Link building is arguably one of the essential elements of a sound SEO strategy. At the same time, it is also one of the most misunderstood and challenging aspects of the search marketing equation. It’s common knowledge that landing high-quality links via white hat link building a great way to rank on Google. However, Google does not weigh all backlinks equally. Furthermore, link building is a constantly evolving digital landscape that is difficult to keep up with all the time.
Do you remember the days of link farms, article directories, and blog comment links designed to boost your sites’ rankings? Well, you best forget about them, because they’re a thing of the past. Google has evolved immensely over the years. With each algorithm tweak, the all-mighty search engine has learned to better evaluate and assign value to links. If a link doesn’t provide genuine value in today’s modern landscape, it will likely not benefit your SEO strategy.
While it may not be ideal, you will need to acquire these “white hat” links consistently. This is assuming that you’re looking to boost your rankings and drive traffic to your site. Nonetheless, it is far easier to talk a big game than actually making it happen to build links. In the end, link building is without question a complex and typically difficult task.
However, fear not! This post will guide you through the ins and outs of white hat link building. Better yet, it doesn’t matter if you’re a total rookie or a seasoned vet. I’m sure everyone will walk away having learned something new after reading this post.
What is white hat link building?
In short, link building is the craft of encouraging others with relevant websites to link to your site. Google’s core PageRank algorithm was based on the idea that links represent a vote of confidence. The algorithm uses links as a primary ranking factor in determining which pages to return for a search.
The more relevant links that point to your site, the more authoritative Google will consider your website. Furthermore, the more authoritative your site, the more your own links will “count.”
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but Google was the first search engine to use links as a ranking factor. This naturally led to ridiculously better search results. The first PageRank algorithm changed the search engine world forever. It also helped Google establish a rock-solid foothold as a key player in the field. It should go without saying, but every respectable search engine these days uses links as a primary ranking factor.
So, have we made it painfully clear that links are important? Good! Next, how do you go about convincing a site with a relevant audience to link back to your site? The fact is, there are numerous methods to go about making this happen. This guide will cover a number of these white hat link building tactics.
Does link building work for everyone?
The short answer is simple – no. It doesn’t matter how many links go to your site if your site is poorly optimized or contains bad content.
You should conduct an on-site technical audit to ensure your site is a quality candidate for link building. You should also know beforehand which keywords your site should rank. Lastly, you need to know beyond a doubt that your site has pages that genuinely deserve to rank.
Thousands of links are utterly useless if your content doesn’t answer questions that need answers.
Another important element in link building campaigns is your linkable assets. Linkable assets are pieces of content that are informational, non-promotional, and provide value to those who may click on them. These assets can be traditional written content, images, resources, or just about anything that provides value to the audience.
The ultimate goal is to produce pages that serve as valuable resources to your audience. Furthermore, you want this content to inspire other websites in your niche to link to you.
A brief history of white hat link building
Before the birth of Google in 1998, no search engine employed links as a ranking factor. Think about it…a world where links didn’t serve a function in search engine optimization. Pretty crazy, ‘eh?
Google algorithm relied heavily on links as a ranking factor. This use of links helped Google return better results than any other search engine then. Google’s reliance on links ultimately led to its dominance as a search engine.
SEOs quickly took note of Google’s use of links, and the art of link building was born!
SEOs soon realized they could easily manipulate Google’s results with easy to produce, low-quality links.
At their core, search engines are advanced information retrieval systems. Like any advanced technology, search engines have quickly evolved due to innovation regarding hardware and software. This is especially true when there is a real threat to the integrity of the technology.
Google introduced massive improvements to its search algorithms. These improvements have changed how the search engine determines which sites are relevant for a given search. In 2012, Google released the Penguin algorithm, which marked the end of manipulative link building spam.
Search engine algorithms continue to evolve. Google is closer to its goal of returning the best possible search results than ever before. This means that if you want your site to perform well on SERPs, you need to answer searcher intent. In short, you need to earn the right to rank on SERPs and then go out and secure your links.
Acquiring natural (that make sense), provide value, and are an ethical part of a sustainable search strategy.
White hat link building techniques and strategies
There are numerous tactics you can employ to secure backlinks. Said tactics continue to grow and evolve, but each is designed around a core value.
No matter the method you use to secure a link, you need to earn the link. It helps if you ask yourself, “why would another site link to mine?”
In order to better answer this question, here is a list of the more successful methods used to acquire backlinks.
Using content links for white hat link building
Content links revolve around the creation and use of content to place links on third-party websites. The links are placed within a piece of written content, such as an article, infographic, or press release.
