Links are the currency of the web. The websites that have plenty of them are deemed “authoritative” and are rewarded with high rankings in Google. While websites that don’t have any are bound to obscurity.
If you’re just starting out in SEO, figuring out link building can be quite a challenge.
Some SEOs will tell you to create great content and wait for links to come naturally, others will insist that strategic link prospecting and targeted email outreach is where it’s at, and someone else will give you a cryptic smile and drop just one word: PBNs.
So who should you listen to?
As with many things in SEO, the correct answer is: “it depends.” There’s no single right approach to link building and your choice of tactics will largely depend on your industry, your website, your resources, and your goals.
Did I just make things even more confusing than they already were?
Worry not. We created this link building guide with absolute beginners in mind and made sure that it’s full of actionable advice that you can start implementing right away.
So let’s begin, shall we?
Link building basics
Link building is the process of getting other websites to link to pages on your website to help them rank higher in Google search results.
In general, you can boil most “white hat” link building strategies down to two simple steps:
- Create something notable (and therefore worthy of a link);
- Show it to people who own websites (and thus can link to it).
Why is link building important?
According to Google’s Andrey Lipattsev, links are one of the three major ranking factors in Google. So if you want your website’s pages to rank high in search, you will almost certainly need links.
Google (and other search engines) look at links from other sites as “votes.” These votes help them identify which page on a given topic (out of thousands of similar ones) deserves to be ranking at the very top of the search results.
As a general rule, pages with more backlinks tend to rank higher in search results. This has been studied at scale by many SEO companies and the correlation between the number of websites linking to a page and it’s ranking position in Google has always turned out positive.
So links are important, that’s a given.
But why is it so important to be building them?
I mean, websites tend to naturally link to each other, right? You’re just a few paragraphs into this guide and you’ve already seen me linking to two different pages.
Well, in an ideal world, the most valuable page on any topic would always get the most links and rank #1 in Google. While lower-quality pages won’t get as many links and will rank lower.
But we’re not living in this ideal world. And there are two main reasons why the pages with the most links might not necessarily be the best ones:
1. The Vicious Cycle of SEO
Guess how I chose the two pages that I’ve linked to above. Do you think I studied thousands of similar pages on each topic to pick the best ones? Of course not! I did a quick Google search for the thing that I wanted to reference, opened a couple of the top-ranking pages to verify that they say what I need them to say, and linked to the one that seemed like the best fit.
And that’s how the two top-ranking pages got themselves a new link, which further secured their high rankings in Google.
We call it “The Vicious Cycle of SEO.” And we actually did a research study to prove that it’s a real thing.
The moment it’s published, your awesome page is immediately at a massive disadvantage against those ranking at the top of Google for the same topic. And if you want to break into this vicious cycle, you have to be proactive about acquiring backlinks to it.
2. Your competitors are likely building links
Let’s say your page has picked up lots of links naturally (no link building involved) and now ranks #1 in Google for it’s topic.
Well, guess what? Someone else’s page used to rank #1 before you came along. And its owner is likely looking to regain that top spot by building some quality links to their page.
It’s the same story with the owner of the page in position #3, which used to be in position #2. They’re not happy about it and they are likely to start building links to fix that.
And while your page might actually be ten times better than their pages (which is why it got so many natural links in the first place), your competitors can still outrank you if they are skilled enough at building links.
You can either do nothing and lament that the world is unfair or stand up and fight back.