Google is pretty secretive about the precise nature of the signals that make up its algorithm, but one thing we do know is that while the search giant seems to be constantly striving to reduce the weight that links have in that algorithm, they’ve largely failed, and links are more or less just as important as ever.
In fact, research carried out last year by SEMrush concluded that only user interactions with a website (specifically visits, time on site, pages per session, and bounce rate) were more important than backlinks, and their referring domains.
It goes without saying, then, that anyone who wants to boost their website’s visibility in Google (and by extension, other search engines) needs to be investing in link building.
Here are my top link building tactics for 2018.
Write for Featured Snippets
For those who don’t know, featured snippets are, as the screenshot below explains, “a summary of an answer to a user’s query, which is displayed on top of Google’s search results.”
Sites that appear in a featured snippet understandably see an increase in organic traffic, and while this isn’t strictly link building (it’s SEO), being “chosen” by Google helps sites appear authoritative, and as a result, means people are more likely to link to you as a resource in their own content.
So how do you land yourself a featured snippet?
There are a few things you need to consider if you want to increase the odds of your site appearing in a featured snippet.
- Your content needs to be featured on the first page of Google for the keyword in question (or Ahrefs believes it does, anyway – and I’m inclined to agree).
- Your content needs to answer very specific user queries (long-tail keyword research is your friend here).
- Your content needs to be formatted for featured snippets. Things that help here include:
- Placing a summary answer directly below a question, and a more detailed answer after that.
- Using numbered or bullet point lists.
- Highlighting data in chart form (using text – not an image).
Create Link-Worthy Content
Link-worthy content comprises many content types, from long-form written content to data visualizations. You might also think of infographics when you hear the phrases “link-worthy content” or “link bait.”
That’s because for quite a few years, infographics were effective linkbait – and many marketers are still using them regularly as a result.
However, while even today there’s a time and place for infographics, the best link builders have branched out and started to use other forms of visual and non-visual content as “link bait.”
One example is this interactive graphic that charts the popularity of birth dates (it’s been linked to from more than 380 different domains):
So how can you establish whether your own idea is worth pursuing as a way to attract backlinks? You might want to start by asking yourself the following:
- Would you feel comfortable promoting this content using outreach? You wouldn’t generally use email to shout about a blog post, for example (except perhaps to people you’ve referenced or quoted in the post).
- Which websites or publishers are likely to be interested in it? If you can’t easily create a list of, say, at least 50 websites that might want to use this content, it’s probably not link-worthy (or not link-worthy enough).
- Will anyone actually care? Even if you can build a list of sites that cover similar (or the same topics), that doesn’t mean those sites (or the people that work at them) will have any interest in the content. Is this new information? Is it surprising or shocking? Is it genuinely useful? Be brutally honest about whether people will actually care or better yet, ask them before putting something into production.
If the evidence indicates that this is a topic people will care about, and you can foresee who might feature it and how you will promote it, you might have an idea worth exploring further.
Back around 2013, everyone was using guest blogging to build links, to the point that the tactic wasn’t so much being used as being abused.
The result was a crackdown on My Blog Guest – an over-popular guest blogging network of the time – and the bulk of the sites linked to it.
The ultimate effect of this was that online marketers came to fear guest blogging. They thought a link from a guest post was automatically “bad.” Of course this isn’t, and never was the case.
Writing crap posts by the dozen and palming them off onto any site with a negligible link to your own of course does equal bad guest blogging that deserves to be penalized.
Writing great content that you’re happy to put your name to, for quality sites in your niche that you’re proud to appear on, is another ballgame entirely.
If you’re reaching out to publishers you respect, pitching them your ideas, and writing awesome, on-topic content (so you can link to yourself naturally from within the article), you have nothing to worry about – this is a completely white hat and very effective link building technique. It’s only when you try to scale the tactic that you risk running into problems.
Bear in mind that to maximize the value your guest posts deliver, you should be promoting every single one of them. This means your content has to be promotion worthy.
