It should come as no surprise that 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine. But did you know that the concept of authority is an essential factor in your website’s search engine visibility?
In a recent blog post, we took an in-depth look at Google’s guidelines around the concept of authority, focusing primarily on the on-page optimizations you can implement to ensure your website meets the search engine’s requirements. But on-page SEO is only part of the equation. Stella Rising’s Authority-Building service merges off-page SEO strategies with PR, forming a holistic approach to boosting online visibility, brand awareness, reputation, and conversions.
In this two-part guide to off-page SEO and Digital PR, you’ll learn how to grow your brand’s authority through trustworthy links and mentions on relevant sites that your audience visits and loves. In Part 1, we’ll discuss how backlinks affect authority and the strongest—and weakest—strategies for obtaining backlinks. Part 2 will dive into a more holistic approach to authority-building, exploring the ties between off-page SEO and PR.
Building Authority Through Off-Page SEO
Stella Rising’s SEO services incorporate technical, on-page, and off-page strategies—three categories that address the various types of search engine ranking factors. Here, we’ll focus on off-page SEO—what it is, how it impacts a website’s organic rankings, and the best off-page SEO techniques and practices we can use to improve a site’s authority.
What Is Off-Page SEO?
Off-page SEO—also known as “off-site SEO”—refers to search engine optimization strategies that take place outside of your website in an effort to impact your website’s rankings. Off-page ranking factors signal the public’s perception of a site’s popularity, trustworthiness, expertise, authority, and relevance.
In the simplest terms, on-page SEO is based on what your website says about your brand while off-page SEO is determined by what others say about your brand.
While the specifics of Google’s algorithm remain a well-kept secret, Moz’s Search Engine Ranking Factors study reveals that off-page factors are believed to carry more than 50% of the weight.
The aspects of SEO that website owners have the least control over may actually have the biggest impact on organic search performance. Does that mean off-page SEO is a lost cause? Absolutely not. Strong external validation may be challenging to acquire at first, but with time, perseverance, and the right strategy, off-site SEO has the greatest potential to scale on its own. As brand awareness spreads, unprompted mentions and links tend to sprout.
Backlinks are the most tangible and easy-to-measure building blocks of off-page SEO, so let’s start there.
In terms of SEO, links represent a “vote of confidence” from one page to another. A backlink is a link from another website to your website. If a separate website links to your site, Google views this as a site “vouching” for yours.
Here’s where it gets tricky: not all votes are counted equally. Some websites carry more voting power than others. A site that Google already deems to be authoritative will, in turn, have more authority to pass along. That’s why a link from nytimes.com is more valuable than a link from an obscure hobbyist blog.
What Makes a Strong Backlink Profile?
Consider this scenario. You are an aspiring professional cellist applying to Juilliard. Who would you rather write your letter of recommendation: Yo-Yo Ma or your high school classmate who played second chair? Assuming he’d actually heard you play, world-renowned cello prodigy Yo-Yo Ma’s opinion of your skill carries a whole lot more weight. Both would be considered a vote of confidence, but one is a great deal more impactful.
Now consider that you could submit an infinite number of recommendation letters. One letter from Yo-Yo Ma is great, but do you need him to send five to the same school? That would be unnecessary. It would be much more effective to have every (musically-inclined) person you know—and Yo-Yo Ma—submit their own unique letter praising your prowess as a cellist.
Backlink-building works in much the same way. Google analyzes the strength of your backlink profile (and ultimately, a web page’s authority) based on:
Other factors that determine the strength of an individual backlink include:
Follow vs. Nofollow
The default status of a link is typically “follow,” meaning that Google will crawl and pass authority onto the linked page. However, there are times when a webmaster will mark an outbound link with the HTML tag rel=”nofollow”. This tag tells Google to ignore the link. According to Google, a nofollow link does not pass equity or help the linked page’s SEO.
Similarly, your backlink may be marked with the HTML tag rel=”sponsored”, which indicates that the backlink was not editorially given but rather paid for. Google aims to reward earned links and will penalize a site if it’s discovered that a backlink was placed as part of a monetary transaction and not specified as a form of advertisement. Like nofollow links, sponsored links are believed to not impact SEO. The way search engines see it, if a link isn’t placed organically, it should not affect organic rankings.
Anchor text refers to the clickable text in a hyperlink. It’s essentially the link’s label and should accurately indicate what users will find when they click. In most cases, keyword optimized anchor text can affect the linked page’s organic keyword rankings. However, too much optimized anchor text can set off red flags, indicating that you are using shady tactics to manipulate the SERPs. Aim to strike a healthy balance between keyword-rich anchor text and natural backlink anchor text (i.e., “click here”).
Measuring the Strength of a Backlink Profile
As we know, Google’s algorithm is complex and purposefully veiled in secrecy. But with the help of a few trusted third-party tools, we can get a sense of our backlink profile’s health. Here are some of the metrics our SEO professionals use at Stella Rising.
