Backlinks, as everyone knows, are the primary ranking factor in the eyes of Google.

And if you look online, there is no shortage of experts, self-styled gurus, comment boards, and SEO specialists who have lists and infographics and ultimate guides on the best way to build backlinks.

And they’ve probably got it right. Infographics, ultimate guides, email outreach, resources list, broken links, list articles, topical roundups, the skyscraper technique, and more are just some of the plethora of ways to build links.

However, no human person, especially a small business owner, has both the time and expertise to implement all of these different strategies for building links. Just looking at some of these lists gives the reader target confusion—there are so many possible ways to go, that in the end, he or she simply does nothing. In the end, any of them will work, but it’s a matter of choosing one and devoting the time you’ve committed to spending on backlinks in an efficient manner.

That’s the point of this article: to break down a complex and convoluted topic (backlinking) into 3 good backlinking strategies which you can focus on so you don’t have to:

  • Second-guess whether you’ve chosen the best option for gaining backlinks
  • Wonder if your backlinking efforts will even work, or
  • Worry that your backlinking efforts will get your site penalized by Google.

You don’t have time to do any of that—now you can spend your time on effective, proven backlink strategies.

Two Parts of a Good Backlink Strategy: What and How

There are two parts to a good backlink strategy: “what” and “how.”

“What” is the piece of content (blog post, product or service page, ultimate guide, infographic, video, etc.) which you will use to get people to link to your domain.

“How” is the method by which you will communicate your offer (of the valuable content) to another site, pitching your content for a backlink.

Contrary to what some “black-hat SEO” practices suggest, there is NO WAY to get a (helpful) backlink without offering tons of value in return (i.e. a piece of content or service which is remarkable—literally, able to be talked about).

Short answer—you need to create a piece of content.

Here are three “whats” to focus on:

“What” Strategy #1: Ultimate Guides

fa-

Ultimate Guides

n. pieces of content which are the longest, most robust, most comprehensive piece of information on a particular topic on the internet

Ultimate Guides take tons of work. But they are valuable in the eyes of Google for several reasons:

  1. They have lots of words (Google likes that)
  2. People will cite it whenever they write about that topic (and give it a backlink)
  3. Backlinks to it will continue to grow (even years after it is completed)

Finding a topic that isn’t beaten to death might be difficult, but it will be worth it for the traffic and backlinks your website will receive. You don’t want to go too broad with the topic you cover, nor do you want to write on a topic which has been covered extensively.

A painter, for instance, might write an ultimate guide like this: The Definitive Guide on How To Clean a Paintbrush.

He can cover the different types of paint (oil-based, latex, etc.), the types of brushes (angled, flat, tapered, etc.), and even offer “insider” bonus tips like “How to dry out the paint brush after it’s clean” (roll it between your hands in a five gallon bucket) or “Paint brush-saving tips: keep the cardboard cover for storage” (so the bristles don’t get frayed).

Include tons of pictures, and a helpful, organized, outline, and you’re ready to publish.

“What” Strategy #2: Infographics

Infographics are powerful pieces of content that beg to be shared. Visual data has been shown to be 43% more persuasive than text, so by simply converting the important points you’re making in your article to visual representations, you’re increasing both the likelihood of getting your point across, as well as increasing the likelihood of someone sharing that information with people they know.

Now You Know!

Contrary to popular opinion, there is NO reputable source to back up the claim that individuals process visuals 60,000 times faster than text. However, it has been demonstrated that visual data is more persuasive to human beings.

What does this mean to a small business owner? It means, if you can create visuals to supplement your writing, then you will build more backlinks. Oftentimes, someone is willing do some work on their own before calling a professional—if you can show them with a visual aid how to do it, then they are likely to share that around. As always, choose a topic which hasn’t been extensively covered, and is specific enough to be coverable with minimal text, and represented with images.

For instance, if you’re a roofing company, then you can create a simple infographic detailing the 5 steps to inspecting your roof after a storm. If you’re a locksmith, you can include create an infographic with 5 ways to avoid losing your keys—people will share that information, because it’s:

  1. Easy to understand and process, and
  2. Helpful to someone in that predicament.

If you’re not visually talented or artistic (like me), there are websites specifically dedicated to creating infographics yourself (with pre-made templates), or pay someone else to do it for a small fee.

Places to Get Infographics Made
  • Venngage (Free Templates)
  • Canva (Free Templates, but more options with subscription)
  • Fivrr (Pay someone else to design it for you)

“What” Strategy #3: List Posts

I’m sure you’ve seen posts like these:

“Top 10 Ways to Grease a Wheel”

“The 13 Best Summer Vacation Spots”

“7 Types of Marketers You’ll Meet.”

