The Ultimate Guide To Link Building

No matter what industry, area, or audience you’re targeting, links are important. Links are one of the top ranking factors and something you have significant control over if you’re willing to put in the work for your links. Building links can significantly improve organic search rankings and traffic – probably more than any other one aspect of SEO. However, you must keep in mind you need more than just high link counts to rank – quality and relevance, strong technical framework and site structure, optimized content, and relevance for your target keywords.

Back in the early days of SEO, you could build virtually any link and see a ranking improvement. Algorithms weren’t advanced enough to understand complex link relationships. But they’ve wisened up. Now, link relevancy and quality are necessary to compete in the SERPs. While you can build more lower-quality links or those that are completely irrelevant, it’s not a sound strategy. Over time, you will see less of an impact and eventually a ranking decline if you don’t build quality, relevant links.

While it can be hard to navigate link building, we’re here to help. After all, links are our specialty. This comprehensive link guide will help you to learn how to build links and which types of links you need to improve your rankings.

What is Link Building?

Link building is the process of acquiring links to your website in order to increase authority and rankings. This can be done through manual outreach, content marketing, partnerships, and purchases (just to name a few methods). Linking between websites is how searchers and search engines navigate through the internet, so the more links you have, the wider audience you’re reaching.

You can also organically build links without even trying. Many site owners, journalists, bloggers, and marketers naturally link to other content to cite a source or idea, cover news, feature a business, or an endorsement of a product or service. There are countless reasons sites link to each other.  While you did not intentionally build the links, it is still link building.

In general, there are three different types of links that can be built:

  1. Inbound links – these are links on other websites that lead to yours. Inbound links are the links generally referenced when talking about link building. 
  2. Outbound links – links pointing to external websites from your site are outbound. 
  3. Internal links – these links connect pages within your website. You want to ensure strong inner linking for optimal rankings.
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Why You Need to Build Links

If you don’t build links, you won’t rank. While there are many influential factors in SEO, links are arguably the most important. Links increase brand mentions, authority, and relevance, which optimizes your online brand to increase rankings. Trust us, it will be an uphill battle trying to rank without actively building links. But it’s not just the number of links, you also need high quality.

The more authoritative and quality links to your site, the more search engines will be inclined to link to your website. You can think of these links as recommendations, where each recommendation helps you to climb higher in the rankings.

Links not only boost authority and rankings, but they also can expand relevance based on the referring site (the domain linking to you). In order to rank for any keyword, a website must be relevant to the topic. One way to establish relevance is with links from other sites. For example, let’s say you get links from local directories and organizations in your city. This will create stronger local relevance based on the associated sites.

The ultimate goal is to publish high quality content, products, services, and offerings that naturally attract links without asking. But this doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to be link-worthy and organically increase links. You have to build up your brand and content. In the meantime, there is a way to supplement – building links.

But before we get into how to build links, let’s look at some important factors of effective links.

Features of High Quality Links

Link quality is an idea you will hear about more and more as search engines become better and better at filtering out low quality links as irrelevant. SEO tools will be able to analyze some link quality, but don’t rely heavily on tools. They cannot accurately account for relevance and quality metrics are not always correct – especially 3rd party metrics like domain authority and domain rating.

Your focus when building links needs to be on quality above all else. Keep in mind, a link does not need to have all the below features to be high quality.

Relevance

While most link resources focus on authority, relevance is equally, if not more important. If the link is niche relevant, it carries more weight with search engines than a link not relevant to your site. Relevance can come in many forms, including niche or industry relevance, audience relevance, and local relevance.

Authority

The more authoritative a link is, the higher the trust level with search engines and your audience. The more you can connect your site with authoritative and trusted resources, the more that authority will trickle down to your domain.

Quality & Good User Experience

You don’t want links from link farms or sites that publish spammy content. Look for links from sites with helpful, quality content & a good user experience.

Search engines value a good user experience (UX). After all, Google is in the business of providing the best user experience possible to searchers. That means search engines need to rank the best quality content that can answer the searcher’s question the best. You want to be linked to quality content so search engines associate your site with a positive UX.

In the end, a link with all these factors will have the biggest impact. But if you have to choose just one, relevance can make the biggest impact.

Link Terminology

Now that you know how to spot a quality link, let’s explain the technical aspects of link building and your link profile.

Link Graph/Link Profile

All the links to your site make up your backlink profile, also called a link graph. Your link profile is a reflection of your website. It helps search engines understand how authoritative and trustworthy your site and its content are.

Every site’s link graph is different, so the best links will depend on your current situation. However, you always want to have a diverse link profile. Too much of one type of link can signal aggressive link building to Google, which it does not like.

