Link building used to be simple: you would write a bunch of articles, submit them to an article submission site, and get an external link back to your site.
That doesn’t work in the post-Penguin era. While the right backlinks can grow your Google rankings, revenue, and brand, the wrong ones can get your site penalized. You need to learn how to build a high-quality backlink portfolio the right way if you want to see success.
In this in-depth post, I will show you a strategic link building technique that works. It is scalable, and when you apply it to your site, your rankings should improve. You may even improve your conversion rate because you are working as the high authority on the topic to search engines.
In this post I’m going to cover:
- Understanding what Google wants
- How to scale your link building efforts
- Keyword research and targeting
- How to earn editorial links
Why Is an Effective Backlink Portfolio Important?
Backlinks remain a vital Google ranking factor. These days, an effective link building strategy is about trust and popularity.
According to Quick Sprout, domain trust/authority represents 30% of Google’s ranking algorithm.
About half of all SEOs spend $10,000 or more per month on getting backlinks.
If you’re making that kind of investment, you need to have accurate information on how to build links that Google will trust.
Step #1: Understanding What Google Wants Helps You Get Backlinks
When it comes to search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing, Google dictates what works. By creating content that aligns with Google’s mission, you’re more likely to rank higher in the SERPs.
Google also believes that there’s always more information out there. With external 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 get backlinks 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 a website link 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 that your site is easy to navigate. Here’s a great example:
Here’s another site with disorganized navigation:
Getting the navigation right is the first step in organizing your content so that 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 create an external link to yours.
How to Develop a Strong Backlink Foundation
Let’s say that you have written and published a useful post and want to get it ranked on Google. You may assume the best way to accomplish this is by gaining lots of backlinks.
This isn’t correct. If you generate links to new content too quickly, it looks manipulative and that can be a red flag for Google.
How to Help Google Find and Index Your Content
In order to get backlinks to your site, you need to get your site indexed. There are a few ways to do this.
I published a data-driven infographic on how Google uses social signals to determine rankings. Other methods can be found here.
Step #2: Scale Your Backlink Building Efforts
Many people find link building and link acquisition stressful. One reason is 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 that if you are struggling to generate a high-quality backlink to your site, it’s likely that you have reversed the rule.
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.
A high-quality external link has two key advantages over traditional links: relevance and trust. Here’s the difference:
Let’s say that you have a dog training site and you get an inbound link from an article directory. Google won’t see that website link as relevant to the subject of your site.
However, if that link acquisition 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 with more link acquisition and achieve a high PR.
How do you find authority sites where you can build relationships and start the process of gaining relevant backlinks?
The simplest way is to google keywords that bring up sites that are relevant to your field. You can filter out the ones from your competitors.
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. You should take the following factors into consideration.
1. Domain Authority
It’s important to know the domain authority of the sites that you consider for link acquisition. A great tool for this is the Moz Bar, which shows the authority status of any domain or keyword in the search results.
2. Domain Relevancy
As I said above, getting links from relevant domains is a key part of scalable 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 on your search engine rank.
3. Trust Flow
This is a metric analyzed by Majestic that 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 rankings will improve, you will have a high PR, and link acquisition will become easier.
Use Majestic to analyze the links that currently point to your site. Input the root domain into the box and click the search icon.
A list of backlinks appear that include a trust flow and citation flow rank.
In the example above, the first referring site is artofmanliness.com. Its trust flow is 46 and its citation flow is 47.
4. Citation Flow
This metric from Majestic is designed to predict how influential a website 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.
Having high numbers of inbound links doesn’t necessarily mean a high PR. 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.
Target sites with a high trust flow, then focus on link acquisition from sites in that group that also have a high perceived influence or citation flow.
5. Anchor Text
According to a study, “every single site that they looked at that 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 external backlink efforts, you must combine domain relevancy with the right anchor text.
Anchor text is 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 an external link, 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 external links to your site.
Two-Tier Strategy for Backlinks
A two-tier linking structure will help you increase the strength, juice, and potential of your inbound links.
Tier 1 backlinks are links you earn/build directly to your site.
Tier 2 backlinks are links that directly pass the ranking value to tier-one links.
If you get a link to your ‘money page’ from a new post on someone else’s blog, that website 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. However, 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 and get you that high PR you desire.
As for tier 2 backlinks, there are 3 simple steps that 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.
First, create and publish your blog.
Next, click “Add Text”:
Next, add your post title and content, then 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 the Google search engine 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. Not everything you do will be like a press release covered by the nightly news. There is still value, however.
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.
You can accomplish this by:
Caution: when you’re using a tier 2 link building structure to strengthen your tier 1 backlinks, avoid anchor text over-optimization. Make sure that you aren’t just using this tactic for link acquisition. The new page or site that you create on platforms like Tumblr should be valuable and beneficial to users. From there, you can add a website link.
