Backlinks are the nitrous of every successful SEO campaign.
This new guide will teach how to build backlinks in 2018. 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?
- When to Build Backlinks
- 7 Backlink Quality Indicators
- Harmful Backlinks to Avoid
- How to Build “Foundational” Backlinks
- Power Backlinks
- Grey Hat Backlinks
- How to EARN Backlinks
- FAQ About Backlinks
What are Backlinks (and How Do They Work)?
A “backlink” is created when an external website links to yours. This why some people refer to them as “external backlinks” or “inbound links”.
Here’s how it looks in action:
These links are a large piece of the ranking puzzle.
But before we get into the heavy link building strategy…
You need to make sure that your site is ready for backlinks.
When to Build Backlinks
Many people dive into link acquisition before they’ve built a strong foundation. What you must realize is that a strong foundation (a well-optimized website) makes your link building more effective.
When your backlinks are more effective, you don’t need as many to achieve your desired result!
That ultimately saves you time and money.
So, here’s what you need to cover before jumping into link building:
1. Fix All Technical/UX Issues
Technical issues can hurt User Experience (UX) and UX is correlated to SEO performance (or lack of it).
View this as a foundational stage of the process.
That’s because if speed through this process, you backlinks won’t be as effective.
And what happens when your backlinks aren’t as effective?
You have to acquire more, which costs your company more money.
Here are some technical/UX issues you need to look for:
- Site loading speed (use Google’s PageSpeed Insights)
- Mobile friendliness (use Google’s Mobile Friendly check
- Duplicate content (use Siteliner)
- Canonical errors
- Duplicate META data
- Incorrect uses of directives (noindex, nofollow, etc)
Sometimes the most obvious solutions are right in front of your face. Redirect chains are another simple problem that can boost your site’s authority once fixed.
This is what a redirect chain looks like:
Do you see the problem with this picture?
The problem is that “Page B” is acting as a buffer between “Page A” and the final destination “Page C”.
This technical issue is robbing “Page C” of authority.
To fix this you need to 301 redirect “Page A” to “Page C” like so:
By fixing a redirect chain you will send authority/link equity directly to the page.
That is more effective than making the link equity pass through a buffer.
There’s some debate on whether or not PageRank passes through 302 redirects. For many years, SEOs (including myself) have always stated that you should change 302s to 301s. This is still my stance. However, he’s what Gary Illyes said about the topic: “30x redirects don’t lose PageRank anymore.”
Is Gary telling the truth? Probably.
But I still don’t think it’s worth the risk.
Out of the hundreds of SEO audits I’ve conducted, I’ve seen a few websites using 302s for their actual purpose (a temporary redirect).
In most cases 302s are nothing more than accidental.
With that said:
It’s my preference to change 302s to 301s if they aren’t being used for their actual purpose.
Reclaim Lost Link Juice (404 Link Reclamation)
404 link reclamation is at the top of the list because it is the easiest.
You can use Google Search Console to find 404s (Crawl > Crawl Errors > Not Found):
You can also use Screaming Frog to find 404 as well (Response Codes > Client Error – 4xx):
Then to see what 404 pages have backlinks, just use Ahrefs’ or Majestic’s bulk analysis tools.
I recommend doing both just in case you miss some links.
When you find pages with link equity, you must 301 redirect them to a relevant page on the site or to your homepage.
Fix Broken External Links
Every external link you place on your site leaks authority.
That’s why it’s important to audit your site (here’s an SEO audit checklist) to find broken external links.
This applies to both external links in your content and in the comment section.
You can easily find these broken external links using Ahrefs.
Go to “Outgoing links” and click “Broken Links”.
You can use Screaming Frog SEO Spider to find most of these issues such 302 redirects, redirect chains, 404 errors, canonical errors, duplicate META data and incorrect uses of directives.
2. Develop a Strong Site Architecture
Developing an intelligent site architecture is the single best way to get the most “bang for your buck” when it comes to link building.
My favorite site architecture strategy is to use a reverse silo.
Instead of trying to acquire backlinks to non-linkable pages (homepages, category pages, product pages, etc), the reverse silo is built to acquire backlinks to content-rich pages.
These may be blog posts or individual information-driven pages.
Here’s how it works:
This is a more effective approach for link acquisition because people are much more willing to link to valuable information than sales-driven pages.
With that said:
The ultimate goal of the reverse silo is to distribute link authority (PageRank) from your content assets to your sales-driven pages (via internal linking).
