Link building is super important for SEO.
Contrary to the popular belief that content is king, which some gurus want you to believe in, the reality is that you can’t rank without building backlinks.
Of course, publishing great content is important. But this is only one of many factors.
It is believed that Google uses 200+ factors to rank websites.
Among them, backlinks are one of the top there most important factors. The other two are the Content and RankBrain (search intent).
Therefore, in 2022, if you want to rank your website on Google, you cannot afford to ignore the importance of link building.
And, for that, you need to put together a solid link-building strategy that will help you earn high-quality backlinks.
However, the fact is, and you would agree with me on this: Linkbuilding is one of the most difficult parts of SEO.
Yes, it’s not easy to build quality backlinks. After all, convincing webmasters or site owners to link to your website is a tough task.
In this linkbuilding guide, we’ll discuss how to earn and/or build backlinks, how to find link acquisition opportunities, what are link-building best practices, how to avoid Google penalties and a few advanced linkbuilding techniques that are working right now (in 2022).
Let us start with some basics.
Link Building Fundamentals
1) What Are Backlinks?
So what is a backlink? If a website links to a page on another website is called a backlink. In other words, a backlink is a hyperlink from site A to site B.
That means any link that is directed to your website from an external website is a backlink.
Since these come from outside (or appear on external websites), backlinks are also called “inbound links”, “incoming links”, “one-way links”, or simply links.
In terms of search engine algorithms, backlinks are like a vote. If an external website links to your webpage, it means they like it and found it valuable. And, Google and other search engines will count it as a vote.
2) What Is Link Building?
Link building is a process of acquiring inbound links from other websites.
Site owners and webmasters create backlinks in many ways. Either they earn backlinks or build them consciously. Some even buy backlinks.
3) Why Is Link Building So Important For SEO?
You may ask: Why linkbuilding? What makes link building so important? Why has link building become indispensable for site owners?
As I mentioned above, backlinks are one of the top three search ranking signals in Google Search.
If you acquire lots of high-quality backlinks, you will rank higher on search engine results pages (SERP).
The more high-quality links that point to your website, the better your search position will be.
Through linkbuilding, you can:
- Increase website authority (DA/DR)
- Increase page authority (PA/UR)
- Improve your search engine rankings
- Increase organic traffic
- Build online brand awareness
- Increase online visibility and credibility
- Increase referral traffic
- Achieve your online marketing goals
This makes link-building an integral part of search engine optimization (SEO).
Mind you, only high-quality backlinks. Low-quality backlinks can hurt your SEO efforts. More on this a few moments later.
4) What Makes a Backlink “Good” or “Bad”?
You shouldn’t be building backlinks blindly.
It has been proven that a few high-quality backlinks can be more powerful than thousands of low-quality backlinks.
Again, you might be wondering: But the question is, what makes a link good or bad? What makes a good link? What types of backlinks are valuable and why?
It’s not rocket science. While it is hard to get high-authority links, it is not that hard to know whether a backlink is good or not?
Key Metrics to Measure the Quality of Backlinks
All high-quality backlinks have some features in common. These metrics determine the quality of backlinks. The success of your SEO campaign also largely depends on these key factors.
#1. Trust and Authority
Having too many links from untrusted, spammy, and low-quality sites can be bad for your website. You can use these parameters to determine the authority of a link.
Page Authority: I’ve built thousands of backlinks in my over 15 years of SEO career. It turns out, the authority of the page (PA) linking to your site is the single most important factor.
You will want to get backlinks from trusted, unspammed, and high-authority web pages only.
By the way, page authority has different names. For example, Moz calls it the Page Authority (PA), while Ahrefs uses the term URL Rating (UR). Whatever is the name is, it means the quality of the webpage.
Domain Authority: Similar to page authority, the quality of a backlink is also determined by the overall authority of the linking domain.
For example, a backlink from a site like forbes.com (DA = 95) will make a bigger impact than a link from a new website (DA = 7).
Again, Moz calls it Domain Authority (DA), while Ahrefs uses the term Domain Rating (DR).
Caution: While DA is an important metric for determining the quality of a link, don’t get fooled by the DA only. Many high DA sites are spammed to hell. Getting backlinks from a high DA site with spammed backlink profile will harm your site.
Pro Tip: Look for the Spam factor (SS), along with the DA of a site. A high spam factor (usually higher than 1%) indicates the site is abused. Avoid backlinks from such sites.
