Remember that teacher who went on and on about theories but showed no examples of how they work out in the real world?
We’ve all had one of those teachers—maybe it was in calculus, physics or chemistry.
Heck, even an English teacher might have droned too long about grammar without showing examples of real-world application.
This gap between theory and practice is a real problem for students and digital marketers alike.
SEO (search engine optimization) and link building are two practices with tons of theory behind them.
But what good is it to understand the theories perfectly if you’re not applying them correctly or seeing results?
For instance, we know all about link building—getting other websites to link back to yours to create web citations. You do research, some outreach, backlink tracking and then—bam!—you score backlinks, drink in that sweet link juice and watch your content skyrocket upward in the Google SERPs.
Right? Eh, kind of.
There’s a big gap between linkbuilding theory and practice. Here, we’ll help you build a bridge between theory and practice to design a linkbuilding plan that works for your unique needs and marketing goals—and that actually gets results.
How to Do Link Building the Right Way
The key to doing link building the right way is to figure out which backlinks you need.
Getting a link from any old website used to work up to the late 2000s, but it isn’t working anymore, and for good reason.
Random backlinks lack relevance.
When search engines find your backlink, they will look at the content around it. Context matters.
If your website is about student loans but you have links on a blog post about pharmaceuticals, this screams “potential link spam” to the smart search engine algorithms. As a reader of that blog post, you’d probably be surprised if a link leads you to a credit loan website.
Readers don’t like surprises from links, and neither do search engines.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to place links exclusively on other student loan websites. Slightly less related backlinks can still be totally legit. You might aim to place links on websites about education, finance and millennial life, and that should work out fine. The questions to ask are:
- Is the page with my backlink somewhat related to my topics?
- Am I providing valuable information to readers with my backlink?
- Will the readers of the page with my backlink enjoy my website?
Bottom line: Readers should find the presence of your backlink helpful, think to themselves, “oh perfect, I was wondering about [topic]” and then happily stay on your website to keep reading.
The more you focus on your target audience’s needs and interests when doing link building, the more you can ensure this happens.
This will, in turn, lead to low bounce rate, high dwell time and high conversion rate for the referral traffic from your backlinks, signalling to search engines that your backlinks are high quality.
How to Choose the Right Linkbuilding Strategies for You
Now, the time comes to actually start on a linkbuilding campaign. Here’s how to choose the right approach to link building.
1. Assess Your Business Needs
This is the time to ask yourself:
- Who is going to enjoy your content?
- Who is most likely to buy, sign up or take another desired action on your website? (That’s your target audience!)
- What are the needs, wants and interests of your target audience?
- What types of websites does your target audience visit (apart from yours)?
- Do you care more about organic traffic, referral traffic, direct traffic or general brand awareness?
The more aligned the backlinks are with your brand and your goals, the more meaningful they appear to users and search engines.
2. Do Competitor Analysis
You might not know everything about your target audience or the backlinks you truly need yet.
The best way to get this intel is to see what close competitors are up to.
If you see one of your main competitors getting most of their quality backlinks from guest posts, interviews or coverage in local news websites, you get the message: These outlets might be your best chance to get high-quality backlinks that are relevant to your goals and target audience!
To see all of a competitor’s backlinks:
1. Go to your Monitor Backlinks dashboard and click the Competitor Links tab.
2. Click on any competitor’s website. If you haven’t added your competitors to this tool yet, do so with the Add new competitor button.
3. Browse your competitor’s backlinks and choose the strongest ones.
Domain Authority (>40)
Dofollow/Nofollow status (only dofollow backlinks affect SEO directly)
Anchor text (The more editorial/contextual it looks, the better)
4. Click the Export button to download them all.
5. Visit the source pages and destination pages of each strong backlink and take notes. With this information, you’ve successfully scooped the competition’s linkbuilding strategy. The source pages in particular give you valuable information for the next stage.
3. Choose Where to Build Backlinks
How can you choose the right sites to target for link building?
Well, you can start with the previous step if you’re in need of inspiration: Where are your competitors actively building backlinks? Which websites have linked to them naturally?
Combine this knowledge with your own unique linkbuilding goals. (After all, your competitors might have slightly different aims than you.)
Let’s say that your target audience are university students in New England. They’re the most likely to enjoy your content, spend time on your website and help you achieve your goals (more social media shares, more sales, more newsletter signups, or whatever else you’re trying to accomplish).
Your competition has backlinks in all the local directories throughout New England. They’re listed in directories in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts. They’ve been featured in a few articles by local media outlets.
