Link building is the fundamental basis of Search Engine Optimization.
Whether you are doing minor SEO work to boost one page on your site or a full SEO overhaul that covers the entire website from top to bottom, you can’t get very far without being able to build links.
However, link building itself can also be quite hard to understand at first.
The skillset involved in building high-quality links is very different from most other skills you might have picked up while managing a website’s marketing, and it requires a different attitude to do correctly.
If you are brand new to link building strategies, then this beginner’s guide to link building aims to help you understand how it all works.
The more you know about building links, the easier it becomes to keep your own website ranking high in search engines.
Table of Contents
Before you can dive into the specifics behind different link building methods or understand broken links, it is important to know the absolute basics.
Link building is a very different process from regular marketing methods and promotional tricks.
What is Link Building?
In simple terms, link building revolves around pointing links from other websites back to your own. Doing this provides some benefits to the web page or website that the links are pointed at, helping you appear for more users in your target niche.
This means that link building is quite a varied strategy since all that matters is building the right links in the right ways.
However, all link building options still fall back on the same goal: finding and taking advantage of opportunities to create useful links.
There are only three ways to get to a new webpage: typing in the URL, clicking a bookmark that was saved earlier, or clicking a link.
Search engines are effectively just link sorting systems, but the algorithm that operates that system also relies heavily on links as a measure of quality.
How Does Link Building Work?
SEO is all about optimizing a site for search engines, as the name suggests.
The main goal behind SEO is to make a website rank higher in search platform results for the right kinds of topics – for example, a furniture company would want to rank higher for searches about buying furniture.
Google (and most other search engines) use a system called “link equity,” or “link juice,” to allow sites to transfer their authority (a measure of trust and quality) to sites that they link to.
Higher authority can help boost rankings in specific ways.
With link building, site owners are trying to create links on relevant sites with relevant content and keywords.
These sites link back to their own, transferring some authority and boosting the target site’s rankings for whatever topics the links are related to.
This means that good links can directly influence a site’s rankings for related searches, putting them higher in those results pages and drawing in more organic traffic from users making those searches.
How Do Links Influence Search Engine Ranking?
While nobody knows the specifics behind Google’s algorithm, link building is all about relevancy.
Google wants to keep search results high-quality, and that means serving users content that is very relevant to their searches.
A good link building strategy targets relevant websites with relevant content, trying to get the authority boost from sites in the same niche or talking about the same topic.
The more relevant the link and its context are, the better the boost.
However, each link can only provide so much of a benefit, which is based on the authority of the site it is coming from.
A low-authority site will not provide as much link juice, whereas a high-authority one can be a major boon to any site owner.
In other words, link building involves making relevant and high-quality links from good websites.
These links push you higher on search platforms, giving you more of a presence when people are searching for content or services like your own.
How Does Google See Links?
Most search engines care about serving users the right content: something that is relevant to their search and high quality.
For search platforms like Google, a link is a mark of quality and trust.
If a site is linking to another, then it suggests that the target site is trusted and valuable to the site that hosts the link – so the authority of the original site is used to boost the authority of the target site.
This vote of confidence means that sites with more links from major sources will appear higher in search results.
The linked page is being marked as higher quality because other sites are using it as a resource, reference point, source, or subject in an article.
While there are a lot of factors that change how this exact system works, depending on the type of link used, this is generally the point of the system.
Getting more great-quality links directed at your site is a sign that the site is worth visiting and using.
Dofollow and Nofollow Links
The dofollow and nofollow link attribute options are simple but important. Dofollow means that a link passes equity, whereas nofollow does not.
There are some advanced details to know about nofollow external links, but these are usually reserved for very specific situations.
In general, you want a balance of both in your backlink profile, but the best links should be dofollow (aka regular) links that can pass their link juice along.
What exactly does link gathering provide that regular marketing methods can’t?
If you have already done some SEO work by optimizing your own site and pages, it might seem like these links are a fairly low-powered option compared to simply buying online ads or using other promotional methods.
However, link building actually provides a lot more than just pushing you higher in search results. When used correctly, a good link profile (your site’s list of incoming links) can support your entire brand in numerous ways.
While link building is not necessarily free, it is also a lot cheaper than trying to maintain a huge amount of paid ads.
Trying to build links is not a replacement for paying for ads, but it still offers some huge advantages if you are trying to keep your costs low.
For example, guest blogging links will not generally cost anything to maintain. As long as the linking page itself still exists, that link is still working.
