In the last post in the Quality Content Series, we showed how to achieve a high level of E-A-T (expertise, authority and trust) according to Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines.
One important factor of demonstrating authority in your content is to conduct research and link to your sources.
It’s like how you created a bibliography for your research papers back in the day. You needed to prove to your professor you understood how to find top-quality sources, synthesize the information and cite the ideas that weren’t yours.
Linking to your sources proves the same thing for your brand. Not only will it assert trust with your users, but Google will reward you with better ranking, and you’ll create higher quality content.
Links are still a top-ranking factor
At the beginning of 2017, Search Engine Watch compiled a list of the most important factors for building an SEO strategy this year. They explained that three of the most essential ranking factors (out of around 200!) are related to links, calling them the “king of ranking.” These three factors include:
- The number of external links you receive is important. Some of the top SEOs say external links are simply invaluable to your ranking power, according to Moz.
- Anchor text of external links affects ranking. Links with SEO-focused anchor text need to be relevant to the target page.
- The links need to be of good authority. For example, your links need to be from a reputable news source or academic journal.
You may already be familiar with these practices, but it’s good to note that, unlike other ranking factors, links are still important not just to SEO, but also to creating a high-quality page for your users.
Why are links so important for ranking?
When you include links to other sources in your content, it’s a signal to Google that you’re an authority on a subject. Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO states that, “Authority models, like those postulated in the Hilltop Algorithm, suggest that links are a very good way of identifying expert documents on a given subject.”
As an expert in the field, you’ll know the best sources to link to, and vice versa. “Trustworthy sites tend to link to other trusted sites, while spammy sites receive very few links from trusted sources.”
When other credible sites link to your content, this proves to Google that your brand is a source of knowledge on a topic. This is why it may be worth creating an outreach and link-building strategy (see below).
Sharing links from respected sites increases your authority and also helps Google understand what your topic is about so it can better place you in SERPs.
Best linking practices
1. Look for sources that are trustworthy, popular and relevant
Not only will search engines reward your site algorithmically, but linking to other high-quality content will benefit your users, especially if you don’t have the space to go more in-depth on a topic.
Research and document top resources in your industry so you and other content creators know the best sources to link to. If you’re unsure about how popular a source is, look for comments on the post or go straight to the source’s social media sites to look at their following.
Linking to valuable sources is also important because it can be an opportunity to get noticed. If you link to a relevant website, reach out to let them know. Then politely ask them to return the favor by backlinking to your site or sharing the content on social media.
2. Include internal links, too
Rand Fishkin, the mastermind at Moz, explains in this post that though internal links don’t carry as much authority and ranking ability as external links, they’re still valuable. Internal links help Google crawl your site and better understand what your content is about. And when structured correctly, internal links make it easy for users to navigate to other pages so they’ll continue browsing and won’t bounce off the page.
Also, if you include links to your own content that goes more in-depth, you prove to readers that your brand is a knowledgeable and authoritative source on the topic.
3. Anchor text
This is the text you assign a link to, such as this example: anchor text. This is one of the strongest signals search engines use in rankings.
Moz lists two main factors to take into consideration when creating anchor text: “What is the most concise, accurate way to describe the linked-to page?” and “What word or phrase would encourage users to click on a link?”
If a link is commonly associated with a keyword, the page can “manage to rank well even if the terms don’t appear in the text itself,” according to Moz. Unfortunately, you have no control over how other pages link to your own content, but using anchor text best practices is beneficial for users and the readability of your content. The anchor text should describe what the link is about.
Be careful when linking internally. Moz states that, “If too many of a site’s inbound links contain the exact same anchor text, it can start to appear suspicious and may be a sign the links weren’t acquired naturally.” Avoid this by varying the text used with internal links.
4. Include an appropriate number of links
So, how many links should you include? Google instructs, “Keep the links on a given page to a reasonable number.” Kissmetrics suggests three to four, depending on the length of your post. But the author also says that for a 1,500-word blog post, he may throw in 10 or 20 internal links. More links may have slightly less value per link, for both internal and external.
The final sentiment of that post is that “there’s no magic number. There is, however, the all-important user. Add as many links as would be helpful for the user.”
Good call. If the links enhance the quality of your post by supporting your research and allowing users to learn more, then include them. Just keep the post’s readability in mind. Too many hyperlinks could disrupt the flow or overwhelm the user.
5. Check for broken links
Over time, the pages that you link to may get stale or completely disappear. Updating blog posts on a regular basis is a good addition to any content strategy. Regular updates will revive old content, and it’s a chance to check for links that might be broken or irrelevant.
As you update posts, click on all links. You may want to update them with a newer version, such as updating a 2015 survey to a 2017. Or there may be new content that has been published that is more relevant and popular to link to. Moz states that “links from fresher pages likely pass more value than links from stale pages,” so the updates made will be valuable to your SEO.
However, small changes may be ignored by Google. Moz recommends to not just update a link, but to update the copy around the link. There’s a better chance Google will notice if changes are more significant.
7. Create an outbound linking strategy
Incorporating and maintaining high-quality links in your content is in your control. Securing backlinks (or links that lead to your site from external pages) is more difficult, but adds even more value to your website than linking to external sources.
Securing backlinks is a huge reason why it’s important to create high-quality content (it’s why we’re publishing this series!). Before you start reaching out to customers or relevant businesses to link to your content, it’s essential you’re confident with the quality.
Running the content by an editor and an SEO specialist, or using an audit tool, will help you determine how to fix your content.
Next, check your website’s authority and current number of backlinks with a tool such as SEMrush. This will give you an idea of how many backlinks will be effective to increase the authority of your page.
Then, it’s time to secure some backlinks. These are a few typical tactics:
- Reach out to relevant businesses with similar content that would be interested in linking to your content. You may want to offer a link for a link.
- Ask customers to link to you.
- Find directories or lists in your industry that would make sense for your business to be added to. Then reach out to request the addition.
- Create highly shareable content such as a survey or a giveaway that others would be likely to link to.
The main takeaway
Links seem like such a trivial part of a piece of content, but they’re one of the most important SEO factors in determining page authority. Choosing high-quality links to include in your content with relevant keywords as anchor text will not only please the search engines, but enhance your reader’s experience.
When you start with creating high-quality content, you can then work toward a link-building strategy to secure backlinks.
This post is part of the Brandpoint Quality Content Series, which analyzes how Google assesses quality content and how you can get your pages to appear higher in search results.
Part 1: What is High-Quality Content?
Part 2: Google Search Quality Guidelines: What is E-A-T?
Part 3: Are High-Quality Links Important for SEO?
Part 4: How to Create Readable Content
Part 5: How to Create Comprehensive Content
Part 6: Duplicate vs. Original Content
Part 7: Latent Semantic Indexing and Long-tail Keywords
Part 8: How to Optimize Images and Visuals for SEO
Part 9: Content Freshness and Generating New Topics
Part 10: SEO Success Stories