14 Link Building Secrets from a Technical SEO Expert
When you search for link building tips, you usually get a long list of tired old techniques that everyone already knows. It’s easy to guess that you should Google “Keyword + Write For Us” or look at high-ranking sites in your target niche and scrape their backlinks. What you really need is a list of inventive tips that you’ve not tried before.
Having been involved in building backlinks and running a link building service from the UK since 2008, I know the techniques that few ever put on generic lists.
So dive in, and I’ll share some of the innovative ways that we search out the best link building opportunities and then work to secure those high-quality links. These tips fall into three areas:
- Finding the right sites to earn links from (with recs for specific tools we love)
- Outreach and communication
- Making the most of your in-content links
Let’s get started!
How to find the right sites to build links from
1. Look beyond your competitors for opportunities
Many link builders recommend that you check out your competitor’s backlinks for inspiration; but have you thought of checking out the backlink profiles of the sites that link to them?
Go down the rabbit hole! Check out the backlink profiles of the sites that link to your competitors, then check the backlink profiles of the sites that link to them, and so on.
Some great tools for this are Ahrefs, Majestic SEO and Moz Link Explorer. It might sound convoluted, but you’ll tap into a supply of fresh site options to explore if you use this method.
2. Dig deep into Ahrefs’ link building tools
Ahrefs is a very handy bit of kit for link building, and there are loads of different ways to make the most of it.
The solution has various tools that can help you to find high-quality backlink opportunities. It also offers lots of filters so that you can find the right sites for your backlink profile.
For starters, you can use the Keyword Explorer tool to find associated keywords that other high-ranking pages in your niche incorporate into their content.
These keywords can inform every stage of your process; if you don’t get much joy with your main keywords, or you exhaust all of the options, you can use associated keywords to find more sites.
You can then put your new keywords into Ahrefs’ Content Explorer to find pages that discuss your chosen topic and rank well for the keywords you’re targeting.
Then, you can use the Link Intersect tool to find sites that link to your new targets but don’t link to your site – yet!
Finally, one of the most ingenious ways to use Ahrefs is to check out the Site Explorer to see growing pages. By using the “Top content” section, you can see the pages on each target URL or competitor’s site that are growing the fastest.
You can then target the sites that are linking to them, as well as seeing if you can emulate their approach. For example, if your competitor is driving a lot of traffic to a new press release or announcement, then you could incorporate this approach into your digital marketing strategy.
As you can see, Ahrefs is a favorite tool of mine. My team and I use it a lot when building backlinks and finding exciting new opportunities for our clients and our own site.
3. See what sites rank on BuzzSumo
Another great tool that can help you find amazing sites for link building is BuzzSumo.
Using BuzzSumo’s Web Content search tool, you can find top-performing content that ranks for your target keywords and phrases.
The site shows you the engagement that the content received on a range of platforms, as well as its own metric, “Evergreen Score.”
The Evergreen Score is BuzzSumo’s unique value, given to each piece of content based on the engagement and backlink earnings 30 days after being published. This is an indication that the content is continuing to provide value when it’s not longer new.
The more ongoing engagement the piece gets, the more evergreen—that is to say, continually relevant—BuzzSumo finds the piece.
Using this score and the other engagement information provided by BuzzSumo, you can find sites that publish lasting and engaging content in your niche.
You can also use this information for outreach: you could highlight the content as a high-performing piece and suggest a similar topic to emulate its success.
4. Review your organic competitors on SEMrush
SEMrush is another versatile tool that I love using to find link building opportunities. With dozens of useful tools and analytics to offer, there are loads of ways you can use SEMrush in link building.
One great way to start is to find your organic competitors and then explore their backlinks. You could even consider reaching out to them if you’re in a “sharing is caring” kind of market!
To find your organic competitors, you can put your site into the “Domain Overview” section, then check out the Organic Research insights that the tool can offer. The tool will give you loads of amazing insights into your organic rankings, including your main organic competitors.