Not all linking opportunities are free, but they can still be far cheaper than a regular ad. Considering that they also have no upkeep cost, they are easily one of the best long-term options for promoting your site to a relevant audience.
Traffic is one of the core goals of any link building campaign.
Not only can good link building efforts provide more organic traffic through your higher rankings, but the link itself can also sometimes lead to referral traffic.
This makes an effective link placement a two-pronged source of traffic – one that does not usually cost anything to maintain.
Relevancy is the biggest factor here.
Since link building focuses mostly on gathering links on relevant websites and content, you are more likely to receive relevant traffic from these links, and clicks from irrelevant traffic do not cost you anything either way.
Visibility is the main goal of any business that wants to advertise.
While advertising might let you plant ads on a lot of relevant sites, link building is unique in the way that it keeps your brand visible.
Rather than appearing as ads that the user might have mentally tuned out (or blocked with a browser extension), link building affects regular search results.
Increasing your rankings places you higher in the part of search platforms that users are guaranteed to be focused on.
Link building has a good chance to cause a snowball effect on smaller sites.
While you might be stuck with simple blog post links on minor sites to begin with, boosting your rankings also boosts your status.
Not only can link building help you reach greater levels of success, but it can place you in a prominent position to get more attention from other businesses.
This might lead to even greater amounts of links pointing at your site in the future.
For example, let’s say your site has a page explaining how a certain kind of product works.
If that page manages to appear higher in search engine results, more users may link to it as a reference point in their own articles and pages – boosting its rankings even further.
Link building relies on creating relevant links, which means that most optimal links are going to be connected directly to your website and content in a clear way.
Not only does this boost your rankings in search results for those topics, but it also helps you target the right audience.
If you build links targeting specific relevant topics, then you are essentially guaranteed to get traffic from people looking into those topics.
The more you stick to those relevant audiences, the easier it becomes to draw them in as search traffic.
Since link building is mostly free, you also are not losing any money if you get clicks from irrelevant users.
Unlike paid ads, there is no limit to the amount of clicks and attention that a link might bring you, so you do not need to be as concerned about who you are targeting.
The Snowball Effect
As mentioned earlier, a link building strategy has a very good chance of snowballing into something larger if it is handled correctly.
Good link building creates mostly permanent promotional links that boost your site’s rankings and status, which often makes it easier to get even more links.
This creates an excellent snowball effect: having extra links pointing at your site makes it easier to build even more links for the same site, as well as increasing your chance to attract links organically as a natural consequence of being more popular.
While a link building campaign still needs the site owners to put effort into their link building process, having this kind of natural escalation makes it a lot easier to scale up your linking as your site gets more popular.
While link building itself is obviously a very powerful tool in your arsenal, you can’t just rush into planting links on every site you find.
A good strategy is essential for building the right links in the right ways and for promoting the correct pages to your target audience.
The Two Main Strategies
Modern link building involves two major strategies: link attraction and link outreach. While there are a lot of smaller techniques that can change how you build links, these two strategies are the core of any SEO project.
What is Link Attraction?
Link attraction focuses on earning (or “attracting” links).
This means creating content that will get noticed by other websites and content creators in the hopes of earning natural links from them, relying on the quality and “linkability” of your website to get results.
This strategy can take quite a lot of time to properly pay off, but it also sidesteps a lot of the issues with pursuing links directly.
Since you are getting purely organic links, they are usually all going to be valuable links, and the inbound links are usually going to be permanent (unless the linking site deletes or changes that content).
Basically, you are relying on your site being worth linking to.
The more value you can offer from your web pages, the more likely you are to get links from other websites, which allows you to generate links over time without having to do much yourself.
As you gain more authority and achieve higher search rankings, your site will become more visible and have more value attached to it.
The snowball effect mentioned earlier can apply here: if you are lucky, you can start to attract links from bigger and bigger sites.
The only downside is that you have no real control over the process. You can’t force extra links to appear, and you can’t decide where the links are coming from or how relevant they are.
What is Link Outreach?
Link outreach, also known as link placements or manual link building, is the process of building links directly.
While it is easy to assume that this is simply a form of spammy link building techniques, it is actually an entirely different strategy that can be used legitimately.
Manual links involve a lot of outreach: talking to other sites to try and get links placed on their website.
In general, the goal is to find or create content as a way of planting links on another site, giving you more control over the links you place and the linking page that you choose.
There are multiple different ways of approaching this, depending on what the target side allows:
- Creating content with a link embedded in it
- Having the site manager or owner write content that links to your website
- Planting a link in existing content that is relevant to your business
- Having an older piece of content altered to include a new link to your site
- Replacing red (broken) links that point to deleted sites with links to your own website
In general, this link building strategy relies on a proactive approach to creating links.
