This is an in-depth look into the world of white hat link building, and a few techniques to get you started.
Ask just about any SEO specialist, and he will tell you – link building is still king. It’s the #1 ranking factor within Google to this day.
But what makes link building important in online marketing?
Here’s the thing:
Despite fears that link building is dead, it’s still a relevant part of most SEO campaigns. If you want to rank in search engines, you’ll still need backlinks.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Is Link Building?
- 2 What Is White Hat Link Building?
- 3 White Hat vs Black Hat SEO
- 4 Types of White Hat Link Building Techniques
- 4.1 Guest Posting
- 4.2 Broken Link Building
- 4.3 Blogger Outreach
- 4.4 Blogger Outreach
- 4.5 Unlinked Brand Mentions
- 5 How Long Does It Take for Backlinks to Take Effect?
- 6 Conclusion
What Is Link Building?
Simply put: Link building is the process of getting websites to link back to your content.
But why do this at all? What’s the point?
Search engines go through websites and all the links inside. They do this to find content and assess their value.
One way they calculate a page’s value is by counting the number of external links pointing to it. They also consider the quality of the sites linking back to you.
The idea behind it is that people would not link to an unsubstantial page.
It’s like booking a hotel. You’re inclined to stay somewhere that comes highly recommended by former guests. But at the same time, you’re more likely to listen to suggestions of friends and family — AKA the people you trust the most.
In a way, Google is crowdsourcing the vetting of pages through backlinks.
That’s how link building works in a nutshell.
What Is White Hat Link Building?
There are two main types of strategies in SEO: white hat and black hat.
Sometimes you’ll hear SEOs talk about gray hat strategies. That’s basically a combination of white and black hat practices.
These terms were derived from old westerns. The good guys wore white hats while the bad guys wore black.
Let’s break it down:
White hat link building techniques are what marketers and search engines qualify as best practices. Sites that are optimized this way are not penalized by Google or Bing.
White Hat vs Black Hat SEO
In an ideal world, all SEOs wouldn’t have to build links and it’d be a real race to the top for whomever had the legitimate best piece/s of content and optimization/marketing around them.
However, this isn’t the case at all.
Content produced by following guidelines is often unique and high-quality. Users are given reliable information while websites experience a surge in traffic.
Everybody wins, right? Well, yes and no.
Here’s the thing:
It takes SEOs a long time before they see the results of white hat SEO campaigns.
So while white hat techniques reap better rewards, the pressure of producing substantial results leads them to use black hat techniques instead.
Black hat experts manipulate search engines and exploit their weaknesses. They are effective short-term solutions for ranking pages.
But the problem is:
You’re constantly at war with Google. The company is getting better at stopping black hat marketers on their tracks. And when they do, they’ll have no second thoughts penalizing your site.
When caught, the offending sites drop from the rankings almost completely. All that hard work poured down the drain.
Don’t believe me? Ask J.C. Penney, one of the largest retailers in the US. They violated Google’s webmaster guidelines and they paid for it.
Here’s one way of looking at it:
White hat aims to improve the user experience while black hat does not. At the end of the day, user experience is what matters most to Google.
Through link building and other white hat practices, Emil Shour of SnackNation generated more than 40,000 page views as well as a #1 ranking in the SERPs.
This led to $100,000 in recurring monthly revenue.
Types of White Hat Link Building Techniques
Getting backlinks is easier said than done, especially if you’re going the white hat route.
There are tried-and-tested link building techniques that, if done right, will generate positive results. Below are just a few examples to start.
Guest posting (AKA guest blogging) is writing a post on another website in exchange for adding a link to your site.
Guest Posting Is Dead
“So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy.”
These are the words of Matt Cutts, a software engineer and former head of Google’s web spam team. For years, the guy’s name was synonymous with SEO.
Needless to say, hearing him say those words rocked the online marketing community.
