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It’s that beautiful moment in blogging. You’ve spent three days searching for keywords, writing an optimised article, interlinking between existing posts, editing images and now you are about to hit publish and wash your hands of the post you just gave birth to. You’re done. WRONG!
After hitting the publish button, you are only halfway there. You still need to work on your off-page SEO, and by that, we mostly mean gaining backlinks. Here’s our guide to ways to gain useful backlinks to enhance the chances of your article of being seen and ranked well in Google.
What is Off-Page SEO?
Many of us are familiar with on-page SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), which includes (among other things) searching for rankable keywords and placing them in your posts using our 8-step on-page SEO strategy. It’s a way of speaking Google’s language in the hope of making it to page one of Google’s search engines. However, bloggers often ignore the need to work on off-page SEO, as well.
One important aspect of off-page SEO that we find useful for ranking an article is gaining backlinks.
Backlinks signal to Google that the article is worthy of its attention because other websites have linked to it, passing valuable link juice to the post.
One way to create a healthy backlink profile is to build quality links. You can do this by seeking out links from a variety of different sites. You want a varied backlink profile from authority sites and topical sites (often niche) sites.
In an ideal world, you want to seek out links from higher authority sites than your own. We use Moz’s DA (domain authority) score as an indicator of how well we might be able to rank in search engines. It is in no way perfect and is not calculated with actual Google statistics, but it can help you gauge your ranking power.
It specifically helps to gain links from topical authority sites which go into a lot of detail or focus mainly on the topic you are writing about. For instance, if you are looking to rank for a wedding elopement guide, a do follow (more on that below) backlink from a wedding website to that post is an ideal backlink that will help that guide rank.
Avoid seeking links from the same site over and over, and instead, go for a variety of websites. If you aren’t sure what your backlink profile currently looks like, you can evaluate your backlink profile using Google Search Console.
How to Gain Useful Backlinks
You can, and should, take an active role in building your site’s backlink profile. While it is possible to gain links naturally, without any effort on your part, it isn’t likely that you’ll gain as many high-quality backlinks as you need to begin ranking higher in the search engines without some effort.
There are many ways you can build backlinks. You need to decide which of the methods you are comfortable with, and how much time you have to devote to it.
You may have heard about white hat vs black hat, and even gray-hat, techniques for building links. White hat link building methods have very low risk and aren’t against the search engines’ guidelines. For this reason, white hat should be the only method you choose.
Black hat techniques attempt to exploit loopholes or use other sneaky ways to manipulate search results. They are very risky and are often in direct violation of the search engine guidelines. It is never worth it to attempt to gain links with these shady techniques.
Here are six useful approaches to link building:
- Tap Into Your Community
- Guest Posting
- Collaboration Posts
- Link Exchanges
1. Tap Into Your Community
One of the best, and easiest, ways to build backlinks is to tap into your community. As bloggers, we have many ways to tap into the blogging community. One of the best ways is through Facebook groups.
Participating in a Facebook or other blogging community group will give you an opportunity to meet and interact with fellow bloggers. Building relationships with the right people can be very beneficial.
Once you’ve established a connection with a blogger, you can approach them about a link. For instance, if you have a guide that you think will be useful to their audience, you can send the link and ask if they would like to share it with their audience or link to it from a relevant post.
Please stop cold emailing other bloggers!
You will likely be wasting your time cold-emailing random bloggers. Many bloggers have a policy not to link to sites they don’t have any knowledge of, and you should too!
If you approach someone for a link this way, they’ll likely ignore you. Second, you want to be sure you’re adding real value to their audience. If you spam 100 bloggers with your link, you may get 5 or so links, but they won’t be aimed at or geared specifically for that audience.
A word of caution: There has been a rise in niche sites requesting backlinks through email. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But often niche site builders are taught to create a fake profile, using a stock image and bio on the about us page. The intent of their site is to sell products through affiliates. While there’s nothing wrong with that type of site, you don’t necessarily want to be linking to it. Google often sees this type of links as “link fraud”, meaning that it was done to manipulate the system, not to give value to the reader.
2. Guest Posting
Guest posting can be a great way to gain links to your site, especially when you’re just starting out or for expanding your brand awareness. However, you don’t just want to guest post on any blog. You need to choose wisely. If you are going to give away your precious content, you should do the necessary research to make sure it will be beneficial to you.
