Backlink Building 2023: 29 White Hat Tactics (+Tips & Tools)
Backlink building. What it is, why it matters plus 29 white hat tactics that’ll get your pages ranked in 2023. With tips, tools & resources to get you started.
If you’re wondering what backlink building is, why it matters or how it’s done, you’re in the right place.
In this post, we’ll—
- Show you what backlink building is, how it works and why it’s such a big part of SEO.
- Share 29 tried and true white hat tactics for building backlinks.
- Share some tips & tools to get you ranked faster and easier.
Ready to see your rankings skyrocket? Let’s get started.
What is Backlink Building?
Backlink building is the process of following Google-approved best practices (White Hat tactics) to acquire inbound links from authoritative, relevant domains.
Backlink building is considered by many the cornerstone of off-page SEO. Proof? An industry study conducted by Backlinko.com and Ahrefs.com found that links are Google’s key ranking signal. And Google itself confirmed those findings, admitting backlinks remain one of their three most important search engine ranking factors.
Simply put, the more high-quality backlinks you have coming into your pages, the better your chances of ranking.
How Do Backlinks Work?
Search engines use links to discover new web pages to index and to determine how well a page should rank in their results.
–Paddy Moogan, Moz.com
A backlink, or inbound link, is created when anchor text in the page of one site is embedded with a hyperlink to the content of another site. All of the expertise, authority and trust of the referring domain (outbound linking site) passes on to the site receiving the link.
So, if a site like Smartblogger.com cites your content for support or context in their article, the outbound link from Smartblogger is a backlink for you.
Types of Backlinks
Any link is considered dofollow unless a nofollow attribute is added. DoFollow links give the Google crawler a green light to pass the authority of the referring domain to the site its linking to. Backlink building is ALL about collecting quality DoFollow links.
This is what it looks like in HTML code–
Nofollow links are used where one page is linking to a competing page for context but chooses not to pass along its authority (aka link juice).
Sponsored or Paid Links
Where a link has been acquired in exchange for money, service or product, we’d use the sponsored attribute.
User-generated content (UGC) links— typically spam links from forum posts and blog post comments– tells Google the link was created by the user, and the content owner doesn’t endorse the link.
BLACK HAT SEO
Google defines link schemes (or link spam) as any backlink building tactics designed to manipulate Google search rankings. These include–
- Exchanging money, goods, or services for links.
- Link exchanges (i.e. link to me and I’ll link to you..
- Automated programs creating links to your site.
Google’s algorithms know how to see link schemes in use, and for the violator, it typically results in de-indexed pages (among other Google penalties), which can cause a precipitous drop in search rankings AND domain authority.
Best advice, stay away from Black or Gray Hat backlink building. But if that’s too late, here’s what you can do—
Disavow bad or harmful backlinks. This means directing Google to ignore certain links to your site. You can do this with backlink audit tools found at Ahrefs.com or Semrush.com.
Why Does Backlink Building Matter?
There are over 200 known Google ranking factors. Of those ranking factors, backlinks are among the most important.
That’s because backlinks are such a powerful endorsement of your website. When an authoritative domain links back to your content, it sends a positive signal to the search engines (and Google’s PageRank algorithm, specifically) that your content is authoritative, trustworthy, and possesses expertise.
The search engines rank your pages higher, and your content becomes visible to searchers.
There’s an undeniable correlation between the number of unique (first-time) backlinks a site gets, and the rankings it enjoys. A study by OptinMonster.com confirms it– sites with the highest number of backlinks tend to rank higher on Google.
But backlinks matter for other reasons. For example, an external link from an authority site to yours makes your pages more visible. Meaning, when Google follows a backlink to your page, it crawls that page to discover all the links on it. And if that page is internally linked to others on your site, it more easily sees those pages, and better understands your site structure.
Secondly, backlinks send referral traffic to your site, and often that traffic is unique. The benefits?
- Increased brand recognition
- Introduction to new audiences
- Opportunities for new qualified leads
- Improved authority from backlinks
So, now that we’ve made the case for backlink building, let’s look at the white hat tactics that make it easier.
29 White-Hat Tactics For Building Backlinks
Start With Who You Know
Use the success of your own content to generate new backlinks. To do this, find out which websites are linking to your content, what kind of content they’re linking to, and generate new content to meet the demand.
Then, promote that content to the sites who’re taking care of you.
Outbound Links Are Partners-In-Waiting
The outbound links from your content are telling you somebody owes you a favor. Or two.