Want to know why?

Because they’re easy to write, and easy to read.

BuzzSumo and Moz collaborated in the summer of 2015 on an analysis of the shares and links of over 1 million articles on the internet.

The results?

They found that list posts received among the highest numbers of “shares,” as well as among the highest numbers of backlinks. Now, people link to and share content for very different reasons (as the data in the report also suggests). However, list posts do both very well.

List posts are somewhat out of the ordinary as well (as far as types of content go) because of how easy they are to write. Unlike an ultimate guide, you’re not offering an exhaustive list of everything (although more on that here: the skyscraper technique). And unlike an infographic, there is a low barrier to entry (you don’t need to design anything or pay anyone).

So how does it work? If you’re a landscaping service, you can write an article entitled “Top 11 Lawn Care Fertilizers for Northern Virginia Lawns.” If you’re a home automation company, you can write an article entitled “15 Must-Have Smart Home Automation Systems.” If you’re a Well Pump Repair service, you can write an article entitled “The 7 Types of Well Pump Systems You Can Buy.”

Top 3 List-Based Websites (See?)

“How” Strategy #1: Email Outreach

Now that you have something worth sharing (the “what” of backlink building), you need a plan to make other sites aware of your content.

This first option is the most direct: email outreach.

It’s a simple concept, but few people have the discipline to not take the easy route and shotgun blast a terrible email template to a large number of un-interested parties, crossing your fingers and hoping they decide to link to your content.

Some things you’ll want to keep in mind:

  • Ask people who are likely to say yes
  • Send a request to their individual email (not a contact form)
  • Personalize the email script (take the 3 minutes to do it)

Step 1

Basically, the reasoning behind these steps are maximizing the chances of success. If you are an assisted living facility, then sending your guide to “How to Choose an Assisted Living Facility” to a electrician’s website is useless. It doesn’t matter how good your guide is—you need to find someone who will be interested in linking to it.

In this example, a dementia or alzheimer’s consulting group, a family practice or hospital, or even a local health clinic might be good places to reach out to.

Step 2

Unless there is no legitimate email address to send your request to, never use a contact form on their website to request a backlink.

Let’s be honest, this is a terrible strategy.

Instead, use a website like Hunter.io to crawl the internet for email addresses from a specific website (or at least the typical format of that company’s email address, e.g. {f}{lastname}@company.com.

If you know the name of the person you want to contact, and the typical format of their company email addresses, then give it a shot!

Step 3

Brian Dean, from Backlinko (a website dedicated to building backlinks) has offered the world his highest-performing email script for all to see:

Hi [First Name],

I was looking for content on [Topic] today, when I stumbled on your article: [Article Title].

Good stuff! I especially enjoyed [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’d enjoy it.

My guide may also make a nice addition to your page. Either way, keep up the awesome work with [Website]!

Talk Soon,
[Your Name]

Look how personalized he is able to make this! It only takes 3 minutes to fill it out with personalized details.

Doesn't Sound Fun?

If you really don’t want to send out emails… then hire an intern. If it takes an average of 3 minutes to send a completely personalized email, then paying $0.75 an email could really incentivize a college-aged kid to ramp up his or her numbers.

“How” Strategy #2: Broken Links

Another way to build backlinks with your newly-minted content is to find broken links about your topic on other websites, and offer your new content as a replacement. Yet again, Brian Dean is the master of this technique.

He offers 4 steps to this strategy, as well as an email template he uses:

  1. Install “Check My Links” Chrome Extension
  2. Find Pages With Lots of Outbound Links
  3. Check for Broken Links
  4. Email the Site Owner About Their Broken Link

Here’s the email template he uses as well:

Subject: Problem with [Their Site’s Name]

Hi [Name],

Are you still updating your site?

I was searching for content on [Topic] when I came across your excellent page: [Page Title or URL].

However, I noticed a few links didn’t seem to be working:

[URLs of broken links]

Also, I recently published [Brief Content Pitch]. It may make a good replacement for the [Point Out a Specific Broken Link].

Either way, I hope this helped you out 🙂

Thanks,
[Your Name]

A time-intensive strategy, but worth it. Hire an intern for this too.

“How” Strategy #3: Resource List

Resources pages are pages which list many different links on a particular topic. Some examples are:

If your alma mater has a “careers” or “alumni” page where your name can be listed as a reference or contact for current students, then don’t hesitate to email the career department or webmaster to get listed! It’s not a lot of work (i.e. students probably won’t contact you very often), and you get a nice backlink from your college’s or high school’s website.

