The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Link Building - What Is It and How Does It Work?

The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Link Building
Link building is an extremely important aspect of SEO, helping website owners improve the rankings of their pages. When done right, it can boost visibility and traffic by a huge margin - but when done wrong, it can easily destroy a website’s ranking once and for all. Link building is not easy and involves a range of techniques and tactics to deploy properly. For beginners to link building, we’ve prepared this Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to give you the basics.
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Table of Contents

What is SEO?
On-page vs. Off-page SEO
What is Link Building?
How important is link building?
How are hyperlinks made?
Link attributes: dofollow vs. nofollow links
Does link placement matter?
What is domain/website authority?
White-hat vs. Black-hat link building tactics
What makes a bad link?
What makes a good link?
How to design an effective link building strategy?
Starting a blog to improve link building
Using trustworthy directories to build backlinks
Try writing a guest post
Analyze competition’s backlinks
What is Ego Baiting?
The Skyscraper Technique - what is it?
Making the most out of resource pages
Link building through Social Media
Introducing link diversity to your strategy
Broken link building strategies
Podcasts and influencers
Create varied content
Never skimp on your research
Bottom line

What is SEO?

Before we move on to link building, let’s quickly cover the basics of what SEO is. SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the process of improving various aspects of your website to make it more visible to people searching specific terms on Google and other search engines. Theoretically, the better your visibility on the search results page, the more attention and visitors your website should get.

Google, Bing, and other search engines use so-called “crawlers” - simple bots whose aim it is to go from website to website and collect basic information about each page. This information is then compiled into an index - just like a gigantic phone book, with the names and information about all the websites the crawler has stumbled upon.

There are, however, certain factors that dictate which of the pages shows up higher in the results when someone uses a search engine to research a specific phrase. These include the content quality on each page, the use of specific keywords, the website’s HTML code, page architecture and performance, mobile-friendliness, having an SSL certificate, how trustworthy your website is, and - what’s incredibly important - link building.

On-page vs. Off-page SEO

A website’s SEO as a whole is built from two key components - on-page SEO and off-page SEO.

On-page SEO contains every action that directly changes the composition of your website to better fit with the current SEO trends. It’s not only about using industry tricks to somehow convince Google’s algorithm that your site is high-quality and trustworthy - it’s about actually making your site high-quality and trustworthy! This usually includes such factors as site speed, meta tags, optimized content, URL architecture, crawlability, and mobile-friendliness. Usually, you can directly improve your on-page SEO by implementing appropriate changes directly into the code or the content.

Off-page SEO may not be as easy to control as on-page, but it’s just as important in increasing your website traffic - if not more! It refers to all actions, accomplished by you or others, that indirectly influence your website’s ranking on the results page of search engines. Link building is one of the most important aspects of off-page SEO, and deals with increasing the number and quality of inbound links from other websites that lead to your page.

What is Link Building?

Link building for SEO offers several key benefits to websites - including increasing their ranking on search engine results pages. It is a long and complex process, the goal of which is to get other sites to introduce backlinks. Backlinks are simply external links that point people back to your page, giving them a gateway to your website.

But why would you need other websites to link back to you?

High-quality backlinks are a vital tool for improving SEO, since they tell a search engine like Google that your website can be trusted and is relevant, boosting your SERP ranking

There are many ways to get other websites to place backlinks to your site on their domain, and setting up a proper link building campaign early on will allow you to reap the benefits later. We’ll cover some of the most promising strategies and techniques later on, so stay tuned.

How important is link building?

To summarize it briefly: extremely important.

Most SEO professionals focus about 75% of their efforts on off-page SEO, which itself is mostly based on acquiring new high-quality backlinks. According to Andrey Lipattsev, Partner Development Manager at Google, the two most important factors in Google’s search results ranking algorithm are links and content.

