Okay, link building IS about links—but link building should also be about much more than links.
Rather than stressing link count numbers, the most successful campaigns put an emphasis on securing links that directly contribute to an overarching goal. Links should not be the end result; links are a means of achieving the desired end result.
Typically, the campaign goals look something like this:
Links–>rankings–>traffic–>conversions–>make more money.
The mistake SEOs have made in the past is stopping at links. And to be fair, there’s much to report within the link building phase, to achieve a link list. Past SEO link building reports often would look like this:
Optimizing this process is vital to the rest of the equation, and achieving campaign goals. But don’t stop simply at link count, hours worked, or reporting the process of link building itself. You need to analyze the bigger picture as well.
Campaign Goals Take Time
None of this happens overnight. No campaign can achieve immediate success–this is a long-term, continuing process that must be sustained to achieve the ultimate goal. Link building should be a part of a larger, ongoing marketing cycle.
Link building is continuous because:
- Link profiles naturally decay and shrink over time due to the fluid nature of the web. Webpages and websites disappear or migrate.
- Competitors will continue to develop their link profiles and a lack of action means falling behind.
- Continuing online marketing efforts will generate fresh link opportunities worth pursuing. If you ignore these opportunities, you miss important growth opportunities.
- Links support and bolster other digital marketing strategies, and a continued investment in online marketing requires a continued investment in links to maximize ROI.
Link campaigns are part of the larger marketing cycle, and help contribute to the overarching goals of online marketing.
It all starts with links – but I’m here to tell you it shouldn’t end with links. Don’t get caught up in link numbers and lose sight of the bigger marketing picture.
Metrics to Track in a Link Campaign
Evaluating link campaigns requires more than just link numbers.
To get the whole picture you must also look at:
Organic and referral traffic.
- Ranking improvement.
- Keyword expansion.
- Brand impact.
Tracking these metrics will provide a more complete view of how a link campaign is performing. Of course, depending on your campaign goals you may track other metrics, as well. Every campaign should have some degree of KPIs (key performance indicators), which should be tailored to specific campaign specific goals.
Links are inherently valuable. You should absolutely track the links you secure during a campaign (if you’re not getting any links, something is clearly wrong). But links are not the be-all and end-all; the number of links you acquire is only a small portion of a bigger picture.
Link campaigns must focus on serving a larger, holistic digital marketing goal beyond the scope of links. Especially in 2016, as SEO becomes more and more legitimized as a marketing strategy and becomes more integrated into larger business practices.
Successful link development centers on growing traffic, conversions, and revenue.
Every campaign should have a desired end goal, and each link acquired should contribute to achieving that goal in some way. Rather than fixate on link counts and link numbers, you should consider how the links you’re building are growing traffic and conversions.
Approaching link acquisition from a quantity standpoint is the wrong mindset to begin with. Google is much better at detecting manipulation now, and link building is no longer a numbers game. Link acquisition has steadily developed into a legitimate marketing practice.
However, earning real links that have a meaningful impact on the bottom line is difficult. The only way to effectively secure worthwhile links is by building relationships and offering real value to your audience online.
Focus on Humans, Not Chasing Algorithms
The SEO industry has a habit of obsessing over every algorithmic change or update Google makes (See “Mobilegeddon”).
People forget that links were valuable online before Google existed, and that links are what made Google useful, not the other way around.
Of course, it is important to stay current with SEO trends and Google to understand their guidelines. But when it comes to building links, there’s no need to chase the latest algorithm update or find the newest trick or tactic. It’s much more effective and sustainable to focus on links that serve a real human audience – especially an audience relevant to your brand, service, or product.
Links that are useful to other humans online are exactly the types of links Google wants to count – they’re the types of links that made Google’s search algorithm so successful. Links that serve humans rather than crawlers are evergreen, and will never be at risk of drawing a penalty.
Google recognized that links have far-reaching value, and your marketing should too. Consider the value your links will have beyond the scope of SEO, and you’ll have the added benefit of links that impact your marketing while improving your SEO.
Links Provide Value Beyond SEO
Referring domains factors into rankings, but links can offer so much more value beyond SEO.
Link count alone is misleading because not every link is created equal. Different links may serve different functions and contribute to the overall campaign in different ways. Links aid online success through:
- Relationship building.
- Audience discovery.
- And improved visibility for new initiatives.
Consider the various ways links help meet your ultimate goal.
1. Connections and relationships
Links can form connections that lead to further marketing opportunity. Some different forms of marketing opportunities generated through link acquisition include:
- Discovering fresh advertising channels with new websites.
- Establishing collaborative or mutually beneficial partnerships.
- Creating brand advocates and evangelists.
- Uncovering new online communities with relevant audiences.
Because links represent endorsements online, building links on respected and authoritative sites will often cultivate important relationships within your niche.
You can also tap into new audiences and communities through link acquisition. Securing a link on a popular industry site provides a direct pathway to your site for that website’s audience. Links on these sites offer exposure and credibility, because the audience trusts that link.
2. Brand affinity, recognition, and authority
Securing the right links will also strengthen branding. Authoritative websites certainly pass link equity, but they also pass perceived authority to their audience. As people come across more and more citations of your website on respected sites, they will associate your brand with authority.
By earning relevant links that actually help the people who click them, you can also steadily grow brand affinity. If you’re helping people solve problems you will build reputation while you build links. Growing brand affinity is one of the best ways to build brand loyalty and secure long-term customers.
3. New initiative support
Real links also support other marketing strategies. Links provide the exposure and amplification necessary to get a content initiative off the ground. New product launches can also be supported online through links because links offer much needed visibility.
For example, a publicity campaign for a new product can generate discussion and quickly create interest. But unless that publicity campaign is conducted in tandem with link acquisition, important link opportunities will be missed, opportunities that can both drive immediate results in the form of referral traffic as well as provide long-term exposure via search rankings.
Even large, established brands need link building when they launch a new product, service, or marketing initiative. Regardless of market position.
Don’t Lose Sight of the Forest for the Trees
Because links form connections, tap into audiences, and strengthen branding they bolster other digital marketing. This is perhaps the most important reason to look at the bigger picture when developing, executing, and assessing link campaigns – links are a KPI for all online marketing.
Links should be tracked as an important KPI because links signal trust and authority to both search engines and human users alike.
If you narrow your focus to a simple numbers game you’ll miss important marketing opportunities during link acquisition, and lack the proper context when you evaluate results.
To recap why link building isn’t only about links, consider:
- Link acquisition is part of a larger online marketing cycle, and thusly a continuous process:
- Links naturally disappear over time because of the nature of the web
- Competitors won’t stop pursuing links
- Ongoing digital marketing efforts continuously generate fresh link opportunities worth pursuing
- Link count alone is misleading, and there are other metrics to track that provide a more complete view of a link campaign.
- Organic referral traffic
- Ranking improvement
- Keyword expansion
- Brand impact
- Link campaigns should focus on humans, not search algorithms.
- Links that are useful to human users are precisely the types of links Google wants to value in their algorithm
- Links support online success in numerous ways beyond SEO.
- Relationship building: Links lead to more marketing opportunities.
- Audience discovery: Links provide direct access to new audiences and communities.
- Branding: Links are endorsements signifying authority and trust.
- Improved visibility for new initiatives: Improve exposure and amplification of new strategies, products, or services
- Links are an important KPI for measuring online marketing success.
- Links are an important signal in search
- Links represent valuable online endorsements
Link building isn’t about links; link building is about growth.