The Link Building Tactic You’re Not Using: Soft Links
You’ve built your fantastic website and filled it with amazing content. What’s left to make it a search engine sensation?
No matter how well you optimize your HTML or how well you write your content, your web pages won’t see the first page of search engine results unless you get those inbound links.
Wait, do I mean “backlinks?” No, because it’s not the 1990s. I mean inbound links (or just “links”).
You may have read about doing PR-type outreach to other relevant websites or sweeping your competitors’ links.
Yet you’re probably missing a link building strategy that can make all the difference in how your content appears in Google’s search results – the fix. superficial links.
What are soft links?
Shallow links are inbound links that should point to specific, deeper pages on your site, but only to your home page.
Why is this a problem?
To understand why shallow links can keep your content from appearing on the first page of search results, we need to agree on one thing: Google ranks web pages, not websites.
I know this might run counter to everything you’ve heard about the existence of “domain-level” ranking signals.
Yet, unfortunately, as Google and many others will tell you, Google does not consider the authority of your entire website when determining a single page’s rank (there are, of course, many other domain-level events for Google, but authority is not one of them).
That’s just not how search engines like Google work.
What does this have to do with shallow links? Well, when a webpage links to your homepage, all that link authority goes directly to the homepage.
If a website uses a smart internal linking strategy, some of that authority trickles down to lower pages, but like Trickle-Down Economics, what lower pages get isn’t enough to survive.
The fact that Google ranks web pages, not websites, means that for your inbound links to be the most powerful, they need to link directly to the most relevant content on your website.
For example, let’s say you’re a manufacturer of shoes – all kinds of shoes – running shoes, work shoes, children’s shoes, novelty shoes. And a very influential blogger is reviewing your new pair of cross-trainers.
But instead of linking to the product page of these new cross-trainers, they link to your homepage.
Hope your homepage links to these new kicks. But otherwise, that blogger’s link authority will only help your homepage, not the product page.
How do superficial links happen? Most of the time it’s just because a well-meaning writer hasn’t taken the time to search your website for suitable content to link to, or because your publicists don’t know it’s a problem when they do their outreach work. .
How often does this link building tragedy happen?
In preparation for this article, I worked with the OnCrawl and Majestic teams to extract data on the topic, but it’s such an overlooked issue that we couldn’t even easily retrieve data on the issue.
No, this is something you are going to need to figure out for your website.
However, as someone who has done hundreds (if not thousands) of SEO audits in their career, I can tell you that this is a widespread phenomenon.
Find superficial links
Before we can fix all these shallow links, we need to find them.
Unfortunately, shallow links aren’t available in your finer SEO tools as a checkbox-based option. It takes a bit of research and patience.
Just about every SEO tool available today allows you to create an inbound link profile for your website.
For this exercise, you’ll need a complete list of your inbound link sources, the web pages they link to, and the anchor text associated with each link.
Additionally, if available in the system you are using, you can also add information about:
- The type of links (text vs image).
- Whether the links are nofollow or not (more on that later).
- And anything that will help narrow down your target list to something less scary.
I’ve found that the best way to keep all hair on your head during this process is to download your link profile and open it in your spreadsheet program of choice.
I’m an Excel user myself, but any spreadsheet that lets you filter your data will work just fine.
Once you’ve uploaded your backlink profile, filter your links column to only include links to your homepage.
To do this, you’ll want to set the filter so that the cell EQUALS your exact homepage, with and without the backslash, if that’s a problem with your source data.
Some SEO tools allow you to pull the report to only include the homepage, which I highly recommend if available.
(Note: I rearranged the columns of this data from the original upload based on the data needed.)
You will now have a list of all the links from your home page. However, not all of them are soft links (eg when someone writes something about your whole company, etc.), so you will need to do some additional filtering in the anchor text column.
Usually, I’ve found that if you filter this column to hide all mentions of your business name, you’ll end up with a much more manageable list, but that’s not always the case.
Just to be safe, run a filter to show only the anchor text with your company name, then copy that list to another spreadsheet to review later, then hide them all again so you can get to work.
This is also when it is essential to know your brand (or that of your client) well. For example, in this example from All Birds, you can see that I left a few mentions of the company name on this list, but only because they also include the word “shoes”.
Indeed, All Birds makes more than just shoes. Therefore, the anchor text that reads “allbirds shoes” is a possible target for a correction to a more specific URL on their website.
One last optional note: if you want to narrow down your list further, you can focus your efforts on links that don’t use the nofollow attribute.
The idea here is that since it’s for SEO purposes, if the link doesn’t share authority anyway, there’s no need to make it more specific.
However, if your list isn’t huge, you might want to tackle those links anyway. After all, links aren’t just used by search engine crawlers.
Fix shallow links
Now that you have your soft link to fix, the real fun begins.
And by “fun”, I mean, not fun at all.
It’s a long and time-consuming process at best. But the payoff is worth it.
First, you will need to add contact information to your shallow link list.
If you’re lucky, you or your publicist will already have contact information for some of the most important publications. But otherwise, it means visiting each link and finding the author of that content.
There are plenty of guides on the web for doing proximity searches, so I won’t spend too much time on them, but I will say that it’s one of those great tasks for interns and virtual assistants.
Once you have your content list, it’s time to follow up.
Here are some tips for writing your outreach emails:
- I suggest you start your email (and subject line) with a big thank you for the link to your website before you start asking for changes.
- Next, explain that you noticed that the link points to your company’s homepage instead of your product or other web pages.
- Then tell them why you’re requesting the update. It could be something like “As you may know, Google likes links to be as specific as possible, which means we do too!” works well.
- Finally, let them know where you want them to connect.
- Don’t forget to thank them again! Remember they don’t have to.
Again, this process can take a bit of time, so maybe enlist the help of your interns or a virtual assistant.
Like all outreach efforts, prepare for disappointment in the form of authors telling you they don’t have the time or access to the page, bounced emails, or just outright rejection ( hopefully they are friendly about it).
The good news is that once you’ve made this first set of changes, subsequent requests will be much smaller as you attack them as they occur.
All that remains is to keep an eye out for the ranking changes of these sub-pages!
Featured Image: Samby/Shutterstock