Use generic anchor text. For example, if the keyword you’re targeting is ‘UK military base,’ your anchor could be:
- 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 to Improve Your Backlink Portfolio
When building links that scale, it’s all about providing relevant content, so that people will keep linking to it. Keyword targeting is an important aspect of that.
For example, Moz also got great results in the early SEO days 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 external link building, you can’t afford to ignore keyword research.
Keyword research helps you to dig into the minds of your target audience.
For example, what happens when you conduct a keyword search in your industry for something like “best social media strategist in NY.”
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 writing a boring press release, 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 that 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 in the search engine and attract small business owners who need help with social media marketing.
To start with, let’s use Google AdWords Keyword Planner.
Step #1: Log into your account and select “Start Now.” Once you’re logged in, you answer a series of questions so Google can better understand your business and which keywords you should target.
After you complete the questions, Google will show you keyword themes that may be relevant for your business. You can click the ones that you want to target.
Step 2: You can use some of the themes for your keywords, or you can use tools like Ubersuggest to find additional keywords that relate to the themes Google showed you.
Take care to only include keywords that appeal to your target audience.
For example, if your target audience is a business that is looking for a social media strategist, you can use keywords such as:
- social media strategist
- social media marketing strategist
- social media marketing company
- social media consultant
You should not use keywords like:
- 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. Your target audience is the business looking to hire the strategist, not the freelancer.
Never target keywords that are off-topic or unrelated to your core message, products or services. They are not your ideal target audience, so those aren’t the right keywords for you in link acquisition.
When you build a website link, you don’t want to use anchor text that will make site visitors bounce. Remember that scalable 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 can get inside their heads. When you do, you’ll be able to create useful content that helps them solve their problems. That’s a key component in building organic links that gets you positive results with a high PR.
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.
You can also visit pages that track demographics like location, education level, income level, etc.
Automate for Social Signals
If you’re going to build social signals, you need to leverage automation with tools like Social Pilot.
If you want to get social signals to scale link acquisition and achieve great results, you need to create them continuously by sharing your content.
Manual syndication can be time-consuming though. Imagine how long it would take for you to share your latest post on the top 20 social media networks.
Other Link Building Tools
Here are some more external link building tools that 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: Earn Editorial Backlinks
Earning editorial backlinks from authority sites will really skyrocket your external link-building strategy. To earn those links, you have to provide immense value. You can’t just put some text together and pray for miracles. Here are some techniques to help you gain quality backlinks.
1: Skyscraper Technique
After several years of struggling to get traffic, Brian Dean finally cracked the external 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 with tremendously high PR:
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.
2: Research Your Competition’s Backlinks
First, enter the URL in the search bar.
Next, log in by providing some basic information. Once you’re logged in, Moz will display detailed information about URL provided. Scroll down the page to see the top websites linking to the domain you entered.
Next, you can click on “Top followed links to this site” to see more information.
Look for the URLs that have high domain authority and are on the topic of your post. These are the URLs you should be targeting for backlinks.
3: Write a Better Headline/Title
In order to grow your business, you need to take actionable steps that will get you results. One such action is to write better headlines than your competitors.
Here are three examples of good headlines:
- How You Can Grow Your Email List Through Content Marketing
- 6 Steps To Attract More Customers To Your Store Through Content Marketing
- 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.
If you can write better headlines, the chances of your post going viral are high.
4. Provide Value Within Your Content
Here are some ways to ensure your content is valuable:
- 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, not just text with an external link.
- Avoid personal opinions and include scientific research studies and experiments.
- Link out to relevant 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. This is how you get a high PR.
5. Send a Thank You Email
Send thank you messages when you mention authors and site owners in your post. They might be more willing to give you a backlink if you send a thank you.
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:
6. Guest Blogging
Guest blogging used to be very powerful, but you need to do it the right way.
For your guest blog to be successful, you must provide useful content.
If you produce helpful and sharable posts, people will naturally want to add a website link to you.
To get you started, here is the ultimate guide to guest blogging.
7. Gain Trust With Comments
You can 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 backlinks from comments:
- 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 from 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:
These days, you need to come at your website from all angles if you want to create a successful and scalable backlink strategy. You should consider things like quality content, easy site navigation, effective CTAs, etc.
By taking a holistic approach to improving your website and marketing strategies, you are more likely to earn backlinks from authoritative sources, which, in turn, can improve your
Link building has been an effective strategy for achieving high PR with Google rankings, even before the first Panda update. I believe it still is, as long as you do it right.
If you want help creating a backlink portfolio or assistance with digital marketing strategy and management in general, reach out for a consultation. We’re here to help!
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