What is Link Building?
Link building refers to the process of creating links from third websites pointing to your own.
Link building is not the source of all evil. It’s highly misunderstood and misused by the people that tried to “play” the system. What you should keep in mind is that link building has been the single highest ranking factor ever since the conception of Page Rank and there is no indication of that changing in time soon.
In fact, using backlinks as a ranking factor has been the reason why Google was set apart from its competition. The philosophy is quite simple. When people find something that they like or something vital and useful they will share the URL to that specific website, app, video, etc. Google will then pick up those links and depending on the quantity, quality and relevancy of those links they will rank the website accordingly.
It might sound overly simple, and to be honest, I do overly simplify it because the actual algorithm, except being a super tight secret, is definitely way more sophisticated than just a paragraph.
Before we jump in the let’s take a few minutes and watch a video explaining how the entire Google search is relying on those backlinks in order to create the Index.
The anatomy of a hyperlink
Before jumping into the link building guide head on it’s important to learn the anatomy of a link.
Even though most CMSs these days make the creation of hyperlinks an easy step in the process of content creation, during your link building travels I have no doubt that you will encounter the need to build an actual HTML tag hyperlink.
<a href="https://fourth-p.com">Fourth P</a>
The hyperlink tag is easily defined by the <a> tag while the “href” attribute points to the destination of the link. Now one of the most important things in the link building concept is the text between the opening and closing <a> tag.
The visible text also called anchor text is the keyword that the person creating the hyperlink uses in order to “describe” the destination page and is also the clickable part of the link.
Find a full HTML links tutorial from w3schools.com.
What is PageRank and how to identify it
PageRank took its name from one of Google’s founders Larry Page and is an algorithm that takes into consideration the number of links pointing to a site in order to identify it’s importance.
For obvious reasons, there is no way for you or anyone other than the select few to exactly know what the formula is and how it actually works. One certain thing is that due to the exploitation of the simple initial state, the formula changed hundreds of times.
One notable example is the Google algorithm update named Penguin which was initially released on April 24, 2012, and had as a goal to penalize or entirely remove websites that were manipulating the PageRank algorithm by engaging in link schemes.
Even though there is no possible way of identifying the PageRank of a site there are numerous alternatives that were created by SEO software companies in order to fill the gap.
One such alternative is Domain Authority which was created by Moz and takes into account multiple factors but also the linking root domains in order to identify the score of a page. Another such alternative is Authority Score from SEMrush or Domain Rating from Ahrefs.
From Quantity to Quality to Relevance
One of the main differences of the initial algorithm with the “latest model” is that even though the initial gave very high importance to quantity the manipulation drove it to introduce updates that will value the quality of the backlink.
The early 2000s was a free for all buffet that brought manipulation, exploitation and a whole more of human nature ugliness, with most SEO “specialist” manipulating the simplicity of the initial formula.
Buying links from thousands of websites, creating private blog networks (PBNs) in order to create links on demand, pushing links to every possible web directory and various other link schemes in order to win the competition until Google got the message.
Quantity gave way to quality and all of a sudden millions of websites lost everything overnight which led to another link scheme. Buying links from high domain authority websites became the new normal for agencies offering rankings back to those that have lost them.
Once again Google made it clear with the Penguin updates that Relevancy tops everything and thus in this guide, you will learn how to acquire links from relevant websites the proper way.
Link Position Matters
Link position might sound trivial but it has been a hot topic for many SEOs through the years. Does a link position actually matter? Well, the answer is yes.
Given the severity of the heated discussions online I will try to just keep it professional and link back to what Google said back in 2015 in order to put a stop in this.
Check out the 22-minute mark on the video below from a Google Hangouts recording of John Mueller answering that question as well as the tweet under the video from Zibet Ait answering that. (French translation provided)
je laisserai faire l’algo. Les liens sitewide en footer ou en header n’ont pas un tres grand poids en general.
@challierq I will let the algo work. Sitewide links in footer or header do not carry much weight in general.
Types of Backlinks and their importance
Hold on to your seats because things are going to get deep. There is more than just one type of backlink out there. Depending on the type of your backlink Google gives higher or lower “credit” to them.
In an effort to make things easier for you to identify I will try to categorize, and explain their importance.
Probably the best backlinks that you can get for your website are editorial backlinks. They are the ones that you get without asking or knowing and they are the cause of some great content that you have published.
