Link Building 101: An Overview

From the archives…

(Note: Below are notes from a webinar I gave about link building.)


Why linking building is important
Authoritative, relevant links help your ranking in search engines, but also drive traffic and build brand awareness.

The different types of link building and when you should do each
You can do all kinds of link building, but I tend to group things into traditional link building and viral link building. I think you should try a combination of things, particularly since viral links tend to be cyclical (you get lots of traffic then no traffic), and more traditional links bring less, but more long-term traffic.

Important factors to consider when link building
Authoritative, relevant links are more valuable. These types of links give you the best results for ranking purposes as well for traffic. Don’t forget the anchor text. Sometimes people get so caught up in getting the link that they overlook that the content of the anchor text can be just as important as the link itself. You can have a million links to your site with the anchor text “buffy and angel” and that will never help you rank for “willow and oz”. You can influence external anchor text in lots of ways including, using descriptive, keyword-rich title tags and headings on your site, picking a keyword-relevant domain name, and linking to your content on social media and social networking with descriptive anchor text as those who see that link and post about it are likely to use the same anchor text.

What is viral link building?
Word-of-mouth marketing has been around forever, since Eve said to Adam, “hey, so I heard about this great apple when I was out walking the jungle. You should totally try it.” Today, of course, Eve would be sending Adam a virtual apple on Facebook, but the same general idea applies. Someone finds something cool and interesting (or delicious and full of sin) and tells their friends about it: in person (“I saw this great YouTube video…”), in email (“today is spam everyone you know, I mean “special friend” day; forward this email to 500 people or a house will fall on you”), by blogging about it or posting about it in forums, or in artificially constructed social settings where you have conversations with your “friends” by voting for stories you like.

They key to all of this — from the apple of sin and deception to the mentos/coke cocktail is that the content catches people’s attention. It could be super useful, really entertaining, highly educational, or just really weird. Possibly it’s full of sin. But it’s more than just the same old thing.

Last week, I spoke at an event about the emergence of social browsing on the web. Because people are browsing (whether it’s their Facebook newsfeed, to see what their friends have been doing or Digg to see what the top stories are) rather than searching for the answer to something specific, the content you make available for these browsers needs to be easy to scan, attention-grabbing, compelling enough to get the browser to leave what they’re doing and check out what you have to offer.

Remember this not only for headlines and descriptions when you’re submitting to social media sites and linking from social networking discussions (snappy headlines with initial caps, numeric digits, etc.), but when structuring the content itself (lots of bullets, numbers, short chunks of text…).

And don’t think that because you’re not in the most exciting industry in the world, you can’t come up with compelling content. What’s more boring than a blender? Until you put an iPod in it!

Targeting your audience
With viral efforts, you have two audiences: your target audience who’s going to come to your site and buy stuff (or do whatever it is you want people on your site to do) and the influencers who can reach your target audience. Figure out who both are, what they’re interested in, and where they go online. It doesn’t do a lot of good to spend all of your marketing efforts to get your content on the home page of Digg if none of your audience reads Digg.

There are all kinds of social media sites for just about every topic you might imagine. All it takes is a little research.

The content needs to be relevant for your audience as well. If you write an article about mountain bikes and your site is about knitting cozies for candlesticks, then you may get a bunch of mountain bikers to your site, but the conversion rate on that traffic may be a little low. Not that I’m saying there’s zero overlap between the mountain biking and candlestick cozy knitting audiences, I’m just thinking there’s a chance that the knitting council of america or the candlestick fans unite Facebook group might be a better bet.

Keeping your audience
Once you’ve got the candlestick fans on your candlestick cozy site, let them know what else your site has to offer. Make sure your viral content page has a description of the overall site to provide some context and think about what other pages of your site would be relevant for the candlestick-loving crowd. Maybe your lantern cozy knitting pattern! Or your selection of incense. Now that you’ve brought all of these visitors to your site, don’t lead them to a dead end. (Note the huge “order your totalblender” call to action on the Will it Blend? site.)

