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Link Building Made Easy: A Step-by-Step Guide

Link building used to be about having a healthy balance of internal and external links within your website.

Not anymore.

Google now considers not just the quantity of links in your web content but also their quality. This is tied to its mission of providing its users with information that’s relevant and reliable.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • why link building is vital for improving your content’s search rankings;
  • how to overcome the common challenges faced by content marketers when building links, and
  • the strategies and best practices you should be using.

About the Author

Kevin Payne, Growth & Content Marketing Consultant

Kevin Payne is a content marketing consultant that helps software and ecommerce companies implement content marketing campaigns to increase their inbound leads.

 

He considers himself a lifelong learner that shares actionable insights by contributing content to publications such as HubSpot and many more (he’s been featured in 75+ online publications).

 

With over 5 years of professional experience, he’s worked in-house at software and ecommerce companies in both D.C. & San Francisco. One of which he helped increase their website traffic from 365K to over 550K within a 1 year time period.

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Chapter 1

Link Building Fundamentals

Before we get into the nitty-gritty part, you’ll first need to understand a few basic concepts.

What is Link Building?

Link building is how you create and acquire hyperlinks (or simply links) to your website.

 

There are essentially two types of links that make up a link building strategy.

Internal Links

An internal link is any hyperlink that takes people from one page of your website to another.

 

Your website’s navigation bar is a perfect example of internal links. For instance, if someone clicks on How It Works in my site’s navigation bar, it takes them to the page on my website that details how my business’ services work.

 

Internal links can also be found within blog posts and articles. Below is a section of an article I’ve recently published here where I’ve included an internal link.

When someone reading this article, it takes them to this other article I’ve written and published on my site:

External Links

Also called backlinks, these connect content published from another website to a page or article posted on your site.

 

One example of this is this link in an author bio of a guest post I contributed to Influence&Co.

This link will take the readers of this guest post to my website.

 

And that’s why building backlinks is essential to any link building strategy: it helps you drive more qualified traffic to your website.

Why Should You Build Links for Your Website

Organize Your Website’s Content

How your website’s content’s organized can significantly impact your user experience and your website’s search rankings in the long run.

 

Search engine bots are scouring the Internet to find and index new content as you’re reading this. They do this by following links on previously published content like a web page or blog post.

Improve User Experience

Through link building, you can map out your website’s content, making it easier for your visitors to find the information they’re looking for. The same thing goes for Google and other search engine bots.

 

Also, Google recently announced that it’d be rolling out its Page Experience algorithm update by the middle of June 2021. Among the factors that will now play an integral role in how Google will rank websites will be your visitors’ overall user experience.

Boost Search Rankings

Backlinks are one of the critical factors Google considers when ranking websites on their SERPs. Websites that rank #1 in Google’s search results has nearly 4x more backlinks than other websites listed on Google’s SERPs.

When several websites link back to one of your articles, ebooks, or web pages, Google sees this piece of content as highly credible and trustworthy and rewards you with higher search rankings.

Build Your Online Reputation

When you link relevant articles you’ve published to each other, you’re allowing your visitors to keep on consuming your content while learning more about the topic they’re interested in.

 

Eventually, Google will take notice and equate this to the quality of the content you’re publishing. As a result, Google will reward you with higher search rankings, especially when those websites linking back to your website are considered reputable authorities within your industry.

Chapter 2

Link Building Challenges

Link building sounds easy at first. That is until you start doing it.

 

This section will teach you the common link building challenges that businesses across all sectors need to overcome.

Scalability

To grow your business, you’ll need to be able to automate your workflows, delegate tasks, and even outsource specific processes.

 

Unfortunately, you can’t do any of these with link building, especially when building backlinks to your website.

 

The reason: Google puts more emphasis on the quality of the backlinks your content’s getting over the quantity. Neil Patel and his team discovered this when they tested the effects one backlink from a high domain authority website will have on a website’s search rankings.

Of course, these authoritative websites won’t just link to any content they find online. For them, only content oozing with substance and packed with helpful information will do. 

Changes in Google’s Algorithm

Many of the recent Google Algorithm updates have significantly changed many of the SEO best practices you’ve grown accustomed to using, including your link building strategy.

