The Beginner’s Guide to Link Building

Tim Soulo
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Tim is the CMO at Ahrefs. But most importantly he’s the biggest fanboy and the truest evangelist of the company.
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    Links are the currency of the web. The websites that have plenty of them are deemed “authoritative” and are rewarded with high rankings in Google. While websites that don’t have any are bound to obscurity.

    If you’re just starting out in SEO, figuring out link building can be quite a challenge.

    Some SEOs will tell you to create great content and wait for links to come naturally, others will insist that strategic link prospecting and targeted email outreach is where it’s at, and someone else will give you a cryptic smile and drop just one word: PBNs.

    So who should you listen to?

    As with many things in SEO, the correct answer is: “it depends.” There’s no single right approach to link building and your choice of tactics will largely depend on your industry, your website, your resources, and your goals.

    Did I just make things even more confusing than they already were?

    Worry not. We created this link building guide with absolute beginners in mind and made sure that it’s full of actionable advice that you can start implementing right away.

    So let’s begin, shall we?

    Chapters


      Since this is a beginner’s guide, it is only fair to start from the very basics.

      What is link building?

      Link building is the process of getting other websites to link to pages on your website to help them rank higher in Google search results.

      In general, you can boil most “white hat” link building strategies down to two simple steps:

      1. Create something notable (and therefore worthy of a link);
      2. Show it to people who own websites (and thus can link to it).

      Why is link building important?

      According to Google’s Andrey Lipattsev, links are one of the three major ranking factors in Google. So if you want your website’s pages to rank high in search, you will almost certainly need links.

      Google (and other search engines) look at links from other sites as “votes.” These votes help them identify which page on a given topic (out of thousands of similar ones) deserves to be ranking at the very top of the search results.

      As a general rule, pages with more backlinks tend to rank higher in search results. This has been studied at scale by many SEO companies and the correlation between the number of websites linking to a page and it’s ranking position in Google has always turned out positive.

      So links are important, that’s a given.

      But why is it so important to be building them?

      I mean, websites tend to naturally link to each other, right? You’re just a few paragraphs into this guide and you’ve already seen me linking to two different pages.

      Well, in an ideal world, the most valuable page on any topic would always get the most links and rank #1 in Google. While lower-quality pages won’t get as many links and will rank lower.

      But we’re not living in this ideal world. And there are two main reasons why the pages with the most links might not necessarily be the best ones:

      1. The Vicious Cycle of SEO

      Guess how I chose the two pages that I’ve linked to above. Do you think I studied thousands of similar pages on each topic to pick the best ones? Of course not! I did a quick Google search for the thing that I wanted to reference, opened a couple of the top-ranking pages to verify that they say what I need them to say, and linked to the one that seemed like the best fit.

      And that’s how the two top-ranking pages got themselves a new link, which further secured their high rankings in Google.

      We call it “The Vicious Cycle of SEO.” And we actually did a research study to prove that it’s a real thing.

      The moment it’s published, your awesome page is immediately at a massive disadvantage against those ranking at the top of Google for the same topic. And if you want to break into this vicious cycle, you have to be proactive about acquiring backlinks to it.

      2. Your competitors are likely building links

      Let’s say your page has picked up lots of links naturally (no link building involved) and now ranks #1 in Google for it’s topic.

      Well, guess what? Someone else’s page used to rank #1 before you came along. And its owner is likely looking to regain that top spot by building some quality links to their page.

      It’s the same story with the owner of the page in position #3, which used to be in position #2. They’re not happy about it and they are likely to start building links to fix that.

      And while your page might actually be ten times better than their pages (which is why it got so many natural links in the first place), your competitors can still outrank you if they are skilled enough at building links.

      You can either do nothing and lament that the world is unfair or stand up and fight back.

      Links aren’t the answer to everything

      From this introductory chapter it may seem that in order to rank #1 in Google, all you need to do is build more backlinks than the pages that are currently ranking there.

      And while that is true to a certain extent, in reality things are a little more nuanced than that.

      Other than all links not being equal (we’ll talk more about it in Chapter 3), search engines factor in many other variables when ranking pages. And the mix of these variables may actually depend on the type of search query that you want to rank for.

      So if you build lots of links to your page and it still ranks poorly, don’t blame this guide for misleading you. Look into other ranking factors that might prevent you from ranking well.


      There are many tactics and strategies that will help you get links from other websites to your pages. In this chapter, you will learn what these tactics and strategies are, the logic behind them, and how risky it might be to use them.

      Conceptually, most link building tactics and strategies fall into one of the following five buckets: Add, Ask, Buy, Earn and Preserve.

