The art of link building: Why creating connections is the key to success

Columnist Ryan Shelley explains how good, sustainable link building is not just about getting a backlink, but about creating lasting connections that provide value to users.

The internet was developed for one main purpose: to create connections.

Today, search engines have become a core piece in carrying out that purpose. SEO is far more than a group of marketing tactics and manipulations. It’s about helping people connect with other people.

While SEOs have a number of tasks to accomplish, the most important to ranking any site is building backlinks. The link is the conduit between one person and another. While the art of link acquisition may be somewhat controversial, those who do it the right way not only earn better rankings, but also build better relationships.

Not all links are created equal. This simple phrase is becoming kind of a cliché in our corner of the internet. Nonetheless, it’s true. While many of the black-hat link-building tactics are still being used,Google and the other search engines are smarter than ever. If you’re trying to game the system, you will eventually lose.

The key to building links is context — links that not only make sense for the sites being connected, but for the users on each of those sites. These are the types of links Google loves to see.

Context is key

While Google and the major search engines are continuing to fight against black-hat tactics, links are, and will, for the time being, be one of the main ranking factors. For those new to the SEO world, a backlink is simply a link on one site that points to another site.

As stated above, just any link won’t do. They have to make sense both on a site level and now, more that ever, a human level. Google’s main goal is to deliver the most relevant results to the end user with the fewest clicks. Their focus for the organic results is the user. As SEOs, we need to rethink the way we build links and put the user in the forefront of our minds throughout the process.

The user & your website

When prospecting and acquiring backlinks, we have to think of people first. After all, they are the ones who click on the links, interact with the site and actually deliver the ROI. When searching for prospective backlink opportunities, you should ask yourself three questions:

  1. What expectations do users have when visiting our site?
  2. What value do we deliver to the end user?
  3. Why would someone link to our site?

These questions should help give you a better idea of the value your site has to offer and help you identify some linkable assets. A linkable asset is a piece of content or a page that is worthy of a backlink. Defining your linkable assets is key to successful link outreach. People are much more likely to grant a link or share to a specific piece of content than they would to your home page.

Finding a good fit

Once you have defined the value your site has to offer, it’s time to find and connect with others who have a shared vision. This is where knowing your field well is instrumental.

When prospecting potential link partners, once again, you need to think people first, link second. Building a lasting connection will benefit you way more in the long run than a simple link. Take the time to research other sites in your niche, as well as secondary niches where you can create cross-industry connections.

For example, say you run a local restaurant, and you are trying to get more tourists to eat at your establishment. Getting links from restaurant review sites and being active on restaurant-related blogs and forums are great, but also consider building relationships with other local, tourist-focused businesses such as hotels, shops and so on. These sites will also benefit from the connection, and you will create a business relationship that helps you both.

Adding value is a two-way street

After you have found some sites and businesses you would like to connect with, the next step is “the introduction.” There are a number of template emails, ideas and strategies for this all across the internet, but for me, this process should to be a little more human. Templates are great, but in all honesty, how many link email templates do you respond to?

When reaching out, the best advice I can give you is to be human. Actually read the site of the person you are reaching out to, and make sure that your linkable asset adds value to their users. I, too, got lazy and did the email “spray and pray” method for years, and it did work… to a point. But in the ever-changing online world, connections are becoming more and more valuable. Do your homework, add value, and connect with those you know will value your time and effort to link with them.

Link acquisition is a powerful skill that every SEO and online marketer needs to know. When it comes to ranking for those powerful keywords, there is no “magic sauce” that will just make it happen. Creating connections with other site owners and showing how you can add value are a great way to not only earn some valuable links but create strategic business relationships as well.

Link building should be more about creating lasting connections than just earning a backlink. The more we can contextualize the process, the greater ROI we will see, and the bigger impact it will have on our sites and our businesses.

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