First of all, a few introductory words about link-building.
The big picture idea is that SEO is broken down into:
- On-site SEO (thinks you can control on your own site, like page titles and meta-descriptions, page copy, image captions and keywords, site performance etc.)
- Off-site SEO (factors outside of your website)
While photographers often hustle to improve their on-site SEO, they ignore the external factors that Google takes into consideration, wondering why they’re still not ranking well.
The bread-and-butter of SEO is getting links back to your site.
Search engines consider links from other sites to yours as “votes of confidence”, and use them to rank your website higher. They take into account:
- The number of sites linking to yours
- The relevance of those links (as it relates to the user’s search query)
- The authority of those other sites. If you get a link from The New York Times (lucky you!), it values more to Google than a link from your friend’s Facebook profile. It makes sense.
Question from a more advanced user: Do anchor texts matter too?
Very little, it’s not like it used to be. Google is very smart about it these days, and can analyze the text around the link to determine if a link is relevant and to figure out what topics to rank your site for.
Before we continue, it’s also worth mentioning that “link-building” is highly important, but it’s not the only factor. In fact, there are many other aspects Google takes into consideration when ranking your website, which I’ve covered in more detail here: 50 tips to maximize your Google rankings & get found online.
You might already know that creating quality content (image galleries, blog posts, products) is what Google values more and more, along with the experience that users have on your site. But having links points back to your site from respectable places is highly important.
Backlinks can be broken down into different categories:
1. Links you can control
It makes sense to start with any photography-specific profiles pages you can control (in order to add a link back to your site).
Think of all the sites you have profiles on:
- social media websites
- contests you took part in
- vendor/supplier sites
- trade groups
- event sites you’ve shot for
- sites you’ve written guest posts for
Basically, anywhere your name/brand shows up online and where you can add a bio or at least a link.
2. Links you can buy (but shouldn’t)
Just don’t do it.
It’s one thing to buy Facebook or Twitter ads for your website (to get people to visit your site or purchase a photo product or service you offer), it’s another to buy shady SEO services that generate “fake” links to your site. Google will take notice and won’t be happy about it!
3. Links you can “gain” over time
a) Testimonials for clients. If you work with clients directly (portraits, weddings, events), ask them for a testimonial on their own blog (with a link). The link is obviously important there, so Google can consider it an “endorsement”.
b) Organic links. Putting quality content on your site will make people share it with their friends. They might even write about your site on their own blogs. You don’t get there by asking for links, buying them or doing “link exchanges”. You get there by consistently creating interesting and useful content that people can draw inspiration from.
4. Links you get but don’t want
Sometimes, spam sites link to random sites out there to get your attention or hurt your site’s SEO.
If you check your site in MOZ’s Open Site Explorer you’ll see that each referring site has a “spam score”. Getting links from such sites can look bad in Google’s eyes, so it’s best to try to remove those links:
- Contact those respective sites to remove unneeded links, or remove them yourself if they come from your own profile pages.
- Use Google’s Disavow tool (part of Google Search Console) to make Google ignore such spammy/artificial links. An in-depth guide for it here.
If you don’t know what sites are already linking to your own, or want to keep track of your link-building efforts, it’s good to know where you stand.
Here are the best tools you can use to track links back to your site:
- Google Search Console (formerly named Google Webmaster Tools).
- MOZ Open Site Explorer
- Beginner’s Guide to SEO – Chapter 7: Growing Popularity & Links (Moz)
- The Most Creative Link Building Post Ever (PointBlankSEO)
- 19+1 Ways To Cleverly Get Natural Backlinks To Your Blog (BloggerTipsTricks)
- 59 Amazing Organic Link Building Articles (CognitiveSEO)