So you want to rank on Google?
Stop me if this sounds familiar:
You´ve just done a search for the key search terms for your business in Google and to your pleasure and satisfaction, your website appears on top of page 1.
Not happened right? Well listen up, you´re in the right place.
My name is Alex Sepulveda, creator of sponsored content platform Encatena, and I have been directing SEO campaigns (Search Engine Optimization) to help corporate as well as private clients rank top on Google for the last decade. I know what works and what doesn’t work as well as what shortcuts you can safely take to improve your Google ranking and build online awareness of your business as quickly as possible so you can start to reap the benefits of increased visitors to your website.
The most important way to rank on Google is through link building, which is the process of building relationships with other quality websites within your niche on the internet so that they link to your website and in doing so indicate to Google that your website is of high quality and is worth ranking as high as possible.
In this article, I will be giving you all the best tips on link building using traditional methods as well as explaining how you can use Encatena to speed up and save money on your link building efforts.
While outside the scope of this article, I also recommend you investigate and learn about Onpage SEO which is simply making sure that your website is well organised and has all the appropriate title and description tags as well as sitemaps in place.
I am not going to lie to you, this isn´t a short article and link building properly is not easy. It’s hard work and anyone who promises instant results should be treated with a great deal of scepticism because to keep Google happy and rank well you need to link build slowly and focussing on quality.
That said, I can promise that the tactics outlined in this article and developed over more than 10 years in SEO really work in 2021 and I provide the guidance and templates to replicate them for your website in record time.
You will learn how to get high quality niche specific links, which will, in turn drive traffic to your business and improve your Google ranking.
For those who aren´t familiar with link building, the first part of the article will outline all the terms you need to know to successfully link build.
What follows are the link building tactics themselves divided into 4 areas: content creation, research, local and community and sponsored content.
The next section introduces the most powerful tool for sponsored content creation, Encatena. My team and I created Encatena after being inspired by the necessity to simplify the link building process which in 2021 has become too time consuming and expensive to do manually.
As mentioned previously, the problem with manual link building is that building relationships with other websites and getting them to link to you is a very time consuming process that involves:
- Identifying quality websites in the niches that you are interested in targeting can get expensive fast (subcriptions to Moz, AHREF, Majestics, SEMRush).
- Finding the contact information for the owner or webmaster of a website – not always easy.
- Contacting these webmasters and building a relationship in order to discover under what circumstances they would be willing to link to your website. This likely to involve a lot of conversations and negotiation.
- To feature on the website, you will need to provide content worth linking to. Whether this a high quality article, infographic or other type of unique content, it will be expensive, either in your time or money to have someone else do it for you.
- Many times you will be told that your only option is to pay in order to get a link on a particular website.
- Once you have negotiated to link to a website you can often still be unclear under what conditions that link will be displayed, for how long, if it will be follow or nofollow etc.
Encatena makes the link building process much more efficient by helping you and other advertisers identify quality websites within your own niche that have editors willing to publish articles on brands and businesses like yours, and where you as the advertiser can control the process from start to finish and collaborate with the editor to make sure that you are both happy with the published article.
To finish the article I outline what low quality links are, how to identify them and provide a bullet point summary of how to boost your ranking while keeping Google happy.
So grab a coffee and let´s get started!
Table of contents
- What is link building?
- High PageRank = High authority links = First page of Google
- E-A-T: the criteria Google uses to rank websites
- Tools to identify high quality websites
- Which metric should you use to identify high quality websites?
- Keeping google happy = Diverse link profile
- Link juice
- Dofollow and nofollow links
- Keywords, anchor links and anchor text
- How to identify low quality links
- Don´t just rely on Domain Authority to select link building targets
- Avoid websites that have too many low quality links
- Avoid websites that have too many outbound backlinks
- Check your link profile for outdated and spammy links – Carry out a link detox
- Be careful how you ask for links
- Don´t abuse email requests for links
Introduction to link building
As the name suggests, link building is the process of getting links pointing (or linking) to your own website from other websites. Earned natural links directly improve the reputation of a website, improve its visibility on the web and most important, where it ranks in Google search.
Whenever we walk about improving your ranking on the major search engines, we always talk about link building because it is by far the number 1 factor that goes into determining the relative position of your ranking in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
You will find various hypothesis on the internet from SEOs claiming that Google no longer relies on links as its main ranking factor, but you can safely ignore this. As the computer scientist that I am, I can safely say that counting and evaluating links via a link graph on a network which is based fundamentally around links (the internet is a network of links) will always remain the most viable method of algorithmically calculating the quality and importance of websites.
Alternatives include hiring millions of trained humans to do manual quality evaluations or designing an AI that can judge the quality of a website much like a trained human would. Neither are likely to happen in the near future.
What is link building?
In general the more links from high quality websites that you can get pointing at your own website the better your website will rank relative to your competitors, so the aim of link building is basically to obtain more quality links than the competition. There are a number of methods to get these links that vary by expense and time and it is up to you to select which combination of link building techniques is most suitable for your own business or brand.
Why all my emphasis on Google?
In 2021, Google is by far the most popular web search engine in the world with 92.37% of the search engine market share worldwide and the method by which it ranks web page on its search results, PageRank, is based fundamentally on links, something that hasn´t changed since the inception of Google. However, remember that in general all these link building methods serve equally well to boost your visibility and ranking on the other search engines such as Bing and Yahoo.
Great, so what makes a good link?
High PageRank = High authority link = First page of Google
The basis of the PageRank algorithm that Google uses to rank websites is that each link from a website to your own counts as a vote. However a vote from a top quality journalistic site such as the BBC is worth far more that a vote from a little visited blogspot mummy blog.
We would say the BBC link is far more authoritative and raises your Pagerank far quicker than many votes from smaller blogs. The BBC would would be considered by Google as an Expert, Authoritative and Trustworthy (E-A-T) website in terms of Google´s Search Quality Rater guidelines.
The problem of course is obtaining the link from the BBC is far harder than obtaining links from lesser sites.