 

A perfect example of this was when Google released two new link attributes in 2019 for external links included in guest posts and sponsored posts.

 

Although these new link attributes aren’t as harsh as the “no follow” link attribute, it does give Google the final say on whether or not it’ll consider your backlink in a specific guest post when they rank your website.

Proving Your Link Building Strategy ROI

Although link building does provide your business with a host of benefits, it can still be tough to get your boss to buy into this. That’s because it can be challenging to calculate and track its ROI.

 

There’s no particular metric that clearly shows the direct effects link building has on your business’ bottom line, for starters.

 

Second, other factors can affect your ability to drive qualified traffic to your website so you can convert them into leads.

 

Finally, building backlinks is an off-page SEO technique. As such, you have no way of knowing how they’ll perform.

Chapter 3

Building Internal Links with Topic Clusters

Earlier, I mentioned that organizing your content can help you build internal links in your website and improve its user experience.

 

In this section, we’ll discuss the Topic Cluster model, which is, by far, the most effective way to achieve this.

What is the Topic Cluster Model?

The Topic Cluster Model is a content organization strategy promoted by Hubspot in 2016. It’s called such because it groups all the content on your website into topics rather than keywords.

 

Why?

 

Because over time, your content may compete with each other for rankings.

 

Focusing on topics also minimizes the chance that you’ll be publishing duplicate content on your website. This is important since Google penalizes duplicate content and can significantly affect your site rankings.

 

Three key components make up a topic cluster:

  • Pillar Page. This is long-form content (at least 3,000 words) and discusses everything about a specific topic at a high level.
  • Content Clusters. These are shorter pieces of content that provide more in-depth information on a subtopic mentioned in the Pillar Page.
  • These link your content clusters to your pillar page and vice versa. They also connect related content from your website from one cluster to another.

Source: Hubspot

How to Apply the Topic Cluster Model to Your Content

1. Audit Your Existing Content

A content audit involves reviewing all the content you’ve already published and scheduled to publish on your website and social media channels.

 

Think of auditing your content like spring cleaning your garage. So, yes, there will be a part in the content audit process that will involve deleting some (or a lot) of your previously published content.

 

The thought of purging content you and your team worked so hard on can be enough to turn your insides. But, as Ahrefs’ Sam Oh explains in the video below, it’s going to do good for your site’s overall health long-term.

 

 

2. Group Your Existing Content into Topics and Subtopics

Now that you have cleaned up your web content, it’s time to start creating your topic clusters.

 

I found that using Hubspot’s content strategy tool is the most efficient way to do this.

Source: Hubspot

For starters, it allows you to group your content and give you a visual representation of how each topic cluster looks like.

 

If you’re hosting your blog on Hubspot, it also helps speed up the process by helping you search and add to the cluster.

 

More importantly, it shows how many searches are done for a particular topic or subtopic.

 

Alternatively, you can create this as well by using a mind mapping tool like XMind or MindMeister.

 

Perhaps the most challenging part of this step is determining what qualifies as a topic and subtopic.

 

As a rule of thumb, topics should be broad enough so that you won’t run out of content ideas. It also should be narrow enough to avoid spreading you and your team too thin.

3. Identify Content Gaps

Content gap analysis is about identifying what content you and your team should create to strengthen your topic clusters further.

 

One effective way of doing this is to create a survey using a tool like Typeform or SurveyMonkey and then send this out to your email list like what SmartInsights did.

But what if your business doesn’t have an email list?

 

You can use Ahrefs or Buzzsumo to find what content topics and types resonate with your target audience and publish content similar to these.

4. Research Your Keywords

Yes! Keywords still play a vital role in topic clusters because people still use keywords when searching for information or products online.

 

That said, you need to ensure that you’re using the right keywords in your content, increasing your chances to land on the first page of Google’s search results.

 

Long-tail keywords – those that contain three or more words – are the best to use.

 

One reason is that it’s more specific than root keywords, which are usually made up of 1-2 words. This is why 93% of online searches are done using long-tail keywords. 

 

And although the monthly volume traffic of long-tail keywords is significantly lower than root keywords, they’re more specific, so it’ll be easier for you to convert them into customers.

