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Link building.

These words send shivers down the spines of SEOs.

As one of the most difficult yet important parts of SEO, however, you need to embrace link building to increase your site’s traffic.

In this post, I’ll go over the entire spectrum of link building – what it is, how to do it, and more.

But be warned – this post is going to be over 6,500 words shedding light on every nook and cranny about this topic.

So buckle up and get ready for the ride…

Anatomy of a Backlink

To begin, you need to know what constitutes a backlink.

In essence, a backlink – also known as a hyperlink – is a link from a different site pointing to your site.

Here’s what a link looks like on our post about free backlinks:

example of a backlink

As you can see, the phrase “Product Hunt” has a different colour from the rest of the text.

Normally, a link is blue to indicate that people can click on it. But other sites changed the color of the link to suit their needs.

But whenever you hover over a link with your cursor, the pointer turns into a hand with its index finger pointing up.

Now, here’s how a link looks like under the hood, in the code of a website.

example of a backlink in html

The <a> denotes the anchor tag. Any text that appears after the tag will link to the target page.

Inside the anchor tag is the href property. This is where you can find the target page of the link.

The string of words following the anchor tag will be the link’s anchor text.

Finally, the anchor tag is closed with a “</a>.” That means the link stops from the last word before the closing tag.

From the example above, the hyperlink points to the Product Hunt homepage. And the anchor text is a branded one (Product Hunt).

Since the link appears from our blog, the hyperlink effectively becomes a backlink.

History of Link Building

Now that you know what a backlink is, we must go back from the very start for you to gain a better understanding of link building.

1998, to be exact.

The Birth of Online Search as We Know It

Google was the new search engine in town that was then dominated by Yahoo! And Altavista.

However, what made Google different was its algorithm-based search feature.

Back then, the major search engines relied on a database of sites in their directory.

They built directories through user submission and manual indexing.

So if your site was not part of the search engine’s directory, users wouldn’t be able to find it.

Thinking about it now, manually going through billions of websites today is nothing short of impossible.

This reason is why Altavista ran out of business and Yahoo! plummeted behind Google is because:

Google used the PageRank algorithm to draw results from user queries.

Instead of using a directory of websites, Google weighs the quality of the page in relation to the keyword phrase.

And the primary factor used by PageRank? Backlinks.

I’ve discussed Google PageRank in great detail here in case you haven’t read it.

In short, Google PageRank lives on and continues to influence search results even though it’s not available to the public.

The Link Building Spam Bubble

During the infancy of Google, SEO was like the Wild Wild West. There are no established guidelines to monitor website activity regarding optimization.

And since backlinks are the backbone of high-ranking websites, better organic rankings call for more backlinks.

That’s why it was common back in the early 2000s to have empty websites that contain only links to different websites.

There are other link building tactics now deemed as black hat that were developed to perfection during these times.

The manipulative practices that helped terrible website rank on top of organic search forced the hand of Google to take action.

It is in Google’s best interest to help stop spammy link building because it prevents users from finding the right information for their search query.

Known as the Jagger Update, it is the second algorithmic change made by Google and arguably the first one to target link building spam.

The first algorithm update, Google Florida, took place in 2003. It laid the foundation of what’s to become of SEO.

The update targeted on-page factors such as keyword stuffing, hidden links, multiple websites under the same brand, and more.

With the Jagger Update, Google doubled down on cloaking, hidden text, and content quality on top of the quality of a site’s link profile.

The Updates Keep Coming

From the Jagger Update, the algorithm underwent multiple updates through the years. The culprit of most algorithm updates is spammy linking practices.

Take the Farmer Update, for instance.

During this time, submitting articles on sites like ezinearticles.com with a backlink to their sites is an effective way to increase their organic rankings.

The purpose of the article is to generate backlinks for their sites. Most don’t care about the quality of the articles as long as they are published on these sites.   

Google penalized article submission sites that are ranking on organic search for their thin content.

