In the early days of the web, link building was ever so much easier! Even before there was Google (it only launched in 1998, you know), there were web portals like Yahoo!, which first started as “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web” in 1994. To get a link, you emailed Jerry and David. Links were easier to build because there were only a few hundred websites even in existence. By the days of guestbooks and GeoCities, it still wasn’t too hard to link build: you’d join a webring and you all linked to each other like an exclusive little club.
We’re not out to say things like “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” because that’s a tired old cliché that blogs like this never want to use, and also because it’s not quite accurate. You most certainly cannot relive the easy days of link building… but some of those concepts have been translated to the social media era. We don’t have webrings anymore, but Facebook groups and Twitter tags have taken their place. We don’t use guestbooks, because comment sections make a better guestbook anyway.
There are two main reasons that link building seems so much more difficult now. First, it’s because the web is so HUGE. You can have thousands of sites linking to you, and still, have the majority of the population never know you exist.
Test yourself: Without looking it up, who is Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee? (imagine Jeopardy music playing here)
The answer is: They made the music video “Despacito,” which currently holds the record for most-viewed YouTube video at 6.8 billion views and counting. Now, maybe you knew this, but isn’t it funny how those two names aren’t more famous? By comparison, the greatest selling album of all time only sold 47 million copies. Many more of you have heard of that artist, Michael Jackson, for his album Thriller.
The point of this story is that the Internet is huge, and fame on the Internet means something different from what we used to call “famous” a few decades ago.
The second reason link building is more challenging is that Google has become more critical of backlinks. Google is the arbiter of fame and link currency now, for our purposes as a digital marketing blog, at least. If you build links, yes, Google will index them and evaluate them. Their decisions can greatly impact the value of links, and subsequently, how well your website ranks on the search engine results page.
Now, let’s take a look at what links Google values today.
What’s Working or Not Working in 2020?
We can tell you one strategy that has fallen out of favor: guest blogging.
Just this June of 2020, Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller says that guest posts made for the purpose of link building are already something that Google has been devaluing for a few years. Search Engine Journal covers the whole story and also cites Google guru Matt Cutts warning us in 2014 that the guest post was going the way of the dodo bird as far as link building is concerned.
Cutts says that over time, guest blogging has become an increasingly spammy practice. So much so that Google has been driven to ignore links from guest posts altogether. That was back in 2014, but apparently nobody took him that seriously, so Mueller had to amplify and finalize that message recently. To be sure, Matt Cutts is a little more vague on the message here.
Way back in 2013, John Mueller even then told us to “nofollow” links in blog posts that we write to be published on other websites if they are done just to farm links.
So this kibosh on guest posting falls less in the category of “shocking revelation” and more in the category of “they’re been yelling this at us for years and we’re still not listening.” SEMRush, no less, recently got pressured to drop their paid guest posting service after a stern “harrumph!” from Google. The cringe hurts.
We’re not going to point too many fingers at SEMRush. Goodness knows, our own business is long-standing enough that we might have recommended guest posting a time or two before. Trends and algorithms change. You can look at SEMRush and think “maybe they know something we don’t…”?
All hands at Google are quick to clarify that links from a blog post, by themselves, are not evil. They even take pains to point out, if you’re an awesome writer and a high-prestige website wants your guest post, go right ahead. But the links from guest posts are not going to be as valuable for Google points as they were ten years ago. Likewise, with multi-author websites, there’s no problem there. Authors can still sign their content with the little author box at the bottom, with a smiling headshot and link to their portfolio.
Pinned down to the last word, John Mueller and Matt Cutts both keep insisting that it’s only the spammy, spun content that is stinking up the guest posting ecosystem. The same quality standard applies to your own writing on your own website; Google evaluates the quality of your content and penalizes you for sounding like a spammer. How do you define a “spammer”? We all know one when we see one.
Bottom Line on Guest Posting:
Don’t chase this strategy! If you’re a Nobel-winning astrophysicist and Discover magazine wants you to weigh in on the latest picture of a strange rock formation on Mars, that’s not guest posting for SEO purposes, that’s just smart content marketing. So, go and write that article and demonstrate your expertise and build your reputation.
Otherwise, forget guest posting as a means to increase your page rank.
Link building, as a process in and of itself, is a topic that Google has been notoriously touchy about anyway. A lot of it gets classified by them as “link schemes.” Schemes are something you don’t want to do. It colors your hat black.
