What is Link Building and Why is it Important?
The world of SEO is changing constantly, but one thing that remains pretty much constant is the importance of a strong link building strategy, not only is it important to have a robust internal linking strategy, but a strong external linking can attract more traffic to your site, and in doing so boost your revenue.
A strong internal link building strategy is vital for your company’s SEO. It provides search engines with clues as to what pages are an authority on your site, it can aid a good UX, and allow the crawlers, what search engines use to identify, analyse and rank pages, to actually reach all the pages on your site.
When it comes to a strong external link building strategy, you are aiming to build links from other websites to your own, in order to drive more traffic to your pages and your site.
It’s often said that the best way to think of the internet is as a huge subway system, with links acting as the trains to different pages, or stops, that the crawlers can travel across. Building links between your pages ensure that crawlers can see your pages and read them, allowing them to be ranked.
The Definition of Link Building
Link building is, put simply, the process of building hyperlinks, or links, between pages on the internet. Internal link building involves building links between pages on your website, and external link building is the practice of linking between pages on your site and, you guessed it, off your site.
Search engines and users alike use links to navigate the internet, so a page with links to and from it becomes a part of an open, accessible system. External link building that really benefits a business is often thought to be one of the most challenging SEO practices, which means if you can get it right, you can get miles ahead of your competition.
Why is Link Building Important for SEO?
The Structure of a Hyperlink
Before you understand why link building is so important for your SEO, you first need to understand exactly what a hyperlink looks like, how they are created, and how search engines interpret them.
This is how a link appears on the html code on your page:
1. Link tag: This is called the anchor tag (the "a"), and it opens the link tag to inform search engines they’re about to reach a link that they’ll want to follow.
2. Link referral location: "href" is an abbreviation of "hyperlink referral," with the text in the quotes showing the URL the link is pointing to. This could be a web page, the address of an image, or a downloadable file. You might also get a local file starting with a ‘#’, which is simply a link to another part of the same webpage.
3. Anchor text: This is the text that users actually see on the page, and the text they would click on to follow the link. Anchor text is usually another colour from the rest of the copy, or underlined, or both, to indicate to users that it's clickable.
4. The closure code on a link tag signals the end of the link to the search engines.
How do Search Engines Use Links?
Search engines use links in two key ways:
- To access new pages on the internet
- To determine the authority of pages on the internet
If you’re page is going to be ranked in a search engine’s index, the search engine clearly needs to reach it, and it can do this by accessing the page via a link. Once a search engine has crawled the page and assessed it, it will rank it.
And although the content on your page is extremely important, it’s not the only thing a search engine like Google will take into account when deciding where to position your page on its SERPs.
Search engines will also look at the number of links a page has from external websites, in particular, from other authoritative websites. At its most basic level, the more backlinks from authoritative sources out there on the internet you have, the more likely something like Google’s algorithm will be at judging your page as authoritative, and therefore deserving of a good ranking.
This works on a page level, and for your domain as a whole – the more quality links your site has, the more likely its pages are to rank well.
Ranking pages by their links is actually a concept that made Google the most successful search engine in existence. In the early 90s, Larry Page invented PageRank, which essentially ranked pages by the number of links pointing to each one.
It was successful because links were acting as votes for pages that deserved a good ranking, the more links a page got, the more it deserved to be ranked well. This inevitably led to the use of black hat SEO practice, as SEOs tried to game this system by, for example, abusing the use of website directories to boost the number of links to their pages.
This has led to a number of Google updates to how it ranks pages in its SERPs, in order to refine their method of only showing their users the very best, most relevant content. Updates to their algorithm such as Google Penguin have helped enormously with this, and has left SEOs everywhere trying to work out the best way to appease the Google algorithm.
Importance of Different Ranking Factors on a Page
Most SEOs would agree that if all of these above factors are the same on two different web pages, then the quality of links would determine which falls higher in the SERPs.
However, we’ve all seen the centre stage that social media has taken in recent years, and social indicators such as Facebook shares and retweets are now also thought to be significant factors Google’s algorithm takes into account when it comes to ranking pages.
There’s little doubt though, and it’s pretty much agreed amongst all SEOs, that there is a definite correlation between the number of quality links a page has and a good ranking on a number of SERPs. For this reason, a strong link building strategy is absolutely vital to your overall SEO strategy.
Everything You Need to Know About Nofollow Links
This is a good time to point out that some links have quite different affects upon SEO strategies. As of yet, we’ve been discussing what are known as follow links. These are essentially links that web crawlers are told to follow and use as an indicator as to whether the page that is being pointed to is of value, or not.