The Farmer Update also indirectly played a role in the demise of guest blogging as an SEO tactic. I touched upon it in the article I wrote about guest blogging opportunities.

With all the algorithmic changes, one thing is certain: 

Backlinks play a vital role in SEO.

Why is Link Building Important in SEO

So why is link building that important to Google?

Why not measure the quality of a site based solely on the content it produces or any other factor?

It’s because Google treats links as recommendations.

The recommendations you get from influential websites validate yours.

Ultimately, the goal of link building is to get as many links from high-authority sites as possible.

However, you can only get backlinks if you have great content on your site.

Nobody wants to recommend a website that sucks because that shows poor judgment on their part.

So you need to give them a reason why they should link back to your site. And great content is at the very heart of it.

The Proof is in the Pudding

Moz released a study in 2015 that measures the different ranking factors according to importance.

Using its highly popular full-suite SEO tool to the test in conjunction with others like Ahrefs, SimilarWeb, and the like, Moz was able to correlate a site’s link profile and its organic rankings.

To no one’s surprise, links both domain-level and page-level got the highest scores.

moz ranking factors 2015

Two years later, SEMrush conducted its own test to determine which among the different ranking factors are the most important.

While user activity such as time on site, bounce rate, and others carry more weight, the total referral domain and backlinks aren’t far behind.

In 2019, Eric Enge of Perficient Digital ran another test regarding whether links matter for SEO.

His team calculated for the Spearman Correlation for x number of pages in SERPs for the queries they used and took the Quadratic Mean to extract the scores.

quadratic mean calculation

Using this methodology, they were able to run tests for the following:

  • Number of links to a page – computes for the correlation between sites and their total number of backlinks
  • Links to a page by query type – computes for the correlation between links and informational or commercial search intent
  • Links to a page by market segments – computes for the correlation between links and industry (finance, medical, technology, others)
  • Links aggregated by normalized link counts – computes for the correlation between sites and the normalized link totals of 10 SERP calculations
total links by block of 10 serp calculations

Talking about this at length wouldn’t do justice to the amount of work Eric and his team put into their research. So I suggest you check it out for yourself.

In short, adding new links to the page can help spike its organic ranking as seen in their case study.

perficient digital case studies

There’s nothing new that their study added to the notion that backlinks are important in SEO. However, they laid out the groundwork on how well-placed links from authoritative sites can tip the scales to your favor.

Finally, it’s important to mention that all studies above only prove link building as a correlation to increase organic search ranking and not causation.

Focusing on link building does not immediately result in higher rankings. There are other factors that come into play – most of which are mentioned in the Moz and SEMrush studies.

The point is this:

While link building is a big piece of the puzzle, it alone doesn’t form the entire picture.

More Proof

Speaking of case studies, there are others conducted by brands to show how link building helps grow the organic ranking of their website.

Outreach Mama, one of the premier blogger outreach services around, managed to rank on the first page for four vital keywords in the span of eight months.

outreach mama case study

They employed a three-step strategy to acquire the links that helped propel them to the top. We will also discuss the tactics mentioned on their page, so better hold them off for now.

Brian Dean is no stranger to SEO. And we can’t talk about him without bringing up the Skyscraper Technique.

I talked about this technique in this post. It lays down the blueprint for creating content guaranteed to attract backlinks.

And while people are creating their skyscraper content, Brian is one of the first who employed this tactic to resounding success.

By creating a better version of Vaughn’s Google Ranking Factors on his blog, he was able to double his site traffic in just 14 days.

backlinko skyscraper technique

There are other studies out there that attest to the effectiveness of link building for growing their organic traffic.

At this point, it’s just a matter of doing it and making it happen.

But is Link Building Bad?

Backlinks are good but link building is bad, according to Google.

Sounds confusing, I know.

Let’s first go back to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Here, you will learn specific ways on how to make your website easier to find and index by Google.

There’s a section in the guidelines that talks about link schemes.

Here’s what it says:

link schemes

Also, the guidelines touch upon unnatural links defined as “creating links that weren’t editorially placed or vouched for by the site’s owner on a page.”

