Not every backlink leads to better rankings.
When you want to build links for SEO, there are some you want to avoid:
Links from low-quality and spammy sites can lead to nasty penalties from Google.
And auto-generated backlinks are always a bad idea.
So, which links should you be focusing on to boost your SEO (without leading to bad consequences)?
The best links for SEO are always followed links, and are either:
- Editorially given,
- Earned through outreach and PR practices, or
- Earned through relationships with industry people.
In this post, I’ll show you how to build the best links for SEO with 14 powerful strategies that can lead directly to higher rankings.
Let’s begin this adventure!
How to Build Links for SEO: 14 Strategies for Followed Links and Higher Rankings
I’ve broken down the link building strategies in this post into two sections:
First, nine powerful strategies with a strong SEO focus. These come from a mix of personal experience, industry research and first-hand approaches from SEO experts who used the strategies to improve their organic traffic, rankings and CTR.
Then, another five classic strategies that are always worth a reminder—they can be tweaked to focus on followed links only and give a great boost to your SEO!
9 SEO-focused Link Building Strategies
1. Establish long-term relationships with people in your industry
Relationships aren’t overrated. Far from it, in fact!
See, you can’t grow a business or website in your niche or industry without some good old-fashioned networking.
When you create long-term relationships, not only do you open yourself up to more link building opportunities, but also to more business opportunities. So, this is a critical asset to include in your marketing basket.
Daniela Andreevska, Marketing Director at Mashvisor, uses long-term relationship building to effectively build links and improve SEO results.
While getting links from many different websites is important, it can also be a very time-consuming process. But that’s not the case when it comes to getting links from your immediate network.
According to Daniela:
“A much more time and effort-efficient strategy is to build a list of websites that are ready to link back to yours on a regular basis.
As long as these websites are closely related to your sphere, the backlinks will not only increase your DA but also push up the traffic to your website.”
Daniela’s team achieved great success using this strategy and explains how they did it (so you can, too!):
“We have been able to establish a relationship with a number of real estate companies. We contribute data, guest content and expertise to them on a monthly or quarterly basis and sometimes ad hoc, which has really helped us push our DA up.
Moreover, we know that the traffic we get from these websites is high quality with high conversion rates.”
2. Get featured where your competitors are featured
Where are your competitors finding backlink success? Look to their backlink profiles for a goldmine of link building ideas you can steal!
Monitor Backlinks is the best tool for the job when it comes to studying your competition and analyzing their backlinks to uncover interesting strategies.
(Make sure to sign up for a free trial account here if you don’t already have one, and get started with competitor link analysis right away!)
From the Competitor Links tab, you can add new competitors as well as click to browse the backlinks for competitors you’ve already added.
Pull up a competitor’s link profile and look at:
- The linking page: Is it high quality and relevant to your competitor’s content and niche?
- The anchor text: Is it branded or a niche keyword? Is it relevant to the context?
- Backlink status, Trust and Citation Flow, number of external links: Is the backlink followed? Does it come from a trusted domain with a low number of outbound links?
This data will give you some fantastic insights into your competitor’s link building strategies, which you can then try to replicate to get the same backlinks for yourself.
Ryan Skidmore, Digital Marketing Director at Big Leap, used this strategy to get high-quality backlinks for their client Purple. He analyzed one of Purple’s main competitors, Casper, and used outreach to promote his client and get them featured where their competitor was.
“I found out where Casper was getting placement and knew that Purple had a superior product and we could get the same feature, if not better. I sent some emails to the writers that had featured Casper, but with a few different ideas.
Purple was on their way to unicorn-dom and at the time had 3x the sales as Casper had done in the same time period. I expressed this in the outreach email and was able to secure a spot with TechCrunch.
Then I did the same thing to a writer at Forbes, and she actually flew out to do a full feature of them in Forbes Magazine as well as the online publication.”
3. Leave great testimonials for your favorite services
Because they might want to feature you!
Check it out:
It was like a dream come true. How could I say no? (And in fact, I gladly said yes!)
This is a screenshot of my testimonial as it was published on marketgoo’s site:
I got two followed backlinks: one image link, one text. Double win!
Unfortunately, you won’t always be lucky enough to get approached by an authoritative brand for a testimonial. But that shouldn’t stop you from writing a glowing testimonial for each service that you’ve used—and loved—and reaching out to them yourself to ask if they’re willing to add it to their site.
4. Use warm email outreach
Kindness and human warmth lower a person’s initial diffidence and defense shields.
So, before you discuss a backlink with a potential source, invest a little time in creating a relationship with them.
(Again, relationships are the foundation of everything in business and marketing!)
When you approach a website owner for link building, do it with kindness. Use what you know about the site owner and anything that you have in common with them, so that you can connect on a personal level.
This concept of warm email outreach is taken from Ed Gandia’s warm email prospecting. Ed is an expert copywriter who uses this approach to create a kind first connection with potential leads through a personalized email for each of them.