MonsterInsights.com’s WordPress Analytics plugin makes it easy to see who, because it let’s you see where your outbound links are going.
Install the plugin and navigate the Admin panel accordingly— Insights » Reports » Publishers to get to the Top Outbound Links report. There you’ll see the external links on your website that get the most clicks.
Shoot an email to those sites and get a mutual relationship going—tell them about your post(s) along with why you linked to them.
There’s nothing wrong with letting others know the help they’re getting from you, but follow smart best practices for sending outreach emails.
Check In On Your Competitors
It’s ethical (and easy, with the right tools) to spy on your competitors to see who’s linking to their content. Your objective is to learn who they are and reach out likewise.
Ahrefs.com (Standard + editions) and Semrush.com offers tools that’ll give you the backlink profile for any competing site. For example, in Semrush, it’s as easy as going to Backlink Analytics in the admin panel, entering your competitor’s URL, and then clicking Check it. Select Backlinks for a list of domains your competitor gets their links from.
From there, it’s standard promotion outreach.
Find Opportunity With Link Gap Analysis
Similar to the above, but arguably easier, Link Gap Analysis means using tools like Ahrefs.com’s Link Intersect or Semrush.com’s Backlink Gap to find overlooked link opportunities. You’ll identify sites who link to your competitors, but not to you, and then reach out and bring them into the fold.
Chances are, unless they have unique agreements with your competitor, they’ll be agreeable to giving you some link love as well.
Build Backlinks From Broken Backlinks
Tongue-twisting aside, it’s a tried and true white hat tactic to check relevant, high authority sites for broken links (where the referring site has inadvertently created 404 errors). It works because once you find a broken link, your outreach nearly always pays off with a quality backlink.
How’s it done? <That’s one answer, but you can use Ahrefs or Semrush to find broken backlinks as well. If you’re in Ahrefs, enter the target URL in Site Explorer, click on Broken under the Backlinks options, and you’ll see your competitor’s broken links.
If you’re using Semrush.com, navigate to Backlink Analytics, type in a domain related to your niche and click the Indexed Pages tab. Next, check the Broken Pages box on the top left. This will show any broken pages on the site.
From there, click the hyperlinked numbers under the Backlinks column to find out what sites are linking to these broken pages.
Now, look for any broken pages for topics you have or could create content for. You’ll be taken to a list of all the domains that link to the broken page.
However you find those broken links, reach out and let your target URL people know about the broken link, and offer your content as replacement. Here’s an outreach sample, courtesy of Brian Dean at Backlinko.com–
Create Link-Worthy Content
Kind of obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many sites miss this one.
The quality of your content matters to Google, and yes, to those who are looking for outbound links that’ll support their content.
Generate consistently authoritative and compelling content, and you will be found. And with the right kind of promotion, you’ll be on your way.
Bet On Long-Form Content
According to SEO Expert Nathan Gotsch, if you want more links, write longer, in-depth content.
A Backlinko.com study agrees. Their findings show long-form content gets an average of 77.2% more links than short articles.
How long is long enough? That’s relative. Google doesn’t recognize word count as a ranking signal, so don’t look for hard and fast rules there. Most content developers will go off the average word counts on page 1 SERPs, but give your topic matter the clear, concise development it requires.
Content that articulates intelligently will be viewed as authoritative and link-worthy, no matter the word count.
Publish Ultimate Guides
A variation on the theme of long-form content, a recent study of 11.8 million search results shows that Ultimate Guides work, consistently outperforming shorter articles.
The ultimate guide is a one-stop resource for a given topic, and by it’s nature gives broad treatment to broad keywords. The objective? Your ultimate guide, once discovered, will be linked back to recurringly as the referring domain needs to.
Post Skyscraper Content
Continuing with long-form content as link bait, the term Skyscraper technique (coined by Brian Dean, founder of Backlinko.com) is based on 2 simple concepts–
- People prefer the best of the best and…
- Because the content ranking on Page 1 of the SERPs is (assumed to be) what the searcher is looking for, we should emulate content that ranks.
The approach is simple–to build Skyscraper Content, you research your competitor’s content, and make yours stand out above theirs.
Like… 5-10% better.
We’ll let you decide what 5-10% better looks like, but in general? It’s up-to-date with more tips, better tips, newer strategies, more variety, smarter categorization using (filterable) TOCs, optimized for feature snippets, and, well, you get the idea.