So that’s it, right? Why are we even talking about this anymore? Guest posting is dead now, correct?
Nope. Not quite
Guest Posting Lives
After receiving some backlash from confused readers, Matt clarified his stance:
“There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future.”
So guest blogging lives on as an important link building strategy. And it still works.
Increase Search Traffic by 1,000%
A company called Seraph Science needed to promote their C-Suite marketing methodology. The problem? No one is searching for C-Suite marketing.
So they enlisted the help of Grizzle, a content marketing group catering to B2B companies.
But by offering quality content to the right people, they were able to increase their client’s search traffic by 1,000%. They also started ranking for their target keywords.
The company even landed a six-figure deal in the process.
And this was not an isolated incident.
The fact is:
Anyone who puts in the time to reach out and develop relevant content can get published.
Part-time blogger Adam Enfroy did an experiment. He wrote 8 guest posts in 15 days to see how it will affect his blog.
The result: 247 new backlinks, organic traffic increased by 372%, and improved domain ranking (+12).
There’s no doubt that, compared to other link building tactics, guest posting plays a crucial role in your site’s SEO success. And it can be seen from the traffic you generate from Google!
How to Do Guest Posts
Guest posting starts by finding sites to pitch to.
One proven strategy is to Google your target keyword followed by terms commonly used in guest blogging.
- Keyword + “guest post”
- Keyword + “contribute”
- Keyword + “submit an article”
- Keyword + “guest author”
You can also do a reverse image search. This lets you find sites that welcome user-submitted entries.
Find a blogger who writes guest posts in your niche and get the URL of their profile image.
Go to Google Image Search and hit the Search by Image button.
Paste the image URL and hit search.
This will bring up a list of sites where the same picture was used.
Bloggers tend to use the same profile image when guest posting. So the results should include links to the author’s previous posts.
You can use this technique to find more guest post opportunities.
Use Ahrefs to find blogs with a Domain Authority that’s 50 or higher. Ahrefs is a paid service but they currently offer full, 7-day access for just $7.
List down all blogs with potential in a spreadsheet for reference.
It’s time to do cold emails. Reach out to your leads and state your intent in a clear and concise manner.
When pitching ideas, be sure to make it relevant to the target site’s audience. Make the content exclusive to them.
Site owners rarely allow links in their posts unless they need to be there for context. Instead, use the Author Bio section to link to your blog and social media profiles.
Broken Link Building
Broken link building is yet another strategy you can add to your list of white hat link building strategies.
So what is broken link building?
Here’s the breakdown:
You find sites in your niche and look for broken links (links that no longer works because of an error). Then you request site moderators to replace them with one of yours.
It works because it’s mutually beneficial. Sites get to fix their broken links and you get a backlink as a reward.
Does It Work?
Yes, it does.
The folks at Webology launched a broken link building campaign to see how it would affect their brand.
Here’s what they did:
The team noticed that lots of sites are still linking to Yahoo Site Explorer, their version of Google Search Console.
Problem was, it has since been merged with Bing Webmaster Tools back in 2011. So the page no longer exists.
Webology saw an opportunity.
They created a post about Yahoo Site Explorer and included a list of tools they can use as a substitute.
Then they contacted sites with outdated links and subtly hinted that they replace the broken link with the resource they created.
They acquired six new links to high-quality domains for four hours of work. Not bad at all.
Find Broken Links With Ahrefs
Let’s be honest:
Broken link building can be hard. But there are SEO tools online that make the job easier. One of them is Ahrefs, the competitor monitoring tool that was mentioned earlier in the post.
They actually released a detailed video that explains how to use Ahrefs for link building.
Here’s the summary:
First, find a page that has dead links. Go to the Site Explorer and type the URL of a competing website that has links.
The results page will display different information about the site.
Click Best By Links in the sidebar. Doing so will rank pages with the most links from the domain.
Using the filter, select 404 Not Found to see all the dead links in the site.
