Say it with me now…
Hallelujah! Preach brother preach!
Here’s the thing guys. It doesn’t matter how good your content is, it doesn’t matter how much time you put into niche research or how flashy your website is. “If you don’t have traffic, you won’t make any money.”
And in my opinion, the best way to drive traffic is through SEO.
Let’s break this down real quick and then we’ll get stuck into the many different ways to build backlinks.
SEO has three core components…
1. Keyword research: When you identify which keywords to target.
2. On-page SEO: Laying out your content in a way that Google favours. Read more here.
3. Off-page SEO: Building links from relevant websites to your content. This post is about this!
All three of these steps are important but building links can be one of the most challenging steps for new bloggers and online entrepreneurs.
It IS possible to rank really high quality content without building backlinks, especially if your content is so good that it will organically produce it’s own backlinks. However, building backlinks vastly improves your chances of ranking in the SERPS. This is because…
- links are Google’s #1 ranking factor
- links point to high quality content, not spammy content
- links convey power
- links convey trust
- it’s via links that Google finds and crawls your website…
Link building is absolutely crucial to your online strategy. But how can you build links in 2018? What methods do and don’t work? Let’s get stuck in…
9 Ways to Build Links in 2018
1. Guest Posting
One of the most popular ways of building backlinks is by guest posting on another website.
In theory, this sounds simple enough – you provide quality content for another site and in return, you get a tasty backlink or two back to your own site.
However, in reality, there are far more guest post applicants than hosts out there and, depending on your niche, it can be tough to find high-quality guest posting opportunities.
If you want to score a guest post on a really powerful site, you will need to master the art of the pitch…
It is crucial that you put together a really high-quality pitch if you’re emailing around trying to source guest posts. I’ll be unveiling my own pitching templates later this year.
Guest posting is most effective when it’s done at scale. Conversion rates can be low. Typically you will have to send 100 email pitches to be able to score a couple of guest posts – there are software and systems you can use to make this pretty simple.
For the last few months, I’ve been working on an automated guest post outreach system – I have my VA team scour massive amounts of data from Google so we can build a huge databank of sites, complete with metrics, we can then use automated mail rules to pitch, and follow up, to hundreds of potential guest posting opportunities.
Unless you have at least $2000 to invest, building an automated guest posting system is not really an option, however, you can still pitch for guest posts on your own – just be aware that you’ll need to pitch a lot to score a guest post opportunity.
There are some shortcuts out there, especially in friendly niches – like travel blogging – where you can connect with other entrepreneurs in your field and find collaborative groups on Facebook where you can find bloggers who are actively seeking guest posters.
Remember, if you want somebody to publish your guest post – the content better be high quality or else there is nothing in it for the person hosting your content.
Final thoughts: Guest posting is an effective and safe way to build backlinks. I recommend you find the tribe of entrepreneurs working in similar niches so you can more easily source guest post opportunities. If you're going to pitch for guest posts, you need high quality pitches and patience - it's a numbers game.
2. Link Swaps
Link swaps are very simple. You find somebody in a similar niche to you and you host one of their links in exchange for them hosting one of your links. In general, people only want to swap with sites that have metrics that are similar or better than their own.
Commonly, the metric used to gauge a sites value is Domain Authority – read: Is DA even important? – so say you have a DA of 25, you’ll probably be able to arrange a swap with other sites that have a DA of between 22 and 28. You can only really improve your DA by building links which means that if you’re starting out with your brand new site and have a DA of 1, you will struggle to find other sites to swap with.
Link swaps are against the rules of Google so you should be careful not to go overboard. If your entire link profile consists of links from sites which you are also linking to, Google will know that this is not natural link building and you may get penalised.
You should never link directly between posts – e.g. if you are linking to post A on my site from post B on your site, I should link back to post C on your site from post D on my site.
Final thoughts: Two-way link swaps should make up less than 10% of your overall link profile.
3. Three-way link swapsext Here
Three way link swaps are preferable to direct link swaps as Google is less likely to detect an unnatural link profile. For three way swaps, blogger 1 hosts blogger 2’s link, blogger 2 hosts blogger 3’s link and blogger 3 hosts blogger 1’s link.