Great examples of this strategy in action, however, are the second and third examples. Here at Enable, we have been contacted several times by different organizations who provide customer support tools in order to be listed in our article listed above. We didn’t include all of those different software when the article was first published, but some of them found us and sent us an email asking to be included!

Great Resource For Backlinks

Do you offer a scholarship to high school students, college students, or students in the trades? Then make that a page on your website, and start reaching out to scholarship websites like this one: scholarships for high school students.

Bad Backlinking Strategies

The reason many find SEO so difficult is not because of its intricacies, but rather because of misinformation. There are many SEO tactics floating around the internet which may have been allowed at some point in time, but have been blacklisted by Google in its attempts to deliver a better search experience to its users.

These tactics are tempting (because they’re far easier than what was outlined above), but ultimately, they are considered “black hat” SEO tactics by Google, who is really the only person whose opinion matters.

Three of these black hat tactics are:

  • Buying Backlinks
  • Gathering Irrelevant / Unrelated Backlinks
  • Gaining Backlinks Through Commenting

Bad Backlinking Strategy 1: Buying Links

Contrary to whatever spam emails you might be getting in your inbox, paying money to get a backlink from another website is probably a bad idea.

That’s not to say there aren’t websites which are complete legitimate services who require a fee to gain a backlink. However, these “white-hat” backlink purchases are not primarily for the backlink—they are primarily for the traffic and exposure (i.e. publishing an article on Entrepreneur.com).

Directories were the original link-buying forum, with individuals paying hundreds of dollars to get their site listed on a directory with a high domain authority, to positively impact their search rankings. Google began to crack down on these, however, and made it explicitly against their guidelines to purchase links in order to affect search rankings. That’s not to say directories are worth nothing (as niche directories and high quality directories are still acceptable backlinks)—the point is not to rely on them, and to avoid spammy ones.

Some Other Guidelines

For a complete list of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, click here.

Some gray-areas when it comes to buying backlinks is guest posting—sometimes, websites will charge money to submit an article and become a contributor.

While this is normal and acceptable, there are such things as Private Blog Networks (PBN’s), which are frowned upon by Google (read: don’t use them).

A private blog network is a group of domains which you own and manage, and can use to send backlinks to your main site, in order to boost its rankings. While in theory this sounds good, Google doesn’t like it because a) it’s not a real backlink, and b) oftentimes PBN’s are used to send backlinks from unrelated sites to your main site (more on this later).

What can happen, if Google sees your PBN, is that your site can get de-indexed (completely cut out of search results), and/or get a manual penalty from Google from “Unnatural Inbound Links.” Either way, your search rankings just tanked, and all the work you put into your PBN is wasted.

Whether you are buying links directly (directories) or indirectly (PBN’s), it really isn’t worth it.

Spend the time and effort on strategies that you know will work, if given enough effort.

Bad Backlinking Strategy 2: Irrelevant / Unrelated Backlinks

Now this strategy, while not as clearly harmful to your site as outright purchasing backlinks, is nevertheless bad for your site.

If Google begins to see the backlink profile of your site has tons of backlinks from websites totally unrelated to your industry, they will begin to suspect that you’ve been purchasing backlinks (in any variety of ways). Offering one of your products to bloggers just so they’ll leave a review and give you a backlink from their website is a sure way to violate Google’s guidelines on link schemes.

Additionally, a backlink from a website with authority or a page with a high PageRank used to mean something in the eyes of Google—but not anymore.

According to Andre Weyher, a former Google employee, “relevance is the new PageRank.” Sites which give you a backlink and have a similar theme to yours are the kinds of backlinks you want to get.

Other types of negative backlinks include:

  • Backlinks which use keywords instead of your name (e.g. “…if you are a homeowner looking for plumbers near me [<<hyperlink to plumber’s site]…”)
  • From a website whose audience isn’t the same as your audience (i.e. backpacking website linking to a real estate agency’s website)
  • All of your backlinks come from one (or few) websites (this indicates that you have a PBN, or have paid someone to link to you).
  • The links are from a directory which lists tons of other businesses unrelated to you (you can be related by industry, location, or awards, but it can’t be a random assortment—this also indicates you’ve paid to be listed)

Bad Backlinking Strategy 3: Comments

Finally, an old strategy that just isn’t useful at all anymore: commenting on other blog posts in order to get a backlink.

