In the online world, content is akin to real estate. When you’re ready to put a house on the market, you stage it with all the bells and whistles. It’s clean, organized, and easy to navigate, providing a clear vision of the lifestyle possible for whoever chooses to buy it.

The same can be said for creating and promoting online content.

Marketers use content as an online draw to build traffic for their web real estate, but links offered within content are part of “home staging.” Without them, content is one-dimensional and fails at its core purpose: to act as a living, breathing, strategic, multi-level traffic generator for a brand or business.

Incorporating a strong link strategy as part of ongoing content development is also important when promoting content on various social channels. As a decentralized marketing tool, brands can leverage diverse content strategies for each channel to promote content that caters to unique buyer personas, simply by pointing them to blog posts with a targeted link strategy written into the content be design.

The truth is, to stand out as an industry leader in a sea of content, it’s essential to use both internal and external links to foster good SEO and content ranking. It spices up the life and usefulness of content initially and in the long term if done well. And Google uses it as one of the top three criteria for content ranking.

To get a closer look at ways to pump up the results of your link building strategy, check out some of these do’s and don’ts.

What Goes Wrong When You Ignore Link Strategy

Once upon a time, people thought packing as many links as possible into blogs and website content was magical. The more links, the better, even if they had no clear relation to the topic of an article or web page. The focus was on getting traffic, even if it wasn’t relevant.

This strategy is still in play, but more deftly disguised as click-bait using relevant keywords as links. But at what cost?

In a competitive online market, quality content is a differentiator. Random links with no apparent purpose are seen as spam or a waste of a reader’s time. This practice confuses people, pumps up bounce rates, and significantly diminishes the quality of the customer experience while tanking a brand’s online cred.

The most significant cost of a poorly planned and organized link strategy is the confusion it creates around the main call to action. Without a clear purpose written directly into content and hyperlinked, potential customers are unsure what to do. So, they bounce. Time, effort, and money that went into creating content in the first place go to waste.

Link Strategy Do’s and Don’ts

According to The Beginner’s Guide to SEO by MOZ, “Links act as the streets between web pages.” When there’s a lot of related content you want to connect without it competing for clicks, links can act as the intermediary, while helping content build value as a network of streets.

Holding this in mind, the way we create the streets—and where we place them in content—becomes important as part of overall content strategy effectiveness.

Blogs are the type of content that changes most frequently on a website. This makes it one of the most effective places to leverage a good link strategy. A consistent blogging practice also connects readers with cornerstone content and topic-specific support, while allowing brands to provide internal and external link strategies to build SEO value organically.

Just be sure to add in these do’s and don’ts tips:

Do: Include a Link Above the Fold

According to Problogger, “Web users spend 80% of their time looking at information ‘above the fold’ or ‘what you see before you scroll.’ ” So, take advantage of it. Feature links towards the top of the page that show recent or best work to keep people looking beyond the one post.

To boost signups for an email list, include a form at the top of the sidebar. However, make sure to leave room for your content to breathe. Don’t try and smash ads and other distracting elements above the fold, making the content itself an afterthought.

Don’t: Overwhelm Your Reader

Less is more, especially when it comes to an effective link building strategy.

If you add multiple links within each paragraph of a blog post, you have definitely gone overboard. Try and stick to three to five inbound and outbound links per 1000 words. It can go a bit higher if you are a content-based site that features research and educational blog posts.

Do: Have a Clear Single CTA

One of the trickier parts of including various links in blog post content is that the call to action gets a bit hazy. With so many alternate routes, the main course of action may get drowned out.

To keep things tight, clear, and moving towards one specific call to action, include links that support the core article topic or add to its depth and credibility. Refrain from “link piling” or trying to use one blog post to do all the work for a marketing campaign.

The better strategy is to write a series of posts to create more real estate and spread out important links while building better SEO and content pathways.

Don’t: Be Afraid to Link to an External Resource

Frequent, well-written blog posts offer Google-friendly opportunities to go beyond inbound links and connect with other credible external sources.

Sharing insights that can be backed up by other well-read websites helps to pave the streets for good SEO, and creates options for referral linking. It’s a credible way to link to a much more popular site, which offers authority and a trust factor for a target audience.

If you repeatedly use quality external resources, you also build authority for the content you created and for the brand site in general.

Do: Experiment with Using Recommended Content CTAs

Brand blogs serve as a great place for potential customers to get a taste of your knowledge and specific ways featured practices or products make life better.

So, instead of packing on the links to push products, services, or deals, why not point links to recommended content as the call to action? Not only does this drive traffic to other great, insightful pieces but it also acts as a gateway to connect readers with newer, fresher pieces of cornerstone content they may not even realize they need. Leveraging CTAs to recommended content also positions a brand as an industry authority.

Don’t: Be Dishonest with Gated Links and Confuse the Reader

When you go to a website and click on a link that sounds perfect for what you need, you expect to get right to the details. There’s nothing more frustrating for a reader than clicking on a link to read more and discovering they need an account and password to continue.

Brands must create a balance of free content and gated content as part of a good business strategy, and they must be clear and upfront about it.

Do: Use an Editorial Calendar to Improve Link Building

Many brands get linking right by using an editorial calendar to plan and create content that aligns with marketing campaign goals. An editorial calendar also serves as a guide to help marketers incorporate related content links in newly created blog content.

Don’t: Forget to Keep Things Fresh

Link signals tend to decay over time, and popular sites can sometimes go stale because they aren’t earning any new links. The freshness of a link is a huge factor in determining its popularity, and it’s also a judgment factor in link relevance.

Don’t forget the freshness factor when putting together blog posts, and stick to reference links that are no more than two years old, depending on the topic of the blog post.

The Simple Truth

A good link strategy is a good growth strategy, plain and simple.

When the content you create for a brand or business goes beyond the basics and considers these do’s and don’ts in link strategy, quality traffic and organic SEO come along as part of work well done.

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Katrina Pfannkuch

About Katrina Pfannkuch

Katrina Pfannkuch is a creativity consultant specializing in writing, editing, strategy & coaching. She's a bit of a data nerd & loves seeing how pieces of the informational puzzle come together to paint a creative picture. Catch Katrina & her insights on kick-starting creativity at @creativekatrina on Twitter.