Link Building for SEO: The Beginner’s Guide
What Is Link Building?
Link building is all about getting other websites to link to pages on your own site. In SEO, these links are called backlinks.
Here are some of the most popular link building strategies:
- Content marketing
- Email outreach
- Broken link building
- Unlinked brand mentions
Let’s get into the details. Here’s your beginner’s guide to link building in SEO.
Why Is Link Building Important?
The more high-quality backlinks a page has, the higher it can rank. Backlinks are one of Google’s most important ranking factors.
Google and other major search engines consider backlinks as “votes of confidence” for the website getting the links.
Each vote suggests your content is valuable, credible, and useful.
So, if you want your pages to rank high in the Google search results, you will almost certainly need to do some backlink building.
How To Build Links
Most link building tactics and strategies fall into one of the three following buckets.
1. Ask for Links
Asking for links is when you actively contact a website and ask them to link to yours.
You can ask them to link to:
- Blog posts
- In-depth guides
- Visual assets (like infographics)
- Case studies
- Original research and data
And so forth.
You can use Semrush’s Link Building Tool to quickly find prospects to reach out to.
We’ll get into how to do that later in the “Best Backlink Building Strategies” section.
2. Add Links
Adding links refers to going to another website and manually adding your link there.
For example, you can manually add links to:
- Social media profiles
- Business directories
- Forums, communities, and Q&A sites (like Quora)
- Blog comments
- User profile pages
And so on.
Note: Manually adding SEO links is one of the easiest and possibly least effective ways to build links.
These types of links often come from low-quality sources. The kind that Google doesn’t want to give too much weight to.
Because you create them. And you’re practically endorsing yourself.
Which isn’t what Google is looking for when figuring out which websites deserve to rank best.
And since these links aren’t editorially given (links you don’t ask for), they carry less weight than other types of links.
While these links won’t actively help you, they also won’t hurt you.
Your best bet is to earn your links.
3. Earn Links
When you earn links, other websites link to yours without you asking them to.
And the best way to earn links is by creating high-quality content people want to link to.
Links happen naturally when someone wants to link to something as a resource or helpful further reading.
Here are a few different types of content people tend to link to:
- Visual assets (infographics, charts, diagrams, etc.)
- Original research and data (industry studies, surveys, proprietary research, etc.)
- Online tools and calculators
- In-depth guides and tutorials
To find more content ideas, look at your competitors’ backlink profiles.
(Again, we’ll get into the step-by-step of how to do all of this in the “Best Backlink Building Strategies” section.)
What Makes a Good Backlink?
Knowing what makes a good (or bad) link is important.
Because then you can focus on building links that will improve your Google rankings.
Here’s how to identify links that are actually worth building:
“Authority” is an SEO concept that refers to the overall quality of a website or a webpage. The higher the score, the more weight its backlinks may have.
So, a link from a high-authority website is often more valuable. Which means it can help your page rank higher.
For example, a link from The Wall Street Journal will likely have a much bigger impact than a link from an unknown blogger.
To quickly find a website’s authority, you can use Semrush’s Backlink Analytics tool.
Start by entering any domain and clicking “Analyze.”
Then, scroll down to view the site’s authority score.
Note: You don’t need to neglect all link opportunities from low-authority websites. They probably won’t have a big impact, but they also won’t be detrimental to your SEO success.
When it comes to links, the site’s relevance also matters. A lot.
There’s evidence for that on Google’s “how search works” page:
“Beyond looking at keywords, our systems also analyze if content is relevant to a query in other ways…one of several factors that we use to help determine this is understanding if other prominent websites link or refer to the content.”
Strive to get links from websites that are relevant to yours. Instead of pursuing every link opportunity that pops up.
Let’s say you run a website about SEO consulting.
And you get a link from an authoritative site about yoga.
That’s great! But it may not impact your rankings.
It would be much better if you received a link from an authoritative site about SEO, consulting, or marketing.
The more relevant, the better for your SEO.
A link’s position on a page is important. A good backlink appears within the main body of a webpage.
In fact, Google has a patent that talks specifically about link placement.
It looks at different probabilities involving the likelihood that a reader might click on a link depending on where it is located.
The higher the probability (usually higher up on the page), the more authority that link carries.
Links in sidebars and footers and low in a page’s content may not be worth as much as those higher in the page’s body.
For example, look at this link embedded in a piece of content:
It’s much easier to find and more likely to get clicked on than this link buried in a page’s footer:
4. Anchor Text
Anchor text is the clickable text that appears in a hyperlink.
Anchor text is important because both search engines and readers use it to determine what a linked page is about.
So, the more relevant and descriptive the anchor text, the better.
For example, the above anchor text, “how to store coffee,” tells Google that the page that follows is about how to store coffee.
While generic anchor text like “its website” gives little context and isn’t helpful.
Good backlinks also have anchor text that is descriptive and relevant.
5. Nofollow vs. Follow
“Nofollow” is a link attribute that tells search engines not to follow the outbound link.
They’re typically used when site owners want to link to another website but don’t want to imply any type of endorsement.