I believe this content-centric approach is the safest way to grow your site’s authority.
Bringing me to the next point:
3. Create Linkable Assets
Every effective link building campaign should begin with creating linkable assets.
First, what is a linkable asset?
A linkable asset is usually a blog post or page that is informationally-driven.
For example, this blog post you’re currently reading is a linkable asset. It’s designed to educate and add value to my industry.
Not only is it easier to acquire backlinks to a valuable content asset, but it’s much more scalable in the long run.
That’s because you can continue to earn new backlinks overtime without much additional effort. That is, if you created the content the right way.
Read my guide on how to create SEO content to learn more.
At this stage, your website is on a strong foundation so it’s time to start building backlinks, right?
Wait a second.
You need to have a clear understanding of what a “quality” link opportunity looks like before you dive in.
This will help:
7 Backlink Quality Indicators
Not all backlinks are created equally and that’s why it’s critical that you know what a good backlink look like. Here are some guidelines to follow:
Your #1 link building objective should be to get backlinks 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:
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 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).
Let me show you how it would work with a more practical example.
I’m going to show you how I would prioritize opportunities for a supplement company.
Tier One: 100% Relevancy
I will designate a “1” to any opportunities that are 100% relevant to the supplement company. An example of 100% relevancy would be a website that reviews supplements. Or, a website that focuses on a specific supplement that the client offers like creatine.
As you can imagine, 100% relevant opportunities are few and far between. This is especially true in the “supplement” industry. That’s because supplement companies create micro supplement sites to persuade you. So the chances of landing a link are low.
Tier Two: 75% Relevancy
All opportunities that are 75% relevant get a “2” designation. On this tier you would want to focus on “body building” opportunities.
Tier Three: 50% Relevancy
On tier three, you would focus on all “fitness” opportunities and assign a “3” to them.
The fitness space has unlimited opportunities.
First, you would focus on pure “fitness” blogs. After that, you could move onto any type of sports, CrossFit, or runner blogs.
It would likely take a year to tap into all the opportunities within this relevancy tier.
Tier Four: 25% Relevancy
On tier four, you would focus on “health” opportunities and assign a “4” to them.
There are countless websites about “health” in general. But, you can also tap into nutrition, elderly health, women’s health, and men’s health blogs.
Tier Five: 0% Relevancy
On tier five, you would focus on more “general” opportunities.
For example, if I link to my wife’s guide about fall outfits, it’s probably not going to be as effective a “Tier 1” opportunity. That’s because SEO and fashion aren’t relevant to each other. But, that doesn’t mean the link I injected won’t work.
We classify “general” (Tier 5) opportunities as authoritative news sites, colleges, and unrelated, but high-quality blogs.
You would assign a “5” to these opportunities.
News sites such as Huffington Post, Fox, CNN, or Yahoo would be targets on this tier.
You are likely wondering what “unrelated, but high-quality blogs” are…
Let me explain.
You would want to ask yourself:
Does the supplement company have a CEO who would like to share success secrets?
If the answer is “Yes”, then focus on entrepreneur, business, small business, sales, marketing, and Internet marketing blogs.
You would also want to consider productivity or self improvement blogs. That’s because both topics could incorporate supplements in one way or another.
Now that you understand the Relevancy Pyramid model, here’s how it would actually look in practice:
I wouldn’t normally color code, but I wanted you to see the different tiers.
The cool thing about this process is that you can outsource the entire thing.
So, what I just showed you is how I would leverage the concept of a Relevancy Pyramid for a national SEO campaign.
Now let me show you how you can use this technique on the local level to prioritize link opportunities.
Local Relevancy Pyramid
Geo-targeted backlinks are the Creme de la creme of local SEO. That’s why you must prioritize these opportunities in the Pyramid.
Here’s how our local Relevancy Pyramid looks:
For this example, I will use a Chicago limo company.
Tier One: 100% Geo-Targeted and Niche Relevant
Your most prized prospects will be assigned here. That’s because they must be both niche-relevant and geo-targeted relevant.
These are rare, but valuable.
An example would be a Chicago limo directory.
Tier Two: 100% Niche Relevant
Tier Two and Tier Three are interchangeable, but we like to focus on niche relevant links first.
Limos blogs, limo directories, and limo associations would fall under this category.
Tier Three: 100% Geo-Targeted
On Tier Three you would focus your efforts on Chicago-targeted opportunities.
Chicago directories and Chicago blogs are all fair game here.
