Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is hard. There, we said it. There is no magic bullet for ensuring your content makes it to the top of relevant Google searches. Why? Because Google uses over 200 ranking factors in its algorithm, and they change them every 28 seconds or so.
But there are two major ranking signals that The Big G pays extra special attention to – backlinks and content – and having a strategy around these things can help you climb the search results page without the use of a magic wand. Inbound backlinks – links from other sites that direct visitors to your content – are one of those signals. In fact, nearly 50 of the ranking factors Google analyzes relate specifically to backlinks – and they account for almost 70% of your organic search marketing efforts.
Alas, not all backlinks are created equal. Here are a few tips to get you started with your very own backlink strategy. (Psst…we’ve also got your back on content tips. Get started with our down and dirty content marketing overview here.)
What is a Backlink?
Backlinks, also known as inbound links or external links, are links from other websites that point to your content. By comparison, internal links are those that link from one place on your site to another. Links indicate authority – or a webpage’s relevance for a specific keyword or topic. So basically, they’re what tells Google that your page has great content on it that should be shared far and wide.
So more links means more authority, right? Not quite. In the world of SEO, things are usually not that simple. There are a few different types of backlinks to be aware (and wary) of when building your strategy.
Nofollow If links are like votes of trust in a website, what if you need to link to a website but don’t want to vouch for it? Nofollow links allow other websites to link to you while telling Google that it shouldn’t count toward your PageRank (i.e. your trust score). There are many reasons you might have nofollow links to your site, but if the majority of your backlinks are of the nofollow variety, they aren’t doing you much good.
Types of Backlinks
Text Links vs. Image Links There are several ways other sites can link to your content, but the most common backlink types are text and image links. Text links, or anchor links, are clickable bits of text that allow you to navigate from one page to another. Text links are weighted heavier, meaning they indicate more trust to Google because the linked text is usually relevant to the content on both pages and is easier for Google’s crawlers to read.
Image links – when images are hyperlinked or links are included in the alt text – are more difficult for the crawlers to parse and therefore don’t hold the weight that text links do. But image links are not necessarily bad. The real goal is to build your links naturally – so a good mix of text and image is ideal.
Unnatural Links We’ll get into page authority in just a second, but there are “toxic” links that will actually harm your trust ranking with Google, and therefore your place in the search results. These are backlinks from low-ranking or suspicious websites that have absolutely no relevance at all. You’ll want to audit your site for these buggers and get rid of them as part of any solid link building strategy.
Assessing Link Quality
We said not all backlinks are created equal, and that doesn’t just mean by type. Even the amount of trust, or PageRank, a link passes to your website can vary – by a lot. Google’s algorithm has been built to trust links from high authority websites more than lower authority websites. Google places a certain level of trust in every website based on how well optimized it is for search, how relevant the content is to the keywords and phrases it is ranking for, and how well trusted the source is.
This score is generally shown out of 100, but if your authority score is considerably lower than that, there’s no reason to panic. In fact, there are only a handful of websites on the internet with a perfect score. (Looking at you, Amazon.) The real goal is not to hit 100 but to improve your score by earning backlinks from sites with a better authority score than you. (Those sites with significantly lower scores are where you get those nasty unnatural links.) The other goal is to eventually outrank your competitors, which you can do by…you guessed it…earning quality backlinks!
So how do you know your authority score? Or that of the sites linking to you? Moz has developed a Page Authority Score that predicts how well a specific page will rank in search. They’ll even let you check your score for free with their handy Link Explorer tool. Keep in mind that every page on your site has it’s own score. It’s called Page Authority, not website authority, for a reason. This means that you need to work on optimizing all of your pages individually to really see success. Think of each of your web pages like a competitor in the fight for the number one spot for a given keyword. The key to more high-quality traffic is to optimize each page for a different relevant keyword or phrase in your industry.
So there you have it. Developing a strategy for building high-authority inbound backlinks from sites you know and trust should be at the heart of your SEO strategy. We’ll get into more of the “how” in an upcoming post on the Free Marketing Advice blog. Stay tuned! (Oh, and subscribe to make sure you don’t miss it, or any of our other scintillatingly nerdy updates.)