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SEO Link Building Best Practices: The Complete Guide

November 11, 2021

Creating high-quality content is only the first step in ranking on the front page of the Google SERP (Search Engine Results Page). You also need the community to recognize your high quality by linking to your page.

These inbound links are called backlinks, and Google has confirmed that they are one of the top three most important ranking factors. Unlike content quality and Rankbrain, backlinks give Google evidence that community authorities trust and like your content.

In the old days, Google's based its algorithm on the total number of links. Today, search engine rankings are determined much more carefully, using more than 200 different factors.

The most important factors are good quality backlinks, high-quality content, and Google's AI, RankBrain. Build an excellent website, fill it with the best content in your niche, and then publicize your work.

Reach out and show your value to websites with high E-A-T (Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness). These websites have a high Domain Authority.  Their DA then rubs off on you when they link to your content.

Establishing your website as a pillar of E-A-T is a long and hard road, but it's worth it in the end. Earning trust is difficult, but it will keep you at the top of the search rankings.

Here's how to build high-quality backlinks.

Backlinking Stratagies

You need a strong topical relevance.

You must get links from high-quality websites in your genre. Google will look at your website's topic and see if your backlinks are coming from topic experts.

Think about it this way. A law professor who recommends a particular attorney for an award is a high-quality vote of confidence. A law professor is not a high-quality vote of confidence for a sushi restaurant.

Editorially placed links are the only way.

It's also crucial that links are placed naturally and for good reasons. Paying someone for backlinks or linking to yourself using a partner website damages your trustworthiness.

Getting links from major institutions and news outlets is SEO gold. Look for natural opportunities to get links. A contractor who works on a local landmark can request a link in the government and regional news that attributes the work to them.

There are also grey hat SEO techniques such as scholarship schemes and amateur sports team endorsements, which are frowned upon but are allowed for community benefits. These techniques can still get you in trouble if you abuse them or if Google decides to a crack down in the future.

What are the differences between Follow vs. NoFollow links?

A Followed link means that Google should consider the link as a valid, editorially placed link. These transfer PageRank and link the Domain Authority of the two websites.

Difference Between DoFollow and NoFollow Links

There are many cases where another website might technically have a link to your website but not wish to or be able to endorse your Domain Authority, however.

  • Rel= "sponsored" means that a link is an advertisement that was paid for by an advertiser. While webmasters are responsible for the quality of ads on their pages, ads don't count as high-quality backlinks.
  • Rel= "nofollow" means that google should not crawl the link and should not associate the two sites because of it.
  • Rel= "UGC" means that links come from user-generated content such as social media, forums, or comment sections. Social Media influencers can push a lot of traffic to a site but aren't a direct source of good SEO unless their websites are in your genre and place editorial links on their websites.

Tesla linking to your website will give you Domain Authority, but Elon Musk's Twitter feed won't. However, if Elon mentions you, it will drive massive traffic and news reports, which will often link to your website.

You need many unique referring domains.

Focus on getting links from many different websites rather than only a few. Dozens of links from CNN are great, but links from dozens of major news outlets are much more powerful.

Consider the fact that it's harder to game a system where many different reporters and web admins must endorse your website.

When you think through the problem from Google's perspective, you can see why they're looking for multiple references.

Natural Anchor Text

Anchor text is the text that links are anchored onto.

Google looks at anchor text to help decide what the linked websites are about, so a good linking text is helpful. However, using optimized anchor text with excessive keywords violates Google's guidelines and can get you hit with a significant penalty.

Google looks for a natural mix of anchor text without apparent efforts to game the system.

Manual link building builds brand equity.

Placing your links in guest blogs or social media can attract penalties unless you use the Rel= "no follow" tag. On the other hand, linking to your content can indirectly influence link growth.

Elon Musk can't directly link to Tesla or Space X without a no-follow tag, but his Twitter feed drives traffic and news reports. So if he mentions his companies, other people will make the editorial decision to link to him. Win.

Persuing good public and media relations strategies has indirect benefits for your SEO. Just be careful to allow other people to make the ultimate decision about linking to you.

Earned links are the best.

Nowadays, everything Apple does earns them tons of press and links. Steve Jobs was famous for doing media and public relations personally and often, however.

