The beginner’s guide to link building

Link building or URL sharing is one of the most talked about tactics in search engine optimisation. Over the years the theory and methodologies behind it have changed in response to indexing algorithms placing different values on it.

The beginner's guide to link building

Link building is one of the most effective tactics in SEO! Find out more in our beginner’s guide! Photo: Onephoto, Bigstock

Whether someone is new or experienced with SEO there always seems to be something new to learn about this practise. Because of the simple ways URL’s operate there is a lot of room for practitioners to misuse or abuse them as an optimisation strategy.

This guide aims to educate you on and explore some of the best ways of using this highly discussed digital marketing strategy.

What is link building?

It is a search engine optimisation strategy that works to generate incoming hyperlinks to your website from other websites. The URL’s to your site that appear on another site are commonly referred to as ‘backlinks’.

The presence of these backlinks is a factor that is used by website indexing algorithms, like that used by Google, to help inform how relevant and authoritative your site is. Think of them as a vote for your website, the more votes you have the more likely a search engine will rank your site higher in search queries.

This is why it is a popular SEO tactic as it can help boost a site in SERP results. It also has the added benefit of people potentially following the links themselves, which is an added source of traffic.

What are the influential factors?

In the past, the presence of your URL on any other site was enough to help with SEO. This is no longer the case as the indexing algorithms of search engines continue to get smarter.

The quality of how these URL’s are distributed is part of how they influence ranking factors. Let’s look at some of the 4 most important qualifying factors.

1: Domain authority

The authority of a domain is evaluated by how many inbound referrals it has. The more websites that include referrals to your website, the higher your authority goes.

In order to help increase your SERP rank, you’ll want referrals from websites that have a high domain authority. Essentially this tells Google that you must be reputable if a reputable site is referring its users to you.

2: Nofollow URL’s

Nofollow is an attribute that is applied to URL’s to instruct Google’s indexing algorithm not to crawl it and therefore not include it in evaluating a website’s ranking. The presence of nofollow is not meant to help increase rankings.

While there is some debate about whether nofollow’s secretly have an impact on ranking, using them is part of following Google’s guidelines. For example, it’s a rule to use nofollow on sponsored referrals so they are not included indetermining you websites’ natural link profile.

3: Positioning

The positioning or placement of a URL is a small influential factor. A URL that appears in the text of a page, not in the footer or sidebar, is more likely to be editorial and surrounded by relevant information for users.

4: Anchor text

Anchor text refers to the words that a URL is attached to. For example, a website that sells cat food is likely to benefit from inbound URL referrals that are attached to its target keywords.

Anchor text comes in two different forms. We’ll use the cat food example to explain them.

  1. Exact match: A URL that is directly attached the keyword “cat food”.
  2. Partial match: A URL that is directly attached something like “this site that sells cat food”.

Natural vs unnatural

There is a difference between a URL referral that occurred naturally and one that appears artificial. An example of a natural occurrence is when a blogger referred to your site voluntarily because they thought it would be valuable to their audience.

An unnatural URL referral is one that Google, either manually or via an algorithm, had decided does not inform the value of your website and will not affect ranking.

There are arguments that the referrals that are built deliberately through outreach (such as guest blogging) are considered unnatural because they were not included completely voluntarily.

This is untrue because even though a website was prompted to include that referral, they did so because they were convinced of its value either through reputable guest blogging or another means.

This means that a referral to your site that was included voluntarily or was encouraged will be considered to be natural and positively affect rankings.

How to start a link-building campaign

The beginners guide to link building

Preparing an effective link building campaign requires creative marketing skills. Photo: Onephoto, Bigstock

In order to be successful at this you will need to become a diverse marketer that masters a range of different skills. These include:

  • Analytical research on competitors and preparing a strategy
  • Being creative with content that will earn referrals and traffic
  • Communication with other websites as part of outreach and network creation

A combination of these talents will mean generating URL referrals that are placed competitively on high authority sites and will entice users to click on them.

Let’s take a look at the basic steps you will need to take.

Researching competitors

There are many free and paid tools on the internet that will allow you to evaluate the URL profiles of your competitors. This will let you see how many referrals they have, where they are listed and what type of high quality content is being promoted.

This allows you to see what type of content is being hosted with a URL referral that’s helping your competitors. Without copying them you can use this data to help inform you on what type of content to develop and where to distribute it in your industry.

Some links will be easier to replicate than others. Some of the easier ones are:

  • User generated – Referrals that appear on social media sites or in blog comments
  • Guest blogs – Referrals that appear on blogs competitors have developed for other sites
  • Resource pages – Referrals that appear on sites listing resources for users

The hosts of guest blogs and resource pages can be included in your outreach campaign when you ask sites to host your content in exchange for a referral. Make sure you pay attention to ‘hubs’ that host multiple referrals to different competitors as they will normally have a high authority.

To successfully use this data you will usually need to outdo your competitors in terms of content. It’s important to remember that the more work it takes to acquire a reputable referral the more likely it will positively affect your site’s ranking.

Performing outreach

For generating URL referrals, outreach is one of the most important aspects to master. It is how the majority of useful referrals will be created.

No matter how good your content is, you can’t count on it being voluntarily shared around the internet and to generate viral traction. To get the most referrals in a timely manner you will need to perform manual outreach to get it in front of the right audience at the right time.

The most effective way to perform outreach is via emails to webmasters, promoting your content. This is where your communication skills come into play, convincing them that your content deserves a spot on their website.

It’s important to make sure the content you share is timely and relevant. People are unlikely to want to give their audience a referral to content that is outdated and not being actively promoted.

A good place to target outreach is with sites that have referred to similar content by competitors or who have targeted a keyword that your content is relevant to.

Popular strategies

The beginner’s guide to link building

Find out which are the most popular strategies that people use for link building! Photo: Jacob Lund, Bigstock

Let’s look at some of the most popular strategies used to generate referrals.


This strategy simply involves creating content that is likely to be widely shared because of its unique value. While the referrals here are earned organically this strategy still requires some promotion to be effective.

Some of the features in this type of content could be:

  • Unique data or research
  • Surveys
  • Highly attractive multimedia or infographics
  • Offering a free tool

This is a white hat strategy because it attempts to create content that will be highly popular throughout your industry and will be shared voluntarily. This normally will require a highly unique offering that deserves to get referrals to it.

Offering a tool that is free and will be highly useful is another tactic that falls under baiting. An example of this could be a name generator or analysis tool that would be highly useful to people.

Broken link-building

This simple strategy is based around websites getting older and their links to content becoming dead or broken. It involves crawling a website for links that are broken and offering them a piece of your own content to replace it.

This is a favour for a favour transaction that has a high rate of success. You’ll help webmasters realise they have a broken link and offer them a suitable replacement in the same email.

Ego baiting

This tactic is a means by which you encourage influencers to give referrals back to your site because you have positively featured them.  This is normally done in the following ways:

  • Publishing an interview with the influencer onto your website
  • Featuring the influencer in a roundup article of industry experts
  • Including a quote from an influencer in your content and/or referring to their own website
  • Featuring an influencer in a best of or top ten list

Influencers like getting publicity and will be likely to give their users referrals to content that speaks about them positively. This is partly a psychological tactic as it takes advantage of the fact they find an article about them irresistible not to share.

This tactic needs to be done carefully so as not to appear dishonest or patronising and will be more successful as your site gets a higher authority.

Ready to give back linking a try?

Generating URL referrals is such a huge part of SEO that it’s a tactic that requires a lot of research and practise to master. Hopefully this guide will give you a good starting point from which to include link-building in your digital marketing strategy.

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