When I first started dealing with links, I loved it because it was something that could be done without having to make changes on a website. You don't need to file a request with IT in order to link to a site.
I quickly realized that link building could definitely be good without on-page changes, but could it be great? I don't think so.
You can build lots of links that might rank a page in the top 10 for certain keywords, but it's no guarantee that the site will gain any new customers, if that's the goal. It may not pick up any new subscribers and that's where the money is for you.
Why not take the time to figure out how to make your site better from a user's perspective in order to improve the chances that people will link to you?
Here are seven on-page factors to consider when building links.
1. Types and Quality of Content
Building links can be difficult when you have great content. When you have subpar content? It can be a nightmare, unless you're willing to use riskier tactics.
One big problem that I see with the general blanket advice of "create great content" is that there isn't always a necessary emphasis on creating the right kind of content. Not every site needs a blog.
The target audience of a local plumber may not really care about the history of plumbing even though it might make for really fun trivia. They might care much more about some DIY tips written by the plumbers themselves though, or tips on a few things to check when your toilet is gushing at 2 a.m. on Saturday.
Think about what your users want to see, what they need, what they'd find useful and helpful, and see if you can create it in such a way that people outside of your target audience could also benefit. In the plumbing example, that kind of information would be helpful to people who might hire this plumber, but also for anyone who's up at 2 a.m. trying to fix a gushing toilet.
Good writing is also extremely important. If there's one thing that makes me immediately distrust or discount a site, it's poor writing.
I understand that not everyone in the world has a perfect grasp of things like proper grammar, tense, and punctuation (and I'm certainly not implying that if you don't, you're an idiot) but when I come across a site that is badly written or looks like it's been translated from English into French and back into English, three times, it's definitely difficult to take the site seriously.
I'm not talking about people whose first language isn't English but who write in English, either. I'm talking about native speakers who butcher their mother tongues when they write.
Even the best writing certainly can't distract you from the fact that what you're writing about is abysmally boring, inaccurate, or completely useless, though. I'm busy as heck and I'm sure that you are too, so when you spend 10 minutes reading a post that you initially think will give you the information that you need at that time and it doesn't? Doesn't it irritate you?
Misleading titles waste people's time.
Let's say I need to find a few things that I can feed my chickens to keep them warm when it's freezing. In my search, I come across a post titled "5 Easy Warming Foods For Your Hens". Those five foods: miso soup, baked squash casserole, lasagna, slow-cooker pintos, and Mexican cornbread. Well, as lovely as those foods all sound, they are neither "easy", nor are they exactly the types of food that I would be happy to spend time making only to throw them out into a chicken coop.
Think about how you'd feel if you were running Google AdWords and the person who had written your ads had used a title that caused loads of people to click then immediately leave the site because they were misled. There's definitely a chance that you might come up with a great title that you think perfectly represents your content but no one else agrees.
When I first started writing about SEO years ago, I loved using punny titles that made perfect sense to me. Looking back at some of those posts now is appalling.
In addition to being a well-known SEO ranking factor, your title is critical for users. Your title tells search engines and users what your page is about. Unless you've chosen an overly long title, it's what will be displayed in the SERPs, so think about whether you'd click on the listing if you saw that title.
If you're searching for a discount code for an online retailer and shown five results with variations of "discounts" listed in the title (such as 50% off, $25 off, etc.) and five results that only list "Retail Codes available" or "Coupon Codes and Printable Coupons" then which ones will you click on first? I'd go for the ones with numbers in them.
See the "free shipping" example below and think about which results you'd click on first.
For my monthly columns, we're required to use images, and rightly so as there's a lot of information out there about the increased user engagement on content that is or contains at least one visual.
Images by themselves can be fantastic for link building purposes, but if it's true that having a post with an image on it can up the chances of attracting more eyes on your content, that obviously increases your chances of getting links.
Now, I am definitely fond of images but if I needed to know how to do something, it would be easier for me to read the steps written out rather than learn by looking at a set of images. Many people are just the opposite. That's a great reason why including images and text is so important, as it covers all your bases.
