You’ve spent hours perfecting your on-page SEO.
But you might be left questioning why you’re not getting the organic traffic you’d hoped for.
Chances are, it’s because you haven’t spent enough time doing off-page SEO—especially building backlinks to your perfectly optimized pages.
(You’re not alone; studies show that 66% of all webpages have zero backlinks.)
The only problem? Building backlinks is one of the most challenging SEO elements to perfect. You’ll rely on other websites, editors, and content writers to go out of their way to link to your website from theirs. So, you need to be smart about how to ask.
Or even better: find a way to get other websites to link to yours organically.
In this guide, we’ll share:
- Why backlinks are important for SEO
- What makes a “good” backlink
- Whether you should pay for links
- 13 free link-building strategies for you to test
Why Are Backlinks Important, Anyway?
TL;DR: backlinks are the SEO world’s currency. You’ll need to get them from other websites to be “rich” in Google’s eyes, and worthy of ranking well, as a result.
Before we dive into the strategies, let’s quickly cover why backlinks are an indispensable part of any SEO strategy.
Search engines think backlinks are valuable because they prove you’re a reputable site, and indicating that you obviously have something to share.
After all, showing the best, most reliable, and comprehensive result for any keyword is their main goal.
That’s why Google sees websites with backlinks as more authoritative and ranks them higher—and why results taking the first position have 3.8x more backlinks than those in positions #2 to #10.
What Makes a “Good” Backlink?
There’s no doubt that backlinks are essential to ranking well in search.
However, not every link is a good link.
Search engines use backlinks to judge how authoritative a website is, and the reputation of the site you’re getting a link from gets passed through to yours.
(Think of it like a friendship: the people you’re friends with are probably similar to you.)
Building a profile of high-quality links from high-quality websites is crucial. It’s that reputation that will get passed through to your own. Search engines like Google will see your website as authoritative because you’re already affiliated with reputable sites.
So, how do you judge the quality of a website you want to build links from?
First, make sure the topic of the website is similar to your own. It doesn’t make sense for a cosmetics company to get a link from a car dealership’s website, and the mismatched topics can be confusing to search engines.
Instead, keep your backlink profile relevant. Your industries should overlap as much as possible.
You can also judge the site’s quality by looking at key SEO metrics, such as their:
- Domain Rating
- Trust Flow
- Organic traffic
- Traffic value
- Number of keywords they’re ranking for
A high score for these metrics indicates that the site is high-quality and safe to get a backlink from.
Should I Pay for Backlinks?
Before you start link building, a quick warning: no matter how tempting it may be, don’t pay for links.
It’s against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines to pay for backlinks, and if they discover you, it can spell disaster. The most common impact is a manual action penalty, which means removing your website from the search results…and your organic traffic will go down the drain!
It can be a hard and drawn-out process to recover from a manual action Google penalty, so avoid paying for links in the first place.
It’s not just paying for links that can land you in hot water, though. Search engines are incredibly picky about the backlinks they’ll accept and penalize against.
That’s why they launched their rel=sponsored or rel=nofollow attributes. The code, which is added to a link, tells search engines that the backlinks weren’t naturally gained. Any sponsored partnerships should also be clearly marked within the content.
In all other cases, the value your content provides should be payment enough for people to link to your site.
Never hand over cash in return for a link.
13 Link Building Strategies to Try
Now we know that backlinks should be earned naturally, you might be wondering how to build links to your website for free.
Here are 13 incredible link building strategies you can use to build a strong backlink profile.
1. Contribute to Round-up Posts
A round-up post does what it says on the tin: compiles a list of resources in a single post.
Bloggers and companies create weekly or monthly link round-ups to share different resources with their readers. They’re articles with links to other new, useful, and helpful posts both on their website and others, too.
Here’s an example of a link we got to our website from one expert round up:
The great thing about round-ups is that the writers are actively looking for links to include in them.