It then lists down examples of unnatural links that people should avoid.

In a nutshell, here’s what Google says about link building:

“Making” backlinks for your site in any shape or form is bad.

So if you’re submitting your site to a directory site for a backlink, then you’re doing it wrong.

To delve deeper into the mindset of Google regarding link building, here’s what Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google John Mueller has to say:

john mueller about link building

However, while this is what the bigwigs at Google are telling us, the results for building links are different.

The case studies featured above can make the case for natural backlinks.

However, there are those who participate in link schemes but generate positive results as you’ll see later on.

But if you did your research, you should be aware that there are lots out there that win SEO because of these schemes.

To Build Links or Not to Build Links?

So, the question remains:

Should I build links or not?

Here’s my take on it.

From the start, it’s best to build great content first by taking a cue from Brian’s Skyscraper Technique.

By doing it correctly, you’ll be able to bag a link or two without taking the effort to build links.

But once you’ve maxed out the links you’re getting from your content, it’s time to dip your toes into link building.

And by dipping, I mean you need to slowly but surely acquire links.

You don’t want to make a splash by getting a thousand links in a day just like Servando Silva did in his churn and burn backlink case study.

He used GSA Search Engine Ranker to build over 15,000 backlinks from 2,700 domains in a span of three weeks.

This is the epitome of a link scheme, folks.

Surprisingly, his site was ranking on top of Google search before Penguin 4.0 hit which bumped his organic search from 500 visitors a day to 100.

churn and burn backlink case study

He claimed to be recovering from the update months after but WordPress shot down his site before making a definitive conclusion.

But the fact that his site got penalized in the first place due to spammy link building is a red flag in itself.

Making backlinks in bulk is unnatural and lends your site to devaluation. So it’s in your best interest to go slow first with building links and scale up as you see fit.

What Makes a Good Backlink

If you’re all in with link building, then keep reading because I’ll talk about what constitutes as a “good” backlinks.

As you already know, not all links are created equal.

In fact, it’s possible that a single link is much more powerful than a thousand links combined.

In this part, I’ll be discussing the factors that affect link equity.

Knowing what affects the quality of the backlinks you’ll get will help you maximize their impact on your organic rankings.

Authority

Google determines the quality of a backlink according to the site’s authority.

Obviously, a site like Entrepreneur wields the most authority over other online publications. So if you get a backlink from CNN, then expect your ranking on SERPs to shoot up.

But here’s the problem:

Authority is a very difficult metric to measure.

To date, there are over 200 ranking factors that Google considers to determine the position of a web page on SERPs.

Ideally, you want to review at least the most influential factors of each site to know how authoritative they are. From here, you can prioritize sites that perform well in the ranking factors.

However, doing this is time-consuming and a waste of resources.

Instead, you can get a good idea of how authoritative a site is based on different SEO metrics.

Originally, PageRank provided a score from 0 to 10 (10 being the highest) based on Google’s algorithm.

The higher the score, the more influential it is on organic search. Thus, the more reason you should secure a link from it.

However, since PageRank closed down, there are other indices that give you information about a website in lieu of different ranking factors.

But before we list down the most popular ones, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google John Mueller mentioned before that they don’t use a “website authority score.”

Instead, Google uses “sitewide signals” to rank new pages. Of course, he didn’t reveal what these are.

And that’s why there are SEO metrics used today. Due to the vague statements Google makes regarding links, people took it upon themselves to provide indices to establish how authoritative a site is.

That said, before are a few you should know: 

Domain Authority (Moz)

The Domain Authority (DA) is the way Moz measures the probability of a website to rank in organic search.

It computes the different ranking factors such as total links and linking root domains and provides an aggregate score on a scale from 0 to 100.

You can get a site’s DA but logging into your Moz account (free or paid), going to Link Explorer, and entering the URL there.

moz domain authority

The MozBar Chrome extension also provides you the DA of pages on SERPs.

