Everywhere you look, Search Engine Optimization gurus are talking about how important backlinks are for improving your SEO. What are backlinks and how do you get some?
Spoiler Alert: You don’t buy them. You never buy them. And if you’re working with a SEO person that says you should – fire them right now. Never, ever, ever try to game the Google machine.
How SEO Works
Search engine optimization is a fancy way of saying that you want to make your website more appealing to search engines. Google, Bing, Yandex or Go Duck Go are all search engines, though if we’re honest, pretty much everyone uses Google.
Search engines use bots (little tiny programs) that crawl the internet, indexing websites based on the variables designated by their algorithm. An algorithm is just a computerized process that fulfills a specific intent – in this case ranking websites.
According to Tek Eye, there are over 1.8 billion websites online – so those little bots are busy. It typically takes up to 6 weeks before they even get to a brand-new site. Just another reason why those folks who tell you they’ll have your site on the front page of Google in a month are full of BS.
Variables in the Algorithm
This is the secret sauce, right? Hit the criteria in Google’s algorithm and fly right to the top of page one.
Yeah, no. First of all, Google is very cagey about it’s algorithm. SEO is a billion-dollar industry and not a single person outside of Google employees know exactly how the algorithm works. Here’s what people do know:
- Search engines look for relevant, good quality content
- Search engines prefer established sites (i.e. been around for a while.)
- Bots and crawlers like to be led to prioritized information.
- Search engines look for credibility – internet cred if you will.
Internet cred is where backlinks come in.
Backlinks are exactly what they sound like – another website is linking back to yours. The more backlinks you have, the more credibility you have. As far as Google’s concerned – credibility cannot be bought.
The credibility of the backlink’s source is also a variable. Having a book reviewed on the NY Times website carries more a ton more weight than a review on a Tumblr blog.
Certain sites have “authority” in the eyes of an algorithm. Typically, they’re well-known brands with more traffic in a month than most sites see in a year. When your site is new, these types of backlinks are usually out of your league. Not always, but likely.
White Hat, Black Hat
There’s are cowboys on the Internet –good guys and bad guys. White hats do things the right way – they’ll dot every i and cross every t, but they won’t venture into outlaw territory.
The black hats are the online equivalent of that guy who’s selling iPhones out of the trunk of his car. Even if the phone is real – this guy isn’t. He’s a backlinks rustler, pardner – all hat and no cattle.
(Sorry, too many Clint Eastwood movies…)
PBNs, Link Farms & Other Unsavory Habits
A Private Blog Network (PBN) is a black hat technique to game Google. It involves setting up a bunch of blogs on separate servers or host providers that provide back links to a particular site. The blogs are sometimes abandoned domains, so they appear to be more credible.
Google doesn’t think so. No matter how carefully the backlinks are managed, eventually the bots will recognize the patterns and boom! Your particular site can no longer be found. No warning – just gone.
Then we have link farms – the first evolution of a PBN – less subtle and not as prevalent anymore. Just lots of links and sometimes duplicate content (another no-no) stuffed with keywords.
That’s a black hat trick (for you hockey fans.)
This may sound corny, but at some point, you have to consider your company’s character – how far are you willing to go? And what risks are you willing to take? Because let us assure you that if (when) you get blacklisted by Google – backlinks are the least of your problems.
Backlinks – White Hat Style
White hat SEO takes time – credibility usually does. That said, there are some things you can do to help your site along. Start with who you know.
If you’re a member of any industry associations, sit on the board of a non-profit or a church – it’s perfectly fine to ask if they will add a link to your website along with your name or bio. If you’re in the trades – look at Angie’s list or similar registries.
It maybe stating the obvious, but is your website on all your social media accounts?
Take charge of your business on Yelp too. Yelp puts up tons of companies all on its own. If you don’t know your business is there – the information they post may or may not be correct.
Audit Your Listings
Speaking of that – you might want to run your company through an audit to see where else you’re listed. If the details of your company – name, address, phone number – are inconsistent, it can pull down your ranking.
Once that’s all cleaned up, there are some legitimate registries you can use to create backlinks.(HubSpot has a great list of them.) They’re all white hat and it’s a good way to start.
Google My Business
Google My Business is the smartest SEO move you can make. And it’s free. All you need is a physical address for your company (could be a home office), anyplace they can send you a post card.
Of course, you have to have a Google account…sigh, but it’s the price we pay for free stuff. (Just a reminder, Google is actually an advertising company that makes about $120 million A DAY on their AdWords program.)
Google My Business verifies your company and is particularly helpful with local search. It puts all your info in one place and you get that nice little side bar with a map, your hours, website and contact info. Plus, you get to see your reviews.
You probably already know, but if you don’t – reviews are very big deal for your business.
