You’ve probably heard of link building, but what exactly does it mean? Link building is the process of acquiring inbound links from other websites. These links act as editorial votes for your website and help increase visibility online. You can use link building to improve a site’s authority, get a boost in search engine rankings, generate traffic and much more! In this guide we will go over how link building works and teach you how to build high quality backlinks that will help your business grow.
As link building becomes more and more of a crucial part of any marketing campaign, it’s important to have an understanding of where you stand. This article is for those who are looking to build their link profile in order to rank higher in the search engines or drive traffic back to their site.
This is a link building guide for intermediate link builders. You will learn how to build links, increase your link profile, and much more. These tips are perfect for link builders who have been doing link building for at least 1 year or longer.
What Link Building Is and What It’s Used For
What exactly is link building, and what is it used for? Link building is the process of creating link networks that link to your website, which increases its visibility in search engine results pages.
It’s used to help get relevant websites to link back to yours, and to help increase your authority by doing so. Per Google’s Gary Illyes, he has stated in the past that backlinks and mentions are one of the signals that contributes to the concept of E-A-T, and to a site’s overall authority.
Why Link Building Should be Important for You
Link Building is very important because it can increase your online visibility and link equity to your website, just like the children’s game of musical chairs. The link building process is a zero-sum game: For every link that you build there are likely going to be some who try to tear them down. This is why link velocity is important to keep consistent over time: if you lose some links, others may need to do the job of replacing them.
Link building’s importance to SEO is sometimes misunderstood and understated, but make no mistake: building links is critical to your SEO campaign’s success. While in some cases, and in less competitive industries you can run into situations where just comprehensive content can win the day, that is not always the case. In more significantly-competitive niches, you must have both content and links. A thorough competitor analysis will help you identify where your link building opportunities are and how you can take advantage of them most effectively.
When it comes to your content, you have to promote that content. This can be done by promoting it either to your social media channels or to other sources where you have a live audience. Only then can you gain the eyes and ears of people who will help you by placing those links.
How Link Building Can Increase Your Search Engine Rankings
The number one reason people do link building is to help increase their own website ranking in the search engines.
When it comes to Google, the quality of your inbound links is more important than the quantity. While in some circles, SEO practitioners believe that quantity of links outweighs quality, this is not a fair comparison. The quality of your links usually means that your link profile has fewer links in general. In other words, quality and quantity are not always mutually exclusive.
For quality links, you want to focus on things like the following:
- The quality of the site linking to you (does it have spammy content or not?)
- The quality of the link profile of the site linking to you (this is where some SEO pros fail: they fail to assess the quality of the linking site’s profile, and as a result, they are associated with a poor site such as a PBN)
- How well-established a site is (note that this is not necessarily the be-all, end-all determination of a quality link)
These are not the only factors to look out for, to be sure, but they will help you in weeding out sites that seek to game Google’s algorithm by way of low-quality links.
The Link Building Process
The link building process usually starts out with some content marketing to create social media buzz for the brand or product and talking about related key concepts. This is followed by outreach campaigns, which include a link request email template used when contacting other websites asking for links.
To find out the opportunities that are available to you, first you must do a competitor analysis. We recommend identifying the top 10 competitors in your niche. Once you have these competitors, you can then do a deeper dive into some of their SEO metrics. Things you want to keep tabs on include their content production schedule, how many links they’re getting, and what kind of links they are building.
Once you find out these three things, you will be ready to proceed with the right link building strategy for you. Finding out the quantity and quality of links your competitor has will allow you to identify and set initial benchmarks for launching your link building campaign.
After you have all of your data and link research, now you can dig into the competitor data and build your links list. This will give you specific link targets you can go after using your strategy. If you plan on using email outreach for link building, this is the part of the process where you will need to go to each domain in your list and find out critical contact information for the website owners. You can do this using a Google Chrome Extension called Hunter.io.
Social Media promotion should also not be neglected. Promoting your content via social media can give you critical traction at a time when your content needs to reach real people. And, tapping into industry influencers is a great way to get your content in front of those who can put that link on their websites.
This is just but one process out of many, but should give you an idea of some of the common parts of the link building process you will likely run into as you begin.
Content marketing is the process of creating content that is specifically created for building links and spreading online awareness about a company or product, with link building being one of its goals.
The goal of content marketing is to increase links as naturally as possible, without the link profile looking like a spammer used an automated program to build them.
The use of processes like link building programs is against Google’s webmaster guidelines, and if abused significantly, can cause you to get into trouble with either an algorithmic or manual penalty.
Link Request Emails
Link request emails are the most common link building tactic for link builders.
They usually send an email with some content and a link to their page, asking them to share or link back to their site in return.
