Everything you forgot about link-building.

Web link buildingVisit a handful of online marketing websites and blogs and you’ll get an idea of the emphasis being placed on the various activities near and dear to marketers’ hearts.

You’ll find a lot about search engine optimization, in spite of the howls of people who say SEO is dead. (They’re wrong.)

You’ll find plenty about the benefits and rise of social media.

And you’ll find tons of information on content marketing.

But you can go for quite a while without finding a meaty page or post about link-building. Link-building is the process by which we try to get relevant and high-ranking websites to link to one or more pages on our own website.

Maybe it’s a “marketing fashion” thing. Social media and content marketing are hot, and link-building is not.

Which is strange, because after years of being asked, a couple of spokespeople from Google have recently let slip the top two factors they look at when deciding on how high up in the search results a particular webpage should be placed.

There are over 200 factors in all, but the top two are, in no particular order:

Quality content

Inbound links

That’s right. Attracting quality, organic links to your website is one of the two most important factors if you want to find your webpages on page one of the search results.

You’d think the web marketing world would be awash with websites, conferences and video blogs on the subject of link-building. But it’s not. (I’m not saying there aren’t any, there are. But not many when you consider the importance of the topic.)

So… in case you forgot… here are some of the basics you need to think about, and act on.

First, a little background.

Google is #1 among the search engines and crushed almost all the competition back in the late 1990s, because it was the first search engine to look for not only relevant pages, but also quality pages.

How did it recognize “quality” pages? It followed the lead of the scientific community, where published papers are graded according to the both the number of peer reviews, and the authority of the reviewers.

The greater the number of peer reviews from authoritative scientists, the faster and further your own paper rose to the top.

Google did the same with search. First it used keywords to help it identify the subject of a page, and then it looked for “peer reviews” or inbound links to help it measure quality.

Their thinking was that the more inbound links a webpage received, the greater the likelihood of it being a quality page. They also took note of where those links were coming from. An inbound link from a two-page recipe site published by your mom doesn’t give you much juice. But a link from the front page of the Washington Post does.

Relevance matters too. A link from the gardening section of a quality website won’t do you much good if your own website’s topic is accounting software.

That’s how Google changed the search industry. And as we have recently discovered, they are putting as much emphasis on inbound links today as they did when they first got started.

The bottom line is that the more inbound links you attract – from other relevant and authoritative websites – the better you’ll do in the search results.

A decade or so ago a lot of webmasters – of the idiot variety – decided to play the system. A zillion useless directories, article sites stuffed with duplicate, low-quality articles, automated reciprocal linking services, and paid-link schemes were sprouting up across the web like weeds.

Their promise was that they would provide you with hundreds or thousands of inbound inks to your site. (I still get the occasional spam email inviting me to submit my sites to over 1,000 directories worldwide.)

Which led us to Google’s Penguin update in April of 2012. This update penalizes sites that have too many of these low-quality, rubbish inbound links. In other words, Google has had enough of all the nonsense and has decided to beat all offenders with a very big stick.

So we’re back where we started… with the same promise from Google.

The greater the number of relevant and quality inbound links to your webpages, the higher they will rise in the search results. (All other things being equal.)

But here’s the thing… they need to be natural, organic links.

In other words, you have to create high-quality content that deserves to be linked to.

The foundation of any link-building strategy is to create quality content that other webmasters, editors and writers will want to link to, as a service to their own readers. No payment, no reciprocal deals. Just natural, organic links.

This doesn’t means there is nothing else you can do, other than watch the quality of your content.

For example, there are tools and services out there that can give you very valuable insights into inbound links to both your own websites and those of your direct competitors.

So if you get serious about link-building – and you should – you might draw up a list of your top competitors and use one of these tools to identify who is linking to them, and which kinds of content are attracting the greatest number of links.

Now create some of that link-attracting content for your own site, and reach out – ethically – to the sites that are linking to your competitors. Maybe they’ll link to your new content too.

There’s more to say about that. And there’s a lot more to say about the business of link-building.

But that will do for now.

NOTE: If you are serious about writing high quality, optimized content for your website or websites, check out my course, Web Content Optimization.


Here’s someone I know and respect who can teach you a ton about link building… Eric Ward of ericward.com

One of the tools you can use to research links to your own site, and those of your competitors… CognitiveSEO

Course on web content optimization


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4 thoughts on “Everything you forgot about link-building.

  1. Hey Nick,

    so nice to see someone mentioning backlinks again.

    I wonder, have you ever seen any stuff from Brian Dean from Backlinko?

    He talks a lot about creating content that other website owners want, instead of just creating content for the readers. That way, there’s a greater chance of getting that backlink.

  2. Nick

    Really like to see it written like it is/was:

    “of the idiot variety – decided to play the system. A zillion useless directories”

    These were the characters who gave SEO’s a bad name and probably why link-building is mainly spoken about in hushed circles [now] – but you’re right Google’s latest clearly states an authoritative back-link profile is one of the two most important ranking factors – which is why fundamentally, it’s pretty difficult and time consuming to do.

  3. The fact that it’s both important and time-consuming gives us an advantage… because most people will avoid the hard work involved, always in search of the next shortcut.

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