The concept of bigger and better really has its place in the Ultimate Guide format. Bigger means broader topics get the comprehensive treatment they need and original visuals have space to pop. Better means it’s a snap to scan and easy to update because it’s designed and organized better than what’s showing up in SERPs right now.
Your job? Stand out amidst the many posts ranking for your keyword, especially the (tallest) ones that get the most links.
Infographics Are Link Magnets
Infographics are visual representations of data and information. It can be images and charts, but more often than not it’s an attractive, easy to consume graphic that gives a quick overview of the topic and breaks down complex concepts.
That WordPress infographic^> from WpBeginner.com, has pulled in over 700 backlinks.
Including my own.
Got canva? Get going.
Help a Reporter Out (HARO)
A backlink from Forbes.com might seem like a long shot, but HARO (Help a Reporter Out) gets you closer.
HARO is an online site providing journalists fast, accessible information from credible sources who’re experts in their field.
That would be bloggers, like you. And in exchange for helping that reporter, you get a well-placed mention (and backlink) in the piece she’s writing.
Getting started is easy. Go to HARO, select a pricing plan, sign up as a source, indicate your expertise zone(s), and you’ll be getting HARO requests from media sites asking for quotes, tips, and other intel.
You pick the requests most relevant to you, punch out what they’re looking for, and in time, as your answers get picked, you’ll be pulling links.
Do the Interview
That same expert source needed for written pieces is also useful in interviews. Set yourself up as a relevant industry source by using HARO to find queries looking for an interview or quote.
The link works the same, no matter where it comes from.
Guest Blogging FTW
Guest posting may be the most widely-practiced backlink building tactic in this list.
The approach is simple– you reach out to a website who’s accepting contributing pieces, agree on the content angle, and in lieu of monetary compensation, you get a backlink placed in the bio or, more favorably, somewhere contextually, like the body content.
Guest blogging works well for everyone. For the host site, the guest post is an integral part of the marketing funnel, because the guest-writer’s audience comes with it and expands reach.
For you, Blogger, it creates another domain to add to your backlink profile.
Scoring guest posting gigs begins with finding sites who offer them. Here’s one cool approach, again, courtesy of the folks at Backlinko.com—
- Find someone in your niche who writes a lot of guest posts.
- Next, go to one of their published guest posts and grab the headshot they use in their author bio.
- Finally, pop the URL of that screenshot into Google Reverse Image Search.
You’ll get a list of sites that particular guest-blogger posts on. From there, it’s outreach, but be mindful of these guest posting red flags—
- The host site wants to charge you to publish the post.
- The post contains exact match anchor text.
- The site exists solely to publish guest posts.
- The site isn’t relevant to yours.
Score Guest Appearances On Podcasts
Getting yourself onto a podcast is big in so many ways.
Popular podcasts have big audiences. And between site mentions, flexing your expertise, and free backlinks in the podcast notes, the impact a podcast guest appearance can have on your rankings speaks for itself.
Zero in on podcasts relevant to your content sphere, and shoot them an email—
- Express your interest in being a guest.
- Sell your experience and expertise.
- Emphasize the fit with the podcast, and the value you’ll bring.
Buy Your Backlinks(?)
If it’s done right, with a White Hat SEO agency, we’re good. Otherwise, I’ll admit, this tactic can be a bit fuzzy Gray Hat.
Some (actually many, including Google) say that buying backlinks is playing with fire. So, the safest way to buy backlinks is to use the backlink building services of a White Hat SEO agency, who use best practices to acquire inbound links for you.
There’s more to buying backlinks (and backlink building services) than we have time for here, but this post by Nathan Gotsch of GotschSEO.com can fill you in a bit until we get back to you with a post of our own.
Find Dead & Disabled (Outdated) Sites
You just got an email, from YourCapital.com, saying it’s changed its name to OurCapital.com.
That’s an opportunity. There’re links pointing to YourCapital that’ll soon be returning a 404 Oops result.
But you can help. You’re gonna reach out to all those who are linking to that dead URL, using an email like this–
But first, you’ll need to find them. Here’s how, courtesy of Brian Dean at Backlinko.com—
Step One: Find Outdated Sites In Your Niche
These are typically sites who have–
- Changed names.
- Moved to a new URL.
- Stopped offering a service.
- Stopped updating a resource.
- Shut down.
