SEO Checklist for CMOs PART 2
Backlinks: The Overlooked Tactic
By Leslie Richards
There are few SEO subjects that generate more confusion than backlinks. Yet, they are one of the most important components of a strong online marketing program.
Many of us are focused on content, and rightly so. Developing strong content around a sound keyword strategy is important for SEO and for establishing your firm as thought leaders in a particular area of the law for audiences such as potential clients, co-counsel, referral sources and talent, in addition to search engines. However, if being found in Google search is an objective (and it should be), you must consider the important role of backlinks.
What is a backlink?
Let’s start by defining our terms. A backlink is a link TO your website, FROM another domain. If your law firm domain is www.mylawfirm.com, a backlink would be a link from any other domain (for example: www.avvo.com, or www.economist.com) to any page on your website.
Why does Google care about backlinks?
Think about the ways in which you evaluate a business relationship, whether it is a prospective new hire or a new client. Certainly, you review their education and professional achievements. One of the most important influences on your decision, however, will be references from respected colleagues. We seek confirmation of our choices by turning to sources we trust. We seek proof from our social network.
When Google evaluates a website to determine its value to a searcher, and where to rank it in search results, Google employs a similar process. It looks at the content (in this analogy, the resume), it also looks at backlinks (in this analogy, the references). Google is interested in the sites that link back to your website as an indicator of the kind of company you keep. If lots of other sites find your site of value, Google surmises, it must have good content. Backlinks, done correctly, signal trust and credibility.
All other ranking factors being equal, Google will place a website with a strong backlink profile above a website with a weak one. It is a factor that can substantially improve a website’s visibility in search.
Are all Backlinks created equally?
All backlinks are not created equally. Google values natural backlinks over backlinks that appear spammy. Backlinks from paid directories, backlinks from “link farms”, backlinks that are stuffed with keywords in the link language, and backlinks that look in anyway insincere are easy for Google to sniff out. As the leading developer of artificial intelligence, Google is not easy to fool, so don’t try. Google will categorize spammy backlinks as toxic links. Ahigh toxic backlink profile will get your site penalized rather than move you forward.
The role of Domain Authority scores in a backlink strategy
One of the most important metrics to track as you develop a backlink strategy is the domain authority of the website from which you seek a link. Domain authority is a website grade, or score, that measures the credibility of site and impacts how it gets positioned in search results. SEMRUSH – a software company providing tools for website measurement and optimization – defines domain authority as:
“Authority Score is the result of a network algorithm that uses machine learning to measure every domain’s authority based on quality, popularity, and backlink signals.
This metric is used for competitor analysis, evaluation of link building prospects, potential acquisition of a domain, tracking of campaigns, and watching out for negative SEO.”
Wikipedia defines domain authority this way:
“The Domain authority of a website describes its relevance for a specific subject area or industry. Domain Authority is a search engine ranking score developed by Moz. This relevance has a direct impact on its ranking by search engines, trying to assess domain authority through automated analytic algorithms.”
Simply put, websites with high domain authority scores are seen as more credible than websites with low authority scores. Just as you would place more stock in the recommendation from a seasoned professional with many awards to their name than a newly minted college grad handling their first professional role, Google will place more weight on the backlink that comes from a website with a high authority score.
In determining websites, you would like to approach for a backlink opportunity, you should check their domain authority before you expend the effort to get a backlink. The domain authority score scale runs from 0 to 100 with most sites falling in the 40 to 50 range. A website with an authority score of 50 to 60 is considered good, anything above 60 is rated as excellent. Being associated with websites that have a very low authority score (less than 20) may actually be detrimental.
The domain authority score was developed by a company called MOZ, and quite helpfully, they provide a free tool that assesses the domain authority of a website: https://moz.com/domain-analysis. Another useful tool for assessing website domain authority, including your own, is Ubersuggest.com. Here’s the information that UberSuggest provided on the domain www.avvo.com:
We can see that AVVO has a high domain authority of 73. This indicates that a backlink from this site will be beneficial. Compare this to www.bestattorneysofamerica.com with a domain authority of 37, or Corporate Counsel Summit (website: corpcounseleadership.com) which, despite an authoritative sounding name has an authority score of exactly zero. A back link from a site like this will do more harm than good and should be avoided.
There will be cases when spammy websites link to yours without your knowledge. If you get too many of these, you can end up with a toxic link profile which will certainly have a negative impact your placement in search. Tools like SEMRUSH can quickly analyze a domain and report on toxic links. With a list of toxic links in hand, you can submit them to Google to be disavowed. When you disavow a backlink, it is a request to Google to ignore those links to your domain so they won’t be counted against you when determining your ranking in search position results. If you don’t know how to contact Google to disavow toxic links, you should contact your IT department, you SEO provider or your website developer.
PR and Backlinking – A Perfect Marriage
We often think of the benefits of public relations in terms of influencing public sentiment, establishing authority, and bringing attention to your firm or organization during an important news cycle related to your industry. We don’t typically think of it as a great SEO strategy, but it can be a very powerful tool in building your backlink profile.
News sites typically have higher than average domain authority scores. Articles placed on local news distribution sites or national ones, will have higher authority scores than many other sites. Stories about successes, innovative approaches to your industry, service awards, and all of the newsworthy goings on in your organization give back twice. In addition to building positive brand awareness, they often provide the additional benefit of getting a high-quality backlink to your site. Be forewarned, however, not all news sites will link back to your website. If they don’t, feel free to ask about their policy on backlinks.
Publishing to online alumni news helps you maintain a strong personal network. It also helps your backlink profile because sites with addresses that end in .edu also have higher than average domain authority. Public relations efforts have benefits in more than one area of building your business.
As with all things SEO, your best path forward is always to avoid tricks and spammy tactics. If you get a sales email saying that a company can get you ranked on the first page of Google, ignore it. Perhaps they can, for a short time. All too often, however, they employ backlink strategies that can hurt your SEO in the long run. Develop quality content. Make whatever it is you publish of meaningful interest to your audience. Do this and the website visitors will follow.