You can’t talk about SEO without mentioning Link Building.
In fact, link building used to be the only way you could rank your website higher than your competitors on Google.
Just a few years ago, you could create a 5-Page website using copy-pasted material from other sources on the web, throw a ton of low-quality web 2.0, blog comment, and profiles links at it, and get the all coveted number one spots for your keywords on Google.
Oh how times have changed =)
Google’s been on a relentless crackdown on low-quality backlinks that are specifically created to game its system.
What used to work in 2012 won’t work today, regardless of how hard you try to disguise it.
Just recently, we witnessed a major crackdown on links created using Private Blog Networks (PBNs).
Trying to game the system in 2016 is a total waste of your time.
The game has shifted from Link Building to Link Earning.
But what’s the freaking difference between the two?
Today’s SEO best practises insist on natural links.
And, ideally, natural links must be earned, not built.
There are quite a few differences between link building and link earning:
1. While link building lays a lot of emphasis on buying links, link earning concentrates more on creating valuable content
2. Link building thrives on indiscriminate directory submissions. Link earning dwells on working to gain access to an exclusive listing
3. Link building is dependent on indiscriminate reciprocal linking. Link earning depends on natural and relevant linking
4. Link Building is mass article submissions to directories, whereas Link Earning replaces this with tactical guest blogging.
5. Link Builders use templated email blasts to solicit for links. Link Earners create meaningful relationships on social media with other influencers.
If I was to define link earning, it would be
The strategic practice of creating valuable and detailed content that naturally (or auto-magically) invites news outlets, bloggers, and other brands to link to it.
Thoughtful content lies at the heart of earning backlinks.
But there is more.
Regardless of the awesomeness of the content you have, you can’t just cross your fingers and hope that bloggers and journalists will just start linking to you.
In order to Earn Backlinks, you must think of it as a two-step process:
1. What type of outstanding content can I produce?
2. What can I do to turn the outstanding content into links?
Let’s start with the obvious – creating value-added content for your audience.
Every link earning campaign starts with a lot of brainstorming and creative thinking.
You must think not only about the type of content you have to produce but also the best way to present that information to your audience.
You need to have a clearly defined content strategy before you embark on any link earning mission.
Keep in mind that the usefulness of content is relative to your target audience and influencers or brands that you hope will share or link to your content.
Once you have created content that your audience finds amazing, they will help you spread the word by sharing it on social media.
So, make sure that the content is shareable and that your website is optimised for social sharing.
Epic content is well-researched from more than one source.
Make sure you link to these sources; don’t be a link hoarder.
There has been a raging debate in the web-world on the efficacy of linking out to others within your content.
Some people worry that linking out will cost them page rank and damage their search engine rankings.
Others are afraid that linking out creates exit portals for their web visitors.
Although these are justified concerns, they should not keep you from linking out.
There is a lot to gain by linking out.
Linking out within your high quality content incentivises linking in.
Look at all the websites that earn natural backlinks and mentions in your industry. They have one thing in common: They are masters of linking out.
When you link out, it creates a signal to other webmasters that you are a jolly good fellow who appreciates the value of great information; not a self-referential selfish know-it-all.
You have created invaluable content.
Sit back, relax, and watch all of those links start streaming in, right?
If you build it they will come. Doesn’t apply here.
You have to actively put your content in front of as many eyeballs as you can.
Connect with influencers, journalists, and bloggers in your industry.
AKA an outreach campaign.
The goal of an outreach campaign is to bring awareness to something of value.
Like I have already stated, creating valuable content and hoping that bloggers and journalist will automatically link to it won’t just happen.
Have you ever heard this phrase before,
It’s not what you know, it is who you know?
The same applies to earning natural backlinks.
The relationships you cultivate with bloggers and webmasters in your niche will reap high quality backlinks both in the short-term as well as in the long term.
Outreach campaigns should be ingrained in your overall digital marketing campaign.
Basically, you email bloggers and webmasters who are in the same industry, show them your epic content, and ask whether they would like you to contribute to their blog to drive word about your content.
While it is not easy to create an outreach campaign, you can always learn from guys who have done it before.
There is nothing wrong with asking your blogging friends or relatives to spread word about your epic content.
I am assuming that you have friends, employees, clients, and colleagues, or anyone else you know that runs a website or blog.
Just ask them for a link.
I am not talking about shady link exchange schemes here.
I’m talking about approaching real friends, relatives, and other acquaintances, who have websites asking them to link to your website.
It is by far the easiest way to get a few quality backlinks.
However, in as much as your friends have websites, you will want to make sure that the topic of the website is relevant to what you do.
Links from irrelevant niches will have very little impact on your SEO.
Broken link building will probably go in history as one of the most effective link building/earning tactics that ever existed.
The tactic has been around for years and is probably never going to go out of fashion.
The web will always have opportunities to build links from broken links.