You can dig up sites using ordinary Google search, combining your target keyword (TKW) with the following search terms:
- “TKWs service not available”
- “TKW page no longer exists”
- “TKW this website is no longer updated”
- “TKW this page is no longer updated”
- “TKW no longer available”
- “TKW website closed”
- “TKW citation needed”
- “TKW dead link”
Step Two: Find Sites Still Linking To the Outdated URL
Once you find that ghost URL, enter it into Ahrefs, Semrush or other backlink checking tool. Find the links pointing to that page, keeping an eye out for sites with the highest domain rating.
Step Three: Ride In On Your White Horse
Be the hero. Reach out to the sites still linked to the outdated URL, give them a heads up and something they can link to—your content.
Lure Backlinks With Popular Content Formats
A recent content study co-sponsored by Backlinko.com and Buzzsumo.com found that 94% of all online content gets ZERO links. But… the study also revealed certain content formats performed consistently better than others. Want to create content that attracts backlinks like a magnet? Focus on—
- “Why” Posts
- “What” posts
Be sure the content is written by humans, and that it’s amazing.
Brand Your Innovations
Got a cool tactic. A smarter strategy? Share it.
But give it a name, like Skyscraper Technique or Moving Man Method, to not only make it more memorable, but easier to link to,
Those links can only help to build your branding strategy.
Get Listed On Resource Pages
Resource pages are curated lists of links, whose only purpose for existing is to link out to other sites. Getting on these pages is a big backlink building win.
Finding resource pages takes some work, but here’s a quick process overview—
People tend to describe their resource pages as–
- Resources for (learning SEO)
- Information for (dog trainers)
- Sites for (career planning)
- Helpful resources
- Useful resources
- Further reading
- Additional resources
Search for these terms… plus a keyword. For example, to find a resource page on link building, run a Google search like this–
Then, ask nicely for a link. (The process overview link above offers a script to follow).
Create Linkable Assets
Linkable assets are smart backlink building pieces that create value and are easy to link to. It’s an authoritative cornerstone for a given keyword that journalists and bloggers alike use as data sources and summary. Typically, they relate to–
- Data-driven studies.
- In-depth, long-form guides.
- Infographics, GIFographics, Map-o-graphics and other visuals.
- Online tools and calculators.
- Awards and rankings.
- Industry surveys.
- How-to guides and tutorials.
- Definitions and coined terms.
Your link building strategy? Create the assets, zeroing in on keywords with high search volumes. Research ranking posts for that keyword. And reach out to those who might benefit.
Turn your love of a product or service into a backlink. You can do this by publishing a post, featuring the product– with a testimonial– and then reaching out to the sites you featured in the post.
Or, drop a testimonial or success story on the site itself, being sure to mention your site.
If you’re lucky, you may get a backlink AND a social media share.
Get Your Association Links
Make sure that any business associations you belong to links back to your site. If you’re shy in this category, it might be time to expand your networking.
Use the Power Of Listicles
A listicle, or list post, is content involving a listing of subtopics, oft-grouped as a Best of roundup, like—
- Best Pizza in Chicago
- Top 10 Hair Diffusers
- Top 10 Minimalist Living Blogs
What makes list posts great content?
- People love reading listicles.
- Listicles make great link bait for other content writers.
- A solid list post will typically link to their list items.
With this in mind, list posts are gold if your site (brand or business) is mentioned.
But, what if it’s not?
Well, you can use a tool like Semrush.com’s Surround Sound to find out where you should be listed, but aren’t. From there, it’s– you guessed it– outreach. But, since listicles require frequent updating, their writers will be happy to link to you.
Get A Link On Those Mentions
It’s not unusual for someone giving an internet shoutout to think mentioning you (however prominently) is enough.
Not to be ungrateful, but it’s…not?
So, reach out. Thank your influencer for the mention, and ask for the link. Reclaiming unlinked brand mentions is an easy way to build high-profile backlinks.
You can monitor your brand mentions with Google Alerts (free and easy), or get deeper insights into your mentions with tools like BuzzSumo, Ahrefs Content Explorer or Mention.
Go Beyond Infographics
Infographics may be the most common graphic linkable asset, but well-edited video, charts created from original data, templates, and license-free original photo galleries are all solid backlink building content pieces to consider.
Link directories have a dark reputation, given how they inspired Google algorithm updates that put their spammy, low-quality content out of business.
Yet, directories are still around. In fact, sites like huspot.com recommend them for backlink building, even suggesting they are probably one of the best ways to improve your local SEO and help potential customers find your business.
