Link building is more than the actual links that you get from websites. If you step back to see the overall picture, it consists of systems, processes, and guidelines to help you create a website that Google and your target audience would like. From there, generating high-quality backlinks to your site becomes relatively easy.
That said, we’re here to discuss the best rules of thumb or “commandments,” if you will, on how to acquire backlinks that will boost your search rankings. Just like Moses, we’ll lay down the law on what makes effective link campaigns possible.
Now, I won’t list common link building strategies that you already know and most websites talk about. Instead, it shares with you how to approach building links so you can identify the best tactics to use for your campaign. This is important since not all techniques apply to all websites.
Let’s get started!
#1 - Thou Shall Know Your Backlinks
The best place to start with your link building initiative is to understand what backlinks your site has and to understand link opportunities for your upcoming campaign. Enter your website URL on Ahrefs’ Site Explorer or similar and get an overview of your link profile.
From here, you can learn many things about your link profile to help you identify how to formulate your link acquisition strategy. Below are the different ways:
Check Your Best Backlinks
Go to Backlink profile > Referring domains to see the websites you have links from.
To help you determine the best backlinks from the bunch, refer to the Domain Rating (DR) and Traffic. Knowing if the links are dofollow is also important for reasons we will later discuss.
But for now, you want to use Ahrefs’ filtering options to show only sites that follow dofollow links with high DR and organic traffic. In this case, we want to see sites with at least a DR 60 and receive 1 million organic visitors monthly.
To be sure, manually check the links to see if they’re from legitimate sites. Once verified, track these links so they remain active, and you don’t lose them.
The reason is that you want to continue receiving link juice from authoritative sites. There’s a chance that the site owner may remove the links for different reasons. If that happens, contact the site owner ASAP to get your link back up.
Identify Pages with Most Links
Delving deeper, head on to Pages > Best by links to see which pages on your site are getting the most links. Filter the results to only show pages with dofollow links from sites with DR 60 and above.
Knowing which these pages are will also be helpful in your content creation campaign, as you want to replicate the success of these pages. The same approach should enable you to attract links from other sites as these pages did.
Determine Anchor Texts to Use
Go to Organic search > Top pages to see your best-performing pages on SERPs. Identify which page from the results you plan to build links for and click on the Keywords drop-down menu to see what keywords it ranks for.
Ideally, you want to use keywords that aren’t ranking on the top three positions on SERPs but ranking within the first two pages (top 20) as your anchor text. In this case, view the organic keywords of the link and filter the results to only show search phrases in positions 4-20 and with a search volume of 100 or more.
Keep in mind that I used arbitrary numbers for the filters. The point is to help you narrow the selection to the best so you can rank for terms with lots of monthly searches and generate the most organic traffic once you start ranking for them.
#2 - Thou Shall Establish Natural Link Profile Foundation
If you have a brand-new site, the previous tip won’t apply because you won’t have any links by then.
At the same time, the last thing you want to do is build authoritative backlinks right out of the gate.
Seems counterintuitive, but let me explain.
In principle, link builders would find ranking brand-new websites easy on Google. However, this puts legitimate site owners who are actually knowledgeable in their industries and can provide immense value to their audience at a massive disadvantage.
Since link building is the last thing on their mind, people won’t be able to find them on Google due to the crap that’s ranking on SERPs.
That’s what Google is trying to avoid with the sandbox period. It’s when the search engine validates new websites to see which ones provide value to users so they can index them for their appropriate search queries.
Only once these sites are out of the sandbox can they start ranking for their keywords and generate more organic traffic. Until then, these sites won’t see lots of traffic as Google is still trying to understand what the site is about and whether it deserves to rank on search results.
In this stage, the best way to show Google that your site deserves to rank on SERPs is to create content that provides value to readers. You can follow the previous point of creating linkable assets here to establish your authority and help show Google that it can trust your site.
Regarding links, however, it’s best to build foundational links to your site first. Also known as pillow links, these are as good as authoritative links from guest posts and broken link building. But Google doesn’t view foundational links as a way of gamifying the algorithm. It’s not like building a link from a DR 60 to a week-old site because you can build these links naturally into your link profile.
Below are some examples to give you a better idea:
Placing a link to your site on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social sites can help your initial link building efforts.
At the same time, you should also optimize your profiles by filling out your bio, uploading an image of yourself, and publishing content on these channels regularly. Just linking from these sites won’t be enough, especially if no activity and engagement are happening in them.