Even though you cannot technically ask for them it doesn’t mean that you cannot plan for them. That’s why we will provide you with some great techniques that will help you score some editorial backlinks.
Guest Post Backlinks
Guest posting has seen its fair amount of beating and humiliation. People have exploited it and for a while, Google had their eyes on sites that offer guest posting services just for the purpose of acquiring links.
Having said that, guest posting is far from dead. If done right, guest posting can be one of the best things for your branding and reputation. All you have to keep in mind is that instead of using it in order to gain links, you have to use it in order to improve your presence and build authority.
Don’t just write an article on sketchy websites and flock it with links. Provide value for the users and a great experience and you will be just fine.
Manual Outreach Backlinks
Probably the most used form of link building (other than the black hat link buying stuff) which really makes a difference. Manual outreach refers to the practice of reaching out to relevant websites or influencers and with various techniques (that we will go through) asking for a link.
These types of links are of high importance since if done right bring great content to people that are looking for it.
Business Profile Backlinks/Niche Directories Backlinks
Directories are dead. Long live the directories.
Directories were once a legitimate link building technique that Google even promoted on their guidelines. After a few years of manipulation and specialization directories did make their way back to us and in a fairly greater way.
Directories such as Yelp, Foursquare, Yellow Pages, are all legitimate businesses that offer really great user experience and you can easily create a business profile.
The links that you will get in most cases contain a “nofollow” tag which means that they will not really improve your website rankings but never the less they will provide exposure to clients looking directly for someone in your niche.
Press Release Backlinks
Everyone loves a press release that is newsworthy and relevant to what they like. But everyone hates press releases that are not newsworthy, they are written badly, they contain a whole bunch of links and they are posted on a website that looks like it was moderated last in 1995.
If you have a PR person that really knows what they are doing and if they are connected with the right sites then I would go as far as to say trust them to do your Press Releases for you.
If you are not in PR and you just want to do a press release for something that you consider newsworthy and since you are going to you think that adding a couple of links makes sense. Please don’t.
Some of the greatest answers I have found in my entire career were posted in forums. There is a lot of bad rap about forums out there and in some cases very well deserved. SEO “Gurus” have destroyed that part of the web as well.
Non the less there are forums that I would gladly put my link without a second of hesitation. Moderated, high authority forums with an active community are as good as any website or blog out there.
Don’t just spam in order to put your link in a threat. Care about the discussion enough to do your research and provide your answer and if it’s relevant, your website as well.
Social Media Backlinks
Social Media is where people go every single day to discuss anything and everything. It makes sense that search engines should use them to identify trending pages, subjects, videos, photos etc.
But do those backlinks benefit rankings? The answer is that they definitely support it. Even though Google has said otherwise in the past, numerous case studies suggest that social media sharing can help indirectly with building a strong social presence and promoting your content which helps build natural links much easier.
You can find extensive research on social media and SEO on Optinmonster.
Sponsored Guest Post Backlinks
Sponsored guest posts are simply paid guest post backlinks. They are not penalizable or even wrong. Most of the bigger websites of the world offer paid guest post services as another avenue of getting extra revenue.
Even though the sponsored guest post is allowed it doesn’t mean that it can’t be dangerous. Finding relevant websites to request such a service is the only right way to go about it. Similar to the simple guest posting you have to provide relevant and unique content for the site’s users and not just talk about your site and products.
As a best practice, the links contained in those articles must contain a “Sponsored” tag to indicate that they are sponsored and not created naturally.
The sponsored tag looks like this
<a href="https://fourth-p.com/" rel="sponsored">Backlinks Guide</a>
Types of Anchor Texts and their importance
Just as the types of backlinks, anchor texts (the visible part of the link) can be separated into different types. Each type has a different meaning and in most cases hold different value to search engines.
The types of anchor texts are
Branded anchor texts are simple your business name, website name or product name. Something that people have associated with your brand and they use it in order to indicate it when they share your page.
Those anchors usually are from backlinks that are generated editorially and they link in most cases to your home page.
An example of a branded anchor text is something like this
<a href="https://fourth-p.com">Fourth P</a>
Topical or Keyword Optimized
Topical anchor texts or keyword optimized anchor texts are anchors that contain a keyword that is relevant to the topic of the article or page that was added to. It usually contains a keyword that is highly important for the site that links to it.
Those are types that can sometimes create problems for you as well as the ones that are highly beneficial if used properly.