Yes, it is primarily a link building strategy, but it can be extended to cover link earning in the sense that no one will want to link to you if the content you have on your website does not deserve a link.
You must be able to produce the most epic content before you can put this tactic into play.
So, how do you tap into this Powerful Link Building Strategy?
Of course the process is more involving than what I have outlined here.
QuickSprout has a more thorough guide on broken link building.
Guess what will happen if you have truly epic and groundbreaking content on your website?
You will get links from places that you never imagined, such as Wikipedia pages.
Although links on Wikipedia pages are no-follow, they are some of the most authoritative backlinks you can get.
In addition, having a link on a Wikipedia page can drive massive traffic to your website.
It is one of the most visited websites in the world.
There are two approaches to getting links from Wikipedia.
The first one is to create an authoritative business that deserves a page on Wikipedia.
The other one is to edit pages on Wikipedia and pass your link along with the edits.
Point Blank SEO has written an incredible post on how you can get a link on Wikipedia by becoming an editor.
Although content serves as a keystone to earning backlinks, it is not the only tactic that you can use to attract natural backlinks.
Here are a few more link attraction strategies that you might want to try.
Content and outreach will only earn so many links. You have to devise other ways of attracting links.
When done right, white papers can serve the proverbial role of killing two birds with one stone.
They can portray your company as a source of authority as well as become an SEO Powerhouse.
Simply create a high value white paper, spread word about it, and watch organic links start rolling in.
If you discover something new, publish a research paper. It will earn you some valuable organic links from scholarly and news websites.
If your industry can create a tool, make sure that you create one and spread word about it.
These tools can be online calculators, measurement converters, or an SEO tool if you are in the Digital Marketing Industry.
If you create such a tool and publicise it, webmasters in your industry can’t help but share it.
This naturally attracts links and shares to your website.
Spending a couple of hours every month preparing, marketing, and delivering a free webinar can be an effective way of attracting organic backlinks over the long term.
To make sure the link juice keeps flowing, set up a page on your website dedicated to announcing webinars.
With each webinar that you announce, new links keep rolling into that special page.
HubSpot, with over 1000 backlinks on their special webinars page, is a great example of this.
The world might have gone digital, but a lot of people still appreciate a beautifully designed printable resource.
By creating a printable resource with a beautiful design, you can guarantee yourself a few high quality organic backlinks.
A good example is Brian Flores, the SEO for Inmotion Hosting, who created a printable HTML 5 Cheat Sheet that got shared by Google Developers G+ Page.
When creating link baits, think outside the box. Spend time brainstorming with your team to figure out the type of value added resources you can create to attract natural backlinks for your business’s website.
Although much of the emphasis nowadays is on earning backlinks as opposed to building them, there are a few instances that building backlinks can be worthwhile.
Here are a few particular link building strategies that you should try.
This is one of the best ways to get quality backlinks without a lot of solicitation.
Have you bought a product or service in the past few months?
As long as it is not a product from a massive company such as Amazon or Apple, there is a very high chance that you can get a link in exchange for a testimonial.
This testimonials page, for instance, has a Page Authority (PA) of 74 on a domain that has an authority of 68!
And the best part is that all you have to do to get a link from a testimonial is write a few sentences of how the product has helped you.
List down all the products or services you’ve recently purchased, and see if the company takes testimonials in exchange for a backlink.
This is yet another strategy to get links from manufacturers of the products that you use.
In all probabilities, chances will be that their testimonials page will be fully occupied and you are unlikely to be featured on it,
Don’t give up!
Write a detailed review of the product.
Aim for 2500 words with a lot of screenshots and how-tos.
Publish the piece on your website and reach out to the manufacturers/vendors via email. Ask them to share your product review with their audience.
If the product owners like your review, there is a very high chance that they are going to link to it.
I spend a lot of time spying on my competitors’ link profiles.
Essentially, you piggyback on their SEO research and success.
I suggest using SEMRush to analyse your competitor’s link profile.
Occasionally, you’ll stumble across some real gems, such as a high-quality industry/niche directory.
Paste your competitor’s domain in SEMRush and export their backlinks to Excel.
Do this for all your competitors and export the results to an Excel file. You can then sort the results using different metrics as you please.
You can extend this tactic to analyse your indirect competitors too, especially those in your vertical.
If you run a local business, check out how other businesses in your area are getting their links.
If you are in eCommerce, try to figure out how other eCommerce websites are getting their links.
Brian Dean (over at Backlinko) has popularised guestographics as one of the most effective ways to gain do-follow backlinks.
How does it work?
1. You create a high-quality infographic
2. Post it on your website
3. Reach out to other publishers in your niche
4. Show them your infographic
5. Offer them unique content to go with the infographic if they are willing to publish it on their website
6. Get your high-quality backlinks
You can get the ins and outs of the whole process on Backlinko.
Over to you now! Did I leave anything out?
I would like to hear some of the other Link Earning Strategies that you think will work.
Leave your comments below!