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December 2, 2020

Link Building Guide

A Comprehensive SEO Link Building Guide for Building Quality Backlinks

What is link building for SEO? In this ultimate guide, you will learn everything you need to get started link building for SEO.


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What is Link Building for SEO?

A Beginner’s Guide to Backlinks

You know you need to be building links.
Backlinks STILL remain the single strongest factor in Google’s ranking algorithm.
But, ugh. Link building also happens to be the most difficult element of search engine optimization (SEO) as voted on by a survey we conducted of our 1K+ of our white label SEO agency partners.
Furthermore, unless you’ve been an active SEO for decades, you may not have a complete Rolodex of all the relevant sites in your niche from which to acquire a large volume of high-quality, relevant backlinks.
And, even if you had the connections, not all links are created equal. Some can actually hurt your rankings.
So how in the heck are you going to build good backlinks for SEO?
Let’s dive in!

Search Ranking Correlation
Quadratic Mean Spearman Correlation

All vs. Commercial vs. Informational Queries

Chapter 1: A Link Building Overview

Link building is a term referring to the practice of establishing links (hyperlinks) that point to your site.

It's that simple.

But, why would you invest time and money in link building?

Link Building is About Promotion

Link building is a promotional strategy that helps people find your site—and in a number of different ways, as we’ll see.
Link building is most commonly known as a search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. That’s because it helps you increase your domain authority (DA). A higher DA means higher rankings. Higher rankings mean more traffic… and you already know why it’s a good thing to have more traffic.
That said, link building is also a good strategy for generating traffic via other channels. Notably, if you build a strong link with a good publisher, you can generate a stream of separate referral traffic to your site!

So let’s get crazy and start building links right now!

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. “Correct” link building, or effective link building, requires you to research your audience, plan your strategy, exercise communication, create excellent content, and remain persistent as you face adversity.
There’s a lot to learn and a lot to practice. But don’t worry—we’re here to help.
If you’re ready to learn more about link building, just keep reading this guide. We’re about to introduce you to everything you need to know—or at least the fundamentals.

The 3 Main Components of SEO

There are more than 200 ranking factors used by Google to determine webpage trustworthiness and rankings.
That’s a lot to juggle as a webmaster.
Fortunately, we can conveniently group these factors into three main categories. These three categories lead us to the three main components of any SEO strategy:
  1. Technical optimization. Technical optimization is all about making sure your website works properly, and can be indexed by Google as intended. 
  2. Onsite content development. Onsite content development is all about writing high-quality content for your site—and optimizing it with the right keywords.
  3. Offsite SEO. This is where link building comes in. Offsite SEO is all about establishing your website’s trustworthiness, usually by calling upon the power of link building.
Technical optimization is mostly a one-time effort; once you have all the right components in place, maintenance is minimal.
Onsite content development is important, but it has limited power to boost your authority and encourage meaningful increases in website rankings.
Of the three, offsite SEO/link building is arguably the most important for your strategy to succeed.

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How Google Generates Revenue

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has hundreds of projects and countless ways of generating revenue. But Google Search still generates revenue the way it used to.
Google has been around for so long as a free tool that it’s easy to forget that it’s still a profit-driven company. Its main purpose is to make money. So how does it do it? And why does this matter for link building?
The short answer is that Google makes money from ads. There are ads on nearly all search engine results pages (SERPs), sometimes at the top, and sometimes at the bottom. They may not take up much space, but they’re responsible for generating tens of billions of dollars for the company every year.
These ads are only capable of generating revenue for Google because lots of people use Google.
Google is therefore incentivized to give users the best possible search experience. That means providing them with the most trustworthy, most relevant results.
This is where you come in.
Google doesn’t care about your site. It doesn’t care about you. It cares about its users, and giving them the best possible experience.
Therefore, if your site can deliver users the best possible experience, you’ll be a shoe-in to reach higher rankings.
Simple, right?

Why Aren't More People Using Link Building

Sometimes misunderstood and sometimes neglected, link building is actually one of the most beneficial, cost efficient, and powerful strategies you can implement for your brand online.

So why is it that a whopping 38 percent of online marketers aren't using the strategy at all?

The way I see it there are three main reasons:

  • Marketers misunderstanding link building, thinking of it in terms of archaic tactics that are no longer effective (or even safe).
  • Marketers not seeing the true impact of the strategy, missing the potential value it holds.
  • Marketers not knowing how to implement the strategy properly, leaving them unable to begin work, or leaving them with less-than-ideal results after pursuing the strategy for some time.

By the end of this guide, you should have a thorough understanding of modern link building services, with all the tools and knowledge you need to get started.


Chapter 2: The Purpose & Benefits of Link Building for SEO

At this point, you may not be convinced that link building is worth all that effort.

But link building is about far more than just increasing your search engine rankings.

Take a look at some of the ways link building can support your brand.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Link building, as a strategy, first emerged as a means of increasing your rankings and visibility in search engines Higher rankings means more traffic from search engines, which means more opportunities for conversion.

