Taking things right down to basics, you may have heard the terms ‘link building’ and/or ‘backlinks’. These phrases are used daily in most Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) discussions.
But what do they mean? Why is link building important? How do backlinks help your SEO campaigns? It doesn't matter if you are a business owner, online store, blogger, run an affiliate marketing website, or have any kind of web presence, link building is going to be important for you so keep reading for more.
These topics will all be covered in this guide, but first, it will be useful to define what a link is.
The image below visually defines what a hyperlink is.
We call them links, because people are lazy and the word ‘link’ is shorter and easier to say than ‘hyperlink’.
You have most likely used links when working on any kind of document, email, Facebook post, or pretty much anywhere you write text on your PC/phone. Most places will allow the usage of links within the text editor.
Basically, a link provides you with direct access to an external or internal resource (mostly contained within text) that is ‘clickable’ by a mouse on a desktop/laptop, or ‘tappable’ by a finger on a mobile device. The content you can ‘link to’ can be just about anything you can think of.
Files, images, videos, audio, PDF documents can all be links. In the SEO world, we mostly care about links to web pages and websites.
Note: A link does not have to be text. A link can be an image, button, or almost anything else. Typically for SEO purposes, we focus on text based links.
Web pages use html and the syntax behind what builds a functioning hyperlink requires you to have a basic understanding of how html works.
To create a link, you need a destination URL (where you want to send someone who clicks the link) and anchor text (the text that becomes the clickable link).
We start with the opening HTML tag which will be where you place the destination URL:
<a href="destination URL goes here">
Next, we need to add the anchor text and the closing </a> HTML tag to make the code complete and functional:
<a href="destination URL goes here">Anchor Text Goes Here</a>
Below is an example that will create a link to the homepage of my website, with my brand name as the anchor text.
The resulting link and anchor text will be this: HyperWeb
Most cases this link generation process is taken care of for you through use of text editors, meaning that you don’t need to build the html tags yourself. But understanding what goes on behind the scenes gives you more context around how they are important from an SEO perspective.
A backlink is basically the same thing as a hyperlink or link. The main difference between backlinks and links is that backlinks are referring specifically towards using links for SEO purposes.
Google weighs specific ranking factors stronger than others when it comes to determining which websites deserve a place at the top of the search engine results.
Links from one website to another are one of the top ranking factors that influence search ranking positions.
When you think about it, this makes sense. Let me give you an example…
If Website A and Website B both publish something about the same topic.
The main difference being that Website A had a far better marketing team who engaged in a link building campaign to make other website owners aware of the content, and try to get them to link to it. They then successfully end up getting 30 other websites to reference - or link back to their article as a useful resource.
Website B did nothing once the article was published, and there was no sign of the content being of value to others.
Which article would be more likely to rank higher in Google for the topic it was written about?
Clearly, in this example Website A has the advantage. It will be highly likely that the article published on Website A will rank the highest due to the backlinks that it has.
It can be useful to think of backlinks as votes, and the website with the most votes from the most credible sources will come out on top.
With all the information covered above, you should now see where this is going.
Backlinks are valuable and help to get your web pages to rank higher in Google. But how do you get other websites to know your content exists?
According to John Mueller and any other Google spokesperson.
Creating quality content is all you need to do. If the content is good, people will magically find it and link to it.
Easy right? - WRONG!
That’s just not how it works unless you are already a very well established brand with a large following.
How can people find something that doesn’t already rank high in Google, and how would they even know it existed? - Unless they looked really, REALLY hard.
To get backlinks, you need to actively work at building links. The higher quality link you want, the more time and resources it will take to acquire one.
Website owners are not stupid. They know the value of their site and what a link is worth. They are also constantly being bombarded with people wanting backlinks from them especially if the site is meaningful.
This means that it takes a lot more than sending them a quick email and sharing your article hoping they will gladly accept it and link to it.
You need a link building strategy. A way to find the right websites that will link to your content.
