“Great content without great links is invisible content”Adam White (SEOJet) on Edge of the Web Podcast
There’s no doubt that the core of a good content strategy is high-quality content that speaks directly to your audience. Great content should result in organic traffic.
But here’s the irony in the “great content” paradigm: No matter how great your content is, it won’t get organic traffic from search engines until it ranks near the top of page one, and content quality alone can’t improve your search engine ranking. So you need to find ways to promote your content too, no matter how great it is.
Creating backlinks is one of the most effective content promotion strategies on the planet. Not only are backlinks a super important Google ranking indicator, but they also help connect you to networks and communities in your niche that can grow your audience and build brand authority.
What is backlinking?
A backlink is created when one website links to another. Ideally, the originating website is a highly respected and authoritative site and the website they are linking to is your website. More specifically, they are linking to a page on your website that features some of your best content.
In the early days of SEO, backlink quantity was all you needed to worry about. But nowadays, with updates to search engine algorithms (particularly Google’s BERT update), relevancy and authority are key factors. The most effective backlinks to your content come from respected, high-authority websites that share relevant content and have solid search engine rankings.
Backlinking is just like old-fashioned word-of-mouth promotion – it only works if the person recommending you is trusted. If you’re looking for new restaurant recommendations, you might take suggestions from your Uber Eats driver, but you’d probably put more stock in advice from your friend. Even if they aren’t a chef or a food critic, you value their opinion because you know and trust them and you’ve likely gone out to eat with them before.
Search engines operate similarly. For example, when .gov and .edu websites as referring domains, your SERP position can be boosted because government and education websites are deemed highly trustworthy, credible, and authoritative sources.
So, how do you get other sites to backlink to your content?
6 practical ways to build backlinks:
Dedicate time and resources
You should know right from the start that building high-quality, relevant backlinks is a long-game strategy. Allocate enough time and resources to research, strategize, plan, and execute an email outreach campaign to garner more backlinks to your site.
A good backlink can collect traffic over a period of months, but investing time now will be well worth it in the long run.
Study competitors and industry-leaders
Make a list of your top competitors and the leading websites in your industry or niche. These should be websites that you trust and follow yourself or that are creating content for a similar or adjacent audience to yours.
Use a backlink checker to research each site’s backlink profile (there are several free options to get started with: ahrefs, monitorbacklinks, neilpatel). These free tools list sites that have backlinked to your competitors. Analyze each referring site’s domain score (a website’s credibility factor), the backlink types, and the anchor text used.
Create a target list for an outreach campaign of your own based on these referring sites. If they have linked to your competitors, chances are good that they will be interested in your content too.
This exercise also allows you to survey the kind of content that is generating backlinks as a way to inform your own link building campaign. It’s a good idea to also run your own domain through a backlink checker to compare results with your competitors.
Be a community member
You are probably already tapping into specific communities on various social media platforms by using hashtags or joining LinkedIn of Facebook Groups. Since Google ranks content based on topical and contextual relevance, it’s important to take a similar approach to your blog posts and website content.
Whether you are backlinking to a site or requesting that someone backlink to you, build relationships with reputable content creators that are trusted in your space. Google even has a term for this – a “link neighborhood” – and you want to make sure your site is part of a good one neighborhood, not a bad one.
Are there local content creators doing work you admire? Who are the top subject matter experts in your sector? Add these to the target list you already started. A thousand irrelevant backlinks will do far less for your brand (and might even damage your search engine ranking) than one highly-relevant powerful backlink from a trusted and authoritative source.
Plan an outreach campaign for backlinking opportunities
Once you have your target list ready, it’s time to make contact. An outreach campaign is not an opportunity for mass emailing or spamming. Backlinking is really about being part of a conversation around a given subject. The more personal, specific, and targeted your outreach activities are, the more likely you are to build relationships that result in reciprocal linking and long-term support.
Brian Dean, the founder of Backlinko, shares examples of email messages for reaching out to websites that could potentially backlink to your content. In addition to sites that are your competitors or “neighbors,” try contacting:
- Sites that have mentioned your brand but not linked to your page – ask them to add a link!
- Sites that link to broken or out-of-date sites that could be updated with a link to your content instead
- Sites that rank near the top in Google searches that include keywords or search strings specific to your niche and are publishing content highly relevant to your brand or target audience
Pursue guest posts
Go after blogs, publications, or even podcasters and youtube channels that are relevant to your field, are trusted as credible sources, and draw organic traffic.
Contribute a guest post that is substantive enough to build trust among your new readers and will motivate click through to your own site. It’s pretty tough to get relevant and natural backlinks into a 500-word piece, for example. Blog length can make a difference.
Content needs to be valuable and legitimate; anchor text needs to be natural and conversational. Even though anchors should be keyword-rich, make sure they aren’t overly optimized.
Consider offering to guest for a sequential series of posts. This gives you more opportunities for backlinking to your own content and allows you to build a relationship with the hosting site’s readership over time, one that can eventually be leveraged into a loyal audience of your own.
Fill a content gap & diversify your content format
Let’s come full circle on the “great content” argument. While it’s definitely true that content is only as good as how well it’s promoted, the content still has to be, well, great. In fact, you can’t build up backlinks without creating great content. The two go hand-in-hand.
One of the easiest ways to create backlink opportunities is to publish essential content that is linkable. If you are being an active community member and staying involved in conversations happening in your industry, you will quickly identify gaps in available content. Check out our earlier okwrite blog post about writing Skyscraper content and the Content Marketing Guide for SMBs to find great suggestions on how to position your content as the go-to authority on a particular subject.
Diversify your format to create more shareable content. Infographics, videos, or memes often go viral separate from their originating posts. Create useful, shareable images that address a problem or explain a key question relevant to your audience. This will draw entirely new traffic to your site and reach a much wider audience than the article or blog post might have on its own.
Building meaningful, relevant, and effective backlinks both from and to your content requires dedicated time and resources and a long-view content strategy. But, when done right, they can bring sizable returns in new traffic, increased brand awareness and authority, and improved search engine rankings.