Ongoing Traffic & Returns

Another major advantage of link building is its power to generate ongoing returns. When you build links, they’re almost always permanent. This gives link building the power to generate compounding returns, multiplying your return on investment (ROI) the longer you pursue the strategy. This means you’ll see less of a return early on, but after a few months of consistent commitment, you’ll start seeing better and better returns.

The Purpose of Links

Before we get too far into talking about link building, we need to talk about links.
But, what are links, anyway?

Intuitively, you probably know what links are, but it’s important to get an understanding of how the function for the web.
Hyperlinks are designed as a navigational tool. If you click a hyperlink, you’ll be automatically taken to another website—the website whose URL is housed in that link.
The main function of a link is to make navigation easier for users of the web, and to create the architecture between pages responsible for the web’s “web”-like connections.
This is fundamentally important, because there are only three ways to reach a webpage. You can either click a bookmark, type in a URL, or click a link. Therefore, if you haven’t yet discovered a page, a link is the only way to discover it.
But there’s another purpose for links, now that Google and other search engines exist.
In the eyes of Google, a link is a vote of confidence. It’s a sign that this website inherently trusts the page to which they’re linking.
On a small scale, that’s not a big deal. But on a large scale, you can use this principle to analyze the trustworthiness of millions of pages.
The short version is that the more links a webpage has, and the more valuable those links are, the more trustworthy it’s going to seem—and the more trustworthy it is, the higher it’s going to rank!

Chapter 3: Link Building Methodologies

You have the basic idea of link building, but how exactly do you go about building the links in the first place?

The phrase “link building” was actually coined in reference to an archaic strategy of stuffing links everywhere you could online, but modern link building takes place in two main theaters, or approaches: link attraction and manual link building/outreach.

Link Attraction

Link attraction, often referred to as link earning, is exactly what it sounds like.

In this strategy, you'll be developing pieces of content for your link building campaign that you'll publish directly on your own website. The goal is to entice people to link to them based on their innate quality or "linkability."

This is advantageous because it circumvents the possibility of a Penguin-based penalty (more on that in the next section); all the links you generate in this method will be completely natural.

The downside is that it's difficult to control. You'll be relying on social syndication and users' natural tendencies to cite sources they've found valuable, which doesn't always pay off the way you think it will. Think about the strange articles and pieces of content you sometimes see in the trending sections of social media platforms.

In short, sexy content attracts the best links in both quality and quantity.

Manual Link Building

Manual link building sounds like it would be closer to the original practices of link building, which often involved spam-based tactics.

However, modern manual link building is more sophisticated, and revolves around producing content and performing backlink outreach to other sites in your niche.

Essentially, you'll be producing material that these websites find valuable for their own audiences, resulting in a mutually beneficial relationship. Within the content, you'll include a natural, value-adding link to one of your pages within that content, and each party will gain from the relationship.

As you gain more authority and produce better material, you'll be able to engage with higher-authority publishers, gradually increasing the traffic, reputation, and authority you get from the process.

But, link builder beware. This method is not without its own risks, as Ross Hudgens so aptly points out.

There is still a direct correlation between backlinks and SEO rankings.

Domain Authority & Page Authority

When it comes to earning higher ranks in search engines through link building, everything boils down to authority, but until now I’ve only referred to “authority” in the general sense.
In reality, domain authority and page authority are slightly different, and the way they’re calculated is complicated—to say the least.
“Authority” is a subjective, unofficial score assigned to different websites based on how trustworthy Google deems those sites. This level of trust is determined by recognition throughout the web.
A relevant link from a site Google knows to be trustworthy might pass a ton of authority to your site, while one from a decent site might pass a bit of authority.

A link from a known untrustworthy site might actually drag your authority down.
Google used to publicly post its Pagerank method, but discontinued it. Other third-party tools like Moz, Ahrefs and Majestic now help give similar oversight into the quality of the links you’re procuring.
Whenever you link to a specific page of your site, that link increases that page’s “page authority,” which increases its likelihood of ranking in search results. However, you’ll also be increasing your overall “domain authority,” which applies sitewide.
There is still a direct correlation between backlinks and SEO rankings.

Also note that authority is probably only passed if the link is a “dofollow” (ie, non no-follow) link. Most links are “dofollow” by default, which means that search engines will actively view them and consider them as authority-passers. Some publishers, however, mark links with a “nofollow” tag, which essentially hides them from Google’s view.
Nofollow links can still be valuable, as they’ll increase your brand visibility and pass referral traffic your way, but they probably won’t pass any authority to increase your search ranks.
Using the “nofollow” tag helps publishers remain in good standing with Google, as too many authority-passing links to the same source, or in the wrong context, can be a red flag.

Link Building Strategies vs. Tactics

People in the SEO community sometimes use the terms “strategy” and “tactics” as if they were the same. But there’s an important difference, and you’ll need to distinguish between these terms to build the right campaign for your website.

Your strategy is the overarching direction of your campaign. It will define your audience, your goals, and your general plan to achieve those goals.
Your tactics, by contrast, are the techniques and mechanisms by which you’ll secure links. In other words, your tactics will be the individual methods you use to pursue your strategy.
Without tactics, you won’t be able to build links. Without a strategy, the tactics you use to build links won’t have a direction or help you achieve your goals.

