By Cory Collins
20 May 2015

Why Your Website Needs Links – Linkarati Live #3 Recap

Hello everybody! Welcome to the full video and recap of Linkarati Live, where we discuss link building much as we do everyday, except with the recorder rolling and an audience to ask questions.

This was our third-ever Linkarati Live, this time with the theme “Why Your Website Needs Link Building.”

We had an absolute blast, and we hope you did too.

Without further ado, let’s get into it.

The Participants

We were excited to have:

  • Live Moderator: Jesse Stoler, Staff Writer, Linkarati
  • Questions moderator: Meghan Cahill, Staff Writer, Linkarati
  • Panelist #1: Cory Collins, Managing Editor, Linkarati
  • Panelist #2: Amy Merrill, Team Manager, Page One Power
  • Panelist #3: Colin Eggleston, Director of Training

The Overview

The webinar ran 56 minutes during which we answered 11 questions.

The first three were created to answer our primary topic: why your website needs links. All other questions came directly from the audience, chosen either for their relevance to the discussion or the timeliness.

The following will be a summation of answers, not direct quotes. We’ll break down how each panelist responded, providing embedded clips and timestamps for each question.

The questions were:

  1. How does link building compare to other online marketing?
  2. Link building and content marketing are often conflated. Why are the two not the same?
  3. What is the difference between link building and link earning? What sort of link acquisition should I be pursuing in 2015?
  4. How does link building benefit websites?
  5. If someone links to your content on social media, but not their website, is that still link building?
  6. When and how do nofollow links provide value?
  7. How do you measure a good link?
  8. How important is the domain authority really on the site you’re getting a link from? What does that really represent?
  9. Is there value in having all outbound links on a blog nofollowed?
  10. Which types of links do you feel are most impactful?
  11. What are the concerns with purchasing aged domains for utilizing pre-existing links?

Let’s take a look at each one.

Question One: How does link building compare to other online marketing?

We stay on the question until 5:35.

Amy: Link building actually complements most other online marketing.

Andrew Dennis recently wrote a piece on Linkarati about collaborative marketing. I love that concept – rather than talk about competing, we should talk about how we can collaborate.

Link building works best when you take other marketing strategies—PR, content creation, etc.—and work in conjunction with those initiatives.

Colin: As Eric Ward says, link building is another form of marketing. If you have great ideas, content, you should be sharing those. Link building is certainly a way to do so.

I agree with Amy that link building can certainly be complementary online with other marketing strategies, and that collaborating is the best approach.

Jesse: Absolutely. There was a great discussion around how link building is really just promotion.

Cory: Definitely – we often say at Linkarati that link building is the manual promotion of your website with the primary goal of links.

I even wrote a post about how link building is really just promotion.

I also agree with Amy and Colin. There’s crossover with really all online marketing because all online marketing exists to draw more attention to your brand and website. The more attention you can gain the easier it is to accomplish your goals.

I wrote a post over at SEW about how collaborative marketing is the best marketing.

It’s like the question Eric Ward asks when he talks about how link building can result in very natural links: What would happen if all content was known to all people?

Everyone would get the links they deserved. In reality though, there’s too much noise online. You have to go out and manually promote yourself if you want the link and attention you deserve.

Question Two: link building and content marketing are often conflated. Why are the two not the same?

We stay on this question until 9:18

Colin: You don’t always have to have content marketing when you’re building links.

Link building isn’t always content-involved. For example, local link building rarely relies on content.

Sure, content marketing can make it much easier to build links, and they complement each other really well, but they’re not mutually exclusive.

Cory: The Penguin algorithm really started the conflation of content marketing and link building.

Suddenly so many tactics—which to be fair, were manipulative—no longer worked. Or rather, you could still build links, they just weren’t helpful anymore. In fact, they were more harmful than helpful.

Many people then turned to content for links. Creating compelling content and then promoting that content intelligently has always been a very safe, useful way to build good links.

But the reality is there are a thousand ways to get links online. The secret of links is value, not content. Find a way to be valuable online, and then promote that value.

Conflating content marketing and link building is actually a mistake that shouldn’t be made. Content marketing is the dissemination of brand philosophies, messages, and values through content. If you pursue content marketing solely for links, you’re apt to create bad content that doesn’t match brand messages, values, or philosophies.

However, content marketing and link building do complement one another extremely well. They can help one another meet their own goals. Great content marketing will make it significantly easier to build links, and great link building will vastly improve the visibility of your content marketing.

Question Three: What is the difference between link building and link earning? What sort of link acquisition should I be pursuing in 2015?

We stay on this question until 16:10

Colin: Link earning is often tied to really outstanding content. When your content is so great that you don’t even have to ask for links, but you still get links.

If your site is interesting, and people want to go there, it can earn links passively.

Personally I’ve experienced link earning. I often will link to the content marketplaces I really enjoy from my own blog.