Tier Four: 50% Niche Relevant
At this stage you would focus your efforts on related niches. Wedding blogs and wedding directories would fit into this category.
Tier Five: 25% Niche Relevant
On Tier Five you would focus on travel blogs, transportation blogs, and even dating blogs.
Here’s how the local Relevancy Pyramid would look in practice:
I think you get it:
Link relevancy is super important, but how do you know if an opportunity is relevant?
You want to examine:
- The general content “theme” of the linking domain. Is it relevant to yours?
- The relevancy of the backlinks hitting the domain. The website linking to their website relevant to yours?
I recommend using Majestic’s Topical Trust Flow Topics for this purpose.
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 be 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.
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 backlinks on website with real traffic.
This doesn’t mean you’ll get loads of referral traffic, but it’s a good standard to have.
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 backlinks 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?
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 backlinks 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 backlinks you need to avoid.
Harmful Backlinks to AVOID
There are certain backlinks that should never touch your site.
If you decide to use these backlinks, just know that your risk for a penalty is much greater.
I’ve seen websites get penalties for using these backlinks.
I’m telling you that because I don’t want you to think I’m guessing.
It is a FACT that these backlinks can land you a manual or algorithmic penalty.
(Almost) Everything That’s Irrelevant
Your tier one should be a wall of relevancy surrounding your site. I said “almost” every link should be relevant because of the Relevancy Pyramid principle I outlined above.
You can go on almost any SEO forum and buy backlinks on public networks. These networks will often advertise their service as “private blog networks”. But that’s a lie.
Once you are advertising a network, it is no longer private.
Throughout Google’s short history, it has gone out of its way to smash public networks. After that, they go out and destroy every website that is using these networks.
It’s easy for Google to spot these networks because:
A) there are an excessive amount of outbound links (typically 25-50+) on the homepage: homepages on REAL websites don’t have a ridiculous amount of outbound links on the homepage.
B) the outbound links are completely irrelevant to each other: there will be links going to gambling sites, SEO sites, fitness sites, etc. It doesn’t make any sense.
C) the content for each post is thin (only 250-300 words): Google’s Panda algorithm hates thin content.
D) you can run, but you can’t hide: some networks will attempt to block Ahrefs and Majestic crawlers, but its actually a footprint. On the other hand, networks that don’t block crawlers will likely get reported to Google because of an angry competitor. It’s a lose-lose situation.
Follow Blog Comments
These are some of the cheapest backlinks you can buy. They are also the perfect recipe for landing a penalty.
Large amounts of outbound links + irrelevant links + outbound links going to “bad neighborhoods” (gambling, pharma, porn, etc.) = a toxic backlink
Remember backlink quality indicator #6?
You don’t want your link to live in this environment.
Sidebar, Footer Backlinks
I’ll admit that sidebar and footer backlinks can work, but they’re also risky.
Standalone links look like paid backlinks and you know how Google feels about those.
Vendors that sell these high authority backlinks are also selling them to other websites. Most of these website will be irrelevant to yours. That’s because these vendors rarely turn down money.
As a reminder:
You don’t want your link to live with irrelevant or “bad neighborhood” links.
One more important note about sidebar/footer backlinks:
These links are almost always site-wide links.
This can destroy your site if you are using a keyword-rich anchor text.
It will wreck your anchor text profile.
I know web designers, marketing companies, and web hosting companies love footer backlinks.
So, if you do decide to use them, I recommend you use branded anchor text.
There is one exception to this rule:
If you can manipulate the code so that your link only shows on the homepage (where most of a site authority resides).
If you are using WordPress, you can use this Restrict Widgets plugin.
As a general rule of thumb, you should avoid automated link building tools on tier one.
Some of these softwares include GSA, Ultimate Demon, and SENuke.
These softwares leverage spammed platforms and will likely land your site a penalty.
Now that you know what links to avoid like the plague, here are foundational backlinks you should build:
How to Build “Foundational” Backlinks
“Foundational” backlinks are what every normal website should have.
They will create a layer of trust around your site.
That’s because you will be using nothing but unoptimized, branded backlinks from authority sites.
We use this exact approach with every client we take on and it works extremely well.
You should only use naked link or branded anchors for foundational backlinks.
The first thing you need to do is secure all your social media properties.
At the very minimum, your business should have:
You don’t have to actively market on these platforms, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.
For example, for Gotch SEO, my social media manager decided that Facebook was our best social media platform based on referral traffic and engagement.
