Publishing fresh high-quality content is still the number one way to boost your site’s SEO.
The second-most important factor is having a great link network.
A site with a large number of links from high-authority domains will rank higher than one with fewer backlinks, or with links from less relevant sites.
In this article, we’ll go over exactly what backlinks are, discuss how they impact SEO, and explain some ways you can build an effective link network.
Let’s get the ball rolling with a brief look at what backlinks are and why they matter.
What are Backlinks?
Backlinks are links between websites.
If another website links to yours, you have a backlink. If your site includes an external link, that’s a backlink for the target site.
Backlinks play a major part in how search engines rank your site, and not all will have a positive impact on your ranking. Those that do will be from high-authority websites that people trust.
Having backlinks not only helps improve SEO, it also fosters brand recognition.
Links in a blog post stand out, and some people hover over them before they even read the post. For the reader, that creates an association between your brand and the topic of the post.
Backlinks allow you to reach people who may not otherwise be aware of your business or blog. They can help establish a relationship with your audience and attract new social media followers.
Building a backlink network is easy. There are only two steps:
- Create high-quality content that’s worth linking to.
- Find sites that are willing to link to yours and reach out to them.
Both those link-building steps come with challenges. Creating high-quality content requires domain knowledge and creativity and researching potential link sites can be time-consuming.
We’re going to delve into both those areas, but first, let’s take a quick look at how important a quality link network can be to your site’s SEO.
How Backlinks Impact SEO
Backlinks serve as endorsements. They’re subtle indications that the person or company linking to your site approves of your blog or business.
Your target audience will be impressed by this endorsement, and, while that contributes to the value of backlinks, your site visitors aren’t the only ones who notice. Search engines see backlinks too.
Backlinks tell Google that others approve of your content. When its algorithms assess the number and quality of sites that link to yours—a high number indicates that your content has value, so it should get a higher ranking in search results.
But the number of sites linking to yours is only one example of how backlinks impact SEO. Here’s a list of some ways Google analyzes your backlinks and uses the information to determine your ranking.
Age—The longer a backlink has been around, the better. Google will rank your site higher if your backlinks are older, while newly created backlinks will be considered less valuable.
Authority—When a linking site has a very high ranking in search results, that backlink is perceived as having higher value than one from a site that appears buried in search results.
Relevancy—A backlink from a site that’s doing something similar to yours has a more positive impact on ranking than a link from a site that’s not related to your niche. This relevancy analysis extends down to the page level.
Diversity—Are all your backlinks from blog posts? A disproportionate number of backlinks from a single source warns Google that your links may not be organic. The search engine favors a natural link profile, with backlinks from a wide variety of source types.
Context—Backlinks that appear in a page’s content will do more for your ranking than those found somewhere else, like in the sidebar or footer. Even the location within the content is important. For example, a backlink at the beginning of a blog article is seen by Google as better than one that shows up at the end.
Content Length & Quality—Backlinks from a long blog post—anything over about 1000 words—will have a greater impact on SEO than a link from a short blurb. Content quality matters too. Backlinks from content that’s full of spelling errors or is unoriginal will not help your ranking as much as links from high-quality content.
As you can see, Google uses sophisticated algorithms to analyze your backlinks as a factor in determining where your site will be in search results.
Now, we’ll move on to a discussion about how to build a link network that will help your SEO. As we run down the necessary steps, keep in mind the ways that search engines can reward and punish a site based on its backlinks.
Creating Content Worth Linking To
The better your content is, the more backlinks you’ll be able to earn.
Just by linking to you, a referring site is vouching for your business or blog. The last thing they want is to send their trusting audience to a site with lousy content.
That’s why, when you ask for a backlink, your content will be scrutinized by the referring site owner. A link will be given only if your content meets their standards.
In this section, we’ll look at some ways you can ensure that your content passes the test.
Reach New Heights with Skyscraper Content
There are probably keyword searches that return links to your competitor’s content—content with tons of valuable backlinks.
