality of a link include:
- The linked site is relevant to your site.
- The linked page is useful and relevant to your readers.
- The domain you are linking to is a trusted and well-known site.
Breaking Down Link Building
The premise behind link building is similar to writing a research paper in school when you had to cite references. The references provided useful and informative content and helped make connections. You had to select legit references. For example, library books and newspapers were considered good references, but your kooky uncle who is somewhat versed in the topic was not an acceptable source. This is basically the same logic behind link building. It’s beneficial to link to legit, reputable sites, and it’s not a great idea to link to a flaky site with questionable integrity.
Link Building Myths
While it is always helpful to know what you should do, it’s potentially more helpful to know what not to do. Here are link building myths to avoid.
1. All Links are Good Links
Link building is only effective if you are discerning about the links you use. Randomly linking out to various sites will not help. As a matter of fact, this will end up hurting your site. The links you choose to include in your site and blog posts need to provide value to your readers. That’s the only requirement. Sending people away from your site certainly seems counterintuitive, but this helps establish your site as reputable.
The links you choose also speak to the integrity of your site. Sending your readers off to a sketchy site via a link can make your visitors question your motives and actions. Bad links may turn users off from your site.
2. Poor Link Building Won’t Cause Penalties
This is not true at all. Poor link building practices can (and probably will) cause penalties. Google penalties are serious business. Recovering from a penalty can take years and is such a hassle than it’s advisable to avoid any questionable practices that put you at risk of a penalty.
Including bad links can tank your ranking, and maybe even get your site removed from Google’s index. Bad links are links to questionable, spammy or sketchy sites. If you’re not confident in the quality of the information on a given site, then do not link to it. It won’t help your readers and it won’t help your ranking.
3. Anchor Text Doesn’t Matter
Anchor text does matter. The anchor text is the highlighted text that features the link. This text is usually short, to the point and helps clue the reader into where the link will take them or what they will learn by following the link. Anchor text should be relevant and useful. You should use keywords for the page you are linking to when possible. There are different types of anchor text. Some provide value and others do not.
Types of Anchor Text
- Exact match: the anchor text includes words in the title of the linked page. For instance, an exact match is when I use the anchor text ‘Contact’ to link to my contact page.
- Partial match: the anchor text mostly or closely matches the title of the linked page. An example would be using the anchor text, ‘running shoes,’ and linking to a page with the keyword, ‘lightweight running shoes.’
- Naked link: this is just a plain link that serves as the anchor text, like www.thecontentmatters.com.
- Branded: the anchor text is a business or brand name. An example would be the anchor text, ‘The Content Matters,’ to link to my site.
- Generic: the anchor text is not specific to the link and is simply something like, ‘click here’ or ‘learn more.’ Generic anchor text is tempting because it’s quick and easy. However, generic anchor text does not provide value.
- Images: when an image is linked, the text in the alt attribute is considered the anchor text. The same guidelines apply to the alt attribute field as regular anchor text.
You want to use exact or partial match anchor text whenever possible. Good anchor text is a signal to search engines that the link is relevant. This is not random. It is planned, worthwhile, and by all accounts will provide value. Relevant anchor text can potentially boost the ranking of the site linking out and the site receiving the backlink.
Making It All Work
Link building is tricky, but it’s not impossible. This practice is part of an effective SEO strategy. You want useful and informative links. These high-quality links also need to be used in an organic way. Contact me if you have questions about link building or if you’re interested in talking about how to improve the ranking of your site.