- Only target relevant blogs and only guest post within your niche.
- Confirm that the blog you guest post on offers a follow link back to your site.
When writing a guest post, make sure to give your best effort. Send only well-written, lengthy posts that give value to the reader. Depending on the blogger’s guidelines, you may be able to include a link to your site inside the content, but at a minimum, you should be able to include your link in the bio section.
3. Collaboration or Roundup Posts
Collaboration and round up posts are when a blogger coordinates a compilation of contributions from multiple bloggers. For example, the collaboration topic could be related to eco-tourism and each blogger might contribute 300 words on zero waste travel products. Or it might be a recipe roundup related to soups, where multiple bloggers contribute their soup recipes.
To participate, you provide your contribution and receive a “follow” link back to your site in exchange. The link is usually to a post you are building backlinks to, like your zero-waste article, or your soup recipe, or sometimes just to your homepage.
Joining collaborations are a great way to meet other bloggers and also stamp your authority on a topic in front of a new audience. It also earns you a backlink from a new domain, which is a win for link building!
Although these types of collaboration posts are easy to do, great for networking, and earn a new domain backlink, there are several reasons why they aren’t the most effective link-building method.
First, your link will be sharing the link juice from that post with all the other links that are included. If there are 20 contributions, you’ll only be receiving a small portion of the link juice. In contrast, a guest post with only your link earns most of the link juice.
Secondly, you may only be allowed to contribute a homepage link. While you will still gain credit from Google for the backlink, these links don’t carry as much weight as linking to a post about related content and might even be seen as unnatural links. It is almost always better for you, as a contributor, to receive a link to your related article, rather than your homepage.
Why is this? Because when Google’s spiders crawl through the collaboration post and onto your homepage, there is very little correlation between the topics. It’s not a “natural” link to related content that the reader will find useful.
Since relevancy is very important to Google, it’s counterproductive to link to a bunch of homepages; it’s not all that helpful to Google, or to your audience.
So why do bloggers still request homepage-links only in a collaboration?
Bloggers tend to become over-sensitive to competition. They think that giving a link to an article they might already cover on their own site (or want to cover in the future) gives away some of their authority, and helps the other blogger’s post rank better than their own.
While there is some validity to that argument, it could be even more detrimental to provide a dozen or more non-relevant links in a post. Google could see that as a link scheme. Manual penalties are no joke.
Whenever you contribute to a collaboration post, be aware of these pitfalls. Clarify ahead of time if you’ll be receiving a link to a post or only to your homepage. Then you can decide if it’s worth it for you.
If it’s quick and you need homepage links to balance out your link profile, you want to build authority on a topic you’re promoting or passionate about, or you don’t have a post you can link back to, it’s okay to accept a homepage link. It’s your business and your call.
Personally, though, if the site owner says ‘homepage links only’ I won’t participate. I don’t think it’s right.
If you’re thinking about putting together your own collaboration post, remember that one of the ways Google understands your website is through the sites you’re linking to. By looking at those links, Google better understands what your content is about and how useful it is. Your site must be linking to sites that are relevant to your business or niche in order to succeed. Giving only a homepage link could hurt more than the alternative.
I want to see site owners at least try to accommodate backlinks to posts, because we are so lucky to have that opportunity in blogging. If we lose that ability to gain relevant backlinks through our own community, we’re left to fight among the cold call guest post email requests that get put in the trash.
4. Content/Link Exchanges
Link exchanges can be considered black hat, and in many cases, they are.
Google’s Penguin update specifically targeted link exchanges, because webmasters were intentionally manipulating the search results by exchanging irrelevant, poor-quality links with anyone who would make the swap.
The type of link exchanges I am proposing is very different, but can still be considered gray hat, and should be approached as such.
Again, you make the decisions about your own site. Content or link exchanges involve collaborating with relevant bloggers to trade links. For link exchanges to be effective, links should only be placed on highly related sites with similar content.
Never make a link exchange just for the sake of exchanging. For instance, receiving a link to your travel blog from a fitness blog is not a good idea. The content of the blog, the post, and even the paragraph surrounding the link should be highly relevant.
Recently one of our Facebook group members asked what people’s link exchange strategy was. I asked for feedback, here is a summary:
- Rarely – only when an attractive offer (usually higher DA) comes up (we recommend that you gain links from authority/niche sites too regardless of DA).
