Link Building & Link Acquisition
- Link Building / Link Acquisition
- Why It’s Important
- A Brief History
- Why It’s Difficult, Expensive or Both to Build Links!
- Link Acquisition Techniques
- Processes & Strategies
- Top Tips
- Raptor Backlink Tools
Link Building / Link Acquisition
This is the process of acquiring links for the purpose of improving your rankings and organic visibility. If you are unfamiliar with backlinks, the metric used to describe them or any of the fundamentals; we suggest reading our Introduction to Back Links before starting this guide.
Backlinks provide your site with all of its authority and this is distributed around your site to each page through your website navigation and internal linking structure. Authority is a direct and powerful ranking factor, as such acquiring links is an essential part of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).
Google regularly changes and updates its organic ranking algorithm; advances in technology (processing power, algorithmic analysis & machine learning) drive this change. Consequently, Google are better now than ever at determining:
- Spammy link profiles
- Natural links
- Sponsored links
- The semantic context in which the link sits
This translates into Google being more effective at implementing their guidelines and rules now than they were say 10 years ago. Back before 2006, you could get away with a lot more, but you always knew that Google were increasingly more likely to identify your dodgy tactics.
Once the Penguin update came out, the game changed quite significantly, ever since they have become better and better at detecting unnatural link profiles and gaming. Unfortunately, there still exists more of these outdated techniques today than there should.
The adage “if a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing properly” a perfect aphorism relevant to link building. Cheap link building typically equates to bad link building, directory submissions, link farms, blog nets and such like…
Bad or poorly executed link building can be hazardous to the health of your website, having the ability to get your site de-indexed. This can be catastrophic for a business, losing all of your nice free organic traffic really quickly.
Link building requires multiple phases each requiring different skills, it starts with this as a broad approximation:
- Collect data
- Analyse data to inform strategy
- Create goals
- Create a strategy
What comes next depends on your strategy and we cover strategy, process and techniques later in this guide… But this will typically require a combination of the following processes:
- Outreach (email and phone)
- Content writing
- Video creation
- Image creation
- Running competition
- Social networking
- Real world networking
- Production of valuable content / data / media
- Logging & coordinating all work
In addition to the above there is usually long lead times between initiating contact and getting content placed externally.
What this means is that a reasonable amount of initial work is required to understand your own site’s link profile, how it compares to competitors, what would be considered natural growth, etc. Then there are numerous costs involved in terms of man hours to build a relationship, create content or produce the data you need.
The whole process can require a high degree of knowledge and skills, creativity and man power to get results in most industries. There are always quick wins, some basics to get you going but for the most part links cost money to acquire even when you are not paying for them!
In this section, we cover some popular categories of techniques used to acquire links, these should be considered your ‘nuts and bolts’ of link building techniques. Because what works for one business doesn’t always for work another, there is no way to be super specific with regard to some techniques.
Ultimately the best link building techniques are the ones that are creative, well thought out and relevant to the business, their goals and objectives. If you are lacking inspiration, we have included some examples of really great link building in the section after this.
Although Matt Cutts publicly stated that “you should stop using guest blogging for link building” this is still a popular tactic for link building for many businesses. More than just acquiring links, guest blogging provides a range of ancillary benefits. Placing content on other websites gets both your content and brand in-front of new relevant audiences.
This kind of activity can also provide social signals, often when a guest blog goes live, the host website will syndicate the post out through their social channels. We discuss social signals a little later in this guide.
Sponsored or Not?
The process of guest blogging has become completely saturated in some industries, like fashion or travel for example… These are often highly monetised and it can be hard to find a blog or site that doesn’t know that they can charge you for posting on their site. This is still an effective form of link building at the moment and if it’s done properly and openly, but still in a relevant a natural way.
You really need to weigh it up though, spending $400 on a guest blog post opportunity every week is going to add up really quick… It’s going to add up to being able to afford to do something better! It’s worth considering that this technique, of sponsored blog posts, may suddenly be devalued by Google at any point.
Getting other businesses or individuals to post content on your site can also lead to improvements in authority, especially when the writers produce high quality content or have material brand collateral.
When a company posts content on another site, they will typically syndicate this through their social channels; this can provide social signals, deliver traffic and create connections between your site and another relevant and authoritative site.
Although it may not seem like a link building technique, if you have sought out a person to write for you that carries a following, you are likely to earn links from this in addition to the other benefits.
Collaborating with influential figures and businesses in your industry or related industries can help both parties. For example, if both you and another company produce videos for YouTube, collaborating on a video will often lead to increases in subscribers, views, thus driving brand awareness and traffic to your site.
Although not an easy technique to achieve results in, this can be a powerful tool for a business to help acquire new links and reach new audiences.
Try to find collaborations where there is high relevance but low competition, like working with a similar company that operates in a different region to yourself.
