The Importance of Backlinks in SEO: A CMO’s Guide

Jessica Thiefels on Friday, February 22, 2019

backlinks in SEO

As a CMO, you understand that SEO is a complex, ever-evolving, long-term game, and the importance of backlinks in SEO strategy can’t be overlooked. In fact, Backlinko recently created a list of Google’s 200 ranking factors for 2019. Unsurprisingly, backlinks play a part in more than 30 of those factors.

As CMO, you need to know the high-level backlinking principles, along with how to execute, so that you can effectively lead your team. To make this easier for you, I’m breaking down why backlinks have a significant effect on your ranking and overall SEO efforts. Bonus, you’ll learn the basics for how to accomplish an actionable (and organic) backlink strategy.   

What You Need to Know About Backlinks in SEO Strategy

Backlinks, URLs from your site, point back to your content and pages from other sites. Because they’re such a significant SEO ranking factor, they’re an important part of your SEO strategy. The bottom line, the more high-quality backlinks that point to your site, the higher your site—specifically, the pages that are being linked—rank in search engines.

“Let’s be honest, there’s simply no other factor now to substitute backlinks as a trust and authority factor for Google,” Aleh Barysevich, co-founder and CMO at SEO PowerSuite tells Forbes. “Numerous SEO studies still show that backlinks correlate with rankings more than any other factor.”

In other words, if another high-authority, well-established site links to content on your site, Google sees that as a legitimizing factor. I like to simplify it like this:

Google sees a high-quality site and says, “Well, Site A is a great site, and is linking to Site B, so Site B must also be good because Site A wouldn’t link to a low-ranking or spammy domain.” Hence, the “link juice” is passed through your URL and you benefit.

That’s why the emphasis is on quality, rather than quantity. If you’re ready to build a strategy for getting SEO-boosting backlinks, here’s what you need to know.

7 Ways to Achieve High-Quality (and Organic) Backlinks

The first question is: how do you even build a high-value backlink profile, which refers to the total links pointing back to your site, that lends itself to improved SEO? There are dozens of ways to achieve this, and below are the seven tactics I’ve found to be most effective—and worth your time. Many of them work hand-in-hand, so be sure to implement more than one strategy.

1. Consistently Publish Value-Driven Content

If your company wants backlinks, step one is having high-quality content for other sites and publications to link to. That’s why your content strategy should be focused on high-value content production. Blog posts and articles should provide actionable and useful information to readers. To execute, remember that you want your readers to be your ideal customers, so choose topics and create content with them in mind.

If you’re creating content that truly provides value, it’s more likely to get natural backlinks, I.E. without you doing outreach. One way to do this is to develop and share your own proprietary data. This could come from your customer/client base and angled in a way that’s interesting to others in the industry or to your ideal customer.

This is an important tactic because publications need data-backed sources to legitimize their articles, content, and findings.

A few examples of valuable proprietary data include:

  • Customer or product data: Pull data that could tell a story. For example, a collaboration software company with hundreds of customers might dig into their data to find a stat like, “80% of business owners spend $500 each month on collaboration software.” Build an article around this, or find related data and put it together into a report.
  • Survey findings: Run a survey and write an article or create an infographic based on your conclusions. You can do this with your current customer base, or by using tools like Google Survey or Pollfish.
  • Case studies: Showcase your company’s wins via case studies, providing strategies and tactics that others within your industry might want to reference in their own content or share on social media. For instance, my recent case study on a successful social media coaching could be referenced in an article about how increasing production of video content drives an increase in YouTube subscribers.
  • E-books or whitepapers: If you’ve created a great deal of content already, you can easily recycle and repurpose the most popular content pieces into an ebook or whitepaper. Learn more about repurposing in my Skillshare course.

2. Monitor Competitor Backlinks

Competitor research has a place in backlinking as well. If you research and monitor your competitor’s backlinks, you can glean valuable insights and evaluate areas to improve your strategy. Have your team use a tool to keep an eye on the competition—59 percent of marketers use Ahrefs, according to a recent survey by Search Engine Journal. Use this as a way to develop a targeted approach for guest posts or outreach with proprietary data you’ve collected.

3. Become a Thought Leader in Your Space

Any executive within your company has reached their level of success because of hard work, strategy and experience. Package those insights as expertise from a thought leader within your industry by publishing articles on your company blog under their byline, which can help drive organic backlinks. You can also pitch the executive as a guest author for high-value industry sites and trade publications, allowing you to get a link back to your site while reaching a broader audience.

4. Develop A Robust Guest Posting Program

Guest posting is the process of writing articles for other websites, bylined by your employees. This can’t be a half-hearted effort, however. Good guest posting takes time and effort to work, but in the end, you’ll drive high-quality backlinks, thought leadership, traffic and SEO. Use the checklist in the next section to find opportunities.

