You wrote a killer post.
Your graphics designer creates some killer illustrations and infographics for the post.
You hit publish. Crickets. Tumbleweed.
You wonder why you can’t get decent traffic. You’ve after all created valuable high-quality content. You wonder why your blog posts aren’t ranking even after all your work
The truth is that it takes more than quality content to rank.
Since the late 1990s search engines have been using links as a factor to determine which content deserved to rank and those that didn’t. So it comes as no surprise that the foundation of any good SEO strategy is heavily focused on link building.
But the best links aren’t easy to get either.
Table of Contents
- What are links?
- Types of links
- Benefits of link building:
- The main ways to get links
- Creating Links with Content
- Creating links with Social Profiles
- Miscellaneous and trivia
Links (aka backlinks or inbound or incoming links) are HTML hyperlinks that point from one website to another, making it easy, no, possible, for search bots to crawl all over any content.
They are links that go from another website to your website and they are the gold standard in determining rank and reputation.
Think about it.
If you asked five different people what their favorite sneaker brand is and they all mentioned Common Projects, you’d be convinced that Common Projects are indeed a noteworthy shoe brand. This is exactly the logic behind using links to rank content.
Link building refers to the practices or methods of getting other webmasters or website owners to link to your content from their own websites.
Terms like natural links, quality links, and good links are thrown around like crazy and used literally—and they all mean different things too. Along with those, there are also terms like unnatural and semi-natural links.
What do all these terms mean?
Together, we’ll briefly explore what each type of link is before we explore strategies to get them.
- Natural links
- Unnatural links
- Quality links
- Good links
As the word ‘Natural’ suggests, natural link building refers to the process of getting other webmasters and other big players in the online industry (or your niche) to link to your digital content (naturally) because of its usefulness to their audience.
A natural link, therefore, exists as a reference to a piece of content, website, or source, as opposed to unnatural links that are paid for.
Because of the difficulty of securing natural links, many bloggers and webmasters resort to other link building methods that incur serious penalties, like lowered rankings and reduced traffic, or even severe domain penalties.
The pressure to gain recognition early enough makes blackhat methods desirable. The benefits, however, of securing natural links far outweigh the benefits of other link building practices, combined!
Unnatural links are paid links.
Unlike natural links, unnatural links are links created in exchange for something like free content, quid pro quo promotion and of course money. Any quid pro quo link is a paid link which is unnatural. Google doesn’t like those. Beware.
If these links aren’t nofollowed, Google may interpret the links as ‘bad links’ and may take annual action against your site.
Paid links is a practice Google frowns on.
Quality links are links that come from authoritative sites like The Washington Post, The New York Times, etc.
There are other ‘quality’ sites that also give quality links. There are other features that define quality links. Some of them are:
If you can, try to get links in your niche or industry.
Although it’s always super helpful to get links from super high-authority sites like The Washington Post, also try to get links from the big players in your industry.
Relevance makes the links you acquire more effective and potential clients won’t click away from your website hurriedly and in disgust.
Check for sites that have lots of traffic.
It’s logical if you think about it.
If Google sends a lot of organic traffic to a website, it is indicative that Google finds it relevant and authoritative enough to rank it high enough in the SERPs.
You can use SEO tools like SEMRush to find out the amount and value of a site’s web traffic.
The more traffic a website has, the higher the quality of its backlinks.
High editorial standards
Why is Gold so valuable?
It’s because it is scarce and is labor and time-intensive to produce.
When a site has high editorial standards, you can be sure that the owners care about how they run their websites.
If a link is difficult to get, you can be sure it is a valuable link.
Also check who they link to.
Check that they don’t link to any spammy or illegal sites. Also, check if the links look natural and unpaid.
If they link to websites within their sponsored content or link to spammy or illegal sites (like porn sites), their ethics are questionable and you’d do well to avoid sites like those.
There are many benefits of natural link building and they are usually long-term benefits. Although you may not reap the rewards of your link building efforts immediately, when you do reap them, they can be enormous
- More web traffic – Establishing natural links with major bloggers or websites that have lots of traffic means you receive a good amount of traffic to your webpage too if they link back to you. And more traffic means more visibility.
- Increased credibility. If you manage to earn a link from a high-profile site like say CNN and add the company’s badge to your website, your site will look more credible. And Google factors in things like these to determine a site’s ranking.
- More natural links. It’s a compounding process. When the top bloggers link to you, other blogs link to you as well. And when you see those natural links flowing in, you become more motivated to continue delivering great content.
- More Brand awareness. When you consistently show up in the search engines, there is an increased chance that people will become more familiar with your brand. And although this won’t immediately translate into revenue, increased brand awareness will eventually result in customers.