Site owners need to seek out new linking opportunities and take advantage of them rather than waiting for links to appear on their own.
Linkability also matters here, as does your authority and overall reputation.
Many website owners are not going to want to place links to your website if it looks like a scam site or if it does not actually offer anything worth linking to.
Linkability is the idea of a page being worth linking to – offering content that people want, being relevant to the chosen site, and being on a site that is just generally good overall.
For example, a page with valuable content becomes more linkable since it actually has some value to users who might visit it.
However, a site that is poorly secured or looks like a scam site will become less linkable overall since it does not look like a good resource to other website owners.
Good link building relies on having highly-linkable pages to target.
This means creating a website that has some reason for other website owners to link back to it, like being a good resource or offering a product that they are reviewing.
Remember that linkability is not an easily quantifiable thing.
Different sites and link types will be looking for different kinds of linkability – a blog site post about your company’s products and an article about how to use products like the ones you offer are not the same thing, and may be looked at as different kinds of content.
As mentioned earlier in this guide, authority is the basis of how linking and search result rankings work.
In a general sense, authority is a score of how highly respected your site is by search engines, which is influenced by the way that the search platforms and other sites engage with you.
However, authority is actually two different concepts: page authority and domain authority.
While they mean the same thing in theory, they are actually slightly different, and the SEO community has spent a lot of time trying to work out exactly how they are used.
Keep in mind that authority is purely subjective and assigned to websites based on the search engine’s trust in that site.
A high-authority site could still be mediocre at best or not even stand out from its competition – but the right steps can still push it into a higher tier of authority.
What is Page Authority?
Page authority ranks the content within a website page. This applies to that specific page, so a higher page authority means that a given page will have more of an SEO impact in general.
What is Domain Authority?
Domain authority ranks a website as a whole, taking into account all of its content and pages.
This is a much more significant metric – a low-authority page could still do well on a high-authority site, depending on how the link building process is used.
Links are not a guaranteed success.
Search platforms like Google can apply penalties in situations where they think links are not legitimate and certain kinds of links will simply be too useless to have any real effect.
Good linking is about prioritizing the best links and culling out ones that might have a negative impact on your SEO.
Extra links do not always mean greater authority, especially not if you are building links that are getting penalized by search platforms.
What are Link Penalties?
Most search platforms will slap penalties on any site that uses banned link building methods. Google’s guidelines are a good example of what can qualify as a “bad link.”
For example, Google may slash your rankings if you use too many black-hat (banned) options or may simply make certain links worthless if they were clearly gained through questionable methods.
These penalties can vary from a single link being turned valueless to your entire site being removed from search results until you can prove that you have turned it back into a legitimate ranking candidate.
While this can be reversed, it takes a long time, especially if your site suffered major penalties due to a huge reliance on black-hat methods.
White Hat Link Building
Building links can be done in many ways, but the most reliable are the white-hat methods.
These are fully within Google’s guidelines and protect you from any major consequences or penalties that black-hat methods would lead to.
Most of these rely on you taking the time to improve your site and content, boost your linking potential, and trying to arrange fair linking opportunities that do not take advantage of another site.
Google (and most other search engines) can identify white hat links from their questionable black hat counterparts in a number of ways, including:
Google detects patterns very easily and will notice if there seems to be an artificial rhythm to your links.
If you are not keeping your links diverse, then search platforms may see it as an attempt to game the system.
For example, if your SEO efforts involve seeking links with the exact same anchor text pointing to the exact same page, Google may take issue with how you are not focusing on anything else.
Getting a huge amount of links from a single site can also look sketchy, especially if all of the links are earned in a short span of time.
Trying to milk as many links as possible out of a single site usually backfires horribly, especially since duplicate links do not always even help your SEO.
Too many links pointing to the same linked page can also flag up some questions, especially if it is the only page on a site that seems to ever get any links.
A broader range of linked pages helps to prove that the links are authentic and earned naturally.
Authority and Strength
The domain authority of the link sources you choose really matters.
Not only does it lead to better results, but a wide range of authority levels can look more natural than getting consistently high authority links from nowhere.
This also works in reverse – if you are getting a huge amount of terrible-quality links from spam sites that have no relation to you, then your SEO will suffer.
This happens since search platforms may interpret it as you flooding your site with links to try and boost your rankings.
Context is another element that really matters and is a core part of your major ranking factors.