You can then export this data as a CSV and work through the sites, assessing linking domains and other insights.
Using this approach, you can gather loads of data and potentially find thousands of potential backlinking opportunities.
5. Never rely on one metric alone
There are loads of SEO metrics out there—it seems like almost every tool on the market has at least one! Each metric represents something different, whether it’s total number of backlinks or content quality.
When building backlinks, you need to consider a range of metrics, including traffic. You should look for a metric that focuses on how likely a page is to rank on top SERPs, such as Moz’s Domain Authority. You could also consider a metric that focuses on the quality of the sites linking to your chosen domain, such as Majestic SEO’s Trust Flow.
Obviously, these companies don’t tell us exactly how they calculate their scores, or else we could copy them. So you need to be objective and use a combination of metrics to assess sites. If you focus on one single metric without fully understanding it, then you could miss out on valuable link building opportunities.
Incidentally, at UK Linkology, we felt that none of the current metrics could reliably give us enough confidence to accept or reject a site. We remedied this by creating our own formula that uses domain-level metrics like Moz DA and combines them with organic traffic and keyword metrics. (You can read more about how we developed and use our M-Flux metric here.)
6. Think like a visitor
In addition to metrics, you also need to consider the human approach when link building.
Before you commit to a site as a link building target, make sure that you look at it like a website visitor. Open the site and see if it looks like a real person is connected to it.
Does the site have a social media presence? Is the content readable? Do they use generic stock images or unique pictures?
If you think the site looks like a PBN (private blog network), then the chances are that it is one. Readers and search algorithms will notice too, so avoid it at all costs.
Tips for link building outreach and communication
7. Use Facebook’s “About” section to find email addresses
Finding email addresses can be tough, and everyone knows that contact forms aren’t the best when you’re trying to chase link building opportunities.
So, how can you find email addresses when they’re not on the contact page? While tools like Hunter.io can help, there are easier and sometimes quicker ways, especially if you don’t have a pro plan and run out of free checks!
Often, businesses have an email address listed on their Facebook page’s About section. You don’t even need to be logged in to Facebook to access this—most business pages are visible to everyone!
Check out the Contact Details, beneath the Business Info section, to find an email address. Usually, this email sends you directly to the online editor or marketing team, so your email will get delivered to your target audience!
8. Don’t be afraid to follow up
It’s not nagging if it’s for a good cause. Never be afraid to send follow-up emails to your target websites.
Often, my team and I find that follow-up emails actually get the highest response rate! They might’ve missed your first email, or forgotten it, but a follow-up is harder to ignore.
As a rule, we usually follow up two or three times. If there’s no response after that, then it usually means they either hate you, or the email isn’t in regular use.
Try finding an alternative contact, and if that doesn’t work and you still hear nada, then write that site off as a lost cause. Don’t waste too much time on sites that ignore you, and instead focus on finding exciting new opportunities and dealing with the sites that actually respond.
9. Personalize your outreach templates with unique insights (not just their name)
Templates save you time, but you can spot them a mile off! So, while you should use a template, you need to make sure that it can be personalized to your target.
That personalization could be as simple as adding the name of the recipient and merging their site name into the email. But you can use email sending tools, such as Mailshake, to mass mail your template while also including personal information.
As well as names, you should try to add unique insight into their site. For example, if you’ve got access to SEO tools like Ahrefs and SEMrush, then you can use them to see the top-ranking pages. You can then mention that you want to create something similar or emulate the style of that post to earn even more traffic for them.
Most site owners will know that you’re looking for a backlink, but they’ll be willing to help if they think they can get something out of the deal. So, you need to show them the benefits of working with you. If they don’t see them in your first email, then they’re probably not going to ask.
10. Follow the site’s contributor guidelines
Many sites have a “write for us” page to let potential writers know what they’re looking for. Here is WordStream’s page, for example.
If your target site has one, then you need to follow the instructions on it. Most quality sites will have instructions, so you need to make sure that you use them.
