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Backlinks Beginners Guide

Backlinks - which is a link from another site back to yours - bring the life blood to your website: visitors.  Without backlinks you will have to rely on paid advertising and other sales techniques.   Google sees a backlink as an endoresment of your site, so without them you will struggle with your search rankings.

Before you dig in, think of backlinks as the result of or a reward for a good marketing strategy - not the start of one. 

If you'd prefer to get 'free' traffic to your site by virtual of healthy search rankings in Google, read on.

Back-links are one of the most important search engine optimisation factors because, theoretically Google (and the other search engines) see a link back to your site as a way of saying "go here - it's worth it". And therefore the site must be better than one that no one is endorsing.

But all links are not made the same - some are more valuable than others. For this reason, link-building can be hard work and it's a challenge figuring out what sites to target for link requests. If you are serious about SEO we'd recommend you employ a specialist SEO company who have the systems to speed up the data crunching side and can effectively pitch to high-value link prospects.

But if you want to DIY, this will get you started.

Before you start, know what keyword phrases you are targeting so you can get your anchor text right. Anchor text is the text that is linked, e.g. SEO Basics in this sentence.

Link building basics

1. Create great content

One of the best link building strategies is to have content that other people just have to share or reference – and on the web, sharing means linking. Great content means you don't even have to ask for people to link to you! Quality content is something that is unique, useful and if it's entertaining, even better!

Don't decline requests by another site to link back to yours if you do have something people want to share. Apart from the fact that you can't actually stop them doing it, the only reason you wouldn't want them to do it is if they want to damage your brand in some way – in which case they won't ask you for permission!

A little mentioned factor of great content is that if it is well researched and referenced, it will include links out to authority sites on a topic.  We've included links at the bottom of this one, for example. Google will see this content as a 'hub' of information because it links to helpful resources.

Here are 20 ideas for content if you are struggling

2. Get Quality Links

Not all back links are made equal and some are not going to be of any value to you. Google will give you more credit if you get a link from a high-authority site in the same industry as you. If you are a small local chocolate maker in Wellington, a link from an Indian website about drainage systems isn't going to be of much value. But a link from Cuisine Magazine's site will be.

Try not to get listed on pages that have a lot of links to other websites on it, such as 'useful sites' pages or ones that look like big long directories. Google spots that these pages are purely for the purpose of link building and gives them little credence.  They can add to the mix, but don't rely on them.

Don't get sucked into paying for links or engaging in link farms and other dodgy practises. If the links have come without you even trying, chances are they are of NO value whatsoever and could actually be damaging your search rankings. This includes link building software that 'automates' it for you.

Worse case scenario you could cop a penalty for unatural link building - which means Google will demote your site - and you don't want this to happen!

3. Build a natural link profile

Building a 'natural' link profile means building links in such a way that Google sees it as being done without trying to scam them.

This means getting links from a variety of places, types of sites and a combination of follow, no-follow and reciprocal links. No follow links are those that have code on them to tell Google not to pass on any SEO value for that link. Many blogs and major media sites have these to stop comment spamming and junk article publishing. But a 'natural' link profile has a combination of links that theoretically don't give you a SEO boost, so include these links as well. Reciprocal links (where you link back to a site that links to you) may be less valuable but are also 'natural'.

Use your brand name in some of your back links so you also get exposure for your brand. There's nothing worse than searching for a company that you know exists and not be able to find them in Google.

Include outbound links – but don't just link to anyone. Link to other sites that have quality content somehow related to your business.

4. Identify sources for back-links

So how do you find sites that will agree to a link back to yours?  And that are worthwhile?

This takes time and research, but any of the following could be approached for a link.  But before you ask them, ask yourself 'why would they'? You are more likely to get a positive response if there is something in it for them.

Here's some ideas of where you can start making lists of sites to target

  • Suppliers - they can list you as a customer with a link. If you offer them a testimonial they are even more likely to do it for you
  • Customers - a little trickier but if you've given them fantastic service they may recommend you
  • People in your business network that you are friendly with.  This is probably one of the easiest, but least exploited options.
  • Local business directories (many of whom offer free listings).  This is often the easiest place to get started because they want to link to you.
  • Industry specific industry sites - if you are a member of your industry body make sure you are listed
  • Blogs related to your industry – offer to write a guest blog.  A site such as alltop.com lists the most popular blogs - if you can get a post published by one of these you will be doing well!
  • Review sites (see
  • Comment on a blog article or forum post relevant to your services - but don't spam and just say useless things like "great post" - chances are it will get ignored
  • 'Trusted' sites include educational (.edu), government agency sites (.govt) and organisations (.org). These back links are hard to get but possible if you have a relationship with them or are an expert in your field and can provide them with useful content.
  • Article sites – write unique quality content and publish via news, PR and article sites. The low quality sites are not popular with Google who work to make them ineffective, so look for sites that publish quality articles. Don't just spin out the same article to multiple sites.
  • Social media – set up your social networks and link back to the blog posts and articles on your site. Ask people to share.
  • Answer questions on sites like Quora.
  • Share your content in other forms via platforms such as Flickr (images), YouTube (video) and Slideshare (presentations)
  • Make sure you have all your social sites set up and share various forms of your really valueable content (see step 1)
  • Social Bookmarking - there is some debate about how effective this is for the effort required, but can be part of the mix - but does require good content to form the basis

Be careful of paid advertising sites, as these are fairly obvious to Google and so won't give you a lot of SEO benefit.  They may be worth considering if a paid listing will genuinely send you traffic on it's own merit.

5. Analyse the competition

Find out who the top ranking competitors are in your business niche – i.e. who is in the top search results for your target keywords?

Once you know who they are, work out where they get their back-links from and which ones are 'quality' links. Chances are if a site links to your competition, they may link to you as well.

You will need some kind of back link analysis tool. These are applications that analyse a site to figure out where their back links come from. There are paid tools with many time saving features, but you can also use SEOMoz's www.opensiteexplorer.org which will give you a limited amount of links information in the free version

6. Exploit all your networks.

This includes your offline ones - people are more likely to link back to you if they know you. If you consider a back link like an endorsement, everyone in your organisation should be on the lookout for ways to get these 'endorsements' whether it is overt partnering, collaborating on content creation or encouraging content sharing through social networks.

7. Done all those?

There are many more link building strategies, and almost endless articles on how to build back link - some quite advanced. If you want to be a link-building guru, we suggest you start with the SEO industry leaders:

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