In 2015 the focus of a link building campaign should be focus on the brand. Build brand awareness and links will come easier. Building a social presence can also help improve link building.

Jesse: Link earning – the utopia of marketing. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible right Amy?

Amy: Sadly, yes.

Link earning exists separately from link building. When you earn a link, it’s typically occurs without any outside prompting. You’ve earned it because of your brand, your site, your value.

Link building is the marketing side. It’s when we take your brand, site, value and promote it to other sites.

There’s also middle ground – if you’re building brand visibility, we can optimize those opportunities for links. We’ll make sure every opportunity is realized.

Jesse: Jon Ball wrote an article similar to that called “For Every Link You Earn There Are Five More Worth Building.” Basically, if you’re not pursuing opportunities for links, you’re missing out.

Cory: Link building is going out and getting the links you deserve.

Link earning is great. It sets the right expectation of “you should be worthy of links, you should deserve links.”

But the problem is link earning is too passive.

You should be going out and promoting what you’re doing online, why you’re valuable, and getting the links you deserve. If you’re not actively promoting yourself, you’re leaving link equity on the table, which is absolutely absurd considering how valuable links are online.

In 2015 we should recognize that SEO is marketing and that we need to be going out and promoting what we’re doing. If our title is SEO–search engine optimization—with optimization is in our title, and links matter to search, then link acquisition should absolutely be a part of SEO. We need to be sure we’re working in optimal pursuit of links, and link earning will never meet that goal.

Jesse: What many people overlook is that you still have to earn the link even if you are “building” it. First, you have to do the manual work to secure the links. You have to promote your site to the right audience. Second, the person behind the other website still has to decide to link to you. We don’t control that—they have to look at your site and decide it is in fact worth linking to. Therefore, you’ve earned that link twice over, with both manual effort and editorial discretion.

Question Four: How does link building benefit websites?

We stay on this question until 24:22

Cory: We call it the web specifically because of links. Links are the web – they connect all these websites together.

Links are the way you navigate the web. Really anyway you get from one website to another involves a link. Even if you go to Google and search, you still end up clicking on a link which takes you to a new website.

Even though that’s not an example of link building, I think many people forget the fundamental role links play online. They’re valuable because they’re such a fundamental piece of the entire Internet.

The more links you build to your website, the more in-roads you have to your website. It’s like going out and putting billboards everywhere. The more billboards you can raise, the more brand association you build.

In conjunction with this, Google sees each link as a vote of trust, relevance, and authority. So the more links you have from other websites, the more visible you’ll be in search. And where better to be visible than when someone is searching for something relevant to your website?

So how do links help your website? If you want to be marketing your website, links need to be a consideration. Links are so valuable online; link building greatly benefits website in marketing visibility.

Jesse: Right. Brightedge did a study recently where they found that 61% of internet traffic flows through search.

Colin: Yeah, Cory really hit all the points.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the game of “I need thousands of thousands of links to my site, then I’ll rank #1 for everything, be a millionaire and retire.”

Links have to speak for themselves though. Links are a tool that humans use to navigate to your site, discover you, and discover your website. Links are a representation of your brand.

Don’t forget the humans in your optimizing efforts.

Jesse: Absolutely – just look at Wikipedia. They nofollow all their links, but every brand really should want a relevant link on Wikipedia. Don’t get so focused on search that you forget the human equation.

Amy: Ultimately, when we build links, we think of it as one little piece. But it’s all the little pieces that go into the link that make that link good. Things like the page your link is on, the link neighborhood, the anchor text, etc.

There’s so much work that goes into a link.

Colin: There’s also relationship value behind each link as well. Whenever you build a new link you have to talk to another person behind the website.

We often say that websites don’t link to websites, people link to people.

Links can lead to other great opportunities, such as brand promotion, content sharing, community involvement, sponsorships. That relationship can often lead to even greater value beyond the link.

Cory: Each person you build a relationship with and build a link on their site actually is the owner of a platform online.

When you convince another person with a relevant platform online to link to you, you’ve essentially just created a brand advocate, because a link is one of the biggest signals of trust you can create. They’re essentially saying, “Yes, it’s worth my audience’s time to share this link with them, and I’m even sending people away from my site to look at your site.”

Who knows what further good could come from that relationship?

Question Five: If someone links to your content on social media, but not their website, is that still link building?

We stay on this until 27:54.

Amy: Great question, technically the answer is no, but there’s a little bit of yes in there too.

When we talk about link building, there’s the link aspect, but there’s also the relationship aspect and brand building aspect as well. In this case we wouldn’t have the link portion that search could crawl, we have established relationship and brand.

Jesse: Nothing wrong with chasing social shares, although links are the primary goal typically.

Colin: Social shares are still important online. Big brands with market saturation across the web—Nike, Coca Cola—they never just give up on marketing. Even these big brands would still value social shares.

