All of our Learn SEO posts are important, but I think it would be fair to say that the link building tips you’re about to read are very important.
Getting other websites to link to yours is a critical component of improving your search rankings, with each site that links to you acting as a ‘vote’ for your content.
In addition to being a vote, links also give Google important clues about the content contained on your site via the words contained in the anchor text of the link or the alt text of the graphic linking to you.
Important measures of comparison between you and your competitors will include:
- How many sites link to you?
- How many trusted and authoritative sites link to you?
- What was the context of the link as defined by the link anchor itself and the content of the page the link is on?
The best links come from a website / page:
- That specializes in your business area
- Has Page Rank / Link Juice to transfer
- Has your keyword somewhere in the link anchor or if it’s not a keyword link, the page is about the keyword
Link Builders Require 2 Or 3 Of These
Whether you’re going to build links yourself or employ an experienced pro, you should know that one of the skills a link builder needs is the ability to think strategically about the challenge.
I say this because cookie cutter link building strategies rarely work, which means you need to come up with ‘your plan’.
The next thing a link builder needs to do is work hard. Links based purely on finding shortcuts don’t often prompt progress in the rankings, and the rankings that are achieved are short lived. Go for the hard authoritative links as well as the easy and quick wins.
Finally, it’s possible that if you’re in a competitive market you’ll need money as well. In fact the more competitive the market the more money you tend to need.
So what do link builders spend money on?
Most business will invest some money in the lower value link strategies like human edited directories. This is then followed by money spent on PR submissions.
In competitive markets many brands then spend money on high risk tactics like buying links. This is seen as an acceptable risk to the business even though Google can penalise websites found to be in breach of their guidelines that clearly state you should not. If you’re smart this is not something you should ever feel the need to do.
Which is where this section started. Really smart link builders invest their time and money developing brilliant original content and promoting it to other websites.
Is it all worth it in the end?
You bet. SEO can have a huge ROI, which in my experience far exceeds that of paid search. It also lasts a long time.
How To Build Links
There are lots of different ways of acquiring links. Here are the main ways, categorized by whether you are in control of the decision to publish the link – “links you take” – or whether you need to influence another website to give you a link – “links that are given”.
These techniques are also categorized by their value and likely effect on your search rankings. For terms that have low levels of competition, lower value techniques can often have the desired effect. For more competitive markets more diverse strategies are required.
To help make the process of identifying potential link partners easy, Linkdex has created lists of trusted directory, article and PR submission websites inside our link building tools. You can also filter your competitors’ links by most of the site types in the above chart and add them to your link prospect lists within Linkdex.
Where To Build Links?
There are lots of reasons for another website to link to another. The main types of sites and link building strategies to consider are:
Blogs are a great source of links because there’s lots of them, they tend to be more contactable than other sites, they’re sociable by their very nature and they can boost your rankings significantly.
Find ways of working with bloggers through strategies like product reviews, guest posts, PR, sponsorship, comments, competitions and promotions, and widget and badge use.
Resource pages are pages on sites where a webmaster has curated a list of sites they think would be of interest to their sites’ visitors. Typically these resource pages are on pages called “useful links” or “resources”, although they can also be contained within popular blog posts.
Resource pages may also contain one or more of your competitors, so it’s important that the curator knows that your site would be a useful addition to this page – assuming it really is. If it’s not, make it a useful addition, then tell them about your site.
Try contacting the people who look after these pages by email, phone or LinkedIn to introduce yourself and your site.
Article sites allow you to submit an article to a category of your choice. This article can read and/or re-published by other visitors / website users. Most article sites let you create links from within the content to your site.
There are thousands of article sites out there, but only a few good ones. The best ones have been added to your Linkdex Link Prospects for you.
There are thousands of directories online but very few are worth bothering with. The most trusted ones have human editors that only let the best sites in. These directories are used and pass their trust and authority to your site. Because of this, most good directories involve you paying to be added.
When adding yourself to a directory you may be able to specify the text that forms the link to your site. Consider using your brand name plus a keyword of your choice or even just your keyword.
No matter how tempting it may be, please avoid automated directory submission services and software.
Some forums allow you to create a profile with links in the main post and / or signature.