- Better rankings – Best of all, the pages that have a lot of natural links tend to rank higher than those that do not have as many natural links.
As exciting as the benefits of natural link building are, a lot of work goes into securing them. There are several ways of getting links to your content.
I don’t build links. I attract them naturally. How? By focusing on publishing content.
Here’s an ironclad correlation I’ve noticed with every site I own (17 of them including Fat Stacks): The more traffic my sites get, the more links they attract.
It’s a self-fulfilling cycle. Publish content. Attract a few links. Publish more content. Attract more links, which ranks more keywords which attracts more links.
That’s my link building strategy in a nutshell.
But if you’re impatient, consider (I DON’T DO ANY OF THE FOLLOWING EXCEPT SOCIAL LINKS):
- Link Buying. This is really a case of give and take. Google frowns on this one and will usually penalize a website if they find out. In this case, instead of asking for a link from a blogger or a webmaster, you approach them with a deal instead. You offer them money in exchange for a link. Just remember that Google frowns on this method.
- Link Requests. In this case, you simply ask another website owner (blogger) for a link back to your website. Your success with this strategy, however, depends on how valuable your content is and how well you can convince the website owner that your content is beneficial to both them and their visitors.
- Directories. Several types of directories exist, such as general directories, local directories, and niche-based directories. Some of them allow you to create a free listing, while others will charge you a fee for that service. Paying for a directory link doesn’t constitute “bad link buying” even though you’re paying for the service.
- Content Links. The main way to do this is by creating guest posts on other people’s websites with a link back to your website in your author bio. Guest blogging and article marketing are two ways you can use to generate links back to your website. Later, we’ll explore more ways you can use content to generate backlinks.
- Social Links. This doesn’t refer only to links in your social profiles, but all of the ways of getting social online (like blog comments, forum posting, answering questions, and using social media). All of the above-listed actions can lead to some nice backlinks.
Now, apart from link buying, all the above methods are viable ways of link building.
But in this context, emphasis will be made on the last two – content and social links. This is because they are the most effective method of generating high-quality backlinks.
Creating Links with Content
Creating content is a great way of gaining valuable backlinks to your website while demonstrating expertise in your niche. Some other ways you can get links from other websites apart from your own content-rich web page are through :
Guest blogging is an opportunity to make your name and brand visible to a new audience.
IMO, guest posting is a tricky link building practice because on the one hand it’s okay with Google but on the other hand it’s not okay with Google. Nobody knows when the line is crossed. I think if you’re scaling guest posting paying for a service and getting on weak and mediocre sites, you’re increasing the risk that Google will pound your site. However, if you do a few guest posts on top-tier, high traffic sites in your sector, that’s okay. Yeah, the line is blurred.
Below are some tips for guest blogging.
- Guest blogging shouldn’t be thought of solely as a link building exercise, but also a way to position yourself or brand as an expert or authority in your niche, and a way to make visitors regular clients. When guest posting, carefully consider what kinds (format) of content works for your target blog and its audience. You do this so you can craft relevant content that your readers would enjoy.
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. Read some of the other guest posts on the other blog first and then let the voice, formatting, and overall feel of their posts guide you in writing for their audience.
- Adding links to your site will most likely be done through your author bio. Find out how many links you’ll have and decide where you want those links to lead to. You could choose to link to your website, blog, social networks, or even a sales page.
I think there is merit in bona fide commenting such as writing great comments on popular sites, but I don’t bother. If I were starting out from scratch with one site, I probably would do this but at this stage for me, I don’t bother.
Another way to get some links through content is blog commenting. It’s not a great link building practice but it can be done. If you write great comments on popular sites, you MIGHT drive traffic.
Get a Gravatar. Make sure the email that you comment with has a gravatar (or picture) attached to it. This will ensure that your photo comes up next to your comment. This helps blog owners tell the spam comments from the legit comments.
And If a blog is using a third-party system like Disqus, sign up for a profile so you can include a link to your website along with your photo and your comments
Engagement with communities in your niche/industry can also help you build your personal, professional, and business brand.
The following are ways to incorporate link building with your content strategy.
Create and publish ultimate guides
Ultimate guides are meant to be the—as the name suggests, the ultimate resources for any topic. They are to be so thorough to the point of covering a topic exhaustively, without the reader needing to go elsewhere to learn more about the subject.
Here are two examples from the FatStacks blog that have a good number of NATURAL inbound links:
The reason these ‘ultimate guides’ are so useful is that they help bloggers and journalists provide more information about a concept WITHOUT having to create the resource themselves.
