Link building is an essential component of any SEO strategy; links are what Google uses to evaluate the authority of any given site. The simplified version is that links pass a finite amount of “authority” (based on the authority of the hosting site), which can cumulatively improve your site’s authority and increase the likelihood that you rank for various queries related to your brand. Link building, then, is the process of establishing external links that get you the authority you need to rank.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a straightforward or simple process. You need to consider not only the authoritative strength of your chosen link building targets, but the type of content you write, the appropriateness of the link, its contextual relevance, and how you balance this source with all your other sources. Not to mention, when you first start out, you’ll be relegated to posting on low-authority sources, scraping by with minimal yield until you build up enough of a reputation to start posting on bigger, more prominent publishers.
So where’s the tipping point? At what point do your skills, experience, and brand reputation become strong enough to start earning you a positive return?
Two Forms of Link Building
There are actually two types of modern link building that can be effective:
Earned links depend on the creation of highly valuable content with the potential to go viral. Essentially, the idea here is to create something awesome, and rely on your audience to naturally link to it. This is an exceptional strategy for ensuring your links are natural and diverse, but it’s hard to create content with this level of viral potential.
Manual link building puts matters in your own hands. Here, you’ll work to establish relationships with offsite publishers, writing guest post content with embedded links pointing to your homepage. It’s a much more controllable and reliable strategy, but requires more finesse.
The Complicated Nature of Link Building ROI
When I talk about how “effective” your link building strategy is, what I’m referring to is your overall ROI, or return on investment. This, in turn, is complicated because ROI can be manifested in a number of different areas:
Increased rank potential, even though link building is only one of several ranking factors.
Higher brand visibility, which is hard to measure.
Higher brand authority, which is hard to measure.
Direct referral traffic from click-throughs.
Overall, though, each of these benefits will scale along with your strategy, and there will be relatively few payoffs in each area when you first start out.
The Learning Curve
When you first start out, you’re going to be bad at link building. No matter how many posts you read or how much advice you get from people who have already done it, chances are you aren’t going to be effective until you get your hands dirty and start figuring things out for yourself. This is also true because every company is going to be different, and a link building strategy that works for one company won’t necessarily work the same way for another. For this reason alone, it will likely be months before you start settling into a reliable strategy.
Getting Set Up
Even assuming your strategy is flawless, when you first start building authority, your return is going to be a pittance. You’ll first have to invest heavily in your onsite authority (to show you know what you’re talking about), which usually involves building up an archive of content posts, then establishing an ongoing rhythm for your blog. This alone can take weeks of intense work. From there, you’ll start working with low-level publishers, or posting on social media with hardly any followers to pick up your content—accordingly, your ROI is going to be abysmally low for a while.
Scaling the Strategy
Once you start scaling your strategy, you should start to see better results. This means attracting and retaining new and more engaged followers, working with a greater quantity of high-authority publishers, and overall developing better content. Getting here takes a number of steps, and depending on your level of commitment and experience, it could take anywhere from months to years.
When Will You See a Positive ROI?
It’s hard to say exactly when the crossover to positive ROI will be for your strategy, but if you’re starting from scratch, you can count on a few months—at a minimum—to develop your campaign. Though every campaign will be distinct, most campaigns will start to see this transition upon breaking into a secondary ring of publishers—ones that demand higher standards for their guest posts than the entry-level circle you’ll start with.
Link building demands a heavy upfront investment before you start earning a suitable return on your ongoing efforts, but it’s definitely worth it once you understand the many types of returns you’ll see. Still, if you’re feeling intimidated by the steep and long learning curve, or if you’re just eager to start seeing results quickly, there is one potential shortcut: working with an agency.
There are a lot of spammy agencies out there, promising fast results and using cheap overseas labor to build manual links, but there are also agencies dedicated to producing quality content and maintaining relationships with hundreds of high-profile publishers. These types of agencies, like AudienceBloom, can help you skip the learning curve, skip the gradual transitions, and start earning the authority usually reserved until after your initial investment.