Domain Rating / Domain Authority
Domain Rating (DR) and Domain Authority (DA) are scoring systems created by SEO tools Ahrefs and Moz, respectively. Both estimate the strength of a website’s backlink profile and give a score between 0 and 100 (higher being stronger).
URL Rating / Page Authority
URL Rating (UR) and Page Authority (PA) are also Ahrefs and Moz metrics; however, while DR and DA refer to the strength of an entire site’s backlink profile, UR and PA measure this on the page or URL level. These metrics estimate the strength of an individual page’s backlink profile. Google claims to measure authority on the page level, so it’s safe to assume that UR and PA are more accurate predictions of how well a specific page will rank in the SERPs.
Backlink-Building Strategies: Dos and Don'ts
What are the most successful methods and techniques SEOs use to acquire valuable backlinks? And which strategies are outdated or just plain harmful?
Black Hat Link-Building: What NOT to Do
In the world of SEO, backlinks are a hot commodity. And, unfortunately for website owners looking to boost their off-page authority, potential link-creators have wisened up in recent years, discovering the value of their outbound links and the incredible power they wield. Webmasters for high-ranking websites attempt to capitalize on their position by selling link placements on their site for anywhere from $10 to $1,000 or more.
Think $25 for a quick and easy backlink on a site with a DR of 75 is a no-brainer? Think again. Google promises brutal penalties for purchasing “follow” links. You might not get caught—at least, not right away. But keep in mind that this super savvy search engine is tracking you, the sites linking to you, and all of the other sites that site is linking to. Patterns emerge and link brokering at scale is bound to be discovered.
If your SEO agency is recommending that you buy backlinks or guarantees they’ll win you a certain number of backlinks (a sign they’re likely buying them), consider this a red flag.
Any knowledgeable SEO professional is aware of the risks involved with buying backlinks and will instead strategize custom link-building campaigns that don’t violate Google’s strict policies.
Private Blog Networks (PBNs)
Some black hat SEOs try to get clever in their approach to link-building, using a strategy that puts them in control of this aspect of SEO that isn’t meant to be totally in our control. They create their own Private Blog Networks (PBNs) by purchasing low-quality, expired domains and turning them into their own personal “link farms.” With full editorial control, they can plant links wherever they’d like, even using anchor text that will be most impactful for keyword rankings.
These SEOs tend to go to great lengths to throw Google off their trail, but like link-buyers, SEOs who use PBNs are rarely clever enough to outsmart search engines. IP addresses, backlinking patterns, and low-quality content are usually enough to identify a PBN. These shady tactics are a clear violation of Google's Webmaster Quality Guidelines and often result in penalties.
White Hat Link-Building: Strategies That Work
By its very nature, link-building of any kind can be interpreted as a campaign to manipulate a search engine’s algorithm and boost your site’s rankings.
The key to unlocking white hat link-building is relevance. Websites naturally link out to relevant sources of information their users will find helpful. By performing what we call “link outreach,” you are simply informing other websites of your site’s unique and valuable assets and encouraging them to provide their users with an easy way to access that information. If your page does not seem like a natural fit and won’t add value to the linking site’s user experience, it’s not “white hat.” A successful link-building strategy keeps the human user in mind.
Attracting a Quality Backlink with a Strong Linkable Asset
The foundation of any good backlink-building campaign is a strong linkable asset—a page, tool, or piece of content on your site that provides unique value to a link-creator’s website and audience. This is the main attraction, the content you’re promoting to hook a quality backlink.
A linkable asset should:
- Be related to your brand’s industry—a topic broad enough to appeal to a range of website types but specific enough to provide valuable information
- Be visually appealing
A linkable asset should not:
- Be overtly promotional or sales-oriented—this will be seen as a request for free advertising
- Contain “fluffy” or “thin” content that offers no useful or unique information
Good examples of a linkable asset include:
- Well-written and researched blog posts with images
- Case studies and other reports compiled from primary source data
- Interactive tools
- Videos or tutorials
Backlink-Building Strategy Examples
Crafting strong content is the first step of any successful link-building strategy. But simply creating the content isn’t enough to attract quality backlinks; you need to promote it. Who you reach out to and how you perform outreach will depend on your site’s audience, goals, expertise, and content.
Our team creates a unique outreach strategy for each of our clients; here’s a sneak peek into a few of the general strategies we’ve found to be successful:
- Unlinked Mentions
- Link Redirection
- Competitive Analysis
- Thought Leadership
These link-building strategies can be quite time- and labor-intensive, proving difficult to scale in-house. Fortunately, Stella Rising has the tools and resources needed to strategize, identify, and reach out to hundreds of websites (potential link-creators) each month with personalized messages that cut through all the spam. Our team is dedicated to genuine communication and true relationship-building with online publications in your industry.
Grow Your Backlink Profile with Stella Rising’s Authority-Building Service
Backlinks are undoubtedly essential to your site’s search engine visibility and overall authority, but they shouldn’t be the only tool in your off-page SEO toolkit. Read Part 2 of this guide to discover the benefits of taking a holistic approach to authority-building with a Digital PR strategy.
Interested in discussing the Authority-Building and SEO services discussed in this post? Connect with us.