In their attempt to stop spammers from unfairly dominating the SERPs, Google has pushed out major changes to the algorithm (Hello Penguin 1.0, 2.0, and 2.1!), as well as rewrite some of the Webmaster Guidelines to categorize more types of links as “unnatural.”
For instance, anchor text in online press releases is out, as are "DoFollow" links from guest blogs. Both of those kinds of links, which until very recently were perfectly acceptable provided you didn’t abuse them, can now levy serious algorithmic or manual action penalties against your website. With the range of “acceptable” link building getting narrower and narrower by the day, many site owners are left wondering what kind of links they can actively seek out and build.
While some may argue that social signals may soon outweigh traditional links in the algorithm, I can’t believe that Google is going to completely devalue a strong and well-earned link profile anytime soon. So what’s a site owner to do?
1. Look for Links that Beget Links
A link from a company profile on a trusted industry forum probably isn’t going to drive a ton of traffic or produce much SEO value on its own, right? But that lonely link shouldn’t be the only reason you are on that forum in the first place!
I have a client whose target audience includes open source developers, so a site like stackoverflow.com is a direct line right into the minds of their target audience. The company profile is a great start, but they have their own developers constantly interacting with stackoverflow users; asking and answering questions, reviewing code for errors, offering suggestions and sharing resources as needed. Their activity on this popular site has generated dozens of extra links, as well as hundreds of visitors a month to their site. Not to mention the goodwill it fosters with the site’s community, all of whom are potential customers.
We are constantly on the lookout for other industry sites and forums like this where a link from your user profile is only the first step. In my experience, it’s less about looking at a link for link's sake, and more about looking for a way to create a doorway into your website. Great doorways usually lead to more doorways and linking opportunities!
2. Find Missing Link Opportunities
Fresh Web Explorer is a tool from Moz that searches the web for brand mentions that DON’T link back to your website. This means someone is talking about your brand in some way but isn’t actively linking to you. And getting people talking about you is half the battle, right? Throw your company name, your branded products, or even some popular employees in there and see what pops up. Maybe there are three or four link opportunities just waiting for you! Even if just one person actually adds the link that’s exactly the kind of “earned” and “natural” link Google is expecting site owners to embrace.
3. Focus on Creating the Kind of Content People Want to Link to
Take a look around and see want kind of content people in your industry are quoting, linking to, sharing and promoting. Statistics are usually a safe bet — do you have some great research or industry insights lying around you could turn into a blog post? What are the “hot topics” of your industry right now? Sometimes jumping on the bandwagon helps get your content noticed because people are looking for that kind of information right now.
For instance, if you work in the healthcare industry in some capacity, the fact that Obamacare went live this month is a big deal. Lots of people are talking and researching and sharing information. What approach can you take to join in on this conversation? When the government was shut down, a lot of local businesses around the National Parks became valuable resources for travelers while the national sites were out of commission. What content voids exist in your industry that you can fill to become a valuable resource?
At the end of the day, link building shouldn’t really be about building links (I realize that sounds counterproductive.) Link building is really about creating touchpoints between you and your target audience that can serve as a bridge for them to find your website. If you look at every link as, “How does this connect me with my audience?” as opposed to “How does this link help my SEO?” chances are it is the kind of link Google wants to reward.