How to Build Backlinks in 2020

Backlinks

Backlinks are the nitrous of every successful SEO campaign.

This new guide will teach how to build backlinks in 2020. Every strategy you will read is battle-tested.

Through hundreds of successful SEO campaigns, we now know what does and does NOT work.

Ready to get started? Start watching (or reading):

What are Backlinks?

A “backlink” is created when another website links to yours. This why some people refer to them as “external backlinks” or “inbound links”. Search engines like Google consider backlinks to be “votes” for a page. In many studies, the quantity of backlinks a page has correlated with higher organic search engine rankings.

what are backlinks

7 Backlink Quality Indicators

Not all links are created equal and that’s why it’s critical that you know what a good backlink looks like. Here are some guidelines to follow:

1. Relevance

Your #1 link building objective should be to get links on websites that are relevant to yours.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what a former member of Google’s search quality team, Andre Weyher, said back in 2012:

Not only this but take PR for example, getting a link from a high PR page used to always be valuable, today it’s more the relevance of the site’s theme in regards to yours, relevance is the new PR. – Andre Weyher

This quote is stating the obvious:

Your link acquisition efforts should begin with the most relevant opportunities.

But there’s a problem with this approach:

Getting 100% exact relevancy for every single link is unrealistic.

That’s why I develop The Relevancy Pyramid framework for prioritizing your link opportunities.

The Relevancy Pyramid

Here’s a visual representation:

Relevancy Pyramid

The idea is quite simple.

There is a limited supply of 100% relevant link opportunities. However, as you broaden your research, there will be many more opportunities to go after.

The key is to prioritize opportunities at the top of the pyramid (since they’re the most relevant) and work your way down the pyramid (towards less relevant opportunities).

2. Authority

The stronger the site, the better the results.

Since Google doesn’t update PageRank anymore, you have to rely on third-party metrics.

None of these third party tools are perfect, but they will do the job.

I recommend you analyze opportunities using all available options.

The best link analysis tools are:

3. Link Quality

Third-party metrics such as Domain Rating (Ahrefs), Trust Flow (Majestic), and Domain Authority (Moz) can all be manipulated.

So, although a website can appear to be “authoritative” on the surface, it is outright dangerous when you dig deeper.

That’s why you must examine the link profile of your opportunities.

All the tools I mentioned above will do the job.

Use these same standards I’ve outlined in this section to determine whether your link opportunity’s link profile is high-quality or not.

4. Traffic

If you approach link acquisition with the intention of driving traffic to your website, it changes your entire mindset.

Your goal should be to get links on a website with real traffic.

This doesn’t mean you’ll get loads of referral traffic, but it’s a good standard to have.

Since you will never know the exact traffic data of a site without getting into their analytics, you will need to use SEMRush or Ahrefs.

5. Editorial Standards

Why are diamonds valuable? Because they’re difficult to get. That’s how you need to approach your link building. The harder it is to land a backlink, the more valuable it probably is.

On the other hand:

The easier a backlink is to get, the less valuable it is.

Focus on getting links on websites that have editorial standards.

6. Outbound Link Quality

Websites with strong editorial guidelines will likely only link out to quality resources. You want your link to “live” around other quality outbound links.

Examine every prospective website and ask:

  • What are they linking out to?
  • Are the outbound links relevant?
  • Are the outbound links going to respected, trusted sites?
  • Do the outbound links look natural or do they look like paid links?

7. Indexation

This is by far the most obvious point, but the target website needs to be indexed in Google. If the site isn’t indexed, then your links will be worthless.

Just go to Google and search “site:example.com”. If they don’t show up, avoid the website.

You now know what a squeaky clean link profile looks like.

But now let me show you the links you need to avoid.

How to EARN Backlinks

Many people doing SEO confuse earning links with building links.

These are two different concepts.

To EARN means that you DESERVE links.

Have you ever taken a second to think about why your website even deserves links?

I’ve realized that there is only one way to EARN links…

You must become obsessed with pleasing your users.

As of late, I have become consumed with the overwhelming ambition to please my users.

After hours of thought, I’ve realized that effective SEO starts with the user in mind.

You have to be user-centric.

If you please the user, you will please Google.

I used to spend so much of my time trying to figure out how to “trick” or manipulate Google.

I can’t get that time back, but I have learned an important lesson:

To build a real business, you must focus on pleasing the user.

All the time. On a consistent basis.

Understand that:

  • Happy users ARE your marketing.
  • Happy users will help you EARN links.
  • Happy users will SHARE your content on social media.
  • Happy users will RETURN to your website.

Your SEO campaign will transform when you put your users first.

