Link building best practices: Advice from four experts
As professional Internet marketers, we’re always seeking to improve our craft. We stay informed of news, we research tactics and strategies, and we share stories from the trenches with peers. One challenging aspect of marketing online is the practice of link building, so today we turn to four expert link marketers for their lessons from the front lines.
I asked these experts to provide their best practice advice for link attainment and any warnings they may have for this potentially risky practice. Our expert panel of link builders is:
- Julie Joyce, the director of operations at link development company Link Fish Media
- Debra Mastaler, president of link marketing campaign provider Alliance-Link
- Matt Siltala, co-founder of SEO and viral marketing company Dream Systems Media
- Kaila Strong, an Internet marketing coordinator at Internet marketing company Vertical Measures
Now to their advice
1. If a marketer with basic to intermediate experience link building asks you for advice on bringing their practice to a more advanced or effective level, what strategy would you share with them?
Julie Joyce: I would put a strong emphasis on building relevant links that bring you traffic and not just an increase in rankings. A good authoritative site can send tons of referrals your way. However, if the site isn’t even remotely relevant to your niche, you may not get any traffic out of it, so why not go for the links that can actually bring you potential conversions?
Debra Mastaler: I’d encourage them to implement an offline campaign in mainstream publications to support and/or mirror their online promotions. I’d reference and leverage that offline exposure when negotiating for content drops with new promotional partners.
Matt Siltala: I am a big fan of building links the natural way, and good content builds links naturally. That’s even if you are using normal link building platforms to push this content (such as article or blog networks, for example). If the content is good, people are going to share it and link to it. I would suggest going to answer-type sites (Yahoo! Answers, Answers.com, etc.) and seeing what people are asking in your industry. I would then create content answering these questions. These are questions that are being asked RIGHT NOW in your industry. You can also create viral content (infographics, video or just regular content) from these questions that are funny, informative, compelling, moving, etc. and share it everywhere. There are so many places for it to be picked up naturally, and it will be, if it is good
It is also important to think about your industry readers. It is good to have viral content that might appeal to the masses, but there is no problem with creating content that would only interest readers related to your industry. In many cases, these are the kind of links that will do the most for you if they are picked up on an industry related website for something you wrote.
Kaila Strong: Content, content, content. It’s so important to have great link-worthy content piece that will naturally drive links in an Internet marketing campaign. “Build it and they will come” mentality doesn’t work here, however. Promote your content online through social media: niche social media sites, bookmarking sites, promote it in blog posts, etc. Drive traffic from each of these third-party sites, with links back to your original content. Not only are you link building, but you’re providing a useful piece of content to your industry and a permanent addition to a website. It even may have the potential of helping you increase conversions.
On a more traditional link building level, there are a few interesting tactics that have worked in the past which just take a little imagination and creativity. Something that I’ve done here at Vertical Measures is to do my usual research trying to find potential link building opportunities, often through the help of Raven’s Research Assistant. If I find a site that looks particularly old, or that isn’t optimized for SEO, I’ll contact the webmaster and give them some free advice. Even by running a tool like Link Checker, a Firefox add-on, you can potentially find broken links on the page, links pointing to redirect pages, etc. that the webmaster might otherwise not have known about. You’d be surprised how many webmasters 1) realize the extent with which it took you to find out these issues on their site and 2) might just give you a link in return. Instead of just outright asking for a link, scratch that webmasters back and every now and again they’ll scratch yours, too.
2. What’s a common mistake or risky tactic you see made in link marketing that you would recommend against?
Julie Joyce: Placing links on sites that truly offer little to no value, regardless of the relevancy of the site to the link client. Some sites are truly pieces of garbage with incomprehensible content, sites that just exist for spam purposes. I am appalled by some of the sites I find when I do a link audit. I think that linking from sites like this is more of a mistake than a risk (of course I’ve been known to change my mind!) because I think that you should properly manage your links and keep an eye on them and links like these just clutter your brain. We need to view links more in terms of quality than quantity.
Debra Mastaler: I think it’s risky to use the same keyword anchor text over and over in your linking efforts, even if it’s embedded in content.
Matt Siltala: Lately, it has been over optimizing for certain keywords, i.e. overuse of anchor text links. Think about how normal people (non-marketers) link to stories, they are not always going to be linking with “keyword phrase;” they might use “awesome story on keyword phrase” or “interesting write up on keyword phrase” or “found this story about keyword phrase here.” I think I would avoid making all of my links heavy on one phrase or keyword. It just does not look natural and I have seen sites get penalized lately for over anchor text linking with specific keywords and it not looking natural.
Kaila Strong: Trying to get too many links too soon, pointing to over-optimized pages, with the same exact anchor text. We all know this looks unnatural, but it’s still practiced time and time again. I’ve been really interested in keywords lately, and the study of semantic analysis. Varying anchor text of both internal and external links is extremely important. Through personal experience I’ve seen prospective clients complaining lately about reduced rankings, and upon further research it’s largely due to the fact that they’ve had too many artificial links built to internal pages with the same exact anchor text. This screams unnatural, and I always recommend against this tactic.
Link building best practices takeaways
So, to sum it up, our panel of experienced link builders recommend:
- Focus on relevant traffic over rankings as the goal of link building.
- Answer the questions your client base is asking, possibly through viral content.
- Actively promote high quality content through social media sites, bookmarking sites, blog posts, etc.
- Find targets for potential links with tools like Raven’s Research Assistant.
- Mirror online promotions in offline campaigns in mainstream publications.
- Don’t waste time pursuing links on low quality sites.
- Avoid attaining links with the same anchor text.
- Steer clear of anchor text that is unnatural by ensuring varied anchor text phrases.
- Don’t overuse the same anchor text on internal site links.
Link building is a resource-intensive and highly challenging aspect of Internet marketing that must be approached with caution and knowledge. The risks of poorly executed link marketing include wasted resources at best, and search engine ranking penalties at worst. Many thanks to Julie, Debra, Matt and Kaila for sharing their experiences and observations of link building best practices with us today.