Depending on your experience in SEO, the term link acquisition could be viewed as a dirty word, a magic bullet, or a pain in the… you know what.
But regardless of how you view link building, the fact remains that Google uses links as a ranking signal within their search algorithm and studies continue to show a strong correlation between links and ranking position.
And Google uses links for good reason.
Links, when they’re not manipulated, represent an endorsement of one site by another.
If you are willing to send your audience away from your site to another site, it better be for good reason (you endorse the page, you’re citing a source, the page expands on a topic, etc.).
So, if you want your pages to rank in organic search and bring traffic to your website, you’re likely going to need to acquire links.
However, you won’t rank simply by acquiring links, you need to acquire the right links and that means using the right tactics.
To help you get started, here is a list of 10 link building techniques that work and will bring the types of links that fuel improved keyword rankings.
1. Resource Promotion
One of the best ways to secure worthwhile links is by promoting linkable resources to relevant audiences.
These resources typically take the form of an in-depth or comprehensive guide on a topic that is important to an existing online audience.
The key here is to find a balance between audience size and topic specificity.
You don’t want a topic that is too narrow, or the audience will be too limited, and you won’t find many link partners.
Conversely, if your topic is too broad or general, there will likely be thousands of other guides that have already covered the topic and you’ll be hard-pressed to convince site owners to link to your guide instead.
A solid strategy for creating and promoting these guides is to target a specific group within a broader audience.
For example, if you operate in cybersecurity, create a guide on cybersecurity for the elderly, students, people with disabilities, etc.
Once you find the sweet spot, you can earn powerful links with these guides as you’re providing one of the best resources on the web for a defined audience.
Keep in mind that you may have to deviate from your core consumer audience with these topics.
But through internal links, you can leverage the link equity these guides garner to boost the pages that are most important to your target audience (product pages).
2. Resource Page Link Building
Along with promoting resource guides, you can also promote your brand as a resource.
The process for acquiring links this way requires you to find relevant resource pages – the pages on websites that list resources for their visitors.
Here is an example of a resource page on Appalachian State University’s website, an authoritative .edu website, that lists scholarship and financial aid resources for immigrant students:
If your website offers scholarships or scholarship information for immigrant students this is a legitimate link opportunity for you, like College Greenlight (highlighted with red box).
Resource page opportunities are available to most websites, you just need to find the right angle or thread to take to uncover them.
Some potential search operators you can use to find resource pages include:
- intitle:”external resources”
- intitle:”useful sites”
- Or searching your keyword + “suggest a resource”
Finding these resource pages is the tough part, but once you do it typically only takes a quick email asking for inclusion to acquire a backlink.
Read Chuck Price’s post about building links on resource pages here on Search Engine Journal to learn more.
3. Finding Unlinked Mentions
Converting unlinked mentions of your brand is one of the most surefire ways to acquire relevant links.
Any website that is already talking about your company is inherently more likely to link as it makes sense to provide more context about the brands they are referencing.
When searching for unlinked mentions, keep in mind that your brand name isn’t the only source of these mentions.
Other ways your company might be mentioned, but not linked, include:
- Prominent employee names
- Unique product or service names
- Company-sponsored contests or events
- Employee quotes
- Old brand names
To find these mentions you can use a free tool like Google Alerts, or leverage a paid solution such as:
Or you can even find web mentions by using advanced search modifiers in Google.
For example, some search modifiers I could use to find mentions of Search Engine Journal include:
- -site:searchenginejournal.com -site:facebook.com -site:twitter.com “Search Engine Journal” OR “searchenginejournal.com” OR “https://www.searchenginejournal.com/” OR https://www.searchenginejournal.com/
- -site:searchenginejournal.com -site:facebook.com -site:twitter.com “Loren Baker” OR “Founder of Search Engine Journal”
You should prioritize freshness when searching for mentions as webmasters or editors or more likely to update recent content with a link, rather than an old news story or outdated blog post.
Also, this tactic works best for bigger, more well-known brands as they are more likely to be talked about online.
However, at the least, you should be able to grab a handful of unlinked mentions and convert them into relevant backlinks that help your website.
Brock Murray has a great article on unlinked mentions.
4. Guest Blogging
Back in 2014, fhen-Googler Matt Cutts stuck a fork in guest blogging.
