Whether you're starting from scratch or looking to further enhance your link profile, links remain a critical method of marketing. However, if you've been paying attention, you can see that link building is a constantly evolving practice.
Certain tactics are overused then abused then penalized, with link builders running around trying to undo damage from techniques that worked well but maybe weren't 100 percent safe ideas.
What follows is a list and discussion of 131 (legitimate) link building tactics, some of which worked just as well 10 years ago as they do today.
Start With the Basics
Ah, the basics...these are the tactics that can form the foundations of any link building campaign, no matter what your niche or budget. The basics don't tend to change and they're critical to understand so that you can move on to more advanced and creative techniques.
1. Email a webmaster, asking for a link to your site. Personalizing your emails is critical here (think about how many emails you get every day) so make sure you're actually emailing webmasters who have sites that are relevant to yours, and, even more importantly, make sure that your site is actually link-worthy. We're all busy people and no one wants to waste time so if it's not a good place for a link to you, don't waste anyone's time.
2. Use the phone. Picking up the phone to do the same thing as listed above is also acceptable for those of us who aren't averse to having to speak to another human being for work matters.
3. Find great sources for links by simply searching the web for your desired target keywords. Whereas even a year ago I would have said that sites appearing high in the SERPs would be good sites to contact, due to the truly amazing amount of spam and hacked sites that appear high up for certain search terms, I'd say you need to visit the sites with a very careful eye. Whereas we used to think that getting a link from any source was a good idea, after Google started notifying webmasters that they had bad links which should be removed, I'd say to be very, very critical.
4. Use social media to find great sources for links. There are loads of tools that can help with this (my favorite is Icerocket) but simply going to Twitter and searching for a keyword in the same way that you search through an engine's results can show you some fantastic link opportunities.
5. Make the link negotiation personal. Even if you've emailed to ask for a link, don't be opposed to speaking to this benevolent webmaster by phone, or in person if that works out. Sometimes this personal connection can be what secures your link.
6. Know what makes a site a good linking partner. If you've been building links for a long time, you can probably easily glance at a site and, in under a minute, determine whether it would be a beneficial linking partner. However, for the rest of the world, it's not so easy. Know what makes me like a site more than anything else? Social love. If I see a blog post that is relevant to my topic, has ongoing relevant comments, a decent amount of tweets/likes/shares, that's a good site to me because I'm thinking about traffic.
7. Think about traffic! Think about sites that can send you relevant traffic, not just sites that might improve your rankings. If you can see yourself going to that site, seeing your link, clicking on it, and thinking "nice, this is just what I wanted!" then yes, that's a good traffic-generating site most likely.
8. Stop thinking about rankings and Google's Toolbar PageRank. Rankings definitely matter but considering the amount of places that can send you traffic (like social media sites, sites that link to you, sites where you guest post, etc.) it's silly to rely on rankings in one engine. Stop thinking that a link from a site with a PR of 0 won't help you, and that a link from a site with a PR of 5 definitely will.
9. Check to see what your competitors are doing. While this should never be a definitive way to define your own link plan, it's valuable to see what works for others in your niche. Just don't think that you can mimic a competitor's link profile and do as well as they have. It's definitely not that simple.
10. Make sure your site isn't hurting you. Many times we think that with the right links, our sites will soar in the rankings, even though they are usability nightmares with nothing real to offer anyone that can't be found elsewhere.
11. Check out the sites that link to you and find the sites they link to. Sounds convoluted, but it's a great way to figure out other good sites to contact.
12. If you get a link from a fantastic site that is exactly the type of site you want to link to you, after congratulating yourself on this achievement, do some digging and find out who else links to that site. Those may also be good sites to contact for links.
13. Search for sites that should link to you but don't. If you find a blog post entitled "Top 100 companies that sell green widgets" and you sell green widgets but aren't listed, contact the webmaster and point this out. Nicely, of course.
14. Don't automate if you can help it. There are times when automation can be a lifesaver but when it comes to reviewing a site and making a personal connection that leads to a link, I'd make the decision to do it all manually.
15. If you receive a negative response, regard this as very important, as these refusals could be telling you something. Perhaps your site isn't as link-worthy as you thought it was. If a webmaster takes the time to email you back and say no thanks, ask him or her why. Maybe you'll uncover an error that is glaring to everyone but yourself. Regard this as a fantastic usability opportunity. Also, if a webmaster points out something fixable and you fix it, maybe you'll get that link in the end.
