What are Link Building Strategies? I personally define the techniques and tactics used in this type of Digital PR activity to be the closest to those used in traditional PR, especially when one compares it to other SEO practices.
In order to get high level results in the SERP, our web pages need to:
- be well structured and responsive;
- include excellent digital content;
- contain keywords that our users will use while searching;
- have a fair number of backlinks – links on other web pages that link to ours
These are all important factors in landing on the SERP but as we know they are not the only ones. Google has declared that there are over 200 signals which are taken into consideration when finding the best answer to a search request.
In this article I will focus on the practices of gathering those external links (known as backlinks), which in the eyes of the search engines demonstrate authority and content-relevance… both valuable for the allocation of a good score and a higher level chance of showing up in the search results.
Even though several SEO experts have predicted that this practice will eventually die due to the evolution and advancements of Google RankBrain, semantic searches and web 3.0, up until that time Link Building will continue to be the main activity of the SEO off-page. Therefore, it should be carefully considered in any Digital PR strategy.
There will always be somebody who will link to us due to the validity of our content. These are the types of links that the search engines are looking for. Links constructed due to a specific PR strategy are in fact artificial and one of the important Digital PR tasks is to create links that appear as natural as possible in order to avoid being penalized or ignored by the system.
Google obviously knows that many backlinks originate from the desired landing page owner and so allows a certain level of tolerance in these tactics. However if one goes beyond these limits the site risks being classified as spam or undesirable.
The pages from which the backlinks originate should be of the highest possible level. Quality is more important than quantity. By quality I mean sites that are known as a strong authority, which have a high reputation, and which are connected to our topic with a certain relevance.
A single page that links to ours with a high ranking and which discusses similar content to ours will produce a much greater effect than a similar link arriving from a page which is not related content-wise. Having many links from a number of pages which rank lower will also not combine together to create a stronger influence than the link from a high ranking and respected page.
Another element of quality is the exclusivity of backlinks contained in the source page. If a page of a site, even an authoritative site, includes a large number of connections (for example in an important directory) these will also have limited influence.
Besides quality, we also need to consider the following:
- the point where the backlinks are allocated. Links need to be placed in the editorial section of the content. Links inserted into the header, sidebar, or footer will not have the same effect.
- the position within the text. Links inserted at the beginning of the page have a higher value than ones placed at the end or in the middle.
- if the text included in the link is composed of more than one word, the value of the link will be divided and transferred depending on those words.
- the text included in the link should be the keyword or keywords that we assume our target-users will use in their search
- that backlinks do not contain the “rel = nofollow attribute” – otherwise there will be no transfer of value. This often happens with links from social networks as well as the majority of the comment sections of blogs and websites.
Everything discussed above is quite improbable to control for backlinks that arise both naturally and spontaneously. However, for our strategy of Link Building they are concepts to clearly keep in mind.
Now we can turn to those strategies that I personally believe are key for PR professionals.
Why start this description of the strategies for Link Building with content? Because we are communicators. Because we know that without describing the product or service that we are promoting well our strategic communication plan will fail.
One should not think that Digital PR activities are so different from traditional PR activities. The means and the media used may be different, the techniques may vary, but the content that we represent must be the true dominant value.
Just as in the traditional press, radio and TV, we need to diversify the multimedia content according to our targets and the media chosen. In the specific case of this article, focusing on SEO off-page, we are focusing on the production of an effective web of content. Images, videos and other useful items should be used to support reading and peek the interest of our user-customer.
SEO experts, also in relation to the latest trends, would put Media Relations at the end of the choices of action strategies for Link Building. I understand this point of view, but as most people who visit my blog are currently working in media relations as well, I cannot discriminate against a profession that some see as demanding and unproductive (a view especially held by those who have never done the job or who do not have any connection to journalists) but which I on the other hand believe continues to produce good results.
I support it because newspapers today have far more editorial space than they once did. Paper printings by nature have limited space while the online versions, enriched by the inclusion of blogs, are much more extensive. If we value content then the journalist will have every interest in translating it into news.
It will not be easy to make sure that the article also contains a backlink to our page, but if a press release references our site in which deeper information can be found the game would be won. The journalist would be willing to link to us, especially as the practice requires that sources are acknowledged.
Blog Outreach is a mode of Digital PR similar to that used in media relations: the task of the communicator is that of preselecting the best bloggers covering a given subject and then contacting them in order to raise awareness.
During my media monitoring activity I have often put both news sites and blogs into the same group. But in this case I prefer to differentiate between journalistic news sites and blogs. This is because the technical approach to the respective editors of these sites and blogs tends to be different. (If only because at times this practice is liable to costs, which theoretically is not possibile as a journalist should not receive money in order to write an article – at most this would be done through the advertising department).
