You do deep audience analysis on your target audience. You follow this up with keyword research that doesn’t just look at their search queries, but their social media posts as well. You come up with keywords that are not only relevant to this audience, but have established demand in Google. You get the keywords into the very messaging that results in keyword-rich copy. You code your pages so that scanners and crawlers can recognize the relevance of the page to the search query as soon as the page loads. In short, you do everything right. And you still don’t rank well in Google.
What’s the problem? Chances are, its links. More than half of Google’s algorithm relates to the quantity and quality of links into a page, particularly external links. New pages are especially hard to get into the top page in Google’s or Bing’s search results because they lack external links into them. The more demand there is for a keyword, the harder it is to rank well and the more links it takes to beat the competition to top page ranking.
What do you do to get these links? It is not easy. And it will take time. It can be frustrating when you are expected to deliver search results that are largely beyond your control. In this environment, the temptation is strong to do things that can cause more harm than good. According to Google’s blog:
It’s important to clarify that any legitimate link building strategy is a long-term effort. There are those who advocate for short-lived, often spammy methods, but these are not advisable if you care for your site’s reputation. Buying PageRank-passing links or randomly exchanging links are the worst ways of attempting to gather links and they’re likely to have no positive impact on your site’s performance over time. If your site’s visibility in the Google index is important to you it’s best to avoid them.
They don’t come out and say it directly, but it’s perfectly clear from this passage. If you cut corners by buying PageRank or engaging in link swapping and you’re caught, Google can and will knock you out of its index. Even if you’re not caught, the practice is not particularly appealing to your users. The point of web publishing is to satisfy your users. If users click irrelevant links on a page and land on your page as a result, it is a negative branding experience for them. One way or another, black-hat SEO never pays.
So how do you build links in a white hat way? We devote Chapter 7 to this in our book. The following is a brief overview of that chapter.
1. Content strategy
The most important aspect of gaining more links is creating content that external sites will want to link to. External sites simply do not want to link to fluff. Yeah, you have to have landing pages for your paid search and banner buys. Sure, you need product pages that resemble catalog or brochure content. But these are not link bait. Your content strategy must include some portion of your site that provides original content with honest analysis of how you or your company is doing interesting things–community-service projects, ground-breaking research, environmental advocacy, academic partnerships, social media outreach, etc. Clear and compelling content–free of hyperbole–about you or your company’s unique contributions to society will be worth linking to. If you want links, you need a plan to create this type of content.
2. Social strategy
You can create link bait but no one will know about it unless you promote it. You need to develop readily updated presences on LinkedIN, Facebook and Twitter. You need to assign at least one person to do nothing but maintain fan pages and post announcements of new link bait on your sites. This person should also be versed in Wikipedia so that he or she can contribute links to your content where appropriate. If you have link bait and you do a good job in social outreach, you will slowly develop the credibility to gain links into your content.
3. Internal linking strategy
Though external links garner far more link juice than internal links, internal links can still be valuable. Unlike external links, this is something for which you do have control. So, though you don’t get much link juice for each link, you can get them a lot more quickly. Also, it is easier to optimize internal links, again because you control them. On the other hand, it is difficult to convince someone else to use the appropriate link anchor text (the single most valuable aspect of links for Google and Bing).
Start by placing high-value links in your link bait to relevant pages in your environment. For example, I developed a page about how IBM is helping the government of Ireland monitor beach water quality and publish the results. At the end of the article, I put a link in about the open-source version of WebSphere Portal used to create the web site bathers use to learn about water quality before leaving the house. The WebSphere page was not link bait in itself. But because I linked to it from a piece of link bait, and used the appropriate anchor text, that link passed some juice to the WebSphere page. I only linked to relevant pages and I was judicious in my internal linking. But this small thing made a difference in the ranking of the WebSphere page.
Link building is the hardest and most crucial aspect of SEO. It requires a lot of investment in content marketing. If you’re not willing to make that investment, content yourself with paid search. But if you really want to rank well for the words your target audience uses to find relevant content, you must begin building link bait, promoting it on social sites, and weaving it into the fabric of your web site.