Link building might have become more challenging since Google’s crack down on link spam and manipulative tactics in April last year. But really, not a lot has changed for the seasoned link builder and it is worth stressing the fact that the best links come from the best sites. This has always been the case. Sure, every natural link profile accumulates a little spam, but there are clear occasions when the percentage of bad links oversteps the mark and link removal work must be undertaken.
So if you’re just about to embark on your first link building project, or if you’re a born again white hat link builder wondering where to start, we’ve compiled this quick check list of everything you should be looking for in a link prospect.
Is the site indexed?
This might not immediately cross everyone’s mind, especially if you’ve used Google searches to find your link prospects. But, what with the increase Social Media platforms (and referral links) are having in promoting websites (and being used to source link prospects). It is ever increasingly important to check your link prospect and confirm that the website or page is (or isn’t) indexed.
To do this, you can use the “site” operator in Google, either to check the whole website, subdirectories of a website, or the URL you’re hoping to be linked from. If the page doesn’t exist yet, then you’ll need to make a judgement as to its likelihood of being indexed once live.
If the “site” operator returns no (or a worryingly low number) of results compared to the number of pages you would expect (or those revealed with a crawl test) then perhaps this isn’t the link partner for you. If the operator returns a number vastly higher than you’d expected, then perhaps they have some other issues (duplicate content).
Check their robots.txt, if this is configured badly, this can be a talking point for you to make a softer approach before asking for a link.
Do they use structured data, microformats, rich snippets?
A rich snippet is “extra information” that appears in SERPs. This information is taken from micro formats used within a webpage’s HTML, and can entice more click-thrus by displaying data in an easy to understand way. This could be aggregated review scores, an author name, an actor and director name or even recipe cooking times or calorie content.
Using structured data and microformats is helping search engines to understand the semantic relationships between the things we search for. Couple this with personalised search and you’ve got a search engine that can return far more relevant information.
Therefore, it makes sense that search engines, like Google, will want to promote and make best use of this, and naturally promote content with these markups above other, less “structured” content.
If you have a particularly hard working webmaster, they may even let you have some influence in adding microformats to the linking page, which can only benefit you in the long run, as your link enjoys greater visibility and potential referral traffic in organic search results.
Becoming an author can also help you build your own social profile and network, and provide a link in SERPs to your other authored pieces.
Spelling and grammar
If you were a search engine, would you return content that was riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes? I certainly wouldn’t.
Masses of spelling and grammar errors often go hand in hand with low quality content. There is also user experience to take into account (who is going to read something that is unreadable?). It is also worth noting that all content for top news sites will go through an editorial process and proofreading before being allowed to go live. This doesn’t mean that the occasionally typo doesn’t get through, but reduces the overall number of mistakes to almost nill. In order to appear in many leading Search Engine news feeds, content must be free from spelling and grammar errors.
Although search engines are a long way from not returning any websites with lots of spelling and grammar errors, there is still a definite bias towards promoting content which is of a high standard of spelling and grammar, which means that links from these sites get greater exposure to searchers.
You also need to ask yourself, “do I (or your client) really want to be associated with this”. If the answer isn’t immediately obvious, then that particular avenue should be considered closed.
Good spelling and grammar keeps audiences interested in the website’s content and persuasive language and good (written) calls to action can drive traffic through your link without being overtly promotional in nature.
This covers a great many things, but basically you don’t want to be linked to from websites with poor usability. Not only for the real world association between your client and a badly constructed website, but also because sites with poor usability are demoted within organic search.
A website with poor usability is likely to lose traffic faster than it can get traffic, and this means that if anyone does see your link, the chances of them clicking it are already reduced significantly.
Regularly updated content
Although updating a website regularly is by no means a requirement in order to rank well for specific phrases, it is an excellent way of engaging with a target audience. They will naturally want to read the latest news, opinions and updates about an industry they are interested in. Even if very few people find it interesting, building the semantic relationships between topics on a website through regular blogging, and clever internal linking can really help search engines understand relevance and realise that a resource is of use to certain people.
Allowing the audience to engage with the content is a must, although not every blog post will get hundreds of comment, if any at all, so don’t assume that no comments means that the content is no good. Similarly, social shares don’t always give a good indication of how good a piece of content is, but they should all still be taken into consideration and evaluated properly.
Although it is often stressed that content should be unique, this is probably not always the case. Many academic papers, news articles and press releases will quote, duplicate or use near identical wording to existing sources, but it is likely that search engines understand how to process this and look for patterns in citation and referencing through outbound links.
All in all, if a website is trying to create something valuable for their audience they’re probably on the right track. You should be checking sites for un-credited, scraped, duplicated or stolen content though. Much of the time, sites that engage in this practice will have many other warning lights flashing that might have already dismissed them as a link opportunity, but you can never be too careful.
Use search engines to discover scraped, duplicated, spun or stolen content by searching for exact phrases from the page.
Once you have a good idea of how good the website’s content is then you can work out your best approach and the best chance at getting a link from them.
Of course, if you’re already doing this on your own site, then there are more advanced strategies that can be formulated to tie in with your own content creation schedule.
Advertorials are at a minimum
Make sure that the majority of posts on the site are non-advertorial in nature. There is not a lot of point trying to broker a link from a site that is over 75% sponsored or paid posts. Also be weary of the number of adverts on the page, if these adverts are properly marked with the NoFollow attribute, and if these appear above the fold in any great volumes – all these are a NO from major search engines, especially Google, and so association between you and them should be avoided, if you want to continue to play in the their ball park.
Good followings on social
By this, we’re not just talking about likes and followers; we’re talking about having the right likes, and the right followers and a high level of engagement between the website and their audience. So take a look at their social audience and make a judgement based on who else they follow, their interests, their levels of engagements with other similar (or not so similar) entities and other followers.
Influential on social
So if they have the right followers interacting with them, do they influence their following into acting, or are they influenced more by their followers? It might sound like a silly question, but you don’t want to appear on a site that isn’t going to share their content (with your link), or ones who are constantly pushing their links out and appearing to spam social networks. You also don’t really want to be linked from a site that only ever shares other people’s content and has no real influence over the target audience’s “buying power”.
Plenty of good inbound links, and not too many outbound links
You want your link to count, and you want it to pass the best percentage of page rank possible, so link placement on pages (or websites) with few outbound links means that any page rank that is going to pass through you link, stands a better chance at getting more.
You must remember of course that in order for your link to pass more page rank, there needs to be page rank coming into the site to start with, so taking a look at the quality of the inbound links is also a must.
Use a tool like Majestic SEO to discover your prospects backlinks.
Huge amounts of outbound links can appear to search engines as paid / manipulative / spammy, and so linking from pages with huge numbers of links to third party sites is best avoided.
Appearing on these types of pages also reduces the chance of your link being clicked, as there are so many other links that could be clicked surrounding it.
Wait a minute…
All in all, the link building checklist is looking more and more like a checklist of how to make your own site better from a usability, SEO and social point of view. Well, in truth, these are all things that you should really be trying to do on your own site, after all, they’d be no reason for anyone to link to, or send traffic to your site if you haven’t already spent a lot of time making it the best it can be.
If you need help refining your link prospecting strategies, Receptional only ever use ethical ans up-to-date methods tailored to suit your needs. Find out more about our Link Building Services