Giving speeches, appearing on TV, and helping reporters with their stories are all good ways to build your links and public persona. Give lectures at conferences, do meet and greets, and make yourself available to writers.

Anything that gets you mentioned in the press or on someone else's blog is fantastic, as long as they make the link choice editorially. Keep in mind that links from experts in your niche count more than links from unrelated niches.

Paid links aren't always bad SEO.

Paid Links are bad SEO, except when they're not. Directly paying for a link will typically get you low-quality links and will get a Google penalty if you get caught.

You also have to consider that the links will usually be from websites with low Domain Authority and other topics.

Sponsored content is excellent, and Google themselves serves sponsored content on their websites. It can earn you public notoriety and brand authority which indirectly can build your link profile.

Just use a nofollow or sponsored tag for sponsored content.

These are some excellent quick-win linking strategies.

An outstanding public relations team will ensure they take advantage of the low effort, high reward link-building tactics. It would help if you took the low-hanging, easy wins because your competition surely will.

Fix broken internal and external links.

Links break for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes people make mistakes when they link to your content, and other times the link gets broken when you change your URL.

You should make sure that all of the links to your content work and that there aren't any broken links. It's way easier to fix a broken link than earn a fresh one. A good SEO auditor will check all of your links to make sure that they work.

Once you've identified a broken link, reach out to the linking webmaster and point out the error. Broken links are poor SEO for them, too, so they'll usually be happy to repair the link.

If the problem is with deleted content on your website, either put the original content back up at the same URL, redirect the link to suitable content, or ask for an updated link to fresh content.

Follow up with brand mentions that don't link to your content.

It would be best if you tried to get yourself into the press as often as possible. Press mentions won't always include a link to your content, but it's good journalistic practice for reporters to do it.

Since it's good practice for them, you can email them and mention that adding your link to the brand mention adds value to their customers. They're busy, and things happen, so you won't always get the link. But, for the price of a few emails, businesses can get many links this way.

Find customer and partner links.

Suppliers and customers often link to their business partners. These are easy links, and since they're usually in the same industry as you, they can transfer a lot of domain authority.

Remember, you only need one link per Domain, so push to get it somewhere from your partners, customers, and suppliers. Here are some ideas.

  • When you do significant work for someone, they might write a blog post about their new setup.
  • When you buy something, suppliers might brag about their big sales.
  • Retail customers can help you with a 5-star review on Google, Yelp, or Trip Advisor.
  • B2B customers can help by doing a write-up of your service on their blog.
  • Review influencers are great. Grant them access to your product or project, with the understanding that they will do a write-up. Granting access is fine, but you can't pay them or control their editorial decisions.

One thing to note: don't make enemies. Customer complaints are a red flag to Google. You need to do what it takes to satisfy your customers and ensure that they don't give bad reviews. If you get a bad review, reach out to them, make it right, and request an edited review.

Association and Membership Links.

It's almost always healthy to join industry associations. If you're a member of the Chamber of Commerce or a professional association, find out if they showcase and link to their members. If you're not already listed, they'll be happy to fix it for you.

Look for high-quality associations to join. You don't even need an endorsement, simply an acknowledgment from them that you exist.

Donate Money and Time to worthy causes.

Donating money is a gray area, but it's still allowed. Doing some work for your community is an excellent way to be a positive corporate citizen and get local press. If the organization has a blog, offer any assistance possible to the writer.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

  •  A politician might mention you if you host a small rally for them.
  • Your local government might list businesses that get involved.
  • Scholarships for students might include a backlink somewhere, such as in the application information.
  • Youth organizations might link to their sponsors.
  • Places of worship might link to corporate sponsors.
  • Local schools and police departments might mention donated equipment.
  • Festival sponsors might get linked in the local press and blogs about the festival. Check if the festival organizers have a website and blog.

Claim your unattributed work and get some backlinks.

You can request an attribution if you've created images and other people have uploaded them to their website. Most people would be happy to give you credit rather than risking a takedown notice.

Search for your images in Google, and send website owners a nice email wherever you find your work. Be friendly and tell them that you're happy they are using your work. Ask them for help.

Requesting attribution is possible in any situation where someone might be using your work for free. Coursework that you upload or someone's paraphrasing of your blog should get you attributions and links.

