How to Build High Quality Backlinks in a Scalable Way

Written by Neil Patel on December 30, 2014

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All links are created equal, right?

They’re not! Link building used to be simple: you would go out there, write a bunch of articles, submit them to an article submission site and get a link back to your site.

That doesn’t work in the post-Penguin era. While the right inbound links can grow your Google rankings, revenue and brand, the wrong ones can get your site penalized. And you never know what Google will do next.

For example, many people relied on private blog networks to help boost their rankings. Then Google threw a bomb known as the PBN deindexing update, which tanked rankings for sites that had used that technique.

Though a lot of people were surprised, I could see that one coming and I’m betting that Google will do it again the next time people try to game it. So what should you do?

Download this actionable worksheet to start building high quality links for your own website.

To be on the safe side, most SEOs would advise you to stop doing anything to get links. If you’re doing business online, I think that’s the worst advice you could ever get. Instead you need to learn how to build links the right way.

Backlinks will remain a vital Google ranking factor, but effective link building is now about trust and popularity. According to Copyblogger, domain trust/authority represents 23.87% of Google’s ranking algorithm.

A recent survey by Moz reveals that about 37% of business owners spend between $10,000 and $50,000 per month on link building. If you’re making that kind of investment, you need to have accurate information on how to build links that Google will trust.

In this in-depth post, I will show you a strategic link building technique that works. It is scaleable and when you apply it to your site, your rankings will improve. You will even improve your conversion rate.

In this post I’m going to cover:

  1. Understanding what Google wants
  2. How to scale your link building efforts
  3. Keyword research and targeting
  4. How to earn editorial links

So lets get started…

Step #1: Understanding what Google wants

When it comes to search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing, Google dictates the pace. That’s why it’s important to get to know Google’s mission. Not only does this shape Google’s strategy, but it can guide you in shaping yours. Here’s what Google says about its mission:

Google also believes that there’s always more information out there.  With link building, organizing information (to help your reader) becomes your mission too. When you pay close attention to what your readers and ideal buyers want, you don’t have to use hype to sell your products.

If you want to build links without getting penalized, you must understand and work closely with Google’s mission statement. If you fail to do that, the technique won’t work.

Before you start building links to your web page, ask yourself these questions relating to Google’s mission:

  • Is my content well organized?
  • Do I provide useful information to the sites that will link to mine?

Let’s talk about the first question, because for effective link building, site organization matters.

When people come to your site, do you leave them wondering what else to do (especially the first timers)? Make sure your site is easy to navigate. Here’s a great example:

And here’s another site with disorganized navigation:

Getting the navigation right is the first step in organizing your content so people and search engines can find information that’s useful and relevant. The second step is to build a foundation that will make other sites want to link to yours.

How to develop a strong link building foundation: Let’s say you have written and published a useful post and want to get it ranked in Google. Since you know that improved rankings result from links from quality sites (see the chart from LinkedIn) wouldn’t it make sense to build quality links as quickly as possible?

No, because if you generate links to new content too quickly, it looks manipulative, and that can be a red flag for Google.

The better solution is to help Google find and index your useful content. Once it’s indexed, you can go ahead and get real links that can improve your rankings.

How to help Google find and index your content: Some of the posts I’ve written in the last month were indexed within six hours. To achieve this, I used a simple tool – Alexa.

Google’s spiders crawl Alexa.com all the time. When you input your site URL on Alexa and look up the metrics, Alexa adds a new, optimized page to the database:

When Google next crawls the Alexa site, your new content will be picked up as well.

There’s another way to get your content indexed. A few months back, I published a data-driven infographic on how Google uses social signals to determine rankings. In essence, social media helps with faster indexing and visibility.

Getting a strong social signal suggests to Google that people find your content useful and choose to share it. That can help Google rate your content which means by the time you start building inbound links to it, those links will be natural.

To build social signals, I recommend that you share your post on Google+ (it’s a no-brainer, since it’s Google’s own network).

This is simple. Log in to your Google account and click the + tab  at the top to share your post:

When the share box pops out, paste the URL of your post, choose the visibility (I recommend “public” for widest reach) and click share:

Follow the simple tips above and your content will be indexed within six hours. Then you’re ready to start building trustworthy links to the page.

