Backlinks remain one of the most important ranking factors to consider in any search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. But link building is a complicated topic.
If you want to acquire backlinks and consistently increase your search rankings, you need to understand how to build links the “right” way. Bad links, spammy links, and/or poorly timed link building may not only minimize your potential results—but actively work against you by earning you a penalty.
One of the most important elements of backlink acquisition to get down early is backlink acquisition timing. In other words, how fast and how frequently can you build links safely?
In this guide, we’ll teach you how to time your backlink acquisition.
Let’s start with a primer on backlink acquisition, and its role in SEO.
Google determines search rankings based on the relevance and authority of the content it finds in its index. For relevance, it considers the intent behind the user’s query and attempts to find content that serves it. Authority is a bit more complicated.
Google wants to provide users with the most trustworthy results. Accordingly, it evaluates the trustworthiness of each domain and each page with “authority:” domain authority and page authority. The higher the authority, the higher you’ll rank for a relevant query.
Authority largely depends on the number and value of links pointing to your site. The more links you have, and the higher quality those links are, the more authority you’ll gain (and the higher you’ll rank).
Backlink acquisition is all about earning and building links to increase your authority deliberately.
Of course, it’s not as simple as building as many links as possible as fast as you can. If you do this, you could earn yourself a penalty.
Why? Because Google has a vested interest in weeding out spammy content and search ranking manipulation. If Google detects shady activity, including link spamming or link schemes of any kind, it will penalize your site.
Accordingly, in any backlink acquisition strategy, quality needs to be your top priority. High-quality links, with a high-quality SEO strategy to support them, will ensure that you don’t attract a penalty, and that you see a steady rate of growth over time.
What makes a link high-quality?
Essentially, a link must be contextually relevant, natural, and valuable to end users.
To achieve that, you’ll need to consider:
There are many other factors to consider in the quality of your link building; these are just the basics.
So what does link acquisition timing have to do with this?
Timing plays a huge role in determining how “natural” your link building efforts appear.
It’s easiest to understand this concept by studying two examples of problematic link building timing:
It can be tough to determine how frequently and how fast to build links, since different sites will be considered in different ways. A domain with a decade of history and lots of authority can easily get away with building many high-quality links a day, while a new domain may get penalized for building a handful of links in a week.
To get the timing right, you’ll need to consider your link building strategy across three main stages of development.
The first phase is the Google Sandbox. This is so named because of a supposed probationary period in which new sites are first evaluated by Google.
The idea is simple, though the mechanics behind it are difficult to parse; Google makes it difficult to determine exactly what’s going on in the background. We’ve written a full post about Google Sandbox (and the debate about whether or not it “truly” exists) if you’re interested in more information.
Here’s the basic concept. When you first launch a site, Google doesn’t have a good sense for the trustworthiness of your site. Even if you have awesome onsite content and a decent set of backlinks, you may not rank as highly as you should. This is Google’s way of keeping you in a proverbial “sandbox” until it can figure out more about you—and it’s especially common in industries with high levels of keyword competition.
What does this have to do with link building? Well, in the first few months of your domain’s existence, the Sandbox is going to artificially limit how much progress you can make. Additionally, Google may be extra sensitive to activities it deems worthy of penalty; if you build too many links too quickly, you might find it hard to build any kind of reasonable momentum.
Your best bet here is to focus on establishing your site in ways other than traditional link building. Focus on establishing your website and your social media profiles. Earn business citations in local directories. Write great content. Maybe build a link here and there, but nothing too aggressive. Save that for the next phase of development.
After a month or two of establishing your domain with citations, social media profiles, traffic, and content development, you can entre the next phase of the link acquisition process: building trust.
Here, you’ll begin to build your first links. Aim to build one to two links per week to start, and make sure you’re following best practices for quality link building when you do it. You should be utilizing strong content in the form of offsite guest posts and working with the best publishers you can find.
You may also reach out to websites to see if there are any linking opportunities; for example, you may recommend a page on your site as a replacement for a broken link on their site.
Gradually, you can begin scaling your link building efforts. Pay attention to how quickly you rank when you publish new content on your site, and how your rankings are climbing overall. When you feel confident that you’re seen as a trustworthy site, you can push to the next phase of the process.
The final stage is full-fledged link building. At this point, your domain is mature—it’s well-established and Google finds you trustworthy. Most sites don’t reach this point until several months of trust building have elapsed.
When you get to this point, you can start earning editorial links from publishers with the biggest reputations, like .gov sites, .edu sites, and popular publishers like Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur. These links are extremely powerful, but hard to earn.
Additionally, you can scale up your volume and frequency of link building. As long as you’re following proper quality standards, you can build several links back to your domain every week, and consistently reach out to new publishers for new link building and content development opportunities.
If you want to improve your link acquisition timing (and your SEO strategy overall), make sure you follow these general tips across all stages of development:
Following all these rules can be difficult, especially if you don’t have much experience with link building. And if you don’t have existing relationships with major publishers, acquiring links is even harder.
That’s why SEO.co exists. We’re an SEO and link building agency that can help you get the links you need to rank—and help you time them perfectly to see the best results. Contact us for a free consultation today!