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Strategy

If You’ll Link It…The Power Behind Backlinks

As the marketing community grows more knowledgeable about SEO practices, backlinks are becoming all the more powerful. Harness them smartly

Keith Loria
September 06 2018

We fuel our marketing campaigns with content focused on adding value to clients and prospects. Effectively amplifying content ensures valuable content is accessible to the right person, at the optimal moment. Backlinking is a great example of how one can organically extend the reach of content. It places the focus on the client or prospect, empowering them to discover utility in natural ways, instead of forcing them to only go to a couple of sites for solutions.

Backlinks are powerful tools that can help your website rank higher in search engines. Not only do backlinks allow for referral traffic to your website, they also build your domain authority. Increasing your domain authority is one of the main factors of ranking higher in the organic search results. Without backlinks, rising to the top of the search engine results is a nearly unachievable goal.

Aaron Dubois, VP of digital strategy at Phelps, notes that backlinks have been and continue to be a huge sign of validation in today’s multi-channel attribution marketing world.

“Somebody who’s willing to vouch for your brand by providing contextually-relevant, qualitative content in conjunction with a link back to your site is a strong signal to both search engines and prospective customer’s that your site/brand provides value to others,” he says. “There is arguably no more valuable trust signal than this.”

Ashley Glenn, social media editor at SSPR, notes the more quality backlinks you have, the more credit search engines will give to your website. But, the key word here is quality. Websites that rack up a bunch of backlinks from illegitimate sources will be penalized for having spammy websites linked to them.

Getting Started

Implementing a successful backlinking protocol begins with securing a dedicated team member to maintain focus on this component of search engine optimization (SEO).

“Getting traction on backlinking can take several quarters to even begin to swing the pendulum, so having this dedicated person is essential to ensuring progress is made,” says Jennifer Hutchison, director of integrated marketing at PrecisionLender. “Researching and utilizing SEO technology is another good first step.”

Other important first steps include creating impactful content such as eBooks, white papers, and infographics, and pitching your product or service to media outlets and entice them to include a link back to the asset on your website.

Glenn says that if you have a PR team, ask them to focus on industry publications who have included backlinks in their articles in the past.

“Get your company leaders to write guest posts for other websites,” she says. “Ask them if it’s ok to include a link back to their own website in the posts. Even including a link back to the company website in the author’s bio is helpful from an SEO perspective.”

Next, identify the best type of link for the content you have. For example:

1) Links in a free whitepaper or pdf download that brings users back to additional supportive content

2) Links in free videos or videos online directing users to cheat sheets, downloads or the next video in an overview series

3) Links within your website— while this is not as impactful as receiving a backlink from a completely different site, it still helps raise the page authority of other pages on your site.

4) Links outside of your website—these are links from press releases, publications, partnerships and overall any place of value where you are finding traffic coming to your website.

Finding Value

The time it takes to invest in outreach, get buy-in from external sites to place your link, then wait for Google’s algorithm to “work its magic” can seem never-ending, so Hutchison stresses patience.

“Prioritizing the types of sites for outreach can streamline efforts even more,” she says. “Criteria for prioritizing will vary based on your business goals; I’d recommend really scrutinizing the sites that hold top domain ratings, as content isn’t always contextually relevant or aligned well with your brand.”

According to Glenn, all websites are fueled with a certain amount of “Google Juice” in their cups. Websites like Entrepreneur, CNN, or Forbes have large amounts of Google Juice and their cups are probably 75% full. A brand-new marketing agency that just launched their website barely has any Google Juice and needs to find a larger source to help obtain that power.

“This is where the large players with high credibility come in,” she says. “If the brand-new marketing agency was able to land a story in Forbes that included a link back to their website, some amount of Google Juice from Forbes’ cup would be poured into that of the brand-new marketing agency. In time, with more quality, authoritative backlinks, the brand-new marketing agency would start to fill their cup and build some credibility with Google to rank higher in the search engine results.”

Dubois says that backlinks that occur organically are of greatest value. And the best protocol for supporting this is simply to provide the best service, content, or utility your company can possibly provide, in an intuitive manner.

“Offering a light ‘push’ or incentive to linking to your site’s content isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but there is absolutely such a thing as trying too hard or being too blatant about this,” he says. “The specifics of this ‘line’ depend on your brand, your audience, and the journey that they’re taking online to ultimately discover your brand.”

Look for ways secure a quid-pro-quo linking opportunity. Remember to request links to relevant web pages, not just the home page. This ensures visitors find what they expected.

Everyone Makes Mistakes

“Backlinks are valuable when you play by the rules,” says Michele Frost, vice president, digital, PAN Communications. “Push too much, too hard and Google will penalize you. That’s why you should start with a list of relevant sites and evaluate their overall domain authority relative to your industry.”

Hutchison says not focusing on backlinks that will add value can be very problematic.

“This can happen when folks are trying to reach a specific backlink goal number for the quarter, or simply because they are too far into the rabbit hole of website research and outreach—all of this can divert focus to sites that are not truly adding value,” she says. “Essentially, it leads to an inadvertent focus on quantity over quality; but, not every link is a good one.”

She suggests honing in on your program goals and creating a frequent-reminder system to remain focused. For example, place the core quarterly SEO principles you’re focused on in front of you the entire day and post reminders it to your monitor and in your notebook.

Monitoring Matters

Like all else in the digital marketing world, backlinks are in a constant state of evolution, which is why they need to be monitored closely to understand exactly what impact they’re having on your business goals, brand perception, and customer experience.

While monitoring can be tedious, it is an absolute necessity.

“It’s best to proactively conduct regular backlink audits,” Hutchison says. “Providing third-party sites with trackable links enables easier tracking internally. Another internal consideration for our team has been web redesigns; we created a 301 redirect for the pages we’ve moved, especially our top blog-traffic drivers.”

Frost notes you should review backlinks monthly and ensure the content is current and you’re comfortable with the domains linking to you.

“Also keep an eye on pages with a high number of backlinks,” she says. “Often, these pages have low volume but drive high-quality engagement. This is also a good time to check your 404 “page not found” error report. If there’s an error, go to bat for the page and have the situation corrected.”

Remember, backlinking is an important component of an SEO strategy, but, it’s not the only one. Within SEO, tagging, optimizing and internal linking complement indexing, sharing and external linking. Focus on these elements to find success in search rankings.

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Keith Loria

A graduate of the University of Miami, Keith Loria is an award-winning journalist who has been writing for major newspapers and magazines for close to 20 years, on topics as diverse as sports, business and healthcare. You can view some of his recent writing at keithloria.contently.com.

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