Link building — for a while there, when Google announced that guest blog posting was ‘spammy’, we all kind of thought it might be dying out. But as it turns out, link building is still an absolutely vital part of SEO — it just looks a little different now than it used to. More importantly, the more different from ‘how it used to’ that you get, the better off you are in many cases.
The Three Kinds of Backlinks
- Self-made backlinks: if you go out and create a link on a third-party website that connects back to your site, you’ve created one of these. Not only have they been massively devalued by Google, but some kinds of self-made backlinks are actively penalized.
- Requested backlinks: if you contact the webmaster or owner of a site and you ask them to link to your page in return for some form of consideration, it falls into this category.
- Granted backlinks: if someone links to your page simply because they thought it was worthy of reference or sharing, you have a granted backlink. These are the best kinds of backlinks, not because they’re necessarily more highly valued by Google (who often can’t tell between a requested and a granted link), but because they not only arrive ‘for free,’ but they act as an excellent indicator of which of your content is the ‘best.’
Now, self-made backlinks are crap. I’m not even going to try to spin that. The difference between requested backlinks and granted backlinks is something Google wants there to be a big to-do over, but the simple fact is that if Google can’t tell the difference (they can’t), no one cares. They just want their link juice, thank you very much.
But right now it’s pretty clear that the orthodoxy (read: Google and the biggest, baddest SEO sites) are clearly trying to steer everyone to creating an entirely granted-backlink structure. This would be great for Google, who could worry a lot less about spammy backlinks and people gaming the system — but it’s crappy for website owners, because the number of granted backlinks is miniscule, and earning one takes either insane effort or incredible luck.
Requesting a backlink is something that happens in four steps.
- Create the Content: the first step is to make content that you think will be attractive to your audience — or, if you’re thinking this far ahead, the audience of the site you plan to request a link from.
- Figure out Why Another Site Would Love It: Once you have your content made, your goal is to sit down and work out what about your content appeals to your audience.
- Ask An Authoritative, Relevant Industry Site to Link to It: This can be as simple as saying “I think your audience might be interested in this, would you consider linking to it,” or as complex as offering the authoritative site some sort of compensation or favor in return for the backlink — whatever you think will work and is worth it.
- Follow Through: This is the part that most people leave out. It’s not good enough to get your backlink and then just never contact the authority site again — that’s leaving metaphorical money on the table. You have the option of playing it that way, naturally, but if you can develop that initial contact and exchange into a relationship, you can benefit both your own site and the industry site in the long term by working together.
In short, reciprocal/requested backlinks, no matter how much the orthodoxy might want you to think otherwise, aren’t going anywhere — they’re absolutely vital to success in modern SEO. So master the art of making linkworthy content, and then asking for what you want.