When delving into search engine optimization (SEO), one of the primary strategies discussed is keywords.
However, focusing only on that, or only on one SEO strategy, doesn’t fully optimize your SEO value. A variety of SEO strategies exist, but beginning to consider your backlinks is a good place to look if you’ve optimized elsewhere. Backlinks are not just nice to have; they're essential to generating real SEO value.
With that said, let’s dig a little deeper into what backlinks are, how they work, why they add value, and strategies you can use to get or build backlinks.
What Are Backlinks?
Backlinks function a lot like citations. They’re used by other websites to refer back to another site, via hyperlinks, as a source for the information provided or a place to get more information on the given topic. The link will take readers to a web resource, hopefully on your site.
Why Are Backlinks Important?
First and foremost, backlinks drive traffic to your site. You get your normal site traffic via organic search, social media, or paid advertising (among other methods), but backlinks encourage visitors of other sites to visit your site as a resource.
That link to your site is a digital callout that tells a reader your site is one that was used as a resource for the writer, or a site the writer values as an additional source for more information. As such, the backlink increases your overall page authority and trustworthiness. In fact, search engines reward websites that earn backlinks from high authority resources and place them higher on search engine results pages (SERP).
In fact, Google's search quality senior strategist, Andrey Lipattsev, said links and content are among the top three ranking signals. While great content attracts and keeps your readers as well as boosts your website authority, some of those readers might share your awesome content with their followers. In turn, that improves your authority and, therefore, ranking potential.
Can I Buy Backlinks?
Well, sure. You can buy most things on the internet, that much we know. However, as most folks who have purchased items on the internet can tell you, not everything is as good as it seems, especially if it’s at a price you’re not seeing elsewhere or an offering you’re not seeing on reputable sites.
In short, not all backlinks are created equal. While many sites struggle with increasing their backlinks, earned backlinks, those that appear on authoritative sites, are more likely to bring in sustainable traffic that grows along with your business. Further, some search engines, like Google, may take action and penalize sites purchasing backlinks rather than earning them organically, through quality content.
Below, we’ll discuss some great tips you can use to build quality backlinks for your site, but always, starting with great content is an important first step,
12 Tips to Build Backlinks for Your Website
If buying backlinks may result in a site rank drop, what are the strategies to build more backlinks?
1. Review Google Webmaster Guidelines.
Google regularly adjusts its search engine algorithm to crack down on attempts to manipulate SERPs with tactics like spammy and low-quality links. For example, its famous Penguin updates downgraded sites that participated in link buying or questionable link networks.
Specifically, Google recommends you avoid those strategies as well as the following backlink tactics:
- Pages lacking in original content or very little content.
- Text or links hidden within a page, such as text in font size 0.
- Cloaking or deliberately deceiving search engines and users.
These deceptive practices, and any sites that also perform them to avoid links being labelled as spam, are considered noncompliant in the Google Webmaster Guidelines. If Google finds you in violation of its guidelines, you will have to submit a reconsideration request indicating you have fixed issues regarding noncompliance. Then, you wait for Google to respond to your request.
While you can file subsequent requests if Google denies your initial request, your goal in building backlinks should be creating high-quality, natural links so you can steer clear of penalties altogether.
2. Understand the Importance of Disavowing Backlinks.
Unfortunately, that can hurt your SEO efforts. But you don't have to sit idly by and allow it to happen. If your goal is to build your SERP rank, disavowing backlinks allows you to avoid being associated with spammy third-party sites that only serve to bring down your rankings rather than providing high-quality backlinks.
Google explains how to disavow backlinks so they don’t impact your rankings. You’ll want to identify which sites to disavow backlinks, make a file with this list, and upload it to Google Webmaster Tools.
3. Research Gaps in Site Content.
You may think you’ve exhausted all content ideas for your site, but generating ideas and filling content gaps can generate more backlinks. However, identifying content gaps is, for many, a challenge.
Thankfully, researching gaps in site content is possible, though the options can be quite extensive. For example, you can perform a full audit of your whole website using SEO tools.
When you find gaps, you can develop awesome new content ideas that will deliver a lot of value to your readers and eventually earn backlinks.
Use Keyword Research Tools.
When pinpointing content opportunities, utilize keyword research tools for your current keywords first. Measure the rankings for pages that have target keywords and the monthly search volume for those words and phrases.