If there is one thing we know about building links in 2021, it is that good quality links related to your niche push your site towards Google’s first page while lesser quality links can also be useful to diversify your link profile.
E-A-T – the criteria Google uses to rank websites
Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines put a great deal of importance on the concept of E-A-T. So much so that sites that do not display these characteristics tend to be seen as lower-quality in the eyes of the search engines, while those that do are subsequently rewarded with a higher PageRank.
Tools to identify high quality websites
The problem with relying on Pagerank to identify high quality websites in order to work on establishing link building relationships with them is that since 2013, Google no longer shares its PageRank information because it decided it wasn’t in its interest to let other websites know how it judged them.
Due to this absence, a number of proxy indicators of PageRank have arisen from different companies that essentially do what the Google search engine crawlers do but on a more limited scale: They regularly crawl the internet establishing the relationships between as many websites as they can find and use this to estimate metrics for each and every website. Each metric is a rough guess because these companies simply do not have the crawling power that Google has to assess the entire internet.
The main metrics used to establish the authority and quality of a website are:
- “Domain Authority” (DA) and “Page Authority” (PA) calculated by Moz. Domain Authority is a Moz metric that values from 0 to 100 the authority of a website. Page authority does the same for individual web pages within a website. So you can have a very high quality article (high PA) on a low quality website (low DA) and vice versa.
- “Trust Flow” (TF) and “Citation Flow” (CF) calculated by Majestic. Trust Flow is a Majestic metric that values from 0 to 100 the quality of the links a website has and specifically the trustworthiness and authority of the websites linking to that website. Citation Flow is a Majestic metric that values from 0 to 100 the number of links a web has and is always used in direct comparison with Trust Flow because a lesser quality website will always have a CF higher than its TF indicating that it has many links but they are from lower quality websites.
- “Domain Rating” (DR) calculated by Ahrefs. Domain Rating is an Ahrefs metric that values from 0 to 100 the authority of a complete domain. We do not provide this metric on Encatena because Ahrefs recently recalculated their Domain Rating, rendering it for the moment less reliable and stable.
- “Referring Domains” (RD) is a measure of how many individual domains have a link to the website. Generally the more domains that link to it, the more important and authoritative the website however if the TF is low this may indicate that the website has done a lot of spammy link building (spammy means low quality).
In this article instead of referring to PageRank we will refer to Moz Domain Authority as the best single measure of a domain’s authority. However as I often mention, do not look at DA in isolation and instead remember to analyse it in the context of TF, CF and TF/CF ratio and referring domains as well as traffic figures.
Which metric should you use to identify high quality websites?
To find high quality websites that would be suitable for link building, it is best to use all of these metrics combined to build up an overall picture of trustworthiness and authority and to highlight anything unusual that merits further investigation such as high DA with low TF.
Begin by evaluating websites that are in your language and niche to make sure they are as relevant to your website as possible.
Then order by Domain Authority (DA) to get an approximate indicator of the authority of the websites.
The next metric to look for is Trust Flow (TF) as a high rating indicates that trustworthy links were used to achieve that DA rating. However, TF must be analysed in conjunction with Citation Flow (CF), specifically the ratio of TF to CF.
Generally, you are looking for TF as high as possible relative to CF. So TF equal to or greater than CF is very rare and indicates that the all the links the domain has are of very good quality.
A TF:CF ratio of 1:2 would be considered a trustworthy site with good quality links. As the ratio starts to become 1:4 and greater, it is an indicator that the website has engaged in some poor quality link building practices.
Next referring domains give you another indicator as to the quality of the link building that website has engaged in, as the more RD in general the better, but high RD coupled with a low DA would indicate low quality link building and will also normally coincide with a high CF, indicating that that website has many low quality links, often free links such as directories or forums.
Finally metrics like monthly visits are important because link building isn’t just about the power of the website linking to you. The amount of traffic you may expect to receive from it is also very important.
Alright. Now you know how to identify high quality websites, but in order to link build effectively and safely you need to understand what a diverse link profile is, why it is important and how Google ranks via links using link juice, dofollow and nofollow links.
Keeping Google happy = Diverse link profile
A link profile is the makeup of all the links directing to your site.
You´ll find that I talk a lot about a diverse link profile. That because Google favours a mix of dofollow and nofollow links from a variety of sites as this is how a “natural” link profile that has accrued links organically over time would look.
What Google is looking for is indicators that you are trustworthy website that has earned your links from a variety of sources and has accumulated authority naturally.
Link juice is an SEO term that references the amount of authority or value that one link passes to a website it connects with.
In simple terms, links from websites with high authority and relevance on a topic will pass your website more link juice. The link juice for a particular page is divided out by all the outbound links from that page so if the link to your website is the only link on a page, all the better.
Dofollow and Nofollow links
So a link to your website always gives you link juice. Right?
Wrong – it depends on the type of link used.
When a website links to your website it will definitely pass you link juice if it is a dofollow link and this is the standard type of link. Nofollow links came about later when in the early days of Google, webmasters abused link building by posting many links in the comments section of articles as well as in forums in order to link build cheaply.
Google responded by recommending that webmasters automatically make all links in comments and forums nofollow as an indication to Google that the links are unmoderated.
So just like it sounds, a nofollow link tells search engines not to count that link for link juice generation.
While not as valuable as a dofollow link from an authority website, there is still value to a nofollow link because it may still bring direct traffic to your website.
But there´s more… if your website only has dofollow links, then Google could flag it as unnatural. Some nofollow links are great to build a diverse link profile, which will in turn keep Google happy.
It is when you start going above 75% dofollow that you should start concentrating on getting some nofollow links.
Bear in mind that it often not be possible to get dofollow links from some websites as they have a policy of only linking via nofollow. On Encatena we clearly indicate whether an editor permits dofollow links.