Whenever a website links another website on its domain, Google crawlers notice that and see it as a sign of trust - each reputable website that links back to your page increases its perceived trustworthiness and quality. There is a strong correlation between the number of backlinand ks search traffic, but quantity isn’t everything - your backlinks need to come from websites that are trustworthy themselves, or they won’t contribute much to your SEO.

There is no certain way to know how exactly Google and other major search engines establish what makes a good link. The company keeps the details of their algorithms a well-kept secret, but there are some aspects of it SEO specialists have discovered (more on them later). What we do know for certain, however, is that since the introduction of Google Penguin update and making it a part of the core algorithm, it’s more important than ever to acquire high-quality links.

We also know that websites get penalized for having disproportionately large numbers of low-quality backlinks, as Google constantly tries to remove the possibility of Black Hat SEO techniques increasing SERP ranking. When using the services of SEO professionals to boost your website, choose a company that knows how to get reputable backlinks - like WhitePress®. We have years of experience in executing effective link building strategies, constantly keeping up to date with the latest SEO updates.

How are hyperlinks made?

Let’s inspect the link itself. Open your favorite website and find a hyperlink - a word or a sentence that leads you to other websites, usually bold and underlined. Right-click on it and click “Inspect”. A window will pop up with the website’s code, and you should see something like this highlighted:

<a href="https://www.whitepress.com/">Content marketing services at WhitePress®</a>

The first part of the code is called an anchor tag, with a referral location pointing to a certain website, image, or file. The anchor text which follows is what the users see displayed on the page. This text is an important factor in Google’s algorithm, judging the referenced page based on keywords.

Creating effective anchors is the key to effective on-page link building for SEO. When linking to other sites, avoid over-optimizing and repeating the same keywords a bunch of times - Google will penalize you for that. Instead, change the keyword around and introduce synonyms, so your anchors convey similar meaning, but don’t stuff your website with redundant keywords.

Link attributes: dofollow vs. nofollow links

There are many attributes you can add to a simple hyperlink in HTML code. One of the most important of these attributes to know about is the nofollow attribute. Once you add this attribute to the code, you’re telling Google crawlers not to pass authority from your site to the linked site.

This highly reduces the SEO impact of a given hyperlink, removing the “link juice” it usually passes. Dofollow links, which means standard links without the nofollow attribute, pass on some of its positive properties to the destination site, including PageRank and TrustRank indicators.

Nofollow links still have their uses - for example, when you’re linking to pages you don’t want seen as endorsed by your own. Sometimes, you’ll have to provide a link to a website with debatable reputability - using the nofollow attribute will prevent its negative PageRank factors from influencing your site. You should also use the nofollow attribute on all sponsored and affiliate links to avoid being penalized by Google for black hat SEO practices.

If your users are allowed to post their own links in any part of your web service, make sure the nofollow attribute is automatically added to each - don’t risk someone posting some less than reputable links and ruining your SERP visibility.

Does link placement matter?

A link’s structure is extremely important when it comes to its SEO performance - but so is its placement. Having your backlink placed in the main content of a website will generate a higher Click-Through Rate (CTR) than a link placed in the sidebar or footer. As such, links that appear in visible places may transfer more authority than other ones.

Take into consideration that most readers of internet content don’t read to the end and are much more likely to click a link placed at the beginning of an article, rather than one located at the very end. You can, to a large extent, freely control the placement of an important backlink when writing guest posts, which is a great way for boosting the SEO value of your content.

You should also consider the destination of your backlinks - what are you linking to in your content? Is it your homepage, an informational page, or a commercial page? Establishing a backlink for a commercial page might be more difficult than an informative one - try to leverage the benefits of linking each important destination on your website against the probability of the website owner agreeing to post it. Also, make sure you have your links pointing to more than just a single site - try to introduce diversity in your link building strategy.

What is domain/website authority?

Website authority, also referred to as domain authority, is one of the leading indicators of high-quality links. It represents the potential linking strength of a website, informing you how beneficial it will be to have it post a backlink to your site.

