January 1st has come and gone. Has your blog written its New Year’s resolution-themed content yet?
From the Huffington Post’s resolutions for “progressives” to Idealist Careers’ “professional” resolutions (complete with linkbait gifs!), it seems that every site needs a post that reflects on 2013 and strategizes ways to improve in 2014. As you can tell from the title of this piece, this blog is no exception. I mean, who doesn’t want to take a stab at writing the definitive piece on link building going into the New Year?
But did link building change much in 2013? Did you?
Sure, we’ve had Google algorithm updates. We’ve seen Anglo Rank and Rap Genius get busted for bad practices. We make minor adjustments but let Google take the lead. We talk about link building like its something that we’re getting away with as opposed to a marketing tactic that is necessary as long as links play a role in both Google’s algorithm and connecting relevant content across the internet.
We don’t want to believe it when people say that link building is dead, but we let this attitude frame the conversation around what we do.
And you? The sheer force of self-hatred alone may have fueled your 20-pound weight decrease, but it’s likely that you still hate yourself unless you changed the way you think about yourself, too (which would cause you to have to find a whole new reason to run, and...you get the picture.) You haven’t really changed. Weight loss alone is akin to changing your website’s design and nothing else yet hoping to appear at the top of the SERPs for, uh, who cares what query?
Like any other goal, New Year’s resolutions are more likely to be successful if they’re framed positively-- as something that adds value to your life instead of as something that responds to perceived deficiency. Operating from a lack perspective just leads to apologist buzzphrases like “real women have curves” or “link earning.”
Almost every year I am part of the 8% of people who achieve their resolutions. This is because I choose goals that are practice-oriented and add positive value to my life-- I resolve to take more walks, not to lose weight. This is also measurable because I can count the number of walks that I take, and is realistic given that I’m busy and try as I might, I really hate running.
As we reflect on how link building has changed in 2013, link builders can develop sustainable link building practices that aren’t merely reactionary by setting the following link building resolutions for 2014.
I resolve to use tools to track my website’s performance
If there’s been one thing that has dominated the link building conversation in 2013, it’s what to do with spammy backlinks and the penalties they provoke. Spammy backlinks are the processed junk food of the link building world, except that you can’t use Google’s “disavow” tool to completely clear your past Cheetos use. Still, you will be much more successful at having a healthier lifestyle if you accept where you’re at-- you’ve eaten many Cheetos in the past, and while these Cheetos didn’t kill you, they also didn’t contribute to your health or a positive body image.
The same goes for link building. You will be better positioned to build links over the next year if you accept where your website’s at and concoct realistic goals from there. Luckily, there are more SEO tools than there are kinds of scales or positive body image affirmations that can give you a clear picture of what you need to know.
Examining your backlinks will help you to set realistic goals for the New Year and define what your personal “wins” are for 2014. To determine which link building strategies are appropriate for your site:
Download your backlink profile with a tool like Majestic SEO. There’s a comprehensive article on how to do this here. This will reveal any backlinks that you would be better off axing and remind you of past link building victories worth celebrating.
If you’ve had a manual or algorithmic penalty, weigh the cost of contacting each of the sites that host the offending links, selectively using Google’s disavow tool, or using it like the machete Matt Cutts wants it to be and opt for a clean link building start.
As you know, more links does not necessarily mean more organic traffic to your site. A slew of mediocre links can strike spamfear in your heart. If you’re a linkbuilder, you know what I mean about spamfear-- that sinking feeling you get when you build a link that isn’t outright spam, but is tied to “good enough” content on “it’s relevant if…” sites. Links that may be deemed spammy in the event of Platypus or whatever update Google decides to release next.
Thankfully, there are also tools that can prevent spamfear before it starts. High-quality, non-spammy links can be built on high-quality, non-spammy sites with high traffic and domain authority (DA.) These stats can also let you know how your site is performing. You can track DA (the metric that represents Moz’s prediction of how a site will perform in search engine rankings) using a Mozbar. You can track the organic traffic to your site with a tool like SEMRush. Other tools for tracking keywords that drive organic traffic to your site can be found here.
Not only will using tools help you to set initial realistic goals for your 2014 link building campaign, but it will help you see the outcomes of your link building practices.
