Learning Hub Blog Post

Best Link Building Practices for 2021

BLOG POSTS Link Building
By Manick Bhan
Jan 24, 2020

With every new year, search engines strive to make the experience of search better for their users. In the niche world of SEO, we pass our time by monitoring keywords, website traffic, and all of the nitty-gritty details that influence search engine rankings.

But regardless of evolving search engine algorithms, experts know that the core SEO principles remain constant. The years may pass, but the blueprint remains the same: link building matters.

A strong link building strategy is vital to the success of any website’s search rankings. But just like search engines, SEO campaigns should always strive to be better and more efficient. Expert content marketers don’t sit around and wait for other webmasters to shower them with quality links; they do the hard work of constantly pitching amazing content.

Now that it’s 2021, avoid getting complacent about last year’s SERP rankings. There is always room to make progress with link building for your own site, and you should head into the new year with a robust link building strategy.

A smart approach to link building will incorporate multiple approaches to earn new links. But the foundation of all smart link building—and all profitable SEO strategy—begins with fresh, original content.

What is Link Building?

Link building is the process of earning links on other websites in order to improve your site authority. Links are like votes of confidence and trust. The below infographic explains the process of link building with more detail.

Laying the groundwork for backlinks

You can try to work your way to valuable links without decent content or research. But the best way to get high-quality links with minimal pain, and to earn a lot of links that are more relevant to your goals, is just what your mom always told you: Do your homework.

Get to know your audience

Great content won’t land if it’s aimed at the wrong target audience. Prior to seeking out backlinks, you need to understand not only what, but who matters to the success of your website

What are the demographics of your ideal users? What keywords do they use? Who makes up your market? Lastly, how can you ensure that of all the web pages a SERP might present to them, they are compelled to choose yours?

Survey the Scene

Once you understand your target audience, you’ll have a good idea of what other relevant websites they consider to be quality content.

This will not only teach you who your competitors are, it will introduce you to potential allies—major publications, bloggers, and site owners with niche, industry-specific focuses—many of which might be seeking new content like guest posts, blog posts, infographics, or new links in existing content.

Your audience and the existing online landscape interact in crucial ways, so use what you discover as a case study. Website traffic data can tell you which competitor and peer sites are most popular with the visitors you want. Don’t only consider which sites have high search engine equity, but also those that appear most trustworthy to readers.

The two are often (but not always) correlated.

Crafting content

To earn backlinks from other websites, you’ll need to convince webmasters of your own virtue.

This will often involve interacting directly with webmasters, but make no mistake: Merit matters in the world of link-building. You will need to prove your site to be deserving of the attention of other webmasters and (more importantly) of internet users.

Amazing content on your site matters for more reasons beyond link-building. Smart use of keywords and keyword phrases is good for SEO. All of this adds up to being considered a trustworthy site in the eye’s of the right people and in the all-seeing eye of Google.

But the best way to prove your credibility? Create “fresh” stuff (aka: evergreen content). High-quality content is engaging, informative, and contextually relevant. Google knows when backlinks seem artificial and misplaced, therefore the best link-building tactics will always prioritize providing useful links to site visitors.

But onsite content and offsite content do work a little differently, so here are some strategies for using both to enhance your link-building strategy.

Onsite content

The first step to crafting onsite content is thinking about the type of business you run and how your website will serve visitors in the short- and long-term. Whether a visitor arrives to your site via search results or backlinks, great onsite content will not only meet the immediate needs of your target audience, it will appear to other webmasters and far-flung visitors an authority of some kind.

Catering content to your target audience

Let’s consider two examples: A restaurant and a software company.

A restaurant’s website might include a blog section with a neighborhood guide, seasonal recipes, produce shopping advice, or date-night ideas (or all of the above). These are relevant topics that could entertain existing readers while also serving as magnets from links from other websites. Housing them in a blog section ensures that they don’t get in the way of customers with more direct needs–those just seeking the restaurant’s address or phone number, or those who want to book a reservation.

In contrast, a software company should focus on ideas like posts that discuss the ROI on various tools or the contrasting features of top software solutions. These sorts of posts would, of course, be more useful to readers and customers — and more likely to be picked up and linked to by similar peer sites and social media users.

Onsite content ideas

Clearly, unique onsite content ideas work for individual businesses. With that in mind, take a critical approach to the list of ideas below. You’ll most likely find yourself eliminating some that won’t work for your business or would only work during specific seasons — but they display how simple it can be to make sure your website always features new, up-to-date content.

  • Holiday gift guides
  • Surveys and survey results
  • Top ten lists
  • Content curation
  • Link round-ups
  • Local event calendars

Keep in mind that your ROI for onsite content will be better if you can create this content efficiently. Make things easier on yourself by building an arsenal of information and resources that you can turn to quickly as you write new content. If you find yourself using the same websites as sources over and over again, then they should be bookmarked; if you repeatedly make use of the same statistics, then you should gather them together in one file for reference.

