Do you know how important link building is to driving traffic to your website?
It’s still really important.
Helga Moreno is a passionate content creator and marketer at Ahrefs and she has written this fantastic post about link building.
Over to Helga:
Google, as well as other search engines, consider links the primary factors for ranking websites and pages. What does this mean for you? You have to build links.
There is a lot of information out there on the topic. Some of the articles are really good, but not all of them of course.
That’s why I decided to put together the best pieces of relevant content into a straightforward guide. It is aimed to teach you to build links the right way. The guide is suitable both for newbies and seasoned SEOs.
It will cover essential tactics of link building.
But let’s start with the basics
What is link building
It’s simple, we call link building the process of acquiring new inbound links or backlinks to a website from external sites.
Photo by Kaley Dykstra on Unsplash
You should know the goal of the most link building campaigns. It is increasing search traffic from Google. Though, links from popular sites can also be a great source of referral traffic.
What kind of links should you hunt for?
Strictly speaking, each link to a website can be considered a vote. Which means that the more votes a site gets, the more likely it is to show up for a particular search query.
However, the system doesn’t work like this: ‘one member = one vote’.
There are many factors which determine the weight of a particular link in Google and its impact on future rankings. Here are some of them:
Linking Page/Site Authority
As a site amasses links, its own authority grows accordingly. Then it is able to pass on more authority when it links out.
So a link from a high authority site like The New York Times will be more powerful than a link from a low authority site, for example, a new site with no inbound links of its own.
You can measure the authority of a linking page with the help of your favorite marketing tool.
For instance, Ahrefs has 2 helpful metrics for the purpose. They are:
- Domain Rating (DR). It refers to the overall strength (authority) of a site and is measured from 0-100, where 0 is no authority (like in the case with a new site with no inbound links) and 100 is the highest number.
- URL Rating (UR). It refers to the strength (authority) of an individual page and is measured from 0-100.
Please take a look at the example below. Here you can see that The New York Times page has a DR score of 94 and a UR score of 91.
You can also see that Ahrefs has discovered 1.22M domains linking to this page. These links have contributed directly to the UR score.
Nofollow links also matter
Some links, for example, the ones from blog comments may have the rel=”nofollow” attribute.
<a rel=”nofollow” href=” http://www.example.com/ “>Example of nofollow link</a>
Any paid links must have the rel=”nofollow” attribute to comply with Google’s guidelines.
The nofollow attribute gives search engines instructions not to follow the link. In theory, links having this attribute should not contribute to rankings. However, there are different opinions on whether this is actually true.
For example, links from Wikipedia have the nofollow attribute, but many SEO experts consider them beneficial for rankings because of the high site’s authority.
No doubt that ‘dofollow’ links are preferred, but a nofollow link from high-quality resource may contribute to your rankings, so it’s definitely a good thing to acquire. BTW, if you want your backlink profile look more natural, there should be both ‘nofollow’ and ‘dofollow’ links.
Have you ever noticed that the search engines attribute more weight to certain types of links?
For instance, a text link within content may get more authority than the one in a sidebar or footer. This happens because an in-content link is more likely to be:
- Actually clicked
- Surrounded by relevant text
Google’s ‘Reasonable Surfer’ patent states that the search engine will endeavor to determine how likely a link is to be ‘clicked’ and then decide how much weight it will pass.
Notwithstanding the above, Google continues to give weight to links from footers, sidebars etc. when the linking site is an authority.
The anchor text
For a long time, search engines have used anchor text (which is the words that are used to link) as a ranking factor.
For example, a web page with a target keyword of “diamond rings” is likely to benefit from a percentage of its inbound links containing that phrase in either partial or exact match form:
- Exact match: diamond rings
- Partial match: this page about diamond rings
Though, while it is clear that keyword use in anchor text makes a positive impact on rankings, I must point out that overuse of keyword rich anchors can do just the opposite.
