What is link building?
Link building is the art of acquiring a link to your website from another website. There’s a lot more to it then it might initially sound which is why the majority of the work that SEO’s conduct to rank a website highly on search engines consists of attempting to build these links.
Before we go into that, let me explain why links are beneficial to your rankings on Search Engines (namely Google).
Years ago, Google ranked websites based on how similar the search phrase is to the website’s content. Meaning SEO’s just chucked in a bunch of keywords to a website’s content and Meta-Titles; which actually worked! The problem Google faced was that the ranking websites didn’t make much sense to users! For example, SEO Freelancers (like me) would probably have displayed content just like this:
“Hi, I’m Harry, an SEO Freelancer that specialises in SEO freelancing and prides himself on being on of the best SEO freelancer out of all of the SEO Freelancer’s out there.”
Needless to say, Google didn’t want to show people website’s filled with content like this, they have always wanted to show users relevant content, so, Google patched this in a new algorithm update.
Introducing link profiles…
Google decided to focus less on the density of keywords (Don’t get me wrong, they’re still a big ranking factor!), and instead started looking at the links between websites. Google originally looked at how many links are pointing to a website. This once again opened the algorithm up to spam. SEO’s created a whole bunch of websites and used spammy Private and Public blogging networks, to push as many links to websites as possible. So, Google released another algorithm update to combat spammy links.
Introducing link quality…
Link quality is a generic term to explain a combination of Domain Authority and Page Authority. We will go into these in a bit, but basically, Google managed to calculate the ‘authenticity’ and ‘strength’ of a link.
Good question. Google realised that the most genuine, relevant and popular websites are being blogged and linked to by other websites. Here’s a diagram that may help:
Make sense? If not, don’t worry. Keep reading and it should begin to piece together.
Imagine big companies like Forbes, Apple or even Facebook. These companies are always being talked about, especially Forbes that posts hundreds of new blogs with really interesting content. A lot of websites all over the world are linking to these sites, potentially to talk about a new product (Apple), or an interesting article (Forbes), or a new interface (Facebook). Because these sites are being talked about constantly and having links sent back to them, Google assumes that they are highly relevant and popular sites. Relevance and popularity are two fundamental features that Google looks for when ranking a website high on Google, and so, this is the basics of how link building works.
Penguin Algorithm Update
When Google started using links to determine the trustworthiness and relevance of a website SEO’s started to spam websites with as many links as possible. These links were not honest or natural and therefore went against the whole reason Google started considering links to begin with.
Then came the Penguin algorithm update. In April 2012 Google introducing a new algorithm that would determine what links were spammy, and what links were genuine. With a little bit of leeway, Google would analyse website’s backlink profiles and measure how many spammy links were pointing to the site vs how many natural links were point to the site. If the scales tipped in ‘Spammy Links’ favour then you could wave ‘bye-bye’ to your website rankings.
How Does Google Rate Links?
Google assumes that spam links to spam. This means that any website with spammy websites linking to it, will also be deemed as spammy too. Moz has created 27 flags all of which can be found here: https://moz.com/help/guides/link-explorer/spam-score.
Domain Authority (DA)
Domain Authority is another metric that the great Moz put together for SEO’s. Domain Authority is a way for Google to gauge how powerful a link is when sent from one website to another. Going back to the example involving Forbes, Apple and Facebook, we’ve established that they have a huge amount of backlinks from other websites, some with very high domain authorities. This has in turn increased their domain authority to a huge level. I find Moz’s Link Explorer the best tool to establish Domain Authority.
Here’s what I’ve found for Apple:
That’s a domain authority of 97/100 with around 4,000,000 linking domains. The Link Explorer tool also shows how many new links have been discovered, how many have been lost (deleted pages, or re-written content with the links removed), and how much ‘Profit’ or as they call it ‘Net’ to see if links have been lost or gained.
Knowing this, if Apple were to link to a website that is ranking on page 2 or 3 they would theoretically shoot up the rankings closer to page 1 for certain search terms. (This is massively dependant on other factors like the relevance of that link and the other competition for the search terms).
How to increase Domain Authority
When a website with a high domain authority links to you it passes what is called Link Equity (See chapter Link Equity / Link Juice). This Link Equity is effectively the benefits that the link passes over to the webpage that it links to.
After a while with some consistent link building, you will expect to see this link equity increasing the Domain Authority of Website B:
With a higher domain authority, it is expected that Website B will now outrank more competing websites (dependant on the SEO work they’ve been doing).