If you’re going to join a forum, make your contribution useful, make ongoing contributions to establish your credibility and don’t be a link spammer. Link to your site only if you have a page that adds value to the thread. Also, don’t be afraid to link to other sites that add value to a thread, this is part of establishing your credibility in the community.
News sites publish current and topical content and where the content is original, they tend to be authoritative and great for improving rankings. They can be high traffic traditional news sites with offline brands or purely online. The online only news sites often get confused with blogs.
Getting links from news sites involves a relationship-based approach to link building, which is very similar to traditional PR.
Journalists of news stories need to trust the source of a story so establishing a relationship and your credentials with them is important. If you do, then the chances are you’ll be asked to comment on relevant news items as they come up.
To make news sites want to include you, your site should ideally be the primary source for information that a news story is based on, or contain unique information that supports a news story which, if included, would make a news story more complete.
PR Submission sites work on two levels. You can specify a link of your choice from within the submission, which then gets published on their site. The site then allows other websites and journalists to access the release. This may then get picked up and republished. The links you’ve added don’t often survive the re-publishing process.
The best PR Submission sites involve you paying to be able to add links from within the content.
If you’re a local business, local links and citations (mentions of your business and business contact details) are important parts of how search engines rank local results.
Finding and getting linked to and mentioned by local directories, blogs, news sites and resources are good ways of increasing your local rankings.
The Relationship Between Content & Links
You may have noticed that every category of link building strategy above requires content with the exception of directories. The content was either required on your website and is needed to be of such a good quality that other website owners want to share / link to it once they find out it exists, or it is required to publish on other peoples websites.
I’ve written a resource on SEO content writing here you should read. But I wanted to make a couple of additional points here as they relate to link building specifically.
The first is Google is changing and has declared war on low-quality content. This would include content farms and websites that simply re-publish feed based content. This means that content published in the hope that links are going to be built through feed based syndication are likely to be devalued.
The second related point is that PR Submissions and Articles may have less value as time goes on and you’re going to need to focus on quality and originality more now than ever before. This means strategies that involve you creating and promoting your own brilliant content through direct engagement and social media should be increasingly used and increasingly effective. As should strategies like Guest Post Blogging.
But remember the effort required for any of these strategies depends on the number of keyword you’re targeting, their competitiveness and your ambition. Which brings me nicely on to…
How Fast & How Many Links Do You Need To Build?
Small local businesses have a vastly different link building requirement to the super competitive verticals like financial services and gambling.
In both instances, quality is much more important than quantity, which means simply looking at how many links you have versus your competitors is not a very good Key Performance Indicator or KPI.
In addition to how many links you need, another KPI is how fast you should build them. This is often referred to as ‘link velocity‘.
So how fast should you build links?
I think a better question to ask is how fast are links built if they are not being engineered by link builders?
I ask this question because one of the ways search engines detect link spam is to look for unnatural link velocity. For example, an average business website that’s had 20 pages for the last 2 years and never been heavily promoted, may acquire a link a week naturally if they are lucky. If this website suddenly acquired 200 new links all with a similar commercial link anchor text, it’s going to look suspicious.
What’s more natural is to have a steady growth link volumes and a steady growth in new content, with most new links pointing at this new content. As more websites discover the content you’re publishing, more will take an interest in what you write and link to when writing their own content. As this steady growth in followers continues, each new item of content that is published attracts more new links with naturally varied anchors.
But if I had to answer the question without knowing anything about your business or the market you’re in, a strategy most websites can start with is:
- PUBLISH A FEW LINKS EVERY WEEK via guest posts, press releases, articles and quality directories FOREVER
- WRITE REGULAR HIGH QUALITY CONTENT and promote it to bloggers, journalists, and resource curators via email, telephone and social media FOREVER
After a few months review your progress and adjust your strategy and link velocity accordingly. Remembering that any changes you make need to happen gradually.
The Value Of A Link Changes Over Time
I’ve got some good news and some bad news. Lots of the links you’ll create will lose their value over time, and just a few will increase their value. Which ones will help you the most for the longest depends on where the link is on the linking website and what type of page it is.
