You could be wondering if your own site is valuable enough to start building links. Maybe you already know how well you rank in Google and want to get an idea where you stand when compared to other sites…or maybe you’re just curious.
Finding out how valuable your site is can be difficult. The best way to find out is to compare it against other sites in your industry (or even against competitors). As a result, we’re going to be looking at a way of doing this and seeing what we come up with.
Link building can be a tricky thing to master, especially if you’re just starting out in SEO. Some SEOs will tell you to create great content and wait for links to come naturally, others will insist that strategic link prospecting and targeted email outreach is where it’s at, and someone else will give you a cryptic smile and drop just one word: PBNs.
It’s no secret that links are the backbone of your website and essential to boosting your search engine rankings. But what many people don’t know or understand is how to effectively build backlinks. The goal of this guide is to not only show you how to get started with link building, but give you a full understanding of all the different types of backlinks and the importance of them all.
Link Building Basics
What is Link Building
Link building is the process of getting other websites to link to pages on your own website. The purpose of link building is to boost the “authority” of your pages in the eyes of Google, so that these pages rank higher and bring more search traffic.
As Google wants to show users the most relevant information when they search, it uses hundreds of different factors to work out how relevant a page is to a specific search. In order to rank in the top positions you need to not only create great content and make sure the right people can find it, but also give Google an incentive to rank you highly.
Why is link building important?
Let’s talk about links. According to Google’s Andrey Lipattsev, links are one of the three major ranking factors in Google. So if you want your website’s pages to rank high in search, you will almost certainly need links.
Google (and other search engines) look at links from other sites as “votes.” These votes help them identify which page on a given topic (out of thousands of similar ones) deserves to be ranking at the very top of the search results. Here’s an example:
Imagine that you’re looking for the perfect restaurant in your city. You can either ask your friends and family for a recommendation, or look online for reviews.
If you ask around for a referral, what do you want to hear? “Oh, Joe’s Diner is great! My neighbor went there last week and loved it!” Do you trust that recommendation? Probably not.
But if 10 different people tell you about the same restaurant, and how much they enjoyed their meal there, you might start to take their word for it. If 100 people recommend Joe’s Diner, then you’re pretty darn sure it must be good.
This is why backlinks are so important: Google looks at them as an indicator of quality content. The more high-quality links pointing to your site, the higher it will rank in the search results — and ultimately, the more traffic you’ll get.
How to Build Links
There are hundreds of link building tactics, and the list is only growing.
Let’s look at them in more detail:
1 Adding Links
If you can go to a website that doesn’t belong to you and manually place your link there, that’s called “adding” a link. The most common tactics that fit into this category are:
Forums. This is the most basic way to build links. You just need to find an online forum in your niche, create an account, and drop a link in your signature, which will show up below every comment you make.
Directories. These days, most directories have lost their value, but it’s still worth scanning through niche-specific directories for any good opportunities.
Blog comments. Blog commenting is another classic (but effective) method of building links. You just need to find blogs in your niche with comment sections on them, then drop some helpful comments along with a link back to your site.
Most blog platforms let you do this automatically now…WordPress will let you type a name and URL into the comment form, and it automatically turns that into a clickable link when the comment is approved and published.
Social media profiles. If you have social media profiles that include links back to your site (and they should), they count as added links too!
2 Asking for links
As the name suggests, this is when you reach out to the owner of the website you want a link from and give them a compelling reason to link to you.
That “compelling reason” is absolutely essential for this group of link building tactics. The people you reach out to don’t care about you and your website (unless you’re some sort of celebrity) and thus they have zero incentive to help you out.
So before you ask them to link to you, ask yourself: “What’s in it for THEM?”
Here are some of the link building tactics and strategies that fall into this category, along with a briefly defined “compelling reason” that they’re based off:
Guest posting – You offer them free content for their site, in exchange for a tiny little credit at the end (a backlink).
Broken link building
They have a broken link on their site… so you offer them your content as a replacement for that broken link.
You get them exposure by interviewing them and linking to their site.
You give their product/service a positive review, along with a backlink.
You mention someone in your content and link to their site.
You write content for another website, and they mention you and link to your site.
You send out a press release about your new product/service, including a link to your site.
To build links the right way, you need great content.
Building links through outreach, partnerships, or blogger relationships is a great way to get others to link to your content. But in order for these tactics to be effective, you need to have truly exceptional content on your site worth linking to.
What makes content truly exceptional? Think about the last time you shared a piece of content with someone else and why you did it. Was that article informative, funny, controversial? Did it provide actionable advice? Did it inspire you? If it was an article you were reading for work, was it so good that you had to share it with your colleagues?
