Backlinks have always played a primary role in a website’s SEO strategy. With modern algorithm updates from search engines, topical authority matters more than ever. Inevitably, backlinks must also be topical today in order to count fully. Topical backlinks are core to any modern linking strategy to grow your topical relevance. Favor fewer links but coming from websites in your vertical.
For too long, blog editors went all out in their outreach in order to gain as many backlinks as possible. To the point of yielding links from completely unrelated low-quality web properties! From now on, a slower and more calculated strategy must be put in place to succeed in the long run.
What are topical backlinks?
A topical backlink is a link from an external website relevant to your website or article’s focus topics. Today, search engines have machine learning algorithms able to map out the main topics covered on any given web page or blog. Therefore, links coming from sources in your domain are weighed more than random blogs.
With search engines clearly shifting from keyword-based algorithms to topical models, content publishers have adopted a topical SEO. And so they should. However, the content published is not the only thing to become topical — the backlink strategy too!
Networking with websites and even competitors in your space is a necessity in order to truly grow your topical authority over time. Obtaining backlinks from generalist websites is, in fact, very fruitless for most. Only highly-trusted generalist websites such as Business Insider, Forbes, and the likes, are ones you may want to garner.
Your Blog’s Content Quality Matters Even More Now
Before, SEO was very keyword-based and topics weren’t a thing yet. You could get a high-value link from a totally foreign website that wasn’t even related to your in the slightest. Finding blogs to guest post on was a piece of cake!
Today, with topical authority, you need topical backlinks. And to get them, you must convince people in your very own space that your content is worth being linked to. So you get it, right? Your content needs to be incredible. You can afford to lose a content publisher from a different vertical, but you cannot waste a contact within your own domain of expertise
Convincing experts in your space to link out to you takes a lot of high-quality content and consistency.
First, the outline and on-page optimizations should both be impeccable. Clear subheadings, short paragraphs, clean grammar. Then, the information provided must be accurate in the eyes of a like-minded person, not a beginner reading it. The people who may link to you are also writing on similar topics to yours, so you cannot trick them with a couple of fun facts. You need to go deep, so deep they cannot ignore your expertise.
How do topical backlinks influence a website’s topical authority?
Modern search engines map out a graph of your website with nodes and relationships. Each article you publish and relevant topics are nodes, while how related a topic is to an article and vice versa are relationships.
With such a knowledge graph, search engine algorithms understand what a blog post is about, and what the entire website is about. Therefore, when an external website has a link to one of your articles, a search engine is quickly able to grasp whether or not this recommendation (hyperlink) from website A to your website holds a lot of weight, or not.
If your website receives a lot of backlinks (i.e. recommendations) from related websites within your domain, your topical authority will grow. Additionally, not all websites within a domain are equal. Just like before when your targeted websites with high domain authority, you now want to gain topical backlinks from the best websites within your field (or closely related fields).
For example, if your brand is about
sustainable energies and you only get backlinks from websites talking about
gluten free diets, these links will hold very little weight even if they are plenty. Whereas, a single link from a related website discussing
solar energy will boost your topical authority way more.
Topical backlinks are links from an external website relevant to your article’s focus topic(s).
This is, of course, a simplified explanation as the field of topic modeling is a huge part of computer sciences.
As we already explained on our blog, topics are abstract concepts expressed using key phrases that are semantically related. So when Google detects a link between a website, it will search in its own knowledge base (of topics and keywords) whether or not the source website is somewhat related to the target website ontologically speaking. If both websites are in the same domain, the value of the link increases. If the websites have very little in common, the value decreases sharply. This is a wonderful tool for search engines to battle black-hat SEO techniques!
Can social media signals become topical?
Social media platforms are topic-neutral spaces where people can share and exchange information. Yet, they all offer one or many ways to classify the content:
- tags and hashtags – e.g. Twitter, Youtube & Instagram
- categories – e.g. Quora & Yahoo Answers!
- groups – e.g. Facebook & LinkedIn
Therefore, any given links posted on social media will generally hold some information about the topics, tags, or categories it falls into. Whether or not search engines pick that up is difficult to assess.
On a technical level, Google is able to classify content even with a few sentences only. However, social platforms hold very little authority as a whole on a particular concept (unlike a blog that specializes in a specific target topic). Search engines have, for decades now, been able to understand what a text is about — what has changed is that now they understand how much of an expert a website is over a particular subject matter. Therefore, social media websites would not help in this effort.
