Your website is packed with killer content and strategic keywords. But there’s still one more thing you need if you’re aiming to slay the competition: a comprehensive link strategy.
Yeah, we know. The idea of begging people to link back to your content is not at the top of the list of fun things to do. Many agree:
- 41% of SEO experts peg link building as the toughest part of search optimization.
- 36% of companies hire freelancers or outside experts to build their links.
- 94% of the world’s content has zero external links.
In short, you’re not alone if you don’t jump for joy when it comes to link building. But if you’re not at least making an effort to build out internal, outbound, and inbound links, you’re mightily missing out.
Why Are Links Important?
Out of the more than 200 factors, Google looks at when ranking content, links are near the top of the list. Different types of links serve different purposes, and you have three main categories from which to choose.
Use internal links throughout your site to connect relevant content. This helps search engines understand what your site is all about. Your blog post about pampering your dog, for example, could link to your product page for plush dog beds.
Also called external links, outbound links connect content from your site to external sites. When used to connect relevant information, these links can boost your search rankings. Here your dog pampering post could link to a high-quality external article or website that talks about how much people spend pampering their pets each year.
Inbound links, also called backlinks, are the most challenging yet most valuable links to obtain. They connect an external page or site back to your site. Google views these links as votes of confidence. The more high-authority sites that link back to your content, the higher your content is likely to rank.
If a high-authority site like the American Kennel Club (AKC) linked back to your dog pampering blog, search engines would view your post as more valuable than other dog pampering blogs that didn’t enjoy such a winning vote of confidence. A higher value means higher rankings, as long as quality content and strategic keywords are also part of your post.
Link Strategy Basics
To build an effective link strategy, you want to use a healthy balance of all three types of links throughout your site. You also want to incorporate best practices to ensure your link-building efforts are helping — and not harming — your site.
What’s a Healthy Balance of Links?
There’s a short answer, a longer answer, and a really long answer. The answer also depends on what types of links you’re talking about — and who you ask.
The short answer:
Do what feels natural and makes sense.
The longer answer:
- Two to five internal links per blog post
- Three outbound links per page
- As many high-authority inbound links as you can get
The really long answer:
Here’s where we’d refer you to a couple of insightful articles that start digging really deep into the weight of each link and website hierarchy. They include one article featuring 12 expert opinions on outbound links and another article discussing linking guidelines.
Basic Link Strategy Best Practices
Several other basic best practices are good to know before you dive deeper into building out links throughout your site. They include link formatting, knowing how links operate and assessing the value of links. You also want to have a good grasp of the difference between good links you’re glad to embrace and bad links you want to avoid.
The way links are formatted has a bearing on how important they are in the eyes of search engines. Links that use strategic anchor text are going to be the most beneficial, while those that use naked URLs are going to carry the least amount of weight.
Anchor text is the highlighted text that doubles as a clickable link. Google gives a hefty amount of weight to relevant keywords used as anchor text, as long as you’re not using the same keyword over and over. Mix it up, using different key phrases for different anchor text. And keep it relevant to the page or site to which you’re linking.
This is where the name of a company serves as the anchor text, linking to a company webpage.
Using the full URL as the link is another option, although it tends to carry less weight than anchor text. It can also look rather out of place.
Image links can help boost SEO, as long as they link to an actual page or site and not just the image file. The image’s alt tag serves as the anchor text.
How Links Operate
Links can operate in one of two ways. They can operate as standard links, also known as Dofollow links, or they can operate as Nofollow links.
- Dofollow links are crawled by search engines, allowing the search engines to count the value of the link into your overall ranking. If you link to a high-authority page or have a high-authority page link to you, it’s in your best interest to ensure it’s with a Dofollow link.
- Nofollow links are ignored by search engines, ensuring the links don’t count toward the value of the link into your ranking. Use the Nofollow tag on links that you don’t want associated with your site, such as the spammy links that often get deposited in the comment section of blogs.
Assessing the Value of Links
Suppose an unfamiliar page links to one of your pages. How do you know if it’s a link you want associated with your site?
If you’re a fan of third-party tools, you can always check the Domain Authority of the site or the Page Authority of the web page from which the link originated. Both scores were developed by Moz, which serves up tools that let you check the scores of yours and others’ pages and sites.
The scores run from one to 100, with 100 being the highest and most authoritative ranking you can get.
- Domain Authority is a score that assesses a website’s relevance to a specific industry or subject area.
- Page Authority does the same assessment for a single web page.