 

Questions are another set of must-have keywords to include in your keyword list for two reasons.

 

First, they’re highly targeted, further increasing the relevance of your content to a search done on Google.

 

The second reason has to do with the rise of voice search. 71% of people in the US prefer to use voice search because it’s easier and faster than typing it out. And the most common way they search for information using voice is by asking a question.

 

Answer the Public is perfect for this. It lists the questions most commonly used by people searching for information about a specific keyword.

 

For example, here are the questions it generated when I used the keyword “link building.”

Another place to find questions to add to your keyword list is the People Also Ask section on Google’s search results.

5. Create an Editorial Calendar to Fill in the Gaps

Whether you’re running your business solo or have a dedicated marketing team to create your content, you need to have an editorial calendar. This shows you what topics you’ve already covered. It’ll also prevent members of your team from creating duplicate content.

 

You can create your editorial calendar in a Google Sheet or using a Project Management tool like Asana, Trello, or Plutio.

Source: Asana

Chapter 4

Good vs. Bad Backlinks

Not all backlinks are created equal. If you’re not careful, you risk Google penalizing your website and losing your credibility with your audience.

 

That’s why in this section, you’ll learn how to tell the difference between a good backlink from a bad backlink.  You’ll also learn tips on how to make sure that you consistently build the right backlinks.

Black Hat Link Building

Black hat link building is a system of tactics aimed to try and outsmart Google and other search engine algorithms to increase their site rankings. Examples of these include keyword stuffing, cloaking, hidden text or links, and spamming blog comments.

 

Although these tactics may produce results, the benefits are short-lived. Sooner or later, Google will find out. When it does, your website can get penalized or even banned from being shown in its search results.

What Makes a Good Backlink

On the other hand, a good backlink will help boost your site’s rankings and online reputation.

 

When choosing sites to build your backlinks, consider the following:

Page Authority

Page Authority (PA) is a metric introduced by Moz that measures the authority level of a single page on your website. As such, you’ll need to install the MozBar Google Chrome extension to check this.

 

Once you’ve installed it, you can view a web page’s PA score under each Google search like this:

You can also view this at the top of the web page you’re visiting.

Domain Authority (DA)

Another metric popularized by Moz that measures the authority of your entire website.

 

There are several ways you can check a website’s DA score. The first is to use Moz’s Link Explorer tool to check a site’s DA score.

As you can see, the Link Explorer tool gives you the site’s DA score and how many inbound links it has, and how many keywords the site’s ranking for.

 

It’ll also give you insight into how many domains link to this site. This serves as a benchmark of whether or not this is an excellent site to add to your list.

 

This video from Moz explains the difference between a website’s PA and DA score and when to check which metric.

Several factors contribute to a website’s DA score. The most influential is how well the site’s been optimized. That’s the reason why a website with a high domain authority would rank higher on Google’s SERP compared to those that don’t.

Site Relevance

As you may have guessed, site relevance refers to how closely related the website is to your own.

 

This makes perfect sense. After all, you’d want to be sure that the traffic your backlink will drive to your website is going to be made of people you can convert into customers.

 

Choosing sites relevant to yours to reach out to during your link building outreach efforts also increases the likelihood that they’ll say ‘yes’ to your request.

 

Just like you, these site owners would want to ensure that they’re providing their visitors with information that’s both helpful and valuable. When you can convince these site owners to add more value to their content, they’d be more willing to add your link to their site.

Editorial Links

Editorial links are links a website gets by posting valuable and original content, which they don’t ask for.

 

Of the different factors to consider, this is perhaps the best one to watch out for because it tells you a lot about the reputation this website has within your industry. So, getting a backlink here would help you build your brand’s reputation and position you as an authority in your industry.

Link Anchor Text

This refers to the visible words used by sites when adding a link into their content.

 

Ideally, the link anchor text should describe the article being linked and also includes targeted keywords.

 

Take this article I published in my other blog, for example:

The link anchor text in this section is “Pomodoro Technique.” I chose this anchor text for two reasons:

 

First, the anchor text describes what the article I linked to here is all about:

Screenshot taken from Francesco Cirillo’s website, the person who developed the Pomodoro Technique.

Second, the anchor text I used is the keyword phrase that this site is targeting (judging from the site itself).

