If you want your website to rank high on Google, you’ll need to incorporate all components of search engine optimization (SEO). One of those crucial components for ranking on the first page is link building. Link building is the practice of acquiring new backlinks for your site to help improve your SEO efforts. A backlink is when another website links back to your website or to a specific page on your website.
Links remain one of the top three most important ranking factors for ranking well in Google.
So when it comes to link building, you’ll need to put together a solid strategy that helps you earn high-quality links. There are dozens of approaches to great link building that both SEO beginners and SEO veterans can learn.
This link building guide is full of valuable strategies and tactics that will help extend your knowledge on link building so you can earn those top-ranking positions. In addition, you’ll learn which tactics are wasting time and resources and how some well-known tactics may be harming your organic visibility.
If you want to learn how to build links for SEO, read on.
So, How Does Link Building Work?
The link building process is a vital part of any successful SEO strategy. However, unlike other tactics, it’s known as one of the most challenging search engine optimization methods.
Link building is strongest when credible, relevant, and high-quality websites link back to your website. Your website develops a healthy and robust backlink profile as you acquire these backlinks from other sites. This helps to improve rankings on Google SERPs and generates more organic traffic than before.
However, not all links are created equal. Depending on the quality of the website linking to your website, your online visibility can be negatively impacted. That’s why it’s important to understand healthy ways to build backlinks and toxic link building methods to avoid.
There are various methods available to help build quality backlinks. Some tactics are easier to execute than others.
When investigating ways to improve your rank, harnessing the power of link building can be a challenge for beginners and experienced professionals alike. However, it can be one of your most powerful tools for organic success.
Why Link Building Is Important for SEO
Link building takes time and effort.
Don’t expect to be an expert in link building right away. But don’t be discouraged if your link building efforts aren’t instantly successful. Each website is different, so positive results can take place at various times.
Those who successfully execute ways to build better links than their competitors will see significant growth in organic traffic and revenue. It just takes more practice and persistence.
Our guide to backlinks dives deeper into the importance of link building, but to summarize the main points, link building is essential for four reasons:
- There is a possibility your site could rank higher on Google and other search engines
- Search engines will find new pages on your site faster
- Your business or website can boost its credibility and trustworthiness
- You will benefit from targeted referral traffic
Since link building takes effort, starting the process of link building now will give you a bigger advantage over competitors and bring great benefits to your website in the long run.
Three Types of Links
When planning your link building strategy, it’s important to identify the type of links you will use for your site.
The most important types of links to know are below.
1. Nofollow vs. Follow
Nofollow links are typically used when you want to link to another website but don’t want to tell Google to crawl that site.
To designate a link as a nofollow link, you’ll need to add the attribute rel=”nofollow” into the link’s code. Nofollow links will inform Google that the link shouldn’t pass PageRank.
The nofollow link is helpful for two reasons:
- When you need to link to a site but don’t want to endorse it
- When the link is profitable. Google introduced rel="sponsored" (and rel="ugc") as an additional type of backlink attribute, and prefers users use rel="sponsored" for paid or profitable links (such as paid ads, banner ads, affiliate links, sponsored content) instead of rel="nofollow"
Keep in mind, nofollow links aren't known for helping your website rank better in SERPs.
Follow links, on the other hand, are regular links with attributes that would inform Google the link should pass PageRank.
Follow links can provide a website with link juice and help increase a website’s rank. The more PageRank the website linking to you has, the more link juice you will get, and the higher your page will rank.
You would use a follow link if you wanted to:
- Give a website page a chance at ranking higher
- Help search engine bots understand what the content is about
In a way, follow links signal to Google to crawl a website while nofollow links don’t. PageRank is the metric that helps Google monitor if a link is giving another website points or not.
2. Links from Users
Utilizing user-generated links as a tactic for link building is not the ideal route when you’re looking to up your SEO strategy. In the past, Google penalized those who tried user-generated linking.
User-generated links are sometimes created by you with the intent to promote your own work. They are also generally lower in quality than other link building methods that Google prefers.
