Link Building for SEO: The Beginner’s Guide

Carlos Silva

Dec 01, 202214 min read
A guide to link building

Link building is all about getting other websites to link to pages on your own site. In SEO, these links are called backlinks

Here are some of the most popular link building strategies:

  • Content marketing
  • Email outreach
  • Broken link building
  • Unlinked brand mentions
  • PR

(Among others.)

Let’s get into the details. Here’s your beginner’s guide to link building in SEO. 

The more high-quality backlinks a page has, the higher it can rank. Backlinks are one of Google’s most important ranking factors

Google and other major search engines consider backlinks as “votes of confidence” for the website getting the links. 

Each vote suggests your content is valuable, credible, and useful.

So, if you want your pages to rank high in the Google search results, you will almost certainly need to do some backlink building. 

Most link building tactics and strategies fall into one of the three following buckets. 

Asking for links is when you actively contact a website and ask them to link to yours. 

You can ask them to link to:

  • Blog posts 
  • In-depth guides
  • Ebooks
  • Visual assets (like infographics)
  • Case studies
  • Original research and data

And so forth. 

You can use Semrush’s Link Building Tool to quickly find prospects to reach out to. 

We’ll get into how to do that later in the “Best Backlink Building Strategies” section. 

Adding links refers to going to another website and manually adding your link there. 

For example, you can manually add links to:

  • Social media profiles
  • Business directories
  • Forums, communities, and Q&A sites (like Quora)
  • Blog comments
  • User profile pages

And so on. 

Note: Manually adding SEO links is one of the easiest and possibly least effective ways to build links. 

These types of links often come from low-quality sources. The kind that Google doesn’t want to give too much weight to. 

Why?

Because you create them. And you’re practically endorsing yourself. 

Which isn’t what Google is looking for when figuring out which websites deserve to rank best. 

And since these links aren’t editorially given (links you don’t ask for), they carry less weight than other types of links. 

While these links won’t actively help you, they also won’t hurt you. 

Your best bet is to earn your links. 

When you earn links, other websites link to yours without you asking them to. 

And the best way to earn links is by creating high-quality content people want to link to. 

Links happen naturally when someone wants to link to something as a resource or helpful further reading. 

Here are a few different types of content people tend to link to:

  • Visual assets (infographics, charts, diagrams, etc.)
  • Original research and data (industry studies, surveys, proprietary research, etc.)
  • Online tools and calculators
  • In-depth guides and tutorials

And others. 

To find more content ideas, look at your competitors’ backlink profiles. 

(Again, we’ll get into the step-by-step of how to do all of this in the “Best Backlink Building Strategies” section.) 

Knowing what makes a good (or bad) link is important.

Because then you can focus on building links that will improve your Google rankings.

Here’s how to identify links that are actually worth building:

1. Authority

Authority” is an SEO concept that refers to the overall quality of a website or a webpage. The higher the score, the more weight its backlinks may have. 

So, a link from a high-authority website is often more valuable. Which means it can help your page rank higher.

For example, a link from The Wall Street Journal will likely have a much bigger impact than a link from an unknown blogger.

To quickly find a website’s authority, you can use Semrush’s Backlink Analytics tool.

Start by entering any domain and clicking “Analyze.”

backlink analytics tool

Then, scroll down to view the site’s authority score.

authority score in backlink analytics

Note: You don't need to neglect all link opportunities from low-authority websites. They probably won't have a big impact, but they also won't be detrimental to your SEO success.

2. Relevance

When it comes to links, the site’s relevance also matters. A lot. 

There’s evidence for that on Google’s “how search works” page:

“Beyond looking at keywords, our systems also analyze if content is relevant to a query in other ways…one of several factors that we use to help determine this is understanding if other prominent websites link or refer to the content.”

Which means:

Strive to get links from websites that are relevant to yours. Instead of pursuing every link opportunity that pops up.

Let’s say you run a website about SEO consulting. 

And you get a link from an authoritative site about yoga. 

That’s great! But it may not impact your rankings. 

It would be much better if you received a link from an authoritative site about SEO, consulting, or marketing.

The more relevant, the better for your SEO.

3. Placement 

A link’s position on a page is important. A good backlink appears within the main body of a webpage. 

In fact, Google has a patent that talks specifically about link placement. 