Page Authority (PA)
Page Authority works just like Domain Authority, as you may have guessed it’s just more specific to the actual page itself. When a link is sent back from a website it is sent to a webpage. Just like with Domain Authority that link can increase the authority of the actual page itself, leading to two outcomes:
- The page can rank better for its relevant search terms.
- Links from the page to other websites become more powerful.
Links to a page are not the only way to increase Page Authority. When auditing the Domain and Page Authority of a website you’ll probably notice that new pages on a high DA website tend to have a high PA, despite very few other websites linking to it; this is apparent when looking at newly created pages on websites such as Forbes, or other news or blogs sites. The reason that the PA is high is because of the internal linking.
Internal linking is basically the links on a website that link to other internal pages on the same website. In a similar way that links from other websites can transfer link equity, so too do the internal links on a website.
This diagram is a very basic link building chart. In reality, there would be more internal links on a website.
As links (most of the time) reside on pages the PA makes a massive difference to the power of the link itself. The higher the PA, the more link equity that is passed.
Link Equity / Link Juice
You may have noticed me using the phrase ‘Link Equity’ a lot in this article. This is exactly the same as ‘Link Juice’. So don’t be confused if you see it referred to this in other articles.
I’ll continue referring to it as link equity though. Link Equity is a term to describe the ‘power’ or ‘strength’ of a link to another site. As you will now know after reading about the DA and PA of a website, the higher the DA and PA, the higher the link equity (link strength). This is a fairly simple concept, but there a couple of things you should know about link equity.
- Link equity can be diluted. If a page is linking out to numerous other pages it will spread out the link equity leading to these links not being as strong as they could be. Here are two diagrams to put this into perspective, taken from my Ultimate Guide to SEO:
In this scenario, we can see that the high quality link has spread out it’s link equity (Labelled as Link Juice) across 3 websites. Leading to ⅓ of the link equity being passed to each site. Now let’s take a look at a different scenario:
In this scenario, the webpage is only linking to one website, this means all of the Link Equity is going to that page.
Disclaimer: I should mention at this point that having 3 links on one page pointing to various external website’s is completely normal and can still be beneficial to your search engine rankings. This is purely an example, don’t be upset if you have secured a link from a blog post that links to 10 other websites. Providing the blog post is of a good size and the links are relevant, then this is completely normal, and natural; search engines know this as well.
- Link equity can also be blocked. You may remember earlier in this article that I referred to ‘Do-Follow’ and ‘No-Follow’ links. We’ll start on what these are in the next section.
Do-Follow Vs No-Follow Links
To save link equity, and to also show Google that you’re not linking for the sake of attempting to rank a website higher you may want to use a ‘No-Follow’ attribute on some of your links. I’ll show you how this works:
<a href=”https://harryh.co.uk”> Check Out Harry’s Awesome Website</a>
This is a normal link, this will pass back link equity as a normal link and as we discussed before, that equity will vary depending on the DA/PA of the website and how many other links are present on the linking page. These sort of links are called ‘Do-Follow’ links (or just referred to as normal links), this is because we’re allowing Google to follow these links and pass the equity back to the website.
Now let’s check out a ‘No-Follow’ link:
<a href=”https://harryh.co.uk” rel=”nofollow”>Check Out Harry’s Awesome Website</a>
This is a no-follow link, and you can probably see why! The rel=”nofollow” attribute is the differentiating factor between a follow and no-follow link.
Why use no-follow links?
In Google’s ideal world, you would be linking to a website not to pass over link equity, but instead because that website will be of relevant to your users. There’s no better way to prove this to Google than to literally say ‘I don’t want you to pay any attention to this link, this is purely for my users.’
As with almost everything that Google asks of SEO’s though, take it with a massive pinch of salt! No-follow links can actually be beneficial to rankings as you will discover in the next section.
When to use no-follow and follow links
We use no-follow links when we are not vouching for the website that we are linking to. For example, if you’re linking to a company because they are a hot topic and are relevant to your content, but without having dealt with that company yourself, it may be best to ‘no-follow’ that link; but, let’s say you’re linking to a company that you’re working with and are praising them for their great service – go ahead and link normally back to that website! It’s entirely up to you, but remember the following:
- Link equity is only spread out when there are numerous follow links on a website. If you have 10 links with 9 set as no-follow then that 1 follow link will benefit from all of the link equity.
