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How to build backlinks

Once you understand the value of backlinks for SEO, the next natural question is: Now how the heck do I build them? Let's find out.

Jessica Thiefels
June 30, 2017
Resources

In “What are backlinks?”, we defined backlinks and why they’re valuable for your website’s marketing and SEO strategies. What we (intentionally) didn’t dive into was how to build backlinks.

As with most marketing / SEO efforts, the backlink building process starts with analysis. Because the value of a backlink has a direct relationship to the value of the website it appears on, you first need to know what sites warrant outreach in your backlink building campaign.

This post is part 2 of our backlinks series: Check out "What are backlinks and why should you care?" and "5 of the best backlink monitory tools in 2017" for more.

Analyze potential publishers

Because backlinks to your website that appear on spammy, low-quality websites will actually hurt your SEO, you have to determine whether or not it’s worth reaching out to a publisher before you even consider how you’ll get that backlink.

But how do you gauge site quality in an objective (or at least, non-subjective) way? There are five key ways to do that:

1. Check for the “nofollow” tag to external links

By default, links pass “link juice” to the pages / websites they connect to — which is a fancy way of saying that “links tell Google who the authority on the topic really is.”

But publishers can also turn that flow of authority off by adding the rel="nofollow" tag to external links. If a publisher nofollows their external links, time spent building backlinks there equals time wasted. 

(At least, it’s time wasted in terms of backlink building. Such a link could still bring you tons of traffic and help elevate your brand, so it might still be worth it.)

To check if a publisher uses nofollow links, you can use an extension like NoFollow or just use the inspector built into most modern browsers.

‍Right-click on a link, click “Inspect” and then look for “nofollow” in the highlighted code.

 2. Check the site’s Domain Authority

The SEO gurus at MOZ created a metric to measure website quality that they call “Domain Authority.” It can be a handy way to think of a complex set of interrelated qualities in terms of a single hard number — as long as you keep in mind that it’s a “fuzzy” number at best.

3. Consider publishing frequency

Unsurprisingly, Google likes sites that frequently publish new helpful info (and keep their content up to date), and dislikes sites that … don’t. So aim for the former and avoid the latter like the plague — but keep in mind that this is most important for sites where timeliness matters.

4. Look at direct traffic volume

It doesn’t take a data analyst to know that a site with lots of traffic is going to bring you more value than one without many visitors. So use a tool like Similar Web to check those traffic stats before you reach out.

5. Is the site in your niche?

If you’re pitching web design content at a landscaping blog … it’s not going to work.

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Top 4 tactics for backlink building

Your backlink strategy can include a number of distinct tactics. Each one requires a different level of effort, but all of them can effectively improve your SEO profile if done right.

Create “shareworthy” content

Time commitment: High

Spam potential: Low (as long as you do it right)

Value potential: Unlimited

Shareworthy content lends itself to sharing (and linking to, which is really just sharing). To create shareworthy content, you need to focus on doing at least one of two things:

  1. Inciting strong emotion
  2. Providing extremely useful information

The first can prove challenging and is necessarily resistant to formulaic methods, so we’ll focus on the latter here.

To create extremely useful information, you’ll need to think in-depth about:

  1. A particular audience
  2. What its needs are
  3. Where there are gaps in their current resources

If you can identify and fill the right gap, with the right content, members of your audience will naturally see it as an invaluable resource for their peers and want to share it.

Some examples of shareworthy content:

  • An “essential guide”: a lengthy piece providing an “everything you need to know” overview of a topic
  • Proprietary information: case studies, data journalism, research or independent analysis — however you share it, the key point is that it’s proprietary: something only you can provide
  • Visual: explaining interesting or challenging data in graphic form
  • In-depth content: blog posts or articles longer than 1,000 words, often with graphs, data, and images

As you create this content, keep the 7 Main Characteristics of Sharable Content in mind.

Pro tip: cite some “influencers”

When relevant, include mentions of industry influencers in your content, then let the people mentioned know that you cited them or their work. If you’re lucky (and/or persuasive enough), they may share it too!

Guest Posting

Time commitment: High

Spam potential: Low (as long as you do it right)

Value potential: Very high

Guest posting is one of the most common ways to get backlinks to your site and is a great way to build brand recognition as well.

