- Quantity Over Quality: Linking in the First Decade of the 21st Century
- Penguin – A Google Update That Turned the SEO World Upside Down
- Link Anatomy – How to Link?
- Link Quality – Where to Find High-Quality Links?
- Where to Build Links?
- Guest Articles
- Sponsored Articles
- Buffer Sites
- Partner Sites
- Offline Activity
- Social Media
- Other Linking Ideas
How did Google positioning start? The algorithm determining the search results was simple – and the number of links to the page had an impact on position. Today, web crawlers aren’t so easily manipulated and there are many other factors, although links are still valuable. Where should we build backlinks and how can we make the operation truly effective?
Quantity Over Quality: Linking in the First Decade of the 21st Century
In the past, SEO was simple and keywords were included in every line of code. Nobody cared about the user’s needs: not only because of the lack of technical capabilities (which evolved with the growing popularity of HTML5 and CSS3), but also because there were fewer users.
How did we backlink several years ago? The most accurate answer: with no limits. Initially, it was all about quantity, so there were tons of spam websites called pre-sell pages, commonly used as the location for building backlinks. Some were not moderated – it was enough access to the site, set up an account, sometimes pay, and prepare a text to be used in a spinner. These types of programs enable creating synonymous texts that could be used on a larger scale. The texts were similar, but the use of synonyms gave the illusion of uniqueness. However, reading them was not recommended – they did not contain valuable information and were merely sites to store links to positioned pages.
Over time, the significance of links has changed – high positions were achieved by links from educational (edu) and government (gov) sites, and the role of blogs with junk articles began to decline.
Penguin – A Google Update That Turned the SEO World Upside Down
In 2012, an update was added to the search engine algorithm that ended the golden age of careless linking. Penguin reduced the importance of links from spam sites and diminished the possibility of black hat link-building practices.
Penguin analyzed backlinks and assessed whether they were natural. Links from cluttered presell pages, low-quality internet forums, and other sources of poor reputation received very low scores – resulting in their drop in Google ranking. The update also detected duplicate link patterns suggesting the activity of scripts adding links on a massive scale.
Initially, the Penguin update was only active from time to time – its impact was mostly manifested by a rapid change in a given site’s visibility and a decrease in traffic. The Penguin filter forced SEO specialists to rapidly “clean” the profile of incoming links. Such a removal of low-quality links allowed for a steady ranking increase, but a return to high ranking positions was not always possible. In some cases, a banned page only returned to the Google search engine after several months – when a new version of Penguin was added to the algorithm.
The update premiered at the end of March of 2012, and the effects of its subsequent versions could also be seen in October of 2012, May, and October of 2013, and October of 2014. In September, 2016, Penguin combined the basic elements of the search engine algorithm and – from that point – it has worked in real-time. Its constant activity enables faster reactions to the negative effects of ineffective linking – without having to wait for the next update. Additionally, since Penguin began functioning in the real-time mode, it has been more forgiving for spam linkers: disputable links simply tend to be ignored. However, this doesn’t mean that you can link everywhere now – sites that employ spammy tricks can still be punished by their elimination from search results.
Link Anatomy – How to Link?
Linking methods have changed from Google’s early days, but linking continues to have a significant impact. It is, therefore, advisable to take a closer look at the correct link structure.
A link is one of the basic elements of HTML – a markup language commonly used to describe web pages. It is an element leading from one document to another which is most frequently displayed after clicking on an indicated tag. The global Internet structure is based on links.
What does a link look like?
<a> – tag
href – an attribute containing the link’s landing page address
anchor – (“Verseo” is an example here) link text, visible on the website.
A link can point to documents in the same document (href = “#”), within the same domain (href = “/ about-us /”) or to any document online (href = “https: // other-page.de ”).
In the <a> tag, there may also be a title displayed when you hover the cursor over the link, as well as a target determining whether the document will open – e.g. in a new browser tab. In the hyperlink tag, you can also add guidelines for crawlers, e.g. prohibiting them from going to a specified URL.
