SEO Analyst

SEO Backlinks

SEO backlinks are one of the most vital parts of an SEO campaign. Below, we have compiled the most used approaches to SEO link development. Please note that not all methods are recommended--the list is for informational purposes. You should consult an SEO professional to determine which option may be right for you. An SEO expert will also be able to explain the potential link associated with each approach.

What Is A Backlink?

A backlink is an HTML link which is published on a website pointing to your website. The diagram below provides a visual representation of a backlink.

visual representation of what an HTML backlink is

Backlinks come in many forms, but backlinks which are ideal and most helpful for the purposes of SEO are text links. Originally, the links were underlined, and had the color blue, but modern design aesthetics present links in a variety of colors, and with different types of 'decoration'.

visual representation of what an inline text link looks like.

Types of Backlinks & Their Benefits/Risks

Backlinks come in a many flavors. Since they are highly important for search engine rankings, marketers often try to come up with new ways of acquiring links. Some of these methods are risky, as they are not condoned by Google, and other search engines. Below we have a collection of the types of links that can be obtained, along with their risk/benefit levels.

  • Directories

    Potential ValueVery Low - Low

    Directories are a tried and true way of obtaining links, and continue to be an easy way to start a link development campaign. Do keep in mind that unlike years ago, just doing directory submissions is not enough to create a link profile that can impact rankings (at least not for any competitive keywords). More importantly, overdoing directory submissions or submitting to low quality directories en masse can hurt website rankings.

    • Free Directories: As you may have guessed, Free Directories offer free listing opportunities for websites and businesses; however, since there is little (if any) scrutiny of the submissions, free directory links offer little help in the form of driving traffic or help improve organic search engine rankings.
    • Paid Directories: Paid Directories operate just like Free Directories, with one key difference--in order to get listed one has to pay for a 'review'. The review, however, is not an actual review as almost any submission will get accepted as long as there is money to back it up. This is of course not the case with some of the directories which have some editorial guidelines and do turn away submissions; these directories are few and far in between. Paid Directory links do offer a bit more link value than free submissions since the paid ones tend to have vetted content so there is more of a chance that they'll pass along some link value.
    • Niche Directories (paid & free): Niche Directories are curated lists of resources that are relevant to a particular topic (or set of topics). Unlike regular directories, the free versions of this type of directory are generally of better quality since the person operating the directory is more concerned about the quality of links being included rather than the money being collected. This is not to say that paid niche directories cannot be helpful, but topic-specific directories operated for altruistic reasons will have more link value to pass along.
    • Toll Free Number Directories: Toll Free Number Directories are not very different from the traditional website directories, but in order to get listed your business will need to have a toll free number. Usually these types of directories have free submissions.
    • Blog Directories: As the name suggests, blog directories provide those with a blog (standalone or as part of a company website) the opportunity to get listed in a specialty directory. A blog directory can be considered a type of niche directory, but usually is not topic-specific.
    • Asset Directories: Almost everyone has some kind of company asset that can be listed somewhere. Asset directories provide owners of apps, blog themes, plugins, ebooks, whitepapers, etc, to list their asset in a collection with other similar ones. These types of directories, of course, offer a link back to the website of the entity submitting the listing. Some of these directories can be of very good quality, and can also send useful traffic to your website. Below is a list of the variety of asset directories which are available. This is not an exhaustive list, but we will add to it over time.
      • Apps: smartphone, tablet, and computer applications
      • Themes: WordPress (or other blog) themes
      • Plugins: WordPress (or other) plugins
      • Code & Scripts: Code snippets, HTML layouts, CSS solutions and similar resources.
      • eBooks
      • Design
      • Logos
      • Website
      • CSS
      • Whitepapers
      • Infographics
      • Fonts
      • Tutorials
    • Articles & Content Directories: Article directories were very popular and somewhat effective some years ago, but nowadays they are of very little value, due to duplicate content problems (same article published on dozens of websites); however, it is still a relatively easy way to get some links for your website.

  • Link Buys

    Potential ValueLow - High

    Money talks, and that is no different when it comes to links. Owners of high quality websites know the value of an outbound link to the recipient, so there is a big market for buying and selling links. This is not a method of link development which we recommend due to its inherent risk--Google (and other engines) hate paid links (but only because they work), so their spam team works very hard to weed out paid links and discredit them algorithmically or even penalize them manually. It is worth noting that even with paid links it is important to do proper research to make certain that the site from which you are getting a link is of high quality, is relevant to your topic/industry, and doesn't dabble in other questionable activities which might draw the ire of Google's algorithm.

    There are two ways that you can go about getting paid links--researching opportunities yourself and contacting site owners, or going through a text link broker.

    Warning: This approach can get you penalized or, worse, banned from Google, so use this method at your own risk.

