Chad Hetherington

Organic traffic needs the appropriate infrastructure to commute on before it can be directed and driven. For search engine optimization (SEO), those highways are constructed using quality content, an exceptional user experience (UX) and link building, among other components. Link building is an integral part of what makes organic traffic flow to the destinations you desire. But, what is it, and what makes for an effective link building strategy?

Welcome, traffic controller — this is everything you need to know about link building.

First Thing’s First: What Is Link Building?

Hyperlinks — but, let’s be normal and just call them links — are how users navigate between pages and domains on the internet. Like this. Or this. Someone clicks a link and is chauffeured to another webpage, whether it belongs to the same website  (internal) or another one (external — more on these later).

Link building refers to the strategy that SEO experts and content marketers use to both build their own website architecture and acquire more backlinks to their website from other domains. Of course, SEO professionals can’t just go demanding that brands provide them with backlinks — although you can reach out and ask politely, which is a core element of most backlink building strategies.

The honest — and most effective — way to gain quality and relevant backlinks is by producing and publishing content that’s informed and authoritative. Other brands and publications will notice your content’s value and either choose to link to it of their own volition or be much more receptive to your outreach.

When you create a link building strategy, you’re compounding links through a steady stream of organized, quality content that other websites will want to link to. That’s link building at the highest level. It may sound simple and like you have little to no control over who chooses to backlink to your website, but there are tried and tested SEO link building game plans that work.

But first, how significant are links to your overall SEO strategy? After all, putting so much time and effort into link building (and into reading this blog post — thank you!) means you should know that it’s going to be worth it. Right?

How Important Are Links for SEO?

Other humans aren’t the only entities on the lookout for quality content on the internet — the robots and their mechanical spiders (Google and its web crawlers) are, too. When Google crawls webpages to determine how worthy any given one is for the top spot on a search engine results page (SERP), internal and external links are a large contributing factor in its decision.

And, before you ask — no, that doesn’t mean that you or anyone can just link to whoever, wherever and whatever without worry. Google specifically rewards webpages that have:

  • A stable website architecture; i.e., internal links that create strong, relevant connections between pages on the same domain.
  • Backlinks to credible, reliable and quality sources.

In simple terms, the search engine crawlers will notice that your webpages make navigation easy for users through internal linking and that other quality websites are linking back to you. More or less, it will take that to mean that your site is user friendly and valuable, thus serving you up to more users on SERPs and directing more organic traffic to your brand.

So, that answers that question. They’re pretty important.

How Improper Link Building Techniques Can Hurt SEO

It’s worth noting that receiving links from anything and everything can actually work against you. It’s not about the quantity of the links, but the quality. Volume comes later once you build a catalog of respectable websites. Google is smart and it knows when you’re trying to game the system. Scary? A little. Imperative for your SEO effort? Very.

Here are a couple things you should avoid to ensure that the links you’re building will fruit in your favor, not rot your website from the inside out:

Do Not: Hire a Link Farm

Later, we mention outsourcing link building as an effective way to get your strategy up and running. However, avoid link farms at all costs. These “agencies” tend to over-promise and underdeliver. They’ll buy up low-quality links and use the same shady resources in excess — and to your detriment. These questionable SEO services will undoubtedly hurt your progress, as Google will notice the over-used, poor-quality websites that are linking back to you and algorithmically punish your website.

Do Not: Ignore User Intent

One of Google’s primary goals is to satisfy users’ search intent. Google’s algorithm will identify links that are misleading, irrelevant to the content they’re placed in or otherwise useless to a user based on their search intent. The result? Google puts your website on timeout, and your SEO takes a hit.

Backlinks vs. Internal Links: What’s the Difference?

Internal vs. external; inside, vs. outside — the difference between backlinks (external) and internal links (… internal, shockingly) is that the former sends users to a separate domain, while the latter keeps them within the same one — that is, on your own webpages.

But, let’s get a little more specific:

Internal Links

The most useful part of building internal links within a single domain is establishing site architecture and an information hierarchy. The more carefully curated internal links you include on any given webpage, the better the chance that Google and its army of web-crawlers will find, index and understand pages on your website.

Good internal links are also a vehicle for users to traverse between pages on your website to find the information they’re looking for. The easier it is for users to navigate your site, the higher you’ll rank.