Let me show you how to earn links by being user-centric:

1. You Have to Become User-Centric

Let’s face it:

If users don’t like your website, then Google won’t either.

Your focus shouldn’t be on manipulating algorithms.

Your focus should be “what can I do right now to help my prospective customers or readers?”

There isn’t a single website online that can’t improve User Experience (UX).

There is always room to help more and give more.

A website that puts 100% effort into pleasing the user, will earn links.

You need to remember how Google interprets a backlink.

It is a vote. Some of these “votes” are better than others.

Think of it this way:

The U.S. just went through an election cycle.

Candidates from the Republicans and Democrats are battling to earn their party’s nomination.

When you cut through all the media noise there is a powerful marketing technique at play:

Endorsements.

Whenever a candidate gets an endorsement from a well-known figure in the party, it is a huge deal.

A single endorsement can get enormous amounts of news coverage.

Here are two examples:

Google Trends After Sarah Palin Endorsed Donald Trump
Google Trends After Sarah Palin Endorsed Donald Trump
Google Trends After Glenn Beck Endorsed Ted Cruz
Google Trends After Glenn Beck Endorsed Ted Cruz

Look at those spikes immediately following endorsements.

Think of links as endorsements for your website.

What does your site/blog have to deserve a big endorsement?

Small endorsements are fine and will compound over time.

But getting an endorsement from a well-known site in your industry is way more powerful.

The only way to get such endorsements (links), you need to give tremendous value for the user.

2. Your Content Must Please the User

You know how competitive content marketing is in the entrepreneur, SEO, and marketing industries.

Bloggers are pumping out incredible pieces of content.

Sometimes these content pieces are more than 10,000 words.

Other times, hundreds of hours are investing in doing research and finding data.

This is the standard in these industries.

Yet, this isn’t the standard in every industry.

Should it be?

Maybe.

But it’s not.

There isn’t a single formula for creating content that pleases a user.

That’s why it can be dangerous to immerse yourself in the industries above.

It narrows your view.

You start to think that “good” content has to be 1,800 words or more.

The truth is:

“Good” content comes in all shapes and sizes.

There are no laws for creating great content.

I do not believe that every piece of content you create needs to rank on the first page of Google.

Yes, most of your content should focus on a single keyword.

But, don’t let the search engine determine what types of content you want to produce.

There are times when you need to solve a micro problem in your content.

This micro problem may only get 10 searches a month on Google.

WHO CARES.

As long as you have the intention of helping someone, it will improve the value of your website.

There isn’t a problem too big or too small.

SEOs get wrapped up in data but forget about the user.

Who cares if Google is telling you that a particular keyword only gets 10 searches a month.

For all I care, that is an opportunity to help approximately 10 people.

Do you want to know what’s funny?

When I created the article “How to Index Backlinks 100% of the Time”, there wasn’t any search volume.

I didn’t care that it didn’t have search volume at the time.

I just knew it was a problem because I was the one struggling with it!

I spent a few hours created that content and it’s driven 11,000 pageviews from Organic Search this year alone:

SEO Results

The moral of the story is that your content needs to help people reach a goal or solve a problem.

It doesn’t always need to be monumental.

You get the point.

Focus on the user first.

What are their problems and what can you do to help them?

After you figure that out, then you need to make sure that…

3. Your Content Stand Outs

Creating rehashed garbage won’t get you anywhere. It won’t help you in Google and it won’t help your business grow.

The successful businesses we see in the world are innovative.

They don’t think about how to copy their competitors.

They think about what they can do that’s different and unique.

Take a look at the pages ranking in Google for your target keyword.

Think: “What can I do that’s different than these 10 pages?”

Here are the common characteristics/quality holes you want to look for:

Outdated Content

Creating updated content is the single biggest way to be different.

Time is the enemy of many blogs.

Not all content will become outdated if it’s evergreen.

But, it depends on the industry.

For example, the SEO industry changes at a rapid pace.

Marketing, in general, is always changing and there are always new mediums emerging.

Content gets outdated.

When you find outdated content, there’s an opportunity.

The most obvious plan of attack is to create an updated piece of content, but that’s not all:

You must create an updated piece of content that blows the other one out of the water.

Don’t play nice when it comes to helping the user.

It is a competition to see who can help the user more.

You need to win.

Lack of Depth

Sometimes it’s mind-boggling why some pages even rank on the first page of Google.

Many times, these pages are ranking because their site has so much authority.

If a page is ranking because of its site authority, it’s an opportunity for you.

Pages that rank in this fashion will likely have “thin” content. You can dominate them by creating content with more depth. Not just a little more depth. Create massive depth in your content.

Like I said above, don’t let it be a competition.