If the link to you is from a page written and published to be read for a long time like a permanent resource, you’ll get way more benefit than if the link is from a page that starts at the top of a websites architecture e.g. homepage or category page, then as the days go on it’s relegated to the archive. Sites that suffer most from this “link decay” are blogs, article or PR submission sites.
The implications of this relate to strategy choice. If you opt for link strategies that are heavily weighted towards pushing content to sites where links get relegated to archives without attracting their own links over time, you are going to need to keep publishing on an ongoing basis in as many different places as possible. If you get the high quality links from pages designed to be read and referenced (linked to) for a long time, then you’ve got yourself a link that won’t decay and might even increase in value.
The reality is you’d benefit from both types of strategy as lots of different websites linking to you is good. But you need to make sure you split your time getting the maximum bang for your buck. For example, spending your time writing articles may not make sense when there are great and cost-effective freelance writing options out there. Your time may be better spent communicating with people that could add you to their existing permanent resources, and writing your own great pages and promoting them.
So try all of the different link building options you feel are right for you and decide whether you should be doing it, or whether it’s a low skill and easy to outsource task.
Link Building Prospect Lists
Finding link prospects has traditionally been a hard and time consuming task. With tools like Linkdex this task is being made much easier as technology can be used to do much of the heavy lifting.
There are two types of link prospect to consider. The linking websites that help your competitors to rank, and websites that have never linked to you or you competitors but might if you were compatible.
Let’s look at competitors’ links first. It is always helpful and a big time saver to look at competitors that rank highly and ask – “How did my competitors build their links?”
The number of competitor websites you chose to analyze with Linkdex’s competitor analysis tool depends on the number of keywords you’re targeting and the level of difficulty of your keywords.
Linkdex counts, categorizes, sorts and filters your competitors’ links by criteria that matter. This allows you to:
- Scope the potential ease or difficulty of competing
- Understand their SEO strategy
- Identify their best ‘golden’ links
- File away their best links in your own Linkdex link prospect lists
- Replicate aspects of each competitor’s strategy
Finding links that you and your competitors don’t have is not as straightforward and requires you to learn google searches like these. Once you’ve visited a site you like the look of, you can add it to your Linkdex link prospect lists manually so they can become part of your link workflow.
Turning Prospects Into Links
If you’ve reviewed the directories, article sites and PR submission sites we’ve found for you, added your competitors’ best links to your prospect lists and used Google to link prospects unique to you, you’ve got to get busy either adding listings, submitting your content and having conversations with other websites you think would be interested in linking to your websites.
Bloggers & Curators Of Resource Pages
Typically you’d be having most conversations with bloggers or webmasters of websites with resource pages. To do this you can:
- The website owners you want links from get lots of requests every day, you need to stand out from the automated link request crowd. Here are my top tips:
- Take it slowly and get noticed – comment first on their posts before emailing, and if you can follow them on twitter and mention them and re-tweet.
- Get to the point – what content do you want them to know about. Examples could include your:
- Latest news they’d want to share
- Research that’s interesting, relevant and can be trusted
- Infographics that tell a story their users would be interested in
- Competitions or promotions
- Widgets that do cool or useful stuff
- Badges for being in your top 100 or other award
- Resources that have been created that are useful
- Downloadable eBooks or whitepapers
- Round-ups of the month’s news in your market – and yours included
- Interviews of influential people they’d be interested in
- Suggest where you think they should link to it.
- Remind them of your credentials about the subject.
- Make sure you have a WIFM – “What’s In It For Me” still motivates others – WIFM’s can include:
- Making their own curated resource more complete or authoritative
- You’ll give them free quality content
- You’ll sponsor part of their site or make a donation
- You’ll give them a paid writing gig on your site
- You’ll send them product samples or discounts
- You’ll give them exclusive information they can break first
- You’ll give them research you’ve done but not published
- You’ll interview them and enhance their profile
- As a general rule, the better and more relevant your content the less commercial the WIFM needs to be.
- Finally, it’s easy to say no to an email request from a person you do not know. So you build more links if you can make friends and be approachable – offer to have a telephone / Skype call.
- Offer to write a guest post for their blog. Guest post blogging is a great way of building links if you can get the content written. The big win of this strategy is either in the introduction or the post footer a guest post would introduce the writer and link to their site. This means if you can establish a relationship and your writing credentials with blogs you’d like a link from, you can get a keyword rich link back to your site.