That’s why we are “all-in” on Facebook and not as active on the other platforms.
Choose what platforms work best for your business.
At the minimum, populate these accounts and share some content, so that you at least have a base.
Exclusive: Get access to 300 + sites for securing your brand.
Google values business listings so much that it is apart of the local search algorithm.
This should be more than enough for you to use them for ANY SEO campaign.
The cool part about listings is that about 50% of them give you a Follow, unoptimized link.
Business citations are a perfect way to build a foundation of trust around your site.
Remember earlier when I said that not all backlinks hitting your site need to be 100% relevant?
I was referring to business listings and social media profiles.
Google trusts these platforms and is well aware that all types of businesses will be using them.
In a sense, they get a pass for not being relevant.
While most directories are pretty much worthless, there are some diamonds in the rough.
Niche-targeted directories offer both a relevant and Follow link.
As you know, backlinks with both of these characteristics are hard to come by.
Use these search strings in Google to find niche directories:
- NICHE + Directory (Example: “fitness + directory”)
- NICHE directories
- NICHE + “submit site”
Geo-targeted directories are a must-have link source for local businesses.
Here are some search strings you can use to find geo-targeted directories:
- city + directory
- directory + city
- submit my site + city
- niche + city + directory
- city + directories
Niche Relevant Blog Comments
I’m always amazed why so many SEOs skip out on niche relevant blog comments. Too many SEOs neglect them because of the dreaded “NoFollow” tag.
I highly recommend you don’t neglect them.
My agency uses niche relevant blog comments to:
- A) create a layer of relevancy around our client’s site
- B) improve to the ratio of Follow and NoFollow backlinks
- C) diversify our anchors in a meaningful way
- D) sometimes get small amounts of referral traffic
Back in 2013, I was the first person comment on one of Brian’s article:
This one comment has sent my site 143 visitors since:
- E) build a relationship with the blogger that you could leverage for backlinks in the future.
Point “D” is the most important and where most SEOs mess up.
Don’t go to a top blog and write a “me too” comment or something general/useless.
This doesn’t build relationships.
You have to contribute to the blog in a meaningful way.
You have to ADD VALUE.
This doesn’t mean you need to write a five paragraph essay.
In fact, I advise against that.
Focus on one point and leave a concise, well-thought out comment.
Niche Relevant Forum Backlinks
Participating on industry forums is an excellent way to build brand recognition.
And if you do it right, you will drive some relevant referral traffic to your website.
Here is the traffic the BlackHatWorld.com has sent my site since 2014:
This is referral traffic coming from 18 different threads in the forum.
Forum members have linked to my content, but it wouldn’t be hard to orchestrate it if you are creative.
There aren’t many forums that allow signature backlinks, but many still allow profile backlinks. These profile backlinks are valuable because they are relevant and Follow in most cases.
To get the most out of your forum profile backlinks, I’m going to show you some quick techniques.
1. Prospect for relevant forums
Use the following search strings in Google to find forums:
- forum + NICHE
- NICHE + forum
2. Take time to fill out your profile
Since your link will likely be a naked link, you need to leverage co-occurrence.
Co-occurrence is when your website’s target keyword phrase is near to your link.
Just write a legitimate profile description and make sure to toss in your main keyword.
3. Understand the forum “personality” / etiquette
Every forum is different and you need to learn how each operates.
Some tolerate a little self-promotion while others will ban you for it.
Scan through the forum and see if members are sharing links in threads.
4. Increase your post count & start adding friends
The more posts/friends you have, the more trust you build on the forum. Also, more connections send more internal links back to your profile page.
This will slowly build the authority of your profile page.
5. Start a thread
Starting well-thought-out threads is a great way to build credibility on the forum.
Okay, now you might be asking what’s the point of doing all this?
The goal is to increase the amount of internal links hitting your profile page.
This leverages the forums authority. As a result it will increase the authority of your profile page hosting your link.
The second goal of all this work is so you can become a part of the forum community and so that members trust you more.
If you have a good reputation on the forum, you can share your content without getting flamed or banned.
You now know what it takes to build a solid foundation of backlinks. Now it’s time to get into what I like to call “Power” backlinks.
“Power” backlinks will accelerate your results because:
A) they are the most relevant and
B) they are the most authoritative
As hard as it is to produce quality content, there is no better way to drive high authority backlinks to a website.
There are only three things you have to do with a content-driven approach:
- Find the right keywords to target
- Create a great piece of content around that keyword
- Promote the content (social and backlinks)
When you create quality content, you are creating ASSETS for your business.