So, should you cancel your social media strategy? NOT AT ALL! Engagement and word-to-mouth are so important to a blog;’s long-term organic strategy and social platforms help with that.
Additionally, in order to get natural topical backlinks from related websites, you must reach these authors and writers in some way. Outreach and direct messaging are obvious choices but social media is an effective long-term strategy — each update is a bottle thrown in the ocean!
What are the best topical backlinking strategies?
The best topical backlinking strategy is to increase your content’s visibility through various channels in order to get people within your space to mention you.
In today’s interconnected world, the mediums to reach people who care about what you write, and publish about the same topics is easier than ever.
List all of the websites, blogs, magazines and Youtube channels in your space and email them one by one. Do not ask them for something right off the bat, though. Start by introducing yourself to the recipient so they understand you are both in the same circles.
Ask them to check out your website whenever they can. Then, just hope they will be blown away by your content. People will only link out to your website if the content is amazing and worth being linked to. Otherwise, you are just losing potentially useful contacts one by one by wasting their time.
Cold outreach may work a little better if your name sounds familiar. For example, if you interacted with them on Twitter before, or if you are a regular commenter on their blog.
Content editors focusing on the same topics as you will only offer you backlinks if your content is great. You cannot fool them with thin articles.
Commenting on a blog is always a good way to get the writer or brand’s attention. However, do not even start with copied and pasted comments, or spammy one-liners. You run a blog yourself, and we see these spam comments from a mile away.
Engage in a constructive and interactive conversation on their blog. Offer a different point of view and connect with other commenters, not just the author!
Topical backlinks won’t happen overnight. You will comment on dozens of websites in your space and perhaps only a couple will ever link back to you. Remember that your content is a very important variable, too.
Guest posting is the action of writing an article about a specific subject matter so another website can publish it. The idea is for them to receive fresh content with an external perspective, while your goal is to raise awareness to your website and get a topical backlink.
The problem with this method is that very unpopular websites in your space are very easy to reach and publish onto, while the most authoritative blogs in your space may be extremely hard to convince. And as we now understand, topical authority and depth of content both matter hugely for backlinks.
A website in your domain but very new or not authoritative itself won’t be very beneficial to your own topical authority. This is based on Google’s PageRank algorithm. Therefore, you are better off getting fewer links but from trusted domains rather than many topical backlinks from random low-quality blogs.
Cold emailing website authors and content editors offers very little chance of success. You are asking them for a favor without anything in exchange. Instead, create an infographic about that common topic of yours and ask them if they would be interested to publish it soon.
Here again, the quality of the infographic must be high: aesthetically, and informatively. Bring value to the potential readers using never-seen-before statistics, figures, and pieces of information. You can recycle existing data in a sexier way, for example.
A lot of freelancers are available on marketplaces (e.g. Fiverr, Upwork) for your to hand over the graphic design work to them. For a decent price, you can get great results and a quick turnover. For those on a shoestring budget, visit canva.com to do it yourself using great templates!
Attending industry events and meetups within your vertical is key to connect with fellow marketers on a very personal level. While we have plenty of followers or visitors, finding like-minded people in real life is more challenging. This can change by going offline in communities and groups where people like us, within the same field(s), are meeting weekly or monthly.
Not everybody you’ll meet is a blogger or has the power to insert your ideal topical backlink on their company’s blog, though. But think long term. They surely can put you in touch with the right person in their office who can happily trust their colleague’s recommendation. As long as you write a nice piece of content that matters to their audience, you can gain many backlinks quickly.
The most obvious way to get people to mention you in their blog is by interacting with authors and blog editors on social platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, or even Instagram. Facebook is a little more private and personal but it’s also doable through Facebook groups.
The situation is similar to comment on other blogs: do not be spammy and insistent. Comment on their tweets, like their pictures on Instagram and provide them value as often as possible. Offer constructive ideas and ignite conversations about their newly published blog post. Share some of their content on your timeline for them to see how helpful you are.
Barely mention your website in the initial phase of approach.
However, at some point, insert a link to an article you have published on your blog that goes against or deepens a piece of their content. They may add the link to their article. Or save it for a future blog post they are working on.
Do not coerce content editors into either blocking you and vouching for you with a backlink. You simply want to remain at the forefront of their brain whenever they think or write about that focus topic of yours. Do not expect charity from them: prove them that you are trusted by many experts in the field, too.