According to Andrey Lipattsev, Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, high-quality content and inbound links are the two most important signals used by Google to rank your website for search.
This holds true even if you’re running a local business. According to a study on Local Search Ranking Factors, quality and quantity of links is the major ranking factor across local search engine results.
So it’s obvious that a strong inbound link profile (which means links pointing from other websites to your business website) has a big impact on the ranking of your website pages when people search for solutions you offer.
But link building is also the most confusing and challenging. In fact, 41 percent of large companies consider link building as the most difficult SEO tactic.
And if this is the state of large companies with healthy budgets, imagine what the statistic would be for small, medium and local enterprises.
It makes sense though, because out of all the parts of an SEO strategy, link building is least under your control. It is dependent on your industry relationships, and ability to score favor from other webpages.
So the aim of this post is to give you an introduction of link building, bust some widespread myths and cover the basic link building tactics you can start using right way.
What Is Link Building?
You may already know that link building is the process of increasing the quality and quantity of links pointing to your website from other related websites. Links are important because they help you get more traffic in two ways.
One, if another website links to you, traffic on that website can find your website and become aware of your brand. You can then engage them, warm them up, and turn them into leads and sales.
Two, links help search engines determine the importance of a page. If a page on your website has links from other quality websites, it is more likely to appear near the top for relevant queries to people using the search engine.
It’s important to note here that context and the link profile of website linking to you also make a difference. Backlink from a popular business magazine website like Forbes, or a university or non profit, for instance, carries more weight than backlink from a low-traffic blog.
Search engines will not give you credit for links found on totally unrelated websites. For example, a law firm in Houston getting a backlink from a Russian weight-loss forum does not make sense, and hence will not be counted towards the law firm’s link profile.
In fact, having too many of such irrelevant links pointing to your website can also get it penalized and not rank anywhere at all. On the other hand, links that mimic references in the real world are considered of higher quality.
For example, let’s say you’re a wedding planner who often recommends a particular florist to his clients, because you know and trust the florist. Now if you link to the florist’s website from your website, then the florist has earned a natural, high quality backlink.
So the point is, links coming from partners, customers, distributors, publications and organizations in your niche/region have a higher weightage in the eyes of Google. And these are the links you should focus on building for your business.
Link Building Prerequisites
I know you’re eager to get started with basic link building techniques, but it’s essential to take care of the following things first.
This will ensure that your link building campaigns are more likely to yield positive results. Before you start link building, you need to have:
Link-Worthy Website - A poorly structured or shabbily designed website is the biggest turn off for anyone considering linking to it.
You need to look credible and professional. So make sure you have a great brand website with proper logo, business details, about page, terms and other essentials.
Link-Worthy Content - Just having a website with pages detailing about your products and services is not enough. Product and service landing pages are least likely to get backlink from others, even when asked to do so.
It’s only when you have some kind of content hub or blog with high quality content, that people would be willing to link to. It’s far easier to build links to an information resource, instead of a landing page.
Competitor Link Analysis - In order to find out the kind of links and link building methods that will work best for your business, it’s a great idea to look into the links your competitors have and how they are getting them.
Most of the major SEO tools available today support this feature. You can analyze which websites are linking to your competitor websites and in what context. What kind of pages they are linking to, and what type of pages they are linking from.
The tool that I use is LinkMiner by Mangools. Make a list of your competitor websites, along with their key pages and their URLs. Then add each URL into LinkMiner to view pages linking to that URL. Here’s an example:
You can then view these pages and try to understand how and why they linked to the URL you are analyzing, and you can replicate the same type of backlinks for your website.
Start Building Relationships - In today’s world, links are relationships. Almost 80% of all link building strategies involve reaching out to people who don't know you, but have the power to help you.
So first and foremost, it's important to learn the correct way contacting people relevant to your niche (journalists, influencers, website owners, customers, partners etc.) and building relationships with them. And this is something you need to start doing as much in advance as possible.
It’s better to be friends with them, ideally way before you need a link, than to reach out only when you need a favor. A warm email outreach is always better than sending a cold email.
Start following them, consuming their content, using their products and helping them in any way you can. The sooner you start scratching their backs, the more likely they are to be helpful when you need yours scratched.
If you need more information, here is the complete guide to my proven blogger outreach process.
Start Building Links
From the definition we covered above, it’s easy to get the wrong idea about the practice of link building from this information alone. When other web pages link to you, they must have done it on their own, ideally because your content is so great.
It shouldn’t look like they were influenced, incentivized or paid to do so. In other words, the links you get should be earned.
So considering these complications, how do you go about building links? There are dozens of different link building tactics, but let’s take a look at some of the basic ones.
Local Business Associations
Backlinks are often the easiest to acquire from your contacts in the industry. All you need to do is ask your contacts at organizations with whom you are involved in business.