This mostly applies to local businesses. First, claim your Google Business Profile or create one for your business. Fill out the information on your profile, which includes entering your website URL and NAP (business name, address, and phone number).
Next, go to other sites like Yelp, Angi, and others, where you can sign up for a profile and enter the same information.
Doing so not only lets you build pillow links to your site. It also allows you to establish NAP consistency, a local ranking factor that helps you appear on the local 3-pack of location-based search queries.
Local Online Directories
This is like citation building, but the difference is that these are geo-specific sites relevant to your niche or industry. Because of these, getting links from these sites can even be more powerful than citations.
Sites like WordPress.com, Medium, and others are not only great sites where you can do parasite SEO by ranking your content for your keywords. They also have a profile page where you can include a link to your main website.
Similar to social profiles, you need to keep them active by publishing content occasionally, like a blog post or two every month. This tells search engines that the site is active to improve the effectiveness of the links pointing to your site.
#3 - Thou Shall Reverse-Engineer the Competition
After building your pillow links, you must look past your website and at your top competitors. The fact that they’re ranking at the top of Google search means they’re doing something right, which may include building high-quality links. From here, you’ll have a good idea of which websites to consider as link prospects and how to acquire the link from them.
Identify SERP Competitors
To do this, you’ll need a tool like Ahrefs to help you spy on your competitor's backlinks. But if you’re unsure who your top competitors are on SERPs, this tool can help identify them. Enter your URL on the Site Explorer and choose Organic search > Organic competitors. The tool shows you websites that rank for the same keywords as you.
The circles in the chart above represent the number of pages your site and competitors have. The bigger the circles, the more published pages they have. Also, their placement is indicative of their respective organic traffic and value. The higher the circles are and the closer they are to the right, the more traffic and value it has.
All these are broken down in the table below the chart, which also shows you the overlapping keywords you and your competitors have. The greater the shared percentage of keywords, the closer they are to being your competitors. Using this information should help you decide which among the sites on the list you should keep an eye on.
Analyze Link Profile
From here, click on the domain URL of the site whose link profile you want to analyze. Click the arrow down icon beside the competitor URL and run it using Site Explorer.
Next, click on Backlink profile > Referring domains. This shows you the sites that link to your competitors. You can filter the results using the same numbers we used on identifying your best links (DR 60 and above, at least 1 million traffic, dofollow links). Feel free to change the filter numbers as you see fit. For example, some of the sites linking to your competitors may have traffic lower than 1M and have a DR below 60.
You can also view which pages they linked to and how. Click on the drop-down menu under the Links to target column for the domain you want a link from. Aside from the page on the site where you can find the competitor link., it shows you the link's context and the anchor text used.
Even then, you still have to open the page to see what tactic was used to include the link, whether fixing broken links, guest posting, or getting featured on resource pages.
Use the information to determine whether you can build links from the website. Even if the page the site is linking to doesn’t exist on your site, you can create a much better version of it soon. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. For now, repeat the same process above for all competitors to identify your ideal link prospects.
Determine Competitor Pages with Most Links
Another method you can use is to find pages from your competitor sites with the most referring domains. Go to Pages > Best by links to see this. This is the same process used to identify pages with the most links on your site.
Using this method, you can find pages you can replicate from your competitors and create a better version of your site. More on this later.
Properly Vet Link Prospects
There are certain factors that Ahrefs doesn’t show to influence your decision on whether to acquire a link from a website. This means you have to visit the site and its online properties to verify its legitimacy not just as a website that generates organic traffic but as a brand.
For example, check its social media presence and see if its profiles are active with regular posts and many engaged followers. You can also see if the site is building an email list if its pages show a pop-up form asking for the email addresses of visitors.
These indicate that the site is interested in forging a relationship with its audience and is not meant to rank on search engines and make money simply. This is crucial, especially with the latest Helpful Content Update, in which “SEO-first content” sites are getting destroyed on organic search.
Another factor to consider is when a site has a “Write for Us” page, especially if the page is included in the menu or footer.
This invites Google to review their sites and see if there’s any correlation between unhelpful content and inviting people to write on their websites. And if the search engines find inconsistencies in content quality and unrelated topics published by a guest poster, there’s a good chance Google will penalize the site for it.
That said, it’s okay if the site has a “Write for Us” page, but only if the content quality is consistently good across the board. That means the site has a good editorial team in place.