The influence of your social media accounts cannot be disregarded. Google’s latest statement is that they don’t consider friends, fans, follows or links in ranking pages…whatever. When people share your content by reposting or tweeting or pinning, it opens your site up to a whole new traffic pattern.
Shareable content is the bomb – even Google thinks so. Also, more and more people are searching for information on social platforms like Facebook or Twitter. Why jump off the app for Google or Bing when you can find what you want right where you are?
Look around at trending hashtags or ones popular in your field and use it across all platforms. Always link back to your site – maybe even a landing page for subscribers or a special promotion.
Reach Out and Comment
Participating online isn’t just about social media. You can initiate relationships with bloggers and writers who already have internet creds by commenting on their work. Typically, a comment includes your email and sometimes a link to your website.
Ask intelligent questions that give you an opportunity to start a brief dialogue. (Don’t overstay your welcome on the thread.) And it’s okay to compliment, but be careful not to come off as a suck-up. Be a willing student or interested peer – whatever works best for you.
The strategy is to eventually share a link to your site, get guest post or drop a reference to one of your own posts. Choose a couple of blogs that you like and subscribe to them. When a new article is published, check it out.
You don’t have to comment on everything – like any relationship in the real world – authenticity goes a long way online.
Speaking of Bloggers
Technology changes constantly and most website owners don’t have the time to keep up. But the folks on the list below – they live for this stuff. These sites are high authority – major internet creds- when it comes to SEO. And they share their expertise for free.
If you plan to manage your own SEO, put on your white hat and subscribe to a list from one of these experts. You’ll pick up tips, tricks and most definitely can avoid scams that can get you suckered into a black hat deal.
Best Blogs for SEO
We’re a big fan of folks who can explain SEO without tripping over a bunch of acronyms. These are our top picks to stay on top of tips and trends.
The blog at Backlinko is the one to beat when it comes to actionable tips that anyone can apply.
Brian Dean is an undisputed expert in the field. Not only does he keep you current on the basics, he’s trying to get you out in front of coming trends. One of his recent posts is about optimizing your site for voice search. Can’t speak for you, but we hadn’t even started thinking about that yet.
Moz is more than just a blog – they have free SEO tools to help you and particularly to increase your ranking in local organic search.
The Moz blog is a little more sophisticated and offers insights and access to data and industry studies. They go beyond basics – we really like their Whiteboard Friday posts where you get the chance to learn everything from split testing to out of date SEO practices.
Many people associate Yoast with SEO because they use the Yoast plugin on their WordPress site. Yoast SEO basics is an excellent starting point for newbies. The blog provides answers to frequently asked questions and this is a source you can trust to be on point.
If you want to expand, this blog also does posts specific to eCommerce, analytics and social media, along with some simple tech tips to optimize your site.
Ahref.com sells data-driven digital marketing services to Fortune 500 companies, but you can follow their blog for free.
The best part of this blog is the data that backs up their posts. Because data is their business – the blog posts aren’t just insightful, they’re quantifiable.
When it comes to SEO, Neal Patel is as close to God as it comes. If you would rather watch then read – his blog is all video.
Patel offers some free tools on his site too – and notice how he uses them to encourage new subscribers, sending reports via email. He ranks number one in the SEO industry, but somehow manages to keep it all sounding so simple. Just what you need when you’re getting started.
In 2017, SEMRush was recognized as the Best SEO tool in the US and EU – so these folks aren’t some fly-by-night black hat service provider. With clients like eBay and other big sites – you can learn from their blog and listen to their webinars for free.
They even have some SEO games and quizzes – how well will you do in Keyword Kombat?
All these SEO experts have a blog. They sell services, tools and products, but they all have a blog. If that’s what the SEO gurus do, maybe you should too? #JustSaying
SEO Summary: Backlinks & Bloggers
Most important thing in this article: Don’t buy backlinks ever – so not worth the risk. Using schemes like private blog networks (PBNs), link farms or key word cramming are definite no-no’s too. Black hat SEO is not a long-term solution – when you get caught, Google will literally make you and your site disappear.
White hat SEO may take longer but you build your credibility online authentically. Cover the basics:
- Clean up, standardize and control your existing listings online
- Include your business in any relevant registry or listing
- Set yourself up on Google My Business
- Create shareable content (it’s okay to ask your friends to spread the link around…)
- Comment on relevant blogs/articles to initiate relationships
- Follow the SEO experts to build traffic to your site.
Remember: Backlinks are key part of improving your position in the SERPs. Backlinks build your site’s credibility which increases your ranking with Google and other search engines.
SEO may sound complicated but what it really boils down to is traffic. Increasing the visibility of your website (and your products, services, messaging) is what it’s all about.
Have a favorite SEO tip? Feel free to share!