Google conducts annual independent studies on the importance of inbound links (or “backlinks”) as a ranking factor and each year the results are conclusive and consistent.
The number of qualified links to a site impacts rank more than any other factor.Source: Search Engine Land
So let’s build some links, you say…
Indeed, but there are a lot of websites on the Internet, which means a lot of people doing SEO (search engine optimization) trying to get their websites to rank. Any keyword with real search volume already has hundreds, if not thousands, of competitors trying to rank for it.
Every trick or cheat you’ve ever heard of has been done to death and anything “blackhat” (prohibited by Google) will absolutely get you penalized and either decreased in rank substantially or removed from the listings entirely.
To resolve these issues you’ll have to disavow any bad links you generate anyway, so it’s safest just to avoid any trickery altogether and just admit that links are valuable because they’re extremely hard to build. Know in advance you’re going to have to put some effort into any link you build.
Worse, there are a million conflicting theories on what Google does and doesn’t count as an authoritative link so SEO is more like voodoo than science.
Effective link-building strategies in 2019 don’t rely on old tactics like claiming free profiles or posting links in forums. These used to be go-to tactics for many search professionals but over the years Google’s technology has caught up to and surpassed our cleverness.
To make sense of the controversy around link building, first you need to understand that there are two types of qualified backlinks: Do Follow links and No Follow links.
Do Follow links are your typical link between sites and when Google sees this link it knows to attribute authority to the destination site (for more information on how this works, see WooRank’s comprehensive guide to “Link Juice”).
No Follow links have been marked with an extra attribute in the code (rel=”nofollow”) which indicates to search engines that these links should not pass on authority (link juice, aka link equity).
This is used in situations where the publisher doesn’t want to dilute their own authority by passing off too much of it or when the content is promotional in nature.
Google has stated that no follow links are typically ignored as a factor in Domain Rank but many SEO experts insist that there is indirect value and nofollow links are still important to consider.
For example, while No Follow links may not affect PageRank directly, they can help Google discover and index website pages and it is theorized that No Follow links from highly authoritative sites may still pass on a portion of their link equity.
The #1 ranked web pages on Google have an average of about 20%-40% nofollow links pointing to that page.Source: SEMRush
So let’s assume you need about 70% of the inbound links to your important pages to be Do Follow and 30% to be No Follow. Either way, building links requires time and effort and a lot your investment could be wasted if you’re not lucky.
What’s a content marketer to do then?
Over the years I’ve begged, borrowed and stolen a collection of effective search optimization practices that generate consistent, sustainable improvements in search visibility on a monthly basis.
Each year I have to update these methods to account for search algorithm changes and the over-saturation of every other SEO professional learning the same tricks.
Here are the 5 best link-building strategies in 2019:
Going Viral: Infographics, Surveys, Reports and Interactive Content
Organic links, the ones you get from people sharing and referencing your content in their blog posts, etc., are the very best kinds of links and will directly improve PageRank (Google’s ranking metric). However, getting people to share your content is easier said than done.
Only truly unique and imaginative content goes viral. For content marketers, this is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow...the city of El Dorado...the great white buffalo. It’s impossible to predict, difficult to produce and often a more of a happy accident than a result of deliberate action.
However, we do know what types of content perform the best and, overall, are most likely to generate backlinks.
Visual content performs extremely well, as done any content that contains statistics and other quotable information.
Infographics are easy to consume. They are also easy to share on social or embed into a blog post and you can brand them so there’s still value even if someone shares without a link.
Surveys and reports will often get picked up by publications, if the information is relevant. They can be expensive and time-consuming to produce but the links they attract are likely to stick around a long time.
Interactive content (HTML5) captivates viewers by forcing them to engage with the content they’re consuming. Produced with tools like Ceros, this format allows for complex and dynamic storytelling and can even be used to gather information from the viewer.
There’s nothing wrong with written blog posts, in fact:
47% of buyers reporting viewing 3-5 pieces of written content before engaging with a sales representative during a buying process.Source: Demand Gen Report, 2016
From the standpoint of generating backlinks though, visual and interactive content or content full of quotable tidbits are fundamentally more likely to generate inbound links than traditional short-form blog posts.
A Seasonal Approach: Awards, Press Releases and Event Sponsorships
Aggregators like business directories, awards sites, PR wires and event listings will generate a mix of Do Follow and No Follow links, but they’ll provide a volume of links that is beneficial if you link to a variety of internal pages instead of just to your home page.
Press releases, in particular, appear frequently in the link profiles of my clients and their competitors.
If Moz is paying attention to these links, then I assume Google is as well, and therefore it’s worth my consideration.
Press releases and event listings are typically purged every 60-90 days from popular sites, so a consistent practice of publishing releases, making announcements and supporting local events is needed to sustain the benefits of this type of link-building.
