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Link Building Tactics That Really Work
11 SEO experts share their real-life successful link building tactics

By: Volha Belakurskaya
August 27, 2019

Link building is one of the most beneficial and at the same time challenging parts of SEO.

Links continue to be a powerful ranking signal, and the grounds of it are quite logical. Having other websites link to yours proves that your content brings value to users. Which is, in turn, the reason for Google to rank you better.

But real life seems a bit harder. And the major challenge one faces with link building is… acquiring links. How to recognize which link building tactics would work when put into practice?

I asked 11 SEO experts to clear up that point, having addressed them with these two questions:

  • Which link building tactic (or tactics) you believe to be the most effective?
  • Could you share a recent interesting case of a link building campaign?

Based on their answers, I gathered some interesting takeaways. So let's see which link building tactics really work in 2019.

Leverage original content

What motivates people to share a piece of content? Let's try to imagine. Something fresh and original? Yes! Something that makes you look at things at a different angle? Definitely! Something valuable? Indeed!

So if you provide something valuable, original, and exclusive, it's more likely to be linked to or shared some other way (which is also great, isn't it?). This means you'll have to put more effort into original research before creating a copy and try to bring value to readers.

The takeaway: Create content based on original data and with its value to users in mind.

Eli Schwartz
SEO Consultant, Global SEO Strategist, and events speaker, Elischwartz.co

Which link building tactic (or tactics) you believe to be the most effective?

When building links, I think it's critical to use an approach that takes into account whether the link asset is truly link-worthy and that means putting that motivation into the creation of the entire link effort. Put yourself into the shoes of the linking site and think, "why might someone want to link to this?" With this in mind, it will be far easier to make the link request.

To that end, I like to use original data when I am building links. That can be through a survey, research, or just a new take on something. It can even be an image that is unique and exclusive to you.

Could you share a recent interesting case of a link building campaign?

This isn't my best link building example ever, but it demonstrates the idea of original research. I looked on LinkedIn for the most common job titles within digital marketing and then put together a list. I published it as a short blog post on my site, and without intending to it has generated links.

Ross Tavendale
Managing Director at Type A Media

Which link building tactic (or tactics) do you believe are the most effective?

We are firm believers that data journalism is the best type of link building you can do. It involves finding two seemingly disparate datasets and connecting them together to make a story about it.

For example, we were able to compare the number of wine and chocolate gifts sent on Valentine's day negatively correlated with divorce.....so we ran the headline "fat, drunk and in love" showing the data points which ended up in a few national newspapers.

Also, to bolster the link, we always build some form of interactive to go with it. This way, there is a legitimate reason for a journalist to link as the readers can come to the site and play with the tool. I spoke at a conference where I went into detail around the process for making link-worthy content.

Could you share a recent interesting case of a link building campaign?

Recently, we scraped Stack Overflow in order to find the most popular development languages. We presented it in a popular format (a dancing bar chart race) this ended up getting over 400k media impressions and around 180 links in total. The big secret to this was seeding it in social communities on Reddit that were passionate about coding. Very soon, it hit hacker news and then everyone started writing about it.

Leverage relationships and trust

When you come to think of it, the rules of business and society are the same everywhere. People tend to refer to those they know and trust. And this is true for link building as well. Personal connections within your niche help you promote valuable content easier. Plus, you are more likely to get a backlink from those who already know you and have trust in your brand.

The takeaway: Bet on relationships and brand management.

Sam Hurley
Digital Marketer, founder of OPTIM-EYEZ

Which link building tactic (or tactics) you believe to be the most effective?

I've always said the same! RELATIONSHIPS.

If you build solid relationships, everything else flows ... Including backlinks.

Thereafter, producing remarkable content (that truly stands out) and thoroughly distributing this content is a surefire way to gain even more links.

Rather than thinking of these actions as link building tactics, they should be embedded in everything you do on a permanent basis.

Could you share a recent interesting case of a link building campaign?

My answer here ties in with the above!

