SEO is a complicated and ever-changing beast. Google and the other search engines constantly refine their algorithms and change how they view websites, and the factors that make a difference to search rankings. Long gone are the days where you could steal your nearest competitor’s articles and add a list of key phrases to the page in order to rank for them.
But for a long time, there have been a couple of factors that have always remained constant in optimising your site. First, you ensure the content on your site is not duplicated and of high quality. Second, you need to get plenty of backlinks pointing at your site. For a long time, it was thought to be a good thing to get as many links to your site as possible, without really caring about the quality of those links.
Over the last few years, SEO trends have shifted from the quantity of links to actual quality above all else. This had led to the rise of the term ‘link earning’. But how does link earning differ from the maligned phrase ‘link building’? And how can you ensure that you’re making the right moves to get quality links for your site?
Here we take a look at link earning, and what you need to be doing to get great links for your website in 2018 and beyond.
The value of links
Links have been invaluable to SEO for a long time. Links are seen by Google and other search engines as an indicator of the quality of a site – if a site is linking to you it is probably because it trusts you as a reliable source of information. This is considered to be very important by Google, and is a key factor in how your site is ranked.
The system originated through a similarity to citations in university essays. In essays, the authors will cite other essays and studies to complement their work. Essays only direct their readers to high quality sources of information, and on the internet it is deemed to be the same.
The problem with link building
Unfortunately, the value placed on links by Google led to a situation where sites could rise in the rankings simply by getting a great deal of links from sites. This created an industry of ‘link building’, where websites would get links from other websites any way that they could. In the worst cases of this practice, a site could simply pay another to link to them (or pay a network of thousands of sites in order to gain thousands of links).
The search engines eventually saw through this practice. In 2012 Google launched an update of its algorithm known as Penguin. This penalised sites with a large number of low quality links. And as this algorithm has advanced, it has become more effective at spotting links that appear to have been bought or obtained by black-hat methods.
This has given the phrase ‘link building’ a bad name, as it is associated with large quantities of low quality links. But links are still a very important ranking factor, so what can you do to gain more links without falling foul of Google?
What is link earning?
Link earning is seen now as the acceptable way to build links. Rather than going out and buying links from any domain owner, the technique involves creating exceptionally high quality content to attract links naturally. Creating content that is genuinely useful, and which fulfils a genuine need for users can get a great deal of attention, including social shares and links from other sites.
Earned links also have the benefit of providing you with a natural backlink profile. One of the major issues with link building is that all of your links might come from very similar sites, or they might all suddenly gain more links late in every month (coinciding with when you pay for new ones). Contrast this with earned links, that are more spaced out and can come from a huge variety of sources and you can see how easy it is for Google to sniff this practice out.
What can you do to earn more links?
Earning links is about much more than just creating great content. You also need to ensure that you are promoting your content correctly. If you’re serious about earning high quality links you need to first put research into potential areas of content to target, along with establishing your target audience. Remember that the target audience for gaining links may be different from the target audience for your product or service. The important part is getting the links themselves.
If you lack in-house experience doing content marketing and link earning, it may be best for you to work with an agency or a marketer that can help you.