Link building is one of the most powerful weapons for search engine optimization. If you want to and high on Google search, you need links. Simple as that.
The question is, what is the best link building strategy?
Do you put your time and effort into winning as many links as possible, or focus on getting a few links from high authority, trusted websites?
In other words, should you focus on link quality or quantity?
In this article, we’ll explore the difference between link building quality vs quantity, and give you the tips you need to get started with a winning link building strategy.
What are backlinks?
Backlinks, or inbound links, are links to your website from another website. For example, it might be a link from a retailer's website to one of your product pages, or from an online publication like Forbes to one of your blog pages.
Link building is the process of earning or creating links to a specific website, page, or piece of content.
Why is link building so important?
Because it is a major factor in how Google ranks web pages. Here's what Google says on the subject:
"In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by increasing the number of high-quality sites that link to their pages."
Think of every link back to your website as a vote. In digital marketing, this is known as “link juice”.
The more websites that link to you, the better your pages perform in search engines, because Google sees your website as more of an authority on that topic. And because Google is always trying to provide users with the most relevant information, the authority of your website plays a HUGE role in where you are positioned in search results.
Building a high volume of links
If backlinks are good for SEO, surely you should focus on getting lots of them, right?
The statistics seem to back it up: a study by Backlinko found that the #1 result in Google has an average of 3.8x more backlinks than positions #2-#10:
Another study by Ahrefs showed that the number of unique websites (“referring domains”) linking back to a site was strongly correlated with the quantity of organic traffic a website receives from search engines.
However, building a high quantity of links is NOT a good long term strategy.
To understand why, let's rewind a few years:
Back in the late 1990s, using links as a ranking factor is what helped Google to start dominating the search engine space. The famous Larry Page invented PageRank, which Google used to measure the quality of a page. One of the factors they looked at was the number of links pointing to the page.
By incorporating this into the algorithm, Google started serving more useful and relevant search results than its competitors.
The theory is that when someone links to another website, they are saying it is a good resource - they trust it. Otherwise, they wouldn't link to it.
As a result, webmasters set about trying to build as many links to their site as possible.
The more links a site had, the better. And it didn't matter if they were low quality.
But Google soon realised some people were trying to game the system. They were building hundreds of links on unrelated or spammy websites, and using other black hat tactics which essentially generates tonnes of low quality links.
So, in 2012, Google rolled out the Penguin update.
Launched as a separate “filter” for search results, Google Penguin targeted manipulative link building practices and link spam. Then in September 2016, Google announced it was part of the core ranking algorithm.
This ultimately changed how people approached link building, helping them focus more on quality than quantity.
Google has started to discount a number of link building techniques that previously worked, such as submitting your site to web directories and getting a link in return. It used to be a recommended tactic by Google, but since it was overused by SEOs, Google has stopped passing as much value from that sort of link.
The reality is that when you focus on volume, it's tempting to use spammy link building tactics, which can result in low quality links and land your website in hot water with Google.
In fact, if you dabble in these so-called "black hat" methods and get caught, you will be penalised by Google and have to watch your website plummet down the rankings. And once you're down there, it's tough and expensive to get back up to the top.
Nobody knows the full algorithm that Google uses to determine its search results, but the general consensus amongst SEOs is that links still play a HUGE role.
That’s why your link building efforts MUST be focused on quality if you want to get long-lasting results.
Is link quality more important than quantity?
When it comes to the link building quality vs quantity argument, there is now one clear answer - marketers and webmasters should focus on link QUALITY first.
Just one link from a popular news website, such as Forbes or Medium, a relevant industry blog, or another high quality website can provide as much value - or even MORE value - than a hundred links from other irrelevant sources.
It all comes down to how Google rates the website from which you've been linked. If Google trusts the website, it’s going to trust that link.
In other words, you could invest time and effort into building links across hundreds of unknown sites, but the real link juice comes from links from high authority websites.
This domain authority chart is proof:
Another reason to focus on quality links?
You’ll see a rise in conversions.
It's not just your Google ranking that improves - the right kind of links also improve passive traffic to your site, which can increase conversions.
Your link is right there for the kind of people who will see real value in your site, products and services. We’re not necessarily talking about big audiences, but a focused audience who are more likely to convert.
Visitors will see that your company has been linked to by a reputable source, which massively improves your brand trustworthiness and authoritativeness in their eyes.
So when they click through to your website, there's a higher chance of conversion.
Building and earning quality backlinks
What makes a high quality backlink?
Backlink quality is predominantly determined by a company’s Domain Authority.
To check the domain authority of a website, go here.
Type in your own URL or the URL of a domain that you received a backlink from, which will give you an idea of just how valuable the backlink is.
The higher the domain authority, the more valuable the backlink and the better for your rankings.
As a rule, a ranking of 60 to 100 is brilliant, 40 to 50 is okay, and below 40 should be avoided.
High quality backlinks are links that come from high domain authority websites that are relevant to your business.
Search engines can determine the relevance of links to your site and can recognize “unnatural” links. So if your content receives a few links from other relevant blogs, it won't be suspicious. But if you receive a huge quantity of links from completely irrelevant links, it will ring alarm bells.