Too many anchor text links can be a signal of manipulation, which may incur link penalties, such as Google Penguin.
We couldn’t help mentioning some of the factors that may influence the ‘relevancy’ of a link and the weight assigned to it by Google.
- The anchor text
- Other outbound links on the page
The text immediately surrounding a link is also an important ranking signal.
Google holds a patent (“Ranking based on reference contexts”). It could be taken as a blueprint for inferring context from surrounding text.
Links flagged by Google as unnatural are likely to be discounted and won’t contribute to your rankings. A lot of unnatural links may lead to a penalty and a rankings/traffic decrease.
There is some arguing about unnatural link definition. Some believe that any built link is aimed to manipulate search results. Therefore, it is unnatural.
I think this opinion is too literal. This is a kind of Google’s guideline, to be more accurate a line often repeated by ‘black hat’ SEOs when they need to incorrectly justify their approach to link building.
From my viewpoint, any link of editorial choice is white hat and Google safe. It doesn’t matter whether the linking site found your content organically or you pointed them to it through outreach or any other promotion.
Links that are built manually for driving traffic (e.g. guest blogging, content repurposing, content syndication) are also safe when used as part of a wider link building campaign and not abused.
Link building strategies
Now it’s time to take a closer look at some of the individual link-building strategies. I am going to enumerate only proven and efficient techniques in this section.
Well, we start with the most popular and effective tactic from the Ahrefs survey – link bait.
Photo by Tom Quandt on Unsplash
Link bait is a broad strategy. ‘Link bait content’ can take multiple forms that include many of the individual tactics. We will cover them later on in this guide.
In plain English, link bait refers to creating content which attracts links naturally because of the high value or unique proposition. Such links are considered ‘earned’ rather than ‘built’. But I don’t want to say that link bait content does not require promotion.
Where could value come from:
- In-depth research
- Unique data
- A survey
- Attractive/unique graphics
- A free tool
Link bait is an example of white hat link building in its purest form. It was originally envisaged by Google that links would ‘vote’ the best content to the top.
Link bait requires a top-quality resource as ‘bait’. An engaging piece of content will be loved by users and widely shared by them. Such kind of content simply deserves to rank in search.
Side projeсts and free tools is a second link building tactic on our list, which would also fall under link bait.
Side projects would generally be separate from but related to the main product or service you offer. They should provide value on their own.
Photo by Alex Perez on Unsplash
Very often influencers seem hard to approach, especially to newbies. However, you should remember that most of them are marketers, just like you. They would love to be featured, quoted, or mentioned.
Here are some of the effective ego-bait tactics:
- Interview an influencer on your site
- Include an influencer in an expert roundup
- Quote an influencer in your content, or link to their site
- Include an influencer in a top 10 list
Most of the influencers will be happy to share content that shows their strongest sides. This amplifies your campaign reach and potentially leads to links.
Broken link building
Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash
As time passes by and the internet ages, many of the erst cool resources simply vanish from the web. This happens because companies behind the site go out of business or other reasons. Maybe the site is not actively maintained anymore.
But there is a blessing in disguise and this is an opportunity for the link builder.
You can create a similar resource on your own site, then reach out to sites with broken links and offer them your content. The method can bring you a pretty high success rate. Most webmasters will be interested in fixing errors on their site.
Link reclamation can be broken into 3 sub-strategies:
- Fixing broken links leading to your site. This includes fixing broken internal links either.
- Finding and monitoring for unlinked brand mentions
- Identifying the uncredited use of copyrighted material, i.e. proprietary images or video
Let’s say a couple of sentences about each subcategory.
Fixing broken links that point to your site
Broken links pointing to 404 pages on your site make you lose valuable link juice. But this is easy to fix.
Here, at Ahrefs we do it with the help of Broken Link Checker and a free WordPress Redirection plugin.