On OPTIM-EYEZ, I've never pursued any link building in the entire 2 years since its launch — yet the growth of my personal brand (forged by helping others and producing robust external content) has been a mighty driving force for backlinks.

Despite only having a couple of older blog posts on my own website, I'm linked to from a variety of highly reputable domains like Shopify, Content Marketing Institute, Onalytica, Hootsuite, Alexa, and Moz.

Here are some metrics for you:

And remember, that's in just 2 years of not link building!

To summarise?

Build genuine relationships (and your industry network) first. The rest will follow…

Alexandra Tachalova
Digital Marketing Consultant, founder of DigitalOlympus.

Which link building tactic (or tactics) you believe to be the most effective?

We're building a good number of links per month, and we use email outreach to do so. We've learned to shift our logic about how we do link prospecting, and we've found that we can increase our chances to acquire a link by sending fewer emails. In a traditional email outreach approach, you connect with people who produce content similar to yours. That makes sense, but it doesn't guarantee that you'll get a link. We've found that the main reason people link to each other is that they know those people and trust them.

Trust is something you can't build with a few emails, so our workaround is to send emails only to people who are aware of our client's brand and write relevant content. We start by checking established connections like SMM followers, partners, leads, clients, and so on.

Could you share a recent interesting case of a link building campaign?

We have one client in the digital marketing niche for whom we're building links to commercial pages. That's quite a tricky process, and it's only doable if you have extremely good relationships with those you're partnering with on the link building side. Generally, I would recommend getting those links from round-up posts since you can decide to what kind of page you want to link (e.g. to a homepage or any other page).

Circling back to our client story, we were able to build 10-15 links to our client over a few months. Recently, he sent us an email in which he told that we boosted his organic traffic by more than 20% compared to the previous year, based on our links alone.

Adam Connell
SEO, Marketer and Content Strategist. Founder of Blogging Wizard

Which link building tactic (or tactics) do you believe are the most effective?

The most effective depends on your goals but one of my favorite tactics is to build strategic partnerships.

Here's how it works:

You develop relationships with other site owners & editors in your niche. You're looking for people who meet these criteria:

  1. They are actively building links
  2. They are not competing on your main keywords
  3. They publish content you'd naturally want to link to (nobody wants to link to garbage content)

Once you start a new partnership, you simply drop each other links when there is a relevant opportunity (the link needs to make sense and add value for readers). If you and your partners are running guest blogging campaigns, for example, you can potentially end up with 2-3x the links.

The hard part is finding potential partners. A good place to start is networking groups but you may find that by visiting other sites in your niche, you can get an idea for who is publishing a lot of guest posts — these will be the people to connect with.

Could you share a recent interesting case of a link building campaign?

While I don't have a full case study to share, I can offer some results I've been seeing from strategic partnerships so far this year.

I'm writing this towards the middle of August 2019, and so far I've received links from 50+ referring domains thanks to this strategy. Sure, that's less than 10/month but those links have been effortless to get. Most are on sites that I probably wouldn't have contributed content to.

Considering that I haven't worked on new partnerships for a few months now, I'm happy with the results.

The downside to this tactic is that it's difficult to scale. I like to think of it as more an "icing on the cake" type of strategy. And ultimately, any link building campaign should use a combination of tactics.

John Doherty
CEO of Credo

Which link building tactic (or tactics) do you believe are the most effective?

The most effective link building tactic for us has been industry-defining content coupled with PR-level outreach, which of course is usually called content marketing. This works well because it accomplishes the dual goal of building links back to the site as well as building the brand name as an authority in the space. This is also effective for the business because you are then able to take referral traffic and convert them into top of funnel leads (if B2B) as well as using that piece of content as a second-tier link target that then links to the conversion-oriented pages you are trying to rank to capture customers lower in the conversion funnel.

Could you share a recent interesting case of a link building campaign?

My favorite link building campaigns are stunts or breaking news done by a brand. A good interesting example of breaking news content is Homes.com's recent piece on Megan Markle's LA home being for sale. Within hours of publishing, they earned links from (according to Ahrefs) authoritative sites like Cosmopolitan.com, Refinery29.com, Marie Claire AU, and many more. I've seen this done many times by real estate and other brands, writing news that is in keeping with their brand, and it almost always delivers great relevant links.

