In some ways, search engine optimization (SEO) is a test of agility. Google, the best-known and most popular search engine in the world, is constantly tinkering with its search algorithm, forcing businesses to adapt. Your competitors are constantly experimenting to discover new strategies as well, giving them a chance to overtake you in key areas.
That’s why it’s on you to regularly audit your link building strategy, and figure out if you’re really getting the best backlinks for your brand.
In this article, we’ll cover some of the ways that link building has evolved, and some of the best strategies to get quality backlinks in 2019.
The Best Backlinks in 2019: Big-Picture Link Building
Let’s start with a big-picture perspective on link building, including why it’s important and how it’s developed in recent years.
Backlinks are just hyperlinks on the internet that point to your domain (and the various pages within that domain). They’re important because they’re considered as a marker of trustworthiness in PageRank, the algorithm at the heart of Google Search. Basically, Google wants to rank its most trustworthy results above its less-trustworthy results, assuming relevance is equal. It uses the number and quality of inbound links to determine how trustworthy a site is; in other words, if you get quality backlinks from many different high-authority publishers, your own domain authority will increase. The higher your domain and page-level authority, the higher you’re going to rank in searches.
In an ideal world, links would naturally be distributed according to which content is best—but this rarely happens unprovoked. Link building is a strategy meant to help companies generate inbound links intentionally, earning domain authority as well as direct traffic.
Google hasn’t tinkered with the link-relevant side of its algorithm much in previous years. The last major addition to Penguin (Google’s link-centric algorithm) occurred in October of 2016. Throughout 2018 and 2019 (so far), there have been a few important updates, including carousel changes, mobile layout changes, unconfirmed rollouts resulting in ranking fluctuations, and a core update in March of 2019. None of these updates have had a substantial impact on how links are evaluated in Google Search, but it’s still important to review and audit your link building practices in 2019 to ensure they’re up-to-date—and getting you the best backlinks possible.
How to Get Quality Backlinks
It’s not effective to build links indiscriminately. In fact, Google actively cautions webmasters against these activities. Built into Google’s search algorithm (via Penguin) is a system that gauges the relevance, value, and “natural” qualities of each link on the internet. If it seems unnatural, out of place, or intentionally built to boost your authority, it may not pass authority to your domain. In some cases, it may actively hurt your authority score with a Google penalty.
So how can you get quality backlinks?
We’ll go over individual strategies to get the best backlinks for your brand in the next section, but it’s best to start with a high-level overview. Google wants to see links that are contextually relevant, valuable for readers, diverse in nature, and featured on the best-quality publishers available. The best way to achieve these criteria while still controlling your campaign enough to guarantee placement is through active offsite guest posting.
You’ll start by creating linkable assets on your site (i.e., high-quality onsite articles with strong facts, statistics, and/or quotes). Then, you’ll develop offsite articles, fine-tuned for specific publishers that are ideally both relevant to your brand and authoritative overall. These articles will each feature a link back to an article or resources on your home domain. Over time, as you grow your network of publishers and work your way up the ladder of offsite authority, your authority and rankings will grow.
Get Links in 2019: Top Strategies for Expert Link Building
With that core architecture in mind, these are the best link building strategies to help you develop your campaign in 2019:
- Get quality backlinks with a link building agency. Building quality backlinks on your own is challenging for many reasons. You’ll be in charge of selecting links, developing content, and establishing new relationships with a wide range of different publishers. But if you work with a link building agency, you’ll be able to tap into their already-experienced network of content writers, and their already-established network of publisher relationships. There are many types of link building agencies out there, some of which may try to offer link schemes or low-quality services, so it’s important to verify you’re working with an agency that’s reputable and committed to getting quality backlinks for your brand. That said, if you can find a valuable partner, your link building agency should be able to build better backlinks and build them more reliably, consistently, and cost-efficiently than you can on your own.
- Focus on topics more than keywords. Keywords are a divisive topic in the link building community because while they do serve an important purpose, they also need to be considered in context. In the old days of SEO, you could optimize both your offsite content title and the anchor text of your link to include specific keywords and phrases identical to the ones you want to rank for. These days, thanks to the semantic capabilities of the Hummingbird update and Google’s zero-tolerance policy for keyword stuffing, things are more complex. It’s certainly fine to optimize for specific keywords in your link building strategy, so long as they remain contextually relevant and “natural” in the article, but it’s usually better to focus on high-level topics. That way, you’ll naturally optimize for a wide range of phrases synonymous with your target phrase.
- Remember the best backlinks point to quality content. Strong backlinks should point to strong content. If the link leads to a well-written, well-researched piece of content on your website, it will be less likely to be removed by publishers and more likely to be valued by readers. Accordingly, your link building strategy should always start with onsite content. This is counterintuitive to many link building newcomers, who want to jump into the offsite content game as soon as possible. But if you want the best backlinks in 2019, you need to have these valuable anchor points.
