What Is Link Building and How Does It Work?

How to Build a Backlinking Strategy to Grow Your Business

Are you new to the world of search engine optimization? Have you been seeing frequent references to “link building” and wondering what it entails? If so, you’re not alone. SEO incorporates so many different elements that it can be overwhelming when first trying to understand all the different terms and tactics.

However, you must learn all about link building. Why? Well, it is one of the most integral elements when it comes to generating organic traffic via search results. This is particularly the case if you operate within a competitive industry.

Digital marketing – and, by extension, link building – has never been as demanding as it is today. More and more businesses are investing heavily into promoting their brand on the internet. According to statistics from HubSpot, 70% of marketers are investing in content marketing right now, and 24% of these professionals are planning to up their spending in this area. This means you have to go above and beyond with your link building efforts.

It’s true: even bad link building tactics can produce positive results. Yet, you need to avoid spammy, low-quality links when attempting to build long-term success with your organic search. As a result, it is imperative to aim for relevance, authenticity, and quality with your link building strategy.

Before that, however, let’s take a closer look at what link building actually is and why it’s so important.

What is link building?

Link building is a process that involves getting external websites to link back to your site. These one-way hyperlinks, commonly referred to as “backlinks,” are used in an effort to boost your search engine visibility.

While a successful link building project involves a lot of work, a white hat strategy boils down to two main points:

  • Creating a notable piece of link-worthy content
  • Sharing it with website owners so they can link to the content

There are various link building tactics available which you can use to great effect. Popular tactics include content marketing, email outreach, creating useful tools, public relations, and broken link building.

So, why are these links so vital? As you will know, hyperlinks give users the ability to navigate between pages across the internet. Well, search engine bots crawl the web with the assistance of these links. The more of these links they find pointing back to your website and specific pages, the more Google will typically appreciate your site – and bump it up their search rankings as a result.

Not all backlinks are created due to the work of a marketer or SEO specialist. In fact, a lot of them are created due to various other external reasons. These reasons can range from a blogger loving their new laptop and sharing a backlink to the retailer to a journalist writing a news story and incorporating a link to a quoted source.

Gaining organic links you didn’t request is the SEO promise land. With that said, crafting link bait isn’t an easy task. You have to do something exceptional to achieve this goal, whether it is producing high-quality content or offering a fantastic, unique product that you cannot find elsewhere.

Why are links important?

Back in 2016, Google’s Search Quality Senior Strategist Andrey Lipattsev revealed the search engine’s three main ranking factors:

Simply put, for any of your website pages to score highly with the search kingpin, you are going to need links pointing back to your content.

If you consider links to be “votes” for a page on your site, it’s easier to understand their importance. The more votes you manage to generate in your favor, the more it stands out when Google ranks the content. When you factor in thousands of pages covering the same topic, a few additional backlinks can push your content from obscurity to the first page of search results.

Even though you’ll find the odd anomaly, the general rule is that pages featuring more backlinks will rank higher in Google results. A page with the most valuable content for a specific topic would land that #1 spot in the search rankings in an ideal world. However, this isn’t an ideal world. It’s not uncommon for lower-quality pages to rank high with Google and knock the best ones to the back of the line.

There are two main reasons why this is the case:

1. The SEO cycle

Let’s say you are writing an article about how to produce high-quality content. In this article, you want to include a statistic that highlights the importance of content for business marketing. As a result, you type into Google “content marketing statistics.” This is what shows up:

SEO Cycle

Now when searching for a statistic, are you going to explore any further than the results on this first page? Are you going to scour thousands of different pages until you locate the perfect source? The answer to both questions is a big fat “no.” You don’t have the time or energy to search the internet for the best source possible.

As a result, those top pages benefit from the SEO cycle. Due to already boasting a prominent position at the top of the pile, they only continue to strengthen their grip because people keep linking their content.

This is another reason why a successful link building campaign can be difficult to achieve.

2. The link building strategies of your competitors

Here’s another scenario to consider: you have a valuable, in-depth page that has managed to hit the #1 ranking with Google for its topic.

While this will have taken considerable effort to accomplish, there’s no time to slow down. Your competition will always be fighting it out for the top spot, which means they will be ramping up their link building campaign.