The context behind a link makes a huge difference to how much of an impact it has, especially if that context is fully relevant to both sides of the link.
For example, a link from an article about cars to an online car dealership will be relevant. However, if that article was a guest blogging post on a blog about food, the context is not quite right.
This can lead to the results of the link being much weaker, and in some cases, search platforms might even completely deny or penalize fully irrelevant links that are obviously just guest blog post spam.
Relevancy will always be important when creating links. If you use a link with “fishing gear” as the anchor text, and that link points to a page on your site about fishing gear, it benefits both the referral traffic and your own SEO.
However, if you use the “fishing gear” anchor text but point to a page about different types of fish, it might be slightly weaker. The anchor text is still relevant, but it is not quite the right anchor text for that page.
If your “fishing gear” anchor text is pointed at a page on your site about holiday destinations, then that anchor text (and possibly the target page) needs to be changed.
This works both ways, too – if either the link source or link recipient is irrelevant, the link loses a lot of authority.
Black Hat Link Building
Black hat link building methods are a lot more questionable and rely on using methods outside of Google’s guidelines.
These are both banned methods and are usually quite ineffective unless you get really lucky, meaning that they are not worth including in link building campaigns.
There is also the fact that most of these methods will get pages and sites penalized if they are discovered.
This can tank your SEO rankings regardless of your overall link quality, potentially destroying your ability to rank entirely (or even appear in search results) for quite a long time.
Reciprocal links – meaning links that are given as an exchange, with each site linking to the other – are identified and ignored by most search platforms.
Having too many can also get your site massively penalized unless they are used for internal link building between multiple sites that are all part of the same brand or interconnected system.
This also includes private blog networks – sites that are created and hosted across different IP addresses to link to each other, effectively making entirely fake link sources.
Internal links do not count for this – meaning links that take users from one place to another within the same site.
Spam is always bad. While it can pad out your link profile and provide a short-term boost to your numbers, it also results in major penalties when the spam links are detected.
While poor-authority backlinks are not worthless, a sudden influx of them can look like a spam link building attempt, which will usually get your entire site’s rankings lowered.
This can also cover links from spaces that clearly are not worth much, such as blog comments.
While these are not inherently spam on their own, they are not that valuable and may get penalized if links are placed in comments across hundreds of blogs.
Paid links are technically black hat and thus against Google’s guidelines.
While many SEO professionals still use them, it takes a lot of work to make them look natural since Google may penalize paid links if they are blatantly a paid option.
Paid content, including links, such as promotional blog posts, is usually slightly more accepted. However, a direct exchange of money for links puts you at the risk of penalties.
Methods like broken link building or link reclaiming are usually exempt from this since they rely on you re-using a link rather than creating a new one from scratch.
By now, you probably understand what link building is, but now you need to know how to do it.
Building a link properly requires an understanding of how this system is supposed to work – like many parts of SEO, there is a correct approach to building links.
While earning links passively and manually building them are technically different, they both roll into the same end goal.
The section below will cover some of the most popular and effective methods to secure quality backlinks.
Creating Linkable Content
Making content that users want to link to is a very easy way to gather up extra links.
As a passive form of link building for SEO, you can simply leave the content to generate natural links while hunting down even more links manually.
There are certain pages that really shine for passive link building: resources, directories, guides, or anything else that can provide some kind of consistent and valuable content to users.
Asking For Links
Sometimes earning a new link is as simple as asking.
While it is rare to see websites link to another one without a good reason, you can always have other websites link to resources on your site if they would be relevant to the content they host.
For example, you might have visual elements like infographics or original research worth linking to.
There are also how-to guides, ebooks, or even something more niche, such as technical product breakdowns.
If asking for a free link does not work, you can always come to a unique arrangement with that website owner – as long as you are not slipping into any black-hat methods.
Adding Links Directly
Sometimes you can go to another site and simply add a link yourself.
This is easy to do on social media platforms, business directories, or anywhere where you could have full control over the link and anchor text.
This is not that useful since most search engines will recognize these low-authority link sources on sites where everybody is linking to their own site. However, it also can’t hurt to have them there.
Pitching a guest post or promotional post to another site is one of the best link building strategies for manual link placement.
Instead of asking for links, you are pitching content to them, often with some kind of compensation available for them as a result.
This allows you to place a link and the surrounding context on any site that accepts it.
If you are able to write the article yourself, then you can tweak things to give your link the best context possible, boosting its authority dramatically.
Remember that not all sites will accept this, and some will want to make changes to the content before posting it.