Using the filter, select 404 Not Found to see all the dead links in the site.
Click DoFollow to see the backlink report. Analyze the links to see how each one died. This information will help you assess how to move forward.
Clicking on the caret will bring up even more data like referring domains.
A higher referring domains count gives you more linking opportunities.
From here, you can hit Backlinks to view the link profile.
Here you can get a better context on how each link was used before they died. Click View On Archive to see a version of the link when it was still live.
Look at the article to get a general gist of what the original article was about.
You can then proceed to rewrite the article then contact sites who have previously linked to the post.
Filter the list to eliminate sites that don’t offer DoFollow links (value-passing links). You can also order the data by Traffic so you can prioritize emailing blogs with the most readers.
What if I told you there’s a way to use competitor data to start ranking in Google?
By using competitor backlink analysis. The idea is to research your competitor’s keywords and gather the best keyword opportunities.
To do this, you’ll need SEMrush or a website that offers domain analytics.
Log into you SEMrush account. In the sidebar, go to Domain Analytics > Domain vs. Domain.
Click Advanced Mode. This lets you toggle between paid and organic keywords.
Enter your domain along with your competitor’s. Select Organic Keywords and Common Keywords as the intersection type.
Click Go to continue.
The results will show you all the top keywords you share with your competition.
By filtering further, you’ll also see what keywords you’re missing out on.
Go to Advanced Filters and set the tool to show keywords that your competitors are ranking for but you’re not.
From the drop-down menu, select Include, your competitor’s domain, and Less Than. Add “10” as the value in the adjacent field.
Then add your own domain using the same values. Only this time, use Greater Than instead of Less Than.
This will show all the top keywords your competitors are ranking for. Use this list to develop optimized content. This way can start ranking alongside them.
Even More Benefits
There are other benefits to performing competitor backlink analysis outside the one that was already mentioned.
You can develop a solid link building strategy and guidelines based on the results.
If your rivals have 50 backlinks on average, you should be meeting or exceeding that number. This would blow their competitive advantage out of the water.
You’ll gain a better understanding of how they’re outperforming you in the SERPs.
Are you offering a product or a service? Blogger outreach might be the strategy for you.
With blogger outreach, companies reach out to influencers and ask them to write about your product. This would mean giving them free access to the item you want to be reviewed.
Does Blogger Outreach Make Sense Today?
Marketers often wonder if blogger outreach still makes sense in the age of social media.
If it’s all about exposure, wouldn’t Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest be the better medium?
It’s not that simple.
Social media should work WITH blogger outreach. Not against.
It doesn’t have to be a competition. Besides, blogger outreach has a different objective in mind — link building.
Influencers have a huge audience. It stands to reason that they have high-traffic blogs too. Having links on their blogs could do wonders for your inbound traffic.
Plus, your sales could potentially skyrocket from an influencer’s positive review.
Negative Reviews? Unlikely.
Sponsored blog posts rarely get negative reviews. While the blogger’s opinion remains his/her own, they stay neutral at worst.
Because they just formed a relationship with a company they could partner with for years. As long as you have a good product, they will stand by you.
Fisher-Price is a big company but even they do blogger outreach to get niche link inserts. Take this example from Rookie Moms.
Or how about this sponsored post from Beech-Nut Organics.
It doesn’t look like blogger outreach is going away anytime soon.
How to Find Bloggers
It starts with you figuring out your niche. Once that’s settled, you find bloggers that are in that circle.
Find influencers you’d like to connect with moving forward. You’re gonna have to build and maintain that relationship.
Create a spreadsheet and list down all the blogs you want to work with. Include all the contact information available.
The About Me page is a great place to start.
Getting their email address is best but you can always contact them through social media in a pinch.
If you’re in a bind and can’t tell which blogs to reach out to, there are sites you can turn to for information.
Buzzsumo is an excellent tool for discovering new bloggers. They’re a paid service but you can try out their tool for free.