Your content should be so good that your competitors don’t even attempt to beat it.

Lack of Data or Research

Some content ranking on the first page of Google is great but lacks data and research.

If you identify pages like this, you can overwhelm them with data and research.

Leverage trusted data sources in your industry.

If there isn’t lots of data available on hand, then create your own case studies.

These case studies will give you unique data that will make your content stand out.

Lack of Personality

Some content on the first page of Google will put you to sleep. The content has a “corporate”, impersonal tone.

The content becomes “corporate” when the company loses sight of the user.

They become out of touch.

Great content and copywriting are suppose to be simple and personal.

Beating corporate speak is my goal with Gotch SEO.

When I see content that’s ranking well (without personality), I know I will smash them.

I do my best to speak to YOU.

I want YOU to know that I’m helping YOU.

YOU are what matters.

YOU are the reason why I even produce content.

Use “YOU” in your content.

Speak to your reader.

You aren’t writing for an audience.

You are writing to a single individual.

Do me a favor:

I want you to “LOL” next time you see a page ranking with “corporate”, impersonal content.

Why?

Because it’s your job to push them off the first page of Google by being personal and caring more about your users.

Lack of Readability & Visual Appeal

I’m sure you have seen it:

  • unbearable big blocks of text
  • no headings
  • no images
  • white font on black backgrounds
  • distracting designs

As I mentioned above, there are pages that rank because of their website’s authority.

Some of these pages will have essay-like content that gives me college flashbacks.

To beat them, create content that:

  • is readable (use bullet points, lists, etc.)
  • is easy to scan (use descriptive headings)
  • uses beautiful visuals. (use images to break up long content)
  • has black font on a white background (it’s easier to read/a proven copywriting principle)
  • doesn’t have distracting design elements. (your content is the most important element on the page. Don’t let your design take away from.)

4. You Must Be Willing to Do What Others Won’t

You have likely noticed a trend in this article already. Great content marketing AND ranking pages in Google requires enormous amounts of effort. You have to be willing to do what others won’t.

The good news is that most people are lazy.

  • It’s hard to sit down and write every single day.
  • It’s hard to think outside of the box.
  • It’s hard not to get distracted.

But that’s what it takes if you want to create content that produces results.

You aren’t always going to get it right, but the more you produce, the better chance you have to succeed.

Produce. Produce. Produce.

And when you finish producing, start producing more.

5. You Must Be Creative

Being creative is hard, but everyone struggles with coming up with unique ideas.

Many of your ideas will likely suck, but it doesn’t matter. You only need a few good ideas to stick to start seeing growth.

Creative content will attract high authority links.

At the same time, don’t feel like you need to always reinvent the wheel.

Use tools like Buzzsumo and the first page of Google to see what content has attracted the most links.

You can then use the same idea, but create something completely unique and better.

Keep in mind:

This is still creativity!

The only difference is that you aren’t coming up with ideas out of thin are.

Instead, you are using ideas that are already validated. This will increase your content’s chances of success.

6. You Need to Be Unique

I can’t stand rehashed information. I see it so often across all verticals and it’s painful to see.

Rehashed content won’t earn you links.

If all you can think of are rehashed ideas, then don’t publish at all.

It’s better to publish one super unique piece of content than it is to produce rehashed garbage.

Make it unique.

Be creative and be different.

Bloggers link to content that is innovative, unique, and super valuable.

7. You Must Outperform Others

As I explained in a previous step, you need to beat your competitors.

There are likely a few competitors in your industry that are producing stellar content.

You need to outperform them.

They are the benchmark.

Analyze their content and do your best to understand why it performs well.

Ask:

  • WHY do they get so many social shares?
  • WHY do they get so many blog comments?
  • What makes them different from the thousands of other bloggers in your industry?

Understanding why they are successful will help you develop a plan to beat them.

Remember:

The goal isn’t to beat them in a slimy or unethical way.

The goal is to beat them by giving MORE value.

That needs to be your goal no matter how hard it may be.

8. You Have to Be Consistent

Instead of trying to be perfect, you need to be consistent.

You should try to produce at least some content every day.

Will it always be a masterpiece?

No.

It’s the ACT of producing content is what’s actually valuable. That’s because your efforts will compound over time.

It’s about putting hard work day-in and day-out.

You can look at Derek’s blog and see that he only publishes 1-2 times a month.

Does that mean he’s chillen’ the rest of the month?

NO.

He’s working on other parts of his business that will bring value to his readers. It doesn’t matter how often you publish. It matters that you are producing value on a daily basis.

The more you produce, the better you will become.

Your thoughts will crystallize.

