Backlinks can have a strong influence on Google rankings, but not all backlinks are equal. Google evaluates trust, authority, relevancy, link position, and anchor text when assessing links.
It is essential to build link profiles naturally at a consistent rate to avoid sudden spikes that could appear spammy. Google rewards high-quality links from authoritative sites but will penalise sites that build low-quality, manipulative, or spammy links with manual action penalties. Link building not only increases search engine visibility but also drives referral traffic and builds brand awareness.
A successful link-building strategy will largely depend on your audience, industry, resource availability, time & most importantly budget. In this guide, I will be covering ethical link-building strategies that work;
Best Link-Building Strategies 2023
1. Content Marketing
Earned links are considered the best natural links for link building as they are usually relevant and authoritative. To attract earned links;
- Start by creating valuable and newsworthy content that resonates with your target audience.
- Offer unique insights or advice on the chosen topic. Include original and unique research and make it insightful (and exceptional).
- Collate the latest advice from other industry experts to validate your content. Remember to cite authoritative sources.
- Publish the content on your site and ensure the content is easily accessible and well-linked internally.
- Push your content to the world. Share it on your newsfeed, newsletter and even social media channels such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn to name a few, to boost social activity.
- You should continually review your content and improve it to make it useful for other websites to continue linking to it. Ultimately, you want to be the go-to site for noteworthy content.
2. Do Digital PR
To gain high-quality links from media outlets, it is recommended to use your digital PR team to market your content effectively. You can also use traditional PR strategies to outreach to journalists, influencers, and bloggers by pitching them your content. Your PR team should follow up to increase the chances of gaining links.
Creating bespoke creative seasonal campaigns that add value to your audience can also attract links. Brainstorm ideas that journalists are likely to write about and share. To find inspiration, check out some great link-building creative campaign examples from 2022.
3. Repurpose Existing Content
Pick any of your past successful seasonal content marketing campaigns and analyse their links. If you notice they have had a sudden spike in backlinks, sites/publications are still interested in the piece. Re-angle or simply re-purpose it to make it current and actively outreach the campaign to make the most of the renewed interest.
4. Targeted Link Building
Gaining backlinks on high authority trustworthy sites such as from educational/government/health institutions/local councils is highly valuable from a link authority perspective. It is really hard to get a link from these sites but not impossible. Here are some ways to get links on these high authority sites;
- Offer Scholarships.
- Discounts for students and staff.
- Job vacancies or internships.
- Interviews with staff and alumni.
- and more…
5. HARO Link Building
HARO stands for Help A Reporter Out, which is an online platform that connects journalists and bloggers with industry experts. HARO link building is a popular and effective SEO link-building technique used to earn high-quality backlinks to your website. It also offers a way to establish your credibility and authority in your industry, as you’re being recognised as a trusted source of information.
After signing up and specifying your expertise, you’ll receive topic-categorised queries via email. By providing valuable, timely responses, you might be cited in their content, earning your site a backlink from reputable sources.
6. Good Deeds
Doing a good deed often gets talked about on social media and press, in turn, helping build your link profile.
7. Listicles / Expert Interview Posts
Create a top / best list or industry expert interview post featuring individuals or brands. These posts usually get the attention of the people or brands you feature in them and thereby are more inclined to share the content or link to it. It is essential to build relationships with these people to have the best chance of success. One way could be to reach out to them via social media or email and tell them about your post mention.
8. Partnerships / Sponsorships
Consider Corporate and Industry event partnerships/sponsorships or even sponsoring your local charity or event. These are some great ways (relatively easier) to earn strong, relevant links. Moderating, Sponsoring or speaking at events can sometimes earn you a link from the event website which tends to be a trusted site worth getting linked from. The exposure you or your brand receives on event websites can in turn generate additional natural links via publicity.
9. Gain Local Links
Another strategy is to gain local links. Targeting local links not only improves your local rankings but also contributes to your general link profile. Joining the chamber of commerce or links from shopping mall sites are quick ways to increase your local backlinks.
10. Link Reclamation
Link reclamation involves reaching out to website owners to request a link from unlinked brand mentions or fixing broken links that point to pages on your website that no longer exist. Tools like BuzzSumo, SEMRush “Brand Monitoring”, Ahrefs Alerts, Google Alerts (for your brand name) or Mention can help find non-linking brand mentions.
Tools such as Majestic, Ahrefs, SEMRush etc can also identify broken links. Fixing these broken links or reaching out to site owners to update them can help regain valuable link equity. It is a quick win for link building and traffic. I have benefitted from using Majestic to export legacy backlinks from the historical index and look for opportunities – 404s and chaining redirects.