Look for the top posts in your field of interest. These would be the ideal people to work with to spread the word about your product.
If you’re looking for bloggers in a specific area, use the filters in the sidebar to refine your search.
If anything else, you can use the tool to research social media stats.
Those who are willing to pay $24 a month (Starter plan) can try BuzzStream.
They can find influencers and gather all their contact information for you. That way, you can focus on your pitch instead.
You can also try Ninja Outreach. The site is easy to use.
To find influencers, log in and head on over to the Content Prospecting tab. Enter your niche and voila!
Ninja Outreach will produce a list of influencers in the niche you specified.
You can filter the results to trim down the list. Afterward, you can export it as a spreadsheet or contact influencers directly through the program.
One last thing you could try is GroupHigh. It’s an outreach platform specifically designed for blogger outreach.
You start by doing a search for a niche like travel.
In an instant, you’re given a list of influencers you can contact. They also give you other relevant information like social media stats and a list of their recent posts.
When all else fails:
You can always go back to good old Google. Look at the top influencers in the SERPs and contact them directly.
You would want to avoid using broad keywords though. Use long-tail keywords instead for better results.
Categorize Your Influencers
Influencers come in all shapes and sizes. Some have a larger audience than others.
If you have a long list of influencers, you’d want to split your list in two. The first half should be reserved for high-tier bloggers.
These are the people you’d want to take your time with. Try to personalize your emails and read more than one post of theirs to understand what they are all about.
The rest you can be a bit more direct while still giving them the respect they deserve.
How do you split your list?
You can use any or all of these indicators:
- Social signals – Take note of how big their social following is.
- Domain authority (DA) – The higher the DA, the bigger their influence.
- Blog comments – Look for blogs with great fan engagement
But if your list is manageable, treat all the influencers like VIPs.
With that sorted, there’s nothing left to do but contact the influencers.
Do It Right
Nothing kills off an influencer’s interest like a half-baked business proposal. You need to put some real thought to your email.
A few tips:
Do your research. If you’re promoting a phone, don’t just email every tech reviewer out there.
Some tech reviewers focus on specific electronics. There are also those who are biased towards particular devices.
Learn more about the influencer before reaching out.
Also, keep your email as short as possible. Influencers go through tons of emails at a given time. You don’t want them losing interest halfway through your pitch.
A good rule to follow is to show some character. Make them feel like they’re talking to someone that’s truly interested in what they do.
Build the hype. Especially if you have a game-changing product to offer. Get them excited to share the news with their audience.
At the end of the day, you should develop a healthy relationship with the influencer. Do not do anything to ruin the trust you develop.
There’s a chance that bloggers have already mentioned you in the past. The problem is if they forgot to link back to your site.
This is an opportunity we should capitalize on.
To do this, we’ll use Ahrefs and a tool called Screaming Frog.
Open Ahrefs and go to Content Explorer.
Enter your brand in quotes followed by -site:[your domain] to remove your domain from the results. Hit Search to continue.
Now we’re going to filter the results:
- Language filter – Use English to remove results in other languages
- Domain rating filter – Remove sites with low domain rating. 30 is a good number to use here.
- Organic filter – You want sites with at least 50 organic visitors a month.
Export the full report when you’re finished.
The report at this time still has linked and unlinked brand mentions.
We’ll use Screaming Frog to distinguish one from the other. Its custom search feature will be able to do just that.
Go to Configuration > Custom > Search.
In the first filter field, select Does Not Contain from the drop-down menu. Then enter the following regex code:
Remember to replace yourdomain.com with your own.
Hit OK to continue.
Next, configure the crawler to make it process the information faster. Go to Configuration > Spider.
Under the Basic tab, untick all of the options available.
Under the Limits tab, set Limit Crawl Depth to zero.
Under the Advanced tab, tick Always Follow Redirects.
Next, open the Ahrefs file you exported and copy the Content URLs.