But after all, the entire World Wide Web was created with the intention that some web pages would link to some other web pages, and obviously Google isn’t trying to stop all of that. So it’s certainly OK to use some white hat link building. The methods of white-hat link building, however, sound an awful lot like being a goodie-two-shoes. Just like there’s no “quick fix” to staying in shape besides “eat a healthy diet and get some exercise in,” there’s no instant, magic pill that will get you quality backlinks overnight.
The techniques of white-hat link building we will be focusing on are…
- Quality content (well duh!)
- Social media (still works)
- Building a community (did you know forum links count as backlinks?)
- Offering “perks” (save our infographic, download our app)
- Link-fishing with content engineered for “viral” potential (solid resource content)
- Networking (It’s not a “scheme” if you email another website owner to correct them about a dead link and offer yours instead)
- Multi-blogging for fun & profit (“sneaky” guest posting on social media)
The White-Hat Link Building Strategies
If you’re in business, you might as well be offering a service or product that people want. To capitalize on it, you provide content that people want to see. Your site should not only have good content, but follow Google Webmaster Guidelines for a well-structured, attractive website that’s easy to navigate, easy for Google to crawl, and is not trying anything dodgy.
We won’t dwell too long here because this is the most soporific point. Good websites with good blogs get good links without you having to do much else. Let’s move on.
Of course, it shouldn’t come as news to you that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and company are the social media secret sauce that gets you backlinks in 2020.
You should have a social media marketing presence on each of the major platforms, and be posting there about your new content whenever you blog it. You should also be offering social media sharing buttons on your website so visitors can easily share your content. You should watch trending tags like a hawk and jump on one whenever there is a sincere connection to your business niche.
While links from social media platforms are not considered extremely valuable, social media allows you to amplify your content. With increased exposure, there’s a greater chance that someone will read your content and choose to link to it.
In addition to sharing your content, review your social media profile, about page, description, and any other feature that allows you to add a link. These are all opportunities to send social signals to Google about your website.
Having your own discussion forum kind of went out of style back when social media came to the fore, but it’s starting to make a comeback. The thing is, on-site discussion forums work best for specific niches.
Depending on your business, there are likely several small sub-topics within your niche that are evergreen topics of discussion. When readers want to participate in or read about these topics, they find social media to be too broad. Say, just to grab an example, that you’re struggling with a mechanical problem on your vintage 1955 Ford Fairlane Crown Victoria. Sure, you might find a random bit of information on Google or Reddit, but what you really want right then is to pop into a dedicated vintage Ford car forum and talk to a peer gearhead with intimate knowledge of your issue.
Websites are starting to warm up to the potential of forums again. WordPress plug-ins like bbPress or stand-alone CPanel packages like vBulletin are easy to set up. Over time, the content snowballs into more traffic which produces more content. Give it some thought.
Another tactic that builds community is leveraging social media by creating hashtags, groups, subforums, and so on around your brand. This works just like a forum, only you outsource it to Facebook and call it the “Ford Fanciers’ Foundation” Facebook group, or the “Fixin’ Fords” Twitter list, or the “Forgotten Fords” sub-reddit on Reddit.
One more trick for community-retaining is using messenger apps. We cover the ins and outs there.
Perks and Giveaways
Here’s a time-tested way to make the public like you: give them something for free!
It doesn’t have to be your product or a free service. People scour the web looking for information and educational resources that will help them achieve their goals, overcome challenges, or learn new skills. Infographics are one freebie that has great legs in 2020; they’re easy to share on social media and carry great evergreen value. For example, we have an infographic on our remarking post. Or you might have seen some of our free eBooks lurking among our web pages. Perhaps your company is in a position to offer an app that users can download on mobile? Whatever it is, make sure that you share it far and wide.
Make sure that people in your industry know about your new resources. Build relationships with industry influencers and send them your best content. Your awesome free app? Share it with a group of beta testers and solicit their feedback.
When you develop authentic relationships within your industry and share valuable resources, it’s likely someone will decide to write about you and maybe even include a backlink in their next blog article.
Going “Viral” in 2020
How do you go viral? We wish we knew the proven formula, but a variety of complex psychological factors and influences are at play. Jonah Berger shares a few ideas in his book “Contagious: Why Things Catch On” that shed light on the challenge. Going viral with your content on social media is the proverbial lightning in a bottle, a combination of killer content, perfect timing, unbelievable luck, and a sacrifice or two to the proper deities.