The goal of this type of outreach isn’t just getting links but also establishing relationships that will benefit both parties down the line.
Think about it: as you continue to build your email list, you will end up with dozens, maybe even hundreds of opportunities where you could continue creating links just from sending out an email to those in your list.
That’s a technique that Brian Dean of Backlinko uses and takes advantage of quite consistently.
How Link Building Can Help Your SEO Campaign
Link building can help you with your campaign by increasing your website’s authority and reach. Getting links from authoritative websites will help you rank higher on Google, which can lead to a lot of success for your business overall.
How Link Building Differs Between SEO and Branding Campaigns
In order to differentiate the two types of link building you should be aware that:
In an SEO campaign the goal is typically to increase your link popularity.
In a branding campaign the goal is to create more content opportunities for your business.
Both campaigns differ in that the SEO campaign is exclusively focused on links, and the branding campaign focuses more on links plus your overall company brand.
The branding campaign should be spreading awareness about your brand so people will be more willing to write content for your brand.
In addition, a more positive brand awareness and brand image will lead to people being more willing to engage with your brand online.
Have you ever noticed how companies with a very poor brand image do rather poorly themselves in the social media space?
They are dragged, made fun of, and in general are not the companies you’d want to do business with. Some politicians are experts at having a very poor brand image, for example!
Remember that not all publicity is good publicity. The more good publicity your brand gets, the better its reputation and brand awareness will be.
The Importance of Link Diversity
Link diversity is an important part of modern link building.
Diversity in link building is important because it can lead to a lot of success for your business overall.
The Link Diversity Pyramid: Link Quality, Anchor Text, and Link Velocity
The link diversity pyramid serves as an excellent guide to help you understand how the different types of links interact with one another.
Link quality is a solid foundation of link building that you must pay attention to. Making sure the sites that link to you are of high enough quality is something that Google pays attention to. If you get 1000 low-quality links, you probably are not going to see much sustainable benefit.
However, if you get 500 good-quality links, you may see a sustainable benefit as a result of those links, because of their effects over time.
How many links you build over time is important.
Link velocity is basically how many links you build over time. It’s important to build a moderate number of links over time because if you build too many, this can lead to issues down the line.
For example, 100 quality links built over time are better than 1000 spammy links built in just one day.
Link Anchor Text
The link anchor text is the visible text on the page. This is the text that takes a visitor from one page to the next.
In essence your anchor text should be telling the user about what they should be expecting on the next page, not the page they are on.
In other words, the anchor text within the link should match what’s on the page.
For example, if you’re linking to a blog post with an anchor link “link building” then your link will say “link building.”
When it comes to increasing the diversity of your anchor text, you want to make sure that you’re not just using the same anchor text over and over again. While it may help you zero in on your anchor text’s focus in your overall link profile, it is not a harbinger of link quality.
How to Think about a Reliable Link Building Framework
Links are not created in a vacuum. Unless you have exact tabs on your specific process, and you have it ironed out to perfection, you’re not going to get links one right after another all at once.
Natural link building is generally done over time, and at a scale that looks more like a random magnet, rather than all at once like a stacked tower.
If you think about link building in this manner, you shouldn’t have any trouble creating a natural framework for your links that Google will love and will continue to achieve sustainable results for your site over time.
White Hat vs. Black Hat vs. Grey Hat Link Building
White hat link building is link building that complies with Google’s guidelines.
Black hat link building is link building that violates the googles’ guidelines and can get your site penalized or de-indexed from google search results.
Grey hat link building is a term sometimes used to describe link building strategies wherein someone tries to find loopholes in Google’s guidelines. These loopholes can be exploited to link build without explicitly violating Google’s guidelines.
You want to be careful when you’re link building, because there are many different forms of link building that can be done ethically or unethically (depending on your definition).
However, you also want to review Google’s Webmaster Guidelines to ensure that you are not building links that are out of compliance with them.
While sometimes you may see fast initial results, if you’re constantly violating their guidelines, you will likely find yourself with an algorithmic or manual penalty.
Toxic Links and Why You Need to be Careful
Toxic links are links that violate Google’s guidelines, and that cause you to be penalized, whether algorithmically or manually.
They are links that will get you into trouble.
It’s important to realize that toxic links will have a negative impact on your rankings and traffic.
Building toxic links instead of quality links could have serious consequences as a result.
While it may seem easy and not quite as challenging, building toxic links could get your site into serious trouble more often than not.
In fact, if you are the unlucky victim of any type of penalty, it’s possible that it could take months or years to recover from the impact of toxic links.
The most successful link building strategies work by focusing on sustainable results, rather than quick and dirty results.