Three way swaps can be a bit of a logistical nightmare to organise but if you have some high quality allies these are a good way of organising more link juice to your most important posts.
Final thoughts: Three-way link swaps are one of my highest recommendations for link building in 2018 but should not be relied upon for your entire link building strategy - diversify how you get your links.
4. Private Blog Networks
A private blog network (PBN) is a series of sites which are under your control – i.e. sites you either built or bought – which you use to build links to your money sites.
It should be noted – building PBN’s are black hat SEO (which means they are totally against Google’s rules, and you’ll be punished if caught).
Back in the day, PBN’s were an extremely effective form of link building. However, recently things have changed. Google is becoming increasingly sophisticated and site’s that are using PBN’s have been penalised hard.
More often than not, Google can now spot PBN links and it sure as hell doesn’t like them.
In 2017, I built a PBN from scratch, consisting of ten expired domains (which still had great metrics and could therefore pass on link juice), to send links to one of my niche sites. We’ve experimented a lot with PBN sites and I’ve also chatted to my close friend and standup SEO, Lewis at Cloud Income, about what the future holds for PBNs in 2018.
I’ve come to the conclusion that PBNs are not a sustainable way to rank content and whilst PBNs can help you jump to the front page of Google quickly, you are unlikely to stay there long as Google is increasingly catching on. I am not using PBNs for any of my SEO strategy in 2018.
Final thoughts: PBNs can be effective but building, auditing and maintaining high quality PBNs is an advanced tactic and takes money and experience to do well. I do not recommend using PBNs.
5. Broken Link Prospecting
This is a fairly old technique where you use software to scrape data on multiple websites at once and find content that has broken links in it. You then reach out to the website owner and helpfully inform them that the link is broken whilst also offering them a couple of alternative links to replace the broken link with. The alternatives are links to your own sites.
I have been on the receiving end of this technique many times but have not yet tried to build links using this method. You can read up about this more in this post by Moz.
In my opinion, this is an outdated method of link building and most website owners have been hit with so many of these pitches that you are very unlikely to be able to build a link this way.
However, if you were to do this at scale using a link outreach system you would eventually get some bites.
Final thoughts: An oldie but a goodie, to do this well you would have to do it at scale or else it’s wasted energy.
6. Sponsored Posts (paid links)
Many bloggers have been on the receiving end of a sponsored post where a company, brand or SEO agency asks them to host a link in an existing post or to create a new post around a specific link.
If you have a big budget, it’s possible to buy quite a few links this way and AHREFS put together this fascinating post on the average cost of buying links in 2018.
Paying for links is sometimes justified – especially if you are paying to get on a massive, well established, authority site but paying for links is of course against Google’s rules so be careful not to get caught.
Final thoughts: While it's effective, there are more efficient ways to build links. If you've got the budget, I'd look into building an automated guest-post system rather than spending money on sponsored posts.
7. Get featured in the news
This is one of my favourite ways to build really powerful, high value, links.
When I first started blogging on The Broke Backpacker, I was interested in becoming a freelance journalist. I pitched to all kinds of media publications all around the world and I scored backlinks from Business Insider, The BBC, Daily Mail, Independent, Al Jazeera, Buzzfeed and dozens of others – you can see a few of the places I managed to score links here.
Getting featured in media publications like this is NOT easy. You need two things – a compelling story and one hell of a pitch. I’ll be talking about how to get published in greater detail soon, stay tuned!
Final thoughts: Save your best content for really powerful guest posting opportunities - like being featured in the media! Check back to this blog soon for templates on how to pitch to media publications.
8. Get liked on Facebook!
OK, this really doesn’t count for much but there is some evidence that social signals, e.g. likes and shares on Facebook and retweets on Twitter, can have an impact on how Google ranks your content.
My friend Matt Diggity, one of the world’s best known SEOs, did an extensive test and found no strong correlation between social signals and ranking however it is likely that social signals will have more of an impact on ranking in the future.
I have observed how some posts that go viral on social media end up being dragged up through organic search rankings in Google as well so there is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that Google has started to place some value on social signals as a ranking factor. However, in my opinion, you need tens of thousands of social signals to really move the needle.
Final thoughts: Fuck social media.
