The true value of link building isn’t quick fixes. It’s investing in long-term, scalable strategies that help you acquire high-quality links.
Here are some tried-and-true strategies, including the pros and cons of each. If you’ve seen some of them before, it’s because they worked then—and still work now.
1) Guest blogging
Guest blogging entails searching for industry blogs that accept guest contributions, pitching a list of topics, writing content, sending it back to the editor, and finally getting your post live.
This all might look like an easy, stress-free way of acquiring links, but let me use one of the phrases SEOs like the most: ”It depends!”
Why? There are several factors:
Who’s sending the pitch? Is it a well-known author with tons of previously published guest posts? If the answer is “yes,” then the chances that it’s going to be accepted are good. But most of us aren’t guest blogging superstars.
Are you capable of delivering (or paying for) really good copy? The second most common reason why your pitch might be rejected is the quality of your copy. If you plan to outsource your writing, be prepared to spend $300 to $1,000 per 2,000 words of copy. B2B copywriting almost always requires more skill and time compared to B2C.
Have you built a relationship with the editor? In most cases, an established relationship with an editor is a fast track to publication.
Every situation is unique, but the variables listed above are the most common. If you decide to use a guest blogging strategy, here are some other things to keep in mind.
Pros of guest blogging
Guest blogging is great! You can use guest blogging to build quite a number of links back to your site.
A more practical value of acquiring links through guest posts is that you control the anchors and pages on which you get links. There’s also a chance for referral traffic and leads.
Cons of guest blogging
Guest blogging can be an expensive strategy—especially if you’re not a professional writer. You need well-written content, or you’ll end up being associated with lame guest posts, which won’t help you build a brand (or links).
Whether you plan to write the copy internally or hire an experienced B2B copywriter, the cost per 2,000-word post can surpass $500, even if you’re doing the bulk of the work yourself.
Also, keep in mind that well-known blogs won’t allow you to link back to blatantly commercial pages, as those links are “promotional” (i.e. don’t provide value).
2) Content for round-ups and listicles
The former strategy is based on the following logic:
– You create something link-worthy.
– You pitch it to other sites.
This strategy requires a different approach. First, do pre-outreach. Pre-outreach helps you learn exactly what target blogs want to include in their content round-ups.
Create content only after you know what to create. Nothing’s worse than winning zero links with a piece of content you created solely for that purpose.
If you have no idea how to find blogs that publish posts like “XX resources to learn Topic A” or “Weekly Digest of XYZ,” take one of the following approaches:
– Use advanced search operators to find sites publishing such content. Here’s a good post on the Ahrefs blog that should help you.
– Look at your competitors’ backlink profiles by searching for specific terms in page titles. In the example below, I searched for “news roundup” in titles of referring pages:
– Once you have a list of sites that feature content round-ups, it’s time to connect with their editors. The best way to do so is usually through LinkedIn. (I’ve found people are much more responsive there versus email.)
Before connecting with them, promote one of their recent posts on your social media accounts. (Don’t forget to tag them!) For maximum visibility, tag other companies that were featured in their post.
While getting these links may seem like low-hanging fruit, keep an eye on the cost per link. There’s no point in spending hours building a few mediocre links.
Pros of round-ups and listicles
For one, there’s always a chance that the sites you’re reaching out to are also actively building links. You could end up building a relationship, not just a link, which could yield more opportunities.
Also, you may not have to create anything mind-blowing to get included in the round-up. Because “medium quality” content doesn’t require a ton of time and resources, you could play the quantity card here and try to secure more links in less time.
The pre-outreach strategy increases the chances of securing links.
Cons of round-ups and listicles
Easily acquired links are easy to acquire for a reason. Sites that are publishing round-ups and listicles probably aren’t the very best sites in your niche.
Additionally, as the pages you’re building links to have mediocre content, most probably won’t rank well on Google. This is especially true in highly competitive niches.
HARO (Help a Reporter Out) connects bloggers and journalists with expert sources. HARO is a great workaround for businesses that want to be featured in media outlets but aren’t in a position to launch a proper digital PR campaign.
Once you set up your HARO account (it’s very straightforward), you can subscribe to journalist queries relevant to your business:
At first, you’ll be excited to get these daily emails, and you’ll work hard to get featured everywhere. After a week or so, you’ll realize that you’re spending days and nights sending insightful answers into the void.
It won’t be long before you realize that you should use your limited resources wisely. To get the most from HARO, evaluate opportunities by:
– Quality of the site where you get featured (e.g., domain rating, monthly traffic, etc.).
– How long it takes to provide an answer.
Select only those topics that are really relevant to your experience. For any given answer, you’re likely competing with true experts; editors will pick only the best of the best.
Pros of HARO
For businesses just starting out, HARO might be one of the best sources of links. You get link-building opportunities delivered straight to your inbox. All you need to do is send in a few paragraphs (a lot less than an in-depth blog post).
You don’t need to do link prospecting, pre-outreach, and other standard link-building tasks. HARO also connects you with sites that are regularly looking for and featuring experts (giving you credibility), as well as media outlets that you couldn’t get into with traditional outreach tactics.
Cons of HARO
HARO can be time-consuming and comes with no success guarantees. Even when you get a link, most point to your homepage, which is okay if you’re just starting out but less valuable if you already have thousands of links.
Those links may not justify the amount of time it takes to write up a good answer. Even then, your answer might get rejected or the site may not link back to you (or offer only no-follow links).
4) Unlinked brand mentions
Some sites will mention your brand because they like it—they might not think about links. You need to find and convert those unlinked brand mentions.