These are good practices for non-SEO reasons and they’re simple to execute so there’s no reason to skip this tactic if you’re trying to rank a business website.
Awards not only generate links from awards sites but can be easily leveraged into mentions in relevant digital publications which are likely to last indefinitely.
Sometimes there are costs to submitting an award application but a small investment from time to time can help generate interest from trade publications.
Using Ego To Build Links: Round Up Posts, Interviews & Guest Appearances
Everyone loves to see their name mentioned. Leverage people’s need to promote themselves and their brands as a way to generate links.
Invite people to share their expertise and making it easy for them to promote their appearance on your blog, podcast, etc.
Round-up posts gather quotes and opinions on a particular topic from a panel of experts (typically by email) and then publish a post detailing the topic, their answers and distilling that information into a set of takeaways for the reader.
You experts will almost inevitably promote the content on their social channels and potentially their blog and you can always post the link as a comment to one of their relevant posts.
Say you do one round up post per week featuring 5 experts and each one gives you one link back to that post. That’s 20 links a month without much effort...not bad.
Interviews are also feature a guest (who’ll link to the interview) and have the advantage of producing long-form content; which is preferred by search engines.
The average content length for first page search results is around 1,900 words, according research from 2016.Source: Search Engine Journal
If the person you’re interviewing is already a thought-leader, try to position your questions in such a way that they could find value in sharing that experience back to their blog in multiple ways.
Perhaps record audio and video of your interview as well and then benefit from links to each type of content.
If you produce a podcast or webinar your guests will link to the episode featuring their appearance.
Apply the same techniques above, inviting multiple panelists, featuring content is unique compared to their other appearances, etc. to maximize the links each episode can garner.
Leveraging Your Network: Partners & Guest Posts
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, right? Think about the people you know, or the partners you work with, and, if you were to approach them for a link, what type of content they’d be most likely to promote.
Work with non-competitive brands in the same industry? They might be very interested in sharing a survey on changes in industry trends this year or that fancy infographic you built.
If all else fails, there’s always the old fashioned Partners page with logos and brief description of how you work together. It’s not going to solve your ranking issues by itself, but it is one more link that you didn’t have previously.
Collaborate with your partners and other thought-leaders in your space by writing content for their blogs.
We call this practice “guest blogging”. There have been statements from Google in the past about devaluing guest posts but I believe they were referring to guest blogging networks and other attempts to industrialize the practice.
Links from blogs show up in link profiles regularly, in my personal experience, telling me that placing high-quality posts on sites that relate closely to your subject matter and linking back to your site is still an extremely valid link-building tactics in 2019.
Thought Leadership: Bylined Articles, Panels, Webinars & Podcasts
Thought leadership is simply content published publicly by people with relevant expertise in an area of interest to their peers.
Typically, the site publishing your thought leadership article, video, infographic, etc. will link back to your site in the “byline”.
That byline link, in terms of SEO, is the value of this practice. Trading quality content for an authoritative link is really the last remaining transactional link-building strategy.
By trading content for link equity with a relevant digital publication, you’re building futureproof backlinks that Google isn’t likely to suddenly devalue.
Even so, there are non-SEO reasons to integrate thought leadership into your ongoing PR and marketing practice:
39% of C-suite executives and key stakeholders reported thought leadership content had influenced which vendors they asked to participate RFPs, and 47% said it had a direct impact on their which vendor they selected.Source: Anna Ruth Williams
In addition to trading content, you should also consider simply providing expertise. It’s much easier than writing 1,900+ words for top-ranking article and you’re likely to get a link with any quote, or guest appearance.
Search for podcasts and webinars discussing your area of expertise and then contact the producers with a unique point of view and plenty of information about your background.
Check for podcasts and webinars on the websites of any organizations you do business with and offer to provide a unique presentation that isn’t published anywhere else.
Anyone you’re working with in this capacity will be more than happy to promote you and provide backlinks in the show notes.
Google is a content-hungry machine that will give you the visibility you desire if you’re willing to keep it appeased. But simply writing content isn’t enough.
Google’s tastes have gotten pickier over the years and now it only wants the best, and most well-connected, content on the web.
If you want that sweet, sweet flow of traffic to your website that puts leads in your funnel and food on the table, just practice the three steps for SEO success with every page or post on your website:
- Produce high-quality content and link it to other great content on your site.
- Optimize your content, to include the terms you want to rank for, in all the right places.
- Generate links from blogs, publications, partners, etc that rank well on Google.
Do those three steps every time you produce a piece of content and your content marketing efforts will deliver consistent and sustainable improvements in search visibility.
Adding links to your site has more direct impact on your rank in search than any other factor but only high-quality content is going to generate links and only optimized content is going to be understood by Google.
Combine these three activities (content marketing, SEO and link-building) to maximize the impact of your marketing efforts and drive real, measurable results you can maintain over the long-term.