How to Build Backlinks: A Beginner’s Guide to Link Building

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Building backlinks is the backbone of any SEO efforts. The world of backlinks, however, is somewhat of a black box to the naked eye.

Throughout this article, we’ll break down the basics behind backlinks and define some SEO terms along the way.

If you want to rank high in Google – you need to have links!

And yet links aren’t the answer to everything. In many cases merely getting more links than your competitors won’t guarantee that you will outrank them. There are many other factors besides links that can influence where you rank in Google.

Conceptually, most link building tactics and strategies fall into one of the following four buckets:

  1. Add – manually add links to websites;
  2. Ask – reach out to website owners directly to ask for a link;
  3. Buy – pay for them
  4. Earn – get organic links from people who visited your page.

(these come together into a totally un-memorable acronym – AABE*)*

We’re talking about link building tactics that allow you to manually add your link to some website, without asking anyone’s permission. Some examples would be:

  • Business directory submissions;
  • Social profile creation;
  • Blog commenting;
  • Posting to forums, communities & Q&A sites;
  • Creating job search listings;
  • etc.

These kinds of links bring very little value for one simple reason – anyone can easily get them.

So you should only bother with such links in the first few weeks of your website going live. After that, it’ll be better to switch your focus to acquiring higher quality links.

This is when you reach out to some website directly and try to negotiate a link. Some of the most popular tactics that SEOs use to persuade website owners to link to them are:

  • Guest blogging — create useful content for their website.
  • Skyscraper technique — show them a better resource than the one they’re linking to.
  • Link inserts — show them a resource with exhaustive information on something they mentioned briefly.
  • Ego bait — mention them or their work in your own content in a positive light.
  • Testimonials (& Case studies) — give positive feedback about their product or service.
  • Link exchanges — link exchanges (duh!).
  • Resource page link building — show them a good resource that fits their collection.
  • Broken link building — help them fix a broken link on their page.
  • Image link building — ask to get credit for using your image (or actually offer them to use your image on their page).
  • Unlinked mentions — ask to turn the plain-text mention of your brand into a link.
  • Link moves — ask to make changes to an existing link.
  • HARO (& journalist requests) — give an “expert quote” for their article.
  • PR — give them a killer story.

The tactics listed above seem quite reasonable, but once you actually try them out, you’re quickly going to find out that:

  • Bloggers don’t want your guest article.
  • Your “Skyscraper” isn’t that good after all.
  • Your mention of their work in your post has led to just a brief “thanks.”
  • etc.

Asking for links is always an EXCHANGE OF VALUE!

You get value from their link. What do they get?

The answer usually boils down to just three options:

  1. They already know and respect you. They’ve benefited from your work somehow in the past, so they’re happy to help you back;
  2. Your content is so mind-blowingly awesome that linking to it would simply make them look (and feel) good;
  3. They want something from you in exchange.

The first two are generally a prerogative of big brands and eminent individuals. So more often than not your case would be #3.

Google is strongly against buying links.

This means that buying links is risky and might get you in trouble. Especially if you’re a newbie and you don’t know what you’re doing.

But the truth is, many people in the SEO industry do buy links. Some do it in grey hat/black hat ways and still manage to fly under the radar. While others manage to “negotiate” perfectly legitimate links from reputable websites and minimize risks: via partnerships, co-marketing, etc.

This is when people link to your content without you having to personally ask them to do it.

To make this happen, you need to create content of exceptional quality and promote it hard to reach as many people as you possibly can.

Here are a few tactics and strategies that fall into this category:

  • Linkbait (or linkable assets) – data studies, infographics, maps, surveys, awards;
  • Podcasts / interviews / expert roundups;
  • Content promotion;
  • etc.

Two important factors in earning links are your reputation and credibility. Sometimes even the most amazing piece of content might go unnoticed if it is published by a newbie blogger. While a reputable person can get tons of links to rather trivial stuff.

But the way you build your reputation and credibility is by consistently creating high quality work that people enjoy. So while earning links might seem hard when starting out, it should eventually become your primary link acquisition strategy.

I’m sure you’re well aware that Google treats links as “votes.” The more votes a page has, the more Google likes it.

But, unlike with modern democracy, those votes are not equal. There are 6 main factors that determine how much a given link will help your page to rank higher in Google:

  1. Authority;
  2. Relevance;
  3. Anchor text;
  4. Nofollow vs follow;
  5. Placement;
  6. Destination.

A good understanding of these factors helps a lot in prioritising your link building efforts.

Let me expand on just the first two:

Authority

There’s “page authority” and there’s “website authority.”

“Page authority” refers back to Google’s original PageRank algorithm, according to which (in layman’s terms) a page with more votes of its own casts a stronger vote.

That is why SEOs often strive to acquire links from old pages with strong backlink profiles or even build backlinks to the pages that they have acquired links from (also known as “Tier 2 links”).