Flow Metrics (Majestic)

Flow Metrics from Majestic is an excellent way to know a site’s authority based on its backlinks.

Flow Metrics are divided into two: Trust Flow (TF) and Citation Flow (TF).

Trust Flow takes into account the quality of a site’s link profile. If a site acquired links from influential sites, then expect it to have a high TF.

On the other hand, Citation Flow refers to the popularity of the link or page based on the number of its backlinks. A high CF means that the site has lots of backlinks.

majestic flow metrics

Both metrics go hand in hand to help you determine how to treat a site as a link partner.

For example, a site with a high CF doesn’t necessarily make it a good link partner. Citation Flow is only interested in the volume of backlinks a site has and not the quality.

This is where Trust Flow comes in. Using TF to look for link opportunities is a much better metric.

Getting links from high TF sites will increase your site’s TF and CF. However, backlinks from high CF sites will boost your CF but not your TF.

Domain Rating (Ahrefs)

Domain Rating computes for the strength of a site’s link profile both in size and quality.

ahrefs domain rating

What’s interesting here is Ahrefs uses a logarithmic scale from 0 to 100 (100 being the highest).

Therefore, the gaps between sites with high DR (75-76) and low DR (25-26) are different.

Websites will find it much easier to push their DR from 25 to 26 because the demand to generate backlinks are lower.

However, as their DR increases, so will the demand for more quality backlinks. Therefore, unless they can secure backlinks from high-tier sites, boosting their DR from 75 to 76 is much harder.

As you can see from the metrics above, you need an account from Moz, Majestic, and Ahrefs to access these scores individually.

A free Moz and Majestic account gives you limited access to these metrics for a certain number of URLs.

Ahrefs, however, requires you to subscribe first before accessing their data.

However, you can settle for any of the metrics for now.

Dofollow

In link building, you tap into the power of the sites linking back to you.

As mentioned earlier, their backlinks serve as a recommendation in the eyes of Google. The more backlinks you get from authoritative sites, the greater your chances are for ranking on top of organic search for your keywords.

However, there are links that don’t affect your site’s SEO.

Even if you have a backlink at a very prestigious site in your niche, it’s possible that their recommendation of your site won’t matter to Google.

This happens if the backlink has a nofollow attribute.

About Nofollow Links

Before describing what this type of link is, you need to understand why it came to be.

Going back to the time when link building spam ran rampant, comment spam was one of the most effective ways to generate backlinks to your site.

Here’s a common example of comment spam:

comment spam

This type of comment does not add any discernible value to the conversation. Its main goal is to get a link from one’s site pointing back to theirs.

Before comment spam went out of hand, Google implemented the rel=nofollow tags on comments in 2005.

As a result, search spiders didn’t consider all the links coming from the comment section.

The objective was to limit the proliferation of comment spam, if not dissuade these people from practising this tactic at all.

Over time, site owners use rel=nofollow to prevent link juice from flowing to the site they linked out to.

There are two reasons why websites set their outbound links to nofollow.

First, they want to keep all their link juice within their site (which is not advisable).

Second, Google advised them to nofollow paid links.

Asking payment for links is considered a link scheme and they want to avoid potential penalization.  

Therefore, a dofollow links doesn’t pass authority from one site to another.

So it doesn’t matter if you got a link from a site like Entrepreneur if the link you get from there is nofollow.

So your goal now is to learn how to identify dofollow links from nofollow.

To identify nofollow links from a page, install the Nofollow Chrome extension.

Next, go to the page and click on the Nofollow icon from your browser menu.

The tool indicates nofollow links with a red dotted border around the link.

Here’s an example of a link to my site from an Entrepreneur article:

entrepreneur nofollow

Here’s what a dofollow link looks like in HTML format:

nofollow tag

The only difference here is the link has the rel=nofollow attribute inside the anchor tag.

Therefore, before finding link opportunities, you need to know first how they treat backlinks.

While some follow the Google guidelines to a tee, others don’t really mind keeping links to dofollow.