These could be partners, suppliers, distributors, vendors, customers, or other complementary business owners in the same industry who are not your direct competitors.
Moreover, if you are a member of your local/national chamber of commerce, non-profits, and trade associations, request to be included in their online member directory. If they don’t already have one, volunteer to help build it for the benefit of all the members.
You’ll not only end up getting a backlink from the directory, but also forge a pleasant relationship with other members. And some of these members would likely link to you from their own websites.
Help A Reporter Out
HARO is a service which helps connect journalists and bloggers who are working on a story with expert sources who can contribute to that story with an opinion or quote.
So how does it help you build links? You’ll need to sign up as a source and select topics relevant to your expertise. Once you do that, you’ll start getting emails with requests from journalists seeking inputs from experts.
When you see a request relevant to your brand, you can respond to it with the information which was asked for. And if the reporter likes your response, they’ll feature it in their story, with a link back to your website.
This service has been one of the best sources of backlinks for me as well the client projects I work on. As long as you submit custom-written, high quality responses, you shouldn’t have a problem getting your pitches accepted.
Other similar, but not as well known, services include: SourceBottle, The Kiti, and ProfNet. If you have the time and resources, you might as well start using these to increase the reach of your link building campaign.
It is likely that your business buys and uses goods, services or tools from other businesses as part of its operation. You can reach out to each of those vendors, offering to contribute a testimonial for their website.
If you have been in good terms, many of them will accept and allow for your testimonial to have a backlink to your website.
Do Something Newsworthy
Do something that gets the attention of the press and bloggers related to your niche, and then spread awareness via press release.
They’ll end up writing stories about you in the papers and blogs they manage, linking to your website or page with source data in the process.
When you do something newsworthy such as launching a product which solves a big problem, raising millions in investor funding, or conducting a research study which reveals surprising data, write a press release about it and submit to press release distribution services.
This is a timeless way of getting high quality backlinks that still works, and will continue to do so in the future.
Getting featured in a trade publication is a little more difficult, as it requires building a relationship with writers or influencers in your industry.
To begin, find writers and editors employed at key publications in your industry. Check if you have a friend in common with any of them. Then ask the friend to make an introduction on your behalf and out in a good word for you.
Guest posting is the practice of approaching other relevant websites or trade columns, pitching to write fresh and engaging content for them to publish for their audience, and then if they agree, writing and submitting the piece of content.
Most of the websites that accept guest posts, also allow the authors to publish their bio in a few sentences, below the post. And this bio can also include a link back to your website.
In addition, as long as it’s relevant and natural, you also have the freedom of linking to other web pages from within the post you are submitting.
Guest posting has helped me not just get backlinks, but also exposure which has led to new client acquisition.
However, to put guest blogging to work, you need to make sure your content is extremely high in quality, and you’re approaching genuine websites.
There are several types of content you can create such that the content creation itself gives you the opportunity to link to others. There are a number of ways to implement this:
- When you are writing an article, you can reach out to an expert to get his opinion/quote to include in the piece.
- You can also create a round-up post by collecting opinions of experts in your industry on a single topic.
- You can write a blog post featuring the top influencers to follow, blogs to read, examples for inspiration related to your niche.
When researching whom to link to from your content, make sure they are people or websites which are still active. See if they have posted something recently, or if they are maintaining a social media presence.
Then once you have written a piece of content which features them, you can send a message to make them aware, and say something like this:
Hi [Name], I just wanted to let you know that you've been featured in [blog post]. I included you because [a specific compliment] and you deserve it.
If I have gotten any details wrong, or you have any other feedback, feel free to let me know. I’d also really appreciate if you share it on social media, or feature on your website somewhere. In any case, keep up the great work!
Resource page link building depends a lot on the type of business you’re into. You need to find collections and listings related to your niche and request to be added in the list.
Let’s say you have an seo software product, or more specifically, a keyword research tool. You can submit or create a profile on websites like ProductHunt, GetApp, Capterra.
Also search for blog posts and other pages covering a collection of all products in your category. For example, search Google for the term “keyword research tools” and “seo resources” and so on. Then asked to be included on those pages.
If you’re a local business, sign up on websites like Yelp, Thumbtack etc. Similarly, if you have a blog, then search for terms like “seo blogs” and find pages which have a collection of SEO blogs. Then reach out to get your blog included.
There are several more link building methods, but this post is not meant to be a definitive or advanced guide to link building. I have only covered the ways which are good enough for beginners to get started, and are more impactful in the long run.
The specific techniques you choose will ultimately depend on resources, audience, amount of time, creativity, and niche.
If done correctly, you can implement these tactics to get a good number of high quality backlinks, so much that you won’t even need to know or follow any other advanced tactics.
Did I miss anything? Did you try these tips? Do you have any questions or comments? Share your thoughts below in the comments section.