It depends. Probably the most over-used answer in SEO, but for good reason.

Back in 2016 Andrey Lipattsev (Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google) went on the record as saying the top 3 ranking factors in Google’s algorithm were content, links and RankBrain (not necessarily in that order).

Links are a fundamental part of the web - they essentially are the web in many respects. Broadly speaking, search engines use links to:

  • Provide pathways for search engine crawlers to discover new (or updated existing) content - without links, the web becomes a worthless collection of individual pages that you can only access if you visit that page directly
  • As part of their ranking algorithm to decide how highly content should rank in their search engine results

That algorithm is changing daily – it will even work differently depending on what you search for, where you are searching from and what you searched for previously. You get the picture.

Despite all that, it’s a fair overall assessment to suggest that content and links are still a very important ranking factor in 2018.

Quality Over Quantity

Our key piece of advice for clients when it comes to link building campaigns is that you should focus on links that improves the experience of users, helping them to continue their journey online, answer their query and increase referral traffic to your website. The subsequent benefit to the ranking ability of your website is a welcomed side-affect.

Ask yourself would you want a link to your piece of content from another page if links weren’t a factor in search engine rankings. If the answer is yes, then you’re on the right track.

Reading between the lines you will realise that the quality of content you create will be the cornerstone of many of your link building efforts. When you combine great content with good links, you’ve ticked the two most important boxes Google has when it comes to ranking in their search results.

When you dig into it your opportunities for link building are only limited by your own imagination. It's hard work, but those who are willing to grind it out, spend time building relationships and producing valuable content for their niche will be the winners.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of our top tips for link building:

Top 5 Tips For Link Building That Any Website Can Use:

  • Tracking Brand or Product Mentions
  • Creating Unique Data-Driven Content
  • Guest Blogging (Yes, this still works!)
  • Sponsorships & Events
  • Letting Your Competitors Do the Hard Work

Tracking Brand or Product Mentions

An oldie, but a goodie.

If you’re lucky enough that other websites or bloggers are already speaking about your brand or products online, then you may have some readymade link building opportunities waiting for you.

There is a selection of paid and free tools to track mentions online. One of the more popular free tools is Google Alerts – it won’t pick up all mentions online, but it’s a good starting point.

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Google Alerts is an easy way to track mentions or your brand or important keywords in your industry

If you have a Google account, head over to google.com/alerts where you can setup alerts to track mentions of your brand or products online. These alerts can be scheduled as they happen, daily or weekly.

When Google picks up a mention of your brand or product, you will receive an email letting you know. If they didn’t link back to you in the original mention, you can reach out to the blogger or webmaster and ask for a link – they’ve already written about your brand or product, so there’s a good chance they will consider adding a link.

This process also doubles up as a brand reputation management activity. If you discover any negative mentions or discussions going on about your brand or products, you can quickly jump in and try to resolve issues or limit any damage before it spirals out of control. It’s best not to join any of these negative discussions with a view to asking for links back to your site for obvious reasons.

Create Unique Data-Driven Content

When it comes to creating content for your blog or website, you can be sure that in most instances the topic you are writing about has been covered before online (sometimes extensively).

If you have access to data (from tests you have ran, surveys or customer trend information for example) you can leverage this to create truly unique content that hasn’t been seen elsewhere.

It can take a bit more effort to collect or extract the data that you need for your content, but that effort can be repaid many times over if your content is picked up by the press or other websites.

In these scenarios, the creation of your content is only the starting point. The promotion and distribution of that content is as equally as important to get it in front of the right people who can provide those link opportunities.

You can, of course, take on these distribution activities yourself but enlisting the help of a good PR company can extend your reach far beyond your normal efforts. The success of those PR campaigns will ultimately depend on how useful, newsworthy or ground-breaking your content is.

Guest Blogging

I’ll be the first to admit that Guest Blogging has been done to death over the past few years.

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Guest blogging done right is great for brand exposure, referral traffic and links

A noticeable trend in some areas of SEO is that when a tactic is discovered to have a certain level of success, many go overboard and often end up diluting the overall effectiveness of the tactic. Guest blogging is no different in that regard.

However, guest blogging can still be a hugely effective tactic in some niches when used right for brand awareness, link building and driving traffic (referral traffic from the guest post itself, as well as any subsequent increase in organic traffic from link building efforts).