Other Link Attributes to Watch Out For

In September 2019, Google released two additional link attributions to help their spiders identify link types.

The rel=sponsored and rel=ugc helps Google determine links from sponsored posts and user-generated content, respectively.

More importantly, Google will soon treat rel=nofollow as a hint.

It means that Google can ignore the link with this attribute. At the same time, it reserves the right to override the attribute and count the nofollow link for ranking pages.

Here’s a handy guide from Moz regarding the change:

ugc sponsored nofollow

So what does this mean for link builders?

At the very least, Google is no longer as strict regarding nofollow links.

It’s possible that the nofollow links you acquired over time may result in some value come March 2020.

Aside from counting them for ranking, Google can also consider them for crawling and indexing.

But just so we’re clear, you should always strive for dofollow links as much as possible.

The Different Hats of Link Building

Google has come a long, long way since the wild, wild west of online search in the early 2000s.

The algorithmic updates over the years set the precedent on how people should approach link building.

Instead of getting links by brute force and volume, people need to observe this practice with subtlety and develop a working strategy.

If there’s one thing about Google that people gloss over too much, it’s this:

Google’s algorithm is just math. That means strategic behaviour can go far when trying to rank a site.

Google’s algorithms determine which pages to rank on SERPs using an equation that computes for different website variables.

As a site owner, you have two choices:

Should you follow the Google webmaster guidelines and stay within the limit?

Or should you experiment with the algorithm and taking it to the limit sounds?

This is where the cheesy spaghetti western analogies resonate in SEO.

You will see different link building tactics as categorized into hats.

Some link building tactics walk within the confines of the rules Google set.

Others cross the border and taking site optimization into their own hands.

So which one is which?

White Hat

People who practice ethical link building associate themselves with white hat link building.

These gunslingers (link-slingers, as you will) are the good guys. They don’t engage in link schemes and don’t break the laws stated in the Webmaster Guidelines.

Later on, we will discuss the link building tactics they engage in so you can replicate them.

By being good, obedient link builders, you’d expect them to rank higher and faster on Google, right?

Not really.

In fact, white hat link building is a rather long process with slow upward mobility.

In a case study conducted by Ahrefs, only 5.7% of websites rank on the first page of Google search after a year they have been “first seen.”

Out of the 5.7% sites, most of them rank on Google after two to three months.

ahrefs lucky pages

Keep in mind that the study doesn’t consider the type of links acquired during the period.

Nonetheless, the data help set your expectations when ranking for your keywords.

On the topic of white hat link building, expect to rank even longer when taking up its tactics.

The reason is the difficulty of “earning” links versus “getting” them.

By playing the white hat game, you are hands-off when it comes to building links.

You can’t ask people to link to your site in any way or manner.

It’s up to the person whether or not to link to your site.

Sticking by the white hat route can be a frustrating experience as a result.

But here’s why people build links ethically in the first place:

Sustainability.

If you’re playing the long game and are in no rush to rank for your keywords, then white hat link building is your jam.

By straddling within the lines that Google deems acceptable, you also make your website algorithm-proof.

So when anytime Google rolls out a major algorithm update, expect your site to remain in place at the very least – if not increase your rankings even further!

Black Hat

Black hat link building has gotten a bad rap over the years and with good reason.

I mean, who wouldn’t be annoyed to see hundreds of spam comments that link to Viagra and Cialis sites?

However, black hat link builders have refined their practices ever since.

It is true that, unlike white hat link builders, they have total disregard for what Google considers acceptable practice.

Nowadays, black hat link building is more concerned with pushing the envelope of the organic search in general.

They no longer use tools to mass-produce and auto-generate backlinks online. Instead, they take a more deliberate approach when it comes to building links “unethically.”

If done correctly, they rank on top of Google SERPs in a matter of weeks.

Take Charles Floate for instance. He took a site that was getting 300 organic visitors a month to 30,000 in six months.

black hat link building case study

Granted, Charles spent over $17,500 from his pocket to roll out his black hat link building strategy.

