Linkbuilding has become a fiercely debated area of SEO over the past few years, with more and more website owners saying things like "My site is in the top three and I haven't done any linkbuilding"
And of course there are Tweets like these from Google representatives:
Which is all fine and well, although I don't believe it's very useful for people working in SEO, and I'll tell you why.
The first question I think of when I read John Mueller's response is be one of semantics. He says a website can rank without building backlinks. Now, some would argue (Google included) that building backlinks is different to earning them. I don't subscribe to this school of thought.
The difference between linkbuilding and linkearning is that one is considered to be things like manually adding links to web directories, guest posting, and other old-school tactics, while the other is about creating content that will naturally get links.
So there's that.
But also, The question doesn't ask anything about how many people actually search for that term. If the keywords those sites are ranking for extremely low volume and low competition then there's basically no point optimising for them at all.
A better question could be:
Do many websites with no backlinks rank for competitive, high volume, search terms?
I suspect John Mueller knew this when he answered the question so curtly.
The truth is that backlinks definitely help websites rank.
I've seen websites' organic traffic skyrocket due to high-quality linkbuilding.
But what is high-quality linkbuilding (Or linkearning, if you're into sounding modern)?
To me, the essence of high-quality linkbuilding is having other people put your links on their website by choice, without being paid or otherwise reimbursed, but because they like your content and find it useful enough that they want to use it as a resource on their site.
This means you do have to spend time finding the people who are likely to link to your content, and making sure your content is right for linking to. If you do this, you will get links, but it's a slow process.
Got anything other than anecdotal evidence?
There's SEMRush's ranking factors report, that analysed 600,000 search queries and calculated the number of backlinks fror the top 20 Google positions, which shows a clear correlation between backlinks and rankings.
The more backlinks a domain has, the higher is its position on the SERP. This tendency is consistent for all search volume groups.
As confirmed by Google, a strong backlink portfolio is crucial for website rankings.
Download the study and see the graphs for yourself.
There are of course many other factors that contribute to rankings, but today we're talking about backlinks. Specifically, how beginners can go about replicating their competitors link profiles.
Notice I mention this is a beginner resource. It's a specific process that I think is important to learn, but there won't be much here for experienced SEOs.
What follows is a quick and easy process that allows you to find a large number of potential backlink opportunities (prospects) that you can use for the outreach stage of your content marketing.
This method is used by many pro SEOs to get a load of high quality backlinks, and is a valuable process to learn.
How to get a great backlink profile
The process we're going to use involves checking and combining the backlink profiles for the pages that are ranking in Google for a chosen keyword, then reaching out to the good ones.
It's quite simple, and this method makes it quick and easy.
What we'll use:
- Simple Google Results Bookmarklet
- Google Sheets/ Excel
You can switch out Majestic for Ahrefs or another backlink checker, but it needs to have a bulk backlink check (to add a list of pages and get individual backlink counts for each). Buzzstream can be switched for NinjaOutreach, YoOutreach, etc. But you'll probably spend a load of time searching for people's email addresses.
1. Simplify your Google results
The first thing we need to do is to find the pages that are ranking for your keyword, and scrape them into a format we can use. Google doesn't generally like people scraping their data, but this isn't really scraping because of the way we'll use it.
First install this bookmarklet (just drag the green button into your bookmarks bar).
Now search for your keyword in Google.
I'm going to use the keyword 'link building' in this example, but the method works for any keyword that has decent search volume and is fairly competitive (so there's lots of content fighting for the top spots).
Now click Settings, then search settings just under the search box.
Then where it says Results per page, move the selector to 100, and hit save at the bottom of the page.
Instead of just getting the first 10 results, you now get the first 100, all on one page.
Now click the Simple Google Results icon in your bookmarks bar, and you’ll see a page like this:
Scroll down until you see the Plain Listing box and copy all the text within the box.
2. Count the backlinks
Go to Majestic and click Tools, Bulk Backlink Checker, paste your copied text in, and hit Check Backlink Counts.
