Guide to Link Building

What you need to know about nofollow
There is an attribute that can sometimes be applied to links called the “nofollow” attribute. If added, you will not notice any difference if you’re a user. But, if you look at the code of the link, it will look slightly different:

This tells Google not to pass any PageRank across this link to the target URL. Effectively, you’re telling Google not to trust this link and to discount it from consideration. Therefore, it should not help the target URL to rank any better.

The main reason a site might use nofollow relates to scenarios in which that site lacks total control over the links that are added to its pages. linksexpert In other words, they don’t want to show Google a vote of confidence when they don’t know whether or not they actually are confident. This is more common than you’d expect; here are a few examples:

Blog comments
Forum posts
Guest book comments
Editable Wiki pages (e.g. Wikipedia)
Yahoo! Answers
Guest post signatures
Users can freely add links to each of these places, and because of their size, it isn’t really practical to moderate every single one of those links. So, in order to deter link spammers from taking advantage of a site’s PageRank, the site will often choose to apply the nofollow attribute to all links posted by other users.

Another use for the nofollow attribute is for advertisers to use on links that have been paid for. So, if you buy an advertising banner on a website which links to you, Google says that the nofollow attribute should be added so that they know not to pass any PageRank across that link. The idea here is that you shouldn’t benefit in the organic results by buying advertisements that include links on other websites.

More recently, Google has expanded this concept to included optimized links in press releases, article directories, and advertorials. These are all examples where the use of nofollow is entirely appropriate.

In terms of your work, you should know that links that have the nofollow attribute applied will probably not help your organic search rankings as directly as followed links. That isn’t to say they’re not worthwhile. After all, typical users don’t notice whether a link is nofollowed or not, and may actually click through and visit your website even if it is. That is, after all, the point of buying advertisements online. That being said, for the purposes of link building, you want most of your links to be followed and therefore counted by Google. Looking for a way to indentify followed versus nofollowed links on a website? You can use the MozBar to highlight these links on any site.

How can link building benefit my business?
As we’ve discussed, links are a very important signal that the search engines use to determine rankings. So, we know that increasing the number of high-quality links pointing at your website can significantly increase your chances of ranking well.

There are other benefits to link building, though, that may be less immediately obvious yet still worthy of consideration.

Building relationships
Link building can often involve outreach to other relevant websites and blogs in your industry. This outreach frequently relates to the promotion of something that you’ve just created, such as a piece of content or an infographic. A common goal of outreach is to get a link, but there is much more to it than just this: Outreach can help you build long-term relationships with key influencers in your industry, and these relationships can mean that your business becomes highly regarded and trusted. This in itself is valuable, even if we forget link building for a moment, because we are creating genuine evangelists and advocates for our business.

Sending referral traffic
We’ve talked about the impact of links on your rankings, but what about the impact of links on referral traffic? A good link from a highly-visited website can lead to an increase in traffic, too. If it is a relevant website, chances are that the traffic is also relevant and may lead to an increase in sales, as well. Again, in this situation the value of a link isn’t just about SEO—it’s about customers. A great example of this in action was this guest post written by Michael Ellsberg on Tim Ferriss’ blog. He also wrote a case study on Forbes explaining just how valuable this guest post was to him. “There’s a big difference between being exposed to a large audience,” he says, “and being exposed to a comparatively smaller (but still large) audience which is ridiculously passionate.” In other words, the avid followers of a single blog were far more likely to take the advice of the blogger than (for example) viewers were to pay attention to the anchor on CNN, even if the latter group outnumbered the former.

Brand building
Good link building can help build your brand and establish you as an authority in your niche. There are some link building techniques, such as content creation, which can show people the expertise of your company, and this can go a long way toward building your brand. For example, if you create a piece of content based upon industry data and publish it, you have a chance of becoming well known for it in your industry. When you do outreach and try to get links to the content, you are showing your expertise and asking other people in your industry to help spread the word and show others the same.

An important note on link building vs link “earning”
Or, the importance of having webpages worth linking to.

Before building links, you need something of value to build links to. Often it’s the homepage of your website. More often than not, though, you build links to specialized resources such as a blog post, tool, research study or graphic. Sometimes these assets exist long before you begin your link building campaign. Other times, you create these resources specifically with the goal of building links in mind.

This introduces the concepts of link earning and “deserving to rank.” All link building campaigns must start with something worth linking to. It’s very difficult to build links to low-value webpages, but when you begin with something truly valuable that people find useful or share-worthy, link building is a much easier endeavor.

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