Your website is not an island. While creating top-quality content is important, your website’s relationship with every other site on the vast sea of the internet is just as vital. You won’t get very far if no one is linking to your pages, and you can’t expect many people to do so without some effort on your part.
Even if you can’t force people to link to your content (and you shouldn’t because your mama taught you better than that), you can take some simple steps to encourage other sites to send visitors your way.
All it takes to generate quality links is a little careful planning and a few proven techniques.
In this post, we’ll talk about why you need a fully-developed link building strategy. Then we’ll explore how to create one effectively. Let’s get going!
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What Is Link Building (And Why Does It Matter)?
Unless your website is very unusual, it’s going to contain a lot of links. Internal links point towards other pages on your own website, while external links point away from your site to other web pages. Having plenty of both is vital for your site’s User Experience (UX) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
However, there’s another kind of link that should be on your radar as a website owner.
Backlinks are links on other web pages that point towards your website. So if someone writes an article on their news site and includes a link to one of your blog posts, that’s a backlink.
Backlinks are just as important as the links you include on your own site because:
- Links to your site improve your visibility, helping to familiarize people with your brand.
- They also bring new visitors to your website, including those you might not have had an easy way to reach otherwise.
- Google and other search engines view backlinks as a positive symbol — they indicate that others find your content useful and worth linking to. Therefore, having plenty of quality links to your site (from relevant websites with high domain authority) can improve your search engine rankings.
There’s no doubt that the more people are linking to your site, the better. However, there is one big problem when it comes to backlinks — you rarely control them. This means you’ll need to engage in some link building or take steps to increase the number of backlinks pointing your way.
Doing that isn’t always easy.
There’s a lot of content for people to link to and they may not even know about yours. So you’re most likely to succeed if you can put together a comprehensive, well-thought-out link building strategy.
Related: Don’t Let a Broken Link or These Other Common WordPress Errors Slow Your Site Down
The Dos and Don’ts of Link Building
In a moment, we’ll walk you through the process of putting together your link building strategy and successfully executing it. First, however, it’s important to cover some basics.
For example, there are things you’ll want to avoid (like the plague) while conducting your link building efforts. These include:
- Avoid paying people to include your links on their sites. That’s generally considered unethical, and if Google finds out you’re doing it, you’ll be penalized severely.
- Don’t mislead people about your links in an effort to get them featured. This is likely to backfire on you — if people click on a link leading to your site but find out that your content isn’t relevant to them, they’re just going to leave.
- Never spam other people’s sites with your links manually. It can be tempting to add links to your site’s content to as many other websites as possible. However, doing this too much can harm your credibility and get a lot of your links reported as spam.
- Opt out of link directories and link exchange schemes. These are shady techniques developed to get a lot of links into the public quickly — like the above methods, they can backfire and get the attention of Google (and not in a good way).
- Familiarize yourself with “black hat” link building techniques and don’t use them. This mostly means trying to get “hidden” links on pages by cloaking them, making them hard to see, or even hacking directly into other sites. Pretty gross, right?
Some of these are obviously bad ideas, while others (such as link exchanges) might initially seem smart until you learn more about them. None are worth the risks involved.
So what should you do? We’ll go into more detail shortly, but let’s lay the groundwork with these link building “dos”:
- Encourage links from high-quality and high-ranking sites. The quality of your backlinks matters just as much to Google as the quantity. So where possible, you want to try and get backlinks from sites that are trustworthy, well-maintained, and visible.
- Focus on relevant websites. You want to encourage new visitors likely to be interested in what your site has to offer. Backlinks on sites relevant to their needs are much more valuable than backlinks from random pages.
- Reach out. You don’t have to simply hope for backlinks — you can actually ask for them directly, and there are several effective (and non-intrusive) ways to do so.
- Use a variety of techniques. One link building method may not get you too far — but a combination of three or four smart techniques can make a big difference.
- Create awesome content. Your content marketing matters! The truth is the better your content, the more likely people are to link to it, whether as a result of your efforts or simply stumbling across it.
At this point, you’re probably wondering how to put all of this into practice. Without further ado, let’s jump into the practical portion of link building 101.
Related: How to Create a Content Marketing Strategy
How to Create a Successful Link Building Strategy (In 5 Steps)
First, a caveat: Like any way of promoting your website, there is no “one right way” to do link building. Likewise, there’s no golden ticket that will get you a hundred backlinks by next Thursday (if you find one, hit us up!).
