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What are backlinks and how to build them the right way
Backlinks are just one of the many ways Google scores, and therefore ranks, your website. But what are backlinks, exactly?
Backlinks, or links that point to your website from other websites, help Google determine the quality and value of your site. The logic is that if trustworthy websites are are linking back to yours, then that is a major indicator of your site’s value. If the sites linking back to yours are high-quality, Google may start to see your website as being high-quality as well.
However, just because you have great backlinks, or what’s called a great backlink profile, doesn’t mean you’ll automatically rank well for specific keywords. You still need to get your metadata right, use targeted keywords, write great content, have a well-performing website—on mobile and desktop—and link internally to your website and other authoritative websites.
Need to build your business site’s SEO? Check out our article on boosting your website’s SEO.
When you do all of that and have great backlinks, then you’ll likely start seeing higher rankings and more organic traffic.
If backlinking is the last area of SEO you’re exploring, you may not know how to build backlinks the right way. Gone are the days of comment spamming and guest posting on any site that will post your content. Instead, you need to incorporate legitimate link-building tactics into your marketing strategy to see these results.
Here are some techniques to explore to get high-quality backlinks the right way.
How to build backlinks: 3 tactics for small businesses
Obtaining free backlinks: Build links with high-value guest posting
Guest posting gets a bad reputation from years of poor link building practices, but it’s still one of the best ways to build links the right way. Guest posting allows you to control the quality of the site linking back to yours, while you build brand authority as the author of the guest post. If you’re new to this, here’s an outline of the process to follow.
Start by setting standards for the websites you’ll pitch for a guest post. In this checklist on how to get backlinks, those standards include:
- The site must have a good domain authority (DA), usually 40 or higher. To find out your site’s domain authority, check using a tool like SmallSEOTools or Moz.
- The site must regularly publish content.
- The site must look “good”—meaning, you trust it by looking at it; you’d read it yourself.
- The site must link to other relevant websites and content, not to spammy websites.
- The site must have do-follow outbound links.*
*A no-follow link, the opposite of a do-follow link, means you’re not getting the value that’s passed from that website to yours. While in some cases a no-follow link is still valuable for driving traffic and brand impressions, on sites like Forbes you should aim for do-follow links in your guest posts.
The next step is to use these standards to compile a list of sites you’ll reach out to along with the links you want to include in these guest posts. Note that the links you’ll include in the text should include resources and blog posts, not landing pages. Editors usually frown upon linking to sales and product pages.
The next step is to continuously do research and outreach to get those guest posts. As you do this more and more, remember to make sure your links look natural—especially if you pay to work with someone who does it for you. Here are a few tips for doing that:
- Vary your anchor text and make sure it’s descriptive when possible.
- Link to a range of pages on your site, not just one or two blog posts.
- Use different authors if you can.
Pro tip: If you don’t know how to do this right, work with someone who does like a content marketing agency or content marketing contractor. They’ll know the best approach, how to organize the efforts, and ultimately get more from your work. This is a time-consuming process, but when done right, it’s worth every minute spent.
While this process may seem complicated and daunting at first, the ROI is often worth the ongoing effort. One example is Buffer, the popular social media scheduling tools. Back when the company was a newbie, co-founder Leo Widrich penned around 150 guest posts for a variety of websites that linked back to Buffer. And the results were astounding: Buffer’s customer vase grew from zero to 100k customers within 9 months.
Create your own unique, linkable, data
Links don’t always have to be actively pursued. If you create the right content, people will link to your website without you asking. While this doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get all high-quality backlinks, it does ensure you get a natural mix of links, which Google likes to see.
Unique linkable data can be curated in a number of ways. First and foremost, you can collect this data based on your own business, product, or services. For example, many large brands like Buffer put together their own proprietary reports each year based on data from their own product and users, like this 2018 State of Social Report. Many organizations use the data from this report in their own content and link back to the full report.
If you’re a new business, or don’t have interesting, news-worthy data to pull from your own company, use a tool like Google Surveys to get it. This service does cost money—you’re charged per answer—but your unique questions will reveal data that can be compiled into a report or blog post that publishers may be more inclined to link to in their own content. This drives organic backlinks and all you have to do is create the content.
If this takes a large portion of your budget, remember that you can use the data over and over again in different blog posts, on social media, on your website, and more. You can also use this data to pitch story ideas to media sites like Fast Company, CNN, and other reputable industry news outlets are always looking for fresh data.
Pro tip: Check your backlink profile annually or quarterly to check for links you want to get rid of. Check out this guide from Yoast to learn how to do that.
Use a link tracking tool to replicate your competition
Use a link tracking tool to see where your competitors are getting links and then pitch or work to get links from the same sites. The goal here is to get the same “link juice” as your competitor, which can help you outrank them.
You can also use the same tools to see which of your competitors’ content is getting the most links. The value in this is simple: this means that content has done something right. With those insights, you can assess that piece of content and the links pointing back to it to find a way to replicate it and potentially earn a high volume of backlinks as well.
There are a variety of tools that allow you to do this, including Moz and Ahrefs, among others. Find the one that works for you. While many of these tools are paid, you can likely take advantage of a free trial to get to know the product and then make this a regular part of your efforts.
Pro tip: While a link tracking tool like this is valuable for driving insights, you don’t want to use a tool that does outreach for you. These are often run using keywords and you’ll make your brand look spammy by pitching sites that aren’t related to what you have to offer.
How to build backlinks the right way
The days of spammy guest posting and backlink techniques are gone. It’s time to take your efforts to the next level to build a backlink profile that helps you rank higher and drive organic traffic.
Now that you understand how to build backlinks in a tactical way, you can use these ideas to get started or refresh your current strategy and get ready to reap the benefits.