What is link building?

Definition of link building

Link building is the process of obtaining hyperlinks from other websites to your own. A hyperlink – usually just called a link – is a way for users to navigate between pages on the internet. Search engines, like Google, use links to crawl the web; they will crawl the links between the individual pages on your website, and they will crawl the links between entire websites. There are many techniques for building links, and while they vary in difficulty, SEO specialists tend to agree that link building is one of the hardest parts. Many SEO specialists spend the majority of their time trying to do it well. 

Why is it important for SEO?

There are two fundamental ways that search engines use links:

  • To discover new web pages

  • To help determine how well a page should rank in their results

Once search engines have crawled pages on the web, they can extract the content of those pages and add it to their indexes. This way, they can decide if they think a page is of sufficient quality to be ranked well for relevant keywords.
When deciding this, the search engines do not just look at the content of the page; they also look at the number of links pointing to that page from external websites and the quality of those external websites. The more high-quality websites that link to you, the more likely you are to rank well in search results.

Links as a ranking factor are what allowed Google to start to dominate the search engine market back in the late 1990s. One of Google’s founders, Larry Page, invented PageRank, which Google used to measure the quality of a page based in part on the number of links pointing to it. This metric was then used as part of the overall ranking algorithm and became a strong signal because it was a very good way of determining the quality of a page.

It was so effective because it was based upon the idea that a link could be seen as a vote of confidence about a page, it wouldn’t get links unless it deserved to. The theory is that when a website links to another website, it’s effectively saying it is a good resource. Otherwise, they wouldn’t link to it, much in the same way that you wouldn’t send a friend to a bad restaurant.

However, SEO specialists soon discovered how to manipulate PageRank and search results for chosen keywords. Google started actively trying to find ways to discover websites which were manipulating search results, and began rolling out regular updates which were specifically aimed at filtering out websites that didn’t deserve to rank.

This has also led to Google starting to discount a number of link building techniques that were previously deemed fine, for example, submitting your website to web directories and getting a link in return. This was a technique that Google actually recommended at one point, but it became abused and overused by SEO specialists, so Google stopped passing as much value from that sort of links.

More recently, Google has actively penalised the rankings of websites who have attempted such overuse of these techniques— often referred to as over-optimisation —in their link building. Knowing which link building techniques to avoid and stay within Google’s guidelines is important.

There is little doubt that if you get high-quality links to your website, it will help you rank better and get more traffic. The focus on quality is increasing as Google becomes ever more sophisticated at filtering out low-quality links. 

How does it benefit my business?

Links are a very important signal that the search engines use to determine rankings. So, we know that increasing the number of high-quality links pointing at your website can significantly increase your chances of ranking well.

There are other benefits to link building, though, that may be less immediately obvious yet still worthy of consideration.

Building relationships

Link building can often involve outreaching to other relevant websites and blogs in your industry. This outreach frequently relates to the promotion of something that you’ve just created, such as a piece of content or an info-graphic. A common goal of outreach is to get a link, but there is much more to it than just this: Outreach can help you build long-term relationships with key influences in your industry, and these relationships can mean that your business becomes highly regarded and trusted.

Sending referral traffic

We’ve talked about the impact of links on your rankings, but what about the impact of links on referral traffic? A good link from a highly-visited website can lead to an increase in traffic, too. If it is a relevant website, chances are that the traffic is also relevant and may lead to an increase in sales, as well. Again, in this situation the value of a link isn’t just about SEO—it’s about customers. 

There’s a big difference between being exposed to a large audience and being exposed to a slightly smaller audience but is more passionate or loyal.

Brand building

Good link building can help build your brand and establish you as an authority in your niche. There are some link building techniques, such as content creation, which can show people the expertise of your company, and this can go a long way toward building your brand. For example, if you create a piece of content based upon industry data and publish it, you have a chance of becoming well known for it in your industry. When you do outreach and try to get links to the content, you are showing your expertise and asking other people in your industry to help spread the word and show others the same.

The importance of having web-pages worth linking to

Before building links, you need something of value to build links to. Often it’s the homepage of your website. More often than not, though, you build links to specialised resources such as a blog posts, tools, research studies or graphics. Sometimes these assets exist long before you begin your link building campaign. Other times, you create these resources specifically with the goal of building links in mind.

All link building campaigns must start with something worth linking to. It’s very difficult to build links to low-value web pages, but when you begin with something truly valuable that people find useful or share-worthy, link building is a much easier endeavour.

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