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Referring Domains

Referring domains refers to the number of websites linking to you. Even if a site links to you 100 times, it only counts for one referring domain. When building links, you want to make sure your ratio of links to referring domains is not too high. You don’t want to have a low number of referring domains with a high number of links.

Referral Traffic

This is any traffic your website gets from an external link. The website linking to your brand is referring visitors to your site, so it’s something you want to analyze. We recommend focusing on the links and domains that bring in higher referral traffic, as their audience is more engaged with your content.

DoFollow v. NoFollow

DoFollow links are a form of endorsement or recommendation in Google’s eyes. They are more impactful because it creates an association between the two sites, therefore they are more desired. NoFollow links remove the associated relationship using the rel nofollow tag, but they are still important links. They can increase prominence and brand mentions, expand relevance, and widen your reach.

Anchor Text

Anchor text is the copy used to link a page in content. For example, in the sentence, “The instructions to book the appointment are here.” Here would be the anchor text. Anchor text can have a HUGE impact on the effectiveness of a link, especially if it is over optimized.

Link Indexation

Links that are indexed are more impactful. This is because they are actively used in Google’s index of information. Links that are not in the index are essentially not counted. They don’t have the same weight. Link indexation is the act of getting links indexed. There are some link indexation techniques for higher rates of indexation.

White Hat v. Black Hat

White Hat is a type of SEO that uses strategies and tactics following Google’s guidelines. These strategies are safe and do not pose a risk for negative impact.

In contrast, black hat is a type of SEO that uses tactics violating the terms of service or generally unsafe practices. Google My Business provides specific terms of service and if you’re using strategies that go against these, that would be black hat SEO.

Don’t forget the grey hat. Yes, there’s a 3rd type of SEO that is a mix of both. In reality, manually building links isn’t a white hat strategy.

Other Factors About Links:

  1. Search engines place more weight on links placed higher on the page. 
  2. Links surrounded by contextually relevant words can help increase co-occurrence.
  3. Don’t forget about inner linking. Be sure to link to relevant content internally frequently.

How to Build Links

You can use different link building techniques to enhance your link graph and build authority for higher rankings. As we discuss how to build links, we’ll go through the types of links, as well as strategies to acquire them…

Guest Posts

Another popular strategy for link building is guest posting. This method publishes content on another site, which links back to your site. First, you need to find relevant sites that accept content submissions. Some will have a form for submitting content, while others will ask for an email pitch.

Search online for industry sites using terms like industry + “guest post” or “contribute”. Then, get to work creating high quality, helpful content. When submitting the content, we recommend adding a personal touch to your message, such as how the content will help their audience.

Be aware though, not all guest post links have the same impact. You can’t just publish a guest post on an irrelevant or general site with high authority and expect that link to make a big impact. You need guest posts on highly relevant websites.

Sponsored Posts

This link building strategy is similar to guest posts, but instead of submitting your content for consideration, you are paying for placement. Many sponsored posts will include the word sponsored in the title, so readers know it was paid for. Additionally, this type of content should include the rel=sponsored tag to tell search engines this is a paid link.

Manual Outreach

This is an older, but still effective link building strategy. All you need to do is find content, preferably higher ranking, where your brand and content fits. Then, determine the exact place where your link would make the most sense.

This is important because specific, actionable outreach is more effective than simply saying, “my link would be helpful if added to this piece of content.” It’s too general and requires effort from the referring domain. The less effort it takes to add the link, the better.

Next, you need to find the site email. You can look at the contact us page, in the footer, or on the about us page. But if you don’t find contact info in any of those places, there are tools like Hunter.io where you can easily find the email (usually).

All that’s left is to send the email. Be sure to be short and appealing, yet specific. We also recommend highlighting the value of the link to the users and the site owners.

Broken Link Building

In this link building strategy, you find broken links on relevant sites. Then, reach out to the site owner to replace the broken link with your link. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Links that don’t work hurt user experience so the site owner improves the experience with your live link and you build a new relevant link. We recommend finding highly relevant blog posts for the topic and proposing those as the new link. Don’t try to link to your service pages.

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Broken Link Reclamation

You can also use link tools to find your broken and lost links. Simply filter your backlink profile and the tool will show you exactly which links you’ve lost or are no longer working. Links to your site could be broken for a number of reasons – the page was deleted without a 301 redirect or the link is incorrect for example. Once you know why the link is broken or lost, reach out to the webmaster with the updated link.

Unlinked Brand Mentions

Once you’ve built a strong brand, your business will be mentioned across the internet. Many of these mentions will not be linked. Therefore, you can reach out and ask for a linked mention. The site already mentions your brand so they are aware of who you are and respect what you do. You just have to reach out and ask for the credit.

To find unlinked mentions, Google Alerts can be an effective strategy. Simply set up brand monitoring with many different variations of your brand name, then checking the email report each day or week. You’ll get a list of everywhere your brand was mentioned online that week. It’s like a link building report for sites that already know your brand.