Whether the answer is yes or no, I guarantee that the reasoning came down to one of two things:
1. The piece of content was especially relevant to your interests and needs at that moment in time
2. It was simply better than what everyone else has written on the subject
And maybe even both. If a piece of content is relevant to my interests and needs at a given moment in time and it’s also better than anything else out there — then I’ll definitely share it with others (and link to it).
3 Buying Links
Let’s get this straight from the get go: we don’t recommend that you buy links!
At best, you’re likely to waste lots of money on bad links that will have zero impact on your rankings; at worst, you’ll get your website penalized.
The last thing you want is for a drop in traffic to be the first sign of a link buying campaign gone wrong.
4 Earning links
The best way to earn links is to create unique, relevant content that can quickly gain popularity in the Internet community. The more useful content you have on your site, the greater the chances someone else will find your content valuable to their readers and link to it.
Let’s say, for example, that you run a website about the Paleo Diet. It’s a popular trend these days, so you decide to create a section of your site that lists restaurants and grocery stores that sell food compliant with the Paleo Diet in New York City. That information would be very useful for your site’s visitors, but it wouldn’t necessarily help you with your SEO because none of those restaurants or grocery stores would ever link back to your site.
However, if you created a cool interactive tool that allowed people to find out which Paleo-friendly restaurants and grocery stores were closest to them based on their current location, that would be something a lot of other website owners would likely link to. You can see how this kind of content can easily go viral.
What makes a good link ?
So, you’re ready to start building links and want to know what makes a good link?
The SEO industry is full of opinions and theories on the subject.
Building links is a complex topic. There are many different link types, link locations, and more!
Nobody knows for sure how exactly Google measures the value of each link. But there are some general concepts of evaluating links that the SEO community believes to be true.
How trustworthy or authoritative is the linking site? A link from a trusted news site will have more value than one from a business directory.
How contextually relevant is the link? A link from a page about kitchen appliances will have more value on a page about kitchen gadgets, and less value on a page about pet supplies.
What’s the “anchor text” — the words in the link itself — say about the destination? Some people believe that anchor text signals Google about what the destination page is about.
Nofollow vs follow:
Does the site use nofollow links or not? SEOs used to care a lot more about this, but now it seems like this signal is losing its weight, at least in some cases.
Where on the page is the link placed? In-content links are more valuable than sidebar or footer links, and all other things being equal, links higher on the page are worth more than those lower down.
Where does this link lead? Links to pages that themselves have a lot of outbound links are seen as less valuable than those that don’t. This is known as “link dilution.”
Best Link building strategies
1 Pursuing competitor’s links
Competitor link research is one of the most fundamental activities in link building. Think about it, the top-ranking page for your desired search query has all the right links which persuaded Google of its superiority. By studying its links you can figure out which tactics to use so that you can get similar links and outrank that page.
There are many ways to approach your competitors’ links but I hope to show you here how to do it at scale, with some free tools and a little bit of technical know-how
I’m going to be assuming that you already have a list of competitors in mind. If not, there are plenty of ways to find them. For example, a good way is to find who ranks for the keywords that you want to rank for and then study their backlink profiles. An easier way is to use Ahrefs’ Site Explorer tool to find pages on sites similar to yours, in terms of topics or keywords, and then study their backlinks.
Analysing your competitors’ backlinks
Once you have a list of competing sites, it’s time to analyse their links. There are two aspects we want to look at:
The number of referring domains linking in (domain popularity)
The quality of those links – do they drive traffic?
The first part is important to ensure that you are comparing apples to apples. If you compare your backlink profile to that of a competitor with 50,000 referral domains linking in, you’re going to be disappointed. You need to make sure that the comparison sites are roughly in the same ballpark as far as link popularity goes.
The second part is important because we want to know whether these links drive traffic or not. If they do, there’s a great chance that they also influence search rankings. If they don’t, they are probably not worth pursuing.
The type of pages they’re linking from (page authority and relevance)
authority and relevance. You can get both by using a tool like Open Site Explorer.
Open Site Explorer tells you the page authority (PA) and domain authority (DA) of each link that’s pointing back to your competitors. The higher these scores are, the more likely it is that you can replicate them yourself. If a site with high PA and DA links back to your competitor, you should see if there’s any chance you could get a link there as well.
2 Creating linkable assets
It’s possible to build links to any page with enough willpower and determination, but life is easier when you have something that people actually want to link to.
When talking about linkable assets people tend to think of very specific things like:
- Interactive content
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it covers some of the more popular options. The truth is that a linkable asset can literally be anything that a person finds useful and wants to share. In fact, if we’re really being honest, a linkable asset isn’t even a thing at all – it’s just the result of having something awesome on your site and then promoting it.