The nofollow tag is used in your page’s source code. And it looks like this:
And here’s a link with the “nofollow” attribute:
<a href="https://example.com" rel="nofollow">Anchor Text</a>
Note: Google says nofollow links, in general, don’t pass authority. But they can still provide brand recognition and referral traffic.
Follow links, on the other hand, are regular links without attributes. And can imply endorsement and pass along ranking credit.
Here’s a follow link with no attribute:
<a href="https://example.com">Anchor Text</a>
In addition to nofollow, there are two additional attributes site owners can use:
- rel=”sponsored” to identify links that were created as part of ads, sponsorships, or other agreements
- rel=”ugc” to identify links within user-generated content, like comments and forum posts
All link attributes are treated as hints about how Google should interpret links.
Best Backlink Building Strategies
There are many strategies for building links. But here are some of the most effective ones.
Outreach for link building is when you reach out to others and ask for a backlink.
It’s important because people can’t link to your content without discovering it. Even the best assets need to be promoted to attract links.
To find prospects to reach out to, use a tool like Semrush’s Link Building Tool.
To start, open the tool and click “Create project.”
Then, enter your domain and give your project a name.
Note: Giving your project a name is optional, but it helps keep things organized once you run lots of link building campaigns.
Now, click “Create project” again (a different button).
Next, add the keywords you want to rank higher. These keywords should be related to the page you’re trying to build links for.
Note: If you haven’t done keyword research yet, you can use Keyword Magic Tool to find the best keywords for you.
After you’ve added your keywords, click on “Competitors” at the bottom of the pop-up.
Now, add the URLs of competitors you want to outperform.
And when you’re done, click on “Start Link Building.”
After the tool collects and analyzes the data, it’ll display a message.
Click on “View prospects” to see everyone you can reach out to for backlinks.
You can reject the prospects you don’t want to reach out to from this screen. Maybe the site isn’t relevant, or you don’t want a link from that website.
To reject a prospect, click on the trash can icon.
For prospects you do want to reach out to, click on the “To In Progress” button, and they’ll be added to the “In Progress” tab.
From the “In Progress” tab, you can contact any prospect via a connected email account.
Simply click on the “Contact” button.
The screen will expand to show an email template with default information.
You can customize your emails to make your pitch specific to your campaign. For example, you can:
- Choose which email addresses to send your pitch to
- Drop placeholders for automated items like the prospect’s URL and your domain
- Add formatting like bold text, lists, and headers
After you’ve sent your emails, the “Status” column helps you stay on track. It shows whether your email was sent, received, opened, or replied to.
Once you successfully get a backlink, click the check mark in the “Actions” column.
Your prospect will move over to the “Monitor” tab, where you can keep an eye on your new backlinks.
This tab shows if your backlinks are active, lost, or broken.
If a backlink is lost or broken, you can use the email feature again to reach out to see why you no longer have that link.
Become a Source
A great way to build high-quality links is to become a source for reporters, journalists, and bloggers.
One of the most popular services you can use is Help a Reporter Out (HARO).
Services like HARO connect people who need sources (writers) to people who want links and exposure (you).
You’ll get daily emails with a list of writers and businesses who need expert sources.
Plus, big media outlets use these types of services.
We’re talking Mashable, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Business Insider, to name a few.
To sign up, go to HARO and register as a source.
They’ll send a confirmation email. Once you confirm, sign in and head over to “My Account.”
Then, under “HARO PREFERENCES” choose the type of emails you want to receive.
You’ll be automatically signed up for the Master HARO (which includes every industry). But you can choose to sign up for specific industry emails instead.
Now, all you have to do is keep an eye out for requests you can contribute to.
If you find an interesting query, click the link for more information.
You’ll see the media outlet, deadline, and detailed query. Like this:
If you have something valuable to contribute, send the writer a brief and valuable pitch.
It takes just a bit of work every day, but it’s one of the best ways to build backlinks at scale.
Broken Link Building
Broken link building is the process of finding broken external links on other websites in your niche. Then, reaching out and recommending they link to your content instead.
It works really well because no one wants to send visitors to broken pages. And you’re offering a helpful alternative.
An easy way to start broken link building is to look for broken pages on competitors’ websites.
First, enter a competitor’s domain into Semrush’s Backlink Analytics tool. Click “Analyze.”
Then, head over to the “Indexed Pages” report and check the “Broken Pages” box on the left-hand side.
Now you can see all of your competitor’s broken pages. Sorted by number of referring domains.
Each referring domain is a potential source for one or more backlinks for you.
To look at the specific URLs that have links pointing to broken pages, click on the number in the backlinks column.
Good opportunities tend to have:
- Content you can easily replace with your own
- Lots of backlinks pointing to them
For every good opportunity you find, export the report. You can come back to it later.
Use this strategy at scale to find plenty of opportunities.
Once you repeat this process a few times, you should be left with a list of quality broken links that point to dead pages.
Then reach out to them to get the links.
Create Linkable Assets
A linkable asset is a type of content that tends to earn backlinks naturally.
These often include resources like infographics, original research, and in-depth guides.
But before you create any asset, you must understand what people in your niche are linking to.
To do that, check out your competitors’ backlink profiles. You’ll uncover plenty of content ideas.
