When it comes to SEO, the number of hyperlinks leading from other websites to yours — also known as backlinks — is a major component in getting your site to rank. Search engines like Google use links to “crawl” the internet, traveling between individual hyperlinked pages on your website, and the links between different websites.
As such, link building is the process SEOs use to grow the number of backlinks to their websites.
Why does link building matter?
Search engines use links to discover and crawl new web pages, as well as to “grade” pages, determining what search engine ranking to assign to those pages.
That’s right: Not only does Google look at the content of any given page, but they also count the number of hyperlinks pointing back to that page. The higher the domain authority and relevance of the pages linking to yours, the more credit search engines will give your page.
In other words, search engines view a link to your page as a vote of confidence for the quality and relevancy of your content, with the assumption that someone would not link to your content unless it was a good resource.
However, SEOs quickly began overusing link building techniques in order to improve the rankings of pages that, generally, did not deserve to rank. Overusing link building tactics is a form of over-optimization. Google has since rolled out several updates (beginning with the first iteration of Google Penguin in 2012) to penalize sites that over-optimize, giving priority to high-quality links.
In this article, we’ll go over various forms of link building and how to design and execute a link building strategy that improves your SEO.
A link building strategy that works
If you’re a beginner link builder (or even a seasoned link builder,) it is very important to understand the different types of link building so you can put together and execute a well rounded link building strategy.
I’ve been building links for the last 14 years. During that time, I’ve bucketed forms of link building into three primary categories: link creation, link requesting, and link attraction.
Each link acquisition method has its place in a link building strategy — to varying degrees — and should be executed based on you or your client’s needs.
We’ll begin our foray into link building by covering the most difficult (and most fun!) way to gain authoritative, high-quality links.
Link attraction is the process of acquiring “natural” links to your content from other websites (preferably ones with a good domain authority.)
I wish I could present you with an epic shortcut that would allow you to acquire these natural, high-quality links with ease, but unfortunately, these kind of links are challenging to get. The only way to “attract” links that will boost your SEO is to commit to creating amazing quality other pages will want to link to.
Because you’re regularly creating excellent content, link attraction doesn’t require specific action on your part to have links “placed.” Backlinks will grow organically as more people share and link to your excellent content.
These links are the most naturally acquired, and as such, are valued the highest by Google. This means you should focus a significant portion of your link building strategy to (high quality) content creation.
Here are ways to begin attracting backlinks by creating link-worthy content:
1. Create authoritative, valuable resources on a blog
If you’re wondering if your business should have a blog, the answer is — unequivocally — yes. Your blog is a double-edged sword for your website’s SEO: Not only do you create more internal content for search engines to crawl, you also can begin generating natural backlinks by regularly publishing share-worthy content. The more people share and link to your excellent blog posts, the more SEO value you generate.
Unlike other pages on your site, you can publish fresh content to your blog at frequent, consistent intervals. Not only will individual posts receive shares and links, but you can also earn links in blog directories and niche industry publications.
2. Create funny or shareable content to go “viral.”
Besides authoritative guides and resources, other types of content have a tendency to receive shares and links: Funny content, snarky content, and content with a strong point of view, is likely to earn shares from readers who agree with you or got a kick out of reading.
In the SEO world, this is sometimes referred to as “link bait,” but don’t let the word “bait” fool you: While the content might, by its very nature, encourage people to share it, it should always be interesting and valuable.
This blog post, How to Be Smart in a World of Dumb Bloggers, combines the link-worthy qualities of a valuable resource with enough humor and snark to make people hit the “share” button. It informs bloggers how to be strategic and interesting with their content while poking fun at the “dumb” bloggers who don’t.
3. Create share-worthy infographics other publishers will want to use
Creating highly-visual or data-focused content (like infographics) that other content creators want to source in their own blog posts and articles is a surefire way to generate links. A good way to do this is through infographics, which can easily be embedded in other blog posts and sourced back to you.
We know that posts with images receive 650% more engagement than posts without them. What’s more, infographics are liked and shared on social media three times more than other content.
4. Create timely and newsworthy content
Grabbing the attention of bloggers and the press with trendy, timely content is a speedy and highly-effective way to earn high quality links.
Make sure you have press releases ready to go when great new products launch and keep your mind open to opportunities to create newsworthy buzz around your product.
Union Wine Company had the genius idea to hire a “summer Canbassador,” whose primary job would involve driving around the country to promote the company’s Underwood wine cans. By committing to paying the salary of one summertime employee, they earned hundreds of high-quality links after the story was picked up by the likes of Cosmopolitan, Thrillist, The Penny Hoarder, Grub Street, and hordes more.
Similarly, Warby Parker piggybacked on last year’s ultra-newsworthy Solar Eclipse to create a parody video to the tune of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” This fun, fresh take on a timely event earned the glasses retail hundreds of links from major outlets, including Space.com.
Yes, building out top-notch, best-in-the-biz content worthy of clicks, shares, and links is time consuming — but if done properly, these golden pieces of content can generate links and traffic, earning you sustainable search engine rankings for years to come.
Next, we’ll cover link requests, often referred to as “outreach” and “manual link building.” This is a highly-popular SEO practice, particularly for businesses that are just starting out and hoping to begin generating SEO value.
As the name suggests, manual link building entails manually contacting bloggers and website owners and requesting links back to your site.
It’s critical you are reaching out to people whose websites are relevant to yours. If you are contacting someone with no connection with your industry, they’ll be confused why you’re asking for a link.
Manually requesting links takes a lot of work and effort on your part, but if you put forth more effort than your competitors are willing to put in, you’ll have a competitive advantage. These links usually provide a lot of link juice and help build the credibility and authority of your website much quicker than by just leveraging link creation tactics.