There’s a lot of value to social shares and content shares, even if there’s not necessarily link equity there’s still the promotional value.

Cory: Yeah – even though social isn’t our primary goal, it’s still absolutely a metric we measure. When we do content promotion we want other people to share our content – that’s a signal of trust, even if Google doesn’t use social shares in their algorithm.

The more we can get people to share on social the more visible that content is, and the more likely other people are to link to it. Not the primary goal, but still valuable.

Question Six: When and how do nofollow links provide value?

We stay on this question until 32:00.

Colin: There’s a couple different ways to try and tackle this.

If you weren’t an SEO or link builder, or a site owner, you would have zero idea what a dofollow or nofollow link would be. You wouldn’t know the difference.

So links always have value, including nofollow. There’s still opportunity for people to click on that link and come to your website, build brand association, and create new customers.

There’s also the value of the relationship you create with the person who owns the other website.

Sure, there might not be the link equity that powers search, but there’s still inherent value in nofollow links.

Amy: We don’t ever just build links for Google.

The primary benefit of link building is getting visibility on your brand, from real human eyes. This includes search, but humans who find your link on another website will never know the difference between a follow and nofollow link.

Jesse: Also, nofollow links are a normal piece of a healthy backlink profile. If your backlink profile has zero nofollow links and thousands of dofollow links that’s a strong sign of manipulation.

Cory: Nofollow links definitely have value.

There’s no doubt that Google indexes nofollow links. Whether there’s any equity passed is somewhat up to debate.

At the end of the day, there’s still value for humans.

The use of nofollow links have gotten a bit out of hand online in the last few years, but nofollow links are still a brand endorsement from another website.

99.99% of humans that look at that page will have no distinction between that link being a follow link or a nofollow link. So the reality is it’s still a link. It can add a lot of value and it’s the beginning of a relationship.

Question Seven: How do you measure a good link?

We stay on this question until 36:26.

Amy: This is literally a discussion we have every single day here.

There are a list of metrics you can look at:

  • DA
  • PA
  • Citation flow
  • Trust flow
  • Anchor text
  • Link placement
  • Words around the text
  • Link neighborhood
  • Page context
  • Human value

Not every single one will apply to every single link – sometimes it can be an apple to oranges. It depends on client goals.

The question you have to ask yourself is the experience you’re building. If someone clicks on that link will they be happy with the page they end up at? Are you building a good experience and brand association?

Colin: Absolutely, there’s a trust factor there.

Another important factor to consider is does that link make sense? Are you creating a natural link?

If the answer is no, or even just not a solid yes, that’s a bad link in my eyes.

If it does not make sense, and will confuse humans, that will create a bad experience as a community member, as someone who finds your site for perhaps the first time, and perhaps even algorithmically.

Then after that you should look at more of the technical factors, such as traffic, the social, the engagement, DA, etc.

Jesse: Absolutely, there’s a common sense factor there that you have to ask yourself before you dive into the metrics.

Cory: I absolutely agree with what these two are saying.

As SEOs we get too caught up in math and metrics. The reality is that we’ll never really know everything that goes into Google’s algorithm, there’s just no way to really know. So we have third party metric tools to tell use things like DA, PA, trust flow, etc.

Those are good markers to keep in mind, but at the end of the day the best way to really gut-check “is this link good” is to sit down and explain to a colleague, or even the client, why a link is good.

If you can convincingly say in human terms why a link is valuable, then that will be a good link. If you struggle at all, then you’re likely getting into the SEO-building-links-for-the-algorithm.

Question Eight: How important is the domain authority really on the site you’re getting a link from? What does that really represent?

We stay on this question until 40:54.

Cory: Domain authority is a metric from Moz based on how likely they believe a site is to rank in search.

So Moz has Open Site Explorer, which crawls the web, and they have all this data from all the websites they crawl that they use to determine “this is how authoritative (likely to rank in search) an entire domain is”.

PA is the same thing, but for individual pages instead of an entire site.

How important are DA and PA in link building? Should you only be going after really high DA/PA? Well, everything needs to be customized to the business, the website, the niche, the industry, the reputation, etc. etc.

If you’re dealing with a brand like Nike, the DA of sites you’ll be going after will be through the roof. If you’re dealing with a local company you’re on a whole different playing field.

At the end of the day, is there a minimal threshold? Maybe; I wouldn’t use any SEO metrics—DA, PA, PageRank, Trustflow, etc.—as the north star of my link building compass. I always look at relevance, human experience, user experience, and other human elements are my guiding factors.

Colin: I totally agree.

DA is used for good reason, but honestly it’s a much lower priority to more human metrics. I want to build links on sites that make sense, with good content, great communities, and good people.

I can know all of those things without ever looking at a site’s DA. Someone once made the comparison that judging a site based on its DA is like judging whether you’ll be nice to someone based upon their credit score.

