One problem link building projects face today is a disconnect between link building goals (more links) and business goals (more sales/leads/ad views). Additionally, there are “other signals” that may play a role. This results in binding strategies with decreasing effect.
How to realign link building for success
A few years ago, I did a site review session at Affiliate Summit New York. The links pointing to a site I was reviewing were irrelevant and of poor quality. The links did not match the high quality of the site itself.
The company had hired an external link builder. The link builder did the right thing to fulfill their contract.
This resulted in links that met the agreed measures. Yet, despite an agreement on the links, the quality of the links was still insufficient and the project did not result in any increase in traffic, sales or leads.
There were two reasons why the link building project failed:
- The linking was not coordinated with the content
- Link building focused on meeting quotas and metric benchmarks
How to make link building work
Coordinate links with content
The architecture of the project itself is one of the main reasons why some link building projects fail. A company outside the organization or within the organization itself is responsible for creating links independently and disconnected from everything that happens in the company.
Link building projects are usually treated like an exterior paint project: here’s the paint color we want, get it done.
The best link building should have some degree of integration and coordination with a content strategy. It doesn’t make sense to have one team working on content and another team working in isolation on mojo mystery link building.
In an ideal world, there is communication between the content and link building sides, even if link building is outsourced.
What is provided for content can help energize the link building side because it gives link building something to take care of. Do it like that and link building will reciprocate by enriching the content, making it more powerful.
Link building isn’t really about links. Link building is about putting air under the wings of content, helping it gain altitude and fly, which is a metaphor for attracting traffic and links.
In my experience, link building is not about building links in a vacuum. Link building is all about supporting content goals, such as traffic, sales, and leads.
Content awareness can be a link building goal. This opens up a wide field of outreach with the aim of gaining notoriety, which includes podcasting, video, interviews… the possibilities are almost endless.
The end result is the gold standard of links that naturally receive links that weren’t requested.
Another effect may be what John Mueller cryptically called “other signals”.
“So especially if you’re in an area where people tend not to build a lot of links…and where we’re trying to pick up other signals to see like this is actually a really good website.”
It refers to signals that indicate that a web page or website is useful. The nature of these signals is beyond the scope of this article.
But I will suggest that spreading awareness of a site and getting people excited will come through positive mentions, even without a link. Could they be used as an alternative to links? Could users grabbing your domain name and requesting your web pages also be an “other signal”?
Link quotas and metrics
The second reason link building projects fail are the monthly quotas and performance metrics that the links themselves must meet.
Link building quotas
Monthly quotas set the stage for desperation where the link builder starts sweating where they are going to get that month’s links.
This almost inevitably leads to link buying, scaling (which is a euphemism for email spam), and shortcuts that are not in the best interest of the customer.
I know for a fact that some companies that sell on “genuine awareness” are really just mass spamming up front to build link inventory that is then bought from the publisher and sold to the user.
In addition to being in violation of FTC guidelines regarding informing users about paid advertising, it also violates Google’s guidelines.
When a link building strategy expands its scope beyond links and thinks in terms of outreach, the types of projects available open up to projects that can result in naturally given links.
For example, an article without a link, or with a nofollow link, can help build awareness. It can also create the opportunity where other sites can give a natural link to the author.
Another benefit is that it can get people to search Google with the business name, providing a signal that people want to see that site in search results. This, in my opinion, could be a ranking signal and could at the very least serve to help it get found in Google Suggest results.
Link Building Metrics
Link building metrics have always been arbitrary or based on bad SEO information.
For example, when Google displayed a PageRank metric on the Google Toolbar, it was common to search for links that were at least PageRank 4.
The reason for this practice is that when you searched for backlinks on Google using the link: advanced search operator, Google displayed links from sites that were PageRank 4 and above.
The SEO industry deduced that the reason was that PageRank 4 sites were more important.
The reality was that Google never intended to display all backlinks. Google intended to display only a sample of links. When creating the link search operator, the engineers randomly chose the PageRank value of 4.
Google’s research engineers had no idea that this would cause the SEO industry to incorrectly infer the importance of the PageRank value of four.
And so began a flawed SEO practice, refusing to accept any link that was below a PageRank of four. As silly as it sounds, the SEO industry behaves even worse now than it did back then.
At least in the past, the SEO community got a real Google metric, PageRank, wrong that could be seen on their toolbar.
Today, the SEO community is obsessed with an arbitrarily chosen Moz Domain Authority metric threshold.
Low PageRank links have always been valuable and the most sophisticated black hat spammers as well as some clever SEOs have realized that the power of quantity and relevance matters more than PageRank numbers.
Those days are of course over. Ranking with links is much harder and more nuanced today than in the past.
But one thing that hasn’t changed is that applying a minimum Moz Domain Authority threshold or any other metric is wrong because all links count.
The first object of a successful link building project is to coordinate link building with content strategy. This is based on how search engines rank pages today.
In the past, it was enough to “build” links to the homepage and let the PageRank trickle down to the pages below.
Today, it is imperative that pages stand or fall on their own. The more links a page receives, the more important it will be perceived.
However, the content of the page also matters. You can’t just throw thousands of high-quality, relevant links to content that’s irrelevant in the way users want and expect it to rank. Relevance of content to users is always important.
So, in my opinion, link building/awareness and content creation should ideally work together, because that’s how Google seems to rank pages, increasingly because of the relevance of content to users.