You will also want to identify links within the content so that the other party understands what you are looking for – otherwise, they may simply remove them.
Getting Promotional Articles
If you do not want to write the content yourself, arranging for a promotional article written by the site or blog owner can also work.
Of course, this also means that you are giving up control of what is being written for you.
For example, if you provide the products for a product review, the site’s owner might not actually like the products and will be free to say that in their review.
However, these can be quite an easy way to get links and get more eyes on your products or services, especially if you pick a site that already has quite a large reader base that fits into your target audience.
Broken Link Building
Broken link building is an SEO trick that involves finding a broken link (a link that points to a site or page that no longer exists) and asking the website owner to redirect it to some of your own content.
Ideally, you want a broken link that would have pointed to something similar to your own site.
The more relevant the broken link is, the stronger it will be, and the more likely the site’s owner will be to agree to the arrangement in the first place.
Doing this correctly can allow you to inherit whatever benefits the original site was getting, but you need a suitable piece of content to link to first.
This might mean that you need to write an entirely new article or alter an existing page to better suit the links you are pursuing.
If you had a link in the past and lost it (due to URL changes, for example), then reclaiming it is not a bad idea.
The right SEO tools can point you towards links that were applied to the old URL, and then you simply need to approach the site and ask for it to be updated.
While this will not always work, link reclamation can still be fairly simple since you are just trying to get back a link you already had previously.
Whether or not the site owner will agree to it is entirely up to them, though.
Lost backlinks are almost always worth recapturing, especially if said lost backlinks are from high-authority sites and could provide a major boost to your website in the long term.
Having a solid strategy is important for all Search Engine Optimization work, but especially with links. The SEO industry is a very complex niche, and both passive and manual link building work best when you have a plan to follow.
Your link building tactics might vary depending on your situation and goals, but there are some clear tricks that are always worth using.
Know Your Goals
Have a goal in mind for your link building tactics. Never try to build links at random – always know where they should be targeted and what they need to be relevant to.
Do Keyword Research
Always do keyword research before capturing more links. Good keyword research can tell you exactly which anchor text terms and page titles to use for maximum authority gain.
Tweak Your Site
Whether it is new metadata options from keyword research or just some minor on-page SEO changes, be willing to adjust your site to suit your links if needed.
Use Flexible Link Building Tactics
Search traffic and rankings can be unpredictable, often requiring you to change up your methods to suit each situation. This can make it important to stay flexible, especially for a small business owner.
Use Internal Linking
Internal linking can indirectly boost SEO by making your site easier to use, allowing visitors to quickly navigate around your site with much less effort. Good internal links are invaluable in a site of any scale.
Keep Relevancy In Mind
Always make sure that pages link to content that is relevant and worthwhile. An irrelevant link can be incredibly weak or even actively harmful to your SEO.
Use Common Sense
Always put common sense first. For example, do not flood your site with links from forum posts, and make sure to properly identify links and their sources when exploring your backlink profile.
Where to Go From Here
Link building for SEO purposes can be incredibly complicated.
Even simple ideas like broken link building can take many forms and require many different steps, depending on which sites you are targeting and how.
Like most SEO efforts, link building has no perfect solution for every situation.
A large part of building links well is working out how to approach each link building opportunity and how you can refine your linking options to choose the best for each situation.
Understanding different link attributes and getting experience with handling different link types is key to becoming an effective link builder, but there is not a sure-fire solution for every single situation.
At its heart, SEO is a bespoke process that needs to be tailored to suit each site.
Using Links to Boost Rankings in Search Engines
If you are looking to start improving your search rankings and achieve greater online success, then jumping into some link building is not a bad idea.
It only takes a little while to grasp the fundamentals of how you can build links effectively.
Whatever you do, make sure that you are prepared to change your tactics if something goes wrong.
Like any kind of SEO, random chance is always a factor – and Google’s algorithms will not always work in the way that you expect.
Building a Full SEO Strategy
Once you get a handle on how links can be used, it becomes incredibly easy to overhaul your entire approach to SEO.
Being able to gather up links that boost your rankings can make a massive difference in which pages you can push in front of your target audience and how widespread they get.
Scott Calland is a highly regarded content specialist with an English Degree. He has a passion for creating compelling content as a UK journalist that engages, informs, and entertains readers. With over 10 years of experience in creating news publications as a reporter, Scott has developed a keen eye for detail and a deep understanding of how to craft content that resonates with audiences. Working closely with data analysts Scott’s research on topics is unrivalled for latest news updates.
Scott is also an investor in Searcharoo.