An Introductory Crash Course On Link Building, Best Practices, And Behaviours To Avoid

Among the most significant and duly prioritised facets of search engine optimisation (SEO) is link building, as links drive PageRank, Google’s measure of a website’s authority. Link building has been a part of organic SEO since the search engine boom and has been a staple practice ever since.

Google’s PageRank

PageRank is what Google calls its measure of authority based primarily on links. Other search engines have other names for this metric, but the common denominator is that they all focus on one-way inbound links heavily.

PageRank measures how many links point towards a website without said website pointing back, and of course, it also takes into consideration which websites are doing the linking. Indeed, PageRank values quality over quantity in most cases, where the origins of links can weigh much more heavily than the number of links made. PageRank factors into organic SEO, but is only one of over 200 factors used in arranging search results. It is, however, a major indicator of niche importance and authority.

Penguin and Panda

As mentioned earlier, since the search engine boom and since people started realizing the importance of search engines and figuring out how they work, link building has been part and parcel of organic SEO. And like SEO, link building practices have changed with the times. Today, the foremost agents of Google monitoring link building efforts are the Penguin and Panda algorithm updates (as well as any unnamed updates in between).

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The crux of the matter is that black hat and even grey hat (questionable) link building practices will most likely be penalised. To help you draw that sometimes fine line between white and grey, here is a brief list of some best practices for linking:

  • Internal Link Building — internal link building is linking between webpages within your own website. Internal links are not as authoritative and heavy, so to speak, than external links, but they bolster linking structure and web usability, both of which make your website more valuable in Google’s eyes. A good, strong and proper linking structure (not too much linking just for the sake of it) ensures better web usability by always providing more useful places to go for your visitors.
  • Linking to Useful Sources — Again, the most important driver of PageRank are inbound external links, but that does not mean you should only be looking for those without giving out your own. Don’t be shy about linking to useful sources of information or further reading within your own website content a couple or more times if necessary. This helps search engines figure out webpages relevant to your web content to use as context, assisting in SEO by way of keyword targeting (if you use keywords within anchor text). It also helps in web usability by offering your readers more useful stuff to read. But avoid over-linking because 1. Search engines might find it fishy, and 2. Readers will not appreciate it if every other sentence in your article contains a link somewhere.
  • Using Rel=NoFollow — While you should always link to useful webpages (both internal and external), you should mind where you’re linking. If you do not want to lend your authority and credibility to a webpage you link to, then always add the rel=nofollow attribute within the HTML anchor element. Instances where the nofollow attribute comes in handy include when you’re writing about scam sites (you want to point your readers to specific sites but do not want to be associated with them) and when you have to link to many places for reference but you would not wish to associate your content with the webpages.
  • Guest Posting — Always be open to guest posting opportunities and offer such openings for others in your niche. Guest posting is an active link building tactic that is guaranteed white hat and legitimate. Better yet, you not only build links, but you also build relationships with the people you work with.
  • Interviewing and Obliging to Interview Requests — In the same vein, granting interview requests and looking for experts to interview will always come with the opportunity to place a valuable link somewhere, as well as establish or enrich a business relationship.

These are just a few best practices to take note of — they are neither a comprehensive list nor an in-depth account. Aside from the best practices, however, there are also things to avoid in your efforts to build up your PageRank, such as:

  • Buying Links — During the early days of SEO, link-buying was norm. Today, it’s black hat practice with corresponding penalties. Do not invest in buying links as the only return on investment you can expect is temporary gain and long-term ranking loss, not to mention damage to your PageRank authority.
  • Link Farming — As with buying links, link farming was also rampant and normal in the early days of SEO. Websites were set up with the sole purpose to link to others within a gigantic network. Google’s current efforts with the Panda and Penguin updates have all but rooted out the biggest link farms in successful attempts to clear out content and link spam.
  • Suspicious linking behaviour — Suspicious linking behaviour includes sudden surges of linking activity, whether inbound or outbound, linking to only one website, regular two-way linking, and other similar activities that hint on black or grey hat link building. Suffice it to say that it is best to mind your linking behaviour to steer clear of Google’s radar.

In the end, the most legitimate way of link building is to let the external inbound links come to you without asking. If your website content is authoritative, valuable, and informative, it will only be natural to gain links. Most small to mid-sized businesses, however, need to build PageRank fast to survive their respective competitive niches. If you are one such business, then at least keep the above-mentioned do’s and don’ts in mind, and you should avoid falling prey to Google’s Panda and Penguin, the guardians of PageRank. These tips also apply to organic SEO for other search engines

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