It doesn’t necessarily matter if your content is superior to what your competitors have to offer. In fact, it could be ten times better with greater imagery, statistics, formatting, and all that good stuff. As long as they have the skills and resources to outpace your own link building efforts, they could knock you down the search results page.

This means you have two options. You can sit there, do nothing, and wait until all your hard work disappears. Or you can stand up, stick to producing backlinks, and fight back against the competition, so you continue to reign supreme.

competitor links

After reading all of the above information, you might be thinking that link building is all that’s required to rank #1 in Google. Even though it can be a key component, there’s much more to SEO than simply collecting backlinks.

Many variables are factored into the equation by search engines. Because of this, you need to combine link building with strong SEO foundations, excellent content, fantastic on-page SEO, and a seamless user experience. Once you have all of these pieces in place, you will be able to maximize the potential for your website to attract organic traffic through search engines.

Ultimately, don’t simply expect your page to hit the heights even if you cultivate a large number of links. If your page isn’t performing as expected, make sure to analyze other ranking factors to see if your SEO strategy is lacking in other areas.

A guide to finding backlink opportunities

You know why link building is important. However, how can you go about finding opportunities to acquire your own backlinks? The good news is there are many strategies available that can help you to gain links from other sites populating the internet.

Below we’ll take a look at the five main sections for securing those all-important backlinks.

1. Add links

add links

If you visit any external website and there’s the opportunity to include your link manually, this is known as “adding” a link. Here are common tactics for adding links:

This is the easiest method to build links. While that’s good in one sense, there is one thing that spoils this tactic: Google. The search giant sees these links as having incredibly low value overall, to the point they can be dismissed or even flagged as spam. In addition, all of your competitors are going to be posting their links on these platforms, which means a minimal competitive advantage – if any – is gained.

However, don’t just look at link building when it comes to the advantages gained from posting links on these sites. For instance, having a fully detailed listing on a popular business directory can help drive traffic to your site. This isn’t down to the power of the backlink, either, but rather the fact potential customers have found your business due to a relevant search query on the directory.

2. Ask for links

This one is self-explanatory. If you have a compelling reason for someone to link to your page, you could reach out to a website’s owner in the hope they’ll supply a backlink within their own content.

Just remember: there has to be a compelling reason attached. These site owners don’t owe you a favor. To be completely harsh, they don’t care about you at all – unless you already have a relationship with them, of course. As a result, you have to supply an incentive to grab the attention of these owners. There needs to be something in it for them, so everyone wins.

Here are some common strategies where you can successfully ask for links:

  • Guest blogging: Propose to write a blog post on their website. You can include your backlink within the body of the blog content.
  • Ego bait: Create your own content and reference a site owner in a positive light. This ego bait can range from annual awards given out by your business to creating an entire article based on what you have learned from an individual.
  • Skyscraper technique: The skyscraper technique is where you find a linked resource and suggest yours as a better one. This is effective if your content is far superior to the current backlink in place. Website owners will often be open to doing the swap as it helps to enhance their existing content.
  • Broken link building: Conduct research to find any broken links on relevant websites. Do you have content that could replace these links? In this case, let the webmaster know about the broken link issue. As a show of appreciation, they may agree to replace the old link with one pointing to your website.
  • Unlinked mentions: Do a quick search of your brand name. If other websites are mentioning you, this generally means they have a level of admiration for what you do. This means they will likely be open to accepting a link request.
  • Image link building: Are you finding websites that are using your image but not including a backlink? If so, ask to receive credit in exchange for their image usage.

Before you start firing out emails here, there, and everywhere, ensure your compelling reason is, well, compelling. Due to the difficult nature of persuading random people to supply backlinks, you need to create an exceptional piece of content or boast significant authority in your industry. You might also have to sweeten the deal – whether it’s to supply a link in exchange or share their content on social media – to get site owners onboard.

3. Earn links

This is the SEO nirvana that every marketer strives towards. You simply gain links because you earned them. People within your industry – or related industries – have come across your content, noticed how outstanding it is, and linked to it on their own site as they feel their audience will benefit from knowing about your work.

With that said, you cannot craft a masterpiece and expect people to start linking to it straight away. They need to know it actually exists. This means you still have to invest in promotion for your content page – no matter how incredible and valuable it is for others. Plus, the more you advertise the page, the greater chance you’ll have of more people shooting a backlink in its direction.

