11 min

A Marketer's Guide To Earning Quality Backlinks In 2017


Why Link Building?

Link building is still an important ranking factor according to a study conducted by Stone Temple Consulting in 2017. The study assessed the importance of content relevance to user search query, quality of the content, and backlinks, and found that each factor still plays an important role in the Google ranking algorithm. When some SEOs say that links have declined as a ranking factor, they’re often referring back to the efforts Google made to fight spammers who use illegitimate tactics to obtain backlinks: the release of the first version of Penguin on April 24, 2012. However, since then, Google has leveraged a mix of approaches to catch spammy links, all of which culminated in Penguin 4.0, released on September 23, 2016. After the Penguin 4.0 release, Google shifted much of its approach from penalizing spammy links to simply discounting the affect those links have on ranking. The fact that Google invested so much energy and effort into assessing link authority shows that Google still values backlink highly as a ranking factor.

Illustration of link


Think of a backlink as a “vote” from another site. In addition to having relevant keywords, search engines assess your site legitimacy by what other sites say about you. The more links you have pointing to your website, the more credible your site appears to search engines. Search engines look at the backlink profile for two main purposes: to find other sites and to determine how your page should rank relative to others for a particular keyword. When determining search rank, search engines look at how many external sources point to your website. And chances are that the more high-quality external links you have, the more likely you will rank.

Quality Of Links

The type of backlinks pointing to your site is the most important factors to consider when evaluating backlinks. The best links are “natural” editorial links. These links are earned when you naturally produce good linkable content that is worth referencing by other editorial pieces. You don’t need to do outreach for these types of links.

These links are highly valued by Google, and will likely stand the test of time.

There are also manual outreached links. These links involve manually outreaching to editorial sites or bloggers to add a link back to your site, typically offering relevant content or other helpful resources. It is important to identify relevant sites to outreach, where your core product or services can really resonate with the site’s core audience. The lowest quality links are are self-created links. These include links from an unmoderated blog comment, low-quality directories, forum posts, etc. Google has penalized low-quality backlinks with the initial release of the Penguin update in 2012. Link building today involves earning high-quality backlinks.

Illustration of people connected across the world


In 2017, building strong backlinks requires creating rich, informative, and engaging content. At the same time, links reinforce content visibility, creating a symbiotic relationship. Therefore, links and content should be considered together, not as two separate strategies with different tactics. There are numerous types of content, including blog posts, white papers, ebooks, webinars, case studies, etc. To be successful at link building means to also be successful at creating linkable content. Content that is unique, helpful, entertaining, or insightful stands a higher chance of attracting shares and links. We will explore a few types of linkable content.

Original Research, Surveys, Or Data

Original research means the piece is backed up by tangible data, not opinions. These contents are highly credible and the results from the data are hard to obtain anywhere else, thus making them “link-worthy.” In addition, content created based on surveys tends to generate a lot of social shares, as it creates a natural incentive for those who participated in the survey to share on their social network. However, original research should not be done for the sake of link building. Rather, the research and data should seek to answer a vital question that would be beneficial to the target audience. Before conducting the survey, consider:

  • What are the biggest challenges or unanswered questions of my target audience?
  • Would my target audience find the research results insightful and helpful?
  • Will this data make my target audience’s job or life easier?

Partnerships With Other Businesses

Collaborative pieces with industry experts outside of your field allows you to expand into a broader audience reach. Conduct research on a topic that addresses both your target audience and the target audience of your partner; particularly, try to look for common pain points or challenges and conduct research on the topic. A benefit of collaboration is that you will receive links from your partner’s website. This help fosters stronger relationship for future collaborations. Furthermore, business collaborations help both businesses to create unique content that neither can create on your own. The benefits go beyond link building into having:

  • Higher authority
  • Broader audience reaches
  • New partnership opportunities

Collaborative pieces require time and effort. But the benefits of creating a quality collaborate piece has values that extend beyond earning a quality backlink.

Unique & Insightful Videos

Videos are a great medium to provide helpful tips and insights. We recommend creating video content that is educationally focused such as tips or how-to guides. Content creators can utilize the additional elements of sound and image to add more distinct voices to your video, making them more linkable. People may not be willing to read a long, text-only blog tutorial post, but they likely will be willing to watch a tutorial video. You can support your tutorial video with a transcript of the text on the same page.

Moz’s Whiteboard Friday is a good example. Rand Fishkin provides helpful insights and tips for SEO professionals that are unique and engaging.

Link Research

Once you have your content, the next step is to find a list of link targets to outreach. Before finding your link target, it is vital to understand your target audience. Find out where they find their industry news and where they like to browse on the internet. Having a link placed on a site that your target audience will view will not only increase brand awareness and improve quality traffic to your site, but also help with your overall ranking score as you have a backlink from a relevant and credible website. Here are some techniques to find relevant backlink opportunities.

