Table of Contents
- What is link building?
- How does link building work?
- What is the purpose of link building?
- What is the best type of link?
- Authority & relevancy of link building
- How to start a link building campaign
- Linkable assets
- Prospecting for Opportunities
- What are the link building techniques?
These are all good questions. The following article will focus on link building and will cover the basics for creating a solid link building campaign. Before reading this article however, it is important to understand the value of a backlink. If you are unfamiliar with why backlinks are important for your website and SEO strategy, check out our post on “What is Link Juice”.
What is Link Building?
Link building is the practice of promoting certain parts of your website to other webmasters through email, phone or other methods with the primary goal of securing a “link” (also called a hyperlink or backlink) on a certain page of their website that connects to your web page (also called a linkable asset).
How does link building work?
Link building works by obtaining external links back to your website. The process requires a two-part approach. Part one is to create great content on your website that incentives people to share it and link back to it from their website. Part two is to conduct outreach to third party websites requesting that they share your content on their website via hyperlink. Part two is essentially asking strangers for a favor. As such, it’s important to set up your link building campaigns in a way that leverages reasons why a website should fulfill your request.
What is the purpose of link building?
The goal of link building is to build high-quality backlinks that pass “link juice” (also called link equity or authority). These links will ultimately help your website rank higher in the search engines. There are dozens of rankings signals, but links are widely considered to be one of the top 3 rankings signals. The other major ranking signals in are:
Publish great stuff that people actually want to read. This content should be optimized for SEO with the right keywords and page structure so Google (and other search engines) can easily digest and understand the page (and the site as a whole). Here is a great starting guide from Search Engine Land.
Mobile Friendliness & UX
Google is rolling out a mobile-first index that will ultimately create two ranking indices: Desktop & Mobile. Within these, user experience (UX), mobile page speed, and the mobile experience will be a big part of this. Here is a mobile-first guide from Moz. UX covers a lot of signals, but some of the most well known are bounce rate, ease of navigation, speed, and others.
This includes things like proper site structure and optimized meta-data. Check out this resource for more information. We offer SEO audits for those looking to learn more about Technical SEO.
The general rule of thumb when it comes to link building is that links are like votes. Whomever has the most the strongest votes, gets to rank first.
EAT – Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness
These considerations were rolled out in Google’s 2018 “medic” algorithm update. These signals essentially indicate to Google how trustworthy your company and website are and if you should be considered an authoritative and trusted expert in your space. You can learn more about E-A-T and how it influences SEO and Google’s algorithm in our post, “Improving Your E-A-T Rating”.
What is the best type of link?
Here at Inseev, we earn backlinks from strong websites and these links help improve our clients’ SEO profiles. There are numerous factors that make a link strong. The first, and arguably most important, is the HTML structure of a link. For the purpose of link building, we want to earn links that pass the mighty link juice. This happens through a “do-follow” link. The “do-follow” aspect comes from a command in the <a href> tag that omits the rel=nofollow tag.
Here is an example from Webnots.com:
In the example above, the link will be followed because there is not a rel=nofollow in the <a href> tag. It may seem a bit confusing, but there must be a way to tell the robots not to follow or “count” a link. The no-follow tag is used to indicate that the website linking to the external page, cannot be certain of the authority or trustworthiness of the page they are linking to.
Here is the structure of a “no-follow” link:
In 2019 Google rolled out two additional tag directives: rel=”sponsored” and rel=”ugc”. The sponsored directive is to indicate if a placement was paid for. The UGC directive is used to indicate user-generated content. For more information on these additional directives, check out Google’s post on qualifying outbound links. With these additional tag directives, some SEO’s have hypothesized that Google may start allowing some authority to flow through no-follow tags. There have not been any conclusive studies to indicate if this is the case.
More information on the HMTL code of a backlink can be found on Google’s Webmaster Support here. There are a number of other factors that constitute a good link, but based on current information, the links won’t add significant value if they are no-followed. These factors are:
Relevance of the link
- This is:
- How relevant the link is to the page it connects with
- How relevant the two sites are to each other
- How relevant the website that gives the link is to the industry as a whole
- This is:
- For example, a page talking about flowers that links to a website about gambling is out of context and would not be considered a good link.