Keywords, anchor links and anchor text
When link building it is important to understand the distinction between keywords, anchor links and anchor text, as they are the basis of all links. A link will consist of text which the website visitor can see (the anchor text) with a link underneath (the anchor link) which if he clicks on it will take him to another web page. We use keyword to refer to the anchor text especially in the context of the words or phrases we actually want to rank on Google.
In those days whole guides where written on what the optimal keyword density was to include in an article in order to rank it without upsetting Google by having too high a density, as well as in what percentages to diversify anchor text.
That all changed in 2013 with the release of the Google Hummingbird algorithm that attempted to understand exactly what the searcher was looking for instead of having to rely on keyword density in articles and the anchor text linking to it to make a best guess how useful that article would be for that query.
Things have been simplified now with an emphasis on keeping things as natural as possible which means no more keyword stuffing or anchor text manipulation. The key is to concentrate on creating a well written article that is interesting and useful for the reader and naturally contains a lot of semantic variations of the keywords that are relevant to the topic of your article as well as its niche.
Now that you understand the basic of link building, find below a series of proven tactics split into five sections that you can follow to make sure that your link building strategy is diverse, Google friendly and powerful.
Link building tactics to rank in Google: Content creation
One of the most popular forms of link acquisition is securing links via content creation.
I find content link building to be effective but be warned, creating unique content can be very time consuming so think carefully about which of the suggestions below you have time or money to implement well.
Remember, not all content link building requires you create new content. Content that you have created in the past but not marketed enough can attract fresh links when placed in front of the right audiences.
Guest posting on relevant websites can be a highly effective tactic for earning links and exposure.
Before you approach a website to write an article for them, make sure that:
- The website is an authoritative site (preferably of higher DA than you).
- The website or blog is relevant to your topic.
- The website does not exist solely to publish guest posts.
- The article is not about how great your website or company is.
- You are focussed on quality (well written, professional, and interesting).
- You keep in mind that a poor article can bring bad reputation.
The best part is that getting coverage and becoming better known from appearing in a few medium authority websites can lead to opportunities to appear in high authority websites. Major websites often look to see what’s trending in smaller websites before picking it up for their audience.
Don´t forget to cultivate your relationships after getting the coverage. Monitor the comments section of any post you have written, and address questions directly and openly. Track which blogs are giving you the best coverage and the most leads, and make sure you maintain those relationships.
Infographics and proprietary images
A high-quality infographic or image can attract a large number of links, but can often take weeks to create.
Make sure that the information that you use for the infographic is interesting to readers – there is nothing worse than taking the trouble to create an infographic that no one is interested in using on their website.
If you take the trouble to create these assets, make sure you utilize reverse image search tools to find where your proprietary images are being used online and contact anyone who is using them to ask for an attribution link.
Some niches lend themselves more to a blog than others. Blogs are especially interesting for niches that change frequently and where users need to keep up to date on the latest news.
Blogs are time consuming to maintain and can actually give a negative impression if posts are of poor quality or out of date. If you want to have a blog, make sure that you are in a position to keep it alive.
A blog worth linking to provides quality posts on a regular basis. Focus on your industry and on your client’s needs. In time, it will most likely gain authority. Make sure that your content is relevant, useful and well structured.
To improve the number and quality of links to your blog feel free to write about anything that is timely – especially when it’s topical and trending.
Going off topic from time to time with stories in related niches (or your own) is a great way of picking up natural, socially driven links.
Many businesses offer you the chance to say a few words about your experience using their products. Obviously in order to really take advantage of this opportunity you should make sure that you have used their product extensively and have genuinely found it useful in order to be able to subsequently write a meaningful testimonial.
It is a win-win scenario that has a much higher approval rate than your standard link request e-mails because by offering to write a testimonial not only are you indicating that you are a regular user of that product, but also that you find it really useful. Everyone likes to hear that the website or tool they laboured over to create is being appreciated.
Link building tactics to rank in Google: Research
Remember our aim to create a diverse link profile? Not all links should be secured via content. In fact, content link building might not be a viable option for some companies (depending on budget, business type, website age, etc.). Another form of link acquisition you should leverage to develop your link profile is research link building.
Research link building refers to the tactics that rely on niche and industry research. Earning links through:
- Expert opinion
- Competitor research
- Broken link building
- Unlinked mentions
- Backlink reclamation
These tactics require some level of research and add variety to your link profile.
Also, these links are often some of the best types of links you can earn, driving quality traffic to your website.
Your personal opinion can be interesting and valuable, especially if you are an expert or have been in a specific field for a long time. Potentially sharable content includes:
- Research papers
- Case studies
- Experiments to draw new conclusions
Fresh content is critical in any industry especially if your niche changes quickly. When you publish research, be sure to include all relevant data, test results, charts and always identify your sources with links.
Conduct a thorough audit of competitors’ backlinks
Competitor’s links act as an excellent road map for your own link building strategy.
Whenever I am looking for ideas on what websites to target for links, my first step is to analyse my competitors links to see if they have managed to earn any good high-quality links and determine how they did it and what tactics or content I should use in order to get a similar backlink back to my website.
The first step is to find out who your potential competitors and niche authority websites are because it is not always obvious. The cheap way is to identify at least ten keywords or phrases associated with your niche or the product/service you sell and enter them into Google.
Then collect in a spreadsheet the first 10 results on Google for each of these keyword combinations and remove the duplicates from the list. Visit each and every site on the list and decide whether to discard it or not based on if you truly consider it a competitor or niche specific authority site. Now you will have a list of websites that you are competing with for a high Google ranking within your niche as well as a list of sites that talk about the topics that are relevant to your niche. It is important to remove any spammy (poor quality) sites from this list before moving onto the next step.
Now you want to check on these competitor websites by finding out what websites are linking to them in order to get a look into what sort of link building campaigns they have been running. You can do this by getting hold of their backlink profiles, which is simply a list of links of websites that link to each of them.
There is no easy way to do this without paying so I suggest you register for trials of Semrush, Moz, Majestic or Ahrefs in order to ask for the backlink profile of your competitors. It´s actually best to get trials of as many of these services as possible in order to ask for backlinks from each of them.