#2. Topical Relevance
Why do we add links? To navigate users from page A to Page B.
If it’s so, why would you link a page on one site to a page on another site that is not relevant topically?
For instance, if you run a dog blog, getting a backlink from an online marketing website doesn’t make sense, unless you’re showing how to promote a dog blog online.
Google takes content relevancy seriously. Therefore, having too many backlinks from topically irrelevant websites might hurt your search rankings.
Similarly, backlinks from websites with thin content will not do much good. For example, one-page websites created solely for the sake of backlinks.
So make sure you get backlinks only from the websites/content that are topically related.
#3. A Natural Anchor Text Mix
An anchor text is the clickable, visible text part of an HTML hyperlink. For example, in this link: how to start a blog, “how to start a blog” is the anchor text.
Having a target keyword as anchor text in your backlinks is considered more valuable. Google also seems to give more weightage to keyword-rich anchor texts.
However, excessive use of keyword-rich anchor texts also signals to Google that something unusual/fishy is happening.
Why would every site owner use the same keywords as anchor texts? This doesn’t happen in the real world.
What do you do when you link to other websites? You would probably use keywords, topic name, article title, author/brand name, etc. Or you may simply use terms like “learn more”, “click here”, etc.
Follow this when you build backlinks on your website. Make it natural. Use a mix of different anchors, including your target keywords.
#4. Follow or Nofollow?
As you know, backlinks are like a vote to rank high on SERP. More the votes, better the ranking.
Follow or Dofollow links pass link juice while NoFollow links do not pass link juice.
If someone uses the NoFollow attribute to a link, it tells Google not to consider it as a vote. No vote, no link juice.
While your link profile should have a mix of Follow and NoFollow backlinks, the majority of backlinks should have the “Followed” attribute.
#5. Link’s Position on the Web Page
Where is the link placed on the page?
Yes, the position of the link on a page also matters. All links on a page don’t carry the same SEO value.
For example, it turns out, links placed ‘above the fold’ carry the most ranking power. The most powerful links are placed at the beginning of the page, in the first paragraph to be precise.
On the other hand, links on the bottom of the page carry less power, even when they’re placed in the body section.
Similarly, links on the body (or content part) of a webpage are more potent than the ones on the footer or sidebar area. Footer and sidebar links yield the least SEO value.
While it’s not always possible to get backlinks in the first two paragraphs of content in real life, consider the fact whenever possible.
#6. Contextual or Editorial links
As far as SEO is concerned, editorially placed backlinks have the highest SEO value.
What are editorially placed backlinks?
Such links are contextually placed. Links that are placed within the relevant content are contextual.
That also means words around a link tell Google what the link is about. This is called link co-occurrences. Co-Occurrences are the specific words and phrases that appear around your link.
Google also gives importance to editorial links.
See what Google says:
“… creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page, otherwise known as unnatural links, can be considered a violation of our guidelines.”
#7. Geographic Proximity
For a backlink to be effective, the Geographic Proximity of linking pages is also important.
For example, for a small local car repair business based in Los Angeles, it’s natural to get most of the links from nearby areas.
If the business is popular, it may also get some referral links from other border states like Nevada.
But, what would you say, if it gets most of the links from Russia or China?
You’re right, it sounds unnatural.
After all, why would anyone refer a US local car repair company from Russia?
Just like you, search engines can be suspicious. And, such links can hurt your SERP performance.
#8. Links from Unique Referring Domains
Getting too many links from the same sites is not the best link-building strategy either.
1) Because the “link value” of every next link coming from the same domain keeps decreasing.
2) Does your backlink profile have too many links from the sites with identical IP addresses? This can alert search engines that you are participating in link schemes like Private Blog Networks (PBNs) etc.
Therefore, focus on getting links from a domain that hasn’t linked to your website before.
Even better, if you earn backlinks from the increasing number of unique referring domains.
For a powerful link profile, you need backlinks to come from lots of different websites with different IP addresses (C-class).
#9. Is the Backlink From a Guest Post?
Do you rely heavily on guest posting? You might be in trouble.
Now, don’t get me wrong.
Guest posting is indeed one of the best link-building techniques. Particularly for new bloggers, who want to enhance their online visibility, this is probably the most efficient way to earn powerful backlinks.
