What Is Link Building?
Once you launch a website and start working to figure out how to get found online, you’ll start to hear a lot about link building. Understanding what link building is and how to do it can go a long way toward making your website more visible online and more successful at reaching your goals.
If you could use some help understanding the basics of this important, but difficult part of online marketing, here’s our guide on all the basics you need to know to get started.
What is Link Building?
Link building is one of the most important and difficult parts of SEO. Any tactic that helps a business or organization get links from other websites that point back to your website count as link building.
There are a lot of different strategies people implement to try to gain new links, but even for the most consistently successful tactics, it can involve a lot of work, time, and failures in order to achieve a few successes.
Nonetheless, in the competitive space of SEO, link building is one of the strategies that will have the biggest influence on how well you perform in the search engines and how easily people find your website. That makes it worth devoting some of your time and marketing budget to.
Why Link Building Matters
One of most important things any marketer or website owner needs to learn about SEO is that you are not the search engine’s priority – at least not as a marketer. The goal of Google and the other search engines is to deliver up the best, most useful results to their users. To do that, their algorithms look at various signals that suggest people like and trust websites (or that they don’t, as the case may be).
Every time one website links to another, it communicates to the search engine that site A thinks site B has something worthwhile to say that its own visitors can trust. It’s like receiving a reference or a good review in SEO terms. And if site A is one that has a lot of links from other sites pointing back to it, then it’s like receiving a reference from someone really well respected, making it that much more valuable.
While links are only one of many ranking factors that the search engines pay attention to, they’re one that holds a lot of weight in how search engines decide which websites are authoritative and trustworthy. When you have a lot of other sites linking to yours (especially other sites that are seen as authoritative and high value by Google), it makes you look like a more reliable pick to include high up in the search rankings for users.
It’s specifically because link building is so difficult that it’s a really good way to set your website apart and stay competitive in the search engines. There are two main approaches you can take to link building:
- Trying to earn links naturally with the content you create.
- More proactively reaching out to websites to try to get your link included on them.
Most brands that do link building will benefit from doing a combination of the two.
5 Steps to Earn Links Naturally
Before anyone’s going to link to your website, you have to give them something worth linking to. That means that previous to starting on the more proactive link building strategies we’ll describe below, you should start with some initiatives that will set the stage for making your website worthy of getting said links.
1. Keyword Research
SEO isn’t about getting just any top spot you can manage, it’s about ranking for searches that are relevant to what your website provides. For any SEO strategy, including link building, your first step should be to research what language your target audience is using and what information they’re out there looking for. Then, you’ll know what content to create and what types of links you want.
Spend some time doing keyword research to figure out the main topic areas and questions your audience is interested in. This will form the basis of both your content strategy and your link building efforts.
2. Content Marketing
Other websites won’t have many good reasons or natural opportunities to link to your website’s homepage. What’s the likelihood the information you have there is going to add something important to an article or other webpage on their website?
For other people to want to link to your website, you have to create the sort of content they’d have a reason to link to. That means embracing content marketing. For most businesses, that will mean starting a blog and making a commitment to create original, high quality content to publish on it regularly.
It’s a lot of work, but in addition to being an important step in link building, it also gives you more opportunities to connect with your target audience. When you provide them with helpful information, that gives them a reason to care about your brand, follow you, and likely think about you first the next time they need whatever you’re selling.
3. Content Promotion
With so many blogs and media sites out there, people are unlikely to stumble across your content without you putting some effort into making it easy to find. Obviously, SEO is part of that equation – when people can find your content in the search engines, that’s one of the best way to drive new views to your website. But for most websites, obtaining links and search engine rankings will only come after you put some effort into helping your first readers find your content.
For each high-quality content piece you publish, plan a strategy for getting it in front of people. That could include sharing it on social media, sending the link to people you expect would be interested in it, posting it in relevant forums, or even using paid promotion on Google or social media sites to boost its reach. The newer your blog is, the harder it will be to get your first followers, so expect to spend some time (and possibly money) working to get your content seen. Nobody can link to your awesome posts until they know they exist.
While people in the PR industry don’t necessarily tout themselves as link builders, PR work includes helping brands get coverage in the media and on a number of websites – often with links.
By either working with a PR person or creating an in-house PR strategy, you can find more opportunities to gain mentions of your brand on other websites, position people in the company as thought leaders, and encourage coverage of initiatives you take that could be considered newsworthy, like a charity drive or creative stunts.
5. Relationship Building
People are more likely to link to brands they know and trust. For people to know you, you have to make connections. A whole industry has grown up around identifying and figuring out ways to connect with influencers.
Think about ways to interact with other people and brands in your industry that doesn’t make it all about you. Participate in online communities they’re in, join Twitter chats you notice they regularly attend, or ask them to be an expert source for a piece of content you’re writing. When it comes to the link building strategies we describe below, you’ll get a very different response from someone who knows who you are and already feels a connection to you than someone who sees you as a total stranger.
5 Common Link Building Strategies
Once you have some good content on your website that you’re confident in and a baseline of relationships with various people and brands in your industry, you’ll be in a strong position to start employing common link building strategies.