      1. Adding links

      If you can go to a website that doesn’t belong to you and manually place your link there, that’s called “adding” a link. The most common tactics that fit into this category are:

      • Business directory submissions;
      • Social profile creation;
      • Blog commenting;
      • Posting to forums, communities & Q&A sites;
      • Creating job search listings;
      • etc.

      Building links via those tactics is very easy to do. And for that exact reason, those links tend to have very low value in the eyes of Google (and in some cases can even be flagged as SPAM).

      Other than that, these kinds of links barely give you any competitive advantage. If you can go to a website and manually place your link there, nothing stops your competitors from doing the same.

      However, you shouldn’t ignore this group of link building tactics entirely. Each of them can actually be quite beneficial for your online business for reasons other than acquiring links.

      Let me elaborate with a few examples:

      Submitting your website to business directories

      You should resist the urge to add your website to every single business directory there is just to get yourself another link. Instead, focus on those that are well known, have traffic and therefore might bring actual visitors to your website.

      For example, if you’re a small business owner and you’ve learned about a local business directory where fellow entrepreneurs get their leads, you should absolutely list your business there. And that one link would probably bring you a lot more ‘SEO value’ than submitting your site to a list of generic business directories that you found at a random SEO forum.

      Creating social profiles for your business

      It’s good practice to claim your brand name on all major social media sites (Twitter, YouTube, SlideShare, Instagram & the like) as soon as possible. Otherwise, squatters might snatch them once your brand gets on their radar.

      It’s for this very reason that our team pictures on Instagram as “ahrefscom,” instead of “ahrefs.” Someone else snatched that username and we didn’t manage to claim it back—yet.

      We never bothered to promote our Instagram profile, and yet it somehow got links from over 70 websites. This makes it a rather “strong” page to have a link from (more on the value of links in Chapter 3):

      Blog comments

      Leaving a meaningful comment on someone’s article is a great way to get on their radar and kickstart a relationship with them (which might lead to all sorts of good things). But posting comments with the sole purpose of shoehorning a link to your website there will only make blog owners hate you.

      And besides, links from blog comments are usually nofollowed (i.e., might not count as “votes”). So if you’re thinking of leaving someone a comment just to add your link there—don’t.

      Hopefully these three examples will give you a good idea of how to “add” your links to other websites without spamming.

      Sidenote.
      While looking for more ways to “add” links to other websites, you might come across tactics that mention “web 2.0s” and “bookmarking sites.” Those things used to work some 15 years ago, but you shouldn’t waste your time on them today.

      2. Asking for links

      As the name suggests, this is when you reach out to the owner of the website you want a link from and give them a compelling reason to link to you.

      That “compelling reason” is absolutely essential for this group of link building tactics. The people you reach out to don’t care about you and your website (unless you’re some sort of celebrity) and thus they have zero incentive to help you out.

      So before you ask them to link to you, ask yourself: “What’s in it for THEM?”

      Here are some of the link building tactics and strategies that fall into this category, along with a briefly defined “compelling reason” that they’re based off:

      • Guest blogging — create useful content for their website;
      • Skyscraper technique — show them a better resource than the one they’re linking to;
      • Link inserts — show them a resource with more information on something they’ve briefly mentioned;
      • Ego bait- mention them or their work in your own content in a positive light;
      • Testimonials & Case studies- give positive feedback about their product or service;
      • Link exchanges — offer to link back to them if they agree to link to you;
      • Resource page link building- show them a good resource that fits their existing list;
      • Broken link building- help them fix a “dead” link on their page;
      • Image link building- ask to get credit for using your image;
      • Unlinked mentions- ask to make the mention of your brand “clickable;”
      • Link moves — ask to make changes to an existing link;
      • HARO (& journalist requests) — give an “expert quote” for their article;
      • PR- give them a killer story to cover;

      All these strategies seem quite exciting, right? But as soon as you send your first email request you’re likely to face the harsh reality—your “compelling reason” isn’t compelling enough:

      • Your guest post isn’t good enough;
      • Your resource isn’t unique enough;
      • Your “Skyscraper” isn’t “high” enough;
      • etc.

      You see, for these link building tactics to be effective, you need to create a truly exceptional page that people would naturally want to link to. Or have a lot of authority and credibility in your space, which might help to compensate for your page’s lack of notoriety.

      Given how hard it is to persuade random people to link to you, many SEOs started looking for ways to sweeten the deal:

      • Offer to share their content on Twitter & Facebook;
      • Offer to promote their content in an email newsletter;
      • Offer free access to a premium product or service;
      • Offer a link in exchange;
      • Offer money.

      But offering these kinds of “extra benefits” gets us into the grey area of what is considered a “link scheme” according to Google’s guidelines:

      And there you have it. The legitimate ways of asking for links have a rather low success rate, but as soon as you try to “sweeten the deal,” you’re entering Google’s minefield.