It looks at different probabilities involving the likelihood that a reader might click on a link depending on where it is located. 

The higher the probability (usually higher up on the page), the more authority that link carries.

Meaning:

Links in sidebars and footers and low in a page’s content may not be worth as much as those higher in the page’s body. 

For example, look at this link embedded in a piece of content:

embedded link

It’s much easier to find and more likely to get clicked on than this link buried in a page’s footer:

footer link

4. Anchor Text 

Anchor text is the clickable text that appears in a hyperlink. 

Like this:

anchor text

Anchor text is important because both search engines and readers use it to determine what a linked page is about. 

So, the more relevant and descriptive the anchor text, the better. 

For example, the above anchor text, “how to store coffee,” tells Google that the page that follows is about how to store coffee. 

anchor text opened

While generic anchor text like “its website” gives little context and isn’t helpful. 

generic anchor text

Simply put:

Good backlinks also have anchor text that is descriptive and relevant.

5. Nofollow vs. Follow

“Nofollow” is a link attribute that tells search engines not to follow the outbound link. 

They’re typically used when site owners want to link to another website but don’t want to imply any type of endorsement. 

The nofollow tag is used in your page’s source code. And it looks like this:

rel="nofollow"

And here’s a link with the “nofollow” attribute:

<a href="https://example.com" rel="nofollow">Anchor Text</a>

Note: Google says nofollow links, in general, don’t pass authority. But they can still provide brand recognition and referral traffic.

Follow links, on the other hand, are regular links without attributes. And can imply endorsement and pass along ranking credit. 

Here’s a follow link with no attribute:

<a href="https://example.com">Anchor Text</a>

In addition to nofollow, there are two additional attributes site owners can use:

  • rel="sponsored" to identify links that were created as part of ads, sponsorships, or other agreements
  • rel="ugc" to identify links within user-generated content, like comments and forum posts

All link attributes are treated as hints about how Google should interpret links. 

There are many strategies for building links. But here are some of the most effective ones.

Outreach

Outreach for link building is when you reach out to others and ask for a backlink.

It’s important because people can’t link to your content without discovering it. Even the best assets need to be promoted to attract links. 

To find prospects to reach out to, use a tool like Semrush’s Link Building Tool

To start, open the tool and click “Create project.”

new project in link building tool

Then, enter your domain and give your project a name. 

Note: Giving your project a name is optional, but it helps keep things organized once you run lots of link building campaigns. 

Now, click “Create project” again (a different button). 

Like so:

create new project in link building tool

Next, add the keywords you want to rank higher. These keywords should be related to the page you’re trying to build links for. 

Note: If you haven’t done keyword research yet, you can use Keyword Magic Tool to find the best keywords for you.

add keywords in link building tool

After you’ve added your keywords, click on “Competitors” at the bottom of the pop-up.

competitors in link building tool

Now, add the URLs of competitors you want to outperform. 

And when you’re done, click on “Start Link Building.” 

start link building

After the tool collects and analyzes the data, it’ll display a message.

Like this:

link building message

Click on “View prospects” to see everyone you can reach out to for backlinks. 

backlink domain prospects

You can reject the prospects you don’t want to reach out to from this screen. Maybe the site isn’t relevant, or you don’t want a link from that website.

To reject a prospect, click on the trash can icon. 

Like so:

reject prospect

For prospects you do want to reach out to, click on the “To In Progress” button, and they’ll be added to the “In Progress” tab. 

accept prospect

From the “In Progress” tab, you can contact any prospect via a connected email account. 

Simply click on the “Contact” button. 

The screen will expand to show an email template with default information. 

Like this:

contact email template

You can customize your emails to make your pitch specific to your campaign. For example, you can:

  • Choose which email addresses to send your pitch to
  • Drop placeholders for automated items like the prospect’s URL and your domain
  • Add formatting like bold text, lists, and headers
email template steps

After you’ve sent your emails, the “Status” column helps you stay on track. It shows whether your email was sent, received, opened, or replied to. 

status column

Once you successfully get a backlink, click the check mark in the “Actions” column. 

backlink earned checkmark

Your prospect will move over to the “Monitor” tab, where you can keep an eye on your new backlinks. 

link building monitor report

This tab shows if your backlinks are active, lost, or broken. 

If a backlink is lost or broken, you can use the email feature again to reach out to see why you no longer have that link.