Offsite content

Crafting offsite content is different in that you don’t have to worry about the content being a perfect fit for your website. But it’s crucial to remember that other webmasters are likely to care about their websites in the same way that you care about yours. If you show attention-to-detail and context in the content creation you do for other sites, any backlinks you include are more likely to survive over time.

Smart targeting of offsite content

Offsite content should generally be written with a specific website in mind. Even if you are unable to place your final piece on the target website, content that is focused and industry-specific will likely appeal to that site’s peers and competitors.

The offsite content ideas that would work for a restaurant would drastically differ from those for a software company. This should be obvious, common knowledge, but sketchy link-building strategies could care less about the surrounding context of backlinks, as long as they acquire them.

A good link-building strategy, however, knows that contextual relevance matters.

Linking in context

Offsite content has to serve your purposes, too. Since your purpose is link building, the context of the link to your site is vital. Search engines like Google care about more than just the quality of the linking site and the URL that the link points to. In fact, a variety of factors will determine how effective a link is at improving your site’s ranking with search engines.

The anchor text is, of course, vital. The text should be relevant to your site’s content. Ideally, the anchor text should mirror search terms and keywords that you want your site to rank for.

The text surrounding the anchor text matters too. Google has held a patent for “Ranking based on reference contexts” since 2004, and real-world tests have suggested that modern search engines look beyond the anchor text to weigh the words and sentences around a link.

Other outgoing links can affect your fortunes, too. Irrelevant links placed too close to your own can sabotage your link-building efforts. So before you rush to place your content, make sure your backlinks have a safe place to land.

Pitching and placing offsite content

Offsite content is only as useful as the websites that it ends up on. To manage an effective link-building strategy, you’ll need to make sure that your offsite content finds a home on the right websites.

Other webmasters are under no obligation to publish your content for you. So how can you convince them?

Content is everything

The simplest answer is the most effective: Create excellent content! In the same way that superb onsite content will net more links than mediocre posts, great offsite content will settle much more quickly and easily than poorly written or less useful content.

The smartest path to quality content is through quality writers. Poorly written web content is everywhere on the internet, and quality, high authority sites avoid it at all costs.

At the same time, quality guest posts are surprisingly hard to come by in an era dominated by quick-and-sloppy content pushes. Writing well (or, better yet, hiring a professional writer) can make all the difference.

The pitch

Of course, great writing can only make an impression on webmasters who actually read your post. That can be a problem, because webmasters get endless emails from website owners and SEO firms looking to place. Even the most conscientious webmasters are unlikely to read every single one of these emails, much less answer them.

A great pitch must stand out in a crowded inbox. Here are a few ways to elevate yours…

Get personal

Personalize your request wherever you can (including in the subject line). Display specific knowledge of the website you’re targeting, and make a pitch that focuses on the value that you can offer to the site and its visitors.

Be up-front

Don’t be cagey about your goals. If you think that there’s a mutual benefit, say so explicitly. If you are willing or planning to pay to place the piece, say so. Don’t leave it up to the webmaster to assume that you are on their level — they won’t.

Stick with it

Even if you craft your pitch emails perfectly, expect to be met with a lot of failure. You will not only get rejections, but you’ll more likely be ghosted. Webmasters and editors have no obligation to respond to pitches, and most often will choose not to. When it comes to pitching though, what most often pays off is perseverance. One positive response could lead to an ongoing relationship.

Outreach, outreach, outreach

Given the nature of pitch emails and the sheer volume that webmasters receive, it’s wise to cultivate relationships that go beyond emails. Reaching out to those running sites in your niche can create valuable contacts. Consider offering things with no ulterior motive. Networking and investing in these relationships can pay off when you do need a piece placed or a link updated.

More smart link-building strategies for 2021

Onsite and offsite content form the core of any successful link-building strategy. But there’s more to link-building than just those core efforts, especially when it comes to staying current with the latest content-placing strategies.

Guest blogging

Guest blogging is a form of offsite content, but it deserves some specific mention here. In a guest post, the relationship between you and the other site is made explicit. The other site welcomes you as a guest blogger, often posting a writer’s bio for you or prefacing your post with an explanation to its readers. Guest posts are typically unpaid, and writing a guest post will usually mean working with your target site from the get-go.

You should pitch sites that have “write for us” invitations for guest posts. But you can also pitch sites that don’t. You might be surprised how far you can get.

Once you’ve published some guest posts, you can use your existing work to demonstrate your potential. A previous guest post for a similar site will reassure a webmaster that you’re an authority when it comes to offering valuable content.

Sponsorships, donations, and volunteering

Doing the right thing is often rewarded. Just as businesses that sponsor local little league teams often get their logos printed on uniforms, there are ways in which donating money and time can advance your link-building goals.