They want their readers to have the best content available. If yours fits the bill (and is relevant enough to match the others), you can ask to be included—and build a backlink to your site in the meantime.
There are two ways of getting backlinks from round-up posts:
- Search for round-up posts with queries related to your industry (e.g. “link roundup” + marketing). Pitch to those websites, asking them to include a backlink to your content in their next roundup.
- Participate in “expert round-ups” by sharing your two cents in a short blurb. There are Facebook groups and other communities (such as Reddit threads, industry forums, and Twitter hashtags) where other bloggers ask for quotes from experts on specific topics. They’re perfect for pitching your expertise.
2. Replace Broken Links
Ever clicked on a website, only to land on a 404 error page? It’s a broken link that leads you to a dead end.
404 errors are frustrating, to say the least. That poor user experience won’t go down well with search engines. It’s bad for the website to send visitors in the wrong direction and Google won’t reward it.
However, you can use broken links on others’ sites as a reason to get a backlink from their website.
First, install the Dead Link Checker. Head to the site you’d love to get a backlink from, and the Chrome extension will scan the links on any page you’re visiting. Any broken ones will be highlighted in red:
All you need to do now is create a replacement piece of content for the one the broken link is pointing to. Tools like the Wayback Machine can show older, cached versions of the broken URL to find out what was on the page originally.
Then, pitch your updated content to the site owner directly. Explain how the broken link is bad for user experience—it gives them a reason to swap the broken link for yours.
Here’s a simple template you could use for broken link building:
Hey [their name],
I noticed your page [their url] has a broken link pointing to [broken url].
I actually have a similar resource that you could use in its place. You can find it here: [your url].
3. Pitch to Join Resource Pages
When you look for any kind of information related to your industry, you’ll usually come across resource pages. They’re essentially a list of links to other sites’ content, similar to a round-up (but less focused on blog posts.)
You can find them by searching “resources for [audience].”
Here’s one from Creative Boom:
This link building tactic is relatively easy once you’ve got a list of websites with resource pages. All you’ll need to do is reach out to those websites and ask them to include a link to your relevant content.
(Some sites even ask for recommendations or suggestions to their own resource pages, making them perfect to pitch to.)
But the beauty of resource pages is that they get many visits often and have a secondary benefit; sending qualified, engaged traffic to your site.
The people visiting those resource pages have already expressed interest in what your content is about—boosting the likelihood of them actually clicking through.
No wonder it’s the second most popular link building tactic, with 56% of SEOs including it in their own SEO strategy.
4. Do Blogger Outreach to Promote Your Content
If your content is relevant to another blogger’s audience, it makes sense to reach out to them with a link request.
Just asking for a link, share, or comment on your content can be a great tactic for building awareness about your blog and business.
People might not link to you the first time, but it might get you some traffic and possibly awareness. If you have great content (hint: you should!), this increased awareness boosts your chances of getting backlinks.
However, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of bad outreach emails. Bloggers admit that they hate emails from people asking for links—but if you do it the right way, it’s an underrated way to get contextual links from your target websites.
The secret is personalizing your outreach emails. That’s why it’s hard to templatize blogger outreach; each recipient should have a unique email that proves you’ll offer value… and that you’re not just asking for links from anyone and everyone.
Here’s a one example of a blogger outreach email we received to draw inspiration from:
What’s great about this blogger outreach email is that it offers something in return. I’ll get a free Venngage account, a reciprocal link on their website, or social shares.
5. Write Guest Blogs for Sites in Your Industry
In the early days of SEO, guest blogging was a way to get links by contributing thin, poor quality articles stuffed with keyword-optimized anchor text to another website. You’d get a backlink in the article as credit for the writing.
But Google soon clamped down on this type of spammy behavior, promoting the idea that “guest blogging is dead.”
Truth is: guest blogging still works—but the content (both your post and the resources you link to) has to be worthwhile and published on high-quality blogs. If you don’t fit those criteria, guest blogging won’t work as effectively as you’d hoped.