Become a Source

A great way to build high-quality links is to become a source for reporters, journalists, and bloggers. 

One of the most popular services you can use is Help a Reporter Out (HARO)

Services like HARO connect people who need sources (writers) to people who want links and exposure (you). 

You’ll get daily emails with a list of writers and businesses who need expert sources. 

Plus, big media outlets use these types of services. 

We’re talking Mashable, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Business Insider, to name a few. 

To sign up, go to HARO and register as a source. 

HARO register as a source

They’ll send a confirmation email. Once you confirm, sign in and head over to “My Account.” 

HARO my account

Then, under “HARO PREFERENCES” choose the type of emails you want to receive. 

You’ll be automatically signed up for the Master HARO (which includes every industry). But you can choose to sign up for specific industry emails instead. 

Like this:

HARO my preferences

Now, all you have to do is keep an eye out for requests you can contribute to. 

HARO requests

If you find an interesting query, click the link for more information. 

You’ll see the media outlet, deadline, and detailed query. Like this:

HARO detailed query

If you have something valuable to contribute, send the writer a brief and valuable pitch. 

It takes just a bit of work every day, but it’s one of the best ways to build backlinks at scale. 

Note: There are other services like HARO worth looking into, like Qwoted, SourceBottle, and Help a B2B Writer.

Broken link building is the process of finding broken external links on other websites in your niche. Then, reaching out and recommending they link to your content instead. 

It works really well because no one wants to send visitors to broken pages. And you’re offering a helpful alternative. 

An easy way to start broken link building is to look for broken pages on competitors’ websites. 

First, enter a competitor’s domain into Semrush’s Backlink Analytics tool. Click “Analyze.” 

backlink analytics tool competitors domain

Then, head over to the “Indexed Pages” report and check the “Broken Pages” box on the left-hand side. 

Like this:

indexed pages report

Now you can see all of your competitor’s broken pages. Sorted by number of referring domains. 

Each referring domain is a potential source for one or more backlinks for you.

broken pages report

To look at the specific URLs that have links pointing to broken pages, click on the number in the backlinks column. 

broken pages backlink

Good opportunities tend to have:

  • Content you can easily replace with your own
  • Lots of backlinks pointing to them

For every good opportunity you find, export the report. You can come back to it later. 

export backlink report

Use this strategy at scale to find plenty of opportunities. 

Once you repeat this process a few times, you should be left with a list of quality broken links that point to dead pages.

Then reach out to them to get the links.

Create Linkable Assets

A linkable asset is a type of content that tends to earn backlinks naturally. 

These often include resources like infographics, original research, and in-depth guides.

But before you create any asset, you must understand what people in your niche are linking to.

To do that, check out your competitors’ backlink profiles. You’ll uncover plenty of content ideas.

Head over to Semrush’s Backlink Analytics tool and add one of your competitors’ URLs. 

Then, click “Analyze.”

Like this:

backlink analytics tool competitors domain

You can then go to the “Referring Domains” tab to see which websites link to your competitor’s site. 

referring domains in backlink analytics

Take a look at the “Root Domain / Category” column. This list can give you an idea of the types of websites that can potentially link to you.

referring domains tab

Next, you can go to the “Indexed Pages” tab to see which of your competitor’s pages has earned the most backlinks. 

Like so:

indexed pages report

This report can help you understand the type of content other websites link to.
If you have similar content, you can ask for links. And if you don’t, you can start creating similar assets. 

Find Unlinked Brand Mentions 

An unlinked brand mention is when a website mentions you or your business without actually linking to you. 

Like this:

unlinked brand mention example

This strategy works great because, with a gentle nudge, most site owners are happy to turn your unlinked mention into a link. 

To quickly find unlinked mentions, you can use a tool like Prowly’s News Alerts.

Start by creating a “New query.”

create new query in news alerts

To find your brand’s unlinked mentions, choose “Brand.”

new query type

Then, enter the term you’d like to search for. In this example, we’ll use “Semrush.”

brand search term

Next, you’ll be able to choose how you’d like to be alerted. 

