Link Building in 2013

Links should only be built that will encourage traffic to flow through them – after all that’s what they were originally for. Alter your thinking and chase high-traffic sites rather than high-authority sites.

Key Takeaways

Only got a few minutes to spare? Make them count with these nuggets…

  1. Links will remain the most significant ranking factor for the foreseeable future – Matt Cutts [Tweet this]
  2. Links that never get clicked on have no real-world value – Should Google still count them? [Tweet this]
  3. Anchor text has been demoted as a ranking signal – be creative to intrigue and earn a click [Tweet this]
  4. Evaluating a link opportunity? Ask yourself “if search engines didn’t exist, would I still want this link? [Tweet this]”

Despite much debate whether social signals are overtaking links as the primary quality signal for Google’s ranking algorithm, Matt Cutts (Head of Search Quality at Google) recently stated that links are still more important in determining a website’s authority and more importantly, will continue to be for the foreseeable future. However, with Google notably downgrading various types of links, link builders and SEO professionals will need to reconsider what types of links will serve them well in the long run and how they continue to approach this task. This article outlines my thoughts on the future of link building.

Hobbyists and webmasters with a passion for a certain topic inevitably build authoritative websites with awesome content and high readership simply because it’s what they love doing and have built up a reputation naturally – Google loves these types of sites because people love these sites.

More often than not, any external links on these sites will point to equally awesome content that complements the original site, and as a result, pass quality traffic. These natural links are the Holy Grail, and the reason why links exist as a function. In 1997 Google came along and changed mind-set for link building and here we are today, fighting to keep our sites afloat in an ocean of epic fails.

Up until recently link builders (to a certain extent) have been able to get away with ‘easy’ techniques like directory listings, submitting poor-quality articles to un-managed, generic submission sites, reciprocal linking on Links/Resources pages, and dare I say it, blog commenting! *Shudder* The reason they did this is because it often worked, but not anymore.

Link Building MemeGoogle is ruthlessly moving towards regarding links on whether they offer value, either to the resource it lives on or to the reader – and the way it quantifies that value is on its CTR (click through rate). For a link to be clicked, and therefore deemed valuable, the resource must have a regular audience (something poor quality articles on generic submission sites, deep directory pages, and ‘Links’ pages often lack). If no audience exists, it begs the question of why the page exists and similarly, why that link exists.

A link that passes no traffic has no real reason to exist, but up until now it still contributed to a site’s back-link profile and increased rankings. Soon, if not already, these types of links are likely be blacklisted by search engines and at best, the link will be discounted (which you may have already started seeing in your Webmaster Tools). If a site’s back-link profile reveals a large portion of these types of links, be prepared for an inconvenient clean-up operation.

So what now?

Do

  • Identify high-traffic sites, blogs and pages with a similar audience. These are the sites you should be targeting with your link building efforts. Use (a combination of) tools and methods to estimate a site’s potential traffic such as Alexa, Google Trends, Google Reader, Feed Compare, SEMRush, YouTube & Vimeo (view counts), blog comment numbers, website traffic counters, advertising prices(!), common sense and gut feeling.
  • Google has recently given us the gift of creativity with our anchor texts so make the most of it. Anchor text is now less of a ranking factor and therefore needn’t reserved for your exact keywords/phrases. Use this clickable text to intrigue and incite a click. Use curious language and call to actions to urge traffic to your site such as “…easily earn £70,000 this year in the legal sector…” rather than simply “Legal Recruitment”.
  • Have more success with getting your links on other’s sites by blending and tailoring the anchor text with the language and “feel” or their site. Webmasters will be happier to include your link if it doesn’t detract from the quality of what they are trying to offer. Communicate with the webmaster to decide upon a mutually beneficial anchor text.
  • Consider WHERE you can feasible obtain a link on a page. Rand Fishkin conducted an experiment which assessed the placement of links for optimal reward (well worth reading). A key takeaway was that in-content links pass more value than footer and sidebar links Well duh! They are:
  • MORE likely to be useful to the reader
  • MORE likely to be read over and clicked
  • MORE likely to be in-tune with the content
  • LESS likely to be a result of manipulation
  • LESS likely to be a sponsored/paid link.

Aim for these links.

Don’t

  • Take the easy option and ask for a link on a “Useful Links” / ”Resources” page. Rarely does one look at these pages (unless one is a link builder!) and even rarer does one click on a link. Often your link will be surrounded by hundreds of others, diluting link equity (if any) and sometimes these pages are no-followed anyway.
  • Neglect the theme of the target website. Always assess their audience and ask yourself if your link provides value to that audience. For instance a link to an Estate Agent on a Hotel site will likely be snubbed by visitors who are only interesting in booking a room, not buying a room. With each passing visitor, the redundant link’s CTR will decrease sending negative signals to Google. On the flip-side a link to a local weather forecasting site (although a seemingly unrelated site) will offer value so be creative with where you look for link opportunities.

Above all, simply ask yourself “if search engines didn’t exist, would I still want this link?” – the answer will usually be no unless the link drives traffic.

Feel free to debate these thoughts on our Facebook page with us or hit me up on Twitter but be mindful that there will always be exceptions to the rule. For instance a link on a buried page with no traffic yet on a high authority site will still send positive trust signals and offer benefits and therefore still be worth having.

Food for thought: I want to conclude this article with a final musing for you. What if Google flipped the onus of links on the site owner? What if they were responsible for the quality of their outbound links (much like they are responsible for their own online reputations)? What if site owners were penalised for linking to low quality sites? Google’s mission is to build a better web and by encouraging webmasters to only link to awesome resources, the web would clean itself up pretty darn quickly! Forget your hang-ups on dishing out “link juice” – concentrate on building a better site overall and you will be rewarded.


Rick Eliason

Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

Rick is Reload's most senior SEO expert, and started his digital marketing journey way back in 2007 as an in-house online marketing executive. Now with over three years under his belt at Reload Digital, he handles search and conversion campaigns for a wide range of clients from e-commerce and start-ups to large service-based businesses and not-for-profits.