Here’s how to do guest blogging, and give yourself the best chance of getting published:
- Search Google for industry blogs that are open to guest posting using queries like:
- [industry] + “guest post”
- [industry] + “write for us”
- [industry] + “contribute”
- Analyze the site’s existing content—such as brand tone, type of topics covered, and content format.
- Decide on your topic, but don’t pitch something that’s already been covered on their blog (do a site search). Make sure your idea fits their existing brand tone and content format.
- Send a brief pitch to the website’s editor, including:
- What you want to cover and why
- Why you’re an expert on it or why you’re qualified to write on the topic
- Any assets or unique data you’re able to include
If you get the green light, create your content as usual, making it useful and helpful for their readers.
Some 79% of editors say that guest content is overly promotional, so try to avoid making it about you. Providing quality, useful content for blog’s readers will speed up the approval process and make it easier for the editor to publish your content as-is.
When your guest post gets published, you’ll get a byline in the author biography near the end.
If the site’s editorial guidelines permit, you can also link to relevant pieces of content inside the blog post itself (the goal). This builds contextual backlinks to your own site, which have more “link juice” than links in the byline.
6. Speak at Events and Conferences
Speaking at a conference does wonders for your brand awareness.
Not only that, but most conferences have their own websites. Brands and bloggers in your industry will link to that conference (especially if they’re speaking at it.) That means the conference’s website is already considered high-quality—and worthy of getting a backlink from.
Check out this example from Traction Conference. The speakers secured backlinks to their websites.
This link building method is amazing for startups as there are many startup conferences—but it applies to tradeshows and other events, too.
Find conferences in your industry and area, and apply to be a speaker. Most conference websites include an application page. If you get accepted, a backlink from the conference’s website is usually part of the package.
7. Compile Statistics About Your Industry
Ever needed data to back-up a statement? Chances are, you’ll look for statistics and link to them to verify your claim is true.
You can also turn your website into the source for relevant statistics, and you’ll get tons of free, organic backlinks from bloggers and writers who need them to boost their own content credibility.
The best part? Becoming a source for statistics is simple. You don’t even need to commission a survey. Compile existing statistics or research studies into one round-up post instead, and use that as the page for writers to credit.
Look at this example from Hubspot which showcases a wide range of marketing statistics:
This page alone has amassed more than 56K links from over 12K different websites:
Pro tip: When you’re creating statistics pages to be used as sources, set a reminder to update them each year. New statistics and data keep those links rolling in year after year since the content is always relevant. In that same vein, don’t put a year number in your post URL.
As the page builds authority and links over time, it’ll become more visible in search engines—leading to even more visits and backlinks on auto pilot.
8. Be a Source of Data
As you can see from the previous link building strategy, people love to share unique data.
But if you fancy taking it a step further, you can produce your own unique data that nobody else has. When you do that, you’re the go-to source for that information—which means you’ll be credited with a link each time somebody uses the data.
Journalists and writers love unique data and research because they like bringing new angles to their stories.
Plus, it’s also likely to be picked up in statistical round-up pages (like the ones above).
Here are some techniques you can use to create unique data:
- Do some analysis of your own or industry data.
- Create surveys and produce information from the responses, such as stats and charts.
- Conduct interviews with industry professionals and share their responses.
- Contact organizations with freedom of information requests and use the responses to create industry-related news stories.
SEO expert Brian Dean conducted some research by analyzing a million Google search results, and published the data he found.
The result? Over 15K backlinks from more than 4K different websites:
9. Harness the Power of Ego Bait
Want links and shares from some of your industry’s big hitters? Of course you do.
Mentioning them in your content is the best way to do it. Get your target website’s attention by using them as a source of information in your content.
When you do this (especially if the mention is positive and contains a link to their site), you can reach out to let them know. To return the favor, they will likely want to share that content on their own website.
