This is part IV of MyWellbeing’s 4-part series on search engine optimization (SEO) for therapists. You can find the other articles here:
You have set up a therapy website. You have optimized the pages of that site for search traffic. You may even have researched which keywords to use and written multiple blog posts for your site.
If so, congratulations! That is a big part of getting more traffic to your site from organic search.
However, you may be missing one of the most important parts of the equation:
Many guides to SEO briefly touch on backlinks, or don’t mention them at all, when they are one of the most important components of getting more traffic to your site. Today, we’re going to talk about what role backlinks play and how you can get more of them to boost traffic to your therapy site.
Backlinks are links from a page on one website to a page on a different site. When you link to another site, you are providing a backlink for that site that could improve their performance in search. Similarly, when another site links to your site, they may be improving your SEO.
The importance of backlinks comes from the history of search. In the first years of the internet, the “Wild West” of search, search engines chose which websites to recommend for specific questions based on how many times a website used the keyword the user was searching for.
This strategy was easy for site owners and marketers to “game.” Simply copy and paste a keyword hundreds of times in white font on a white background and your article could rank near the top of search for a given keyword. The search engines began to struggle to surface high-quality content.
Then, a startup came on the scene and advocated for a new way of determining which page to show for a certain result. Instead of relying solely on keywords, the startup looked at backlinks as well. Specifically, they looked at whether a site was high-quality and trustworthy by looking at the reputations of the other sites linking to that site.
On one level, it’s relatively simple: a site that the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the University of Chicago websites link to is likely more trustworthy than a site that gets a link from “catpix.me”.
However, it gets more complicated when we’re not comparing internationally recognized brands and spam sites. The search engine gives every site a reputation, or “domain authority”, and that reputation both determines where the site will rank and how much influence that site will have on another site’s ranking by linking to it.
The use of backlinks to measure where a site should appear in search results spread rapidly, along with the startup that introduced it.
The startup was Google. The introduction of backlinks is called the “Google Revolution,” and the use of backlinks is one of the major reasons that “google” is not only a company but also the verb for “to search online.”
Since backlinks define your site’s trustworthiness/reputation and thus its ability to rank in search, it is really important to get other sites to link to your site. But getting other sites to link to you can certainly feel “easier said than done.”
Luckily, every site that wants to get traffic from search engines has faced this same problem, and there are a few established best practices that make getting links from search engines easier.
One of the most common methods of getting backlinks is also genuinely helpful to other sites (when it’s done well): outreach. Outreach is the process of reaching out to other sites, ideally with resources on your site that they would find helpful.
For example, if you focus on providing care for people experiencing work stress, you could write a blog post or guide on how to tell if perfectionism rises to the level where one would benefit from therapy, or how to find the best executive coach.
Once you have a valuable resource to share, you can send the link to the resource on your site to other websites in your space who might be willing to link to it. You can often find sites where you could be listed by searching for related terms (e.g., “perfectionism”) and finding which pages and articles rank at the top of search results for those terms.
It is usually helpful to the site you’re reaching out to if you can include a specific page you would like them to link to your site from. So, for example, if you were approaching a health and wellness blog about linking to your perfectionism article, it would be great if you could include a link to one of their articles about perfectionism as a place where linking to your article could be supportive for readers.
One of the easiest ways to get backlinks is reaching out to resources pages and directories and asking for them to link to you.
In a previous side project where we were creating free test prep materials, I started our backlink strategy by reaching out to sites that listed free educational resources for teachers, students, and parents. I only got backlinks from around 1 in 5 of the sites I contacted, but that outreach took my domain authority (a measure of the trustworthiness of your domain from 0 to 100) from a 0 to a 15 in a month. Improving our domain authority helped our first articles rank in search.
Submitting your practice to resource sites can really help you start to get traffic. It may seem obvious to start with therapist directories, but I really encourage you to get creative here. If you work with artists, reach out to artist communities and resource pages. Similarly, if you work with LGBTQIA+ people, you can approach professional organizations, charities, and other organizations that curate resources.
Help A Reporter Out is an email group of reporters and people who serve as expert sources for reporters. Three times a day, HARO sends an email with a list of stories that journalists are working on, sometimes for major publications, and you can send the journalists a quote if you fit the expert profile they’re looking for. HARO journalists are often looking for therapists, so this is a way that you can get press features for your practice as well as backlinks.
HARO is another source where we have seen that one in five to one in ten people will actually respond to our inquiries, use our quotes, and link to our site. However, if you keep reaching out to journalists, the ones that respond can help you reach a surprising amount of backlinks and traffic.
This strategy is more technical, but it is still powerful. You can use tools like Ahrefs (from our keyword research post) to find out which sites link to your competitors and ask that site to link to you as well.
So, for example, you might find one of your competitors is linked on a list of top therapists in New York. You can reach out to the site that listed them and mention that you are also a top NY therapist, and ask to be added to the list.
Link reclamation is the process of reaching out to people who used to link to your site or should have linked to your site to recapture “lost” links. This practice will be more relevant for people who have already been building their online presence, but it is also helpful for newcomers to learn.
Look for sites that used to link to your site but don’t anymore or should have linked to your site and didn’t and reach out to them to ask them to update the links.
A common situation that could lead you to lose links is when you redesign your site and your URLs shift (we went through a similar change from mywellbeing.com/blog to mywellbeing.com/content-corner). Another common situation is when you write a guest blog piece for a publication but they don't end up linking back to your site like they promised.
Getting links from sites that used to link to you is often a lot easier than reaching out to people and getting links from scratch, so it’s worth checking your online presence every few months or so for recapture opportunities.
With all the work that you put into your site to improve its chances of ranking in search, it is really important to remember backlinks as the final piece that will help improve your search rankings and bring you more traffic. Luckily, getting backlinks can be easier than it seems; try reaching out to a few different types of organizations and see which of the backlinking strategies above works best for your site!
Mariah ParkerJune 23, 2021
Mariah was Head of Growth at MyWellbeing. She is a marketing expert in the areas of content strategy, digital advertising, business growth, and anything related to helping therapists grow their practice.