- For example, a page talking about flowers that links to a website about gambling is out of context and would not be considered a good link.
Position of the link
- The best links are in the body of the content and need to actually be put in the copy by the webmaster. Links in the comments, footers, or headers of a page are usually seen as spammy and ultimately dangerous. This is a result of SEO’s stuffing links in these sections of a website. Google caught on and has since devalued these types of links. Hidden links are especially dangerous as it is a clear sign of an attempt to trick the robot into counting links that the user cannot see.
Domain Authority (DA) of the website giving the link
- DA is a made up metric (from 1-100) that Moz uses to score the domain as a whole. Facebook has a score of 100. We use DA as our metric, but there are others, such as Ahref’s Domain Rating, Semrush’s authority score and Majestic’s Citation and Trust Flow. In addition to DA, Page Authority (PA), or strength of an individual page, is also an important factor in a link’s strength. However, in general, the higher the DA, the better the link. For more information on the difference between Domain Authority and Page Authority, check out our post, “DA vs PA: What’s the Difference and What Does Your Site Need“.
Authority & Relevancy of Link Building
At Inseev, we follow the theory that good backlinks help a website and bad links do not. We personally believe in this philosophy: “Earn backlinks from websites that are authoritative and relevant to your industry.”
While we already covered the value of a link. There are a few metrics that help to identify the difference between good links and bad links. Keep in mind that these metrics are generated by 3rd party tools with the intention of recreating how we think Google is interpreting a website’s authority.
There is some important information to know about the page that is linking to you.
Page Authority & Relevancy
Pages with rankings are better to get links from. This goes back to the link juice (or value of a link). More specifically, pages with rankings in your industry are better to get links from. Let’s say your company just wrote an awesome piece on tips for buying a house. The absolute best link (although, probably improbably in most cases), is to get links from all of the top 100 articles ranking for the term “How to buy a house”:
Pro Tip: Look for pages that rank for similar terms to the one you want to rank for. Instead of looking at pages already ranking for “How to buy a house” try reaching out to pages ranking for terms like “How to sell a house” or “How to get a house loan”.
Important Consideration: If a site has a strong DA or DR but no traffic or ranking keywords, it is likely that website has engaged in practices to inflate the score from a 3rd party tool. This is seen as a spammy and unsafe practice.
Penguin is the most important algorithm update for link builders. It basically says, bad links will be ignored and not punished. The moral of the story here is do not build spammy links. More information on Penguin from Search Engine Land can be found here.
Authority Tools for Link Building
While we leverage Moz’s DA for our strength scoring, we also leverage other tools to understand the power of a link:
Semrush: To understand if a page has keyword rankings. Pages with more keyword rankings have more value.
Ahrefs: To look at links and find other link opportunities by checking out the competitor’s backlink profiles. Read more in the tactic section below.
Now that the basics are covered. It is time to learn about the link building tactics. For additional reading please check out the following resources:
How to Start a Link Building Campaign
The most important part of link building is organizing your tactics. I like to call this: Three Steps for Link Success. A link building campaign is centered around 3 main factors:
A linkable asset
- This is the page you want a webmaster to link to on your website. There are many types of linkable assets and it depends on your strategy. For example, if a site’s primary focus is around selling a financial product, the homepage could become a linkable asset for people looking for that specific financial product. In most cases, the linkable asset is a piece of content or a specific page on a site. Exercise: find a linkable asset and target group to pitch.
- Pro Tip: Consider creating a linkable asset with the intention of using it as part of your strategy. This will allow you to create a piece that’s perfectly catered to your approach.
A prospecting strategy
- Prospecting is the practice of finding the right website and person to reach out to. For any link building campaign, it is important to know what type of website or page you are looking for. For example, if you are trying to pitch a linkable asset about flowers as a resource, your prospecting strategy will likely be focused around flower groups with “resource” pages. We will go over prospecting in more detail below.
An email pitch and follow-up cadence.
- A link building campaign is only as good as the pitch. Without a clear pitch, the webmaster will not know what to do. Follow ups are a link builder’s friend.
