Link building is the process of building hyperlinks (also called links) to your website from other websites around the internet. Some of this happens naturally (for example, a post ranking universities might create links to those universities without their request), while other link building is done intentionally as part of SEO.
Why are links important?
Links are one of the most important SEO signals for Google – they are a way for sites to signal relationships with or approval of other pages and websites around the internet. Quality sites and useful content typically accumulate links naturally, but there are safe ways to increase your number of links and boost your SEO to improve your search rankings and organic traffic figures.
Each link essentially works as a recommendation for a page or website, so a substantial number of links will show Google that a page or website is extremely valuable. The quality and relevance of the websites linking to the page are also important factors, as well as the relationship between one site and another.
A good analogy is a job reference:
- If it’s from the CEO of a company or a thought leader in the industry (ie. a highly relevant site with a good reputation), it’s a very strong recommendation.
- If it’s from a friend (ie. another site that you own), it’s not a strong recommendation and is unlikely to be a genuine reference.
- If it’s from Steve in Kentucky (ie. an irrelevant site with no real reputation), it’s a poor recommendation and reflects badly on you that you put it forward.
The anatomy of a link
As mentioned above, there are a lot of different factors that define whether a link is valuable. These factors include:
- Anchor text: this is the text that the link is made up of (for example, the anchor text on this link is FutureLearn).
- Relevance: how relevant the linking site is to the content on the site it’s linking to.
- Placement: where the link is on the page.
- Reputation: whether the link is from a website with a good or a bad reputation.
Anchor text is useful for letting users know where a link will lead, and is also a signal that Google uses to define what the page is optimised for. Poorly optimised anchor text can have a huge impact on what you do/do not rank for. For example, around ten years ago Adobe created lots of links to their website with ‘click here’ as the anchor text. Eventually, they actually started ranking on Google for the term ‘click here’.
It’s important that your links come from relevant websites. For example, if you are a restaurant you would typically get links from sites related to food or travel. If you were linked to from air conditioner installation websites, it would look strange.
The link’s placement on a website (and whatever else is on the page) is also important. For example, if your link is on a page with a few hundred other links, it’s less powerful than being on a page with only a handful of links. Likewise, contextual links (links within the general body of text) are viewed more favourably than links in the footer or elsewhere on the page.
It’s important to gain links from high-quality sites. There are certain types of website that automatically have a poor online reputation online (two examples are gambling sites and online pharmacies). Websites that rank well, are held in good esteem, and have lots of quality links themselves have good reputations. So this means that a link from the BBC website or The Guardian will be more powerful than links from an unknown blog.
Where should I build links?
If you want to improve the rankings for your FutureLearn courses, link building is an excellent way to do it. It’s likely that you have a few options for link building by leveraging your institution’s website and your educator’s network.
On your own website:
This is the simplest way for you to build links to your course description page. Your institution’s website is likely to have a good online reputation and will be extremely relevant because you are running the course.
Ideally, we ask that our partners add links to their course on:
- Their main domain (eg. the domain that starts with www).
- Their blog/news section.
On your main domain, you may be able to link from the faculty area, student resource area, or you may even have an online learning area that’s a good place for a link to your course. If you are unsure where to place the link, please speak to Valeria Kogan, Senior Marketing Manager at FutureLearn (firstname.lastname@example.org).
On your blog/news section, it’s a good idea to announce the creation of your course and link through to it. If you have separate news sections for the main blog and for faculties, you may want to write more than one news article (especially if they are on separate subdomains). Again, if you have any questions about this or if you are unsure whether your blogs are on separate subdomains, please speak to Valeria.
On other websites:
Building links on other websites is slightly more complicated, but is still a very worthwhile activity. It’s likely that the educators running the course already contribute to websites/blogs within their field of expertise. Including information about your course within a post for these websites (and linking to the course) will help to build links from other relevant sources, as well as introduce the course to an interested audience too. If you would like input or support on this, please collate a list of potential websites with your educators and liaise with Valeria to choose the best targets.
PR is another great way to build links on other websites –- if you are working on an announcement for your course, include a link to it in your press release.
What are tracking links?
When you create a marketing campaign for your course, you probably use different digital marketing channels to promote your offer to your audience. This may include posting on social media, writing blog posts, investing in paid acquisition like Google Adwords, or building links on external websites.
As you are investing time and money on creating your marketing campaigns, you want to know which of the promotional activities are most effective in bringing traffic to your site.
Using tracking links in your marketing campaigns allows you to see which of your marketing efforts are performing better and where your traffic is coming from, so you can prioritise these in terms of time and resources.
Using tracking links can also provide you with a better understanding of who your audience is and how they are reaching your website.
How do I create tracking links?
To create tracking links you need to add parameters to the URL of the website you are linking your marketing campaigns to.
Parameters will help you to differentiate each campaign, making the link unique so you can get the exact data you need from each one of your marketing activities.
These parameters, known as UTM parameters, contain the data needed to differentiate and track the performance of each one of your campaigns.
The most common parameters you need to add to your website URL are:
Campaign Source: The source shows the channel where your traffic is coming from. For example, the source can be a social media channel like Facebook, a newsletter you sent, or a partnership you made with an external source.
Campaign Medium: The medium is how you sent your campaign; the medium used to get the traffic. For example, if you shared your campaign through a banner in your newsletter, the source will be banner.
Campaign Name: The last parameter that is needed when building a tracking link is the name. For example, if you send many newsletters during the year, you want to know which newsletter is the one that included the banner that brought you certain traffic. You need to name your campaign, let’s say, december_newsletter, so you can know exactly which one brought the traffic.
How can I use tracking links for my FutureLearn courses?
An easy and convenient way to create trackings links is by using a URL builder. We can recommend Google URL Builder.
However, to make this easier for you, we have built a URL tracking link automation tool on Course Creator. This will help you create tracking links for your courses without needing to build them yourself.
To learn how to get the tracking links for your FutureLearn courses, click here.