Review carefully each of the backlink profiles that you have downloaded and discard any that are full of spammy links such as sex sites, directories, forums or other generally low quality link building. You don’t want to integrate these sort of poor quality backlink profiles into your aggregated list because you are not interested in building links from these sites.
Once you have aggregated all the quality link building profiles all on one list you can now remove duplicate and be left with a list of quality websites that you would like to obtain backlinks from. In theory each and every website on your list should be able to provide a backlink to you because if your competitors in the same niche managed to do it, so can you, but some will be easier than others to achieve.
Once this is done, review the data and try to remove any spammy links. Also make sure you flag any dead links which are links that are pointing to web pages that are no longer functioning as you will use them later with the Broken link building tactic.
You should now order the links by DA (if using Moz) or DR (if using Ahrefs) and start from the most important first. Your aim is to visit each each of the specific web pages that linked to your competitor or niche authority site, find the link on it and then work out how that link was achieved. Luckilyt, 99% of the time they will have used one of the tactics described in this link building guide. You can then start to strategise how you can use these same tactics to obtain a link for your own website.
Remember, you won’t be able to get every link your competitor has but you may be able to spot links you should have or could get.
Once you have identified websites that you are interested in contacting, it´s time to search for a contact name and their email address. Generally your list of backlinks will be large enough that emailing or submitting a contact form is the only realistic means of getting in touch with the website owner.
Doing this manually by going on their website is very time consuming but it can be done by using a chrome extension such as Email Extractor that searches any individual web page (not website) that you visit for emails. If you use this tool, I recommend opening up the home page, contact us, privacy, cookies and legal pages simultaneously because if there is an email to be found on a website, it will almost always be on one of these pages.
However for obtaining the email addresses of large lists of websites as quickly and efficiently as possible, I prefer to use Hunter.io which is a web service where you purchase credits up front and then use a credit for each email the tool finds for you.
Simply enter a site and it’ll show you all of the email addresses associated with that domain.
For larger sites in which you need to find a decision maker, I like to use VoilaNorbert.com
Be aware that for some websites you may simply not find an email contact. These websites tend to have a contact form that while not ideal, is better than nothing.
Once you have an email contact, it´s time to make contact and implement the link building strategy that you think has the most chances of success with this particular webmaster.
Webmasters get bombarded with email all the time so in order to get responses you absolutely need to personalise your email.
How to create a perfect link request email
Below I share an example of a link request email and the points to keep in mind when creating a link request email for high-quality links:
- Keep the email short and to the point. Webmasters are busy people and long emails from someone they don´t know are often deleted right away.
- Be friendly and add value: if you spot a mistake or dead link on their site let them know – they´ll be grateful.
- Be honest about your aims. Don’t tell them providing a link will help them. Rather say you have more up to date information than they currently link to and it will help you and might be useful to their readers, a win-win scenario for the two of you.
- Where possible, mention the exact page you would like a link on.
- Check if they have a habit of linking out to relevant articles and use it as an icebreaker in your email if they do, mentioning your own quality article as a possibility.
- Always be professional. Take the time to correct for spelling errors and find out the recipient’s name which will often become apparent if you check their ‘about us’ page or look for how they sign off at the end of articles.
- Always mention the URL you want them to link to so they can check it for themselves and decide if it is quality content they want to be associated with.
- Always have a piece of content that is of value and worth linking to. Remember to always provide value and a reason for them to link to you.
- Be careful to avoid spam words like “opportunity”, “help” etc. in your email, especially in your subject line. If you include too many, there is a high probability your carefully constructed email will be automatically sent to their spam folder which no one reads. For more info on avoiding the spam filter see this article.
- Don’t abuse the link building outreach process. Be selective about the websites you request links from. The authority websites in your niche might well know each other so don´t bombard them all with emails over the course of weekend. Link building like any relationship takes time, so if a website doesn’t respond to your email, just try again after a few months but don´t try more two or three times in a year.
- Don´t just use a standard email template for all your emails. Have an email template to guide you but craft each email individually with at least a couple of personalised lines explaining why you contacted them and what you like about their website. If you do this well, your response rate for your email will improve dramatically. We provide an example email template below.
- Don´t ask directly for links on their homepage as this is the most important page on any website and it is rare that any webmaster will link to you from there.
- Don´t ask them to link to your homepage as usually it will be more natural for them to link to a specific article or piece of content on your website.
- Never specify anchor text that they should use. On Encatena we provide you with the opportunity to ‘suggest’ your preferred anchor text when you create an article and the Editor is free to use it and modify it somewhat to suit the tone of the article he is writing.
- Don´t mention reciprocal links. This is was an old school link building tactic where webmasters would agree to swap links to each other. It has been overused and is not worth the trouble in 2021.
- Try to send emails out in the afternoon. From extensive experience in sending out emails for link building campaigns, I can confidently state that an email sent in the afternoon (in the recipient’s local time) has a far higher chance of getting a response, probably because recipients have less emails to deal with at that time. Mornings are hectic for everyone.
Find below an example of email template you can reuse and personalise. Remember to add a couple of your own sentences and ideas to it in order to make it truly unique and yours. The more unique and interesting the email, the higher that chance the webmaster will open it and decide to respond.
Even better if you can add a paragraph explaining exactly what it is you like most about their website and cite a specific piece of content. Every webmaster likes to hear that their content is being enjoyed and appreciated.
Subject: New content on [Topic] for [Webmaster’s website]
Hi [Webmaster’s first name],
I’m [Your Name], [Your position] at [Your website].
I was looking for content on [Topic for which you have created quality content] today, when I came across your article: [Article title].
Really interesting stuff! I especially liked [Mention something specific from their article].
Also, I just published a new guide on [Your topic]: [URL].
As someone that writes about [Topic], I thought you would enjoy it.
My guide may also make a nice addition to your page. Either way, keep up the awesome work with [Their website’s name]!
Broken link building
Broken link building is all about hunting for and spotting an opportunity.