Unfortunately, in the past guest posting has been abused to hell. And, therefore, Google doesn’t like guest post backlinks.
Way back in 2014, Matt Cutts, then head of Google’s webspam team, warned bloggers to refrain from guest posting link-building tactics.
Since then guest blogging for link building has earned a bad reputation. And, there is a debate still going on whether or not to do guest posting.
My take on Guest Blogging:
You can do guest blogging and earn high-quality contextual backlinks to your site.
But make sure you weigh your options.
Like any other backlink, make sure you guest post only on niche-relevant sites that have great authority and aren’t spammed to hell.
- Don’t guest post on sites that aren’t even remotely related to your niche.
- Don’t guest post on sites with spammy backlinks profiles.
- Don’t guest post on sites that have no real (organic) traffic.
- Don’t guest post on sites that sell backlinks.
If you consider these factors, you are good to go with guest posting.
#10. Audience Engagement and Clickability
Let us take an example:
Suppose I am given a chance to get backlinks for this blog (affiliate income mantra) from either of these two sites: nytimes.com or neilpatel.com.
Now, New York Times is huge. But Neil’s site is popular among marketers.
Which site do you think I would choose?
Of course Neil Patel site.
You know the answer. Niche relevancy.
The New York Times lacks the topical relevance to get backlinks for an affiliate marketing blog.
They are a general news site covering hundreds of topics from politics to business and sports.
Neil’s site, on the other hand, matches the theme. Hence, the chances of engagement, clickability, and referral traffic are far better.
Please note, this does not mean that you are going to disallow backlinks from The New York Times. This is for illustration purposes only. Otherwise, you won’t have that kind of choice unless you are Neil Patel yourself.
So, relevancy and audience engagement are the key. These factors determine the quality of a backlink.
The higher the click-through rate, the more valuable the link.
In an ideal setup, a link placement can only be justified if the users click on it. After all, what is the use of a backlink if no one clicks on it?
These are the key components that you need to focus on. It’ll help you understand what a great link profile looks like. It’ll also help you devise an effective link-building strategy.
Now, let’s move on to the action part – How to build backlinks?
How to Build Backlinks?
Most of the link-building techniques and strategies can be grouped into these FOUR major categories:
1) Earning Backlinks (organic/ethical/white hat)
2) Building Backlinks (organic/white hat)
3) Creating Backlinks (add backlinks manually) (organic/white/grey/black hat)
4) Buying Backlinks (Black hat)
These strategies vary widely in value and effectiveness. Some of these are organic and white strategies. Some fall under the gray hat category, while some are black hat tactics.
My suggestion is to stick to organic, white hat, and ethical link-building strategies.
While some marketers rely on gray and black backlink strategies and might get short-term benefits too, they are bound to be penalized by Google sooner than later.
So, stick to 100% white hat link building only.
1) Earning Backlinks
Earning backlinks is the most powerful way to get backlinks. Such backlinks are the most valuable links.
Since these have the highest impact, earned backlinks are hard to get.
It happens when people find your content online via search results (Google, Bing, etc.) or social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), or some other sites (such as YouTube, Quora, Reddit, etc.). Sometimes, people also find it via email newsletters or through word of mouth.
If people find your content valuable and/or interesting, they might like, share or link back to it.
Since such backlinks are organic, they are most effective in several ways:
First, Google values them the most.
Second, organically shared content attracts the most referral traffic.
Third, such content (and links) has the highest user engagement and, therefore, more conversions.
For this to work, you need to create really useful content that will appeal to your audience as well as Google.
In other words, you design linkable content that naturally attracts backlinks without even asking for it.
Also, to speed up your link-building process, you’ll want to amplify your content by promoting and distributing it.
Learn More: Link Building to Link Earning: Earn Authority Backlinks with Content Marketing
2) Building Backlinks
Another way to get backlinks to your site is by actively building them.
In this technique, you ask for the backlinks. You reach out to site owners (bloggers, editors, webmasters), and influencers and ask them to link to your content.
Since you are actively involved in link building, depending on your approach and intensity, building backlinks might fall under the whitehat/organic to grey hat category (more on this later).
There are several ways you can build backlinks. However the most powerful tried and tested link building strategies are:
#1. Broken link building
Broken link building is an effective way to build backlinks.