Reddit, Quora, and Forums are good for business.

These are non-follow links, but that doesn't mean that they won't get you good backlinks.

Any publicity is good publicity. If you increase your public profile, other bloggers and journalists might pick up your story and give you attribution.

Not all traffic has to come from Google either. Social media and forums are a fantastic way to pick up traffic from other sources than the search engine.

Sponsored Blog Posts aren't dead after all.

The same rules that apply to forums and social media also apply to sponsored and guest blog posts. You need to apply a nofollow relation to your post, but the additional publicity might get you more traffic.

Advertizers pay for sponsored blog posts, so the rules about editorial control apply. You can't buy reviews or backlinks. You can donate to charity to receive backlinks. So, there's that.

Google cracked down on guest posting a few years ago because it's you recommending yourself. Recommending yourself is worthless.

There are still lots of reasons to guest blog. You can promote your new book or company's products and build your public persona with a new audience. Publicizing yourself everywhere is an excellent life strategy.

Internal linking

Optimizing your internal links also improves your SEO. Internal links distribute PageRank throughout your site, improving the ranking of all your posts. If you create hot content that blows up and goes to the first rank in a hot topic, distributing that link equity and Page Authority to your other pages will also help them rank.

Internal linking is entirely under your control. You simply need to design your site well and enforce good practices with anyone creating content for your site.

Often, internal linking becomes a problem as a site grows, but the original design fails to scale well. Spending the money to redesign your site and fix broken internal links will pay off with increased traffic, though.

Old SEO Tactics That Still Work

Google closely monitors these SEO tactics because of the problems that they've caused in the past. That doesn't mean that they're useless. It just means that you need to use them in ways that benefit Google's search customers.

A good link-building campaign will use all of these link-building strategies but will be careful to do it in the right way.

Keep in mind that Google's website will only exist as long as they take care of their customers. Google search has been a mainstay of the internet for so long that we sometimes forget that Google is just as vulnerable as anyone else if they don't do their jobs. Google needs to find the best possible search results, or they'll get taken out by Bing and their other competitors.

Directories still exist.

Before the internet, phone books and library card catalogs were state-of-the-art search engines. When the internet boomed in the late 1990s, a few entrepreneurs got rich, digitizing these old-school search tools.

Today, we use search engines like Google, and these old directories appear quaint and even spammy. But they do exist in a few legitimate places.

Chambers of Commerce often have directories of their member businesses, and some organizations explicitly endorse members. The American Kennel Club promotes good dog breeders and provides contact information so that breeders can find mates for their dogs.

Directories like these are fine, but links on someone's spam website are just going to get you in trouble.

Guest blogging isn't dead.

Guest blogging is a great tactic to publicize yourself and get some traffic. It's not a way to build SEO. You need to use a rel= "no follow" tag in your link.

To be clear, you should guest blog. Building your profile and getting traffic and social media followers is worth money.

Google is important, but it's not the only power in the world. Spend some or a lot of your marketing time and money outside of SEO.

Press Releases and Content Syndication are fundamental.

Putting your link in a press release and sending it to publications hoping to get published is like guest blogging on a massive, syndicated scale.

Pitch your stories to the press. Reporters need to cite their sources, and they will link to you as a citation. You can also get traffic just from the link, and it helps build your profile.

Even though Google will ignore your press release link spam, media organizations are massively influential and have high domain authority.

Reporters are constantly looking for quotes, images, and data that they can cite in their stories. Becoming a resource for reporters is an excellent way to earn yourself some respect and love.

The problems and benefits with guest blogging still apply. You can't serve as a witness of your character and skills.

But yes. Use public relations and pitch stories to the press. Get yourself on TV and AMA on Reddit. Google SEO isn't the only way to get publicity and site traffic.

Infographics add value to a reporter's story, and they take a long time to produce. Reporters are busy and don't have time, so they will appreciate the help.

Just make sure that your infographics and data support a good story for a reporter. Try to answer questions like:

  1. What story does this tell?
  2. Who would want to tell that story?
  3. Is this an interesting angle on a story?
  4. Does this add value to a story?

Data is valuable and takes time to produce.