Leverage the quality and traffic of the referring websites

There's no secret that Google values quality above quantity when it comes to backlinks. We may define a quality backlink as one coming from a quality website relevant to your niche.

It's quite clear what relevance is. As for quality, you need to take into account not only the authority of a webpage but also the traffic it gets.

The takeaway: Consider having backlinks from quality webpages that get a stable traffic flow.

Debra Mastaler
Digital Marketing, Content Marketing, and Link building Consultant, founder of Keytooles

Which link building tactic (or tactics) you believe to be the most effective?

From my experience, it doesn't matter what link building tactic you use, it matters where you do it.

If you're focused on rankings, links are only effective if they sit on pages that rank well and are topically focused on your goal. That wonderful piece of content you've written? If it's hosted on a page buried in the search results, it will not:

  • Benefit algorithmically.
  • Receive clicks.
  • Experience shares.
  • Be seen!

Why? The link isn't the deciding factor, the page is. The page carries the weight, the page passes the weight (through the link) and the page is what attracts people. The link is simply a piece of coded string that connects pages, even anchor text is not effective unless it sits on the right pages.

Find sites/pages where you'll benefit from click-through, algorithm, and human-interest perspectives, then figure out a way to get your links on them.

Could you share a recent interesting case of a link building campaign?

I can't share specific campaigns, but I am happy to share a path I take with every link building campaign I take on.

It goes back to what I said earlier: "it doesn't matter what you do, it matters where you do it".

I work with a lot of in-house SEO teams; they call me in when they need fresh ideas and tactics. Creating and distributing content is still the number one way of attracting links but after a while, the links slow down forcing teams to look for new ideas. This is usually where they get stuck.

When this happens, I recommend going back to basics and looking at root search results.

Why? When I search on Google for a single term, Google tells me which pages they place algorithmic strength behind. It's up to me to figure out why and how to take advantage of them.

Ever watched cop shows like CSI or NCIS and noticed how they go back to the beginning any time they hit a brick wall? Link building is the same, use the most basic term(s) and draw connections between the SERPs returned for them. Once you see patterns, you'll be able to find new sources and ways to attract links.

Matt Diggity
SEO Consultant, founder of Diggity Marketing

Which link building tactic (or tactics) you believe to be the most effective?

Outreaching to websites that rank themselves in Google and have their own organic traffic. Google has said on multiple occasions that they have the ability to ignore links. So it can be quite possible that the link that took you a few weeks to land is actually from a site that Google lost their trust for. The metrics looked ok, but it's not up to the 3rd party tools to decide if a link is good. It's up to Google.

Google is very stingy with their rankings. A study by Ahrefs showed that only 9% of the web has traffic.

If Google is ok with ranking a website, of course, they're ok with its outbound links.

That's one logical way to ensure you're getting by this filter.

Could you share a recent interesting case of a link building campaign?

We're getting a lot of value out of mimicking the SERP and making our backlink profiles blend in (and outperforming) the average of the other fellas at the top of page 1.

On one health authority site, in particular, we've got tremendous rapid gains from looking at things like:

  • How many homepage vs inner page links do the competitors have?
  • How aggressive are their anchor text ratios?
  • What link types are they getting?
  • Etc.

Once we determine the niche average, we follow suit, but we do it better with better quality links and more of them.

Andy Drinkwater
UK-based SEO consultant, iQSEO

Which link building tactic (or tactics) you believe to be the most effective?

There are many ways to build links and depending on the niche, requirements, and budget but what I am finding works well at the moment are niche edits, sometimes known as aged links or link insertions.

The beauty about this is that you can find content on just about any topic and generally, the site is also a close match so you can end up with a link from a well-targeted page.

As with everything, research is key so you want to make sure you are getting links from sites that actually do get traffic. This can make a big difference to the value of the link.

