A quick note to readers: This article is the fourth installment in a five-part series on building your own content production factory, with expert advice from Nate Matherson, the Co-founder and CEO of Positional.
So you’ve been plugging away for months producing SEO-focused blog content, and nothing much seems to be happening.
Sure, you’ve got a few articles on page one, and the overall trend is upward. But you feel like you’re not moving as fast as you should be.
You’re doing all the right things: creating high-quality content that provides actionable advice, is easily scannable, and optimized for search.
So why are some of your articles not making it onto Google’s radar?
It may be that you need to secure more backlinks—links to your website from other trustworthy and authoritative domains that Google sees as a good sign that your content is valuable and worth paying attention to.
Good content will generate backlinks naturally and organically, but this happens over time.
To boost your chances, it's a good idea to invest some time (and maybe some money) in generating backlinks early on.
In this guide, we’ll be detailing seven different strategies that show you exactly how to get free backlinks.
But first, let’s get a little debate out of the way (or head here to skip right ahead to the backlink strategies).
Should You Bother Investing In Backlink Building?
SEO (search engine optimization) is one of those fields where nobody seems to agree much on what the best approach is.
Should you publish more content? Focus on high-volume keywords that are harder to rank for? Or low-difficulty keywords that you can win more easily? Should you use an optimization tool?
Ask five different “SEO experts” those questions, and you’ll get five different answers. (The best answer is yes to all of them, by the way).
But more contentious than any of the above is whether or not backlinks are even important.
Some content strategists are all in on backlinks. There are even agencies and consultants dedicated specifically to the task of securing backlinks on behalf of companies like yours.
Others are vehemently against them, preferring to invest in other activities like internal linking.
Backlinks vs. Internal Links
Nate Matheson’s position on this whole debate is that generating backlinks is valuable but that you should be less concerned about backlinks to specific pages and more about your site in general (backlinks being the tide that rises all boats).
More than that, Nate believes that internal links (links between different pages and blogs on your website) are generally more important than backlinks.
Plus, if you’ve developed plenty of strong internal links across the content you’ve published, when you do get some backlinks, the “link juice” will be spread across the various connected content pieces (that rising tide again).
So, to ignore backlinks entirely is probably a bad move.
Yes, there are plenty of other higher-value tasks to invest time in—like improving your internal linking structure or simply producing more content.
But, assuming you’ve got the most important boxes ticked off already, finding ways to increase the number of backlinks to your site is an activity that will improve your content marketing ROI overall.
7 Different Strategies For Finding Backlink Opportunities
1. Go Heavy On Guest Posting
The most common approach to building backlinks is to write and publish guest posts.
Guest posts are blogs that you write (or, rather, your content writers do) but publish on an external website.
It’s made clear on that website that the post is from you, and the article itself includes one or more links back over to your site.
Check out this example from Eventbrite.
At the top of the blog post, there is a note that the article is a guest post from Mike Bronfin. It then includes a backlink to a desired page on Instagram’s website.
A quick note here:
Don’t skimp out on guest posts. Many content teams view guest posts as a pure link-building tactic, so they just write a short 1000w post and leave it at that.
Yes, that gets you the link, but it doesn't provide a lot of value for the reader and subsequently means the article is unlikely to rank.
No, you don’t have to be creating an “ultimate guide” for every guest post you write.
But you should be approaching the guest post just as you do with your other blog posts: write the most valuable piece you can and optimize it for search engines.
If it shows up in search results, it will receive more traffic, which means more potential eyes on your site through referral traffic (if they click the backlinks you added).
2. Leverage Bookface (for YC Startups)
Look for similar companies but not competitors.
For example, we (Warmly) are in the broad sales and marketing space.
We could write guest posts and secure high-quality links from companies offering CRMs, marketing automation solutions, or even social media platforms.
We wouldn’t, however, want to write something for another company with an account-based orchestration solution.
Link exchanges are a great option here. You publish a guest post on their site, and they write one for you.
It’s a win-win for you because you not only secure a couple more inbound links, but its also an excellent way to expand your site’s own content offering (and outbound links to other relevant websites are a good thing, too).
3. Try Out A Few Media Outlets
Media outlets are another great way to publish content and receive high-quality links.
This is similar to the guest blogging play, but the big benefit here is that most quality media outlets get a lot more readers than the typical startup blog.
This means more eyes on a given page, making media outlets a dual play: link-building and brand awareness.
4. Play The Numbers Game With Resource Pages
Resources pages are another smart place where you can secure high-quality backlinks.
For instance, when Nate was designing the link-building strategy for a previous company, he secured backlinks from the likes of the University of Iowa.
This one is more of a numbers game.
Build yourself a long list of relevant resource pages, then run an automated email outreach campaign.
You’re not going to get responses from all of them, but you will hear from some, and that will be enough to supplement your backlink-building strategy (without putting more strain on your content operations team).
