Link Building, Explained: The Beginner’s Guide

There are two schools of thought when it comes to link building. The “wait, and it will come” approach or mining those links with an aggressive email outreach strategy. You can do you, but know that websites with plenty of good links are considered authority sites, while websites that have none fade away into nothingness.

What is Link Building?

A link-building campaign is the sustained establishment of links to, and getting return links, known as backlinks, from quality sites to help build your website’s reputation. In this step-by-step beginner’s guide, we will explain how this practice helps build your backlink profile, web page authority, search engine optimization (SEO), and will provide referral traffic from those websites, increasing your visibility, driving organic traffic, and increasing conversions.

Why is Link Building Important?

Good link-building strategies have never been more critical in digital marketing. Quality links to authority web pages are a content marketing strategy meant for long-term success. These high-quality links tell Google’s algorithm that you have high-quality content and should be placed higher in the search engine results pages or SERPs.  

How Can You Find High-Quality Links?

The holy grail of links is those gained organically, not deliberately. Other bloggers or journalists linking to your content create these links. You earn these links after you have already spent long hours building link-worthy sites. To help you identify those websites or web pages that are worth targeting for your backlinking strategy, there are different metrics you might consider.

Page Authority

Page authority is a metric developed by Moz that predicts how well a particular web page will do in the search engine rankings. The page authority metric has more influence on site-ranking factors than any other to date. Page authority score, or page rank, ranks the page from one to 100. A website with a higher score will pass on more “authority” to your page than a lower score. 

Site Authority

Site authority, better known as domain authority, uses machine learning predictions, qualitatively measuring the whole domain or sub-domains rather than a single web page. Domain authority becomes significant when you are trying to judge resilience over time. For example, maybe one single page is stellar and has the potential to score high from a page authority standpoint but the rest of the website is trash. Site authority tries to determine the entire body of work.

Site Relevancy

Site relevance is essential to your link-building strategy. It shows how relevant the linking website is to your own. When your linking partner’s content matches your own, it will help you achieve a better ranking.

Website Linking Structure

Your website’s linking structure is critical to your website’s success. A successful website will have a clearly defined link structure. Having an organized, well-defined link architecture to your homepage and pages site-wide enables Google and other search engines to easily and quickly crawl your site. If that structure is not there or poorly organized, search engines cannot discover your great content efficiently, and no one wants all their hard work in content creation to be lost because the search engine cannot find it.

On-Page Link Position

The real question here is: does the position of a link in a piece of content impact SEO? And the answer is: yes it does. Because web crawlers comb web pages from top to bottom, it’s important to strategically place links within your content to maximize the number of impressions and traffic you get from them.

There are “in-content” links or those that are found within the body of your content. These act as resources and citations for readers. There are content navigation links that are used to connect to a related article. For example, we wrote an article about SEO here, which is truly relevant to this overall conversation. Then, there are also site navigation links which are just easy shortcuts to other pages on your site.

Here are a few things to remember. The first link counts. This means that the same URL can be used in articles but only one link will be counted. Next, text links are better than image links. Also, try to link to high metric or “popular” pages. Lastly, place links high up in the article because, as we mentioned, search engines start at the top when they crawl pages.

Link Anchor Text

Anchor text linking has changed from the old idea that using the keyword in your anchor text creates a better ranking. This keyword-stuffing technique is gone and will hurt you. Today, anchor text uses a brand name or some conversational language to form the anchor. Throw your keywords around your brand, so Google notices these phrases connected to the brand.

Link Co-Occurrence

Co-occurrence is the frequency of keywords on a webpage and the relationship between them. The basic theory is that your website will gain ranking if it contains similar keywords to the authority website(s) you wish to rank against. These tactics will enhance the number of links you build and give you better ranking results.

Guest Post Linking

There are many benefits to guest post link building: you establish yourself as a thought leader in your field, build relationships with other influential leaders, and open your business up to a whole new target audience. Another good reason to link this way is that Google’s algorithm measures your linking strength by the number of quality domains that link to you! The more external links you have linked back to you, the better. But, the quality of those domains will determine how much advantage it passes on through those links. 

Dofollow vs. Nofollow

All websites should strive to build dofollow links to high-authority websites. Dofollow links pass along page rank signals, and nofollow links do not. If a website mentions your brand and has a nofollow link to your site, that is often a default setting. You can ask the linking party to change to a dofollow link. If their content was reflecting a high opinion regarding your company or service, chances are they will not have a problem with making this change. A tool like Ahrefs can help you locate these links on other websites.

How Content Marketing Helps Build Links

By now, you should have at least a basic idea of how content marketing can help you build links. There is no way around it. Link building is hard work, and there is no easy way to do it. The only surefire way to build quality links is to produce an amazing piece of content that is valuable to your target audience. 