In-content links are an ideal method for gaining links, so long as the client has linkable assets. Remember, linkable assets (such as this post!) contain interesting or unique information, statistics, or other useful data. You can further increase your ability to rank by using targeted keywords within the content.
This tactic ultimately hinges on your ability to either create or provide valuable content for your audience.
Resource page links
One of the primary reasons websites link to other sites is to direct their audience to helpful resources.
Resource page links rely upon the concept of under-valued resources on your site. Your goal then is to seek out other websites that have resource pages for their community and promote your resources.
These links often reside in the “links” or “resources” page. A resource link ideally provides value, such as a calculator, widget, or other various tools that are not advertisements. There needs to be a reason for the person behind the website to include the link.
Broken link building
The web is a constantly evolving heap of websites, pages, and links. As pages move, change and go down, links break.
This approach to link building is pretty simple. You simply browse through prospective websites and look for dead links. Once you find one, you email the site owner to let them know. In return for helping them out, the website owner will likely link to your site with little resistance.
Make sure you scan every page you want a link on before emailing the site owner. Even if the link isn’t relevant to your own page, you still add value when you notify the site owner.
404 reclamation & white hat link building
Like broken link building, this method hinges on pages that no longer exist.
All you need to do is seek out 404 pages on both your website as well as competitors’ sites. These are broken pages that no longer exist at that specified address. Once you’ve located a handful of 404 pages, run them through a backlink explorer. Doing so will provide you with an idea as to whether other sites link back to the 404.
If your site has any 404 pages, make sure you redirect to a similar page!
Compare any competitor 404 pages to pages on your site for a similar page. You may also consider developing a new page if there’s enough link opportunity to justify it. The overarching idea is to provide a better option than a dead link to a webmaster.
From here you’ll want to contact the website owner and let them know that they’re linking to a dead page. Use the opportunity at hand to provide your content asset to replace the dead link.
404 reclamation helps both the website owner and the link builder.
Fresh mention (unlinked mentions)
Another reason websites link is to provide context when sharing information. This is the core idea behind any mention link. Another website has mentioned your product, brand, or site, but failed to link back to it.
Look for mentions of your site across the web. Locate websites that mention your brand or URL, but fail to link back to it. Reach out to the website owner to thank them for mentioning your site. After you thank them, ask that they include a link back to your site!
This method often yields a fairly high return, assuming your site has garnered relative popularity online.
Directory listing (niche)
Directories stretch back to the days before search engines even existed. They served as hubs to direct people around the web.
Sadly, many directories exist today solely for SEO purposes as link farms. You should treat these beasts with extreme care.
If you decide to pursue this avenue, you best prepare for a lot of leg work. You will need to weed through less than ideal directories in order to find directory listings specific to your niche. When reviewing directories, look for relevance to your niche, limited advertisements, and clear signs of editorial discretion.
Moz’s spam indicator is a great tool to develop a sense of a website’s authority.
Wikipedia links are extremely valuable but are darn near impossible to gain. Your site must be referenced on Wikipedia and cited as a source, or have the potential to do so. It’s also worth noting that you cannot suggest edits or additions to Wikipedia without being a trusted community member.
Outreach techniques for white hat link building
Now that we’ve covered a handful of ways to obtain a link, let’s discuss the next key step: outreach.
All links ought to involve editorial discretion. This means that you have to convince another person with a website to link to your site. In order to make this happen, you’ll need to locate the site owner’s contact info and reach out to them.
Again, creating value should be your key focus. If the link makes sense for their website, convincing them to link is as simple. All you need to do is explain why it’s in their best interest.
This requires a subtle mix of promotion and value propositions. Kick things off with value, and the outreach message should then flow naturally.
Finding contact information
The initial step in outreach is to find the site owner’s contact information. There are a number of ways to go about finding this information:
- Look for employee profile pages: these are typically listed under “Meet the Team”, or similar pages.
- Check the source code for email contacts: right-click on the website and select “View Source Code” in Google Chrome. You can also use the hotkeys CTRL+U to view the source code. Then use CTRL+F to find any mentions of an email by searching for the @ sign.
- Look in the footer: many websites include contact information in the footer. If not, then the “About Us” or “Contact Us” page will also work.
- Advanced Google search: search operators such as inurl:www.andrewroche9.com contact will help you find contact information directly via Google. This searches for the word contact within AndrewRoche9’s site. You could also try using editorial staff, editor, webmaster, etc. Furthermore, if you know the name of the site’s owner or operator, search Google and locate their social media accounts.
