Introduction to link building

If you’ve been around SEO at all, you’ll have heard about link building.

Google built their reputation by being the search engine which noticed that the content which should be ranking highly had the most links pointing to it, and they built PageRank and slowly became the enormous company of today.

However, over the years SEOs have been trying to manipulate PageRank in order to benefit their sites and their customers, and Google has been fighting back with a variety of algorithm updates.

Links improve rankings!

In 2020, links are still the number 1 or 2 ways to improve your rankings on Google for the queries – competitive money terms – which will make your money. 

What is link building?

Link building would be better called “link earning”, where someone links to any page on your site.

You might also hear the term “backlink” instead of “link”. Backlink more exactly means “a link from another site”.

So, typically, you would promote some content and hope that someone wants to link to it. Because of this, unique content which people really want to link to is still the best way to build links to your site.

Quality of links

But strength isn’t the only metric that Google measures when looking at the links coming into your sites.

They also consider topical relevancy. So, if you are a builder and you get a link from a florist page, that won’t gain you much. Also, if you gain a link from a site which is considered spammy by Google, it’s unlikely to help much. 

Buying links 

It’s impossible to talk about links without mentioning the worst technique for gaining links; buying them. 

It happens a lot, and every year Google finds new ways to sniff out the techniques that SEOs are using to disguise link buying.

The sites found to be buying links will typically gain penalties and it can take years to recover from it. 

Links are … trust votes!

Generally, links are considered to be “votes” for your site or page, from someone who has reviewed it.

If a site has more links coming into it, it has more strength to pass on to your site and so everyone wants links from the strongest and most trustworthy sites they can get them from. 

Content marketing for links

Unless you have a totally new product no one has ever seen before, and which they will link too just because it’s new and therefore newsworthy, the best way to earn links is through content.

But how?

What do site owners and copywriters need?

People link to content that benefits their users. So the starting point is that: what do the sites you can get links from actually need?

Do they need, for example:

  • News
  • Information / reviews
  • Opinion / quotes / thought leadership
  • Statistics / facts
  • Detailed knowledge / white papers

Think from the perspective of the site owner you’d like a link from: what can I provide you?

Produce content targeting a need – quality over quantity

Once you have an idea of what categories of information your industry will need, start producing it.

However, it’s important to recognise that virtually no one will link to an article which is just a slightly rewritten copy of something else on the internet – you need to be original. 

You are your business and if you can produce content using your knowledge and experience, you’ll be able to gain links more easily.

The backlinks coming into Virgin Holidays

Outreach for “speedy” link building

If you produce some content though, it’ll just sit there, unless you have a great audience coming to your site already.

However, while building links is always s-l-o-w … like r-e-a-l-l-y- s-l-o-w …, there are ways to speed up the process.

Let people know about your content

The SEO industry has professional outreachers, whose job it is to send thousands of emails letting them know that a link to a new piece of content would be fantastic.

This approach is reducing in effectiveness over time as fewer sites take notice of this. It still works, but it’s getting more expensive.

The best way to get links in 2020 is to build relationships, and the best place to build relationships is…

Build relationships on social media!

Make friends with other sites on social. Build relationships. 

Then later you might be able to pitch them on getting a link from them. 

Going in cold and asking for links – as noted above – is becoming much more difficult to achieve.

Competitor backlink research

You can speed this process up even more though.

If you do some backlink research into your more mature competitors, you’ll find that certain sites will link out to them, and they should become your quarry on social.

Without becoming or hiring a professional link builder, this is the most effective process you’ll find for a small business.

How to research your competitors?

There are a number of link building tools. My view is that SEMrush is the most effective overall tool for helping small businesses with their SEO.

If you want to try it, you can get a longer 14 day free trial via me.

Here’s a video showing how easy they make finding links you can gain:

Beware of link building penalties!

We can’t talk about link building without taking about penalties.

Since Google launched, SEOs and website owners have been trying to get more links in order to grow the traffic to their sites. Generally, this is a very good tactic.

However, it can also land you in hot water.

An example: curejoy

You can see below the traffic that curejoy was getting at their height. They were getting nearly 1m visitors a month. And then it plummeted. They had a small recovery, but that died off too.

I’ve some analysis of this, and they were using a lot of SEO “black hat tricks” to get links, and Google penalised them heavily. 

You wouldn’t want this to be your business I presume? 

Black hat link building tricks

Black hat is a the part of SEO which is against Googles terms and conditions. White hat is the opposite – just marketing your business effectively.

First off, personal blog networks (PBNs). These are a set of sites which someone have control over, and they use those sites to pass links to sites quickly and easily, without needing to bother building quality content and outreaching.

Second, heavy use of anchor text. The anchor text is the name of the link – often it’s underlined or in a different colour or both. Anchor text gives Google a strong indicator about what the page you’re linking to is about, and so it can improve rankings very quickly. However, if it’s overused, it’s a serious red flag for Google … so never ask for specific anchor text when gaining a link! Just don’t.

A combination of these two black hat techniques gained them a large amount of traffic quickly, but the business was only really live for about a year.

If you value your business, don’t buy links, because they will often be using some of these techniques – or other similar ones – and you might find you die literally overnight.

You’ve not come up with a great black hat idea

Some people will think they’re spotted a loophole, or a clever new idea. I’m sorry – you haven’t. SEOs have tried them all over the years.

So, if you’re thinking “I can utilise this or that trick” .. just don’t. Because Google will get onto you. If they don’t penalise you today, they will in the future.

Just don’t.

The links you want are the ones which are hardest to get

If a link is as simple as you filling in a form to join a directory, or paying someone some money, it’ll do very little for you in terms of improving the strength of your site and it could even harm you.

However, if on the other hand you get 15 links from sites which are very editorially led – which means someone really had to think about whether to provide the link – and trusted by Google, you can have a massive boost in your rankings for the terms you want.

Because of this, quality over quantity always should be the focus when building links.


Link building is a huge topic and I’ve hardly scratched the surface here.

Many SEOs will tell you that links are becoming less important to ranking, as Google finds better ways to determine quality of content with machine learning, and there’s definitely truth in this.

However, links are here to stay with us for a long time yet, so get used to producing high quality content and doing PR to outreach for links to the people who can help you.