Link Co-Occurrences

Link co-occurrences refer to the words and phrases that come before and after the link anchor text. It’s sometimes called the secondary anchor text because they’re supposed to give more context to the link being included within the article.

Chapter 5

How to Build Quality Links with Content Marketing

One of the most popular marketing strategies used today, content marketing focuses on consistently publishing high-quality content that’s helpful to your target audience. Its goal is to provide your target audience with the information they’re looking for so that they’d eventually decide to become your customer.

 

For this very reason, content marketing is one of the most effective ways to build quality internal and external links for your website.

 

The key here is to ensure that the content you publish is appealing to your target audience and Google.

 

Here are some suggestions:

1. List Posts

Of the different content types published, this is still the most widely used. And for good reason.

 

List posts make your content easy for your site visitors to scan and skim your content. This is crucial since studies have consistently shown that people scan—not read—online content, as these heatmaps show.

Another reason is that list posts are one of the top content formats used in Featured Snippets.

These days, getting your content featured in Google’s Featured Snippets is far more important than ranking for the #1 slot in organic rankings. In fact, 37% of featured snippets displayed by Google are either bulleted or numbered lists.

 

Why?

 

Because featured snippets are listed at the topmost part of Google’s SERPs, featured snippets are often called the zero position on Google’s SERPs.

2. Infographics

Infographics are another type of content to include in both your content marketing and link building strategies.

 

If you don’t know what infographics are, they’re a type of content that presents facts, figures, and other information visually.

Source: Visme

This makes infographics extremely effective: Even the most technical and complex topics become easier to understand. That’s why 65% of B2B businesses incorporate this into their content marketing strategy.

 

When creating an infographic to publish, the challenge is that you need to find that “perfect” balance between text and graphics. Even though many infographic-making platforms come with templates to help you get started, you’ll need to have a good eye for design to complete it.

 

It’s for this very reason why infographics are highly effective to use in your link building strategy, particularly when it comes to building backlinks. Content editors are more willing to give a backlink to your site when you reach out to them about the infographic you’ve recently published.

3. Original Research and Data

Just like with creating infographics, publishing original research you’ve conducted is exceptionally tedious. After all, not all businesses have the resources to allocate to do this.

 

However, the rewards you’ll get in building quality backlinks for your website will make this all worthwhile. On top of that, publishing original research as an industry report helps position you and your brand as reputable experts in your industry.

 

This is why Michael Stelzner, of Social Media Examiner, decided to publish its Social Media Marketing Industry Report.

 

In an interview with Experian, Stelzner explained two reasons he decided to publish the Social Media Marketing Industry Report. First, he wanted to build Social Media Examiner’s email list. The second was to give business owners and marketers the data they need to decide which social media channels to use and incorporate them into their overall marketing strategy.

 

Because the insights shared in this report were so helpful, it wasn’t long before other websites began to use the data shared in this report in their own content.

 

Convince and Convert, for example, gave Social Media Examiner multiple do-follow backlinks in this article and even encouraged its readers to download the report.

Others, like A.List, would use the data published in this report and use it as a reference in the reports they publish. As you can see, the author also gave Social Media Examiner another backlink.

Source: A.List

It’s no wonder why 47% of marketers are now publishing reports based on original research as part of their content strategy.

4. In-Depth Guides

An in-depth guide is a comprehensive resource that covers everything that your target audience wants to know.

 

There are three reasons why an in-depth guide is great content to use for your link building strategy.

  • Work like original research reports. Since in-depth guides are incredibly comprehensive, many sites would often use these as references for their articles and blog posts, helping you build quality backlinks.
  • They are evergreen. You don’t need to write a brand-new guide each year on the same topic. Instead, you can just update this so that it stays current.

They give actionable tips. More than answering the “what’s” and “why’s,” in-depth guides teach you how to do it. You can try out the steps alongside it.

Chapter 6

Using Blogger Outreach for Link Building

Publishing awesome content on your website is only half of the link building equation. You’ll also need to actively promote your content, ensure the right people will read it, and include a backlink for your site in their content.

 

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done because of the overwhelming amount of content being published online.

 

This infographic from Smart Insights gives you a proper perspective on just how much content’s published right now.