  • Link Exchange

    Potential ValueVery Low - Low

    Possibly the oldest link scheme, the link exchange has been around for as long as websites, but they really came into fashion when Google entered the game with its link-based algorithm. Link exchanges come in a variety of flavors, but the basic idea is "I link to you if you'll link to me."

    There is nothing wrong with doing a link exchange; however, with any shortcut that works even a little, link exchanges were abused (and still are), and as Google and other major search engines evolved, the value of doing a link exchange diminished to the point where even properly executed link exchanges can only contribute feebly to a link development campaign.

  • Profiles

    Potential ValueLow - Average

    Social and business profiles offer an easy way to get incremental traffic/exposure while getting a link to your website. In many instances the links form such profiles will be nofollowed, but this is not always the case, so it is well worth pursuing these links, especially since they normally don't cost anything other than the time you put into creating them.

    • Business: Business profiles can be found on a variety of websites including social media sites such as LinkedIn, Google+, and Facebook, but these are not the only places where you can create a business profile--sites such as about.com and business.com allow businesses to create listings with links pointing back to their websites.
    • Personal: Personal profiles also allow for company links, which is an easy way to get a link pointing to your website. As with the business profiles, some of the links are nofollowed but they are still worth doing, as it can only expand your online presence. Do keep in mind the quality of the website on which you are adding a profile--as with everything SEO-related, quality is more important than quantity.

  • Donations, Memberships & Sponsorships

    Potential ValueLow - High

    Link development that is tax deductible, you can't really ask for anything better than that. Of course not all sponsorships and donations are going to be tax deductible, but that's not really the point. There are virtually endless opportunities to sponsor events, sign up for memberships and to donate to organizations (non-profit or otherwise) in order to get mentioned in their sponsors/supporters/donors/members page.

    • Sponsor Events: Sponsoring events may not be for everyone, as it can get expensive, but it is certainly something to keep in mind. Also, do remember that oftentimes sponsorship links only stay active until the next event by that organization, so the link may have a short life.
    • Donate to Organizations: Donating to organizations (whether they are non-profit or not) can be an easy way to get a mention and a link on the organization's website. This is also a good brand-building activity, especially if you can align your donations with organizations that share your company values, mission statement, or general philosophy.
    • Become a Member: Memberships almost always cost money, and the membership fees are recurring so you should keep that in mind when working this into your link development campaign. Of course if you are buying a membership for purposes other than getting a link then you will have to evaluate the cost differently. The most obvious form of memberships are local chambers of commerce which always publish a list of their members with a link to their website.

  • Community Involvement

    Potential ValueLow - High

    Community involvement when it comes to link development does not mean going down to your local soup kitchen to serve the homeless. Online community involvement is what is meant here. There are endless forums and blogs (small and large) on myriad topics, and by becoming a contributing memeber in these communities not only help build your brand but also give you link development opportunities.

    • Blog Comments: Everyone is familiar with blog comments, and unfortunately, the familiarity stems from the fact that blog comment spam. This is obviously to be avoided. Blog comment link development through community involvement means contributing in a positive way to a blog comment threads, and building a reputation within that community of bloggers and readers. By becoming part of the conversation, it becomes possible for you to include links within your posts which point to useful resources (some of which could be yours) without being deemed as a spammer who is just there to post a couple of irrelevant links with cut and paste content and move on to the next blog. Find blogs where you can contribute in an intelligent and constructive way, and become involved in the conversation and build relationships with the owner and other readers, and soon you'll have linking possibilities. This type of involvement may also develop into guest blogging opportunities.
    • Forums: As with blog post comments, forums can and do generate a fair bit of discussion on a variety of topics, and those with the time and knowledge about the niche which the forum is trying to serve can contribute to the discussions in a productive way and build a good reputation within the community. This will allow for the posting of links (once you have become a trusted source), which can be to your own site or that of clients. Often you'll also be able to include a link in your forum signature, but that is not as effective nowadays.
    • Q&A Sites: Similar to forums and blogs, but question and answer sites require less effort, as they don't generally require that you to build a reputation before you can post links; however, the quality of your answers and input will have to be high enough to not be regarded as spam when you are including links within your answers.

  • Content Creation

    Potential ValueLow - High

    If you are going to have any type of success with your link development campaign, it will be necessary to have at least some useful content that is in some way unique or a fresh take on topic popular within your niche. In other words, you have to give people a reason to want to link to your website. Content can be published either on your own site or someone else's relevant website, though if your content is something that is truly valuable, you would probably want to publish it on your own website and then work on publicizing it instead of getting it published elsewhere in return for a measly link.

