Links are one of the three essential ranking factors your website should pay attention to for search engine optimization (SEO). Proper link-building strategies can establish your website as a trusted authority. There are many ways to use links, including internal links to navigate around your web page and external links that refer people surfing another website to your website.
Strategic use of links for SEO helps you improve the quantity and quality of traffic to your website. However, not all strategies are equally effective, and search engines are constantly changing ranking criteria. Because of this, you want to know which methods will give you the best growth strategies at any given time. You should also be aware of what practices you should avoid to prevent penalties.
This article will explain building external and internal links and share ten link-building approaches to secure SEO growth.
A link, or hyperlink, allows visitors to navigate between web pages. For example, external links send visitors from one domain to another, such as when journalists link to an outside source in an article.
Link building involves getting other websites to link from their web pages to yours. When someone adds a link to their website that refers back to your web page, this is called a backlink or inbound link. Basically, it helps increase traffic to your website through referrals.
You can also add internal links to your website to support SEO. Internal links navigate visitors to other content on the same domain, such as from your homepage to a blog on your website. Not only does it improve a visitor's experience on your website, but it also helps to distribute page rankings evenly throughout your site.
Search engines consider internal and external links when determining how a page should rank in the results. They will "crawl" on your web pages and use this information to understand the quality of your content and its ability to accurately answer a visitor’s query.
For example, when crawling on web pages, search engines will identify relevant and popular keywords in your content that they recognize as useful to their searchers. By having internal links, the search engine crawlers can easily navigate through your web pages to get to additional pages they might otherwise miss.
Search engines also analyze external links, using the number of high-quality websites that direct to your web page to determine how high it should rank. Each external link from a reputable source serves as evidence that your content is worth linking to, and therefore worth ranking for users to see in the search results.
Before going into details on strategies for SEO link growth, it helps to further understand how improving internal and external linking affects a website.
There is an algorithm that a search engine such as Google will use to decide on what it ranks first in the search results. Google doesn't share the details of its algorithm — however, the company does provide guidelines on how to rank higher and what to avoid.
For example, it is almost impossible for Google to rank your website if you have no links to it, especially against competitors in the same niche or targeting the same keywords. The higher the quality of the backlinks you have to your website, the higher your rankings are likely to be — although other factors affect this, as well. Meanwhile, you can be penalized for over-optimization or manipulating search results with low-quality links.
A search engine's algorithm wants to provide its users with the most relevant and helpful results. When multiple credible websites create backlinks to yours, this acts as a vote of confidence that the content on your website is also credible. The belief is that if your site didn't have quality content, it is less likely other websites would refer to your content to improve their user's experience.
When looking to rank higher in search engine results, five quality backlinks are better than 50 bad ones. Similarly, five quality backlinks from five different websites are better than five links from the same websites.
Taking the time to generate quality content or build relationships that lead to backlinks will increase the traffic to your website. You will be tapping into audiences from multiple sites, including different geographic locations, through a continuous source of referral traffic. As a result, you will also get the opportunity to generate more conversions for increased revenue.
Internal links help users effectively navigate your website. While the navigation bar is helpful for finding main landing pages, internal links can lead your visitors to additional pages related to their search that are deeper in your website.
They are especially helpful if you have multiple pages or a blog section with numerous articles. People don't have the time to scan through all of the content to find what they’re looking for. However, by referring them to related content they are already interested in — or by having a search tool for your website — you can significantly improve user experience.
An improved user experience helps prevent people from leaving your website due to frustration. Instead, you can generate loyal visitors who refer to your website as a resource for the niche information or services you provide.
Successful SEO link growth can allow your website or brand to become an authority figure for your niche. By having engaging content people want to link to and providing internal links that optimize user experience, you can gain popularity in your niche.
The better your authority and the higher your ranking, the more people will find your business, trust your content, and engage with your products or services. The process of link building also allows you to improve relationships with other authority figures in your niche, opening different opportunities to collaborate.
If you're looking to optimize your link-building strategies, there are a few key elements to consider. Besides reading and knowing the Google Webmaster Guidelines, here are ten proven methods for long-term SEO link growth.
Google recommends one of the best ways to gain inbound links is to create relevant and unique content. Engaging content that provides value to a reader allows your website to gain popularity naturally. When people find your content valuable to their audience, they will also want to link to your site, especially if your website has a high reputation.