- Too many follow links may start to look spammy, as if you’re only linking to pass over link equity.
- You can’t have too many no-follow links. Google will never penalise you for having too many no-follow links. Matt Cutt’s from Google has confirmed this but did explain that no-follow links can still get you a manual penalisation if done in a spammy way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QSEqypgIJME
Anchor text is the text that is used with the link attached to it. For example if I were to link to my homepage and write click here. The anchor text in this scenario would be ‘here’. The code for this will look like this:
(If you want to be picky, it will actually look like this: <a href=”https://harryh.co.uk rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>here</a> – this is just because I have it open in a new tab if you were to click it so you can easily switch back to this blog.)
Simply put, anchor text is the text which goes in-between the opening <a> and closing </a> tag.
The anchor text is very important for link building as the words used to link to a website can provide a lot of good or bad signals for Google, so it is important to know what you’re doing. Bear in mind that internal link building and external link building will use different anchor text variations. For now, let’s just focus on the external link anchor text.
First of all it is important to know the different types of anchor text:
- Branded Anchor Text – This should be the most common anchor text in a link profile. Branded anchor text is when a link is sent to a website the most natural way of doing so is by referring to the companies brand name and attaching a link. Earlier in this article I referenced Moz’s Link Explorer.
I put the anchor text on ‘Link Explorer’ because that is the name of their tool. Off the top of my head, I don’t know what the keywords Moz would like their Link Explorer to rank for; but I do know ‘Link Explorer’ search terms would indicate that the user is always aware of the tool and not discovering it.
The point is, if I were to have linked to the tool ‘Domain Authority Checker’ Or ‘Link Analysis tool’ it would not make much sense to users, and therefore to Google.
- Naked Anchor Text – Another natural form of anchor text. Naked anchor text is literally when just the URL is used to link to another website. Again this is relatively natural link text so Google will expect to see a lot of these types of links for genuine websites.
- Generic Anchor Text – Google isn’t a massive fan of this sort of anchor text, but it certainly shouldn’t harm your rankings! Generic anchor text refers to typical words that contain links. These can be words or phrases such as ‘Click Here’ or ‘Visit Website’. These are completly natural keywords so they will still be of some benefit nonetheless!
- LSI Anchor Text – LSI stands for Latent Semantic Indexing. This involves including variations of your target keyword that help your site rank for those variations of search terms. A really quick way to find these variations is to type in the search phrase you’d like to rank for and look at the suggested searches Google comes up with at the bottom of the SERP’s. In my case, ‘SEO Freelancer’ is a valuable term to me, and this is the related search phrases that Google has suggested.
Anchor text that targets these related searches that are relevant to me would be classed as the LSI Anchor Text. Personally, I’d stay away from using this anchor text. Too much of this can look quite spammy as in most cases, it’s not a normal way to link to another website.
- Exact Match Anchor Text – This is the anchor text which exactly matches the search term you’re trying to rank for. I’d advise to have very little of this sort of anchor text in your backlink profile. Probably keep it to 1% of your total link anchor text up to around 10 links. Linking directly to a website for a specific keyword doesn’t look natural at all, and Google is aware of this. Too much of this anchor text can lead to a spam penalty.
Citations are mentions of your brand throughout the web. When building citations you will usually find that you’re also building links. The easiest way to build citations is by adding your business to directories over the web. There are a few popular ones that I would recommend adding yourself to immediately.
- Bing Places
- Google My Business
- Apple Maps Connect
There are many more, but I’ve personally seen some great results for local business rankings after adding them to these directories.
There were other factors at play here, I was conducting link building, blogging and optimising their overall website health and on-site SEO – but I noticed a much faster progress after adding the client to these directories.
Google looks closely at three main factors in a citation. Name, Address and Phone Number, this is commonly referred to as ‘NAP Details’. These NAP details should be consistent throughout the web. I personally start by adding businesses to Google My Business, and then ensuring that I keep the same NAP details as that listing when adding businesses to other directories.
Citation building especially helps local rankings on Google because it shows to Google that the details it puts at the top of the search results are up-to-date and correct. On top of the pro-activeness of the website and the occasional links back, to Google, a lot of mentions of your brand around the web means your website deserves to rank higher in the SERP’s.
How to Build Links and Audit Link Profiles
Hopefully, by now you have a better understanding of what link building is and how it works. The next step is to learn how to obtain the links themselves. Take a look at my next article, “Link Building Strategies”