No matter what Google does, it can never take away your content.
You need to approach link building with a long-term mindset in 2018 and beyond.
I use the investing analogy pretty often, but it’s true for SEO.
There is a compound effect of producing and promoting content on a consistent basis.
Keep in mind:
The following tactics are effective without content.
But you will get even better results if you build links to strong content assets.
For a link to be “editorial” you can’t have access to the site and your link must pass editorial review. Google values editorial backlinks more than any other type of link.
Sadly, getting these high authority backlinks can be challenging.
First, you have to build relationships with bloggers in your industry. Second, you likely need to produce quality content to get natural backlinks.
My agency has acquired thousands of high-quality editorial backlinks at this point. We can get these high authority backlinks because we have built relationships and have the connections.
Niche Relevant Guest Posts
Guest posts are effective in two ways.
- First, if you contribute lots of value, it will build your authority in the space.
- Second, your guest post can send relevant referral traffic to your website.
Keep in mind that Google frowns upon spammy guest posting. That means you need to focus your efforts on producing a valuable guest post. If you give value, then there is nothing wrong with injecting backlinks to your website.
To get the most out of your guest posts, you need to get contextual links. Contextual links are far more powerful than author byline links.
Here are some search queries to find opportunities:
NICHE + “guest post”
NICHE + “contribute to”
NICHE + “write for us”
NICHE + “contributors”
NICHE + “guest writer”
NICHE + “guest post guidelines”
The Merger Technique
The Merger Technique is the process of finding a relevant expired domain and 301 redirecting it to your site.
The concept is simple:
You just acquired a relevant business and want to redirect to your mother company.
The key is for the expired domain to be 100% relevant.
These domains are harder to come by, but it is well worth it when you find one.
This is an oldie, but a goodie.
Although SEO’s have abused this strategy, there are still some diamonds in the rough.
Once you find the pages, it’s best to see if there are any broken links on the page.
Use the Check My Link plugin.
You can use this as leverage when reaching out.
If there are no broken links, then you will need a strong content asset.
Otherwise, you’ll likely get denied.
The White Alternative to PBNs
You already know about the White Hat Alternative to PBNs, but I explain it here as well.
Instead of buying an expired domain and rebuilding it, you are going to:
- find an expired domain
- scrape its backlinks
- then reach out and let the linkers know they are linking to a dead resource
If the expired domain is relevant, you can ask the linker to replace the dead link with your site.
To improve your success rate, suggest 2-3 quality resources (including yours).
You can also recreate the original content if it’s relevant. This is obvious, but the content must better than the original.
Reach out and let the linker know about the new, revised piece of content.
This strategy requires more time and effort, but you get more link placements.
Grey Hat Backlinks
I stay away from grey hat techniques at this point, but I did live in this world for a long time.
NOTE: if you take the grey hat route, you are increasing the likelihood of getting a penalty.
None of these tactics are safe and I have seen websites get manual penalties using each of them.
If there is so much risk, then why am I showing you?
The reason is because many of these techniques work well.
These techniques are best for people:
- Who have a high risk tolerance
- Who want to rank without creating great content
- Who don’t care if their site gets penalized
If you have a low risk tolerance then you have two options:
A) avoid these backlinks altogether or B) use them on tier two to boost your tier one backlinks.
Leverage Relevant Expired Domains
If you are going to create a PBN, then you might as well do it right.
Don’t just buy any expired domain.
Try to find domains that have relevant Topical Trust Flow Topics to your niche.
This won’t always be possible, but it’s worth the patience.
Getting a link from one relevant domain is more powerful than several irrelevant domains.
Here are my favorite tools for finding expired domains:
Here’s how you can use DomCop to find expired domains:
Some other options include: ExpiredDomains.net and Moonsy.
Creating web 2.0s on sites like Tumblr, Weebly, and WordPress.com is an old grey hat strategy that still works. Just be careful because it can land you a penalty. I have gotten manual actions removed from clients because of web 2.0 backlinks.
I recommend you avoid using these backlinks on tier one.
Read The Art of The Super Web 2.0 to learn how to build them correctly.
How to EARN Backlinks
Many people doing SEO confuse earning backlinks with building backlinks.
These are two different concepts.
To EARN, means that you DESERVE backlinks.
Have you ever taken a second to think about why your website even deserves backlinks?
I’ve realized that there is only one way to EARN backlinks…
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.