It works like this:
You find broken (dead – 404) links on niche-relevant sites. Reach out to them, let them know the link is broken, and suggest a working link (your content) as the replacement. If done right, it’s a very powerful link-building tactic.
Need more information? Read our Guide on Broken Link Building in 2022
#2. Resource Page Link Building
Looking for a scalable link-building technique? Resource page link building is for you.
Resource page link building is my favorite strategy to earn valuable backlinks.
It’s a relatively easy way to get backlinks from high-authority niche-relevant websites.
Resource pages are the curated lists of relevant content available online. The sole purpose of resource pages is to link to the best external resources in a given topic.
It means they are already ready to link to your content, provided it’s awesome.
Low-hanging fruits. Aren’t they?
It’s a win-win situation.
When someone adds your link to their resource page, your link improves their page quality. And, you get a relevant backlink.
Resource page link building is not a new practice. Webmasters have been using it for decades. Despite this, it is still one of the most popular link-building strategies.
Want more details? Read our In-Depth Guide on Resource Page Link Building
#3. Guest Blogging
Guest blogging is probably the most popular linkbuilding strategy. Therefore, also among the most abused ones.
In guest blogging, you offer to write a blog post on another site and include your links either inside the content area or in the author bio section.
If you are planning to do guest blogging for backlinks, do it with caution. Because, both, excessive guest posting and guest posting on poor websites can do more harm than good.
For step-by-step guide, don’t forget to read our Definite Guide on Guest Blogging
#4. The Skyscraper Technique
Coined by Brian, the Skyscraper Technique is about creating content better than the existing top-ranking content on a topic.
The Skyscraper link building process works like this:
Search for top-ranking pages (with lots of links) on search results (SERPs). Analyze content and create something better or different than what already exists.
By better content, I mean more depth (more tips, data, etc.), more engaging, better visual appeal, and easier to digest and follow.
Then, reach out to sites that link to the original content in the hopes that they will replace the original link with yours.
3) Manual Link Building
Creating backlinks manually is another strategy that many marketers use.
In this, you manually place your links on other sites.
These include submitting to local business directories, blog comments, social media profiles, and forums.
The most common places you add links are:
- Business Directories (e.g., Yelp, Google My Business, Bing Places, etc.)
- Social Profiles (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.)
- Blog Comments (commenting on other blogs)
- Forums Links
- Q&A Sites (e.g., Quora, Reddit, etc.)
- Job Listings
- Reciprocal Links
- Press Release Distribution
- Content Syndication
Manual link building like this is very easy. But such links are often nofollow links. This means these do not pass any link equity. Even if a link is Dofollow, these are of low value.
Even worse, Google doesn’t like such links. In some cases, Google hates such links and considers them spam.
For instance, most of the links from blog comments are nofollow backlinks. Similarly, most of the directories are spammed to hell.
So, should I avoid such links altogether? Always?
Of course not. Don’t dismiss manual link building outright.
Depending on the nature of your business, some links could be useful for you.
For example, if you are a local business or operate in a tight niche, adding links on local business directories will benefit you.
Similarly, social profiles are a great way to increase brand visibility and reach your target audience.
In short, you can still create such links, but just don’t do it blindly. Be selective.
You just need to understand where to promote your online business, and when.
Therefore, you’ll want to submit your site only on a limited number of high-quality and relevant platforms.
Such placements will help your business in ways other than SEO and backlinks such as better exposure, greater online visibility, and local targeted traffic.
Also, read our Guide on How to Acquire Quality Backlinks Manually?
4) Should You Buy Backlinks?
Buying or selling backlinks is a black hat strategy.
Earning backlinks ethically is a difficult task. It demands a lot of effort, skill, and consistency. Therefore, many marketers prefer to buy them.
Examples of paid backlinks include link exchange schemes, private blog networks (PBN), gifted product reviews, paid link inserts, sponsored guest posts, scholarships schemes, automated link building services, etc.
In paid link building, you pay for backlinks and the site owner earns a few bucks. Then what’s the problem?
No, it’s not that simple.
For Google, exchanging money for backlinks (that pass PageRank) is unethical. Yes, it’s a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.
And if the big daddy considers it unethical, buying backlinks can backfire. Google will penalize you for this.
Therefore, if your goal is long-term SEO and organic traffic, my advice is to avoid paid link-building tactics.
In short, don’t buy backlinks!
Here is the in-depth article on Why You Should Not Buy Backlinks in 2022?