Link Building for SEO

Does link building for SEO still work?

One of the primary ways in which Google discovers, indexes and subsequently ranks sites is through following links across the web. This can be both internally within a website (internal links) or through following backlinks (or external links) from one site to another. 

Quality and topical relevance of external links pointing to any given website still serves as a major ranking factor and can contribute massively to organic performance and subsequent revenue.

With that in mind, the practice of link building, that being the acquisition of backlinks pointing to your site, is still a key component in your SEO ventures and can bring big rewards in rankings for target commercial keywords if done well.

Why is link building so expensive? 

Link building can be done on the cheap, though in order to gain a real edge and land links from big publications that have big SEO metrics themselves, say for example the Metro or the FT in the publishing world, a lot of groundwork will need to be done.

The cost doesn’t arise from simply paying such publications big fees for link placements (although this does occur in some arenas) but rather the process in developing unique, cutting edge content that is likely to be picked up or successfully pitched to an editorial team or journalist with a view to publication. 

If you’re running an ethical clothing business for example and want to run a content marketing piece that delivers some insightful stats on the impact of sustainable clothing on the environment, your marketing team will need to research the pieces, write the piece, and then design and develop the piece in a way that is easily shareable and publishable on third-party websites. Given the ever-increasing threshold and competition for high-quality content, this can make the process very expensive. 

How much should I be paying for link building?

There’s no real right answer to this as it really depends on the size of your business, the industry you’re in, what your competitors are and what your organic revenue goals are. High cost industries include gaming and real estate, while low cost link industries may include education or charity.  

Some enterprise companies have six figure annual budgets for content marketing and link building, while some may only spend a few hundred pounds or dollars a month to move the needle on a few specific pages.

The “cost” of a link, whether it’s acquired by outright purchasing or developing content for placement, can range from $100 to many thousands per link. It also depends on whether you’re hiring a team, a freelancer, or an agency to do this for you, all of which have various price ranges.

A good way to understand how many links you need, the quality of links and the subsequent investment is to use third-party SEO tools to get an understanding of your competitor backlink profiles and what’s needed to compete with them on a link building front.

How do you measure the effectiveness of a link building campaign, and what metrics should you track?

Link building investment should ideally be tied to your overall bottom line in terms of associated ROI. For example, if you’re investing on link building to improve the rankings on a term such as “men’s skinny jeans” (in the case of a clothing company) then you should look for methods to attribute subsequent purchases of this product on your site by users arriving to it via the keyword your link building is targeting.

The main goal of link building is to improve search rankings of overall domains and individual keywords and topics with a view to driving more conversions and revenue to your site. 

Aside from eventual sales, link building investment can also be measured on keyword ranking improvements brought on by link acquisition to certain pages. If you are in position 40 for the term “men’s skinny jeans’ ‘ and have been actively link building to this product page using topically relevant backlinks, then your SEO team should keep an eye on this search ranking as well as any movements in terms of organic traffic to this product page. Additional metrics also include click through rate, which can be measured on Google Search Console. 

Does Domain Authority matter?

Domain Authority (and other metrics such as Domain Rating) are metrics designed by third-party SEO tools to judge the apparent quality of a website’s backlink profile in terms of the types of links it has pointing to it. You may sometimes hear it used in the context of SEO discussions.  

While such metrics can be useful for your SEO team to quickly identify prospects to approach for the purposes of link building, they are not officially recognised by Google and shouldn’t be adhered to as gospel. All these metrics are easily inflated (gamed) – if the website looks suspect, it probably is.

A key component in any successful link building campaign is topical relevance. A domain with a low to mid Domain Authority but with content highly relevant to your industry will bring more value in ROI to your site than a bigger domain with a high Domain Authority score but with less topical relevance.  

What is the difference between link building and digital PR?

There is a lot of debate around this and opinions may vary, but digital PR is ultimately the practice of establishing and maintaining a positive view of a brand through the use of content marketing efforts, social media campaigns, news placements and influencers. As content pieces get shared across different mediums, this by proxy will in turn generate backlinks which can improve search rankings.

Link building is arguably the more deliberate tactic of simply acquiring backlinks by SEO teams for the purpose of improving search rankings on target keywords or pages. Outside of large content marketing pieces (where the crossover with digital PR can sometimes arise), link building includes the methods of acquiring links via guest posting, paid link placements or recovering old broken links via the means of link reclamation and outreach.   

Should I be investing in link building for my business?

Not every business will need to build links, as if you’re a big enough name and have a unique product or voice in terms of your content, then you may be in a fortunate position whereby people link to your website naturally.  

This will ultimately depend on your existing organic visibility status and where you rank for your core revenue keywords.

Google will always reiterate the need to create unique and helpful content that solves the problem for the user over actively chasing search rankings via link building means or otherwise. However, it remains true that link building is still incredibly effective in maintaining and improving your website’s organic visibility on core keywords. It can be a very tangible investment in terms of money spent versus return in traffic and conversions.