#4 - Thou Shall Create Linkable Assets
When your site is old or new, you still have to create content to rank your website based on your keyword research related to your niche But you can leverage new content as linkbait in your outreach campaigns. And the best way to do this is by presenting your knowledge about a topic in a way that resonates with your audience.
Using the information from your previous research, create content that’s better than competitor pages with tons of links.
“Better,” in this context, is vague because it depends on various factors. For instance, making content longer to cover the topic in-depth won’t necessarily yield positive results. If the query is a “how to,” then the post shouldn’t extensively cover the “whats” and whys” because these aren’t part of the keyword’s intent.
One way to make your version of their content better is to use metrics from various tools. If you want to make content that satisfies users and search engines, use Surfer SEO or Clearscope. The former is great if you want to optimize your content for multiple keywords using its Content Editor.
From here, it tells you which words and phrases to mention in the content and how many words, images, paragraphs, and headers to include. Following the suggestions should help create content with a Content Editor score higher than your competitors!
Another tool to us is Grammarly Premium. Check the content’s score to see if it gets 95 or higher. If not, refer to its recommendations of words and phrases to remove or rewrite. They may help improve your content’s readability.
Finally, Unfluff is a tool that identifies repetitive sentences in your content. This is crucial because you want to make your piece as easy to read as possible so visitors can read it from start to finish. And they can’t do that if you’re repeating yourself in the article. The tool scores your content on a scale of 0-100–the lower the score, the more “fluff” it has. So either rewrite the fluffy content or remove them from the content altogether,
Keep in mind that the scores these tools provide should only guide and make things easier for you. For instance, just because the tool said you should replace or add words in your content doesn’t mean you should automatically follow up. You still need to know whether the suggestions are worth following based on your knowledge about the topic.
#5 - Thou Shall Build a “Link Database”
Once you have content published on your site, reach out to link prospects and use your content as leverage to get a backlink from them.
What makes SEOs get wrong with link building is that, after getting the link from the site, they forget about the website and move on to the next.
The key to effective link building outreach is to treat it like a professional relationship. After successfully securing a backlink, you must continue delivering value to site owners. You can simply share their content on your socials to help drive more visitors to their site.
But a much better way to do this is by guest blogging on their sites. The fact that you already have an existing relationship with them makes them more willing to agree with your request.
But you might be asking: I already got a backlink on their website. Why should I guest post there again?
This is where things get interesting.
Let’s say you’re reaching out to other publications for relevant links. However, they request a backlink in return that’s not from your site. You can tap into your database of sites you’ve reached out to before and offer those as sites where you can get a link back to their sites! Having the luxury of maintaining relationships with various site owners makes link swaps with other publications much easier.
Taking this to another level, let’s say you’re doing client SEO and are currently running link building strategies for them. Instead of starting from scratch with your link outreach, refer to your database of websites to link clients to. This helps you reduce the time of researching new link partners for clients and go straight to producing results.
Here’s another idea (this is the last one–I promise!).
If you’ve built enough good rapport with site owners, they can give you editor access to their websites. This means you can upload and publish articles without submitting them to the website owner or editor for review. More importantly, you can make changes to articles you’ve published.
So, if someone wants a link to this site, you can offer your niche edits services at a cost or use it as leverage to get backlinks from other sites. This may sound similar to guest blogging, but the difference is that you don’t have to write a new post from scratch. Just choose from your published articles and insert the links there!
Another advantage of niche edits is that these published pages have accumulated authority over time. So, a link from these pages is stronger and more potent than links from newly published guest posts.
#6 - Thou Shall Network with Other Link Builders
Part of your link building campaign is finding new opportunities to build links that didn’t appear in your competitor research. In this case, you want to contact fellow link builders actively looking for prospects for their client sites.
The best way to find them is by joining online communities for link builders.
One of the more popular ones is the B2B Blogging Boost Group on Facebook. Members constantly post about sites they’re looking for links from and the sites they have in their database. If they have websites that interest you, contact them to facilitate the link exchange.
Another group you should consider joining is the Ranktracker Community at Slack. With over 22.8k members and counting, you’re sure to find link partners whom you can exchange or swap links with.
You can join its Slack channel by writing a guest post for them. Or you can reach out to their team for more information.
The two communities above are just some of the groups you can join to exchange links with members. Find other places where you can do this to expand your opportunities and database.
Also, when you engage with link exchanges, make sure to have security measures in place. For instance, if they fail to link to your chosen site, ensure you can remove the link you built for them.