Note: Make sure that you write and share quality content and useful information. Every piece of content and link (including anchor text) should provide additional value for your audience.

Traditional link building often ignores the end user. The Google Penguin 3.0 update reminded us that focusing on what people want, why they should click a link and the value they will get when they land on the referred page is what truly counts in today’s SEO.

Step #2: How to Scale Your Link Building Efforts

Many people find link building stressful. One reason is because they are not producing great content that people will gladly share.

In Moz’s classic book, “How to Rank,” Cyrus Shepard recommends that “90% of your effort should go into creating great content, and 10% into link building.” This is the 90/10 rule of link building.

As harsh as it sounds, Shepard says if you are struggling to generate links to your site, it’s likely that you have reversed the rule.

If you want to succeed with scale link building, you need quality content.

Link building is all about positioning your content and getting more people to link to you. In other words, a single post can be used to gain many quality links to your site.

High quality links have two key advantages over traditional links: relevance and trust. Here’s the difference:

Let’s say you have a dog training site and you get an inbound link from an article directory. Google won’t see that link as relevant to the subject of your site.

But if that link is from a site that’s related to dog training, like a dog food store or a discussion board that’s centered around dogs, you will not only improve your rankings, but your site will be relevant and valuable to those who visit it. And that will help you get more links.

How do you find authority sites where you can build relationships and start the process of gaining relevant links? One useful tool is Similar Site Search.

Type in your site URL (I’m using Quick Sprout in this example) and hit the search button.

The results are a list of sites covering topics related to mine. This is only a first step, as I still need to build relationships with site owners so they will want to link to my content.

Once you have identified some sites, then you need to research them further to figure out which ones will help most in your link building efforts. Here are some of the key metrics to look at:

Domain Authority: It is important to know the domain authority of the sites you want to get links from. A great tool for this is the Moz Bar which shows the authority status of any domain or keyword in the search results.

Domain relevancy: As I said above, getting links from relevant domains is a key part of scaleable link building. Domain relevancy is also a key Google ranking factor, and is especially important if you want to escape the impact of Google Penguin.

Microsite Masters found that “every single site they looked at which got negatively hit by the Penguin Update had a “money” keyword as its anchor text for over 60% of its incoming links.”

That tells you that if you want to scale your link building efforts,  you must combine domain relevancy with the right anchor text.

Trust flow: This is a metric analyzed by Majestic, which provides a much better measurement of perceived quality. Trust flow was specially designed to determine the quality of links pointing to a site. It ranges from 0 to 100. The higher the number, the better. In this example, Bing has a trust flow of 86, which is excellent.

If most of your backlinks come from sites with high trust flow metrics, your SEO ranking will improve.

Use Majestic to analyze the links that currently point to your site. Input the root domain into the box and click the search icon.

Scroll down and look at the backlinks. In addition to the URL and the trust flow, Majestic also shows citation flow, which I’ll discuss in a minute.

For the domain we are analyzing (nerdfitness.com), the first referring site is artofmanliness.com. Its trust flow is 46 and its citation flow is 47.

Citation flow: This metric from Majestic is designed to predict how influential a link in a site might be.

The downside of using citation flow as your benchmark is that it doesn’t measure the quality of inbound links, but their quantity. The more inbound links a site has, the better their citation flow. On its own, citation flow isn’t very useful because quality is more important than quantity with link building.

However, when you use citation flow with trust flow, it works well to help you identify sites that are both trusted and influential. If you target sites with a high trust flow, then focus on the sites in that group that also have a high perceived influence, or citation flow.

In the example above, Nerd Fitness is a fitness site that helps you level up your life and feel better about yourself.  Since Art of Manliness deals with men’s fitness and health it is definitely related in content and target audience.

Branded keywords and anchor text: Anchor text is also important when assessing the quality of a site. In the image above, 704 sites are linking to Nerd Fitness through branded anchor text (nerd fitness).

When you are building links you should use your brand name with other keyword variations. You could call this branded hybrid anchor text.