While he proclaimed guest posting for SEO was dead, he was referring to a specific type of guest posting – low-quality, spammy guest posting.
Essentially, if your only goal with guest posting is to get a link, you’re likely doing it the wrong way.
However, if you’re writing useful content, for a legitimate website, that has a real audience, then you can earn visibility for your brand (and self), as well as some worthwhile links.
For an example, look no further than what I’m doing here on Search Engine Journal – this is a respected publication in my industry (SEO), with a real audience (you), and I’m (hopefully) providing useful information, and I get to include a link back to my company in my profile.
This is the type of guest posting that you should pursue in 2020 to earn worthwhile links, as well as exposure for your brand and site.
If you’re going to leverage guest blogging as a link building tactic, you need to focus on relevance and make sure you’re contributing to sites that:
- Are clearly managed by a human being.
- Overlap with your core audience.
- Can benefit from the useful information you are sharing.
There is a lot more I could get into with regards to guest blogging, but that would be its own post.
Instead, for more on the right (and wrong) way to do it, I recommend reading Julia McCoy’s Search Engine Journal post, How to Use Guest Blogging for Natural Link Building.
5. Image Link Building
Another way to leverage your existing online presence for links is through image link building.
Image link building is similar to the process of converting web mentions into links.
You find where people are using your images online, without linking, and politely ask if they could cite the image with a link to your site.
The key word here is “politely.”
You should not be sending any cease and desist orders.
Rather, thank them for sharing your image and ask if they could link to provide more context for any users who want to learn more about where the image came from.
The best way to find your images online is through a reverse image search, and you can either use Google Images:
Some common types of proprietary imagery you should search for include:
- Old and new logos
- Branded imagery
- Product photos
- Graphics or illustrations
- Corporate headshots
- Company buildings
Again, you should prioritize recency as they opportunities will be the most likely to convert.
Most of the time people simply didn’t know where to credit the image and are receptive to citing your image with a link.
6. Competitor Backlink Analysis
Competitor backlink analysis…an oldie but a goodie!
Acquiring the links your competitors have is nothing new, but this is still an effective strategy to find relevant link opportunities as it makes sense for any site linking to a competitor to link to you as well.
However, you shouldn’t blindly pursue these opportunities.
Chances are your competitors have some low-quality links in their backlink profile – you need to vet competitor link opportunities as you would any other link prospect.
There are a variety of tools that will help you analyze competitor backlinks.
Here are some of my favorites:
You can also combine this tactic with number four from our list (guest blogging) by tracking a competitor’s guest blogging campaign. To do this, you can use search operators like:
- inurl:author “Competitor Author’s Name” – Find author pages for the competitor author
- intitle:” “Competitor Author’s Name” -site:facebook.com -site:twitter.com – Find pages with the competitor author’s name in the title.
- inurl:“Competitor Author’s Name” -site:facebook.com -site:twitter. com– Find pages that have the competitor author’s name in the URL.
- “Competitor Author’s Name” “Competitor Author’s Role/Title” “Competitor Company” -site:competitor.com – Find competitor author bios online.
It’s possible to unearth a competitor’s guest blogging campaign while reviewing their backlink profiles if you keep your eyes out for the types of pages I describe above.
There is so much to learn from competitive backlink analysis, so again I want to refer you to some additional resources on the topic:
- How to Spy on Your Competitors to Capture Similar Links by Kristopher Jones
- 7 Actionable Ways to Loot Your Competitors’ Backlinks by Joshua Hardwick
- How to Win in Search with SEMrush: Webinar [Video + Transcript] by (me)
7. Broken Link Building
Another “old school” tactic that can still be employed successfully today is broken link building.
Basically, broken link building is about finding broken links on websites and suggesting one of your own pages as a replacement link.
There are two important things to remember when executing broken link building:
- Your page must be a reasonable replacement for the broken link, both in terms of relevance and quality level.
- Is this a page that the editor or webmaster is still regularly updating (i.e. would they take time out of their day to update the broken link)?
One effective strategy involves going back to the “competitive analysis well”, to find competitor pages that are well-linked but are dead or moved without a redirect in place.