Offering value to website owners is a common tactic - for example guest posts - creating a free article to publish on their website that includes a backlink to your website.
Outright paying websites to add a link to their site is another common way to get links - there is a huge industry built around this too.
Just know that it takes a lot of work, experience, and out of the box thinking to get high quality backlinks from websites.
With that being said, there are many companies - ourselves included - who have done the hard work and built systems/processes to effectively build links for websites, so just reach out if this sounds like something you need help with.
There are many ways that you can interpret the value of a backlink for SEO purposes.
Below is a simple way to help determine if a link is useful:
How do the linking page and the link source page relate to each other?
If a cake shop had an article about their chocolate cake recipe. And within the recipe article they added a link out to a mobile phone repair website, is there any relevance here?... Not really.
But a web design site that links to a local marketing company has far more relevance.
What context is the link used in? Does the content or paragraph surrounding the link make sense to include the link within it? And what anchor text is used?
We generally determine the anchor text we want to use based on competing websites and what they are doing. Then we try to find a way to use that anchor text within a relevant article.
We use organic website traffic estimates from third party SEO tools such as Ahrefs. It makes sense that a website that is generating traffic must have some trust from Google if they are showing that website to users in their search results. Acquiring a link from a website that is already generating a good amount of traffic outweighs a link from a website that generates zero organic traffic.
This isn’t necessarily always true, because organic traffic isn’t always the businesses main source of users. They may be using paid ads, or have a large social media following so it is important to take that into consideration - we just look at organic traffic because it is an easy filter for us to qualify good quality websites.
These you should take with a grain of salt. SEO metrics for links are typically pretty inaccurate for determining link quality and link value. Attributing a third-party score such as Moz Domain Authority, or Ahrefs Domain Rating isn’t really too useful.
The only thing to note about these scores is that typically when you get higher metrics, it means the site has more referring domains (backlinks) pointing to it, and generally it is a somewhat decent website. But always make sure to look at the other factors as well because these scores can be easily manipulated or inflated.
We use Domain Rating (DR) as a metric mostly because clients ask for it and many people still see value in having high domain rating.
There are also additional tags that can be added to the HTML code of a link that are called link attributes.
The most common ones are Do-Follow, and No-Follow.
By default, if no attribute is added to the link, it will be set as Do-Follow.
From an SEO perspective, the main difference between Do-Follow and No-Follow is that Do-follow links tell Google to pass on authority (or link value) through to a website, while a nofollow link signals to Google that you don’t want to pass on any authority with the backlink.
This is debatable, and it has been tested that No-Follow links do pass on value, however Do-Follow links are considered to be far more valuable for people who are paying for someone to build links for them - or just outright buying links themselves.
There are other link attributes that have been recently recognized by Google as important.
Sponsored, and User Generated Content (UGC). These two recent additions are attributes we tend to avoid unless we are creating links on our own websites.
They essentially tell Google that a link is sponsored (paid for) which is likely to devalue it since paid links are a breach of their guidelines. User Generated Content is an attribute that is suitable for comments sections of web pages, therefore not really relevant to what an SEO would try to acquire when building quality links that have any sort of impact.
Hopefully you now have a better understanding around what link building is and how it applies to SEO. You may even now see the value in building links to your website but don’t really know where to start. If that is the case you can have a read of our link building process to find out more about what is involved along with some of the results it can bring in.
If you have any further questions don’t be afraid to reach out!
Set some basic foundations for a solid SEO campaign, and give your local business a boost with some of the top New Zealand business directories. Also included is a free download of a spreadsheet with a constantly updated list of NZ directories you can use.
Also known as citations or local listings, directories can vary quite widely, but the core of what a directory is, is basically a digital version of something like Yellow Pages where people can visit to find a list of businesses that provide a service they are requiring.
Most business directories offer a range of options, some have free and paid tiers for premium features - such as a more prominent placement on the website, or additional options to add to your directory listing.
Most will allow you to create an account and add your business to the directory, including things like your business name, website, address, phone number, logo, business hours etc.