Asking for Quotes
This is a great way to get credible people to lend some of their credibility to your content, it can also attract links and expose your brand to new relevant audiences.
These are a very flattering way to get someone external to your business involved in a collaboration. This can be done in many formats, video, audio, and writing so doesn’t necessarily require any special technology.
The hope or plan is that the subject of the interview will share it socially, and thus attract traffic and links.
Doing bios on people is a great form of ego bait and can be enhanced by using quotes or input from the subject of the bio. The hope or plan is that the subject of the bio will share it socially or link to the bio, thus attract traffic and links.
Putting on or speaking at or sponsoring events, meetups, conferences, seminars, etc can be a valuable source of relevant links.
Link bait is a broad category of techniques that can vary from simply creating great content that people will naturally want to link to or share. This can be any type or medium of content; a good example of this would be ‘Infographics’ which are often share socially or reposted (with a link to the source) on other websites. The aim is to be any (one or combination of) the following while also being unique in either content or approach:
- Funny / entertaining
Link bait can include more targeted approaches, such as deliberately mentioning people, businesses and institutions within a piece of content and then reaching out to them to let them know they have been mentioned. A particularly good review could inspire the company being reviewed to repost or share the review for example.
Creating link bait isn’t just as simple as making an infographic, it needs to be a really good infographic to attract links. Almost anything can be link bait if it’s done well enough, an article with a catchy headline and a shocking follow-up can attract thousands of links.
As mentioned, social media can be a powerful tool for promoting your content, your products and services… But it can also be a channel for building social media links. Links from social can come about in many different ways such as people sharing your web pages through on page sharing buttons.
Providing apps, tools, widgets and other such things as embeddable content for websites is a kind of link bait but should really exist in its own category. This technique has been used for years and is still good today. For example, creating a calculator for mortgage repayments and allowing others to embed this onto their website (with a link back to yours) can enable you to organically generate back links.
A more advanced version of this might involve a partnership with another business where your webpages are shown on another website through iFrames or duplicating content (using canonical tags). For example, you may have products or services that appear on another website as a white labelled product. Partnerships are much harder to acquire and often involve contractual agreements, costs and regular collaborative work.
For businesses that have a PR person or a PR team, there is huge opportunity for the SEO person to work with them feeding into their daily activities. PR teams often get stories published in online news outlets or get mentions online, SEO can help optimise this by providing recommendations as to what anchor text to use or when to ask for a link.
Many of the techniques listed here could fall under the umbrella of ‘outreach’, which is a broad description of contacting website owners, businesses and individuals through email or phone. Outreach has become the backbone of link building for many SEO agencies, who often have a team of people acting much like telemarketers, calling people every day in attempts to get links, place content (apps, widgets, blog posts, etc), get guest posts, arrange collaborations, etc.
Competitions are a great way to generate links, there are a number of ways this can be handled or orchestrated but you do have to give away a prize encouraging enough to get a response. This can work if you have good audience engagement or a strong social channel, or the budget to put it out there.
Even small businesses can do this type of thing with a reasonable mailing list or social following; give away whatever your product or service is as a prize. You could even have a simple, social share page button to enter a competition.
Sending your product to people who film or write reviews can be an effective way of getting both a link and an introduction to a captive and new audience. Be confident of your product though as you don’t want the internet littered with terrible video review of your product. If you can’t afford to give the product away, perhaps lend it to a reviewer, or collaborate with them reviewing it.
Independent product reviews carry more weight, paying someone to say something positive is just advertising, it’s not a review… People don’t like it when they are being sold a lie, so avoid this type of covert tactic.
A resource page will typically host a list of relevant resources on a topic, it might be the top 20 recipe sites or mummy blogs… But anywhere, that you feel your site could benefit the reader from appearing, could be an opportunity for you to get your site listed.
Goog old fashioned, great content! Stick to the basics, Google say, if you build it they will come… Building a complete or compressive content library can be link bait in itself... If it’s useful it will over time grow and attract more and more traffic.
We have touched on this in the section on why link acquisition is difficult, expensive or both… Everyone in SEO will have some processes for link building or will be familiar with these processes and strategic components.
We have detailed some of the processes and strategies that we have used to guide you in the right direction.
Auditing your backlink profile and your competitors is essential to almost any link building campaign.
Knowing What to Target
What we mean by this is, what Citation Flow or Domain Authority links should you be targeting? Do you need more text links or more referring domains? There are many types of links and these all have their own variables like anchor text or alt tag text.
In order to know what your site needs to advance its organic presence, you need to audit your backlink profile to understand its composition. Just this along can provide valuable insights, are your anchor text ratios good, are most links ‘follow’ links, do you have poor links to referring domains ratio, etc???
We cover this topic in more depth in our guide to backlink analysis.
