How to build links
There are many tactics and strategies that will help you get links from other websites to your pages. In this chapter, you will learn what these tactics and strategies are, the logic behind them, and how risky it might be to use them.
Conceptually, most link building tactics and strategies fall into one of the following five buckets: Add, Ask, Buy, Earn and Preserve.
If you can go to a website that doesn’t belong to you and manually place your link there, that’s called “adding” a link. The most common tactics that fit into this category are:
- Business directory submissions;
- Social profile creation;
- Blog commenting;
- Posting to forums, communities & Q&A sites;
- Creating job search listings;
Building links via those tactics is very easy to do. And for that exact reason, those links tend to have very low value in the eyes of Google (and in some cases can even be flagged as SPAM).
Other than that, these kinds of links barely give you any competitive advantage. If you can go to a website and manually place your link there, nothing stops your competitors from doing the same.
However, you shouldn’t ignore this group of link building tactics entirely. Each of them can actually be quite beneficial for your online business for reasons other than acquiring links.
Let me elaborate with a few examples:
Submitting your website to business directories
You should resist the urge to add your website to every single business directory there is just to get yourself another link. Instead, focus on those that are well known, have traffic and therefore might bring actual visitors to your website.
For example, if you’re a small business owner and you’ve learned about a local business directory where fellow entrepreneurs get their leads, you should absolutely list your business there. And that one link would probably bring you a lot more ‘SEO value’ than submitting your site to a list of generic business directories that you found at a random SEO forum.
Creating social profiles for your business
It’s good practice to claim your brand name on all major social media sites (Twitter, YouTube, SlideShare, Instagram & the like) as soon as possible. Otherwise, squatters might snatch them once your brand gets on their radar.
It’s for this very reason that our team pictures on Instagram as “ahrefscom,” instead of “ahrefs.” Someone else snatched that username and we didn’t manage to claim it back—yet.
We never bothered to promote our Instagram profile, and yet it somehow got links from over 70 websites.
Leaving a meaningful comment on someone’s article is a great way to get on their radar and kickstart a relationship with them (which might lead to all sorts of good things). But posting comments with the sole purpose of shoehorning a link to your website there will only make blog owners hate you.
And besides, links from blog comments are usually nofollowed (i.e., might not count as “votes”). So if you’re thinking of leaving someone a comment just to add your link there—don’t.
Hopefully these three examples will give you a good idea of how to “add” your links to other websites without spamming.
While looking for more ways to “add” links to other websites, you might come across tactics that mention “web 2.0s” and “bookmarking sites.” Those things used to work some 15 years ago, but you shouldn’t waste your time on them today.
2. Asking for links
As the name suggests, this is when you reach out to the owner of the website you want a link from and give them a compelling reason to link to you.
That “compelling reason” is absolutely essential for this group of link building tactics. The people you reach out to don’t care about you and your website (unless you’re some sort of celebrity) and thus they have zero incentive to help you out.
So before you ask them to link to you, ask yourself: “What’s in it for THEM?”
Here are some of the link building tactics and strategies that fall into this category, along with a briefly defined “compelling reason” that they’re based off:
- Guest blogging — create useful content for their website;
- Skyscraper technique — show them a better resource than the one they’re linking to;
- Link inserts — show them a resource with more information on something they’ve briefly mentioned;
- Ego bait– mention them or their work in your own content in a positive light;
- Testimonials & Case studies- give positive feedback about their product or service;
- Link exchanges — offer to link back to them if they agree to link to you;
- Resource page link building– show them a good resource that fits their existing list;
- Broken link building– help them fix a “dead” link on their page;
- Image link building– ask to get credit for using your image;
- Unlinked mentions– ask to make the mention of your brand “clickable;”
- Link moves — ask to make changes to an existing link;
- HARO (& journalist requests) — give an “expert quote” for their article;
- PR– give them a killer story to cover;
All these strategies seem quite exciting, right? But as soon as you send your first email request you’re likely to face the harsh reality—your “compelling reason” isn’t compelling enough:
- Your guest post isn’t good enough;
- Your resource isn’t unique enough;
- Your “Skyscraper” isn’t “high” enough;
You see, for these link building tactics to be effective, you need to create a truly exceptional page that people would naturally want to link to. Or have a lot of authority and credibility in your space, which might help to compensate for your page’s lack of notoriety.
Given how hard it is to persuade random people to link to you, many SEOs started looking for ways to sweeten the deal:
- Offer to share their content on Twitter & Facebook;
- Offer to promote their content in an email newsletter;
- Offer free access to a premium product or service;
- Offer a link in exchange;
- Offer money.
But offering these kinds of “extra benefits” gets us into the grey area of what is considered a “link scheme” according to Google’s guidelines:
And there you have it. The legitimate ways of asking for links have a rather low success rate, but as soon as you try to “sweeten the deal,” you’re entering Google’s minefield.
At this point, it may seem that I’m dissuading you from using tactics and strategies listed in this group. I’m not. I’m just trying to set the right expectation, so that you won’t give up after sending your 10th outreach email and getting no response. It really takes a lot of effort to get links with these tactics while not breaking Google’s guidelines.
Let me share one cool “hack” that I learned from Adam Enfroy while doing my research for this guide. Before reaching out to connect with Pat Flynn, Adam linked to his website from at least ten guest articles that he wrote for popular blogs (which he casually mentioned in his outreach email).
“Pay it forward” is a good way to describe what he did here. Adam didn’t reach out asking: “Would you interview me on SPI podcast if I build ten quality links for you?” He just went ahead and built ten high-quality links for Pat regardless of the outcome.