However, he was able to recover the expenses and then some by generating a monthly revenue to $20,000 in CPA commissions from the site.

More importantly, his clients were earning $110,000 a month thanks to his help.

Here’s another example of a successful black hat link building campaign:

Asif Ali used thematic link building which is a modified version of a link exchange.

In a nutshell, he looked for link partners similar to the niche of his client’s site and reached out to exchange backlinks with them.

There weren’t any results of the organic traffic and keyword ranking after the campaign. But he did receive a positive reaction from one of his clients:

thematic link building

There are probably a lot more studies there that attest to the effectiveness of black hat link building. 

At the very least, the results should encourage you to consider the possibility of implementing these tactics into your strategy.

However, if there’s one thing to discourage you from going full black hat, it’s the constant dance with the Google algorithm.

Black hat link builders may see tremendous gains in the short term. But in the long run, if and when another Google algorithm update hits, their organic traffic could disappear in an instant.

By engaging in unethical linking practices, you risk the future of your site with every Google algorithm update.

There’s no way for you to know if your site will be safe years from now.

Then again, it’s possible that you could retain your organic traffic as continuous algorithmic changes leave your site unscathed.

But the uncertainty that you live by with black hat link building is not designed for the faint of heart.

Gray Hat

There’s a good chance that you use a healthy combination of black and white hat link building techniques.

In this case, you are a gray hat link builder.

What you’re interested in are tactics that move the needle and not because of association.

So if you see good results from buying and earning links at the same time, then go for both!

However, what defines your actions is your ability to take the ambiguous text found in the Google Webmaster Guidelines to your advantage.

For example, Google has nothing in its Webmaster Guidelines about buying expired domains.

At one point, private blog network owners got some of their sites deindexed. It is believed that Google tracked expired domains to distinguish which ones become part of a PBN.

However, people have smartened up since then and nothing much came out of it.

That said, gray hat doesn’t mind to get their hands dirty and engage in unscrupulous link building tactics.

At the same time, they balance their black hat efforts with white hat activities.

Because they play both teams, their sites enjoy the benefit of faster and sustainable ranking on Google SERPs.

On the downside, they are not susceptible to ranking drops after an algorithm update. But there’s a very good chance that the drop in ranking is minimal and their sites can recover over time.

You can make a case for Charles’ study in favor of gray hat. Aside from the black hat tactics he employed, he also optimized meta tags and content, sculpted internal links, and others.

Popular Link Building Tactics Over the Years

In this part, I’ll be talking about link building techniques that remained prevalent throughout the years.

They have endured all algorithmic changes because they abide by the Google Webmaster Guidelines.

Most of the tactics I will mention below can be found in this post. So it’s best if you read that article soon to help you gain a better understanding of how each of them works and how you can replicate them in your campaign.

That said, below are some of the best you need to know before jumping into the link building fire:

Guest Posting

Guest posting is a great way to increase your online visibility by publishing content on someone else’s blog. 

More importantly, this tactic lets you secure a backlink on the body of the content or the author byline.

You can read about finding guest blogging opportunities for building links here that I wrote.

Here’s a breakdown of the process of finding guest posting sites:

  • Search for Write For Us pages from sites in your niche using this search operator: keyword inurl:write-for-us. Replace keyword with your niche
  • Reverse-engineer the process by finding blogs that popular authors in your niche have written for using this search command: inauthor:author. Replace author with the author’s name
  • Verify the quality of the blogs accepting guest posts by looking at their SEO metrics
  • Organize the blogs according to authority and reach out to the best blogs first
  • Submit your post in observance of their editorial guidelines to increase chances of publishing

Blogger Outreach

This tactic requires you to send cold emails to potential link building partners within your niche.

The key to blogger outreach is creating the best possible outreach email to bloggers that maximize conversion rate.

When done correctly, you can see a 204% increase in website traffic in a span of four months.