Chapter 4: How to Build Links the "Right" Way

We’ll shortly talk about the two general methods for building links (link attraction vs. manual link building).

But before we get there, we need to talk about the general principles you’ll need to follow to ensure your links function as intended—and don’t attract a penalty.

In other words, there’s a “right” way to build links.

White Hat Link Building

There can be a vast differential in the quality of the backlinks you acquire back to your website. Quality beats quantity every day of the week. This shortlist should help you determine the characteristics of a high-quality backlink.

Source Diversity

If you build too many links on a single site, it will start to look shady, and you’ll earn less authority over time. Attracting links naturally can help you mitigate this risk, but you can also simply choose new publishers in your manual link building efforts.

Linked Page Diversity

Linking to the same page (especially a home page or other “anchor” page) over and over will be a red flag as well.

Nofollow vs. Dofollow

Don’t be afraid to build nofollow links, and even unlinked brand mentions as substitutes and complements for your ordinary link building efforts. Normal link profiles always include nofollow links.

Link Scale

When you first start out, you’ll be relegated to leveraging low-authority sources. This isn’t a bad deal at first, as your own domain authority will probably be low, and even low-authority sources can give you significant results. However, as you spend more time, you’ll find your results plateauing.


Chapter 5: Black Hat Link Building (or, How to Build Links the "Wrong" Way)

Now that I’ve outlined the basic concepts of modern link building, as well as a high-level view of the strategies you’ll need to be successful at it, let’s take a step back and look at how link building came to be, how it’s evolved, and why it has an undeserved questionable reputation in the SEO (and general marketing) industry.

In this chapter we will dive into the dark abyss of black hat link building for SEO.

Old School Link Building

Old-school link building (a technical term, I assure you) was nothing shy of atrocious.
Nobody liked it, even the people reaping the benefits of it.
Because Google’s authority measurement algorithm was painfully simple. Links couldn’t be evaluated in terms of quality, which meant that any link on the web passed roughly the same proportionate value to whatever site it pointed to.
As you can imagine, there was too much wiggle room for abuse in this model. Any webmaster with enough time on their hands could spam links everywhere they could—on blogs, forums, and so forth—and see their ranks climb in a linear and predictable fashion.

Irrelevant and low-quality sites frequently made it to the top of the SERPs, frustrating searchers, and spammy links were popping up everywhere on the web.
Even software was developed that could automate the entire process of signing up for sites, creating content with links in it, and posting that content. That’s why Google stepped up its game in 2012, with an algorithm known as the Penguin update.

Google Updates

The Penguin update was released in April 2012, and even though Google had taken measures to improve its link evaluations in the past, this was the first real step toward the modern ranking system we know today.
Essentially, Penguin overhauled the way Google viewed the quality of links pointing to various websites. It became able to detect how “natural” a link was, and took a more natural approach to evaluating anchor text, which could previously be stuffed with keywords to improve a relevance score for those targets.
Penguin penalized sites that used these old-school, shady, “black hat” tactics, and instead rewarded sites that had a natural link profile. Any sites that had “bad” links pointing to them (i.e., ones with keyword-stuffed anchor text, ones irrelevant or non-valuable to users, etc.), could have those links removed, or in extreme cases, disavowed in order to eventually restore their ranking to its previous levels.
Multiple iterations of Penguin have rolled out since then, including Penguin 2.0 and 3.0, both of which have added new ranking signals to the algorithm. However, most of these updates have been small, and have essentially been “data refreshes” that haven’t overhauled Penguin’s core system of evaluating links.

Black Hat Link Building Strategies to Avoid

It’s hard to say exactly what Google views as a “good” or a “natural” link, but we do have some pretty good indicators.
Still, it’s better to outline what Google considers to be a “bad” link in contrast, instead.
Avoid these types of link building strategies at all costs.

Why Link Building Gets a Bad Rap

To this day, there are search marketers who swear that link building is “bad,” “risky,” or flat-out “dangerous.”
These are usually people who got hit by Google’s Penguin update and never bothered to update their strategies, or people who mistakenly associate the term “link building” with these bad, black-hat practices.
However, as you now know, modern link building is quite different, and a much safer, more beneficial play for your marketing strategy.
Now, let’s take a look at the two main approaches you can use to build more links to your site without ever risking the threat of a penalty.

Search Engine Optimization vs. Search Engine Manipulation

Google is acutely aware that webmasters want to game the system to get their site to rank higher. That’s why Google’s terms of service explicitly forbid “rank manipulation.” And if you’re caught running a scam or manipulating your rank, you could end up with a penalty that flat-out removes you from search results.
By contrast, nearly every successful webmaster admits to “optimizing” their site for search engines, including developing search optimized content and building links.
So what’s the difference between optimization and manipulation?
The question you have to ask yourself is: is this good for search users? If you build a meaningful link to your onsite content, housed in a well-written offsite article, users will find it valuable. They’ll learn more information, and naturally be inspired to check out your site.
There’s no manipulation in this scenario; you’re just optimizing your approach to get better results—and make users happier at the same time.
By contrast, if you spam links, write bad content, or otherwise harm user experience to try and climb rankings or get more traffic, you could be accused of manipulation.
We’ll delve more into the importance of optimizing—and avoiding manipulation—in our sections on white hat and black hat link building.

