For many SEOs, link building is the hardest part of a campaign.
One Twitter poll created by Brodie Clark in 2021 confirmed this.
This is not a new issue for SEOs either, and many have long struggled to earn high authority backlinks from relevant websites and publications in their industry.
A quick look on the early popular SEO forum WebmasterWorld shows threads discussing how to do link building as early as 2000.
(Thread on WebmasterWorld discussing if directory links can be crawled and help SEO efforts.)
This article discusses what link building is, why people struggle with acquiring quality backlinks, how seo link building has evolved over the years and what link building strategies are effective and working in 2022.
In SEO, link building is the process of acquiring new backlinks with the aim of increasing and/or positively influencing your website's search engine rankings.
The “building” part of the phrase comes from the fact that historically SEOs would manually create links back to their website(s) in a number of different ways.
Sometimes a SEO company would use automation tools like ScrapeBox to build links at larger scales.
(Image source: ScrapeBox)
These days many SEOs prefer to use the term “link earning”, especially if they only employ whitehat link building techniques and strategies.
The difference is that link earning focuses on creating content that catches the attention of industry journalists and websites who then choose to link to the website that published it, as opposed to paying for or creating the backlink directly.
SEOs struggle to acquire backlinks for a wide range of reasons, including having limited time and resources available for link building efforts or lacking creativity in their approach to acquiring high quality links from relevant websites.
You will often hear Google employees and SEO experts essentially saying that most SEOs would be better off focusing on publishing the highest quality content possible and letting their websites pick up links naturally over time.
The issue with this approach is that with so much content published online everyday, it is unlikely that journalists and websites that might be interested in and appreciate your content will ever come across it.
As such, making others aware of your great content is not against Google’s guidelines in and of itself and forms a vital part of any link earning strategy.
Issues only arise once you start offering to pay people to link to your content, or if you start using other strategies that fall outside of Google’s guidelines which are intended to manipulate the search results.
Over the years SEO link building has evolved in large part as Google and their algorithms have evolved.
Years ago, SEOs in the know would see great success using more manipulative and spammy link building strategies like:
- Blog comment links
- Web 2.0 links
- Article syndication
- Private or public blog networks
- Backlink exchanges
- Sponsorship links
- Widget/theme backlinks
- Sponsorship links
Whilst occasionally you might still see a website ranking well with links earned via some of these methods (or more likely despite having them), for the most part Google is good at spotting and ignoring or penalising them.
For a better idea on the kinds of link building methods you should avoid, take a look at the Google documentation written about the subject.
The best link building campaigns are now (or perhaps have always been) focused on creating content and websites that genuinely deserve to be linked to.
Broken link building was perhaps an early step towards this focus, since it requires link builders to first spot broken links on other people's websites before creating content better than what the link was pointing to previously.
(Quick example of what a very basic broken link building email might look like.)
Other popular link building methods like guest blogging and/or sponsorship links fall somewhere in between old-school SEO tricks and more modern/sustainable strategies, depending on how they are implemented.
For example, guest posts on highly authoritative and niche relevant websites can provide a valuable exchange of ideas as well as many benefits outside of SEO. Often such guest posts will include a backlink back to the authors website.
If done excessively though this kind of link building can quickly become a strategy clearly being followed to manipulate the search results and risk landing your website in hot water.
So, these days you need to adapt your link building strategies to work in an increasingly competitive organic landscape.
A journalists inbox has never been busier, with nearly every website owner trying to get a link from the highest authority websites. To stand out and earn the highest quality links in 2022, you need to focus on publishing content that is unique, on trend and attention grabbing.
As Google and their algorithms have become increasingly more sophisticated, our link building strategies must also adapt and catch up to remain effective.
One of the easiest ways to acquire quality links without increasing the risks of Google penalties and ranking drops is to stay within Google’s guidelines and create content that really does deserve to be linked to.
For those who have long relied on paid link opportunities or even spam campaigns, this can sound inefficient or even impossible. However, link earning is a skill like any other. A skill that can be practised and perfected.
What more old-school link builders often miss is the exponential nature of link earning campaigns. If one of your campaigns goes viral, it is possible to earn 30, 40, 50+ links from the most authoritative and trusted websites or publications around.