Ed provides a warm outreach email template on the page I linked above. However, I’ve also created an example email here using Ed’s guidelines, to help you get a better idea of how to approach it.
I’ve also included some comments to explain my process:
→ Ed suggests that the meaningful connection starts in the subject line:
Subject: Your post on blogging as a therapy
→ Meaningful connection:
Your post on therapy blogging opened up a whole new world for me.
I’ve been dealing with depression for years, yet I had never imagined that blogging could be as healing as journaling for myself and my therapist, if not more. Thank you so much!
→ Value statement:
But I haven’t introduced myself yet. I’m Carol, a software developer who recently started a blog on keeping a positive attitude through the difficult journeys of life.
With backup from experts, of course, because I want to give my readers much more than just personal experience.
→ Credibility page:
Here is my About Me page if you wish to learn more about me: [link]
→ Soft connection invite:
If that sounds good for you, I would love to connect and start an exchange.
Ed also recommends to keep this first email under 125 words—and my example above is 124 words exactly.
5. Create (and add to) resource pages
The moment you create a resource page, you’re bound to receive emails from other link builders to add their resource to that page.
I experienced it lately with a “Breastfeeding Resources” page I created on my motherhood blog. I started getting plenty of requests to have (interesting, motherhood-related) content added to the listings.
I gladly accepted every time it made sense, because that was going to be worthwhile for us both. It’s a golden opportunity to get a backlink for yourself!
In fact, you can even ask your new SEO acquaintance directly if they’re up for giving the resource page a boost with a backlink or a social media share (an indirect way to get more backlinks).
At the same time, you can also reach out to webmasters with relevant resource pages to get your own content featured on their list.
Put yourself in their shoes: Knowing what it feels like yourself, how would you like to be approached by someone with interesting content?
(Use the warm email outreach template in #4 if it may help.)
6. Host expert roundups on your site
You know what readers are like:
Their hunger for knowledge is inextinguishable, they want to learn about not only your opinion and experience, but also your exchange with other experts in your niche or industry.
And when you host expert roundups on your website, you’re doing exactly that. You’re giving readers insights from authoritative, trusted sources and a lot of expertise—much more than you could provide yourself.
So, for the sake of link building, hosting expert roundups is a great way to network and create relationships (yes, again!) with experts in your niche.
It’s a surefire way to get followed backlinks too, because experts love to share and promote articles they’re featured in.
Here’s an example of an expert roundup from our blog for inspiration.
7. Leverage syndication platforms
Below is an example of one of my posts syndicated at Business 2 Community, complete with a followed backlink:
Just make sure you do your research. It’s very important that you choose syndication platforms that work best in your niche, because the backlinks that you get from syndicating must be relevant, followed links to work for your SEO.
Besides, you want to get good traffic and leads from this strategy, too!
8. Leverage unlinked mentions
If you search for your name or brand name, you may notice that not all the results come with a backlink. Sometimes people prefer to just mention the name or brand without actually linking back to their website.
And guess what? There’s hiding a linking opportunity!
Alex Dealy, Senior SEO Analyst at Motava, finds unlinked mentions to be one of the most effective strategies for link building.
“Finding, getting in touch with, and asking these sites to add a link to your site is an effective way to gain SEO results through backlinking for a few reasons:
1. It’s not a huge ask to add a link if a website has already mentioned you.
2. Similarly, you don’t need to pitch anybody to include you somewhere they weren’t thinking of writing about you.
3. Unlinked mentions are typically strong, editorial links.
4. Most editorial sites will add URL or branded anchors to these links—you don’t have to worry about limiting link velocity due to money or keyword-targeted anchors.
Depending on the website/client, you may have dozens of these unlinked mentions ready for immediate link building.”
To put this technique into practice, find mentions of your site or brand name with a Google search.
If you were mentioned but not linked to, go ahead and contact the webmaster to thank them for their work and for the mention, and ask if they would be so kind as to link back to your site to make it easier for readers to learn more about you.
Approach this with kindness and don’t ask for a followed link—leave that editorial choice up to the webmaster.
9. Use public data to create link-worthy content
People love data-driven content.
So, simple logic tells you that using data and research to create a useful, intriguing piece of content will make for a very effective link building strategy.
Jim Milan, Communications & SEO Manager at AutoAccessoriesGarage.com, told me that having a data-driven piece among your assets gives you an advantage when reaching out to land a link.
“You can use this content piece to reach out to relevant websites to see if they will link to it or share it on online platforms like Reddit, which will get it lots of
For example, we used public data from the U.S. Census Bureau to design an interactive map that shows average commute times in the United States by zip code. Each zip code was given a score based on how its commute time compared to the average for its respective state, providing a view into how fast or slow the commutes of certain areas of the country are.