Source: Smart Insights

If you want to get the results you expect, you’ll need to get your content in front of the right people. This strategy is called Blogger Outreach.

 

That’s what you’ll learn in this chapter. But first…

A Better Understanding of Blogger Outreach

As its name suggests, blogger outreach is a process of reaching out to bloggers and promoting your recently published content by posting about it on their social media accounts, adding this as a reference in one of their articles, or both.

The Easy Way to Launch a Blogger Outreach Campaign

There are several ways on how you can launch a blogger outreach campaign. Some do it the long way, which involves researching different websites, finding the person to reach out to, and then emailing them one by one.

 

Others prefer hiring a freelancer to do the task.

 

In my case, I use a tool called Postaga to plan and launch my blogger outreach campaigns.

 

I chose this tool because it allows me to automate many parts of the blogger outreach campaign process based on your goals.

It also allows you to set parameters like the topic and where the website’s HQ is based and list potential people to contact and their email addresses.

But perhaps the best part about Postaga is that it allows you to set up email drip campaigns for your blogger outreach, which you can then choose to start immediately after identifying which sites to reach out to or at a specific time and date.

This is an excellent feature because you don’t have to worry about following up with these sites on time.

Chapter 7

Using Guest Blogging for Link Building

If there’s one link building strategy I’d say is my favorite, it’ll have to be guest blogging.

 

That’s because it gives you a host of other benefits on top of getting to build quality backlinks for your site. These include:

  • establishing yourself as an industry expert;
  • reaching a wider audience, and
  • getting more qualified leads you can convert into customers.

 

In this chapter, you’ll learn the exact steps I did to make this happen so that you can also apply them to your business.

Step 1: Find Relevant Sites to Target

When looking for sites to pitch your guest post idea, it’s crucial that you choose those that feature topics that are relevant to your business.

 

For one, it’ll be easier to get the editors to accept your pitch. Another is that it’ll be easier for you to link one of your content within the article to look forced or promotional. Editors hate that!

 

More importantly, choosing sites that discuss similar topics to what you write about in your blog will drive quality traffic back to your site. As a result, you increase the number of visitors to convert into leads and, eventually, into customers.

 

There are two methods you can use to look for these potential sites. The first one is by searching for them in Google.

 

You’ll be surprised how many sites you can find within your industry that are happy to accept articles from outside contributors. The key to finding them is by using the right keywords for your search queries.

 

Here are the ones I frequently use:

  • “write for us” + [topic]
  • “guest post guidelines” + [topic]
  • “contibutor guidelines” + [topic]
  • “editorial guidelines” + [topic]

 

For example, if I were to look for sites accepting guest posts on content marketing, it’ll look something like this:

The second method I use is to spy on my competitors. That’s because the fact that my competitors are actively submitting guest posts on these sites tells me that those reading their articles match my buyer persona.

 

To find what these sites are, I run a search using one of my competitors using Moz’s Open Site Explorer.

 

Here’s one example of a search I did to find sites that accept guest posts about SEO:

What’s great about this tool is that you can quickly download all the potential sites as a CSV file you can save into your laptop or cloud drive.

 

When choosing sites to include in your list, don’t go for those with high domain ratings if you’re just starting. Instead, go for those sites with a lower DA score first.

 

This will help you start building your credibility. It’ll also serve as examples that you can showcase to these high-domain sites about the quality of the content you can deliver.

Step 2: Build a Relationship

Most marketers will skip this step. Not me. In fact, I consider this as one of the most critical steps in guest blogging.

 

Here’s why:

 

You’re not the only one pitching a guest post to a specific site. There are hundreds of others that have the same idea.

 

By building a relationship with the site you’re planning to submit a guest post to, you’re slowly introducing yourself to the site owner and editor, and you’re genuinely reading their articles.

 

So when you send them an email to pitch your guest post, they already know who you are and will be more willing to accept your pitch.

 

Here are some suggestions:

  • Connect with them on LinkedIn
  • Share their article with your social media followers
  • Leave well-thought-out comments on their articles and social media posts
  • Email them that you’ve featured them or one of their articles in your blog.

