You’ve created content that people are searching for, that answers their questions, and that search engines can understand, but those qualities alone don’t mean it’ll rank. To outrank the rest of the sites with those qualities, you have to establish authority. That can be accomplished by earning links from authoritative websites, building your brand, and nurturing an audience who will help amplify your content.
Google has confirmed that links and quality content (which we covered back in Chapter On Page Optimization) are two of the three most important ranking factors for SEO. Trustworthy sites tend to link to other trustworthy sites, and spammy sites tend to link to other spammy sites.
But what is a link, exactly? How do you go about earning them from other websites? Let’s start with the basics.
What are links?
Inbound links, also known as backlinks or external links, are HTML hyperlinks that point from one website to another. They’re the currency of the Internet, as they act a lot like real-life reputation. If you went on vacation and asked three people (all completely unrelated to one another) what the best coffee shop in town was, and they all said, “Cuppa Joe on Main Street,” you would feel confident that Cuppa Joe is indeed the best coffee place in town. Links do that for search engines.
Since the late 1990s, search engines have treated links as votes for popularity and importance on the web.
Internal links, or links that connect internal pages of the same domain, work very similarly for your website. A high amount of internal links pointing to a particular page on your site will provide a signal to Google that the page is important, so long as it’s done naturally and not in a spammy way.
The engines themselves have refined the way they view links, now using algorithms to evaluate sites and pages based on the links they find. But what’s in those algorithms? How do the engines evaluate all those links? It all starts with the concept of E-A-T.
You are what you E-A-T
Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines put a great deal of importance on the concept of E-A-T — an acronym for expert, authoritative, and trustworthy. Sites that don’t display these characteristics tend to be seen as lower-quality in the eyes of the engines, while those that do are subsequently rewarded. E-A-T is becoming more and more important as search evolves and increases the importance of solving for user intent.
Creating a site that’s considered expert, authoritative, and trustworthy should be your guiding light as you practice SEO. Not only will it simply result in a better site, but it’s future-proof. After all, providing great value to searchers is what Google itself is trying to do.
E-A-T and links to your site
The more popular and important a site is, the more weight the links from that site carry. A site like Wikipedia, for example, has thousands of diverse sites linking to it. This indicates it provides lots of expertise, has cultivated authority, and is trusted among those other sites.
To earn trust and authority with search engines, you’ll need links from websites that display the qualities of E-A-T. These don’t have to be Wikipedia-level sites, but they should provide searchers with credible, trustworthy content.
Your link profile
Your link profile is an overall assessment of all the inbound links your site has earned: the total number of links, their quality (or spamminess), their diversity (is one site linking to you hundreds of times, or are hundreds of sites linking to you once?), and more. The state of your link profile helps search engines understand how your site relates to other sites on the Internet. There are various SEO tools that allow you to analyze your link profile and begin to understand its overall makeup.
What are the qualities of a healthy link profile?
When people began to learn about the power of links, they began manipulating them for their benefit. They’d find ways to gain artificial links just to increase their search engine rankings. While these dangerous tactics can sometimes work, they are against Google’s terms of service and can get a website deindexed (removal of web pages or entire domains from search results). You should always try to maintain a healthy link profile.
A healthy link profile is one that indicates to search engines that you’re earning your links and authority fairly. Just like you shouldn’t lie, cheat, or steal, you should strive to ensure your link profile is honest and earned via good, old-fashioned hard work.