For example, many sites ask that you use a specific subject line. Some even have a phrase that they use to check that you’ve read the content guidelines.
Even if they don’t have specific instructions, you should read the “write for us” page and see if there’s anything on it that you can use. Some pages will include a joke, so as part of your personalization of the outreach email, you could reference and riff on the joke. This approach will make them see that there’s a human behind the email, and that they’re not just a number on a massive list sent out by a faceless agency.
Tips for inserting links into content
11. Don’t be afraid of quality link drops
“Link drops” sound ominous, but in reality, they can be a great way to save yourself time. You can find an article on your chosen topic, then offer to add your quote and link.
Many link builders use the broken link method to find links that have disappeared over time and recommend their own link as a replacement. We have also found that tools like Pitchbox and HARO work really well for finding opportunities for link drops.
Using these tools, you can find opportunities to add your link to an article and save yourself time; instead of writing a full article, you only need to write a quote!
When you’re link dropping, you need to check the metrics of the page as well as the overall site. There’s no point in dropping your link onto a great site but choosing a piece of content that doesn’t get any traffic or have any authority. Old pages that have not garnered any authority are unlikely to do so and are best avoided.
Use SEMrush to check the traffic for the page and review the engagement using BuzzSumo to make sure that you pick valuable link drop opportunities. Also use metrics like Moz Page Authority (PA) and Ahrefs UR to get a feel for how internal links might be affecting pages you are considering.
12. Alternate your anchor text
Search engines are always on the lookout for link building activities, so you need to make yours hard to spot by being smart with your anchor text.
A load of sites with the same or similar metrics, all linking back to you at around the same time, with the same anchor text, all in one backlink profile, is deeply suspicious.
That’s why variation is key throughout your backlink profile. As well as varying the sites that you target, you should also vary the anchor text you use on your links. A rule of thumb is never (or almost never) use the same one twice.
This approach makes your backlink profile look more natural and increases your chances of achieving the rankings you’re aiming for.
13. Remember a higher word count isn’t always better
Many blogs will require you to write a longform content piece to get a guest post spot, but quantity doesn’t always mean quality or SEO success.
Search engines are focused on usability as well as technical SEO, so if your content is full of filler words, then it won’t achieve your objectives.
The point is to supply Google with enough information to answer the query fully and accurately—and sometimes that can be done in three words!
You need to research the SERPs and see what Google is already ranking on page 1. Then look to improve on the incumbent pages or tackle the query from a completely new angle.
Equally, if you’re writing an ultimate guide, then you need to provide everything that the reader needs to know. In that case, you might need to go in-depth, which means more words.
Write content that will meet your readers’ needs (AKA intent), and you’ll benefit your SEO at the same time. Writing fluff to fit a word count won’t get your rankings off the ground!
14. Write content you’d be happy to publish
When writing your content for backlinking, make sure that it’s of the same quality that you’d use on your own site.
The content might not be published on your site, but if it’s got your link in it, then you will be affiliated with it one way or another.
As such, you need to make sure you produce quality, insightful content. After all, the best backlinks are found in quality content. The more engagement and traffic that your piece gets, the more benefit it will bring to any sites it links to, including yours.
Link building is an art, so get creative!
If you finish this article having learned only one thing, let it be this: link building is an ever-evolving market. These techniques work for us now, and they could help you. That doesn’t mean that they’re the only ways to get backlinks.
Use your ingenuity and resources to find unique approaches that work for you. I’ve been building backlinks for decades, so I’ve saved you time with these tips. That being said, the best thing I can recommend is that you test everything and keep going. You never know what works and what doesn’t until you try it.
Good luck building some great links!
About the author
Jason Brooks is the Founder and Director of UK Linkology and The Linkologists.com, and is committed to developing and introducing new and powerful methods of backlink building to anyone that is interested in listening. You can find out more about him and his experience in digital marketing by visiting his LinkedIn page.