Listening to your audience
The internet is super awesome in a lot of ways, but one of them is that you can listen in on and join the conversations about your brand. Take advantage of this. Don’t just spam social networking sites with links. Listen to what people are saying — not just about your brand, but your competition and the industry as a whole. Get engaged with the community and you’ll not only learn a lot, but you’ll build brand loyalty and make your customers happy. Who doesn’t want happy customers?

Creating really useful content that is relevant to your customer base doesn’t guarantee popularity on social media sites, tons of traffic, lots of links into your site, and an influx of buying customers, but it sure seems like a pretty good bet.

22 thoughts on “Link Building 101: An Overview

  • Brian M

    Very interesting insights…
    What about internal link structure? Should you focus on that first, or just let it go wherever it may and work on external link building?

    I’m asking because I have a former client who just hired an SEO firm that is focused solely on external link building, and I wonder…

    Brian M

  • Vanessa

    Hmm. If you can’t do both at once, I would do the internal linking structure first, mostly because you can easily control 100% of it, so it tends to be the easiest (and can make a big difference). But sites have little chance of ranking without external links, so I wouldn’t neglect them for too long.

  • Brian M

    OK, so what about “out of neighborhood” links from sites that have absolutely nothing at all to do with your business. Should you seek those links out as well?

  • Tony Adam

    In regards to internal links, I’ve always built that into any content being written, whether on an initial site build or additional pages.

    As Vanessa mentioned it is a lot easier since your in control, but at the same time, I’ve found it quite effective.

    – Tony Adam

  • Vanessa

    My one rule of thumb on links is this: will you get relevant traffic from the link? Will people going to that page be interested in clicking over to your site? If so, go for the link. If not, then skip it.

  • Marios Alexandrou

    I think the other angle to consider is when traditional link building has been played out for a particular site resulting in diminishing returns for the same level of effort.

    For example, there aren’t all that many individual links that SEOmoz, with it’s existing 1 million links, is going to get much benefit from. For that site, the viral link building effort is key to continued growth.

  • Brett Andrew Borders

    It’s still hard to sell a lot of small business owners on “creating really useful content that is useful to their customer base.” A few of them love sharing their expertise, some grudgingly get it, and many expect you to just wave a magic wand and make their OScommerce site rank #1 for “iPod accessories”

  • Meteorsite SEO Firm

    There is a thin line dividing viral marketing and SEO, and yes, it is entirely possible to hit two birds with one stone — but SEO is more pointed and really more concerned with pleasing the search engine spiders than actual people. The thing about viral marketing is it’s a challenge to do it without being obtrusive or spammy — and doing it with the natural purpose of helping a person out by introducing them to a great product or service. Done with the right kind of approach and writing – viral marketing can bring a lot of traffic and be very rewarding.

  • Arnie

    I think a lot of people miss internal linking and it can be really powerful on multiple fronts. Moving users & search engines through a site, and counting as good link juice.

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  • Tim Nash

    If you end up doing lots of webinars (or any solo video work) I find it a lot easier to have someone sit and listen just behind the camera or directly opposite on an audio recording. Its amazing how differently we react with just one other person in a room (though of course if they start picking their nose or snoring this may back fire)

    Just a thought for your next one.

  • Charlie Anzman

    Hi Vanessa – Hope all is good! Re Internal linking … I think that the one thing that most people miss is the possible discovery by a search engine of a second (and possibly third) ‘key’ secondary landing page within the site that might actually rank higher. I’ve had this happen numerous times with great results.

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  • Increase Search Engine Ranking


    Can you post or email some quality links on doing webinars? Tips and tricks as well as how to overcome that issue of knowing whether or not you’re talking about relevant information or subjects that people want to know about.

    I am very impressed with not only your blog, but your writing as well. It’s a nice mix of information and humor. It makes your posts easy to read. Keep it up and thank you for your contributions.

    Crack Google

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  • virtual assitant

    Great article. Reading your articles helps me in learning things about SEO. Hope you’ll continue writing article like this.

  • seo food

    I bookmarked your blog. Very good post!

  • c5

    Hi Vanessa…re links, what is the difference between a plain nofollow and external nofollow? Thanks. -c5

  • Zoran

    Very good post. Viral link building is the best! 🙂


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