As for content that can stand up on its own and earn links, one of the best methods is to create link bait. For the uninitiated, link bait is high-value content that people want to link to due to its content. Aside from being long-form, in-depth guides full of juicy information, link bait can include:

  • Infographics
  • Videos
  • Surveys
  • Data studies
  • Awards
  • Software products

By investing your resources and time into crafting pages of true value, you will eventually start to gain links naturally via word of mouth. This is ultimately the goal for any marketer, particularly those that have already experienced the pain of conducting email outreach campaigns and link prospecting.

4. Buy links

Okay, let us get this out of the way first. Buying links is an option that is available to all businesses looking to gather a large number of backlinks fast. However, it’s not recommended you go down this path. You should avoid the paths that involve many dangers that can put your SEO exploits in peril.

If you do end up going down a dangerous path, you’ll be lucky to get away with wasting a ton of money on spammy links which don’t have any type of positive impact on your rankings. Even worse, it could lead to your website being penalized by Google, rendering all of your other SEO work practically useless.

One of the biggest sources for purchasing backlinks is via the popular freelance marketplace Fiverr. If you type enter into their search bar the words “link building,” it throws up literally thousands of results.

link building results

You’ll see gigs that promise natural, white-hat links from high-authority websites. These links will be authentic and ensure your site shoots up the Google rankings in no time. While you might get lucky and find a legit service via Fiverr, it’s best to avoid any gigs on this platform. As mentioned before, you’ll likely end up throwing away your money without any backlink authority gained.

If you do decide to pursue the option of purchasing backlinks, make sure you do this by enlisting the services of a legit, highly regarded marketing agency. It’s likely going to cost you additional money, admittedly, but it’s also more likely to work. The best marketing agencies will boast their own Private Blog Network (PBN), which is a group of websites that are built and maintained for the sole purpose of being link sources. They’ll also have built up a steady stream of sources with high authority blogs across a range of niches.

Even with the risks involved, buying links is a pretty common strategy in the SEO world. This is particularly the case in competitive industries where a large helping hand is required to make an impression on those Google search rankings. Yet even if the competition is going down the road of purchasing links, this doesn’t mean you have to follow them. You can save money and a lot of hassle by disregarding this option.

5. Preserve links

That’s right. You don’t only have to worry about building new links. You also have to preserve the links you spent so much time and effort on acquiring. Technically, this isn’t link building. Yet, it is vital for your overall campaign to ensure its effectiveness. Imagine if you gain 20 high-value links in a month, but you lose 20 links during the same period. This will leave you in a position where you haven’t gained any ground, which will likely make you question if link building is even worth the trouble.

There are two techniques available to preserve your links. These are:

  • Link reclamation
  • Correcting 404 pages on your own website

Link reclamation

Why do backlinks end up being lost in the abyss? Well, there are various reasons why this could happen. A page linking to your content could end up being deleted, for instance, or it may have been updated or de-indexed.

Due to these possibilities, it is necessary you keep a close eye on your precious link profile. You need to do this to the point that you receive alerts when any links disappear. The quicker you know about it, the quicker you can contact the website owners in the hope of resolving the issue and restoring your link.

The good news is that various backlink checker tools have the function to search for lost links. As an example, SEMrush’s backlink service provides a clear notification if any links have been lost and you need to reclaim them.

Link reclamation

Fixing 404 pages

The problem might not be externally but closer to home. This is because pages on your website can end up disappearing. It might be down to a mistake, but your pages might end up being deleted and throwing up the dreaded “404 not found” message.


Fortunately, it doesn’t take up much effort to find and correct the issue. If you utilize a tool like Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, you can apply the filter known as “404 not found,” which will bring up all the pages suffering from this problem. At this stage, you can attempt to restore the pages. If this isn’t possible, you may decide to resort to a 301 redirect which will point users to the next best page on your site.

What are the best links to acquire?

You know how to find link building opportunities. However, it’s just as important for you to know what makes a good backlink. While you can view each link as a single “vote” for your website page, you need to remember one vital fact: these votes are not created equal.

