The Beginner’s Guide to Link Building

Tim Soulo
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 own website. The purpose of link building is to boost the “authority” of your pages in the eyes of Google, so that these pages rank higher and bring more search traffic.

    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. Our own study of one billion pages found a strong positive correlation between the number of websites linking to a page and how much search traffic it gets from Google:

    According to our research study, pages with more websites linking to them tend to get more search traffic.

    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.


    Conceptually, most link building tactics and strategies fall into one of the following four buckets: 

    1. Add. Manually add links to websites.
    2. Ask. Reach out to website owners directly to ask for a link.
    3. Buy. Exchange money for links.
    4. Earn. Get organic links from people who visited your page.

    (these come together into a totally un-memorable acronym — AABE)

    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:

    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.

    Social profiles

    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. 

    Investing some time and effort into relevant social media sites is a good way to amass a loyal following and promote your business to them. But the actual links from social profile pages have little to no direct SEO value unfortunately. So don’t expect a sudden ranking boost after signing up for a few dozen social networking sites.

    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 being spammy.

    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.

    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 do “buy” links in all sorts of ways and manage to get away with it.

    So if you’re willing to risk the well-being of your website and buy links — please look for advice on doing that “safely” elsewhere, because here at Ahrefs we don’t teach that.

    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 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.

    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 publishing 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).

    Yes, all these things DO make it a lot easier to earn links. But even if you’re only starting out, there are still ways to create noteworthy content on a tight budget and earn links organically. The “secret” is that you need to invest 10x more effort into your content compared to your competitors.

    Bonus: Preserving links 

    Technically, preserving your hard earned links does not really fall under the definition of “link building.” But we felt it still deserves a brief mention in this guide.

    There are just two ways of preserving links: link reclamation & fixing 404 pages that have links.

    But should you even bother about it?

    Well, there’s actually some evidence which suggests that Google might continue to pass a certain amount of a link’s value even after that link ceases to exist (this phenomenon is also known as “link echoes” or “link ghosts”).

    So in most cases you should not bother restoring your lost links. It’s only when you lose some highly important link which was sending visitors to your website (or served as some form of “social proof”) you should bother about getting it back. 


    Nobody knows for sure how exactly 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

    There are two types of “authority”: of a specific page and of an entire website.

    Page authority refers back to the original Google’s PageRank algorithm, the basic idea behind which is super simple—the page with more links pointing at it casts a stronger vote.

    That’s why many SEOs strive to acquire links from old pages with strong backlink profiles. A link from such a page is deemed to bring more value than a link from a newly-published page that doesn’t yet have any backlinks of its own. 

    On the other hand, though, a newly-published page might acquire some high-quality links over time. So the value of a link from such a page might actually increase in the long run.

    Thus the rule of thumb is to aim to get links from noteworthy pages that have a high likelihood of attracting backlinks over time, and not necessarily hunting for old pages with strong backlink profiles.

    Website authority — the folks at Google have consistently denied that some sort of sitewide website authority metric even exists in their system. But for many SEO professionals, it seems rather intuitive that a link from the New York Times should bring more value than a link from your neighbour’s website (unless of course your neighbour is Jeff Bezos).

    But then again, maybe “website authority” is nothing but a high concentration of high-authority pages on a given website? Unfortunately, no one can give you a definitive answer to that question.

    Here at Ahrefs we measure website authority with a metric called Domain Rating (DR), which is based purely on the strength of a given website’s backlink profile. Think of something like PageRank, but for entire domains, rather than individual pages.

    Websites linking to ahrefs.com sorted by their Domain rating (via Site Explorer).

    A common SEO rookie mistake is to neglect link opportunities from low-authority websites, as if they’re somehow detrimental to your SEO success. They’re not. Just like a newly published page can acquire backlinks over time (boosting the value of a link from it), a low-authority website can become a big deal in a few years time.

    So the right way to use a website authority metric like DR is for estimating the relative amount of effort that it makes sense to invest in acquiring a link from a given website. 

    For example, if the owner of a DR20 website is asking for a short quote for their article, go for it! But if they ask you to write a 5,000 word guest post, you might want to save that for a DR60+ 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 contains a link 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 that the linking page would rather not give its vote to the page that it is referencing.

    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, we listed a few dozen link building tactics and strategies for you to explore. But which of them are the best and most effective ones?

    Here at Ahrefs we’re big advocates of the following four:

    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 absolutely 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.

    Number of backlinks and linking websites to each top-ranking page for “best productivity apps.”

    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 the same tactics to get more links than your competitors.

    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

    I’m sure that even in the most boring industries there’s a way to create an interesting piece of content that would attract links. So it’s always a good idea to study the websites of your competitors and see if they have any linkable assets which you could replicate.

    To do that, simply put their domain name in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and go to the Best by links report. This will show you which of their pages have accrued the most links.

    Most linked to pages on Ahrefs Blog via Site Explorer.

    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.

    3. Content promotion

    Now 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?

    Businesses invest in content marketing because it helps them to attract, nurture and retain customers. And if your piece of content helps with any of that, then you shouldn’t have a problem requesting a budget to promote it.

    And if your piece of content doesn’t seem to have any business value, how did you justify spending time to create it in the first place?

    In other words, you should be advertising your content because it helps your business to grow, and links will come as a byproduct of it (if your content is good enough).

    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:

    Link outreach inception.

    Communities

    Communities can be great for promoting your content to relevant audiences. Whatever industry you’re in, there’s likely a subreddit where likeminded people hangout, or perhaps some groups on Facebook, Slack, or Discord. You might also find some standalone community sites 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 five kinds of tools that might help you with building links:

    1. Backlink research tools
    2. Content research tools
    3. Link prospecting tools
    4. Web Monitoring tools
    5. 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. Link prospecting tools

    Link prospecting tools are meant to help you find and prioritize relevant websites to send your link pitches to. 

    Many SEO professionals do their link prospecting by scraping Google’s search results for a list of keywords related to the topic of their page. Some of them do it manually with a SEO toolbar that has an option to export search results, while others semi-automate the process with tools like Link Prospector or Screaming Frog.

    But I would argue that Ahrefs’ Content Explorer is actually the best link prospecting tool out there. 

    Let’s say you wrote an article titled “10 Best Mechanical Keyboards” and you want to build some links to it. A search for “mechanical keyboard” in Content Explorer returns over 180 THOUSAND pages from all around the web, which mention this keyword in their content.

    Next you apply some filters to get rid of low-quality pages (and spam), and your list of link prospects shrinks to just a couple thousand—which is still a ton of opportunities.

    And finally, you click the “Export” button and move that list of link prospects into your email outreach tool of choice. 

    4. 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.

    5. 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 to be almost 7,000 words and yet we’ve only scratched the surface of what link building entails.

    However, we’re hoping that our guide has cleared up a lot of things for you and answered most of the burning questions you had about link building. 

    I want to finish off by saying thanks (and giving a link) to a bunch of hardcore link building practitioners who were kind enough to jump on a call with me and answer my tricky questions about link building:

    Thank you! 🙂

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    Data from Content Explorer