This is great information.
You can start by imitating the links they have—that’s an easy first step. Get yourself listed in those directories and reach out to the media outlets. Next, you notice that they don’t have backlinks in directories for a couple New England states. Now you’ll have a competitive advantage in Connecticut and Rhode Island right off the bat.
4. Focus Your Efforts on Destination Pages
When you do outreach, you need to let webmasters know which specific URL you want them to add.
This is your backlink’s destination page.
And it better be good!
Yes, every page of your website has to be the highest quality possible to stand out in search engines and win user trust. But the destination pages for your linkbuilding campaigns must be the best possible quality and carefully optimized to maximize engagement and conversion rate.
You’ll want to:
- Improve and polish the content on the page as much as possible. Make every line count. Make sure every word brings readers closer to your goal.
- Target the expected target audience as much as possible. (If readers are coming from a local New Hampshire directory, make sure the page targets people in New Hampshire.)
- Perfect the technical SEO behind the scenes, the on-page SEO and the UX/UI.
- Add proof that what you preach works (testimonials, reviews).
- Add an appealing CTA (call to action).
This is your chance. Don’t have backlinks lead to a poor-quality page with thin content and no CTA. Put your best foot forward so referral traffic doesn’t bounce.
Zach Hendrix, Co-Founder of GreenPal, shared his own local linkbuilding experiences with me:
We found that acquiring links from local lawn care services in the small cities and towns that we operate in, that were pointing directly to the landing pages for that city, improved our rankings overall from a number six to a number two or even one position. (…)
When it comes to linkbuilding, relevance and links directly to the individual landing pages themselves [is what] works. Those links are easier to get in [that] they simply drive better results in moving the needle in the right direction.
Link Building Done Right: 13 Customizable Strategies That Get Results
1. High-quality Niche Directories
Directories aren’t dead. Not when there are industries that rely on well-known listings to get found. This is often the case for local SEO.
They’re not hard to find, either. If you’re in the marketing niche, for example, simply run a Google search for “marketing directory” and the search engine will return thousands of results.
Several will be high-quality results, and those are your ideal targets to start with.
You want to choose directories that bring in real traffic, not ones that were created only for link schemes. It’s easy to spot the latter—they’re very low quality, have terrible UX and are filled to the brim with advertisements, spam and irrelevant links.
The best listings in the screenshot above are clearly the B2B Marketing, DMN and Target Marketing magazine directories, all highly reputable outlets that you can count on to have thousands of subscribers and loads of incoming organic traffic. These look like sweet spots for marketing niche backlinks.
Don’t discount a directory just because it gives you a nofollow backlink, either. It might not crank up your rank in the SERPs, but it can still bring you tons of valuable referral traffic.
Lots of referral traffic with good engagement stats (low bounce rate, high dwell time) can also feed into your SEO and SERP rankings down the road, since search engines like to see that a site’s visitors are happy once they arrive. This just takes time to prove! Start by building referral traffic and the ranking boost will follow later.
How to Make Directory Link Building Work for You
Can your business or website benefit from a placement in niche directories?
That’s the question you should answer before you go out to hunt for good listings.
Consider where your audience is coming from. Glance at your analytics suite to find out where most of your referral traffic originates. See if competitors have any backlinks in directories. That’s a good starting point to understand whether seeking placement in niche directories is worth your time and effort or not.
The second criterium to take into consideration is the directory’s audience: Is this your same audience, or does it only target websites like yours (partners and competitors) who are looking for links and partnerships? If the latter is true (no targeted traffic), will getting a backlink from this directory still benefit you from an SEO viewpoint (followed link)?
If placement in a directory brings in neither targeted traffic nor SEO benefits, pursuing it might not be worthwhile.
2. Get Local Mentions
Mentions that are included in local listings and publications (regional e-zines, local industry bulletins, city news websites, Yelp listings, TripAdvisor, etc.) can increase your visibility in the geographic areas where you want to garner sales or make your brand known.
This is a huge boon for anyone doing local SEO.
It can work even better if your activity is local or you run a physical store. Adam Egarr, SEO specialist for Collingwood Batchellor, can attest to this:
Because we have physical stores and our customers usually pop in before buying, our link building strategy focuses around acquiring local mentions.
What we’ve found to be particularly useful is tracking unlinked mentions and approaching local business directories, council-run sites and others for links.
We’ve also leveraged one of our store’s in-house coffee shops to appear in TripAdvisor and sites of that ilk. When our Horsham store was refurbished, we approached local newspapers to cover the story.
