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Quid Pro No: How to Harness the Power of One Way Link Building

We all think quid pro quo is the name of the game in business deals, online or off.

But when it comes to building backlinks, just say quid pro NO.

I know, the supposition is that backlinks are important and valuable, so something should always be offered in exchange for one—be it cash or a reciprocal backlink.

After all, backlinks are powerful real-world signals of trust and relevance.

So much so that a backlink from a relevant authority site is akin to the ultimate social share.

But not all backlinks are created equal.

One type of backlink to steer clear of is the reciprocal backlink, where you make an exchange with another site to add each other’s links.

Quid Pro No

Google doesn’t like quid pro quo when it comes to backlinking.

Their algorithms are meant to create a meritocracy, with the cream rising to the top naturally via consumer-driven, discover-and-appreciate forces.

Not artificially massaged by financial arrangements or other directly beneficial inducements.

Of course, one of the biggest anathemas to Google, buying backlinks, is well known and widely understood to be dangerous to your site’s ranking prospects—so much so, that Google invites you to snitch on anyone doing it.

But I would posit that fewer people are aware that reciprocal link building, once a tacitly approved staple of SEO efforts, has joined the pantheon of Google-scorned link building crimes.

How to Harness the Power of One Way Link Building

When Reciprocal Backlinks Are Safe to Build

To be fair, some degree of reciprocity is often inevitable through natural web dynamics as two complementary sites mature.

Proposals of mutual links—if the links exchanged would otherwise meet the “natural rule” above—should be safe enough.

At the very worst, their ranking value might be insignificant, but this will never lead to punitive measures from Google.

For example, academic site A provides a nice introduction to the Navier-Stokes equations for airflow over a generic wing.

(Yes, boring, I know, but I come from an aeronautics background so please indulge me for a moment.)

Meanwhile, academic site B has an article detailing a specific practical application of the equations to airflow over swept wings and thinks the broadly-scoped Site A article would serve as a wonderful primer for its own narrowly-focused niche article.

So, site B asks site A for a backlink in return for B linking to A.

Site A, in return, would love to cite a real-world application of its abstract (to validate its points for its readership) and would like to link back to B.

That sequence of events could easily happen organically in the real world without mutual solicitation and would be of interest and utility to users of both websites.

Google, thankfully, is sensible enough not to treat this phenomenon as toxic.

And why would it?

It’s useful to the users of both sites.

When Reciprocal Links Lead to Mutually Assured Destruction

A problem arises, though, when webmasters take it upon themselves to offer mutual links as a scalable SEO strategy.

Specifically, it just doesn’t fit naturally with the vast majority of niches because it’s not something that would happen on a large scale via normal, unsolicited outbound linking activities.

Rather, it’s an exception, expected by Google to be a limited or even isolated occurrence in all but a handful of outlier niches.

So what does Google think when it notices a flurry of mutual backlinks between two sites?

Yup, its manipulation alert lamps start flashing.

You won’t be shocked to find then that, among its list of things “which can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results,” Google includes excessive link exchanges.

In short, both you and your reciprocal linker would be effectively pinning “penalize me” notes on your websites if you attempt to make extensive two way link building a ranking strategy.


Hence we focus on what Google prefers: One way link building.

The Pedantic Semantics of Link Building Policies

Before getting to the main thrust, when I say link building Google might prefer it if I said link attracting.

Google’s Webmaster Guidelines deal in idealizations and, in that ideal world, it insists that your website should naturally attract backlinks from relevant, authoritative sites without any proactive solicitation on your part.

Or as Google phrases it:

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… the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.

Did you notice that last bit?

…the greater the chances someone else will find…

Google is invoking the laws of probability in the context of content-driven chance improvement.

The exclusion of the art of persuasion (via outreach) on your part is implied.

Now that might seem a tad unfair of Google, particularly if your business stands or falls on its SEO performance.

It just seems to be asking you to relinquish too much control of your website’s ranking destiny.

So how can you elevate your site if you can neither buy nor barter for the SEO lifeblood that is the backlink?