I resolve to build links for humans
Okay, this resolution isn’t exactly concrete, but we’ve heard it again and again and should discuss how to put it into practice: Link for People, Not Search Engines. Building links for human internet users is arguably the cornerstone tenant of a sustainable link building practice, and if we’re going to change how we build links in 2014, we need to figure out what this looks like.
Building links for humans does not involve placing links in articles on sites that receive no organic traffic. It’s not enough to write content that doesn’t read like thinly-veiled ad text if it also doesn’t attempt to make an authentic connection with the reader. These links may improve your rankings, but if they make up your entire backlink portfolio, they should contribute to spamfear.
Building “easy win” links alone is like trying to improve one’s health by running to reruns of “Say Yes to the Dress” but eating Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for dinner. You will probably lose weight, but you’re not establishing practices that will keep you healthy in the long run. Building links for humans is a practice that will contribute to your website’s health even if Google were to produce a new algorithm that ignored links all together.
When building links for humans, first consider the linking practices of the sites you read for pleasure. These sites use links to connect their content to related resources. These links are integrated into the articles using long-tail anchor text. If the article is well-written and useful or moving, you will be curious about the author. You will read their bio, and it’s possible that you will click on the links they provide on your quest to make the author your new best friend.
Link builders that build links for humans:
Build links on sites that receive organic traffic in addition to having a high DA.
Consider the site’s social media presence-- what kind of social shares does the site receive?
Write sincere outreach to site owners after taking the time to engage with their site. This takes longer than a form letter, but is key to the relationship building that link builders have become so fond of writing about.
Put links within authentic, engaging content.
This is more like getting healthy by hiking with friends, supplementing Reese’s with kale, and reminding yourself that your body is wonderful and strong and therefore only deserves the best. Your site, too, only deserves the best-- a community of web users that benefit from your presence, not a community of bots that have artificially pushed you to the top.
I resolve to increase anchor text diversity
Even if you haven’t been a link builder for long, you probably remember the days of building links only using a list of specific, approved, keyword-rich anchor texts. This is now considered a “link scheme” according to Google’s Webmaster guidelines. In fact, the worst part of the recent RapGenius debacle was that the site requested specific anchor text. Well, that and the absolute lack of quality control.
High-quality sites built for humans make use of anchor text that tells the reader what they can expect to find on the other side of the link. This often requires a “long-tail” anchor text, or “white noise” anchor text (like “this article” or “click here”). These links add value to the reader’s experience of the content. If the content you are building links in is relevant to your site, a link to your site is bound to add value to the reader’s experience.
Over-optimizing specific keywords is like doing only one exercise (or worse, eating only one kind of food) and expecting to be healthier as a result. Your site needs a natural, diverse backlink portfolio just like you need a variety of nutrients and perhaps some yoga in addition to your running. When building links, don’t require your target sites to use specific anchor text. The content that surrounds the link will also help establish its relevance, just as the healthy habits you form outside of your running/yoga/kale consumption make these activities relevant to your life.
When building links, aim for a variety of anchor texts that include branded (Page One Power, for example), white noise, and long-tail anchor texts. If these fit seamlessly into your content, there will be no question of whether the link to your site adds positive value to the piece.
I resolve to increase the number of linkable assets on my site
Of course, when building links for humans as part of your sustainable link building practice, you need to be able to link to things that are relevant to both your target site and your product.Your product itself may be a linkable asset in many cases, but having an infographic or blog post that can be cited as a resource is often much easier to build links to.
If executed with human users in mind, these “linkable assets” will add value to both the links you build and your site itself. It’s much easier to build links to a site that is optimized, provides a pleasant user experience, and offers up a new perspective or information that relates back to the user’s way of life. This is one way to form a sense of community around a brand, especially if you publicize this content on social media (but that’s a New Year’s resolution post for another blog.)
Predictably, I’m going to go ahead and compare these linkable assets to the process of adding veggies and juice to your diet in our hypothetical resolution. If you want your health-related resolution to be successful, you don’t want to get rid of all the meat, Cheetos, Reese’s, or other yummy things that you’re probably addicted to-- you want to add on things that will benefit you.
Content that connects with your readers and provides a context for your product or service will benefit your site by providing the potential for naturally-acquired links in addition to the links you build. And people building your links for you because they’re dedicated to your product or content? That is perhaps the most sustainable, natural, positive link building practice of them all.
My final resolution? Next year, I resolve to post my link building resolutions on or before January 1st!