While website authority isn’t confirmed to be an actual indicator used by Google’s algorithm, research shows a strong correlation between website authority and SERP position, with websites ranking 1st almost always having more backlinks with high website authority. Google’s John Mueller also confirmed that the company uses indicators that “map to similar things”.

There is a range of free tools available for estimating the website authority of a page - for example, the Website Authority Checker by Ahrefs. The tool calculates a Domain Rating based on how many unique high-quality domains link to it. In general, links pointing from pages with a strong PageRank score pass more authority - aim to get as many of those as possible.

By implementing a long-term link building strategy, you can earn backlinks from reputable pages and increase your website authority score. This can have a massive positive effect on SEO and SERP position, increasing traffic and helping build brand awareness. At WhitePress®, we implement effective link building techniques that drive website authority with high-quality backlinks from relevant sites.

White-hat vs. Black-hat link building tactics

We’ve mentioned black hat link building before - it refers to shady SEO techniques, like buying links, that might be seen by Google as rule-breaking. Google enforces its rules for building links by penalizing websites that join a link scheme or otherwise break said rules, resulting in a much lower SERP position. This could have a tremendous negative impact on website traffic and brand visibility, as over 91% of users stay on the first site of Google results, with approximately 25% of them choosing the first result.

To avoid that, SEO practitioners implement white hat link building tactics. Since the Penguin update, quality is much more important than quantity when it comes to backlinks. Avoid manipulating the PageRank algorithm, and focus instead on improving your content and creating relevant websites.

Using partner pages for the sole purpose of cross-linking will have a negative impact on the search result ranking. Purchasing backlinks is also forbidden. Furthermore, guest posts and content marketing articles with over optimized anchors will also be penalized. Invest in high-quality content solutions that naturally attract links and flawlessly incorporates best SEO practices to drive both visibility and engagement.

Adding your website to an online directory is a common practice for creating backlinks and increasing visibility. However, always make sure you’re creating a high-quality backlink from a reputable web directory. Using shady directories will harm your PageRank indicators.

You can find more details on Google’s rules for building links in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

What makes a bad link?

Before the Penguin update, link farms and spammy blog comments linking to shady sites ran rampant - if you’ve used Google in the early 2010s and before, you might remember how difficult it was to navigate Google search results and avoid dangerous and extremely low-quality content.

Thankfully, Google has introduced many precautions since that time, and websites are now required to track where their backlinks come from. Any link placed with the intention to manipulate PageRank and SERP position is considered a violation of Google’s guidelines. However, if you do not follow shady SEO practices, you should be safe, right?

Unfortunately, Google’s changes opened websites up to a new danger - negative SEO attacks. Let’s say you have a fierce competitor who won’t back down from morally questionable tactics, like buying links from spammy sites, leading to your page in order to get it penalized by Google.

How to find out if you were a victim of negative SEO? Analyze your backlink profile and add all the spammy links to the Google Disavow Tool. You’ll need to prepare a list of all the negative domains linking to your website that you want to get rid of, and upload it in .txt format.

Specialized SEO tools like Ahrefs, Moz, or Semrush offer features for collecting all backlinks and identifying the bad ones, but you can also do it manually by using Google Search Console. Once you’re logged in, select your domain and under “Search Traffic” select “Links to Your Site”. You’ll find a button there that will let you download a .csv file with all the backlinks.

It could take some time to analyze all the links, but once you identify the spammy domains you can quickly add them to your disavow list and they won’t hurt your PageRank performance anymore.

What makes a good link?

White hat link building techniques focus on organic link building on relevant websites. Each link should make sense from a user’s point of view and come from a reputable website with higher or similar website authority as yours. Content marketing is a great way for building links effectively when implemented properly.

By creating engaging texts with natural anchor texts leading to important sites, companies can have a direct positive influence on their link building strategies. Remember that links aren’t the only aspect of SERP ranking - high quality content is just as important, if not more. Guest posts and sponsored content make for great long-term manual link building techniques, but quality and relevance need to remain high for it to be effective.

