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How news SEOs can build a backlink strategy
In issue 09, we dive into best practices for backlink building strategies.
Happy Monday, friends! It’s Shelby here to take you through today’s newsletter on external link building.
Last week, Jessie took us through internal linking and how that helps your audience and search engines understand the hierarchy of your site.
Don’t forget to bookmark our glossary of all terms you need to know (and scroll to the end to vote on what we cover next week).
What is link building?
Before we can dive into best practices about link building, we need to learn a few key terms.
Link building is the process of acquiring hyperlinks from other websites to your own. Since search engines use links to crawl the internet, they will crawl links from your site to other sites, and vice versa. This is called a backlink, which proves your site is link worthy - aka really good for search intent, which means really good for SEO.
But once you’ve acquired a link, the work is only partially complete.
For example, Site A may link to Site B (your website) because they loved a story. Site B is really happy because the traffic from both Site A and Google is a lot! But one day, Site A decides to do an update and some of the links drop. Site B all of a sudden sees a random decrease in traffic. Now Site B needs to take action to find out how to make back that lost traffic and possibly a drop in rankings on Google.
That link could drop or be lost because the other site no longer functions. Or, say your site goes through a migration process and the URL structure changes.
We must consistently ensure we are keeping our backlinks fresh and directed to our site.
(Remember: Ranking higher means more traffic to your site. More traffic to your site means more conversions. More conversions means more money. More money means more important journalism.)
Link building is one of the hardest processes in SEO. There are a few reasons for this:
You are working externally. It is no longer your own site – you are relying on another site, with hopefully enough authority to bring with it some good SEO juice and provide more authority to your site.
You cannot always know if other sites are linking to you. So we have to do some digging, and this can take time.
Link building means quality. The theory behind link building is that if someone links to another website, they are essentially saying this is a good resource. Otherwise, why would we link to it? So we need to ensure quality is number one here and everywhere.
The good news: News publishers have a “one-up” on regular sites in the link building world – we produce a lot of the stories other sites want to link to anyway (e.g., service journalism, recent case studies or academic journals that are written about, a very good investigative piece, etc.). We can leverage this.
🔗 Read more: Moz’s beginner’s guide to link building
How to check for good links
Checking for links can be difficult, as it’s not as easy as checking your analytics for what platform drove traffic (this type of traffic usually comes through “referral” before it helps your search traffic).
Not all links are created equally. I’m sure you’ve seen in your analytics that you get referral traffic from spam bots or pages that just shove links in. This isn’t what we’re looking for, and we should avoid these at all costs (spam = not good!).
We want to achieve what are called editorial links. These are organic links to your site that come because the content is quality, and not just because you want to rank better.
Tools are very useful in link building because it’s harder to just see a good link. So, let’s go through some that can help you depending on your news organization’s budget.
The best tools for link building
Here are some of my favourite tools to use when you’re thinking about external links.
Ahrefs is my personal favourite backlink tool because it directly tells you on the dashboard how many links you have to your site, from which sites, and if you have recently lost any links that you should try to fix.
Pros: Literally the world’s largest backlink index and gives you a wealth of knowledge for everything SEO.
Cons: Extremely expensive. It can range from $99-$999 per month. But, there is a seven-day trial for $7.
Free! Open source! At your fingertips! If your site is already attached to Google Analytics, you also have access to Google Search Console, which has a tab called “links.” This gives you your top externally linked pages, top internally linked pages and even the text that is most commonly hyperlinked (and yes, the anchor text that is hyperlinked matters, too!)
Pros: Did I mention it’s free?
Cons: Surface-level information, but a great place to start.
Moz’s Link Explorer is straightforward and gives you the information that Ahrefs does, but not to the same depth. That said, it gives you the option to see which root domains have linked to your site and if you’ve lost any links recently.
Pros: Cheaper than Ahrefs and offers a free version, a two-week trial and the option to use the tool with limited information. BUT! You can see if there are any links lost in the free version.
Cons: That depth of knowledge is not the same as Ahrefs, and the paid version can also be $99-$999 a month, but it certainly gives you what you need to properly work on your link building strategy.
This is a tool I’ll talk about more in the future, but for now it’s good to know this one can help you to look at your own site in great detail and if there are any “in links” that may be broken (they usually return a 404 page not found error).
Pros: Free! You can download the spider (it’s an application rather than an on-site tool) and crawl 500 URLs on your site and check for broken links.
Cons: If you only use the free version, 500 URLs is quite small for a news publication (think about how many stories you publish on the daily).
What to do right now to help your link building strategy
Link building is hard and does take time. But it is one of the most important components of SEO. And there are some actions you can take now to help yourself down the road.
Create good, quality stories. And make sure everyone knows about it (push it out on social, newsletters, to anyone who may be interested and link to it on other stories on your site).
Anytime you see a story from your publication mentioned elsewhere, bring it up to your audience team or editors. Perhaps you can reach out to the site and see if they’ll link to a particular story (pro tip: offer a quality link in return. Quid pro quos are great here).
Reach out to notable guest authors or contributors. They probably have a site or a large following – ask them to link their stories on their own websites or other notable connections.
Does an upcoming or recent investigation have the opportunity to be linked to from major areas? Take note now and prepare to do some outreach once the piece is published – perhaps to other news organizations, activism groups that are interested in this kind of journalism or sites that benefit from your service journalism.
🔗 Read more: Nine easy link building strategies
The bottom line: Links to your site from outside sites is still one of the best signals to search engines about the quality of your site. Building good backlinks and ensuring they are kept over time is a great strategy for news publishers.
FUN + GAMES
What is the code for a permanent redirect?
WHAT’S TRENDING -
Resource of the week:
I spent this last week at the News Product Alliance summit, where a bunch of product nerds hung out on their computers and talked about how our career paths are, how to instill audience-first thinking into our newsrooms and what product even is (Hi, new readers!). It was highly refreshing to think differently and have a resource for this type of work (and very useful for anyone thinking about audience and product). Take a look at their site and some of the sessions we went through.
Google expands its core web vitals FAQ
EVEN MORE SEO
What is E.A.T. for news SEO? Understanding the content Google wants more of
Have something else you want us to explore? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
FUN + GAMES
The answer: 301 is a permanent redirect. It means the current content on this page has been sent to actually show the user a different site. This is useful for duplicate content, a story that has been posted on another post after an edit or if you are getting rid of an old page and need somewhere to direct its traffic.