9. Comment on other blog posts
Don’t waste your time doing this… There’s still a lot of bloggers who religiously comment on twenty or so blog posts a week because they think this is a way of gaining backlinks to their own site.
This did once work but it stopped working years ago.
This is a total waste of time as 1. The vast majority of links you are able to build through blog comments are automatically no-follow and 2. Google has known about this technique for a long time and lends very little weight to links built through blog commenting.
Final thoughts: An outdated technique that you shouldn't consider. Don't waste your time on this.
10. Reach the Circle of Links
The Circle of Links is the promised land… This is where you feature so prominently in search results that other sites naturally link to you as you are in the first position and therefore already the ‘authority’ on that topic. I rely on the circle of links for 90% of my link building on The Broke Backpacker these days. On my other sites, I have to be more aggressive but on TBB we see new organic links popping up daily.
My Top Tips for Building Backlinks in 2018
1. Provide mad value
Ultimately, the single best way to build links is to create content that deserves to be linked to. You should aim to inspire, inform and to educate – to answer the questions that your audience have with top-notch information.
Once you have some high quality content ranking, it will likely begin to pick up links naturally as other bloggers and webmasters discover your content and link to it purely because of how informative and awesome it is.
For this to work, you really do need to focus on creating standout content that is ten times better than anything else out there. Earn the reason for the link… provide great value.
2. Collaborate where possible
The internet is filled with an army of online entrepreneurs looking for allies. Depending on your niche, it may be very easy, or very hard, to find potential colleagues to work with. Travel blogging offers the largest and most supportive community out of any other niche I have explored so far.
Having the right allies will enable you to swap contacts for outreach, discover new guest posting opportunities and potentially to help each other out by hosting links.
3. Play it safe with your anchor text
Back in the day, it was OK for you to build links with your exact keyword as the phrase. But here’s the thing… Ten links using the anchor text ‘best travel hair dryer’ doesn’t exactly look natural and will lead to you getting penalised by Google.
I recommend only using your keyword in 30% of your link anchor texts. In the rest, go for something super neutral such as ‘this post’ / ‘click here’ / ‘your website name’.
4. Stick to white hat techniques
I’ve experimented a LOT with SEO over the last two years and have come to the conclusion that black hat SEO is becoming increasingly dangerous as Google gets better and better at spotting unnatural link building. Personally, I would never link to any of my money sites with PBNs. I’m not saying it doesn’t work but it’s a technique that requires experience and money to do well… As are many black hat techniques; so if you’re new to blogging I would keep
You can get away with linking PBNs to clean sites and then passing the juice from the PBNs through the clean sites to your money site but this is a pretty involved process and requires you to own a large portfolio of sites.
I recommend that you focus on creating content that deserves to be linked to, the occasional three way link swap and plenty of guest posting for your link building strategy.
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5. Focus on powerful sites for your guest posts
I would rather have one link from a DA 50 site than ten links from ten different DA 20 sites. Whilst having lots of links is great, it’s better to focus your time on pitching to really established sites with great metrics – these are the backlinks that can really move the needle.
Saying that, you may need to guest post on lower DA sites when you’re still establishing yourself.
It’s much easier to score high value guest posting opportunities when you have some examples of high quality guest posts you have done in the past – a portfolio if you will.
If you can score a link from the BBC, Business Insider or another very high ranking site, this can make a massive difference to how your site ranks overall, this brings me to my next point…
6. Learn how to pitch
Pitching is 75% of guest posting. Learning how to pitch is incredibly important if guest posting is a big part of your linking strategy. Check back soon for another post on how to pitch.
7. Diversify your link profile
If you are swapping links, be very careful that you are not continuously swapping with the same people. It’s far better to have two links from two different sites rather than two links from the same website. Google will rank your site based on the number of links built but also on the number of referring domains and sites which have a larger and more diversified link profile consistently rank better in the SERPS.
It’s also worth trying to step outside of your niche when building links – For example, if you’re in the camera niche, try to build links not just from other photography sites but also from tech, wedding, travel and hobby sites…
And so there you have it amigos, now you’re armed with a full breakdown of the best ways to build links in 2018 plus my top tips on what does and doesn’t work.
Got any questions – hit me up in the comments.