Any dead resource that is relevant to your niche (where you have a similar page live on your site or are even willing to create one) could provide broken link building prospects. A dead resource is any page that is no longer accessible on the internet, usually returning a 404 page not found error or even worse a 500 server error.
If you review the backlink list of the website you would like to get a link on, you will find a column that indicates that the page has a lot of outbound links. The more links a page has, the more likely one of them will be broken. Some long form authority articles literally have thirty or more links to external resources that were live at the time the article was created but which now have 404 or 505 error for whatever reason. The internet is constantly changing with websites going out of business or webmasters losing interest so there will be plenty of broken links to find.
To check for outbound links first install Check My Links or LinkMiner on Chrome. Then run one of these extensions for each authority web page that you are analysing and the extension will tell you which of those pages is returning a page not found error.
Check if the website is regularly updated. If the website is well maintained then ask yourself if your page is a legitimate replacement for the dead resource.
If there is a good reason for the site owner to replace the broken link with a link to your quality article then it is time to contact the webmaster about their broken link and present the content from your site as a replacement.
A great trick is to check out the original article that is no longer publically available by using archive.org that is a vast repository of all the historic pages of content on the internet. There is so much historic content that sometimes a page is missing but you should always check in any case.
If you are lucky enough to find a copy of the original now missing article, you can use now use it as the basis for your own article, potentially saving you a lot of time. Remember not to copy the original article exactly because if you can find it on archive.org, anyone else can too.
Here is an example of an email template you can use:
Subject: Problem with [Webmaster’s website]
Hi [Webmaster’s first name],
I’m [Your name], [Your position] at [Your website].
Are you still updating your site?
I was searching for content on [Topic for which you have created quality resource] when I came across your article: [Article title].
However, I noticed a few links didn’t seem to be working:
[List here the URLs of broken links that you have discovered on the webmaster’s site]
Also, I recently published [Briefly introduce your quality content and provide a link to it]. It may make a good replacement for the broken link in your article [Mention article name and URL and then a specific broken link on the webmaster’s site that is related to your quality content].
Either way, I hope this helped you out.
Searching for unlinked mentions is another important part of research link building. An unlinked mention is when someone mentions your brand name, website or product but doesn’t include a link to it.
Finding where your brand is being talked about online is beneficial for a variety of reasons: audience engagement, reputation management, and customer research. If these mentions don’t include a link to your site, take this as an opportunity to secure valuable links.
Instead I recommend that you simply search Google for your brand name, website url and product. Obviously your website should appear first if your SEO is on point, but what interests us are the mentions on other websites. Open each and every result on the first 3 pages of Google (and more if you are a well-known brand), search for where your brand is mentioned and check if it is text or a link. Compile a list of all the text mentions and start to get the contact details of those webmasters.
These brand links are some of the most natural links you can secure as the linking site is already talking about your website and you should aim for them to account for a significant portion of your link profile.
Use this email template to contact the webmaster and ask them to convert the mention into a backlink:
Subject: Unlinked mentions of [Your brand or website] on [Webmaster’s website]
Hi [Webmaster’s first name],
I’m [Your name], [Your position] at [Your website].
I see you mentioned my [Your website] on [Page URL] about [The subject]. Thank you for doing that we really appreciate it.
However, I was wondering if you would mind adding a hyperlink, so that people can find out more about [The subject].
I think it would be very useful for your visitors.
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this.
All the best,
If your website is older and gone through multiple site designs and restructuring over the years then it is probably a good idea to look at your website backlink profile and make sure that all your links pointing to the site are pointing to pages that return a 200 OK (i.e. the page works).
This is done by downloading a backlink profile for your website from Ahrefs and looking for any inbound links to your website that give a 404 error (i.e. web page cannot be found). This indicates that in the past these pages on your website were functioning and other webmasters have linked to them but now due to website restructuring or inattention, these hard earned links are being wasted.
Having identified the 404 links on your website you could potentially contact the other webmaster and ask him to change the link address but I don´t recomment it. Not only is it a lot of work to find the contact details, send the email and hope the webmaster doesn’t mind taking the time out to edit an old article, but there is a much easier way that doesn’t rely on anyone else: redirects.
A redirect is simply a file you put on your server that tells it to redirect visitors that come to a page with a 404 error and send them instead to an alternative page on your website. The two most commonly used web servers are Apache and Nginx and I recommend this simple guide to Apache and Nginx redirects.
Link building tactics to rank in Google: Local and community
The third type of link building covers links that can be secured through engagement and interaction with local websites within your community.
Community involvement includes any association — professional or local — that you are a member of that represent a potential link opportunity. If an association you are a member of has a website, you should have a link there.
Local websites can often be overlooked when link building. This is an opportunity because many local websites have good Domain Authority, don´t often receive link requests and are careful who they link to. This means they are hard to get links from – but they could well be the links that your competitors don´t have.
Example of interesting sites include:
- Your local council – many council sites have local business directories.
- Your local university – get them interested by offering a student discount.
- Your local chamber of commerce – join, or offer a discount to members.
- Your local newspaper – you should always be trying to get a mention in the local press – consider a competition or sponsored article (more on this later).
- Local football club & supporters club – offer a discount for a mention on their site.
- Local sports clubs – check if they have a website and if it´s not full of low quality links, offer them a discount, donate or sponsor them for a mention and link.
- Local business directories – more often than not, somebody has built a local business directory covering your local area. Get in there, as long as they are not a low-quality directory (much more on identifying these later).
- Local faith groups or other local community groups – if they have a website they may be happy to mention you if you offer a discount.
- Local charities – sponsor a charity site for a mention. Some of the best links in SEO history have come from sponsoring charities in return for a link.
- Local businesses – offer a discount to staff.
University and government sites
Even though they are mentioned above, it is worth highlighting that links from universities and government sites are the holy grail of link building and assuming the educational institution is of high standing, tend to be of very high quality and much sought after. This is because Google ranks Wikipedia, major national press, national universities and governmental sites as the most trustworthy sites that exist and value the links from them accordingly high.