      At this point, it may seem that I’m dissuading you from using tactics and strategies listed in this group. I’m not. I’m just trying to set the right expectation, so that you won’t give up after sending your 10th outreach email and getting no response. It really takes a lot of effort to get links with these tactics while not breaking Google’s guidelines.

      Let me share one cool “hack” that I learned from Adam Enfroy while doing my research for this guide. Before reaching out to connect with Pat Flynn, Adam linked to his website from at least ten guest articles that he wrote for popular blogs (which he casually mentioned in his outreach email).

      Pay it forward” is a good way to describe what he did here. Adam didn’t reach out asking: “Would you interview me on SPI podcast if I build ten quality links for you?” He just went ahead and built ten high-quality links for Pat regardless of the outcome.

      Long story short, Adam landed himself an interview at SPI podcast. And I’m sure “paying it forward” played some role in that.

      3. Buying links

      Let’s get this straight from the get go: we don’t recommend that you buy links! 

      At best, you’re likely to waste lots of money on bad links that will have zero impact on your rankings; at worst, you’ll get your website penalized.

      However, we would be putting you at a disadvantage if we didn’t disclose the fact that many people in the SEO industry “buy” links in all sorts of ways and manage to get away with it.

      That said, we won’t teach you how to buy links safely, but rather educate you on some of the riskiest ways to do it.

      Private Blog Networks

      Also known as PBNs, these are groups of websites that are created and maintained with one purpose: to be a source of links.

      Links from PBNs still work well in some niches. But in the past few years we’ve seen quite a few of the vocal PBN advocates gradually move away from using them. It got so risky that it’s no longer worth it.

      So if someone is offering you to buy links from a PBN (or build a private PBN for you), you should say “no.”

      Fiverr

      There are hundreds of gigs on Fiverr offering you “natural, editorial, contextual, high-authority, white hat” links. They give you all sorts of guarantees that these links are legit and will propel your website to the top of Google in no time.

      Avoid them. Even if your friend tried them and it worked. The best link building agencies don’t sell their services on Fiverr.

      Link seller SPAM

      If you own a website and have listed your contact details there, sooner or later you’re going to start receiving emails with offers to buy links. Like this one:

      If you care about the well-being of your website even the slightest bit, don’t buy links from these people. Just mark those emails as “SPAM” and move on.

      Sidenote.
      You might also get outreach emails from legit link building agencies which build links using safe white hat strategies only. But I’m sure you’ll be able to tell a legit SEO agency from a spammy link seller.

      All in all, link buying is fairly common among SEOs, although its scale largely depends on the industry that you’re in. But even if your competitors are paying for links, you don’t necessarily have to follow suit. You don’t need to break Google’s guidelines to rank well and get search traffic.

      4. Earning links

      You “earn” links when other people link to the pages on your website without you having to ask them to do so. This obviously doesn’t happen unless you have something truly outstanding that other website owners would genuinely want to mention on their websites.

      But people can’t link to things that they don’t know exist. So no matter how awesome your page is, you’ll need to invest in promoting it. And the more people see your page, the higher the chance that some of them will end up linking to it.

      Here are a few tactics and strategies that fall into this category:

      Earning links is arguably the easiest and the most effective way to get them.

      I’d much prefer to invest my time and money into creating valuable pages that will generate word of mouth and pick up links naturally, rather than working on a sequence of daunting link prospecting and email outreach workflows hoping to build links to a mediocre page.

      Take this very blog as an example. Three out of five of our most linked articles (excluding the homepage) are data research studies (i.e., linkbait):

      You might argue that it’s easy for Ahrefs to advocate earning links naturally with linkbait, given that we have:

      • Lots of proprietary data, which we can use for research studies;
      • A team of skilled professionals, who can help us create valuable resources;
      • A trusted brand, that automatically gives credibility to all our work;
      • A fairly large audience to promote our content to (and kickstart word of mouth).

      While these things do help us tremendously, none of them are a prerequisite for earning links. Anyone can create noteworthy content and earn links if they have passion for the topic and a bit of determination.

      Back in 2015, I spent dozens of hours surveying 500 bloggers about the “ROI of guest blogging.” I then published this “research” on my personal blog, and it generated links from over a hundred websites. That was twice as many links as my most-linked article at the time.

      That number of links might not sound impressive to you, but it was a major success for me back in the day—a solo blogger without a big brand, large audience or deep pockets.

      But what if you struggle to come up with ideas for linkable assets that would pique the interest of people in your industry and earn you natural links? Or what if you copied a linkbait idea from someone else and it didn’t fly?

      In that case, it’s worth spending time to build up your industry knowledge to get a better understanding of what might excite them. Don’t waste your time looking for magic link building strategies to build links to boring content—it won’t work.