Visual Content Marketing

A great link-building strategy would not be complete without a visual, content-linking strategy. A visual strategy includes content, such as: 

  • videos 
  • images
  • infographics 
  • gifs
  • memes
  • photos
  • virtual presentations 

To get the best result from backlinking with images, you will need to create images or infographics that people want to use on their websites. Another way to attract quality backlinks is to use links that provide the URL source of the image. For instance, photos from a resource page such as Pexels or Unsplash will attract backlinks. Images like graphs, charts, and maps are backlink magnets, so be sure to use these resources as well. 

Listicle Content Marketing

BuzzFeed is one website that popularized listicles. They’re fun and easy to scroll through, almost like a social media feed. Since there are multiple bullet points of content on the list, this increases the chances that something on there will appeal to a reader. Maybe it’s funny, interesting, or relatable which increases the likelihood that they will share it.

Other websites link back to listicles to support their own content. Take this piece from Investopedia titled, “Top 10 Most Expensive Cities in the US“. Not only is that interesting from a consumer standpoint, but it might be a relevant piece of content for a number of companies to use as support for their product or service. Maybe you’re a budgeting app that helps people save money. You might link to this Investopedia page and target people who live in New York City and San Francisco. That’s just one example of how Investopedia’s original listicle might attract external links.

Research and Data Content Marketing

Data and research marketing do amazing things for your SEO. Not only are you thought of as a leader in your field, your audience considers anything backed by research and data as high-value content. Yep, data is the one thing that can change an average everyday post into an exceptional piece worth sharing over and over. All this sharing will get you those free backlinks valued in SEO land.

Ultimate Guide Content Marketing

An ultimate guide is a fantastic way to get backlinks. It delves deep into a broad subject, creating an evergreen pillar piece that educates. High-authority websites will link to you, and you can request backlinks from companies or services that refer to you in their content. We wrote an ultimate guide on content marketing.

Using Email Outreach to Build Links

Almost all link-building exercises require using email outreach to cold contacts. It is all about nurturing relationships, so creating a pitch template that succeeds is the trick. The best way to start is to have content people want to link to. When you have that, pitch for guest posts or backlinks that add value to their readers. Do not be the mattress guy that tries to guest-post for links on a tech-based site for links. You will talk to the wrong audience, and there is little to no link juice value. 

What are “Likely Linkers”?

Likely linkers are those websites that have a commonality to yours. This makes them more “likely” to consider link opportunities with you. Finding these linkers is pretty easy. Pop your keyword phrase into the search bar. The results will give you possibilities, and you can use the Ahrefs backlink tool to further refine your search. You are looking for high-quality link exchanges, as we discussed in the How Can You Find High-Quality Links section. After that, it is a hunt for a legitimate email address. Yes, there are contact forms, but that usually ends in a big, black hole of nothingness because of spammers, so a legitimate email address is your best route.

How to Send Personalized Email for Link Building

When preparing your outreach email, put your best foot forward by knowing your webmaster’s name. Per Campaign Monitor, 74% of marketers today say that personalization increases engagement and sales by 20%. It can sometimes be challenging to find your target’s name. Look in places like the websites about or contact pages, do a Google search for “who owns X website,” or if that fails, sometimes you can get lucky by searching their website on WhoIs which will supply the owner’s name and contact info if it is not listed as private.

What is Black Hat Link Building?

Black Hat link building is a technique that is against search engines’ guidelines. Adversely, White Hat follows the rules of quality link building. Black Hat techniques try to con the algorithm into ranking the website higher than it should. While these techniques may get you lots of links in the short term, you take the risk of your website getting de-indexed or banned from the search engine. Here are some big no-nos:

  • buying or selling links
  • hacking a website to inject your link
  • creating private blog networks that link back to your site
  • using duplicate content

What is Google Penguin?

Released in 2012, Google Penguin combats Black Hat link-building techniques used to manipulate the quality, quantity, and nature of inbound links to a website. At its very essence, it weeds out low-quality, fake, and unnatural link-building tactics. An example of this would be the now-defunct web directories. 

What are Unnatural Links?

To best understand what unnatural links are, it helps to know what natural links are. So, natural links are links gained from others that you did not create yourself. Unnatural links are fraudulent links that exist solely to manipulate a webpage’s ranking. 

What is Broken Link Building?

Broken link building, also called unlinked or dead link building, is the practice of locating broken links that lead to the frustrating 404 page not found error page. Next, reach out to the website owner to replace that link with a working link to your website with similar content. So instead of asking the website owner to give you something for nothing, you approach this with an outreach email offering help. For instance, you offer a link to a course you have on the subject or a pillar post, such as an ultimate guide!

What is the Skyscraper Technique?

Created by Brian Dean of Backlinko, the Skyscraper Technique is all about improving upon existing content. It is a focused, systemic approach where you find the tallest “skyscraper” (best content) and then create content that adds more to it (additional stories or floors). Now, you have superior subject matter, and everyone wants to link with you!

  • Find a linkable asset that is doing well
  • Make it better and more thorough
  • Email outreach to webmasters that are already linking to similar content and request a link


The best link-building strategies are not for the faint of heart. It is a long and laborious process for those in it for the long haul. All these techniques described are stepping stones to reach that goal on the first page of the SERPs. Happy link building, we will see you on the first page of Google!