A Google update to their algorithm back in 2014 heavily penalized any sites with an unnatural number of links coming from poor quality sites, blog comment forums etcetera, because these spaces were becoming inundated with self-promotional, useless and often misleading comments. Not conducive to the quality user experience then, but the fact is that these tactics worked.
This problem was addressed with the algorithm update and the introduction of the nofollow link. As its name would suggest, a nofollow link indicates to the search engines not to follow it to the destination page. The search engines are instructed not to assign any value to the link.
Any link with this code in:
is indicated as a nofollow link to search engines. Effectively, you're telling Google not to trust this link and to discount it from consideration. Therefore, it should not help the target URL to rank any better.
Basically, you would use these where users can link to your page, or build links directly on it, as you can’t control the quality of these links being built.
Well, many sites such as Wikipedia and any sites made with WordPress automatically apply the nofollow tag to any user-installed links, meaning black hat SEOs won’t bother to spam these spaces with inane comments and links to their sites. Why would they, when they know they’re not going to get a follow link?
Of course, this hasn’t meant the end of spam in forums and comment sections, I’m sure you’ve come across some recently, but the introduction of nofollow has resulted in a great deduction of self-promotion on a lot of sites.
So when should you make use of nofollow links, should you use them at all?
This is a fiercely debated question, as with much in SEO, you can’t actually be certain of the real value of a nofollow link.
What we can say at this stage is that it is somewhat of a waste of time to use nofollow links in your internal linking strategy, it just means you don’t spread link juice can make your site difficult to crawl for search engines.
However, there are some benefits we can be certain of, for example, a nofollow link still works, a well placed one can still generate you lots of traffic. This referral traffic can’t be ignored, and Google is starting to look at backlinks from social media, your Twitters and Facebooks, as a really important indicator for a quality page.
And guess what? These links from social media? Yep, nofollow.
There’s more to point out here as well, getting a nofollow link from Wikipedia can prove invaluable. Think about it, a huge amount of people use Wikipedia for their research, often looking at the source of where the information has come from in the references section. Now it’s not unusual for other sites to also use these sources that Wikipedia has, but they won’t link back to the Wikipedia page. Instead, they’ll link back to the original page where the content has been published.
So if you can make it as a Wikipedia reference, despite only receiving a nofollow link from them, you open up the possibility of earning huge amounts of do follow links from other sources. Even huge media companies such as the BBC use Wikipedia as research sources, missing out on the chance to get a link from an institution like them would be crazy.
In terms of using them on your own site, we’d recommend you use nofollow links in comment sections, forums, or to any site that seems untrustworthy.
How Can My Business Benefit from Link Building?
We’ve already mentioned that good quality links are a hugely important signal for search engines when it comes to ranking pages in their SERPs. So, clearly, increasing the number of high quality links pointing to your site boosts the rankings of your pages, which increases the chances of you being found online.
Of course, these aren’t the only benefits to link building, as we’ll set out for you below.
Building Relationships to Build Links
When you go about your link building campaigns, it’s pretty clear that you want to earn links, and build links, to your site from good quality, relevant sites. This means outreach, it means outreach to others in your industry, sharing information and supporting each other in the quest for a good link building strategy.
Reaching out to industry experts, influencers, or simply people working in the same industry allows you to build relationships that can prove to be genuinely valuable in the future. Forgetting SEO for one minute, extending your circle and becoming a more well-known brand name in your sphere simply cannot be a bad thing, provided you go about your outreach campaigns in the right way.
Increase Referral Traffic
A good quality, well placed link to your site shouldn’t only help you see an increase in organic traffic thanks to improved rankings, it should also help you see an increase in referral traffic i.e. traffic from other websites.
If, as it should be, that link is from a relevant website and your landing page the user reaches is also relevant, you have a much higher chance of converting that customer, as you’re serving them exactly what they want to see, exactly where they want to see it.
This is another example where you can forget SEO for one minute, and consider the user journey and experience. If people on a site are looking for the service you provide and come across a link to your site, well that’s a great user experience and greatly increases the chance of that user actually requiring your services, which can lead to greater referral traffic, and sales through that medium.
Earning Links vs Building Links
It’s important here to note the very distinct difference between link building, and link earning. Essentially, it’s very difficult to build links without having useful content that earns a link from another website.
No site is going to want to lead its customers off its own pages and onto a site that doesn’t really offer anything, so you need to ensure that before you start going about your link building strategy, you have some quality content.
This could be a blog, an infographic, a tool, anything that another site might find relevant and a genuinely useful resource to send its users to.
If you can make your site a treasure trove of useful resources, then your link building campaigns can begin in earnest, and you can start reaping the rewards that come with successful link building schemes.