Simply donating money is often enough: Many charities and other organizations link to their donors on their webpages. Volunteering and donating can also lead to good press, which may include links to your site from newspaper websites and news blogs.

Finding opportunities to put these strategies into practice has never been easier. Use search engines, including charity-specific ones like GreatNonprofits.org, to track down opportunities. Local businesses should focus first on location, and all businesses should keep their reputations and target demographics in mind. Choose worthy causes that will be popular with your customer base.

Use your time to do unpaid work within your niche, too. Speaking at a conference or other event that is relevant to your business space can generate more than just good press and networking opportunities — it could also generate more relevant links.

Take to the message boards

The oldest content marketing strategy is word of mouth. In the internet age, word of mouth lives online. Having a presence on message boards and social sites is an easy way to build your business’ reputation, and it can also help you build high-quality links.

One great way to build links on message boards is to answer questions and help people. Link to relevant resources on your own website as you reply to the people who need your help.

Be aware that some message boards have rules about promoting businesses and websites. The goal here is to be helpful and earn some quality traffic, not to spam links in comment sections or message board threads.

“Broken link” link building

“Broken link” link building is a somewhat niche, but very effective strategy. It involves offering resources to “fix” broken links on other sites.

Webmasters don’t want broken links on their sites, of course, but things change on the internet. A link that once went to a helpful resource can become broken when that resource disappears or changes its URL.

That can create an opportunity for you, provided the resource is relevant to your niche. You can point out the broken link to the site’s webmaster — and can helpfully offer a similar resource that is hosted on your own site.

The tricky part is finding broken links, but there are SEO tools that make this easier. Use a tool that lets you view links going out from multiple sites at once, then search for 404 errors. Find a page on your own site that could replace the broken link or, failing that, create a new one for this specific purpose.

Leverage sites with user-generated content

For some websites, users aren’t just the customers — they’re the creators. That’s certainly true of social media sites (which we’ll discuss at more length in a moment), and it’s also true of sites like YouTube and Pinterest and other internet forums.

Take advantage of these sites. Create content and post photos, writing, and videos — and ensure that they lead back to your site by using the proper tags and, where permitted, links. Post your products on sites like Product Hunt and maintain a social media presence.

Register with social media sites and claim business citations

Social media sites do plenty of good for businesses by allowing them to keep in contact with customers and monitor feedback. Business directories and review sites are important, too.

Most of these sorts of sites have not been central to link-building strategies in the past, because the links gained (if any) are generally “nofollow” links.

However, not all links on these websites are nofollow links, and nofollow links are newly relevant for SEO purposes for 2021, following Google’s decision to consider them beginning in March.

The link-building benefits gained by registering accounts with social media sites, business registries, and other similar sites will likely remain small, but the effort involved in doing so is similarly small, and the benefits of these sorts of sites go beyond link-building and SEO.

Do you have an account?

Claim your local business citations

Leveraging social media

We’ve already established that social media sites can be important for link-building purposes. But to make proper use of social media, don’t just post blindly. Develop content that is relevant to your site visitors by using strategies similar to those you apply to creating offsite and onsite content. Focus on timeliness in particular: In the world of social shares and tweets, attention is fleeting.

Fortunately, social media sites provide tools that will help you stay on top of what is timely. Look for trending hashtags and try to create posts that are of-the-moment.

Turning mentions into links

Perhaps the simplest of all link-building strategies, turning mentions into links, involves doing something that is usually too direct to be effective: Simply asking for a link. In this case, though, you’ll be asking people who already respect your website.

Use search engines to find mentions of your company, organization, or website and check to make sure that mentions by writers or bloggers include links to your website. If they don’t, you should send a polite email requesting that they be linked.

Use the “Skyscraper technique”

As the name suggests, the Skyscraper technique involves building upwards.

The technique starts with research: You’ll want to find a relevant resource that is popular in your niche. Next, you’ll build on it. Create a similar resource, but don’t just copy: Instead, add something new. That something new could be as simple as updated statistics or as complex as a new perspective and conclusion based on the same materials.

Armed with your new and improved version of a popular resource, you can now offer something better to the sites that link to the original.

Even more to try

This is a thorough list, but it could go on even longer. Stay on the lookout for trends and innovations in link building strategy; knowing the latest ones will help you keep your link-building efforts forward thinking and up-to-date.

Link building matters

Make no mistake: You have your work cut out for you.

Because of the difficulty of placing links and the patience it takes to earn them, link building can feel like the grunt work of SEO. Faithful execution of these strategies takes hard work, dedication, thick skin, and patience. There will be failures, rude rejections, and perhaps even strategic mistakes.

But high-quality, contextually relevant links will do wonders for your backlink profile. If you keep at it, you can build a stronger link base for your website and gain an edge in what is arguably the single most important area of SEO.

In the long term, you’ll know that your link building efforts were worth it.

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