Link acquisition is all about promotion.
At its most basic, link building is a two-step process:
1. Find a site that’s relevant to your audience
2. Contact that site’s webmaster, and explain why they should link to your site
Of course, there are a number of contributing factors that make link building much more complicated than it sounds. But at the end of the day, you are simply finding target sites and promoting an asset (your site, specific content, products/services, etc.) to them, with the primary goal of a link.
Because links are so valuable in search engine optimization, many have opted for shortcuts and manipulation over the aforementioned manual promotion, in order to game the search engines.
Google responded to this manipulation with the Penguin algorithm, and manual penalties for link spam. It’s important to remember Google’s (and other search engines’) stance against manipulation. There is a right and wrong way to promote your website for links, and it’s mired in the question of whether or not your sole intent is to influence search.
Application is more significant in link acquisition than individual tactic, because any given tactic can be leveraged in a way that adds value to the web or in a way that is spammy and aims to manipulate search results.
I want to walk through some tactics that can be used to promote for links, not penalties. These strategies include:
• Mention monitoring
• Resource link building
• Local/Niche directory placement
• Community engagement
Depending on the campaign, some tactics may be more effective than others, but it’s worth understanding each individually. While no individual tactic is inherently future-safe, when done the right way, with the right goals and mindset, these tactics can be leveraged in a manner that is future-safe.
The first technique I’ll cover is mention monitoring.
Mention monitoring involves finding mentions and references to a company across the web, and then reaching out to the sites featuring those mentions in an attempt to turn an unlinked mention into a backlink.
One reason mention links can be future-safe is because they are some of the most relevant links you can possibly get. After all, these are websites that are already talking about your business or brand. A link in this situation makes sense because it gives readers the opportunity to learn more about the company being referenced.
Fortunately, mention monitoring can be made easy via some helpful tools. Such tools as:
• Google Alerts (Free)
• Fresh Web Explorer (Moz)
Keep in mind that while branded mentions are the most common, mention monitoring should not be limited to just brand name. There are a number of other terms worth monitoring, including:
• Company products/services
• Employees with an industry/visible presence
• Common brand misspellings
• Company sponsored events?, Etc.
If there is any term that is specifically associated with your business, you should be monitoring that term.
However, pursuing every mention imaginable can lead to trouble. For example, a toothpaste brand should not be attempting to build links for every mention of the term toothpaste. It’s important to remember to only go after mentions that are unique to your brand, or extremely relevant.
Acquiring mention links the right way won’t get a site penalized, because those mentions should include a link to improve user experience.
Resource Link Building
Another way to promote for links appropriately is through resource link building.
Resource link building involves finding relevant resource pages and promoting a useful resource to them. The key words here are “useful” and “relevant” – resource link building is all about adding value, and to offer value, the relevance must be there.
These types of links done well won’t invite a manual penalty because they improve the web and subsequently the search results – these are the kinds of links Google wants to count.
However, it’s important to examine target sites beyond just relevance. After all, a link to a legitimate and helpful resource can still cause problems if the link comes from a spammy site. Some potential red flags to look for when evaluating a link prospect are:
- There’s no editorial process and it’s possible to place a link without interacting with anyone
- There are links to every niche imaginable on their resource page with no common theme or relevance
- Little to no engagement on the site – non-existent social shares, lack of commenting, low traffic
It’s important to offer a resource that would be beneficial to the target site’s audience, but it’s equally important to verify that site actually has an audience.
Promoting useful resources to relevant sites/pages that would benefit from those resources is a proven technique to acquire links and avoid running afoul of search engines. Improve the web as a whole, and you’re likely to be future-safe.
Promoting your site to local or niche directories is another great option for acquiring links.
Now, the word “directories” may have a negative connotation for some people because directory link building is a tactic that has definitely been abused in the past. However, there are still ways to acquire directory links that don’t violate search engine guidelines.
Notice that the header specifically states “local” and “niche” directories. Relevance is key again, and in terms of directories there needs to be either local relevance or niche relevance (of course if a directory is both locally and industry relevant, even better).
For example, some local directories worth pursuing might include:
- Local chamber of commerce
- Directories on local media outlets
- Regional Better Business Bureau (BBB)
- Community associations?, etc.
Some potential niche directories would be:
- Professional organizations/associations
- Industry-specific directories
- Communities for niche enthusiasts
Similar to resource link building, it is equally important to analyze and scrutinize any directory opportunity. The aforementioned metrics (engagement, traffic, editorial process) apply here, but the bottom line is if a relevant audience exists there, it’s worth trying to get a link.
- Expert roundups
- Industry surveys
- Regular writing columns
- Industry events
The links acquired from these types of promotional activities are real links that are earned by adding value to the online community, and won’t be discounted or penalized by search engines.
It’s important to remember these opportunities should arise from real, meaningful engagement. Any attempt to take shortcuts in this regard will likely result in worthless, insignificant opportunities at best, and punishment from search engines at worst.
Link building has evolved throughout the past decade or so, but it has also remained the same in many aspects. Building links the right way, with the right mindset, should result in acquiring future-safe links.
Search engines like Google have implemented strong policies and punitive measures to dissuade spammers and those trying to manipulate their search results, resulting in the existence of a right and wrong way to go about promoting a site for backlinks.
At its core, building links the right way boils down to promoting your site’s genuine value for your audience and the web in general. If you want to test whether or not a tactic is leading to future-safe links, consider if the links would make sense to someone who has no knowledge of search engine optimization.
The tactics covered in this post exhibit the right ways to promote a website for links, and not penalties. To recap, these tactics are as follows:
- Mention monitoring – convert brand/company mentions into relevant links.
- Resource link building – promote valuable resources to sites that would benefit from them.
- Local/Niche directory placement – acquire links on directories that are either locally relevant, niche relevant, or both.
- Community engagement – interact within the online community to generate link opportunities.