After finding out where you stand with your current target keywords, search for related keywords. These can unlock content opportunities you may have not thought of.
These new keywords should have a high search volume (such as 1,000 per month), but not have too much competition in search engine result page (SERP) rankings. This way, you can generate content surrounding these keywords and boost your site traffic.
Spy on Your Competitors.
Competitive analysis can shed light on how industry peers are positioning themselves and their messaging. You can assess their content strategy on their home blog, social media platforms, email newsletters, and everything else in between.
There are plenty of tools that make this process a lot easier. You can conduct a domain comparison report, for example, to see how your backlink profile stacks up against your biggest competitors.
Then, ask yourself, “Are there topics they’ve covered that I haven’t? Can I add something new to this topic or discussion? A different angle?” Consider the ways you can offer your perspective on similar topics.
Use Topic Clusters.
Hopefully, as you build your content, you’ve got a strategy. In other words, you're not just writing random articles or blogs and hoping someone reads them. You’ve likely got a documented content strategy.
If you don't? You need one. A content marketing strategy has a number of benefits, but it should reflect your mission and goals.
In fact, using a strategy allows you to identify topic clusters. Select a broad topic related to your business or industry (or focus of your page), then list out relevant subtopics that are more specific but fall within the broad topic. You can use a mindmap or any number of brainstorming techniques
Then, create a pillar page, a comprehensive resource covering the broad topic in detail. Pillar pages are typically a long form piece of content that you then use to link to shorter form pieces focused on specific subtopics.
The subtopic content and pillar content link to each other. This makes it easier for your readers to find more information on related subtopics, and it also signals to search engines that a semantic relationship exists within the entire topic cluster.
This helps you create more content that can be shared and linked back to from your readers.
4. Identify Similar Websites That Have High Domain Authority.
Earning backlinks on similar websites can help you increase in page rankings, especially if they are authoritative sites. However, they shouldn’t be direct competitors to your site.
You can use free tools like Alexa to find out the popularity and rank of a number of sites on country and global levels to start a list of websites to target for backlinks.
External Site Metrics to Pay Attention To
Pay attention to key metrics that suggest whether sites will actually be useful for increasing backlinks and page rankings. For example, newspapers like The Washington Post have high authority with this particular news outlet currently ranking at 70 in the United States for popularity on Alexa.
There are many free features included with Alexa, such as:
- Demographics by country (percent of visitors)
- Engagement metrics (bounce rate, daily page views per visitor, daily time on site)
- Percent of visitors from search traffic
- Top keywords from search engines
Using tools like Alexa that provide insight on demographics, engagement, and traffic will narrow down the sites that have the most impact in generating and keeping backlinks for your site.
5. Pitch Content Ideas to Relevant Websites.
Now that you’ve identified which sites could be effective for backlinks because of their authority and traffic rankings, you can start the process of earning backlinks by providing interesting or educational content to those sites.
An inbound marketer’s goal of having your content appear on other sites is to expose your brand to a new audience and build on the authority of your site.
How to Pitch Content
Before sending any content to other sites, review guidelines for contributor or guest posts to make sure they will allow you to post links to your site.
You should also read examples of published content on the site to make sure it fits your audience and brand style or personality. Further, you also want to be sure they don't cover topics or content you want to steer away from.
Once you find websites similar or relevant to your own, pitch ideas for content or submit completed guest posts.
Ideally, your published post will increase referral traffic to your site and grow your reputation as a trustworthy site among a new audience, who could eventually become your next leads or new customers.
6. Develop Media Partnerships.
Media partnerships are a great way to syndicate or provide content to other sites without going through the entire process of pitching content or dealing with individual sites, which can be time consuming, especially for a small team.
However, building those partnerships also takes time. In fact, it can take months or even years to build. High-authority sites like MSN that syndicate content want to know the content they receive is trustworthy, authoritative, and traffic-driving – the same qualities you’re looking for in sites that will publish your work.
First, contact the head of media partnerships. Explain what your company does and how they can benefit from developing a syndication partnership and publishing your content. Be prepared to provide examples of your content and any metrics you can to demonstrate your value, such as high traffic volumes, backlinks or mentions from authoritative sites.
If you get rejected or don’t hear back, don’t be discouraged. Media partnerships are tough to establish. But once you do, it presents more opportunities for exposure to a greater number of sites and readers that will make your work worth it.