Knowing What to Target
Following on from the above, once you have analysed your backlink profile, you need to compare it to that of your competitors. This will further inform your decisions on what to target… If you notice that the average DA of your backlink profile is much lower than your competitors but you have a lot more links and referring domains… Your strategy would be to target a few really nice high-quality backlinks.
You should be looking at least the following factors when trying to determine what type of links you should be going for:
- Number of links
- Number of referring domains
- Authority of the links
- Distribution Analysis
- Anchor text ratios
- Deep link ratio
- Link growth rates
- Link volatility
Replicating Competitor Success
Replicating what successful competitors have done is a great way to get ideas for sources of back links. There are some links that you cannot replicate but there will be many that you can; using various tools you can get a complete picture of any website’s back link profile and you can categories and prioritise these in a spreadsheet.
We cover this in more depth in our guide to competitor backlink analysis.
Once you have performed the analysis described above you should be in good shape to see how your site shapes up against competitors… This will help you to set link acquisition goals for the following categories over time:
- Number of new links
- Number of new referring domains
- Authority of new links
- Authority of new domains
- Desired distribution of links
- Desired anchor text ratios and usage
- Deep link ratio
- Removal of link volatility / improved stability
Goals should be time sensitive and be able to deliver the results that you need to justify and afford building them. They should also be in line with Google’s guidelines.
Finding where your brand has been mentioned online can provide a constant source of links, especially for bigger brands that get regular online mentions. It’s easy to get a website to link to you if they have already mentioned on their blog or in an article. For the most part, you can simply request that the mention itself be turned into a link (branded anchor text link).
This is obviously only relevant to when mentions are positive or at least neutral, a negative mention should be dealt with in a different fashion. There is some chatter online and reasonable evidence to suggest that mentions are an algorithmic ranking factor.
This is a nice easy, monthly activity for a lot of businesses, simply turn on Google Alerts for your brand and follow the instructions above.
This is the process of analysing the URLs on your site that are used in your site’s backlink profile; in order to establish if any of them return the following response:
- Redirection to another page
- Canonically links to another page
- Is noindex
- Is not crawlable
- Is inaccessible
- Does not link to any other page on your site
You will need to address each of these in their own unique way, depending on the page or response you are getting. These back links are either completely wasted / made redundant or are inefficient.
This really requires some skill, in order to contribute anything valid to a major publication, you will need to provide something of value. Doing this frequently can lead to other opportunities, and can be a great source of high quality relevant links.
There are more formulaic, research driven approaches to link building that really address a wider range of business goals. We have described these at the top-level here.
Using a persona or a suite of them can be a useful thought experiment to elevate your thoughts from your typical perspective by putting yourself if the shoes of someone else. In its most simple form this process looks like this:
- Creating personas that represent segments of your target audience
- Make hypothesis about where they go to get their content
- Use this as the basis for further research
From this simple premise, you can build a list of sites that would be valuable to target due to their relationship with your target audience.
For the same reason that you might use display advertising on these sites, you would seek to acquire links form them. In addition to the value of the link, you are gearing your content and link building strategies towards your target audience not robots.
There are variations on this such as looking at the conversion funnel and putting together data on what levels in this are not catered for on your site. This can assist in finding where are the sites and pages that your audience find and consume this content.
This is why you might see a mortgage calculator from a comparison site located in the sidebar of an estate agency’s website. Its good link building and its good brand exposure, leveraging these two factors together creates effective link building strategies.
Identify a Need
This is a difficult one but can lead to enormous success, if you can identify a need or pain point held by some of your target audience… You can use this to create a handy solution. Maybe this is an inhouse tool that you use that you could give away for free, or an app that gives you access to data more easily.
This could be something that you publish on your site or is downloadable from an app store. SEO agencies do this all the time, as soon as someone makes a handy Google Doc or overcomes a technical issue, they often publish it. If it’s useful and resolves a problem, its gold as far as link bait goes.
You often need to work closely with a business to establish what type of thing you could do, you require a good knowledge of the business, its target audience, what they can do and what would help.
Below we have summarised some of the key points from this guide:
- Avoid building links to redirected resources
- Avoid building links to inaccessible pages
- Avoid building links to pages that cannot be crawled
- Avoid building links to pages that cannot be indexed
- Avoid building links to pages that do not pass on authority internally
- Avoid building links to pages that canonicalize to another page
- Avoid spammy tactics
- When building links, try to point them to pages with a call to action present
- Perform analysis of your backlink profile
- Perform analysis of your competitor backlink profiles
- Set achievable natural goals
- Consider using tracking parameters in links when providing them to people, this allows you to more easily track them in Google Analytics
Our backlink analysis tools are a comprehensive suite of analysis techniques and APIs that we use to pull in your backlink data, analyse it and make recommendations. If you haven’t checked, it out yet, click the link to sign up for a free 30-day trial of our backlink analysis tool.