SEO has a bad reputation. We all know that. Because the service is intangible and invisible, and because nobody knows definitively exactly what the rules are, there is huge scope for unscrupulous providers to make a quick buck.
We've all had those emails promising to get us to page one of Google, or forgotten to turn off the comments on a blog and been inundated with spam promoting cheap rolexes (or worse). When the internet was still a toddler, SEO specialists had all the tricks; putting keywords in white text on a white background was a classic, but Google became wise to them and gradually they have faded away. Unfortunately, it does cause trust issues for the good guys (i.e. us!) when clients try to choose a new partner.
However, there are still companies promising to "do SEO" for next to nothing, and, unsurprisingly, that's exactly what they do for your business - next to nothing! SEO is difficult, it's a slog, it is relentless; it takes strategic thinking, planning, writing, technical expertise and patience and these things don't come cheap.
Taking a step back, the principles of SEO are really very simple. Our popular explanation, What is SEO is a good place to start. Google™ is really an answer engine. Its sole aim is to provide searchers with the answers they need. Google's reputation depends on these answers being the best possible match to whatever the user is looking for. There are billions of websites out there so it needs some way of figuring out which to show first.
It bases these choices on Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (E-A-T). At the very simplest level that translates into three main areas:
Trust is about having a website that is transparent, secure, easy to navigate and set up to make its users feel comfortable and safe using it. A strategic approach to your website's design will help here.
Expertise is about educating website visitors, knowing your subject, understanding what your audience is asking and providing the answers in your website content. Spending time and effort on research and creating a considered content plan will be a huge advantage in this area.
Authority is how Google figures out how useful a website or piece of content is - it looks at the other sites that are linking to it. This is where linkbuilding comes in.
As mentioned earlier there are plenty of people out there who are happy to take your money and give you backlinks from other websites to your website because a lot of website owners still think that having external sources linking to your website is the answer. It is not. This is definitely a situation where you should think about quality over quantity.
If Google is using external links to determine how authoritative your website is, how can having a link from a poorly written, irrelevant site with low authority itself possibly help you? Answer: it can't. The only links that help you are links from high authority, expert sites with high E-A-T themselves.
Paying for links from dodgy link farm sites is easy and a whole industry has built up around submitting links to these for a low fee. At best Google will ignore these and you will waste your money. At worst they will be classified as toxic backlinks and result in your site being removed from the rankings altogether.
The ultimate goal of having a leading website in your industry link to your site can be as valuable as any advertising campaign. It's the digital equivalent of getting mentioned on mainstream TV. When you think of it that way, how can it possibly be achieved for just a few quid a month? In fact the best way of looking at linkbuilding is as digital PR.
Would you pay a PR agency to get your construction business mentioned in a free magazine all about diet supplements? No, of course you wouldn't! You'd want to get mentioned in the best selling building industry and architecture magazines and the business pages of your local newspaper. Backlinks should be the same. Focus on the bloggers and websites that really matter to your potential customers, those that provide expert, authoritative content. Your cheap linkbuilding agencies are not going to have the knowledge or skills to do that. But an experienced PR agency does as do a number of reputable, full-service digital marketing agencies.
Where To Start
If you are looking at obtaining back links that actually benefit your site, the one thing you have to remember is that, in the words of SEO experts, MOZ, "All link building campaigns must start with something worth linking to."
That takes you right back to your content strategy and understanding who your ideal customers are, what they search for, how they make decisions, what they need to know in order to make those decisions and then producing useful, relevant, educational helpful material aimed at their particular requirements at that particular stage of their buying process.
You can then either put that content on your website and attract the attention of the right people to it using a number of different tactics. One way is to let it be found naturally through SEO, which can happen but takes time. Another option is to use social media to get your content out there quickly. The better the content, the more likely it is to get noticed and shared, coming to the attention of the bloggers, influencers, journalists and owners of authoritative websites that matter. You can also start reaching out by email to the people you want to link to your content, flagging it up to them as something relevant to your readers - just like traditional PR.
As an alternative to putting content on your website and asking for links, you can create an original piece of content and ask other people to put it on their websites. Guest blogging is still an option if you choose the blogs carefully or you can go down the traditional PR method of pitching your idea or article to an online journal and taking it from there.
Invest In Your Business
As you read this you are probably thinking that it sounds like really hard work. Yep, it is. But think of the potential value. I know someone whose start up travel business went from a trickle of enquiries to a flood overnight because of one single mention in The Sunday Times.
So take all the time in the world to work at it and make the connections that count, or invest in a decent, reliable, trustworthy digital marketing or digital PR agency to help you do it properly.