Link building, one of the most misunderstood and elusive aspects of ongoing SEO, has no easy route to be effective. Though there are plenty of resources out there that talk about why links are important, why you need them, what they look like, how they work, and more, rarely do SEO experts, especially in the legal industry, talk about how to obtain them.
Spoiler alert – here are some resources I provide on exactly how you can obtain them:
If you believe you and/or your team has a grasp on doing some link building — whether it being paid packages, content contributions, or citations/directories — here are 10 ways you may not be getting the value you expected from link building.
Links from low authority websites
One of the simplest explanations for no improvements to authority is that the websites linking to you have no authority themselves. When pursuing a link opportunity in any form, you can expect the benefit to correlate with the current authority of the linking website. Majestic uses Citation Flow and Trust Flow. Moz uses Domain Authority and Page Authority. SEMRush uses a flat “Authority Score.” Whatever metric you use, they’ll all be relatively helpful in determining what should pass along. If you see a flatline with your authority building up over time yet you know you’re obtaining links, you should audit the sources of the links to confirm this is the case.
Links from websites without authority, but the page is buried
Even if you obtain a link on an authoritative website, it is important to consider what part of the website you’re actually being placed on. A homepage/root link to a homepage/root will often pass the most value (example.com to example.com); but as we know, most of time we get links from an interior page (example.com/blog/todays-blog to example.com) when other websites reference a business. Alternatively, this also occurs when one website writes about a topic and references information from another website to support their facts or information (example.com/blog/todays-blog to example.com/blog/todays-blog to). This is the more common approach, where you have individual pages gain their own authority. The authority of these pages can be leveraged with internal links to share authority elsewhere on the same site.
There isn’t anything wrong with this, since this commonly happens naturally; though, in some situations, if you had an opportunity for a link from another website and find it on EX: example.com/blog/month/week/day/category/topic/your-blog, your page is essentially “buried” at this point, breaking a tier 4-5 threshold, and not getting crawled very often unless it’s on a massive website (very popular news websites for example). If you can do anything to avoid being pushed down significantly via subdirectories, it is highly advised.
Link was no follow, no index
In some situations, webmasters simply don’t want to pass along the authority of their website via a link to your website, and will do the infamous “no index, no follow” code to the link to ensure search engines don’t reference the link to external sources, only actual human users. There aren’t too many reasons why a webmaster will go out of their way to use this code unless they are scrupulous about the authority of their own webpages and consider too many external links to reduce the “link juice” being linked out to too many references. Maybe they had a few external links that they wanted to follow for EAT standards, but in an effort to reference too many sources, may have inadvertently suggested their own page isn’t the true authority on the subject. Some SEOs say that there is still some value to these links, even if it’s just another referring domain. But from what I’ve seen over the pass decade, the value is likely minute to zero.
Link is on a massive OBL website
OBL, or outbound links, tie in with what I mentioned in the previous point about “link juice.” The higher OBL of a page, the more diluted the value of the link is, as the website is essentially sharing more and more external source, so all can’t be equally authoritative. It’s the reason why business websites can have legitimate links on hugely authoritative websites like Yelp and BBB, yet still don’t have high authority.
In my experience, I’d rather have a link on a website with “medium” authority and 100 OBL than a website with “high” authority and 10,000 OBL, or “extremely high” authority and a million OBL. Finding opportunities to have links on websites that rarely link out is a coveted position and is rewarded accordingly.
Link was added to start and removed later, or the website/page no longer exists
Did you ever work with an SEO agency or consultant and start to lose rankings and wonder if it was a coincidence or not? A dangerous practice in the SEO industry (I figure it’s worth mentioning, one we don’t participate in) is removing links after the client is no longer working with them. Ouch. Well, in the legal sphere, FindLaw probably started the trend when referencing their link wheels.
There are typically far less nefarious reasons. Webmasters change and consolidate pages. Just like that, the link is gone. Websites go down or are rebranded altogether or are hacked and get malware. There is always link attrition just because of the natural progression of website maintenance over time.