16. If you move your site to a new URL, surely you'll 301 it but for the maximum linky benefit, do yourself a favor and contact the sites (especially the really good ones) that link to you to point out your new URL.
17. Sponsor something. Sponsor a charity, a contest, an afterschool club at your kid's school, anything.
18. Learn to love the nofollowed link. There's more to life than link juice. Nofollows can be amazing for traffic so if someone says yes, I'll link to you but I have to nofollow it, say thanks.
19. See who links to YouTube videos that relate to your industry and ask them for a link.
20. In that same line of thought, see who links to infographics in your niche. Ask them for a link.
Become a Content Provider
If you aren't putting content out there for consumption, you stand little chance of acquiring links. People use the web to gather information, and if you aren't giving it to them, someone else (your competitor) definitely is.
I know that many people who are fantastic communicators and great thinkers often don't believe that they can write anything of value. However, as we'll point out to start off, practice is the key here.
21. Write something even if you're not yet very good at it. The more you practice, the better you'll be.
22. Write something really, really good, something that no one else has yet written. Put a new spin on what you want to say so that it will grab people's attention. For example, if you're writing about pest control (and for the record I do not work with any pest control clients), then maybe write a piece about how you're never more than a few feet away from a spider. Shivers.
22. Think about an ongoing content plan and write so that it's easy to write a follow-up piece. Series are great, regular guest post slots are great, and knowing what your "thing" is can definitely be great. For example, for my agency's blog, we've decided that we want to show how we think about links. We have a group of employees who are from extremely diverse backgrounds and we've had a lot of success with blog posts that do more than tell you how to contact a webmaster and get a link. Our "thing" is creative thinking about what we do for a living.
23. Produce something other than just textual content. Do an infographic or create a comic. Produce videos where you do things like interview people in your industry (hey, look how far it took Jonathan Allen!) Start a weekly online radio show. That kind of non-text-based content does get links.
24. Actively pursue new opportunities for contributing to your industry. Maybe you can moderate a forum or help curate a weekly newsletter. Maybe you can provide fantastic answers on Quora.
25. Find something that's missing and jump into giving it to us. No forum for your industry? Start one. Looking for a list of all the preschools in your town but can't find one? Do the research, write it, and put it out there for everyone to see and link to.
26. Do one major article that will become the definitive resource for something and that can be (and will be) updated on a semi-annual or annual basis. Think Rae Hoffman-Dolan's amazing series "Link Building With The Experts."
27. Create a curated list for something. Think about your industry and what you have trouble keeping up with.
28. Produce a monthly "best of" series to recap what's happened in your industry in case people missed something.
29. Reference your older articles when they're relevant. Michael Gray does a great job of this with his archived posts tweets.
30. Make sure that when you do promote your content, the right people are seeing it at the right time. If you're publishing an article about the best pizza delivery in New York, don't publish it when everyone on the East Coast is sound asleep. There are great scheduling tools out there, so use them if you can't promote content at the right time.
Leave Your Links Everywhere
Well, not everywhere maybe, but links can be a calling card if used wisely. Some of these cross over with the above section on providing content. This is the same idea as any other marketing really; you want as many eyeballs as possible on your product.
31. Link to your site in your email signature.
32. Link to your site in all your social media platforms.
33. Link to your site on your business cards that you will naturally give out at industry events.
34. Tell people about your site. You'd be surprised at how much of a resource this can be.
35. Comment on relevant blogs and sites without doing so in a spammy manner. I wouldn't suggest popping your link into a casual comment because that's not a good way to build long-term link exposure, but using your site for your comment signature can lead people to you, even if it doesn't actually generate a link on the spot.
36. As mentioned earlier, guest post. Ask to guest post. Approach sites and say hey, would you be interested in having me as a one-time contributor? Be prepared with something though, in case you're asked for an idea or a writing sample.
37. Interview someone. Interviewees usually link back to these interviews, and they're a great way to get to know people in your industry.
38. Write a testimonial or a review of a product.
39. Leave reviews for local businesses you've visited on sites like Yelp.
40. Give feedback online through social media. If you like an article, tweet that to the writer. If you had a great hotel stay, put it on their Facebook page.
Be Creative and Visible
There's so much information out there that if you aren't presenting a unique experience, you're going to fall behind. If you aren't drawing attention to your work, people aren't going to see it.