For instance, if your site is reiv.com.au, a real estate training site, you can use any of these anchor text variations to generate backlinks:

reiv real estate training

reiv realtors

reiv training for beginners

You could also vary the anchor text by using URLs with your target keywords:

http://reiv.com.au real estate

http://reiv.com.au estate training

real estate training at www.reiv.com.au

With the right approach to quality content, domain relevancy, trust flow and anchor text, you will enjoy the benefits of real traffic and links to your site. But link building is also about increasing the strength, juice and potential of your inbound links. That’s why it’s essential to create a two-tier linking structure for your site.

Tier 1 backlinks are links you earn/buid directly to your site.

Tier 2 backlinks are links that directly pass ranking value to tier-one links.

If you get a link to your ‘money page’ from a new post at someone else’s blog, that link may not add much value to your site ranking. Most of the time, direct backlinks to your site can take a while to have an effect. But when you strengthen those backlinks, you will see a bump in organic traffic and rankings.

One way to strengthen those links is with social signals. When you pass social signals to your tier 1 backlinks (i.e. sites that linked to you), you will ultimately boost their effectiveness and this will improve your overall Google rankings.

As for tier 2 backlinks, there are 3 simple steps you need to follow…

Step #1: Write valuable articles and post them on web 2.0 sites like Tumblr, Web Node and Blogger.

Let’s use Tumblr as an example. Log in or sign up then click the drop down arrow and select ‘create a new blog’.

Next, click “Add Text”:

Next, add your post title, and content and publish.

Step #2: Get your Tumblr page indexed by sharing the post URL on Google+ and Facebook and pinging it at Pingomatic. Pingomatic will syndicate your URL to major content aggregators.

Wait for the site to get crawled and indexed. This should take less than 6 hours. To check, go to Google and paste your Tumblr URL into the search box.

Step #3: Once indexed, use a branded keyword on the Tumblr page to link back to your site:

This backlink should point directly to your site, but it may not have a strong impact on your rankings.

In that case, create a tier 2 structure for this Tumblr page. Remember that your link is already there, so all you have to do now is build more authoritative links to your Tumblr page.

How?

Caution: when you’re using a tier 2 link building structure to strengthen your tier 1 backlinks, avoid anchor text over-optimization. Also make sure you aren’t just using this tactic to build links. The new page or site you create on platforms like Tumblr should be valuable and beneficial to users. From there, you can add links if you feel it is beneficial for the reader.

Also, if the keyword you’re targeting is ‘UK military base’, your anchor should be generic:

  • Learn more about military bases in the UK
  • Visit this UK military base

In other words, don’t link to your web 2.0 site with an exact match keyword/anchor text combination. This will actually hurt your site’s rank.

Step #3. Keyword Research and Targeting

When building links that scale, it’s all about providing relevant content, so people will keep linking to it. Keyword targeting is an important aspect of that. By selecting a huge number of keywords across several ad groups, Alan Mitchell was able to increase clients’ click-through rates by 461% and return on investment (ROI) grew to 231% in 3 months.

Moz also got great results with a focused keyword strategy. In particular, long-tail keywords represented 80% of Moz’s organic traffic when compared to popular seed keywords:

How relevant are your keywords to the prospects’ needs? If you want to make your site more powerful through link building, you can’t afford to ignore keyword research. Keyword research helps you dig into the minds of your target audience.

For example, when you conduct a keyword search in your industry for this:

best social media strategist in NY

What do you think is happening?

First, the people searching for that long-tail keyword are interested in talking/working with a professional who understands social media marketing. They don’t want a newbie, but a strategist; someone with a proven track record.

Second, they are only interested in social media strategists who live in New York, which means they might be a local business owner wanting a face-to-face meeting.

If you were in that niche, let’s see how you could find suitable keywords to focus your content and attract small business owners who need help with social media marketing.

To stat off with lets use Google AdWords Keyword Planner.

Step #1: Log in to your account and click “search for new keyword and ad group ideas.”

Type in “social media strategist”. Now scroll down and click “Get ideas.”