If other companies supply your business they are all potential link targets.
There are the obvious suppliers that sell their products to you for re-sale. For them it makes sense to help you sell more of their product by linking to you. If you ask them they will probably add the link anchor of your choice as well, so make it a good one.
Then there’s the not so obvious ones. Your accountant, lawyer, landlord, phone supplier, recruitment agency and many others. If you write them a testimonial and give them permission to add it to their website, the chances are they will.
Lots of your customers will have websites. Why not ask your customers to write about and link to the product they have bought, and tell you about it when they’ve done it. The WIFM may be a discount code, prize draw, free sample, private sale preview and so on.
REMEMBER: When you have built a link, make sure you add it to your built links list in Linkdex so it can be recorded on your rank change time-lines.
Building Links Through Indirect Contact
All of the above involve you emailing or calling a website owner or submitting a form. The benefit of this approach is you can be controlled and targeted. But what if you wanted to increase your outreach beyond what would be possible directly i.e. through in-direct contact?
Businesses are experts in creating advertising campaigns and promotions that create a desired outcome like visiting a store, calling or going online to get a quote or buying online using a coupon. Now what if you were to start using these skills to promote a website or individual page of content online with the desired outcome being to write about, tweet, like or share the content?
The question and answer process you’d follow is:
- What are you promoting?
- How does a potential linker respond with a link to what you’re promoting?
- WIFM or what’s in it for them if they do?
- How do you make lots of potential linkers aware?
- What creative do you use?
- When does the campaign start and end
There are lots of creative ways of answering these questions and your answers will depend on your brand, market, budgets and ambition. Here’s just one strategy I have used before in a hyper-competitive market.
- Promoting: Annual poetry competition on the subject of …
- Response: Enter the competition by publishing poem on their blog, linking to me and then entering the competition by commenting on my site (I didn’t but should have also used twitter as method of entry).
- WIFM: Cash, blog badge and publicity.
- Awareness: Pre-competition included direct contact to media owners e.g. poetry and competition websites as well as facebook ads and adwords. Post-competition included online PR.
- Creative: Great landing page with clear instructions, ad creatives.
- Timing: Clear deadline for submission and announcement of winner.
- Results: Good link volume, natural anchor distribution.
See that in the example above how direct and indirect outreach worked together to maximize the potential audience.
Link Spam & Trust
Because links are so important, Google and the other search engines invest massively in detecting when they are being gamed. The type of things they watch out for include:
Links that come from sites that aren’t trusted don’t always harm you but will be of little benefit, for example the linking sites have:
- Few backlinks of their own
- High levels of reciprocal links
- Link out to highly commercial sites with anchors relating to e.g. Viagra, porn….
- Low amounts of unique content
- Links being acquired quickly from low value sources can suspicious. So make sure your links are built gradually and continuously, and you avoid automated submission services.
Link Anchor Spam
- An unnatural number of the links contain the same commercial link anchor text. So even when you can specify your link anchors make sure you vary them. Use natural language patterns, synonyms, related keywords, combinations of your brand name and anchor text.
Link Building Actions
Using your keyword research, competitor analysis and Linkdex’s curated lists answer the following questions:
- How far ahead or behind the competition are you?
- What sites can you take links from?
- What websites have linked to a competitor and might give you a link?
- What sites may give you links and what content do you to need to write or create to make it more likely that they will?
“Building links will have a dramatic effect on your rankings, so make sure you allocate sufficient resources to this task.”
- Links help your website and its pages gain trust, authority and relevance. This then helps them rank highly.
- You can publish or “take” links from other websites or you can promote great content and have links “given”. Given links are typically more valuable than those that are “taken”.
- Use your time wisely and use freelance writers if your time requires you to and your budgets permit.
- Linkdex helps you find your competitors’ best links and allows you to create link prospect lists.
- Adding a link to your “Links Built” list in Linkdex helps you track the links that have helped your rankings.
Contribute To This Page
We intend to edit this page on an ongoing basis to ensure it always offers the very best advice. If you would like to contribute to this page submit your contribution via a comment. If your contribution is used to edit the main post we will reference you and your website as a contributor.