What are Backlinks?
For those who have never encountered the term, Backlinks (or inbound links) are links on a site that point to a page on a different website. Building backlinks is a natural occurrence on the web: people regularly link to relevant content from relevant sites. It’s how you can wind up on a roller rink page 15 minutes after landing on the page for your favorite local restaurant.
Done correctly, each backlink that sends you further away from your original landing page should be relevant to the page it is linking to as well as the anchor text of the link.
The reason we care about backlinks is because they help determine a page’s search engine ranking. The more relevant, quality websites that link to yours, the higher your search engine ranking will be. This is why online marketers often include building backlinks in their marketing plans. Here, I want to discuss what to avoid when creating a backlink strategy.
Black Hat Link Building and What to Avoid
For every quality backlink you find, there are likely a dozen or more backlinks that can be termed “Black Hat Marketing.” Black hat marketing refers to down-and-dirty SEO tactics that can result in a short-term SEO spike, but could also tank your rankings long-term.
While black hat marketing works (we won’t deny that), Google is really serious about cracking down on it. Sites reported to Google (and you can report a site right here) will plummet in their organic ranking after being heavily penalized. In some cases, they might even be banned from the Google search engine. It’s a lot harder to come back from that than it is to create a strategy that follows the rules from the beginning.
Black hat backlink techniques not to implement:
- Paid linking: Paying for backlinks is the equivalent to buying pagerank, which isn’t how the internet is supposed to work. You can pay for ads in the hopes your ranking will increase, but it’s not a guarantee. Buying backlinks is guaranteeing a spike in your ranking, which is precisely why Google punishes it so severely. Avoid buying links just for the purpose of pointing to your site. The reward for short-term ranking isn’t worth the risk of someone reporting you.
- Reciprocal linking: Also referred to as “link exchanges,” reciprocal linking refers to entering into an agreement with another site to cross-link to each other’s sites (this can also refer to buying another domain purely for the sake of cross-linking). Google sees this as negative since it creates strategies around “who will link to me” as opposed to “what relevant content can I be linking to?” While there is no problem asking another site that mentions you to include a link, don’t go overboard and link to each other on every page of your website just because it’s easy.
- Anchor text spam: While harder to define, the idea here is not to overload content (both on your site and sites that link to you) with optimized anchor text. If you find yourself hyperlinking every single keyword to the same page on your website, do yourself a favor and stop. In this case, the old less-is-more-adage is good advice.
- Optimized forum comments: We’ve all seen these. We’ve deleted these comments. These are the blog comments that try to sell you Nikes on a page about making quesadillas. They’re the forum comments on a thread about computer software that links to the “best laptops” you can buy. But even if your comments are useful, you’re still hijacking another person’s content. Go ahead and leave comments on another blog, make valuable connections–but don’t hyperlink.
Google is really specific about what they deem “link schemes.” So if you question what constitutes black hat marketing, they supply a great set of guidelines that tell you exactly what is allowed and disallowed. If your customer base uses Bing or Yahoo as its primary search engine, it’s important to know that Bing also punishes link schemes severely.
Creating Organic Backlinks – So What Can I do?
When you go through the Google guidelines, you might be afraid to get started a lot of what you might call strategy can be interpreted as link schemes. But what you need to remember is backlinks are going to exist no matter what. People are going to link to content on their own on their blogs, social media profiles, or forums. You need to use that to your advantage.
Recommendations for crafting a backlink strategy:
- Create Content: The best way to get backlinks is to create powerful content that people want to link to. Share those pages you want to create backlinks for on social media. You want your customers to find you: create an easy trail for them to follow so they find your site. So, where do your customers hang out online? What social media tools are they using? What other products are they talking about? Create content around these factors and share it appropriately, building backlinks where it counts.
- Be newsworthy: There will always be things happening at your company that are worth announcing. Highlight these events on your website. Submit press releases and newsworthy articles about your company on news sites that make sense for your audience.
- Guest blog: Writing a guest blog on a site popular among your customer base is a great way to introduce yourself and link to your site–as opposed to paying for random links they’ll never see. But don’t allow guest blogging to be your entire strategy, as Google may see this as a form of reciprocal linking.
In short, don’t treat your backlinks strategy as a contest to get the most links pointing to your site. Be mindful of what your audience wants to see from you while building backlinks that service your campaigns. It’s more important that you spend time crafting the right content, being newsworthy, and doing a sprinkling of guest blogging than to link from every single place you can think of.
Paying for links and reciprocal linking just doesn’t work anymore, and it doesn’t make any economical sense for your business. Google and Bing restrictions will only get tighter, so it’s important to stay on top of any edits either may make to their link scheme definition. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s okay; Google and Bing are the ultimate judges of all of us when it comes to search engine ranking.
For more on what not to do when optimizing your site, check out DemandZEN’s 10 SEO Mistakes to Avoid. Still have questions about creating backlinks? DemandZEN can help you build a comprehensive content and SEO strategy that works for your business. Ask us how.