Published on February 2nd, 2013 | by Derek Slater0
More juice please! A link-building checklist for editors
This article was originally published December 2009 on emediavitals.com.
I like the term “Google juice”. It’s a nice metaphor, describing search engine clout as a liquid that can be poured from one site to another.
Grossly put, the more links that point to your site, the more juice you get. The engines make the reasonable assumption that if lots of well-behaved and popular sites link to yours, your site must be pretty important too.
While you can rely on the sheer incandescent brilliance of your content to naturally attract links over time, a smart editor will accelerate that process by putting some effort into link-building.
Here are key methods for building up your site’s Google juice. We’ll start simple and get more advanced as we go.
Ten tactics for getting more link juice
1. Write great content. Duh. None of the following tips replace great content. They help get juice to put the great content in front of more people.
2. Use internal links on your site. Smart linking from one article to another on your site serves your audience. It helps ensure search engines can find and index all your content. And as one article receives juice from inbound links, it will pass juice along to other articles on your site.
What’s smart linking? This is not. Nobody wants to click on the words “this” or “here”. Every link is like a headline and deserves some thought. SEOs refer to the linked words as anchor text. Try to make the anchor text both clear (using keywords from the article you’re pointing to) and captivating.
3. Use external links on your site. Surely this argument has been settled by now. If your site doesn’t link to source material, other relevant sites and so forth, your value to readers is greatly reduced.
It’s also harder to get links if you never give links.
4. Ask your freelancers to link from their own sites. Example: Michael Fitzgerald does wonderful work for CSO, the Boston Globe, Inc., and many other sites. He links to those articles on his home page and frequently also on his blog.
5. Ask contributing columnists to link from their other affiliated sites. Running a column from a law school professor? She might link to the column on her online CV. She might put a link in her online syllabus. As with freelancers, don’t assume she will do this without your asking. Ask, ask, ask.
6. Make sure you’ve got a link from any (noncompeting) industry associations, bloggers, and publications. If they don’t have a resource page that links to you already, why not offer to write a guest column for them? Write a great article that’s useful for their members or readers and link to relevant resources on your site at the end or in your bio.
The same tactic will work on broader sites as well – see point 9 below.
7. Make sure your speaker bio links to your site (preferably to specific articles relevant to the speaking engagement). Any time you do a public presentation of any sort, it should result in links to your site.
8. Get listed in directories. You might think this is an early ‘90s piece of advice, but it’s current. We’re not talking about crappy link farm directories; we’re talking about a dozen or so reputable ones that will give you some authority in the eyes of search engines. Yes, they do exist: Consider this compilation of reputable directories, or SEOmoz’s opinionated guide to directories.
9. Identify other potentially high-value links and ask for them. What is a high-value link? It’s a link from a site that search engines regard as trustworthy (old domains, good behavior, frequent updates, lots of incoming links themselves). It’s also a link from a site that has authority on the particular topic in question.
There are tools to help you find these sites, so that you can then ask them for links to material on your own site that would offer value to their audience. For example:
- SEOmoz’s Backlink Analysis Tool and Juicy Link Finder (or similar)
In the SEOMoz Backlink Analysis Tool, simply type in a competitor’s URL to generate a list of sites linking in, as well as the anchor text most commonly used in those links. If a site is linking to your competitor, why wouldn’t it also link to you? Possibly because you haven’t asked.
Juicy Link Finder helps identify sites that are authoritative for a particular keyword or phrase. If I want my site (or a specific article) to rank well for a particular term, I type that term into Juicy Link Finder and it returns a list of sites with high PageRank for that term.
Here are the top ten results for the term “network security”, which is a valuable term for my site. If I can get links from some of these to a specific CSOonline article, that article will gain significant Google juice.
- Search engines, using advanced search phrases.
You can find links to a given site via a more manual process using the search engines directly. Try typing this search into Google or Yahoo, filling in the appropriate competitor’s URL:
10. Revive your evergreen content. Do you have an older article or resource on your site that’s slowly sliding lower on search results pages? Here’s a 2004 article that CSOonline readers love: What’s Wrong With This Picture? The Clean Desk Test. It’s graphical, it’s a quiz, it’s relatively short, and the subject matter applies to almost everyone. When we published it, it garnered tons of inbound links. It ranks very high on Google search for a variety of terms (clean desk test, desk security, and so on).
As a piece like this ages, some of those links are naturally going to disappear. Blogs go dark, sites dump old newsletter archives, and so forth. I don’t want this valuable (and topically timeless) article to fade away. So it not only gets links (such as at the bottom of this recent security policy sample) but in fact gets resurfaced in a video version.
When we published the video and accompanying article, they both did well in terms of online readership – but the original clean desk article really took off again, garnering new readers and new incoming links from other sites.
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!
In addition to your checklist for better link building, here are four additional thoughts to keep in mind.
1. Don’t buy links. Aside from paying a nominal fee for listing in a credible directory, don’t pay for links. Search engines frown on this practice and go to some lengths to detect it and discredit the sites doing it. If you get an email offering to sell you hundreds of links for a low, low price, delete it!
2. Link exchanges are less valuable than one-way links. Yet another reason why good content wins in the end. Google recognizes when Site A links to Site B and vice versa, and discounts the value of those links as they may be based on a barter rather than on genuine admiration.
3. Make canonical versions of your content. THIS IS A BIG DEAL to ensure you get the maximum value from those inbound links you’ve worked so hard to earn. You are likely to have many URLs for a single article on your site. Don’t think so? All of the following URLs (and many others) take you to the same article, in one form or another, on my site:
Why does this matter? Because if incoming links are votes, and those votes are split across these various URLs, search engines may not be able to sum them up and see that a lot of outsiders consider this a valuable article. Your site needs to be constructed to present one canonical version to search engines and have all incoming links add up. Here are Google’s latest instructions on handling this issue:
And if you are lucky enough to work in a company that duplicates content across several different domains: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2009/12/handling-legitimate-cross-domain.html
4. Organize for link-building. As I mentioned several columns back (5 Reasons to Become a Search Expert), on the Web the editor takes on part of the function previously done by the circulation department. Isn’t link-building one aspect of circulation development? Might that group take on some of this task?
Similarly, your company might have a function called Audience Development. More links bring you more search authority and more visitors – so what role can Audience Development play in link building?
You also may have PR and/or marketing folks. As they reach out to news outlets or to vendors in your industry, why can’t their work include garnering more inbound links? As you consider organizational models for online success, take a long look at how all these folks are working to get links. If they aren’t, why not? If your organization can coordinate this work and increase everyone’s focus on the task, you can get a leg up on competitors stuck in print-centric approach.
I won’t be surprised if the future publishing org model integrates or connects these specific functions in a new way.