If an SEO blogger wanted to create a short-form article titled “10 easy strategies to rank”, and only wanted to touch on a few tips and strategies, they could just easily link to a more thorough resource on the subject of keyword research, if they mentioned it in the article.
The reader can then go on to read the resource if they wish. You want to be the guy (or gal) bloggers and journalists are sending their readers to for ‘ultimate guides’.
Alex Birkett, Senior Growth Marketing Manager at HubSpot, uses this approach with his personal blog too. He explained his approach, saying…
“An Ultimate Guide doesn’t have to explicitly tell you it is an Ultimate Guide. It simply has to go above-and-beyond in its utility or perceived value.”
“For example,” he continues, “I recently wrote a 6,500-word guide on A/B testing. It ranges from beginner issues all the way through advanced topics and fringe cases. Basically, it’s a bookmarkable article for anyone who runs A/B tests. Not only did it get a really solid initial spike of traffic from social shares, but it consistently gains organic links month-by-month.”
Even Hubspot gurus use content like this to rank well. There’s no reason you shouldn’t too.
Create Infographics and other visual assets
Infographics are by nature shareable and a very easy way to earn backlinks.
Wikipedia defines Infographics as
“graphic visual representations of information, data, or knowledge intended to present information quickly and clearly”
Because they heavily rely on visuals, they are a great addition to blog posts and articles as they make it possible for readers to quickly grasp difficult or abstract concepts.
However, they may not work with your niche or the particular resource you’re creating. But there are still a few things you can do.
The point is to create visual assets that are so useful that other webmasters can’t help but link to them. Below are some other types of visual assets that you can include on your website to earn you some juicy backlinks.
- Graphs and charts containing original data
- Diagrams which visually explain complex concepts
- One-page templates
- Free photo galleries
When you create truly useful stuff, people will link back to you.
Create “Best type of X” blog posts
Just like the ultimate guides, we talked about earlier, this type of blog post can prove to be very effective in earning you some backlinks.
BUT, AND THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT – in order for these to attract links, you must clearly demonstrate that your opinion as to what is the best matters. You must demonstrate expertise. If you just crank out some lousy list, nobody cares. But if you demonstrate expertise within the industry/product line, you can attract links.
These days consumers won’t make a purchase without some recommendation(s) from either their families or experts. This is why the “best of X’ types of blog posts are useful. They want to read recommendations and reviews from the experts first.
Getting mentioned on these lists is a fantastic way to increase your brand awareness and also to get some backlinks.
If you have a product or software, it is important for you to show up on a lot of these lists on high-authority websites consistently.
Again, Alex Birkett, Senior Growth Marketing Manager at HubSpot, explains why getting featured on these lists is so important for your business:
“If you look at these search results in terms of pure click-through rate, there’s an upper limit on how much traffic you can bring to your own product page by ranking on your own site’s listicle.
“Birkett continues to say — “As Nick Eubanks has mentioned, if you can broaden your view from trying to rank #1 to trying to monopolize all of the sites on the first page of a search query, you can multiply the amount of click-throughs to your site, your website traffic, and, down the line, your sales volume. And that’s not even factoring in the less trackable aspects, such as social proof and brand awareness.”
To get started, do a simple Google search to find high-authority websites in your niche.
Keywords you can use include:
- Best [X] for doing (Y). e.g. Best software for email marketing
- Best [X] for [Y] e.g. Best CRM for entrepreneurs
- Top [X] for doing (Y). Top 20 tools for creating Infographics
- Top [X] for [Y] e.g. Top 10 CRM for small businesses
The variations of keywords you can get off these are endless and you can always find more variations to work with.
Original data and/or research
The concept is similar to all the similar to the creation of visual assets (infographics), ultimate guides, etc, which is to create linkable resources that other webmasters naturally want to link to.
Blogging today is a sea of sameness. If you think of writing content, your older, more established competitors, with higher domain authority and influence and backlinks. have written oceans of words about the same topics.
So if you want to stand out, you need to do things differently. or at least have a different approach.
One way is to carry out original research and data and statistics that other people will naturally link to.
Peep Laja of CXL and Brian Dean of Backlinko are two classic examples of business owners who have created studies and done research that has become the standard in their niches. Creating data just like this is so useful because other bloggers and writers can easily link to you and reference your data when they need to.
Keep in mind that creating resources like these can be capital-intensive, with studies, costing tens of thousands of dollars.
Update older content
Browse through your content and if you find any pieces which have some backlinks and haven’t been updated in a while, you’ve found gems!
If you have any piece of content which has backlinks and needs updating, just go on to create a better, fresher piece with newer data.