In my opinion there are differences between the Blogger and Journalist which go beyond an ethical component. The Blogger works on his own, travels and pays his own expenses while investigating, and is not subject to the rules of writing (editorial line, scheduling plans, etc). He is responsible for what he writes and typically does this all due to a personal passion or interest.
Due to these reasons our approach should be different from those used with journalists. Both Bloggers and Journalists have different points of interest and background pressures and we should be sensitive to this, as both are extremely useful in our activity of business promotion.
Guest Blogging / Guest Posting
The idea follows a fixed practice of journalism, where the host requests an external source to create a specific piece. In this case we perform the opposite: we directly target a particularly interesting blog and as a proactive Digital PR action we approach the owner with our piece.
This is the activity that generally creates the highest level of return in terms of artificial backlinks that the search engines see as natural: after all, it would be rather rare that a blogger refuses a guest poster with valuable content, as a valuable post would only serve to reinforce the blog and would be mutually beneficial in terms of positioning.
Matt Cutts, head of the Webspam team within Google decreed the fall of this practice in 2014. However through careful reading and listening it is possible to determine that such comments are part of the operations that Google periodically performs in order to discourage the use of this practice becoming too intrusive. More importantly it is possible to infer that when Matt refers to such practices he is not referring to intelligent and quality Guest Blogging.
Returning to the concept of “natural” links, also expressed by Matt Cutts, in summary, this concept of starting from our valued content and managing it in a way that it is hosted by valuable and respected blogs in the field, this strategy of Link Building is simply one of the best solutions of all in terms of Digital PR. Not only is the content shared to a wider audience but the action itself permits important relationship building and is a way of forging stronger ties with fellow bloggers which can be used for future actions.
I believe many Digital PR experts support the idea that it is important to have a company blog through which one can inform readers about specific arguments and interests. It is important to note that articles on this blog do not necessarily have to deal with company services or product launches.
Given that such a blog is vital, there are two schools of thought on blog positioning: within the company site or through an external site with an independent domain.
Inserting the blog within the company site gives readers easy access to the company and keeps them closely connected. An added advantage is that anyone who shares the articles will automatically generate backlinks to the company website. The disadvantage is that the reader could see the blog a bit too orientated to and influenced by the company, and therefore decide that the content is not neutral… and so judge the content unreliable.
On the other hand, setting up the blog externally from the company website could create the perception that the writers are thinking independently from the company in which they work. In such a situation any sharing of articles will not bring any direct value back to the company website but rather only to the external blog itself. However there will likely be a number of backlinks to the company website within certain articles. This choice of an “external” blog will certainly bring authority to the contents and the authors, as they will be seen as independent, but it would then be their to task to redirect, with specific marketing actions, their company products and services.
Both schools of thought have their pros and cons. I personally suggest that you adopt the correct course of action depending on varying factors: the type of company or institution you work for, the type of content being dealt with, as well as the competence of the personal who would publish these articles and the publishing schedule. When choosing the second model of an “external” blog the company needs to more strictly monitor the situation to ensure success.
The term came up while I was explaining my thesis, in which I argue that those who have practiced the activity of traditional Public Relations (and so who already have strong experience in dealing with professionals) can obtain great results as well in Digital PR.
A reciprocal and beneficial relationship can be created, for example between Digital PR and Blogger or Journalist or Influencer, through mutual respect earned and consolidated through the exchange of valuable links (hence the term Linkship). I should note that to have the support of Sam Hurley on the term Linkship makes me feel very honored.
Of course it’s clear that in the specific case of Link Building I have not invented anything new. Links Exchange, Reciprocal Links, etc already exist. There are also those who have made platforms for the recruitment and selection of potential partners.
However my Linkship is a process of relationships in support of these methods, carried out by Public Relations professionals: when there is a relationship of respect one can better treat certain subjects in terms of positioning mutual interests. This is not only true in the case of backlinks, but also for a range of business situations.
In my opinion the ability to linkship is an essential component for those who now profess Digital PR, and my vision of Linkship obviously does not stop at simply Link Building.
The various methods described above are all related to Digital PR activities, but obviously the same cannot be said for all of the strategies for Link Building. Many of these strategies are mainly tactical and do not have the need for relationships. They can be developed in complete autonomy and when put into place can be quite successful. For those wishing to deepen their knowledge of them, you can go to this link.
When applying this set of strategies, techniques, and tactics you need to have done your research. You need to have a plan of what to do and how and when to do it. You need to check the results and make the necessary adjustments during the construction and application phases. This should all be done without rushing through things as the results, in order to be long lasting, need to be gradually achieved over time… in fact rushing through things too quickly can actually be counter-productive.