Link building is the most important of all off-site SEO activities. If done correctly, it helps enormously, but if done incorrectly, it squanders valuable resources and has a neutral or even negative impact on SEO. Before you answer the question, “Am I building the right Backlinks?,” you first have to answer this question:
“Why am I building links in the first place?”
If your answer is, “I’m building links for SEO,” you aren’t going to get enough insight to know whether you are building the right links. Improving rankings is definitely a goal of link building. However, the underlying reason companies engage in link building is to generate leads or e-commerce revenue. High rankings, in and of themselves, mean little. What if nobody searches for the highly ranked keyword? What if people searching for the highly ranked keyword are not prospects for the company’s products or services?
By focusing on the lead generation value of a link, you will have a much better idea of whether the links you have built are the right ones, and where to look for new ones.
Attributes of the Right Links
When assessing a website or blog for its link potential, there are several things to consider from a lead generation point of view. Here are the most important.
1. Does the website reach my target audience?
The site does not have to be exactly relevant to your business to be a high-potential link building target. For example, a packaging company that sells to packaging engineers and supply chain managers could place content or directory links on websites geared to logistics, engineering and technology, in general. As long as packaging engineers and supply chain managers visit these sites, links have lead generation potential.
2. Is the website relevant to my business?
There does need to be some connectivity between the company and the link building target. For example, a child care facility could obviously contribute to parenting blogs focused on learning, diet, etc. However, even though parents may read adult nutrition and lifestyle blogs, the relevance has gotten pretty far afield from child care. Too little relevance might cause the link to be ignored by Google (or worse, considered to be spam), but from a lead generation perspective, too little relevance could create confusion or annoyance in the minds of readers, even if they are the target audience. Lead generation potential here is slight.
3. Does the website have an engaged community?
This is a big consideration for rankings and lead generation. When a website/blog has lots of comments and/or social shares, it means any content you place there has high potential for generating those secondary, natural links that Google values highly. Quoting Google itself:
“Natural links to your site develop as part of the dynamic nature of the web when other sites find your content valuable and think it would be helpful for their visitors.” — Google Search Console Help
Furthermore, when the target audience is engaged, those social shares and comments are likely to reach other targeted users, expanding brand awareness and increasing current and future lead generation potential.
4. Does the website meet my basic SEO criteria?
Even if the website meets the first three criteria, there are other, technical criteria that influence whether it makes a good linkbuilding target. These criteria include:
- Is it a credible, trusted website?
- Does the website have sufficiently high traffic?
- Does the website have a favorable backlink profile?
- Does the website employ best practices for on-site SEO?
- Does the website employ best practices for user experience?
- Does the website accept paid content?
- Does the website actively add fresh, original content?
- Does the website have excessive outbound links, including blogroll and/or footer links?
Selection is not always as cut-and-dried as my bullet list summary may suggest. For instance, it is not a good idea to target only high-traffic/high PageRank websites for link building, because Google interprets links from websites across a spectrum of traffic and PageRank because it is more natural. From a lead generation perspective, smaller websites have value as well. If readership of a website is relatively small but also highly engaged and extremely relevant, it may (and often does) generate more interest, traffic and conversions than when content or non-content links are small fish in a giant website pond.
It should also be noted that certain website criteria are cut-and-dried. For instance, it is never wise to have a backlink from a non-credible website, or one that hasn’t added new content in, say, three years.
Link Reclamation and Anchor Text
You may have opportunities to create terrific links that meet all the requirements right under your nose. Companies should carefully review their link profiles to identify opportunities for high-impact, link reclamation campaigns — e.g., turning a so-so backlink into a great one. In addition, link reclamation can be a pure link building activity, in the sense of finding online mentions of your brand and turning them into high-quality links.
A key goal of link reclamation campaigns — and link building in general, for that matter — is anchor text optimization. Over the years, Google has changed its position on anchor text; at one time, it was common for SEOs to use keywords for anchor text all the time; today, the key for SEO is to have varied anchor text, incorporating the company name, URLs and other “natural” anchor text content along with keywords.
Since I want to stay on a lead generation theme here, I’d like to focus on one consideration for anchor text you may not have considered: using long anchor text for mobile usability. Big fingers on little screens have difficulty hitting tiny text links such as “click here” or “ABC Corp.” In contrast, long strings of hyperlinked text make an easy target. Considering that mobile Internet access now exceeds desktop access, converting short anchor text into long anchor text may become a key ingredient to improving lead generation.
In the future, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Google put more algorithmic emphasis on long (mobile-friendly) anchor text, because Google is already ramping up emphasis on other mobile attributes such as faulty redirects, unplayable content, mobile-only 404s, and last but definitely not least, responsive website design.
Conclusion: Backlinks and the Importance of Lead Tracking
If your link building goal is increased lead/online revenue generation, it’s crucial to track conversions properly; otherwise, you will have no way of knowing whether your link building efforts are paying off.
Lead tracking should be set up to be complete and granular, enabling you to track the lead or order back to its source. A common problem is to ignore phone conversions entirely (easy to do, since phone conversions aren’t well-supported by Google Analytics).
In an ideal world, every phone number displayed in an off-site link would have a unique phone number, enabling a company to know exactly which links are producing leads. However, even this ideal world would be imperfect, because a reader might notice a link while reading the content, and then call days later using a different phone number.
Although the connection between backlinks and lead/revenue generation can never be exact, granular tracking enables a company to evaluate how well its SEO campaign is producing overall. If lead/revenue quantity and quality are steadily improving, it’s a pretty clear sign the backlink strategy is working.
Brad Shorr is the B2B Marketing Director of Straight North, a full-service Internet marketing firm specializing in creating SEO and PPC campaigns. Brad writes frequently on B2B marketing topics with articles that have appeared Forbes and Fox Small Business.