Guest posting means writing articles for other blogs, with the goal of including a link back to your website in the text. You’ll also have an author bio, where you can typically include other web and social links as well. Here are a few steps to follow if you want to start guest posting:

  1. Use your metrics (detailed above) to determine which sites are a good fit for your blog post.
  2. Email the blog’s editor to pitch 2 to 3 blog post ideas, sharing the value of your piece and why they should have you as a guest author. Remember: You provide value by writing them a high-quality blog post, and are able to help them reach a wider audience by sharing the final post on your social networks. It’s usually wise to send links to your relevant previous work as well, to add credibility to your pitch. The more high-profile your previous publications, the better.
  3. Once accepted, write the article, including a natural link back to your website. For example, if you have a post about company culture on your blog and are writing an article on how to keep employees engaged, you would find a way to include that link. For example:

“More than 40 percent of employees will leave a job if the company culture is negative or not what they were expecting,” according to… [Insert anchor text and link. Anchor text = article name or your business name/website URL]

  1. Send your finished piece to the editor, who then reviews it and has the final word on edits.
  2. Follow up on publishing date seven days after sending, if you haven’t heard back. This gives them enough time to review the post.
  3. Share the published piece on your social networks to encourage traffic and engagement. Be sure to tag the website or blog as a show of goodwill (and more importantly, to ensure your post gets traffic).

The process of guest posting can take a lot of work, but the results can be invaluable, with boosted rankings and more traffic to your site.

Provide expert quotes

Time commitment: Medium

Spam potential: Medium (depending on publication)

Value potential: Medium

Another great way to build backlinks is by providing expert quotes, using a tool like HARO (Help a Reporter Out). When you sign up as a source on HARO, you get three emails a day that list articles and topics journalists and bloggers need experts for. If you have the chops to answer, you just reply using the email given.

You’ll need to be on top of your game though, with most requests giving you just one or two days to answer. If you see an opportunity, respond right away to improve your chances of making the final piece.

Profnet offers similar functionality.

Comment on blogs and community sites

Time commitment: Minimal

Spam potential: High

Value potential: Low

Commenting on blogs has long enjoyed popularity in the SEO world, but these days, it’s all too easy to get wrong. And getting it wrong can have serious negative effects on your visibility in search.

The idea is simple: find blog posts related to your niche, and comment on them. In most cases, you can include a link to your website, along with your name, which is where the backlink comes from.

Sometimes these links are nofollow though, so do your homework before you commit. If the blog does follow these links, make your comment count by adding something real to the conversation. This is vital because you typically have to get through two layers of filtering: automatic spam flagging, and human editors. And the latter are even harder to get through.

(Editor’s note: For real. Please, please, please don’t just throw any ole link into your comment.)

Another thing to consider is commenting on community sites (like Designer News and Quibb) and question-and-answer sites (like Quora, not Yahoo! Answers).

Some other backlink-building tactics

Of course, those aren’t the only ways to get links to your site on third-party websites. You might also try:

Partnering with local charities or organizations

Partnering with local charities looks great for your business and may provide with you with a potential backlink on the organization’s “Partners” page — or the equivalent. You could also suggest doing a Q&A for their website or blog, which would naturally lend itself to a backlink: “Today we’re talking with Brian Smith, owner of [Insert linked business name here]…”

Sponsoring an event

As a sponsor, your logo is likely displayed on the event’s website. More often than not, this is also linked to your website.  

Be a guest on a podcast

Most podcasts also maintain a blog or website, where each podcast is then shared along with a brief summary of the show. In most cases, they’ll link to your website in this summary when introducing you as the guest.

Never, ever pay for backlinks

The surest route to being penalized by Google (and other search engines) is to pay for backlinks.

So don’t.

Just. Don’t.

Start building your backlinks

As you can see, there are a number of ways to build backlinks to your website. Set metrics for yourself and your team to follow to ensure that you’re helping and not hurting your SEO ranking. Test the various methods to see which works best for you, then track and optimize as you go.

In the next link of our backlink chain, we’ll dig into 5 of the best backlink monitoring tools.

Jessica Thiefels

Jessica Thiefels has been writing and freelancing for more than 10 years and spent the last five years in marketing. Follow her on Twitter @Jlsander07.

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