SEO Link Building: 5 Steps To Get Started

Link building is vital if you stand any chance of SEO success.

If you’ve done some research into link building for SEO you will know that it’s an ever changing world and the requirements to rank for your target keywords change with every Google Algorithm update.

One thing that hasn’t changed however is the importance of link building.

In the early days you could build hundreds of low quality links and rank on page 1. Great for those using these link building tactics in the early days – until algorithm updates like Google Penguin came along.

Google now rewards sites with quality links from authoritative and related sources.

Building quality links to your website should be a priority if you’re serious about improving your SEO performance.

This step by step introduction to SEO link building will run through:

  • Why do you want to build links?
  • Why is it important to build high quality links?
  • What not to do when building links
  • An introduction to the different types of links you can build
  • How to assess your current backlink profile
  • And most importantly… the different ways you can build links

So, let’s get on with it…

Why do you want to start SEO link building?

Before getting started on a link building campaign it’s important to understand why you’re wanting to build links.

Usually the main objectives for link building are to:

  1. Increase your rankings on Google
  2. Increase referral traffic from other sites
  3. Maintain existing search term rankings

Hopefully you’re wanting to do at least one of these, else there isn’t much point you carrying on reading.

Why are quality links good for business?

We know links are one of the key ways Google and other search engines determine the order of their search rankings but what other rewards can link building give you?

  • Building brand awareness – usually a top marketing objective for businesses, building links from blogs and websites can be one way to build awareness of your business. By associating yourself with a well known publication in your sector, you’re raising the profile of your brand.
  • The chance to collaborate – collaboration and partnerships in business are becoming more common, by building relationships with other sites you’re building your network of contacts for future business collaborations.

What not to do when building links

  • Don’t buy links.

This might seem obvious but saying search engines don’t like paid links would be putting it mildly. Google and Bing constantly monitor links and discredit sites who have been found to be buying links.

Social media and blogs are littered with examples of websites who have been heavily penalised by Google for buying links, seeing their rankings drop into no mans land on pages 5 and below.

You may have heard the term Black Hat SEO – you’d be right to imagine a dodgy back street geezer wearing a black hat. If you’re wanting to succeed at SEO link building steer clear of this guy.

Buying links is just one example of a black hat technique used by this geezer and goes again Google’s guidelines for website owners:

“Buying or selling links that pass PageRank: This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links; or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link”

It’s important to remember that there is a distinction between buying links and buying advertising. The second being important for driving awareness of your website. If you are buying advertising remember to ask the advertising to add a nofollow attribute to the link which will mean the advert doesn’t pass PageRank to your website.

Steer clear of buying links. You might see some short term ranking improvements but, if you’re serious about long term SEO success, don’t do it.

  • Don’t just trade links.

Link trading also known as link exchanges or reciprocal links was used by the black hat geezer in the past. He would trade links with hundreds of sites using a links page using the URL /links.html – it would contain links to pages on other sites with a /links page.

Google got wise to it and stopped recognising links like this from irrelevant sites who have simply placed a link because you linked to them.

The whole premise of link building should be based on earning links. Whether you’ve produced a great blog piece or you’ve built a cool calculator that would be helpful to a publications readers.

  • Don’t get links from “spammy” sites

This is similar to building links by exchanging them.

Focus on quality with your link building activity. When you first get started with SEO link building it’s easy to get carried away and focus on numbers instead of quality.

You need to focus your efforts on building links from sites relevant to your business with a similar audience of people interested in what you’re talking about.

Preparing yourself for SEO link building

If you already have a site, it stands a chance that you have some existing links to your site.

Before getting started on a link building campaign it’s important to assess your existing link profile.

In simple terms this means seeing if your links are any good – have you exchanged links? Do they link to relevant pages on your site? Are the links on sites relevant to your audience?

Some tools to assess your existing link profile:

By using these tools you can start to build a picture of your existing links. You’re hoping to see a mix of:

  1. Homepage links i.e. linking to your homepage
  2. Links to pages further down your URL structure – for example service or product pages
  3. Brand or company name links i.e. links with your company name
  4. Keyword specific links – try not to have too many duplicate keywords across different links

Link Building Metrics: What should you be looking for?

  • Domain Authority (DA)
    Domain Authority or Domain Strength is a measure of how strong a domain is – at Reward, we use Moz Toolbar to find the domain authority of sites when evaluating our existing link profiles or investigating good site link targets. The higher the number out of 100 the stronger the domain.  If you have links from sites with a low DA you’ll probably need to build some links from higher authority sites and disavow/remove links from lower DA sites.
  • Page Strength
    Very similar to Domain Authority – page strength is a score applied to specific pages – not all pages on sites are created equal. For example, new pages will have a lower Page Authority/Strength than those that have been established longer and have existing links to them. Evaluate the value of having a link on a specific page.
  • Anchor text
    Anchor text refers to the text you see displayed for the link, i.e. the text you click to visit the link. As Google starts to introduce AI (Artificial Intelligence) into its search ranking algorithms anchor text will become less important – with things like the relevance of the linking page (see below) having more sway.When assessing your existing link profile – try to look out for anchor text with the same keywords across multiple links. This will have a negative effect. Remember natural is better – try for a blend of company name, service and keyword specific anchors.
  • Number of links
    If you’re just starting with link building you probably won’t have too many links. That’s okay but you do need to increase the number of links to your site as this is one of the most important factors in Google’s ranking algorithms. But remember, quality over quantity.You can also use the number of links as a measure of how well you’re doing with your link building. Seeing the number of links increasing? Good. You’re making progress.Use Open Site Explorer or Majestic tools to see how well your competitors are doing too – this is a good way to measure the effectiveness of your link building campaign. This is also shows you why your site might not be ranking for certain keywords – by using SEO tools you can see that the first page results all have X amount of links and yours has less. That might tell you why your page isn’t ranking.
  • Relevance of the linking page
    As we mentioned above – this is perhaps one of the most important link building metrics especially with the introduction of Google Rankbrain – although Rankbrain is specific to user interaction and keyword search it gives you an insight into how Google is looking to improve the user experience.