If you’re in the position to do so, it is recommended to continue to invest in link building even if you’re performing well for your core keywords, as this will help you keep ahead of the competition. 

What are the best link building strategies for my business?

This will depend on your business type and link building budget as well as your marketing team’s assessment of what you need to achieve in order to get ahead of your competitors. 

If you’ve got the resources, then the best so-called “white-hat” strategies include the ideation, design and development of “big content” pieces that are intended to make a statement, tell a unique story, and hopefully go viral if picked up by major publications.

Slightly less resource and investment intensive yet effective means of link building for your business may be approaching websites in your industry to offer them content to publish on their website with a means of linking back to you. Often called “guest-posting”, this can include article features, interviews, podcasts and video content. This can be relatively cost effective as your team will simply need to reach out to prospects and then generate the accompanying content.

If you’re on a smaller budget or have limited time resources, then hiring a freelancer or having your marketing team go through a publishing portal that allows you to browse for link opportunities on websites relevant to your industry can also be a viable route.

Is link building bad?

If you’re building links naturally or are acquiring links via websites and publishers that are topically relevant to your business, then there is nothing wrong with that.

Ethical questions around link building arise within the realms of certain “Black Hat” techniques. Think includes techniques where links are built from link farms and PBNs (Private Blog Networks) as well as inserting links through hacking. This is still done by various SEO teams in certain industries, and while it may garner quick results, there is little long-term strategic benefit. 

Previously, negative SEO techniques such as pointing spammy links to competitor domains in attempts to get them penalised by Google used to occur, though are much less effective these days.

Will link building get my website penalised? 

If you aren’t careful in where your marketing team is getting your links from (i.e. PBNs or link farms) or are continuously paying for links across many low quality websites (be mindful of quality over quantity) then you do run the risk of getting penalised by Google. Google penalties can be devastating to businesses as it means significant reduction in organic visibility on important keywords and of course, revenue.

However, link-based penalties are less common these days. In the years following the Google Penguin update in 2012 which was Google’s response to Black Hat link building, the SEO industry was ripe with cases of websites being penalised and having to recover their subsequent visibility. 

Arguably, Google has got a lot better at detecting spammy links and ignoring them, and link penalties are less heard of these days. There are even rumours that the disavow tool, a tool used to disavow spammy links during the process of penalty recovery, will be removed soon from Google Search Console in the near future.

How do I know if my agency link building is effective?

If you’re hiring an agency to do link building on your behalf, the onus will be on them to be as transparent as possible in detailing their methods and the type of sites they’re prospecting. They should also provide regular reports on the links acquired and how this is having an impact on your search rankings, traffic and conversions. 

Sadly, there are many agencies out there who will happily take your money and then in return provide you with backlinks that are of little topical relevance or worse, are from PBNs or link farms. The key is to ensure you’re partnering with an agency that understands your business and understands the types of links needed to drive the right kind of growth.

How does link building fit into a broader SEO strategy, and what other tactics should you consider to improve your website’s ranking and visibility?

There’s no bad time to start considering venturing into link building, even if you’re starting your organic growth from scratch. Link building forms part of a holistic overall SEO and marketing approach that includes areas such as technical SEO and content marketing, all of which contribute to organic growth.

Despite this, one logical approach to link building in the context of overall SEO strategy could be to use it as an “activation” device once you’re satisfied with your technical foundations and have a good amount of quality content in place.

With these bedrocks and content assets in place, you should be in a solid position to start building links to your core pages to get them more noticed by Google and see them surge up the rankings.

  • Should I do link building in house or hire an agency?

There are obviously pros and cons to both. Hiring in house means finding someone with the right level of experience and understanding of your business which can be tricky, although very rewarding if done correctly.

It is however more common in the digital marketing world to outsource link building work to agencies as this may be more cost effective than hiring someone in house, training them up and then dedicating their time to link building. A lot of link building work, whether it’s ideation of content or simply mass outreach to prospects, can be very labour and time intensive for your marketing team so it may be worth outsourcing this to a specialist agency while your team focuses on other areas of organic growth. 

Link Building SEO Case Study

Business in competitive car rental niche uses link building to get edge on competitors.

Problem: Within the highly competitive car rental industry, a medium sized car rental supplier was having difficulty in keeping up with the industry giants who were not only more well-known but had massive backlink profiles and much larger content marketing budgets. 

Solution: The car rental company had a lot of strength in its blog and overall content related to its industry, and this extended to offering certain niche services or car hire in more specific locations. 

The company was able to identify examples of content, whether it was a blog post covering a certain travel or driving topic, or an offering that they felt they excelled in, and make use of link building around keywords related to these pages. This closed the gap on search rankings for these keywords and saw them outrank their larger competitors due to the fact their content offering was superior in these areas.

Let's work together?
Discuss Project