You must use good link building tactics that will stand the test of time, and that won’t cause your site to fall under a penalty.
The following link building strategies are considered toxic and should be avoided:
Link Farms: Link building by posting to or buying links from websites that offer many different webpages. The main purpose of a link farm is to increase the number of backlinks pointing to your website, with the hope of increasing search engine rankings. The problem with link farms is that they are always low-quality, and seldom relevant to your page.
Link Directories: Link building by submitting your site to a link directory. The problem with this is that you’ll only get links from the pages on which you submitted, and these are usually low-quality pages of their own.
Paid Links: You should avoid link building strategies that require you to pay for them. Google has said over and over again “do not pay for links.” Doing so can lead to a penalty.
Exact Match Anchor Text Links: Link building strategies which require you to link your website using anchor text that matches the words in the URL. The problem with this is that if a new page or product has been released, then all of these links will have to be updated again before they can work properly.
Link Bait: Link bait includes articles on your own site constructed for the sole reason of building links. The problem with link bait is that it is usually lower-quality content and works to create an environment of too much of a link velocity – think lower quality, irrelevant links.
Link Wheels: This technique was made popular by the link building extraordinaire Eric Ward. However, it is now considered obsolete and something that could tank your rankings in the process. It was, once upon a time, a circular approach to acquiring links between high PR sites of various types that also link to your website. Many SEO providers tend to try out web 2.0 tiered link wheels with varying degrees of success. However, unless you know what you’re doing, and you are extremely experienced, you can still get on Google’s bad side. This is why we don’t recommend link wheels unless you have either 1. done this before, or 2. have someone who can do this for you who is familiar with every single step of the process.
Guest Blogging: Link building strategy which requires you to blog at another website or company’s domain, with content usually related to their business. This is one of the last few remaining loopholes SEO professionals had in Google’s guidelines, but is quickly becoming obsolete as well. Google’s John Mueller has said on many occasions that guest blogging is spammy, and not to take advantage of it.
While there are SEO professionals who are experiencing great results through guest blogging, if you want to remain competitive, we don’t suggest using this technique as it could become a significantly toxic one in the future.
Private Blog Networks: Private Blog Networks, or PBNs, are essentially a collection of websites created by the owner of one site. These other sites are used primarily for adding links to other sites. They are also generated from expired domains, which can then be repurposed with rewritten content.
There are some SEO professionals who would argue that truly private PBNs are never fully discoverable by Google. The problem is that experienced SEOs can spot many of these PBNs, quite easily as a matter of fact. If experienced SEOs can spot many of them so easily, imagine what Google could do with automated internal programs, and the ability to see your Gmail accounts!
Either way, PBNs are considered unnatural and toxic links. As such, Google continues to pursue and close down these PBNs, especially the paid ones. In fact, they would take down paid PBNs quite publicly in the past, oftentimes naming the networks themselves. The penalties for participating in such PBNs are likely to be severe.
This is not the be-all, end-all list of bad links, but should get you well acquainted so that you’re not building these types of links in the future.
Intermediate Link Building Strategies
In order to get links you need to know how link building works. This section will review different link building strategies and how they work in terms of SEO, social media, and outreach.
Link Building With Quick-Wins
There is a relatively common misconception that all link building is comprehensively challenging, and needs significant resources to see results. This is true in a majority of cases, but there are ways that you can find quick-win opportunities that will help you see results faster.
For example, you can go after low-hanging fruit. These are common links that just about everyone in your particular niche will obtain.
There is one problem with a link building strategy that depends on quick wins: you need to have a realistic mindset when starting out doing this. There are rarely situations where quick-win link building is enough on its own. Most niches are incredibly competitive nowadays, and require robust, comprehensive link building strategies.
Combining low-hanging fruit linking opportunities with more competitive link building is something that will help you more often than not, but you have to make sure that you start out with the right mindset for your niche.
If your niche is not competitive overall, then you may want to focus your efforts on a combination of low-hanging fruit along with some more competitive link building.
However, it’s important to note that quick wins are usually a foundation building activity, rather than a comprehensive strategy on its own.
If you have already obtained the quick win opportunities with your initial links, then you will need to pivot to another, more competitive strategy to see the results you are after.
The goal is to make some aspects of your link building job easier, while also keeping in mind other opportunities to expand it.
Traditional Link Building
Traditional link building relies on manual tactics in order to increase your links. This is probably the best link building you can do. Because it’s manual, you are in full control of the results of your efforts. This is in stark contrast to relying on other individuals like journalists and third parties who may not otherwise place your link on time, or you have to wait for 6 months or more to see that link placed.