It’s obvious when someone worked super hard to produce a piece of content. That’s because the more effort you put into a piece of content, the better it will be.

The better content is, the more links you will attract.

But you HAVE to be consistent.

Consistency isn’t some God-given talent. It’s about organization and planning.

That’s why you should consider using an editorial calendar.

The editorial calendar can help end decision fatigue. You will wake up and know what needs to get done without having to think about it.

You want your content production to be on auto-pilot.

Here are resources for creating an editorial calendar:

9. You Have to Build Relationships

To earn links, you need to build relationships. Your blog can’t be an island in the middle of the ocean. You need to build connections and relationships.

These relationships will lead to links. You won’t even have to ask for a link most of the time.

Just the act of establishing relationships with top bloggers will often lead to links.

That is, as long as your content is valuable and unique.

When trying to build relationships, you need to always focus on what YOU can do for the person.

Do you remember what I said about being user-centric?

The same principle applies when trying to build relationships. You should be thinking about how you can help the prospect. Not how you can get more out of them.

Give, give, and give more. Then, you will receive it.

Think about it:

Why would anyone want to link to your blog after getting a cold email request? I know I wouldn’t.

To get your blog and name “out there” you need to use repetition.

That means your name needs to visible on many fronts.

Start with a well-thought-out comment on their blog. Then follow that up with a Tweet or response to a Tweet of theirs. Then send them a non-committal email.

Repeat this cycle over and over until it’s obvious that they know your name.

Once you have gone through this effort, THEN ask them how you can help them in one way or another.

How can you give them value? Why should they link to your content?

Does your content deserve links from a top blog? Is it THAT good?

You will always have a biased answer.

That’s why you should seek outside opinions. ASK top bloggers what they think about your content.

(Asking bloggers “what they think” about your content is a great way to get exposure).

10. You Need to Build an Email List

That’s right.

One of the best ways to earn links is to have an email list. That’s because you can email your list whenever you publish a new blog post. The people on your list are receptive to you and like what you are doing.

Many of these same subscribers also have blogs of their own.

It is much more likely that a loyal subscriber will link to your content than it happening at random.

I’m sure you have seen this happen:

A top blogger publishes a new blog post and BAM:

They have countless social shares and comments within hours.

How does this happen?

It’s because they promote their content to their list! Having an email list is a true asset for your business. You have complete control of your email list.

  • It isn’t affected by algorithm changes.
  • It isn’t affected by policy changes.
  • It’s yours and it’s the ultimate asset.

Growing an email list should be a priority for EVERY business.

Pro Tip: It’s important to note that your email list is only valuable if your emails actually reach your subscriber’s inbox. Otherwise, they won’t be opened. Fortunately, free tools like MailGenius help make sure your emails get delivered (and opened) instead of landing in the spam folder.

11. You Need to Promote Your Content

Yes, to EARN links, people must see your content.

Invisible content doesn’t get links, no matter how good it is.

Content promotion is a topic I’ll be explaining in future posts because it’s comprehensive.

But here’s a simple technique you can use:

Similar Content Outreach

This is one of my favorite tactics. Here’s how to do it:

The most important element of this strategy is to have a great piece of content. It needs to be much better than the other relevant piece of content they are linking to.

To find prospects use Buzzsumo or look at the first page of Google for your target keyword.

Take the top 10 results and run them through Ahrefs or Majestic.

Also:

Make sure you avoid cold outreach. I haven’t gone too deep into outreach here, but make sure you warm your prospects up before hitting them with a pitch.

Trust me:

Only a micro percentage of people will link to your blog after getting a cold email request.

They may not change links, but they might link to your resource in a future article. If they don’t link, then they will likely share the content piece on social.

Also, remember to share your content on your owned media assets such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. It’s important to engage with the audience you already have because it can lead to natural links.

Bonus: What About Guest Posting?

I’m a big fan of guest posting, but it’s not a way to EARN links for your website.

The reason is that you are the one responsible for placing the link back to your site.

That isn’t earned.

In essence, YOU are deciding that your website or content is worth linking to.

EARNED means that you created a great piece of content, promoted it, and someone linked to it by free will.

As I said, there is nothing wrong with guest posting for:

  • brand building
  • traffic generation
  • link building

But as far as being an EARNED backlink, it is not.

If you control the link, it’s not earned.

Keep Learning

Nathan Gotch
Nathan Gotch

Nathan Gotch is the founder and CSO (Chief Search Officer) at Gotch SEO. Since 2012, Nathan has achieved SEO success across countless verticals including health, technology, law, and many more. He’s also grown Gotch SEO’s training division, Gotch SEO Academy, past 1,000 students.