      5. Preserving links

      As the name suggests, this final group of tactics is focused around preserving all your hard-earned links. One might argue that reviving your lost links can’t be categorised as “link building.” But as they say, “a dollar saved is a dollar earned.”

      There are just two ways of preserving links:

      Let’s briefly discuss both of them.

      Link reclamation

      Links don’t last forever. The page that is linking to you might get updated, de-indexed or deleted. As a result, your link from that page might cease to exist.

      That’s why you might want to keep an eye on your link profile and get alerts when any of your links disappear. That way you can reach out to the owner of the website and try to get your link restored.

      Fixing 404 pages that have links

      The pages on your own website are just as likely to disappear. Whether purposefully or by a mistake, some of your pages might end up being deleted. And since links pointing at a 404 page don’t bring any SEO value to your website, you might want to resolve the matter.

      To find your 404 pages with link, open the “Best by links” report in Site Explorer and apply “404 not found” filter:

      All you need to do from here is either restore the pages or 301 redirect them to the most relevant pages on your website.

      important note

      There’s actually some evidence to suggest that Google might continue to pass a certain amount of a link’s value to a page even after that link ceases to exist. This phenomenon is known as “link echoes” or “link ghosts” and it essentially dissuades people from monitoring their lost links.

      Well, here’s our stance on that matter. If you lost an important link which was sending visitors to your website or served as some form of “social proof,” you should absolutely attempt to restore it. But in most other cases, you’d be better off spending your time acquiring new links rather than preserving the old ones.


      So you’ve just learned about tons of different ways to build links to your site. But what you need to remember is that backlinks are a means to an end. You’re building them because links act as “votes” and help Google to identify the most worthy pages to rank high in the search results.

      However, not all “votes” are created equal.

      Nobody knows for sure exactly how Google measures the value of each link. But there are some general concepts of evaluating links that the SEO community believes to be true.

      1. Authority
      2. Relevance
      3. Anchor text
      4. Nofollow vs follow
      5. Placement
      6. Destination

       

      1. Authority

      Imagine that your friend has just launched a blog and linked to your website from one of their recent articles. That’s no big deal, right?

      But what if The New York Times published an article linking to your website? That would surely be something you can be proud of.

      The point is, we perceive those two websites as having different levels of “authority.” The New York Times is a world-famous publication trusted by millions of people around the globe. While your friend’s new blog barely gets any visitors at all.

      So how does Google measure the “authority” of a website (or a webpage) that is linking to you? Well, if links are votes, then it would be fair if a page that has more votes would cast a stronger vote to other pages, right?

      And that is actually one of the main principles behind the PageRank algorithm, which Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin conceived back in 1996.

      There also used to be a browser plugin that displayed the PageRank score of any webpage on a scale from 0 to 10. But somewhere around 2014 Google discontinued it, leaving the SEO community wondering how much “authority” they assign to each web page.

      Luckily, many SEO tool providers have developed their own link-based authority metrics, which are based on some of the same principles used in the original PageRank algorithm.

      The authority metrics that we have here at Ahrefs are Domain Rating (DR) and URL Rating (UR). Both are measured on a scale from 0 to 100.

      The URL Rating of our homepage is 87, which means it’s a high-authority page. And the Domain Rating of the ahrefs.com domain is 90, which is considered very high (nytimes.com is DR 94).

      Sidenote.
      Some SEO professionals also look at a website’s search traffic to gauge it’s “authoritativeness.” The logic here is simple: if Google ranks a website at the top of their search results and sends it traffic, then they likely consider the website to have high authority.

      As a general rule, SEO professionals strive to acquire links from websites and pages that have high authority, because those links are more likely to help their own pages to rank higher in Google.

      But does this mean that you should avoid getting links from low-authority websites and pages? Not at all. Those links aren’t “bad” in any way. They just carry less “weight” in the eyes of Google and therefore have less influence on your rankings.

      The proper way to use link authority metrics when building links is for gauging how much effort you should invest in getting a link from a given website.

      If your friend asks you to write a well-researched, 10,000-word article for their new blog (DR10), the link you’ll end up getting isn’t really worth the effort. But should you get a chance to write the same article for NY Times (DR94), you should absolutely do it.

      One last thing. Some people obsess over their own link authority metrics a little too much. To the point of asking our support team questions like this one:

      If you’re building links “to increase UR” you’re pursuing the wrong goal. You should be building links with the goal of ranking higher in Google. Better yet, you should be building links to help visitors of other websites discover your website.

       

      2. Relevance

      Let’s say you own a blog about coffee and you publish a review of your favourite coffee grinder. Later, two of your friends decide to link to it. One from their “10 Best Coffee Recipes” article and the other from their “10 Money-saving Tips” article.

      Which of the two pages would cast a stronger vote in the eyes of Google (given that both these pages have equal authority)?

      The more relevant one!