It’s important at this juncture to note that, to Google, links are essentially an editorial vote of the quality of your site. Any type of link that’s not editorial in nature is considered spammy or unnatural.
That being said, manual links are usually not bad links, so long as you follow Google’s quality guidelines for link building. Make sure that you take the time to understand any link building tactic that you choose to implement, and that you are well aware of any risks involved.
The other thing you must keep in mind is that anything that’s traditional in nature is easily manipulated by all of your competitors.
If they catch you succeeding with a particular method, there is a high likelihood that everyone and their brother are going to be using the same technique as well in short order.
The absolute, best way to achieve high-quality link building is to always practice link-earning. Link-earning is the process of creating quality content that is of such high quality that people can’t help but link to it.
There are several benefits to using this kind of strategy:
It’s Mostly All-Natural
When you build links in this way, it’s mostly all-natural. This kind of link building lends itself well to gathering editorial links almost like a magnet: the more great content you write, the more you find people who are willing to link to you as an editorial vote.
But, make no mistake, it still requires some promotional activities. You can’t just publish it and forget it. Whether it’s promoting to your social network, or finding ways to get your content out to the right influencers who can link to you in this fashion, your promotional activities need to take place alongside your content writing activities.
You Get to Obtain Links from Industry Influencers
These types of links carry the most value, and are difficult to replicate by your competitors. If you have been in the industry for a while, you have likely forged relationships with industry influencers that are hard to replicate by others.
Using these relationships, you can grab links that your competition cannot. Finding links through your industry influencers is how you can leverage your link building at scale to really get an edge over your competition.
Links Do Not Appear Spammy in Nature
By focusing on a strategy such as this, you can easily scale and achieve higher link velocity without appearing seemingly suspicious or spammy to Google. You also get the opportunity to really build out your link profile randomly, so you can fortify that profile against possible negative SEO attacks.
Creating a strategy that is random, holistic in nature, and scalable allows you to really nail down what works for your niche, and help increase your rankings seemingly on autopilot.
Most Effective Link Building Strategies
Semrush put together an infographic that shows the most effective link building strategies, a survey they put together.
They surveyed approximately 850 SEO professionals who answered the question “what are the most effective link building strategies”?
These are their answers:
In the following order, the most effective link building strategies include:
- Guest Posting
- Replicating Your Competitor’s Backlinks
- Resources and Links List Pages
- Business Directories and Local Citations
- Broken Backlinks
- Adding URL to a post
- Social Media
- Unlinked Mentions
- Public Release and Content Submissions
- Interviews/Product Reviews/Testimonials
- Forum and Blog Comments
- Mentions or Reviews by Opinion Leaders / Bloggers
- Skyscraper Technique
- Reciprocal Links
It’s important to reiterate here that guest posting has been deemed spammy and unnatural by Google themselves.
While we have explained in the past in this post that guest posting is considered spammy, we want to mention this again here in case there is confusion on our recommendation.
We don’t recommend guest blogging at this time, due to Google’s consistent recommendations against doing so.
It could be that they release an algorithm update soon that specifically targets guest blogging. We don’t know for sure, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
Link Building Strategies
Many of these link building strategies could be considered as intermediate level.
Let’s take a look at each of these and how they can affect your overall link building results.
This technique involves finding relevant blogs within your industry, contacting the owner of the blog, and arranging a post where you embed your link in that post.
It can be a hit or miss technique, because it is highly niche-dependent. Some niches are better than others when it comes to how plentiful blogs where you can guest post are.
Replicating Your Competitor’s Backlinks
When you replicate your competitor’s backlink profile, you’re doing research into what links the competitor has in that profile.
This could be effective because you can reverse engineer your competition’s backlinking strategy, and go after most of the same links.
We say most of the same links because nobody can go after all of the same links. Different competitors have different relationships established in the industry.
And some of these links will require special relationships: you have to know someone on the inside in order to even be able to get the link.
Resources and Links List Pages
If you think of resource pages and links list pages, you probably think of those “Alexa” links pages that have hundreds of thousands of links on them.
In this technique, there is a right way and a wrong way to do things. Those spammy Alexa pages are the wrong way to do this. They are known as link farms, which are against Google’s webmaster guidelines for links.
Resources and links lists can be done in the right way, they just have to add additional value beyond being an entire page of links.
One way to do this would be to make sure the link itself is actually valuable. If you’re doing the link just for the link, you may have a problem in this area.
If the link is valuable, you shouldn’t have trouble adding value to that area where the link is. Perhaps in the form of a description about the link, what can be found on the link, and other things that can add value.
Business Directories and Local Citations
When it comes to directories and citations, these can benefit local SEO significantly.