Inbound links from people you didn't pay to link to your website are called editorially-placed links. You need a stellar reputation for this to happen. As such, these links are the most effective to positively influence your search rankings — especially since Google indicates in their guidelines that links that don’t fall under the editorially-placed category are considered unnatural.
There are many ways to create unique content for your website. For starters, you want to make sure it is relevant to what your target audience is searching for. You can research common pain points or conduct surveys to gather insight into your target audience's needs.
Similarly, keyword research identifies the various keywords people are putting into search engines to gather information relevant to your niche. The Google Keyword Planner is a popular tool to use for keyword research and finding competitor keyword data. The planner shows you related keywords for your website, the estimated number of searches a keyword gets, and more.
Other tips for generating unique content include:
● Using multiple sources when researching your content to avoid misinformation and identify what already exists
● Avoiding plagiarism by never copying text, always citing research, and paraphrasing information into your own words
● Adding a unique structure to your articles and using a style unique to your website or brand
● Providing personal opinions and perspectives when relevant
Leverage chatbot data for content ideas
Besides keyword research and surveys, chatbots are a gold mine of customer-related information. To plan what additional content to create, you can utilize chatbot services like those at Smith.ai, which collect data from interactions with your visitors. This data can help you brainstorm ideas on what future topics to cover. For example, analyzing chatbot logs allows you to identify:
● Frequently asked questions so you can generate content that provides relevant solutions
● Keywords visitors often use so you can incorporate them into your content
● Products or services you don't currently offer but that you may consider providing in the future
With Smith.ai, you can even set up intake forms to gather certain types of information you want to know from your visitors. You can also integrate different software to gather other information, such as call summary notes or call transcripts.
Great content won't lead to links if you don't make it easy for people to share it. A common way you can simplify this process is by adding options to pin your post and share it on various social media sites. Most website hosting platforms have the option to include a social media share button in your blog section.
If someone wants to link to your web page as a contextual link, it's generally easy enough to copy and paste the URL. However, it can be trickier to link or give credit to you for photos or infographics, especially if your target audience isn't web-savvy. You can make the process easier for them by providing HTML-ready snippets. For example, you can add a "Link to Us" button that pops up as pre-written text visitors can copy and paste onto their website.
Depending on your hosting platform, you can also upload infographics as PDF files that open in a new web page, allowing visitors to copy the PDF URL. Another option is to create an embed code for your image or infographic. A free tool that helps with this is Siege Media's Embed Code Generator.
Not every location on your website is an optimal place for links. Having too many links can also do more harm than good. For instance, best practice states that you should avoid having site-wide footers with 10 or 20 links. This can trigger an algorithmic penalty from search engines. In contrast, a search engine will see a link placed in the body of your content as a higher-quality link. We call these types of links contextual links.
Try not to load your homepage with multiple links or have every inbound or internal link go back to your homepage. You want to make sure you "link deep" into your website, meaning you have inbound and internal links distributed to multiple pages throughout
your site. Instead of linking to pages your main navigation menu already does, link deeper into sub-pages that can't be accessed as easily.
Also, make sure the link is relevant, naturally appears in your content, and leads to another web page that adds value. One useful way to incorporate internal links is to have a "related posts" section that helps visitors navigate to similar content.
This is one of those annoying, non-committal answers, but there really is no magic number for links per page. Search engine guidelines simply indicate to keep the number "reasonable." For example, some people recommend around three to four links for every 1,000 words in an article. Whatever you do, make sure not to overload your pages with links.
One way to avoid an unreasonable number of links is to use chatbots to help direct visitors to different pages. This maintains ease of site navigation without accidentally hurting your SEO.
Services like Smith.ai, also provide 24/7 live agents to answer questions and offer suggestions on where to find the information a visitor is seeking. You can set up response scripts triggered by different keywords for this purpose.
It's possible people simply haven't found your useful content, and you need to help them discover your website. You can do this by identifying and contacting other website owners related to your niche to suggest content they may find valuable and ask for links. Building relationships with people and publications relevant to your niche can be a long-term strategy that reaps many rewards.
