Link building is arguably the most challenging part of SEO. It’s a part that requires technical prowess, a creative approach, and just straight-up grit and grinds. Now, if you’re a beginner at link building or you’ve tried building links without much success, then this article is going to help you get backlinks efficiently so you can rank your pages higher on Google. Stay tuned.
Link building has built all sorts of reputations. But there are generally two dominant views. There’s one party of SEOs that live and die by it. And then there’s the opposition, that considers it to be a spammy tactic.
Now, in order to come to a conclusion, we need to define what link building is. By definition, link building is the process of getting other websites to link to a page on your website. And these hyperlinks are called backlinks.
Now, while the end result might make sense conceptually and seem simple, the part that people don’t understand and can’t seem to get right is this part: The Process. And this ultimately boils down to execution. Now, the reason why execution is tough is that people just focus on the end result: getting backlinks to their pages. But the process is actually very relational. And relationships are built by humans, not “borrowed” templates from videos and blog posts. So let’s redefine link building and set the tone for the rest of this tutorial.
Link building is the process of building relationships with other relevant site owners who want and will link to your content because it enhances theirs.
So this definition isn’t just about you getting something. It includes relationships, relevance, and value exchange. All things we’ll touch on later. Link building is an unavoidable task while promoting your website. Now, since effective link building is tough, you need to understand why it’s worth the effort. In short, backlinks are used by search engines like Google to help rank web pages. And it’s been this way since 1998 when Google created PageRank. PageRank is a mathematical formula that judges the “value of a page” by looking at the quantity and quality of other pages that link to it. And Google confirms the importance of backlinks on their “How search works” page.
Under their “Ranking useful pages” heading, they state: “If other prominent websites on the subject link to the page, that’s a good sign that the information is of high quality.” We also found a clear correlation between organic traffic and backlinks from unique websites in our study of over one billion web pages. So while getting backlinks may be harder than let’s say, creating a blog post, they’re critical if you want to rank for competitive phrases. Now, you might be thinking…well, so and so said not to focus on link building because high-quality content always attracts links. Well, how do you get that content in front of people in the first place?
Unfortunately, the concept of “if you build it and they will come” is just pure fantasy. Or you might have heard other people say “I get tons of traffic without building backlinks, so no need to go through the struggle.”
Yes, it’s possible to rank pages without backlinks, but let me say this one more time. Backlinks are absolutely critical if you want to rank for competitive phrases. And competitive phrases are usually the ones that’ll drive the most traffic and revenue for your business. For example, queries related to SEO are extremely competitive, but they’re also very lucrative.
So how do you get backlinks? Well, there are three ways to get them. You can create them, buy them, or earn them. Let’s go through each method.
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Creating backlinks means to manually add links to your site. This can be done by adding your website to directories, leaving comments on blogs, or adding a website to your social media profile. Anyone can do this with minimal effort, so they’re not that effective from an SEO and ranking perspective.
Buying backlinks is exactly as it sounds. You pay webmasters or authors a fee and in return, they’ll link back to a page on your site. Now, this is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and can potentially result in a penalty. That could be anything from losing ranking positions or even worse, getting your pages removed from Google’s search index. Also, buying links isn’t exactly cheap. We contacted 250 websites to ask if they sell links. And we found that the average cost of buying one was nearly $353. And no, we didn’t buy any.
The final way to get backlinks is to earn them. And this is usually done by emailing other website owners and editors and asking them to link to you. This is the hardest method of the three, but generally speaking, the harder it is to obtain a link, the more valuable it’ll be. And for that reason, we’ll be focusing on earning backlinks through email outreach. And I’ll touch on a few tactics later.
Now, not all links are created equal. Some will help propel your pages to the top of Google, while others can actually hurt your site. So what makes a link good? To simplify it as much as possible, there are two main categories you should look at.
First is relevance. Ideally, you want to get backlinks from relevant websites and pages. For example, let’s say you have a page on the best USB microphones. Getting a link from a page on the topic of video conferencing would be much more relevant than a link on a page about gardening tips. And this also plays out at the website level. Getting a link from a tech site like Cnetwould likely carry more weight than one from a recipe site like All Recipes.
The second category is authoritativeness. Now, if you’re unfamiliar with “authority” in the context of link building, it basically represents the so-called “link power” a web page has. And this relates to how PageRank works. As we discussed before, both the quantity and quality of links matter. So the more quality links a page gets, the more PageRank it earns. Now, PageRank doesn’t appear out of thin air. It comes from other pages. This means that pages with authority can pass it to other pages through hyperlinks. So the more PageRank a linking page has, the more it can pass to those outbound links.
