How will link building help your company? Link building is the process of acquiring hyperlinks from other websites to your own. A hyperlink (usually just called a link) is a way for users to navigate between pages on the Internet. Search engines use links to crawl the web. They will crawl the links between the individual pages on your website, and they will crawl the links between entire websites.
Not all links are deliberately built by SEOs or marketers.
Many of them will be created for a range of reasons such as a journalist covering a news story and linking to a source, or a blogger who loves their new coffee machine so much that they link to the retailer who sold it to them.
Acquiring links that you didn’t ask for is the nirvana of SEO. It’s always something that you should be striving for and building towards over the long term. You do this by putting in the work to make your website link-worthy, whether that’s through a great product or aspect of your service, or via producing great content that is referenced by other websites.
Alongside this long-term approach, you can also leverage a range of link-building techniques which allow you to build your authority and increase your chances of ranking well and getting traffic from organic search.
The anatomy of a hyperlink
In order to understand the importance of link building, it’s important to first understand the basics of how a link is created, how the search engines see links, and what they can interpret from them.
Start of link tag: Called an anchor tag (hence the “a”), this opens the link tag and tells browsers and search engines that a link to something else is about to follow.
Link referral location: The "href" stands for "hyperlink referral," and the text inside the quotation marks indicates the URL to which the link is pointing. This doesn't always have to be a web page; it could be the address of an image or a file to download. Occasionally, you'll see something other than a URL, beginning with a # sign. These links take you to a specific section of the URL. Visible/anchor text of link: This is the little bit of text that users see on the page, and on which they need to click if they want to open the link. The text is usually formatted in some way to make it stand out from the text that surrounds it, often with blue color and/or underlining, signaling to users that it is a clickable link. Closure of link tag: This signals the end of the link tag to the search engines.
There are two fundamental ways that search engines use links:
To discover new web pages, which they can then use in their search results To help determine how well a page should rank in their results
Once search engines have crawled pages on the web, they can extract the content of those pages and add it to their indexes. In this way, they can decide if they feel a page is of sufficient quality to be ranked well for relevant keywords (Google created a short video to explain that process.) When they’re deciding this, the search engines don’t just look at the content of the page — they also look at the number of links pointing to that page from external websites, and the quality of those external websites. Generally speaking, the more high-quality websites that link to you, the more likely you are to rank well in search results.
Links as a ranking factor are what allowed Google to start dominating the search engine market back in the late 1990s. One of Google’s founders, Larry Page, invented PageRank, which Google used to measure the quality of a page based in part on the number of links pointing to it. This metric was then used as part of the overall ranking algorithm, and became a strong signal because it was a very good way of determining the quality of a page. It turned out that by incorporating this into their algorithm, Google was able to serve much more useful and relevant search results than their competitors at the time.
It was so effective because it was based upon the idea that a link could be seen as a vote of confidence about a page, i.e. it wouldn’t get links if it didn’t deserve to. The theory is that when someone links to another website, they are effectively saying it is a good resource. Otherwise, they wouldn’t link to it, much in the same way that you wouldn’t send a friend to a bad restaurant.
However, SEOs soon discovered how to manipulate PageRank and search results for chosen keywords. At this point in time, Google was far more advanced than most search engines but was still open to manipulation because it wasn’t very good at telling the difference between a high-quality link and a low-quality link.
Google started actively trying to find ways to discover websites that were manipulating search results by building low-quality links, and began rolling out regular updates which were specifically aimed at filtering out websites that didn’t deserve to rank due to poor links.
This has also led to Google starting to discount a number of link-building techniques that previously worked well; for example, submitting your website to web directories and getting a link in return. This was a technique that Google actually recommended at one point, but it became abused and overused by SEOs, so Google stopped passing as much value from that sort of link.
Over the years, Google has actively penalized the rankings of websites that have attempted such overuse of these techniques — often referred to as over-optimization — in their link building. This stepped up a gear in 2012 with the first of many updates, which became known as Penguin. These updates targeted specific link building techniques and arguably changed link building forever. From this point forward, low-quality link-building techniques could not only be a waste of time, but they could also severely damage a website’s ability to rank well in organic search results. This is why we recommend understanding Google Webmaster Guidelines and crafting strategies which won’t fall foul of them.
We don’t know the full algorithm that Google uses to determine its search results — that’s the company’s “secret sauce.” Despite that fact, the general consensus among the SEO community and recent studies have shown that links still play a big role in that algorithm.
It’s generally accepted that, if all other factors are equal, the volume and quality of links pointing to a page can make the difference between rankings.
For now, though, there is little doubt that if you get high-quality links to your website, it will help you rank better and get more traffic (we’ll talk more about what makes a “good-quality” link in Chapter 1). We’ve mentioned “high-quality” a few times now, and there’s a good reason: The focus on quality is increasing as Google becomes ever more sophisticated at filtering out low-quality links. This directly impacts SEOs, as you need to make sure the link building techniques you choose focus primarily on that quality.