    “RankBrain is a machine learning (AI) algorithm that Google uses to sort the search results. It also helps Google process and understand search queries.”

    Google is looking at how users interact with content when they visit a website. If a user is finding the answer they’re looking for from a site – they’re more likely to stay.  This leads us to believe that analysis of an entire linking page rather than anchor text alone is the way Google is now choosing to place weight on links.

How to Get High-Quality Links

Now we know we need to build links from high authority sites with relevant page content and natural link placement how do we actually go about building the links?

Content, Content, Content

The best way to build links to your site is by producing relevant content. Why? Because you’re providing real value. You’ve produced something which is worthy of being linked to – something helpful for site owners to share with their audience.

What type of content works?

  1. Visual content (Infographics, Charts)
  2. Blog posts (How to, Lists)
  3. Downloadable content (Guides, Research papers)
Visual Content

Visual content is some of the most linked to content around.

Why? Because it’s shareable. Share this and link to me. It works and it’s quick.

Personally, I’m not a fan of infographics – I sometimes find them hard to read on mobile devices and they can be a little contrived. But well designed, informative and unique infographics can communicate an idea much better than words. Making them one of the most linked to resources for a huge number of keywords.

Blog Posts

Blog posts come in all shapes and sizes.

Lists posts, how to posts, tips, strategies. They usually have a specific reason, audience and, according to BuzzSumo, list posts generate more backlinks than any other content format. Get writing those list posts.

This goes back to the reasons why sites link to yours – because you have provided real value that their audience will enjoy. A list post that helps someone generate more business, save money or get a stain out of their washing is valuable and will be linked to.

Downloadable Content

Downloadable content has two purposes – link building and lead generation.

Writing, designing and producing an ebook or guide is time consuming yes, but the rewards it can bring for SEO link building and lead generation are fantastic.

Produce the best guide for a given topic and people will be linking to you left, right and centre. Not only that – if you have a download PDF version of your guide or ebook, you’re collecting contact information of prospects. Bonus.

Top Manual Link Building Tips

Producing good content will naturally result in your site attracting links. Fingers crossed.

But to make the most of your content and attract more links you will have to do a bit of work, here’s our tips for manual link building outreach.

Link building email outreach

Email outreach is one of the most effective ways to start SEO link building.

Quick steps to reach people likely to link to your post

  1. Search for your target keyword or keyword relevant to the piece of content you want links to
  2. Copy the URL of the first result in the search results
  3. Paste it into Open Site Explorer or AHREFs and find the sites linking to the URL
  4. Find the name of the person who wrote the post (usually at the top of the article/post) and use Voila Norbert to find their email address. Alternatively you could use LinkedIn to get in touch with the person directly.
  5. Send them an email like the one over at Hubspot or copy and paste on our own outreach templates below:

Hi [First Name],

I was researching [Topic} for content today, when I came across your article: [Article Title].

I hope you don’t mind me emailing you direct but I really enjoyed [Specific Point From The Article]

I’ve just published [CONTENT TITLE] on [TOPIC] – [URL] and thought you’d enjoy it.

If you find it interesting, perhaps your website visitors might too?

Anyway, hope to hear from you soon. If not, keep up the good work.

Talk Soon,
[Your Name]

Guest blogging

Guest blogging is another good way to generate some links to your site by providing value to both the website you’re writing for, the audience and yourself with a link.

Using a similar method above you can ask other websites if they are willing to publish a piece of content on their site. But remember, focus on quality – treat the piece as if you were writing for your own site. Don’t cram it with keywords, providing little to no value to the reader.

Follow hashtags #JournoRequest & #PRRequest on Twitter to keep an eye out for people requesting guest blogs or contributions to blog pieces they might be writing.

Broken link building

The clue is in the name with this one. Links that are broken. They’re everywhere. Broken links can happen for a number of reasons, usually because a URL has been moved without a redirect or a site has closed.

We won’t discuss broken link building in too much detail, Moz do it much better in their Broken Link Building Guide: From Noob to Novice.

Bonus Tip –  Internal Link Building

We’ve introduced you to the way you can start building more links for SEO by generating links from other sites.

But there is an easy way to generate more links quickly – and it’s not with the black hat SEO geezer.

Internal linking. It’s free. By linking to pages on your own site you can increase the PageRank of your service, product or “deeper” pages. You will essentially be passing ranking down from your higher ranking pages e.g. your home page, to other pages on your site.

Add relevant links with targeted anchor text to your other pages. Link from your service page to a blog post on a related topic, link between your related posts too.

Not bad for adding a few links within your own site.

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