You can use the aforementioned backlink tools to find all the pages linking to the dead competitor page and reach out to those sites with your own comparable page.
For example, here is a guide for that process using SEMrush (Note: all of the backlink tools mentioned in this article will provide broken link data for competitors).
You can also find these dead resources during your prospecting for resource pages from tactic number two on this list.
As you review potential resource page targets, check the other links on the page to see if any return a 404.
If they do, use your backlink tool to find all the linking pages and reach out to them with your resource.
There are several ways to get creative with broken link building to find relevant link opportunities, and these resources share some other options:
- Broken Link Building: What You Need to Know to Get Links by Adam Heitzman
- 6 Things to Know About Broken Link Building by Kevin Rowe
8. Community Involvement
If your business is involved in your local community, there should be many link opportunities available to you.
Perhaps the “easiest” link prospects available are companies with which you regularly do business with.
Often, you can provide testimonials to these companies — because you already use and endorse their products or services – and your testimonial will include a link back to your website.
Other ways you can engage with your community, and earn worthwhile backlinks, is through sponsorships.
If you sponsor a local charity or event, you can typically earn a link in the “Sponsors” section of the corresponding website.
Another option is to promote any scholarship programs you sponsor to relevant or eligible university websites.
In these situations, the link you secure should be a secondary benefit to the real connections and the (hopeful) impact you make in your local community.
You can also earn links from any local organizations or associations you are a part of, and you should make sure you’ve claimed your links within your profiles on these websites and that they are accurate.
9. Solving Industry Problems
Although this tactic is more time-consuming than many on this list, if you can solve a unique industry problem, you can secure a boatload of powerful links.
This strategy is time-consuming because any problem that exists, does so because the solution is difficult to find.
However, if you invest the resources and time into finding a solution, you can promote that solution for links across your industry.
Some examples of ways to solve industry problems include:
- Conducting experiments and original research to uncover unique data.
- Creating a new tool that automates or expedites lengthy, manual processes.
- Execute large-scale surveys to collect and analyze new data.
- Securing high-level interviews to share expert or “insider” perspectives.
- Visualize data in a new and interesting way that makes it easier to digest.
Again, this is a difficult, time-consuming strategy, but once you have the information needed, you can publish that information on your website and attract links for years to come.
10. Leveraging Marketing & PR Efforts
If you’re running marketing and PR campaigns alongside your link building project, you can leverage these efforts for more backlinks.
PR and link building should always go hand-in-hand and it’s not uncommon for one team to handle both of these activities.
This is because the publicity generated by PR campaigns leads to a lot of online coverage, and with an intentional effort that coverage can translate to links.
Some examples of potential link opportunities generated by marketing and PR campaigns are:
- Interviews (online publications, podcasts, etc.)
- Webinar presentations
- Speaking engagements
- Announcements (mergers, acquisitions, new executives, product launches, etc.)
- Company-sponsored contests and giveaways
Many of these opportunities will already include a link back to your site within the coverage.
But it’s always a good idea to keep track of these campaigns to make sure you don’t wind up with any unlinked mentions.
For more on PR and link building, check out these resources from Search Engine Journal:
- The PR Process That Drives Hundreds of Links Time After Time
- How to Earn Links by Doing Something Truly Newsworthy
You should also keep tabs on any marketing partnerships your company has or is forging to see if a link opportunity exists.
Keep in mind that this works the other way, too.
Any links you secure could turn into larger co-marketing opportunities if you continue to nurture the relationship.
Julia McCoy has another great article here on Search Engine Journal that discusses leveraging relationships for links.
Link acquisition is a time-consuming, tedious task that is filled with rejection.
However, links remain a strong signal within Google’s search algorithm, and you need to be able to sustainably earn backlinks to grow and maintain a presence in organic search.
To help you with your link building efforts, here are 10 modern link acquisition tactics that still work today:
- Resource promotion
- Resource page link building
- Finding unlinked mentions
- Guest blogging
- Image link building
- Competitive backlink analysis
- Broken link building
- Community involvement
- Solving industry problems
- Leveraging marketing and PR efforts
- Link Building for Beginners: How to Get Started
- Link Building for SEO: A Complete Guide
- A Link Building Checklist to Earn More & Better Links
Featured & In-Post Images: Created by author, September 2020