    • Articles: This doesn't need a lot of explanation. Articles are any piece of informational writing that are generally long (more than just a few hundred words) and try to cover a topic in a comprehensive manner.
    • How To / Tutorial: Though tutorials and how-tos are a type of article, they concentrate on teaching the reader how to do something very specific. The task is usually not overly complicated.
    • Lists: Lists are naturally more than just a list of mundane things; however, a well crafted list can be a popular piece of content. For example, if you are a hotel, you could publish a blog entry which lists the top ten most interesting and free destinations within 30 miles of your property. This would be an interesting resource for visitors and could potentially attract links or at least make a link outreach effort less painful.
    • Infographics: Inforgraphics are popular because they pack a lot of information into a simple and attractive package. If you can figure out how to present information relevant to your industry in the form of an inforgraphic it would be project worth doing.
    • Whitepapers: Do you know more about a topic than your peers? Then why not write a whitepaper discussing a topic about which you are passionate and knowledgable?
    • Guest Posting: Even though this has become somewhat risky, if you restrict guest posts on well regarded publications then you are probably still going to be ok. The goal should always be to get published on an authority site, and not just some blog that went up a few weeks ago for the sole purpose of collecting guest blogs and making ad money.
    • Glossaries: Even though glossaries are common, especially in niches which have any kind of maturity behind them, they can still be a good way of adding linkable content to your website, especially if you can figure out a way to make your glossary of terms stand out from the run-of-the-mill list that every other competitor already has.
    • Quizzes / Worksheets / Tests: This type of content is great for getting links from educational institutions. If you can come up with any kind of worksheets, tests or quizzes which are useful for educators, then you have a good chance of earning some links naturally. Having such assets will also make it much easier to get a positive response if you are doing a link outreach and contact educational institutions.
    • Educational Content Geared Towards .edu: Similar to the quizzes and worksheets above, other types of content which are geared towards addressing a topic which might be of interest to universities can be a good way to earn links. For example, if you have a website that offers English language tutoring, you can increase your chances of getting a link from a .edu by creating high quality content addressing some of the challenging topics our students face (e.g., foreshadowing, the difference between certain terms like 'affect' and 'effect'), which would also be helpful for university students, hence making it a good resource for university/college professors to link to from their page on the university website.
    • Case Studies: If your business lends itself to doing case studies, then this is another form of content that can be helpful when it comes to soliciting links. Case studies, if done well and if they have enough detailed information can be a very useful tool when soliciting links.
    • Cover Industry News (first): This is a tricky one since it requires that your site be the first one that reports on something that is of interest to the people in your industry. If you are the original source of news, it is likely that your news story or article will get cited by others who will write about the same news story. Review New Products or Services: If you use services or buy products for your company, leaving reviews for them can be a good way of getting a link back, assuming that the review platform allows for a place for you to embed a link.

  • Contests & Giveaways

    Potential ValueLow - High

    Contests and giveaways aren't new to the world of marketing, but aside from getting your company website some good burst of publicity, they can also help get your website links. There are two ways to go about getting links out of contests, one is by doing a contest or giveaway, and other is by entering contests or giveaways.

    If you have something to give away (a service or product), then you can start by looking for websites that have an audience that would be interested in your products or services. Once you've found one (or more) such sites, you can contact the owner to offer up a contest for their users in return for a page on their site which profiles your company in return for the contest. This is of course, just one way of going about using giveaways or contests to get a link, but it should give you a good starting point.

    You can also get links by entering contests. Contest winners will usually get a profile and a link to their website. Ideally, the contest will be relevant to your website (company). By the way even if you just end up as a runner up or in top three, you still have a good chance of getting a link and mention somewhere on the contest page.

  • Networking & Personal Contacts

    Potential ValueLow - High

    Networking can be a great way to acquire links, but before you start chatting up people, why not ask friends, family and acquaintances who have websites and might be willing to link to yours? Always get the low-hanging fruit before you start climbing that tree.

    • Network: This is not the traditional type of networking, but rather it is networking with people who operate websites which are relevant to your industry but are not in direct competition with the products or services you are offering. Your goal is to do a small-scale link-exchange which can either be a one-time proposition or an agreement to link out to network 'members' on a regular basis (assuming they have something link-worthy to link to--this should be a major factor in making a decision as to which websites to approach).
    • Ask people you already know (friends & acquaintances): This one is easy--if you know anyone who has a website and will be willing to link to you, then ask them for that favor. It will cost you very little (just some of your time) but may get you some links very quickly.

  • College Student Blogs & Club Sponsorships

    Potential ValueLow - High

    Most, if not all, higher education institutions allow their students to operate blogs on their .edu domain. These sites/blogs make for a great way of getting a link from a .edu site. Assuming you have some useful content to which a student can point a link, it is well worth your time to bring said content to the student's attention and asking them for a link.

    Do you know who else has websites on .edu domains? Student associations and clubs. And often you can be a sponsor and earn a link from them. You can feel good about helping a student group and at the same time get a link in return.