3 Content Promotion
No matter how “linkable” your pages are, people can’t link to them without first discovering them. In other words, even the best linkable assets have to be promoted in order to attract links.
Generally speaking, there are just three ways to promote content:
Let’s talk about each of those a little more.
While there’s no doubt that advertising helps you reach a broader audience, there’s one problem, though. It’s nearly impossible to attribute the acquired links to the advertising dollars that you have invested (even though we tried).
So it’s not like you can promise your boss ten high-quality links to a page if they agree to invest $1,000 in Facebook Ads.
The only thing you can do is aggregate your link data and look at how many new links you get each month. Then, see if there’s any correlation between increased spending on ads and the number of new links. If that correlation exists, and if it’s statistically significant, then advertising makes sense for your business.
Outreach is probably the best way to put your content in front of the “linkarati”—people who have websites and are able to link to you.
Yes, those same people can likely be reached with advertising, but a well-crafted personal email would be way more effective if you want to increase your chances of getting a link from them.
And if you’re looking for more targeted traffic (and links) than just mass emailing ad networks, then outreach is the way to go.
But what does an outreach campaign look like?
Well, there are several approaches you can take. A couple of common ones are:
1.) Emailing people that have linked out to similar content in the past, letting them know about your content and asking them to check it out.
2.) Reaching out to people who have written about a similar topic on their own blog and sharing your piece with them in hopes that they’ll find it valuable for their readers too.
But before you go after links from other sites, make sure your on-page SEO is dialed in
Communities can be great for promoting your content to relevant audiences. Whatever industry you’re in, there’s likely a subreddit where likeminded people hangout, or perhaps some groups on Facebook, Slack, or Discord. You might also find some standalone community sites in certain niches.
But promoting your content in these communities is not as easy as it might seem. You can’t simply join a community, drop your link there and be gone. You’ll be banned in a heartbeat.
So how do you promote your content in communities?
1. Become a core member of the community
Before you even think about dropping any links, you need to become an active and contributing member of the community. That means participating in discussions, answering questions and helping others. Not only will this earn trust and respect from other members of the community, it will also give you an idea of what types of content are well received by the group.
2. Share helpful information that adds value to conversations
Once you’ve become an active member of the community, you should have no problem finding conversations to contribute to with helpful advice or information that goes beyond what other members are sharing. When doing so, don’t hesitate to share links
3. Be mindful of timing and originality when posting content
Timing is important for every social media channel, but it’s especially true for community groups on Facebook. Communities are typically more active than brand pages. For example, a brand page might get between 2,000 and 5,000 likes, while a community could have tens of thousands of members and hundreds if not thousands of posts per day.
In order to make sure you get the most engagement possible with each post, research the best time to post on Facebook and make sure your posts appear at peak times for your audience. It may take some trial and error, but this is the only way to know for sure when you should be posting in your group.
4 Guest Blogging
Guest blogging is the practice of contributing a post to another person’s blog in order to build relationships, exposure, authority, and links. You’re writing for someone else’s site but you usually get an author byline (your name and a link to your site).
Unfortunately, not every blog owner is open to accepting guest posts. Some are worried about the quality of the content. Others have had bad experiences with guest bloggers promoting their own products or trying to use the post for SEO purposes (to build links to their site).
But whatever the reason, these blog owners are always looking for interesting and high-quality content that adds value to their audience. And if you can deliver on that, there’s a good chance they’ll accept your guest post.
So, here are two tips that should help increase your chances of getting published:
1 Customize your pitch for the blog you’re contacting
The problem with many guest post requests is that they look like form letters sent out in mass. If you want the blog owner to take your request seriously, it needs to appear as though you actually did some research on the site and its audience. That means addressing them by name and mentioning a few posts of theirs that resonated with you. This will show them that you took time to learn about their site and
2 Have a great idea
You can only make a first impression once, so don’t waste it on an uninteresting topic or one that has already been covered many times before. The fact is, there are plenty of websites out there right now that are struggling to gain readership because they don’t have much unique content on them. Don’t let yours be one of them. Make sure whatever topic you choose is likely to pique the interest of the blog’s readership.
Let’s Wrap this up
In the end, link building isn’t rocket science. It is simply a lot of hard work and planning. Keep your eyes peeled and you’ll succeed. At the very least, this guide has given you the tools to do so. Now get out there and start building some links!
If what you see here is relevant for you and can help you grow your business or organisation, we’d love to discuss further with you. Drop us a message or schedule an appointment with us.