Chapter 6: Attracting Links Naturally

This is the first main approach to link building you can take as a brand, and it involves the natural attraction of links to your site.

First: You’ll create a high-value asset—one that people need for information or entertainment value, preferably both.

Second: You’ll distribute that asset to the masses.

Third: People will naturally pick it up, sharing it and linking to it either as a citation or to show their friends and followers.

Advantages of Attracting Links Naturally

Create an impactful enough piece, and you could earn hundreds to thousands of natural links pointing back to your domain. This very guide is an example of our “link attraction” strategy (so if you like it, please share it!).

Disadvantages of Attracting Links Naturally

There are of course a number of disadvantages of attracting links natural. Here, we outline only a few.

Less Control & Direction

You’re trusting random strangers to build links for you. As a result, you’ll have far less control over which sites link to you, and less direction for your strategy’s growth.

Wasted Efforts

There’s always the chance that your content, no matter how exceptional it is, won’t be noticed or loved by your audience, resulting in wasted content effort that could have been spent on a safer bet.

How to Create Link-able Assets

Your first job with this strategy is to create what’s known as a “linkable asset”—something that people want to link to. This can take a variety of forms, but must be on your site in some way:

  • Content. This is by far the most popular choice, since it offers the most options and tends to have the most “permanent” value. Articles, whitepapers, eBooks, infographics, and videos all fall under this umbrella (as do a variety of other forms I haven’t even mentioned). Content is valuable because it provides information, or entertainment, or both, and it can be consumed and shared quickly between users.
  • Data. In many ways, data is a form of content. After all, how can you express data if not through content—either in explanations, numerical projections, or graphical representations? Still, any form of data or data analysis you can offer is a strong opportunity to earn inbound links, mostly because it’s original and citable information.
  • Gimmicks. There’s also room for some gimmicks in your linkable assets (though I dislike the term and what it usually applies to). For example, you might sponsor a contest that involves user participation on a page of your site.
  • People. Server response time can make or break your site speed, so consider upgrading your servers or purchasing a more robust plan from your hosting provider.
  • Functionality & Tools.You could also have some kind of functionality, or interactive tool that provides value to and draws in more visitors. The more practical this is, the better. Some examples include:

Content Value & Share-ability

No matter what type of asset you choose to create (though again, I strongly recommend content here), there are two basic principles you’ll need to have in order to be successful: value and shareability.

Content is important because it makes your content inherently worth linking to. This is a vague description, because it applies to so many different contexts. For example, it might be worth linking to your asset if it has factual data that can prove someone’s point, or it might be worth linking to if it serves as an illustration of someone’s idea.
Shareability is important because it increases the potential visibility and reach of your asset. The more “contagious” your piece is, the further it’s going to reach, and the more people will have the opportunity to link to it in the first place. For example, it might be shareable if it evokes a strong emotional reaction or if it’s especially easy or rewarding to share.

What Creates Valuable Content

First, let’s explore the elements that constitute value.


There’s a ton of content already out there, on just about every subject. Content marketing is extremely popular, and major informational sites like Wikipedia have a solid lockdown on most general topics. Why would anyone link to your content when they could link to Wikipedia for an even more reliable, in-depth look at an identical topic?

If you want your piece to be valuable in any way, it needs to be original. This is going to do two things for you; first, it’s going to narrow your potential audience. This may sound like a bad thing, but as your audience gets smaller, your relevance goes up. Second, it’s going to decrease the competition for the link.


How can you quantify “effort” when it could apply to so many different elements of your work? The effort could refer to how much time you spent doing research, how many images and videos you pulled to illustrate your core concepts, or how much time you spent revising and polishing your work to make sure it’s the best piece there is out there. All of these factors, even the small ones, are important.

Why? Like I said, the content marketing world is hyper competitive. There are millions of people producing and syndicating content—but there’s a normal distribution curve at play. For every person spending dozens of hours on a single piece, there are hundreds of people popping out fluffy, low-value pieces every minute. Guess where the links are going? This chart should make it painfully clear; only the best of the best content earns links. The rest fall to the wayside.


For the most part, your work will need to have some practical element to it, and almost anything can be practical if you put the right spin on it. For starters, there are obviously practical topics, like how-to guides, tutorials, walkthroughs, and research publications. But don’t be afraid to step outside these boundaries.


The level of detail in your piece is a crucial factor in how valuable it’s going to seem to your target audience. For example, let’s say you’re writing an opinion piece on the state of your industry. Do you fully explore all sides of the situation? Do you present counterarguments and rebuttals to your main point? Do you exhaust your resources to find data points that back up what you’re saying?

