What is link building?
How can I build links to my website?
What are the benefits of a link building campaign?
These are all good questions. The following article will focus on link building and will cover the basics for creating a soling link building campaign. Before reading this article however, it is important to understand the value of a backlink.
Right, so we know the value of a link. Let’s start a link building campaign to improve your website.
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) on a certain page of their website that connect to your web page (also called a linkable asset).
Why is Link Building Helpful?
The goal of link building is to build high-quality backlinks that pass “link juice”. 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 2019 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 Friendly Experience & 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.
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.
What are “Good Links”?
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 strong links. The first, and arguably most important, is the HTML structure of a link. For purposes 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 show that a link was bought or that is in an advertisement.
Here is the structure of a “no-follow” link:
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 they are moot if the link is 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, and how relevant the website that give’s the link is to the industry as a whole. For example, a page talking about flowers that links to a website about gambling is out of context and not 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 pages are usually seen as spammy and ultimately dangerous. 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 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.
Authority & Relevancy of Link Building
At Inseev, we follow the theory that good backlinks help a website and bad links do not. I 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. At Inseev, we use DA (https://moz.com/learn/seo/domain-authority), however Ahrefs has DR (Domain Rating) and several other tools have similar metrics.
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 links (although, probably impossible 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 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”.
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 is a page had rankings. Pages with more rankings have more value.
Ahrefs: To look at links and find other link opportunities by checking out the competitors 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 the 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.
A prospecting strategy
- Prospecting is finding the right website and person to reach out to. For any link building campaign, it is important to know what type of websites or pages 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 “resources” 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 advertisement 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 creating a value proposition that demonstrates the value 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 the other travel cribs out there. 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 for the target website. What makes this page a great thing to look at from a parent’s perspective?
- Free trial
There are more, but I think the point has been made. We need to position the piece in a way that shows it is better or 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 is likely groups that have resources that 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. Is we want to scale our link building operation, we need a way to quickly find the right pages where our link could go.
In comes data analysis.
At Inseev, we know that pitching as a resource (one type of tactic) successfully converts at between 1-2%. So, if our goal is to get 5 links from this tactic, we will need to email between 250-500 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 website that have resource pages. We would first use Google’s advanced search operators.
Google Search Operators
In this example I would start with organizations (.orgs) because .org domains are usually strong and I do not want to pitch other flower companies. After all, why flower companies 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 resources, 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 have nofollows, the chances of them adding your link are very slim.
Next I would shorten my search string to:
- Inurl:.org + inurl:resources + “gardening
This will give me most (if not all) .org websites that have the word “resources” in the URL and also has the word “gardening” somewhere on the page. From here I would 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 my favorite tools for finding who is linking to a specific domain or page.
The easiest way to do this is to take your competition’s URL and toss it into site explorer. Let’s take the example “laptop deals”. Say HP’s Laptops Deals Page is looking to compete with Best Buy (currently ranking #1 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 any are pages where HP (or anyone else) can get featured as well! Ahrefs also has a great tool called Link Intersect where you can compare the backlink profile from several domains to find easy opportunities. SEMRush has a link building tool in Beta right now. The jury is still out on this one.
Here is a list of other link building tools and their best features. Funny enough the only link that is nofollowed on the page is Ahrefs.
Pro Tip: Combine the search operators and the Ahrefs linking tool during your prospecting. For example, once you find a great page with resources, check the backlink profiles of those links to see if there are other pages your asset could potentially get onto.
After finding the right page of the site to ask for a link, the next step is to find 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?
The right contact is extremely important because it can significantly speed up or slow down your link building campaign. Let’s say we were 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 department. It will only lead to them asking for money.
Link Building Tactics
Link building is all about leveraging the right tactics. There 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 website can use.
Important and Easy(ish) Link Building Tactics
- Unlinked Brand Mention
- This is finding current mentions of a website that are not linked 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.
- https://www.helpareporter.com/. This is a tool for reporters that need to find a source for an article. Respond with high level quotes the reporters can use in the article. This usually results in a link back to the source’s website.
- Pitching as a Resource
- This is finding web pages that could benefit from a resource we have created. It is the one of the least successful tactics (1-3%conversion rate), but yields very high-quality links.
- Guest Posts
- This is the process of submitting a post that is either written (Byline) or features several examples with source links. This is a resource intensive process and includes article briefing & editing
- Broken Links
- This is the process of either fixing old links that are pointing to 404’s pages on our clients’ site or finding 404’s links that are pointing to our competition and getting the link switched to our resource.
- Link Jacking
- This is the process of finding a resource that a competitor has that stinks, identifying the people linking to that resource, and emailing those websites to let 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 competition link.
- Offering a discount to colleges and other organizations on pages with links to the place where the discount is used.
- Ego Bait
- This is a newer tactic and requires a bit of a delicate touch. It includes 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 the spammy way as the links are pointing to different pages and helping the user.
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 to this with outreach templates and pitch success rates. Thanks for reading!