Let’s start with linkable assets. As mentioned above a linkable asset is something that you are planning to pitch out to a webmaster. However, linkable assets need to have a specific set of criteria in order to be successful.
First, the linkable asset should not be overly promotional. This is especially true with pitching a specific piece of content. Any piece that is promoting a service will be viewed as an ad and will likely result in the webmaster asking for money or directing you to their advertising department. The exception here is the homepage as a linkable asset. Taking the same example as above, a financial product website will serve as a resource for a list of sites with that specific financial product. Let’s Look at an example of the homepage being a linkable asset from Guided Choice:
Guided Choice’s homepage would be the linkable asset for any pages talking about companies that have the above financial products.
Second, the linkable asset should have value to someone learning about that topic. Creating good content is hard. However, link builders must either find a page worth sharing or create a value proposition that demonstrates the merit of a piece to the target webmaster.
Let’s look at an example from Guava Family’s Travel Crib:
They have a portable travel crib that is actually pretty awesome. However in the eyes of a webmaster, this crib is probably similar to other travel cribs on the market. In fact, this page may even be seen as too promotional because it is directly trying to sell the product.
In comes the value proposition. Any page can become a linkable asset if the value proposition fits the target website. What makes this page a great resource from a parent’s perspective?
- Free trial
There are more, but you get the point. We need to position the piece in a way that shows it is better or more unique than the competition. If we take the non-toxic route, we can look for people writing about non-toxic products for their children. There are likely groups that have resources we can pitch to. We could potentially create a campaign out of this. We would then need to prospect for link building opportunities.
Prospecting for Opportunities
As mentioned above, prospecting is the art of finding opportunities. I say “art” because it really is the toughest part of link building. At Inseev, our prospecting is not complete until we have the right page, the right contact, and the right pitch.
The right target page for a backlink
Where should our asset go on the target domain? This is the tricky part. If we want to scale our link building operation, we need a way to quickly find the right pages where our link could go.
Queue the data analysis…
At Inseev, we know that pitching as a resource (one type of tactic) successfully converts at between 0.5-1%. So, if our goal is to get 5 links from this tactic, we will need to email between 500-750 contacts. This could take a very, very long time if we search the web without any direction.
The direction comes from finding patterns in the types of pages or websites we want to get links from. Let’s say we want to find all of the flower websites that have resource pages. We would first use Google’s advanced search operators. (Google search operators will become your best friend).
In this example, we start with organizations (.orgs) because .org domains are generally strong. You’ll want to avoid pitching to other flower companies. After all, why would a flower company link to a competitor’s resource?
My first search would be something like this:
- Inurl:.org “Flower Resources”
After I get a sense of the types of organizations that have flower resource pages, I can find patterns in the URLs. Do they use /resources, /links, /helpful-resources, etc?
Pro Tip: Make sure the resource pages have outgoing dofollow links! If a website is only linking to their own material or uses nofollow tags, the chances of them adding your link without a nofollow tag are very slim.
Next I would add additional search operators to find other opportunities:
- Inurl:.org + inurl:resources + “gardening
This will give me most (if not all) .org websites that have the word “resources” in the URL and the word “gardening” somewhere on the page. From here I could make any number of searches to get different results and find patterns in the types of pages/URLs I am looking for.
Pro Tip: The Mozbar tool will allow you to pull the top 100 results into an excel sheet for faster prospecting. This will include DA, URL, and Title. Scrape box is another excellent tool to quickly complete multiple searches at once. We have a great Scrapebox tutorial for further reading.
Further Reading on Advanced Search Operators:
Ahrefs & Other Link Finding Tools
Another great way to prospect is by letting someone else do the work for you. Ahrefs’ Site Explorer is one of our favorite tools for discovering which sites are linking to a specific domain or page.
The easiest way to do this is to take your competition’s URL and toss it into the site explorer. Let’s take the example “laptop deals”. Say HP’s Laptops Deals Page is looking to compete with Best Buy (currently ranking #2 for the term “Laptop deals”). Best Buy’s URL has links from 74 different domains:
All I have to do is comb through this list and see if there are any pages where HP (or anyone else) can secure a feature as well! Ahrefs also has a great tool called Link Intersect where you can compare the backlink profile from several domains to identify easy opportunities. Semrush has a link building tool as well, simply enter the domain you are trying to build links to and the tool will generate a list of prospects.
