What makes a great blog post? From a marketing point of view, one of the most important factors is the quality of your links. Great quality links that are relevant add real value for your customers and prospects. Whether linking to thought leaders in your sector, direct competitors (great for SEO), your own content, or other pages of your site, links add credibility, depth and currency. Here’s how to get them right, both in terms of SEO and style:

Insert internal links to your new post in your existing blogs

Pages with no links directed to them are known as ‘Orphan pages’ in the SEO world, which tells you all you need to know. A helpful post on the ahrefs blog about the importance of internal links quotes Google directly:

Google must constantly search for new pages and add them to its list of known pages. Some pages are known because Google has already crawled them before. Other pages are discovered when Google follows a link from a known page to a new page.

In other words, if you don’t connect your existing content to your new content by adding links, you're making it much harder for Google to discover it. For an extra ranking boost, try to link from ‘high value’ pages as much as possible. These are likely to be your site’s main pages and long-form pillar page pieces of content. Ensure the anchor text in the link itself matches keywords linked-to in the other content where you can.

Use linking-thinking to help you plan more content

If you find yourself writing a blog post and wanting to insert a link to an external post that defines a term, or expands on an idea (assuming you don’t have a piece of your own content to link to), consider planning a piece of content on this topic next. In creating a content matrix, your aim is to build credibility and expertise for your brand, so ideally, any relevant related keywords or questions should be worthy subjects for your own blog.

The more content you have on relevant long-tail search terms, and the better the quality and consistency of internal links directing readers to blog content and elsewhere on your site, the better it will rank on Google.

Quality over quantity is key with links

In the fairly recent past (or ancient history in SEO terms), content strategists trying to ‘hack’ their way to a higher ranking would stuff their content full of keywords and links. The most unscrupulous among them even spammed the comment sections of other blogs, adding backlinks to their own content. This practice is something Google actively penalises now. The net result of this bad behaviour was that style and elegance went out of the window, but it worked for a while.

Since then, Google’s algorithms have evolved, becoming more sophisticated and human, this increased sophistication means that SEO updates pose a continually shifting challenge for marketers. Google’s crawlers have gotten better at spotting quality content – long form blog posts of at least 1200 words (or longer Pillar content), with relevant internal and external links, backlinks from external sites (the holy grail of SEO), and adequate, elegant use of relevant long-tail keyword search terms dotted throughout the copy.

Less is more with links (at ESM Inbound, we tend to aim for three internal and three external links as a guide, per blog, or around three times that for a pillar page). The links should be integrated organically into the body text, they shouldn’t jump out like titles that have been shoehorned into the copy. Over-optimised anchor text is a webspam red-flag nowadays, and could potentially harm your ranking. It’s important not to break the flow for your target reader.

Keep links updated

Once your blog is live, your work isn’t over. Don’t think of it as ‘yesterday’s news’ Ensuring links are up to date and functioning correctly will improve the user experience for visitors to your site. There is little more frustrating than clicking on a hyperlink in a blog post and finding that it’s broken, or that it links to a post that seems dated (say, referring to technical information that has since been subject to significant updates).

Updating content by combining all existing links and adding in new links to fresh content (where relevant) is good maintenance and will prolong the shelf-life of your content. Adding backlinks to your existing blog posts in new posts you write will also help improve the SEO of the original posts. Remember that content functions as a matrix, not a magazine. Links are what ties it all together and ensures that Google has the best chance of finding it and ranking it.

Get the internal-external link ratio right

Half and half is a good rule of thumb, but if you’re going to tip the scales one way, linking more to your own content and web pages is a better bet than overdoing it with external links. Internal links are integral to your site architecture, playing a vital role in allowing search engines to fully discover your site. Choose some of your external links strategically by thinking about companies who may reciprocate later by linking to your posts.

This could be competitors (so long as they understand inbound marketing), or partners. Make sure the posts you link to have fully functional, optimised links (a mixture of internal and external), to ensure that any links you add are ‘high value’ from Google’s point of view. Most of all, though, make sure the links direct your customers to quality content that makes them feel as though you’ve done the hard work for them.

Court backlinks

A backlink is a link from another website to a piece of your content. Think of it as a ‘digital bridge’ for new visitors to reach your site from somewhere else.  The more bridges, the easier to find your content is. SEO guru Brian Dean has put together a brilliant forensic unpacking of backlinks.

So how should you go about scoring yourself some backlinks? Upfront and honest is the best approach. We go into this in more detail in our post about linking to competitors, but in short, if you don’t ask you often don’t get. Don’t be shy about approaching other businesses to suggest a reciprocal link-trade.

Having other businesses link to your website particularly if their site is established and well respected (making it what is known as an ‘established domain’), means that Google is more likely to find your content, and you are more likely to show up on searches. Links from ‘hub’ pages on competitor sites (long-form content such as pillar pages, or other ‘key pages) are the most powerful.

Search for mentions of your business online and check how many of these are properly optimised  - if there’s no link, that counts as an unlinked mention. As we explained in a post on effective link-building a while back, this means  there’s an opportunity to reach out to the host of the page and ask them to add a link. Quality backlinks truly are worth their weight in gold.

Remember: Ads linking to content can help boost your ranking

A fast way to drive more traffic to your content is to promote it by investing in ads, as ESM Inbound’s in-house Google Ads expert Harry explains in his post on how Google Ads disrupts the sales funnel. This is a great way to see quick results, because climbing up the search ranking organically as Google ‘clocks on’ to your content is a slow process.

Running an ads campaign drives clicks, which is one of the ranking factors Google counts, while also making your content visible to customers searching with relevant keywords even before its been ‘crawled’ by Google. Although the link itself doesn’t count as an ‘organic’ link, running a smart, optimised Google Ads campaign alongside your content is equivalent to plugging in a Wifi booster at home: it amplifies the value of your content. Who wouldn’t want to do that?