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link building basics

We’ll see today what a link is, where link building comes from, how search engines see your links and 3 broad categories of techniques you can use for your link building campaign.

In a next post we’ll see how to successfully execute a link building campaign.

A step back: what exactly a link (hyperlink) is?

Take this example:

<a href="http://www.seorankmonitor.com/">The Most Complete SEO Rank Tracking</a>

You can see 4 pieces in this HTML code:

  • Start of link tag. <a. This opens the link tag, telling search engines that a link to a different location in the World Wide Web is about to follow.
  • Referral location. href=”http://www.seorankmonitor.com/”>. “href” stands for “hyperlink referral,” and in between the quotation marks you see the URL to which the link is pointing.
  • Anchor text. The Most Complete SEO Rank Tracking. This is the text that users see on the page which is linking to your website, and on which they need to click to get to your website.
  • Closure of link tag. </a>. This closes the link tag.

What happens when search engines come across a link like this? They add content of the linked page to their indexes and decide (through the search algorithm) how good that page should rank for relevant keywords. In taking this decision, search engines look at the content, at the number of links pointing to that page from external websites, and the quality of those external websites.

That said, link building is the systematic acquisition of hyperlinks from other websites to your own website, in order to increase your own search engines ranking.

Link building is probably the toughest and challenging SEO techniques, requiring extensive research, to master your own specific field, and to spend time to get results. The other side of the coin is that it is rewarding: once your get a leadership position it will be difficult for your competitors to contend the role.

Link building as a ranking factor started in late 1990s thanks to Larry Page, Google’s co-founder, and it is the reason why Google started to dominate the search engine markets. Remember that Yahoo has been launched in 1994 and Google in 1998.

Larry invented PageRank, which Google used to define the quality of a webpage through a number of metrics, one of which was the number of links pointing to it. PageRank was then encompassed in the overall ranking algorithm. It’s been quite a strong metrics for a lot of time thanks to its number-based “objectiveness”.

Also, in the very first year made actually sense the assumption that a link is an expression of authority. If somebody links your page, they must believe you have valuable content to share. Therefore, the more links, the better your page is.

Very soon SEO experts – even without knowing the exact Google algorithm – found out how to manipulate PageRank and most importantly search engines results.

There were techniques tolerated by Google, submitting your website to web directories and getting a link in return for instance, and kind of fraudulent techniques, like using fake websites where the only content is lists of links.

Once realized that, Google started refining its algorithm, aiming at filtering out websites that didn’t deserve to be ranked. This introduced the “quality” element in the search engine ranking along with the “quantity” element.

More recently, Google has actually started to penalize websites that do “over-optimize” (e.i. misuse link building), but undoubtedly link building keeps being essential as a ranking factor, and understand how to implement a high-quality link building campaigns is more important than ever.

So modern link building has switched focus from summing up as many link as possible to getting quality links.

Google, along with other search engines, are still giving high value to links, as a measure of website (and single pages) popularity, trust and authority.

The assumption now is that trustworthy sites tend to link to other trusted sits, and links are a very good way of identifying expertise on given subjects.

So, how do search engines assign value to a specific link? Obviously search engines do not discover their mechanics, but based on tons of tests and analysis available online we can draw some realistic hypothesis:

  • Anchor text. If many links point to your webpage using one word or a sentence, your page will rank well in search engines for that word or sentence. Example: google “click here” and see how many results you get…
  • Social sharing. Thanks to the explosion of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter & Co., links from social platforms are now embedded into search engines algorithm for sure. How does this work? Ask Yahoo and google CEO!
  • Popularity. Simply put, the more popular a website is, the more links from that site matter. And what’s the metrics of popularity? Links! Take adobe.com. It’s the 6th top linked website globally, therefore, if you manage to get a link from www.adobe.com you gain an extremely valuable ranking factor for your website.
  • Authority. Links from subject-specific websites are more valuable than links from general and off-topic websites. The assumption here is that if a community of subject matter experts decide to promote your content, your content is supposed to be good.
  • Trust. Links from non-for-profit organizations boost your search engine rank. Education institutions, governments, charities, etc. They are supposed to provide high quality link as, by definition do not cross link with profit in mind and do not spam.
  • Link community. Assumption here is that a website that links to spam is spam itself. So if you link from your website to a spam website, you are supposed to be spam. Bottom line: watch website you are linking from your website.
  • FreshRank. More recent links are more valuable than old ones, with the assumption that content gets old over time, so if you manage to gain new links means you keep providing valuable content.

How to gain good quality links, then?

There are different techniques that can be grouped into 3 main areas:

  • Natural Links. These are unsolicited links from websites that like your content or pages. No action required for you as SEO link hunter, apart from publishing great content that others find interesting to link to. Extremely valuable.
  • Outreach Links. It’s the most time consuming way, which implies you proactively reach out bloggers, editorial directors, directory managers, etc. to submit your content for them to link back. Link Quality depends on quality of the outreached website.
  • Self-Created Links. Lots of websites let visitors create links through guest book, forum, blog comments, or user profile. These links have low value and most of the time are considered

In the next post we’ll see how to exploit these areas, and in particular the Outreach one.

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