If you’ve never done guest posting before, you can also dive into the the specifics in my guide to legitimate guest posting.

5. Use HARO to Get High-Value Features

Cision’s Help A Reporter Out (HARO) platform is one of my favorite outreach tools. Reporters and journalists submit queries, looking for expert insight for articles and pieces. If you sign up as a source, you get three daily emails with dozens of opportunities to submit yourself, or another executive, as quote source.

If you’ve never used HARO before, check out this guide: How to Use HARO.

6. Outsource Your Linkbuilding

Maybe your marketing team is too swamped with other projects, or they don’t have the know-how to get your backlink strategy off the ground. In this case, chat with me. I offer customized packages to meet the unique needs of any organization. I’ve executed link building for companies big and small, so if you simply need high-quality backlinks to your site via guest posts, I also offer link building as a service on its own.

Check out my case study on a link building client who saw 99 percent increase in organic traffic.

Checklist for Getting Backlinks from Guest Posts and Brand Mentions

If the majority of links in your backlink profile are low-quality, your ranking will suffer. When guiding your marketing team about research and pitching for outreach, you need to develop a set of standards. The following checklist includes the standards I’ve used for more than eight years with businesses and clients of all types and sizes.

Work With Guest Post Sites That Have a High Domain Authority

I aim for a Domain Authority (DA) of 40 or higher for clients that I work with. Search engines are looking for legitimacy when it comes to backlinks to your site. Generally, high-ranking sites only link to resources that genuinely add value and help the reader, as opposed to spam pages or sales-y landing pages, and this the the kind of site you want links from.

Focus on Overall Quality of Backlink Sites: Your Sniff Test

I call this quick website inspection a sniff test. When your team finds a site for guest posting or a brand placement, and it hits your DA requirement, check to see that it also:

  • Regularly publishes content. Ideally once each week, if not more often.
  • Looks like a high-value site; one that you would actually read. Pay close attention to UX and design. Avoid sites with a lot of ads and a little text—a red flag for Google.
  • Links to other relevant, high-quality content and sources.

Pro Tip: Just because a site has a “Write for us!” page, doesn’t mean your team should go for the easy wins when it comes to link building. Encourage your team to meet and exceed your standards—you’ll see the benefits in the long run.

Pitch and Provide Relevant Guest Post Content

From pitch to submission, you need to be relevant. No one likes a pitch that’s totally off-base, and quite frankly, it will get sent to the trash by any editor worth their salt.

Not to mention, it’s bad for your site too. If you’re a real estate agent, you don’t want a food distributor linking to your content. Relevance is just as important as quality when it comes to ranking, so make sure you’re guest posting and building backlinks on sites that relate to your industry.

Why Work With an Agency

While there’s a lot you can do with your own in-house marketing team, this is one of those marketing strategies that can be hard to get off the ground. To do it right, you need to keep a few key factors in mind.

Pitching Needs to Be Consistent

Be consistent with your pitching. Guest posting is a numbers game—you need to do a lot of it, consistently, to see results that can benefit your website. While Google always prioritizes quality over quantity, you’ll only get placements if you do outreach regularly. This is why it’s often better to work with an outside agency like ours for link building.

For example, we pitch at least 10 new sites each week for our clients, plus we follow up with all of the sites we pitched the week before. That’s at least 20 emails each week and finding the in-house resources or time for that can be challenging.

Having Current Contacts is Valuable

Starting from scratch—with no connections to any relevant websites or publishers—makes your life harder. Working with an agency means you’ll likely have immediate access to relevant sites to start with. At Jessica Thiefels Consulting, we have hundreds of websites that we’ve been working with for years. This means you get a jump-start while the team begins pitching new sites for you.

Doing it Wrong Has Consequences

Ultimately, building backlinks is necessary for your SEO strategy, but if done wrong, your site will be penalized. Recovering from a Google Penalty is challenging and depending on the severity, could take years. Working with a professional, you can be sure to avoid issues like this and simply reap the benefits.

Knowing Which Pages to Focus on Is Important

There’s a lot of strategy in good link building and one piece of that strategy is knowing which internal pages to focus on for backlinking. When working with an agency like mine, we figure out which pages are going to give you the most bang for your buck and focus on those. In our case, this means we don’t use landing and sales pages—which editors will just remove—we focus on pages that provide value while also converting on your end.

Backlinks in SEO—Do it Right

You can pay any crappy link-building company to get links to your site—and you’ve probably received many spam emails from them before—but not all backlinks in SEO are created equal. Brush up on what it means to use this valuable tool for your marketing strategy and learn how to execute it properly. Whether you do this by yourself or with a high-quality consulting agency, if you do it right, you will see the benefits.

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