Are Your Inbound Links Paying Off?

Inbound links, or links built to your website, are a small but important part of a business’ search engine optimization (SEO) plan.  Google takes the number, quality and relevance of inbound links into account when determining your site’s rank, trustworthiness, and publishing new, share-worthy content.  

Link-building practices change frequently and are heavily impacted by Google policy updates and algorithmic changes.  Popular link building tactics can quickly become damaging if Google decides they’ve been overrun by spammers or are too much of a “shortcut” to driving traffic.  

Using a mix of paid and natural tactics, your goal should always be to generate traffic from real web users that will find your content relevant. Increasing traffic is only meaningful if those users engage with the page and are moved to take an action to buy, contact, share, or subscribe. 

Link building efforts that are still considered ‘white hat’ (good) include banner (re)targeting, pay-per-click (PPC), social media, local profiles, content development such as articles, whitepapers, press releases, and blogging, and blog commenting – so long as the link is not embedded in the comment.

When inbound links come from online advertising efforts, you have to be even more selective with your targeting and the type of traffic you drive. Because paid links for SEO purposes are frowned upon by the search engines, you must put a “nofollow” tag on the link so that Google views your paid efforts as a legitimate marketing effort and not a scam to get more links. The “nofollow” tag tells the search engines not to consider the link for ranking purposes. In short, if your paid link building efforts are not delivering traffic and not increasing your number of inbound links – your money is wasted two-fold.

By contrast, link building tactics that have fallen into the ‘black hat’ (bad) category include bulk directory submissions, article directories, hidden widget links, guest blogging with the promise of reciprocal links and links in guest author bios, link exchanges, mirror sites, buying competitor sites or padded sites that have no real content, low quality ‘non-news’ press releases, and more.

It’s important to maintain a list of all of your inbound links as you build them.  Google Analytics will help you see if your link building efforts are paying off in terms of driving traffic and generating leads.  Even better, though, is to use software specially designed to archive, measure and monitor links over time. This way, you always have access to your links should you need to correct them or ensure that you’re sending visitors to the proper landing page. If your software is really great, it will monitor when links are active and inactive, and provide you with real-time alerts of those changes.

Once you’ve confirmed a link is live, it should be included among “all traffic sources” in Google Analytics in the timeframe of when the link was created/live, to present. Where the link ranks will help you determine if it was worth the effort, and drilling down can tell you the actions people took after landing on your site.

A custom link-building tool will also tell you the mozRank and mozTrust (on a scale of 0-10) and Domain Authority and Page Authority (on a scale of 0-100) – measures of popularity and trustworthiness.

What you need to keep in mind is that one link isn’t going to generate thousands of new visitors overnight, and you don’t want it to. It’s better to create links in industry specific and niche sites, because those readers are most relevant to your content.  By the time they click-thru to your site they are already positioned to engage with your content.

Link building is a system of trial and error. If you see that a link is generating traffic, it can serve as inspiration to find similar websites and online communities. The key is to record your efforts and see what works over the course of many months. Here, patience is not only a virtue but can lead to long-term results.