Link Building in 2018: Still critical for organic rankings and growth

It’s no secret that ethical or ‘white hat’ link acquisition remains one of the most important (but typically poorly executed) components of effective SEO.  It requires a range of marketing skills to be successful including; content creation, copy writing, social amplification, networking, outreach, sales, and psychology.

If you want to achieve higher rankings and organic search traffic, mastering link building is critical. This comprehensive guide will provide you with the information and skills you need to secure high-quality links.

In this Guide

  1. Link Building 101
  2. Finding High Quality Links
  3. Avoiding Black Hat Links
  4. The Latest and Greatest Link Building Strategies
  5. Generating Links Through Content
  6. Reaching Out Through Emails

1. Link Building 101

Links still form the backbone of Google’s algorithm. Google has revealed that links are in the three ranking signals that have the most weight and impact.

When search engines first came into being (before Google in the time of Yahoo), search results were ranked solely by the content in the page. Google then came into play and changed the system with their algorithm, that looked at how many people (or pages) link to a page, rather than simply the words within the page. At it’s most basic level each link was considered a ‘vote’, and the anchor text of the links were a ‘vote’ for the page’s ‘popularity’ about a given topic.

It has been almost twenty years since Google started and alongside content and user behaviour, links still remain the most accurate way to determine the usefulness and value of a page.

However, Google has and will continue to evolve its various algorithms and it’s also no secret that link quality is more important that link quantity.

2. Finding High Quality Links

When you build backlinks to your site they will either be high quality and topically relevant, helping to improve the visibility or your site on the search engines, or, low quality and irrelevant, and potentially put you at risk of an algo or manual related penalty.

Here are a few factors to consider when choosing a page to acquire a link from:

  • Domain and Page Authority: After the demise of Page Rank, SEO’s flocked to using domain and page authority as a metric. If a site or page with a high degree of authority links to you, it’s a very good signal to Google that it can trust the ‘vote’ or link. On a more technical level the theory is a portion of that page’s authority will be passed onto your page. There are a number of tools that you can use to determine a page’s authority, one of the simplest to use is Open Site Explorer. If you want to know more about Domain Authority, see this link.
  • Topical Relevance: The page that links to your content should be contextually relevant. As an example; if you were selling tennis shoes you’d ideally like a link from a page that was all about tennis, rather than music videos. It makes sense that Google would trust and value the link (vote) more from a topically relevant page or website. There are ways that you can boost the topical relevance of the page that is linking to you but that’s a detailed topic in its own right.
  • Position of the Link: Google also looks at where on the page your link is located. So for example a link at the top or in the main content body will likely pass more value than a link placed in the footer or sidebar.
  • Editorial Links are Best: It’s best if the link is inserted naturally within the body of the article by the site owner. Adding a link within a comment at the base of the article can appear ‘spammy’. Too many of those links will not appear natural. It’s another tactic that SEO’s used ‘en masse’, and as such Google began to devalue comments links. Interestingly a test by Brittany Muller at Moz showed that ‘comment spam’ can still influence rankings, but it’s not a strategy we would recommend.
  • Anchor text Links: Sometimes a site links to you using a keyword/s such as ‘vegan recipes’ rather than your site or article name. Google spiders the link and passes topical relevance to your page. Once more (spot the theme) this has been abused by SEO’s and it’s not recommended to build a high volume of links using your target keywords as anchor text. Have a chat with your SEO agency about the ratios of different types of links and anchor text that that you should be going after.
  • Links Within Guest Posts: Finally, guest posting is another tactic that has been abused by SEO’s and marketers. Guest post links can still work very effectively if done in moderation and done well.

3. Avoid Black Hat Links and Penguins

Some may be tempted to turn to the dark side and create ‘black hat’ links. These are links that go against Google Webmaster Guidelines. But a wise Jedi would tell them ‘worth it, it is not’. We’d recommend steering clear of anyone offering cheap, bulk, low-quality links. Google has strong penalties when black hat links are identified and more often than not, they will be found.

Avoid Google Penguin. The Google Penguin update was launched on September 23rd, 2016. Google’s Webmaster Blog indicates Penguin 4.0 has evolved in numerous areas.

We’ll go into the specific of Penguin and Panda in another blog post, but at its most basic level Penguin targets sites using ‘spammy’ strategies to build black hat links. For example; building or buying irrelevant, low quality guest posts or acquiring large numbers of links through blog comments.

It’s estimated that less than 10% of sites affected by Penguin will fully recover their organic rankings and traffic. To avoid these penalties, make sure you thoroughly read and understand the Webmaster Guidelines.

4. The Latest and Greatest Link Building Strategies

Some of the top trending techniques for building links at the moment are:

The Skyscraper Technique:

Explained by Hubspot here. This is ‘the’ strategy for creating content that can potentially deliver a large volume of high quality back links.

How it works is you research already popular topics and then create similar content, but improve on it with new or updated information, better presentation, simpler explanations, or a using different medium like video instead of text.

