How Important Are Links For SEO?

Brendan Egan

How Important Are Links For SEO?

We’ve all heard about links and SEO.  Many of us have probably been spammed by email from people offering to build us links or asking us to link to them from our website.  Contrary to what some people say, in 2020 and beyond, links are still a critical part of SEO.
When it comes to an SEO campaign, links are one of the biggest differentiation points between low, medium, and high quality campaigns.  Companies offering SEO for $750 a month are probably building very low quality links.  Likewise they are measuring their success in terms of links built as opposed to traffic driven and most importantly leads/sales/ROI.
With that said, when you get down in the trenches, aside from content links are one of the most important aspects still when it comes to SEO.

A History of Algorithms Around Links

Google uses a number of algorithms to determine how to rank a page within search results. Google’s first algorithm was PageRank, which used the number and quality of links to determine the importance of a website. Marketers quickly started to realize they could improve their rank within search results by building as many links to their website as possible–even if the links were paid for or placed on low quality websites — to artificially boost their PageRank and improve their rankings in search results.
To prevent this problem, Google introduced the Penguin algorithm, which can tell the difference between a natural and artificial link. Websites with natural links are rewarded, whereas websites with artificial links are penalized.
This update shook the SEO world — and since then, countless other updates have followed, including Penguin refreshes, Panda, Hummingbird, and countless “unnamed” updates that don’t have a cute animal to associate them with.
Since these algorithms were first introduced, a number of marketing companies have declared that links are no longer an important part of an effective SEO strategy. But, this is far from the truth. Links are just as important as ever before–that is, if you know how to use them.
We don’t believe it is critical to know the names of all the algorithm updates or the nuances of each.  What each one has in common and what continues to be the case is that links are still a large part of Google’s algorithm, but they must be relevant quality links.

Inbound vs. Outbound vs. Internal Links

Before learning how links can improve SEO, it’s important to understand the three different types of links. Internal links are hyperlinks that direct the user to other pages on your website. Placing a link to your “About Us” page on your homepage would be an example of an internal link.  Or writing a blog post and linking relevant phrases to other blog posts.
Internal links are actually more important than many people realize.  We have helped clients see dramatic ranking and traffic improvements just by extensively improving their internal links and adding internal links to all of their pages.
Outbound links are also placed on your website, however they direct users to other websites not associated with your domain name.  Outbound links don’t really directly help you from a link building standpoint, but there are rumors that they can help your content quality (that is a whole other topic).
Inbound links are the third and final type of link. Inbound links are links to your website that appear on other websites. For instance, let’s say The Huffington Post includes a link to the CNN website within one of their articles. This would be an outbound link for The Huffington Post and an inbound link for CNN.
Or let’s say you are a weekly contributor to a 3rd party website, and you include a link back to your site, that would be an inbound link.  When we talk about links in the world of SEO, more times than not, we are talking about these types of links.  These are the links which establish your domain’s authority and make your site more important than others in search results.