External Links

Linking externally to reliable sources improves your own website’s credibility. What’s more, external links — sometimes called outbound links — provide readers with additional resources which is a contributing factor in increasing your website’s authority. Less technically, they also help you create connections in your niche which can help with future link building and content marketing endeavors. Making friends in your industry is never a bad thing.

Receiving outbound links and building up your number of referring domains is also an effective way to boost your authority. The more credible websites that point back to you, the more of a leader you’ll appear in your industry — with the content to back it up.

How To Find Websites That Want to Link to You

Like we mentioned, it’s not as easy as cold-emailing a plethora of organizations and asking to trade links. Sure, that may work in the short-term, but abiding success comes from putting in the effort. You have to:

  • Find relevant websites in your niche by conducting your own research.
  • Vet the websites to ensure that they’re high-quality, user friendly and produce reputable content.

Then, you can start reaching out to build relationships with those websites, and hopefully they catch on and link to your site.

Link Profile: Tracking Link Performance

Performing a backlink analysis is standard SEO procedure. It involves using a web auditing tool, such as Semrush, to generate a clear, concise and complete view into your website’s backlink performance — sometimes called your link profile. When you initially run a domain through one of these tools, you’ll be served so much data it’ll make your head spin. Lucky for you, there are only a few key performance indicators (KPIs) you’ll need to focus on at first:

  • Total number of backlinks: This will show the total number of external links that lead back to your website. The higher the number, the better.
  • Referring domains: These are the total number of websites that link back to yours. Unlike the total number of backlinks, this figure is representative of websites as a whole and not the number of individual links.
  • Top linked pages: This KPI will let you know which pages are top performers in terms of receiving the most backlinks, and are generally a good place to start when kicking off a backlinking strategy. Why? Because they’re indicative of the type of content that is successfully generating backlinks from other domains.

To get these figures exactly where you want them, you need a link building strategy. So, let’s talk about how to establish one.

How To Create an Effective Link Building Strategy

So, we know that link building is a great way to attract organic traffic to your website — now it’s time to analyze effective strategies and tactics that will help you reach your SEO goals. Best practices for internal linking and backlinking strategies often overlap, so we’ll list some general tips.

1. Kick Things Off With Keyword Research

Keyword research is the nucleus of SEO, and because link building is a part of that, it’s important here, too. People must see your content before they can decide whether or not it’s worth linking to. Use an SEO tool that can help you conduct keyword research, then build and optimize your content around what people are actively searching for.

Don’t scramble for just any keyword or phrase, though. Beyond making sure they’re relevant to your industry and marketing objectives, keywords to target while link building should have:

  • A reasonably high search volume, so you’ll be sure to get noticed.
  • A relatively low difficulty, so it won’t be too much of a challenge to rank for.
  • The right search intent, so it responds to the user’s query (i.e. social media marketing statistics).

Plus, the lower the difficulty, the fewer backlinks you’ll need to acquire to rank highly.

2. Publish Content That’s Worth Linking To

We’ve mentioned it before, and we’ll mention it again: The single most important thing for SEO these days — link building included — is quality content. With the rise of AI tools that spawn generic-sounding copy, outstanding content is what’s going to get you noticed, both by Google and human readers.

So, after you’ve done your due diligence on the keyword front, back it up with quality copy written by capable writers.

3. Using Keyword-Rich Anchor Text

Anchor text are the words within a sentence that are clickable and that you attach a hyperlink to. But, you can’t go dropping anchor at the first sign of gold — it has to be intentional. Anchor text should be highly relevant to the source it’s linking to. That means that if I’m trying to redirect you to a blog about website navigation best practices, the anchor text should include keywords that are relevant to that piece of content, as I’ve just demonstrated.

4. Broken Link Building

Up for a scavenger hunt of sorts? If you’ve got a nose for broken or outdated links, you can leverage that in your link building strategy. Broken link building involves searching the internet for topic- and industry-relevant content for links that no longer work. Once you’ve found some, you can shop out your related content to the website with the broken link and ask if they’d like to link to you instead. +1 referring domain and +1 amended link — it’s win-win.

5. Outsource Your Link Building

Want to reap the benefits of robust link building but have other things on your plate? Well, you can hire an SEO agency that offers a link building service.