#7 - Acquire Nofollow Links
While dofollow links are guaranteed to pass link juice to your website, don’t sleep on nofollow links. While they’re known not to pass the site’s authority from an external link to your site, Google considers them as hints for crawling and indexing purposes.
Google created nofollow links to combat rampant link spam on comment sections of websites. This provides site owners with a way to prevent link juice from passing authority from external links.
However, Google decided to change how it approaches links with the “nofollow” attribute (along with two new ones: “ugc” and “sponsored”). Instead of completely ignoring nofollow links, the search engine now considers this link type to determine a site’s authority and where its pages would rank for their search queries.
Even before, having nofollow links was and still is indicative of having a natural link profile. The best-ranking and most authoritative sites have thousands of nofollow links pointing to them, some of which have more nofollow backlinks than dofollow ones. Below, SFGate.com has 16% of its backlinks tagged as nofollow:
Despite these things, dofollow links still weigh more than nofollow links as a ranking factor, so always prioritize getting the former to build high-quality links.
The aforementioned Google HCU showed lots of love for user-generated content (Quora and Reddit) and Parasite SEO. Whether that’s by design or not is another story altogether. But you can’t deny that sites like Outlook India have been killing in on SERPs.
But if you’re planning on launching a parasite SEO campaign for link building purposes, take note that most parasite websites set outbound links to nofollow. Use the Nofollow Chrome extension or inspect the source code of all outbound links to see for yourself.
This is why parasite SEO is best used in affiliate marketing. It doesn’t matter if the links are nofollow or dofollow–what matters is getting visitors to click on the link and buy the products being promoted to generate commissions.
Nonetheless, ranking on top of Google search for money keywords like “best free movie streaming sites,” like the page above is ranking for, and others allows you to increase your organic search visibility.
More importantly, publishing a convincing piece that spotlights your business can attract more referral clicks to your website. So, it’s not just about increasing your rankings through nofollow links in parasite content. It’s about leveraging the site’s authority to rank your content for competitive keywords and getting clicks from it!
#8 - Thou Shall Not Be Afraid of Buying Links
Let’s get one thing straight: link building as a practice is a form of manipulating Google algorithms. Site owners execute the top link building strategies to increase their rankings on search engine results.
So, unless the acquisition of backlinks happens naturally without your intervention, i.e., a site owner just links to a page on your site because they believe it’s a great resource page to share with their target audience, then it’s illegal if we are to follow Google’s documentation about it.
That said, many websites engaging in so-called link schemes have performed very well on Google search results without any pushback from the search engine. It helps that these sites have a natural-looking link profile, making it incredibly difficult for Google to penalize them.
This shows you take Google’s work with a grain of salt (but only if you build the right links for your site). That also means not believing when it says link buying is prohibited.
As links are very influential ranking factors, website owners take this opportunity to charge people who want backlinks. This is normal in most cases since people will actually pay for them.
That said, you only need to pay up if you’re building links from relevant sites to increase your keyword rankings. If not, your competitors will, leaving your site in the dust.
You already know how to qualify link prospects following the steps above. At this point, it’s only a matter of knowing how much you will pay for backlinks. They won’t be cheap, but they will pay back tenfold, especially if you start ranking for your money keywords because of these links.
If you’re not confident in link buying and don’t want to mess up your rankings due to accidentally building bad backlinks, you can always hand over the task to someone with more experience.
Before worrying about getting more links to your site, you must audit your backlink profile to identify the links you already have and what else it needs. Charles’ link profile analysis audit takes care of that for you.
Now, if you want a full-blown strategy containing the most advanced link building tips for implementation, his link building strategy should be right up your alley.
Both services should unburden you from building and buying links. So, while Charles and his team get more backlinks for your website, you can focus on other aspects of your site for maximum growth.
#9 - Thou Shall Link Only to Supporting Pages
In practice, the page that receives high-quality backlinks will see a ranking increase on major search engines. This is why most people link to their money pages or those created to turn visitors into customers or subscribers. By getting these pages to appear higher on SERPs, more people can see and visit them, leading to higher conversion rates.
However, linking directly to money pages carries certain risks.
For example, an authoritative site linking to this page on your website suddenly gets penalized. This could negatively impact the rankings of your landing pages. And if you’ve accumulated links from sites that turned spammy over time, Google will penalize your entire site!
What makes things worse is that it’s difficult to tell whether a website linking to you will stay true to its course and in the good graces of Google. That may be the case now, but its owner may do something in the future that could tank its rankings in future, dragging your website in the process.