One way to attract attention is by creating the most comprehensive resource available on a topic. This is sometimes called “pillar posting,” which we discuss here. But briefly, your blog should have about four to six very long, very complete, definitive posts about a specific niche in your industry. These should be expert advice on a common question or problem, something that gets searched for a lot.
You can see pillar content as your “flagship” posts, the link builders that will be evergreen resource posts that will stand the test of time. If you are a recognized expert in your field, you might even get that golden treasure of links, a spot in Wikipedia or a .edu domain.
Here are the other ways to get a viral hit:
- Do a quick and dirty post about a trending topic relating to your industry.
- Do a fast, funny post that hits the right nerve at the right time in your industry.
- Do a shocking expose about a hidden story in your industry.
- Do a “myth-buster” post that shoots down common myths in your industry.
These “drive-by” posts sometimes work and sometimes don’t. This year, when COVID-19 hit, SEO content marketers all over the world could barely type fast enough to meet the searches coming in for advice on what to do, where to go, what are the facts? People who urgently need information will link the first post they come to. For another example, the George Floyd incident sparked not just nation-wide, but global, protests and ushered in what is developing as the new Civil Rights movement. Many diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) experts are now seeing their content linked in major publications.
While “link building schemes” between websites are frowned upon, there’s nothing wrong with honest networking. You can reach out to other websites that do not compete with your business but do get some value from linking to you. Like I mentioned earlier, you need to build authentic relationships with people who will desire and appreciate your insightful content.
Here are a few ways this can work:
- Create a list of influential business and people within your industry
- Email them and share whatever resource or content you think would be helpful to them
- Find a website in your topic space that links to an old broken link. Message them and offer your site’s link as a replacement. This is called “dead link building.”
- Find a site that mentions your brand, but doesn’t link to your site. Message them with the link, helpfully.
- Link to the other blogs in your industry (without being your competitors) that you want linking to you. Scratch their back and sometimes they return the favor.
- Find a directory or resource list which covers your industry but doesn’t have your link. Reach out to the owner suggesting your link for inclusion.
These are small-potatoes and time-consuming, but sometimes they pay off.
And now for the surprise secret sauce:
Multi-Blogging: The New “Guest Post”
What is multi-blogging? It’s where you, yourself, have an account with other websites and get to post content there freely. Well, you just go ahead and do that, then link back to your domain.
Hey, it works just like a guest post! Only Google doesn’t frown on it. Here’s what we’re talking about:
- Reddit.com allows “self-posts.” They work just like any blog post. You can also soapbox in a comment. The “bestof” subreddit has a whole list of examples of informative, definitive posts that get highly regarded.
- IMGUR allows multi-image posts forming an album with text and links included. They’re called “dumps,” and while the majority are silly meme posts, there are plenty of topics worthy of an image gallery post. User MetaPathos is legendary for these.
- LinkedIn allows you to publish full blog posts. You get link exposure plus social networking juice in one move.
- Quora is the social media platform that nobody is talking about, but has steadily risen in importance. We will make you this guarantee: There is somebody on Quora with a question that you can answer. True, direct links to your site from an answer don’t always pan out, but your brand should have an account there to establish your expertise.
- Google My Business feature rides shotgun to Google Maps, and lets you share short blog posts.
- Tumblr, Blogger.com, and Medium are also multi-user blog spaces that allow you to “guest post” on a separate website while linking back to your own.
To Link Build, Or Fish For Links?
The thing with multi-blogging as well as some of the other strategies we mention is that none of them get links to you directly, at least not links that Google values highly. But they all put your content and link in front of other people who may then organically link to your content on their own. When they do, not only do you gain exposure and increase brand awareness, you get a valuable backlink.
What is link building when Google calls link building a “scheme”? What is your site PageRank when your sphere of influence encompasses your social media profiles, Medium account, the app 500 people have downloaded, the knock-out post you put up on Linked-In, and a discussion forum around your brand?
You are no longer just a website! You have become water. Your influence soaks into the shores of the web, your content lapping at the ankles of web-surfers. You become famous by virtue of spreading your puddle out to the point that the ranking of one website is trivial to you. The links do eventually come, but they have to evaporate into the Internet and return next season as rain.
If you’re considering a link building strategy, Atlantic Digital Marketing Company can help you get high-quality links that will help your website rank. We do everything from SEO, content marketing, social media marketing, and more. Feel free to contact us if you would like a free consultation to ignite growth within your company.