      You’d rather get coffee advice from a fellow foodie, rather than a personal finance expert, right?

      SEO professionals believe that relevance also applies at the website level. And there’s actually some evidence for that on Google’s “how search works” page:

       

      If other prominent websites on the subject link to the page, that’s a good sign that the information is of high quality.

      Which means that you should strive to get links from websites that are somehow relevant to yours, instead of pursuing every single link opportunity that pops up.

      3. Anchor text

      Just in case you’re not already familiar with the term, “anchor text” is a clickable snippet of text that sends you to another page.

      In many cases, anchor text describes what the linked page is about. Just look at the anchor text for my link a few paragraphs earlier:

      So it’s no surprise that Google uses the words in anchor text to better understand what keywords the referenced page deserves to rank for. In fact, Google’s original patent talks about this quite explicitly:

       

      […] Google employs a number of techniques to improve search quality including page rank, anchor text, and proximity information.

      So how do you leverage anchor text when building links?

      Well, you don’t. The more you try to control how different pages link to you and shoehorn all the “right words” into the anchor texts of your backlinks, the higher the chance that Google will penalize you for that.

      And besides, most white-hat link building tactics give you little to no control over the anchor text, which only prevents you from shooting yourself in the foot.

       

      4. Nofollow vs follow

      Nofollow” is a link attribute that tells Google the linking page would rather not give its vote to the page that it is referencing.

      Here’s how this link attribute looks in the HTML code:

      Historically, Google didn’t count votes from ‘nofollowed links’ (or so they said). Then, in 2019, they switched to a hint model, which means that some ‘nofollowed’ links may now influence your search rankings.

      They also introduced two new link attributes at with this announcement:

      • rel=“UGC — should be applied to “user generated” links, e.g., blog comments and forum posts.
      • rel=“sponsored” — should be applied when the link is part of an advertisement, sponsorship, or some other compensation agreement.

      As a general rule, you want to be building “followed” links (i.e., links that don’t have any of the aforementioned attributes), because these are the ones that are supposed to cast votes.

      However, if you see an opportunity to get a nofollowed link from a relevant high-authority page, you should absolutely do it.

      A good example is Wikipedia where all outgoing links are nofollowed. Getting a link from Wikipedia is incredibly hard, which is why many SEOs are convinced that those links are quite valuable in the eyes of Google.

       

      5. Placement

      Google’s reasonable surfer patent talks about how the likeliness of a link being clicked may affect how much authority it transfers. And placement of a link on a page is one of the few things that can affect its CTR.

      Let’s say there’s a webpage that consists of three blocks: content, sidebar, and footer. As a general rule, links in the content will get more clicks, because the content block gets the most attention from visitors.

      One other thing that can affect the CTR of a link is how high on the page it appears. Readers are more likely to follow links at the very beginning of the article, rather than the ones at it’s very end.

      And finally, the more links you have on the page, the more they will compete with each other for clicks and thus dilute the authority which will be transferred to other pages.

      Just like with anchor text, most white-hat link building strategies give you little to no control over the placement of the link.

      But if you’re writing a guest article for someone else’s blog, you should definitely try to entice readers to click on your links. Not just for boosting the SEO value of those links, but because it will also send some nice referral traffic your way.

       

      6. Destination

      When building links to your website, there are three destinations where you can point them:

      1. Your homepage;
      2. Your linkable assets;
      3. The pages that you actually need to rank high in Google.

      And quite often the pages that you need to rank well are also the hardest ones to get links to. That’s because people prefer to link to informational pages where their audience can get value for free, rather than commercial pages where their audience are likely to part ways with their cash.

      Thus, one of the most common questions in SEO is:

       

      How to rank boring pages?”

      And while there’s no single right answer to this question, everyone agrees that you should leverage the power of internal linking to help your “boring pages” rank better.

      In other words, build as many links as you can to your linkable assets and funnel all that “link juice” towards the pages that you actually want to rank via internal links.

      And keep in mind that things like placement, relevance and anchor text affect the value of your internal links too.


      In chapter two, you learned quite a few different link building strategies. Now let’s look at a few actionable link building tactics.

      1. Pursuing competitor’s links
      2. Creating linkable assets
      3. Content promotion
      4. Guest blogging

       

      Competitor link research is one of the most fundamental activities in link building. Think about it, the top-ranking page for your desired search query has all the right links which persuaded Google of its superiority. By studying its links you can figure out which tactics to use so that you can get similar links and outrank that page.

      And this is where an SEO tool like Ahrefs is indispensable.

      Just put the keyword that you want to rank for in Keywords Explorer and scroll down to the “SERP Overview”. It will show you how many backlinks (and linking websites) each of the top-ranking pages has.