Those should be your backlinks.
One way to make that a reality is by publishing skyscraper content. It’s content that improves on the coverage provided by existing content to such an extent that it gets ranked higher than what it was modeled after.
Here are the steps for creating skyscraper content:
1. Find content on your topic that has a lot of backlinks.
A Google search will take care of this—simply search using your keyword. All the results on the first page are bound to have plenty of backlinks.
2. Write a better version of the content you found.
How much better? This strategy is most effective if your piece of content is 5-10 times better. If you look closely and get creative, you’re bound to find ways to convey the information more effectively.
Maybe you find an article that’s well-written but stops short of covering the whole topic. Perhaps it also lacks pictures and external links.
In that case, there are three ways you can create a better article on the same topic. If you add the missing information, include helpful images or an infographic, and add some links to useful external resources, your coverage of the topic will be better.
3. Get the backlinks that now rightly belong to you.
Point a backlink tool at the content you improved on; Backlink Checker from Ahrefs would be a good choice. You’ll get a list of sites that link to the content.
Reach out to all those sites and make them aware of your superior version. It will speak for itself, making a compelling case that they should link to your content instead.
With skyscraper content, you’ll get more traffic to your business website or blog, plus, there’s a major bonus—it’s traffic that your competitors won’t get. Search results, and eventually backlinks, will direct people to your content instead of your competitors’.
That’s business. You’re all vying for the same audience, so what may seem like a cut-throat tactic is actually quite necessary.
Go with High-Value Formats
A lot of content gets ignored, but there are some types that, regardless of the subject matter, receive more attention than the others.
Regular blog articles perform OK, but the following formats tend to blow them away in terms of views:
- List articles
- “How to” articles
That doesn’t mean you should focus exclusively on those formats but including content using one or more of these styles is a good idea.
A backlink to an infographic, in particular, can have a very positive impact on your SEO. They’re extremely effective at increasing traffic to your site, partly because they’re easy to view, understand, and share.
You’ll need to ensure that the data contained in the infographic is relevant, but when you hit just the right level of detail on a topic that your audience is interested in, you’ll see just how effective the format can be.
Keep an Eye on the Competition
Some site owners spend the time and effort needed to create what they believe will be highly valuable content, only to find that no one will link to it.
A trial-and-error approach to content marketing and link building is a nonstarter for a small business or blog with limited resources. It makes more sense to get it right the first time.
One way to do that is to find out what “right” is, which can be accomplished before you ever create a single piece of content.
Watch what your competitors are doing.
Create alerts so you’ll be notified as soon as they publish new content. Follow them on social media. Subscribe to their newsletters.
If they’re getting more backlinks than you are, analyze their marketing strategies. Do what they’re doing.
One great tool for keeping tabs on your competitors’ backlinks is Monitor Backlinks. You simply input your biggest rivals’ URLs, then sit back and wait for a weekly report detailing all new backlinks they’ve earned. What’s more, if you include your own site, the report will be an effective tool to monitor the success of your efforts to earn backlinks.
Once you see exactly what’s getting your competitors more backlinks than you, you can reproduce aspects of their approach and start to level the playing field.
Finding Sites That Will Link to Yours
There was a time when, if you had content on a site that linked back to yours, that would improve your ranking. It could be any site—a relevant connection to your blog or business was not a factor. There were plenty of article submission sites and blog networks to meet everyone’s backlink needs.
That shotgun approach to link building won’t cut it anymore.
Google’s search algorithms were updated to punish sites that engage in spam link building. The artificial link building techniques that worked beautifully in the past will now get your site pushed to the 10th page of search results.
All that means is, site owners need to get a little more creative when finding backlink opportunities.
In this section, we’ll go over some ways you can find sites that will link to yours, with a focus on backlink quality over quantity.
Keep it Simple, Ask for a Backlink
One of the easiest ways to get other sites to link to yours is to ask.
It’s that simple.