Some editors leave brand mentions unlinked on purpose, so don’t be surprised if such people ignore your emails. To make the most out of this strategy, follow this step-by-step plan:
– Uncover your company’s brand mentions with tools like Google Alerts, Mention, Brand24, and so on. The only downside of literally any brand mention tracker is that only a few of them show historical data. (The rest collect data once you set up your campaign.)
– Once you have a list of pages mentioning your brand, send an email asking to update the brand mention with a link back to your site. Write to the author of the post rather than the website owner.
Exclude guest posts from this list—those authors won’t have access to past posts. Also, start the conversation on LinkedIn, then switch to email. Another workaround is to share the post on your social media platform and tag the author.
Pros of unlinked brand mentions
A brand mention means that someone already loves what you do. To drive additional benefits, you have to convince them to add a link to that text.
In most cases, your link-building request seems legit. I mean, if they’ve already mentioned you, the chances are high that you actually deserve a link. You don’t need to prepare any special piece of content, either—only a good pitch.
Equally important, you’re building relationships with industry peers who are already familiar with your brand and, as a result, might be interested in working with you on other projects.
Cons of unlinked brand mentions
You need a brand worth mentioning. Unknown brands won’t have many mentions, linked or unlinked.
You’ll also have to hope that you’re able to contact B2B marketers who understand why links matter, and you may be asked to provide something in return.
Once again, your link-building target is usually limited to the homepage.
5) Broken link building
This strategy identifies sites that link to inactive (i.e. broken) pages, reaching out to those sites, and suggesting that they link to your content on the same topic.
This strategy requires really well-written content—no one wants to link to mediocre stuff. Plus, it’s not easy to scale identification of broken pages that still have a lot of links pointing to them.
There’s no point creating solid content to get only a link or two. Remember, only a subset of the potential links will pan out, so a broken page with 100 links may net only 5 for you.
Once you’ve found a target page, it’s time to see what kind of content it used to contain.
Now, go and write a quality, related piece of content to pitch to sites that link to this 404 page. The most time-consuming and difficult-to-predict step is pitching the process itself. Check out this post, which sheds some light on how to structure your email outreach campaign.
Pros of broken link building
When it comes to broken link building, it depends on the type of opportunity you discover. With a little luck, you could dig into a gold mine of link-building opportunities.
One advantage is that you’re usually building links on established, well-written pages. Moreover, analyzing other sites’ broken pages might help you uncover new ways to build links and scale your strategy.
Also, you kill two birds with one stone—creating in-depth content and building links back to it.
Cons of broken link building
Ideally, you’d be able to insert existing content in place of the broken link you found. But if that’s not the case, and you need to create a new high-quality piece of content specifically for this purpose (and then scale the process). That requires a solid investment.
Also, sites that link to broken pages aren’t always willing to link back to your site. This is especially true if a broken page is located on a well-known site and your brand doesn’t ring a bell.
6) Relationship-based link building
Each of the seven tactics above are just that—tactics. When it comes to long-term strategy, you need to think about relationship-based link building. This is the always-on, ever-improving part of your link-building work. It may not start a program or meet near-term needs, but it should anchor your efforts.
So what is it? If you’re really into link building, you’ve most probably noticed that it takes a gigantic number of hours to establish a relationship with a new site. And if the process of building one link is so time-consuming, you need to maximize the efficiency by:
– Connecting with sites that are also actively building links.
– Getting more than one link from a site (e.g., guest posting regularly, connecting with partner sites).
Start by joining industry groups where people are looking to promote their content. A popular one is the B2B bloggers boost group.
Unlike closed LinkedIn communities, Facebook allows you to see a list of group members. The next step is to connect with them on LinkedIn by sending a message.
Review your current circles that include partners, clients, and even leads. (I detail this strategy in my email outreach guide.) Those people are much more responsive—they’re familiar with your brand and might already be building links on their own.
You can also scrape SERPs for keywords that have decent competition and volume. Many of the sites that appear in those SERPs are actively building links. For example, if you look through pages that rank for “content strategy,” notice that some pages have a lots of links but not a high domain rating.
That’s definitely a signal that those sites are in the phase of acquiring links. However, to ensure that they’re building links right now, check their growth of referring domains.
For this strategy to work, you need to find a way to link back to those sites—that’s what they’re looking for. I don’t like any strategy that involves a direct link exchange, which goes against Google’s recommendations.
A better way is to use guest blogging to return links to partners’ pages on a number of sites.
Pros of relationship-based link building
Building relationships alone is well worth your time and effort. Building links while doing so is an added benefit.
You don’t need to produce tons of content to build up to 100 links per month. You simply need 10–20 partners writing guest posts on industry sites.
Your partners can then connect you with their partners, potential clients, etc. This way, you’re expanding your circles and building a solid community around your brand. This results in more links from relevant, quality sites on well-written posts.
Cons of relationship-based link building
Building relationships isn’t easy. It requires skills. You can’t fake it (though many try).
Another potential deal breaker is that you need to return links to your partners. This means that you need to contribute to other blogs or get them links through other partners.
Lastly, it’s not scalable beyond your niche. We still struggle to build links in niches beyond our circle of relationships.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Sometimes, you won’t know what really works for you without spending hours on getting through a how-to stage. You’ll likely settle on a combination of strategies.
Following well-known link building strategies—without giving them a new spin—won’t bring you thousands of high-quality links. Literally any marketing strategy that can be found on Google is unlikely to drive you past the competition.