- Every single post.
- Mix it up with collabs + guest posts.
- No strategy.
- Three-way exchange only (so blogger A links to B and B links to C).
So you can see that no blogger has the same strategy, the decision is yours!
To Follow or Nofollow? That is the Question
When gaining and giving backlinks, you need to consider the question of follow or no follow. Only links without a nofollow attribute will pass valuable link juice on to another site. And since most of the purpose of gaining backlinks is to show Google you have lots of people linking to you, a nofollow link isn’t what you need.
Whether a link should be no follow or do follow comes up in our Make Traffic Happen Facebook group often.
What Is a Nofollow Link?
A Nofollow link includes code that stops Google from crawling the link. It’s a way of telling the search engines that you do not want to give that site link juice.
To set a link to nofollow you simply add <a rel=”nofollow” to the start of the URL code in the text section of your article.
Unless you have purposely changed the settings of your website in WordPress, all hyperlinks are set as follow links. This means that when Google crawls a website, link juice will be passed along to the posts/pages it links to.
This is why you want to ensure that the links you build are set to follow. This is why it’s so important to build relationships with other bloggers before asking them to link to your content since most website owners won’t give follow links to websites they don’t know.
You also want to adopt this policy for your own site when including external links in your own content. As part of our SEO strategy, we recommend linking out to two-three external websites that have high authority. This shows Google that you associate your own content with other high-value content.
» Don’t link to spammy sites.
For example, I’ve just included an external link (above) to Google’s guide on links. I am writing about the subject so it makes sense to reference the authority. Google is an authority when it comes to organic traffic and SEO, so it makes sense to link directly to them – advice from the horse’s mouth, as the saying goes. It is good to include outgoing links to authoritative sites because it makes sense for your post to be in the same ‘neighbourhood’ as those with authority on the topic. Kind of like networking but in text form.
The only time you actually should be setting a link to be “no follow” is when you do not wish to associate your site with the linked site, you have been paid to include the link on your site, or it is an affiliate link from which you will earn a commission. All other links should be set to follow.
Do note, it is not wise to link to a post which is competing for the same keywords as you because that link juice might actually give them the boost they need to outrank you.
How Do I Know If the Link is Nofollow?
To find out if a link is nofollow go to the published post and right-click. Scroll down to inspect and select. Hover over the link to see the code and look for the words ‘no follow’.
Alternatively, upload a nofollow detection Chrome extension to your Chrome browser. I use this one which highlights with a red box with the link is nofollow.
You can learn more about SEO related abbreviations and frequently asked questions here.
What About Sponsored Posts?
Since we’re discussing adding links to your site, we will include a note about sponsored content. Buying links through sponsored posts is not a new concept. There are two sides to the coin to discuss.
You can buy links to your site by buying content placement on other people’s websites. However, if you hope to receive a follow link back to your site, this practice is seen as manipulation by the search engines. Google can and does serve penalties for those who are buying or selling paid links.
They will send you a message via Search Console (don’t have it yet? Find out more here) and deindex your site (yes, goodbye organic traffic) until the issue has been resolved. You also have to consider the FTC guidelines of good practice which you can read here.
What do you think? Is it worth the risk? We don’t think so.
The other side of the coin is when companies request to buy a link on your site through sponsored content. It is entirely up to individual bloggers how they manage their risk and income. However, do keep in mind that providing a follow link that you are paid for is also considered black hat and may be penalized by Google.
If you’re going to accept the risk, we highly recommend you at least make it worth it by charging what you deserve.
Gaining backlinks can be very beneficial to your website and your rankings, but as we’ve shown above it’s never worth it to try to scam the system. Always provide great content for another site when gaining a backlink. This will ensure you’re always on the right side of the line, and that your site is never deemed not credible.
Go on, make traffic happen!
Need a proven SEO strategy so you can start gaining the traffic your blog deserves? Check out our SEO the Easy Way ebook. We’ll teach you everything you need to know about SEO in an easy-to-understand and implement format.
If you’ve already read SEO the Easy Way, it’s time to tackle Revive Old Content, which will help turn your old posts into traffic gold! And don’t forget Site Speed. If your site speed numbers are high, you need our Speed Optimization ebook. Leave the tech jargon behind and get it done.