The digital marketing world has seen more changes in the past two years than over the last 10 years combined, thanks to the release of Google's Panda and Penguin algorithm updates. Both have changed online marketing best practices, including everything from how sites should be built to how "backlinks" should be created.
Links that go from another site to yours are called backlinks because they point back to your pages. Building these links, which point back to your website, can help improve your site's search engine optimization (SEO).
So if you're still using outdated link-building techniques -- such as automated directory submissions or "10,000 links for $10" package purchases -- it's time to devise a new, updated link building strategy. For best results, focus your activities on the following techniques:
1. Guest posting.
The process of guest posting refers to drafting an article that will be published on another person or company's website. Not only can this technique give you access to a new audience, it can also help you secure at least one valuable backlink pointed at your own site.
To maximize the value of this strategy, work with well-known, highly regarded blogs and send only your best content to these publishing sites. Guest posting is all about the relationship you build with another site and its audience. It's not a technique that can be automated by sending any old article to any old publishing blog in order to secure a link or two.
2. Creating infographics.
People often like to share infographics -- images that share data in a graphic, aesthetically-pleasing way. If you take the time to develop an interesting, attractive infographic, it's likely to be shared from person to person, resulting in new links every time your graphic is referenced on another site.
To determine whether or not your infographic meets these criteria, ask yourself the simple question, "Would I share this with a friend?" If you can't answer "Yes" to this question, chances are your infographic could use some tweaking before it's released.
It can take time and money to develop a worthwhile infographic but, when done right, this investment can pay off in terms of the number of links that ultimately result from your graphic's distribution.
3. Building links over email.
With Google cracking down on sitewide links -- links found in blog sidebars and footers that appear on every page of the site -- developing "in-content" links will be a crucial part of the link building process this year. In-content links are ones that are in the body content of the referring site's pages.
The best way to find these links is through a process called email link building, in which you email potential linking websites and request that your link be placed on a relevant page of content. For example, if you run a local restaurant and encounter a website that lists all the small businesses in your area, emailing the owner of the site and requesting that a link to your business website is a way to generate new, valuable links.
Related: 6 Ways to Make Your Content Go Viral
4. Creating viral content.
You might be surprised that one of the most effective link-building techniques doesn't involve any type of outreach at all.
Viral content creation refers to the process of publishing highly valuable, highly shareable content on your website and then seeding your links on popular social networks. If you create remarkable content, people should want to share it with others, ideally leading to an influx of backlinks that occurs without your direct involvement in building each and every link.
Although there's no hard and fast formula for creating viral content online, you can analyze pieces that have been shared widely for clues to what made it so popular. Often times, it is content that captures emerging trends or is simply absurd or entertaining.
5. Analyzing competitor links.
Examining your competitors' link profiles can be done using simple tools like Majestic SEO (free plan available with paid plans starting at $49.99 per month) and Open Site Explorer from SEOmoz (free plan available with paid plans starting at $99 per month). Both allow you to view the websites that are linking back to your competitors' websites.
Viewing your competitors' backlink profiles should give you plenty of ideas for potential sources that should be linking back to your website as well. You'll want to qualify these opportunities, as replicating a competitor's spam links won't do your website any favors. Maintain strict link-building criteria throughout your own efforts that focus on generating high-value links that will appear as natural as possible to the search engines.