- Get links from big publishers. It’s true that both the quantity and quality of links pointing to your site will play into your site’s perceived trustworthiness, but they aren’t on equal footing. A single link from a high-profile, authoritative publisher is going to be much more valuable than several links from mid-tier or low-tier publishers. You’ll need to rebalance your link building strategy in 2019 according to this rule. Obviously, you won’t be able to get to high-tier publishers right away (especially if you don’t have much existing brand credibility), but you should be able to optimize your strategy in a way that helps you climb that authoritative ladder. In other words, strive to get featured in bigger, better publishers, expanding vertically, rather than spending your effort expanding horizontally.
- Get links from lots of publishers. Building additional links on a single domain will yield diminishing returns. When you get that first quality backlink, you’ll receive a ton of authority for your domain (and the page you’re pointing to). When you build the second, you’ll receive a small boost, but not a very noticeable one. Subsequent links will continue to decline in authority passed. Accordingly, one of the best ways to expand your link building strategy is to try and build links on as many new publishers as possible. Maintaining relationships with your previous publishers can be valuable, especially if you’re interested in the secondary benefits of link building, but the best backlinks will always be those built on a publisher for the first time.
- Don’t skimp on link placement standards. When you’re building lots of backlinks, it’s easy to get lazy and start churning out half-hearted content. But every link you build deserves your full attention and your highest standards—even on lower-tier publishers. Scrutinize each new link to ensure it makes sense in the body of the article, is placed in a way that’s valuable to readers, and is surrounded by similar links to other authorities. This will help you maximize the long-term health of your links and improve your reputation with publishers of all levels.
- Mix up dofollow and nofollow links. In case you aren’t familiar, “dofollow” links are standard hyperlinks, followed by Google’s web crawlers and valued as passers of authority. Nofollow links are marked with a special tag that prevents web crawlers from considering them. Nofollow links are often used by publishers as a way to preserve their reputation or ensure their writers aren’t creating content meant to manipulate search engines. While dofollow links are inherently more valuable in some ways, that doesn’t mean you should neglect nofollow links. Nofollow links can still pass traffic to your site (just not authority), and can be valuable ways to increase your brand exposure and build relationships with more publishers. Choose dofollow when you have a choice, but don’t pass up a valuable nofollow opportunity.
- Avoid link schemes at all costs. There is no justification for using a link scheme. Intentionally placing links in a way that violates Google’s terms of service is inevitably going to result in a penalty, or at the very least, a marred reputation. Many cheap link building services masquerade as legitimate link building practices, but don’t be fooled; if content isn’t a core part of their campaign to get quality backlinks, you should immediately be suspicious. Link schemes may seem like a quick way to get a cheap boost, but they’re always going to harm you in the end.
- Mimic your competitors’ link building strategies. If you’re stuck on where to build links, consider looking at the backlink profiles of your competitors. Chances are, there are dozens, if not hundreds of companies much like yours also trying to get quality backlinks as efficiently as possible. If you study where they’re building links, you’ll get a powerful hint for the publishers you should go after next—or at least inspiration on how to think about the future possibilities. It’s not a good idea to copy your competitors’ strategies directly; you’ll find it hard to outpace them, and besides, you probably have subtly different goals. However, it’s worth taking a look to learn more about your competitive environment. There are many backlink profile tools you can use to perform this evaluation, including Ahrefs’s Backlink Checker and Moz’s Link Explorer.
- Evaluate your best backlinks (and repeat the process that got them). While you have your backlink checker of choice pulled up, take a look at the backlinks you’ve built for your own domain. You can also check out how much referral traffic they’re generating by consulting Google Analytics. If you’re building links on multiple publishers, it will soon be obvious which posts were definitely worth the effort and which ones fell short of a favorable return. This information should be dictating where you choose to build links next; are there publishers that serve the same niche as your most valuable ones? Are there editors or webmasters of valuable domains who have access to other prominent domains? Is there a particular content topic or linking strategy that seems to be generating disproportionately high interest?
Optimizing Your Link Building Strategy
If you’re interested in getting the best backlinks, you’re probably feeling overwhelmed. In addition to understanding the nuances and complexities of link building and search engine optimization (SEO), to get quality backlinks, you’ll need to go through the effort of producing, editing, publishing, and distributing content.
That’s why it’s in your best interest to work with a link building agency, which can get quality backlinks for your site much more efficiently—and in many cases, for less time and money than you’d spend on your own. If you’re interested in learning more about our link building strategies, or if you’re ready to get quality backlinks for your site, contact us at SEO.co today for a free consultation!
He is a recurring speaker at the Search Marketing Expo conference series and a TEDx Talker. Today he works directly with high-end clients across all verticals to maximize on and off-site SEO ROI through content marketing and link building.
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