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In a world of data-driven marketing strategies and software that can measure the most minor digital activities on a website, businesses long for deeper understanding, and even certainty, when it comes to making both business and marketing decisions. Search engine optimization (SEO), while an important component of online success, remains a bit of a mystery to marketers within this landscape of digital certainty. With Google and other engines keeping their algorithms close to the chest, marketers are left inferring what SEO tactics will drive the best results.

If you too have noticed signs your SEO tactics need revisiting, signals like declining organic traffic, rising bounce rates, and lower time on page, off-page SEO is just as essential to monitor as its on-page SEO sibling.

Inbound links, or off-page SEO, are an essential component for optimizing the way your site appears in search engine results. Consider these three inbound link factors.

Links have become ranking signals to Google of authority, trust, and expertise. They are Google’s way of measuring confidence in your content. In the words of SEO Expert Neil Patel, “Off-page SEO simply tells Google what others think about your site. For example, if you’ve got a lot of valuable links pointing to your pages, search engines will assume that you’ve got great content – the type that provides value for users.”

Google assumes sites will link to the most relevant, helpful, and complete information on a given topic. Many of these links are gained organically by sites that provide exceptional content, or strategically because of link-building activities. Those types of activities include:

  • Influencer outreach
  • Directories
  • Forums
  • Guest blogging
  • Co-marketing
  • Event sponsorships
  • Blog comments
  • Press releases
  • Social sharing/engagement

Crafting a strategy to build a high number of inbound links isn’t enough. Measuring both the quality and variety of inbound links is also essential.

You can measure the health of your inbound links by monitoring your site’s domain authority. This KPI, which is influenced by both the quantity and quality of your inbound links, was developed by Moz, as a measurement of a site’s “ranking ability.”

Not all links are created equal. Links from higher domain authority sites have more power than those from less reputable sites. Therefore, if your domain authority is 40, you’ll only really want inbound links from sites with domain authorities of 40 or higher. If you receive many inbound links from sites with a domain authority less than 40, it can negatively impact your ranking ability. In fact, inbound links from sites with spam scores over 70 should be disavowed with Google to prevent them from adversely affecting your domain authority.Only “follow” links pass link juice, so the number of inbound links that impact your domain authority is more accurately described as the number of “follow” inbound links. Many sites will use “no follow” links throughout their content, and those don’t pass link juice. They are likely doing so for the same reason noted above, to protect their domain authority.

There is evidence that certain types of links carry more weight than others. For instance, links in the body copy of a webpage vs. in a sidebar, are more meaningful to search engines. And, there is evidence that link variety (links from various domains) is a good thing. The anchor text used on the link is also important, with branded and natural language links being favored. Lastly, where links come and go to is also essential. For instance, links to and from a homepage might carry more weight than links to and from deep internal web pages. Once again, much of this is speculation, and these tactics are based on the outcomes of SEO experiments.

Just like keywords within a content strategy, inbound links as part of an SEO strategy should be natural and not forced. Off-page SEO is constantly evolving and a way for search engines to measure peer influence, authority, and trust. Its influences will need to be closely monitored by marketers who are committed to ongoing optimization based on data and changing algorithms.