Some examples of links from users include:
- Unmoderated blog comments
- Embedded infographics and widgets
- Profile pages of users
- Press releases or guest post signatures with heavily optimized anchor text
Attempting to use this link building tactic today is not recommended. It is important not to spend most of your time and energy here, as in many cases, these links are not from reputable sites.
3. Natural Links From Other Blogs Or Sites
Natural links occur more organically from readers who come across your website including a link on their blog or website without being asked. With this link type, you don’t ask other webmasters or users to give you a backlink.
Most natural links don’t live in sponsored or paid content and are also without tracking parameters. They are usually added within another blogger’s or webmaster’s content with the intent to provide value to their readers.
This means you are more likely to see natural links in videos, blog posts, images, and other product listings on someone’s website.
Having a natural link back to your website is by all means considered a “good link” and has been dubbed one of the safest link building techniques. Natural links are also one of the best and most efficient ways to promote your blog or your website.
How to Successfully Build Links
1. Request links
Requesting links may take a lot of time and effort with little reward but can be done with the right tools.
If you are interested in getting a backlink from a particular website you know could help boost your website or page’s authority, chances are you will need to contact the website owner directly to make it happen.
But before you start requesting backlinks from all over the internet, keep a few things in mind:
- Links you request should be from a website relative to your niche
- Research their website, including looking at its performance and credibility
- Craft a well-written email before you start contacting site owners is helpful
So who exactly should you request backlinks from? You can easily look for the best opportunities using Semrush's Link Building Tool.
2. Add links
Traditional link building tactics rely on manual link placement.
When adding links yourself, you’re typically in complete control of the outcome of the tactics, as opposed to relying on a journalist or other third party to link to your site.
That is precisely why these tactics are often known as “manual link building.” But let’s get one thing straight—links you are in control of usually aren’t the highest quality.
- In the eyes of Google, any links that are not editorially placed are manipulative.
- They either have less of an impact on rankings, are completely ignored, or, if the tactics are executed at scale, could harm your site's performance.
Adding links manually isn’t a bad practice.
This method of link building can drive benefits such as referral traffic or help to position you as a thought leader. Be sure to take the time to understand this type of link building tactic, know the risks associated with them, and use it carefully.
One last thing to note, adding links on your own will not give you a significant competitive advantage. As with quick-win tactics, a strategy based around traditional link building is likely to be one that competitors can easily copy.
3. Earn links
To gain a true competitive advantage through links, you should adopt a strategy that will allow you to earn editorially placed links.
Link earning requires a great amount of effort but gives the highest reward. So, be prepared to invest time and resources into earning links. In doing so, you will land links that competitors will struggle to replicate.
And let’s not forget that Google has been telling us for years, as part of their Webmaster Guidelines, that:
The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community.
Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.
When you earn a link, a third party actively decides to link to your website, meaning they are linking because they have a reason to. This adds value to their content and your site, as a result.
How Do You Know If a Link Is a Good Link?
So how can you tell the difference between a good link and a bad link?
There are five ways you will be able to tell whether the link is a good link or not.
Before getting to any other determining factors of a good link, you will want to examine the relevance of the link. Links should come from websites and content closely related to your own website's topic. This helps to ensure you are building the right links.
When prospecting for link opportunities, get into the mindset by asking whether you would still pursue it if Google didn't exist or use links as part of its algorithm.
If the answer is yes, this usually means it is from a topically related website where your audience hangs out online. If you would answer no, it is a good indication that the link isn't relevant to your business.
There are several ways to check the trustworthiness of a website when auditing the quality of a backlink. With Semrush’s tools, you can see:
- The lifespan of the site
- If the URL contains a secure socket layer (SSL)
- Social media activity
- Whether the website is biased
- The amount of traffic that reaches the site each month
Usually, if the site has been around a long time, generates a healthy amount of traffic each month, is active on social media, and has elements that indicate it’s a secure site, this is likely a good link.
Where you place your links is important as well as it can directly influence the visibility and performance of the link itself.
The best placements for links are in the upper body of your content.