Data is extremely valuable to reporters and content publishers. Conducting surveys or digging through surveys to find story angles is doing a lot of a reporter's job for them. That's going to get you published if you find some helpful content.

Writing the whole story yourself is considered sponsored or guest blogging content, but if you can create infographics or charts that show your information, that can earn a few links.

Try to create a piece of content that compellingly tells the story. Writers ultimately need to write excellent content, and that content needs to engage readers.

Blog Comments and Forum Posts are a possibility sometimes.

Blog comments aren't the dumpster fire where you advertise Viagra. Even so, don't be afraid to answer someone's question and then link to your more complete answer in your blog. Be careful, use it judiciously, and don't annoy everyone by being a spammer.

Connect with your Community.

If your service adds genuine and unique value to your niche, that can be newsworthy all by itself.

Connect to the people who are interested in your niche. Those people could be customers, clients, suppliers, or competitors. Join organizations and take advantage of the community platforms. Some of these platforms will include links.

Doing competitor backlink analysis can identify opportunities. A competitor might have found an excellent opportunity for unique content.

Reviewing a supplier's products can earn you a link on their website. Everyone needs testimonials, and legitimate testimonials need citations. Getting reviewed yourself is also a great way to build your profile and get a backlink.

The Skyscraper Technique is old-school done in a new way.

Naming this the skyscraper technique is a bit dramatic, but it's solid advice. You'll get more link opportunities if you build best-in-the-world content and share it with people in that exact niche.

  1. Look for content that's previously performed well.
  2. Do the same topic but better in every way.
  3. Reach out to people who linked to the original content.

Writing great content and then publicizing it is pretty basic advice, but sometimes it's easy to forget. We see this all the time in marketing. Trucks sell well in the USA, so we should build a better truck and sell it to truck owners. Sure.

Outreach campaigns are good marketing.

Conducting an outreach campaign is marketing, and you're going to need to do some cold calling. Sending emails and making pitches isn't always fun, but that's the job.

It helps to have a great product. Pitching good content is easier because it's easier for you to be passionate about your creation and because customers will be more receptive.

You can sell anything if you're passionate, however. Keep knocking on doors and never lose your energy and optimism.

The number of backlinks is essential, but you're going to need to build your backlink profile by casting your net wide and connecting widely with all of the members of your niche.

Find your market and pitch to warm leads.

On the other hand, pitching to the right person is even better than having a great product. I have a guaranteed way for you to lose money. There's statistically no way you're walking out of here whole. Who wants to sign up?

Gamblers.

There are enthusiasts for every niche in the world. Find those niches by doing competitor analysis. Look for the backlinks that your competitors have, and those are your warm leads.

At the same time, look at your competitor's content and find out which content is doing the best. The content might do well for many reasons, but it can give you insights into the type of content that does well.

There are tools to help with backlink analysis.

Doing backlink analysis is a lot easier when you use a good backlink checker. Semrush makes some widely used tools, but they're pricy unless you do SEO auditing for a living. Ahrefs makes an excellent SEO tool that does a lot of the same work, but it's even more expensive. Moz is much cheaper and perfect for smaller SEO tasks.

Moz also gives access to many of its tools for free and is an excellent community resource. They have developed proprietary metrics like Domain Authority, Spam Score, and Page Authority used throughout the SEO community. Moz is honestly a perfect example of earning backlinks by doing excellent work for a community.

Google also publishes free tools like site explorer. Site Explorer is excellent, but Semrush, Ahrefs, and Moz make tools that dramatically speed up the process.

Link analysis tools are tools used by professionals. Dropping $999 per month on a tool isn't usually a wise investment unless you do this work every day.

Final Thoughts

Doing an SEO audit is serious work, and the tools are expensive. SEO auditing is a field where it makes sense to invest in a professional.

SEO auditors have experience and have a proven history of getting excellent results. You can learn to do it yourself, but an expert will do a better job and save you money by doing it faster.

Look for an SEO Auditor that can show you a solid SEO strategy built on high-quality techniques. The SEO auditor should have a detailed understanding of Google's algorithm and focus on getting you high-quality links.

Avoid black-hat SEO,low-quality content, and spammy links. Do SEO the right way, and you'll be building a business that lasts.

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