There is a good reason why; links help users and search engines navigate between pages on the internet. As such, link building is like the internet’s currency. And if you’re actively unengaged in it, you’re limiting your chances of conversions and the growth of your business.
Below is a brief introduction to link building to help you understand why this vital component of off-page SEO matters for all business websites.
In the 90s, Google’s co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed a link analysis algorithm called PageRank while developing Google’s search engine. PageRank assigns a numerical weighting to each link a page has to assess its importance within a user’s query.
When we refer to a link, we’re talking about a hyperlink or HTML object that lets users jump to a new location when they click or tap on it. Links can be attached to text, images, or other HTML elements, and are found on almost every webpage.
Internet users and search engines need high-quality links to navigate online content. Therefore, individual links are the building blocks of internet navigation and SEO strategy because they help search engines discover new pages and determine which pages should rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs).
We classify links based on the destination of the link. There are three kinds: internal, external, and outbound.
Internal links are links that go from one page on a domain to a different page on the same domain. They are useful because they allow users to navigate a website, establish an information hierarchy, and spread link equity (ranking power) around websites.
These types of links indirectly contribute to SERP rankings because they make users stay on your website for longer, which signals to search engines that your website is engaging and useful.
For example, let’s say you’re an eCommerce accessory store. On your “about” page, you might mention the word “accessories,” which links to your product pages, encouraging users to click through and explore your product range.
External links on your website point to pages on other websites. They refer users to supplementary resources that expand on or support your page’s content.
For example, your law firm might publish a blog post about what to do after a personal injury accident, in which you link to a news article about a client whose case you won.
While external links don’t directly contribute to ranking, they produce a positive user experience that drives engagement and potential ranking in the future.
Also called backlinks, outbound links are the gold standard as far as off-page SEO goes. They are links from other websites to yours and occur when other site owners find your content relevant and valuable and decided to link to it.
Unendorsed backlinks directly affect SEO rankings and are the toughest to acquire. Additionally, not all backlinks are equal, as some carry more weight than others. For instance, a backlink from a random blogger won’t be as highly regarded as one from a respected publication like the Chicago Tribune.
A website’s backlink profile represents an important vote of confidence from other websites to yours, which search engines view positively. There are a few strategies, from guest posting to fixing broken links (which we’ll get to in a moment), that marketers use to boost incoming links.
Mastering these techniques can catapult you ahead of the competition. More than 40% of the top-ranking websites have reciprocal links (when websites link to each other), while more than 50% of digital marketers claim link building and brand mentions directly impact their client’s organic search rankings.
The invention of PageRank separated Google from other search engines like Yahoo by providing users with more valuable and accurate results. However, it also drove the idea that increasing links, regardless of where they came from, would warrant a high ranking on SERPs.
Consequently, many approached link building mechanically, and websites that lacked quality, as well as useful information, could easily reach the top of search engine results.
For example, posting keyword-stuffed comments and linking a site on multiple unrelated forums, or sending out thousands of emails to websites and asking for reciprocal links resulting in higher rankings despite a complete lack of value.
These dubious SEO tactics defeated Google’s main mission to provide users with the most relevant and highest-quality results based on search queries and eroded trust between the search engine and millions of site owners.
Not only that, but black hat SEO propelled websites to the top of search results, at the expense of other website owners who spent time creating valuable content and high-quality links.
Since the launch of Google in 1998, the search engine has introduced numerous algorithm updates with improved methods of detecting spammy link building techniques. But, the clincher came in 2012 with Google’s Penguin update.
The rollout of the Penguin update had a tremendous effect on many websites because it ruthlessly penalized sites with keyword stuffing and suspicious link building schemes.
Google analyzed domain authority (a website’s overall caliber) which affected a variety of metrics, among them, the number of irrelevant outbound links a website has. Once it detected website spam or discovered a site was participating in a link scheme, all participating websites with a link to that domain risked penalization.
You can imagine: websites reliant on link schemes to achieve high rankings started to plummet. Google deindexed some of the worst culprits, and they stopped ranking for all search queries.
Google’s first iteration of Penguin flagged entire websites when it detected inorganic links, leaving no way for webmasters to correct poor link building tactics and recover from a drop in rankings.
