Link Building

When it comes to SEO, link building is one of the most crucial elements for a website to be successful. On this page, I'll take you through the basics of link building, why backlinks are imporant, and how you can start getting backlinks for yourself.

What Is Link Building?

Link building is the process of acquiring backlinks. The sole purpose of a backlink is to increase a website's authority and therefore it's keyword rankings in search engines such as Google.

Backlinks can be acquired in many ways, and not all backlinks are valued equally. In fact, every single backlink has it's own unique set of characteristics that determines its value. There are good backlinks and there are bad backlinks.

Why Are Backlinks Important?

To understand why backlinks are important, it helps to understand how the internet came to be. The internet was born when computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented HTML, a language used for "linking" documents together.

Shortly after, Google came to the scene with a simple algorithm that made it easy to find documents all over the web. This algorithm was defined by the context in which documents were linked together. 

A link, or a hyperlink had two main characteristics: the target URL and the anchor text.

  • Target URL - The web address for a document. Also known as the link or URL of a web page.
  • Anchor text - The text used in place of the URL. Also known as link text. This is used for identifying the context of the document being linked to.

Anytime a search was performed on Google, it would take the search phrase and match it to the titles of known documents in its index. Then, from that list, it would check which document had the most links.

The documents that had the most links were scored higher, and this is how the backbone of Google was created.

Without links to determine a document's score, there would be no Google.

So More Links Are Better...Gotcha

Well, not quite! Since those early days of Google, there have been many revisions to the ranking algorithm. The number of links you have is less important. These days, the quality of links is what really matters.

After some time, it became far too easy to exploit the system. A single person could easily build hundreds if not thousands of links with little to no effort. With the boom of Web 2.0, it became even easier to build links. There were all kinds of links that could be built.

The Different Types Of Links

As the internet grew, there became more unique ways for websites to display content. This created categories for different types of links you could get. These categories would be known to have varying effects on rankings.

Any backlink that was considered spam or low-effort would have its value completely removed, making it a worthless backlink.

  • Blog Commenting - It was common to leave a comment on a blog post, leaving your name and website as a way for people to know where you're coming from. This quickly became a spammy, low-effort way to get backlinks.
  • Profile Links - Most websites that provided you with a profile would allow you to mention your website on your profile page. This would also be known to become a low-effort way to get backlinks.
  • Social Bookmark - A great example of a social bookmark is Pinterest. When you "pin" an image, it saves that image to Pinterest and links to the source URL.
  • Indexers - An indexer is a free service that shares your link with thousands of other services in an attempt to spam search engines so they'll recognize that a URL is live.
  • Web 2.0 - Also known as parasite backlinks. This is when you create a free blog on a prominent domain, giving you a piece of their powerful metrics. This is considered low-effort, but it can still work in some contexts.
  • Guest Post - The only type of link that has any real value. This is achieved through networking and exchanging high quality content with other website owners in exchange for a link back to your site.
  • Link Insertion - This is when you have a link placed into an existing piece of content. It's not as clean as a guest post, but it's still better than a manual link.

How To Build Links

There are two ways to build links: manual link building and outreach. Ultimately, the best return for your time will be to do outreach as manual link building is always considered low-effort and is always considered spammy, but it does have some benefits.

Manual Link Building

As mentioned in the previous section, there are lots of ways to build different types of links. Although most of them are spammy and won't help you rank, they can help to build diversity. We'll talk about that in a minute.

You can start by creating accounts on social networking websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and many others.

Outreach Link Building

Outreach is all about networking. You'll want to get in touch with as many website owners as possible. Find the ones that understand what you're trying to do and form a relationship that is mutually beneficial.

Ideally, you'll want to find someone who is willing to take a piece of content you've put together and publish it on their website. It is also becoming more common that website owners are offered compensation for doing this.

It's becoming increasingly difficult to get these placements, so another option is to use an outreach service, or a manged link building service.

What Makes Links "Good" or "Bad"

The biggest difference in how a link is valued is based on relevance. After that, it depends on the backlink profile of the site that you're getting a link from.

Imagine you managed a website that was about scuba diving. You are given the choice of a backlink from one of two sites. One site is about marine biology and the other is about sports cars. It would make sense to have a backlink from the site about marine biology.

Not only is the referring website topically relevant, it may also have backlinks from sites in it's own profile of backlinks.

You see, the backlinks behind the backlinks are what you use to weigh whether or not you want to associate yourself with that website.

If the website about marine biology has a spammy backlink profile, then it may not be a good candidate despite being topically relevant. This is what some tools would call Trust Flow.

There are several factors to consider when investigating a website's backlink profile, most of which are done using paid tools such as Ahrefs or SEMRush.

  • Domain Rating/Authority - A number that is created by SEO tools to give a quick glimpse into a domain's backlink profile. It is an average of the domain rating of all the websites linking to a site.
  • Referring Domains - The number of how many unique websites are linking to the site in question. The more the better, so long as they're not spammy domains.
  • Backlinks - The actual number of backlinks across all referring domains. Some referring domains will provide more than one backlink, so it makes sense to count them separately.
  • Organic Traffic - An estimated count of how much traffic a site gets based on it's existing keyword rankings and their positions. A website that gets lots of organic traffic has a higher chance of being spam-free and having a clean backlink profile.
  • Is It A Link Farm - A link farm is a website that is built solely for the purpose of selling backlinks. These websites can get penalized and affect every site that they link to. A common red flag is websites that have a "write for us" section.