There is still value in high-quality business directories along with high-quality citations. What’s the difference between a directory and a citation?
A directory usually results in a link back. A citation is basically a mention of your brand’s physical location.
Both are signals that can help increase your site’s overall local rankings and performance in the local pack.
Broken Backlink Building
This one involves exactly what the name implies: you go around looking for broken links on potential relevant websites, and you write content for the 404 pages that pop up.
Once you write that content, you’re asking the webmaster whether or not you can include the content on their site.
Getting aggressive with this strategy could be a good thing, because it can help you get links and even a mention or a thank you from the brand’s social media account, which can have thousands of followers.
Finding influencers on social media to help share your link is a good thing as well. If a link takes off and goes viral, you can find yourself with many thousands of views and several hundred links later.
This is a hit or miss technique unless you’re strong with social media and you know what you’re doing.
Also, the problem with this is not every single niche lends itself well to social media. Some workplaces might not even allow you to be on social media during work hours, which can complicate matters entirely.
This falls in line with the citations we have mentioned previously. It’s basically the same thing. Unlinked mentions are another signal Google could use to determine your rankings.
Public Release and Content Submissions
Also referred to as press releases. These are news releases that are then picked up by syndication sites. Sometimes, these releases can generate hundreds of links.
When done effectively, you can pretty much put your link building on autopilot as well.
This technique could be abused, though. If you insert exact match anchor text everywhere, this could be considered spammy.
The best way to steer clear of Google’s algorithms on this, use only one naked URL text link at the bottom of the press release.
These are good link building techniques, but your mileage may vary depending on your niche. Some niches just may not lend themselves well to link building via interviews, product reviews, or testimonials.
The techniques do depend on having a high degree of influencers in your niche, and people who are willing to share their techniques and results.
This is not something that is common to all industries.
For example, in the business of law, attorneys are generally hesitant to link out to someone who may be a competitor, so linking opportunities in this vein could be limited.
It’s important to note here that link exchanges, or “Link to me, and I’ll link to you” are prohibited by Google’s guidelines when done excessively.
If they make up the entirety of your link profile, you could eventually wind up with a penalty or other algorithmic devaluation.
Forum and Blog Comments
When you do forum and blog comments at random and en masse`, you run the risk of also diluting the value and quality of your link profile. Imagine this – what would Google find more valuable:
A link profile with many, many links from forums with spammy text.
A link profile with a few links from high-quality blogs and forum discussions.
Number two would still be better, but you don’t want it to be the entirety of your link profile.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to do forum links and blog comments. The right way will help you, while the wrong way—in most cases will be ignored by Google—but doing things over and over again in a spammy way could get you penalized.
Mentions or Reviews by Opinion Leaders/Bloggers
These can drive heavy traffic and rankings, assuming that your link is also included. If you’re part of a niche that has a significant quantity of opinion leaders and bloggers, that’s even better.
Take advantage of it.
Use your social media standing to find a way to get links from these top opinion leaders and bloggers in your industry.
Forge relationships with these influencers so you can easily build links with them back to your site.
This content / link building technique was popularized by Brian Dean of backlinko.com – The Skyscraper Technique.
While the above link goes to the 2.0 version of the Skyscraper technique, you can read more about the original version of this technique here.
Basically—as an oversimplification—this method involves creating 10x or even 20x content. This means that content for a given SERP will be better by 20x when compared to the competition.
Here is how Brian Dean frames the technique: he explains that the goal of skyscraper 1.0 involves backlinks, first and foremost. The goal of skyscraper technique 2.0 is to satisfy the user intent with better, targeted content that’s more optimized for UX signals.
The idea of reciprocal links is basically this: “You link to me, and I’ll link to you.” This is where getting into the excessive link exchanges part of reciprocal links gets some SEO profesionals in trouble.
Some industries have partner programs for basically every website, where every website links to each other within the industry.
While, in theory it sounds like a good idea, it seldom works out in real life.
Usually, what happens is when Google discovers it (and they will) and if they deem it to be excessive, then you could end up with an algorithmic or manual penalty (depending on how bad it is).
This is why you should practice most link building techniques in moderation, and make sure that you have more than one technique as part of your arsenal.
The variety of your techniques will help you in the long run.
How Do You Plan on Building Links?
With the intermediate link building techniques shown here, they can help you achieve some good rankings and traffic initially.
Once you have this initial foundation, you can continue to build on it and work on varying your link profile.
Don’t hesitate to try different techniques to see what works best for you.
It could be that the idea you have in mind could take on an entirely different approach when you finally put it into practice.
How do you plan on improving your link building next?
Image 1: Semrush / June 2021