By Sam Martin-Ross, Founder and Director, Digital Uncut
When establishing SEO, many start-ups and even seasoned businesses forget about link building, but done right, it can be a powerful component of your SEO arsenal. When starting out with search engine optimisation, having a website that is both functional and readable by Google, and having the right content for your desired keywords are fundamental to success. But, beyond this, backlinks really are the backbone of building authority and boosting traffic.
Think of backlinks as the algorithmic equivalent of peer recommendations. Google can see other websites linking back to yours and uses these recommendations as a sign of support for your website. However, ranking well on Google through link building requires thought and consideration. Many start-ups and inexperienced SEOs tend to fall into some common traps, committing backlink blunders that can actually end up damaging a website’s ranking rather than improving it.
Here, we explore some of the main offenders when it comes to link building, and what you can do to avoid these SEO-sinking tactics.
Outsmarting the algorithm
Those looking to boost their backlinks with no clear strategy often find themselves playing a cat-and-mouse game with Google, using shady tactics to generate backlinks and exploit possible weaknesses in the algorithm. Tactics such as abusing keyword anchor text, using private blog networks, or even purchasing low-quality links have all been used as quick and dirty ways to build links. While these tactics may look good on paper, the reality is that Google can spot them a mile off.
The algorithms are far more sophisticated than many give them credit for, and using these kinds of tricks can at best have no impact at all. For cash- and time-poor start-ups, this is a huge waste of resources that could have been better spent elsewhere. At worst, though, and in especially egregious cases, they can result in penalties from Google, or being delisted altogether from the results you are trying to appear for.
Quality over quantity
While backlinks are the lifeblood of building your website’s authority, not all backlinks are created equally. Many fall into the trap of assuming the key to a good link building strategy is to simply acquire as many links as possible – but this is not always the case. The essential point of link building is to have reputable, professional sites acting as those all-important “peer recommendations” in the eyes of the Google algorithm. Generating vast quantities of links from low quality, irrelevant or even spammy sites can signal to Google that your own site may very well also be low-quality or lacking in relevance.
One backlink from a relevant, authoritative website can be worth exponentially more than multiple links from inferior sites. With limited time and resources at your disposal, it is always better to opt for investing them into acquiring fewer, high-quality links.
Analysing anchor text
It’s important to remember that getting a good backlink is really only half of the puzzle. The way that backlink is presented through the anchor text – the clickable part of the link – also has a huge impact.
One of the most common mistakes here is packing the keywords you are trying to appear for into the anchor text. This is often a risky approach. It not only looks unnatural, but it’s also very easy to overdo, and from a user perspective, comes across as jarring and unnatural.
In Google’s eyes, all of these things can point to an attempt to manipulate the algorithm. Attempting to over-optimise your anchor text in this way can lead to it being interpreted as suspicious and spammy by the algorithm, and as an added deterrent, overusing the same exact keyword matches can also prevent you from appearing for other valuable search terms.
That is not to say that you should never use keyword anchor text links, as they can be valuable if accompanied with the proper research and planning. However, if you’re still getting to grips with building your links, a much safer approach – and a more natural one as far as Google is concerned – is to link using a company or brand name.
Haste makes waste
Similar to prioritising quantity over quality, accumulating backlinks too quickly can have the opposite effect to what is intended. Google’s algorithms are constantly on the lookout for suspicious activity that points to potential manipulation, and this includes a website suddenly acquiring hundreds of backlinks overnight. Unless there is a good reason you’re acquiring these links – such as a timely piece of content – this is a huge giveaway that unscrupulous tactics are being used, and has the potential to incur penalties.
A better strategy, and a more sustainable one in the long-term, is to focus your efforts on steadily building links up over time, and being on the lookout for mutually beneficial link building collaborations with relevant websites and businesses.
Downplaying digital PR
While some relevant sites may offer limited (and costly) opportunities for buying backlinks, the cost and time efficiency of doing this pales in comparison to the potential results of a solid digital PR campaign.
Creating campaigns that target relevant, timely and well-researched content, then pairing this with effective and targeted media outreach can net huge amounts of high-quality links in a natural and organic way.
It is useful to think of the value of links on a logarithmic scale. This means that high-end links from valuable, trusted sites – think of household names like the BBC, Forbes or The Guardian – can be worth their weight in gold. They easily outweigh tens or even hundreds of links from low-value websites. For start-ups, targeted digital PR campaigns that focus on crafting quality content and research that high-authority sites may link to can be a highly cost and resource effective backlink strategy.
Linking it all together
It’s not uncommon for start-ups to spend a lot of time crafting their SEO strategy only to leave link building by the wayside. While it may require an extra push to net the best quality backlinks, they are truly invaluable in driving traffic to your website, increasing its authority and reputation in the eyes of both the algorithm, and your audience.