Note that the Domain Authority and Page Authority rankings are scores related to a specific industry or topic. Just because a domain or page may have a low authority score doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a horrible site or page. It just means it doesn’t have a lot of authority in that particular field.
Other Signs of Value
Additional factors to consider when assessing the value of a link are:
- Relevance: Links to content that is relevant to your site, page or industry are more valuable than random links that have nothing to do with what you do.
- Location: Most SEO pros agree that links within content are more valuable than those found in website footers, menus, or navigational items.
Good Links vs. Bad Links
Now that you have a rundown on all kinds of link information, you probably have a solid feel for what makes a link good or bad.
Good links include:
- Inbound links from high-authority pages and sites
- Backlinks from pages and sites relevant to your business, offerings, and/or industry
- Anchor text links that contain strong keywords or phrases relevant to the content they’re connecting from and to
Bad links include:
- Broken links
- Inbound links from spammy or low-quality sites
- External links to spammy or low-quality sites
- Links to or from sites or pages that are not related to the content of your site
- Internal anchor text links that contain repetitive or exact-match keyword phrases
Link Strategy: Internal and External Links
Internal and external links are both links over which you have direct control. So they’re a heck of a lot easier to build out than links coming from outside sources.
Here you get to choose:
- The anchor text you’re linking from
- The internal or external page you’re linking to
- How many links you include per post or page
Internal Linking Tips
Create a steady stream of quality content. The more high-quality content you create, the more relevant internal and external links you can add.
Consider content clusters. Content clusters consist of groupings of content that’s all related to each other. You could have a main pillar page about dog care, for instance, with a cluster of content around it that covered things like dog training, dog nutrition, and, of course, pampering your pooch. All content would link back to your pillar page with the goal of increasing its authority and rank.
Close out each blog post with links to similar posts. Whether you do it manually or find a plug-in that does it for you, linking each blog to other, relevant content can be helpful for both readers and search engines.
- Add links to similar posts after each paragraph.
- Create a sidebar with links to similar blog posts.
- Refresh old posts and pages, linking them to relevant pieces of newer content.
- Create a recommended reading box on your homepage, linking to popular pages or posts throughout your site.
- Link related products or services — a good tactic for cross-selling, upselling, and helping visitors find similar products or services.
- Link each individual product to its main category page; do the same for your services.
External Linking Tips
- Don’t link to your competitors!
- Link to high-quality sites or pages to provide additional info for readers.
- Link to content used as references for statistics and other data.
- Link to the original source of the data, not to another site citing the original source.
- Make sure external links open in a new tab or window so visitors still keep your page on their screen.
Link Strategy: Inbound Links
You know the saying about no pain, no gain, right? Inbound links can indeed be the most painful links to obtain, but they’re also the ones that give you the greatest amount of reward.
And although we mentioned begging people to link back to your site earlier in the article, we were only kidding. Sort of. The truth is, you won’t have to beg people to link to your site if you do one simple thing: create content worth linking to.
This falls right into line with the first tip for building internal links: create a steady stream of quality content. Once this content is created, promote it, promote it, promote it. The more you get your quality content out there on social media and into the hands of journalists and brands, the higher your chances of getting links back to your page.
A number of additional tips can also help gain valuable backlinks that boost your credibility, ranking, and feel-good vibes at the end of the day.
Get press coverage. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to pitch stories related to your brand. Earned media can be an incredible source of backlinks, although not every site that mentions you may automatically grant you a link. Don’t be shy if you didn’t get one.
Contact the source and thank them for the mention, then ask if they’d be kind enough to add a link back to your site. If they say yes, thank them again. If they say no, well, thank them anyway.
Write guest blogs. Guest blogging for other websites typically gets you an author bio section on the site. Make sure you include a link to your site in the bio. You may also find a few other places within your article to include links to additional pages on your site.
Look for opportunities within groups. If you’re part of a business organization, chamber of commerce, poetry group, or artist collective — by all means, ask for a link from their site to yours. Many organizations list their members, giving you the perfect place to pop in a link.
Look for backlink opportunities anywhere and everywhere. As long as the site linking to you is relevant to who you are and what you do, always be on the alert for a chance to share your link with the world.
Summing It Up
Like most tactics in content marketing, a solid link strategy isn’t something you can create, execute, and reap the rewards of in a day. It’s an ongoing process that’s going to bring you benefits over time. Now that you know why links are important, link strategy best practices, and how to put those best practices into play, there’s no reason you can’t start immediately. So start thinking about linking, incorporating relevant links into every new piece of content you create.