While Google remains tight-lipped about what makes a link valuable, marketing experts have gained a solid idea about how the search engine giant evaluates links. Below are the main concepts you need to focus on when finding the best possible links:

  • Authority: Say you acquire a backlink from a small blog that receives a couple of thousand visitors a week. While this has value, it’s not in the same realm as having a backlink from a major publication that generates millions of visitors a week. Authority plays a big role in the value of links. The bigger and more trusted a website is with Google, the more impactful the backlink will ultimately be.
  • Relevance: Say your website is all about video games. In an effort to build backlinks, you decide to go down the guest posting route. Now imagine that your guest post about the ‘Top 10 PS2 games’ ends up on a blog that is primarily focused on animals. The lack of relevance between your content and the backlink host is going to negatively affect any impact you expect to gain from the link. Always try to gain links from sites that have a direct or indirect relevance to your industry.
  • Anchor text: The anchor text hosts your backlink. Common examples are “click here” and “read more.” However, it is wise to aim for an anchor text which is relevant to the content that is linking to it. In the previous section, the anchor text we used was “301 redirect”. Well, guess what: that link points to a site that is primarily about that subject. By doing this, Google has a greater understanding of what the referenced page is about. Just keep in mind that if you try to shoehorn all of the right keywords in your anchor text, Google could end up penalizing you – it’s a delicate balancing act.
search central
  • Nofollow and follow links: A nofollow attribute tells Google not to include it in its search rankings. While certain nofollow links can still influence the search rankings due to recent changes made by Google, it is best to avoid linking to websites with this attribute in place. This means you should always strive to build “followed” links, as these will give your content a “vote” as expected.
  • Placement: Where a link is on a website can have an effect on its overall impact. This is certainly the case when it comes to its CTR. The main hope will be to have your link inserted into the content block, as this is what receives the most attention from site visitors. In addition, having your link at the start of an article can improve its CTR.

Link building tactics you need to use

You know what link building is and its overall importance. You know how to find link building opportunities and how to create high-value links. Now there’s one last step to do: actually go out and gain those links!

The good news is there are various opportunities to build links. Let’s take a quick look at a few of the main tactics used by marketers.

Guest blogging

It has been touched on already by this guide, but guest blogging can be an effective way to gain backlinks for your website. This is especially the case if you target high-authority blogs which gain a lot of traffic. The only problem is actually convincing these blogs to accept your content.

Yes, you might expect a website to accept your blog post. After all, you’re giving them content for free – why wouldn’t they publish this on their site? Well, this is because legit, high-ranking blogs don’t need your content. They are doing fine on their own and likely receive multiple guest blog requests on a regular basis.

As a result, you need to go above and beyond with your guest blogging. A generic 500-word article isn’t going to cut it. You need to provide them with an exceptional piece of content, one which they cannot resist publishing. It also has to cover a hot topic that has yet to be covered on their own site.

Pursue your competitor’s links

It may seem sketchy to pursue your competitor’s links, but it is something that every marketing professional does. In fact, it is a fundamental activity when it comes to link building.

Why is this the case? Well, think about it. If you take a closer look at your competitors that are always hitting the heights in Google search results, they must be doing something right with their link building. By studying which links they have gained, you can learn what tactics to implement so you can begin to acquire similar links – and ultimately outrank the competition.

There are many tools available that allow you to spy on the competition. One of the best is Link Explorer from Moz.


Simply pop in the URL of one of your competitors, sign up for a free account, and you can receive some juicy information about which backlinks are delivering the best results for them. Of course, you can decide to sign up for their paid plan for even further backlinks analytics to use to your advantage.

Create linkable assets

Easier said than done, right? Yet, if you manage to craft something which people want to link to, you remove the struggle of having to go out there and find backlink opportunities manually. Linkable assets include guides, case studies, infographics, and online tools.

By having a noteworthy piece of content, people will gladly link to this if they feel it will benefit their audience. Just look at the above example of us linking to Moz’s Link Explorer. This online tool has been included in this guide because it can ultimately benefit our audience – aka you!

Content promotion

You need to put in the effort to promote your content. As with any type of marketing campaign, there are various approaches you can take to get the word out. You can use advertising, make posts on social media, or share your content in relevant communities, etc.

The more effort you put in, the more traction you will gain. Plus, it should result in a snowball effect if your content is truly valuable.

Closing thoughts

Link building needs to be part of your SEO strategy. That much is clear. Now you know what link building is and the basic concepts about this marketing tactic, you can move forward with implementing it successfully.