The content is written, the keywords are optimized, so you throw your blog article up on your website and wait for the traffic to start rolling in.
And then you keep waiting.
And then you wait some more.
And you still wait.
Before you know it, 30 years have passed and you missed your son’s graduation from med school because you’ve been parked in front of your computer waiting for traffic to come in that (spoiler!) never will. Where did you go wrong?
Keywords are important; without them, you’ll never know what terms people are actually searching for. But without backlinks, Google (and the world) will have a hard time trusting your content.
What are Backlinks?
Think of backlinks like online reviews for a local restaurant that you’ve driven by thousands of times. You’ve seen a few cars out there a few times, but nobody’s ever talked about it so you’re not really sure how good the food is. Because of that, you’ve never even considered going there.
Then, you read some reviews online that talk about how awesome the food is, a few friends ate there for their anniversary and RAVED about it, so you talk to your spouse and decide you’ll try it one Monday night. What changed? Reputation.
In a sense, that’s what backlinks are. They serve as external links on other people’s websites that refer back to your content on your website. Someone else has read your stuff and liked it, so they link to it from their site. Then a few more people, forcing Google to stand up and take notice of your content and start showing it in their search results. Since a few people have found it helpful, Google believes that others will too.
In fact, this is what Google has built their entire business on. In the 90’s, Larry Page, one of its founders, created PageRank, an algorithm of sorts that uncovers how many pages link to a site and what the quality of those sites are. If there are a lot of links from highly reputable sites, the authority of the linked page goes up; if there aren’t very many, or they aren’t of decent quality, the site authority goes down. Though PageRank isn’t as effective today, it still laid the groundwork for Google’s dominance of search engine rankings.
Some early online marketers tried to manipulate this system by creating Private Blog Networks, or PBNs, for short. These are closed networks that include dozens or even hundreds of sites that are well ranked, all linking to each other to raise their mutual authority. It’s completely unethical, and Google put an end to that quick, fast, and in a hurry.
Not All Links are Created Equal
The emphasis in building backlinks is quality. Google is obsessive over delivering the best search experience, and it’s simply not going to include low-quality content or links in their results. Your content needs to be top-notch, but the site that’s linking to you has to also. For that reason, familiar sites like Forbes, Huffington Post will provide super high-quality links, as well as sites that generally end in .gov or .edu.
Generally speaking, there are two types of backlinks: follow, or no-follow. They operate exactly as they sound: follow links allow the traffic to flow through it and to your site, whereas no-follow generally don’t go anywhere. No-follow links are ones that you can usually place yourself, such as blog comments, editable pages (such as Wikipedia), or forums and answer boards.
This isn’t to say that no-follow links are worthless. If a person clicks through and goes to your site, that’s great! But that doesn’t mean Google uses the link itself as a ranking factor. It all depends on your strategy.
How Do You Get Backlinks?
Theoretically, the process of getting backlinks is simple: Other people find it, and link to it. The problem is unless you’re already kinda ranked, it’s basically impossible for people to find you in order to then link to you. So how do you get them?
Simple: You ask. Reach out to influencers in your space that have similar content and ask for links to your site. If you find a broken link on someone’s site and you have content on yours that could replace it, reach out to them and ask if they’ll switch out the dead link with yours. Guest posting is still a great way to do outreach, even if it’s not as popular as it used to be. Putting your content on social media and/or paying to advertise it can help it get seen by more people as well, who will (hopefully) want to share it.
Alternatively, you can always create content that people can’t help but share. Infographics can go viral in a second, as well as industry reports, studies, or full-scale authoritative guides (like a 10,000-word guide on the Dead Sea Scrolls, for instance).
Regardless of whether you ask for links or people link to you naturally, it all begins with having content that is worth sharing. For that reason, focus on building high-quality content that people will want to consume, then focus on building links. Trying to go the other direction, as Solomon would say, is nothing but “striving after the wind.”