If Google has taught us anything, it’s that things change. We’ve been watching Google update its search algorithms regularly for more than a decade, and there are no signs that the online juggernaut has any intentions of stopping.
On one hand, it’s a good thing; Google is dedicated to giving users the best possible online experience, and that means continuously refining the way search results are found and displayed. On the other hand, for marketers, the constant updates are a nightmare. We’re forced to stay on our toes, constantly switching up our tactics in response to the latest changes.
Backlinks have always been an important part of Google’s ranking algorithm, but the specifics behind their inclusion have changed dramatically. Originally, search marketers could post links wherever and however they wanted, but because that led to spam and unethical link building processes, Google has redefined the way they see and consider backlinks. Building a backlink profile is crucially important for any long-term SEO strategy, but in order to avoid a future Google penalty, you have to create and maintain a high-quality strategy that will keep you safe from Google’s updates for years to come.
The best way to avoid a Google penalty (in the present or the future) is to focus on quality and user experience above anything else. That means you need to find high quality sources for your backlinks, and prioritize the relevance and value of your links over the quantity and frequency of your links.
Therefore, the first step to building a long-term backlink campaign is to search for and identify key sources for your backlink building efforts. Diversity is essential, so be sure to identify several different sources from each category of sources and regularly refresh your working list with new opportunities.
Guest Posting Opportunities
Guest posting is not as powerful as it used to be, but it’s still a valuable way to build backlinks and promote your content to a new audience. By building a network of guest posting opportunities, you’ll gain access to new readerships and gradually grow external familiarity with your content and writing style. Include links and brand mentions that point back to your site, but don’t go overboard with this; if Google detects you posting the same links to the same site too often, it could be registered as spam. Instead, make sure you use a diversity of links to various internal pages of your site, and if you want to play it safe, use Nofollow links to promote traffic without sending any red flags to Google’s bots. As long as you keep writing good content without looking like spam, guest posting is a great long-term strategy.
Blog Comments and Forums
Another major source for a long-term link building campaign is commenting opportunities on blogs and forums. Obviously, the higher the authority of the site you comment on, the more authority your link will contain. A forum on a university’s .edu site is far more valuable than a blog that just started. When building links through comments, make sure your post and your link are both relevant to the conversation and valuable to the person clicking it—otherwise you could get your comment deleted or get penalized for spam. Incorporate a range of different blogs and forums into your long-term strategy, but make sure all of them are in some way related to your industry.
Niche Industry Directories
The word “directory” causes most search engine marketers to shudder, and for good reason. Most traditional directories, like old-school article directories, are gimmicks used to fool Google and boost page rank—and they’ve been all but eliminated in the modern era. However, there are a small number of highly focused niche directories you can leverage as part of your strategy. The more specific the focus of the directory, the better—you need your links to fit smoothly into the context of these directories, or else you’ll be hurting your authority instead of helping it. Don’t rely on these sources too much, but they can be useful as a complementary or occasional strategy. Like with blog comments, you need to take steps to ensure your links are both relevant and valuable to the community.
Testimonials and Reviews
Another easy source for building backlinks over the long term comes in the form of testimonials and reviews. Any site that offers a product or service would love to get a new review or testimonial from a customer that they can post—and you can take advantage of this. Record a video review or write a testimonial about a product or service you actually use in your business. Then, submit it to the site in question and ask them to post it alongside a link pointing back to your site. When done sparingly and across a wide variety of different sites, this is an excellent strategy to build your links and authority without worrying about getting penalized by Google.
Google frowns upon links that are posted with the intention of building authority. Therefore, the best way to build credible long-lasting links that point back to your site is to let your readership build those links for you. Shareable content is the best way to do that.
Shareable content is any form of content—words, images, videos—that strikes a chord with a small group of users, who then feel inspired to share that content with their own readers. Their readers have a high likelihood of sharing it with their readers, and before you know it, your content has spread throughout the web. It’s easier said than done, but it is possible if you focus on creating content with the key qualities of “shareability”: high quality, surprising, valuable, and funny.
Shareable content is especially valuable as a long-term link building strategy because everybody who shares it will post a link back to your site (or at least give you a brand mention). If you can create an infographic that a thousand people want to share, you’ve instantly generated a thousand new backlinks—and all of them are 100 percent natural, which means Google loves them and they’re safe for any long-term strategy.
Your long-term link building campaign requires a routine, but don’t let the term fool you: too much consistency can be considered spam. Don’t post the same link on the same source on the same day, but do create a repeatable series of tasks. For example, instead of posting a link on a specific forum every Monday, set regular reminders and then determine your source and link from a rotating pool of contenders, or from a random number generator. Executing a long-term link building strategy means committing to regular work but balancing that regularity with a diversity of sources.
Successful link building isn’t something that happens overnight. Anybody claiming they’re able to quickly boost your ranks with a plethora of backlinks is lying. Instead, the keys to a worthwhile long-term link building strategy are patience, regularity, and diversity. The more you enrich your campaign with natural opportunities for others to link to you—such as with shareable content—the better positioned you will be for long-term penalty-free gains in site authority and page rank.