Link is not directed at the right page
Depending on how you obtain a link, the destination may not be what you had in mind. We’ve seen links go to the Contact Page for the business (which sometimes, we don’t even index or put in the sitemap). Including HTTPS for a non-HTTPS website. Including www. when the site is non-www and doesn’t redirect. The majority of links that happen naturally are either to the homepage or a specific informational page. The majority of paid/controlled pages go to the homepage or a specific geo or service page.
Also, keep in mind (along with the last point about another website’s page not existing any longer with its link to you), that’s the same situation for a page on your own website to accept the link from another website. If you are changing your URLs and moving around pages on your website, you could be creating broken links for other websites linking to you, which they will remove. It is important to do 301 redirects for any pages you’ve created that received links over time.
Link has anchor text of less value or over-optimized
The majority of links are branded URLs. Sometimes they include a keyword, though that rarely happens naturally. Sometimes they are just contextual as a reference (think “in a recent study conducted by X” being the anchor text). Sometimes they’ll just be a call-to-action (“check out their website,” “click here,” or “visit them here”).
If all of your links have anchor text that isn’t relevant, such as those call-to-action links of “visit their website” hundreds of times, eventually search engines will be scratching their heads and wondering if you’re trying to rank for “visit their website.”
More commonly, we see over-optimization in this situation, where the business has complete control of the anchor text being used and constantly hammers their main keywords as the anchor text. To this day, this is still the most common case of penalization I see from link building – more than spam links, toxic links, paid links, manipulated links, black hat links, or whatever you want to call them. Over-optimization from exact keyword search terms creates a legitimate issue for websites attempting to proceed with ranking high, and should always be proactively mixed with other anchor text.
Content with the link never indexed
In some situations, you’ll obtain a link on a website that either prohibits or stymies crawlers. In that case, search engines may never even see the page with your link on it, and therefore, can’t consider your link for pass-along authority.
In some instances, where you know you’ve obtained a link on a website but don’t see the value of the link being passed along, we would recommend forcing the index of that page. Since Matthew Woordward is a pro (and was on my SEO podcast), I would learn more about backlink indexers, how they drip links, and how the whole process works here:
I’m sure he’ll love that link as well. He earned it!
Link is potentially deemed spam or toxic by search engines
Of course, any link considered toxic or spam will have no value, and potentially negative value. While I consider spam links and the negative SEO that goes with them to be more of a non-threat (since if it worked, negative SEO would be absolutely rampant in competitive industry), I would still acknowledge that if your link building revolves around links constantly flagged as toxic, you’re going to get nowhere with building authority.
SEMRush has a tool that checks for toxic links, and I’m sure plenty of other SEO tools do as well. If they’re going to pass no value, you may as well remove them via Google Search Console to give yourself peace of mind.
Link is obtained in a blatantly paid manner with no guarantees
Have you ever bought a “link package” on Fiverr before? If you have, that’s unfortunate. But I have on Black Hat World, Legitt, Konker, WarriorForums, and plenty of other websites to send to experiment websites. The goal was to see which ones worked and which ones didn’t.
Typically, a little less than 50% had an impact. There was no correlation with reviews, quantity of reviews, turnaround time, the types of links, or price. From my experience, some people will do the work and some people simply won’t. It’s really tough to distinguish ahead of time how to find the difference.
SEOs will group sponsored content with link opportunities, since any marketing you do that has an end goal in a backlink is just paying for a link. It doesn’t matter how elaborate it is. Most of the time your scholarships, sponsorships, donations, and events have the ulterior links in the mix. Though the less obvious the pursuit is, the more secondary benefits there are (branding, visibility, social, etc.). The more the dollars go to the pure link outcome, the less reliable the outcome will be.
Link building is hard, and the spectrum from paid to non-paid still remains time-consuming and difficult along the way (though non-paid, or purely outreach and linkbait, is by far the most time-consuming). Agencies have good processes for content and on-page SEO, but frequently fall short when it comes to link building. Sometimes, the burden will be put on the business to spend several hundred dollars on random linking opportunities.
Ready to Build Strong Links?
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