Google ranks natural links from high-authority sites the highest, but these are also the hardest to get. Internet journals with staffed-editors are a great way to boost your link building, but you’ll have to find the right outlet for your link-worthy content.

How to design an effective link building strategy?

The key to building links effectively is outreach - you’ll need to find other potential websites that could host your backlink. Your potential targets should be relevant websites with a similar niche to yours, with good performance and reputability.

Google rewards sites with backlinks that look natural and make sense content-wise. For example, if you’re a software house that creates custom web apps, a backlink from a tech journal will be much more valuable than one from a travel blog post.

A good way to start is simply asking for backlinks - if you’re a part of a community or have friends that own websites relevant to your niche, you can ask them to review your product or create other content that engages the viewer and contains links that lead to your page. Start building good relations with potential outlets that could provide valuable backlinks and contribute with engaging and relevant content.

Testimonials are a good way of exchanging backlinks between businesses, as they benefit both sides. This way, the company of your choice receives another testimonial that builds its trust and brand awareness, while you receive new high-quality links that adds to your overall SEO.

Starting a blog to improve link building

A great way of finding natural backlinks is by creating a well-prepared blog, with content relevant to your website and your business. Keep in mind that in order for this strategy to be effective, you’ll need to put a lot of time and effort into creating an interesting blog where you post on a regular basis.

Effective blog content needs to be well-structured and informative to the viewers, offering them a solution to their problem or an answer to the question they’ve been searching for. Some who stumble upon your content and like what they see might share their thoughts on the internet, creating valuable backlinks and boosting your link building strategy.

You can create the blog yourself, have an employee do it for you, or hire a professional content marketing agency that will create regular high-quality content that drives traffic and contributes to building strong backlinks.

Using trustworthy directories to build backlinks

We’ve already mentioned that you should probably avoid shady website directories that could negatively impact your search result performance. However, while there are tons of directories that offer no real value to users, there are some that are quite reputable.

We recommend researching reputable directories relevant to your niche, as these will provide the most “link juice”, but there are some good universal choices you should consider as well. Meta Business Suite offers a Google-indexed business directory, with plenty of relevant information displayed that could contribute to creating a strong backlink. It also provides a potential connection with your social media marketing campaign, which can effectively increase brand awareness and sales.

Setting up a Google Business profile is also a good idea. In addition to being operated by Google itself, so you can be sure of the directory’s authority, it connects with Google Search and Google Maps as well, creating a highly-personalized profile of your business that contributes to not only successful link building, but also brand visibility.

Try writing a guest post

Many websites will agree to publish your article, which could contain backlinks to your website that would be very valuable. When contacting a website for writing a guest post, make sure their content is relevant to yours, and that the post is not directly marketing your company or product.

Focus on quality when creating a guest post - look closely at the kind of content the website you choose publishes and its users. Try to create content that matches with what’s already on the site and engage the readers. Don’t think how you can promote your company - think about what the readers are looking for and offer them solutions, one of which could be just what you offer.

Just like with writing a blog, creating well-prepared guest posts takes time and an experienced writer. At WhitePress®, we specialize in efficient link building through high-quality content marketing, including publishing guest posts on high-authority sites - contact us with the details and we’ll establish a tailored solution to improve your SEO.

Analyze competition’s backlinks

If you have already identified your key competitors, you can take a look at their backlinks using one of the many link building tools available online (almost all leading SEO companies offer one). This can provide you with valuable insights into your competitors’ SERP performance and give you potential clues where to look for high-quality links.

If you’re not sure who your main competitors are, start by doing extensive keyword research. With a quick keyword research on Google, you’ll be able to see the same websites appear over and over across different searches - these are your main competitors. You can also use the related: attribute on Google and find websites that the platform considers related to yours.

Evaluate the backlinks of your competitors - find out which ones might be the most valuable and try to reach the same or similar sources. Look for reputable journals, popular relevant blogs, and internet personalities that might take an interest in your company.

What is Ego Baiting?

