We've been thinking about linking


How will Digital PR be affected?

Now more than ever, in a world of Digital PR, links are not the only important factor that we need to care about. They are a strong signal for now, but we know that only thinking about links is not a very future-proof strategy. Even the type of link we need to care about is changing. We've been thinking about what that means for our own approach to Digital PR.

We need to build links that people actually want to click on...

Ah the age old question; is it quality over quantity? We think quality. But how do you measure quality? Well, links that get clicked on are more valuable, more relevant and from that, we can assume they are higher quality than links that don’t. Nothing ground-breaking in the logic there... Yet still, links that get clicked on are almost an afterthought (if thought of at all). In the past, it was all about the links. Linky link links. Thinking about Google when we should have been thinking about the person reading.

The idea that referral traffic from these links to our own website didn’t get much consideration, or measurement. And sure, I’ve seen plenty of analytics where these links would barely generate traffic numbers in the double figures. We used to think “but that’s not what those links are there for…”. Well, it is now.

Once people get to your site, it's a good sign if they stay there

The other piece of the “quality” puzzle falls on our own website: bounce rate, time on site and average pages per visit. They’re all indicators that a person is engaged with a website (or not). For one of our clients, referral traffic from links that we’ve built stays on the site for over 200% longer than the site average, and looks at five more pages than the site average too. I’d say that’s a good example of pointing the right people to the right place… and in turn, they’re building their visibility and authority on certain topics. Google’s probably going to like that, because people like it.

If on the other hand, traffic bounces, that’s a sure fire sign that your site was not relevant, not what was promised and not what they were expecting. Which sends Google an equally strong message.

Make sure you’re tracking referral traffic by tagging it all up with a tool like this.

Nofollow links are still valuable

But what about the link juice?! I hear you cry. Well, don’t worry. Nofollow links are to a healthy link profile what good fats are to a healthy diet. Most businesses do paid activity as part of their marketing mix where nofollow links are a must, so there’s nothing wrong with a few of these in the mix. If anything, it looks a bit weird if you don’t have any.

Coverage without links still gets you brand awareness AND may be as good as links in some cases

No, absolutely not. Only caring about links is tunnel vision in 2018. We know that journalists and editorial teams are savvy to why we want links back to our site, so securing links can be hard. If you can’t always get a link, that doesn’t mean that piece of coverage is worth nothing. The exposure for your brand, the piece of coverage from a high quality or relevant site are all huge cartwheel-inducing benefits that you’d never turn down just because they didn’t link (they can still lead to searches for and conversations about… your brand).

From an SEO perspective, if fewer big publications are using links, then there’ll have to be another way that trust flows from those sites. In Google’s Panda patent, it even says that brand mentions may be just as valuable as links, as the link is “implied”.

The “reason to link”

Why would a journalist or web team include a link to your site? The answer needs to be a user-first, no-brainer. Whatever’s on your site is so cool/useful/unique/authoritative, they’d be crazy not to link, right? This is very good; this forces us to think - what do we know enough about that our ideal audience would love, that journalists can link to? The story you’re outreaching with is only a fraction of what you can offer. You have to link to the pages your audience want to visit, not the pages you want them to visit.

What about social?

Social is considered an important factor for SEO. Content shared on social and posts mentioning brands can be significant; Tweets have even been pulled directly into the SERPs. Alongside earned media, a lively social presence and making big, distinctive and authoritative noise, And people talking about you offsite in a positive way, like forums, review sites, blogs… anywhere findable.

However, due to a rise in competition, a rise in private sharing, and changes to Facebook’s algorithm, social sharing has declined by 50% over the past few years. Google as a traffic source has grown significantly as a result of social’s decline too.

So I think that social still has a part to play in this puzzle, but its strength lies in conversation about your brand, hey - even joining in - rather than social being a channel for content syndication and driving traffic (Facebook never really liked it when you did that anyway). That’s why it’s such a key channel across the whole comms mix, and causing a buzz on social is something PR is really good at. 

So to sum up… as long as links are still a strong SEO factor, we’ll have to care about them, but zooming out and applying a user-first approach is much more future proof. If links are all we care about, then we could be missing out on the bigger picture. Any activity, ideally integrated, that builds a positive, authoritative presence will positively contribute to your search visibility.

BlogSarah Evans