To buy a similar amount of links at the same quality would easily cost you upwards of $20,000 (if you can even find someone to buy the links from in the first place).
Below I have touched upon a few ways that you can earn quality links in 2022 without putting your website at risk.
(Example of the results from a single digital PR campaign.)
Digital PR is a marketing strategy used to increase the online awareness of a brand, business or website.
It can involve more traditional PR activities like sponsorships and advertorials, but for the most part it focuses on earning links from top-tier press and websites via creative and data-driven content marketing campaigns.
Digital PR is widely used in SEO campaigns to compliment technical SEO, other off-site and on-site optimisation efforts.
Explaining in detail how to effectively carry out a digital PR campaign would require a whole other article, but I will try and hit the key points below.
Since digital PR aims to acquire links and coverage from high authority news and industry websites, the first thing to keep in mind is that the content you create in your campaign has to be genuinely newsworthy.
To be newsworthy simply means that your content brings some unique, entertaining and/or attention grabbing insight.
It will help if, before launching any new digital PR campaign, you ask yourself “what do journalists want?”.
One thing that most journalists can’t get enough of is new and unique data that supports or compliments a story they are working on.
(Image source: Reboot Digital PR Statistics)
This is why many digital PR specialists invest heavily in unique data sets and/or processes to collect and analyse new data.
So, if you have any unique internal data that a journalist covering your industry might find useful and/or interesting, make sure that you send it over to them ASAP.
Competition for attention online has never been fiercer, and normal day-to-day stories simply don’t cut through and get eyeballs on any news website.
Journalists are not going to pick up a story about a new product or service just because a PR team sent the details over.
You need to make sure that your story stands out and demands attention.
The only way to really get good at this is through trial and error. So set up regular brainstorming sessions with your team and start building that creative muscle.
If you are struggling to find unique data or creative ideas but happen to be a whizz at graphic design, this is a skill that you could capitalise on.
For maximum results you should combine all three elements (unique data, creativity and beautiful graphics/data visualisation) into one campaign.
However, even taking existing data and presenting it in a new or unique way can result in earning quality links for your website.
A few years back there was a huge infographics trend where every SEO was using the visualisation method to earn links from top-tier sites.
Whilst this trend was taken to the extreme, it can still be effective if journalists in your niche are particularly hungry for insightful visualisations of the data they are already using and discussing.
Earning links via digital PR takes speed, creativity, time and resources.
Many businesses find that they can’t keep on top of news cycles or spend valuable time and resources on this kind of link building whilst also carrying out all of their other day-to-day business operations despite the huge benefits that it offers.
In these cases it would be worth considering hiring a digital PR agency who knows exactly what journalists want and how to get their attention.
Newsjacking is when a brand or business jumps on an emerging news trend to provide content, opinions, graphics, expert comments and/or data that adds to the story.
When news is breaking, journalists need to move fast.
More often than not if you can provide some relevant information or insight that adds to their coverage of the trend they will be more than happy to credit you with a backlink.
It would be wise to set up some Google Alerts for keywords related to your industry, and keep an eye on the industry news, so that you can jump on any emerging trends quickly.
From day one some SEOs have focused on earning natural links as opposed to buying them in attempts to manipulate the search results.
Even today there are websites who use no forms of active link building.
Instead, these webmasters channel all of their available time and resources into creating the best content, products, services and websites possible.
Naturally they rank for some keywords as a result of these efforts, or their website is found through other channels, and they acquire relevant links organically over time.
This can be even more effective if you identify and target keywords that are more likely to generate organic links, like “your industry + statistics” ones.
Knowing how SEO link building has evolved over the years will help you avoid some of the more manipulative practices that can increase your odds of being penalised by Google or other search engines.
It will also help you spot opportunities to earn links from the kinds of websites that will actually move the needle in your SEO campaigns.
So, now is the time to practise and perfect your link earning skills and leave the old-school link building gimmicks in the past.
Don’t forget to sign up for and make use of a backlink checker like the one made by Ranktracker to measure your success.
Oliver Sissons is the Head of SEO at Reboot Online, a data-driven SEO and digital PR company. Reboot helps businesses of all sizes, from local service providers to global brands, earn top-tier links and rank for some of the most competitive keywords online.