Keyword optimized anchor texts are also separated into three smaller categories.
Broad anchor texts are in most cases anchor text that contains a keyword which relevancy is broad and they don’t directly target the main subject of the page.
In our case, an example could be someone linking to this article with the following anchor text.
<a href="https://fourth-p.com/ultimate-backlink-guide">PageRank Algorithm</a>
We mention and briefly talk about it, but it’s not really the main subject of our guide.
Phrase match refers to the anchor texts that usually contain the name of the entire article they link to or are simple they resemble a phrase instead of a keyword.
An example could be people linking to this article in Tuts+ using the article’s name as an anchor.
<a href="https://photography.tutsplus.com/courses/how-to-create-animated-slideshow-transitions-in-after-effects">How to create animated slideshow transitions in After Effects</a>
Exact match refers to the anchors that are keyword focused. They are usually the ones that can put a website into hot waters and also the ones that are the most beneficial if used right.
An example of an exact match keyword is
<a href="https://fourth-p.com/ultimate-backlink-guide">Backlink Guide/a>
As you can see from the above example the anchor text is describing the destination URL with the most valuable keyword for the page. Even though there is no problem with people linking to it, overusing it during your link building strategy can even penalize your site.
An example is given by Google on exact match anchor stuffing
Follow the above approach and you got yourself a ticket to the blacklist.
Generic Anchor Texts
Generic is a catch them all category. Depending on the industry you are and the type of website that you have generic can be a different thing. For example, an eCommerce website will have a lot of “Buy now”, “here” or “cart” like anchors texts.
These anchors are usually formed naturally from people linking to your site or even your own sponsored content.
Naked URLs are not as common anymore as they used to but they exist. When someone links to your website by just copy-pasting your link then the URL itself becomes the anchor text.
That is why it is always important to remember to create user-friendly URLs that describe the contents of the page.
In this case, if someone shared this guide the anchor text would be as followed.
The reality is that just by looking at the URL people will know what the page they are about to see is all about.
Combination of the above
It’s quite common for someone to link using a combination of the above anchor texts.
Branded + Keyword
Branded + Keyword refers to the process of linking to a website using the name and a keyword/service/product etc.
<a href="https://fourth-p.com/ultimate-backlink-guide/">Backlink Guide from Fourth P</a>
Phrase Match + Brand
Phrase Match + Brand could very much be the name of an article or a product + your name at the end. It’s a very common practice for even webmaster to already contain their name in the title of their product pages in order to improve their branding.
Broad Match + Brand
As with the example of what a broad match anchor text is, now imagine the brand name at the end of it.
<a href="https://fourth-p.com/ultimate-backlink-guide">PageRank Algorithm by Fourth P</a>
Generic Terms + Brand
Another very common combination is the generic terms + brand which refer to anchor texts that contain one of the generic terms I mentioned above with the name of the site next to them.
Mostly seen on eCommerce sites an example could be
<a href="https://elements.envato.com/photos/dog">Download it on Envato Elements</a>
One of Google’s secret weapons is the ability to understand the context of a page far better than other search engines and with the BERT update in 2019, they came one step closer to achieving that.
What that entails is that the notion that the anchor text is the only thing that Google checks during the evaluation of a link is wrong. Nowadays, Google will check the surrounding text as well with high efficiency which makes it as important as the link itself.
The surrounding text doesn’t only help identify keywords but also emotions and intent. Imagine someone talking negatively about a site or a product. If the only thing that Google cared was the link then it would rank the page higher just for getting one.
Optimize for the surrounding text is as important as the anchor link. Don’t forget this.
How to Start Building Backlinks the Right Way
Link building is not an easy process and to be fairly honest, it shouldn’t be. Unless you have a product that offers something no one else does then acquiring links is a manual, tiring process that takes time.
Thankfully there are tools and techniques available that can help alleviate the process of link building and make it more enjoyable and manageable. Some of those tools and link building techniques we are going to discuss here.
The skyscraper technique is one of the oldest in the book. The philosophy is quite simple. There is a skyscraper that’s 110 floors high and everyone wants to live there. I will make one that’s 120.
Writing content doesn’t mean that people are going to share it just because you wrote it. Chances are someone else out there who wrote a better one. The skyscraper technique refers to the process of finding the best content on a particular subject, study it, write a better one and reach out to the people that linked to the previous one and pretty much asking for a swap.