How to build high-quality links
If you're struggling with your backlink campaign - you're not alone. A massive 41% of SEO experts consider link building to be the most difficult part of search optimization.
The truth is, it's not meant to be easy! Google wants you to earn them.
But it's not impossible either. It simply takes sustained effort and dedication to get results.
More than half (51%) of marketers say it takes one to three months to see the impact of backlink building efforts (Social Media Today).
If you’re about to get started with a link campaign, or want to ramp up your link building efforts to earn some high quality links to your website, here are some proven ways to earn backlinks:
Focus on creating original content that people want to read, share and engage with.
Your goal is to become the source for new, engaging content. Certain types of easily digestible, visual content are more likely to be sourced and shared by others, which earns you backlinks.
Another reason you should invest in content?
Because Google themselves have identified the quality of content as one of the top ranking factors.
Try these content types outlined in our SEO guide:
Infographics, charts and graphics: Sites love to share images in their content, as it can be expensive and time-consuming to produce their own.
List posts. Listicles have become one of THE most popular forms of SEO content out there. List-based content, such as “The 100 best SEO statistics you need to know” or “85 must-see places before you die” offer a tangible outcome and are easy to scan. People love to share them.
Statistics and data. Invest in your own surveys and research, and watch your backlinks soar. Any high-quality website worth its salt will back up any claims or facts with a backlink to the source. You can be that source!
Not sure how long your content should be?
Long-form content gets an average of 77.2% more links than short articles (Backlinko).
Submit your business to relevant industry listings
Find relevant, credible industry directories and submit your business information. Look to specific directories for your business location and niche.
Start guest posting
Guest posting is a great way to build authority and credibility with your target audience and generate backlinks, so long as you choose the right target websites.
Start by finding authoritative sites within your niche. Ask your customers which websites they get their information from, and even have a peek at your competitors’ backlink profiles to see which websites are linking back to them. Are they relevant for your brand? If so, add them to the list.
Link from sponsorships and suppliers
If you sponsor events, conferences or charities, make sure they are linking to your site. Likewise, if you have suppliers, retailers or partners, check they are including up-to-date links to your site.
Take it slow - Your site should build up links naturally over time.
Websites tend to attract links naturally over time and this is what search engines expect to see. There might be a few bursts of links, say if you publish a particularly popular topical piece of content or are covered in the news. But if you suddenly go from attracting 10 links a month to attracting 100, Google will suspect something.
Key factors for quality link building
When building your backlink strategy, here are some key factors you should focus on:
1. Your backlink should appear organically in the text
High quality backlinks shouldn't stand out awkwardly in the text - they should be part of the paragraph, fitting seamlessly into the content. If the link seems forced, people (and search engines) will know, and it won't bring any benefits - even if the site is trustworthy.
Try to make sure the backlink is placed in the body or call to action of the content. If it's not well placed, reach out to the site and politely request for them to change it.
2. Your backlinks should be relevant
Backlink relevance is essential.
There's no benefit having a backlink from a credible, high domain authority site if it isn't relevant to your products, audience, industry, content, location and so on.
Your goal is to earn backlinks from sites who share the same audience as you, and can bring you visitors that will convert.
Every time you receive a backlink, look at how relevant it is to your offering and location. If you can hit both, you're winning!
3. Beware backlink cramming.
Earning a backlink is great, but make sure the site isn't giving them out to everyone! When you earn a backlink, take a look at how many total backlinks are in the same piece of content.
If it's a high link ratio to wordcount, you're not going to benefit much from the link. Because when people are faced with multiple links in a paragraph, the chance that they will click on yours drops significantly.
What if I see bad links in my backlink profile?
It's easy to find bad links in your profile. Google provides backlink data for free in Google Search Console. Simply click on “Links to Your Site” under search traffic or, better yet, use a paid tool like Ahrefs or Open Site Explorer by Moz which can provide more details about the links, such as if it is dofollow or nofollow, anchor text, etc.
Once you've identified the backlinks you want to remove, you can contact the webmaster and request that your link be taken down.
If that fails, contact the company that’s hosting the website and ask them to remove the spam links. Most hosting companies want to help.
The Bottom Line
Link building is a different game compared to a few years ago. Effective link building is no longer about generating as many backlinks as possible. You need to hone in on quality links, not quantity, in order start winning in the search engine rankings.
Remember, quality links aren't something that happen overnight. Like all good things in digital marketing and SEO, you need to invest in a sustained strategic effort over a long period. But the results can be extraordinary - by earning high quality backlinks, you can outrank your competition, win more conversions, and build more trust.
If you want to improve your backlink portfolio and increase your search engine rankings, bring in the experts. At Online Marketing Gurus, we’ve helped thousands of companies create and execute stellar link building and SEO strategies that have delivered genuine results for their bottom line.
Start here by requesting your FREE SEO audit and six-month game plan. We’ll conduct a free audit of your current SEO and backlink efforts, and pinpoint exactly what you need to do to improve your rankings and revenue. We’ll also give you a no-obligation six-month blueprint for online marketing success.