Here’s how a usual blogger outreach campaign goes:

  • Find influential bloggers based on their niche, follower count on social media, reply ratio, and their site’s SEO metrics. Use a tool like Buzzsumo or Ninja Outreach to extract this information
  • Organize your list according to the metrics gathered above. Reach out to bloggers from most to least authoritative
  • Determine how you plan on getting a link from their site and craft your outreach email based on this goal. Send them out using an outreach tool like Mailshake to manage your interactions with the bloggers
  • Set up follow-up emails to them to increase their reply rate

Unlinked Mentions

Also known as link reclamation, this process involves finding mentions of your name or brand without a link back to your site. The goal now is to reach out to these sites and request a backlink.

There’s a good chance that you can reclaim your link from their site since they mentioned your name in the first place. Maybe they just forgot to attribute your name to your site so reaching out to them is worth a shot.

A case study shared by James Brockbank at PAGES shows that they were able to secure 72% of unlinked mentions into backlinks for an international travel brand. They secured links from sites like MSN, Travel & Leisure, Lonely Planet, and others.

So if you want to try on this tactic for size, here’s what you must do:

  • Discover brand mentions using Google Alerts (free) or Mention (paid). Using a paid tool, in this case, is ideal because you receive the alerts in real-time
  • Send an email to the person responsible for corrections on their contact page. It’s best to not reach out to the author or journalist especially for bigger publications because they’re busy with their next assignment

Aside from the email you will send, timing is key to getting good results from this campaign.

So when you receive an alert about a mention of your brand without a link back to your site, reach out to them immediately. It means they just published the post and would be more receptive to corrections before they move on to their next post. 

Skyscraper Technique

We’ve touched upon this technique earlier when discussing Brian Dean.

It’s arguably the best way to create linkbait content for your blog. Due to the sheer information and value contained in a skyscraper post, people tend to naturally link to it.

Here’s how you can do this tactic:

  • Search for content in your niche with lots of backlinks. Use Buzzsumo or Ahrefs’ Content Explorer to find content that also has lots of social shares
  • Recreate this post on your website or blog but make it even bigger and better.
  • Reach out to people linking to the original post and find a way to get them to link to your post instead
  • Over time, your post should be ranking for your target keywords and generate natural backlinks

Competitor Analysis

Whether you like it or not, the best way to find link opportunities is to spy on your competitors.

If they perform much better than your site on organic search, then all the more reason for you to check out their link profile.

From here, you can identify potential websites where you can also bag a backlink or two in the hopes of levelling the playing field.

In Matthew Woodward’s case study, competitor analysis was responsible for opening their weight loss supplements site to better link opportunities.

The findings pave the way for his team to increase organic search traffic by 14x in a span of eight months.

Here’s the deal with this tactic:

  • Perform keyword research to determine which terms you want to rank for on Google. For those with existing content, find out the best keywords that your pages are ranking for
  • Identify your competitors for your target keywords
  • Check their link profile and filter out the best backlinks using SEO metrics
  • Figure out the kind of backlinks they have and replicate their process of acquiring them

Our very own Jack Vivian digs deeper about competitor analysis here. It’s a must-read post if you want to take your analysis on a whole new level.

This is where link building gets tricky. Paid-placements are against Google’s guidelines — counting as an inorganic intervention.

I just want to make an important distinction. When I’m talking about paid link placements, I don’t mean paying someone to do your organic link building for you. If the outsourcing party uses link building methods that don’t necessarily breach the guidelines then you’re not breaching them by paying them to work for you.

I mean paying a webmaster directly to alter their site just to add a backlink to your own website.

Any type of link that requires direct intervention is a big no-no in Google’s eyes.

But we also mentioned how some people were able to see increased ranking on SERPs using this tactic (along with others).

Again, it is totally up to you to pursue paid links as part of your strategy.

And if you do, it’s possible that you win organic search just like Charles did.

But before you begin, you need to know how much a backlink costs on average and the risks that come with it.

Based on the studies conducted by Ahrefs across 180 blogs, the average price for a backlink is $77.80 which is lower than the $352.92 average in 2016.