Once a site’s link audit was complete, webmasters couldn’t submit improved sites for reconsideration. Instead, they would have to wait for another Penguin release to assess if their updates were enough to lift the penalty.
Cue Penguin 4.0 in 2016, which introduced three major changes:
Today, SEOs know a genuine link building strategy is the only way to boost off-page SEO. Link building is a challenging process because there are no shortcuts, and it’s largely a manual process. Anyone who attempts to link farm is penalized. This means marketers and businesses have to put in the work to create link opportunities that augment search engine visibility.
Authority, anchor text, and relevance are some of the many factors that impact link quality. While planning and executing a manual link building strategy takes time and effort, doing so ethically improves search engine optimization.
There are different kinds of “authority” metrics Google uses to rank websites, namely Domain Authority (DA) and PageRank (PA). Domain authority measures the authority of an entire website, whereas PageRank measures where a specific page will rank on SERPs.
With off-page SEO, we aim to improve link juice or link equity. This is a slang term used to describe how much power a backlink passes onto another site and improves its authority. Remember, quality backlinks act as votes of confidence from one website to another.
Many webmasters focus on linking to old websites with strong backlink profiles as these links are more valuable than those from new websites. A lot goes into link equity, but these are a few things search engines look at when deciding where to rank your site’s pages:
Anchor text refers to a snippet of clickable text that takes a user to a web page. It should describe what the reader will get when clicking on a given link. While you can’t control how another site links to yours, you can make sure the anchor text on your website is useful, descriptive, and relevant.
For example, if an anchor text reads “best chocolate mousse recipes,” the link should take the reader to a web page about said desserts. Anchor texts should always make sense without needing the surrounding text to provide context.
There are six different types of anchor text to consider:
Anchor text fulfills an important role in on-page SEO, as it indicates to Google what a page is about. Not using anchor text or generic text like “find out more” is considered a poor SEO practice.
In link building, relevance refers to the degree of commonality between the linking website and your website. Thus, you want links from sites that are relevant to your businesses.
For example, if you’re a beauty retailer, it’s better to have links from beauty-related publications than news websites (Unless it’s relevant, of course!). Even if these beauty websites have slightly lower domain authority, they’re still signaling to Google that you’re a trusted authority within your niche.
When developing a link building strategy, marketers determine what types of sites are too low authority to reach out to, despite their topical relevance. Most successful link building strategies adopt a blended approach that delivers favorable results.
There are two major types of backlinks: follow and nofollow links. Follow links help your website’s SEO, while nofollow links don’t.
The single technical difference between the two is that a nofollow link has a nofollow tag. You can only tell if you look at the link’s code by right-clicking it and selecting “Inspect.”
A follow link looks like this:
A nofollow link includes a rel=nofollow attribute:
Nofollow links don’t provide link equity. Therefore, when a page receives a nofollow backlink, it doesn’t improve its rankings or transfer any link juice, although internet users won’t usually know the difference and click through to whichever page the link directs them to.
Nofollow links typically belong in paid links, comments, forums, and anything Google deems as untrustworthy content, or when a website page has too many links, and you need to prioritize the most important ones.
However, a well-placed blog comment (when not spammy) can provide valuable referral traffic. Google has over 200 ranking factors, so nofollow links from social media platforms can help with building brands and consumer trust.
As of 2019, Google has viewed nofollow links as “hints” rather than directives to ignore. Sometimes, content publishers want to avoid endorsing linked sources, and the nofollow attribute simply lets Google know the page doesn’t warrant a first-party endorsement.
In 2020, Google also introduced the ugc HTML code to identify links created by users, which may not be endorsed or trusted by the page’s author. This helps Google better analyze links and award value accordingly.
On the other hand, a follow or dofollow link tells crawlers to follow the link, crawl the page, and give the linking page the credit. The more dofollow links a webpage has from other websites, the more likely it is to increase its rank in SERPs.
Strategic link placement affects SEO in terms of visibility and reader engagement. Let’s assume your web page consists of three blocks: the content, a sidebar, and a footer. We can predict, based on data, that the links in the content will get more clicks because content blocks receive the most attention from visitors.