But a newly published page may very well acquire lots of backlinks in the long run too. So don’t blindly prioritise building links from existing pages over the newly published ones. Prioritise building links from pages that are link-worthy.

As for “website authority” – folks at Google have consistently denied that it even exists. But at the same time it feels quite intuitive that a link from The New York Times should have more value than a link from your neighbour’s website (unless of course your neighbour is Jeff Bezos).

But then again, maybe “website authority” is nothing else but a high concentration of high-authority pages on a given website? Unfortunately, no one can give you a definitive answer to that question.

At Ahrefs, they measure website authority with a metric called Domain rating (DR) and it is based solely on the strength of the backlink profile of a given website. Think of something like PageRank, but for entire domains, rather than individual pages.

A common SEO rookie mistake is to neglect link opportunities from low authority sites, as if they’re somehow detrimental to your SEO success. They’re not. Just like a newly published page can acquire backlinks over time (boosting the value of a link from it) a low-authority website can become a big deal in a few years time.

So the right way to use a website authority metric like DR is for estimating the relative amount of effort that it makes sense to invest in acquiring a link from a given website.

For example, if an owner of a DR20 website is asking for a short quote for their article – go for it! But if they ask you to write a 5,000 word long guest post – you might want to save that for a DR60+ website.

Relevance

Let’s say you have a blog about dogs. Would you rather get a link from TechCrunch (high authority) or some popular blog about dogs (high relevance)?

There’s no “right” answer. In fact, there’s quite a bit of debate in the SEO world on which one is more important – authority or relevance.

Whichever side you’re on, most SEOs agree that the relevance of a linking website is a very strong factor in the eyes of Google. So if you want your website to do well in Google, make sure that many other websites from your industry are linking to it.

So what are the best and most effective ways to get links?

Arguably, it’s these ones:

Competitor link research is not really a “tactic” per se, but rather a way of uncovering the exact tactics and strategies that work well in your niche. If they managed to acquire those links, then you too should be able to do it.

But don’t merely follow their footsteps. Your goal is to figure out how to acquire links faster and more efficiently than they do.

  • Do they get most of their links from organic product reviews?
  • Did they create a killer linkable asset?
  • Do they exchange links with other bloggers?
  • Did they publish a ton of guest articles?

Whatever works for them, you have to find ways to execute it more efficiently.

2. Creating linkable assets.

“Linkable assets” are noteworthy pages of your website that people naturally want to link to.

The most common types of such pages are:

  • Studies & research;
  • “How to” guides & tutorials;
  • Definitions & coined terms;
  • Online tools & calculators;
  • Infographics & “Map-o-graphics;”
  • Awards & rankings.

I’m sure even in the most boring industries there’s a way to create an interesting piece of content that would attract links. And then you can use internal links to send some of that “link juice” to the pages that you want to rank well.

3. Content promotion.

Even the most link-worthy content won’t get any links unless people discover it first.

That is why promoting your content is absolutely essential for link acquisition.

The most proactive tactic would obviously be email outreach – finding relevant websites & pages and reaching out to their authors asking to get mentioned.

But other than that, any conventional content promotion method might very well result in some organic links. The more people discover your content, the higher the chance that some of them will mention it on their website sometime later.

4. Guest blogging

Websites need to publish quality content if they want to get traffic. For that reason many of them employ writers and pay them handsomely to create high quality content that will bring visitors.

So if you reach out to such a website and offer them a high quality piece of content for free – there’s a very good chance that they’ll bite.

Here are two tips that will make your guest post pitches more effective:

  1. Work your way up. – The editors behind the top websites in your industry won’t waste time talking to you, unless you can show them examples of high quality content published on other reputable websites. So start from writing for smaller blogs and flaunt your best work while pitching bigger blogs.
  2. Do keyword research. – Website owners want traffic. So if you do a bit of keyword research and offer them a few relevant topics that they can rank for in Google, it will be harder for them to say no to your pitch.

There are many tools that might be useful for link building. But as a beginner, you only need two: a link prospecting tool and an email outreach tool.

  • For link prospecting I honestly believe there’s no better tool than Ahrefs’ Content Explorer. Just search for a keyword and the tool will spit out hundreds of thousands of pages that have mentioned this keyword in their content. These would be your link prospects.
  • For email outreach we ourselves use Pitchbox, but I know many other SEOs are happy with Buzzstream or MailShake.

Let’s wrap this up

Hopefully, you learned something after reading this detailed article. We try hard to create educational content for our readers, and backlink building is certainly no easy topic to discuss.

Here are some of our main takeaways from this article:

  1. If you can manually add a link to some website it has little to no SEO value.
  2. Asking for links only works if your content is truly exceptional.
  3. More often than not website owners would want something in exchange for linking to you.
  4. Buying links is very risky, so you better refrain from that.
  5. Quality content DOES attract links organically. But for that to happen you have to promote it hard.

These five takeaways alone should form a solid foundation for building up your knowledge of link building.

Contact Frasca Digital today if you need help building backlinks.

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