Well, happily, Google won’t—or more precisely, can’t, for logistical-technical reasons—punish you for leading a horse to water.

As long as you let the horse itself decide, of its own volition, whether or not to drink.

And that’s your wriggle space: You’re at liberty to promote your content to the movers and shakers within your niche.

But your content has to be great, unique and relevant.

Or, more properly:

  • satisfyingly rich and comprehensive, so that the keyword query is fully and superlatively answered;
  • qualified (citing and linking out to primary sources which should be authority sites);
  • rich with unique, high-quality images or even video clips;
  • original;
  • socially shareable

How to Craft the Perfect Content for One Way Link Building

It would be remiss of me to suggest that crafting great, unique, relevant content is the apogee of the SEO promotion effort.

In fact, it’s only the beginning. Making sure your material is optimized for search engines and targeted to people who actually want to give you backlinks are the other key factors at play in the wriggle space equation.

It makes sense, therefore, to grease the slipway as much as possible before launching your promotion campaign. Take the following steps to craft the ideal content for one way link building campaigns.

1. Get Your SEO Ducks in a Row

First, you’ll want to prepare yourself to pay meticulous and ongoing attention to:

  • technical SEO — Search engine bot accessibility, sitemap xml, redirects, site speed issues, URL architecture and mobile-responsiveness.
  • on-page SEO — <h1> tags, user readability, keyword density, grammar.
  • content SEO — high-quality, socially shareable, relevant, in-niche content.
  • off-page SEO  building backlinks, monitoring backlinks, disavowing bad backlinks, researching your rivals’ backlinks, reaching out to request new backlinks.

Wait one second. Did I just say ongoing attention above?


SEO is a nourish-water-harvest-prune cycle of husbandry. You can’t just set everything up and forget about it. You’ll need to keep working on this continually, and you’ll need to keep a close eye on things over time.

Keep that in mind as you proceed. We’ll revisit this later, so you’ll know exactly what to do once you’ve done all of your SEO and link building tasks.

2. Take Google’s New UX Passion to Heart

You’ll need to start undertaking proper due diligence with regard to Google’s much-vaunted UX (user experience) recommendations.

Google now sees UX as the fulcrum of its increasingly important mobile-first philosophy.

This is the inevitable outcome of the fact that search requests from mobile devices have overtaken desktop requests since early 2015.

So, you can’t just be thinking about desktop users anymore. You’ll need to ensure that your site is accessible to mobile users as well.

With Google taking such a consumer-pleasing UX stance, you should treat unresolved technical and on-page SEO as barrier-to-entry issues. All modern websites simply must have this drilled down in order to appear in search engine results.

Like professional packaging on every commercial product you buy, it should be considered a “given,” not an extra.

Accordingly, without a solid UX foundation, one way link building efforts today are mired before they even begin.

Think about it.

It’s going to be so much more difficult to attract a link to your site if it renders slowly, has annoying on-load pop-ups, bad on-page ergonomics or fails to resize or retain core functionality on tablets and smartphones.

Now, if a higher-ranking rival lags behind your site on any of these essential metrics, right away you have an opening with your backlink prospects to be a little naughty by pointing that out.

For that reason (among others), it’s always good to continually subject your rivals’ sites to the various online speed and mobile-ready testing mills (for example, Google’s own mobile speed tester) as well.

3. Discover Competitor Content and Backlinks

Common wisdom dictates that it’s easier to sell to someone who has bought before.

This applies to attracting backlinks, too.

If you can reach a webmaster who has linked to an inferior rival of yours, the chances of persuading them to link to your superior resource should be much higher than, say, if you were making a totally cold approach to a parsimonious source that has never given a link to anyone.

It falls under what marketers call the warm lead umbrella, and it’s one of several threads you should follow in one way link building.

But the next question is: How can you know the sources of your rivals’ backlinks?

The Monitor Backlinks tool can get you head and shoulders above your toughest competitors. You’ll discover brand new ways to outrank, outpace and outsell competitors thanks to Monitor Backlinks competitor research features.

