There’s more to life than popularity. But as humans, we’re still drawn to the things other people recommend. Think about this: if someone you trust vouches for a dentist, a car dealership, or the new taco place down the block, are you more likely to spend your money there? Back in the early days of search engines, Google applied this concept to its algorithm by tracking the external links leading to every page it indexed.
Today these links are still an essential part of a good SEO strategy. Google and other search engines see external links as a way for websites to vouch for each other. But why do they matter so much? And how do you get other sites to vouch for your pages?
What are external links?
Let’s start with the basics. Links are how you navigate the internet – they connect pages. When you click a link, you’re directed to the page that link targets. In other words, rather than typing the address of a page into your browser manually, a link does all the work for you and takes you right there.
An external link, then, is a link that targets a page on a different domain than the one on which the link is found. For example: you’re reading this on https://www.punchbugmarketing.com/. A link to the search engine Ecosia at https://www.ecosia.org/ would be an external link.
So if those are external links, what are internal links? Learn more about internal links and why they’re essential here!
Why are they so important?
Since the beginning, search engines have used the number of external links that direct to a certain page as a measure of that page’s value. If a searcher enters a query and two pages seem relevant, a search engine will look to the number of external links pointing to each of these pages as a way to rank them.
We’re simplifying a lot here, but think of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP for short) as a race for prom king or queen. Whether you long for the simplicity of your high school days, are actively trying to forget them, or had a nontraditional education experience, you probably have some idea of how this works.
Learn more about the anatomy of a Google SERP here!
Each page in the running to rank on the SERP has a number of “votes,” or external links, to be counted. The page that receives the most votes is the prom royalty and makes it to the top of the SERP. The pages that placed second, third, and so on make up the “court” and are still on the SERP.
But you can’t cheat the system. To cast a ballot for prom queen or king, you have to go to the same high school. And you can’t just make copies of your vote and cast them all to rig the election. Google’s algorithm works the same way by verifying the trustworthiness of each external link.
How are links ranked?
Not every external link is as valuable as the next. Some are worthless, while others can make a big difference in your site’s ranking. Some can even have a negative impact on your ranking. But how does Google keep track of which links are important and which ones aren’t?
Search engine algorithms take several factors into consideration when determining the value of a link. The trustworthiness and popularity of the page from which the link comes are two of the most important. For example, a link from a New York Times article is both more popular and trustworthy than a link from a seedy domain that no one visits and is full of spammy links.
Algorithms do their best to track the relevancy between the pages’ content. If a New York Times article about great restaurants links to one of their websites, that link will have more value to the restaurant’s ranking than a link from a page about go-kart engines that has absolutely nothing to do with fine dining. There are other, more complex metrics as well, such as the number of links from the source page to the same page and the relationship between the two pages in terms of ownership.
Using these metrics, search engines can place a value on a page’s external links and spot pages that try to cheat to get more of them. Buying links in bulk or creating a “dummy site” with no content, just links that point to your real page, are a couple of tactics that Google can spot – and can even negatively impact your rankings.
So how do I get external links?
The metrics that search engines use to value links are meant to ensure that the best, most relevant pages show up on a SERP. They also promote organic linkbuilding. In other words, you can’t just buy your way to the top. To get high-quality external links, you need content that’s worth linking to and you need other sites to link to it. But how do you go about that? Here are a few ways to get started:
Create great content
If you want to get external links, you won’t get anywhere without a site worth linking to – and that means you need to start creating great content.
Putting out content that people want to see or read may be something that’s easier said than done, but don’t get overwhelmed just yet. For many sites, content creation may be as easy as running a blog. Start by coming up with a list of topics you want to cover that you’re knowledgeable in and are relevant to your website.
For example, if you’re a financial advisor, you might write blog posts to help people understand the basics of personal finance or investing. If you run a hardware store, you could come up with some easy DIY home improvement projects using products in your store.
If you’re already a creator, start posting your projects to your website. A website can be a great portfolio and you can keep visitors up to date with your latest projects. If you’re a photographer, create new galleries for each shoot. If you’re an interior designer, keep your site updated with your most recent renovations.
Creating new content like this gives other websites more to link to on your website, but more importantly it gives them more reasons to link to it.
There’s nothing wrong with a little self-promotion! You can build external links by contacting other websites directly and asking them for a link.
Remember, search engines measure the relevancy of two pages when measuring the trustworthiness of a link between them. Reaching out to just any site won’t necessarily help you that much. Try finding websites that are similar to yours or serve customers with similar interests. If you sell cat food, a site that sells cat toys might be interested in linking to your site – especially if you offer them a link in return!
Start sponsorships or partnerships.
What’s better than one external link? A continuous stream of them! By partnering with other organizations, you can both reap the benefits of organic, ongoing linkbuilding. Partnerships can present other opportunities to promote your brand as well.
Sponsoring events or causes can provide you with another source of external links. If you support a local nonprofit, help pay for a marathon, or sponsor a new play area at an animal shelter, ask that organization to give you a link on their website.
In addition to their other benefits, reviews are a great way to get links to your site.
There are several ways to put reviews to work and get links from them. If you run a bicycle shop, you could post reviews on the different bikes you sell. This helps promote your inventory and establish your authoritative knowledge, but it can also net you external links from your bikes’ manufacturers.
You can also ask other sites to review you. Just reverse the last example: say you manufacture bicycles. You could ask retailers with websites and blogs to review your products. Magazines and online publications for biking enthusiasts are another great place to go for reviews.
If you have a brick and mortar store, a local news publication can be another source of reviews. Restaurant proprietors, for example, can reach out to the food writer at the local paper. Online newspaper articles usually include a link to the website of the business they’re reviewing.
Be a guest blogger
We’ve already talked about the importance of content creation. But that isn’t limited to your own website!
If you create your own content or have knowledge in a specific area, consider guest blogging for another site. If you run a website focused on DIY crafts, you could write a guest blog for a craft store’s website and share your favorite materials or instructions for a crafting project.
Writing guest blogs is a great way to get your name and expertise out there, but it’s also a way to get new external links. When your guest blog post is published, it should include a link back to your own website. Start finding guest blogging opportunities by getting in touch with websites that create similar content to your own.
External links are an important part of a good SEO strategy. They’re how websites vouch for each other, at least to search engines like Google. The number of external links that point to a page affect the way it ranks in the SERP. But not every link is as valuable as the next – some are better than others! High-quality and organic links will get your linkbuilding efforts the best results – we can vouch for that!