Most people who are familiar with SEO have heard something about the importance of link building. If you haven’t heard of it before, link building means getting quality websites that are topically relevant to yours to link back to your website. By earning these backlinks, you are basically demonstrating to Google that your site is a valuable resource worth referencing and that it is likely to be trusted and valued by searchers. Websites with a variety of high-quality sites that are naturally linking back to them will typically have a better chance of ranking higher in Google search results. However, there are many different ways to go about earning these links, and some methods are more ethical (and sustainable) than others.
A Brief History
Since the beginning of SEO, there have always been ethical SEO strategies (“white-hat” SEO) and not-so-ethical strategies (“black-hat” SEO). When it comes to link building, an example of white-hat strategies would be building links naturally through true collaborations (ones that provide value in both directions) and quality content (content that provides actual value to its reader), while an example of a black-hat link building strategy would be trying to outsmart search engines and trick them into boosting page rankings through buying or exchanging links rather than earning them.
Prior to 2005, just about any type of link building was rewarded by Google. People could buy entire domains with no real purpose other than to house hundreds of links to external websites and never be punished. In 2005, the ‘Jagger’ update took place and was the first major update to really change the link game. Jagger thoroughly analyzed links and linking behaviors, and penalties were finally implemented on those who were clearly buying or exchanging links.
Many SEO experts adapted to Jagger’s new rules and worked around them until 2012, when the first ‘Penguin’ Google update occurred. The Penguin update was carried out to really crack down on those who were still trying to trick Google into improving their standing in search results through buying links or by gathering links from link networks. Now, Penguin is part of the core Google algorithm and helps Google find and penalize new black-hat links.
Link Building Today
Link building used to primarily be about the volume of links you could get back to your site. It was largely a numbers game. Today, Google still cares about the number of links pointing back to your site, but their algorithm has evolved in such a way that the sheer number of links is no longer the primary factor.
These days, Google cares more about the quality of the sites that are linking back to you, the relevance they have to your site, and whether or not the links seem like they could have been acquired through any black-hat strategies that go against Google’s webmaster guidelines.
In order to approximate how well-positioned a given site is to rank in organic search, most sites have what is called a ‘Domain Authority’ score — a scale developed by the SEO experts at Moz to determine how well a website will rank on search engine results pages (SERPs). Domain Authority is calculated by evaluating the quality of the external linking root domains, the number of total links, and other metrics to define a numerical score for trust, relevance, and authority. You want sites with high Domain Authority scores that are topically relevant to your site to link back to you, in turn boosting your own Domain Authority.
Traditional link building strategies can still be done in white and black-hat methods today. Many people who build links through black-hat strategies today are still trying to buy links. When a link is bought, it is often from a site that has lower Domain Authority or relation to the content of the buyer’s site, which provides no additional value to the authority of their own site. However, similar mistakes can also be made when taking the white-hat approach. For example, there might be a site that you find relevant to your topic and you decide that you would like to collaborate on creating content with this site. However, if they are also a new site, they probably don’t have much Domain Authority; therefore, a link from their site back to yours would not have as much value as if you found a site with a high Domain Authority score with which you could collaborate in creating content. That doesn’t mean the link isn’t worth pursuing, but it’s something to consider as you prioritize where to spend your time.
The UpBuild Way
Here at UpBuild, we don’t participate in — or offer as a service — the traditional definition of ‘link building,’ as that can be related to both white and black-hat strategies. Here at UpBuild, we believe in honesty, integrity, and transparency, and ultimately, we want to help our clients create material that is going to have fundamental value. So, we participate in ‘Authority Building.’
Authority building is a lot like white-hat link building mixed with relationship building, networking, and delivering value. Our goal is to help build the authority of a client’s site (as well as their brand and that of their “Search Entity”) by working with them to create compelling and useful content, connecting company information to popular sites, and expanding brand visibility through knowledge sharing. This can be done all kinds of ways, whether it’s through basic content marketing, creating supplemental materials like resources for brand outreach, or proposing ideas for our client’s future social media strategy.
When we work with a client who needs some assistance with authority building, we’ll typically provide recommendations based on the following categories: Business Listings, Brand Outreach, Wikipedia, Social Media, and Resource Building.
It’s important to keep in mind how much Google really loves brands. We remind clients every time we discuss Authority Building and local SEO that it’s important to put their best foot forward and make sure that their business listings are exactly the same on each and every platform. So that means ensuring that their business listings are the same on their website, Google My Business, the BBB, etc. We will provide clients with a list of places where they are already listed, and we will also present new locations for potential additional listings that are relevant and in-use by people in the same industry that maybe the client hasn’t previously considered.
Conversely, there are times when we might recommend getting rid of business listings, or at least modifying them. One common scenario is a Software as a Service (SaaS) company has a GMB listing that makes them look like a local business that takes walk-in customers. It that case, we might go in the complete opposite direction from what we’d do for a local business.
We remind our clients that it is important to earn links through natural relationship building. The quality and relevance of pages linking back to our clients’ sites truly matter. When links are built unnaturally through low quality or topically irrelevant sites, Google knows it, and it can result in the client’s site being penalized (or those links simply not passing any value to the site, making them a waste of everyone’s time). Through independent research and reviewing competitor sites, we create a list of link- or relationship-building opportunities for our clients. Examples of these relationship-building opportunities could be our clients collaborating with another business on a study or to create web content; enlisting the other company’s expertise to update existing content; or even partnering to put on an event or webinar.
In this category, we often provide recommendations for which people to reach out to other organizations to start building these relationships. Not only can these business relationships result in high-quality, relevant links and new content ideas, they also help our clients promote themselves as thought leaders in their industry, and form a foundation for future collaboration.
Wikipedia is one of the most utilized sources on the internet. We often see that our clients can use some assistance in improving and expanding their own company’s Wikipedia page to make it a richer resource. We help our clients to understand what it is about their business that is relevant or newsworthy so that they can propose edits that will be approved by the Wikipedia community. A link back from Wikipedia can also be beneficial for overall brand awareness as it can contribute to a more robust Knowledge Graph result.
Building a strong social media presence with highly engaging content can help increase authority by positioning content to be seen by more people, naturally increasing the likelihood of gaining links back to a particular site. This can be especially helpful for small businesses with a small digital footprint. Having a strong and frequently updated social media presence can demonstrate to Google that their business is legitimate. We compile a list of strategies for our clients to help boost their social presence and click-through rates for all future content.
An important rule of thumb, however, is that it’s far better to have a few well-maintained social profiles than a dozen abandoned or neglected ones. We recommend that our clients only bite off as much as they can chew, and have a long-term plan for maintaining and growing their social accounts.
We firmly believe in the power of a high-quality FAQ page. This allows users to answer any questions they have around a client’s topic. Being a resource for people to find the answers to common questions about the topic not only helps our clients rank for long-tail keywords, but it also helps position them as a brand authority and builds trust with their potential customers. We individually research popular questions and ideas around our clients’ specialties and also review our clients’ analytics to provide quality questions that could be used in their FAQ section.
Building Something To Be Proud Of
Most of our clients’ authority building revolves around high-quality content. We want to help our clients create material with intrinsic value. If our clients aren’t proud of their content and don’t want it associated with their brand, why create the content in the first place? It just wouldn’t be worthwhile. We want to help our clients build something that they are proud to own and associate with their brand.
At the end of the day, our approach to authority building here at UpBuild echoes our core values of Pride and Betterment. Create assets and relationships that you’re proud to build and that give more than they take. That’s not just a happy coincidence — it’s how we want to work, it’s what we want to help our clients build, and it’s the target that we should all aim for in order to match clients with customers who they can truly help.