However, you can take some basic steps that will greatly improve your chances of successfully increasing backlinks. We recommend starting with the following five steps, molding them as needed to fit your unique needs.
Step 1: Take a Close Look at Your Target Audience
A lot of successful link building comes down to pursuing backlinks in relevant places. This means you have to be very familiar with your target audience. If you don’t know what they care about and where they hang out, you can’t encourage links they’re likely to see.
If you haven’t done so already, this is a perfect time to put together a target audience profile. That’s a detailed description of the visitors you’d like to attract to your website. You’ll want to research them carefully and collect information on their demographics, behaviors, interests, needs, and so on.
When it comes to link building, you’ll want to pay particular attention to where your target audience spends their time online. What sites do they visit and which social media platforms do they prefer? These are the places you’ll benefit most from including in your link building strategy.
This is also a good point to research your competitors’ backlink strategy.
If you can, find out what kinds of sites link to your top competitors. It’s also useful to know what online places and communities your competitors are ignoring, as those can contain audiences hungry for the quality content you’re offering. That’s a link opportunity you don’t want to miss!
Related: 13 Simple Ways to Get Started with Search Engine Optimization
Step 2: Audit Your Existing Content
Next up, it’s time to think like a content marketer. You can’t encourage links to your site unless you know what you want people to link to. Generally, you’ll want to focus on specific content, rather than simply your home page (which can appear more spammy and less authentic).
So this is a great time to conduct a thorough audit of your site’s existing content. While doing this, you can:
- Look for top-quality pages and posts (or even product pages) that you think other sites would want to link to. Add these to a list as you go, so you know what represents your best content.
- Find any content that could be great but needs a little improvement. With a few tweaks, so-so articles can become a target for a quality backlink. This means ensuring that they’re up-to-date (for example, make sure you don’t have a broken link in the text and that stats are still accurate), match your brand’s style guide, and provide value to your audience. This publication checklist is a good way to make sure you don’t miss anything.
- Search for “gaps” you can create new content to fill. There may be information or topics that you think other sites would be happy to link to, but you haven’t written about yet. You can follow our guide to writing a blog post to get started.
After auditing your content, the next natural step is to start improving and expanding it. Having lots of high-quality content makes link building a lot easier.
It’s also worth noting that if you don’t have a blog on your website yet, now is the time to start one! There are few things better than a blog for generating lots of new, timely content that people will want to share with their audiences. If you’re not convinced, check out how these companies are using their blogs to increase brand awareness and build their reputations online.
Related: Keep Your Content Fresh: How to Repurpose an Old Blog Post
Step 3: Consider What Link Building You Can Perform Yourself
As we mentioned earlier, most of link building involves getting other people to link to your site of their own volition. However, there is a little link building you can do on your own, without venturing into spammy territory.
Who doesn’t love a little DIY?
The first and most important part of this step is internal linking. You need to make sure all of your online presences are connected. This means your social media accounts should point to your site (and vice versa), and if you have more than one website, they should be interlinked as well.
You can also include some links to your content on other people’s websites, particularly in forums and comments sections. But be careful — don’t create too many of these links and make sure they’re always highly relevant. You don’t want to be that person shilling Bitcoin on every other post.
Your best approach is to find sites and communities your target audience is present on and engage genuinely with them. When organic link building opportunities come up and you can share a helpful link, don’t be afraid to do so. While these links are not considered as valuable by Google as a natural link created by someone not affiliated with your site, they still have an impact.
Step 4: Start Conducting Outreach
At this point, you’ve done a little link building of your own. You’ve also improved your site’s content marketing efforts, which will hopefully generate more links for you organically (as people stumble across and share your pages and awesome articles).
However, the best way to build links is to ask for them.
Yep, you can reach out to a website and simply ask them to link to your content. This is a common practice and can be very successful when approached carefully. It can even help create the foundation for mutually-beneficial relationships between you and other relevant sites.
So, what does successful outreach look like?
Everyone’s strategy is a little different, but the following tips and techniques are key:
- Reach out to highly-relevant sites. This is where all your research back in Step No. 1 will come in handy. Sites that see your content and audience as relevant to them are more likely to welcome your request, rather than seeing it as intrusive.