Whether you’re a business or a webmaster or a nonprofit organization that works in specific geographic areas, getting local mentions and backlinks can give more results than going after global backlinks.
How to Make Local Mentions Work for You
While any website with some local relevance can benefit from local mentions and backlinks, this should be your first option if your audience is local and that’s your target for all your SEO and web efforts.
Going local doesn’t make as much sense if you run an international retail site, a non-geographically-targeted blog or an e-store selling digital goods that aren’t location dependent.
It’s far too easy to get the wrong message (“I’m doing this for the backlink only”) across to search engines and users, so you might not even get your local listing approved if your website isn’t truly local.
3. Broken Link Building
There are a few main approaches to broken link building:
- Go to a related website and scour it for broken links. When you find one, you create (or have already created) a superb piece of content that can effectively replace the broken link. Then, you do outreach. You email the webmaster asking if they could replace that broken link with your live resource. Free tools like the Screaming Frog Broken Link Checker can effectively automate a big chunk of the work here.
- Check a competitor’s backlinks, identify broken ones and take advantage. I noted how to check competitor backlinks with Monitor Backlinks earlier—it’s pretty easy. You’ll be able to see which backlinks are broken, and you’ll even get an automatic update when a competitor loses a backlink so you can pounce. (It’s a good tool for broken link building!) Once you find a gap, create the content and do the outreach.
- Review your own backlink profile, find broken links and fix them! It’s always possible that your own links will break, for whatever reason. Follow up on these and reclaim them.
How to Make Broken Link Building Work for You
This is an incredible strategy for anyone with a little extra time on their hands to do the research and find the broken links.
It’s also amazing if your competitors aren’t really aware of their backlinks, and are allowing links to break left and right.
So, if you’ve got the time and want to know if broken link building is the right strategy for you, spend about 30 minutes doing the research. Can you find lots of broken backlinks in your niche?
If the answer is yes, grab your keyboard and start writing and reaching out.
Conversely, if resources in your niche don’t get linked often, if your competitors are too backlink-savvy to let good backlinks break, or if every link comes from low-quality outlets, broken link building might not be your technique of choice.
4. Monthly Outreach Campaigns
With this strategy, you’ll reach out to webmasters every month to find new opportunities to get links—and to create, build and nurture relationships.
Monthly outreach campaigns can include several techniques:
- Broken link building
- Link reclamation (having links added to web mentions without links)
- Stealing competitor backlinks
Pretty much most of the strategies you see listed in this post can be performed in a monthly outreach campaign style.
To give you a firsthand account of how this works out, James McCarthy, CEO of Placement Labs, told me how he managed to get hundreds of .edu backlinks for one of his clients using resource creation and outreach:
One specific link building campaign that we perform for our professional clients (lawyers, doctors, etc.) is to create a scholarship, and then reach out to colleges all over the country which have “scholarship resource” pages on their websites, requesting that they add a backlink to our client’s scholarship (which acts as a backlink to our client’s website).
During our first attempt at this tactic, for one of our personal injury attorney clients, we reached out via email to 150 law colleges around the country, and through the outreach process, we were able to secure 12 .edu backlinks within a couple months.
How to Make Outreach Work for You
Reaching out to bloggers, journalists, e-listings, publications and other outlets every month can take up a lot of time and (sometimes) money, but it pays off in the long term.
Link opportunities created by human relationships are much more meaningful for end users, and search engines can’t complain because the last word in this is always goes to the website owner.
In other words, these are editorial links.
Evaluate your current SEO workload and workflow before coming up with a monthly outreach strategy, because you need to be able to stick to it.
And yes, sometimes you may get a nay instead of a yay, but you keep reaching out. The key is to keep this regular so that no lack of response or negative response feels like a long-term failure. You just keep going, and the positive responses will gradually trickle in.
5. Create Data-driven Content
Data-driven content can be used as a source for other websites that value data. And everyone values data, they just don’t always have the time, audience or know-how to collect and analyze it.
If you can collect and analyze some data, then present this in a well-written post, this can become major link bait. It’s easier for related websites to link to your research than to replicate it themselves—it might actually be impossible for them to replicate it, given the amount of energy and information that goes into something like this.
See here what HubSpot does with its marketing statistics and research. And here’s how many backlinks this page got (backlink count by Moz’s OSE):
Get the point?
Any resource of this kind easily attracts backlinks because people need it and need to link it from their articles for credit or to give their readers something valuable to read.
If content is king, then data-driven content is more than that—it’s emperor!
