There’s always a lot of swirling opinions on the internet about what Google still uses to rank websites, and what they don’t. While only Google’s algorithm knows exactly what it’s measuring to rank your website, there are a few things SEO experts have come to agree on as key factors in search engine results page rankings. And yes, one of those things is still the number of quality links that exist to your page. While it’s great to have links to external sites within your own pages, Google still uses the number of legitimate websites who are linking to you, to determine how worthy you are of a higher page rank.

In the past, SEO experts and webmasters alike have attempted to hack this factor of page ranking with various “link building” techniques, some of which worked, and some of which really didn’t. It’s good to know that while you’re researching link building, you should really only trust blogs and content about link building that have been published in the past year. Google always updates their algorithms regularly, but the past few years especially have seen massive, internet revolutionizing updates that also affect how you should go about link building.

Because of those updates, it has become really tricky to link build in a way that doesn’t end up in a Google site penalization. Older tricks like posting links to your page in the comments section, guest blogging, and most definitely link-building schemes, will only result in the penalization of your site by Google. So, since link building still matters for pagerank, how can you do it in a way that’s above-board, and will get you the links you want, without a Google penalization?

Have something worth linking to

The absolute best way to get legitimate links is to first have something people want to link to. Whether you’ve got an ecommerce site with cool products, or your site has a number of interesting, informational content pages like blogs posts and how-to’s, the only way you’ll get people to link to those pages is if they like what you have to offer, and if it makes their lives easier in some way. So, if you’ve got a basic website with no blog, and nothing to make it interesting to others in your industry, it’s unlikely that anyone will organically link to you. On the other hand, if you’ve established yourself as an authority in your industry, and offer a great deal of helpful content on your website, you’re more likely to get some quality links.

Build a community around your content

The best, easiest way to build links is to have people organically link to your pages of their own free will. When you have quality content that speaks to your target audience, you’ll start to build a community of followers. Those followers will check in regularly to read any new content you’ve got, and the more they do, the greater the opportunity that someone will link or share your page.

When someone likes your website and your page content, they’re more likely to link to your page when they create their own content. That sort of linking is the best you can get: people who genuinely like what you have to offer, and want to tell their own followers about it. Unfortunately, it’s not that efficient, and it requires a great deal of relying on other people. While it’s possibly the best way to get links, there’s no guaranteeing when or if it will happen. So, if you’re not comfortable relying on just organic links, the following steps might help:

Ask nicely

Once you’ve got content on your site that people might actually want to link to, go ahead and ask people nicely! Reach out to other website owners in your industry who hold a bit of authority to ask if they’d consider linking to a certain page or blog post on your website. The best way to go about this efficiently is to follow these three steps:

Set up templates

It’s not wrong to have a general template that goes out to each person you ask to link to your website. There’s no point in reinventing the wheel twice, so draft a really great email that talks about your company and why the page you’re requesting they link to should mean something to them. What’s more, offer to link to their site in return. People are more likely to agree when there’s something in it for them. Be sure to include your contact information, along with a sincere thank you.

Personalize

While it’s great to have a standard template, it’s important that you’re still personalizing each email according to who you’re sending it to. At the very least, each email should be addressed to one specific person in the company, and ideally, your email’s intro paragraph should mention something specific about them that drew you to their website. The more general your address, the less likely you are to get a response. People get millions of emails a day, and if it doesn’t seem like your email was meant specifically for them, they’ll probably delete it.

Don’t mass email

Finally, once you’re ready to send out your request emails, be sure you don’t mass email. There’s nothing worse than getting an email asking you to do someone a personal favor, only to see that 25 other people also got the same exact email. It often comes across as rude, and most people won’t respond when they realize your email wasn’t meant just for them. What’s more, try to send your requests to just one person in the company, especially if you’re using a template. People in the same office do actually talk, and if multiple employees get the same exact email, they’re likely to think it’s some sort of scam.

Never buy links

As a final, cautionary note, we’d just like to remind you that it’s always, always bad practice to buy links. No matter how legitimate the company seems, if you buy links your site will face penalties. Google constantly updates their algorithm to sniff out link-buying activity, and will flag your site almost immediately if you do buy links. The best way to build links is to do it organically, either by building a community around your site’s content, or by asking others in your industry to link to your site.

We get it, link building is a tricky subject. It always has been, and it probably will continue to be, so long as Google uses it as a ranking factor. That said, there are good, white hat methods to go about link building, that can work to get you those links you’re looking for without danger of penalization. If you’re feeling wary of link building, or you’d like a little advice on how you could boost your site’s search engine rankings, get in touch. Search engine optimization is kind of our job, and we’d be happy to help you figure out how best to boost your rankings. If you’re looking for more info about improving your site’s SEO, check out the SEO checklist below:

2016 SEO checklist