11. Competitor Link Opportunities
Find new linking opportunities to improve your website’s authority and visibility by identifying competitor backlinks not linking to you.
Follow these steps if you have a subscription with Ahrefs;
- Identify your top competitors.
- Use the link intersect tool to find backlinks for your website and competitors. Ensure you add your domain in the last section of the tool.
- Click the Show Link Opportunities for the list of potential linking opportunities to reach out.
12. Find Journalists or the Right Media Contacts to reach out to
They are tools that can help you discover appropriate media contacts, relevant journalists, editors, influencers and other media publication contacts for pitching your content. If you have a small or new website with a limited budget, it is advisable to reach out to smaller publications first, such as local news sites, magazines, relevant blogs, or trade publications. On the other hand, established brands or larger sites can target bigger Tier 1 media publications such as TechCrunch, Fortune, or The Wall Street Journal. I have listed a few tools to find relevant contacts or publications to enhance your content marketing.
- Prowly: PR Software to get media coverage.
- BuzzSumo: Find the content that works and relevant influencers.
- ResponseSource: Connecting the media.
- Press Plugs: journalists submit requests. Help a journalist out and gain small business PR.
- Journolink: Affordable press release distribution.
- On Twitter check out the hashtag #journorequest – social listening for journalists
Get it right the first time and your efforts will get easier. If you give them a good story, they will cover it. You must continually build trusted relationships with these journalists for the ongoing coverage you seek for the valuable and relevant content that you produce.
Once you know to who you’re pitching your content, you’ll need to craft your pitch creatively in order to stand out. A tip would be to explain why your story/content will interest the audience.
Always keep a record of the sites or contacts you’ve reached out to and the date you did so. This will allow you to plan your follow-ups in case you don’t hear from them the first time. But do not pester them if you don’t hear back from them the second time. There is no ideal pitch format. Here are some tips;
- Keep your pitch short and to the point.
- Never use a template or an automated request.
- Personalise each pitch relevant to the publication’s target audience using a friendly tone.
- Be clear about the value your content offers to its readers.
13. Other Tactics
- Leaving testimonials on partner sites can possibly sometimes generate a backlink to your site and build a lasting relationship with your partner. This backlink can help build authority for your brand.
- Guest blogging, which was once one of the most effective link-building tactics, should be used with caution as it could result in unnatural links. Google policy scrutiny has led to some SEOs suggesting caution and avoiding sites that offer guest blogging for a fee or are incentivised in some form.
- Web directories used to be a go-to strategy for quickly building a backlink profile, but most directories are spammy, so caution should be exercised. Trustworthy directories that offer genuine value to your business or customers, such as Yelp or high-quality industry-specific directories, are valuable. Generic directories and bulk directory submitters should be avoided.
- Obtain a Creative Commons licence for your content to increase your chances of getting a link. This informs people they can use and distribute your content while ensuring you are credited with a link and retain the copyright.
- Identify issues with a site you want to reach out to, such as broken links or out-of-date content. Contact the relevant contact in a friendly manner to notify them of the issue, which can help establish a relationship and build trust for future content marketing. You can also use 404 broken link building by reaching out to website owners/editors to offer your website link as an alternative to fix broken links (if relevant).
- Get links on Resource list pages as they link to other topically relevant pages and are considered authorities on the topic.
Check out Carrie Rose’s link-building tips for actionable advice.
An easy way to find such resource pages around a particular keyword/topic is by performing an advanced Google search. Try one of the below simple Google searches;
“keyword phrase” inurl:resources (search for resources within URL)
“keyword phrase” intitle:resources (search for resources within the page title)
site:.gov “keyword phrase” resources (search for resources on .gov sites only)
“keyword phrase” inurl:links
“keyword phrase” intitle:links
site:.gov “keyword phrase” links
How does Google Evaluate Backlinks?
Google evaluates backlinks based on several factors, including trust, authority, relevance, link position, anchor text, unique referring domains and link attributes. To determine the quality of a link, backlink audit tools like Majestic, SEMrush, and Ahrefs use unique site quality metrics such as Trust Flow, Citation Flow, Trust Ratio, Authority Score, Toxic score and Domain Rating.
Additionally, Google adds more weight to links that are high within the page’s main content and placed as high up in the site structure as possible. Links placed in the footer, navigation, sidebar or other boilerplate sections of a site are not valuable enough. Also, it is generally better to ensure your link is placed as high up in the site structure as possible as they carry more weight. So, links close to the homepage are typically more valuable.
