Ever since the Internet started to get popular in the early 1990s, one of the ways search engines used to measure an individual web page’s popularity was by how many other sites linked back to it. In fact, these “backlinks” were the primary way Google and other major search engines assigned value to web pages: Those with the most backlinks ranked at the top of search results, those with less ranked lower.
That all changed in April 2012, when Google launched the Penguin update to its search engine. It seems that unscrupulous web page owners were artificially stuffing their pages with links just to get them ranked higher, usually by purchasing links or getting them through link networks primarily designed to boost Google rankings. The Penguin update added different criteria to determine page rankings and included software that identified and penalized sites that used artificial backlink stuffing.
While backlinks are no longer then only way search engines rank your web pages, they remain an important one. Google, Bing and other search engines give particular weight to links that come from authoritative pages. These are pages where people would typically go if they wanted to find legitimate and helpful information. Examples include Wikipedia, About.com and websites belonging to governmental and educational institutions.
Why Backlinks are Still Important
To understand why Google still puts such value in backlinks when determining a web page’s rankings, you need to consider the type of service Google is trying to provide to its users. The reason Google is so popular – it’s currently the leading search engine in the US by far – is because it consistently provides links to pages its users find helpful. If Google were to produce results that led users to spam sites or pages infected with computer viruses and malware, people would stop using it.
All search engines can give you millions of results in a fraction of a second, but Google has pulled ahead of the rest of the pack because its algorithm does a terrific job of weeding out the spam, the inaccurate and incomplete websites, and the fraudulent and risky ones and only presents those that the user will genuinely find useful. (At least on its front page. If you have ever scrolled through to the later pages, you know that the quality of the website tends to deteriorate the further back you go).
While the inner workings of Google’s search engine algorithm are a closely held industrial secret, public statements from Google executives and empirical evidence suggests that social media influence is probably the primary reason one site is ranked higher than another. The more Facebook “Like’s”, re-Tweets, Google+ pluses and so on that a site has, the more trust the search engine algorithm has in its ability to give users what they want.
While the use of keywords within the content and meta data of the page are important, by this point most web page builders already know where and how to use keywords for optimal rank placement: In the header, H1, H2, H3, meta descriptions, photo descriptions, etc.
That leaves backlinks as the last arbitrator that can influence your web pages rankings. While there certainly are things you can do to improve your page’s social influence – such as including buttons that make it easy for people to share it on their social media accounts, encouraging people to “Like” your content and so on – if you are providing informative, helpful, high-value content consistently on your web pages, then ultimately social influence will take care of itself.Backlinks are more controllable.
Link Building Basics
Link building is more of an art than a science. It’s one of the most esoteric forms of SEO, but it’s also essential to getting your web pages ranked on Google’s front page – and hopefully in the top spot – for the best keywords that describe your content.
Effective link building requires instinct, creativity and, sometimes, a little monetary investment. While no two link building campaigns are going to look exactly the same, there are some basic link building basic you can use to consistently improve your page rankings.
The Three Types of Links
At their most basic, there are only three types of links:
- Natural, Organic Editorial Links – These are links that find their way naturally to your web page from outside sources, such as other companies or web users. Other than making sure you are always providing high-quality, useful content that people will enjoy, there’s no a lot you can do to attract them other than encourage people to share your pages with others if they liked it.
- Manual “Outreach” Links – These are links you receive by proactively asking other people to link to your pages. For example, if you are a food blogger, you can ask other food bloggers to share links to your pages on their blog. Or if you are writing about a topic with a narrow academic interest, you can invite an influential professor or public figure to include a link to your site on their web page or public syllabus.You also can submit links to your site to website directories, such as Best of the Web, AMRY or GoGuides. Another option is to pay to have links to your site listed on other pages.
- Non-Editorial, Self-Created Links – There are lots of websites where you can post links to your pages in the form of forum signatures, blog comments, user profiles, guest book signings, and other places. While these are generally the lowest-value backlink, every little bit helps and they can accumulate to make a substantial impact on the ranking of your pages. But watch out: Use too many of these and you can make the Penguin angry. If your links are considered spammy, they may actually penalize your ranking.
We will walk through a step-by-step process of creating and launching an effective and successful link building campaign for your web pages so you can improve your page rankings on Google and other popular search engines.
We are going to walk through the process of setting up a five-step link building campaign that will create highly effective backlinks from authoritative and social media influential sources so that you can improve the value of your web page in the eyes of Google’s search engine algorithm.
