The link building game doesn’t standstill. If you don’t keep up with the changes, you will inevitably be left behind while your competitors profit. The link building industry has matured a lot during the last decade under the guidance of SEO watchdogs Google.
In their pursuit of quality and organizing the web, they are continually evolving their strategy for evaluating links and factoring them into their SEO rankings.
In this guide, we have identified the three most important ways to update your link building strategy in line with these changes. The good news is that many of the techniques that worked yesterday, like guest posting, broken link building, and the skyscraper technique will still work today and tomorrow:
However, you might have to take a slightly different approach to get the most out of them and to avoid being punished by Google.
1. Start writing more “shareable content” and leverage social media
Hopefully, you’re already utilizing social sharing links on your article pages. If not, do it now. As we just showed, promoting content on social media is a great way to build links. What you may not know is that different types of content are more likely to be shared by readers. A study by BuzzSumo and OKDork had some interesting findings:
- Articles with at least 1 image are more likely to be shared
- Longer form content gets more shares than short-form content
- Articles that evoke emotions (particularly awe or amusement) get more shares
- The types of content most likely to be shared are, in order:
- “Why” articles
- “What” articles
- “How-to” articles
Invoking emotions like awe, laughter, amusement, joy, or even anger also great ways of making content more “shareable.”
Considering that more and more people are likely to use social media, shareable content can be a big traffic driver. Of course, writing shareable content also improves the chance of your content being picked up by influencers.
Promoting your content among influencers is a great way to work smarter, not harder. You can easily find influencers by looking for blogs or social media accounts active in your niche. There are a number of reasons why targeting influencers can be huge for your link building efforts:
- Influencers are trusted by their followers to provide unbiased advice and recommendations
- Influencers have large followings of people who are interested in your niche on their blogs and social media
- When followers follow a link from an influencer, they usually have strong intent
Influencer marketing is so effective, that 18% of companies are already spending $100,000 to $500,000 on it.
2. Take care of your link tags
One of the biggest changes to link building in 2019 is that Google introduced two new link attributes. Previously, link builders only had to worry about correctly tagging their links as “nofollow.” Now, there are also the attributes “UGC” and “sponsored.”
Why is this important? Google clamped down on spam link practices earlier in the decade. Hard enough that many worried it was the end of guest posting. Part of the reason was that they wanted to stop people from masquerading their paid links as organic. Google only wants to reward marketers with link juice for links that they earned.
Tagging your links rel attribute as “nofollow” told Google to not follow that link when it crawls the web. Basically, it protected you from getting punished for backlinks by not counting them.
The “sponsored” and “UGC” attributes introduce a more nuanced way of identifying your tags.:
- Sponsored: Identifies links that are gained through some sort of partnership, advertising, or sponsorship agreement.
- UGC or User Generated Content: Identifies links that are created by users. For example, in comments, forums, etc.
They won’t be straight up ignored, but used as hints by Google to determine how they are treated in its ranking algorithm. Google themselves have stated that, for now, not using the correct attribute won’t have a huge impact as long as you still use any one of them. However, it’s usually best to get in front of these types of Google updates.
3. Optimize for user-centric metrics and Google’s new BERT algorithm
Probably 2019’s biggest announcement from Google was the rollout of their new search ranking technology, BERT (Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers). BERT is Google’s attempt to base SERPs results not only by matching keywords, but rather by matching user intent.
BERT uses neural network-based techniques to train itself for better natural language processing (NLP).
In the past, it was hard for Google’s algorithms to figure out the context or intent of a piece of text. Instead, it relied mostly on targeted keywords to match search queries. However, Google is getting smarter and better at reading the context of text and user intent on more meaningful wavelengths.
This is set to become even more prevalent with advancements in NLP and the rise of voice search. Using something like natural voice, users are less likely to search using terms matching simple keywords. For example, are you more likely to search for “air jordan buy” or “where to buy air jordans?”, “how much are air jordans”, etc. on your Google Home?
This means SEOs will have to optimize their content to align with their target consumers’ intent. As it’s hard to apply the same optimization strategies we did to keywords to these types of natural language queries, you should try to let your intent shine through in your actual content. To do this, SEO marketers will have to spend more time with, and getting to know, their consumers.
This goes hand in hand with the expert’s advice to always focus on quality over quantity. And, by extension, to focus on your user’s needs, intents, and sniping high-value leads. Finally, you should think just as hard about user-centric performance metrics, like loading times and user experience, when it comes to actual rankings.
4. Update your link building strategy - but stick to what works
As we mentioned, despite all the changes, some of the techniques we’ve come to rely on still work. The trick is to know which to keep and which to let go and how to adapt the ones you keep to be the most effective.
Instead of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, keep what works but adapt it according to the dominant trends:
- Using social media as a channel to promote content and get more links
- Google’s new link building standards
- Quality instead of quantity when it comes to links, content, and outreach campaigns
Melissa Burns is a marketing consultant and provides workshops for start-ups and small businesses. She writes about digital marketing to share her 6 years of experience.