Unlinked brand mentions
If someone mentions your brand on the web but doesn’t include a link back to your site, reach out to this person/website, thank them for the mention, and ask them to add a link.
Uncredited use of copyrighted material
If some website uses your copyrighted material (for example a photo or a video), you can either ask them to remove it or view the situation as one more link building opportunity. Write a polite email and inform them of the infringement. Ask for accreditation, that’s all required to pick up a link.
Use Google’s reverse image search or another tool if you know the better one to find sites using your copyrighted images.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Practicing newsjacking means tapping into the stream of hot news and introducing your own brand or ideas into the story.
This method can work great for picking up high-quality links from major publications.
But the technique has its own peculiarity. It’s time limitations. There is a reason for that. As a major story happens, journalists are passionate about covering it from unique angles and gathering quotes from experts eager to add insight. You must be fast as today’s news mean nothing tomorrow.
Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash
Guest blogging is still an effective way to both show your website/brand to the new audiences and build authority increasing links.
Low-quality guest blogging is not effective today and it has been squeezed by Google. But high-quality guest blogging still stays a preferred method of white hat links gaining.
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Many aspects of modern link building have something in common with traditional PR. Building links with the help of interviews fall into this category.
Here are some of the common interview forms:
- Blog interviews
- Participating in ‘expert roundup’ posts
In every case, the goal of the interview is growing your profile in your niche and pick up some quality links during the process. These links also drive traffic, so they are on the white side of the link building color wheel.
Source: Spider Food
Infographics are good old link building tactic. They have been out of fashion a few years back, but now infographics are experiencing a kind of renaissance.
They also remain a particularly effective way to maximize return for your outreach efforts. Outreach is always more effective when it offers a value proposition for the host site, and providing a good-looking quality infographic coming with the customised introduction is one way of such value exchange. You give some cool content to the host site and it rewards you with a backlink.
Photo by Jens Kreuter on Unsplash
Syndicating your content everywhere is not recommended, but doing this on quality sites with link attribution can lead to traffic increase and rankings boost.
Such quality sites may include:
If you want to get the most out of your syndication, write a custom title and introduction for each platform.
Photo by Victor Sánchez Berruezo on Unsplash
Repurposing content is great for squeezing more value out of your content and acquiring high-quality links.
What can you repurpose a blog post to?
You can share your repurposed pieces of content on relevant channels. Many of them offer the opportunity for a backlink.
Just like any other link building strategy, the method should not be abused and your repurposed content must be of high quality and capable of standing alone.
Link building with images
Photo by Beata Ratuszniak on Unsplash
Here are some of the ways for you to leverage custom images to gain backlinks to your site:
- Creating charts to visualize data
- Creating memes specific to your niche
- Creating images with quotes from famous bloggers in your niche or celebrities
- Creating pinnable images for your blog posts
- Providing stock images for use with attribution
BTW, adding ‘swipeable’ images like charts and graphs to your blog posts is very effective. It encourages readers to download and share them on their own sites, which can be a particularly effective way to pick up links.
Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash
The days of mass directory submissions are gone, but there may be some SEO value in acquiring links from quality, or niche specific directories.
I would recommend to check out the following to determine the quality of a directory:
- Make sure that all links added to the directory go through a human review before they go live.
- Check the quality of sites the directory includes and whether there are obvious manipulated anchor text links from the directory pages.
- Check the directory age. Use org to make sure it has been around for a while in its current form.
- Choose the directory’s backlink profile using your favorite marketing tool. The website should have a relatively clean link profile without spammy links.
- Check that the page where your link would be placed is cached by Google. Use the cache:thedirectory.com/theurl command or other if you know a better one.
Please note that directory submissions should be a small part of your overall link building strategy. Maybe you won’t use them at all.
Press release distribution
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Just like in case with directories, mass press release distribution is a risky link building tactic. It now offers little benefit and may be a sign of manipulative link building.