Any link on the primary domain and pages of a major university, school or government website is going to be of great help to your website in terms of Google traffic and by itself the link juice can be worth hundreds of lesser links from other webmasters.
If you have any reason for a university or government site to link to you, then you should make use of it, for example if you have an existing collaboration with them or are involved in any of their projects.
If you don´t have any particular connections, below are some suggestions on how to get links depending on your website and what you can bring to the table:
- Offer job vacancies for graduates.
- Offer internships for students.
- Offer discounts for alumni, students and staff.
- Organise scholarships for students.
- Do interviews with alumni.
Link building tactics to rank in Google: Forums and directories
Forums and directories are the link building tactics that require the least effort and investment – as such they are also the worst and should only be used with caution.
A decade ago, posting in directories was all the rage as it resulted in a free link that transferred link juice. While you should be careful not to overuse them now, directories can be a source of referral traffic and nofollow links but only if they are very relevant to your website.
Some people still use directories to find relevant sites and information however in general their time has passed and people prefer to head straight to Google for their information — the key is to heavily scrutinize any page you pursue a link on to make sure that website has real traffic and an engaged audience.
If you do decide to use directories, here are some useful tips:
- Use your brand name or URL for your directory listing.
- Use a unique description for every submission to any directory.
- Only submit your site to a small number of high-quality handpicked directories. The fewer the better.
- Get listed in directories that specialise in the niche your website operates in.
- Use directories with no review policy or ‘seo-friendly’ offerings, as they normally link to low-quality sites or have massive amounts of outbound links.
- Use directory submission programs as they often link your site into a low-quality link network.
- Have a large percentage of your links coming from directories.
- Use keyword rich anchor text links with important keywords in any directory link to your site.
Forums should never be your principal focus when link building. This is for two main reasons.
- Forum linking has been abused in the past and is now generally considered spam.
- Forum owners typically make outbound links nofollow if the forum in question follows Google guidelines on user-generated content.
As such, posting links on a majority of quality reputable forums will not help your Google rankings.
However, some forums have good traffic, and interacting on them will drive real traffic to your site as well as increase your website´s visibility.
If you decide to use forums:
- Create content the site users in forums are looking for, and only supply your URL when answering relevant questions. Also remember to mention your business or brand in your email signature so that people who read your advice and have their curiosity piqued will look up your website.
- Participate in the conversation on forums where the conversation is relevant.
- Post on forums that are unrelated to the content on your website.
- Post on forums with lots of self-promotional spam.
- Create sitewide links from forums using low-quality anchor text (so remember to vary your anchor text).
Link building tactics to rank in Google: Sponsored content
Out of all the link building tactics already discussed, over my decade in SEO the most powerful and often misunderstood link building tactic has to be the purchasing of sponsored content.
Sponsored content is a type of paid advertising that takes the form of a website accepting payment or other compensation to include articles, blog posts or reviews on their website. The objective when done well is to not only create valuable content, but also have it published with a backlink to your website.
Paid vs unpaid links
When link building, the aim is to get links from other authority websites that fulfil E-A-T and therefore have high DA, high TF and a suitable TF/CF ratio.
Links from these websites will improve your ranking but to see quicker and more effective results you will need to get links from websites with better metrics than your own.
Unfortunately, this is where you encounter a paradoxical situation where obtaining backlinks is more difficult.
From personal experience I can assure you that even creating quality unique content may not get you links from these sites, especially if you have just started your link building efforts. To add to the difficulty, many quality sites simply won´t allow you to include a dofollow link unless you pay for it.
As a form of paid advertising, sponsored content provides a unique way to promote your products or services.
Your aim is to be associated with an authoritative website that can build your image as an expert, increase brand awareness and drive quality traffic to your website.
If done properly, sponsored content can have a big positive influence on your authority and visibility.
Google guidelines state that they prefer webmasters don’t ask for links because it could be an attempt to manipulate rankings.
Sticking to these guidelines has two main advantages for Google:
- In order to rank your brand or business you are forced to pay them by using Google Adwords to outbid your competitors to be top of the search results (Google Ad revenue was a staggering $30.7 billion in the first quarter of 2019).
- Secondly we do Google´s work for it and identify authority sites by linking to them with dofollow links.
Following the guideline of not asking for links is only useful if you are an established, well-known website that is already at the top of the Google rankings or you are a website that is prepared to create totally unique content for years waiting to be noticed via word of mouth.
What about spending money on Google Ads?
Alas, even if you are in a position to spend a fortune on Google Ads, web users usually prefer clicking on the natural google search results over the Google Ads results, without mentioning the fact that many searchers will not even see the Google Ads results because they have ad blockers enabled on their browsers. As such, you must concentrate on improving your natural Google ranking as much as possible and use Google Ads as a supplementary marketing effort.
Most of the top Google ranked authority websites offer a select group of advertisers and marketing agencies the option of purchasing tailored sponsored articles, exactly the same way they always did when they were in magazine or newspaper format and every other page was an photo advert or advertorial. These are the same sites that continue to rank at the top of Google every year.
Google friendly sponsored articles
The key to sponsored content is to follow exactly the same rules as any other type of link building: making sure that any sponsored articles that you purchase are to authoritative (High DA) websites preferably (but not exclusively) within your niche and editorially linked to content that is relevant to the audience of the linking website. Also as mentioned before making sure you specify natural and non-abusive anchor text and from time to time requesting nofollow links.
So to summarise, a website you select for a sponsored article should ideally:
- Have an equal or higher DA than your website (lower is also useful but gives less of a ranking boost).
- Have a combination of sponsored and unsponsored articles – a website that only has sponsored articles with outbound links is likely to be spammy.
- Have a subject matter and therefore audience that could be interested in the products or services you provide. That is to say, don´t buy a sponsored article on a mortuary website if you are a party costumes business. Google is interested in, and rewards, relevance so look for websites within your niche where possible.