Leverage quick wins

Some link building tactics may require less time and effort investment than others. At the same time, they can bring great and quick results. This makes them a great solution at the beginning of a link building campaign. Think about the removed pages that might have had backlinks or linkless brand mentions. With little effort and almost guaranteed results, the tactic looks super-efficient.

The takeaway: Look first at link opportunities that may turn into quick wins.

Robbie Richards
Marketing Director, Speaker, Blogger at Robbierichards.com

Which link building tactic (or tactics) do you believe are the most effective?

I always like to start my link building campaigns with quick wins. i.e. strategies that generate the highest quality links for minimal effort. And since I work mostly with established brands, the three tactics that deliver the quickest are:

  1. 404 link reclamation: Find all the 404 pages on your site that have backlinks pointing to them. If the links are relevant, 301 redirect the page to an appropriate live destination URL to channel the link equity.
  2. Unlinked mentions: This one works very well for larger brands that receive a lot of PR. Basically, you find all the brand mentions that are not linking back to the website. The key here is in the outreach. While it is relatively easy to get the link, you need to customize the outreach script so that you explicitly call out the excerpt where you are mentioned, and propose the best possible link to be added. The second piece of that statement is key because you can recommend deep links to high-value pages.
  3. Internal links from power pages: So many people neglect this simple strategy. Basically, identify the highest authority pages on your domain, and then add exact and partial match anchors from them back to your latest/ most important content.

These three strategies can be executed extremely quickly, and deliver some big links right out of the gate. If you want to dive deeper, I cover how to execute each of these, as well as 16 other link building strategies in this guide.

Could you share a recent interesting case of a link building campaign?

I recently delivered a link building campaign for a client that had a good number of unlinked mentions. I was able to get 18 backlinks from 94 prospects. The average domain rating of those links was ~64, and most of them ended up pointing to valuable program pages on the client's site.

Leverage consistent growth and avoid all things shady

Link building is a continuous process that requires a well-reasoned approach. As you know, some links may do more harm than good. At least, Google won't take them into account. But in some cases, you'll have to deal with a penalty. So, grow your backlink profile step-by-step, thinking over each link opportunity. Stable growth is valued more than an upsurge and slackness.

The takeaway: Strive to grow your backlink profile stably. Avoid doubtful tactics.

Steven Kang
SEO Consultant, founder of SEO Signals Lab

Which link building tactic (or tactics) do you believe are the most effective?

Links are an important part of SEO signals diet in 2019 and as you move toward a competitive term, you need a strong off-page presence in order to outdo the competition. It's not speculation and it's a requirement. I've recently pushed a brand's money keyword with over 200k monthly search volume which is worth millions of dollars in sales to #1 position on Google and I attribute the campaign's success to the following factors. While the brand's core SEO team worked on content and internal linking, I was assigned to work on off-page SEO.

  1. Sites with Traffic — One of my favorite criteria is to look for sites with real traffic. Although not all links on high traffic sites have link juice, you are counting on the probabilities of other traffic pages passing the link juice to the page with your link on it.
  2. Avoid Manufactured Links Such as PBN or Money Robot — Based on many years of observations, private blog network links and manufactured links lose their power over time as they are built on dead sites. I've avoided all of them for the SEO campaign mentioned above.
  3. Consistency Matters — There was a strong correlation between the rate of links getting indexed vs the overall upward movement. Some can argue against link velocity and I have no issue with that. I do, however, vouch for the overall signals velocity which involves content and links and they collectively matter 100%.
  4. Focus on Contextual Links for Both Internal and External Linking — There is strong evidence that Google looks at the text surrounding an anchor.

Although link building effort isn't quantifiable in a granular way, before and after the result was undeniable evidence that a link building effort should be included in all SEO campaigns which involve competitive terms.

Conclusion

In SEO and digital marketing, learning from what already works is one of the universal truths. Of course, as there is no one recipe for all, something that worked for one industry may not work for another. However, the possibility to learn from real-life cases is precious. I hope you'll find some of the above link building tactics try-worthy (as they already proved to work well).


By: Volha Belakurskaya