When I talk with prospects and clients our conversations usually include standard SEO topics such as keyword phrases, content strategy, competitor analysis, social media, analytics, and the one topic that ‘links’ all these together – backlinking.
That is, incorporating keywords into backlinks, writing press release content with backlinks, out-backlinking the competition, using social media as a backlinking source, and of course measuring backlinks with analytics. Why is backlinking so important to your organic search strategy?
Google’s algorithm places a heavy weighting on the number of websites that are referencing (or linking back to) your website. These are backlinks or inbound links. Google’s logic is pretty simple: if other sites are referencing your site, then it must be a relevant and trusted site with relevant content.
But it isn’t so simple. The backlinks to your site must be:
- high quality, relevant links freely given based on editorial judgment;
as opposed to:
- low quality, spammy, irrelevant links, links from untrustworthy sources or traded links.
Backlink 101: Structure and Definitions
Here are some basics that will be helpful:
1) What is a backlink?
On this web page – http://business.financialpost.com/2010/12/08/canadas-most-innovative-companies – there’s a backlink to http:www.gshiftlabs.com.
2) What is anchor text?
The anchor text for the backlink is “gShift Labs”. (The text that you actually click on.)
3) What is domain value?
Google places a value on a backlink source. So the source “financialpost.com” would have a higher value than say “thebarrieexaminer.com”.
Now that we know this, we can talk about the do’s and don’ts. Here are some things to think about:
Backlinking for SEO: The Do’s
1. Be consistent. Google wants to know that you are committed to your backlink strategy and Google’s algorithm can detect if you’re not committed. For example, if you have 59 backlinks today and overnight you have 15,000 (because you bought backlinks from a backlink farm) you will likely be penalized, which will negatively impact your ranking.
Google wants to see that you are adding a consistent number of backlinks to your web presence over the course of a normal time period. For example, 5 to 10 backlinks per week, every week or 50 backlinks per week every week.
2. Optimize your anchor tags. An anchor tag with the text “Click Here” or “Read More” is pretty useless to your SEO efforts. Instead try to optimize your anchor text with keyword-rich content that matters to you. For example, if one of your top keyword phrases is “orange party dresses” then you’ll want to create anchor text based on this phrase and have it link through to a web page that is also optimized for that phrase.
Note: It might not always be possible to control the anchor text for your backlink.
3. Unique domains. Google wants to see that you have a strong variety of domains in your backlink inventory. If all your backlinks are coming from one source it is a signal that your website probably isn’t all that relevant.
4. But, how do I add backlinks? If you feel dumb asking the question you’re not alone. How should you go about building backlinks? It is really about producing content. You can produce content by:
a. Issuing regular press releases through a syndication service such as PRWeb.com or MarketWire.com.
b. Blogging on trusted third-party websites with links back to your website (when appropriate).
c. Getting your website added to relevant industry portals and directories.
Backlinking for SEO: The Don’ts
1. Don’t buy links unless you really really understand the company that is selling the links to you, the quality of the links and the risks associated with the potential outcome of buying those links. Talk to an expert or get a second opinion before committing to such tactics.
2. Don’t trust any SEO Professional or Agency that promises a #1 organic ranking. A #1 organic ranking is completely impossible to guarantee because there are so many external variables beyond the control of the SEO Professional. Variables such as Google’s always-changing algorithm and competitors’ websites just to name a couple.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask your SEO Professional what their backlinking strategy is for your web presence. Or better yet, tell them you want a backlinking strategy outlined, before it is implemented.
Now I’d like to share one really sad SEO backlinking story with you.
The Sad SEO Backlinking Story
J.C. Penney hired a SEO firm to optimize its website for organic search. To make a really long sad story short, Google ultimately penalized J.C. Penney’s rankings after it was determined that the SEO firm hired, implemented backlinking tactics that Google considers “black hat” or unethical. The initial outcome of these unethical backlinking tactics was a #1 rank for a variety of keyword phrases that matter to J.C. Penney.
How did the SEO firm accomplish this? They paid to have thousands of backlinks placed on hundreds of sites scattered around the Web, all of which lead directly to JCPenny.com. (New York Times, Dirty Little Secrets of Search, February 12, 2011.). In a nutshell, “paid-for backlinks”. The worst part is that the client, J.C. Penney, was unaware of the unethical practices the SEO firm was employing to achieve the high organic rankings. Bad SEO firm.
Once it was brought to Google’s attention that the J.C. Penney website was attempting to game Google’s search algorithm, Google began manual actions against JCPenney.com, essentially decreasing their organic rank.
“At 7 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, J. C. Penney was still the No. 1 result for “Samsonite carry on luggage.” Two hours later, it was at No. 71. At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Penney was No. 1 in searches for “living room furniture.” By 9 p.m., it had sunk to No. 68.” (New York Times, Dirty Little Secrets of Search, February 12, 2011).
Moral of the Sad SEO Backlinking Story: Keep your SEO ‘white hat’ or you will be penalized by Google and this will negatively affect your business. A strong, effective backlinking strategy is a marathon, not a sprint.