On Screaming Frog, go to Upload > Paste. The copied URLs should be on Screaming Frog now.
Hit OK to continue. It will take a few minutes for the tool to run.
Once finished, open the Custom tab to find the results.
Select This Does Not Contain [+ regex code] from the filter drop-down options.
Whatever’s left in your list of URLs are pages with unlinked mentions.
Contact these sites and ask if they could add a backlink to your site. Since they’ve mentioned your brand, they should be familiar with your work.
They’re more inclined to approve your request.
You might be wondering:
When can I see any significant change? When will I feel the effects of my white hat link building strategy?
The honest answer is: no one knows.
SEOs have theories, of course. But nobody can say for certain.
Factors to Consider
Here are some of the factors that affect how fast you rank on search engines.
Where Are You Trying to Rank?
Are you trying to improve a local listing? Or are you trying to compete on a global scale? The number of competitors you have will affect your ability to rank.
If you’re targeting local search terms then you should see results faster than those investing in broader search queries.
How Much Content Do You Have?
The more content you have, the faster Google takes you to page one. But not any content will do.
Your pages should provide value to Google’s users to rank higher in its SERPs. It’s all about user experience.
So produce as many informative posts as you can to better your chances.
There it is:
It always boils down to backlinks. If you managed to secure quality backlinks through the techniques we mentioned, expect to see real changes soon.
One expert puts the timeframe at around 12 weeks on average per link before you start seeing any effect. But that’s one person’s opinion.
Black hat marketers tend to feel the effects faster. But those rarely last as they’re penalized as soon as Google sees what happened.
Is Your Site Brand New?
Your site needs to age like fine wine before it sees any traction.
Google finds newer sites to be less reputable than established ones. It could take months before older sites see any change in their ranking.
Is There Anything I Can Do to Speed Up the Process?
White hat SEO practices do not stop at link building. There are other strategies you can try to rank faster.
Having a solid keyword strategy will be crucial if you want to rank as soon as possible.
You should have a balance of broad and long-tail keywords on your list. Google Keyword Planner is a good resource to use if you’re looking for inspiration.
On the topic of user experience, try to speed up your page load time. PageSpeed Insights can tell you how long your page currently loads. All you need is the URL.
Google has confirmed that it uses page speed as a ranking factor. So aside from having great backlinks, you also want your pages to load fast.
And finally, consider making your site mobile friendly. Most people use their phones to access the internet.
Mobile-friendly sites are much more attractive in Google’s eyes. Here’s a tool you can use to check your site’s mobile responsiveness.
These are some of the things Google looks for in a mobile-ready site:
- Easy-to-read fonts
- Responsive no matter the screen size
- No Flash videos (it does not load on phones)
- Easy navigation
Give Google Time to Crawl and Index
Google needs time to visit a website and look over your content and links. This is referred to in the industry as crawling.
You know what would help Google?
A sitemap. It’s important that you have an updated sitemap whenever you make site-wide changes. A sitemap contains all the links in your site.
If there are pages that you don’t want Google to crawl, you can turn a few links into nofollow links. A nofollow command lets Google know not to see whatever’s beyond the link.
Indexing is Google’s way of adding or updating pages in its database. For the most part, you want Google to index all pages save for a few.
Some examples of pages you don’t want to index: tags, duplicate pages, and the like.
It takes a while for Google to crawl and index pages. This is why changes made by site owners are not updated immediately.
There are. After all, millions of pages on the internet.
So give it some time.
No to Black Hat
After hearing how long it takes to take effect, it’s tempting to go black hat SEO.
Black hat is not a long-term solution. Sites that are optimized this way are doomed to fail.
So be patient and let your white hat strategy take its time. It will all be worth it.
This had been a brief look at white hat link building techniques. Get those backlinks so you can get an edge over your competition.
Remember to focus on white hat strategies and steer clear of black hat practices.