How to Make Data Work for You
Creating data-driven content takes up a lot of time. You need to devote hours (possibly over the course of days, weeks or months) to research and data analysis, image and graphs creation, plus content wriing.
Which means you need the time and knowledge to do this yourself, or you need the money to outsource it (and it’s a lot of work to outsource).
So, this linkbuilding strategy works best for people with ample resources to expend. It’s worth the expenditure though, because the payoff is potentially huge.
6. Host Expert Interviews
This technique asks that you devote an entire article to a full-length interview featuring only one expert in your niche or industry.
Two or three experts at the most, if the topic requires a debate format. For example, a great approach might be to host a three-expert roundup, discussing different perspectives on a current industry issue at a conference.
The power of a single-expert interview lies in the need of bloggers and journalists to cite authoritative content, so anybody looking for firsthand opinions and expert insights will link back to your resources. If the expert is popular in your field, they’ll link back to share insight from that specific name in the niche.
How to Make Expert Interviews Work for You
Virtually any niche can benefit from publishing expert interviews, but if you decide to use this technique, ensure you choose interviewees whose work and reputation are truly relevant in your niche.
Whether they’re small or big names in your field, they have to have what it takes to add valuable insight to the niche and answer real questions that your audience is asking.
If you don’t know where to get started, google “[industry] expert” or browse the speakers at the latest niche or industry conferences in your area or at international events. Note down the names, run a web search on their past work/achievements and reach out to them via LinkedIn or email, inviting them to take up your interview opportunity.
This works particularly well for anyone who’s already well-connected in their industry, or who attends industry conferences, mixers and networking events.
Hosting podcasts on your website makes it easy to earn backlinks and social shares because, like with a mini conference or an interview, people are always interested in fresh content that brings in new voices and expert insight.
How to Make Podcasts Work for You
As with interviews, podcasts allow you to host a single expert who comes to talk to your audience about a niche issue solution or to share their experience and expertise.
However, running podcasts regularly requires more resources than publishing textual interviews with photos, and it might take some time before you see a ROI.
You have to wait for your podcasts to get linked editorially and/or you have to reach out to website owners for link opportunities, which doesn’t give overnight results), so evaluate your resources before adding podcasts to your link building plan.
Like with podcasts, webinars also are very easy to get backlinks for if you use a permanent landing page where you offer the webinar.
Use the same landing page for each webinar offer. This way, while your page will get updated every time you host the webinar again, the URL stays permanent and people will link to it every time the webinar is offered.
How to Make Webinars Work for You
Everything already said for podcasts applies to webinars, especially since this type of content requires more server resources to handle the amount of traffic streaming demands.
If you have the resources to offer webinars to your audience, by all means offer replays and new webinars regularly, every month or at least biannually. Many busy niche or industry people among your audience will definitely prefer this kind of visual and auditory content over the reading long articles.
9. Press Releases
Anything new about your website and your stance in your niche can be fodder for a press release, another classic in link building and branding.
However, it’s not the press release link that you should be after. You can use press releases to get attention from the right journalists, publishers, bloggers by pitching them the new content.
This technique can be included in a monthly outreach campaign, so don’t just passively wait for writers to pick up your PR to write an article and link back to you, but instead contact specific publishers to seek opportunities for brand awareness and link building.
How to Make Press Releases Work for You
Press releases work when there are big changes in your website, business or brand.
If your website activity doesn’t produce anything newsworthy, press releases might not be the right tactic for you.
Keep in mind that your PR should be compelling and attractive enough to generate coverage and naturally earn backlinks in your niche. Bloggers and journalists are picky, so make sure you offer them something they can’t say no to.
10. HARO and Other Digital PR Outlets
It’s very easy to get backlinks via HARO and other public relation outlets.
You sign up for their free daily or weekly media query digest, and respond to any media queries by journalists and bloggers writing for your niche.
If your feedback is picked up for inclusion in the article, it will be published right away or you’ll get a follow-up email from the journalist for a full interview.
It works the other way round compared to press releases, where you have to wait for journalists to pick up your story and write about it.
While not every quote you send might get the feedback you wish for, it’s still worth trying. Out of the bunch of quotes you send out, there’s a high chance you’ll get at least a few of them picked up.
Rob Smith, Head of SEO at Hollywood Mirrors, got an amazing number of quality links and coverage using digital PR outlets and even the social network Twitter:
I started link building on the website in August 2017 and I have increased our organic traffic by 167% since that period by answering journalist requests across the internet on sites like Twitter, Sourcebottle and HARO.
