Link building – learn the basic terms & strategies

Morten Frølich December 22, 2020 links

1. The basic terms & strategies

Like many other aspects of SEO, link building today is very different from what it was 10 years ago. You can no longer buy your website to the top of the SERPs with a couple of links here and there.

Today, it’s a complex, broad and very diverse field, that requires different but complementing strategies on an on-going basis. Strategies that must be modified according to the continuous changes in Google algorithms.

In this guide, we explain the most basic strategies of link building, but we will reference to other more specialized in-depth guides, when it to comes to the different facets of link building.

What is a link?

A link is a relation between two things, in this case two webpages, and it can be in the form of text, image or videos.

The three types of links on a website

There are three types of links on a regular webpage: Internal links, inbound links and outbound links.

Internal links are links that take you to another page on the same domain. This type of link building is important because it prolongs the user’s stay on your website, which in turn increases your website authority and your ranking.

Inbound links are links from other sites to your site. The more inbound links you have, the likelier you are to rank high on Google. Inbound links are also called backlinks.

Outbound links (or outgoing/external links) are links that take you from a website to another one (with a different domain name). An outbound link for you is an inbound link for someone else, and pretty much all websites have outbound links.

Read more about the differences between the different types of links on the Hubspot blog.

Earned vs. Paid links

An earned link is a link you choose to insert in a text, image, etc., that links to a page on another website. An earned link is inserted simply because it provides good information and elaborates the point or topic you were explaining on your site. These are the golden links, and the links that Google wants you to direct your digital attention to. The link in the above section directing you to a Hubspot blog post is an earned link for Hubspot.

A paid link is when a website pays to get another site to link back to theirs. All search engines dictate that paid links are strictly forbidden by search engines, and they can lead to grave penalties. More on that topic in section 4 – “Hot topics & minefields”.

What is link building?

Link building is what you do when you generate a one-way link from your website to another one, with the goal of improving search engine visibility. As digitalization keeps growing and evolving, there continue to materialize new strategies of building links. The most used ones involve link building tools, email outreach, broken link building and PR. We will get more into that later in this post.

Why is link building so vital?

To understand why link building has to be a part of your digital marketing strategy, we need to scroll back to when the world wide web was in it’s infancy, back to when Google didn’t exist and Yahoo! and Alta Vista were the dominant search engines. What characterized these search engines was that they ranked search results based solely on website content.

When Google and their PageRank Algorithm entered the market, things changed big time. Instead of analyzing the content of a page, they looked at how many people linked to that page. And today, it’s not only about quantity but about the quality of links, meaning that there has to be a clear connection concerning the content between two interlinked pages. And when you produce content with the aim of getting earned links, always aim for High Topical Authority – a perceived authority over a niche or a set of ideas.

Google were on to something, compared to the other players on the search engine market, because today, looking at which pages that links to your website is still the best way to determine the quality of your webpage, and inbound links are still the primary ranking signal of them all.


2. What is a high-quality link?

Before getting started with the different link building-strategies, let’s establish what qualifies as a good and a bad link, because there are many factors that determine the high and the low qualities in links.

The primary factors are:

– Authority: Authority is THE keyword here because links from pages with authority pass authority (PageRank) to your page. A page’s authority is determined by the number of links linking to it (inbound links). And it not only comes down to the authority of the page linking back to you, but also of the domain’s sidewide authority linking to you, and Ahrefs can help you determine both authority factors. They call PageRank for “URLRating” and sidewide authority for “DomainRating”.

– Link position: The position of the link signals it’s importance. It’s better to have a link embedded in the content than placed in the footer, and if the link embedded in the content is an editorial one, meaning someone put it there because they thought your site is of great value, then you are on a roll.

– Link anchor text: Anchor text is the clickable section of a link, and Google uses anchor text as a ranking signal. As with everything SEO, this function has been abused. It is now considered spammy if the anchor text in the links linking to you are the same words, as the targeted keywords for your entire page.

In general, you shouldn’t build links with keyword-rich anchor text but do note that internal links don’t count as anchor text spamming.

– Link Co-Occurrences: Google also uses the text around your link to determine what your page is about. This is called Co-Occurrences, and it goes without saying, that the text around your link should be as relevant as possible.

For more about how to optimize your anchor text strategy, read Neil Patel’s blog here.

– Links from guest post:

This summer, John Mueller from Google said that guest blogging for the sake of link building resulted in unnatural links, meaning it had become spammy, and that Google had devalued those kinds of links for the last couple of years. This is, by and large, still the case, but if you post a hugely relevant post on an authoritative site, this link should still give your page some link-juice.

– Nofollow vs. Dofollow links:

Nofollow links doesn’t help your search engine rankings, while Dofollow links do, but as a user, it’s impossible to tell the difference between the two. It’s Google who decides which links help your search rankings, and the reason they created a tag in 2005 to determine some links as Nofollows, was to combat blog comment spam.