The number of unique referring domains is also important. The number of external links on the backlink is important. Page rank is spread out through all links on the page. The more a page links out, the more value becomes diluted. Therefore, if a page links out excessively, the weight of each vote diminishes.
Moreover, Google gives more weight to links with relevant anchor text, but over-optimising anchor text by keyword stuffing is harmful.
The link attributes, including nofollow, sponsored, or UGC, also impact the backlink’s effectiveness, but as of March 2020, Google may choose to ignore the nofollow directive and use nofollow links to influence rankings, crawling, and indexing in some cases.
Content-based Link Building – Tools, Hooks & Assets
Most content gets no links and few shares. So what do you consider to be the most effective content, good enough to generate a high number of authoritative links and shares? Below are some hooks & content ideas that could achieve a high level of both shares and links;
- Educational/how-to content: Long-form detailed content such as How-to guides or whitepapers. Create Content hubs that grow over time to become resource hubs.
- Opinion-forming authoritative content that creates inspiration or controversy.
- Research trends: Original research attracts links.
- Interactive quizzes or video content.
- A newsworthy story such as industry news, case studies, company milestones, reviews, content round-ups etc.
- Identification/evaluation of trends: Data visualisation and infographics such as results from an industry study.
- You could create tools and possibly offer them for free.
- Funny, image galleries or controversial content.
There are a number of free tools and websites that can support you with content-based link-building campaign ideas, research or outreach.
- AnswerThePublic: Discover what people are asking about by any keyword topic, brand or product – displays Google’s autocomplete searches.
- AlsoAsked: Discover and visualise the questions people are asking – Google’s “People Also Asked” data.
- Google Trends: Explore trending stores & search trends around the world.
- Reddit: An American social news aggregation and discussion website.
- Social Blade: This tool can be used to track YouTube Twitch, Twitter, Instagram stats and more!
- Twitter / Google Alerts
Google Link Penalties: How to Avoid and Deal with it?
Google penalties can be algorithmic or manual, so it’s essential to take necessary measures to avoid them. Building quality links has been more important than ever since 2012 when Google introduced the first version of its Penguin algorithm. This was essentially introduced to penalise sites using manipulative or spammy link-building tactics such as paid links, link farms, spammy directories, comment spam etc to build links.
Common Spammy Link Building Strategies you must AVOID: PAID links are a clear violation of Google’s guidelines. If you are legitimately paying for links to boost site traffic, be sure to add a “nofollow” or “sponsored” attribute. Other link types to avoid are Article submission/syndication services, PBNs/directory networks, non-moderated blog links, mass press release submitters, article directory submissions, embeddable widgets/Infographic embed links, unmoderated directories, guestbooks, forum signatures, social bookmarking sites, user profile pages, reciprocal linking to boost SEO etc.
It is crucial to audit the link profile regularly and remove or disavow harmful links.
Backlink Audit Tools
There are various 3rd party tools such as Majestic, Ahrefs, SEMRush, LinkResearchTools etc to review the quality and relevance of not only your backlinks but your competitor backlinks as well. I highly recommend Majestic or Ahrefs. You can also use Google Search Console’s links report to get a quick overview of backlinks, anchor text, and popular pages, but lacks information on link metrics and attribute types.
It’s worth noting that, Google does not assess a link based on the link metrics provided by these tools. However, the metrics are a good starting point to evaluate the quality of the link.
Types of Backlinks by Site Type
Below is a quick overview of the different site types, you may receive your backlink from;
- Educational / Gov sites / Health Institutions: These are sites with high authority and therefore invaluable and could make a huge difference to your site.
- Mainstream News Publication sites: They can be trusted and typically have a strong backlink profile themselves.
- Industry or Thematically Related Sites: These contribute to a website’s expertise, authority, and trust (EAT).
The above sites are your premium links that will contribute to your EAT (expertise, authority and trust). These sites should form the core of your link-building strategy.
- Blog sites can be valuable but must be checked for quality and relevance.
- Unrelated sites may still provide some value, but it’s best not to actively outreach to them
- Social Media Links: Links on social such as Facebook, Twitter etc do not pass PageRank.
FURTHER READING OR VIDEOS ON HOW TO GET BACKLINKS?
At MozCon 2020, Andy Crestodina gave a presentation on thought leadership in the SEO industry. Download his slides here.
At MozCon 2020, Shannon McGuirk gave a presentation about the truth about digital PR campaigns. Download her slides here.
Link building is an important aspect of your SEO strategy and should align with your business and marketing goals. However, it may take several months for the results to become noticeable, as it depends on various factors such as industry competition, target keywords, and domain strength.