Visitors to the webpage can also enter their own zip code and personal commute time to see how their commute time compares to the average for that zip code.”
Jim and his team shared the piece on Reddit’s “Data is Beautiful” subreddit, which led to it being seen by people at some major publications.
“It was subsequently featured on authoritative sites like MarketWatch, the Chicago Tribune, NBC Chicago and CARTO.
The piece has so far garnered 96 backlinks.”
Michelle Levine, SEO Manager at Vistaprint, also confirmed that creating data-driven content is a tremendously effective link building practice.
“A few years ago, we did a study on improving your website experience and surveyed nearly 2,000 adults to better understand what they were looking for in a company’s website. The study earned us links from more than 50 referring domains.
Many journalists and bloggers reported on data points in the study, as the expectations of customers when it came to company websites were quite interesting.”
Create your own link-worthy, data-driven content by researching public papers, reports and statistics in your niche and collecting interesting data that you can use to produce an ultimate guide, e-book or infographic.
Make the content one of the pillar pieces on your site, then promote it via outreach or participate in expert roundups.
You could also distribute your content to the syndication platforms we talked about in #7 for more visibility. TradePub is another option for syndicating technical and professional publications.
5 Classic Link Building Strategies That Boost Your SEO
1. The Skyscraper Technique
With this approach, you build up on other people’s work to get better content out there (and possibly outrank them).
The Skyscraper Technique can be either competitive or collaborative:
- The competitive approach takes others’ work and research, and adds more. This makes the skyscraper higher and you can easier outrank competitors.
- The collaborative approach is more similar to scientific work on papers, where you take the work of others and build upon it. You’ll still reference and link to the competitor’s original work, usually summarizing some of their main ideas while promising (and delivering) a lot more than that.
2. Guest posting
Guest posting is an effective strategy when you stick to relevant, authoritative blogs in your niche.
Naturally, get to know the blogs a bit before pitching, interact with the blogger in comments, and make sure that you read the guest posting guidelines carefully (most blogs have them).
See our guides on guest posting:
- 3 Fail-Safe Ways to Get Consistent SEO Guest Post Opportunities
- Best Email Outreach Strategies for Guest Blogging
- Guest Blogging Strategies to Drive Traffic and Build Backlinks
3. Broken link building
This strategy is a simple five-step process:
1. Run a Google search for sites in your niche (e.g. inbound marketing blog).
3. Collect a list of interesting 404 errors that have anchors you’d love to get linked with.
4. Create replacement content for those errors and publish it on your site. If you already have relevant content published, all the better!
5. Reach out to the site’s webmaster to offer your content as a potential replacement for the broken link, highlighting the benefits for their readers.
If the webmaster loves your work and you present a compelling case, they’ll likely agree to replace the broken link with yours.
4. Internal linking
Who said that good link opportunities only come from other people’s websites?
The best backlinks under your control are on your own website, and they’re perfectly legit!
All it takes is strategically linking your posts to each other within the body of the content, with relevant anchor text.
Stephen Jeske, Content Strategist at MarketMuse, advises to never underestimate the power of internal links:
“This type of link helps establish the semantic relationship between various pages on your site, helping search engines better understand your content and the authority of your site as a whole.”
Because you have total control of the links and anchor text on your site, you can take full advantage and link older content to new posts as well.
Stephen also brings an example to the table:
“Late 2018 I published a piece called ‘Content Gap Analysis Examples,’ which initally sat around the bottom of the third page (position 28) in the SERPs.
In January 2019, I tweaked my internal linking structure to link some older posts to this new content. Three days later, I got a bump to position 11.
Since then I’ve published and linked more material around the subject of content gaps and have seen this post move up the ranks onto the first page.”
And that’s what I’d call success!
5. Great content that promotes itself
You may wonder why I added this one here, and the answer is simple: Because it’s not quite as obvious as it sounds!
Without good content, there is no SEO. But if everyone understood this simple fact, there wouldn’t be so many spammy, low-quality sites out there.
So what you want to achieve is content that targets the right keywords and answers a searcher’s question in full. This is the type of content that’s bound to get backlinks.
Simon Ensor, Managing Director at Yellowball, is very clear about this:
“Ensuring that you target high-value queries is obviously a key concern, but also identifying featured snippets can significantly increase exposure.
You can utilize social and email channels to promote your content and increase user-generated comments on the article.
Finally, reviewing previous content and tailoring according to its results means that you can capitalize on work previously completed.”
Do a content audit if you’re not getting any backlinking traction yet.
Further the study of your audience and do better keyword research to produce content that really stays in people’s minds.
How to Build Links for SEO Wrap-up
It takes some creativity, doesn’t it?
Yet, that’s exactly the reason why link building is such an interesting SEO task. As time and energy-consuming as it might be, it’s a very rewarding activity.
And building links for SEO isn’t that difficult, all things considered.
So get creative, get planning and be successful!