They may include a link on their “in the media” section of their site, like this example on RingDNA’s press page:
The psychology behind this link building tactic is pretty simple. Research shows certain “share triggers” encourage people to share content:
- If it helps make them look good
- If it backs up their own points
Mentioning (and linking to) somebody in your content certainly matches that criteria. That increases the chance they will share with their audiences, and earn you a backlink as “thanks”.
10. Create and Promote Infographics
Back in the day, infographics and data visualizations were the go-to assets for link building.
However, everyone soon figured out that infographics were great for building links, and the online space quickly got overwhelmed with them.
The good news? They still work—but you’ll need an incredible infographic to stand out.
You can create infographics to showcase data and stats, or to simplify complex information, and then reach out to websites and news outlets asking them to share it with their audience.
They’ll include a link to your website as credit for the infographic.
Here’s a great example of an infographic which takes a potentially complex topic (responsive web design) and presents the information in an easy-to-digest way:
Sure enough, this infographic has generated a healthy number of backlinks to its landing page:
You can also publish an infographic on your own site with an embed code, making it really easy for visitors to copy and share on their own blogs.
That way, you both encourage others to use your infographic without worrying about copyright rules (as long as they link back to you—the source) and eliminate their need to do manual outreach as they can find it on their own.
11. Give Testimonials and Reviews
I bet you use tools and software and products every day as part of your job.
How about giving them a shout out in return for a backlink?
The premise is simple: you provide a testimonial about the company or service you use, which acts as free advertising and social proof on their site. In return, you get a backlink to your website as credit for contributing the testimonial.
A testimonial can be anything, from a full product review or case study to a simple quote or a video.
For example, Matthew Woodward landed a superb backlink by providing a testimonial for a MyThemeShop:
12. Offer to Be a Podcast Guest
Did you know that 104 million people listened to a podcast in the last month?
Not only are podcasts exploding in popularity, but they’re a superb backlink opportunity if you can get a guest speaking spot.
Make a list of the most popular podcasts in your industry, or those your target customers listen to, and contact the hosts, offering your expertise.
Once you’re on the show, most podcasts will hook you up with a backlink on their site for their readers to learn more about you.
In the example below, Erin Corn, the founder of a marketing agency, is a guest on the Growth Marketing Toolbox podcast. Her appearance netted her company a link in the show notes for this episode:
The best part is that most podcast hosts upload their audio files to streaming platforms like iTunes, Spotify, and Stitcher.
The show notes usually copy across automatically—so you’ll get links from those streaming sites as credit for speaking on the podcast, too.
13. Claim Unlinked Brand Mentions
Every brand and company loves getting positive coverage.
The frustrating thing is,sometimes, you get a mention, but the writer doesn’t include a link to your site. That’s called an unlinked brand mention—and where link reclamation can come in.
Because the writer or website has already mentioned your company, these mentions are usually pretty easy to convert into backlinks. That makes them one of the most effective link building strategies.
However, it’s the bigger, well-known brands that tend to get mentions.
Here’s a simple email template you can use to claim those unlinked brand mentions:
Hey [their name],
Thanks so much for mentioning [your company] in your recent post: [url/title]
I just wondered if you’d be able to add a link to [your url] so your readers can learn more about us, if they’re interested?
Either way, thanks again for the shout out.
Then, once your mentions start coming through, reach out to the editors of that website and try and convert them into precious backlinks. All they’ll need to do is add a hyperlink over the existing content.
Which Link Building Strategy Will You Be Using?
Link building isn’t always easy. But the rewards it brings are worth the effort.
After all, backlinks are essential for any SEO strategy to be a success. It’s how search engines judge how reputable and trustworthy your website is: two things you’ll need to tick off their list to be rewarded with high rankings.
There are many different tactics to try, so work your way through the list above and see which brings the most backlinks.
Rinse and repeat.