Talk on Podcasts and at Events
Do this, and at a minimum you’ll get a link from the host’s site, but odds are you’ll get links from the sites of attendees that produce write-ups of the event, or who link to the podcast. You can get similar results if you sponsor an event or podcast, too.
Of course, public speaking does take a certain level of confidence and skill. Few people are naturally great speakers, but it’s something you can work on improving.
Here are a few resources to sink your teeth into if this is something you’d like to do:
You might also want to try Orai – an app that promises to help make you a better public speaker.
So how do you actually land a speaking slot? Or convince someone to let you talk on their podcast?
Generally, you have to start small and work your way up. It’s understandable that if you’re completely unknown on the scene and have never done anything like it before, the “big names” are unlikely to welcome you with open arms.
Instead, approach local events and growing podcasts that are on the lookout for new speakers.
Better yet, do something to showcase your skills, something that will demonstrate why you should be a guest on a podcast, or speak at an event.
This could be starting your own podcast, or creating video content for YouTube. Either way, the point is that when you ask about speaking opportunities, you’re not just sending an email asking for a chance – you can provide evidence of what you’ve got to offer, too.
Host an Event
This is a tactic that offers similar benefits to the above – as in, you’ll generate links when people talk about the event online. On the downside, there’s quite a bit more effort involved in hosting an event over just speaking at one – but there’s also the potential for much bigger wins.
Bear in mind, however, that this is another tactic you might have to start out small with. Unless you’ve got tons of spare cash to invest in an event, it makes sense to begin by hosting local, “meetup” style events, and work on making a name for yourself on the events and conference scene from there.
If you enter an award and are picked as a finalist, you’ll get a link from the award’s website – guaranteed. Chances are, however (as when you speak at events), you’ll also get links from anyone writing about the awards.
This effect is enhanced if you actually win an award.
On the downside, there’s usually a cost attached to this tactic – if not for entering the award itself, for attending the awards ceremony (and maybe I’m being cynical here, but don’t expect to win an award unless you turn up to accept it…)
That means you have to weigh up the cost/benefits.
What’s the cost of entering the awards? And what do you stand to gain from one, being a finalist, and two, winning?
The “bigger” and better known the award, the more you stand to gain from being a part of it – but the more you can probably expect to pay for the privilege, as well.
Link to Influencers in Your Own Posts
This could mean quoting an influencer or linking to a post they’ve written, or mentioning something they’ve done or achieved that’s had an impact on the topic in question.
Whatever you do to feature influencers in posts, the most important thing is to tell them about it. This usually means emailing them, but you might want to tag them in social media posts instead (or both – just don’t go overboard).
Odds are, at the very worst you’ll get a retweet, but if your post’s good enough, you might get a link, too.
Look for Unlinked Mentions of Your Brand
This is arguably one of (if not the) quickest and easiest ways to gain links to your site. This is because if someone has already spoken about you online, odds are they’ll be happy to link to you too (of course, some sites have policies against linking out, but they’re in the minority).
So how do you find unlinked brand mentions?
If you don’t already have them, setting up alerts for your brand name is probably the first thing to do. Tools like Mention, Brand24, Buzzsumo, and Ahrefs are pretty smart when it comes to filtering out the spam. Unfortunately, they come at a price. Google Alerts is a much less sophisticated alternative, but it is free, so you can’t complain.
Making a point of searching Google for your brand name every so often (as well as related phrases that might have been mentioned, like your CEO’s name) is generally well worth your time (and you can get even better results if you’re using advanced search modifiers).
There are also purpose-built tools that will do the hard work for you – like this one from RankTank.
So what do you do when you find an unlinked brand mention?
You email the publisher and ask them whether they would mind linking to your site. For best results, think about the following when you write your email:
- Flattering the publisher – state how happy you are that they mentioned you.
- Giving a reason to link – i.e. it would be useful for their audience.
So what other tactics are you using to gain links this year? It’d be great if you could share your thoughts in the comments below: