A Search Engine Friendly Guide to Link Building

Links have long been one of the primary factors used by Google and other major search engines to rank websites and pages. Which means, if you want to rank in search engine result pages, SERPs, you're going to have to build links.

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The problem: there's a lot of information out there about link building. Some of it good. Some of it not so good. Some of it just very bad. So to help you build links the right way, we've put together this complete and user friendly, guide to link building

In this post, we will be covering:

  •     link building theory
  •     essential skills and tactics
  •     the best link building tools
  •     linking to some of the best link building tutorials and case studies on the web.


The Fundamentals of Link Building

The first thing to address when dealing with fundamentals is to ask the question:

What is Link Building?

Link building is the process of acquiring new inbound links (backlinks) to a website from external sites.
The goal of most link building campaigns will be to increase future search traffic from Google, although links from popular sites (such as newspapers) can also be an excellent source of referral traffic.

Google has clearly shown that link popularity (the number of inbound links to a site/page) continues to have a high correlation with Google rankings. Indeed, link signals have a much higher correlation score than individual on-page factors (meta tags, keyword usage etc).

What kind of links move the needle?

In simple terms, each link to a website is considered as a vote. The more votes a site accumulates, the more likely it will be to show up for a particular search query. However link building is not a one member, one vote system. There are a number of factors which determine the weight Google will assign to a particular link and how likely it will be to influence future rankings. These include:

  • Authority Of The Linking Page/Site

    As a site accumulates links its own authority increases. It is then able to pass on more authority (votes) when it links out.

    So a link from a high authority site (such as the BBC) will generally be more powerful than a link from a low authority site (for example a new site with no inbound links of its own).

    There are 2 metrics which can help you determine the authority of a linking page or site

    Domain Rating (DR): refers to the overall strength (authority) of a site and is measured from 0-100 - with 0 being no authority (for example a new site with no inbound links) and 100 being the highest.
     URL Rating (UR): refers to the strength (authority) of an individual page and is measured from 0-100.

Also read:

SEO Tips For Optimizing Your Local Google My Business Page

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NoFollow Links

Certain links (for example links from blog comments) may have the rel=nofollow attribute applied.

a href=example.com rel=nofollow This is a nofollow link

To comply with Google guidelines, any paid links should also have the rel=nofollow attribute.

The nofollow attribute instructs search engines not to follow the link and in theory links with this attribute should not contribute to rankings. Opinion varies however on whether this is actually the case.

For example, links from wikipedia are nofollow and many leading SEOs consider wikipedia links to be beneficial for rankings due to the site's high trust.

We asked link building expert Eric Ward for his opinion on whether nofollow links contribute to rankings:

I believe that any search engine with the goal of returning accurate results must maintain ultimate control over what it does and does not give credit to, and selectively choose the signals it values. And this includes rel=nofollow. I think it is perfectly reasonable to assume that any search engine can give credit to any link it wants to give credit to, if it feels there are enough signals to indicate it' a credible link. And that means even if the link is nofollowed.

In my entire career I have never made a decision about whether or not I would pursue a link based upon whether or not that link would be followed or nofollowed.

I pursue links if I feel they will help my client reach a certain goal or objective. Eric Ward

While dofollow links are preferred, a high quality nofollow link may contribute to rankings and will certainly be a good link to acquire. Additionally, a mixture of nofollow and dofollow links will result in a more natural backlink profile.

There is no dofollow attribute, but this is the term most SEOs use to refer to links without the nofollow attribute applied.

Also read:

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Link Placement

It may be the case that the search engines attribute more weight to certain types of links.

For example, a text link from within content may pass more authority than a link from a sidebar or footer. This is because an in-content link is more likely to be:

Editorial
Actually clicked
Surrounded by relevant text (see link relevancy)

Google's Reasonable Surfer patent, filed in 2004 and approved in 2010, suggests that Google will attempt to determine how likely a link is to be and consider this when deciding how much weight a link will pass.

That being said, there is anecdotal evidence that Google continue to give weight to links from footers, sidebars etc when the linking site is considered an authority. A recent study by Viperchill demonstrated how major brands are using footer links to influence (and dominate) search results.

    The Anchor Text

The search engines have long used anchor text - that is the words used to link - as a ranking factor.

For example a web page with a target keyword of fishing rods is likely to benefit from a percentage of its inbound links containing that phrase; in either partial or exact match form:

Exact match: fishing rods
Partial match: this page about fishing rods

Ahrefs recently conducted a study across 16,000 keywords which confirmed there remains a strong correlation between keyword anchors and rankings:

While it is clear that keyword use in anchor text has a positive impact on rankings, it should also be pointed out that overuse of keyword rich anchors can have the opposite effect.

Too many anchor text links can be a sign of manipulation and may incur link penalties, such as Google Penguin.

Here is what Eric Ward had to say about anchor text:



I'm not saying that anchor text as a signal is no longer useful. What I believe is Google can make a distinction between what it considers to be a normal distribution of anchor text vs. manipulated distribution of anchor text. This doesn't mean I try to stay within some sort of anchor text percentage or range. I have said many times that over the two decades I have been building links I've never once asked for specific anchor text. Not once.
 Eric Ward

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Link Relevancy

There are a number of factors that may influence the relevancy of a link and the weight that Google subsequently assigns to it.

These include:

The anchor text (see above)
Other outbound links on the page

It is also likely (and logical) that the text immediately surrounding a link is an important ranking signal. Indeed, Google holds a patent (filed in 2004) called Ranking based on reference contexts, which could be construed as a blueprint for inferring context from surrounding text.

Unnatural Links

Links which Google flags as unnatural (either algorithmically or through manual review) are likely to be discounted and not contribute towards rankings. Multiple unnatural links may also lead to a penalty and a decrease in rankings/traffic.

There is a little blurring of the lines in what constitutes an unnatural link, with some arguing that any link that is built (even through outreach) is intended to manipulate search results and is therefore unnatural.

This is however an overly-literal interpretation of Google's guidelines and a line often repeated by black hat SEOs to incorrectly justify their approach to link building.

I would say that any link in which there has been an editorial choice (the site has chosen to link to you) is white hat and Google safe. This applies whether the linking site found your content organically (by themselves), or your pointed them to it (through outreach/promotion).

Links built manually for traffic reasons (e.g. guest blogging, content repurposing, content syndication) should also be safe when used as part of a wider link strategy and not abused.

Essential Link Building Skills

Effective link building in the post Penguin age combines a number of skills and the modern link builder has to be a truly diverse marketer with:

A logical, analytical thought process (competitor analysis and strategy)
A creative mind (link bait and content ideas)
Excellent communication skills (networking and outreach)

It could even be said that effective link building includes an element of psychology (working out how to get someone to link to you).

Before we move on to individual link building strategies, let's take a closer look at 2 of the most important skills in link building; competitor research and outreach.

Also read: Digital Marketing: Top Strategies That Yield Big Results

  • Competitor Research

A good starting point for most link building campaigns is to analyse the backlink profiles of competing sites.

The Referring domains report in will show you all the domains that are linking to your target website or URL

Analysing the backlink profiles of several competitors will  give an insight into their link building strategies Provide opportunities to replicate their links.

The trick is to work out how (or why) your competitor received a particular link and determine whether that's something you can replicate. You'll probably want to start with some quick wins

Here are some examples of easier links to replicate:

User generated links - Social profiles, video sites, blog comments etc.
Guest post links - You can simply reach out to the linking site and ask if you can contribute your own guest post.
A link from a resource page - Reach out and ask if the site will add your resource.

Tips

  • Look out for hubs - that is sites linking to more than one competitor. These can be very strong link prospects.


Harder to replicate will be genuine editorial links to popular content pieces on your competitor's site.

Site Explorer: Enter domain Explore  Pages Best by links.
Best by links report will show you which pages on a target website have the most backlinks.

The Best by links report will show you which pages on a target website have the most backlinks

To replicate these links you will probably have to one up your competitor's content and then conduct an outreach/promotion campaign. This might seem a lot of work, but (as a very loose rule of thumb) the harder a link is to acquire, the more likely it will be to positively influence your rankings.

Also read: Benchmarking for Website Performance on Search Engines

  • Outreach

Outreach is arguably the most important skill in a link builder toolset, but is also one of the hardest to master.

With the exception of (very) rare cases - where content naturally picks up viral traction and spreads by itself - to acquire links you will have to get your content (or site) in front of of the right eyeballs at the right time. And despite the rise of social media, the most effective medium for outreach continues to be email.

While outreach is a topic deserving of its own article, here is one tip that can dramatically improve your success rate

How Timing Can Increase Your Success With Outreach

Reacting promptly to link opportunities - in close to real time is a great way to increase your outreach hit rate

Which would you be more likely to add a link to:

a) An old article, published last year that you have probably forgotten about and moved on from
b) An article you have published in the past month and are still actively promoting?

I'm sure you'll agree, the answer is b.

You can use specific monitoring tools to send you an email when someone:

1. Links to specific competitor content

2. Mentions your brand or a keyword you are tracking

These are link building opportunities and early outreach can yield excellent results.

Recommendation
If someone links to your competitor's content - reach out quickly and ask if they would consider linking to your similar resource.

If someone writes a new article about your target keyword - reach out quickly and point them to your own resource.

3: You Can Learn From Real Industry Experiences

Ahref conducted a survey on on link building strategies and we can learn from the results. The focus was on:

Which link building tactics are the most popular

How effective each tactic is considered

Here are the results.

3.1 Most Popular

There were 628 respondents to this question. The result turns out white hat strategies (link bait, guest blogging, infographics) are the most popular link building strategies.

3.2 Most Effective

There were 428 respondents to this question. Link bait was rated the most popular link building strategy and scored the highest in terms of effectiveness.

4: Link Building Strategies

Now let's take a closer look at some of the individual strategies. We have decided to limit this section to tactics we either recommend, or that are proven to still be effective (although we may not necessarily recommend them).

This means that tactics such as scaled social bookmarking and tiered link building did not make the list. Why? Because they simply DO NOT WORK.

For each tactic we start with a brief overview, followed by scores from our survey + ratings for:

difficulty (low/medium/high)
cost (low/medium/high)
link value (low/medium/high)
penalty risk (low/medium/high)
recommended (yes/no)

We start with the most popular and effective tactic - link bait.

1. Link Bait

Link bait is a wide strategy, and link bait content can take on many forms - including many of the individual tactics which follow in this guide.

In simple terms however, link bait refers to creating content which attracts links naturally due to its high value or unique proposition. Links are considered rather than built. Although that is not to say that link bait content does not require promotion.

That value could come from:

In depth research
Unique data
A survey
Attractive/unique graphics
A free tool

Link bait is white hat link building in its purest form and is a return to the way Google originally envisaged links would vote the best content to the top.

By definition, link bait requires a high quality resource as bait. A piece of content that will engage users, is likely to be widely shared, and ultimately deserves to rank in search.

2. Ego Bait

Ego Bait is really just about attempting to engage influencers to further amplify your work and build links. It's a very basic marketing/psychology principle - the element of reciprocity. The principle is:

If you positively feature another person, they're more likely to return the favor.
- Jesse Stoler
 

While influencers can often seem unapproachable -  particularly when you are starting out - most of them are marketers just like you and will be pleased to be featured, quoted, or mentioned

Some effective ego-bait tactics include:

nterviewing an influencer on your site
Including an influencer in an expert roundup (although this tactic has become a little over-used in the marketing niche)
Quoting an influencer in your content, or linking to their site
Including an influencer in a top 10 list

Most influencers will be happy to at least share content that shows them in a positive light - amplifying its reach and potentially leading to links.

3. Broken Link Building

Broken link building is starting to get a bad rep. People think it's a narrow, straightforward strategy, when in reality it's not. You can get more creative with this strategy than any other link building technique out there

Useful resources disappear from the web. Perhaps the company behind the site went out of business. Perhaps the site is no longer actively maintained.

For the link builder this represents an opportunity:

Creating a similar resource on your own site, then reaching out to sites with broken links and offering your content as an alternative can yield a reasonably high success rate. Most webmasters will be keen to fix errors on their site.

4. Link Reclamation

Link building isn't always about discovering new opportunities. Sometimes it can simply involve taking advantage of opportunities that already exist but haven't been tapped into yet.

Link reclamation is broken down into 3 sub-strategies:

Fixing broken links pointing your site (+ broken internal links)
Finding (and actively monitoring for) unlinked brand mentions
Identifying uncredited use of copyrighted material, i.e. proprietary images or video

Here is a quick overview of each:

1. Fixing broken links pointing to your site.If there are broken links pointing to 404 pages on your site, then you are losing valuable link juice. Fortunately this is easy to fix.

2. Unlinked Brand Mentions When someone mentions your brand on the web they have already actively engaged with your business. But there may be cases when the writer didn't include a link back to your site. Reach out to the site, thank them for the mention, and ask if they would consider adding a link.

3. Uncredited Use Of Copyrighted Material

If someone uses your copyrighted material (for example a photo) on their site then you could of course ask them to remove it. However, this is a prime link building opportunity and a polite email informing them of the infringement and asking for accreditation should be all that's required to pick up a link.

5. Newsjacking

Newsjacking refers to tapping into the slipstream of trending news and injecting your own brand, or ideas into the story. It can be a very effective way to pick up high quality links from major publications.

Timing is everything in newsjacking. As a major story breaks, journalists will be eager to cover unique angles and gather quotes from experts who may be able to add insight. But you have to act fast as today's news is tomorrow's chip paper.

6. Guest Blogging

With data from 3 sites it's pretty safe to say that building links through guest posting remains an effective way to increase your site's organic traffic. Guest blogging continues to be an effective way to both get your website/brand in front of new audiences and build authority boosting links.

While low quality guest blogging has been squeezed by Google and is certainly not as effective as it once was, high quality guest blogging remains a preferred method of gaining white hat links.

7. Interviews

In this golden age of thought leadership, interview opportunities provide your clients with increased brand authority, professional credibility, and even domain authority. Getting interviewed on podcasts, news sites, blogs, and in other publications is also a straightforward way to build natural backlinks. And yet it's one of the most overlooked and underused natural link building strategies.

Many aspects of modern link building intersect with traditional PR. Building links through interviews falls into this category.

8. Infographics

This a simple link building formula that works every time: Great Content + Targeted Outreach + Added Value = Links

Infographics have been around for a while as a link building tactic, but after going out of fashion a few years back, they have experienced somewhat of a renaissance in recent times.

The reason why is that they remain a particularly effective way to maximise return for your outreach efforts.

Outreach is always more effective when there is a value proposition for the host site, and offering to provide a high quality infographic (often with a customised introduction) is one such value exchange. The host site gets some cool content - you get a backlink.

9. Content Syndication

Done correctly, syndication can be a very effective way to help develop your reputation and visibility online. While syndicating content everywhere and anywhere is not advisable, syndicating your content to quality sites (with link attribution) can lead to an increase in traffic and a boost in rankings.

Quality sites to syndicate your content to include:

Medium
Linkedin Pulse
Business 2 Community
Examiner

To get the most out of your syndication, you might want to consider writing a custom title and introduction for each platform.

10. Content Repurposing

Some users prefer visual infographics over text statistics. Some choose podcasts over ebooks. Reformatting your content for different mediums means appealing to more audiences and extending your reach.

Repurposing content can be a great way to both:
 

  1. Squeeze more value out of your content
  2. Acquire high quality links

For example, a blog post could be repurposed into:

A video
An infographic
An eBook
 A slideshare presentation

Each of these pieces of content can then be shared on relevant channels - with many of them offering the opportunity for a backlink.

As each content format (and platform) has a different potential audience, it can be argued that repurposing content can be classed as amplification and is therefore a white hat method of building links.

As with all link building strategies however, it should not be abused and any repurposed content should be high quality and capable of standing alone.