Head over to Semrush’s Backlink Analytics tool and add one of your competitors’ URLs.
Then, click “Analyze.”
You can then go to the “Referring Domains” tab to see which websites link to your competitor’s site.
Take a look at the “Root Domain / Category” column. This list can give you an idea of the types of websites that can potentially link to you.
Next, you can go to the “Indexed Pages” tab to see which of your competitor’s pages has earned the most backlinks.
This report can help you understand the type of content other websites link to.
If you have similar content, you can ask for links. And if you don’t, you can start creating similar assets.
Find Unlinked Brand Mentions
An unlinked brand mention is when a website mentions you or your business without actually linking to you.
This strategy works great because, with a gentle nudge, most site owners are happy to turn your unlinked mention into a link.
To quickly find unlinked mentions, you can use a tool like Prowly’s News Alerts.
Start by creating a “New query.”
To find your brand’s unlinked mentions, choose “Brand.”
Then, enter the term you’d like to search for. In this example, we’ll use “Semrush.”
Next, you’ll be able to choose how you’d like to be alerted.
To discover new unlinked brand mentions, select “New mention alert.”
Add your email for alerts. You may also choose to “Track backlinks” to your site in addition to discovering unlinked brand mentions.
You can also choose “Countries” or “Languages” to narrow your search.
You’ll then see the number of brand mentions found.
Click “Create query” to view your brand mentions.
For every unlinked mention you find, reach out to the page’s owner or author and kindly request a backlink.
Examine Competitor Backlinks
This strategy is about adopting and replicating the same link building strategies as your competitors.
Reverse engineering your competitors’ backlink strategies can tell you:
- Which types of content tend to earn the most backlinks
- Who is linking to leaders in your niche
To start, go to Semrush’s Backlink Analytics tool.
Enter your competitor’s domain. Go to the “Indexed Pages” tab.
This tab shows a table with all of your competitor’s pages sorted by number of referring domains (i.e., websites linking to it).
Look for patterns in the top pages’ topics, style, length, and format.
- What does your competitor write about—how-to-style or controversial subjects?
- What is the format—long-form or short?
- Do they use a lot of pictures, videos, graphics, GIFs, or just plain text?
- What is the style like—casual or formal?
These are all important things to notice because they should guide your content strategy. Replicate what’s working in a better or similar way.
Reclaim Lost Backlinks
Just as you can gain links, you can lose them. It happens all the time.
You can lose a link for several reasons:
- The link gets removed from the linking page
- The linking page ceases to exist
- The linking page gets redirected
And so on.
Regardless, your job now is to reclaim it. Reclaiming lost links is often much easier than building new links from scratch.
To easily find lost links, head over to Semrush’s Backlink Audit tool.
Start by clicking on “Create project” and then entering your domain.
Then, go to the “Lost & Found” tab.
This report shows how many referring domains have been acquired, broken, or lost over the past 90 days.
In this case, we’re only interested in lost backlinks.
So, scroll down, and click on the “Lost” box at the top of the list.
These are all the domains you’ve lost backlinks from within the past three months.
To help prioritize, filter the list to show follow links with low toxicity scores (how dangerous the link is for your website).
Tackle these lost backlinks first.
Visit each URL to see why you lost the backlink. If the page got removed or redirected, you can ignore it.
But if the URL got removed for another reason, then definitely pursue it. They might’ve refreshed their content or replaced your link with a link to another webpage.
In that case, reach out.
If there’s still an appropriate place for your link in the new content, let them know why they should link to you.
If there isn’t, and they’ve replaced your link with something better, politely ask why they feel the new link is better than yours.
Get feedback. And improve upon it. At the very least, it’ll help prevent more lost links in the future.
Backlink Gap Analysis
A backlink gap analysis reveals websites linking to your competitors but not to you.
It’s a great tactic because if they’re happy linking to your competitors, they’ll likely be happy to link to you, too.
This is especially true if you create even better content than your competitors.
To start, open up Semrush’s Backlink Gap tool.
Add your domain and your competitors’ domains. And click on “Find prospects.”
The table shows all the referring domains that have backlinks to the competitors you entered.
You can click on the drop-down arrows to get more specific information.
It’ll show the website’s Authority Score, specific anchor text, target URL, backlink date, and more.
Export this report by clicking on the “Export” button on the top right.
Now you have a list of target websites you can reach out to for backlinks to your content.
Keep Track of Your Link Building Efforts
Link building takes time, effort, and patience.
To avoid having it all go to waste, we recommend running monthly audits. That will help you keep track of earned links, lost links, and overall backlink quality.
It’s even better if you automate these audits.
You can easily set them up with Semrush’s Backlink Audit tool.
Start by opening up the tool and clicking on the settings icon in the upper right-hand corner.
Next, click on “Recrawl schedule.”
Select “Once a month” in the dropdown menu. And select “Send an email every time an audit is complete.”
Then, click “Update,” and you’re set.
Start Your First Link Building Campaign
Now that you understand how link building works, you’re ready to start working on your link building campaign.
Keep an eye out for what your competitors are doing. And jump on new opportunities as quickly as possible.