At the start of the century when blogging became the smartest thing to do to get good rankings, people used the comment sections to leave links to their sites. This meant that a Nofollow tag was needed, and other search engines like Bing and Yahoo were quick to adopt the tag.

So how do you check if a link is a Nofollow, you might ask? Right click your mouse and click “View Page Source”. Look for the page link in the HTML, and check if there is a Nofollow attribute. If not, it’s a Dofollow link.

For a more thorough guide on how how to check if links are Nofollow tagged, read Backlinkos Nofollow link post.

And note that Google wants you to gain earned links, so paid links is also on the Nofollow list, but they don’t seem to be generating as many Nofollow tags as Google would have you believe.

Read more about how to qualify your outbound links to Google here.


3. Top content marketing strategies that can get you earned links

There are loads of different content marketing strategies that can increase your link building and get you earned links, but we choose to focus on the following four ones, whom we know can be very effective, if they are done thoroughly and in depth. They are:

– Visual assets: Visual assets are always a treat because they explain more than words in a shorter amount of time. Whether it’s images, diagrams, infographics or charters, a visual asset combined with text always raises the bar.

– Original research and data: Content that reveals new data from industry studies, surveys or original research are always gold, because it displays good workmanship and authority, and we all know website authority is a big deal, if not the biggest deal.

– Ultimate guides: a great way to attract visitors and generate earned links is ultimate guides, for example on blogs. Is a very used form of content that almost anyone with a blog incorporates. And yes, it can be difficult to find new ways of displaying ultimate guides, but the fact is that they work.

– Email outreach: Email outreach has proven to be a great link building instrument due to the amount of new link building leads that you come in contact with, and compared to the other strategies above, this one is the aggressive and outgoing one.

For that reason, it is also considered a spammy strategy, and some target groups don’t buy it. But if you create good content combined with the right approach, it will work for some target groups, particularly if you are a webshop owner. Several websites offer different email outreach templates especially aimed at link building. Here are some templates from Seoshouts.


4. Hot topics and minefields

Yes, we know there are a bunch of hot topics we haven’t touched. Link building is a religion to some, and as for religions, well, we all know that they sometimes clash, in this case, this is especially true when it comes to paid link building.

Since the dawn of the Google era, inbound links have been a commodity, and the market for this commodity comes in many shapes and sizes. Some are 100 % black-hat (not recommended!), others are grey-hat and white-hat. Here are our takes on some of the hot topics in the link building industry.

– Black hat link building:

Black hat link building tactics, also known as low-quality link building, are techniques used to drive traffic to a website by exploiting website loopholes, enabling a site to rank higher than it should through “organic” search means.

Search engines like Google have become aware of such practices to game the system and boost search rankings, but the real trouble is the fact that black hat link building doesn’t do anything for the user. Black hat link building tactics include blog comment spamming and link farms, among others.

For more info on the subject, and why it can be a highly risky business, see Ahrefs blog.

– Grey hat link building: As the name implies, grey hat link building strategies are on the edge of Google’s rules, but a lot of people use them. They include building a blog network, fixing broken links and registering available domains.

For more on the subject, read quicksprout’s guide.

– White hat link building: White hat link building is link building through search engine optimization, meaning it’s for everyone who play by the rules. It’s all about great content, and how to diversify it through blog universes and honest, insightful and engaged digital communities.

The 2021 link buiding guide from Semrush offers great info and examples on how to conduct your future link building strategies.


5. The content is the gateway

Customers and the channels that guide them to your website are diverse, and the fact is, that to get the most out of the market, you should implement a range of different link building strategies.

One of them could be your main strategy, but the others are important as well, because they all contribute with different kinds of links from different kinds of sources attracting customers from all your target groups. Link building is as diverse as any other field, and it’s the combined effort that will do the trick and increase your number of link relationships.

In the end, what matters is the same as always: it’s about content. Great, original, and user-friendly content will always give you earned links. Some call it a link bait strategy, but that’s really just a war of words.

The best way to attract, develop and gain more link relationships, is to focus on creating content that generates added value for your users or customers. People are more than happy to create links that direct visitors back to your site, if the content and the info you offer is good and solid.



What is a link?

A link is a relation, a connection, between two webpages, in the form of text, image or video.

What is a paid link?

A paid link is when a website pays to get another site to link back to theirs. All search engines dictate that paid links are strictly forbidden by search engines, and they can lead to grave penalties.

What is an earned link?

An earned link is a link you choose to insert in a text, image, or video, that links to a page on another website. It is inserted in your content simply because it provides good information or elaborates a point or topic you were explaining on your site.

What is a high-quality link?

A high-quality link is a link from a page with high authority positioned inside the content, and with the right anchor text.

What is link building?

Link building is what you do when you generate a one-way link (hyperlink/backlink), from your website to another one, with the goal of improving search engine visibility.

Why is link building important?

Link building is important because it can give you high rankings on Google and attract visitors.

How do you conduct link building?

There are different link building strategies for different markets and customers. The most used ones involve link building tools, email outreach, broken link building and PR, among others.
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