SEO experts have long cried that "content is king." When Mark Jackson emphasized this in 2007, he wrote that, "Quality content affects both the quality and amount of inbound links." Does this mean that all you need to do to get good links is to build quality content?
Some SEO "extremists" would have you think so, but improving the quality and quantity of your inbound links doesn't rest on the shoulders of good content alone. Let's look at some strategies for inbound linking plans, and some exercises to help increase the value and relevance of the links being targeted for acquisition.
What Does Natural Linking Mean These Days?
Many SEOs evangelize the need to "act natural" when building links to a domain. "Links should have a variety of anchor text," and "links should be pointed to deeper pages than just the home page" are tenets that will remain valuable when considering link development. However, these have become increasingly leveraged, and in some cases people have overdone it.
Using anchor text to link to specific deep pages on a site, as well as the home page, can certainly help from a ranking perspective. Data still shows that we see incremental lift in associated rankings and traffic when we accomplish these tasks.
Remember, however, that it's natural for a large percentage of links to point to a domain (text, images, or logos) where the actual brand or domain name is used as anchor text or alt attribute/image title. Whenever we take on a client with a relatively well-known brand, this pattern is very evident. Launching into an aggressive campaign to increase the variety of anchor text pointed to the domain could backfire, if it isn't carefully planned.
There could almost be a new metric for link building defined as "anchor text density." The total number of links pointed to the site should probably be comprised of "X percent" brand or product-name words and "X percent" of various iterations of relevant anchor text.
Although the concept of "keyword density" is somewhat dated, there's merit in aiming for a certain "anchor text density." You should probably strongly consider building a certain percentage of branded anchor text links if you really want to stay looking "natural."
Natural Tactics are Site-Specific
Although this column isn't about tactics, part of any strategy is defining the tactics you'll employ to build links. In the spirit of remaining "natural," take a close look at your inbound linking patterns to help determine which tactics make the most sense for your site. If you typically have numerous press releases and news articles being published and syndicated, which generate fresh but perishable links to your site, this is an area you would want to address.
If you tend to have a number of links coming to your site around various seasons or holidays, ramp up your efforts during these times in order to match the pace. Although it's wise to keep seasonal content live all year, from a holistic SEO perspective, not many people are likely to link to a Christmas page during June.
I said not many. There are people, including my wife, who start their Christmas shopping in June and may choose to link. These links should continue trickling in, but the majority of links to a holiday-themed page will likely come during a fairly predictable period.
If you have a natural linking pattern from social networking sites, forums, and blogs, then strongly consider hiring an evangelist to become your "face" online. Using social media as a communication medium allows for unobtrusive links to be built to a site, and to specific pages that address relevant conversations. It's still very important to respect communities, but accepted members who provide occasional links to the solution to a problem are typically not shunned, and are considered important members of the group.
Link development brainstorming shouldn't be limited to link specialists and project strategists. Brainstorming everything from directory targeting to more advanced link baiting strategizing is far more effective when participants are familiar with the products or services being supported.
I've previously suggested "degrees of separation exercises" for link building. This continues to be a valuable tactic. Much like SEO strategy often isn't fully formulated until after the keyword research is completed, link strategies shouldn't be finalized until many potential sources of relevant content are listed.
Taking the time to figure out what makes sense from a semantic connectivity perspective can yield tactical execution plans for link development with far more breadth than simply targeting everyone directly associated with the product or service. For example, an obesity-related site should consider links from far more than just weight-loss or exercise sites.
Linking will continue to be a very strong queen at King Content's side. Keeping natural while enhancing the growth of your inbound links will be like using fertilizer -- just make sure you spend the time picking the right types of fertilizer and the proper watering schedule, and you should be well on the way to increased rankings and traffic.
Frank Watson Fires Back
I agree that there's more to a sound linking strategy than creating good content. The "if you build it, they will come" mentality hardly ever works. But search marketers shouldn't underestimate the importance of creating something worth linking to.
I've always been an advocate of the power of good writing as a link building tool. Many times when I'm trying to answer people on the SEW forums about 301 redirects and other stock replies, I use the same reference.
We forget that the Web was originally set up as a research tool and that the whole Google algorithm was based on that premise. A link is like a citation, so if you provide good information -- or funny stories -- they have a tendency to get links from other Web sites.
Sure, forum signatures and social media links are valuable now, but there's no substitute for a well-written article with authority. And this is becoming especially true as things move to "trust rank."