Long story short, Adam landed himself an interview at SPI podcast. And I’m sure “paying it forward” played some role in that.
3. Buying links
Let’s get this straight from the get go: we don’t recommend that you buy links!
At best, you’re likely to waste lots of money on bad links that will have zero impact on your rankings; at worst, you’ll get your website penalized.
However, we would be putting you at a disadvantage if we didn’t disclose the fact that many people in the SEO industry “buy” links in all sorts of ways and manage to get away with it.
That said, we won’t teach you how to buy links safely, but rather educate you on some of the riskiest ways to do it.
Private Blog Networks
Also known as PBNs, these are groups of websites that are created and maintained with one purpose: to be a source of links.
Links from PBNs still work well in some niches. But in the past few years we’ve seen quite a few of the vocal PBN advocates gradually move away from using them. It got so risky that it’s no longer worth it.
So if someone is offering you to buy links from a PBN (or build a private PBN for you), you should say “no.”
There are hundreds of gigs on Fiverr offering you “natural, editorial, contextual, high-authority, white hat” links. They give you all sorts of guarantees that these links are legit and will propel your website to the top of Google in no time. Avoid them. Even if your friend tried them and it worked. The best link building agencies don’t sell their services on Fiverr.
You “earn” links when other people link to the pages on your website without you having to ask them to do so. This obviously doesn’t happen unless you have something truly outstanding that other website owners would genuinely want to mention on their websites.
But people can’t link to things that they don’t know exist. So no matter how awesome your page is, you’ll need to invest in promoting it. And the more people see your page, the higher the chance that some of them will end up linking to it.
Here are a few tactics and strategies that fall into this category:
- Linkbait (or linkable assets);
- Podcasts / interviews / expert roundups;
- Content promotion;
Earning links is arguably the easiest and the most effective way to get them.
I’d much prefer to invest my time and money into creating valuable pages that will generate word of mouth and pick up links naturally, rather than working on a sequence of daunting link prospecting and email outreach workflows hoping to build links to a mediocre page.
5. Preserving links
As the name suggests, this final group of tactics is focused around preserving all your hard-earned links. One might argue that reviving your lost links can’t be categorised as “link building.” But as they say, “a dollar saved is a dollar earned.”
There are just two ways of preserving links:
Links don’t last forever. The page that is linking to you might get updated, de-indexed or deleted. As a result, your link from that page might cease to exist.
That’s why you might want to keep an eye on your link profile and get alerts when any of your links disappear. That way you can reach out to the owner of the website and try to get your link restored.
Fixing 404 pages that have links
The pages on your own website are just as likely to disappear. Whether purposefully or by a mistake, some of your pages might end up being deleted. And since links pointing at a 404 page don’t bring any SEO value to your website, you might want to resolve the matter.
All you need to do from here is either restore the pages or 301 redirect them to the most relevant pages on your website.
Build Links for Free with Internal Link Building
There’s an easy, underrated way to build links to the pages you’re attempting to improve search engine rankings for. And it’s a method you have total control over: Internal link building.
In attempting to get a Web page to rank, there are a few key factors to consider:
- Anchor Text – One of the most important things search engines take into account in ranking a page is the actual text a linking page uses to talk about your content. So if someone links to our Good Guys Wind Turbine Parts site with the text “wind turbine parts”, that will help us to rank highly for that keyword phrase, whereas if they had simply used text like “Good Guys LLC” to link to our site, we wouldn’t enjoy the same ranking advantage for the phrase “wind turbine parts”.
- Quality of the Linking Page – Another factor taken into account is the quality of the page that is sending the link; search engines allow links from high-quality, trusted pages to count more in boosting rankings than questionable pages and sites.
- Page the Link is Aimed At – Many times, when people talk about your site they’ll link to the home page. This makes it difficult for individual pages to achieve high rankings (because it’s so difficult for them to generate their own link equity).
These are all elements we can’t control in attempting to get other sites to link to us. We can, however, control all of these elements in linking to our own pages from our own content. We can:
- Determine what anchor text to use.
- Decide which page to point that anchor text at.
- Ensure that the quality and content of the linking page is high (since it’s our page!).
Building external links to your site is important, but in focusing more of your efforts on the optimization of these internal links you can build quality in-bound links with rich anchor text to the proper pages, which will provide you with an unparalelled ranking boost (for free!).
Internal Link Building Tools and Tips
So how do you go about building these great internal links? Well, you can set up a system for interlinking your pages in a few easy steps:
- Keyword Research for Link Building – First, you need to utilize a keyword research tool to have numerous keywords suggested to you that are both relevant and popular.
- Assign Keywords to Content – Next, you have to group your keywords strategically, creating a search-friendly information architecture.
- Link Pages Using Targeted Anchor Text – The final step is to apply your keyword research to intelligent inter-linking; you do this by linking to content using the keywords you’ve discovered.
The execution of the third item is key. You need to be sure that you’re linking to the right pages with the right anchor text. Here are a couple quick tips for carrying that out effectively:
Use Your Site Search
This one’s pretty simple, and can be used for multiple purposes:
- Finding pages on your site to link to a new page – When you create new content, you want to make sure you can search your site for mentions of similar keyword variations you might want to link to that page.
- Finding a page that’s been created to link to – Your site may have multiple content authors. In this case, you may have a vague idea that a page about “wind turbine rotors” has been created, but you don’t know the page title or URL. In this case, you can either type the keyword into your site search to find the corresponding page, or use Google itself. To do this we’d simply type: “site:http://www.goodguyswindturbineparts.com intitle: wind turbine rotors” into Google. This would return all of the pages containing that phrase that Google has indexed.