Really just get out and engage in your community with good sites that make sense.

Jesse: Domain authority can also take a long time to reach a higher number. For great sites that are just establishing themselves, domain authority wouldn’t be a good measure of their actual authority.

Question Nine: Is there value in having all outbound links on a blog nofollowed?

We stay on this question until 44:50

Cory: This is a very subjective question, but I would say no across the board.

There used to be a thing called PageRank sculpting where you never link out from your website, period, except with nofollow links.

The idea is you harbor all the link equity coming into your site.

To straight nofollow across the entire board, I would say there’s not a lot of value in that.

Colin: That’s like a rich person who never tips.

There’s a bit of trust factor in nofollow/dofollow, but know what those factors are. If you expect people to link to you, but don’t want to link out ever with follow links you’re being manipulative.

If you are so worried that people are linking out to bad things on your site, or that links on your site are going out to questionable sites, there’s another conversation that needs to be had about the editorial discretion and type of content being created on your site.

I would not nofollow every link across the entire blog.

Amy: Your link neighborhood is indicative of your own house—your own site—if you have a good website, you’re relevant to your audience, you’re going to have other sites wanting to link to you, and you should be wanting to link to other sites.

If you’re in a position where you want to nofollow all of your links it’s time to get your house in order.

Jesse: So why are sites doing this now? What do you think prompts this?

Colin: I don’t think people are bad, immoral, or wrong to do this. It’s just easy to get caught up in the cover yourself, overly-safe mindset.

Your website is important to you. You want to be risk adverse. I can understand that.

But I don’t think we need to be taking it this far. It’s like the nuclear option.

Question Ten: Which types of links do you feel are most impactful?

We stay on this question until 49:31

Amy: That’s a really broad question. The type of link will depend entirely on your brand, your product.

Every campaign we do is based specifically on what you want to accomplish.

My favorite type of link building is using fresh mentions or brand mentions. I can’t say enough good things about this strategy.

Of course, you first have to be talked about online in some way. This might not be a viable strategy for smaller brands/companies.

Another great strategy is content creation. When you create content that interests your audience, and you can get a discussion going, that’s a great way to secure good links.

Colin: The most important link to me is one that makes sense, and isn’t blackhat.

Any link that I didn’t have to buy, or spam for, those are the links that are most important to me.

Cory: The value of a link will always boil down to “what are my goals as a website?”

Links could be really valuable for a variety of reasons: in search, in building relationships, or for brand visibility.

So you really need to determine what your primary goals are in building new links. Different goals will change your entire strategy.

Just don’t get too buried in the details – go out and build good links that make sense and help your company.

Question Eleven: What are the concerns with purchasing aged domains for utilizing pre-existing links?

We stay on this question until 55:00.

Cory: John Mueller, a Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google, talked about this in a Google Webmaster Hangout. Someone asked the theoretical question “what if I bought a spammy domain and 301’d it to my competitor?”

Mueller responded immediately that Google would track that and it wouldn’t tank the competitor’s ranking or trigger any sort of algorithmic harm.

The real problem with this sort of thinking—buying an old domain for link equity—is that when you start thinking in this vein you’re going down the wrong path. Your goal is to manipulate the algorithm instead of building something of value that will encourage people to link.

There are a few reasons I would look to buy an aged domain for link building purposes:

  • I need a new domain already, and this domain makes sense for my goals.
  • The domain is a recognizable brand, and I can incorporate that brand into my own.
  • There’s great content on the domain, of value to my audience.
  • Etc.

If you’re solely looking for link equity, and manipulating Google into thinking you’re something more than you are, then you’re going down the wrong path.

Jesse: Absolutely. You need to think of your audience, humans, and the people in your niche.

Colin: If the pre-existing niche is there, the brand, the name, the relevance, the content, and all the links are links I would want are there already, that’s a great bonus. It’s like buying a house in a great neighborhood.

But you shouldn’t worry too much about this. You should concentrate on building your own brand, your own name, and your own site.

Sometimes starting fresh is even better than worrying too much about finding the perfect domain. It can be an uphill battle, but every link you get will be a link intended for you.

Amy: If you’re looking for a way to gain quick rankings, you’re going about it all wrong.

Link building doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t even happen in a week or a month. It’s a long term engagement.

I read a great article the other week that really resonated. Within it, they said “you can tell a good link building strategy by its scalability. If it’s easily scalable, it’s probably a bad tactic.”

Keep that in mind no matter what you’re doing. If something is too good to be true, it likely is.

That’s Linkarati Live #3 In a Nutshell!

Cory Collins

Cory Collins works in strategy development at Page One Power. Cory is a writer, runner, SEO strategist, beer brewer, and lives with his dogs and wife in Boise, Idaho. Cory's super power is eternal curiosity.