23 October 2019
A Quick Guide to Backlinking
Did you know, there are around 200 factors in Google’s algorithm that decide which sites should appear top in its search results? What these 200 factors are, and the exact weighting Google gives to each of them, is one of the world’s most closely guarded secrets.
However, it has been widely known for years that backlinks (links to your site from other websites) are in the top 3. In this article we explain the do’s and definitely the do not’s of backlinking as well as providing some handy tips to make it as easy as possible for you.
Not all backlinks are created equal
So, why does Google place so much emphasis on links pointing to a website? Simple, it sees them as a recommendation; in the same way that you would be drawn to a restaurant or hotel with hundreds of glowing reviews. Google assumes a site with lots of other websites linking to it must be highly respected. They are subsequently seen as a trustworthy and authoritative source of information for its users and ranked accordingly. However, although backlinking is partly a numbers game, the main aim should be to try and get links from lots of relevant authoritative sites. One link from a government website (.gov); an educational website (.edu); a really respected source such as the BBC or an industry leading organisation in your sector can be worth more than a hundred links from lesser sites.
These higher value backlinks are not easy to get so most people just try to get whatever links they can…but be careful doing this.
The Penguin Strikes Back
As with many things to do with SEO, as soon as people realised the ranking power these backlinks could provide, they abused it. Whole industries were built around being able to buy thousands of links via link farms; paying for submissions to link directories; paying for banners with links in them or people simply just swapping links (a.k.a. I’ll link to you if you link to me). Basically it became who was the craftiest; had the biggest budget or had the best SEO agency as opposed to who had the best website content.
In 2012 Google brought out the Penguin update to bring everyone back into line. Sites that Google identified as buying or having dodgy backlink profiles suddenly found themselves penalised and literally vanishing from the search results. For many companies their Google traffic completely dropped off a cliff overnight and they found it incredibly hard to climb back up again. Many relied so heavily on Google for their customers that they went out of business as a result.
Over the years the Penguin update has been refined and become less aggressive. Instead of a site-wide hit, most penalties will now only affect the page being linked to or will simply not pass any SEO benefit from the ‘bad’ link. However, when you undertake backlinking activities do not be tempted to take shortcuts and buy your way to the top. Google is increasingly good at spotting dubious link behaviour and is very quick to act – even adding stricter manual penalties where it sees particularly bad behaviour.
So what should you do? OK, now let’s look at what you should do to generate the type of backlinks that will help your site.
Spring clean your house
If your site has been around for a while or is growing fast then you’ll probably find you have a few (or perhaps a lot) of backlinks already. However, often these links are not providing the full SEO benefits they should be. So let’s discuss what you can do about it.
Obviously before you can do anything you need to know what backlinks are pointing to your site. There a number of ways you can find this information.
Validating your site for free on Google Console (Google Webmaster Tools) is one. This is fairly easy to do and allows you to closely monitor information such as how Google is indexing your site; what terms people are searching for to reach your site (something it blocked from analytics tools years ago) and importantly for us here, other sites it has found that link to you.
If it’s broken – fix it
Once you have this information you can see what pages these links are pointing to and check whether any are (I.e. they return a 404 “page not found” error). If they are then you are not going to be getting any SEO value from that link. Check out our 404 guides part 1 and part 2.
If you find this happening, then either fix the broken page or, if it is gone permanently, 301 redirect that dead URL to a live, relevant one so the SEO value can be passed on.
To be honest there is not a lot more useful linking information that can be pulled from Google Console without significant manual effort so let’s look at other resources.
To do deeper research you need to start using paid-for-tools such as the widely respected Majestic – which is around £40 a month (but does let you pull limited amounts of information for free). This tool and others like it can provide you with an instant overview of the number of links pointing to your site; the number of unique domains pointing to you (a more important figure); the number of authoritative sites such as the .gov and .edu ones and the terms used in the links. Adding all this together it provides you with an authority score as shown below.
