If building backlinks was as easy as it seems, then something about the whole concept would be wrong. After all, something can be valuable only as long as its scarce. So many blog posts about backlinks will tell you the principles. What strategy to use, how it works in theory. But how many of you had the feeling that something in these stories was missing?
In this article, I aim to give you a real story about backlink building. Hopefully, you’ll get a more exact picture of what strategies there are and of what is possible under real life circumstances.
The basics: why backlinks work
To understand how the search engine position of a webpage can improve, it is important to see the way referrals in real life work. Let’s assume you are looking for a lawyer and ask around if your friends have a good tipp. Any advice from a trustworthy, proven source will be regarded as a valuable piece of advice. If you, on the other hand, see questionable guys on the streets trying to talk you into a new lawyer, without ever having asked for their advice, then it gets suspicious. Well, the same principle applies to websites. (For an “official” guide, see the MOZ SEO learning center.)
It is important to note that in uncharted situations, there might be so few websites competing for the top rankings that a few keywords are enough to rank. This is where not even backlinks are needed to determine a search engine position. It also highlights the point that there are several other aspects you should care about. But it also shows that in cases of real competition – where everyone says the same slogans about themselves, and everyone has a fancy office to show for -, word of mouth really gets to play a role.
Backlinks for the small entrepreneur vs the big player
It is at this point that I’ll note the numerous occasions I have read about the importance of building quality backlinks. Let the biggest news sites link to you, let the best people find you, and really just let it happen on its own. After all, that is what shows that the word is out and everyone knows by themselves that you’re the best guy to choose.
This is not how it works , however, in the beginning. See it from the realistic side: you need to start a brand new homepage, a brand new company, and you don’t even have an idea of the boundaries of building backlinks. So let’s make a distinction here.
Your small company homepage is different than a multinational company’s.
What we have to see here is that for established, maybe even internationally well-known companies, that’s where the „official” rules get to apply. That is where Forbes will write about the company, that is where big sites start to write articles without ever asking for it.
Obviously, while we agree that such a company might have tens of thousands of backlinks pointing to their website or blog, this will not be the case for some time if you are just starting out. In that case, it does make a difference if your backlinks are just site-wide links Google disregarded not-so-long ago, or real niche links from independent parties.
So if you’re just about to start, you have to answer one question: is it better to have average quality backlinks pointing to my blog than to not having any?
Spam links vs no links vs backlinks
At this point, I do want to note that spam is never good. It should be avoided at any cost. That also applies to dishonest practices like private blog networks if they lack any real purpose other than to place a few links. The real question is this: you want to be as professional as possible, but you also need to start somewhere. So you need to find a way to do just that, while also playing by the rules.
And this is also where the point in the story comes in: to build a backlink that looks only 80% perfect is a lot better than not building anything. Try to think of it like this: a vote for your company from a third party counts as valuable as long as it is not proven to be spam. To have ten average quality, but not spammy, backlinks brings you a lot more than zero backlinks. So you do need to look for the type of opportunities you would have avoided otherwise.
Learn from the market
The above point can also be proven with some research. The MOZ backlink checker helps you analyse the backlink profile of a website. Other tools like Majestic might be different in their results, but the tendency can be read from any.
Take a web deisgn agency as an example. What qualifies as a potential backlink for such a company? Blog posts, obviously, if they get quoted in someone else’s blog post. But as a web development agency completing maybe tens of homepages each month, the obvius thing to do is to place a link on each and every website you make for a client.
We’ll get to this if we see one thing that stands out if you check the backlink profile: the comparatively low number of domains referring thousands of backlinks.
The above is just an example you will see for many web design agencies. The ’established links’ section shows that from 74 different domains, a total of 5256 links are directed to the website in question. So how can 74 domains produce over 5 thousand links in total?
According to the numbers, this means an average 71 links from each and every domain. Now, we know how averages work: from some pages, it might be just one backlink, while from others it might be a hundred. Or even more. The point I’m trying to make is that while we were talking about quality backlinks earlier, all of a sudden you see agencies in top search positions with backlinks in the hundreds from one single domain.
Now for that to happen, you need site-wide backlinks. That is important because since the Google Penguin update, sitewide links are not liked so much by them. This is especially true if the links come from pages that are not related to the linked site – something that happens all the time in the case of a web agency. After all, they are not making websites for the competition, right?
The point here is even though the above is all true, many agencies do rank good with sitewide links that do not even come from niche websites, or from sites that are from companies in the same industry. They might be from online shops, or really any type of industry, but they won’t be related to internet marketing and web development for sure. Yet in total, they are accepted as a sign that the website is a high-quality destination for the searcher. Again, even though you know there is a principle you should follow, you also need to get to having backlinks somehow. And in the end, this also shows that it is only for really large numbers of backlinks that you need to be strict about their qualities. (As long as in total, they come from acceptable sources – spam is never good.)
Produce content, let it do the job
It is amazing to see how quickly you can place yourself among search results just by providing a sincere description of your services and a few pieces of your opinion in the form of blog posts. You will get listed in a few search queries and get on the radar for those who are actively searching for valuable insights to link to.
My first real backlink
I almost wouldn’t believe it the day when I got my first message from a previously unknown guy. It was about a piece of blog content I had written months earlier.
This guy was asking if I would link to one of his articles about the same topic. Obviously, we could work together in the future and maybe I could also get one of his recommendations if it works out fine. It happened as simple as this: no effort at all aside from writing that blog post he became aware of.
So the point is really this: if you produce content, it will do the job for you. Write blog posts. Publish your opinion. Strive to create content as well-optimised as possible. Use the classic principles of on-page SEO: check keyword density, put in some images and don’t forget to provide all the alt text things. If you do this on even more occasions, you can expect to have growing visitors from search engines over time.