Next, click on “keywords ideas” for a list of search queries you can target:

The screenshot above shows the keywords you can target in your content if you want to attract small business owners looking for help with social media marketing:

  • social media strategist
  • social media marketing strategist
  • social media marketing company
  • social media consultant

Some of the other keywords you find may not be relevant to your ideal prospects, such as:

  • social media strategist salary
  • social media jobs

The people searching for the two keyword phrases above are probably freelancers looking to make extra money through social media marketing. They are not your ideal target audience, so those aren’t the right keywords for you.  Never target keywords that are off-topic or unrelated to your core message, products and services.

When you build links, you don’t want to use anchor text that will make site visitors to bounce. Remember that scaleable link building is concerned with the relevancy of the linking domain.

Targeting consumer demographics: This is another essential targeting element for link building. When you know your audience’s demographics (age, gender, education, and so on) you get inside their heads. When you do you will be able to create useful content that helps them solve their problems. That’s a key component in building organic links.

The Columbus Metropolitan Library has useful resources to help you identify your target audience. Lock Haven University Library also shows how the U.S. census can show the number of people in the country who fit your target demographic.

To find out the audience demographics for your site, visit Quantcast, sign up and input your site URL in the search bar. Scroll down to see the demographics:

This image shows the demographics at Metacafe. It clearly shows that most of the site’s target audience (readers) are male, and aged 35 – 44. It also has many readers in the 25-34 age group. According to Pingdom, those two age groups dominate social media, which means they can share your content if you take the time to make it useful. You also have to share your own content if you want to build links.

Automate for social signals: If you’re going to build social signals, you need to leverage automation. Mingl Marketing Group grew their client’s traffic by 590% using the HubSpot social automation tool.

And TREW Marketing used Hubspot to grow web traffic by 130% and lead generation by 150%.

If you want to get social signals to scale your link building and achieve great results, you need to create them continuously by sharing your content.  Manual syndication can be time consuming. Imagine how long it would take for you to share your latest post on the top 20 social media networks. Trust me, it would take a while.

That’s why you have to set up automatic updates on social media networks.

Buffer is my favorite social automation tool. You can use this social media management tool to share your posts on Twitter, Facebook and several other social networks.

One of its best features it the ability to queue your campaign in its reservoir and syndicate your content later. So even if you’re catching a plane, your next piece of content will get to your audience.

Other link building tools:  Here are some more link building tools you can use to analyze keywords, referring domain names, anchor text and so on:

  • Quick Sprout – helps you identify why your site isn’t getting enough traffic.
  • Open Link Profiler – a powerful tool for link diagnosis and industry checks.
  • Open Site Explorer – use this tool from Moz to determine the number of backlinks and the domain authority of referring domain names.
  • nTopic – a simple tool for topic analysis. It helps you plan content creation from scratch, so that you can effectively target the right keywords and improve your rankings.

Step #4: How to earn editorial links

Earning editorial links from authority sites will really skyrocket your link building strategy. But to earn those links, you have to provide immense value. You can’t just put some text together and pray for miracles. Did you know that over 2 million blog posts are published daily?

Link building can be stressful, but it is easier if you focus on creating link-worthy and sharable content. If you create great content consistently, people will naturally (on their own) cite, recommend, share, link, tweet and send links to your page.

After several years of struggling to get traffic, Brian Dean finally cracked the link building code. Once he implemented it, hundreds of people started linking to his first-ever infographic and he received a little above 50,000 unique visitors:

If you want to do the same, use Brian’s skyscraper strategy to:

  • Find successful content in your niche
  • Bring it up to date
  • Make it more thorough

To learn more about this strategy, check out this post on how Brian Dean used the three techniques above to get 40,000 visitors to his first infographic.

Creating a viral content campaign: To get the most from link building, you have to create content that people are willing to share. Why would they share it? It’s because it’s helpful, valuable and you blow them away. Instead of making assumptions, study posts that went viral in the past, and use their strategy to dominate the major social media platforms.

The first tool I recommend is Open Site Explorer.

Step #1: visit the site and input your competitor’s blog URL. Let’s see which of their posts got the most shares and comments (engagement).