      Click on any of these numbers and you’ll see a report listing all of the links:

      From here your course of action is two-fold:

      1. Try to get links from the pages that link to your competitors;
      2. Study how those links were acquired and use what you learn to find other similar pages to get links from.

      Let me explain with a quick example.

      One search query that we want to rank for is “SEO.” Currently the #1 search result for that search query is Moz’s beginner’s guide, which has nearly 300k backlinks from over 11k websites:

      After sorting their list of backlinks by the search traffic of the linking page I found this article linking to them, titled “How To Learn Digital Marketing Skills (a Beginners Guide):”

      Based on the context of the link displayed in the “Anchor and backlink” column, I could reach out to the author of that article and offer to reference Ahrefs’ own beginners guide to SEO, so their readers have more places to learn SEO.

      What I can do next is find other articles on the topic of “learning digital marketing,” because now I know that such pages offer a relevant place to reference our beginners guide to SEO.

      So I open Content Explorer and search for pages with “learn digital marketing” in their titles. Which returns over 1,700 pages that match my criteria:

      I would then open these pages one by one and look for a place it might make sense to suggest the author reference our beginners guide to SEO as a valuable resource for their audience.

      That, in essence, is why you need to study your competitor’s backlinks, and how to apply your learnings to build links to your own pages.

      Another popular tactic when reverse-engineering your competitor’s links is to study their linkable assets. To do that, simply put their domain name in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer tool and go to the “Best by links” report. This will show you which of their pages have accrued the most links.

      As you can see on the screenshot above, three of the five most linked pages on the Ahrefs Blog (excluding the homepage) are data-driven research studies. That gives you a pretty good idea of the kind of content that attracts links in our industry.

      In your own niche the dominant type of linkable asset might be completely different—infographics, online tools, surveys, ego bait, etc. Your job is to figure out what it is and use that knowledge to create linkable content for your own website.

      One last tip that I want to share with you in this section is to study your competitor’s homepage links. More often than not, when a page links to your competitor’s homepage, there’s a good chance to persuade them to link to you too.

      Here’s an example of a link opportunity that I discovered in under sixty seconds by browsing one of our competitors’ homepage links:

      Moz got a link from a blog post that mentions places to learn SEO. Reaching out to the author of that article and asking them to add Ahrefs to that list would be rather natural, given the amount of free educational materials on SEO we have published to date.

      Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not saying that any of these examples are a surefire way to get a link. They’re merely reasonable link opportunities to pursue.

       

      2. Creating linkable assets

      It’s possible to build links to any page with enough willpower and determination, but life is easier when you have something that people actually want to link to.

      When talking about linkable assets people tend to think of very specific things like:

      • Online tools & calculators;
      • Infographics, GIFographics & “Map-o-graphics;”
      • Awards & rankings;
      • Studies & research;
      • How to” guides & tutorials;
      • Definitions & coined terms;

      But I’d argue that the concept of “linkable assets” should be made more flexible in regards to what can be qualified as such. I mean, a single idea from your article can motivate people to link to it, as well as the mere existence of your company or its products.

      As an example of the former, here are two links we got to our guide on long-tail keywords:

      Each link makes reference to a different part of the same article, making both parts “linkable assets” in their own right:

      1. The idea that long tail keywords are not defined by their length, but rather their popularity;
      2. A statistic we derived from our in-house study.

      And here are two more examples of someone referencing Ahrefs as a company and someone else linking to one of our products:

      None of these links were solicited in any way. These people made their own editorial decisions to link to us, which were motivated by the value that those references had for their readers:

      1. To learn more about a (somewhat confusing) concept;
      2. To study the source of an interesting statistic;
      3. To see an example of a product-led company;
      4. To explore a useful product.

      So don’t rush to develop calculators, design infographics, or run surveys to attract backlinks to your website. Take a moment to step back and review what you already have and if you can “re-package” it in a way that makes it more noteworthy:

      • What makes your company stand out? Is that mentioned on your homepage?
      • Are your products somehow unique? Do you have dedicated pages for each product explaining their uniqueness and utility?
      • Do you have cutting-edge ideas about your industry? Are those ideas properly conveyed in your content? How smooth is your writing overall?

      The chances are, there’s plenty of opportunities to improve your existing pages and make them more link-worthy before you invest time and effort into creating ‘linkbait.’

      But what if you were specifically tasked with creating a brand new linkable asset for a website? How do you ensure that whatever you create would be successful?

      Well, as I already shared in the previous section, you should start from studying the linkable assets of your competitors and figuring out what made them successful. You should also review the proven linkable asset formats and see if any of them would be a good fit in your situation.

      But the research is the easy part. Once you settle with a promising idea the execution is what matters. And that would be way out of scope of this “beginner’s guide.”

       

      3. Content promotion

      No matter how “linkable” your pages are, people can’t link to them without first discovering them. In other words, even the best linkable assets have to be promoted in order to attract links.