In a lot of different industries, there are also directory websites built specifically for that category of business. You can also get directories that only accept businesses operating within a specific area.
Citation building is still quite an important part of a local SEO campaign - Yes, even in 2023. You can also use them for ecommerce businesses, and can help establish relevancy if you are working on affiliate marketing in NZ. They help to establish a good online presence and provide Google with trusted sources of information about your business. Building a good list of local citations for your website can be a great way to get some quick wins and see some movement with your rankings in Google.
Google uses local directory websites to help verify your business information such as the business name, address, phone number, and website. Having up to date, accurate, and consistent information about your business listed across the web is what most professional companies do, so if you can replicate the strategy for yourself then you are more likely to be viewed as an authoritative and trusted site by Google.
Not having this information around the web puts you at a disadvantage, because all of your competitors will be doing some kind of citation building. It is in your best interest to do what you can to out-compete other websites by building more citations and doing a better job at ensuring they are consistent, detailed, and accurate.
Compete with the top guys, help with local relevance if you can get listed on some hyperlocal websites. NAP - Name address phone number website.
Mix of do-follow and no-follow backlinks. Some directory websites only give you a no-follow backlink. They are still worthwhile having in the mix as long as it isn’t going to be too much effort to go and build the listing. Many will provide a do-follow link to your website.
It seems like a great way to get them done - pay someone about $20 on Fiverr to go out and build about 30-40 directory listings, but there are issues with this. To be straight, in lower competition industries, this can be just fine because the competition is so weak it doesn’t take much to beat them. But when you’re going after the serious money-maker industries you don’t want to cheap out on directories.
The main issue with Fiverr gig directory building services is that they don’t build unique and detailed listings, all the info is just copy-pasted across them all really quickly, the listings that are built are often not really using good lists of websites, and a lot of the time I find that the accounts get removed/banned - possibly due to IP address locations, or they are using automation software to enter the data. All of this leads to a lot of the listings not being indexed in Google.
Instead, the best way to build directories is manually… it sucks as it is super tedious, but unfortunately that is the only way to ensure that everything is done correctly and detailed enough. This is not a good answer for many people - who wants to go build 100 directory listings?... not a fun thing to do right?
A compromise is to use a more premium directory building service. Many will allow you to provide them with custom spintax, or they will spin the content you provide them so that it is more unique. Some will also drip the listings through indexing software to help get them picked up as well.
I recommend this as a good way to get some decent listings created that will stick, and you get a list of all the ones they have built with login access. If you ask them, a lot of the companies also let you send them a list of websites to build directory listings on as long as they are not paid ones, so that is a nice bonus as well..
Below are some premium directory services for building directory listings/citations in New Zealand, as well as monitor and audit your existing listings
Something that can be quite useful is to include a list of your directory listings in your sameAs schema markup on your website. Once you get it re-crawled after doing so, it can help get more of the directories indexed, while also providing Google information verifying that these listings are actually associated with your business.
YouTube citation - YouTube can be a great opportunity for directories. What I do often is create a video citation - usually just a slideshow video with the business logo and maybe a description about the business. In the cover image I will also upload the logo including the name, address, phone, and website in the image. Google can read text on images.
The video is then uploaded to YouTube, with the title being the business name and phone number. The description will be unique, and also have the name, address, phone, website. And a list of all the directory listings included as well.
Once the video is published, you can also use the embed feature to place the video on various places around the web, and on your assets as well. I usually share it on twitter, make a post in Google My Business with the video, and all the links + description etc. And also across any other assets such as web2.0’s and other Google properties.
One other thing that many people overlook is that once the directory listings are created, you’ve now got a nice buffer set of links that you can blast with more spammy link building tactics to help power them up further. So on the top directory sites you get, you can use things like SEO Autopilot or Money Robot to help blast links to these sites. Sometimes I’ve also bought links from Legiit and sent them straight to my directory websites which has worked out nicely - If using SEOAP or MR, I’d suggest not using the defaults however, as they aren’t too effective.