Potential linking opportunities can include bloggers, publications, and niche websites or businesses. For example, suppose you have content on recipes for unique no-bake cheesecakes. In that case, the following audiences may be interested in linking to your content:
● Food bloggers sharing unique food ideas
● Lifestyle publications featuring fun recipes
● Parent bloggers writing about easy cooking with kids
● Recipe websites
● Party planning websites for ideas on what to serve
When deciding which of your potential linking partners to reach out to first, it’s beneficial to understand their domain authority. The domain authority indicates how strong and reputable a website is, thus reflecting how an inbound link from that website will influence your search rankings.
MozBar has a free Chrome extension that gives you data on a website's Page Authority and Domain Authority. The higher score a domain receives, the better off it is. For instance, we recommend finding websites with a score of at least 65.
Another group of people you should consider reaching out to for inbound links is your suppliers. Try reviewing the websites of your suppliers or manufacturers and see if they provide links to retailers. If so, is your business or organization included? Reach out to them if not, and ask to be added to their website. Similarly, you can go through this process with any partners, memberships, associations, or sponsors your organization has.
There are multiple ways to monitor how your brand is being referenced or linked to online. Whether you aren't being linked or are, there are situations that your SEO might not be benefiting from.
Sometimes other websites may already mention your website or brand online without a link reference. When this occurs, it's very easy to ask them to quickly add a hyperlink to the content they've already created.
You can monitor where and how your brand is mentioned on web or social sites through services like BrandMentions. This data can also double up as insightful customer feedback information or target audience research.
If you post infographics or photos on your website, sometimes other people may use this content but fail to give you credit or link back to your website. In these situations, you can conduct a reverse image search on Google to identify where an image is being used and contact them to credit you.
Besides mentions that don't link to you, there are also instances where you might have backlinks you don't want linking to you. These "toxic links" can ruin your site's rankings and are sometimes even done to spam your brand.
They include inbound links from websites:
● With low domain trust scores
● Not indexed by Google
● With a virus or malware
● Created only for link building or spam sites
● With questionable focuses, such as porn or online gambling sites
● With unrelated content
● With multiple exact-match anchor text links
You can analyze your backlinks with tools such as Majestic. With this program, you can locate these links and contact website owners to request removal. This is the first required step, even if they don't take it down. Next, you can submit a report to the Google Disavow Tool about the toxic link, so Google will ignore them when analyzing your ranking.
Having a link profile with unique referring domains means you have inbound links from a wide variety of websites instead of just the same few over and over again. Often, websites with higher domain authority and search engine results page (SERP) rankings also have more links from unique domains than sites with low authority.
Besides identifying different target audiences and content already mentioning your business, here are two additional ways to diversify your link profile.
When you publish engaging content on your website, you can leverage its value on Q&A platforms, such as Reddit and Quora. You can get involved with online communities and send targeted traffic to your website by:
● Identifying a question relevant to your niche or content you have on your website
● Providing useful answers or suggestions that add value
● Including a link to additional information or details available on your website
● Avoiding responses with only links and no useful content
Posting on a relevant blog as a guest blogger can improve your website's visibility and traffic. It also allows you to include a link back to your website. This can be through your article byline or by incorporating any relevant links to products or services you provide in the blog content.
Make sure the website you are guest blogging on is relevant to your website's content. Otherwise, this external link you earn might be seen as low quality or a tactic to abuse the search engine algorithms.
Search engines do not consider paid links organic, so they will not boost your SEO. In fact, if you are paying people to fake organic links or paying for reviews, you can be severely penalized by search engines. However, Google does support affiliate links that are transparent about the paid relationship. They understand that these programs help increase your brand's exposure and increase traffic to your sites.
Even though inbound affiliate links won't improve your SEO, make sure you aren't using them in a way that harms your SEO. Two top things to keep in mind when selecting affiliates are:
You want affiliates with high domain authority and those that truly believe in your products or services. This will ensure the content they create to link to your website is of high quality.
For instance, websites providing product reviews with unique opinions incorporated are more helpful for SEO than pages that simply copy the original content from a product sales page. The latter is considered an example of a "thin affiliate," which Google discourages.
To better manage the quality of your affiliates, consider an application process that allows you to screen entries. Be selective about who you choose to promote your brand and reach out to support them in providing value-added content.
You want your affiliate to produce content in a niche relevant to your product and services and use affiliate links wisely. The links should be useful for the reader and, therefore, less likely to generate a high bounce rate.
You can remember what a bounce rate is by thinking of the slang for "bounce." For example, "He stayed for about 20 minutes and then bounced." It refers to the number of people who visited your website's landing page and left without browsing or converting.