For example, let’s say page C has two links: one from page A and one from page B. Page A is stronger than page B and also has fewer outgoing links. Feed this information into the PageRank algorithm, and you get the PageRank of page C. Now, this is obviously a simplified version of how PageRank works, but the key point here is that you want to get links from high-authority pages because they’ll likely have the greatest impact on your rankings.
Now, while Google doesn’t provide PageRank or website authority scores, we have two metrics at Ahrefs that try to quantify it. Domain Rating is website authority metric and it represents the overall strength of a website’s backlink profile. And URL rating is page-level authority metric, which represents the overall strength of a Page’s backlink profile.
Alright, so at this point, we’ve covered what link building is, why it’s important, three methods to get them, and some attributes of good-quality links. What we haven’t talked about yet, is the actual link itself. So let’s break down the anatomy of a hyperlink and the impact each part has on SEO.
Here’s what a link looks like to your website visitors. And if we look at the HTML code, then it would look like this. Now, there are three basic parts to a link that matter in SEO. The destination URL, anchor text, and the “rel” attribute or lack of one. The destination URL is simply the URL the person will visit when the link is clicked. The second part of a link is the anchor text. The anchor text is the clickable word, phrase, or image attached to the link. So in our example, Site Explorer is the anchor text, which is the name of our competitor analysis tool.
Google uses anchor texts to better understand what a page is about and what terms it should rank for. But building lots of links with keyword-rich anchors is classified as a link scheme, and may result in a Google penalty as it looks unnatural. For example, if you had a post on the best wireless headphones and had a hundred links pointing to it where the anchor texts were all “best wireless headphones,” then it would look quite unnatural. People often use anchors such as the company brand name, the title of the page, the URL, or phrases like “click here.” And here’s some proof. If we look at the anchors of backlinks pointing to our data study on featured snippets, you’ll see varying anchor texts like “old studies,” “ahrefs,””research,” and even specific stats like “99.58%,” “8.6% of all clicks,” and so on.
In fact, there are only 14 websites that have linked to us using the anchor text “featured snippet.” With most earned links, you have very little or no control over the anchor text, so over-optimization isn’t something you really need to worry about.
And the last part is the “rel” attribute. Some links contain a “rel” attribute, which is intended to tell crawlers the relationship between the linking page and the linked page. And the three “rel” values that you should know about when it comes to link building are “nofollow,” “UGC,” and “sponsored.”
Historically, nofollow links told Google that the linking page would rather not associate themselves with the linked page. And for that reason, Google didn’t transfer”authority” through those links. But then Google added a couple other “rel” values:”UGC,” which stands for “user-generated content,” and “sponsored,” which signifies a paid link.
They also announced that going forward, they would look at these link attributes as “hints,” meaning, they may pass the value through them at their discretion. Now, if a link doesn’t have any of these “rel” values, then it would be called a “followed” link. Meaning, the link can pass PageRank and help boost your rankings. Seeing as this is still relatively new, I’d recommend focusing on building “followed” links, although that’s only partially within your control.
One other thing I want to touch on is link placement. Prominent links are more likely to be clicked, and it’s believed that Google takes this into account when determining how much authority a link transfers. For instance, an editorial link is more likely to be clicked than a link in the footer. So, all else being equal, the former would be better than the latter.
Alright, so by now, you should have a general overview of the more technical things that are involved in link building. But as I mentioned, there’s also a creative part that’s required. And by creative, I’m talking about the content creation as well as getting creative with your email pitch. Now, with enough willpower and determination, it’s possible to build links to any kind of page. But life is a lot easier when you have something that people actually want to link to. So let’s talk about the content side of things first.
There are a couple of key attributes that linkable content has. First, it’s usually non-commercial. Commercial content, like product pages from an eCommerce store or sales pages, is tougher to get links to. Why? Because no one wants to contribute to your bank account without some kind of compensation or at the very least, having the first-hand experience with your products or services. So by creating non-commercial content, with high utility, you’re creating something more deserving of a link. That leads us into the second attribute. Linkable content is helpful.
People want to link to helpful content because it directs their audience to resources that complement their own. And helpful content can be in all different forms. For instance, well-written blog posts with factual information can get lots of links. Healthline is a great example of this. Their blog posts are usually concise and as far as I understand, many of their articles are vetted by medical professionals. As a result, all of their top linked-to pages are informational blog posts, which individually have thousands of referring domains pointing at them.