The results will appear below and immediately you have world-class intel on your competition’s backlink profile, with all the salient data presented in a readily scannable and downloadable format.


You can evaluate which backlinks are valuable, which ones are of little value and which ones are a hindrance, all at a glance.

And you can use the Monitor Backlinks Free Backlink Checker to see a selection of top backlinks from the site:

Once you run your search, you’ll see domain authority and other key SEO metrics. You’ll also see their top 300 backlinks listed below the bar filled with metrics. That’s a great way to get started, even though you won’t be able to see everything like you can with a Monitor Backlinks account.

Now you have a suite of domains that have already linked to content within your niche—and this is content, let’s not forget, that you’ll want to compete with directly. If you’ve been paying attention to key topics in your niche, there’s a good chance you’ll already have great content lined up for these topics.

If not, this is how you can choose what to write about next. Which backlinks are working to benefit your competitors? Which competitor pages are being linked to, and what are the major weakness of those pages? How can you create better content that’s leagues better than that?

That’s how you target the who of any rival’s backlink matrix.

Now let’s think about the when.

4. Ride the Tide of News and Current Events

In my own experience, the most promising results I ever received have been trend-driven. They’re related to a topic that’s hot in the news (whether mainstream or niche-centric).

Such topics will experience a spike or lengthy surge in social media sharing and commenting that can last for days or weeks after it breaks. The huge opportunity it presents is this: All the influencers in your niche will be nicely primed on this trending topic and would love to see a relevant, on-topic piece of content they can use.

Could anything be better than hooking onto a buzz like that? Why, yes.

Knowing in advance that it’s coming.

If you can get yourself a heads-up about new trends that are developing, this provides a window for you to polish your content and prepare your angles so that you’re the first to market with content that ticks all the quality control boxes listed earlier.

Google Alerts is essential to this process, letting you know weeks or even months in advance about forthcoming industry events, new laws, niche-centric memes and so on.

Use these alerts or trawl Google News to see who’s posting new content about the subject. Even if they’ve never given a backlink to anyone in their lives, now is the time they’re most likely to, particularly if your approach is right and if your content and UX are top-notch.

How to Do Outreach for One Way Link Building

1. Know Thy Recipient

The more someone blogs or tweets, the better chance you’ll have of choosing the right outreach approach. A common interest—within or outside your niche—gives you something you can relate to. An empathy angle, if you will.

Additionally, their online outpourings will convey their interests and perspective, and you may—if you’re skilled at such things—be able to tap into their vibe and speak to them “in their own language” without it sounding contrived.

You can thus profile this person before choosing an approach.

I did this with a UK financial blogger who, I convinced myself, would respond well if I threw in a bit of good old-fashioned British self-deprecation, apologizing for the brazen effrontery of intruding on her time with an unsolicited email.

She replied saying: “That’s possibly the most polite email I have ever received! Of course I will use your link.”

2. Write a Subject Line That Gets Clicks

Email remains the go-to choice for breaking the ice once the approach campaign kicks off.

You’ve probably heard of banner blindness. This is the phenomenon wherein web users subconsciously filter out banner ads. Well, I believe a variation of this applies to emails. Starting with the subject lines.

The first obstacle you face is crafting a subject line that won’t fall afoul of your lead’s subject line banner blindness. One way around that is to make the subject line refer to, or quote, a blog post or comment the person recently made. That should pique their interest and show you’re not a spam-bot.

But that’s just your foot in the door.

You still have to have something readable and compelling (with two to three links to the resource you’re promoting) once the email is opened.

This leads us to choosing the right outreach approach.

3. Choose the Right Approach

You’ll want to start looking for leads and approaching them for backlinks as soon as possible. The choice of approach can be adjusted based on the rate of success you have with each one. The important thing is to get started.

And once you start, you need to develop a system to keep the ball rolling indefinitely. Keep this going for the long term.

Even if you suddenly draw in a fistful of quality backlinks, it could take weeks or months before your site really bears the fruits of your one way link building.