How to Improve SEO With Inbound Links

Google assumes that another website would not link to your website unless they considered your content or website valuable. Since Google has no way of knowing whether one site is better than another, they utilize links as a sort of crowd sourced voting mechanism.
Think about it — would really link to a site from an article if it wasn’t a valuable resource for their readers?  So not only do links help, but the more authoritative the site linking to you is and more relevant it is to your industry, the better.
Basically, Google treats nearly every inbound link like a vote for your website’s authority. Because of this, inbound links have the greatest impact on your SEO, but unfortunately, they are also the hardest to obtain.  At least the ones worth having are hard to obtain.
There are several effective ways to build inbound links and improve your SEO. A few of our favorite strategies are:
Leave Relevant Comments on Blog Posts
Find people in your industry that are influencers or have a lot of traffic flowing through their blog. Take the time to read their posts, and if you have something relevant to say, say it. Link your Gravitar with your picture and website information, so if anyone wants to check out the person behind the words, they can follow back to your site. Don’t just randomly comment on a blog and leave a link to one of your pages. This is a bit sketchy and can get you reported and penalized.
When you start to foster a genuine discussion and leave relevant insight, people will get curious about what you have to say and will start to check out your personal website. This will both help your SEO efforts while also adding referral traffic to your site.
Write Guest Blog Posts
Guest blogging has become one of the greatest ways to manually build links back to your site—if it’s done properly. Don’t abuse this practice. Instead, seek out blog owners in your niche, where you have something worth saying that people want to read. When writing guest blog posts, write them as if they were being published on your site—with high quality. Be smart about this and use it to increase awareness about your expertise in your niche. Propose a few different ideas to some of the bloggers you’d like to write for, contact them genuinely, and make sure that you use a voice that’s consistent with the writing style on your own site. If they like it, they’ll publish it to their website or blog with a link back to your site. Again, don’t over-do this and only write guest blog posts that are legitimate and relevant to your industry.
Directory backlinks are links built through sites like Yelp, Yellow Pages, and more. There are different directories based on location, niche, business type, and even general directories. Pick a few of your favorite, maybe one in each category, and submit your URL to be added to the directory. This will create an immediate backlink. Just avoid over-doing this, as Google’s algorithm will eventually catch on, especially if you submit hundreds of paid directory links.
Broken-Link Building
One way to manually build links is through fixing broken-links. It’s a great way to create seamless backlinks quickly and, quite frankly, easily. All you need to do is find a website that has broken-links on certain pages and report them to the owner of the site. It works best to suggest a few alternatives to fix the link and include yours in the list. As always, make sure that the websites you’re looking for are relevant to your niche. Since you’ve gone out of your way to help the owner of the site, chances are high that they’ll backlink back to your page. To make this process easier, download Google’s Check my Links. Be aware though, that this isn’t a guaranteed way to get a backlink.
Everyone loves infographics. They’re easy to read and communicate the point in a straightforward way. With the popularity of visual data on the rise, use it to your advantage. Create an infographic, but make sure it’s compelling and relevant. Include your website and start sharing. If it’s good, you’ll get a ton of backlinks from this method. If it’s bad, try analyzing what went wrong and make a new one.
Watch Your Competitors
Make sure you know what happens when your competition publishes new content. Do they get a lot of attention? If so, what are they doing to get that attention? Watching your competitors can give you valuable insight as to how to appeal to your target audience. It will also show you the best ways to get and build backlinks in your niche. Try downloading Monitor Backlinks for an easy way to watch your competitors and get in-depth reports on their actions.
Promote Content
If you produce great content, you need to take the time to promote it. The initial outreach will be tedious, but if it gets global attention then you’ll find yourself with hundreds, maybe thousands, of backlinks. Promote your content to other websites, on social media, and influential bloggers in your niche.
Finally, consider donating to a nonprofit that you value. When you donate, most organizations will link back to your website and list you as a contributor. If you’re going to donate for the sake of backlinks, make sure that you find a company that will give you one by doing a little research on Google.
There are a variety of other unique tactics we utilize for our clients when it comes to building links, as every industry and every client is different.

How to Improve SEO With Outbound Links

Outbound links are typically used to give credit to sources of information. For example, if you include statistics to support your argument within a blog, you should link to the website where you found the data. Google pays close attention to outbound links. If you link to credible and high quality websites, Google will assume the content on your website is credible and high quality as well.
Google will not penalize you for including high quality outbound links on your website. However, if Google believes you are being paid to post outbound links on your website, you will be penalized. You can also be penalized for linking to low quality, spammy websites. When you make either of these mistakes, your SEO could actually suffer as a result of using outbound links.
To avoid this mistake, be sure to carefully review every outbound link posted on your website. If the website does not seem credible, it’s best not to post a link to it on your website.

How to Improve SEO With Internal Links

Every time someone performs a search, Google attempts to create a list of websites that will provide the user with the best experience possible. To determine if a website is user-friendly or not, Google will consider many different factors, including the internal linking structure. For this reason, internal links can play an important role in your SEO strategy.
There are several rules to follow when placing internal links on your website. First, it’s best to avoid linking to top level pages on your website. If a page can be accessed via the navigation menu, you do not need to link to it repeatedly on other pages. The second rule is no page on your website should be more than three clicks away from the homepage. This means you should be able to navigate to any page on your website by starting on your homepage and clicking on three (or fewer) internal links.
The third and final rule is to remember the user as you are placing internal links on your website. Put yourself in the user’s shoes when determining which links should be placed on each page. For example, let’s say a website visitor is reading a blog on the importance of using the right keywords. This visitor would probably also be interested in reading a blog on how to use the Google Keyword planner. Therefore, it would be appropriate to link to a blog on this topic that is posted on your website. With this approach, you can ensure your internal links are creating a positive user experience, which will improve your SEO.
Are you ready to build inbound, outbound, and internal links? If so, contact us today to schedule a free consultation. Let us plan and implement an effective link-building strategy to improve your SEO.