  • Link Out

    Potential ValueVery Low - High

    This method, again, depends on having (or creating) high quality and valuable content. The idea behind that approach is to create high quality content with useful citations to other resources around the web from which you would like to see a return link. If by linking out your are able to send enough traffic that shows up on the recipients radar, and you have high quality content, then there is a reasonable chance that you will get a link from the owner of the resource to which you linked out.

  • Buying Existing & Recently Expired Domains with Link Value

    Potential ValueVery Low - Average

    This option is self explanatory--basically, you will go looking for domains which have not been renewed or sites that are laying dormant. Once a desirable domain has been located and purchased, the domain will then be 301 redirected to your site.

    This way of going about getting links is not the most wholesome, so at the least, try and make sure the domains and sites are relevant to your industry.

  • Resources & Link Pages (not link exchange)

    Potential ValueAverage - High

    It is hard to imagine, but not everyone is a PageRank hoarder, and people do put up resources just to help others out. So, why not look for such link and resources pages which are related to topics about which you have high quality content, and contact the curators of said resources to see if they may be willing to include your site/page on their list. You can also work the other way around, and look for resource pages, and see if they are missing type of information that might be helpful for their readers, and then develop the content that is missing to fill in the gap and then ask for a link to that content.

  • Internal Linking

    Potential ValueLow - Average

    It really does not get easier than this. You have access to your own website, and can do on it as you please, so why not take advantage of this and review your website's content to find opportunities where it makes logical sense to link internally. As with anything SEO-related, try not to overdo the linking and only create internal links that make logical sense. If done well, this can be the easiest and quickest way to take advantage of existing assets to impact rankings.

  • Blog

    Potential ValueVery Low - High

    Everyone is familiar with blogs (in fact at this point almost everyone has some type of blog); however, many seem to think that blogs can perform magic, and create rankings out of thin air. Unfortunately, this is not the case. If a blog is to contribute to search engine rankings, then it needs to have high quality and compelling content (just like the rest of your website should). Having a blog can help in a couple of ways.

    First, it allows for the expansion of your website content, without burdening the main section of your website with content you wouldn't otherwise publish there. At the same time it allows for increased internal linking without having to cram more and more links into the main content of your website.

    Second, if you are able to create high quality and compelling content (this should be your goal), then you can use your blog as a way to earn links, either by soliciting, or simply by marketing your blog content and letting the links develop organically.

  • Testimonials & Reviews

    Potential ValueLow - Average

    As a business it is almost certain that you use services and/or buy supplies for your business, and nowadays, many websites offer the opportunity to review (or submit a testimonial) their products or services. Often, these review or testimonials will allow the reviewer to include a website address/link which is then published along with the review. So why not give an honest review of products or services that you like and appreciate and get a link in return?

  • Create Tools

    Potential ValueLow - High

    This one involves great creativity and the ability to create (or pay someone to create) web tools. There are a lot of free as well as paid tools for every niche; be it PageRank checking tools or mortgage calculators, there is a wealth of tools out there. And the problem is exactly that, that there are a lot of tools already. So anything that you come up with has to be unique in some way or offer a new take on what is already on offer. If you figure out a way to offer something new then you'll have a great tool for attracting links.

  • Interviews

    Potential ValueLow - High

    If you operate a blog (and you should) which has a reasonable number of visitors (5 visitors a day isn't that 'reasonable') then you may want to consider working on arranging an interview with a thought-leader in your industry and publish the interview on your blog. The reason you need to have a blog that has at least some activity on it is so that you can convince the person who you are trying to interview to spend the time to answer your interview questions. If you are able to successfully accomplish this process, you'll benefit in two ways. First, you will have an original interview published on your blog. Second, it is very likely that the person that you interviewed will link to the post.

  • Create 'Link to Us' HTML Snippet

    Potential ValueVery Low - Low

    The goal here is to make it as easy as possible for those who would like to link to your site to do so. People are more likely to link to your content (and website in general) if you make it easy for them to link to you. So make sure that you have a 'Link to Us' page which is easily accessible and easy to use. If you use text links in the HTML snippet then make sure that you vary it once in a while so that you don't end up with a lot of the same exact anchor text in your link profile.

  • Competitive Research

    Potential ValueLow - High

    Find out what links your competitors (with good rankings) have, and try to obtain the ones which are the most desirable (and attainable--there are some links you simply will not be able to get). To do this research there are a variety of tools you can use like the MOZ Open Link Explorer.

  • Borken Links

    Potential ValueAverage - High

    Search for pages relevant to your niche which have broken links on them. The goal is to find links which could logically point to your content as opposed to the page that no longer exists. Once you find such a broken link, the next step would be to contact site site owner/webmaster and point out the broken link and then suggest that the link be replaced with one that points to your content.