As for choosing an approach, there are many ways to approach a lead for a backlink, not all of which actually entail asking for a backlink per se.

In fact, going straight for the kill could be counterproductive in some cases—but it depends on the culture of the niche and even the geographical region you’re operating in.

I personally (in my own tax-related niche) like to “diversify my portfolio” somewhat with a mix of informative approaches and direct requests.

a. The Informative Approach

Informative approaches highlight the linkable resource in a laid-back, no-hard-sell style.

The aim here is to sow a seed. They might keep you in mind for an unrequested backlink on down the line. This might even open the door for some back-and-forth rapport, leading to a backlink request on the third or fourth “date” (email reply).

Yes, this approach is a bit like courting in days of old.

In more formal niches such as finance, accounting and tax affairs, this might work as a better long-term link strategy. Build rapport and mention a link opportunity down the line.

Ultimately, you’ll have to apply your own judgment as to whether or not the informative path will work for you in your particular niche.

b. The Direct Approach

With this approach, you’ll make a more direct request.

These are suggestions along the lines of:

  • Your audience will really enjoy this content [link].
  • I am interested in placing a link to my content [link] on this page [link] of your site. This will have immense value for your audience because…
  • This backlink [link] is broken on this page of your site [link]. I have recently created an article on this topic that I believe would be an excellent fit…

After the opening niceties of the message, naturally.

This approach can also work for guest blog proposals or highlighting a niche-topping infographic—however you decide you would like to earn your backlinks.

c. The Social Media Channel Approach

Depending on how your lead operates, you might do better to approach via social media.

Twitter is a favorite alternative path for me because I can send a public tweet right to the “Tweetmaster,” albeit within the message-length constraints of the medium, or a private message.

If we’re doing this on the back of a buzzing topic, you have the additional chance to make comments on your lead’s tweets and other social media posts.

You can even tag your lead within a social media post containing the article you want them to link back to!

To Dofollow or Not to Dofollow: Should You Ask the Question?

Contrived headlining on my part aside (anything for a cheap giggle), I would not dare to specify what kind of backlink a lead should provide.

Unless your niche is web-technical, I wouldn’t recommend that you cloud the message with any jargon like nofollow or dofollow.

There’s a fairly good chance the site’s webmaster is not the same person as the main lead and isn’t at liberty to make discretionary decisions about the class of outbound link.

Meaning: If the lead promises a backlink, someone else will probably be tasked, without further elaboration or qualification, with inserting it into the codebase.

That second point also applies to inserting the backlink into keyworded anchor text (for example, a link that says “long-range weather forecasting tool for Mars” instead of showing the naked address “”).

In short, then, the person who maintains the authority site you’re trying to attract a backlink from will most likely be the ultimate decision-maker on the finer details of the link.

And there’s probably not much you can do about that.

Besides, nofollow backlinks, while depriving you of the revenue of SEO link juice that comes with dofollow links, can nonetheless create a traffic conduit into your site. After all, they’re still links. If they’re well placed on a well-trafficked site, you’ll start getting site visitors from them.

How to Stay on Top of One Way Link Building

So, we’ve seen that one way link building is not a set-and-forget type of task.

It’s an ongoing process that taxes the ingenuity of the brightest web marketers the world over.

And sure, success in this field is very much probability-driven. Which means you should avail yourself of whatever means you can to improve your chances.


If you’re serious about getting SEO results and keeping track of them, Monitor Backlinks is an indispensable tool—it would definitely be worth trying it out for the free one-month trial, at the very least. After all, if you’re focused on link building, you’re going to want to see:


  • when and where new backlinks appear
  • when and where existing backlinks have disappeared
  • new opportunities for link building outreach
  • competitor backlinks that you can snatch up


Monitor Backlinks can do all of these things and much more—it will even track your keyword rankings so you can see how the backlinks are affecting those precious SERPs.

There’s no better way to stack the odds in your favor than solid, well-informed one way link building.

You can officially consider yourself well informed on the topic now.

So, get out there and put this knowledge into practice!


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