A common technique for finding link building leads is ego baiting. As the name might have already implied, ego baiting aims to make an internet persona like a website owner, blog author, or an influencer want to write about you or share your content. In contrast to traditional link building techniques, ego baiting focuses on a single entity instead of a large audience.

The most common way of doing this is through endorsing. Hosting an interview, creating an honest and positive review, and all other forms of commending the work of whomever we choose could potentially lead to valuable backlinks.

Take your time to create interesting and engaging content for ego baiting - the better the quality of what you post, the higher the chance your persona will notice and share. Round-up posts are an effective way to do that, collecting several industry representatives that could provide valuable backlinks and spreading word of their expertise.

The Skyscraper Technique - what is it?

A couple years back, the SEO world was taken by storm with a new effective link building tactic - the Skyscraper Technique. With this technique, your goal is to search for and identify relevant content with valuable backlinks, and then create even better content. Then, you ask the sites linking to the original content to link to your, higher-quality one instead.

On average, the success rate of this is pretty low - some more successful attempts managed to achieve between 6% and 7% success rate across hundreds of emails sent to website owners. The key is to make sure your content really is better in every aspect to the original one, including its length, structure, design, and depth. Look for obsolete content that could be improved with fresh information and provide an updated point of view.

Also, keep in mind that you want to avoid website owners to immediately discard your email - spend some time on preparing a well-written message explaining your offer and how exactly your content improves over the original one. Make sure that the links you want to substitute are dofollow, as creating content for unfollow links might be a waste of effort.

Making the most out of resource pages

Similar to guest posts on blogs, content published on resource pages might make for an effective link building technique. Resource pages are websites that collect useful information for online communities of a certain niche - look for ones relevant to your product or service and offer to create valuable and informative content.

This content, in turn, could contain backlinks, leading viewers to your website in search of a solution to their problem. As always, aim for reputable websites with similar or higher website authority to yours and avoid low-ranking resource pages that publish massive amounts of low-quality content on a daily basis.

Link building through Social Media

Backlinks can also be created through the use of social media like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Furthermore, building your social media presence can improve brand awareness and drive sales on its own. Not only are social media an excellent place for placing backlinks, but they give you the ability to build positive relations with your community.

It’s widely known that social media presence boosts SERP performance, and Google introduced a range of integrations that boost and highlight search results for social media profiles. While social media are mostly used for increasing branded traffic, they can prove a valuable addition to most link building strategies as well.

Introducing link diversity to your strategy

The key to building a credible and valuable supply of backlinks is diversifying your link building strategy. As you can see, there are plenty of techniques and types of backlinks that could contribute to your overall SERP ranking, but only using a combination of them offers most optimal results. Combining content marketing with a social media campaign and the skyscraper technique will produce much better results than any single one of these link building tactics.

A couple of years ago, you could still see a lot of SEO specialists recommending using PBNs, Web 2.0 websites, and blog comments to build links effectively. Because of Google’s updates to their algorithm, many of these methods will no longer work, and might even have a negative impact on SEO instead.

Aggressive link building techniques are disallowed by Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and might result in a penalty. Use a combination of white hat link building techniques for creating high-value backlinks and avoiding penalties and getting blacklisted.

Broken link building strategies

A great tactic for creating backlinks is broken link building, or finding and replacing backlinks that don’t lead anywhere anymore. By creating similar but updated content, you might get the backlinks swapped with yours instead, increasing your website authority. It is, however, somewhat difficult to execute and requires a lot of patience, dedication, and trial and error.

Start by using your SEO tool of choice to find highly-ranked pages with broken links - extra points if they belong to your key competitors. Everyone accumulates dead pages over time, as websites get re-structured and content gets moved or deleted. This might create plenty of opportunities for you to step in with your content, and - in turn - your backlinks. Many SEO tools offer filtering for backlinks that lead to Error 404 pages, making the process much quicker.