Remember, all internal linking should facilitate a seamless and intuitive user experience that helps users move around your website, while external linking should supplement your marketing material content.
As a rule of thumb, you should keep external links for marketing content like blogs, and internal linking for permanent web pages. You don’t want a visitor who arrives at your website to immediately visit an external source.
Always aim to create enticing content and make sure your link placement doesn’t look too promotional and adds value to the information already present on the web page.
Finally, having too many links on a page forces them to compete for clicks and dilutes the authority they transfer to other pages. Marketing guru Neil Patel recommends around three to four links in blog posts of 1,500 words or more.
As for the total number of links recommended for a website, the industry standard is no more than 100 links per page. However, it comes down to strategy and quality. You certainly don’t need as many to achieve superior link building for SEO.
A qualified SEO specialist will be able to devise a strategy based on your business niche and website requirements.
A good link drives paying customers to your website and increases its credibility. The Digital Marketing Institute categorizes link quality into three groups:
Natural links are undoubtedly the best if they come from authoritative domains. These are when a reputable blogger or publication links back to your website on their accord. For example, a fashion magazine publishes a listicle with the best winter coats, and your bespoke label makes the cut.
In general, a good and natural backlink occurs because you’ve created link-worthy content that others want to share without being paid or manipulated into doing so. It is also relevant and reputable.
However, that’s not to say you can’t get decent momentum with medium-quality links. It’s unrealistic to expect every single link to be of the highest quality. Occasionally, a website won’t have the highest domain authority (simply because it’s newer), yet it’s still relevant.
Every bit helps to build your backlink profile, so long as you avoid spammy links at all costs.
Besides free links, all the other types of backlinks below are needed to build a healthy, diversified link profile.
Free links are backlinks from self-publishing platforms, social media sites, and any other sites that allow user-generated content. Acquiring free links entails signing up to sites or platforms that grant subdomains where you can blog and publish links to yourself.
While web 2.0 links are cost-effective because you’re basically buying subdomains and linking back to your website, Google has cautioned against it. In fact, as far back as 2014, Google webmaster John Mueller said:
“It’s not something where you’re promoting your website in any way but rather essentially [you’re] spamming the web…So, just to be really clear, this kind of activity has zero value for SEO.”
There isn’t any point in pursuing these types of links. They are deceptive low-hanging fruit that doesn’t reap any tangible rewards.
88% of SEOs include links in social media profiles because they know social media is a valuable digital engagement tool that expands audience reach, improves SEO, and enhances branding efforts. A clear social media link-building strategy fine-tunes the focus of the content you create and share.
We also advise creating deep links by posting on forums relevant to a specific webpage on your website. Additionally, using relevant keywords as the anchor text also boosts SEO.
For example, if you’re a cleaning company and there’s a forum on how best to maintain wood floors, you might link to a wood flooring service page on your website.
Back to social media: links on these platforms are often not prioritized because users don’t always follow them. However, the main purpose of utilizing social media is to get links outside social networks from people on social platforms.
For instance, if you’re a new sunscreen brand you might spend time building an attractive Instagram profile before summer. Perhaps you’ll invest in an influencer campaign that a beauty editor of a high-profile fashion magazine comes across and then decides to feature your product in an article that links to your website.
Because link building opportunities are indirect on social media, acquiring these links should be part of your link building strategies but not the sole focus. You should also be aware most social media platforms automatically add the nofollow tag, meaning they won’t count towards your backlink profile unless you use a plugin like Pretty Links to create dofollow URLs.
Sponsored links are paid advertisements in the form of hypertext links that show up on search results pages when their keywords match specific search queries. Their main purpose is to advertise a company’s products or services and increase conversion-ready traffic to your website in a short time.
Because sponsored ads are vetted by Google for relevancy, they always offer genuine value to potential customers. They can appear in Google search results, and various social media feeds.
Yet, although they’re a terrific tactic to attract search traffic, sponsored links are always discreetly labeled as paid or sponsored. On websites or within original content they also have nofollow tags to differentiate them from organic links.
For this reason, it’s good to think of sponsored links, like PPC advertising, as a short-term strategy to deliver bursts of traffic for specific marketing campaigns.