Use Advanced Google Search Queries

Take advantage of Google’s advanced search queries to refine the search results to what you are looking for. For example, if you are looking for a list of sites with blog posts, then you can type in the query: [keyword] inurl:blog. This will inform Google to show results where “blog” is in the URL, allowing you to quickly find websites with blogs and your target keyword.

Look At Your Competitor’s Backlink Profile

Take a look at who is linking to your competitors. It is more likely to get a link back from these sources because they are already linking to outside sources in similar industries. This indicates their willingness to link to outside sources that are similar to you, increasing your chance of earning a quality link from them. There are many tools that can help you pull competitor backlink profiles: BrightEdge, Majestic SEO, Ahref, are a few examples.

Once you generate a list of competitor backlinks, look for sources that are linking with keyword rich anchor text and have high domain authority.

Also, make sure that you look closely at competitor backlink profiles to analyze how your competitor gained the backlink. Some backlinks are earned through business partnerships. Don’t outreach to these sites because these businesses may/may not be relevant to your target audience and may not be interested in linking back to you. Instead, look for backlinks from credible, 3rd party sites such as news sites, blogs, or reviews that are linking to your competitor’s products or contents.

Take The Keywords Approach

Look for backlinks that are linking to websites that rank well for your target keyword. The benefit of this approach is that it is keyword targeted and increases the chance for you to earn keyword-rich anchor text. Having keyword-rich anchor text backlinks signals to search engines that your site is relevant to this keyword, increasing your chance to rank. In addition, these sources are already providing backlinks to other similar websites, which increases the likelihood that they will be willing to provide a backlink to your site. Identify the target keywords that you would like to rank for your page and analyze the top search results for the target keyword. Take the first 10 ranking sites and analyze their backlink profiles. Look for:

  • Sources that are linking to 2 or more sites ranking in the top 10
  • Site that is linking with keyword rich anchor text
  • Third party blog, news, or review sites
  • Websites with high domain authority

Look For Brand Mention Opportunities

The likelihood of gaining a backlink from brand mentions is high; therefore, I recommend that you always couple your link building tactics with the low-hanging fruit. Brand mentions are outside sources that mention your brand but do not have a link to your website. To identify brand mention opportunities, simply perform a search on google by typing in: [your brand term] This tells Google to search for instances of your brand term on the web, excluding instances on your own website. From the remaining list of sites, sort the sites by domain authority, and look for brand mentions where the site is not linking back to you. Once you have gathered a list of websites, contact the site owner and ask for a link back for your branded terms. For further relationship building, you can couple your request with an offer of additional content for more link building opportunities.


Shape of link made of people standing together

After the time and investment spent on creating great linkable content and searching for linking opportunities, then comes the final step of link building outreach. It would be a tragedy if after all the work poured into content creation and research, we miss the opportunity to gain a great backlink due to low quality, spammy outreach messages. Outreach is the step where you reach out to publishers, bloggers, or website owners why they should link to you. Keep in mind that these are real people behind a contact email or a contact website form. They have their set of priorities and tasks, and most likely, they receive many linking opportunity emails. It is important to craft your message so that you stand out and capture their attention. Here are some tips for crafting your outreach message.

Demonstrate You Actually Read Their Content & Posts

The last thing you want the recipient to think is that your message is a computer crafted, mass delivered spam email and click the delete button. Also, you don’t want the recipient to think that you are only interested in gaining benefits from them. Remember, they are actual people. And people are interested in a mutually beneficial relationship, not an exploitive relationship where only one side benefits. Craft your message by mentioning specific posts that you have read and provide them with some thoughtful insights or comments. This conveys to the recipient that you have actually engaged with their content, and also establishes your credibility as a contributor to the field. Also, look for their recent tweets, blog posts, or social shares for additional insight into their work, and mention any that are relevant to your line of work.

Distinguish Yourself

Ensure that you answer the question, “why should you care enough to link to my site?” The blogger that you are contacting is probably active in and up to date on the changes in your industry; therefore, take a look at some of their recent posts to understand what are the challenges he/she is trying to solve or what topics are they interested in. This crucial step will help you identify the unique value you can provide to his/her audience. I recommend offering relevant content that is related to the blogger’s recent posts (which you commented on in the previous paragraph) as a good way to transition the topic into your pitch. Highlight the benefits your content will provide for his/her blog or audiences.

Close With The Ask

Don’t forget to end with your desired follow up action! Many outreach emails shy away from this step in the fear of sounding too spammy or salesy. However, you won’t earn the link you desire unless you ask directly. You can also throw in an additional offer to link to their site as well.

Link building is still an important factor in ranking in 2017, and it is no longer a technical tactic but an effort that involves building relationships and insightful content.

Be prepared to invest time and effort in order to achieve successful link building.

link building illustration

However, there are benefits to gaining a high-quality backlink that will provide rank authority for your site for the long haul. So, don’t skip out on the crucial steps of link building and always keep in mind to prioritize quality over quantity.

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