You need to take a step back from the noise, identify the best opportunities out there in your niche and be selective with the blogs you partner with to publish your content and build links from.

While the ultimate benefit for your SEO efforts from these projects will be links back to your website, that should not be the mindset you begin with.

You should be creating content to share with a wider audience to demonstrate your expertise, answer questions your audience needs the answer to and provide value to those who take the time to read it. If you quickly cobble together content for the sole purpose of getting a link back to your site, your guest audience (and blog) will quickly see through your intentions and your future opportunities will dwindle.

While being strategic with the guest blogs you choose to target, you should also prioritise and reserve your best content for your top targets. A quick review of the websites you are targeting will tell you what level of content is required and the effort needed to create it.

Sponsorship and Events

Many businesses are involved in sponsorship in some form or other, ranging from corporate level partnerships to local, community based support.

These forms of sponsorship represent a relatively easy opportunity to build links back to your website from the organisations you sponsor. You are in the lucky position that you have some leverage on those you are sponsoring and they should be willing to link back to your site as a thank you for your support.

Most companies will only ever think of providing a link to their homepage in this situation. You should however consider if there are other areas of your website that would benefit from links and share your acquired link equity throughout your site.

If you are a multi-department business – think of an insurance company for example (home insurance, car insurance, business insurance, etc) – you will have different sections of your website (and keywords) that you want to rank well for.

Rather than pointing all your sponsorship links at your corporate homepage, get creative and start sponsoring individual events with a departmental focus - ‘Sponsored by Your Brand Car Insurance” from our example above – and point that link back to the car insurance section of your website.

Over time, this will generate a more diverse backlink profile for your website and improve the link equity and subsequent ranking power of each section of your website (as well as your domain on the whole).

Industry exhibits and events are another quick win when it comes to link building. Most exhibit websites will have an ‘Exhibitors’ or ‘Speakers’ section where they will typically link back to your website. Like the scenario above, be strategic with how you use these link opportunities and don’t always default to the homepage.

Letting Your Competitors Do The Hard Work

While the previous tactics are all strong candidates for inclusion in your next link building project, what if I told you that you can track and target links that your competitors have already acquired?

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Your competitors links are a good place to start for some quick wins

Some of your competitors are likely to have spent considerable time and effort in identifying link targets, reaching out to website owners and bloggers and building up a solid back-link profile.

Using tools like SEMRush and Open Site Explorer from Moz, you can analyse these links and take note of any that may possibly link back to your site. That can help focus your outreach efforts early in the campaign as you have a list of websites that you know have linked out to sites similar to yours previously.

What are the key things to look for in your competitor’s link profile?

  • Links from local authorities - your local Chamber of Commerce or government funding body for example.
  • Links from press and media websites - local, national or international – why did they link to your competitor; genuine news item, interesting data they produced, contributed to an industry news item? Start building a relationship with those media outlets – share / comment on their stories, reach out to the journalist, etc.
  • Links from guest posts - this can really help shorten the time you spend identifying guest post opportunities in your niche. Find blogs that have already linked back to your competitors and see if you can get content published there as well.
  • Industry specific links – what groups within your industry link out to their members? If you’re part of that group and aren’t listed yet, get your name and link added.
  • Links from suppliers – many industries have suppliers that will service multiple businesses within a niche. If your suppliers have a ‘Where To Buy’ or ‘Suppliers’ section, make sure you’re included.

To Wrap Up...

Links to your website from other reputable and relevant websites in your niche are still one of the strongest signals you can send to search engines to improve the authority and ranking power of your pages.

Use the relationships you have within your industry to help promote your content and increase visibility of your brand. Being an active contributor on relevant websites and blogs and helpful to others in your niche (answer questions, comment on other posts, etc), will stand you in good stead when it comes to sharing or linking to your content (or pitching for guest post opportunities).

If you’re the person who only turns up when you want to promote your own stuff, you’re stay may be short lived.

At its core, building links is about building relationships – they take time to develop and the more effort you put in, the better results you tend to get.

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Links are about relationships and people - talk to them, it will help a lot!

Have you a link building strategy in place for 2018? If not, get in touch today and let’s talk links.