Search for information about SEO, and you’ll quickly discover three big themes: content, user experience, and links. If you’re just getting started with SEO, that last theme will likely seem a lot more confusing and challenging than the others. That’s because, while content and user experience are under the realm of our control, links aren’t… at least not completely.
Think of this post as a quick-and-dirty version of The Beginner’s Guide to SEO’s chapter on link building. We definitely recommend you read through that as well, but if you’re short on time, this condensed version gives you a quick overview of the basics as well as actionable tips that can help you get started.
Let’s get to it!
What does “building links” mean?
Link building is a term used in SEO to describe the process of increasing the quantity of good links from other websites to your own.
Why are links so important? They’re one of the main (although not the only!) criteria Google uses to determine the quality and trustworthiness of a page. You want links from reputable, relevant websites to bolster your own site’s authority in search engines.
“Building links” is common SEO vernacular, but it deserves unpacking or else you may get the wrong idea about this practice. Google wants people to link to pages out of their own volition, because they value the content on that page. Google does not want people to link to pages because they were paid or incentivized to do so, or create links to their websites themselves — those types of links should use the “nofollow” attribute. You can read more about what Google thinks about links in their webmaster guidelines.
The main thing to remember is that links to your pages are an important part of SEO, but Google doesn’t want you paying or self-creating them, so the practice of “building links” is really more a process of “earning links” — let’s dive in.
How do I build links?
If Google doesn’t want you creating links yourself or paying for them, how do you go about getting them? There are a lot of different methods, but we’ll explore some of the basics.
A skill you’ll definitely need for link building is email outreach. Remember, links to your site should be created by others, so to get them to link to your content, you need to tell them about it! Cold outreach is always going to be hit-or-miss, but here are a few things that can help:
1. Make a genuine connection: People are much more inclined to help you out if they know you. Consider connecting with them on social media and building a relationship before you ask them for a link.
2. Offer something of value: Don’t just ask someone to link to you — tell them how they’ll benefit! Example: offering a guest post to a content-desperate publisher.
3. Be someone people would want to link to: Before you ask anyone to link to your content, ask yourself questions like, “Would I find this valuable enough to link to?” and “Is this the type of content this person likes to link to?”
Link gap analysis
One popular method for getting started with link building is to look at the links your competitors have but you don’t. This is often referred to as a competitor backlink analysis or a link gap analysis.
Link Intersect gives you a glimpse into your competitor’s link strategy. My pal Miriam and I wrote a guide that explains how to use Link Explorer and what to do with the links you find. It’s specifically geared toward local businesses, but it’s helpful for anyone just getting started with link building.
Contribute your expertise using services like HARO
When you’re just getting started, services like Help a Reporter Out (HARO) are great. When you sign up as a source, you’ll start getting requests from journalists who need quotes for their articles. Not all requests will be relevant to you, but be on the lookout for those that are. If the journalist likes your pitch, they may feature your quote in their article with a link back to your website.