We’re referring to Google My Business, Yelp, and TripAdvisor to mention a few, but these links, courtesy of Irina Nica, at hubspot.com, will help you find directories relevant to your site–
- 21 Web Directories That Still Have Value
- Top Local Citations by Business Category
- The Ultimate List: 57 Online Local Business Directories
- 600+ Directory Sites and How to Do Directory Link Building
Reverse Engineer Competitor Backlinks
This tactic examines your competitors’ backlinks to see what content formats are earning backlinks, who is linking to leaders in your content niche, and then replicating their link-building strategies on your site.
You can do this with the Ahrefs tool. But if you’re using Semrush’s Backlink Analytics, enter your competitor’s domain, go to the Indexed Pages tab, which will show a table of your competitor’s pages, sorted by number of referring domains (sites linking to you competitor).
Your job then is to look for patterns in the top pages’ topics, style, length, and format. Find out what works, and get more of that into your content strategy.
Build Backlinks With Ego Bait
Nobody grows tired of seeing their name mentioned. So if your post prominently mentions the name of an influencer who can help with a backlink, reach out to them, let them know how and where they were mentioned, and ask.
Go ahead, they won’t bite.
Create Community, Build Backlinks
Great for positioning your expertise and brand, creating your unique social community will build both.
Plus, your social media presence will help your SERP rankings.
Resources For Backlink Building
All of the sites I linked to are authorities on backlink building. Blogs, tools and authoritative viewpoint, if you’re serious about ranking, bookmark them.
Backlink Building Tools
- Semrush.com: Link Building Tool
- Semrush.com: Backlink Analytics
- Semrush.com: Surround Sound
- Ahrefs.com: Standard+ Versions
Ultimate Guides To Backlink Building
- Backlinko.com: Link Building for SEO: The Definitive Guide
- Backlinko.com: Broken Link Building–The Complete Guide
- SearchEngineJournal.com: Link Building for SEO: A Complete Guide
- Backlinko.com: Search Engine Ranking
Build Backlinks, Build Authority
The number of sites linking to your site (not the total number of backlinks) correlates with Google rankings more than any other factor.
Your goal is to acquire more unique backlinks than your competitor. But, a smart backlink building campaign will only include linking partners who meet these criteria–
- Link is Authoritative – The site is authoritative, generates serious traffic and routinely ranks high in SERPs for keywords they compete in.
- Link is Relevant – The referring page tackles topics similar to content matter on your site.
- Link is Natural – The link is not sponsored, the anchor text is not branded or spammy, and the referring page has a natural number of links on it.
Additionally, all backlinks are not created equal. Knowing which factors bring the most link equity will lead to better outreach decisions. To that end, keep the following in mind–
- Google considers the first link on a page the most valuable. The fewer outbound links on a referring domain’s page, the better.
- Unless the link is DoFollow, don’t bother.
- If a site with high domain authority links to your site, Google will assume your site is trustworthy, too.
- Anchor text of the referring domain should semantically relate to the content it’s pointing to (Click here sucks).
- The first link you get from a domain will always be the strongest–every link thereafter loses boost.
Which Tactic’s Right For You?
We’ve given you a bunch, and you may have a sense that some tactics seem more like you than others. If it helps, a recent poll amongst experts, conducted by the folks at Semrush.com, revealed the following most effective backlink building strategies—
- guest posting
- replicating competitor backlinks
- resources and links list pages
- business directories and local citations
- broken backlinks
And if you don’t have time for it, if you’d rather just let the experts do the work for you, that’s okay. You can find an excellent (and affordable) freelance backlink specialist through LinkedIn, Upwork and Fiverr.
Time To Get Ranked
Backlink building. It’s an essential part of off-page SEO, and without it, you’re probably not going to see your pages ranked.
The good news is there are so many ways to get backlinks, and new tactics are devised continually.
What matters is that you get in the game. Read the guides, jump into a link building course, choose the backlink building strategy that’s right for you. But get started.
Your ranking power depends on it.
Your backlinks are the currency of your content, but more than that, the internet is waiting to help.
See you on page 1.
Questions? Clarifications? Feel free to drop me a line. Check out our blog page for examples to model your own work on. You can shoot over to our portfolio page for inspiration too. And if you prefer to have an agency do it for you, read about our content writing and SEO services here.
In the meantime, Best of Luck. And Be Well.