Nevertheless, if the press release is distributed with the goal of attracting genuine press, it is a legitimate PR tactic and makes it a legitimate link building tactic accordingly.
If you have some newsworthy information, like site launch, for instance, choose one channel to distribute your press release and make sure that it is high quality and written in the third party.
This will boost its chances to be picked up and lead to more links.
Press releases are not the right place to build your anchor text links, branded links are recommended here.
Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash
Build citations on local business directories and portals as it remains an effective tactic for improving local SEO.
Business directories have higher acceptance standards than general web directories. They list only legitimate businesses. Therefore, they are trusted by Google.
Please note that not every business directory will include a link back to your site, however, many SEOs believe that even a mention from a trusted resource may be counted as an ‘inferred link’ by Google and assist you with rankings.
Blog commenting is a simple way to get backlinks to a new or old website. An effective blog commenting strategy will ensure that your backlink graph will stay constant or even goes up with time.
Google likes to observe active participating in a niche. Therefore, commenting on blogs is a brilliant way to demonstrate that you are an engaged community member.
But that’s not all, commenting is also a good way to build relationships with other bloggers. This will help your future outreach. It is always easier to write to somebody you know and get a response.
Again, mass commenting will not work here, only genuine, insightful commenting on a select number of blogs may help your rankings.
Quality comments that contribute to the blog post, add insight and show expertise can also drive traffic back to your own site and help to grow your audience. This works as an indirect ranking factor.
Contributing to niche forums
A professional SEO knows that they should follow their audience. Indeed, most niches have at least one forum where your potential customers hang out.
If you are an active forum participant, it’s not a problem to drop an occasional link back to your site. It goes without saying that this link must add value to the discussion or answer a question.
Such links are good both for traffic and conversions. Participating in a forum and showing your expertise will help you build trust among the community members, so anyone browsing your site will be semi-qualified.
Participating in niche community sites
There is a subreddit for pretty much everything from knitting to SEO strategies.
Identify subreddits related to your niche, participate, and occasionally share valuable and relevant content from your own site. This is also a legitimate way to build links that drive traffic.
Do you know that once submissions achieve a certain number of upvotes, they become dofollow and increase their SEO value?
A popular Reddit submission may also bring in additional editorial links because many curation sites use Reddit to source their content.
Apart from Reddit, there are many industry-specific community sites, like inbound.org if we are talking about marketing. And again, active participation will make it possible to build both links and relationships.
Answering questions (Quora, Yahoo etc.)
Links from question and answer style sites like Quora and Yahoo Answers are a good way to drive traffic to your site and build your authority in a niche.
They can also be used to identify trending topics in a niche.
If you notice that a particular question is being asked every now and again, this means that the people asking it didn’t find an answer in Google. This your chance. Create content on your own site, fill this information gap anet an opportunity for both bringing in search traffic and future link building.
Sponsorships (charity, events etc.)
Photo by Alex Holyoake on Unsplash
It’s a common practice for charity/events organizations to list their sponsors. The info about sponsors often comes with a link back to their sites. Charities are trustworthy by nature and often have high domain authority, so these links may be beneficial for rankings.
Technically these are paid links, but they are relatively safe.
You can also offer a charity site to write about you on their site in exchange for some services you can render for free. For example, photographers could offer to take pictures of the event for free, these images will be posted on the charity site with link attribution.
Message from Ian: Most link building tactics require outreach. OutreachPlus is a super tool to help you automate and simplify your outreach. Check out our 2 week trial of outreachplus.
Over to you
It seems like I covered major link building tactics. I would love to hear your thoughts now. What link building tactics work at the moment from your opinion? What changes do you expect in link building sphere in the future? Maybe you have any additions to this guide.
Of course, your questions are also welcome at the comments section.
What else is left to say? I wish you best of luck with your own link building!
About the author
Helga Moreno is a passionate content creator and marketer at Ahrefs bold enough to believe that if there’s a book that she wants to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then she must write it herself.
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