Continuing with our spring cleaning of existing links, one effective way to utilise this information is to analyse the words these sites have used in the link that points to your site. This text is called anchor text so let’s start by looking at what you can do with that information.
Optimising the Anchor text
Anchor text is like a signpost to Google and gives it clues as to what the page being linked to is about. For example, if there are lots of links pointing to a page on a site saying “garden fences”, “fencing”, “cheap fencing”, “fence supplier” etc. then Google will quickly get the idea that this page is relevant to people looking for a fencing supplier – and help it rank accordingly.
Then again if there are links saying “click here” or something equally vague then this sign-posting is naturally less effective.
To this end you want to try and ensure that the links posting to your site are, as much as possible, containing the words you want each page to rank for. Often you’ll find that it is just the domain name that is used as the anchor text (a good reason to ensure that your domain name is relevant to what you offer) but where you see an opportunity to improve things it is worth contacting the site and asking them to update the anchor text.
Point to the best page
Another potential quick win is to see what pages of your site are being linked to and checking it is the one you would want to rank for a search term. You’ll sometimes find that sites are only linking to your homepage or maybe to a page that is not the most relevant to the anchor text. In this case it’s worth politely highlighting that there is another page on your site that would give their users a better experience (and provide your preferred page with more authority).
Brand mentions that don’t have links
You may find that your company name/brand or specific products will get mentioned on another site but they don’t bother to link back to you. If you can discover where this happened (tools such as Brandwatch can help) then there is no harm in contacting the site owner to politely request that they add in the link to your specific page.
That covers the things you can do with existing links but, as you’ll hopefully be getting new links or brand mentions all the time, these activities should be repeated on a fairly regular basis.
So what else…? If you can’t beat them – join them
If you have a backlinking tool like Majestic then it is not just your own site that you can analyse. You can check out the link profile of any site and that rather handily includes your competitors or anyone ranking above you for your key target terms.
Once you have this information there are two things you can do:
a) Check out what authoritative sites are linking to them so you can see if there is an opportunity to get your site listed too. For example a site may have listed your competitor on a “useful resources” page or mentioned them as a provider of a service that you also offer. If you ask nicely they may just add you to the list too.
b) See what content is getting them links. By seeing what pages are generating the most interest it can give you some insight as to the type of content/marketing activity they are doing that’s working. You can then consider producing a similar style.
Moving away from link tools here are a couple of other ideas we would recommend;
Content – if you build it they will come
Since the Penguin update the best way to build backlinks to your site is to simply create great content that people want to share. I say ‘simply’ but publishing something that stands out from all the noise and is deemed worthy of linking to is not that easy and needs thought and creativity.
Here are some popular methods:
Create a Blog: Whatever your site is about, try and write regular posts on those topics that are well written and informative. Not only will it help with your overall SEO (Google loves sites with helpful, regularly updated content) but you may find other sites sharing or referencing it – linking their readers back to your site.
Post articles on other sites: Also known as blogger outreach, this method involves publishing a piece of content on other popular blog sites. If you write something amazing then you may get it published for free but often there will be a cost involved (this cost varies depending on the number of followers of that site and whether you write the content yourself etc.) You then ensure that there is at least one link within the article pointing back to your site.
Create an amazing infographic: A picture paints a thousand words which is why infographics are often a great way to capture interest and links. Even the driest subject or data can be turned into something eye-catching and interesting if you can visualise it in a clever way. An infographic can often be picked up and used by other sites so just make sure you embed a link in it and it’ll potentially provide you with a raft of backlinks – the same with videos.
Hopefully this gives you a good overview of the key backlinking activities you can try. There are many posts out there going into much more detail on each aspect, so make sure to carry out further research and see what works best for your situation and budget.
Kompass Top Tip
Always promote your new content via social media as it will not only help amplify its exposure but it will build your following (audience) for future posts.
Author: Matt Lester, Associate Director – Search and Digital Performance at Fidelity International
Disclaimer: Please note that this blog only contains general information and insights about legal matters. The information is not advice, and should not be treated as such. Kompass.com