But what happens if you want to place a sponsored article on an authority website that has nothing to do with your site? Well, if you have a diverse link profile with at least 50% of links being related to your niche, then this is not a problem. It will be a very powerful link in improving your site’s ranking.
Launching a sponsored article campaign with Encatena
The main obstacle to taking advantage of the immense ranking power of sponsored link building is finding suitable webmaster whose digital media have been checked for quality, who are interested in writing sponsored articles and have set a price for their services.
Selecting a suitable digital media for a sponsored article
There is an International language Encatena for the main international languages (English, French, Italian, German, Portuguese) as well as a Spanish language Encatena catering exclusively to Spanish language digital media. You can register as an advertiser, which is someone who wants to buy sponsored articles, or as an editor who is typically a webmaster of a digital media interested in writing sponsored articles.
The key to successful sponsored articles is to select good quality websites that if possible are related to your niche and will give a boost to your visibility and ranking while appearing as natural as possible in your link building profile.
Registration on Encatena is free and only takes a minute. We carefully check all the editors and advertisers that appear on our platform before approving them. That way we maintain quality and ensure we do not include any websites that openly sell links, are spammy or have poor quality content.
Once your registration is approved, you are taken straight to our shop page in which you will find a list of the hundreds of digital media available on Encatena for sponsored articles.
In order to allow you to efficiently find the right website for you, you can filter the selection by country, language, categories, price, which websites allow dofollow links, which require that articles disclose sponsorship and if there are any prohibited topics.
Encatena also gives you access to SEO metrics such as Moz DA, Moz PA, Majestic CF, Majestic TF, number of linking domains and Facebook shares. If the editor has allowed us access to his Google Analytics statistics, you will also see updated monthly users, visits and sessions, page views per session, average session duration and bounce rate.
You will notice that in the screenshot above, the prices for a sponsored article are clearly listed. This is the final price you will pay and you won´t have to waste any time negotiating – the price you see is the price you pay.
Encatena tip: When selecting a digital media for your first sponsored article, having hundreds of digital media to choose from can be intimidating. To make this process easier I recommend you first narrow down your search by filtering by the country, language and categories you are most interested in.
Then narrow down the selection further by setting the maximum price you are willing to pay, if dofollow links are important or whether sponsorship is indicated or not etc. This will significantly reduce the number of potential digital media to choose from.
Once the selection has been filtered down, my recommendation is to order by Domain Authority in order to see the most powerful sites first. You are looking to select domains that have a good balance of Domain Authority, Trust flow to Citation flow, topical relevance and if possible a decent amount of recurring visits. Remember that you can also select another digital media that does not exactly meet these criteria if you feel the subject matter and audience are a particularly good match for your own brand or business.
You should now have a small shortlist of digital media to choose from. Encatena provides you with a link to each digital media to allow advertisers to check out the website itself before they buy.
Visit each of the digital media on your shortlist and make sure to skim read a couple of articles. Make sure it is a thematic match for your own brand or business website.
Creating a unique sponsored article
Once you´ve found a website you´d like to link to, you simply click on it and you are taken to a detailed page with additional SEO metrics and information. Also if the editor has Google analytics connected, you will be able to see visitor numbers and other detailed data updated on a daily basis.
The order panel allows you to specify your requirements for the sponsored article including a suggested title for the article and a description of what you want the article to be about. You can also specify the delivery time of the article and whether to include one link or two, if they should be dofollow or nofollow links, the keywords associated with those links, terms that should be avoided and if there is any source of information that you prefer that the editor use to write the article.
Once you have filled in these requirements, the order is sent to your cart which you can pay for via credit card or Paypal. You can even add another sponsored article to your cart on a different digital media before proceeding to payment.
Tracking the progress of your sponsored article
Once an order is made, you will be able to communicate with the editor throughout the order process via the Encatena messaging system and we will notify you when your post has been published for you to review and approve it.
Remember that all articles are written by the editors themselves to maintain editorial integrity and need to be 500 words minimum to ensure they meet a minimum quality content threshold.
Ok, now we that we have covered the link building tactics that you should use, let us have a look at the low quality link building you should avoid.
How to avoid low quality link building
In general when link building we want to avoid as much as possible low quality links. That means links from websites that are in disreputable sectors, zombie sites (sites that don´t update their content), spam sites and sites with very low DA, TF or a poor TF/CF ratio.
How to identify low quality links
Unfortunately, the internet remains a wild west and there are many sites that are willing to provide links that you don´t want to use because they will provide no ranking benefit at all.
When identifying low quality links, it is useful to remember that Google’s primary goal is to provide a good user experience which for users using its search engine means receiving good quality and relevant search results when they input a query. If Google starts not to show good quality, relevant results, users won´t hesitate to switch to some other search engine.
What does good and relevant content mean for Google?
Good and relevant content is, as previously discussed, represented by E-A-T (expert, authoritative, and trustworthy) or in other words it is useful, desirable, accessible content that users find valuable.
Don´t just rely on Moz Domain Authority to select a link building target
While DA or DR gives a good indication of the authority and link building power of a site, it is not the only metric that needs to be scrutinised before deciding whether to contact them. For example it is common to see websites with medium to high DA accompanied by low TF and very high CF. In this case the poor TF/CF ratio indicates that this site has built up a lot of that DA rank through poor quality links such as directories, forums, comment spam and free link exchanges.
If you analyse its backlink profile you will see a lot of exact match anchor terms as well as spam anchor terms and poor quality links. In effect it has built up a high DA at the cost of a very poor backlink profile and it is probably not worth trying to get a link from them.
Avoid websites that have too much low quality content
After gaining some experience analysing websites you start to get a feel for what is low quality content. The most obvious sign is broken images and links in the article indicating it hasn’t been maintained in a long time.
Articles that are always short (less than 300 words) and contain the same keyword phrase in a number of sentences as well as repeat use of the same anchor text are also suspicious as they reflect bad link building practices from the past decade, being essentially articles that provide very little value to the reader.