5. Consider Investing In Broken Link Building
Broken link building is the process of identifying pages that have broken links within them and then asking the domain owner to replace that link with one to your website.
Semrush has an excellent guide on broken link building, but the gist of the process is this:
- Jump on Google and use Google search operators (like “useful links” AND [topic], [topic] intitle:“useful resources”, [topic] inurl:resources) to find resource pages
- Use an extension like Check My Links to find broken links
- Find the owner of the domain by performing a WHOIS search
- Pitch the website owner with a relevant link to include instead
6. Go Head To Head With Your Competitors
Many SEO tools allow you to check out the link profiles of your competitors’ sites, allowing you to rapidly build a list of relevant domains from which you may attempt to obtain external links.
For instance, this Backlink Gap report from Semrush shows us what domains RollWorks (one of our competitors) is receiving and provides advice on which websites we should target in our outreach.
You can also use these SEO tools to monitor backlinks and track your own backlink profile.
7. Don’t Forget Your Direct Network
Finally, consider who in your direct network might be a good fit for a link exchange or guest post partnership.
Your investors are an easy option. Most of them will want to share their success in investing in your company, and a small write-up on a recent funding round could secure a couple of high-quality backlinks to your site.
Once you’ve reached out to everyone you know might be a good fit, post your social media platform of choice that you’re looking for backlink-building opportunities.
5 Tips For Capturing More Backlinks
Before you jump into running the link-building techniques discussed above, take note of these five quick tips for improving your chances of obtaining quality links.
1. Pay (Not Too Much) Attention To Domain Authority
Most proponents of link-building techniques recommend focusing solely on authoritative sites. That is, those that have a high Domain Authority.
Don’t know what Domain Authority is? That’s because it's made up. Here’s what Moz, the creator, says of DA:
“Domain Authority (DA) is a search engine ranking score developed by Moz that predicts how likely a website is to rank in search engine result pages (SERPs). Domain Authority scores range from one to 100, with higher scores corresponding to greater likelihood of ranking.”
Domain Authority is not something that Google or other search engines claim to use as part of their algorithms.
That said, while Google might not use DA (or Domain Rating or Authority Score, which are Ahrefs’ and Semrush’s respective versions), there does appear to be a correlation between DA and search engine rankings.
That is, sites with higher DAs or DRs tend to capture more search results compared to those with lower scores.
So, what does this have to do with link-building?
The general belief is that backlinks from higher DA/DR sites are more valuable from an SEO standpoint than those from lower sites.
As such, many content strategists set a guideline for a minimum score from which they want to build backlinks, ignoring all others.
While it may be true that higher = better, this is probably not the best approach.
Yes, you should pay attention to DA/DR and seek out sites with higher scores. But don’t throw away good opportunities just because of a low Domain Authority.
Instead, prioritize relevance…
2. Prioritize Highly-Relevant Referring Domains
When designing your link-building strategy, a good practice is to prioritize websites that cover topics that are as relevant to your brand, industry, and product as possible.
While large publications might provide more reach and brand awareness, what you really want is to get in front of people who might also have a need for your product.
That way, you’re working towards your SEO goals while simultaneously building new revenue opportunities.
3. Don’t Forget About Link Reclamation
Link reclamation is the other side of broken link building.
It is when you identify that a backlink you previously had no longer exists or is broken, and so you reach out to the site owner and ask them to replace it.
Majestic is a good tool for managing this, or you can keep a spreadsheet and manually check links every few months.
4. Be Clear About What’s In It For Them
As you begin your backlink outreach process, it's important to understand how to best motivate the site owner to play ball.
Unless they have “Backlink Manager” in their title, you can safely say that your request is already interrupting their workday.
So, keep your message succinct, but also be sure to answer their WIIFM (what's in it for me?)
For example, could you take a little of the load of their website content plan by tackling a blog post in their content calendar free of charge?
5. Don’t Bother With A Free Backlink Generator
It can be tempting to consider the use of free tools to generate backlinks. There are plenty of them out here, but you’d generally do well to avoid them.
That’s because many of them practice black hat tactics (SEO slang for practices that go against search engine guidelines as a way of cheating the system).
White hat tactics (those supported by search engine guidelines) like those discussed above are generally going to deliver better results in the long term and not put your site at risk of being flagged and losing all of your hard work.
Backlinks Are One Tool In The SEO Arsenal
Let’s make one thing clear:
Backlinks are not the be-all and end-all of SEO tactics.
If you aren’t engaging in backlink generation, that doesn’t mean that you can’t see great results for your content engine.
However, sites with more high-quality backlinks tend to do better than those that don’t, so if you are serious about seeing a strong return on investment from SEO content production, backlinks should be one arrow in your quiver.
Speaking of ROI, that’s precisely the topic of the final installment of our five-part series: Building A Content Factory (Part 5/5): Content Marketing ROI.