Users are more likely to see links at the top of the page when they first land as opposed to the footer, which they may or may not reach. Try to avoid placing links in sidebars, the lower body of content, and the footer.
4. Authority Score
Authority score helps to measure how impactful a website or a domain's links are. In most cases, the higher the weightage of your website's Authority Score, the more trusted your domain is presumed to be.
The closer your score is to 100, on a scale of 1 to 100, the better it is. Link impact as your domain continues to grow is also based on the niche of your site.
You can check your website's Authority Score with Semrush's Backlink Analytics tool. In addition, you can see the scores of referring domains to see how beneficial these links are to your website.
5. Anchor Text
Anchor text is the text used to link from one page to another.
While anchor text is used to help give readers context to a specific page or site, Google's algorithm utilizes anchor text to indicate what a page is about and, therefore, can help to influence rankings.
However, Google's guidelines state optimized anchor text (with main target keywords or commercial terms) violates their guidelines, and excessive use is a known contributor towards manual actions being applied.
Your link profile should contain a natural mix, with no apparent spike of links using optimized anchor text.
What Link Building Tactics Should I Avoid?
We’re all here to please Google’s algorithm so we can claim the top spot in Google SERPs. Unfortunately, some tactics that afford you quick wins may seem nice at first, but they could negatively impact your site in the long run.
Here are some of the things you should avoid doing when link building.
Buying Links Can Backfire
Despite being a clear violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and a tactic that is defined as a link scheme, paid link building is still relatively common because it guarantees results.
Earning links is hard work, and there is no denying that. Even manual link building and the wealth of quick-win tactics available still require effort to see results.
Some things to remember:
- In the opinion of many, using paid links is lazy link building
- Paid link building manipulates Google’s algorithm and is a low effort yet extremely high-risk tactic
- Most paid-for links end up coming from sites that are not topically aligned, that have a high count of outbound links, and are generally low quality
- Aside from this risk, don’t forget that if you can buy links, so can your competitors
There are, of course, a couple of exceptions to the rules:
- When earning links to support your SEO strategy isn’t the primary focus, paid link building can be used.
- You are either looking to land referral traffic or build your brand authority. If this is happening, you are doing so with sponsored placements and advertorials on quality sites. And if this is the case, you will have either a rel=“nofollow” or rel=“sponsored” attribute in place to prevent a negative impact on your search rankings.
As a general rule, paid links purely to help increase your rankings should be a no-go.
If you build the wrong links and use risky tactics, you risk having toxic links in your backlink profile that could negatively affect your rankings and organic traffic.
We have explored this in detail in our guide to running a backlink analysis and finding toxic backlinks, and this comes as a highly recommended reading.
But you need to be aware that using the wrong tactics to build links can have disastrous consequences.
Things to keep in mind:
- Suppose Google determines you are building links that violate its Webmaster Guidelines. In that case, you could see your site impacted by manual action or an algorithmic filter (most likely Google Penguin), both of which can see your site drop in rankings.
- It is not unusual for it to take months, or even years, to recover from such a negative impact.
- Time to recover is one thing to be aware of when balancing low effort, high-risk tactics with lower risk tactics but need a higher investment in effort.
The most successful strategies deliver sustained success, and you want to use tactics that aren't going to be impacted by a spam filter or fall short in a manual review.
How to Measure Link Building Success
The success of a link building campaign depends on the goals of your campaign. It is important to understand the metrics that should be considered when setting these goals.
It is dangerous to focus on the raw numbers of links built as you will find that this sacrifices quality. And, you need to be using competitor insights to determine the link gap between you and others and make sure you are building the correct links that increase your rankings.
