Imogen Gee and Alex Wan are seventy7’s Resident Junior Digital Experts™. What they don’t know about SEO best practice isn’t worth knowing, check out their advice on how to successfully build links for your business online.
With every new Google update the best practices for SEO shift and change, but one thing has remained the same - building quality links is still an extremely important part of boosting your website’s credibility and visibility.
Search engines use links as a ranking factor, to find new content and to judge how relevant and useful that content is. If they find links that they perceive to be good, it counts as a vote in favour of the website that it’s linking to. However, spam links and links gained through inorganic methods won’t be valued very highly at all. In fact, they can even be detrimental to your SEO.
So, how do you go about building links that will count in your favour? Link building is a long and complex process, but we’ve broken it all down in our guide to give you a starting insight. We cover what link building is, why you should be doing it and how you can link build for various types of content. These might be:
- Editorial blog posts
- Instructional guides (“how to’s” and “what are” posts)
- Infographic posts
- Product reviews and guest posts
Get comfy, because this is a big one. Are you ready to learn?
What is link building?
Link building is an off-page SEO process which - if done right - can increase the number of backlinks to a website through outreach. These precious backlinks can improve your website’s SEO by boosting your search engine and keyword rankings.
But how does it work exactly? Well, Google acknowledges each backlink as a ‘vote of confidence’ from the website it links from to yours. In other words, the backlink shows that your content is worth linking to, and therefore it’s worth increasing your SERPS rankings.
There are multiple ways to form a link building strategy. Here at seventy7, we start with research to see if there is interest in the content we want to produce. If the interest is there, we’ll begin the process of finding potential websites who might want to link to our content.
Some websites might even be happy to let you ‘guest post’ on their blog. Guest posting is a process where you produce unique content for another website, but the content is also relevant to the products or services that your business offers. This is so that you can include a link back to your own website from within the content, if the external website owners are happy to allow it.
As well as writing the words or creating the content for others to link to, we also take care of the strategy side of things. That includes formulating an overarching and long term plan for content production for a blog or website. The benefits to having a content plan in place are not only ensuring that you’re publishing comprehensive and useful information for your customers, but it can also transcend into backlinks and an increase in traffic to your site.
How does link building benefit a business?
As mentioned above, there’s more than just one benefit to link building. Let’s take a closer look at them.
Having high, quality backlinks to your website tell Google that it is a valuable resource. This can therefore help with your keyword rankings as Google is more likely to believe that you are an authoritative source on certain topics.
Links to your website from external sites will help to bring in relevant referral traffic. Referral traffic are people who visit your site from a backlink. This boosts your brand awareness as some of these visitors may not have heard of your brand before. It gives you the opportunity to turn these new visitors into new customers.
Regardless of whether the traffic coming to your site is made up of new customers or not, you’ll still be seeing an increase in organic traffic.
Setting KPIs for link building
To see for yourself how link building can benefit your business, you’ll need to learn how to measure the performance of your link building strategy. And as with any digital marketing process, setting achievable and quantifiable KPI metrics are a must. Need a few examples? We’ve shared a few of our favourite KPIs to track.
- Organic traffic and referral traffic
These two metrics are especially important for checking whether the content that links back to your website was relevant for its original audience. As well as this, it can lead to a boost in new customers.
When analysing your traffic changes, it’s important to also monitor traffic to your target pages (where the backlink is directly pointing to). This shows the direct effect of the backlink.
- Number of backlinks
With link building it’s very much quality over quantity, however it’s good to keep track of the total number of backlinks that you’ve received. This is so you can see which ones have had an impact on your KPI metrics.
- Open rate and response rate
These monitor your progress in the outreach stage. Staying on top of these can help you to identify whether you need to adjust or improve how you’re outreaching. A low open or response rate may mean that you’re not personalising your outreach emails enough or that you need to find a better ‘hook’ to make the reader interested to open your email.
- Keyword ranking changes
You can use your tool of choice, but we’re using Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker. Check to see if your target terms have seen any increases from when you received a backlink.
Techniques for researching who to outreach to (this works for any content type)
So you’ve created your content, but how do you go about finding people to outreach to? We’ll tell you how. This method can also help to inform your content ideas if you’re looking to create a new piece of linkable content.
- Link reclamation
Using Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, you can identify any broken links that point towards your site. This list of broken links essentially gives you a ready made list of sites to outreach to, as they will have already linked to your site in the past. All that’s left to do is to contact them and reclaim the link.
- Searching for broken links to other sites
Open the Content Explorer in Ahrefs and enter a relevant keyword in URL format. For example, “relevant-keyword”. Then, change the dropdown to “in URL”. This searches for any URLs that use your keyword.
