How To Build Links That Add Value

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While my highly-caffeinated run-Excel-into-the-ground link building approach is actually quite fun for me, it’s not always fruitful. My grand conclusion at the end of an eight-hour link-building binge is that I want to punch my computer monitor.

It was clear I needed to simplify my link building.

The A-list Approach to Link Building Strategy

When I’m building links for myself, I can get wrapped up in the average Page Authority (PA) of 2nd tier links pointing to the category pages or some nonsense like that. But, client-facing link projects are a different story. You need to deliver awesome links that make them money.

You need A-list links.

An A-list backlink accomplishes three things for a website: drives referral traffic, increases authority and provides relevance. If marketers focus their link acquisition efforts on these three-pronged links, they can spend more time on strategy/acquisition instead of hours prospecting and qualifying link destinations which often only leads to frustration.

A three-pronged link delivers more value than simply improving domain authority. Three-pronged links make everybody happy: you, your client, and your client’s boss.

The Three-Pronged Link Building Aproach

1. Drive referral traffic

Philosophically, I’m pretty old-school when it comes to SEO. I’ve said and written many times that referral traffic isn’t the main goal of link building. I still believe that. But, man, when it does happen naturally…referral traffic can be exciting! As a link building byproduct, I’ve seen the impact of referral traffic enough times to become a believer in the value it adds.

A three-pronged link is going to make money for a client short term and long term. Even if improving organic search is your main goal, a link that drives $5,000 in referral traffic ought to be preferred over a link that adds little referral value.

I’ve earned links for e-commerce websites on popular blogs that drive tons of referral traffic and — more importantly — tons of purchases. That puts a smile on my client’s faces. Even if they don’t understand the SEO impact of link building, clients love links that print money for them. Making sure to measure referral traffic when building a new link helps build client trust. It shows that you understand it’s their bottom line that matters most.

Not every link is going to send hordes of consumers with credit card in hand to your website. But if micro-conversions, like email newsletter signups and social follows happen via referral traffic from links that you attract, the value of your link acquisition efforts increases substantially. Referral traffic is a key ingredient of an A-list backlink.

2. Increase authority

A few years ago when I could submit links to a handful of sites and pull Page One rankings for whatever keyword/phrase I wanted, increasing authority was all I cared about. What a life.

Domain authority is still important, but it has become a lot more difficult to achieve.

Improving domain authority can be a tough sell to clients who are focused on short-term gains or who do not have a great grasp of SEO. It’s a challenge worth pursuing, though, because increased domain authority is likely the one line item that will provide the most long-term value.

It isn’t always easy to draw a straight line from link acquisition to organic search traffic, but links are and will remain a huge part of Google’s algorithm. Without them, the average client’s site is going to plateau and never reach its true potential.

The “Increase Authority” prong is where I can get all nerdy with Domain Authority (DA), PA and Page Rank (PR). No matter what the metric of choice is, make sure to do your due diligence discerning whether a high DA site is actually authoritative. There is a difference between having a high Domain Authority or PageRank and actually being authoritative.

The nice round numbers are a start, but digging into a website’s backlinks, social following and community are a must to understanding how much value a domain will hold over the long run with search engines.

There are a lot of sexy, high DA sites out there masquerading as authoritative that are actually a giant house of cards.  When the goal is to increase domain authority, earn links on sites that search engines will likely trust five years from now, not just today.

Determining a website’s authority is sort of like deciding which stock or mutual fund to purchase. Look at the value listed today and project where it will be based on data and information you gather. Investing in authority from content farms, blog networks and other paper tigers is a shortsighted maneuver that will come crashing down in the future.

3. Provide relevance

Relevance is the mystery metric of a three-pronged link. It’s tough to quantify relevance. It means different things to different people. While it is tough to benchmark, we do know it’s important.

Google mentions relevance in their quality guidelines several times.

In the past, I’ve created a scorecard to measure link relevancy using a combination of factors. I’ve asked clients to pre-approve link targets or to provide a list of similar sites to target for potential link acquisition.

None of that worked for me.

My go-to method nowadays is asking myself a simple question: What value-add does this link provide to people who read this website?

This approach to relevance sounds a lot like the one I recommend for gaining referral traffic. The difference is I don’t care if they actually click the link when I’m thinking about relevance. It’s more about the mentality of the person who will see the link.

A highly relevant post doesn’t always correlate directly to a lot of referral traffic. Relevance is something that deserves it’s own line of thinking when it comes to link building.

Here are a few examples: 

  • A link on a Chamber of Commerce website is highly relevant because people will see it as adding value to the page (list of local businesses).
  • A link from a product supplier is highly relevant because people will be interested in finding places to purchase a product.
  • A link from an interior design blog to a used car dealer in post called “How to Get Design Inspiration For Your Car” is not relevant because it is of little value to somebody interested in interior design.

Most of these examples are common sense, but if you’re on the fence about a potential link target ask yourself: What value does this link provide to people who read this website?

The relevance prong benefits a client’s site in many ways. They are getting pre-qualified traffic coming to their site which means more micro-conversions and better usability metrics.

It is much easier measuring a website’s performance when the majority of people arriving to the site are qualifying themselves before they ever show up.

Relevant links also provide soft metrics: brand awareness and word of mouth traffic. I’m a numbers guy so these  Business 101 marketing terms freak me out a little bit. I like to put my marketing muscle behind things that I can quantify and see on paper. But I’m not naive enough to totally disregard the impact of consistent mentions/links from highly relevant sites has on a company’s brand.

I led a product outreach campaign for an outdoor company a few years ago. They went from being relatively unknown to a national powerhouse in a few years. How? Customer reviews, blog mentions and forum participation. The compounded value of even 50 relevant blogs mentioning your product can increase traffic significantly over time.

Don’t neglect the long term impact of earning links and mentions from relevant sites. It’s a win for branding, usability and, likely, SEO.

Link Building’s Greatly Exaggerated Demise

Link building is only dead to to those who don’t understand SEO. Marketers don’t fall into the “X is dead” hysteria overnight. After years of poor execution, marketers can begin to scoff at any marketing channel.

People think link building is dead because they are doing it wrong.

A three-pronged link building attack creates real value that both marketers and clients can embrace.