Guest blogging is still regarded as one of the best link building strategies because it improves your SEO score, visibility in SERPs, and drives targeted traffic to your website. Publishing content as a guest blogger on high-quality sites provides the opportunity to get backlinks to your own site.
These “earned” backlinks show relevancy and interest, which Google trusts. Publishing original, highly sought-after content is also key. If you’re going through the trouble to write about something, make sure it positions you as an industry leader and is topical and evergreen enough to be reshared over and over again.
Outreach links involve social, influencer, or press outreach to get people and organizations to include your website link in their online content, whether it’s through press releases or influencer marketing, for instance.
Gaining outreach links usually involves an agreement with the owner of the website or blogger about the placement of references and mentions in their resources. More than that, like most of the link building tactics above, it improves business credibility and brand awareness.
When it comes to the challenge of building links, the best strategy is creating great content that’s worth linking to and understanding what Google wants. When you create content that aligns with Google’s mission, you’ll rank higher in SERPs.
But this has to do with natural links, and while that’s the jackpot, it’s not the only way.
A lot of where you’re heading with your link building strategy depends on where you are now.
If you’ve only just launched your website, you’ll want to spend time developing a content marketing campaign, improving your domain authority, and some money on sponsored links while you wait for your outreach campaigns to gain traction.
Alternatively, if your site is older and already has a degree of domain authority, you’ll want to look at broken link building and possibly getting rid of spammy links. In both cases, drawing up a list of contacts for guest blogging and outreach campaigns is beneficial.
As with any business strategy, you need to conduct competitive research. A competitor backlink analysis is essentially a tool to reverse engineer your competitor’s backlinks. You do this by building similar links to rank higher in search engines and drive referral traffic.
Conducting this type of research also provides insight into your competitor’s organic online marketing strategies and how they gain visibility among their target audience, which you can use to improve your link building strategy.
Assuming you’re going to hire professionals, building links can cost between $5,000 – $20,000 per month, as they’re often tied to content creation and other marketing SEO activities. It comes down to quality and volume, and the state of your content marketing.
Successful brands usually outsource their SEO efforts, including link building. Our link-building experts at Comrade would be more than happy to conduct a free SEO audit and provide you with a no-obligation quote.
It’s impossible to provide you with a price without knowing your marketing, and business needs.
For most websites, the optimum number of internal links is around 20 (site size dependent), with one to two external links for every 500 words of blog content. Although you have to approach this strategically—you don’t want a dozen external links on your homepage!
As for backlinks, you likely need around 200 homepage backlinks and 25-50 page backlinks to move into the bottom five on page one of Google, provided you have a strong SEO strategy.
In a nutshell: The more high-quality backlinks, the better!
WebFX defines a backlink analysis as “an evaluation of the volume and quality of links pointing to your website from other sites.”
Analyzing backlinks helps determine how they affect your search engine rankings and shines a light on what you can do to improve your backlink profile.
It will also reveal how your website measures up against competitors, including what strategies they’re using.
You could do a manual backlink audit, but it’s unnecessary given the handy backlink tools available. Below are suggested backlink checker tools that are usually part of more comprehensive SEO software suites.
The aim is to find a tool that fits your budget and provides you with adequate information about your competitor’s backlinks in a way that helps you gauge which links will work best for your business website.
This free Chrome extension provides powerful data used for keyword research and backlink analysis. Ubersugget’s Backlink Discovery Tool lets you mine competitors’ links and create ones for your own website. With it, you can find backlinks your competitors have built and see which referring domains (websites) are sending links to them.
Even though Ahrefs is chiefly an SEO tool, it has an extensive link index amounting to 400 billion pages that have been crawled with around three trillion external backlinks and twenty-three trillion internal links. This is valuable for learning which links are the best for SEO growth.
Ahref’s Broken Link Checker also lets you find broken backlinks, so you can fix and reclaim them. Link reclamation preserves link juice and maintains a positive user experience. It’s customary link building practice because as much as 18% of backlinks result in 404 Errors or redirect to irrelevant pages.
Just like Ahref, Moz’s Link Explorer comes with a massive link index to help you uncover valuable link opportunities. Moz prioritizes the links it crawls based on an AI algorithm that mimics Google’s index. With this software, it’s possible to create a solid link building strategy and track your off-page SEO progress.