It’s time-consuming but it works and it capitalizing on the authority of a page that already existed maybe for years.
Case studies attract links the same way honey attracts bears!
If you have unique data or insights about a subject then this is a must-do. No one knows your product or service better than you do and this is the time to shine. Imagine having the power of hundreds of clients and the service you provided to them.
Use that to your advantage by writing a case by case study or even an overall experience study. Share it on relevant sites or even social media and watch the fire spread.
Very much like this article, producing educational content attracts links. Search engines are answering machines. You ask a question and they answer either with Knowledge graphs and instant answers these days or with directing you to the one that has the answer.
Websites such as Tuts+ are solely based on educating people that attract hundreds of millions of backlinks without manual outreach.
Guest posts as previously discussed is probably one of the best-known link building techniques. It can produce amazing results but if done wrong it can seriously hurt your domain. Make sure you use relevant, high domain authority websites and mark your links as “sponsored” or “ugc” when necessary.
You should always think of guest posting as a way of educating people and increasing your authority rather than targeting specific keywords and increasing your rankings.
You can find sites that accept guest posts by either manually searching highly relevant to what you do sites and blogs or using a Google operator such as
keyword + "write for us"
Evergreen content is another great way of making people come back for more. You will receive not only a ton of backlinks but also a whole lot of bookmarking, direct traffic, organic traffic and more.
Imagine ever-green content an article or a page that updates regularly as soon as the subject of the page naturally evolves.
A great example of an evergreen page is Moz’s Google algorithm update page. The same URL, more data every time google updates its algorithm.
Learn more about what evergreen content is right here.
Imagine a world where everyone links back to you whenever they talk about you. Well, that sounds like paradise. In reality, though people will mention your site in an article without really linking back to you. Those unlined mentions are pretty much backlinks that are waiting to happen.
Starting from now, (not kidding) you should start using tools that will help you find those mentions in order for you to reach out and as for a link.
Probably the easiest way to do it (and the free one) is to just use Google Alerts in order to get a notification whenever someone mentions your brand or website name.
Then you should reach out to the ones that are worth reaching out to and ask for a hyperlink instead of just a mention.
Friends and Family
It might sound weird but why not? You ask your mom and dad pretty much everything else why not pass your website to their own friends? I am not saying that you should ask your mom to create a link to her cooking blog pointing to your real estate website but sharing it with her friends on social media is very much an ok practice.
The Broken Link – Link Building Technique
Links break. It’s inevitable. After a few years, online you will start noticing that the battle of the broken links is a lost battle you can only hunt down the ones you really see in front of you at the time.
The broken link technique pretty much capitalizes on broken links. Finding high authority blogs and websites that have links pointing to 404 pages and asking them to swap them for a similar article within your site.
This really makes the response success rate almost 100% since the webmaster will want to fix the issue but probably doesn’t have the time to research themselves and thank you in the process.
Link Building Tools
There are more tools than I can count that will supposedly help you with link building and obviously everyone’s preferences are different. I have a go-to list of tools myself when I have to perform a link building campaign for a client and I will try to briefly mention them below.
Keep in mind I have no affiliation with any of them and if I seem to sell them it’s purely because I find them extremely helpful in my process.
Ahrefs is a giant link database disguised as an SEO software with a friendly UI. In my honest opinion, it’s probably the single best tool that I always use first when I want to identify link opportunities and/or issues.
Buzzstream is a relationship management and prospect discovery system. Sometimes I believe that it makes my work so much easier than if I feel guilty while building links.
If you could only get one tool for initiating your link building I would really suggest that you get this one.
Step by Step Guide of How to build your first backlink
First and foremost I can’t stretch enough the need to have a goal. If you go out blindly looking for links you will probably get your website penalized. Ask yourself the question, why do I want to start building backlinks? Do I have something valuable to share? Can I spend the time or the money for sharing it with other people? What is my end goal?
Asking yourself the right questions will help you identify the right approach as well.
For example, if branding and authority are your end goal then maybe you need to start thinking of Guest Posts or if you have some newsworthy content then PR could be the right approach.
No matter what you decide I will try to share with you some generic advice that will help you build some great relationships and acquire some links. The process can be tweaked depending on your own situation or product.
Step 1- Lay of the Land
Almost everything I do starts with this step. It’s fairly simple and as many quests begin with a single step. Search.