In the old days of SEO (read: early 2000’s), by leaving a comment on a blog post, you could gain a backlink from it simply by using your domain in the comment, or even by signing up to use the commenting software (such as Disqus).

However, these days are long past. People began to abuse this by commenting with tons of spam comments (such as “Great article. Check out my site at www.enablewebdesign.com for stuff like it.”), or by even having bots leave comments all over the web.

Neil Patel, one of Forbes’ top 10 marketers, has this to say about commenting on blogs:

“One of the best blog commenting tips you need to know is that not commenting at all is better than commenting the wrong way.”
-Source

This isn’t one of those cases where you can comment to get a backlink sparingly, having a few isn’t bad. This is a method which does not, and should not ever be used to bolster your backlink profile.

That’s not to say don’t leave comments on blog posts. But that is to say, the purpose of comments isn’t to give your website a backlink. It’s to contribute to a conversation, ask for advice, or gain some awareness for your brand. But it’s not to build backlinks.

Here’s an example from the In Touch-Marketing, covering a story from the New York Times:

J.C. Penney hired an SEO firm to help them try to get their website pages to rank higher in Google search results. After a period of time, the tactics seemed to be working. Many of their website pages started to rank very high in the search engine results pages (SERPs). In fact, they started beating out their own supplier’s website pages in the SERPs. But what J.C. Penney did not know was that the SEO Company was placing hundreds of links all over the internet to influence the rankings.

When information came to light about how J.C. Penney (their SEO Company) achieved these results and the information was reported to Google, their rankings plummeted down faster than someone wearing a pair of cement shoes in a body of water. This is what Google did:

On Wednesday evening, Google began what it calls a “manual action” against J.C. Penney, essentially demotions specifically aimed at the company.

At 7 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, J. C. Penney was still the No. 1 result for “Samsonite Carry On Luggage.”

Two hours later, it was at No. 71.

At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, J. C. Penney was No. 1 in searches for “Living Room Furniture.”

By 9 p.m., it had sunk to No. 68.

In other words, one moment J. C. Penney was the most visible online destination for living room furniture in the country. The next it was essentially buried.

Just for good measure, here’s another quote from Neil Patel:

So to reiterate, don’t use blog comments to improve your backlink profile in any manner.
-Source

Don’t leave comments to gain a backlink.

Conclusion

I want to leave you with three things:

  • Parameters for building backlinks
  • An easy checklist to make sure “what” you’re offering and “how” you’re asking for backlinks are effective, and
  • More resources for how to build backlinks (if you want to go deeper).

Parameters

You don’t have all the time in the world to try every backlink strategy and build the world’s great backlink profile for your website. So you need to optimize your time and make the time you do spend on SEO count.

Adopt one or at most two backlink strategies (I’ve included three of the easiest ones above), and go all in.

Write an ultimate guide, design (or pay for) a helpful infographic, or start pumping out lists. Don’t get hung up on the “best” strategy and in the end write mediocre guides and design infographics which look like this:

Stay away from bad backlinking strategies, and front-load the hard work. While it might be easier to pay for backlinks or leave tons of spam comments, it will only hurt you in the long run.

Checklists

What” Backlinking Strategy:

V

Does this topic avoid being too broad?

V

Does this topic avoid being too specific?

V

Is this topic already covered extensively online?

V

Is this topic relevant to my audience?

“How” Backlinking Strategy:

V

Am I reaching out to people who would be realistically interested in my content?

V

Am I sending this to a real person (not a contact form void)?

V

Am I personalizing each email?

Resources

More Resources on How to Build Backlinks

Bonus Backlink Strategy: Online Quiz

Ready for a bonus backlink strategy?

While this doesn’t work in all industries, and you may have to pay a small fee in order to use a particular software, interactive content is awesome when it comes to capturing leads and gaining shares and links.

Here are some statistics to chew on:

  • According to LeadQuizzes, their average quiz has a 31.6% lead capture rate.
    -Source
  • 96% of Users who Start BuzzFeed Quizzes Finish Them
    -Source
  • The most highly-viewed story on the New York Times website in 2013 was a quiz—do you remember it? It showed you where you were from in the US, based on your language usage and dialect.
    -Source
  • Some quizzes have received over 12,000 comments and another generated over 29,000 leads (oh—and $1 million).
    -Source 1 and Source 2

I’m not sure what type of quiz would work for your industry, but it’s definitely worth the effort!

William is Director of Marketing at Enable. William is passionate about sales and marketing, and is always looking for more efficient ways to do both. When he’s not creating new content for Enable, you can find him spending time with his family and friends.

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