 

This was precisely what I did when I first reached out to Jaime Turner of the 60 Second Marketer back in 2016. We built a strong business relationship, and he became (and still is) one of my mentors.

 

So, when I reached out to him to submit a guest post for his site, he quickly said “yes” and published it within a week.

Step 3: Identify the Person to Contact

Each time I choose a potential site to reach out to and submit a guest post, I’d take the time to find one person in the company that’ll serve as my point of contact. Doing this helps minimize the chances of my email getting buried in the inbox.

 

Ideally, you’d want to reach out to someone holding any of the following positions:

  • Editor-in-Chief
  • Editor
  • Content Manager
  • SEO Manager

 

These are the people actively involved with the site’s content marketing strategy. So, they’ll be in the best position to decide whether or not they’ll be publishing your guest post.

 

You can find them when you click on the People link on their LinkedIn Company page.

Step 4: Find Their Email Address

This part is tricky since people don’t usually make their emails public information.

 

To find their email, you can use an email verifier tool like Skrapp.io’s Chrome extension. This will allow you to see their email address while you’re on their LinkedIn page.

Step 5: Send Them a Personalized Email

Editors can quickly tell if you’re sending them a template email pitching your guest post idea. Often, this is enough for editors to hit the Delete button after opening your email.

 

That’s why personalization is essential when emailing your pitch to the sites you want to contribute to. It shows you took the time to write the email and understand the content they publish and their target audience.

Step 6: Promote Your Guest Post

You’ve finally got your first guest post published. Congratulations!

 

But the work isn’t finished. You’ll also need to make sure that you promote your guest post. Doing this will ensure that more people will read the guest post you’ve worked so hard on and may even encourage the editors to invite you to write for them again.

 

Sharing the guest post on social media is one of the most common ways guest bloggers will share their recently published content. Just make sure that you tag the site and your point of contact in your social media posts. That way, they’ll see that you’re doing your part in promoting their site and content.

Chapter 8

The Skyscraper Technique

Developed by Brian Dean of Backlinko, the Skyscraper Technique has been one of the most effective methods I used to create content that I publish on my websites.

How to Use the Skyscraper Technique

1. Find Relevant Sites with Broken Links

Broken links are those that lead visitors to an error page. This appears when you reference an article that has since been moved or deleted by the site owner.

 

Ahrefs’ Broken Link Checker is a great tool to find articles that include broken links.

2. Publish a Content Packed with Information

If you don’t have an article or guide published that you can offer to replace the one that’s now a broken link, now’s the best time to do so.

 

The paragraph where the broken link’s located will give you some clue on what type of content it was. You can also check out their other articles to get some ideas.

 

What’s important here is ensuring that the content you’ll be offering will be better than the one they used.

3. Email the Site Owner about the Broken Link

Just like with your guest post pitch email, the email you need to make sure that it’s personalized and highlights why your content will make an excellent replacement to the broken link in their content.

 

Also, make sure that you don’t impose anything on the site owner. Instead, simply offer your content as a replacement and suggest using it to replace the broken link.

 

If the site owner says “yes,” great!

 

If not, thank the site owner, be gracious and still thank the site owner. At least they took the time to read your content.

 

Better yet, you can use this opportunity to get feedback from the site owner so that you can further improve your content. This can help open the door to you building a relationship with them that could lead to a possible guest post contribution in the future.

The Next Step

Link building is just like playing chess: It’s easy to learn the basics, but it takes a lifetime to master.

 

In this guide, you’ve learned why having a link building strategy is essential to improving your search rankings, as well as the strategies I use to build quality backlinks for my websites.

 

As you can see, building quality links doesn’t happen overnight. It requires a lot of planning, dedication, and resources. But if you stay consistent, you’ll eventually get the results you’re expecting.

 

That is, of course, just one way to do it.

 

The other, more efficient way is to have someone help you through the link building process. Someone that’s gotten results in the past.

 

Someone like me.

 

For the past five years, I’ve helped software companies, eCommerce business owners, and marketing agencies build quality backlinks on some of the top publication sites like Hubspot, BlackEnterprise, and Crunchbase, to name a few.

 

If you’d want to know how to reach your link building goals while still focusing on the critical aspects of your business, click here to schedule a call with me.

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