- Happy users ARE your marketing.
- Happy users will EARN you backlinks.
- 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 backlinks by being user-centric:
11 Ways to Earn Backlinks
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 backlinks.
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:
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:
Look at those spikes immediately following endorsements.
Think of backlinks as endorsements for your website.
What does your site/blog have to deserve a big endorsement?
Small endorsements are fine and will compound overtime.
But getting an endorsement from a well-known site in your industry is way more powerful.
The only way to get such endorsements (backlinks), 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.
Others times, hundreds of hours are investing doing research and finding data.
This is the standard in these industries.
Yet, this isn’t the standard in every industry.
Should it be?
But it’s not.
There isn’t a single formula for creating content that pleases a user.
That’s why it can be dangerous immersing 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 in Google.
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.
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:
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.
- Creating something that makes someone laugh is solving a problem.
- Showing someone how to sharpen a pencil is solving a problem.
- Telling someone about the mistakes you’ve made helps them avoid those mistakes.
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:
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 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.
Content becomes “corporate” when the company loses sight of the user.
They become out of touch.
Great content and copywriting is 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 for a single individual.
Do me a favor:
I want you to “LOL” next time you see a page ranking with “corporate”, impersonal content.
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 a 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 backlinks.
At the same time, don’t feel like you need to always reinvent the wheel.
Brian talks about this a lot, but you should look at content that has performed well in the past.
Use tools like Buzzsumo and the first page of Google to see what content has attracted the most backlinks.
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 backlinks.
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.
- 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.
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 everyday.
Will it always be a masterpiece?
It’s the ACT of producing content is what’s actually valuable. That’s because your efforts will compound overtime.
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?
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 backlinks 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.
Editorial calendar 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:
- How To Boost Success With A Content Marketing Editorial Calendar
- A Content Marketer’s Checklist: Editorial Calendar Essentials
- 10 Reasons Your Editorial Calendar Sucks (and How to Make It the Best)
9. You Have to Build Relationships
To earn backlinks, you need to build relationships. Your blog can’t be an island in the middle of the ocean. You need build connections and relationships.
These relationships will lead to backlinks. 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.
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
One of the best ways to earn backlinks 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.
11. You Need to Promote Your Content
Yes, to EARN backlinks, people must see your content.
Invisible content doesn’t get backlinks, 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.
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 backlinks for your website.
The reason is because 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.
Like 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.
Still have some questions about backlinks?
Frequently Asked Questions About Backlinks
My backlinks are decreasing. What now?
It’s natural and normal to lose some links overtime. That’s why it’s critical to remember that link acquisition isn’t a one time event. It needs to be an on-going activity. You should always be taking actions to acquire new backlinks to make up for those that you lose.
My backlinks are not showing in Google Search Console, Ahrefs, etc. Why?
Google Search Console only shows a sample of your total link profile. While third party tools like Ahrefs are amazing at find backlinks, they aren’t perfect or comprehensive. Assume that these tools are only showing a percentage of your entire link profile.
Are backlinks still important?
Other factors such as content quality and User Experience (UX) have become more prominent, but backlinks are still super important for ranking. You can rank for some uncompetitive keywords if your website is authoritative. However, in most scenarios, you’ll need high-quality backlinks to give you that final push.
Are Fiverr backlinks good?
In my experience, 99% of link opportunities on Fiverr are bad. In general, I would avoid buying backlinks from Fiverr. Remember… you usually get what you pay for.
Are NoFollow backlinks good?
NoFollow backlinks are not good or effective because they don’t pass PageRank. The only time they’re useful is if you’re getting referral traffic or sales. But from an SEO perspective, they have no value.
How many backlinks do I need?
Grab your target keyword and open up Ahrefs Keyword Explorer tool. Scroll down and export the top 10 results for your target keyword phrase. Then, average out the total linking root domains for these results. That average is a good target for how many backlinks you’ll need to rank.
How many backlinks per day is safe?
You only need to worry about link velocity when you’re building artificial backlinks. If you’re acquiring backlinks through outreach and content promotion, then you don’t need to worry about this.
How many backlinks do I have?
Go Ahrefs, Majestic, SEMRush, or Open Site Explorer and they’ll give you an idea of how many total backlinks you have. Ahrefs is the most comprehensive (IMO).
That’s a Wrap!
The art of acquiring backlinks is a massive topic, but I hoped this gave you the right framework for acquiring more.
Have questions? Leave it below because I respond to every single one.