But who should you ask? To answer that, it’s back to Google. Search for blogs or other sites that publish a weekly or monthly digest, roundup, or any kind of newsletter with updates about your field.
Use your keyword plus “roundup,” for example, and cherry-pick sites that have the most current and consistently published content. Those are the sites you’ll want to reach out to.
Email the site owners or webmasters, introduce yourself and your site, and provide a link to your best content. A percentage of those you contact will find your content useful and they’ll link to it in their next post.
Publish Guest Articles
When you write an article that will be published on another website, that’s at least one backlink in the bag. After all, you control what’s in the post, so you’ll be able to include multiple links to exactly the parts of your site that you want to highlight.
Backlinks aside, guest posts are also a great way to gain exposure to a new audience, bolster your reputation as a leader in your field, and expand your social media following.
When it’s time to find a site that’s willing to publish your guest article, there are several ways to go about it:
- Search for blogs that accept guest posts. Construct search strings that include your keyword, plus “guest posts,” “bloggers wanted,” or “contribute,” for example. The results can point you in the right direction.
- Research blog writers that have the most influence. See if you can contribute to the same sites they post on.
- Mine social media. Search Twitter or Facebook using the same kinds of search strings mentioned above.
When you write a guest article, in addition to a backlink that will direct the reader to your site, also include links to your social media profiles. You have a chance to give people multiple ways to stay current with your business or blog, so make the most of it.
Pounce on Broken Links
Broken links are a gold mine when it comes to earning backlinks.
The first step of this technique is to find relevant sites related to your niche. Sites that include a Resources page are prime targets. Search using your keyword, plus the word “links” or “resources.”
Once you’ve found a few sites, use a tool like Check My Links to find any broken links that exist on the site. If one of the broken links is to content like yours, you’ve hit pay dirt.
All that’s left to do is reach out to the site owner with a friendly email reporting the broken link. That’s your opportunity to suggest a link to your content as part of the fix.
A gentle approach is recommended. Explain that their site is linking to a resource that’s no longer available. When suggesting a replacement, in addition to your link, include a few other options. This will sell the idea that you’re trying to help, not just begging for a backlink.
Sweeten the Deal with a Testimonial
With this topic, you may begin to notice a trend. Many of the best ways to get backlinks involve providing something to the linking site, then asking for a backlink. Writing a testimonial is a great example of that approach.
There are probably high-authority sites you use when you’re running your business or blog. If a leading site in your field is a valuable resource to you, there’s a very good chance your audience knows about it too.
Any association between that kind of site and yours would have a positive impact on SEO and get you more traffic. If you’re going to go to the trouble of writing a testimonial, make it for a site like that.
A glowing testimonial is valuable. Providing one to a handful of high-profile sites related to your business or blog is bound to earn you at least a couple of backlinks. Plus, they’ll be some of your highest-value backlinks, because of the increased exposure you’ll gain by associating your site with a major player.
Transform Linkless Mentions into Backlinks
Ah, the unlinked mention—it’s truly the low hanging fruit of link-building.
When your blog or business gets mentioned in an article, but the reference doesn’t actually link to your site, that’s an easy target for requesting a backlink.
What makes this approach so easy? You already have your foot in the door. The person who published the content knows who you are and thinks enough of your blog or business to have mentioned you.
A friendly email with the suggested URL will almost always get a positive response, that is, a new backlink for your site.
Quality Backlinks Lead to Increased Site Performance
Having a great link network is critical if you want to improve your site’s SEO and gain more traffic. Sites with many links from respected domains outperform those without them.
In this article, we’ve taken a hard look at what backlinks are and examined some of the ways they can impact SEO. We offered some suggestions about how to create link-worthy content and get site owners to add your backlink.
If you apply the suggested techniques, you should see an improvement in your site’s ranking in search results over time. That will mean more traffic to your site and more blog readers, followers, subscribers, prospects, and customers.
What are your link-building efforts and how has it worked for you?