Freelancing is all about networking, and surprisingly networking extends beyond just people. How? The Internet can organically drive traffic to your site. That's why you need to be link building or backlinking - the art and science of getting other sites to link to you.
But you can do yourself more harm than good if you don't know what you're doing. Search engines like Google are very sensitive to the links that point back to your site. So how can you make sure every link you get is helping and not hurting? Make sure to focus on the right link building strategies and avoid those that will harm your website.
Best Link Building Strategies
First and foremost, what are backlinks? They are links that point back to your site, links that are either on other pages of your own site or, ideally, on other websites. Let's talk about the ideal scenario from the perspective of a search engine. In a perfect world, a search engine customer would type something into the search bar. The search engine would be able to easily tell what content is relevant to the user and organize it in the most relevant to least relevant. This is a very complicated process, but, in theory, that's what search engines are trying to accomplish.
The perfect link for a search engine would be a link that is on a page with quality content and that is a perfect match for the searcher's terms. Ideally, this perfect link means the searcher wouldn't need to search any more because the question is answered. Does this type of page sound familiar to you? It should. It's hopefully the kind of content you're producing on a regular basis, and that's the best way to build quality links to your site - write quality content that links to you.
Instead of discussing dozens of link building strategies, I want to focus on three of the best techniques that you can actually do today. As a very busy freelancer, you probably don't have time to engage in a dozen different strategies, but you can do one or two tasks today to help. After awhile, you'll find that you've built a large block of items that positively contribute to your link profile.
Search Engine Optimization
You probably already know that search engine optimization (SEO) involves more than just the content on your own website. Backlinking is an excellent SEO practice that will help to make you more visible to search engine users. The following are all simple things you can do to get links to point back to your site. Don't try to do 100 of anything - just take some time here and there to do one and before you know it, you'll have big link profile from lots of solid sources:
- Write posts for your website that contain one or two links to other posts on your website.
- Start a blog separate from your website that contains relevant links in the content back to your website pages.
- Send guest articles to relevant 3rd party websites and include links back to one of your pages, or at the least your brand name, either in the author bio or ideally in the content.
- Volunteer to write newsletters to get a link to your site.
- Write press releases and send them to free press release sites - PR backlinks are not as good as guest articles but still important to have.
Quick Tip: With guest blogging, keep in mind that the site to which you submit content should be highly relevant to your freelancing business as well as have a similar target market as you. Otherwise, you risk getting on Google's bad side - or at the least your links on irrelevant sites won't do you much good as far as page ranking goes.
Another powerful backlinking tool and one you can start building today is through social media. Sites like Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter allow users to quickly share your content, which in many cases becomes a link back to you. This is also known as a social vote or social signals and is a way to build organic links, which means they are safe from Google updates such as the recent Panda update.
If followers trust you to provide relevant content, then they will be more likely to share your content with their own groups.
You can leverage social media by actively engaging on these sites. Make your own profiles and populate them with relevant content. Have your website or blog link on all your profile pages. Engage in discussions and groups that are talking about what you do. Social media can be your biggest source of new clients simply because they're seeing your name over and over and you begin to develop trust.
This trust, this building up of relationships is one of the keys to making social media work for building up backlinking. If followers trust you to provide relevant content, then they will be more likely to share your content with their own groups. And if you are commenting on their posts, sharing their posts, engaging with them, they will also be more inclined to share your posts. A loyal following starts with real, albeit cyber, relationships, which will eventually result in lots of organic links back to your site.
Anytime you get work published, promote your content across your social media sites. Don't automate your posts and tweets to all be the same thing. Each social media site has its own feel, so take a few extra seconds to tweak the message. It will pay off.
This link building strategy is a bit more controversial, but it works and I've used it consistently for years. Business directories are a powerful, underutilized technique for getting your site onto the map - literally. Many mapping engines - like Google Maps - look at business directories as a reference.
Certainly, some business directories are better than others, but you can't go wrong with most of them as long as they allow you to create a profile that is useful to searchers. This just means that you can categorize your business, put relevant descriptions into the profile, and add in your contact information, of course.
Listing on a few paid directories helps a lot too. You don't have to send a small fortune, but it's worth a few bucks a year to get your link on a paid business directory. A premium site like Yahoo! or the Better Business Bureau can cost you several hundred a year down to $1 USD for the cheaper sites.
Get a few paid business directories in your strategy and then focus on adding a few free directories here and there. Keep the information consistent, but mix it up with the descriptions - too much of the same exact copy can raise red flags for search engines.
Worst Link Building Strategies
Unfortunately, there are a lot of wrong things you can do when it comes to link building, but the absolute worst is doing nothing. So avoid the paralysis and pick just one of the above things to do right. Otherwise, there are a few things you might be tempted to do that can bite you hard later. And avoid the following at all costs...
Ever get one of those emails asking to trade links - "I'll put your link on my site if you put one on yours"? Don't do it! This link building strategy is one of the riskiest things you can do to get your site onto search engines. 99% of the time these pages only contain a list of links. (Of course, if it's a fellow freelancer (not a competitor) with a similar target market as yours and their site provides valuable content to readers, then go right ahead!)
Think about our ideal scenario above for search engines. What could a list of links with no other content possibly do for a search engine user? Nothing. That's why search engines hate them so much. Your link should only appear in the context of relevant information. If 99% of the content on the page is not relevant, search engines are going to punish you.
There are lots of firms out there that promise to get you a bunch of links, a bunch of Twitter followers, and a bunch of other stuff for a small fee of $$$$$.
Do you know where these links are going? Do you know the content in which these links appear? You'd better know! The vast majority of these services are going to place your link with a bunch of others in content that is likely reproduced across hundreds of sites. Does this answer a question for search engine users? Does it provide any value at all to the reader? Probably not.
You might see a spike in search engine rankings as a result of these practices, but most of the time they're not sustainable (at best) or will actually hurt you (at worst) because Google will find out at some point in time that your links are not relevant.
In and of themselves, forums are not a bad thing. In fact, it's a good idea to have forums on your website to help build up a community around your freelancing business. It simply gives you another opportunity to build relationships with clients and prospects - which in turn can help you build organic links via social media.
However, using forums as a backlinking strategy is not very effective. Yes, you get to put your links into answers and questions, but forum backlinks simply hold hardly any weight with Google. You could have hundreds of forum backlinks on the web, but only a few links on a couple of high traffic, highly relevant 3rd party sites would be much more effective - not to mention a lot less work.
Wrapping it Up
Link building is a critical skill for freelancers. You don't have to go crazy and exhaust yourself with the practice, but backlinking is an important daily task you should assign yourself. Be steady and keep doing little bits here and there. Eventually your link building strategies will add up, and you'll find that you're ahead of curve and at the top of the list!