Even if you're a seasoned marketer, keeping on top of current SEO best practices can be a frustrating endeavor. You'll overthink the process, second guess your efforts, and wonder at times if you can do away with SEO altogether.
Nearly every day, you'll ask yourself:
- Once I start SEO, how long will it take to see results?
- How do I know my SEO is working?
- Is X still relevant for SEO?
- Does SEO still matter in 20XX?
These questions, and dozens of others surrounding SEO, are perpetual and timeless. They've been pondered for almost as long as digital marketing has existed.
It's enough to make even the most hardened professional want to pack it in. When you're a novice in the SEO game, the whole process can seem downright disheartening and overwhelming.
Solid SEO isn't some unicorn strategy or Google mind trick. It's both an art and a science that, done right, supercharges your branding efforts and reaps a substantial ROI for relatively little effort.
However, it's not a one-and-done deal.
Effective SEO requires, at a minimum:
- On-site page optimization
- Fresh, regular high-quality content
- Off-site authority building
When unplanned, it's hit-or-miss at best. In order to work, these three components must be balanced, planned, and backed by consistency, diligence, and research.
One SEO hack that's often undervalued and overlooked is outbound links. Adding them strategically raises your authority and brings brand awareness to a whole new audience.
But, outbound links are nothing to play with. Linking to the wrong site - or using the practice unethically - can diminish your brand and lead to page devaluation by Google.
Why Links are an Important Aspect of SEO
Links are one component of an effective SEO strategy that combines keyword research and placement with authoritative, high-value content in order to improve user experience (UX). Although SEO and marketing professionals are divided on the relevance of including outside links in marketing content, there's no escaping their importance for branding.
Links are the number #2 ranking factor at Google, second only to content quality.
- Strengthen your topic signal, providing a more granular site evaluation
- Establish peer relationships
- Encourage backlinks and social sharing
It probably won't surprise you to learn that the internet is filled with misinformation and shady dealings. Although the majority of content marketing is created in good faith by brands that just want to grow their audience, it's the scams and misinformation that grab the lion's share of attention and foster mistrust in the court of public opinion.
When your audience learns that you mean what you say and can back up your information with facts from a reputable source, they learn to trust your brand. Trust leads to customer loyalty, supporting customer retention, and encouraging social proof.
But first, they have to find you.
Search engines have become such a part of our everyday lives that the name of the main vehicle driving traffic has now become a transitive verb.
When you need to know something, just Google it.
User experience and satisfaction are increasingly important components of search engine optimization. Google and other search engines collect and analyze data in order to make sense of website content and ensure that they're directing traffic to the right place.
However, search engines are only as good as the information they provide. Search results are often the first step in brand awareness. If someone is looking for answers or solutions, they type them in a search bar of some sort and wait to be directed to the best match for their query.
That's what search engines try to deliver, and why they're constantly altering their algorithms to adhere to the demands of their users.
Links offer an effective, effortless way to support your content's information. They also give search engine crawlers another way to evaluate your content for authority, quality, and relevance. But, without quality and SEO-friendly content support, it’s not valuable alone. So, first priority should be to craft engaging content creation and then use tools to check grammar and punctuations, and after proofreading it becomes versatile for ranking.
When you include internal links to other pages of your site, you increase page views, engagement, and time spent on each page while reducing bounce rates. You also help visitors find the information they need and improve site navigation, which in turn improves the overall UX.
External links provide supplementary information to support your content. If you mention a statistic, readers want to know that information is gained from a reliable source. When you reference material, sources, or people, outbound links provide the reader with context.
Backlink vs Outbound Link: What's the Difference
External links are created in the form of clickable hypertext that's embedded into your content. It simply links to other content outside of your website.
This may seem counterintuitive, but including links to high-value content increases the authority of your own content. It demonstrates that your audience can trust what you say because you're bringing receipts.
According to Google's Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller:
"Linking to other websites is a great way to provide value to your users. Often, links help users to find out more, to check out your sources, and to better understand how your content is relevant to the questions that they have."
There are two types of external links, backlinks and outbound links. They're intertwined and confusing to the uninitiated, but each serves a very specific purpose.
Backlinks are links from an outside source that lead their audience back to your website. They're kind of a nod from your peers acknowledging your relevance, expertise, or authority in a specific industry or subject.
Links are outbound when you embed them in hypertext that leads to a source outside of your own content. They can be used to prove a fact or statistic, provide your audience with additional resources and information, or establish a connection with a complementary brand.
As such, these links shouldn't be used too often or lead to unreliable websites filled with misinformation, spam, and ads. This can hurt your SEO rather than improve it.