What Makes Content Shareable

Now let’s take a look at some of the elements of “shareability” you’ll need to target to maximize the potential reach of your piece:


Your first goal should be making sure your piece is accessible. If it’s hard to get to, hard to read, impossible to play, or otherwise invisible, it’s not going to get shared. Make your piece prominent on your site as a first line of attack, interlinking it with the other pieces of your site and making sure it’s featured prominently on your home page. If it’s something you want to promote, it should be impossible to miss.

Next, you’ll want to check on your web development fundamentals, making sure your content loads on mobile devices and on all web browsers. You can use sites like MobileTestMe and Browserling to help you out here. How quickly is your page loading? How well is your visual content displaying? Is your text easy to read? Beyond that, you’ll need to make your piece visible using an initial “boost”—which I’ll get into in my next section.


I get it. You don’t like the idea of people skimming your piece. You’ve spent a lot of time doing the research, outlining, writing, and revising, and you’ve made sure that every sentence of your work is valuable. That doesn’t change the fact that some people are going to want to skim it – some people are just skimmers, and nothing is going to change that.

If they skim it and get some value out of it, they’ll be likely to share it with their friends and followers (who might read it in full). If they skim it and gain nothing, they’ll click away, never to return. Accordingly, it’s in your best interest to make your content as skimmable as possible.

Make your main points clear in the introduction and conclusion of your work, including as many bulleted and numbered lists as possible along the way. Separate your work into clear, prominent sections with sub-headers and visual navigation tools to help guide your readers’ eyes to the most important parts. Will these people get the full value of your piece this way?

No. But it’ll help your link building efforts because you’ll get more shares and engagement from skimmers.

Emotional Resonance

People are far more likely to share content that has sparked some level of emotional resonance with them. What this emotional connection is, precisely, is up to you. It could be positive or negative. It could be present- or past-focused. The only requirement is that it’s a strong one. For example, you could use chilling statistics to illustrate a social problem that’s bigger than most people imagined it to be, like institutional racism. Or you could go the opposite route and try to evoke a response of humor and levity, like with Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” video.

Emotional resonance is tough to pin down, so in order to be effective, you’ll have to dig deep into some market research and find out what really makes your users tick. You may even have to try some experiments and A/B tests to get it right.


In addition to being practical, your piece should also offer a degree of utility—or a degree of relevance in your target readers’ lives. Think of this as a way of aligning your content topic with the current environments and lifestyles of your users.

For example, let’s say your target demographics are in college, and it’s April. At this time, most students are getting ready for final exams, so you can create and promote a piece that has some practical value for this scenario, such as tips on how to better retain information or how to study more effectively. If a person reads a piece of content and is helped, even in a small way, he/she will likely share it with his/her peers.

Emotional Resonance

This is a simple tenet of shareability, but it’s one you can’t afford to ignore. People are only going to share your content if you make it easy for them to share it. Honestly, if the process takes longer than a single click, your users aren’t going to take action.

Your first job is making sure your social media share icons are present and prominent on each page of content. If it’s published on your blog post, these should already be here.

Beyond that, go out of your way to include social share icons in any way you present your piece—for example, you’ll need to include these in your email newsletters, in your press releases, and you could even ask your followers to share your work directly on social media. It has to be easy, and it has to be obvious.

Provide an Initial Link Building Boost

The theory goes like this: if you create link-able assets that are valuable enough and shareable enough, they’ll start attracting links all by themselves.

There’s a problem with this theory.

You can write the best content in the world, perfectly valuable and shareable, but if nobody’s there to build that first link or push that first share, your content will never build momentum.

Accordingly, you’ll need to provide an initial “boost” to your link-able asset to get people seeing, reading, sharing, and linking to it.

If it’s valuable and shareable enough, your users will take care of the rest, and it will eventually start earning more popularity just because it’s so popular already. But you still need to provide that initial boost—and this is how to do it.

Social Media Distribution

Hopefully, by this point you’ve already built up a large enough audience for this step to be worth it. If not, you may have to start by building an audience from scratch (and even if you have, it pays to recruit more followers within your target demographics).

When you publish your asset, immediately perform a distribution across any and all social channels that are appropriate for it in terms of audience and medium. After that, schedule it for re-distribution on each one, too; as long as you frame your asset differently each time, you can push it out multiple times, at multiple times of day and days of the week, to maximize your initial potential audience reach. You can ask your teammates and employees to share it out on their personal channels as well.

Internal Link Building

Interlinking is a necessary strategy for SEO, and the concept is pretty simple. Include helpful links pointing to the various pages inside your site from the other pages. This is effective for a few reasons.

First, it helps shorten the potential distance from one page of your site to any other page. Second, it gives users more intuitive forms of cross-page navigation. Third, it enables users to spend more time on your site overall, which creates brand familiarity, trust, and loyalty. Include links from your latest content to other pieces of content on your site, as appropriate, and be sure to also link to your latest piece from older pieces of content, too.

Email Marketing

Email marketing may not seem like one of the latest and greatest online marketing strategies, but it still sports an astoundingly high ROI. Your first step is to build an email list. Ideally, you’ll already have an email newsletter, which you can use to notify your users of your latest content. If this is the case, all you have to do is keep your asset at the top of the newsletter and work it into your usual rotation.

Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing can be a powerful tool to get more eyes on your piece, especially if you’re in the early stages of your brand’s development and you don’t have a massive social following or email list to work with. Basically, the idea here is to work with an established thought leader in the industry—someone with a ton of social influence—and get them to either distribute, or at least talk about your piece

Paid Advertising

If you’ve tried all the above methods and you’re still struggling to attain that initial audience, paid advertising is another potential option. I tend to stay away from paid advertising because its benefits are relatively short-term, but it can be valuable as a way to provide a temporary increase in campaign traction. Google and Facebook are two popular options here, since you’ll be able to drill down to specific demographics and get more “bang for your buck,” but there are dozens of other choices, including:

If you do use paid advertising, be sure to set up a custom landing page so you can target your audience effectively.

Once you have created an asset that’s valuable and shareable, and you’ve given it an initial boost, the rest should take care of itself. Unfortunately, this gives you little control over your final outcomes, which is where our next major approach specializes in compensation.

Chapter 7: Building Links Manually

Now that I’ve covered how to naturally attract inbound links, it’s time to take a look at the more manual, controllable--albeit a bit more risky--side of link building.

The concept here is pretty basic too, but the execution is a little trickier since it demands more precision control and more variables.

With each link you build, you’ll develop a new piece of high-quality content, tailor-made for the audience of a specific publisher, and you’ll “guest post” that content on their site.

The content will contain one or more links pointing back to your domain. Over time, you’ll target a wider diversity of different publishers, eventually inching your way up to bigger, more reputable sources.

Advantages of Building Links Manually

There are some readily visible advantages to building links manually. Here we enumerate just a few.

Disadvantages of Building Links Manually

Building links manually has its own disadvantages, including:

Increased Risk of Penalty

If you aren’t careful, you could wind up building links on bad sources or in “bad” ways that end up getting you penalized (though if you follow best practices, this shouldn’t be an issue).

Ongoing Investment

Manual link building demands a heavy investment of time (and other resources) on an ongoing basis to build and manage all your publisher relationships. It’s truly a game of persistence and relationship building.

Characteristics of the “Perfect” Backlink (even if it is manually built)

Okay, so you have the basic concept.
Your guest post is going to serve as a kind of housing for your inbound link, but don’t let that description fool you—your content still needs to be top-notch.
Let’s explore some of the factors that will make a “perfect” link—one that most publishers will accept, one that Google will never penalize, and one that will earn you the highest amount of authority and referral traffic:

Link Spam

First on the list is your choice of a high-authority source. If you’re looking for a direct measure here, you can shoot for domain authority. The higher the domain authority of your link source, the more authoritative value your link will pass (and the more referral traffic you’ll probably get as well).

The problem is, you can’t post links on any high-authority site that easily—if you could, they’d lose their authority! Instead, you need to work on some lower authority sources first, gradually working your way up (more on this in the next section).

Natural Placement

Next, you need to make sure your link doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. It needs to be placed naturally in the body of your content; there’s no need to be sneaky here, but it shouldn’t appear out of place. For example, if you’re writing a longer piece (1,000 words or more), you’ll want to include at least several links to outside sources, only one of which is to your domain.

These should be spread throughout the piece, rather than lumped together, and should appear naturally in your work while adding value. That means it should support a fact or claim made within your content, or provide an example that illustrates a point. If a publisher suspects you of trying to sneak your own link into the body content, or if it doesn’t add value for readers, they’re either going to reject your submission, or remove the link.

High Quality Content

Remember all those elements I listed for how to make your piece “valuable” as a linkable asset? All those are going to apply here. Beyond that, your content needs to be high-quality in two different ways. The first of these is the conventional, intuitive way. Your content should be well-researched, logically organized, with some compelling points, multimedia integrations, and of course, eloquent writing that’s accessible enough for almost anyone to enjoy.

The second requirement of “high quality” is a bit more subtle and variable—your content has to be valuable specifically for the readers of your chosen publisher. Though it may be tempting to try and write what you know or what your main audience might want, you’ll need to compromise and keep your publisher’s audience in mind as the priority.

Contextual Relevance & Value

Context is everything when considering the value of a link, and “context” can apply to a few different things. First, your article has to be contextually relevant to the site it’s published on—that’s a given, and one that I mentioned in the preceding sub-section. Fortunately, you’ll have a bit of help here; if your article isn’t contextually relevant to a publisher’s audience, the publisher will flat-out reject it, saving you the trouble.

Second, your link has to add some kind of value to your piece—you can’t just shoehorn it into an unrelated or out-of-place section, and you can’t just call out your brand name at the end. Instead, you need to find a natural, value-adding way to get your link in the body of the content. For example, you could cite a statistic or quote in your on-site work that validates the main point of your article.

Optimized Anchor Text

Earlier, I explained one of the old-school “black hat” practices of over-optimizing the anchor text of your links. In the old days, “optimized” anchor text referred to text that contained one or more target keyword phrases, in order to increase the relevance of the target page to those phrases.

