Linkbuilding: How to Spot Quality Link Opportunities

Google gets smarter every year. Their algorithms are able to determine SPAM and strategy from truly great SEO. By truly great SEO, I’m referring to valuable on site content and also relevant offsite backlinks.

Watch Out for Google Penalties

The Panda algorithm stopped SEOs and web masters from polluting the web with thin, irrelevant and duplicate content which helped promote good quality sites. Thank you, Google.

The Penguin update stopped spammy, paid links and even the crappy free ones. Thank you, Google.

But…They’ve also made it incredibly difficult for natural link builders to do their jobs. Here’s why.

A year ago, an SEO could use webmaster outreach to find great, relevant sites that would make great partners. He could reach out to them, convince them of the value of linking to his client and “earn” his client backlinks.

Putting in the Work

True, there’s something a little manual about this. The client didn’t just get the link because his content was great. There was a little “push” from the SEO doing the webmaster outreach. But isn’t that just a little PR? And if the link is relevant and good for the site visitors, no harm done, right? Aren’t these the kinds of links that Google encourages – relevant, quality links? Sure. To this day, Google has maintained that links still impact ranking; they just need to be natural and relevant.

But Penguin didn’t just target SPAM, paid links and Web 2.0 garbage. Penguin actually looked at the ANCHOR TEXT of all links. So if your SEO built you what could be considered a quality link (relevant content, relevant site), but he used your keywords as the anchors too often, even those links are considered “over optimized” and can hurt you. That’s right, even a great link can be damaging if too many of your links are keyword specific.

Ever-Changing Landscape

What’s most frustrating to me is that I remember hearing Google speak at SMX a few years ago, and they encouraged SEOs to use keywords as anchor text as a way of indicating to Google what the link and the site were about. I don’t remember them warning anyone “don’t overdo it, guys.”

Link builders know that links are still valuable. They know they need to build high quality, relevant links that are actually good for the web, good for site visitors. And they know these links still positively impact rankings.

But they can’t use keywords in the anchors.

That’s right. Google considers these kinds of links to be over optimized. Studies show that sites who use their business name or brand as their anchor, don’t get penalized. They get the best results.

Constant Re-Enforcement

So when I’m talking with a client about building links, I explain that the majority of what they build should use their business name as the anchor. “But we already rank for our business name” they always tell me. Yes. I know. But as much as you’d like to rank for those ten keywords that you’re so passionate about, that shouldn’t be the main goal of link building. If you laser focus your link building efforts on specific keywords, it’s possible that it will appear unnatural and you could earn your site a penalty.

Instead, you’ve got to spread the word about how great your site is. Encourage and even persuade other sites to link back to yours. But DO NOT tell them what anchor text to use. You want to let them choose what they feel makes the most sense in the context of what they are writing. You want them to use your business name, or even your URL if that’s what they deem makes the most sense.

Capturing PageRank

Trust that the links will pass link juice to your site and improve it’s trust and authority. Can you track it? Not by watching specific keywords, no. Maybe by watching the overall number of keyword rankings. Better yet, by tracking organic site visitors month over month. But isn’t that the goal of all your SEO efforts?

And here is where Google has crippled professional link builders. They know their efforts are having a positive impact on the overall “SEO Health” of the site, but they have no way of proving it. There’s practically no one-to-one evidence that a bunch of backlinks using branded anchors helped your site rank higher or for more keywords. And when it’s hard to prove, it’s hard to convince clients to invest. So they don’t. They try old tricks.

They use old strategies. And some of them still work actually, feeding their belief that they can still target keywords with offsite SEO. But fair warning. Google gets smarter year after year, and if you aren’t building links in an organic, natural way – a way that improves the web and makes the user experience better for everyone, Google is going to eventually catch up with you.

Final Thoughts

To anyone wondering how to determine if a link is good or not, there’s a pretty good way of knowing. Simply ask yourself this question. “If it weren’t for link juice and PageRank and domain authority, would I still want my link to appear on that site?” If the answer is yes, it’s a great link. If the answer is anything else, you should re-evaluate your link building.