Some people have difficulty promoting their own work, while some people seem to do nothing but promote their own work. You should definitely let people know when you have something new as we're all busy people and will appreciate it.
41. Rewrite an old post in order to update the ideas.
42. Write a rebuttal or an alternative point of view to a post, publish it on your site, and let the webmaster know.
43. Do the same but ask to have it published on the same site.
44. Although I am very guilty of not going this well, include images in what you write. Sometimes your image will stick in someone's mind longer than your words will.
45. Speak up on social media. Do it on Twitter, on Facebook, on Google+, and anywhere else there's a conversation.
46. Participate in forums. Ask and answer questions. You can make amazing contacts this way.
47. If you can, sponsor a meetup in your area or maybe do a small drinks round at a bar after a conference.
48. Crowdsource ideas and feedback when you need them. I've met very few people who don't enjoy being asked their opinion.
49. Introduce yourself to people online and offline. I'm always happy when someone comes up to me at a conference and introduces him or herself. Lots of friendships and business relationships are formed from a simple bold "hi."
50. Speak at a conference! This is one of the ultimate ways to get noticed, and you can get a great link off the website of the people putting on the show. Your name will be in the conference materials, too...always a good thing.
Especially For B2B Sites
B2B can be tough at times. However, some of those difficulties simply come from how we think about it. I'm guilty of thinking that B2B provides more challenges than other types of businesses but if asked, I can't actually give any concrete reasons to back it up.
Let's just think of B2B as being unique, not difficult.
51. If you have a relationship with a supplier, don't be afraid to link out and get a link back. While reciprocal links can be excessively spammy, if it makes sense, it isn't always bad.
52. Simply ask your partners to link to you.
53. Publish an email newsletter that showcases anything new or creative that you're doing and let your partners know about it. Maybe if you've never gotten a link off their website, you will once they see that you're offering something new that can't be found elsewhere.
54. Showcase a partner each month on your company's blog or in a newsletter and ask the partner to promote this through his or her own company. You can get a great link off that blog for your trouble, and links like this are nicely relevant.
55. Create a contest for the guys who buy from you. For example, ask the 10 big ones to write a blog post on their company blogs about a topic relevant to both of you in your industry, with a link back to your site. For their trouble, enter them into a drawing where one lucky winner gets a discount on the next month's agreement.
56. Put together a downloadable guide to your services and include the companies that you work with and list what they have to offer, to be used as an industry resource. Let them all know about it and don't be afraid to promote this through social media channels, as everyone likes to know where they can find good information.
57. Think data. What kind of data would help you do something better, whether it's find new suppliers/providers, cut costs, recruit employees, etc.? Search for it and if it exists and you aren't a part of it, ask to contribute for the privilege of a link to your site. If this data isn't out there, create it.
58. Participate where your suppliers, partners, and providers participate online. If there's a big forum and you've never taken the time to get involved, do so now. If there isn't anything major out there but you think there's a need, get together with some of these companies and make it happen.
59. Sponsor a meetup or dinner where you invite your closest business associates. A small bar tab goes a long, long way in terms of engendering loyalty. More important than actual links, loyalty is what can keep your business running.
60. Try and be seen as a leader in your niche for online marketing. If you're in a traditionally old-school company where no one wants to go online, be the first. When you learn how to successfully do it, take the lead and cultivate a following of people who want to learn from you. You know that guy who's been running a mom and pop tractor repair place that he took over from his dad 40 years ago? Help him get comfortable with the web.
61. Make sure you're listed in all the relevant online business directories.
62. Make sure you're listed in all the local services like Yahoo Local and Google Places.
63. Become a member of your local civic organizations, Chamber of Commerce, marketing groups, etc.
64. Make a donation to a group in town that is somehow connected with your B2B. If you manufacture dog crates that you usually sell to dog breeders, make a donation to the animal shelter or ASPCA.
65. Check out the printed media available in your area. These can be great places to advertise and the cost can be low, but the visibility is excellent.
66. Ask for a link whenever you send out a new contract. While this should never be a requirement, it doesn't hurt to mention that you'd like a link if possible, and make it easy by including instructions.
67. If you don't have a blog, start one. Even the most seemingly-boring niches can be fascinating for the people who are involved with them.
