Beginner’s Guide to SEO
To get the most value out of your content, you have to promote it in ways that make Google perceive your website as authoritative. Google knows that reputable websites usually only link out to other reputable sources, so its algorithms rely strongly on links pointing to your website to determine the authority of your content.
Recent updates to Google’s ranking algorithm have placed much more emphasis on website authority than in the recent past. In today’s online environment that is plagued by fake news and questionable websites, Google has started to crack down by demanding that websites be authoritative to receive top rankings.
The good news, however, is that your website does not have to be a major information source to enjoy a high level of authority. Instead, you can work to get links from major authorities and other sources that prove the authority of your website in the eyes of Google. Once you have built up the authority of your website, you will be able to get top rankings for high-value keywords.
Why Links Matter
When Google was first launched in 1998, it quickly overtook the leading search engine providers because of its innovative ranking algorithm that placed heavy emphasis on links. The idea was that a pattern of links pointing to a website is a strong indicator of that website’s authority. Therefore, that website should receive top rankings on results pages. The bottom line is that Google’s algorithm worked so effectively that it only took a couple of years for it to completely disrupt the marketplace.
Of course, experts found ways to game the algorithm, so Google later introduced a broad range of updates that leveraged social signals and ranking penalties to reduce what it refers to as “webspam.” However, Google has admitted that links remain the most important ranking factor in its algorithm. SEO experts know that Google’s claims are accurate because they regularly observe how getting one prominent inbound link can increase rankings overnight.
As a website owner, it is crucial to understand that link-building should be your priority if you are focused on getting traffic. You can create great content, but it will get little attention if you do not take steps to attract links from authoritative websites in your niche.
Importance of Building Links Organically
Before diving into how to build links, you first need to understand why you should never attempt to use unethical tactics to build links. There are many types of unethical tactics, such as:
- buying links,
- linking from other websites that you control,
- paying to publish a guest post, or
- spamming links on forums.
All of the activities listed above are easily detected by a sophisticated algorithm that Google uses. For this reason, you must always build links using techniques that the search giant regards as ethical, such as:
- promoting your content on social media,
- messaging influencers directly,
- using your professional network to build links,
- publishing guest posts on other websites without compensation, or
- placing content previews on social media websites.
Ethical link-building techniques are dependent on a third party linking to your content on their own free will. You can encourage another party to link to your website, but you should never offer compensation in return. Additionally, avoid using automated tools since these can quickly lead to severe penalties for spamming.
Focus on EAT
In the past, Google’s algorithm was strictly programmatic. Today, however, Google has admitted that humans need to play a role in determining rankings. It has introduced human quality raters who are responsible for determining whether a website meets its guidelines. The guidelines these quality checkers use have been published online, and the bottom line is that the raters are primarily instructed to score websites based on three factors:
- Authoritativeness, and
The three factors above are collectively referred to in the SEO community as EAT. When engaging in link building & establishing authority, you should primarily focus on improving the quality of your website and your content in accordance with EAT standards. Additionally, if you are trying to get links from other websites in your niche, you should focus on websites that are EAT-compliant.
Using Nofollow Links
There are many legitimate cases when websites might want to keep links active but prevent them from helping to build the authority of another website. For instance, it makes sense to prevent commenters from using your comments section to spam links to another website. Thankfully, Google supports “nofollow” tags that tell search engines to exclude specified links when determining rankings.
By assigning the nofollow attribute to certain links, you can minimize spam on your website. You should also keep nofollow links in mind when you are trying to build links from a particular domain. Many websites that regularly feature guest blogs only allow guests to post nofollow links to their website. If a website only lets you add nofollow links, you should usually deprioritize it when link building & establishing authority.
Building a Healthy Link Profile
Links pointing to your website need to include links from diverse sources. If you only build links from high-authority websites, you will get diminishing returns as you continue to build more links. Google could even penalize your website because the pattern of your link-building efforts may appear unnatural. To get optimal results, you need a healthy mix of links from a broad range of sources. Highly authoritative links should be only a small portion of the inbound links that you acquire.
SEO experts use the term “link profile” to refer to the mix of links pointing to your website. As you move forward with building links, it is crucial to build links from a broad range of sources so that your link profile appears natural. You should also avoid building many links at one time since you need a continuous stream of new inbound links to keep your link profile healthy.
Overall, you should have links pointing to your website from many different sources, including:
- social media websites,
- article comments, and
- directory listings.
Building links from all of the sources listed above will help to diversify your link portfolio. Links should also come from websites with varying levels of authority. As long as you have established a diversified link portfolio, you will get an enormous boost in rankings when you finally get a link from a high-authority domain.
The bottom line is that your link portfolio helps Google to determine whether you are building links in a fair way. As long as your link portfolio is highly diversified, you will rarely encounter problems when doing SEO.
Google’s spam detection algorithm is very complex. Even leading SEO experts do not know exactly what Google does to detect unnatural link-building. It is believed that Google uses sophisticated artificial intelligence to detect any unusual patterns. What is known, however, is that Google is remarkably efficient at detecting unnatural link-building. Once Google has enough data to prove that you are attempting to game the system, it will slap you with a severe penalty that can set your business back for years.
With punitive actions, Google is ultimately trying to incentivize the establishment of an ecosystem where content quality is the primary ranking factor. If your content is good, it will naturally attract links from other authorities in your niche.
Keep in mind that creating exceptional content is still the best way to attract more inbound links. Attracting links can be challenging in the early stages when your website has a limited following among thought leaders in your niche. As time goes on, you will start to accumulate loyal followers and readers who will share your content when it is published.