You then go to the sites who have already linked to similar content (the content you based yours on) and offer them your new and improved version to link to ask well.

The ranking potential with this technique is phenomenal and fast, because you know people are already interested in and value the information you are sharing, but you have offered it to them in a new and exciting way.

You can even outrank the original popular content using this method.

Get into Resource Pages

These are pages which link to a variety of pages on a certain topic. Such as lists of child friendly cafés, sugar free recipes or tutorial pages, where your content fits a theme and could add value in that list.

The first step is to find resource pages you could contribute to. Here are a few keyword strings you can input into the Google search bar to help you find such pages:

  • “Keyword (i.e. Sugar free)” + inurl:links
  • “Keyword (i.e. Learn SEO)” + “helpful resources”
  • “Keyword (i.e. Toddler Tantrums)” + “useful links”

You can also try variations on those like helpful links and useful resources etc.

Once you have a potential page you would like a link from, you need to weigh up if it’s worth the effort, will it deliver a lift in ranking? That’s where Ahref’s tool comes in handy, you can check if the site has a decent metrics and then decide to proceed with reaching out to that site.

If you have found the right kind of site, you then need the right content. It’s important that what you are offering fits in well with the page’s style and theme and what they are likely to want. Sometimes you’ll need to create new content on your site for this, but often you can find relevant things you have already written to offer, especially if you are looking for resource pages in the same industry that your site is part of.

An effective way to gain their attention in your link request email is to start by filling the subject line with a question, such as “I have a question regarding….(the topic you are writing about).

Take the time to personalize, research the company, address it by name to the relevant person who would be adding in your link if you are able to find that information.

Compliment them on the helpfulness of their site or list, mention that you have created something on that same topic and ask if they’d like to have a look. Briefly explain what is good or different about your content and politely suggest it might be a valuable addition to their resource page.

Then finish by thanking them for creating the page and their time and add something along the lines of hope to hear from you soon, or talk to you soon, closed with your full name and a link to your site.

Offer to Help with Broken Links

This strategy will usually work really well and may be the easiest and safest option. You are offering site owners or webmasters something that benefits their page, rather than just asking them for the ‘favour’ of putting your link onto their page. You can do this by:

  • Searching for sites with large amounts of outbound links (if there are lots, a few are bound to be broken), such as resource pages.
  • Downloading the Check My Links developer tool.
  • Checking through the list of their links for broken ones by using the tool above.
  • Reporting broken links to the owner of the site.
  • Offer them a similar piece(s) of content from your site to replace the broken links with.

5. Generating Links Through Content

The holy grail of high quality link acquisition. There are four kinds of content which work best for SEO and link building and typically deliver the highest volume of high quality back links.

  1. New and Original Data and Research. Studies and surveys that you complete yourself and share the results. Statistics are very ‘linkable’, and when your data is used they ‘should’ link back to you.
  2. Comprehensive Guides and ‘How To’ Articles. If you create a useful resource about topics that are popular and people want to know more about, you will get a lot of sites sharing and linking to your information because their followers want to see it too, so it benefits them to have it there as well as you for the link it provides.
  3. Valuable Visuals. Images, infographics, diagrams and charts. These things are extremely easy to link to and if you are producing useful, informative, good looking visual content, people will be happy to use it and link back to you for it.
  4. Lists. Top 10, checklists, reasons, tips etc. Lists show a lot of information in a small space, it’s easy and quick to read a list as well as interesting. BuzzSumo analysed 1 million articles to discover the types of content that produce the highest amount of backlinks, and list posts came out on top by quite a decent margin, averaging 6.1 links for each post. They are worth creating, and can be about a wide range of topics, and also don’t’ take too long to make as they are short and sweet content.

6. Reaching Out Through Emails

Typically this is how you secure links, by emailing other sites and offering them something relevant and ‘link worthy’.

You can use Ahref’s tool once again to find sites likely to add links. Search in Google for your keyword, take the first result, put the URL into Ahref’s tool and select ‘backlinks’ in the left side bar. The results listed will all be sites likely to add links about that keyword or topic.

The next step is to locate the email addresses of those sites by using, it’s a very quick, easy tool to find the email addresses associated with the sites domain name. Sometimes the list will be long and you can try to find the email of the owner, or administrator.

To look for a specific person (like the owner) you can use a more specific tool ‘Voila Norbert’ and key in the person’s name and company to find their email address.

When emailing these people, it’s crucial to send a personalised script. If you send them all the same message they will know and be far less likely to respond, so add in company and topic related information as much as you can. Also adding compliments about their site never goes amiss.

Check out our What’s Hot in SEO 2018 Guide:

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About the author

Following a career in above-the-line TV and print advertising, Brendan has been in the world of digital and search marketing for more than 12 years. He was involved with two UK start-up agencies where he built a reputation as a world-class SEO and marketer. He is now Head of Marketing at Umbrellar Group as well as founding Synapse to help NZ business grow online.

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