Our industry has seen a huge shift in how we build and optimize websites over the years. From the dark age of link buying, spam and algorithmic gaming, professional search marketers now focus on optimizing for the user. Quality content and site design are the key drivers that build audiences and earn trust.
For many marketers, there are two main reasons why they want “earned links” to their site: search engine rankings and traffic. Many in our industry have historically been more concerned with the former — but now is a good time to reconsider how we focus our efforts. After all, at the end of the day, traffic is what really matters to your bottom line!
Earned Links & Backlinks
Linking to a website can be likened to giving the site a nod of approval. The link says that this information can be trusted, so people generally are careful about where they link out to. Professionals want to link to other quality websites that they know will maintain the same standard for readers as their own site.
Reputable websites that produce the quality backlinks you want for your site are those most interested in keeping their readers engaged and providing them with value. Any links obtained from these websites have to be “earned.”
Backlinks are earned by understanding users’ needs and making sure that your website is equipped to be that professional page that has the answers for readers. When others see that your site is worth visiting, you will have a link-friendly site that can improve your organic results and reputation.
When people link to your website, they often provide you with a lift in organic traffic. Google looks closely at how many people link to content as a way to gauge a web page’s worth — one of the many factors it uses to determine search engine results page placements.
Quality Over Quantity
On May 5, 2014, Matt Cutts released a video in which he explained that backlinks would become “a little” less important over time because they have determined that “people care about the quality of the content on [a] particular page,” and “Google is getting better and better at understanding actual language” (as opposed to just strings of keywords). We can also surmise that it is harder to fake quality content than it is to manufacture backlinks.
Thus, site and content quality will eventually become a better measure of a website’s worth than quantity of backlinks — if indeed that’s not the case already.
The Importance Of Design
For people who arrive on your website, the first thing they are going to notice is the page load speed; the second is the design and UI. People will form an opinion about a website in two-tenths of a second, and the simpler and more logical the design, the better impression the site will have on visitors.
Google co-published (PDF) a study a few years ago demonstrating that sites with the least complexity and designs that mirror what customers expect rank the highest for likeability. Make sure that the design is visually appealing and it is easy for people to navigate your pages and find information about your brand.
Flashy advertisements can be particularly detrimental for the beauty of the site. Readers will struggle to remain focused on the content on your page when they are continually distracted by blaring advertisements.
Similarly, if there are any graphics on the websites, they should fit well with the information on the page and not disrupt the flow of the content. High-quality images and graphics can be enormous assets to written content, but if the images draw attention away from the written content, they may reduce your chances of backlinks.
The layout of the page also contributes to the ease of navigation. People do not like to click; you want to avoid forcing your visitors to click from page to page unnecessarily whenever possible. (This means that you do not design articles that require people to click to see pages 2/3/4/etc. of the article.)
And, of course, mobile site design is now an imperative for search marketers. (I covered that in detail in my last post.)
The Value Of Content
Quality content will be what brings people to your site and entices them to link back to you. People do not want to link back to posts that are weak and lack substance or direction.
Your content should fit three criteria:
- It shows an understanding of your buyer personas.
- It educates your personas on topics that interest them.
- It is relevant and updated regularly.
When developing content that your buyer personas will be interested in, there are many angles to consider. Think about the questions that people ask you when they first enter your office. Report on news and developments related to your industry, and give your opinion and insights on these stories. Create resources that can help your personas educate themselves.
The articles should not be thin and/or only regurgitate information that can be found on thousands of other web pages. You should work to incorporate your own expertise and experience in order to demonstrate authority and differentiate yourself in a sea of competitors.
When a website links to content, they do so because they found the content helpful and believe that others will, too, so write with this intent in mind. Keep the writing clear, concise, and informative.
Good content also incorporates appropriate page-level content strategies. For example:
- Naturally incorporate keywords in the prose and anchor text.
- Create scannable text using headlines, subheads, bullets, and lists.
- Promote articles on social media to boost traffic and reach.
This will make it easier for people to discover, read, and share your content. Once you have built quality content and assets that are “likable and linkable,” ensure that you promote them accordingly.
Link and content audits look at the volume and quality of links in your link profile to ensure it’s balanced, healthy (meaning your website is getting good value from the links) and won’t trigger any penalties by Google. Always be proactive with your link audit; don’t wait until the next Penguin update hits.
As you work to build backlinks and traffic to your page, build a Backlinks Report to track your overall progress. Use quantitative metrics to highlight any unnatural recent growth in the total number of backlinks and qualitative metrics to assess the entire health of the link portfolio.
It will be helpful for you to monitor how your site is ranking, too. This will help you determine if your efforts to build links are having the desired impact. You can use this information to enhance your future efforts and build a well-connected site that serves your business well.
Encouraging people to link to your website requires that the site be valuable, professional, and inviting — from the page’s content to its design and appearance. By optimizing these elements, you can create a link-friendly page that can help build traffic and improve brand sentiment.