For example, say a typical article on the website you are analysing is 300 words long and has a keyword phrase such as, “diet tricks for new mothers.” used in the title, first paragraph, and in a header. This would be an example of low quality content and any website that has multiple posts that follow this trend is a website you want to avoid.
Another warning sign is that each article is on a completely different topic (usually promoting or mentioning a different brand per article) and none of these topics are related to the core theme of the website.
Keyword phrases need to be used very sparingly. For example, a 300 word article should have no more than two uses of the keyword phrase and preferably those uses should include alternative wording for the phrase (e.g. “diet tips for mother” or “diet strategies for moms”).
Avoid websites that have too many outbound backlinks
If a website has an unnaturally high number of outbound links for the amount of content that it has, then you need to be careful. You can reasonably expect a 500 word article to have at most two outbound backlinks to relevant authority sites and the anchor text used should be natural such as “scientific article on fat loss and peptides” and not commercial keyword phrases such as “lose weight fast”.
You should systematically analyse the backlink profile using Ahrefs or, if you don´t have access to this tool, check the outbound links in the most recent blog posts.
Now look at the links themselves. If the outbound links have nothing to do with the subject of the website and the content they are appearing on or they are links for “spammy” subjects such as viagra, cryptocurrency, pornography etc. then you really need to consider whether being associated with the website via a link is something that you want to do.
Check your backlink profile for outdated and spammy links by carrying out a link detox
You are doing the same analysis as you would normally do for low quality links on your link building targets as previously discussed, but this time on your own website.
You especially want to review any links you previously built to:
- Dofollow blog comments
- Article submission & syndication services
- Low-Quality directory links
- Forum signatures & forum profile pages
Make a list of them in Excel, remove duplicates and then create a simple disavow file which you will submit to Google via your Webmaster tools panel. A disavow file is a list of domains that you are telling Google that you don’t want your website to be associated with.
Google created this tool because unethical competitor webmasters can on purpose point low quality links towards your website in order to pollute your backlink profile and try to reduce your Google ranking. By providing a disavow tool, Google can be told to ignore those poor quality links, even if in fact you created them yourself out of sheer ignorance.
As a general rule of thumb, avoid any link that is obviously self-created, on a site with only self-created links, typically forums, directories and link exchanges.
While they might work to rank on Google in the short term, they lower the quality of your backlink profile and in the future may not help you rank at all.
Be careful how you ask for links
If you send out an email asking for a link using any of the link building tactics previously discussed, point that webmaster in the direction of your page, and emphasise that linking to it might have some benefit to their audience. Always communicate courteously and respectfully.
If you want webmasters to link to you in a particular way, make sure the title of the page you want links to has the keywords you want to rank for featured, and a most webmasters will use those words to link to you. You can even change the title of pages for this exact reason.
Don´t abuse email requests for links
Always make sure that emails to the targets of your link building are individualised. Several template emails are included throughout this article and it is well worth the extra effort to personalise them for each and every webmaster. Everyone enjoys receiving the personal touch.
Remember, there is much more value in getting a few high quality links than lots of poor quality ones. The days of low quality links giving ranking value are well and truly over in 2021.
If you want to tell people about your website then use the content, research, community and paid content tactics outlined earlier in the article.
You pick the tactics that work for you – but start by building something on your website somebody will find useful.
- Create a diverse and healthy link profile. This includes dofollow, nofollow, internal links, links on mainstream news sites, links from topically similar related industry sites, links from unrelated but non-abusive sites, links on blog posts and more.
- Target links from authority websites in your niche. Find that group of sites that authorities in your industry link to and are linked from and think about how you can get a link with them.
- Don’t worry too much about the “theme” of websites linking to you but stay clear of irrelevant sites just for irrelevant links. In fact – going off topic occasionally with your content can lead to great natural links from unrelated sites.
- Review the link building tactics your competitors employ to earn links and think about how you can emulate the better quality strategies you discover. Don’t build links just to build links, or just to copy somebody else´s strategy – remember they might be ranking despite having low quality links.
- Join social networks, not for the links themselves, but to get your content noticed by the people most likely to share your type of content and to build your personal network of contacts.
- Get links from relevant sites, but understand that any editorial link is a good link, as long as the page it is on has some relevance to the page it is linking to.
- Remember if you want to get links, you need to create linkable content that users engage with. Use the tactics described in this article and you will naturally accrue DA if you invest in remarkable or compelling content on your site.
- Using keyword phrases a certain number of times isn’t a rule. Google actually doesn’t want you to spend too much time trying to find keywords. They want you to write articles that have to do with your niche, and then they will do the work of deciphering where it should be ranked on Google search results.
- Vary anchor text so it is descriptive and relevant, but not repetitive. Anchor text helps tell Google what the topic of your page is about. If dozens of links point to a page with a variation of a word or phrase, the page has a higher likelihood of ranking well for those types of phrases. However, too many links with the same anchor text could indicate to the search engines that you’re trying to manipulate your site’s ranking in search results.
- Remember links do not have to be relevant to your industry to build your domain reputation. If the link is on a high Domain Authority website which is not carrying out abusive practices, then just about any link is a valuable link.
- If you want to increase the Domain Authority of your site more quickly, you need to make sure the pages that link to you have a higher DA than yours and, where possible make your link the focus of the content.
- Sponsored articles are an effective and sustainable way to improve your Google ranking when done well, as outlined in our sponsored content section.
- Don´t link to a website that only exists to provide links to other sites to boost rankings. Sites that are designed just to link out to other websites to help SEO are toxic to your ranking in 2021.
- Don´t link to any site that are openly selling links as chances are the links will not age well.
- Finally don´t forget to make sure that your website is as optimized as it can be to boost your website further in the ranking. Aside from measuring user experience through Click-through rate (CTR), bounce rate or time spent on the site, Google also checks the technical features of your site like site load speed, navigation, design, keyword density and complexity.
I hope that you have found this article useful and encourage you to ask any questions in the comment section.
Good link hunting!