Here are a few of the tactics people find the most success with.
1. Targeted Content Promotion
Most of your content promotion efforts will be trying to get your content in front of a large number of people in your target audience. This tactic involves identifying a number of individuals you think would be likely to like, share, or link to your content and sharing it with them more directly.
If it’s someone you already have a relationship with, tagging them when you share the post on social media may be enough to get their attention. If it’s not, then you can try crafting an email making the case for why you think they’d like your content, citing similar content you’ve seen them share or times they’ve written about related topics.
The biggest risk of this tactic is coming off as an annoyance to the people you’re trying to reach. You’re essentially asking strangers to do you a favor, so you should always do your best to think about how your content might benefit them rather than making it about you. And if you’ve spent time building relationships like we recommended, this tactic will go a lot smoother.
2. Brand Mention Campaigns
Every time someone mentions your brand, that’s an opportunity for a link. Using a link reclamation tool, Google Alerts, or advanced search commands in Google, you can find places around the web where someone’s talked about your brand and any of the high up people in your company that may be seen as thought leaders. In every instance where your brand or CEO or founder gets mentioned that doesn’t include a link back your website, craft a pitch to the website owner asking them to add one.
Pro tip: Do not send a template email to every website without taking a minute to actually visit the site. If they’re criticizing your company, you risk annoying somebody who already doesn’t like you. And if the mention actually has nothing to do with your company but is some other use of the term you use as your brand name, you’ll both be wasting your time and look lazy to the recipient.
But for websites that are mentioning your brand because they think you’re worth talking about for positive reasons, they may be inclined to take a couple of minutes to add the link at your request.
3. Skyscraper Content
The first step in this strategy is to spend some time seeing what shows up on the search engine results page (SERP) for a number of relevant keywords for your brand. What you’re looking for here is content in the first few spots that isn’t actually that good or that’s outdated. If you feel confident that you can create content that’s better (or already have), then these are your targets for the skyscraper content strategy.
For each of the identified terms, create really awesome content or improve the content you already have. Aim to make it some of your best work and definitely make sure it’s more thorough and helpful than the content that currently claims those top spots in Google.
Once your content is published, find out which pages include links to the sub-par content you’re wanting to replace on the SERP (most SEO tools include a feature to help with this) and get to work contacting those sites to recommend they link to your content instead.
Be careful in how you word your emails. You do want to make a case for why your content is more valuable than the content they link to now, but you don’t want to sound like a pompous jerk. If the other content has outdated information, point that out. If your post is more thorough and includes more actionable tips than the competitor’s, emphasize that. Focus on what makes your content valuable rather than trashing your competitor.
4. Guest Blogging
Part of what makes link building so difficult is because it often involves asking someone to do work that benefits you more than it does them. Guest posting is a useful tactic because when you write a good guest post for another website, you’re doing something valuable for them and their audience. Including a natural link back to your website in the post doesn’t require any work on their part and, if you do it right, will provide value to their audience in the process. It’s a win-win.
Start looking for blogs in your industry and in related or complementary industries that accept guest posts. You can use Google for this – do searches for terms like industry “guest post” or industry “guest post submission guidelines” and start visiting the sites that come up to get familiar with the kinds of topics they cover and what their typical posts look like.
Brainstorm topic ideas that are in line with what they cover (but haven’t been written about on the site before) that will provide you with an opportunity to link back to a page on your own site. Then send a pitch that follows their guidelines.
Not every pitch you send will get you a “yes,” but as long as some do, you’ll be able to build a number of links this way. You do have to be willing to put in the work here to write a really good guest post that’s up to the standards of the blog you’re writing for. This is a tactic you have to be prepared to commit some serious time and work to. But it can double as a way to get a link and to reach a new audience with your content, while also starting a relationship with the blog you write for.
5. Broken Link Building
This is another tactic based on the idea that you can provide the website owner value at the same time that you ask for a link. Broken backlinks cause a bad experience for a site’s visitors and make them lose trust in a website that looks sloppy or outdated. If you can identify broken links on websites that once pointed to content that’s relevant to what you cover on your website, congratulations: you’ve found a link building opportunity.
You can either create new content based on the broken links you find that addresses the same topic that the outdated link had been about, or you can try to spot broken links on topics you’ve already covered. In either case, by contacting the website owner you’re accomplishing two things that can make their life easier:
- Alerting them to a broken link on their site that they likely didn’t know was no longer working.
- Providing them an alternative link to replace the old one, so they don’t have to do the work of finding a new resource.
As usual, take a minute to visit their website and make sure that the content you’re suggesting will make sense on the page you’re recommending they add your link to. As long as your content is helpful and high quality though, there’s a decent chance your recipient will consider giving you that link.
Developing Your Link Building Strategy
As you can see, when you get down to the particulars, link building can mean a lot of different things. You don’t have to try every tactic suggested here to start building your backlink profile. Each brand can pick and choose which tactics seem to make the most sense for you. But if you want to compete in the search engines, doing some form of link building is an important part of achieving that goal.
For expert help with your link building and other SEO initiatives, contact HostGator.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.