Best Ways to Hack SEO Through Strategic Link Building
Creating outbound links requires more than simply sprinkling links to more popular or authoritative websites throughout your content. The information you link to should be relevant to your content, add value for your audience, and bolster your authority. After all, you're encouraging viewers to leave your site and visit someone else's.
If you were to use an online flowchart maker to evaluate link quality, it might look like this:
How do you know when and what to link? Basically, you should include an external link when:
- Stating a fact or figure
- Referencing a source or inspiration
- Illustrating a point
- Citing a quote or unique idea
- Pointing the reader toward a resource or tool
Adding external links to your website isn't the most potent SEO practice, but it can leverage and supercharge nearly all of your other marketing strategies. These best practices should provide you with some guidance to start.
Use Links to Build Peer-to-Peer Relationships
Consider that an outbound link from you is a backlink for another website and vice-versa. There are several ways that you can use external links to your advantage.
One is to link to a high-authority website that you've used as a resource for your own content. Link directly to the relevant page on their website and message to let them know you've done so. Your email should be to the point without asking for anything in return. Just a heads up, so to speak, letting them know that you've referenced their content, which content, and in what context.
This will create awareness of your brand from high-traffic, high-quality sites, make them more likely to check out and possibly share some of your content, or they'll link to your site in return. Just make sure that your own content is also of the highest quality and relevance or they may ask you to remove the link instead.
Another way to create a “linked” relationship is to guest blog on another website, hopefully, one with a higher traffic volume and industry esteem. This method takes a little longer since big brands or high-traffic sites receive many such solicitations every day.
This can be accomplished by sending an email to the content manager or clicking on the "Write for us" link that many blogs and websites now include for guest bloggers. Simply pitch your idea or topic, tell them why you believe you'll be a good fit for their site, and when the content will be ready for publication.
Never send an unsolicited blog post or other content. Wait until it's requested and you've worked out an agreement in advance. Don't become disheartened if you don't hear back from them right away, but do send a follow-up within a week of your original pitch. It sometimes takes several contacts to get a response, especially if you're pitching to a large, busy enterprise that's in demand.
Research Links to Get an Edge on Your Competition
Check out what sites are creating backlinks to your competitors. These sites are most likely relevant to your audience and niche, so you can bet that establishing a relationship will help with your own SEO efforts. Use the same peer-to-peer strategies outlined above to build a mutually beneficial rapport.
Keep it Organic
Link building takes time and effort, but the payoff is worth the time you put into it. One thing that you should never do is buy links or fill your content with tons of irrelevant links just for manufactured clout. Anti-spam algorithms pick up on this type of practice, and it will hurt your credibility if high-authority sites think you're unfairly trying to capitalize on their success.
Spamming and other unscrupulous practices could result in censure, blocking, or a public callout that hurts your reputation. Use only one link per 500 words and make sure that the link directs traffic to the exact information you reference rather than the other site's home page. If you have a lot of facts or stats to reference, footnote the bulk of them and link to the most important ones.
Investigate Links Before Adding Them
When looking for links, don't just use the first thing that comes up when you do a search. That could mean the site manager is great at SEO, but it could just mean that the site gets a lot of traffic. Neither indicates the level of authority or validity of the content.
A good example is Wikipedia, which will rank very high in the SERPs because so many people visit the site. However, it's not considered a valid resource because technically anyone can edit, remove, or add information to the pages.
How do you evaluate a site for link purposes?
Start with a search using your keywords or common search terms, and then read the top 10 results.
Does the website:
- Have relevance to your topic or point?
- Contain well-written, unique content?
- Cite reputable sources?
- Contain the original source of the information
For example, citing statistics from a page containing many stats from various sources is not a good fit for link building. Find the original source of that exact fact or statistic, such as the actual page of the study, and link to that. Try to avoid using any information that is more than two years old.
You should also investigate the author to ensure that they are creditable and that the website itself is reputable. You are sometimes judged by the company you keep, even in cyberspace, so make sure that external links add to your value and esteem.
Final Thoughts About Outbound Links
No SEO hack is foolproof. But, following recommended best practices will increase your chances of drawing leads that convert.
Using strategically placed outbound links is no joke. It's a fundamental part of effective SEO that shouldn't be overlooked. Done right, it will increase brand awareness, build authority, and preserve a favorable position for your site in the SERPs.
About the Author:
Uday Tank is a serial entrepreneur and content marketing leader who serves the international community at Rankwisely. He enjoys writing, including marketing, productivity, business, health, diversity, and management.