Go ahead and click the “search” tab, then look at the left hand side and click the ‘Top Pages’ tab:

When you click on the URL, you will be able to see the post title and how many shares it has gathered. Here’s what I saw when I clicked on the third URL in the image above (http://www.copyblogger.com/content-marketing/):

The topic is: content marketing

The title is: Content Marketing: How To Build An Audience That Builds Your Business

When you visit the page, you’ll see that it already has thousands of tweets and Facebook likes, which shows it is a viral post.

Step #2: Write a better headline/title

Who says that you can’t write a more clickable headline than Brian Clark? I’m going to give it a good try. :)

Although the original headline went viral, I think that “build your business” is too vague.

Everyone wants to build a business, but they want to take actionable steps. Let’s see how we could improve that headline to be more specific and targeting specific business types. Here are three examples:

  1. How You Can Grow Your Email List Through Content Marketing
  2. 6 Steps To Attract More Customers To Your Store Through Content Marketing
  3. How a Simple Content Marketing Strategy Improved My Google Rankings by 110%

Adding numbers in titles works. I’ve seen a lot of articles go viral because the headline has a number. For example, all the titles below performed better than the Copyblogger post that we’re studying:

If you can write better headlines, the chances of your post going viral is high.

But you also have to provide value within the content. Here are some ways to do that.

Checklist – simple ways to make your content more useful:

  • Craft more clickable, specific and benefit-driven headlines.
  • Include data points in the post.
  • Make your post longer. Ideally, write a 2000+ word post, since blog post length affects Google rankings.
  • Use charts, screenshots and quality images to back up your points.
  • Avoid personal opinions, and include scientific research studies and experiments.
  • Link out to relevant and authority blogs to provide more value.
  • Ask emotional questions.
  • Mention power users, experts and popular bloggers.
  • End with a call-to-action (you can include a giveaway of a checklist related to your topic).

If you follow this proven checklist, you’ll be able to write more thorough, useful and data-driven blog posts that will stand the test of time.

Send thank you emails: when you mention authors and site owners in your post, you can get them to link back to you if you send a thank you email.

The email template below was introduced to Backlinko’s founder by Peep Laja of ConversionXL.com. It may be brief, but it helped Laja to grow his blog to 100,000 visitors in less than 12 months:

Use guest blogging to earn authority links: Guest blogging used to be very powerful. In fact, Danny Iny used guest blogging to recover from losing his company and being $250,000 in debt.

He started building networks with other A-list bloggers and wrote a lot of guest posts. Within six months, he had built a new consulting business with a full client list. His Firepole Marketing blog receives thousands of visitors per month.

When you guest blog, you provide useful content for other people’s blogs, but your traffic also improves, as Michael Hyatt found:

If you’re looking to scale your link building process, guest blogging can help you. Aim to produce helpful and sharable posts – people will naturally link to you.

To get you started, here is the ultimate guide to guest blogging, plus a list of 140+ sites that accept guest posts.

How to gain trusted links with comments: Don’t comment spam. Just … don’t! But you can still use commenting to gain authoritative links.

Links from comments may not have much SEO value, but they can be natural and relevant which are among the key factors that Google values. Here’s how you get those links:

  • Search for blogs with the dofollow CommentLuv plugin installed.
  • Subscribe to post updates for at least 5 blogs.
  • Speed matters. Once you get an alert that a new post has been published, quickly read the post (if it’s a long one, read the first two paragraphs, and then the last part to get the main points).
  • Write a valuable comment. Avoid comments like, ‘nice post’, ‘awesome write up’ or ‘this post helped me.’

Here’s the kind of comment that can generate traffic and links back to your site:

This comment is rich, helpful and well written so readers can benefit not just from the blog post, but the comment too. And of course the commenter has linked back to his site in the URL field.

Here’s another example from a guy at Moz who left a wonderful comment and then linked to his blog post:

Conclusion

In 2013, about 10% of SEOs invested up to $50,000 in link building, but in 2014, 81% of SEOs decreased their link building budget? Why?

The truth is that SEOs are skeptical about building links. They’re scared of the next Google update. But I don’t think you should be.

Link building has been an effective strategy for improving Google rankings, even before the first Panda update. I believe it still is… as long as you do it right.

Have you experimented with scaleable link building?

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