Here is a list of other link building tools and their best features. Pro Tip: Combine the search operators and the Ahrefs linking tool while prospecting. For example, once you find a great resource page, check the backlink profile of those links to see if there are other pages your asset could secure a feature from.
After finding the right page to ask for a link from, the next step is finding the right contact.
The right contact
After the target page, the second most important piece of information is the right contact person. Ask yourself: Who should we contact and ask for a link from?
The right contact is extremely important because it can significantly speed up or slow down your link building campaign. Let’s say we’re targeting a university and wanted to reach out about a resource for their students. Hitting up the firstname.lastname@example.org will likely result in some admin in the general office that doesn’t care about a specific resource page. Instead we will want to find the department that runs that part of the website and the person that is in charge of it. If we can’t find the right person, we should email someone in that specific department to find the right contact.
On the other hand, if we are hitting up a general blog that is only operated by a few individuals an email@example.com email address is probably the right email to start with. Remember: Finding the right contact is highly dependent on the target website.
Pro tip: Never email anyone in an advertising or sales department. It will only lead to them asking for money.
What are the link building techniques?
Link building is all about leveraging the right tactics. There are a lot of tactics that require unique strategies. However, for the purpose of this article, I will highlight the best link building tactics that most websites can use.
Important and Easy(ish) Link Building Tactics
(No links are easy to build, it’s tough work)
- Unlinked Brand Mention
- This consists of finding current mentions of a company or website without a hyperlink and asking for a link to a relevant page. Moz has a Fresh Web Explorer that will show you up to 10 days of mentions for any given search. Complete this on a weekly basis. Google alerts will allow you to set up email notifications every time a specific brand is mentioned across the web. Ahrefs content explorer is another great tool for this strategy.
- This is a tool for reporters that are looking for a source for an article. Respond with high level quotes the reporter can use in their article. This usually results in a link back to the source’s website. HARO’s are highly competitive, it’s important that the person you are providing a quote on behalf of is highly authoritative and that the quality of your quote is A+.
- Pitching as a Resource
- This consists of finding web pages that could benefit from a resource on your website. It is one of the least successful tactics (0.5-1% conversion rate), but yields high-quality links.
- Guest Posts
- This is the process of submitting a post that is either written by your company (Byline) or features several examples with source links. This is a resource intensive process and includes article briefing & editing. Additionally, Google has stated that guest post links do not add value. If you plan to utilize this approach, make sure you are doing so in a way that will add value.
- Broken Links
- This is the process of fixing old links that are pointing to 404 pages or finding 404 links pointing to our competition and getting the link switched to our resource. This approach also works for soft 404’s, like sold out product pages.
- Link Jacking
- This is the process of finding a low-quality competitor resource and identifying people linking to that resource. You would then email those websites letting them know about our client’s better, more user-friendly resource. A great, non-threatening way to leverage this tactic is to ask to be added in addition, rather than to swap out the competitor’s link.
- Offering a discount to colleges and other organizations on pages with a link to the place where the discount is used.
- Ego Bait
- This approach consists of asking for quotes or highlighting people in a resource or content piece and then asking those websites to link to the piece in their “press” pages or other pages on their site. This is technically reciprocal linking, but not in a spammy way as the links are pointing to different pages and helping the user.
- Link Sculpting or Reclamation
- This approach identifies pages on your site that have backlinks pointing to them but lack value from an SEO perspective. Identify 3rd party sites linking to these pages and reach out to request an update to a more relevant page for your SEO strategy. Examples of low value SEO pages are About Us, FAQ’s, Meet the Company, etc. These are considered low SEO pages because they don’t have the potential to rank for any revenue driving keywords.
There you have it. A guide to link building. Are we missing something (hint…yes we are). Let us know if you want to learn more about link building outreach. We will send you a guide with outreach templates and pitch success rates. Thanks for reading! Drop us a line below with your best link building strategies.
Thanks for the helpful article that helped me a lot to understand the search engine optimization practice.
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