It is far easier to help out a journalist than to create content and go in cold emailing in the hope to get a link. We have had over 70 features on high-quality websites.
How to Make Press HARO Work for You
The first thing to do after sign up for any digital PR outlets of your choice is to monitor the newsletters for opportunities in your niche and respond to as many as your time budget allows for.
After one week, sum it up:
- Did you receive at least two opportunities in your niche this week?
- Did you qualify for at least one of these opportunities?
- Were the opportunities for print-only outlets, or could you get a backlink as credit for your insight?
- What could you say about the quality of the web outlets you would get a potential backlink from?
- Did you get feedback on your responses?
While answers to these three questions may vary from week to week, one week is enough to get a glimpse of the amount and quality of opportunities for link building you can get in your niche on that outlet.
If you get one opportunity or less for your niche, or only ones from print-only publications with no possibility to build links, you might want to give this technique a second thought or use it for branding only.
11. Guest Posts
Guest posting is a classic in link building because of its ease of implementation.
And for its main goal being not backlinks but brand awareness and reputation growth, or to share new ideas. Wwhen you do share something valuable, you’re always credited with a backlink.
However, SEO results with guest posting may vary. You might get nofollow backlinks in the body of the post or in your author bio, which won’t push your organic rankings forward, but are still worth getting for traffic and indirect SEO benefits.
Once you get linked, everybody can find you and link back to you.
Also, guest posting makes for great digital PR and it can only benefit your business or personal brand, as long as you’re picky about the sites you’re posting on.
How to Make Guest Posts Work for You
Virtually any niche can benefit from guest posting, but you’ll want to take a few extra steps to be sure you get the most out of this:
- Only pick blogs in your niche. Don’t stretch your topic too far to the point it’s clear you’re only doing it for SEO. Bloggers want authoritative content that makes sense for their readers and helps them solve their problems, and you know what? You’re the expert who can help them.
- Study the blog’s quality and backlink profile. You want your guest post to generate not only a great backlink, but also targeted traffic that leads to conversions, whether that’s subscribers, sales or social shares. Look at the signals the blog receives on its own platform (comments, shares, list subscribers) and from other websites (backlinks, mentions). The more positive these signals, the more spot-on this blog is for your guest posting campaign.
- Read guest post guidelines thoroughly. Every blogger wants things done differently. Some prefer that you pitch an idea, others want to see a full draft before green-lighting your submission.
Read our guide on guest posting to learn all the insider tricks to doing it well and up your chances to get your pitch accepted.
When you give testimonials for products and services that you know publish feedback on their website and link back to testimonial givers… well, your chances of getting your testimonial approved and published with a backlink are high!
Make sure you really do your best in writing the testimonial, and make it so valuable that it would be a big mistake from the service or product provider to reject it.
Fill the testimonial with numbers and results, making it like a mini case study.
Below is an example from my business website—this reader’s testimonial was so great I just had to publish it and credit her with a backlink!
How to Make Testimonials Work for You
The testimonial you give will ideally be placed on a website in your niche or at least somewhat related to it.
For example, let’s say you run a blog about content marketing. If your blogging team uses a content management software, the fact both your blog and the tool are related to content creation/management makes the backlink highly relevant.
13. Run a Contest or an Event
Contests and events attract a lot of people and go viral very easily, making it easy to get linked.
They’ll be linking back to the event page, sure, but sometimes the backlink might reward the homepage of your website or any other resources of yours mentioned in the event page itself.
While you can’t run contest in every country without adhering to restrictions, limitations or high fees like in Italy, you can still run an event related to some topic or service you offer and involve the audience in activities. You can probably work around any restrictions, like offering a little goodie for every participant rather than choosing one specific winner.
How to Make Contests Work for You
Not every business or website is a good host for contest. Late-career health professionals might not be interested in doing a product trivia quiz or something equally novel.
Instead, they might enjoy joining an online conference to keep up to date with medical practices and getting a kit as a freebie.
Automotive hobbyists might be most interested in an online tuning workshop with some painting goodies or coupons.
Again, what you do has to make sense for your business, target audience and niche.
From a link building standpoint, encourage visitors and contest/event participants to share the event page (or any page related to it) as a backlink on their sites.
Concluding Thoughts on Link Building
Link building is the heart of SEO and branding, and it’s not all theory—it’s a very practical activity, one that has to be geared towards your unique website and audience to work the way it should.
Like in school, when you needed guidance to get started solving problems and putting theory to practice, I hope this guide will give you the solid foundations you need to get started practicing.
All that’s left to do is try this yourself.
Get to building!