Once you’ve done that, connect with the same journalists or bloggers who linked to the old piece of content, telling them about the new updated one.
The good thing about this strategy is that you really don’t know what could happen as a result of the relationship you’ve built with the blogger or journalist. The benefits of that relationship might not pay off immediately, but when it does, you could end up collaborating on some cool projects.
Using forums to get backlinks can be tricky. Some communities embrace it, while others will label anyone adding a link back to their own site a spammer.
If you don’t already know the forums in your niche, you can use some of the following keywords to find forums in your niche:
Some of them include:
- “Keyword + board”
- “Keyword + forum”
- “Keyword + powered by vBulletin”
Once you find a forum, go to a public post to see if the forum users have signatures at the bottom of their posts.
If they have signatures, try making some posts before adding your signature links. Once you’ve gained some recognition as a valuable member of the community, go into your forum profile, and add your own signature.
Also keep in mind to follow what works in that community. If members of the community only have one link, go with one. But if they have as many as three, go ahead and post three too.
After posting in the community for a while, you’ll get the hang of things and know what works best.
The top Q&A networks–Quora, LinkedIn Answers, and Yahoo Answers, are all great places where you can make contributions and at the same time have the opportunity to post a link back to your website.
They all have a resource box where you can add links as a reference to your answer. But in this case, it is much better to link to blog posts as adding product links can make you come across as spammy.
Many video networks will allow you to add a link in the description of your video, Youtube being a good example.
This makes it possible for a person to go directly to your website from your videos or from your YouTube page. This means that just like your written content, your videos should be informative and should provide tons of value to the reader.
You don’t always have to shoot videos. You could turn slides or PowerPoint presentations into movie files, use screen recording apps to create a video tutorial, or even upload pre-recorded webinars. These are just some ideas you can use to create stellar video content for your audience.
Being active on a social media network, allows you to have one or more links in several places. Let’s examine those ones you can include your links in and their impact.
Twitter lets you place links in two places – the Web and bio field of your profile.
How does this work towards link building? Many other sites can pull your Twitter profile information and use either just your bio information or your bio and web link. Having a link in both fields means that you’re covered either way in getting more links to your websites.
LinkedIn lets you have three links in your profile, each with a customized anchor text. Think of the anchor text as a way to entice visitors to click on the links to your content.
This will give you three great links that visitors to your profile could click on.
Thanks to the new YouTube channel design, you can have more than one link to your other websites near the top of your channel profile.
While the downside of doing this is that these links are ‘no-follow links (links ignored by search engines), the upside is that you can add multiple links that users can click on. This method will pay off if you have quality content on your channel and have decent amounts of traffic on your YouTube channel.
If you wanted to monitor the number of clicks on these links, you could use UTM parameters for LinkedIn, and YouTube links
Using UTM parameters, however, don’t work so well for Twitter and Facebook, because using them will display the entire Facebook and YouTube URL.
URL’s with UTM parameters can be long and ugly.
Miscellaneous and trivia
If you send a lot of emails or use online email services like Gmail and Yahoo, you can create visually appealing email signatures containing links to your websites using ‘WiseStamp’.Or you can simply include links to your websites in your email signature. This works too.
This is a very easy way for people to find more about your business and your services.
If you want to see some interesting stats about any website, try searching for your domain using the following sites. They will give you some useful information as well as create a profile page for your domain with a link back to it.
- Alexa – This site will let you know how your domain ranks in traffic worldwide and within your country. It will also provide you additional details, including the number of sites linking to yours and top queries for your website.
- Quarkbase – This site will give you the latest Twitter comments associated with your domain, traffic stats, and social stats. For blogs, it will even pull up the most recent and popular blog posts!
- About the Domain – This site will tell you basic SEO information of your domain like the title, meta-description, headers, incoming links, and even your Google Analytics ID.
- Built With Technology Profiles – This site will tell you what your domain is using on their website including content management systems, analytics, frameworks, server information, and more.
- Similar Site Search – This site shows you sites it thinks are similar to yours based on keywords and content.
Now that you know a little bit more about what it takes to rank, take steps to make sure you have a lot of high-quality links pointing back to your website and you’ll never have to worry about trickle traffic ever again.
Jon runs the place around here. He pontificates about launching and growing online publishing businesses, aka blogs that make a few bucks. His pride and joy is the email newsletter he publishes.
Hyperbole? Maybe, but go check it out to see what some readers say.
In all seriousness, Jon is the founder and owner of a digital media company that publishes a variety of web properties visited and beloved by millions of readers monthly. Fatstacks is where he shares a glimpse into his digital publishing business.