July 5, 2023
Well, this is awkward. You recently published some amazing content—I mean, you were dancing at your desk those words were so sweet—and nobody noticed. The post doesn’t rank. Even logged in, you can’t get Google to show your own content on the first page of the SERP.
Suddenly, you’ve gone from professional SEO rockstar to the under- or over-dressed one at the swank party. Yes, I speak from bitter, bitter experience. I am not comforted—nor I imagine are you—that this is common. Search Engine Land puts it this way: “Your working theory should be that even the best content gets ignored.”
Still, there is hope for every content wallflower out there. It’s not how you dressed. (Those keywords are just fine, sweetie.) It’s about getting your links game on.
Surprise—the Internet pre-dates Google and Bing. How did we find things? We counted on people or entities we trusted to put links to related content or new ideas in their blogs or on their websites. How well did it work? Even though I lived through it, I still find it hard to believe we had an internet before search engines.
Links are still essential to SEO. Google looks at your place in the web of links, particularly your inbound or backlinks (links on other people’s sites that point back to you) to determine your expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (“EAT” in the sea of SEO acronyms).
In other words, it’s not what you know, it’s not even who you know, it’s who knows you. But—I can hear your wail way over here in Iowa—that’s my problem! Nobody knows me.
There’s only one solution: start networking. The Internet is like a big party with a billion people talking; your content has popped up somewhere in the mix and is just staring all around. Get into the conversation with these three simple rules.
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To be honest, this is table stakes in your linking strategy: Have something worth saying. Write great content that matters to your audience.
Search engines match users with content that answers their questions. They match what goes into a search box (or a voice assistant’s microphone) with the content on your page. Do these things for SERP-worthy content:
That first idea, answering users’ questions, is the most important. Implicit questions and answers shape user journeys through pages and across sites, even if you never pose a question in a heading.
To paraphrase Marcus Sheridan, “they ask you answer” is the heartbeat of web content. That’s how you’ll make your first connection—by answering their next question.
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Interlinks connect your lonely wallflower content with other content on your site. They are the easiest connection to build because it’s all your content. Anticipate related questions—whether the next one in a logical sequence, a sidetrack, or a backtrack—and link to that page.
Start by brainstorming users’ other questions. Do some search engine research. Review your own published content. Make the link or put that next blog topic on your editorial calendar.
What do I mean by the next question? As the user receives their first answer, what other questions does that answer spark?
In Rule 1, when I said, “Do your homework” on keywords, you might have asked yourself, “Is there a keyword research tool I should use?” See, that’s an interlink.
For a page on college costs, a logical next question would be “Can I get a scholarship?” So, link to the scholarship’s content. For a blog on pediatric epilepsy, a logical next question would be “What happens as my child grows up?” Link to a blog story or service page for young adults.
Sometimes, the question will go sideways, say from college costs to a moan of “I don’t know what I want to study—is college even worth it?” Those are great interlinks, too.
The best moment at the Internet party? When someone you’ve been talking to grabs you by the hand and pulls you across the room, “My friends just have to meet you!” That’s the treasured backlink.
One of the best ways to earn backlinks is by creating blog stories. They help you rise to the top of the funnel so the rest of your site can be consulted during the messy middle of the prospective student journey. Why? Because they typically focus on answering questions around a singular topic.
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Working the Internet room for worthwhile backlinks is very much like working a room IRL—the people who do it best do it with authenticity (stay on brand!), and hospitality (invite others into the conversation), and warmth (appreciate the other content that’s out there).
For blog and web content, this translates into practicing these high-level tactics regularly:
Create a virtuous cycle of paying attention to others to get attention back (backlinks). Like all public relations and brand building, it takes time, repetition, and staying your course.
Turbocharge the virtuous cycle by investing staff time or budget dollars in professional PR. Pay someone to build the connections that turn into relevant backlinks—not inauthentic, spammy purchased links—as well as brand equity.
The internet party has some specialized side corridors where you can strike up particularly useful connections for future backlinks:
Keep the cycle virtuous and healthy:
Yes, backlinks will continue to signal your site’s authoritativeness and trustworthiness, but Google predicts diminishing weight on backlinks. As usual, there are few clues on what will replace inbound links.
My prediction is that backlinks will go the way of keywords. As the search engines got better and better at natural language processing, keywords on their own meant less and less. Keywords in context still matter—they add to the algorithm’s overall assessment when it matches content to a query.
So, I see a future where search engines have grown better and better at assessing the overall economy of authoritativeness and trustworthiness across the web. Quality backlinks will still be part of that assessment, just not the strongest signal.
Links are, and will always be, the OG search engine. They’re how we find stuff.