One of the most important factors in SEO is link building. Google uses the interconnectivity of various sites to determine their relation and relevance. There is no end of discussion on link building amongst the top SEO companies. This also holds true for the industry thought leaders.
Moz has written extensively on this topic. I’d like to both observe and perhaps add to certain elements of one of their highest ranking articles on the subject (SEO is as SEO does, after all).
The concept of “local” popularity, first pioneered by the Teoma search engine, suggests that links from sites within a topic-specific community matter more than links from general or off-topic sites. For example, if your website sells dog houses, a link from the Society of Dog Breeders matters much more than one from a site about roller skating.
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Local popularity is a fairly new concept. If you don’t believe me, try searching for the term Local/Topic-Specific Popularity in SEO. Moz will pop up, but aside from the cited article the number of directly relevant first page links is pretty low. The idea here is to reach out and build links adjacently, and not just from random sites across the internet.
Adjacently does not have to be direct competition. If your site is about professional ghost writing, links from and to printing companies would be far more valuable than links from a dish soap manufacturer. Competition links can also be very useful. You can safely give and receive links with companies who provide the same service, with minimal geographic overlap. You can also do this with those who have a different demographic target.
Even friendly direct competitors can provide this bigger boost, due to industrial relevance. Building relationships and links inside of your industry (and adjacent to your industry) is a rewarding tactic for link building strategies. It is also often more practical than going for more powerful general links.
One of the strongest signals the engines use in rankings is anchor text. If dozens of links point to a page with the right keywords, that page has a very good probability of ranking well for the targeted phrase in that anchor text. You can see examples of this in action with searches like “click here,” where many results rank solely due to the anchor text of inbound links.
The relevance of anchor text is nothing new. What may be surprising is the fact that, despite Google’s complex algorithms and focus on bringing an organic SEO experience, anchor text is still an important factor. That said, the importance has diminished some as other ranking factors grow more prominent.
With proper organic link building, it can be quite difficult to control the anchor text. This is another advantage to focusing on industry adjacent links. Taking our example above, your direct competitor may link to you by your name, but that is often not the linking focus. A printer on the other hand, would be far more likely to link to you with anchor text like ‘one of the top ghost writers.’ While an unassociated industry may also be willing to use this anchor text, you lose the in-industry relevance.
Also, be wary of providing too much pressure to change the anchor text, as a tenuous relationship may cause the linking site to simply remove the link, or even the referencing article completely. A link with sub-optimal anchor text is still far better than no link.
Spam links often go both ways. A website that links to spam is likely spam itself, and in turn often has many spam sites linking back to it. By looking at these links in the aggregate, search engines can understand the “link neighborhood” in which your website exists. Thus, it’s wise to choose those sites you link to carefully and be equally selective with the sites you attempt to earn links from.
Belonging to a proper link neighborhood should come naturally as part of your strategy. That said, you want to keep an eye out for both who links to you and who you link to. Disavowal can be used to disassociate your site from inbound links. That said, it is a tool to be used like a surgeon’s scalpel. Improperly used Disavowal can destroy your sites rankings and may take months or even years to recover fully.
Only remove a link if it’s obviously spammy or malicious. A link should meet multiple criteria to be considered spam. List items can include site quality, language, link relevance, site relevance, geographic extension, and more.
Don’t be afraid of links from a small or new site, as long as it looks promising. Getting friendly with a new site at the ground level could be a powerful long term benefit. More importantly, you are not likely to be penalized (unless it’s obviously spammy) as Google has certain adjusted measures in its algorithms to account for a new site’s build up.
Link signals tend to decay over time. Sites that were once popular often go stale, and eventually fail to earn new links. Thus, it’s important to continue earning additional links over time. Commonly referred to as “FreshRank,” search engines use the freshness signals of links to judge current popularity and relevance.
Link building is not a mountain you climb. When you reach the top, the only way to stay there is to continue your link building tactics. If you have a powerful link building strategy that works well, you simply cannot stop leveraging it. Just as important is the evolution of strategy. Proper SEO is no part time job, you need to keep up with the industry, constantly build new relationships and keep the quality of your content at a level above your competition.
Meanwhile, they (the smart ones, that is), will be doing the same to you. Let’s say you’ve reached the top of the popular ghost writer industry. You are far from secure there, because the reality is, you were just gunning for that position last week. And now someone just like you is looking at your rank with jealous eyes.
In addition to the natural decay of links, the competition will also constantly be working to dethrone you. This means that they will also constantly be working to build links, and as there is only one top spot, this means you will be pushed down, losing that coveted position you worked so hard for.
Freshrank only accelerates this decay if you stop working to stay on top.
Link building in SEO is extremely important, and doing it improperly can be worse than not doing it at all. This is why professionals are necessary to get the work done in a fashion that makes a difference for sites. As we’ve said, it’s a full-time job, and one that shouldn’t be done half-heartedly.
Thank you for staying with us, hopefully you found this content both useful and slightly amusing. Check out our many other posts for more data. If you want to read more on link building, visit Moz. Next month we will cover some of the other points in the cited article, as well as discuss Front Linking, a relatively new concept in the SEO industry.
Italicized text is cited. You can read the full cited article at Moz.
– Nick Winkler, SEO Manager