To mitigate this risk, link to supporting pages instead. These are blog posts on your site that have an information intent and link back to your landing or money pages.
To be clear, linking to supporting pages somewhat dilutes the link juice your money pages receive from that site. It’s because the informational pages absorb some of the site’s authority before passing what remains to the money pages (assuming you’re linking to them from the supporting pages).
However, linking to these pages softens the blow of any potential Google penalties sites that link to you incur. Instead of your money pages getting affected by the penalty, the supporting pages take most of the damage. And you can afford that since these pages aren’t directly tied to your ability to make money off your site.
At the same time, you need to have tons of supporting pages on your website for your site to be able to weather the storm of bad backlinks. Let’s say an informational page gets hit due to the bad links they accumulated over time. If the site owner doesn’t remove your link, consider isolating the affected page by removing the links pointing to your money pages.
Also, it makes your link profile more natural. Nobody voluntarily links to product pages–especially third-party sites–unless they have a vested interest in them. Supporting pages provide valuable information to readers about a topic, making them likelier to get links from sites naturally.
#10 - Thou Shall Develop a Tiered Link Building Strategy
Taking everything mentioned above allows you to build and execute a link building strategy that can increase your SERP rankings and withstand Google updates. But the key here is structuring the links in a way that makes perfect sense for search engines. To do this, you must take the tiered approach.
Tiered link building allows you to create “levels” for your links. Tier 1 consists mostly of links from authoritative websites that you will build after your website is past the sandbox period. They should point to supporting pages on your site and not your money pages. This tier also includes your pillow links discussed above (social profiles, niche directories, web 2.0 sites, etc.), although they won’t play a crucial role in this strategy.
Tier 2 are links that point to pages in Tier 1. Its goal is to strengthen the power of your Tier 1 links by linking to them. The links in Tier 2 may not be as high-quality as those found in Tier 1, but they should at least carry a certain authority–at least a DR between 45 and 60 should do.
At the same time, Tier 2 allows you to be more daring with your link building efforts. For instance, Tier 2 is where you can build your private blog network (PBN) links. These are sites or blogs designed to help increase website rankings on Google. That said, Google penalizes sites that engage in this tactic, so you should be wary when building this link type and who will build this for you.
Should Google uncover the PBN you’re using, your Tier 2 links won’t have as much of a negative impact on your site. If anything, it’s the sites on your Tier 1 links that will get affected the most, if at all. But when executed correctly, PBN links can give your Tier 1 links that much-needed boost to boost their keyword rankings. I've discussed everything you need to know about PBNs as a link building tactic in one of my SEO courses.
From here, you can even build a third tier to support Tier 2. You can do the same process as above–find sites to place links to strengthen the links from your second tier. The point is that all succeeding links should help fuel your Tier 1 links and increase your site’s rankings even more.
For your tiered link building structure to succeed, you must prime your website as well. Aside from publishing your linkable assets, developing content silos and topic clusters on your site is necessary. You can do this by linking together your money page and supporting pages. In this case, your linkbait content is considered supporting pages because it supplies valuable information to readers about the topic.
In the diagram above, all supporting pages link to the money page and each other like a daisy chain. However, the money page only links to a supporting page in the cluster.
A site will have multiple content silos to help organize the different pages into topics. Having the structure above for your content silo allows search spiders to understand better what your site is about. Grouping similar topics via internal links makes crawling the pages much easier for Googlebots, helping your site to get indexed faster.
Concerning link building, content silos allow the spreading of link juice and authority across all your site pages. The advantage here is that you maximize the authority coming from the supporting pages while minimizing the flow of link juice away from it to other pages.
To recap what was discussed above, here’s the complete diagram:
Remember that the image above is just an example of how your tiered link building would look on a website with content silos. Of course, you’ll want to spread out the links in different tiers to other supporting pages, as well as other pages in your tiers.
Also, your links should appear as “random” and as natural as possible. For example, don’t fall into patterns when building links, such as using the same anchor texts and linked pages on your Tier 1 links. Another thing is not to use the same websites when linking to your site pages. These create footprints that Google can detect, which could lead them to penalize your website.
There you have it–ten tips to help you develop a link building campaign that addresses your website needs, helps you build a brand (not just a website), and makes it less prone to algorithm penalties.
These tips will be difficult to implement and take lots of time before you see their positive effects. But just like any high-ranking website on SERPs, you need to establish the foundations first before scaling your business to great heights. Best of luck!