Create a list of keywords for potential topics you might create content for and search for relevant broken links - this will reduce the amount of planning and work you might potentially face, but you won’t always be sure to find what you’re looking for. Remain flexible and widen the scope of your search if you’re not finding anything useful. Resource pages are also good sources of broken links, and are generally much more willing to replace old content with new alternatives that are more up-to-date and could provide new information to readers.

When you find possible hits for replacing content with broken links, don’t immediately jump into creating similar content. Create a list of potential prospects and check the quality of their backlinks - look for dofollow only links for domains with at least some traffic and more-or-less similar website authority to yours (the higher a prospect ranks, the better).

Creating the replacement page itself is a similar process to creating regular content - you don’t want to copy a dead page, but your content should still resemble the original one. Try to find ways to improve it and make it more interesting. If there is no way to access the now-removed content, try using the Wayback Machine to see if there’s a past copy available.

Podcasts and influencers

In addition to creating your own valuable content, why not connect with influencers from the same niche to review or promote your product? Podcasts offer a great way of doing just that, as they’re usually posted at several highly valued websites like Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Reach out to content creators and try to strike a deal in which they feature your company or perform an interview - but be prepared that many of them won’t be ready to do it for free.

Influencer mentions also drive brand awareness, increasing your organic traffic, which is incredibly important for every SEO strategy. Think of solutions that might do more than just contribute to link building, providing additional benefits and directly driving sales as well. All SEO tactics boil down to creating a well-performing, interesting, and relevant content that Internet users will want to interact with.

Create varied content

Don’t restrict yourself to just guest posts and articles - content marketing can be about all different types of content, including infographics, videos, webinars, podcasts, guides, and much more. There are virtually no limits to the type of content you can create to promote your brand, and each one is a possibility for new mentions and new backlinks.

Google’s algorithms like variety, as long as all content stays relevant to the same big idea. By branching, you also get access to more valuable data. Through testing of new strategies, you’ll see what works best for your business and be able to adapt your long-term link building strategy accordingly.

Never skimp on your research

Knowing your niche is the key to success in marketing, and the same applies to link building. Don’t let the desire to improve your SEO indicators drive your strategy - it should always be primarily about creating strong content with interesting topics, and there’s no better way to achieve that than by looking at what has already worked and improving on it.

Let’s say you want to create a guest article about a health & fitness topic - start by looking at the best performing pages, performing a keyword research, and note what type of content they publish. Then, start designing the perfect content that will combine and improve upon all the best features of them all. Go deeper with your research, answer questions that the other articles have not answered, search for relevant data and statistics to include in your post, and make it as appealing and interesting to read as possible.

Bottom line

Link building is an extremely complex process - just look at how long this article is, and it only covers the basics! Nevertheless, it is a crucial part of each website’s SEO performance, and if you want your page to rank highly on Google’s results page and drive traffic, you’re going to need a proper link building strategy.

Avoid shady tactics and frequently check your backlinks to identify and get rid of spammy websites lowering your SERP position. It’s useful to make use of a professional SEO toolset, as it can give you access to a variety of handy tools for keeping your website safe, healthy, and well-performing.

When utilizing content as a driving force for your link building, go with professional contractors that will create highly effective and engaging content that generates natural high-authority backlinks.

Published on: 2022-06-08
Updated on: 2022-06-08
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The administrator of personal data is WhitePress sp. z o.o. with headquarters in Bielsko-Biała, ul. Legionów 26/28. Your personal data is processed for the marketing purposes of WhitePress sp. z o.o. and entities interested in marketing their own goods or services. The marketing objective of the commercial partners of WhitePress sp. z o.o. includes, among others, commercial information about conferences and training related to the content published in the Knowledge Base tab.

The legal basis for the processing of your personal data is the legitimate purpose pursued by the Administrator and its partners (Article 6 (1) (f) of the GDPR).

Users have the following rights: the right to request access to their data, the right to rectify it, the right to delete data, the right to limit processing and the right to transfer data. More information on the processing of your personal data, including your rights, can be found in our Privacy Policy.
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