- WHOIS: If the website owner hasn’t privatized their contact information, then it is freely available for you to see. Employ an extension such as Quick WHOIS to see if they are publically listed.
- Trial & error: Often times you can locate a contact email by simply adding keywords like info, webmaster, marketing, editor, contact in front of the domain. Something like firstname.lastname@example.org for instance. When you use this approach, it is a good idea to verify that it is a valid email address. Lastly, many domain email accounts are designed as catchalls. This means that any @andrewroche9.com address will, in fact, reach a legitimate email inbox.
Drafting the email
Once you have the right contact info, you can then send an email with your pitch or request.
Remember the value you are offering the website owner. Approaching outreach emails from a value-oriented mindset establishes more confidence in your request. You should already know why it’s worth their while to link to you. That being said, don’t try to be overly clever. Keep it simple and explain why it’s a beneficial move on their part to link to your site.
When drafting your outreach email, ask yourself these questions:
- Am I composing a formal or casual email?
- How can I provide value? (Demonstrate the value of your request right away. Give them the why regarding your inquiry and get right to the point. You should establish why you’re contacting them within the first two sentences. A few examples include:
- Explain you’ve found a mistake or broken link and have a suggestion for a replacement.
- Share your resource. Make sure to highlight why it belongs on their page and the benefit it provides their audience.
- Pitch an article, infographic, or other content piece and describe how it will benefit the site’s audience.
- Thank them for mentioning your product, service, or brand, and ask that they include a link for context.
Fine-tuning your email & the follow-up
If you don’t hear back, follow up! Depdinging on the situation, limit your outreach to three attempts with 3-7 days between each attempt. Remember to be polite, not pushy. Furthermore, make sure to thread your emails so your contact doesn’t have to dig for information.
You want to show clear, immediate intent, showcase the value, use a captivating title, and all-around assertive language. Lastly, make sure to include a call-to-action (CTA).
When drafting your email, make sure to open with your request, then add in the pleasantries. Most people respond when they feel that you’re genuine and sincere in your intentions.
Don’t forget to include a proper email signature at the bottom of all your outreach emails. Make sure to include:
- Your full name
- Your social media accounts
Useful tips & tricks
Social media needs to play a vital role in both your outreach and promotion of your resources.
Use social media to network with similar sites within your niche. For example, if your site deals with lacrosse sticks, follow other lacrosse stick gurus. You’ll also want to ask questions and contribute to forums and discussions on Twitter, Facebook, and other relevant platforms.
It’s extremely beneficial to forge relationships in your niche. Doing so provides you with a better understanding of your own work. It also provides a network of resources to chase down. Social media is a great way to prospect for new link opportunities and identify engaged individuals with valuable sites.
First and foremost, know thy self.
The best articles truly come from personal experiences. For instance, if you have a lacrosse stick guru as a client, go out and buy a lacrosse stick. After tossing a lacrosse ball around you’ll have more to write about, complete with original photos.
Be creative and take stock of your pre-existing skills. You may not know a thing about forensic accounting. However, you may very well be a pro at writing scripts. So write a script that does a deep dive into an individual’s finances. What matters most at the end of the day is that you provide value. Keep this in mind when creating content and you’ll do just fine!
Furthermore, make sure to incorporate original or free-to-use stock images. Graphics tend to generate more interest than articles that are just plain text.
You’ll want to pay attention to whether or not a prospective website has nofollow links. You can use an extension, such as External Followed Link Highlighter to see if links include the the rel=”nofollow’ attribute. You can also right-click on the webpage to view the source code. You’ll need to do a search in the code for “follow” by using the timeless CTRL+F hotkey. Nofollow links eliminate search engines from passing link equity. However, nofollow links do provide some SEO benefits.
In order to form strategic links, you’ll need to know what’s working within your niche. The easiest way to grasp the linking environment and the effective tactics is to review your competitors’ backlink profiles.
Use a tool like Google Similar Pages or SEMrush to locate competitors. Once you identify your competition, use a backlink explorer, such as Majestic to see all the sites that are linking to your competition.
Doing so will provide you with a great list of prospective sites with which to start. If the sites are already linking to a competitor, there is a good chance they will link to you too.
Forging relationships with high-quality sites doesn’t happen overnight.
Research your niche and network using social media. Participate in discussions, follow industry leaders, and develop connections.
It will certainly take time to establish a foothold. However, you are more likely to secure links on high-quality sites when you’ve made a name for your brand.