A Closer Look at Topical Relevance for Link Building

Travis Bliffen
by Travis Bliffen 07 Feb, 2017

It's 2017, and though search engine optimization has existed for decades and Google's search algorithms have undergone several massive changes, one thing has stayed the same: links are incredibly important.

Yes, links. The nuggets of gold that entire public companies staked their lives on. The anvils that sunk those same companies after Google's Penguin update. Links are still a large part of the SEO puzzle, from the anchor text right down to the place the link comes from. And though Google doesn't value just any link anymore, the RIGHT links can make a tremendous impact.


Today we're going to explore topical relevance with regard to link building -- when you should target relevant links, and when that might not be as important.


Organic (Non-Local) SEO


You are probably familiar with organic SEO already. It's the flavor of SEO that used to employ the "get links from anywhere" strategy -- you know, the one that had folks commenting on random blogs or registering their websites with dozens of spammy directories. This type of SEO is also famous for its "paid link" past, where websites would offer to pay other websites to link back to them.


Those days aren't entirely gone, but Google has created enough fear to make most steer clear of manipulative strategies like paid links, link exchanges and private blog network (PBN) link building.


Present-day organic SEO places a big emphasis on relevance -- asking the question of, is this site linking to this other site for a good reason? Is the content on this page relevant to the content on the other side of the link? If so, you're going to see the benefit from having that link. If not, it won't help as much, and it could even hurt you should Google's algorithm decide it's a spammy link.


That's not to say the entire sites linking to you have to be relevant -- just the page. Look at Wikipedia, for example. It's a large site that is linked to millions of times, and odds are, the links to a particular Wikipedia page are from a smaller website discussing that same topic.


When you're looking to serve the world, relevance is a key part of link-building. 


Local SEO


Local SEO is a different beast entirely. If the website you're optimizing serves a local market, getting a bunch of links from relevant sites from around the world might help a little, but it may not be enough to push those better, more locally optimized websites out of your way in the search results.

Needless to say, you're going to need a different approach -- to get links from other websites in your local area, even if they aren't all that closely relevant to the business you're in. Doing so makes your website look more authoritative in your market, which in turn benefits you in the search engine rankings.


Approaches for Link Building


So how can you build the types of links you need?


For organic SEO, make relevant websites want to link to you. If you're a contractor, for example, write up a how-to blog post on a home renovation project -- the kind that a home improvement blog or even a fellow builder might want to link to. Share some photos of that deck you built and you could end up in a "10 Awesome Decks You Wish You Had" roundup post. 


While popular Google fairytales of the 21st century would have you believe your great content will promote itself, most of you know that isn't the case. To make the most of new content, don't be afraid to email it to someone at a relevant website. Even if they don't link to your content, they still may share it, getting more eyeballs, and possibly links to your content.


Guest posts are still alive and kicking as a way to build links but, don't fall into the trap of pursuing low-quality sites to post on. If a site ranks well for their own keywords and has a strong social following, it is a good place to post in most cases.


For local SEO, you'll work to attract links using a similar approach, just targeted at your local market with less of an emphasis on relevance. One good way to get local backlinks is to become newsworthy. Create some news that your local newspapers and TV stations want to cover, and they'll probably link to your website. You could also enter into partnerships with other local businesses or get your company involved with a local charity -- though for charity work, it comes off a bit slimy to expect a backlink in return. Do it for the good and view a link to your website as an unexpected but welcome bonus.


As you can see, building links in 2017 is all about where you're hoping your website can play, whether that's the global stage or the local stage. Relevancy is absolutely a factor these days for sites with larger scopes, and tons of irrelevant backlinks will do more harm than good. And for sites that are hoping to rank better in a local area, local links -- even if they aren't as relevant -- are going to have more of an impact.