Citations & Directory Links

You probably think of citation links as directory links. In reality, a citation is any time your business is cited with NAP and a product, service, idea, etc. Citations are great for building up prominence (one of the top 3 local ranking factors) AND authoritative links at the same time.

While many citation links are NoFollow, you still need a healthy mix for a strong backlink profile. Additionally, many directories are high authority so you can build authority quickly. You can also increase relevance for different services and niches with niche relevant citations.

We recommend leveraging Ranking Directories for the strongest impact. Just simply Google a top ranking competitor’s brand name and start scrolling. Note all the directories and profile links that are ranking in the SERPs. Then, go build all those citations for your own site.

Review Links

If a website or person reviews your product or service, they will oftentimes link to your brand. Reach out to authoritative sites and influencers when you have a new product or service. It will help you to build your brand awareness, while also building links.

There are also many product and service review sites that can help you build links. But there are other benefits to these sites. First, third party reviews are becoming increasingly important in SEO. Additionally, you increase brand mentions and prominence the more your brand is talked about online.

Niche Edits

These are links that are placed in already published content. They can be impactful because the sites generally have traffic and authority already built up. Generally, you can purchase these edits or perform manual outreach to have site owners add your link.

Link Roundups & Listicles

This type of link building gathers up many helpful links to feature on one page. Site owners want this content to guide and help their audience. For our industry, examples include Top 10 Link Building Companies, Best SEO Resources, and you can find link roundups with tools like HARO.

One benefit of link roundups is there can be some link reciprocity. The other brands mentioned in the content will also share the roundup with their audience, further expanding your reach.

Resource Pages

Many websites will have a Resources page on their website that links to helpful industry websites, tools, and other resources. Sites will usually have one resource page, but some sites may not have one – it will depend on your industry.

If you find a relevant website with a quality resource page, manually reach out to the site owner and ask to be included. We recommend personalizing the email and highlighting how your link will benefit their audience. You can also offer to link to their content and/or promote it to your audience.

Podcast Links

If you appear on podcasts, be sure to always ask for a link. Whether it’s a well-known podcast or a small show with five listeners, it’s a relevant link. They are also quite easy to build. It’s common to recap a podcast episode on your website and link to the speakers and resources mentioned on that episode.

Don’t do podcasts yet? It’s easy to be a guest! While it may not be the most notable podcast, you can start building your podcast reputation and links.

The Process to Build Links

Analyze Current Backlink Profile

Before you begin building links, you need to understand your current situation. Every site will have a different link profile, which means the best links will depend. You can use SEO tools that will automatically analyze your backlink profile and provide a bunch of information:

  1. Number of Backlinks
  2. Referring Domain Counts
  3. Link to Referring Domain Ratios
  4. Authority & Quality Metrics of Individual Links
  5. Lost Backlinks 
  6. Broken Backlinks
  7. DoFollow v. NoFollow
  8. Anchor Text Used
  9. Anchor Text Ratios
  10. Types of Links
  11. Referral Traffic

And that’s not even everything these tools can show you. We recommend using either SEMRush or Ahrefs to analyze backlinks.

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Make a Link Plan

Don’t just start building links. Use the insights from your analysis to guide your link building efforts. There are many questions to ask yourself while planning:

  • What types of links will you go after?
  • What content will you link to and what is the value?
  • Should you build new content?
  • What types of anchor text should be used?
  • How will you perform outreach or find the link opportunities?
  • How many links should you build each month?

That last question is important. You want to ensure consistency when building links. Otherwise, this signals to search engines aggressive, manual link building. While you do not need to build the exact same number each month, you should aim to stay within a range. Don’t build 100 links one month then only four the following month.

Build the Links

Once you’ve got your plan, it’s time to get building! We recommend leveraging as many of the link building strategies above as possible. You don’t know what works and what doesn’t until you try, so experiment! You could find a technique that nets you significantly more links…

Re-Analyze

After you’ve built links, don’t forget to check back on their performance. Did they move the needle? Were they less effective than you hoped?

Analyzing your links can help make data driven decisions to identify what actually works and what doesn’t. There’s a lot of link theories out there, but not everything theory works in practice. We recommend analyzing your link profile at least every quarter. But if you are building a significant number of links, we would recommend it more frequently.

Mistakes & Myths in Link Building

Don’t Forget Link Profile Diversity

While relevant, DoFollow links can make a big impact, you cannot just build one type of link. It can signal unnatural link building and reduce the effectiveness of your link profile.  You want a healthy mix of both DoFollow and NoFollow links.

But you also want a mix of link types and anchor text. Google’s strict link building guidelines mean you want to emulate as natural of a link profile as possible. The best way to do this is to analyze the link graphs of top ranking competitors and identify commonalities between them. Then, use that as your guide.