Then change your view to see all of the URLs with your relevant keyword, but that are broken pages. You’ll be looking at a list of broken pages that appear as 404s. Find out which pages may be relevant to your brand and locate all of the backlinks to that broken page. These pages which are linking to old or broken pages, can then be reached out to with the hope of swapping their old broken link, with yours.
- Use your competitor’s content for guidance
Now this may sound sneaky, because it is. But every clever link building expert should be doing this. Open up Site Explorer and enter your competitor’s website. Filter by the “Best by Links” tab and narrow down your results by searching for your target keyword. As you’re searching on your competitor’s site, you’ll probably share a lot of keywords and will be able to quickly find similar or relevant content. Choose a piece of content that you think is relevant to your brand and check out the backlinks to it. Here’s your outreach list.
You can even combine this technique with the previous one. After filtering by “Best by Links”, add another filter to show you any 404 pages. Then search for your keyword. This way, when you outreach, you can provide the added bonus of swapping out their broken link for your working one.
- Use your competitor’s content for guidance, part two
Rather than searching for your competitor’s broken links, you can also analyse their redirected pages to see if the new page that they have redirected to is relevant to the old one. If it’s not, this provides you with an opportunity to outreach to the backlink and offer them a new, more relevant source from your own website.
To do this, enter your competitor’s website into Site Explorer. Again, filter by “Best by Links”, but then add a filter to show 301 redirects instead of 404 pages.
- Look in the top 10 SERP for your keyword phrase
Enter your keyword phrase into Google and gather the top 10 ranking links. Analyse their backlinks for opportunities.
Things to consider before outreaching
Before starting any research there are a few things to consider. Think about:
- Who is your target audience? Creating a persona map is a great place to start building up your audience profile.
- Where can you find your target audience? Have you researched relevant blogs, bloggers and resource pages for potential outreach candidates?
- Have you researched your outreach candidates’ credibility? This can be measured by domain authority (DA). The higher a DA they have, the more trustworthy they are. Using DA as an indicator for a legitimate website is also important because toxic links (links to websites with a bad reputation and who use black hat SEO techniques) can have a negative impact on your website and rankings.
To avoid toxic links pointing to your site, it’s good practice to perform website backlink checks with tools like SEMrush or Ahrefs to spot them before they become an issue. Once you’ve identified them, you can use Google’s disavow tool to stop them from linking to your site.
- How you’re going to keep track of which websites that you’ve outreached to. Creating a template is a great way to do this, as you can monitor who you’re researching, whether you’ve contacted them, whether they’ve responded and if you gained a backlink from them.
- Anchor text. Deciding what page you want to be linked to is one thing, but to decide the anchor text is another. The anchor text allows you to focus on a particular keyword, giving your source credibility around this particular topic.
Techniques for different outreach approaches
Similarly to how there are lots of different ways to find people to outreach to, there are a range of techniques to approach the actual outreach itself. We’ve listed a few of our most popular approaches below:
- The broken link building technique
This technique involves approaching someone saying that you’ve found a broken link on their site. If you followed the steps above and have identified a broken link, you can contact the website and offer your link as a solution. This will benefit the website as it saves them the time and effort to find a replacement link, since you’ve done that work already. This direct link swap is one of the most time efficient ways of building links.
- Outreaching to the top 10 SERP’s backlinks
If you’re looking to contact the sites that link to the top 10 ranking SERP links for a specific keyword phrase, your outreach email will need to take a different angle. Try enquiring about adding value from your own link to their current pages.
- Using an infographic
The great thing about infographics is that they’re so shareable and contain useful information for readers. Offering an infographic to a blogger to share with the incentive that it could be used as a content idea for their blog is another outreach technique to try.
- Using an instructional guide content piece
Outreaching with a help guide or instructional content piece gives you the opportunity to add quality to a blogger’s existing content. For example, if a blogger has created fashion blog content, like a new shoes haul, outreaching to add value to their piece with your own fashion-related content is another way of building links. Your content will be relevant and enrich the blogger’s own content.
- Product reviews and guest posts
Sending out products in exchange for a review is a popular social media and PR tactic, however it can also be effective at helping you to build backlinks. Things can get tricky from here however, because Google states that paying for links is a violation of their guidelines and it can negatively impact your site’s rankings. Buying, exchanging or selling links that pass PageRank is frowned upon, as is utilising excessive “I’ll link you if you link to me” strategies.