Using this price as a benchmark, cheap linking building services from Fiverr are out of the question.

If $5 for 10,000 instant backlinks didn’t work before, it definitely won’t work today.

So if you’re looking for a paid link supplier, a quick Google search ought to do the trick.

In fact, some would even reach out to you via email or social media.

The real issue with paid links, on top of Google’s disdain for manipulative link building, is finding trusted sources.

It’s easy to buy from a vendor that lets you choose blogs from a wide range of niches.

Securing the link after publishing is a different story.

Assuming that your vendor has no control over the websites where you can find your backlinks, your link can be removed without warning.

That’s what happened to Artёm Klimkin of LinksHero when he lost seven of the 22 links he purchased ($550 in total) within a five-month period.

Again, paid links carry additional risks that you need to worry about.

But if you can find a trustworthy provider for paid links, then you should definitely give this tactic a go.

Private Blog Networks

PBNs are the secret weapon of all black and grey hat link builders.

It is a sophisticated form of manipulative link building where people purchase expired domains with existing authority and link profiles to build brand new sites.

From here, they use the sites to build links to their target websites.

Aside from determining which expired domains to purchase, you need to mask your digital footprint so the sites don’t point back to you and penalize your target sites.

To guide you through the tumultuous process of building a PBN, this guide over at DomCop is all you’ll need.

Private blog networks also allow people to implement a tiered link building campaign. This is where people organize websites into tiers based on their SEO metrics. 

For example, sites with high scores go to tier 1, those with a lower score go to tier 2, and so on.

From here, sites from the last tier link upward to tier 1 which then links to a backlink of your money page.

Here’s a visualization of this tactic.

tiered link building

The goal is to use your tiers to help strengthen the backlinks of your target site.

To help you decide which expired domains from your list go to which tier, Charles breaks it down for you in this post.

As with most unnatural link building tactics, there are lots of naysayers about PBNs and with good reason.

To begin, PBNs give you the most control among any other link building tactic out there.

The fact that you own the websites means that you can place your backlinks anywhere you want.

But with great power comes great responsibility. And your responsibility is to keep your PBNs on the down-low.

Through the years, Google caught people like Spencer Haws, Hayden Miyamoto, and Nathan Gotch using PBNs. The damage cost them and their clients thousands of dollars a month off the table.

So let it be known that when you’re using a PBN to build links, you’re playing with fire.

But if you know how to navigate through the scorching heat of this tactic, then you can enjoy a cool and steady ranking increase over time.

For instance, Matt Diggity ran tests on PBNs and uncovered an algorithmic filter that Google uses to penalizes expired domains used for building links.

To avoid the filter, he waited around 36 days before creating backlinks to websites from the domains.

Here are the results:

what is link building - matt diggity pbn test

The increase in organic rankings across all sites for weeks show that PBNs are alive and well. 

What’s Next?

Judging from this post, much has been said about link building.

And believe it or not, there’s more to say about link building as a whole. And that’s a good thing!

Compared to other ranking factors, building links remain to be the most dynamic among the bunch.

Google continues to improve its search engine by providing users with an up-to-date algorithm that provides them with better results. At the same time, SEO continues to push the boundaries of acquiring links which in turn forces Google to make algorithmic changes.

This delicate but necessary dance between Google and SEO helps link building continuously flourish with new ideas and approaches for increasing your organic rankings.

That’s why you need to be vigilant for any changes in getting links.

To cap off this post, I’ll leave you with additional readings.

Link building is best done with tools on hand.

They help automate the process of finding SEO metrics, link profiles, and other variables so you can focus on developing campaigns using the provided data.

If you don’t know your way around SEO tools and not sure which ones to use, this post is all you need. 

Finally, once you have a better picture of how link building fits into your site’s SEO, it’s time to formulate a strategy that best suits the needs of your website.

When it comes to SEO strategy, Charles is one of the best, which is why you need to read this post of his for ideas and inspiration.

If you have any comments or thoughts about the post or link building, feel free to drop a line

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