In positioning, the link anchor element is crucial. It’s here that you can place a keyword forming the “title” of the link pointing to our website. When planning a link-building strategy, selecting an appropriate anchor will be one of key elements to make our activities natural. The most essential thing here is diversification in the employed methods of link labeling:
- URL address – anchor is the website address pasted into the content of the article or post. It looks the most natural; after all, nobody wants to describe a link sent in the forum posts or the comments. Hyperlinks with an anchor containing a URL are often created automatically, for example: by pasting the address into text in Google Docs;
- brand – name of the business or website to which we link. It is a safe form of link naming that allows you to promote your brand;
- keyword – a more risky form of linking: its excessively careless use may be punished by the search engine. An anchor link containing a keyword does not look natural. Keyword linking helps in website positioning, but it should be used as one of many solutions;
- image – a link to the page can also be placed within a photo or a file with the business’s logo. It is then necessary to describe it following the requirements of the <img> tag.
Links can be placed in every section of the website – in the menu (the top or side one), in the text, in comments, as well as in the footer. They can be located on one subpage of the website or repeated within a category or the entire domain – in such a case, they are called site-wide.
Link Quality – Where to Find High-Quality Links?
With the beginning of the Penguin era, collecting links to a site has become difficult. Finding a good source of links requires a selection and rejection of low-quality pages – e.g. presell pages dominated by chaotic texts with a high concentration of keywords.
So how should we build backlinks? It’s advisable to look for high-quality link sources – ones with good Google ratings. The search engine doesn’t officially inform about given site scores, but there are external tools providing this information. One of them is Ahrefs which uses the Domain Rating index – evaluating link numbers and quality.
When looking for the perfect place to leave a link, we should also consider the number of users visiting the site. High organic traffic means a high visibility level of the domain – which says a lot about Google’s assessment. Such information can be obtained with the help of services like SEO Surfer.
Another important element is the website’s link profile – the link makeup. The number of outbound links is also crucial. Too many links weaken the “link juice” directed to our website. What is this “link juice” exactly? It is simply how the power (authority) is transferred from one domain to another. An excessive number of links to external websites “waters down the juice” and reduces the backlink value.
Apart from these techniques, users seeking links should focus on websites thematically related to the content of their own page. It will also be helpful to build links from local websites promoting activities in our country, province, commune, or city. Links to a domain in a given language should be placed on native websites.
Where to Build Links?
Building links is a time-consuming process – for as long as the idea of good online visibility is important to our business. Activities in this field should be wisely planned and take into account other aspects of marketing actions implemented by our brand.
Let’s discuss the most popular link sources:
Natural links are created without the participation of interested parties – Internet users spontaneously share interesting links in comments, forums or their blogs. Links of this type mean that the content on our subpages is of good quality, and sharing it by users can bring a lot of traffic to our website.
Building links in this way will require a lot of involvement in the preparation of website content. Users recommend tips, rankings, summaries, and attractively presented smaller doses of knowledge, e.g. in the form of infographics. In some industries, we can also prepare witty materials that will have a chance to become viral and quickly reach many potential recipients. After obtaining such online recognition, links will likely appear complementing the profile of the domain which we want to position.
Internet forums have lost popularity in recent years in favor of groups on Facebook, but those that have survived online remain a source of high-quality links. Adding links there, however, must be consistent with the thematic range of such forums and their rules – which limits the possibility of spamming. Links placed in a response to a question asked by a user have the best chance to be accepted by strict admins and can support the site for a long time. It’s advisable to link where we already have an account and previously participated in the discussion.
Certain websites and blogs allow you to comment on articles and even supplement them with active links. Links that we post there should be thematically related to a given entry. Adding a link in a comment doesn’t automatically mean it will be approved by the webmaster. In addition, such links will often have the rel = “nofollow” parameter – which won’t allow crawlers to go to our site, but users can still click on them.
