In 2013, a user from MOZ (a famous Search Engine Optimization community) asked whether link building in the Middle-East was dead or not. The response, much to my surprise, was particularly spot-on. More, it shed light on how automated link building has had a downward impact on websites. Google did a major crackdown on sites following old-school practices and shady techniques. The penalised sites lost a lot of organic traffic, and with them most of their best leads.

There is a consensus today that Link Building costs a lot more to research, plan and execute. It requires much greater resources, expertise and knowledge – and time… and it’s totally worth it.

Link Building is still important

Many brands in the Middle East are deprived of Link Building services (primarily because of the costs associated with it and how time consuming it is), although it holds an important place in the SEO process. As famously pointed out in the “How to Rank” guide by Cyrus Shephard, great content brings easier and more relevant links, and should therefore represent 90% of the SEO effort.

But that’s not really enough. In normal times, the best boost to content comes from link building which pushes the content into top position in SERP’s (thus ensuring better CTR and traffic that could help sustain the overall impact of the content for longer periods of time). In situations when content becomes rare (e.g. during holidays, or the low season of your business) link building becomes even more crucial. When content production comes to a halt, the best alternative is to amplify the existing content with 80% of time & resources going to link building – and 20% into existing content optimization.

Fig: Link Building impact on ranking in SERPs for a high volume travel related query
[Source: Advance Web Rankings]

The figure alone is just one of the many practical examples justifying the impact link building has had on Content in terms of SERP’s for some really competitive keywords tracked for Travel Industry.

Link Building: Where to start?

If you’ve marked a Link Building campaign on your roadmap (regardless of whether you’re creating content in parallel or not), what would be your first move? There are definitely several ways, and I can vouch for the one below (especially in the Middle-East):

Phase 1: the background check

1- Check your status. First step is to ensure your website hasn’t received a manual penalty from Google, the best place to check that is in Google Search Console. You will have a message in the “Messages” section from Google stating you’ve been hit by a penalty, if not you’re out of danger for now.

2- Check your history. Even if you’re not hit by a manual penalty yet, a previous agency/ account owner might have used unethical methods to acquire links for you. You could have been getting links from sites either penalized by Google without you knowing. Either way the risk exists. Tackle that by identifying toxic backlinks in your link profile, then include those domains/URLs into a disavow file which we then submit to Google Search Console, telling Google in simple words, that any link juice flow from these sites is to be stopped.

3- Check all versions. If your current site has older versions on separate domains that are now redirected to the current site on its new domain, make sure you take the same steps above for the previous domains as well. It will help reduce risks of toxic links pointing to your old domain, which is currently passing all its link juice value to the new site because of the 301 redirect.

I plan on doing a step by step guide for this activity but If you need a quick tutorial and tools required on removing bad or toxic links from your link profile, this is the tutorial:

Phase 2: Clean up your Post-Link profile

Congratulations, you’ve helped your site detox from all toxic links. It’s now actually time to source prospects to get backlinks from, the key strategies to follow by order of priority:

Priority Campaigns:
Umbrella Outreach – Look for prospects within your brands own umbrella of products, services, sister companies, partners, etc. This is not only the easiest approach to follow but the one that brings the best result in terms of number of backlinks and their relevancy. Key ingredients of the campaign involve:

  • Identifying prospects e.g. Partner Sites/ Brand Sites
  • Finding relevant page to source link from e.g. the most relevant page on site where a link to your site would be of benefit to a user
  • Destination URL – URL of the page where the source will link to often complimented by an anchor text (keeping in-line the principles of anchor text usage i.e. non-spammy)

Long Term – Link Building strategies:
It is best to initiate the long term strategies for link building in parallel with the priority campaign, since often the priority campaigns (especially if you’re working for a big brand) can take up to months of time for execution, so you’d better use the time remaining in alternative campaigns such as:

  • Existing links optimizations – optimizing the correct links to relevant landing pages
  • Competitors backlinks – analyze the backlinks of competitors and identify key prospects not linking to you and outreach accordingly
  • Local Citations – improve the local presence of the site by getting average and medium to high-quality links/citations in the local sites
  • Creative SEO Campaigns -campaigns that involve research and content that can be used to EARN links on a natural scale e.g. eBooks, Infographics, Viral Videos, Case Studies etc.
  • Image Reclamations – identifying images used by other sources on the web without any credit and requesting credit in the form of link/citation
  • Brand Mentions conversion to links – Identify Brand mentions across the web, and identify opportunities where they can be contacted for linking to site etc.

These are probably the best sources and strategies of getting some links to your site. While there are plenty of other strategies out there, in the end they are all linked to one or many of the ones mentioned above.

We will do another series of posts explaining in details how these campaigns can be initiated, planned and executed, so don’t hesitate to follow us!

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