You Need Exact Match Anchor Text - Not

When talking about anchor text, there are many conflicting ideas on what the best anchor text is. There are many types of anchor text, so we understand why it could be confusing. Especially since the answer is actually different for every site – it depends on what your current anchor text profile is. You don’t want to overuse any one type.

Many people think exact match anchors (exactly matching your keyword) or partial match anchors (partial keywords) are the best. However, that is usually not the case. Generally branded anchors or naked anchors are best. These are the safest types of anchor text to use, and the ones we use the most often.

Oftentimes, when you hear of a link hurting a website it is not the link itself, but the anchor text being used. This is why it is so important to understand how to use safe anchors – like branded and naked. Just think about it, if you were going to link to another brand, more often than not you would use their brand name or URL.

How Search Engines Use Links

Knowing how search engines crawl the internet and use links to understand relationships between sites can help you make better decisions when link building. We will also show you how search engines read links.

Crawling the Web

First, search engines use links to crawl the web. Think of it as a highway, leading Google through the interconnected web. It’s how search engines discover and index new pages, but it’s also how algorithms become smarter.

Algorithms continue to develop their understanding of how links are related through crawling the web. They now have an in-depth understanding – they can comprehend complex link relationships. This is why quality and relevance are increasingly important in building links.

Let’s Get Technical

If you want to understand the anatomy of a link, we can break it down for you.

The beginning of the link is called the anchor tag. This is the code that opens a new link, signaling search engines there’s a new path to follow. Next, you will see the link referral location: “href=”URL”, which tells the search engine the URL to go to. Then, the visible anchor text is shown. This is the anchor text, the wording users can click to visit the hyperlink. You can identify hyperlinks by different colored text or bolded copy usually. Finally, there’s the link tag close, which tells search engines that’s the end of the link.

Benefits of Link Building

In addition to ranking higher and increasing traffic, there are many other benefits. You have to think beyond just rankings…

Increase Audience & Targeted Traffic

When your link is published on another site, this exposes your brand to an audience that may not be familiar with you. Referral Traffic can expand your reach far beyond its current limits. Getting a link from a highly trafficked site can directly correlate to increases in traffic and leads to your website. Consider the New York Times linking to your website. How many new website visitors do you think you’d have after that link is live?

If the links come from websites relevant to your niche or area, these links can bring in targeted traffic that’s interested in your offers. Website visitors who are invested in your niche can convert MUCH higher than general traffic.

Build Trust

Google and other search engines will not rank brands that are untrustworthy. If you do not have a strong link graph, this is a signal of a lower level of trust. Not something you want when trying to achieve high rankings.

The more you acquire links from relevant and trusted sites, the stronger your domain’s trust will become. This creates a more future-proof SEO strategy that will maintain effectiveness in future algorithm updates.

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Build Your Brand (& Authority)

Google ranks brands. And this statement is only becoming more true as algorithms mature. Search engines are using brand strength as a way to weed out spam and low quality sites. A great way to build your brand is by establishing your authority with links. Additionally, getting links from others in your niche can be a huge vote of confidence.

To build brand and authority, content creation is an effective avenue that demonstrates your expertise. Not only do you get links and Google recognizes the endorsement and brand mention, but you’re also building the brand with your consumers. The more your audience is exposed to your content, the stronger brand awareness your business will have.

While you can build links to your homepage or service page, we recommend also creating resources specifically for attracting links – infographics, blog posts, reports, white papers, tools, or studies. This content is linkable and will net you more. You must earn the link. You can’t just ask and expect to get it.

Creating linkable content will make for easy link building.

Create Relationships

Take our word for it, relationships matter, especially in SEO. Every site is sent requests for guest opportunities or links to be added to their content. You’ll get lost in the shuffle.

When doing manual outreach, you’re likely to rub elbows with others in your industry. Invest the time to nurture these relationships, which can lead to better opportunities, higher trust, and more linking. You could also leverage these relationships to find podcast speakers, journalists who need sources (the provide links), guest post contributors, knowledgeable resources, and even friends.

In reality, link building isn’t an activity done on its own. It’s a puzzle piece of marketing and SEO. It connects multiple aspects of marketing to improve the online visibility of your business while boosting rankings.

Link building is also very time consuming. Be prepared to spend hours strategizing and outreaching, only to get a couple of links. You must be patient when building links. However, if you don’t have the patience or time, we have a solution…

Fresh Links offers many link options that guarantee quality. You don’t have to worry about low quality links or spammy practices. Our core focus is safety and effectiveness, so you can trust us with your link building. We offer custom outreach, Google News links, guest posts, niche link building, niche edits, newspaper links, and private network links. Explore your options now!

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