      Generally speaking, there are just three ways to promote content:

      1. Advertising;
      2. Outreach;
      3. Communities.

      Advertising

      This sounds rather straightforward, right? You can pay money to the likes of Google, Facebook, and Twitter to get visitors to your page. You can also reach out to pretty much any website where your audience is hanging out and strike an advertising deal with them.

      The more people you advertise your content to, the higher the chances of someone linking to it.

      There’s one problem, though. It’s nearly impossible to attribute the acquired links to the advertising dollars that you have invested (even though we tried).

      So it’s not like you can promise your boss ten high-quality links to a page if they agree to invest $1,000 in Facebook Ads.

      But the page that you’re looking to get links to likely has some business purpose too, right?

      Here are three common reasons why businesses invest in creating content:

      1. To get leads & grow their audience;
      2. To get customers & make sales;
      3. To grow brand awareness & improve customer loyalty.

      If your piece of content helps you with any of these three objectives, then you shouldn’t have problems justifying an ad budget for it.

      And if a given page doesn’t help you with any of these, then you need to ask yourself how you justified spending time and resources to create it in the first place.

      In other words, links should be a byproduct of advertising your content, not the goal.

      Outreach

      Outreach is probably the best way to put your content in front of the “linkarati”—people who have websites and are able to link to you.

      Yes, those same people can likely be reached with advertising, but a well-crafted personal email would be way more effective if you want to increase your chances of getting a link from them.

      There’s no shortage of articles teaching you how to write proper outreach emails. I too shared my thoughts on that matter here at Ahrefs Blog. But if I could only give you a single outreach tip, it would be this:

      Rather than blatantly asking someone to link to you right then and there, try to impress them with your content and make them want to check it out.

      What you want to do is elegantly plant a unique idea from your content in their head so they want to mention it in an upcoming article—kind of like what I did here when trying to promote my small research study:

      Communities

      Communities can be great for promoting your content to relevant audiences. Whatever industry you’re in, there’s likely a subreddit where like-minded people hangout, or perhaps some groups on Facebook, Slack, or Discord. You might also find a standalone community site in certain niches.

      But promoting your content in these communities is not as easy as it might seem. You can’t simply join a community, drop your link there and be gone. You’ll be banned in a heartbeat.

      You have to become an active member of that community and gain some respect from it’s residents before you’re allowed to promote your content there. And even then, you shouldn’t post every new piece of content you produce to this community for fear of annoying its members and squandering your reputation. So make sure you reserve that only for your best work.

      One other strategy is to build your own community that would actually be happy to get notified of every new piece of content that you publish. Here at Ahrefs we give people three options to connect with us:

      1. Follow us on Twitter;
      2. Join our blog’s email newsletter;
      3. Join our private Facebook group.

      Those three “channels” give our newly published articles quite a bit of initial traction. But it took us quite a few years to build them up.

       

      4. Guest blogging

      Every blogger wants to publish high-quality content that brings value to their audience, right? But doing that consistently is a hell of a challenge. Which is part of the reason why many blog owners accept guest articles on their blogs.

      Guest blogging has become so popular in the SEO world and has been exploited to such a ludicrous extent that Matt Cutts, former head of Google’s webspam team, famously declared it’s impending demise back in 2014.

      So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done.”

      Matt Cutts
      Matt Cutts, Former Head of Web Spam, Google

      And yet, here we are in 2021 and all the link building practitioners that I’ve talked to still consider guest blogging to be one of the most effective ways to build links.

      All you need to do to stay in Google’s good graces is to pick legit blogs and offer them content that you would be happy to publish on your own website. Paying someone $10 for a 500-word article and submitting it to a third-rate blog with zero traffic and followers no longer cuts it.

      But here’s the problem: legit blogs don’t need your guest articles. They’re doing pretty well on their own, which is exactly what makes them “legit.”

      So how do you persuade them to publish your content?

      Well, apart from actually having something meaningful to say, paired with some copywriting skill and experience, I have two good tips that should help you.

      1. Build your way up

      The top blogs in your industry are unlikely to take your pitch seriously unless you have a solid track record of published articles on similar blogs.

      So before you pitch the #1 blog in your niche, try to get published at #2 first. And before you pitch #2, try to get published at #3.

      See where I’m going with that? You have to start from some lesser-known blogs in your industry and gradually build your way up.

      And if you struggle to find those lesser known blogs, we have a powerful tool to help you: Content Explorer.

      Just follow three simple steps:

      1. Search for a word or phrase that blogs in your industry are likely to mention in their article titles;
      2. Set the “Domain Rating” filter to a 30–40 range;
      3. Use the “One page per domain” setting to see just one article from each blog.