So let’s get started:
Step 1- Invite Your Customers to Promote Your Business
Wouldn’t it be great if we could simply ask people to tell everybody they know about your business. Why, if you could do that, you could exponentially increase your business’s exposure and drive tons of new customers to your doorstep.
With the free, easy tools provided by the Internet, this is a no-brainer. All you need to do is to send out partnership badges – which are actually backlinks to your web pages — to people and businesses with whom you already have a business relationship. This can include vendors, loyal customers, and anybody else who you think might be willing to post your partnership badge on their site. (All worst they can do is say no, so you may as well cast your net as widely as possible).
In the pre-Internet world, you might ask your customers to wear your t-shirt or put your bumper sticker on your car. Today, you can use partnership badges embedded with links pointing back to your web page to promote your website on people’s blogs, web pages, business websites, social media, and anywhere else you can imagine.
Step 2 – Prime the Pump with a Company Blog
Many companies today are figuring out that the best way to keep the attention of their customers is by constantly providing them with useful, helpful information that they can use right away in their everyday lives. And the best way to provide this type of proactive marketing collateral is with a company blog.
Sending out a company blog on a weekly, twice per week, or even daily basis is an easy way to stay connected with your customers. You can use your blog to reinforce your brand and promote the products and service you offer while nominally providing popular and valuable content that educates, informs and entertains.
There are two ways to use blogging as a means of creating backlinks to your web pages. First, you can include links to your page within every individual blog. Encourage your readers to share your content on their social media if they found enjoyed it. When they share it with their friends on their social media pages or forwarding it via email, your web pages has reached yet another potential customer.
The other way is to include buttons on your blog page that make it easy for them to give you social indicators that can improve your web rankings. Every time somebody “Likes” your web page on Facebook, re-Tweets it on their Twitter feed, pins it to their Pinterest page, or adds it to their Google+ page, it incrementally increases the value of your web page to Google’s search engine.
Step 3 – Create Content that “Shares Itself”
In the world of SEO, there’s a certain kind of content that’s known as “linkbait”. These are things that are so irresistible that page visitors won’t be able to help themselves but to share it with other people. Examples include memes, GIFs, funny videos, informative articles, lists, and anything else people will naturally and organically want to share with their social media contacts. If you would like to see other examples of linkbait, check out the popular website Buzzfeed, which is composed entirely of linkbait.
On your web page, your social media accounts, or on your blog which leads to your web page, look for content that are useful, includes important information, are hilariously funny, are strange, or a combination of all of these in order to create a viral effect. The people who land on your pages will instantly want to share it with their friends, social media contacts, bloggers/webmasters and others.
Each time your content is passed up through the web, it’s an added value point to your web page’s weight in the Google algorithm’s (virtual) eyes.
Step 4 – Make the News
If you can come up with a unique angle, spin or take on the content you are presenting in your pages so that it captures the interest of the press, bloggers and the news media, it’s like having money in the bank. As they say in show business, “Any publicity is good publicity”. So if you can get the Internet buzzing about your web page, the world will beat a path to your door.
So how can you make news with your web page? Sometimes it’s as simple as giving something away for free, sponsoring some sort of unusual or intriguing contest, introducing a great new product, or doing or saying something controversial. Try playing “the opposites game”: Take a commonly held belief regarding your business’s niche and take the opposite approach or defy expectations. For example, this is always a sure-fire way to attract attention. For example, a bakery in Brooklyn recently made the national news by developing a combination donut and croissant called the “Cro-Nut”.
Step 5 – Pay for Links
Google, Bing and other websites include software that detects links that are artificially generated or that come from recognized “link clearinghouses”. Websites caught buying links or participating in “black hat” Linkbuilding schemes run the risk of having their rankings penalized or being banned altogether. Yet as long as the link quantity is a factor in the algorithm’s ranking protocol, there will be a benefit to getting as many backlinks to your page as you can by any means necessary.
Paying for links requires a little more caution than it used to, but it still can be effective in improving your rankings. If you choose to go this route, always use a reputable company that is well-versed in the ins and outs of the Google algorithm.
When you use these five steps to improve your page rankings via creating multiple high-value backlinks to your web pages, you can enjoy the benefits of having your pages listed on the Google front page and, hopefully, the top spot for the keywords most people use when looking for businesses like yours online.