68. Make sure you're using social media at least on a minor level, even if it's just having a Facebook page. Be the pioneer in your industry if you need to be and get comfortable with a form of marketing that is most likely going be around (and increasing in importance) for a long time.
69. Offer social media contests for a gift card. For example, if you "like" your business on Facebook, you'll be entered into a drawing to win a $100 gift card to Amazon, Home Depot, etc.
70.Speak at tradeshows and industry conferences. Maybe you'll pick up another business partner this way.
Whom Should You Target?
Sometimes the discovery is the toughest part of link building, and it can be difficult to figure out where your best contacts will be. If you wanted to promote a local Chinese food delivery place that had a delivery radius of 5 miles, you wouldn't be dropping menus at a neighborhood 20 miles away would you?
Let's talk about how to target the most relevant prospects.
71. Sites that turn up in a simple manual keyword search. Now, to be honest, there have been a lot of issues with relevancy recently so I would never rely on the accuracy of what any engine tells me are the top 10 relevant sites for my query, but still, sites that show up for your keywords "should" be decent prospects, provided you've vetted them a bit and determined that they're actually relevant.
72. Blogrolls. I would never rely on blogrolls and they have been abused but still, you can find some great sites through following blogrolls.
73. People that you already have some sort of existing relationship with, just no links from (yet).
74. Bloggers who are influential in your niche.
75. Sites who are open to guest posting and are in your niche.
76. Sites who are open to guest posting and not in your niche...as long as you can find a way to connect what you do to what they typically write about.
77. Webmasters you've spoken with in forums.
78. People you've met virtually.
79. Sites that could benefit from learning about your services.
80. Sites that you regularly use as an authority and that you'd like to contribute to.
Be My Guest
Guest posting is kind of the current darling of the industry right now even though I imagine we'll see it become abused like many other tactics. However, it presents a unique benefit: you showcase your work elsewhere. Sure you can write great content on your own blog, but when you can write great content for someone else, you get a link and you get known for contributing to something outside of what you control.
81. Use My Blog Guest to find people who are happy to post your content.
82. If there's a site you read regularly, ask if they'd let you write something for them.
83. Pitch a series and not just a single post, as sometimes this offer gets attention faster.
84. Check social media to see who's asking for guest posts.
85. If you write a guest post and it doesn't go up immediately, don't freak out and hassle the webmaster. Speaking from experience, I can say that sometimes getting a post up on my blog is not my highest priority of the day.
86. Use the guest post bio for a link.
87. Vary your guest post bio. Don't do it to be spammy of course, but it's a good way to get different bits of information out there about you and what you do.
88. Don't be afraid to link to someone else in your guest post. If you're referencing a competitor, link to him or her. It's not going to kill you.
89. If you guest post on someone's blog and are asked if the person can guest on yours, be gracious and say yes.
90. Don't pay for guest posts. I am begging you. Keep them clean.
Keep Track Of What You're Doing
Sometimes it's easy to do so much that you forget what you have done, and you can duplicate your efforts. It's easy enough to track but we don't always think to do it. Doing so can save you a lot of time and effort though.
91. if someone says no to your request for a link/mention/guest post, etc. just move on. Don't beat a dead horse or make it worse by harassing the person about it. Don't email the same webmaster, who has said no repeatedly, 10 more times or you're just begging for a reputation nightmare.
92. Watch your links and just generally keep an eye on things. Considering the amount of people who actually have been harmed by bad links, it's worth making this a daily part of your marketing efforts.
93. Keep records of people who have been responsive but might not be able to help you out right now, and set a calendar reminder to contact them in a few months.
94. Keep a spreadsheet that lists the sites you've guest posted on or added your site to as a resource, etc. While it's easy enough to pull a list of your links from the wide variety of tools out there, it's also very easy to just keep track yourself.
95. Don't submit the same piece of content to multiple sites.
96. Make sure that you aren't speaking out of both sides of your mouth. For example if you're an SEO, don't write a post about how stupid it is to do link cleanup then turn around and write a post about how to do link cleanup. You'll just get branded a hypocrite.
97. If you're writing something new and you can't remember if you've said it before, or if someone else has just said it, go look around and see. Even though you may mean no harm, many people have gotten upset over content that they view as being stolen or simply rehashed.
98. If you're tried to reach out and connect with someone on social media but you're not getting a response, just let it go and move on to someone else. No one likes a stalker, especially a persistent one.