Now that I have my goals down and let’s say I am in need for some backlinks because I think that the “Backlinks Guide” that I have created is a spectacular content to be shared (I know I know…). I start by performing a single search at Google in order to get the lay of the land.
What is my competition on this subject?
Are there any knowledge graphs or any SERP feature that will make the 1st position not so desirable?
I know my own limitation so if I am going against huge names I probably won’t even bother for the time being. This is a very important step. Knowing your limitation is a victory of itself that will save you time and money over and over again.
Having gathered a few names from the list I am going to learn as much from the competition as possible.
Step 2 – Learning from the Past
Learning from your competition is probably the single most intelligent thing you can do early on. Look at the above list of competitors. Backlinko, Moz, Ahrefs, Search Engine Journal (and trust me it goes on like this for a while). These websites are owned by businesses with hundreds of researchers and content specialists.
They have probably paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for writing and maintaining the top position for keywords like these for the past decade. It is now free knowledge for you.
Use the competition resources SHAMELESSLY. Trust me when I say that but they’ve done the same thing and if your article ranks above them one day they will do the same thing again. This is the game. Play or quit now.
Step 3 – Do it better
Do it better refers to the essential need for you to go back to whatever article you have written or an empty canvas and do what all the others did but X times better. By doing so you will be able to reach out to your leads and ask for that link.
Take your time, even though the internet is fast some pages change rarely. If you know you are writing content for something that rarely changes then take your sweet time to think about the whole approach. Don’t rush it because, in the end, it will be all for nothing. Make sure you have crossed your T’s and dot your I’s.
Step 4 – Find the prospects
Now that you took your time to write your content, it’s time to share the news. An obvious step would be to also share it with your current readers via social media, email, newsletter and any means that you usually use in order to communicate with them.
Ahrefs comes in play. Remember the list of competitors? Time to find who links to them for the content you now have that is better than theirs.
Ahrefs offer a link intersect took which will help you identify sites that link to all other competitors’ pages but not yours. The benefit of doing so? You are tapping into the network that your competitors again most likely paid money to create.
Step 5 – Acquiring the Details
Now that you have a list of domains try to identify the ones with the highest relevancy with what you are looking for but also try to remember the quality of them as well. Try to keep a nice balance between quality and relevancy at all times.
Buzzstream comes in play. Buzzstream will instantly help you gather information about a website and contact details for later use. The tools is so amazing that it will also provide you with names, emails, contact numbers, social media profiles as well as how often they post on their social media and their domain authority.
Download Buzzmarker which will help you get all of those details while you browse and once you have a decent amount of sites booked in Buzzstream it’s time to make the first contact.
Step 6 – Manual Outreach
Buzzstream will help you send mass emails to every person in your list using the templates and formulas you can easily create in their dashboard. Having said that, I am a huge fan of reaching out personally to at least the top prospects you have on that list.
No matter how good that template is, it’s almost always impersonal and cold. People don’t respond well to automated messages, especially when they are big website owners that someone asks for something but doesn’t even have the decency to personally reach out.
Read the page, know the author or the webmaster and then talk to them in their language. Make sure to help them understand why your content is better than the competitors and why they should take the time to change it. Make it clear that it’s also beneficial for their users.
If you identified broken links as we mentioned in the broken link building technique then that’s even better. Make sure to tell them how it will help their own SEO to reduce broken links in the article and give them the alternative to save them some time.
Step 7 – Keep those relationships active
Getting what you want and throwing that relationship out the window is how you lose links and get out of business. People need to be reminded that you exist and that you are real.
Don’t just send automated emails but keep the relationship active by reaching out to them personally once in a while. Be active on social media and tag them along from time to time. Don’t just ask for favors, return them as well. Share something they posted on LinkedIn to remind them that you are also helping them along with their professional career.
Link building takes time. It almost certainly doesn’t work if it doesn’t and the best way to keep it working is by doing your part very very well. People won’t share your content if you are not 100% sure it’s better than everyone else’s.
You also need to keep your relationships up and running for as long as you can possibly manage. Use tools such as Buzzstream to help you with that but most importantly make it personal. Forwarding cold emails will get you in trouble or keep you off the game.
Don’t just blindly trust agencies that will offer you link building for an extra X amount of dollars per month. Even if you don’t want to do this yourself make sure to pay close attention to the links someone is building on your behalf.
Love what you do and do it well and everything will work out in the end.