Backlinks are among the most vexing concepts for creators who want to get their content seen. We’re constantly told how important they are for improving domain authority and search rankings, but when it comes to finding advice on how to get backlinks, there’s not a whole lot of substance out there.
Generally, I find the guidance for this objective falls into two categories: 1) Some variation of “Ask nicely!” or 2) Collections of “tips and tricks” with questionable efficacy.
That’s not to say ALL content on this topic isn’t helpful. But as usual, the numerous articles promising simple shortcuts are bound to lead you astray. The truth is that there’s no magical or easy way to earn quality backlinks; it takes time, effort, and commitment. But be assured that it’s a worthwhile endeavor.
Today we’ll take our usual “No BS” angle on backlinks: what they are, why they matter, and how you can actually get them.
The Benefits of Backlinks for Content Marketing
The SEO benefits are definitely real. Google is continually becoming more sophisticated in the way it analyzes and ranks search results. Today, the engine’s algorithms emphasize page quality and user engagement over technical elements like keyword density and exact-match phrasing.
When a trusted source on a particular subject links to your content covering the same subject, Google views it as a strong sign of quality. As you can see in this graph from SEMRush, ”total backlinks” outweigh keywords as a ranking factor:
We can’t directly control how long people spend on our site, or how many pages they consume, or how often they bounce. So building up those referrals and backlinks is arguably the most impactful step we can take as content marketers to boost our SEO success. And as another example of the value backlinks offer in this regard, take a look at this chart via Backlinko:
This is, in some ways, a chicken-or-the-egg situation: top-ranked results are more likely to get backlinks, because they’re most easily found by a writer who is creating content around a particular topic. But there’s no question that high-caliber inbound links help those pages reach the top to begin with.
Beyond the SEO benefits (and not unrelated to them) is the most basic and straightforward advantage of earning a backlink from a respected source: credibility. When someone clicks through to your page from another site that they trust and value, it sets your brand up in an authoritative light. “If Shep Hyken is linking to this blog on customer loyalty, they must really know their stuff.”
The quality of traffic coming through these referrals will be much higher than your overall benchmark, and additionally, this audience is primed to take your site seriously.
How to Get Backlinks for Your Content
First, let’s talk about how NOT to get backlinks. Do NOT:
- Email a bunch of authors you’ve never met, asking them to edit their existing posts and add a link to yours
- Participate in aimless and spammy “link exchanges” or “blog networks”
- Gain placement in random link directories
- Pay for backlinks
- Use any sort of bots or automation to produce links on other sites
Pestering strangers about links is about as effective as cold-calling in sales. And Google is becoming too smart to be gamed by manipulative measures.
So with those no-nos out of the way, let’s run through some… yes-yeses? Anyway, here are the best tactics to optimize your content strategy for building backlinks.
Create the Best Page
I know “create awesome content” might sound like a cop-out (I mean, duh) but it’s worth mentioning here because there really is nothing that outweighs its importance. Developing a comprehensive and definitive answer for a particular query is the most foolproof way to attract attention and links from people who matter.
To do this, I recommend carefully assessing the top results for a particular SERP, and then trying to develop something better. Incorporate the attributes that vaulted those pages to the top of the rankings, while improving upon them and adding your own distinct spin.
Build Relationships with Key Influencers and Experts
This should actually begin long before you actually want a specific backlink for a content piece. You’ll want to identify influencers and experts early in the strategizing process. While mapping out topic clusters you plan to cover, figure out which (non-competing) blogs and websites tend to spring up near the tops of rankings for related terms. This suggests strong domain authority.
Build relationships with authors from those blogs. Connect on LinkedIn, leave comments on their site, or even send an introductory “Hey I like your stuff” email. Get to know them, and help them get to know you, without any ulterior motive. Once you’ve established a rapport, these folks will be much more open-minded should you reach out and say, “We put together this really in-depth post on earning backlinks, and your readers might enjoy it as an additional resource to follow up your great write-up on link-building.”
Give HARO a Try
The website HARO (Help a Reporter Out) provides an easy opportunity to integrate some PR into your content strategy. Basically, you can sign up as a “source” in your area of expertise, and then you’ll receive notifications in your inbox when reporters need to feature insights for your industry or niche. Should your perspective get included, it’s an easy way to score a backlink, while also strengthening your brand’s perceived authority in the field.
Use Tried-and-True Formats
Some types of content are just plain-old more likely to get backlinks. BuzzSumo did a study and found that the following formats accrue the most backlinks on average:
- List posts
- “Why” posts
- “How to” posts
So, at a very simple level, you can improve your chances by incorporating more of these types into your content calendar. And if you combine them with the suggestions above, you’ll bolster your backlink opportunities all the more.
Back to Basics
It’d be nice if backlinks simply came along on their own, as a result of the hard work you put into creating quality content. And sometimes they do! But taking steps like gaining personal familiarity with the authors behind high-authority sites in your niche, and making yourself available as a source for journalists, will give you that extra edge when it comes to earning those backlinks and carving out powerful pathways to your content.
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