99. If you've agreed to do a guest post series on someone's blog, don't make the webmaster track you down when the next installment is due, or you may find yourself out of a slot. Setting calendar reminders and sticking to deadlines when other people are concerned is simply good manners.
100. If you're just read about something like an entire network being deindexed, pay attention and don't waste your time and effort submitting content to those sites or trying to email them for links.
Link Checking Services and Information
There are free tools that let you check on links and there are paid tools. I use a mixture of both. Let's just list a few that I can personally vouch for through either using them myself or through being lucky enough to have been asked to test them, and go through ways these can help you.
- Majestic SEO
- Link Research Tools
- Raven SEO Tools
- Screaming Frog
101. Check your new incoming links.
102. Check your overall backlink portfolio.
103. Conduct analysis on your own links.
104. Conduct analysis on a competitor's profile.
105. Be alerted when a new link appears.
106. Check your breakdown of anchor text.
107. If there's a drop in rankings or traffic, do a quick scan to see if anything looks fishy.
108. Check your portfolio after a major algorithm update.
109. Keep track of your existing links for various purposes.
110. Check out a site you want to get a link from before pursuing the opportunity.
Things to Avoid
What you should not do can sometimes be just as important as what you should do, so let's talk about some things to avoid if you want to enjoy a sustainable link building campaign.
111. Spammy links. Should go without saying right? It doesn't, unfortunately.
112. Footers and sitewides on totally irrelevant sites. I've seen some relevant footers and sitewides but by and large, they are very, very rare.
113. Links that won't bring you any traffic whatsoever.
114. Links on sites that seem to exist only to sell links or publish scraped content.
115. Links on sites that are part of a very obvious (and spammy) network.
116. Guest posts on poor quality sites that, again, don't have a prayer of giving you any good traffic or visibility.
117. Repeating the same exact keywordized anchor over and over and over again, on every site that you deal with for 6 months.
118. Not using brand and URL anchors.
119. Not using some form of analytics, and not using Google's Webmaster Tools. If you rely on Google like most people, using the Webmaster Tools can save you a lot of time if anything weird/bad happens. It's hard to understand what's happening in the engines and with rankings/traffic if you aren't set up to be able to see what's going on.
120. Thinking that you won't actually get penalized or deindexed for using link practices that violate an engine's guidelines for inclusion. Familiarize yourself with what can and will get you into trouble and if you can seriously afford the risk, make your decision. If being penalized in some way will cripple your business, you don't need to do something that will potentially harm you.
Extra Tips and Notes
121. Be nice please, no matter what. If you are asking for a link, be respectful. If someone says no, say thank you and move on.
122. Don't get into a shouting match online just because someone disagrees with you. By that same token, don't be a jerk and make rude comments to people just because you don't agree with them. It really is possible to disagree without devolving.
123. Say thanks when someone does something nice for you, whether it's mentioning you for a Twitter "Follow Friday", praising your latest article, or sending business your way. These are great ways to get links down the road.
124. Test a variety of tools to see which ones work best for you. There are indeed fantastic free ones, but some of the paid ones offer amazing functionality that may save you lots of time and money.
125. If you see that someone who previously sent you lots of traffic through a link has just removed that link, email or call and ask why, and figure out what you can do to get the link back. If it's a good link, it's worth the effort.
126. Don't be afraid to link out. Thinking that you need to "conserve" link juice is just the slightest bit stingy. If there's a great resource but it belongs to your competitor's site, it says a lot that you can take the ego hit and link out anyway.
127. Don't set limits on who you'll deal with. If someone with 200 followers on Twitter asks you to do an interview, don't dismiss the person because everyone else you do interviews for has at least a 5,000 Twitter follower reach.
128. Don't put yourself in a box. Maybe you've never done an infographic and you think they won't work for you, but guess what? You'll never know until you try.
129. Incorporate image links into your backlink profile. If a site owner won't give you a text link ask if he'll take an image link.
130. Watch what other people in your niche are doing. You don't always have to do the same thing but you can definitely learn from what they're doing, even if you learn that their latest marketing tactic isn't something you ever want to do.
131. Don't ever get comfortable and think that you know everything. You don't. Even if you almost do right now, you won't next week. Keep reading about what's going on in the SEO industry, in link building, and in your niche. Look at all the opportunities you have to learn something new and take them.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!