Encourage Shares With Email
One of the most effective ways to build links organically is to make sure that your followers can keep up with your latest content. As readers scroll down your pages, they should see a widget to sign up for your email newsletter. If you can build up a substantial quantity of followers, you can take advantage of this media source to tell all of your followers about your new content. Many of these followers will then share the content on social media or incorporate links to it in their content.
Use Anchor Text Properly
Anchor text is extremely important when building links. You ideally want sources linking to your website to use keyword-rich terms in anchor text to verify that your content is relevant to the terms that you are optimizing for. Anchor text confirms what your content is about, and it helps Google to determine relevance.
Building links with keyword-rich anchor text is a crucial part of any link-building campaign. If anchor text is unrelated to your targeted keywords, you are unlikely to achieve high rankings.
However, it is crucial not to use anchor text excessively. In the early days of SEO, Google would reward websites that mostly had keyword-rich links pointing to them. Of course, this system was easy to manipulate, so Google has reversed its stance. Today, it is a red flag in Google’s eyes if many of the links pointing to your website feature keyword-rich anchor text. Building even just a few links in this way could lead to severe penalties.
Balancing the need for keyword richness with the potential to receive a penalty can be challenging for people who are new to SEO. There is no exact science to determining how many keyword-rich links you should build. You should, however, make sure that the keywords incorporated into anchor text on external websites make sense in the context in which they are used. Keywords should appear naturally in sentences.
You should also avoid highlighting only your keyword in most instances. Instead, you can highlight the entire phrase that surrounds your keyword. When your keyword is only one element in a phrase that is used as anchor text, it is more difficult for Google to assume that you are building links unnaturally.
Remember That Links Can Naturally Bring in Traffic
SEO is the most powerful way of increasing traffic to your website, but you should remember that some links can actually bring in traffic on their own. If you obtain a link to your website from an article that gets tens of thousands of views per month, you could potentially get hundreds of inbound visitors on a monthly basis.
As you build links, keep in mind how you could use your link-building efforts to get directly referred traffic. This traffic can be highly targeted, so it can provide substantial value to your business. Also, if you have a newer website, getting some initial traffic from an inbound link can help Google to determine the quality of your content.
Never Purchase Links
In any niche, you will find authoritative websites offering to link out to your website in exchange for a fee. These websites will claim that there is no way for Google to know that you purchased a link since no offer to sell links is posted publicly.
In reality, these websites usually make little effort to conceal that they are selling links. Google’s algorithm can easily detect content patterns demonstrating that links are being sold. Unfortunately, whenever these link exchanges are discovered, all of the websites associated with these exchanges are usually penalized harshly. You may go for several months with improved rankings, but Google will eventually figure out what you are doing.
Buying links is the easiest way to get your website removed from Google’s results pages. Never purchase links under any circumstances.
Decline Offers for Reciprocal Linking
Once the authority of your website starts to increase, you will inevitably begin to get offers from other websites in your niche. Some of these offers are legitimate, such as other blogs inviting you to do a guest post or people offering content for your website. However, many of these offers will be for what is referred to as reciprocal linking, an SEO tactic that involves linking to another website in exchange for receiving a backlink from that website.
Reciprocal linking used to be a great way to boost your search rankings. Today, though, Google will severely penalize your website if you engage in reciprocal linking. The reality is that reciprocal linking is easy for Google to detect. As a result, you should decline offers for reciprocal linking.
Factors to Look for When Building Links
If you are buildings links from another website, it is important to understand what factors make a website authoritative in Google’s view. After all, Google is the final arbiter of what defines links as good or bad. Even if you disagree with Google’s perception of what makes one link more authoritative than another link, you will still need to abide by Google’s point of view. Factors that you should look for when doing SEO include:
- Reputable sources: Google prefers when links come from reputable media organizations, large corporations, nonprofits, or other organizations with strong reputations.
- Future outlook: Avoid blogs that appear to have been abandoned. Try to build links on websites that have plenty of funding and are unlike to disappear in the future.
- Topical relevance: The most effective links come from sources that are relevant to your niche. You should have links from a diverse range of sources in your link portfolio, but most links should be topically relevant.
- Follow and nofollow: A healthy combination of “follow” and “nofollow” links is crucial for ranking your website. If you only have “follow” links, you could receive a penalty.
- Attract relevant traffic: Remember that Google has many means of determining the demographics of people who visit your website from any source. Therefore, you should focus on generating traffic from other sources, such as paid ads, social media, and direct referrals, that matches the demographics of who you are targeting with your keywords.
Link Building & Establishing Authority Effectively
Before investing resources in moving forward, it is important to choose a strategy that will be effective in your niche. As with most areas of business, you will need to differentiate your website to stand out. Your website should look visually different than your competitors, and you should innovate in terms of what topics you cover, how you convey information, and what conversions you ultimately seek from your visitors.
You should then decide how you are going to get blogs in your niche to share your content. Engaging on social media platforms is usually the best option since most thought leaders in any niche are active on social media. When you share your content on social media websites, these influencers will see your content. They will then start to follow you, and this will lead to them eventually sharing your content.
It can also be effective to start linking to major blogs. These blogs almost always watch meticulously for new inbound links. When they see a link from your website on their dashboard, they will usually at least read your content. Many of them will return the favor by giving you a backlink.
The bottom line is that you need to choose a strategy that is tailored to the dynamics of your niche. As long as you start with a well-conceived strategy and carry it through to completion, you will usually be able to achieve prominent visibility over time.