If I was writing a post and needed to reference an article that gave information about how to build a chicken coop, I'd be most likely to link to a post that used text and images.
If I'm reading through a cookbook, I'm usually more likely to pay more attention to the recipes accompanied by some mouth-watering photo, and I'd especially be more likely to do that if I had to make something new to take to a dinner party. Hopefully it would turn out well and I'd be asked for the recipe. That's a perfect example of how an image can lead to greater exposure, even if it's through an offline method.
4. Video and Interactive Content
Above all else, make sure that your video or interactive content actually works! I seem to have a bad habit of landing on posts that contain videos that don't load. If you're pulling something like this from another site, make sure it's reliable.
If you're using something like a funny quiz for content, then by all means, make sure that it doesn't blow up on the last page if you happen to not have noticed that it's on a UK-geared site that doesn't like that fact that by living in the United States, you really can't enter your political party as Tory. People don't like to link to content that's broken.
5. Internal Links and Searchability
Think of this from a user's perspective. If you land on the homepage of a site that you found in the SERPs or saw socialized on Twitter, it may not contain the information that you're looking for and hoping to potentially link to. If it's difficult to move around on the site and find what you need, you'll get frustrated.
I'm not suggesting that in this example, there was anything fishy or spammy going on either, but maybe you wanted information about pricing of a certain service and you landed on a homepage that doesn't list that, but the Pricing page does. Hopefully that's prominently listed in the navigation but if it's not, for whatever reason, you should definitely be able to find it in an internal site search if you use that functionality.
Most people don't immediately think "well I can just go into Google and do a "site: keyword search" and find what I need" like those of us in SEO do.
Don't make things hard for people. If you have a Services page but have a page for each of those services that goes more in-depth, then link to it! It sounds obvious, but I've seen enough pages where basics like this weren't done that I don't think anything can really be too obvious a concept.
6. Outbound Links
When you link out, do so to trusted and relevant sites. Think of it in the same way that you would think about a site linking to you. You want those links to be good ones, so link out well.
I've thought less of several articles when I saw who they referenced. If someone writes an article that is widely criticized, one where the comments are full of authority figures pointing out the inaccuracies, then I will think less of a post that links to that article in order to highlight it as a reputable one. You are who you associate with, remember.
7. Shareability and User Engagement
Remember how we had discussions online before Twitter? We commented on posts.
Many times discussions seem to take place on social media and not in blog comments, so I wouldn't discount content that has no comments, but if a post has 150 spam comments on it, I would think twice before linking to it. If I come across a post from someone I've never heard of and see people that I know commenting on it or sharing it online, I'm much more likely to spend the time to read it myself.
While I make my own judgments, I'm definitely more likely to look at something that seems to have appealed to other people already. That brings me to the shareable nature of a piece of content.
If a piece of content isn't easily shareable, I may not share it. I know it's lazy but I'm busy.
If I can hit a button and it will tweet the link for me, without my having to adjust the tweet (I hate it when it autopopulates with something like 225 characters) then I'm much more likely to share it with others.
Even though everyone's been talking about the benefits of social media for ages now, it amazes me that so many sites still do not yet have social share buttons set up on their content. If someone is linking to your content, wouldn't it be better if people can easily share it so that maybe you get more links, traffic, and conversions?
If you haven't already, you should also read this Slate article about how people read online.
Make your content something that we want to link to, something that's easily shared on Twitter or Facebook or wherever you want it to be shared. Make your site easily searchable and make sure everything works and looks good, too, and check it on mobile devices. It's quite simple.
With the nonstop information being published online, people have to pick and choose what they read, share, and link to, so don't think that on-page factors don't come into play where links are concerned. They can make or break your link building in many cases.
At SES London (9-11 Feb) you'll get an overview of the latest tools, tips, and tactics in Paid, Owned, Earned, Integrated Media and Business Intelligence to streamline your marketing campaigns in 2015. Register by 31 October to take advantage of Early Bird Rates.