These days, optimized anchor text is more about explaining or justifying your use of the link. You’ll need some contextual clues here too, and you might even call them keywords, but be sure your anchor text fits naturally into your writing. For example, you might call to the link in question with something like, “according to our recently published data on ____, X percent of all marketers take this action,” or “for more information, check out my post on _____.”

Broader Context

Your link should also fit neatly into the broader context of your campaign. for example, a link and a guest post may fit all the requirements I listed above, but if you’re posting to the same site for the 100th time (and you don’t acquire links from anywhere else), you’re going to see greatly diminished returns from every new link posted there.

Remember, one of your key principles for success is diversification, so in addition to adhering to all the best practices above, your links should be distinct from one another in both form and source.

Building a Perfect Link Foundation

If you haven’t already, design an amazing-looking website and take care of all your on-site optimization; this is going to serve as many publishers’ first impressions of your brand.
After that, create a blog, and fill it up with as many high-quality posts as you can.
Back-date your posts so it looks like you’ve been at this for a long time, and do shoot for an impressive volume (at least 30 posts), but never sacrifice quality for quantity here.
Your first round of publishers will have nothing to go on except these posts to determine your level of expertise, so get ready to impress them.
Once your blog is established, start syndicating your posts on social media and build your audience. There are a number of ways to do this (and the topic itself warrants a separate guide), but here are some of the basics:
  1. Post Content Regularly
  2. Respond to Your Followers
  3. Engage New Followers in Conversations
  4. Participate in Community Discussions
  5. Engage Regularly with Influencers

Your goal should be to develop an impressive blog with a decent recurring readership and an active social media campaign to match. Once that’s established, you can start shopping around for publishers.

Chapter 8: How to Find Backlink Opportunities

Every rung of the authority ladder is going to present its own challenges. But identifying and earning a guest posting spot on your first few publishers is likely the most challenging part of the process.

Once you have a handful of external presences under your belt, you can use those as a testament to your writing ability and overall reputation, but building that initial momentum is tough.

Strategies for Sourcing Link Opportunities

1. Start with a niche.

The best way to get started is to choose a specific niche, as specific as possible. Why? There are a few good reasons. First, consider the fact that most “general” publications like The Huffington Post are quite discerning about the authors they onboard—they cover a lot of subjects and have a huge readership, so they want absolute experts on every subject they offer.  A niche blog on the other hand, is much more limited in the experts they have access to, and will be willing to take in a new voice. They tend to run smaller, which means you’ll have an easier time getting in contact with a webmaster or editor, though this isn’t always true.  But in any case, you can choose a niche very close to your own business, either in terms of industry or geographic location (such as a neighborhood blog).

2. Find several key options. 

Don’t just settle on the first place you find, however. Dig deep into your research by looking for niche blogs and contributors everywhere—go to Google and type in “[your niche] blog” to find blogs in your niche, and use BuzzSumo to find key influencers within that niche. Take a look at each niche blog you find, venturing into peripheral niches if you have to, and start categorizing them in terms of their advantages and disadvantages.  Some of the key traits you’ll want to look for are notoriety within the industry, traffic volume, domain authority, and willingness to accept new material. If you’re just starting out, you don’t need super high authorities, but you do need someone who’s going to accept your work—so consider setting aside your higher-authority or stricter publishers for later.

3. Search for contact information. 

At this point, you should have at least one or two key blogs on which you’re willing to guest post. From there, you’ll need to find the contact information of the editor or webmaster so you can pitch a potential submission.  First, look for a “Submissions” or “Contributors” page—these aren’t always there, but if they are, they’ll give you everything you need in terms of contact information and content requirements. If not present, check out the blog page and see if you can find contact information for the writers or the editor. If that fails you, a Contact page or Team page may have individualized contact information you can use.  Try using LinkedIn or Twitter search to find the editor at each publication, too.

4. Make a pitch.

 Once you have the contact information of the person in charge, whether that’s an editor or a webmaster, you’re ready to make a pitch. This is simpler than you might think, but it does require some strategic forethought. Remember that this is an exchange of value.  Present yourself in terms of what value you can bring to the publisher. Introduce yourself briefly, and state why you’re an expert in the subject and why you think you’d be a valuable contributor. Don’t get too fancy or go over-the-top here; I’ve provided a sample pitch below that has worked well for me: While the link building email sample itself may seem fine, I would definitely do a bit more A/B testing on the subject. Also, be sure to proofread your work multiple times before sending. There is nothing worse than a link building outreach email with errors. As you send outreach emails, we recommend using Pitchbox, Mailshake or Boomerang for Gmail.

5. Get published. 

If the editor or webmaster accepts your outreach for links, they’ll probably ask you for some specific ideas on what you’ll contribute. Send along some ideas that fit the industry as well as their readership, and once you agree on an initial article idea, you can get started writing it. There are just a few more items you’ll need to bear in mind during this process. Remember that each publisher is going to have their own formatting and writing requirements.  They may require that you adhere to a specific word count minimum and/or maximum, a specific number of images to include in the piece, or a different style of writing than what you’re used to. Be sure to ask and clarify what editorial guidelines they have before you make your formal submission—this will help bring a smooth start to your relationship.  From there, it’s a simple matter of getting your work published. Once published, you can start syndicating and following up on that post (commenting, etc.) to promote it even further.