To discover new unlinked brand mentions, select “New mention alert.

alert types

Add your email for alerts. You may also choose to “Track backlinks” to your site in addition to discovering unlinked brand mentions.

track backlinks with email

You can also choose “Countries” or “Languages” to narrow your search.

filer country and language

You’ll then see the number of brand mentions found.

brand mentions

Click “Create query” to view your brand mentions.

create query

Like so:

my mentiones

For every unlinked mention you find, reach out to the page’s owner or author and kindly request a backlink. 

This strategy is about adopting and replicating the same link building strategies as your competitors. 

Reverse engineering your competitors’ backlink strategies can tell you:

  • Which types of content tend to earn the most backlinks
  • Who is linking to leaders in your niche

To start, go to Semrush’s Backlink Analytics tool. 

Enter your competitor’s domain. Go to the “Indexed Pages” tab. 

This tab shows a table with all of your competitor’s pages sorted by number of referring domains (i.e., websites linking to it). 

indexed pages domains

Look for patterns in the top pages' topics, style, length, and format. 

For example:

  • What does your competitor write about—how-to-style or controversial subjects?
  • What is the format—long-form or short?
  • Do they use a lot of pictures, videos, graphics, GIFs, or just plain text?
  • What is the style like—casual or formal?

These are all important things to notice because they should guide your content strategy. Replicate what’s working in a better or similar way.

Just as you can gain links, you can lose them. It happens all the time. 

You can lose a link for several reasons:

  • The link gets removed from the linking page
  • The linking page ceases to exist
  • The linking page gets redirected

And so on. 

Regardless, your job now is to reclaim it. Reclaiming lost links is often much easier than building new links from scratch.

To easily find lost links, head over to Semrush’s Backlink Audit tool.

Start by clicking on “Create project” and then entering your domain. 

link building create new project

Then, go to the “Lost & Found” tab. 

lost and found tab

This report shows how many referring domains have been acquired, broken, or lost over the past 90 days. 

lost and found report

In this case, we’re only interested in lost backlinks. 
So, scroll down, and click on the “Lost” box at the top of the list. 

lost backlink reports

These are all the domains you’ve lost backlinks from within the past three months. 

To help prioritize, filter the list to show follow links with low toxicity scores (how dangerous the link is for your website). 

Like so:

backlink toxicity filter

Tackle these lost backlinks first. 

Visit each URL to see why you lost the backlink. If the page got removed or redirected, you can ignore it. 

But if the URL got removed for another reason, then definitely pursue it. They might’ve refreshed their content or replaced your link with a link to another webpage. 

In that case, reach out. 

If there’s still an appropriate place for your link in the new content, let them know why they should link to you.

If there isn’t, and they’ve replaced your link with something better, politely ask why they feel the new link is better than yours. 

Get feedback. And improve upon it. At the very least, it’ll help prevent more lost links in the future. 

A backlink gap analysis reveals websites linking to your competitors but not to you. 

It’s a great tactic because if they’re happy linking to your competitors, they’ll likely be happy to link to you, too. 

This is especially true if you create even better content than your competitors. 

To start, open up Semrush’s Backlink Gap tool. 

Add your domain and your competitors’ domains. And click on “Find prospects.”

backlink gap tool

The table shows all the referring domains that have backlinks to the competitors you entered. 

Like so:

backlink gap overciew

You can click on the drop-down arrows to get more specific information. 

It’ll show the website’s Authority Score, specific anchor text, target URL, backlink date, and more. 

backlink additional details

Export this report by clicking on the “Export” button on the top right. 

backlink gap export report

Now you have a list of target websites you can reach out to for backlinks to your content. 

Link building takes time, effort, and patience. 

To avoid having it all go to waste, we recommend running monthly audits. That will help you keep track of earned links, lost links, and overall backlink quality. 

It’s even better if you automate these audits. 

You can easily set them up with Semrush’s Backlink Audit tool. 

Start by opening up the tool and clicking on the settings icon in the upper right-hand corner. 

Like this:

backlink audit settings

Next, click on “Recrawl schedule.”

backlink audit recrawl schedule

Select “Once a month” in the dropdown menu. And select “Send an email every time an audit is complete.” 

Recrawl settings

Then, click “Update,” and you’re set. 

backlink audit recrawl update

Now that you understand how link building works, you’re ready to start working on your link building campaign. 

Keep an eye out for what your competitors are doing. And jump on new opportunities as quickly as possible. 

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Writer and SEO strategist. Remote work enthusiast. Love sentence fragments and em dashes.
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