7. Start Helping Reporters Out.
HARO stands for "help a reporter out." It's a free service that can connect you with a lot of sources, like fellow bloggers and journalists. Top media outlets, including Time, The Wall Street Journal, and the Chicago Tribune, use HARO to gain expert insights from people like you.
While HARO may seem intimidating, the process is rather straightforward. First, register through the website. Once you confirm your registration, start monitoring your inbox for requests from journalists and bloggers.
When you find requests within your industry and level of expertise, you can directly send informative content. Essentially, you're pitching to the source, answering the questions they asked.
This helps you build backlinks because you provide a bio with your information on it. When sources use your expertise, you can start driving more traffic to your site.
But keep in mind — as with any strategy in marketing — this will take a lot of time. You will start building relationships and developing a reputation as an expert. Stay patient and consistently deliver value.
8. Create More Visual Content and Media.
Text-based content is sufficient for generating backlinks, but if you really want to up your external links, make visual content like infographics and videos.
According to HubSpot's research, infographics are 30 times more likely to be viewed than a text article. Not only is dynamic media more popular and better able to communicate your info and brand message, it can also increase traffic significantly.
The same HubSpot research noted traffic increases 12 percent faster for publishers who have infographics compared to those who don’t. They are great for growing referral traffic.
Utilize your existing resources for making graphics. Tools like Photoshop and Illustrator or free tools like Canva are intuitive to use and include infographic templates to get you started.
9. Submit Content to Press Release Sites.
Press releases, while a more old-fashioned approach to media outreach, can be a great tool for sharing your content. In fact, you can send your content to free or paid press release sites, like:
There are both free features and paid press release distribution packages available.
Although press release sites may restrict distribution for free packages, they can still be a useful tool to provide backlinks on search engines and news websites to bring in referral traffic.
If you have the budget for it, paid press release distribution packages will be more powerful in generating backlinks. They generally grant access to industry distribution channels and websites and even high-authority or premium websites like Yahoo News and newspapers.
10. Send Out Press Releases and Content Directly to Media.
To bypass the costs of using a press release site, you can also build your own list of newspaper reporters, media heads, and more and their contact info. Once you have your press release written, send out an email blast to your list with the content text and contact info for your own PR or media person.
In addition to reporters and media writing about your content, you can increase your chances for more backlinks by offering up interviews with your brand’s executives or subject matter experts for even more press exposure.
11. Track Mentions of Your Site.
One of the most important reasons to track mentions of your brand is to ensure mentions include a backlink to your site. Not all websites will provide backlinks when referring to you, making you miss out on crucial links. However, you can usually remedy that by contacting the writer of the article, the head of PR/media, or even the webmaster of the referring site.
RSS feed services like Google News can help you monitor which sites mention your blogs, studies, or other content.
Email alerts for keywords (such as the name of your site, your products or services, or other phrases that describe your company) can also be a great way to track any mentions and ensure there’s a backlink.
12. Learn How to Check Backlinks to Your Website.
Once you’ve employed some of these strategies, you want to stay proactive in ensuring your backlinks are generating traffic and improving your page ranking authority. To do that, you’ll want to use an SEO tool with a backlink checker.
Thankfully, there’s no shortage of awesome tools to help with backlink checking, including:
SEO analytic tools like those listed above feature backlink checkers that include information such as:
- The total backlinks for your domain
- Where your referral traffic is coming from
- The number of visitors generated from each backlink
- Which of your content pieces are the most popular
That data is great to gauge your success, but it’s even more useful if you analyze it to refine your content and your strategies. More specifically, you should analyze the cost-effectiveness of your content so that, moving forward, you can improve your inbound marketing strategy. If your content isn’t generating revenue that exceeds its cost, rethink topics, keywords, or your distribution channels.
Should you notice declines in traffic, SEO tools with backlink checkers can alert you when and where you are losing backlinks, enabling you to retain those links or explore new content opportunities to replace the traffic losses. There’s always a strategy to employ, so staying on top of the analytics is invaluable as it helps you adjust accordingly.
Frequently monitoring your backlinks will help you build a strategy to stay on top of, and drive, your site’s traffic growth. Keep these tips in mind as you build your backlink strategy and take it, and your site, to the next level.