Backlinks, Quick Results, Fatal Endings
Backlink Strategies Shouldn't Just "Work"
They should make long-term sense. They should ultimately fit with what Google, and the people who use Google, want to see. Sure, .edu links are great, quality links, highly regarded by Google, but why? Because they generally link to high quality academic articles.
If you go ahead and use tactics to get lots of .edu links to your pet supply company's ecommerce site, sure, you'll get that wonderful SEO juice the experts talk about, but for how long? And to what end?
An Analogy About Backlinks
Sometimes, when I have lost my mind, I teach writing to children. Most of the time, I can wrangle these kids around great ideas and get them so caught up in the vision of creating great story that no one thinks of the "rules." They just write.
But there's always that one kid.
The one who spends his whole day trying to figure out the loopholes in what I am asking for. The one who, when I ask for 175 words, asks if he can write the same word over and over. Then asks how many letters that word has to be.
Man. If I could write the perfect algorithm to get that kid to just do what needs to be done so that everyone is happy...
But wait. This reminds me of someone. A jolly-looking guy, originally from the midwest...what's his name again? Oh, yeah. Matt. Matt Cutts.
I sometimes picture Matt, genial as he always seems to be on video, turning red and pulling out his hair as he has imaginary conversations with the SEO experts.
Matt: Okay. So we're all on the same page, then? If you're selling dog food, you're going to link to dog-related sites, right?
Matt: Great. So we're done here.
SEOer: Yep -- Just getting ready to set up my backlink strategy. I'm going to try to link out to a bunch of…
And I picture many SEOs as exactly that kid. You know what Google wants you to do, but you insist on spending valuable time and energy trying to go around that thing to somehow get what you want faster and easier.
One of my sons calls me the "self proclaimed Batman of the Internet" because I seem to have this solitary vigilantism about certain subjects. This is one of them. If I were successful, I realize that I would put a lot of people out of business, but I also imagine that a lot more people could sleep easier at night.
So here are a few strategies, taken from some of the best minds in the backlinking world, culled to only include the strategies that make long-term sense:
1. Consider Your Audience
I must sound like a broken record, but backlinks also need to have their audience taken into consideration. Your backlink profile should mirror who your ideal audience is, or who your audience would like you to link to. Here is exactly how Google puts it:
Natural links to your site develop as part of the dynamic nature of the web when other sites find your content valuable and think it would be helpful for their visitors. Unnatural links to your site are placed there specifically to make your site look more popular to search engines. -- Google
Is this really that hard to understand? I know it must be tempting to try to beat the system. I realize that it might make you feel clever. But really, how many algorithms is it going to take to understand the words "natural," "valuable," and "organic"?
If your links come from places that normally wouldn't link to you, in the long run, you are going to have trouble. And you know, even if you "get away with it," why, why, why not simply think about your audience and find appropriate sites to get links from? Ones that you would naturally get over time simply because of the quality of the content.
- Use your personas. Do a content audit. Yes, check your competitor's backlinks. Install a tool to help you quickly gauge the page rank of sites you'd like a link from.
- Develop a list of sites you want a link from. Create a cut off of, perhaps a page rank of 2 as the lowest rank you will consider. Create a "dream list" of sites you'd ultimately like to get a link from; ones that may be a challenge now, but worth the effort.
- Put this list somewhere handy. Get information from the dream sites that you'll need: webmaster contact information, and other contact information. Start learning about these sites and what valuable content they may want to link to. (It's not rocket science.)
2. Create Something Worth Linking To
This is not going to be done in an afternoon. In fact, one strategy that makes this process a little more efficient is to roll this content into your overall editorial calendar. Write bits of this ultimate content into blog posts, do research that you can repurpose as a blog post or social media post and also use for this content.
Spend time with this. Talk to your audience. If you can, if it makes sense, begin a relationship with the site you want to link to -- you might start out by finding a grammatical error in their site, or a broken link that you alert them to. Find out their "pain points." Find out what valuable content they wish were out there, that you could provide. A resource of some kind.
Do your homework. Use Google. Find resources out there with gaps in them and then work to fill that gap.
3. Reach Out, Politely
Man. So, when you have your content ready, and you have your dream list in front of you, and you have begun to develop a relationship with the gatekeeper of this site, then reach out with your content. Politely. Just suggest to them that you have this incredible, valuable content, and they may want to use it on their site. With attribution. And you're golden. And everyone wins.
4. Create an Embeddable Infographic
This is a subset of number 2, above, but slightly different. Certainly you will find gaps in content already available, but in this case, you will aggregate this content into a visual (hire someone to do this for you) and you will aggregate it on all your networks with an embeddable link back to your site.
Infographics themselves have perhaps been over-used, but well-done content rich infographics are still useful. And rare. If you can find that gap in the content and create a valuable infographic around it, do so.
5. Continually Ask Yourself: Does This Help My Users?
Actually, Google Webmaster Guidelines are written the way I often speak to those kids I sometimes teach. One line in this document really stands out to me: "Another useful test is to ask, 'Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn't exist?'" Think about that as you decide what to do next in your backlink strategy.
Consider it this way, too: It might "work," but is it, ultimately, the right thing to do? Is it helping?
Taking this further, consider your list as a work in progress. And don't only think ranking. Think of who your users would want to see links from to your page. Imagine a conversation with your end-user (an odd conversation, granted) and imagine explaining these links to them. Would they "get it" intuitively? Or would they be a bit confused?
6. Consider Your Assets
For example, consider your employees, or future employees. A valuable piece of content could very easily be an article placed in one of your employee's alumnae magazines listing a recent accomplishment.
Another relevant example is a (real) job posting for a (real) job offer. Universities are happy to promote actual jobs for their graduates, and if this makes sense for your site, why not benefit from it with a link?
Similarly, if you are in a position to speak at an educational institution, or similarly, at a government office, do so -- and make sure that your speaking engagement comes with a link back to your site with valuable information about the topic presented. This is entirely valid and a great way to add to the value in a natural way.
7. Give Back & Be Nice
There are two things you might do to get links out of your genuine good natured charm: First, consider offering real, authentic testimonials to related sites. This is a wonderful thing to do, and there is no reason a link back to your site shouldn't be a part of this offering. Of course, the site should be related to what you offer and your sentiments should be real.
Make a real donation to a real (high ranking) organization you care about. I don't think this makes sense if the donation is to an organization you care nothing about and which has absolutely nothing to do with what you offer, but if there is a genuine relevance, this is a solid strategy.
That's It… For Now
That should get you started. As you go along your way, creating your dream list and getting those awesome links, always remember that it's not a popularity contest. And keep in mind these wise words from Google Webmaster Tools:
"Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it." -- Google Webmaster Tools