You created a great website! It’s user-friendly, content-rich, and lightning-fast. So why can’t people find it on Google?
The answer is likely an issue of authority. Google, Yahoo, and Bing are looking for third-party signals to validate your business’s expertise. In particular, they’re looking for links pointing to your website from other websites in order to determine your authority. So if you’re not showing up on Google, you may not have enough links pointing to your site.
Let’s start at the beginning.
What are Links?
Links (also known as inbound links and backlinks) are elements of a webpage which, when clicked on, take a website visitor to a new page (or section of a page).
Links can point to other pages on your website (internal links), or they can point to pages on other websites (external links).
Why Do Links Matter?
Since the 1990’s, search engines have relied on links to do two things. First, they allow search engines to crawl the web. The search engine robots (crawlers) follow links to navigate the web and create an index, or directory, based on what they find. Secondly (and more pertinent here), links establish authority. Links act as votes of endorsement from one website to another.
You can think of accumulating links like a popularity contest. If two pages have identical content that was published on the same day, then the page with more links pointing to it will rank higher than the other. The page with more links is considered to have stronger authority, and the search engines highly value authority.
Not all links are created equal, though. Links from websites that have stronger authority themselves are more valuable than links from websites with low authority. For example, if you could get a link pointing to your website from an international newspaper like the New York Times, it would be a stronger vote than a link from your local newspaper.
What is Link Building?
Link building is a tactic to grow the number and quality of links to your website from other websites. The goal of link building is to increase your online presence and visibility which, in turn, will help you grow traffic and drive more sales.
The accumulation of all links pointing to your website makes up your “backlink network.” If you think of this network like your website’s neighborhood, then your goal is to live in a good neighborhood.
Your backlink network should contain naturally-acquired, user-friendly links from high-quality websites. The quality of the links pointing to your website is much more important than the total number of links.
Good news — it’s actually easy to build a good backlink network if you take a real-world marketing approach to link building.
How to Get Started with Link Building in 6 Steps
Link building doesn’t have the best reputation. Spammy email requests, link schemes, and old school tactics like article submissions have, unfortunately, sullied the name of this essential SEO tactic.
Let’s change the way we think about link building by focusing on building a backlink network which resembles your business’s real-world network. After all, Google uses backlinks to measure your business’s authority — and that authority comes from your business’s position in the real world, not just on the internet.
1. Establish a Starting Point
Establish a Starting Point — If you have an existing website, then there are likely already links pointing to it. How many? Which websites are linking to yours? Is your network strong, or simply broad?
There are many tools you can use to answer these questions. If you’ve already verified your website with Google Search Console, start there. Log in to GSC and navigate to “Links” in the lower left of the side navigation:
There are two helpful resources here. The first is a list of your External links. Here, you can see which pages on your website other websites are linking to. Below that, you can see a list of the top linking sites. These are websites that currently contain a link to (vote of endorsement for) your website.
This resource also includes insight into your Internal link network. Internal links are links to and from pages on your own website. These links matter, too.
Internal links act as internal votes of endorsement for your pages. They allow the search engines to crawl your website and give a sense of the relative importance of various pages. Here’s a great resource to explain internal linking and SEO.
Spend a few minutes exploring your links using GSC. Then, head to Moz’s Link Research tool (you’ll need to create a free account to use it). Do so, then run your domain through the tool. You’ll get a quantitative measurement of your backlink network (domain authority). This metric will range from 0–100.
What’s considered a “good Domain Authority score” varies, depending on the competitive space. If your domain authority is 20/100 and your competitor's is 10/100, then your website has a higher likelihood of ranking. On the other hand, if that competitor has a score of 40/100, you’ll need to work extra hard to grow your backlink network to reduce the size of that gap.
Spend a few minutes running 2–3 competitor websites through the Moz tool. You’ll walk away with a better sense of how your website is measuring up. Now, let’s dive into growing this number.
2. Complete a Brainstorming Exercise
Who do you do business with? Who is in your professional network? Jot down a list of these real-world connections.
Take, for example, an architect. Architects typically do business with contractors, land-use planners, landscapers, print shops, etc. An architect may be in an association or have a professional community for shared learning. Architects go to events and conferences and may be connected to a mentoring program or a university. What about charitable giving? Is the architect on the board of nonprofit organizations?
Take another example — a web designer. A web designer may attend or speak at events like WordCamp or other such conferences. Web designers are members of their local communities and, as such, are likely members of Chambers of Commerce. Web designers may also donate some of their time to nonprofit organizations they care about.
Write down a list of your relationships.
3. Create an Opportunity List
Our goal is to illustrate the professional relationships you brainstormed in step 2 for Google. How? With links from their website to yours.
Start a spreadsheet and list these relationships. Track down each corresponding website to see if a link to your website already exists. Ask yourself, “Can Google tell these professional relationships exist based on existing links?” The answer is usually no. As a result, these are all new opportunities for building your business’s authority online.
Here’s an example:
4. Choose a Tactic
List of opportunities in hand, we now need to decide how to acquire each link. Our goal is to add value for all businesses involved — yours and your partners’.
Here are several ways you might recommend inclusion on a partner’s website:
Partner Lists: Websites often have a page that notes their professional relationships via a “Partners” or “Our Friends” list. Ask them to include your business — and a link — on their partners list. Offer to do the same for them on your website.
Guest Blogging: Offer to share thought leadership content on one of your partner's blogs in exchange for a link to your website from the post. This is a great idea if your businesses are in the same (or complementary) industries.
Sponsorship: Formally support an event or nonprofit with as a sponsor. Request to get listed — with a link — on the sponsorship page.
Podcasts: Pitch yourself to be a guest on a podcast that’s of interest to your professional community.
Chamber of Commerce: Ensure your business is listed — with a link — on your local Chamber of Commerce website.
You now have a list of several opportunities with corresponding action steps. Here’s where the rubber meets the road. It’s time to reach out to these businesses and suggest a collaboration. Draft an email. Pick up the phone. Because your list is highly targeted, you’re likely to get a response to each and every request.
6. Keep Link Building Top of Mind
Now that you’ve gone through a process to build your backlink network, you’ll start to notice new opportunities. For example, if your business gets featured in a local news story, make sure to get a link from the online version of the article to your website. Or, if you sponsor an upcoming event, you might ask for a link upfront. You might also begin broadening your existing professional network via avenues like social media and PR.
Tips for Link Building
- Change how you think about link building by focusing on leveraging real-world business relationships.
- Take consistent action, one step at a time. Link building is an incremental process; it’s not something you can accomplish in one sitting.
- Offer a testimonial to each of your business partners. This is a great way to both pick up a link (from the testimonial) and give something satisfying at the same time.
- Make sure your business is listed in any local directories like the local Chamber of Commerce.
- Challenge yourself by pitching yourself to be a podcast guest or offering to write a guest blog post. This makes most of us a little uncomfortable at first; that’s okay.
Most businesses find it easy to invest in technical SEO, content, and on-site optimization, which cover three of the four pillars of SEO. Most businesses find off-site SEO overwhelming, and therefore neglect it. This means there's a new opportunity for your business.
Invest equally in off-site SEO and link building, and you’ll stand apart from the competition. For your web presence to grow, link building is an essential tactic. The search engines need to understand your business environment. They determine your authority based on the links they find, and they reward authority with improved rankings — and thus more traffic.