But when looking at metrics, you want to consider using one or more of the following:
- Authority Score: Semrush's metric that grades the overall quality of a website and tells you how impactful a backlink from a site can be for your SEO)
- The ratio of follow to nofollow links: Ideally, your link profile will contain far more follow links than nofollow links
- Topical relevance: How closely aligned to your business are the sites you are landing links from? Links that come from closely aligned content are typically more valuable)
- Unique referring domains: You don't want to be just earning links from the same domains all the time and should focus on increasing the number of unique referring sites in your link profile
- Toxic links: This is another Semrush metric that indicates whether a link could pose a risk to your site's rankings. Ideally, you don't want any toxic links in your link profile, but you will need to clean them up if you do have them
You may also want to consider goals such as brand exposure, links, and placements on certain publications, referral traffic, and more. It is all about measuring those things that matter to you as a business.
Strategies For Successful Link Building
Now for the fun part. There are many methods for proper link building, but some will prove more successful than most.
Below are four methods for building healthy backlinks from quality websites.
Google's Matt Cutts announced the death of guest blogging in 2014, but that was concerning how the industry abused the tactic to build links from article bylines on any site that would take their content.
The tactic remains a great way to earn links, so long as it is approached in the right way and you understand it is not a tactic that will scale massively.
Having your content published on a relevant blog where you share valuable insights and expertise is a great way to build your profile. There are also instances where you will earn a link to your bio page or website, which is a bonus.
A quick search on Google using one of a few different operators can reveal a whole host of guest posting opportunities.
Here is an example of "write for us" pages you could use to get a good backlink from.
Remember, if you can find opportunities to pitch guest posts, your competitors can do the same, meaning any links you earn might not give the same competitive advantage other tactics can.
Building good backlinks can easily be done by posting your content on social media.
For example, you can share links to your content on your personal page, business page, group pages, or fan pages. This can be done on any social media platform, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and TikTok.
You can also make sure your social media profiles are optimized and include the link back to your website in the bios.
Another helpful tactic is ensuring you tag brands and people of influence in your content when you talk about them in your content. If they practice social listening, there is a good chance they will share the post or the link you shared on social media, which will help you generate a backlink from a profile other than your own.
Unlinked Brand Mentions
Most businesses find themselves mentioned in the press from time to time for numerous reasons, with some natural references and others coming about as a result of your PR team's efforts.
It is not uncommon for this coverage to have no link and to just be a brand mention, but it is often easy to see this turned into a link with only minimal effort. The hard work of securing coverage in the first place has already been done.
You can find brand mentions using the Brand Monitoring tool to receive notifications whenever someone mentions you but hasn't linked to your site.
You can then politely email the person who mentioned you and ask them to add a link in, making sure you demonstrate how the link adds value to their readers — this will help make their decision easier.
You won't always get a link added, but for only minimal effort, those that you do manage to land with this tactic make it worth your while.
Competitor Backlinks Replication
This tactic is nothing more than adopting and replicating the same link building strategy as competitors who are winning in the world of link building. We offer a great guide on reverse engineering competitors' backlinks.
If you can analyze what a competitor is doing well with their link building strategy, then you can use that same strategy to your advantage. You can also improve their strategy by filling in missed opportunities for acquiring backlinks.
Looking at competitors’ strategies may also help you discover how content similar to yours is performing in your niche market.
Our Best Link Building Tools
So you know what to do and what not to do when it comes to link building. Now all you need are the tools. Fortunately, Semrush has four powerful tools to help you build a healthy link building strategy.
Those four tools are:
- Backlink Analytics: helps you quickly evaluate a backlink profile, track any domain’s backlinks, and gives insights into a competitor’s current strategies
- Backlink Audit: allows you to examine your backlink profile’s current health and status and any place where toxic backlinks might be present
- Link Building Tool: helps explore backlink opportunities, learn about the website connected to the backlink opportunity, and track the progress of the link
- Bulk Analysis: lets you upload up to 200 URLs from various competitors so you can find more chances to build links
You can learn more about these features by visiting our link building toolkit page.
Like any other aspect of SEO, you will need to put in the work consistently. While link building feels like more effort is required than most SEO strategies, it will be rewarding in the end and last for the long term.
With enough persistence in implementing your link building tactics, over time, your website may improve so much that you won’t need to work as hard for links. Instead, you can focus on developing great content that other websites and brands will want to link to.