What Is Link Building in SEO? An Essential Guide

Stewart Dunlop

Link building is the practice of getting other websites to place a link pointing to your website. High quality links are important for increasing your search engine rankings, since they’re a major ranking factor to let the likes of Google know that your site is trustworthy and informative.

By actively acquiring links through various link building strategies such as email outreach, you gain them faster than if you wait for others sites to link to your site naturally.

When done well, link building is very effective at improving SEO performance. We’ve seen huge rankings increases when building links for clients

Professionals (like us) help turbo charge SEO rankings by implementing a link building strategy.

actively building links increases search engine rankings

Why Do People Build Links?

People build links because search engines like Google use a website’s backlink profile—which is a combination of the number of links it has and the quality of the links—when deciding where to rank a webpage.

High Quality Links are a Major Ranking Factor

Links aren’t the only SEO ranking factor, but it is one of the most important factors which Google takes into account.

All other things being equal, the page with the best backlink profile will usually rank higher for its target search term.

The idea behind link building is that websites usually link to noteworthy content. If a piece of content has many links, the search engine’s algorithm can be fairly sure that it is an article worth pushing up the rankings. 

The ranking impact of links makes them very valuable. Many businesses rely on attracting search visitors to grow their presence online, from professional services to software providers and online publishers. 

Why Not Attract Links Organically?

Other websites link to other content organically, and it is possible to wait it out and cross your fingers that people will link to your website. 

But generating backlinks organically can be a slow process. It’s kind of like needing experience to get a job but needing a job to get experience. If you’re not already ranking at the top of Google, then acquiring links naturally is very difficult. After all, how can people be expected to find your content if you’re not showing up?

And if your site is new or doesn’t get much traffic, other sites won’t find your content to link to it anyway—leaving your website in the depths of the Google search results. 

A much better strategy is to actively build links to the content you want to rank. You’ll gain links far faster than you would otherwise.

What Makes a Good Link?

Not all inbound links are equal. Many types of links will have little effect on your rankings at all. For example, links on social sites, directories, spam sites, or brand-new sites. And some links can even harm your rankings (more on that later).

When building links, you should be sure to spend time attracting the ones that will provide the most significant ranking boost.

These are the signs we look for when generating high quality links for clients.

Domain Authority

Domain authority plays a significant role in the effectiveness of your link. A link from a site that Google’s algorithm trusts is worth more than one from a site it is unsure about. 

In real terms, this means that a link from a famous brand like The New York Times is more impactful than one from a local news website. 

Link building domain authority

Page Authority

The specific page on a domain also influences how effective the link is. And links from authoritative pages tend to be more influential than links from weaker ones—even if both pages are on the same domain.

It’s very difficult to get authoritative pages to link to your own website. But if you get a link on a new page that becomes authoritative, you’ll reap the same rewards.

How to Find Domain and Page Authority?

You can use a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tool like Ahrefs or Moz to see what your site’s predicted authority is. While these rankings aren’t perfect (the actual algorithms Google uses are secret), the scores are a useful guide.

Site Relevancy

You should try to attract links from sites that talk about topics similar to your own. 

This can be difficult, as sites in your niche may be competing for similar keywords. This means they may be unwilling to link to your site. 

But you can often find success by targeting sites in adjacent niches. For example, a site about running could approach sites that focus on other types of exercise. Or sites about smartphones could target general tech sites.  

Follow Links

When you link to a site, you can mark the link as rel=”nofollow”. This tells the Google algorithm not to crawl the link. 

The effect is that nofollow links aren’t as impactful as regular links because they don’t pass on page rank. 

The same goes for links marked as rel=”sponsored”, which is used to denote when someone paid money for a link.

Our advice—try to attract follow links where possible. 

Anchor Text

Anchor text is the word or phrase that the link is attached to. Google uses anchor text to decipher the context of the links. 

For example, if your link is attached to the phrase “best antivirus software”, Google will guess that your article is about the best antivirus software. 

link building anchor text

Most link building strategies won’t give you control over the anchor text that websites use when placing external links to your site. But when you can, try to use descriptive anchor text. 

Mix up the phrases you use, though. Exact keyword match anchor text can be problematic. If Google sees too much of it, the search engine algorithms may think you’re trying to game the rankings. 

Link Building Is All About Balance

The above points are simply things to look out for. You’ll rarely build links that meet all the above criteria. And links that don’t score maximum points can still increase your rankings.

What Are Common Strategies for Building Links?

There are many link building techniques. 

Some of them are tried and tested methods that have been around for years. Others are newer strategies that have become popular recently. 

Some of the most common link building tactics include:

  • Guest posts: This is when you write a blog post for another site and then link back to your page. It’s an excellent way to generate high authority links, but you’re limited to the speed at which you can create articles.
  • Help a Reporter: Help a Reporter (HARO) is an email newsletter that connects journalists with expert sources. If you become a source, the journalist may link to your site. HARO competitors include Qwoted, SourceBottle, and #journorequests on Twitter.
  • Niche edits: This is finding web pages you want links from and then asking the website owner to place a link to your site. You typically have to pay for these links.  
  • Linkable assets: This is when you create a noteworthy page, tool, or story on your site and then share it with relevant websites. If they like it, they may link to it. You can then add internal links to the asset to pass rank to other pages on your site.
  • Broken link building: This is when you find broken links on a website, tell the owner, and ask them to link to your site instead. 
  • Link exchanges: This is when you agree with other website owners to link to each other. If one (or both) of you have multiple sites, you can do this in a way that hides the exchange. 

Not every link building strategy is equally effective, especially if you’re looking for authoritative links from high-quality sites. 

You can find out more about what we consider to be the best link building strategies for high authority links here

Should You Buy Links?

The honest answer is that it depends. You definitely shouldn’t buy low-quality links. But if the only thing stopping you from getting a link on a quality site is a placement fee, you should consider it. 
And remember, while you’ll hear a lot about how you shouldn’t buy links, the reality is that in some competitive niches it is almost impossible to generate links without doing so. Find out more about the pros and cons of paying for links here.

Search Engines Hate Spam Links

Before you rush online and start generating links, you need to be aware of the risks. Building the wrong type of links can have the opposite effect on your site’s ranking—it will harm it rather than help it. 

That’s because Google knows that many SEOs try to game the system through Private Blog Networks (PBNs), directories, link farms, comment spam, and other forms of artificially generated links. 

The search engine hates these types of links, and if it discovers that you’ve used one—even if you did so unintentionally—it will punish your site’s ranking. 

Because of this, you should only build links that appear natural to Google and other search engines. This will increase the chances that your site’s rankings grow in the future. 

Need Help with Link Building?

LinkBuilder helps businesses like yours expand their online presence through high-quality link building services. Contact us for a free link building proposal to see how we can help.