So rather than sending out products or services in exchange for links, you can advertise your website through backlinks instead. This is good for raising your brand’s awareness. The caveat to this is that as long as it doesn’t pass on PageRank, it’s ok.
Your content still needs to be relevant to the backlink page and you have to follow Google’s guidelines on using the correct tags. These tags tell the search engine not to count links to other pages as “votes” in favour of that content. It essentially blocks any PageRank from being passed and ensures that your site won’t get penalised or banned.
Here are the tags that you need to use:
Rel=”sponsored” - If you pay for a link
Rel=”ugc” - If you use user generated content built links. These are often found in comment sections or forums.
Rel=”nofollow sponsored” - If you’re referencing a link that is part of an advertising or sponsorship agreement. Nofollow tags don’t pass on authority nor do they influence the ranking of the link target. Here, the sponsored and nofollow attributes have been combined together.
If you offer something in exchange for links, you have to use the above nofollow tags to let Google know that this is the case. The search engine thinks that acquiring links through exchange for something else is unfair as it can manipulate rankings, so it’s always best to be transparent about it. So if Google doesn’t believe in leveraging tactics, why do they encourage people to nofollow links that are unnaturally gained? Because they know people will do it anyway. At least nofollow links give people the chance to be honest about it.
So if offering incentive in exchange for a link isn’t advised, why is it on this list? Well, firstly because linking to your website can be beneficial for the viewers of the website with the product review. It may just help them to discover something that they otherwise may not have. Next, if you offer quality, up-to-date information for the external website to write about and link to, you become a helpful resource to them. And finally, offering something in exchange for a link shows that you are genuinely engaged with someone’s website. This personalises the outreach approach and suggests to them that your content is worth looking into.
White hat SEO and black hat SEO
We’ve briefly touched upon staying within Google’s guidelines, but it’s time to explain why this is so important. White hat SEO is when you follow the rules and optimise your website the legitimate way. But believe it or not, there are lots of people who try to cheat their way to the top of the Google rankings and this is referred to as black hat SEO. Take a look below.
White hat SEO - This is where you utilise strategies that fall within Google and Bing’s guidelines. Using these techniques, you will not be penalised by search engines and therefore won’t lose traffic. This involves creating your own unique content, promoting your website to the relevant audience and writing personalised messaging.
Black hat SEO - This is where people engage in strategies that can potentially lead to their website being penalised by Google or Bing, because it violates search engine guidelines. Examples of this are: keyword stuffing (hiding keywords you want to rank for within the page) and cloaking (showing different content to the search engines compared to what you show to users).
These techniques are always being monitored by search engines so we strongly advise against using them. Utilising these can mean that your website may see a significant drop in traffic and rankings over night. Penalties can last months or days depending on the severity of the violation. Google will describe to you what the issue is and things should return to normal when the issue has been resolved.
How long will it take for link building to improve a site's ranking?
There are a lot of factors involved when answering this question, but in short, it varies.
Instant improvement is unlikely. However, if a link is gained, it’s worth making sure that you are tracking your keyword visibility and progress. For example, Ahrefs has it’s Rank Tracker tool which allows you to monitor specific keyword progress.
Therefore, if you target a specific keyword(s) in your backlink focused content piece, you should monitor it’s progress after backlinks are acquired.
We’ve also listed out some factors which will affect the time it takes to see improvements to your website’s ranking:
- The competitiveness of your industry
- How competitive your target keywords are
- The activity of your competitors, for example, if they are actively building links too
- The types of links you're building (nofollow/dofollow)
- The history and strength of your domain
Bonus link building tips:
- Don’t take advantage of mass emailing software to spam people. If you do use mass emailing software to help progress your campaigns, make sure the email outreach is still personalised for each website.
- Make each email unique by addressing the recipient by their name
- Think of a good subject line with an interesting hook
- Mention something specific about their site
- Mention something specific about their work. This could be:
- From one of their recent blog posts
- From their recent tweets / retweets
- From the comments they've made on blog posts
- Relating to their personal interests (look up their “About Me” page)
- From their bio on their social media profiles
- Use a spreadsheet to your track progress. This helps you to monitor your replies and identify whether you need to follow up with an email.
- Reply to negative feedback. This gives you insight into why people aren’t interested in linking to you. It might not be to do with content quality, but something else, so it’s helpful to learn what you can do better by responding to feedback. There’s always the possibility that your outreach targets are busy, so you can make a note to contact them again in the future.
Unsure about where to start with your strategy? Our digital team are experts in building links and creating captivating content to boost your website’s SEO.
Get in touch today, we’ll help enhance and elevate your brand’s online output.