Now, the second part to link building where creativity is required is the pitch. Building links means you need to reach out to authors and editors and ask them to link to you. Just like in sales, these people are called “prospects.” Now, it’s called a “pitch” for a reason. You can’t just ask people to link to you without a good reason.
Let me put this into perspective. Imagine someone showed up at your door and they asked you for money. That’s it. You’d probably be speechless and just shut the door. Now, if they told you that they were raising money for a good cause in your community, you might consider listening to them. And that brings us to the first part of the pitch. You need to have a good reason to contact people. Generally speaking, the better the reason, the higher your chance of achieving your goal.
So in that door knocker scenario, they might say something like… “Hi Bobby, my name is Samantha and I’m a part of the Tigers soccer team. The reason I’m here is that our team recently lost funding so I’m trying to raise money to help our team get new uniforms. Since your daughter Felicity played on our team a few years ago, I thought you might like to help.” I’m wondering if you’d like to donate $10, which will pay for half of one of the Tiger’s uniforms?”
Now, if you were Bobby, would you give Samantha $10? Maybe. But another key point to note is that the pitch is personalized, which can also help improve your link conversion rates. Now, how do we take this pitch from “maybe” to a “probably?” Let’s add on to Samantha’s pitch. “Since we’re registered as a charitable organization, we’d be happy to provide a tax receipt for any donations above $10.” Now the pitch has just gotten stronger and could even lead to higher valued donations. And this brings us to the final part of the pitch and that’s the value exchange.
Yes, some people will likely link to you if you have a good reason for contact and your content matches the criteria we went through before. But if they’re getting something of value in exchange for a link, whether that be a resource that adds value to their blog or free content from a guest post, then your chances of getting a link increases. But remember, things like exchanging links for money or doing excessive link exchanges is against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. The same goes for sending products to a person in exchange for a backlink. So you’d need to get creative here to stay in line with the rules. And I won’t expand on this because it’s just so highly situational based on the page you’re trying to build links to.
Now, as you can see, link building is both an art and a science. Pitches are also highly situational and will vary from person to person. But there are quite a few link building strategies that are streamlined and have been proven to work time and time again. So let’s go through some of these strategies and I’ll explain what it is, why it works, and how you can do them.
The first link building strategy is guest blogging. Guest blogging is when you create content for another website. And the reason why this strategy works is that there’s a clear value exchange. They get great content for free, and almost always, you should be able to get a link back to your site; whether that be within the content or in the author bio. So the way guest blogging works is to find other blogs in your industry, pitch and agree on a relevant topic, and then you would write a post for them.
Resource Page Link Building
The next link building tactic is called resource page link building. This is where you get backlinks from webpages that curate and link out to useful industry resources. Now, this strategy works because the sole purpose of the pages’ existence is to link out to helpful and useful resources. So if your content is great and you bring it to their attention, you’re helping them fulfil the page’s purpose. The basic process is simple. First, you find industry resource pages, then you reach out to them and suggest your resource for inclusion. The easiest way to find relevant pages is to search in Google with a query like intitle: resources inurl:resources.html and then a phrase related to your topic. Visit the pages and see if they’re actually resourced pages that link out to other external pages. Then it’s just a matter of reaching out to the ones you want to be mentioned on.
Broken Link Building
The next link building strategy is broken link building. Broken link building is a tactic where you find a dead link on a page, create your own page on that topic, then ask everyone linking to the dead resource to link to your page instead. The reason why it works is that webmasters who care about their site don’t want to lead their visitors to broken pages. So oftentimes, they’ll replace the dead link with yours.
The next link building strategy is to use HARO. HARO is a website that connects journalists with sources and sources with journalists. Basically, you’ll get emails where journalists from media outlets are requesting information on a specific topic. Just filter through the topics and if you find something where you can add value, respond to the journalist with your expert opinion. And if they use you as a source, they’ll usually link back to your site. The value exchange here is simple.
You’re exchanging your knowledge for a mention and usually a link from an authoritative site. And there’s no shortage of requests from mega publications like The Huffington Post, Forbes Inc, Entrepreneur, Reader’s Digest, and the list goes on. Now, I’ve only given you an overview of these tactics so I recommend watching some of the tutorials in our link building playlist which will walk you through these tactics step-by-step. And if you enjoyed this article, make sure to like, share and comment for more actionable content. I’ll see you in the next one.