- Offer specific content they can link to. It’s not usually effective to just email blogs and write, “Link to my website, pretty please?” Instead, use the results of your content audit to identify specific pages and posts you’d like to share and request links to them specifically.
- Share genuinely useful content. A link building request is obviously self-serving, but it doesn’t have to be all about you. Do some research on the site you’re reaching out to and find something you think would really be interesting or useful to its audience. Blog posts, tutorials, infographics, and videos are all great options.
- Suggest specific places your links could be included. This shows that you’ve done your research and makes accepting the request easier on the target site. You can propose new links where none currently exist or even offer a better piece of content as a replacement for an existing link. Don’t forget to offer up some anchor text to make it even easier for the other site’s admin.
Most importantly, remember to be polite and conduct yourself professionally. Never demand that someone include a link to your site — people who manage successful websites learned not to feed internet trolls a long time ago. Instead, create a concise and friendly message that you can send to the sites and blogs on your list and try to personalize it for each one.
Step 5: Get Involved in Guest Blogging
Guest blogging can be one of the most powerful tools in your link building strategy. Also called “guest posting,” it involves writing a brand-new post specifically to be featured on another website. This post can then contain one or more links back to your site and content.
You can often get farther with guest blogging than with simple link requests. After all, you’ll be providing content to another website for free. In return, they’ll link back to your site. This is a very attractive proposition for blogs, in particular, since they’re always in need of fresh content.
Just like with outreach, guest blogging is most effective if you follow some simple best practices. These include:
- Avoid sites that want you to pay them to publish your guest post. Most blogs will accept this kind of content for free, so there’s no need to pay for placement unless you’re desperate to be featured on a specific high-profile blog.
- Check the blog to see if they have guidelines for guest bloggers. Many will have a dedicated “write for us” page that outlines their requirements, what they will and won’t accept, and so on. By carefully following these guidelines, you’ll increase your chances of getting past a busy blogger’s spam filter.
- Do your research. Find out what the blog’s style is like and what kinds of topics they cover. This will help you come up with a topic idea that they’re more likely to accept.
- Reach out with a proposal first. Don’t simply write up a full post and submit it — these will often be rejected and can waste a lot of your time. Instead, reach out to the blog and let them know what topic you’d like to cover, what key points you’ll include, and what link(s) you’re hoping to see.
- Create quality, unique content. Never copy content from your own site or elsewhere (plagiarism is always a big no-no) and instead take the time to put together a unique, polished post for each blog. Also, avoid getting too “salesy” about your own website or products and focus on providing real value to the blog’s audience.
This is the most time-intensive of our link building strategies. Still, it can pay off in increased visibility, improved authority, and links that are perfectly placed to capture your audience’s attention. Plus, you might develop mutually-beneficial relationships with some of these blogs, providing further opportunities for interlinking in the future.
Measuring Your Link Building Efforts
The above steps should get you well on your way to running an effective link building campaign. However, like other digital marketing tactics, it’s important to measure your effectiveness. Otherwise, you won’t know if your efforts are paying off or if your approach needs to be adjusted.
Trying to keep tabs on your backlinks manually can be very difficult — it’s best to use an analytics tool instead. Many solutions can tell you everything you need to know about your backlinks, quickly and with minimal fuss.
Related: Improve Your Search Engine Rankings with These Tools
If you have a favorite analytics tool already, chances are it can help you out in this area. If not, a perfect place to start is with Google Analytics. This tool is free, accessible to beginners, and full of useful metrics and features.
For instance, you can go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals in your Google Analytics dashboard.
Here, you’ll see data about the visitors who arrive on your site from external links — in other words, everyone who comes to your website via a backlink. This includes a summary of trends over time, as well as a detailed breakdown of all the links leading to your site and how popular they are.
You can use this data to monitor the results of your backlink strategy. It’s also handy for seeing what sites are linking to yours, and which ones drive the most traffic your way. When combined with Google Analytics’ many other data points, this can even tell you how your link building strategy interacts with your other marketing and SEO efforts.
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Pass the Link Juice
If you want to improve your website’s traffic and attract more of your target audience, link building is necessary. A complete link building strategy helps you encourage relevant sites to share your content with their audiences. It’s a method that takes a little time to master but is cheap, cost-effective, and highly-trackable.
Of course, bringing traffic to your website is just the start. You also want those new visitors to have an excellent experience — which starts with high-quality web hosting. Fortunately, our shared website hosting can do the trick!