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Link building for SEO: an introduction to outreach

by Lee Carnihan
02nd Nov 2016 - 6 min read

So, you’ve spent millions (or so it seems) creating your lovely new website and populated it with page after page of fresh, interesting, entertaining and relevant content.

Good for you.

But that doesn’t mean people are going to visit your site.

Build it and they won’t come
The digital world doesn’t follow the rule “build it and they will come”, for the simple reason that there are a billion other things we can and are doing on the web. Competition is fierce. Not to mention that we human beings suffer from the status quo bias – not a penchant for the band – but an in-built preference to stick with what we know. Add to that the ‘choice fallacy’, whereby we think we want lots and lots of options (websites to browse) but in fact, we can’t handle it and revert back to what we already know!

Promote it
So, if you want people to visit your site, you’re going to have to do two things: promote it and build links. When I say promote, I mean running an email campaign, an organic and paid social media campaign, a PPC campaign and other forms of online advertising. You should consider offline promotion and advertising in the places you think your audience might be.

Build links
When I say “build links”, I mean contacting other websites to ask them if they’ll link to you.

Try not to recoil in disgust. Contrary to popular belief in certain quarters, Google likes links, because that’s how the Internet works – it’s a network of links. If no sites linked to each other, you’d never find anything unless someone told you the name of the website.

Search engines like Google still tend to use the number of in-bound links as a measure of a site’s popularity and importance. It’s just one of more than 200 ‘rank signals’ Google uses to gauge where it should rank your site in its search results pages.

Don’t game Google
In the past, some people tried to trick Google and the other search engines by stuffing their websites with keywords, and using all sorts of other ‘black hat’ tactics to fool it into thinking it was an important website: placing links (pointing to your site) on thousands of fake, thin-content or spam websites across the world for instance.

Google has cracked down on these things. It’s grown a lot smarter in the last few years and they will penalise sites heavily if they see that sort of underhand link building going on.

The Force is strong with this one
But contacting another website and offering them a product to review, an article, or a press release for instance is perfectly honourable, legal and above board. The site may then agree to publish something mentioning your news, your brand or product and their piece of coverage may contain a link to your website, great! Everyone wins.

This is exactly what the Internet was built for. Creating websites, populating them with valuable content and linking it to other websites (and getting other sites to link to you in return). The Internet is meant to be a matrix, not a series of silos.

Be open, be clear
As long as a site is making clear to its audience, the relationship between its content and anyone or anything mentioned in it, all well and good i.e. a site should not present an article praising a new product for instance, without making clear who sponsored the article writing.

So if a retailer pays a blogger to write a review of their product, the content should be labelled as “sponsored by” the retailer. This is how big brands build links and a name for themselves. Little brands can do it too.

What’s the Return on Investment?
When you invest time and money in link-building, you want something in return. Ideally, you want a link and / or a brand mention. You could also add Likes, Shares, Follows etc. to that list. But if you’re trying to get your site higher up the search rankings, lots of high quality links are what matter most (for now).

Google continually updates its search algorithm so that situation might change in the days, weeks, months or years to come. But for now, the general principle holds true: more high quality links will help improve your search rank.

Good links, brand mentions and no links
That’s not to say you can’t rank well if you have lots of lower authority links or lots of brand mentions instead. A website’s authority can evolve over time too. Even if you gain a low authority link today, it may well grow into a high authority link in years to come (and vice versa).

So when you’re outreaching with a view to gaining a link, don’t automatically discount low authority sites, or an opportunity to get your brand mentioned (without a link). If a third-party site is relevant to your business, and they are willing to publish your content, go for it. You may gain traffic, brand awareness and a link!

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
Outreach can take a long time to get a result and involves a lot of very hard work. It may not yield hundreds of links, it may only yield one… but if that one link is from a national publication, then it’ll be worth its weight in gold a dozen times over.

Don’t expect miracles
Since you are dependent on someone else agreeing to publish something on their site – something you cannot control – you may get no results at all. It’s rare for that to happen if you are offering excellent content, but it is a possible outcome you have to accept exists simply because you don’t control the sites you want links from. Hence the importance of having other eggs in other baskets.

This is critical to understand if you want to have a balanced view of the potential value of link-building, and if you want to make an informed decision about how to invest in your website. Link-building is one tool among many and it can deliver very good results when done well, but it’s not a panacea. Don’t ignore the role social media can play, PPC, and having a properly coded site that’s optimised for mobile: all these can make a big difference to how well you rank and how many people find your site.

Having great content is also essential
By great, I mean King Kong. Create content that’s unique, left-field and out of the ordinary. Create content that understands and answers your customers’ questions and helps them resolve their fears and worries. Create content that reveals something exciting, that entertains and explains or gets a laugh. Above all, create content that looks, sounds and feels like a human being.

Because you want another human to engage with it!

Good luck.

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