One way to keep bounce rates low and increase conversions is encouraging your affiliates to use chatbots to improve a user's experience. Chatbots can help identify which affiliate link is relevant to the user's inquiries, making sure they send the referral to the right page. Here are more details on how your affiliates can use a chatbot to scale their affiliate marketing.
When creating internal links or linking to outside sources, you want to be mindful of the words you choose as clickable text, also known as the anchor text. Examples include the article title when linking to other articles, the brand name when linking to another business, or action phrases like 'click here.'
Google uses anchor texts to identify what a page is about, so this can influence rankings. However, Google discourages keyword stuffing, where you load a web page with keywords to manipulate site rankings. It also bans the excessive use of optimized anchor text, where you use your main target keyword or commercial terms as anchor texts.
You want to have a variety of anchor text that also reads naturally in your content. Generally, anchor text should be no more than five words per link. While you can use keywords sparingly as your anchor text, avoid linking to the same words repeatedly.
Google's algorithm is now smart enough to consider the content around the anchor text and not simply rank your page higher for keyword stuffing or optimized anchor text strategies.
Internal links give your website visitors a better reason to stay on your website longer. The higher the engagement you have on your website, the more likely you will see improvements in your SERP ranking.
It is known that Google measures dwell time in its search engine analytics. Dwell time, in Internet speak, is the length of time someone stays on your web page after clicking on it from a SERP before they return to the SERP. The longer someone stays on your web page, the more likely search engines will determine that your content is useful and provides relevant information to searchers.
Only search engines have access to dwell time data. However, you can look at improving the following four metrics that can lead to improving your dwell time:
● Time on site
● Click-through rate (CTR)
● Bounce rate
● Conversion rate
Incorporating engaging content and internal links can help reduce a web page’s bounce rate, encouraging visitors to spend time on your site, click through different web pages, and eventually make a purchase. Relevant internal links allow people to navigate through your site easily, especially to reach the information that is deeper in the available pages and not on landing pages.
Examples of ways to add internal links to help people find information and navigate your website include having a:
● Search tool that generates a web page of search results linking to relevant content
● Relevant Posts section at the end of articles
● Section featuring popular posts or post topics organized into categories
Another way to help engage your visitors and keep them on your website while balancing links is to have them interact with a chatbot or live agent. The chatbot can suggest relevant content to explore next or answer any questions to improve conversion and prevent visitors from leaving your website due to frustration or believing you don't have the solution.
Broken or lost links can reduce your SEO score and how well you rank on search engines, especially when you have multiple broken links. A broken link is one that directs you to a page that is offline or has moved, commonly resulting in a 404 error. A 404 error happens when the page developer took down the page or a blog's author changed the URL of their post.
Broken links also make a visitor's reading experience worse and can decrease traffic to your website. To easily monitor your broken links, you can use free tools such as Broken Link Check. It scans your website and finds the broken links so you can easily remove or fix them. Sometimes, you might want to contact the page owner to fix their link if the issue is from their end.
Another useful strategy is to monitor the broken links on web pages you want to be featured on. For instance, you can review a publication in your niche for broken links. Identify broken links that match relevant content on your website, then reach out to the site’s owner and suggest linking to your site to replace their broken link.
Building links is an involved process — not necessarily difficult, but it takes time and attention to detail. Once you’ve taken the necessary steps, optimizing this crucial SEO factor can have long-lasting results for your SERP rankings.
Still, increasing the quality of your internal and external links alone is not enough to turn visitors into customers. Once you’ve increased traffic on your website, there are other tools you can utilize to capture visitors’ attention and encourage them to purchase your products or services.
For example, our team at Smith.ai supplies websites like yours with chatbots and 24/7 virtual receptionists with the goal of identifying and converting qualified leads. Say you create an internal link to a contact form. If a visitor fills this out, we can use this information to follow up with them and:
● Answer any questions the potential customer may have, even after hours
● Screen for quality leads
● Create transcripts of the conversation to provide you with helpful feedback and insight
● Perform new client intake and schedule appointments
● Take payment
We would be happy to provide these services on your site to help you take full advantage of your new SEO growth.
To find out more about our virtual receptionist services, we encourage you to reach out for a free 30-minute consultation with the Smith.ai team. A team member will discuss what we can offer your website, pricing, and our 14-day money back guarantee. Don’t miss another qualified lead.
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