Here are some different types of link request tactics:
Competitive Link Building
It’s important to keep an eye on what your competitors are doing in order to outrank you, so you can learn how to outrank them. You should consider all the domains your competitors are receiving links from as potential leads for you to acquire links from as well.
Search Engine Journal has a more robust guide on how to perform a full competitive link analysis.
Here’s an example of how you can use a competitive link analysis to score links: During your audit, you can look to see if any of your competitors are earning backlinks that are leading to 404 pages (dead links).
Set out to create a piece of content that mimics (and surpasses!) what your competitor would have written before the link went dead, then reach out to the referring domains in question and ask them to replace the dead link with your live one.
Bam, link scored!
You can read our full guide to finding your competitors’ 404 backlinks here.
Broken Link Building
Broken link building applies the same concept we just outlined above, but widens your scope out to other sites you want to rank for (not just your competitors’ links).
The basic concept is this: Find broken links on websites you want to earn backlinks for. Recreate the content on your own website. Reach out to the website and ask them to replace the broken link with your working one.
It’s important to note: Not everyone will respond to your link requests, which can make this process slow-going, time consuming, and sometimes frustrating. But the good news is, the more people you reach out to, the more links you’ll end up having placed.
In order to quickly generate more leads for links, paste the broken links you’re looking to replace into Site Explorer to see what other domains are linking to that page. Chances are you’ll find a long list of other websites you can reach out to with the same link replacement request.
According to Ahrefs, you should probably expect a 5% conversion rate on broken link building tactics.
Imagine this: A blogger or journalist just gave you a shoutout on their web page, but forgot to link to you (or included an incorrect link!) Maybe they misspelled your domain, maybe they linked to the wrong page, or maybe the publisher messed something up on their end. For example, in this blog post, the author linked to the site correctly but spelled the brand name Rolee instead of the correct way, Roolee.
Rather than call this a loss, you can look at it as an opportunity to easily gain a link from someone who was already willing to promote your brand.
Brand mentions without links
You’ll need to be performing frequent brand monitoring using a tool like Moz’s fresh web explorer. You can change your settings to be alerted when someone on the internet mentions you but doesn’t link to you.
Whenever this happens, reach out with a simple email and politely ask for a link back. If possible, you can add in a promo code or gift card as an additional thank you/incentive for them to go back into their post and add the link.
Business images without links
A simple reverse image google search of your logo or products can help you see what sites are publishing your images without linking back to you. In many cases, this is a simple issue where they were too lazy to add in a link or forgot to do so.
Again, reach out and ask for credit or a link back — easy peasy.
Here is an in-depth guide to link reclamation when you’re ready to begin.
Writing guest blogs and articles on other websites is a good way to increase brand awareness and authority, earn new traffic to your site, and grow your SEO authority.
Find websites in your niche — the more “niche,” the more likely they are to be accepting contributors — and reach out to pitch interesting, valuable content that you are an authority on. Don’t hold back on what makes you the right person to write the article, what you bring to the table, and what the article will cover.
Guest blogging for low-quality sites or sites that aren’t relevant to yours can cause you problems. Read our post on the do’s and don’t of guest blogging for more info.
Similar to guest blogging, reaching out to bloggers to request links in exchange for reviews is a common practice. This can also be used as part of an influencer marketing strategy, if the social media influencers you are working with to promote your products also have blogs, you can add backlinks as part of your agreement.
Tip: Don’t underestimate the power of micro-influencers! Though their followings are smaller, they have engaged audiences. You can go after a mix of macro and microbloggers in order to build a wide range of links back to your site.
To diversify this strategy, here’s a long list of ways you can build links in exchange for free stuff.
Link requesting, in all its various forms, is obviously time consuming — but the more time you put into it, the more return you’ll see.
Link Creation (Non-editorial)
The third type of link building we’ll discuss is link creation, AKA self-created, non-editorial links. Link creation typically involves going around the internet (blogs, social platforms, forums, answer pages, etc;) and creating links back to your site simply for the link’s sake.
Years ago, marketers used this technique to quickly skyrocket their webpage rankings, and this led to pages with less-than-stellar content earning first-page rankings.
Google’s updates penalized the sites that were abusing this technique and continues to devalue and penalize this type of link.
So, rather than tell you how to go after non-editorial links, we’re going to tell you what you SHOULD NOT be doing (and what you can still do, but with caution), to avoid being punished by search engines for spammy, black-hat practices.
Avoid publishing blogs and articles to spammy websites
Back in Ye Olden Days, guest blogging for any high-volume, click-baity site (Buzzle comes to mind) was an easy way to generate quick SEO value for your site. No longer.
Be careful with commenting
Practice extreme caution when adding your links to blog comments, forums, and answer pages like Quora, YahooAnswers, Etc;. If you do this, the answers should be high-quality and extremely relevant to your website. If you do this too much, Google could penalize you for over optimizing.
Encourage social media shares — but know what they’re worth
Sites like Reddit and Pinterest have active user bases and can be a good source of traffic to your site. Pinning and posting to these sites can be helpful (but again, only if you’re being a real, engaged user — not a spammy self-promoter!) in generating brand awareness and bringing in new visitors.
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are also major sources of traffic and brand awareness. Being engaged on social media will, in the long game, improve your site’s SEO as brand awareness spreads and you receive more natural links and branded search queries.
Just remember that Google does not value these links the way they value high-quality editorial links, so this should be a supplemental aspect of your SEO strategy, never your primary tactic.
We hope this post was helpful in breaking down the different ways you can use link building. If you have any other link building tactics you swear by, start a discussion in the comments below.