Like most other link building software, SEMRush’s tool lets you discover new link building opportunities, gather contact information on target websites and reach out to them, and follow your campaign progress. Its outreach tool is particularly impressive—you just connect your email account to contact prospects and read their replies directly from the tool.
White hat SEO link building takes more time than black or gray hat techniques. But, it’s better for your long-term SEO and digital marketing strategy. Here’s why:
The term white hat isn’t just limited to link building. It refers to the process of following agreeable SEO practices that align with Google’s guidelines. A white hat SEO strategy creates a positive user experience by adding valuable content to the internet without deception or manipulation.
The term black hat refers to bad SEO tactics and not just link building. However, in this context, it entails non-ethical link building practices to rank in search engines, like using your website network to create backlinks.
Other dubious tactics include participating in link schemes, such as buying, selling, or trading links for SEO purposes or producing low-quality, auto-generated, or spun content to place links.
The bottom line is black hat link building tactics won’t withstand Google’s algorithm updates and may result in a manual penalty that can set your website back months, if not years. The department store JCPenny learned the hard way!
In the end, link building for SEO should only be done using white hat tactics. It attracts links that maintain their place in SERPs over time by creating valuable content and user-friendly websites.
On that note, you should also be warned: there is something called gray hat link building too. These link building strategies blur the lines and are borderline illegal. Deliberately publishing duplicate content or using link pyramids are common examples. Stay away from these if you want to keep your website safe from penalties.
There are two types of competitors you need to research: domain-level competitors and page-level competitors. The former competes with your website as a whole, and the latter refers to individual pages that rank competitively for the same target keywords as one of your pages.
So, if you are a medical supplies company, for example, you’ll select competitors who fall within the same industry and who compete for the same target keywords and audience. It is likely they’ll also be competing on a page level.
Use a backlink checker tool (like Moz, SEMRush, and the likes) to delve into your competitor’s backlinks. Look for websites with high domain authority scores and pages with high page authority scores. This will reveal what sorts of websites they’re getting traffic from.
So, if there’s an authoritative niche medical publication linking to your competitors, chances are, you’ll want backlinks from it as well.
At the same, you’ll also want to analyze your own website’s backlinks to ensure you’re picking up referral sites that improve and don’t damage your backlink profile. It’s also an opportunity to fix broken link building.
High-quality backlinks audits offer insight into your competitors’ most linked-to content. The point is to create something better.
Content marketing is one tactic that works every time, especially when you know exactly which keywords and what type of content receives the most backlinks.
What’s more, you’ll have a list of industry-relevant websites to reach out to when you publish your content.
Once you’ve developed your content, you’ll want to reach out to publications and websites and ask them to link back to your content. This forms part of your outreach campaign.
If they’re linking to your competitors, it’s likely they’ll be willing to provide you with a backlink too. It’s also worthwhile specifying which page you want them to link to.
Following our example, you’d only reach out to publications that have linked to similar content before, regularly link to content related to medical supplies, and cover the medical industry.
When a publisher’s habits show that they are likely to provide coverage for topics like yours, add them to your potential outreach list.
Lastly, you’ll also want to leverage the power of social media to build links. We mentioned earlier that social media is more about fanning engagement and creating hype. Using hashtags, connecting with industry influencers, and igniting a conversation around your medical products generates awareness and grows a real audience which is part of a good SEO strategy.
Linking building is challenging because natural links require a strong content marketing strategy and are dependent on relationships. Particularly when it comes to outreach campaigns with authoritative websites!
Luckily, we’re here to help you build your website a strong backlink profile. Our team will develop the perfect white hat SEO strategy for your company and report back on a regular basis to improve, redirect or adjust your strategy as necessary.
Chat to us to learn how we can implement successful link building strategies for your company.
Building links is a crucial aspect of off-page SEO. High-quality backlinks boost your website's authority by signaling to search engines that others vouch for your content and thus increase your site's ranking in search engine results pages.
Backlinks are important ranking signals for search engines like Google because they indicate a webpage or website is noteworthy. Therefore, acquiring a high volume of high-quality backlinks is a fundamental tactic part of SEO.
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