You’ve finally set up your website and got into a content publishing groove. You might start to wonder if you need link building. And if not now, when?
Link building is the process of getting other people’s websites to hyperlink to yours. Having these links, or backlinks, to your site is important for several reasons:
But it’s not enough for people to simply link to you. These links need to be editorially relevant — as in, the content that links out to yours needs to relate to your industry.
Let’s say your website has an article about ski-related Zoom backgrounds and The Washington Post links to it in their article about travel-themed Zoom backgrounds. That would be an awesome backlink to have, because the topics are relevant to each other and because as a news site, The Washington Post has high domain or website authority.
Those are the links you want. Not random directories that have a smattering of links. Not paid placements, either. If you buy links, it’ll probably be from a shady website or service, and Google might notice and blacklist you from its search results.
The best way to get backlinks is to create the best, most valuable content on any given subject — to create content so good that people will want to link to you.
As you think about your website’s growth, you’ll need to first focus on the quality of your content before diving into link building tactics. Here’s how you’ll know when you’re ready for link building:
Let’s dig into each reason. We’ll walk you through a couple of scenarios in which you may want to consider link building, and we’ll then show you how to get started.
You don’t need to have a blog with dozens of thousand-word articles. You don’t need to have a product or service you’ve sold hundreds of times.
You need something valuable.
There might be value in one thoroughly-researched blog post you wrote, an infographic you put together with great data, or an online tool or calculator you built. Consider how and why someone with no vested interest in your website would care to link to it. Really, be empathetic.
Ultimately, when you start to reach out to websites asking them to link to you, you need to offer content that benefits them. You need to have a link that’s relevant to their content and that addresses the point they’re trying to make in a given blog post. Once you have a linkable asset, you can start to reach out, optimistic you’ll get some high-quality backlinks.
If you’re a one-to-two-person show, you’re wearing many hats. You’re maintaining your website, writing content, sourcing images, and publishing. Get those processes under your belt first. Think about the link building later.
When your site is still new, you may want to consider how others may perceive it. Since link building requires reaching out to people, then those people will look at your website before they decide whether or not to link to it. Ask yourself…
If it’s unclear what your website is about, or if there’s a poor user experience — like if you have too many widgets, the site doesn’t load correctly on mobile, or the text layout is hard to read — it will probably look off-putting to a newcomer to your site.
Fortunately, content management systems (CMSes) like WordPress and Webflow offer nice out-of-the-box templates that require little to no design savvy. If you’re not confident in web design, don’t mess with the customization too much. Or if you’re a newcomer to Webflow and you want to learn more about no-code design, spend time doing the tutorials in Webflow University.
Particularly if you have an older site with lots of content, if you change your URL or rebrand your site, you may need to revisit your existing backlinks. Be sure to do a backlinks audit through a tool from Ahrefs or Moz so you have a list of all affected links. Using one of these tools will also help you prioritize which links to rebuild because you’ll see your most popular links and the most influential sites that link to your site.
As you start to do outreach to have your links updated, consider asking sites to update anchor text or the text on their website that contains the link to your URL. If the other person’s site specifically mentions a product name that you’re rebranding, ask if they would be open to updating the text so it says something like, “X product, which used to be called Y.”
Of course, redirects will help, but it’s common to run into issues with those, and the new links won’t always redirect right away. Doing the outreach to replace your links is a good way to support your new URL and preserve your link equity.
Whether you are new to a competitive niche or an existing player, link building will benefit you. The same applies if you need faster SEO results.
Getting more backlinks to your site will increase your website authority and increase your chances of eking out the content competition. It can even drive some incremental referral traffic, especially if the referring site is a popular one.
Backlinks will increase your authority faster than if you were to simply wait for Google to notice your fantastic content. Intuitively, this makes sense: The more people you pitch your website to, the more people will see your website and the more likely they will link to you if they like your content.
But before you start link building, set your expectations and align them with your overall goals. When it comes to SEO, your competitors are going after the same keywords as you. These aren’t always the people who are selling the same product as you.
Let’s look at Fitbit’s competitors: Apple Watch, Garmin, or Samsung probably spring to mind. But a quick peek in Ahrefs shows that from a keyword and content perspective, their top competitors are nutrition and food tracking companies, Nutritionix and CalorieKing.
In the above blue, green, and yellow intersection graph, blue represents the keywords unique to Fitbit, and yellow represents keywords unique to the competitors. The green bar represents the intersection of keywords, which is where Fitbit (or the competitors) may want to close the gap.
Two ways for Fitbit to close that gap and increase ownership of those shared keywords would be to improve their content that ranks for those shared keywords, and then do some link building.
But let’s go back to overall goals: Does Fitbit even care about taking more keywords from nutrition companies?
Probably not. Not all brands make it their goal for their content to rank number one in search. They may put more of their resources into other marketing areas like brand recognition, paid advertising, PR, and sales.
As you evaluate your keyword competitors, think about how your content drives your business goals. If you need to take traffic from your competitors in order to increase sales, you may want to be aggressive with your content and link building strategies.
If you are serious about link building, you can learn from how we do link building for our clients:
When we do link building for our clients, we reach out only to websites whose content is relevant to the client. If you plan to do your own link building outreach, consider starting with your own short list of relevant websites who you believe would most benefit from linking to your content. (Note: A relevant website doesn’t mean a competitor.)
We use Backlinko’s famous technique as well. It refers to the process of finding link-worthy content, creating something better, and then reaching out to the site owners who have already linked to similar content.
We frequently find guest post opportunities for our clients, and we even write the articles. You can do this for yourself too: Identify sites whose content is relevant to yours, think critically about the value you uniquely can offer, and pitch them on a guest post. If you’re thoughtful about your topic and pitch, most sites are happy for the free, good-quality content.
This is just how it sounds. We look for broken links that could be replaced with links to your site, find the sites that are using that link, and reach out to ask them to replace it with your link. If you plan on doing this, you can start searching for broken links with a tool like Dead Link Checker or Ahrefs’ Broken Link Checker.
We compile databases of relevant pages for our clients, then we hunt down the contact information for each site. We reach out on your behalf for your site’s inclusion if we think there’s a fit. The best way for you to try this tactic is to keep up with editorial content related to your niche and not be shy about reaching out whenever you find a relevant opportunity. Let’s say you have a food site. It would be wise to keep an eye on sites like Buzzfeed Food and Foodbeast that create a lot of roundup of listicle content.
Using platforms like Help a Reporter Out (HARO) is still a solid way to pitch to reporters at scale, and it’s a tactic we use for our clients. The good thing about HARO is that reporters are waiting for requests, so you know you’re sending content to people who are expecting it. Other ways to reach reporters are to keep up with the ones who are relevant to your niche and send a personal note when you feel you have useful content for them. Reporters are always looking for credible sources to cite, so if you’ve created factual, original content, you’ll be likelier to get that link placement.
Doing all this outreach and optimizing your content will take time. So remember that link building will eventually become a positive feedback loop: The more links you have, the more you’ll continue to get. And the better quality backlinks you get, the more you’ll build momentum for your site.
Of course, if you want us to do all this for you, give us a shout.
There’s no chance Growth Machine would be the company it is today without her.
As marketers, it’s easy to get caught up in the creation hamster wheel — only wanting to create, create, create. But even if you write the most poetic, Pulitzer-worthy piece, no one will read it if they don’t know it exists. That’s where content distribution comes in.