6. Maintain a relationship.

 Even one post on a new publication can be a valuable addition to your link building strategy, but if you can post more content through building a relationship with that editor or publication, by all means, do so. Try to maintain an ongoing relationship with your publishers, providing new pitches for approval every so often.  Ask them what types of content they’d like to see more of, what they think of your past pieces, how those pieces have performed for them, and how their audiences are reacting to the content they’re currently publishing. Again, you want to bring each publisher as much value as you’re taking from them, so remember that this is a two-way relationship.

Adding New Publishers to Your Link Building Arsenal

You’ll probably start with two or three decent publishers, but those won’t last you forever.
Eventually, you’ll need to add more, higher-authority publishers if you want to be successful with your link building campaign in the long run.
This is due to the law of diminishing returns when it comes to links coming from the same external domain.
When you first earn a link from a new domain, that link will pass significant authority to your site. However, earning a second link from that domain will only pass a fraction of that original authority to your site.
Posting your 10th or 12th link will pass an almost insignificant portion of that original authority, and so on until each link passes almost nothing. This is because you’ve essentially already “won” that domain’s third-party vote for your site’s trustworthiness.
These links will still generate brand visibility and referral traffic, so they’re often worth building, but eventually, this law will force you to seek out new sources or start forfeiting the long-term compounding results of your campaign.
This is how you’re going to do it.

Chapter 9: Planning Your Link Building Strategy

No matter what approach you’ve picked, once you start, you’ll need to take some steps to develop and improve your strategy over time.

Start with goals!

After reading this guide thus far, you may be tempted to jump right in and start working with new publishers.

However, before you begin a campaign, I highly recommend you take a step back and set goals, objectives, and targets for your team to pursue.

This is going to help you focus your campaign and give you something you can use to measure your success later.

For example, what are you more concerned about—building your reputation or attracting more referral traffic? Are you looking for fast results or long-term growth?

These types of questions will help you outline what publishers you’re going to target and how much time, money, and effort you’ll need to put into your campaign.

Keyword Analysis & Niche Analysis

It’s also a good idea to conduct some keyword research. While keyword research is primarily used to direct the development of your onsite content, it can (and will) also inform your link building strategy.
We’ve discussed the importance of choosing the right anchor text. While natural anchor text should be your top priority, you can (and should) also include keywords from your campaign—where they make sense.
Similarly, you’ll want to conduct a niche analysis. What types of content are your competitors publishing? What types of publishers are they using? How can you position yourself to be an expert in a niche without much competition?

Hedge Your Bets with Multiple Approaches

Most people tend to gravitate toward one approach or the other, but if you want to see the best results, it’s a good idea to target all of them.
Use both link attraction and manual link building as elements of your overall strategy, and you’ll be able to compensate for each of their weaknesses.
You can even throw in some of the peripheral link building strategies I mentioned in the preceding section.
Hedging your bets this way maximizes your potential return while mitigating your risk.
It’s more to manage, but it’s well worth the additional effort.

Measure Your Impact & Adjust

This is key. Don’t just build links blindly and hope for the best; you’ll need to measure the results of your efforts and determine what’s working and what isn’t.
If a certain strategy is working well, invest more time and energy into it. If something isn’t working well, cut it out from your strategy.
Most of your measurements here can be done in Google Analytics, though there are dozens of online tools to help you measure your link building success.

Gradually Scale Your Link Building Efforts

Remember one of the key principles to link building success, which I mentioned in the introduction of this guide—scale.
As you invest more time and energy into your link building campaign, and as you work with higher-authority sources, you’ll start earning more value for every action you take. This is because link building is a strategy that compounds in value over time—but only if you scale your link building efforts upward.
Be careful not to become too complacent with your domain’s position, even if you’re doing well; keep pushing boundaries and moving yourself forward, even if you have to take baby steps to do it.

When it comes to links, it's less about rapid spikes...

And more about the slow climb...


Chapter 10: Link Building Return on Investment (ROI)

Link building can bring tremendous value to your organization, but try to keep your bottom-line focus on SEO link building ROI. Take all the benefits link building brings you—including organic and referral traffic—and try to reduce those to actual numbers.

How much money are these visitors spending with you? How much revenue have you received that you wouldn’t have gotten without link building? And just as importantly, how much money and resources are you spending on your campaign?

You need to make adjustments so that you’re earning more than you’re spending. Your ROI will almost always be negative to start out with, but as you expand your efforts, your ROI should grow in turn.


We have essentially covered everything you need to know about link building—start to finish. With this guide, you can theoretically take even a brand new site to any level of organic search traffic and domain authority (given enough time). But there are a few more tidbits I want to leave you with.
Of course, if you would like to create and execute a hands-off (or hands-on, if you like) link building campaign for you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Get in Touch

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Timothy Carter
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