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To compete successfully on the search engines for top rankings, your college or university web team needs to have a solid foundation of SEO best practices in place. On-page SEO is where you start, building solid structure, content and keyword strategy as a baseline. Once that’s in place (and being regularly attended to), it’s time to turn to off-page SEO, also known as inbound link building, to really get your site tuned up.

To the search engines, quality inbound links are like a vote or endorsement for your site. Inbound links come from other people’s webpages when they add a hyperlink on their page to your page. Their presence indicates that someone thinks that your page contains content of relevance and of quality with respect to the content of their original page. Inbound links pass link value, authority and trust to your web pages like water through a pipe. The more natural, high quality inbound links your pages have, the more authority flows to your page and the higher your search engine results position will be for related keywords. The higher your pages rank, the more qualified organic traffic you receive, which reliably leads to more inquiries, leads and registrations. And that’s a good thing. Let’s start our review of inbound links by taking a look at the working parts of a hypertext link.


The Anatomy of a Link

So here is an example of a link to an HEM blog post we published about on-page SEO.

The html code for this link looks like this:

link html

The link is made up of 3 component parts:

  1. Link Title “Intro to On-Page SEO“ – This appears when you hover over the link. Link titles do not affect SEO ranking but do influence click-thru rates and are important from an accessibility standpoint.
  2. Link URL ”href=”” – This is the webpage address being linked to.
  3. Link Anchor Text “on-page SEO“ – This is the text on the webpage that is used to create the live link. Anchor text is an important SEO factor. Anchor text that matches the keywords of the page you are linking to will positively affect rankings but it must be natural. Artificial anchor text or overused anchor text can negatively affect your rankings.

How do Inbound Links Impact Page Rankings

Even just a few years ago, off-page SEO or link building was all about building as many links as possible to your page. More links produced a better ranking of a page. That is no longer the case. Today, the Google page ranking algorithm has become very sophisticated and appears to be looking for a simpler, more natural link profile of high quality links that are authoritative, trustworthy, and relevant to your content.  (I use the word “appears” because of course we don’t know this explicitly from Google, rather through the exhaustive research of the big research guns in SEO, like Moz, who research and publish what they find to be the critical page ranking factors.)

The following inbound linking characteristics are generally known to positively affect page rankings:

Trustworthiness of Inbound Links
– Does the linking page have a high PageRank and/or high TrustRank?
– Is the link coming from a recognized authority site?
– Is it a genuine, high quality, editorially-driven link or is it a spammy link?
– Does the link sit in context with other closely related content?
– Do the linking page and its domain have multiple high quality links pointing at it? 

of Inbound Links
– Do your links form a “natural” link profile vs one that appears artificially created?
– Do your inbound links come from a wide range of types of domains?
– Have the links been built over a reasonable period of time? 

Relevance of Inbound Links
– How closely does the anchor text of the link match your page’s keywords? 
– Does the anchor text of the link reflect the link title, and the content of the original linking page?

Other Factors
– How old is the linking domain, page and link? – older appears to be better
– Does the text around the link thematically reflect the anchor text ?
– What is the position of the link on the page ?– middle is better (see below)

position link value
Source Moz

How do you Attract Inbound Links? 

In today’s rapidly changing world of higher education SEO, trying to game the Google algorithm to drive your page rank with “unnatural” links is a dangerous approach. Some SEO practitioners might tell you they know how to do this but the real professionals will tell you it isn’t worth the risk of the penalties applied to your rankings if they got caught.

So how should you proceed to increase you inbound links?

In today’s mix of complex ranking factors there is, surprisingly, a fairly straightforward answer to the question of how to build inbound links. The simple answer is to create remarkable content, publish it on your site and amplify it out across the web in multiple ways. If it is engaging enough, your audience will relate to it and link back to it through their social media and content channels, building quality links back to your site. Blogging, press releases, media coverage, news, videos, shared PowerPoints, local events, webinars, native advertising and social media channels are all appropriate content tactics towards this end.

Don’t forget to leverage the authority of your own institution by creating cross links within your own website. Although they are not as beneficial as a high quality inbound link, they do pass page authority and rank across your pages. Also very effective is to reach out to your program’s corporate and industrial partners and advisory committees and build content around your common initiatives. Inbound links from a Fortune 500 partner to your program news page can go a long way to improving your organic rankings.

Your inbound marketing strategy relies on SEO-driven organic rankings to attract qualified traffic to your website. Inbound links contribute significantly to supporting those rankings and can be a key tactic to overcome your completion for those top organic search spots that prospective students are most likely to click.

Are you new to considering link building as a marketing tactic? If you’ve worked on link building at your institution, what kind of results have you achieved?  What link building tactics have you found the most successful at your college?