      As you can see on the screenshot above, searching for the word “steak” returns 9,227 pages from websites with DR scores from 30 to 40.

      Now all you need to do is examine the blogs they’re on and estimate your chances of getting published there. If the blogs seem too weak or too strong to you, you can always adjust the DR filter until you find the sweet spot of blog “authority” that you feel comfortable pitching.

      To further narrow down your results you might also want to try using the “Website traffic” filter, which can help you focus on blogs that get a certain amount of traffic from Google (as estimated by Ahrefs).

      2. Make an irresistible offer

      As I previously mentioned, every blogger wants to publish high-quality content that’s useful to their audience. So the better your content is, the higher your chances of getting it published.

      And yet, most of the popular bloggers get dozens of similar guest post pitches every week offering them “high quality, unique and valuable content” (which in reality isn’t any good at all). So how do you stand out in all that noise and grab popular blogger’s attention with your guest post pitch?

      Well, one of the best ways to do that is by finding a “content gap”—a popular topic that is bringing lots of search traffic to one of their competitors, but isn’t covered on their own blog.

      Here at Ahrefs we have a handy tool that helps you find content gaps between websites which has a very straightforward name: Content gap.

      Let’s say you decided to pitch a guest article to Brian Dean. You could use this tool to find which topics send lots of search traffic to the Ahrefs blog that Brian hasn’t covered.

      1. Enter Brian’s site into Site Explorer;
      2. Go to the Content Gap tool;
      3. Enter the Ahrefs Blog as a competitor;
      4. Hit “Show keywords”;
      5. Look for keywords that pique your interest;
      6. Hit the caret on the page to check organic traffic

      And there you have it. In a matter of seconds you’ve found a great topic which brings 11k monthly visits to the Ahrefs Blog, but wasn’t yet covered on the Backlinko blog.

      Pitching this specific topic to Brian and explaining how your article would stand out will drastically improve your chances of getting published, compared to a generic “I can write a high-quality article for you” kind of guest post pitch.

      Another interesting way to stand out with your guest post pitch is to offer to rewrite one of their old and underperforming articles.

       


      While it is technically possible to build links with just a bit of brain power and an email account, there are a number of link building tools that will help make the process of acquiring links much easier.

      Let’s review four kinds of tools that might help you with building links:

      1. Backlink Research tools;
      2. Content Research tools;
      3. Web Monitoring tools;
      4. Email Outreach tools.

       

      As you already know, studying the links of your competitors is extremely helpful when developing an actionable link building strategy for your own website.

      Ahrefs’ Site Explorer is widely regarded as the industry’s favourite backlink research tool.

      Plug in any website or URL and you’ll get an extensive list of all backlinks pointing to it, with lots of useful metrics and filters to help you find actionable link building opportunities.

      Some other SEO tool companies that operate their own link index are Moz, Majestic and Semrush.

       

      2. Content research tools

      Content research tools take the guesswork out of creating shareable, link-worthy content. You can use them to find content angles that have generated lots of links and shares, and leverage those findings to create your own content.

      Ahrefs’ Content Explorer runs on a huge index of over five billion pages and helps you easily discover noteworthy content in any industry.

      Just search for a topic that you want to write about in the titles of the pages and sort the results by referring domains (linking websites). Studying those pages and their links should give you plenty of ideas on how to make your own content better.

      Another tool with somewhat similar functionality is Buzzsumo. However it prioritizes social shares over SEO metrics.

       

      3. Web monitoring tools

      Web monitoring tools alert you of newly-published pages that mention your keyword, or new backlinks that your competitors have acquired. Both of these alerts can serve as a great source of link building opportunities.

      Ahrefs Alerts does a pretty good job with both kinds of alerts: backlinks and keyword mentions.

      Some other web monitoring tools that you might want to test are Google Alerts, Mention, and Brand24.

       

      4. Email outreach tools

      Email outreach tools help you manage and track link building campaigns. They also simplify the process of finding prospects, creating outreach templates, sending follow-ups, and more.

      There are plenty of options to choose from but the right tool for you will depend on your tactics and processes, scale of operations, and budget.

      We asked our Facebook community for their favorites and here’s what we got:

      A few interesting email outreach tools that weren’t mentioned by our community are Neverbounce and Clearout.io.

      Let’s wrap this up

      This guide turned out over 8,000 words and yet we’ve only scratched the surface of what link building entails.

      However, we’re hoping that this guide has cleared up a lot of things for you and answered most of the burning questions you had about link building. It should serve as a solid foundation for learning even more about link building.

      I want to finish off by saying thanks (and giving a link) to a bunch of hardcore link building practitioners who kindly agreed to share their first-hand experience with me when researching this guide:

      Thank you! 🙂

      • Linking websites 652
      • Tweets 580
      Data from Content Explorer