This will often entail the agency probing for and compiling relevant websites in your niche and then doing manual outreach to get your links on their pages.

6. Reach Out

We know what you’re thinking — and no, link building outreach doesn’t have to be spammy or sound desperate, despite what your inbox may be filled with. For outreach to be effective, you need to have something to show.

Instead of immediately asking to swap links, introduce link prospects to your content first. Unveil yourself as a player in this particular industry, provide some examples of your content and invite them to read it. Avoid coming on too strong as that may lead to propsets marking you as spam.

7. Commit to It

Like most things in the SEO and content marketing space, the majority of strategies are an on-going endeavor. Google is always changing the rules on us, and user behavior naturally shifts every so often. So, when you set out to create a link building strategy, dedicate yourself to it.

Analyze performance and make adjustments on a regular basis or scheduled cadence to keep up with the transfiguration of modern marketing and user conduct.

Ways to Enhance the Performance of Your Link-building Strategy

Getting a link building strategy off the ground is a great starting point. But, if you’re looking to enhance your effort even further, consider these tips and tricks:

1. Create a List of Quality Websites

Save yourself time by building a compendium of high-quality, relevant websites that appeal to both your current audience and your intended one. Once you know exactly who you wish to reach with your content, you can start engaging with websites in that space that may be more apt to hear your link-building beckons, since you share an audience. You’ll both benefit from increased traffic as a result.

2. Explore Guest Posting and Blogging

Guest blogging is a great way to “expedite” a link building process. It’s a timeworn tactic that’s still around today, because it works. 

Guest blog content is written by the person who proposed the topic (you) and not ghost, which means you’ll ultimately have control over the links that you wish to include in the copy. Of course, some publications or websites may have certain guidelines, but as long as you’re following them, inserting links in guest blog content shouldn’t be too much of a hassle.

Pitch and write a quality guest blog while being sure to include links that lead back to your own website, and voilà! Once the piece goes live, you’ve effectively increased your number of referring domains, hopefully to cascading effect.

3. Produce Thought Leadership Content

Content marketing is mostly made up of quality evergreen content that’s eager to sell a product or service, for the most part. On the other hand, through leadership is content that’s all about knowledge, transparency, industry experience and strong opinions. When done right, this type of content is highly valuable and ripe for linking.

If you have particular expertise or a resolute opinion about something, write about it as part of your link building strategy.

4. Get Yourself in the News

There are other ways to get in the news without doing something brash. Public relations has been leveraged as a link building tactic for some time and for good reason. To use the news to your advantage, produce or host something that you can write a press release about. Depending on your industry, you might consider holding a community event to reach news outlets.

If you’re up for a content heist of sorts — all in the name of link building — try newsjacking. This tactic differs from what we just mentioned in that you’re not trying to get yourself on the news: Rather, it’s about producing content in-line with current events to take advantage of the increased traffic flow for search terms related to those happenings. Even though we just called it a content heist, it’s not a crime. We promise.

5. Create Infographics and Other Shareable, Designed Content Assets

Infographics are a link-building goldmine. Publications love to link out to credible, beautifully designed collateral that present facts and data. If you have content that can be easily repurposed into an infographic or ideas for other highly-shareable assets in the same vein, create them!

A few other types of marketing material that provide ample opportunity for linking include:

  • eBooks.
  • Whitepapers.
  • Product sheets.

Any content asset that can present information in an engaging and easily understandable way is prime link-building material.

6. Use Social Media

There’s something about the nature of social media that makes outreach less intimidating. Connecting with people and brands on social platforms is an effective way to start a conversation about link building with other websites.

Although you can reach out via direct message, try publishing a post and tagging people who you believe may be interested in your content. Even if the intended person doesn’t respond, you can be sure that  hundreds (or thousands or millions) of other people saw it as well. That’s a multitude more people who are now aware of your content and may choose to throw you a few backlinks themselves.

If You Build It (With Links), They Will Come

So, there you have it — just about everything you need to know about link building. What’s next, you ask? Strap on that metaphorical toolbelt, and start erecting a frame for your strategy. Then, fill it with tactics to enhance it, and you’ll be well on your way to quality links in no time.

And remember, if you build it (with links), they (organic traffic) will come.