It’s one of the older forms of link-building – one which enables a large increase in the link numbers in a relatively short time. However, modern catalogs are of higher quality and demand more care of the link provider. A good catalog will require supplementing the entry with basic information about the company’s activity, a unique description – and sometimes also images. Catalogs enable additional activity promotion, e.g. by higher ranking positions of our entry in the website’s search engine for services or by placing a link to the entry on the catalog’s main page.
A fairly popular method of building links and attracting new readers is publishing articles outside your website – e.g. on a blog. A guest article allows the blog owner to get new, valuable content. Such publications shouldn’t have an advertising character, but rather focus on providing information and sharing knowledge. The possibility of adding an active link to such content depends on the site’s owner.
Sponsored articles aim to promote the given site, although such texts don’t have to be of a typically advertising nature. Articles usually contain 1 to 2 links – most often with an anchor of our choice. Such service is paid, and the cost depends on the site’s reputation – the more traffic and the bigger the website, the higher the price.
Cooperation in the field of sponsored articles can be established in person, through the site’s administrator and the marketing department. Websites specializing in mediating between publishers and clients looking for space for marketing activities are also very popular.
Buffer sites constitute good sources of links. They are web pages – mostly thematic ones – where links to the promoted pages are generated. A buffer site requires the purchase of a domain, space on the server, and a CMS system or another solution allowing you to conveniently add articles. Additionally, content creation should be included in the costs – especially if we don’t plan to do it on our own.
For building buffer sites, it’s a good idea to pick up an expired domain. Those with a good history are especially valuable: the content previously published on it coincides with the thematic content of our website, the website hasn’t been penalized by Google, and the links come from trusted sources.
High-quality buffer sites can also be the subject of other marketing efforts – well-written, popular articles can become an additional source of traffic and an element in building the expert position.
The cooperation of two companies can be expressed in many ways – also by mentioning partners or contractors on the website. The partner’s logo is usually placed on the website, in the <a> tag. When analyzing your marketing activities, it’s advisable to review the list of places with our business name and ask to have a link to our website added there.
It’s also a good idea to approach other places in this manner – e.g. lists of companies offering given services in the region prepared by an independent entity. It’s advisable to find those operating for a long time – and provide your company information.
One of effective ways of building high-quality links is to increase your influence also in the field of offline activity. Actions of this type are very effective, especially in local positioning: social activity, participation in meetings, or financial support for local events – which usually results in mentioning our brand’s name on those events’ webpages. These “few words about us” can always be supplemented with a link to our website (usually an anchor with the name), which will perfectly complement link-building activities. It’s also advisable to mention biographical notes, e.g. on the websites of universities or conferences in which we participate.
Links from social media don’t make our site climb faster in SERPs, but they help to increase our website’s traffic. Profiles in social media are an excellent communication channel with clients. In addition, links to attractive content are usually transferred faster via social media.
Other Linking Ideas
Building valuable links isn’t an easy task and it frequently requires creativity. Some approaches will be effective in one industry and not the others. Building a link in Wikipedia is a great example. When promoting websites concerning famous people – athletes, politicians, etc. – the publication of an entry with a short biography and a description of activities won’t be blocked by editors of the online encyclopedia. An attempt to build backlinks by a company specializing in screws, however, will require a lot of effort, e.g. creating a source complementing Wikipedia content – and will probably be rejected anyway.
It’s also advisable to study what the competitors are doing – thanks to tools such as Ahrefs, Majestic, or Seo Surfer, we have the opportunity to see links to their websites. These tools, however, won’t provide information about all links – for example, some sources may block bots collecting this type of data. Copying linking sites from competitors allows you to build a good link to your site and weaken the link pointing to your competitor – following the principle of “watering down the juice”.
When looking for places to build links to your website, it’s advisable to pay attention to the quality of links and emphasize their “natural” character. Rapid link building usually doesn’t improve the website’s ranking position. As in the case of some on-site activities, off-site ones also pay off thanks to systematic work, control, and the result analysis.