Written by Willemien Hallebeek –
Link building is an essential aspect of SEO. It helps search engines to find and rank your pages. You can write the perfect post, but if search engines can’t follow at least one link to it, it will most likely wait forever in vain for visitors to admire its outstanding content. For Google to find your post, it needs links from other websites. The more links, the better. But, beware, the quality of links does matter! Not every link is as valuable as others. Even worse: some links could negatively affect your site. Here, we’ll explain how link building works. We’ll also guide you to more in-depth articles if you want to learn how to do it well.
Before we dive in, if you want to learn more about link building strategies and other essential SEO skills, you should check out our SEO training! It doesn’t just tell you about SEO: it makes sure you know how to put these skills into actual practice!!
What is a link?
Simply put, a link, or a hyperlink, is a connection between two pages on the internet. With a link, you can refer people to a page, post, image, or another online object. Links exist for people in the first place: with a link, you can easily “travel” from one web location to another.
But links serve search engines too – search engine robots follow links to discover pages on the internet. This is called crawling. For a robot to find your website, you’ll need at least one link to it from another website that was crawled already. Making sure you get that first link is one of the things you need to do when you launch a brand new website.
A link in HTML
In the coding language HTML, a hyperlink looks like this:
<a href=”https://yoast.com/wordpress/plugins/seo/”>Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress</a>
The first part contains the URL you’re linking to. In this case, it’s the URL of the Yoast SEO plugin page (https://yoast.com/wordpress/plugins/seo/). The second part (Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress) shows the clickable text that you’d see on the page. We call this piece of text the ‘anchor text’.
Internal and external links
There are two kinds of links that matter for SEO: internal links and external links.
Internal links are links on your website connecting your various pages together.
External links, otherwise known as incoming links, are links that other people place on their websites to refer their users to your pages (or the other way around). People working in the SEO industry describe these external links as ‘backlinks’. If other websites link to your pages, you’re getting backlinks from them. On the other hand, you’re giving them backlinks if you link from your pages to theirs.
Internal linking isn’t the same thing as link building. In this post about link building, we’re only looking at the process of getting other websites to link to your pages. Also known as getting ‘backlinks’ from other websites.
The anchor text serves two purposes: it should describe what the linked page is about and entice people to click. A link with a well-crafted anchor text has two advantages:
- more people click on it, leading to more direct traffic, and
- it will help search engines understand what your page is about, possibly leading to more traffic from search engines.
Of course, you can’t control the anchor text used when others link to your site. But you can use anchor text to improve your own internal links.
What is link building, and why do we build links?
Link building refers to the marketing efforts to get links from other websites to your website. It’s seen as one of the most powerful tools to achieve higher rankings in search engines. Google’s Andrey Lipattsev even confirmed in a Q&A session that backlink is an important ranking factor.
This makes sense when you think about it. If a page gets a lot of high-quality backlinks, it should/must be a good page. Therefore, search engines will consider it a popular or meaningful page, and they’ll rank it higher.
It’s good to realize that not all backlinks are equal in value. Next to that, since getting links from external websites is a strong ranking factor, it creates an issue for the SEO industry. That is: websites would try shady link building techniques to get more backlinks.
Links aren’t all equal. Some links are way more valuable than others. For instance, a link from an authoritative website, preferably topically related to yours, is worth more than a random link from a small website nobody knows.
Let’s say, if you have a restaurant, you’d rather get a link from a restaurant review (on topic) on The Guardian website (high authority), than a link from your aunt’s horseback-riding school website. This makes choosing sites you’d love to get links from easier. But at the same time, it makes it a lot harder to get those coveted high-quality links.
Because link building isn’t easy, lots of shady link building methods emerged in the past. People tried to game the system, for instance, by buying links from link farms. That’s why link building has got a somewhat nasty reputation.
Consequently, Google intervened with serious penalties as a result. If a page gets lots of backlinks from websites with a questionable reputation, it can completely disappear from the search results. So you’re better off avoiding these risky link building tricks. If you play it fair and smart though, you can gain a lot from link building.
What should you do to get links?
Now we get to the million-dollar question: what should you do to get those valuable links?
We believe in a holistic link building approach. You’ll have to create a website that people want to link to. It sounds so simple: Create high-quality, funny, original, or exceptional content people want to share. But how do you do this?
First and foremost, find out who your audience is. Who are you trying to reach with your content? Then, think about what kind of content they need. What information are they looking for and what kind of questions do they ask? Which words do they use? And, what kind of websites do they visit?
If you can answer these questions, it will be easier to create content that fits your audience’s needs (for instance, by using the principles of content design). Also, when you’ve created that page with valuable content for your audience, and you know which websites they visit, you’ll have a starting point for your link building activities. That is: you can start reaching out to those website owners.
That’s what link building is, in a nutshell. It’s about reaching out to other parties and sharing your article with those that might be interested in sharing it too. That’s why it’s key to target the right niche. This help to decrease the number of people you’ll have to contact and increases your chances of actually getting a link.
People will only link from their website to yours if it’s in their audience’s (or their own) interest. Convincing them to link will only happen if your product or content really is exceptional. Offering to let them try or use your product (if you have one) for free might help convince them. And always make sure to contact them personally, as this will lead to better results. Read all about this process in our step by step guide to link building.
Link building for pros
Have you got the basics about link building and want to take it a step further? Then we’d advise you to read this article with advanced link building tips by Kris Jones. You’ll learn which tools you can use to find out which sites already link to you and what you can do to get more of those. Find out everything about broken link building, reclamation link building, the so-called skyscraper technique, and more.
Pssst… if reaching out really isn’t your thing, you can always start with some “internal link building”: fix your internal linking structure! But ideally, you should work on both internal linking and link building to improve your site’s SEO.