11. Link Building With Images

As far as linkable content goes, images are up there with the best. For blog owners in particular, images can be an SEO goldmine with most of the hard work being done for you already.

There are several ways you can leverage custom images to gain backlinks to your site. For example:

  1. Creating charts to visualise data
  2. Creating memes specific to your niche
  3. Creating images with quotes from famous bloggers in your niche (or celebrities)
  4. Creating pinnable images for your blog posts
  5. Providing stock images for use with attribution


Adding swipeable images to your blog posts (charts and graphs are particularly effective) and actively encouraging readers to download and share them on their own sites can be a particularly effective way to pick up links.

12. Directory Submissions

Submitting your site to directories can be both GOOD and BAD. It depends on which directories you submit to, how you go about submitting, your intent, and the approach you take.

While the days of mass directory submissions are over, there may be some SEO value to be had in acquiring links from quality, or niche specific directories.

Pagerank is the metric generally used to determine a directory's strength, however, this is a metric which has not been updated for some time (and is also open to manipulation). We would therefore advise against using this in your consideration process.

To determine the quality of a directory, we would recommend checking the following:

Human review. Ensure that all links added to the directory go through a human review before going live.
Quality of sites in the directory. Check the quality of the sites that the directory includes and also whether there are obvious manipulated anchor text links from the directory pages.
The age of the directory. Use archive.org to ensure it has been around for some time in its current form.
The directory's backlink profile. Ensure the site has a relatively clean link profile, and has not been building spammy links.
Google's cache. Check that the page where your link would be placed is cached by Google. You can use the command cache: thedirectory.com/theurl

Notwithstanding the above, directory submissions should be a small part (if any) of your overall link building strategy.

13. Press Release Distribution

Press releases are still beneficial for SEO, but their power and their nature are in the middle of a transformative shift. If you're going to include them in your optimization strategy, you need to understand the current scope of press release tactics, and find ways to mitigate their potential drawbacks.

As with directories, mass press release distribution is a link building tactic which now offers little benefit and may be a sign of manipulative link building. However, press release distribution, with the goal of attracting genuine press, is a legitimate PR tactic - which makes it a legitimate link building tactic.

If you have something genuinely newsworthy (a site launch would qualify), choose one channel to distribute your press release and make sure it is:

    High quality
    Written in the third party

This will increase the chances of it being picked up and leading to more links.

Note that press releases are not the place to build your anchor text links: branded links are recommended.

14. Local Citations

Remember, your business listing is essentially your business identity, it reflects your company and for some potential customers it will be the first interaction they have with your business. Make sure you spend the time creating a listing that best reflects your company and what you do/offer.

Building citations on local business directories and portals remains an effective tactic for boosting local SEO.

Business directories tend to have higher acceptance standards that general web directories and will only list legitimate businesses. They are therefore likely to be reasonably well trusted by Google.

It should be noted that not every business directory will include a link back to your site, however, many SEOs believe that a mention from a trusted resource may be counted by Google as an inferred link and assist with rankings.

Consistency in your business's contact details (name, address, phone number) is key to maximising the impact of your citation building.

15. Blog Commenting

Regardless of your ultimate opinion on the SEO benefit of blog commenting, you cannot dispute the branding and awareness benefits of a solid blog commenting strategy.

Blog commenting is one of the easiest ways to get backlinks to a new or old website. In fact, an effective blog commenting strategy will make sure your backlink graph remains constant or goes up with time.

Google likes to see active participating in a niche and commenting on blogs is a good way to show you are an engaged member of a community.

Commenting is also a good way to build relationships with other bloggers. This will help with future outreach as it is always easier if you are known by the site you are reaching out to.

Again, mass commenting will not work, but genuine, thoughtful commenting on a select number of blogs may help with rankings.

Quality comments, which add insight and show expertise, can also drive traffic back to your own site and help to grow your audience. This could be classified as an indirect ranking factor.

16. Contributing In Niche Forums

A forum link has potential to send decent, qualified referral traffic your way. But more importantly, building a forum link still leads to exposure to a niche audience. It's relationship building. And the power of relationship building is that a good relationship can build your next link.

There is a saying in SEO "go where your audience is" and most niches will have at least one forum where your potential customers/clients hang out.

If you are an active participant in a forum, you should have no problem dropping an occasional link back to your site - where that link adds value or answers a question.

These are good links for both traffic and conversions. Participating in a forum and showing your expertise will help to build your trust in the community and anyone clicking through to your site will be semi-qualified.

17. Participating In Niche Community Sites

Identifying subreddits related to your niche, participating, and occasionally sharing genuinely interesting and relevant content from your own site is a legitimate way to build links that also drive traffic.

Number of upvotes (that number varies from subreddit to subreddit) they become dofollow - increasing their SEO value.

A popular Reddit submission is also likely to bring in additional editorial links, as many curation sites use Reddit to source their content.

Reddit aside, there are many industry specific community sites (for example inbound.org for marketers). Again, active participation will present opportunity for building both links and relationships.

18. Answering Questions (Quora, Yahoo etc)

Quora links are marked as nofollow which means they don't pass any link juice to your site. However, adding links to answers on Quora is a great overall inbound strategy because you'll increase your authority, drive traffic to your site and raise brand awareness. Plus no-follow links can help build a well-rounded backlink portfolio.

While the direct SEO value is up for debate, links from question and answer style sites - such as Quora and Yahoo Answers - are certainly a good way to drive traffic to your site and build your authority in a niche.

They can also be a great way to identify trending topics in a niche.

If you notice a particular question is being asked consistently, there is a good chance that is because those posing the question have failed to find an answer in Google. Creating content on your own site that fills that information gap presents an opportunity for both bringing in search traffic and future link building.

Conclusions

Quality backlinkks are one of the strongest factors that build up ranking in Google and other search engines. Google is concerned with the backlinks your website receive and the quality of the links too. In this article, we shall be looking at how to build quality links which we can also call good backlinks, we shall also look at what should be avoided which constitute back link building. Put simply, this article outlines the difference between good and bad backlinks.

When you begin the task of acquiring quality and relevant backlinks to your website there are many factors that can increase or decrease your search engine rankings.

A quality backlink pointing to your site should be in the same category and relevant in content to your website. The page where your link is located should be indexed by Google and the page should also have a Google page rank. The webpage where your link is located should also contain no more than 30 other out-going links to other websites. Link pages with more than 30 out-going links are less relevant to the search engines. Having your link posted on this type of webpage can affect your search engine rankings in a negative way. Other excellent techniques of acquiring backlinks are directory submissions, posting articles, blogs and forums.

For directory submissions select the proper directory category and take a look at how many other websites are contained in the category where your link would be posted, if you can manage to get on the first or second page of the listings, this is a quality backlink. Also look at the Google page rank of the landing page for your link. If the page has a Google page rank this is also a quality backlink.

Stay within your category, relevant content is very important to the search engines. Write an article preferably relevant in content to your website and submit the article to high quality article directories. Blogs are an excellent way to get quality one-way backlinks, Blog sites also receive tons of traffic, which in turn give your site more exposure. Posting your link on forum pages is also an efficient method of aquiring backlinks instantly.

Backlinks to avoid would be a zero page ranked webpage, especially if the home page has a zero page rank. Links posted within framed webpages which will also steal your traffic. Especially avoid link farms, webpages which contain more than 100 unrelated outgoing links, This type of link page is frowned upon by many major search engines. Avoid Webpages with mirror sites containing the exact same content with a different URL, also pages that utilize redirects and URL cloaking. Never post your link on a webpage that contains a no follow or no index robots meta tag within the source code. Dynamic websites with question marks in the URL should be avoided because they are not always indexed by the search engines.

Avoid posting your link on a page that opens very slow or contains mostly ads and flash banners. Try not to acquire or purchase great numbers of backlinks in a short period of time, backlinks should be accumulated gradually. Also avoid webpages and directories that list their results in alphabetical order, as their database increases your link could be moved to a less relevant page with less pagerank. Quality backlinks are one of the most important factors involved in the process of achieving high search engine ranking.

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