Sort by Referring Domains.
Then hold Ctrl and click the little cog next to the first result, and choose Backlinks to open the backlink checker for that page in a new tab.
Do this for all the pages that have a decent number of backlinks (at least ten pages), then open the first of your new tabs, and click Export Data, and export as a CSV. Do this for each new tab you opened. You can do it in batches if you get too many tabs.
3. Combine your files
Next go to your desktop and create a new folder, and move all the new files there. Inside the folder, go to (In Windows) File, and chose Open Windows Powershell (or CMD).
In the box that pops up, type this exactly:
copy *.csv linkbuilding.csv
Where linkbuilding is your keyword (the name isn’t important).
A new CSV file will appear in the folder, called linkbuilding. It’s all your other backlink reports combined into a single file.
So, what have we done so far?
We've created a single .csv file with all the pages that link to the top 100 (or however many pages you exported) results for your keyword.
4. Get email addresses
There's a lot we can do with the information we've gathered so far, but for the purposes of today's guide, we want to be able to contact the site owners or writers in order to get backlinks.
We already know that all the sites in our spreadsheet are linking to other sites ranking for your keyword, so with the right kind of content and a good outreach and relationship building, there's a good chance they'll link to you too.
Now, creating the right type of content for successful linkbuilding takes a lot of work. There are systems and processes that work, but at the end of the day, it's all about creating very high quality content that's not just regurgitated from other sites, that fulfills a purpose, and relieves pain-points.
Easier said than done.
If you want to learn more about how to create amazing content that makes linkbuilding far easier, I'd highly recommend Brian Dean's SEO That Works course (no affiliation, but I have done the course, and it rocks).
If you're serious about linkbuilding, you're eventually going to want a tool to manage your outreach. I use, and love, Buzzstream, because it does so much. However it is expensive (starting at around $100/ month).
Other options I've used are:
YoOutreach, which is excellent if your budget is a bit tight. It was created by Atiq Ur-Rehman, who is a great developer and definitely an outreach expert. He's also extremely helpful and provides great support to users.
NinjaOutreach, which I can also recommend highly for it's intuitive UI and great support.
Anyway, back to finding emails:
If you have Buzzstream, simply create a new project, import your csv, and let it work its magic.
I usually find that at least 20% of the contact details aren't found. This usually gives you plenty that are found, but it's always worth a bit of extra digging if you've found some great linking domains.
There are various tools, such as Hunter.io, that scrape websites for email addresses, although I tend do find that they return the same as Buzzstream.
If you're still having trouble finding email addresses for your domains, you'll need to put in a bit of extra work. Here are some good resources to help you:
5. Personalize your outreach!
Don't just send out thousands of emails all with some crappy outreach template you found online. You won't get good links.
You might get a few from some less popular blogs, as the owners will be happy you thought them worthy of writing to, but any of the bigger sites that have anything like decent traffic will get loads of those, and will most likely just delete your email, and probably send your message to their spam folder, making it unlikely you'll be able to contact them in future.
"You just published a new article on your blog and now you’re going to send a mass email to 100+ top people in your niche with an excuse: “I saw you tweeted a similar post.”
I’m sorry to say this, but your article is not welcome in their inbox.
Otherwise, they would probably already be signed up to your email list.
And besides, it’s just disrespectful to mass-email top people in your niche with some generic outreach template"
So, how do we get our emails read, and how do we get our prospects to respond the way we want them to?
Well, you have to actually read their blog posts, find out what they're interested in, and then decide if they're likely to be interested in your content.
Then, and only then, should you email them. But don't write an email like this:
Subject: Your article
Hi fellow blogger,
I was reading your excellent post about [your blog title], and noticed you link out to [URL they link to].
I've just created something similar, you can read it here [URL of their post].
It would be great if you added my link.
That will just frustrate people and make them hate you.
Use their name, don't bother saying their post is excellent unless you've actually read it and can comment on why you enjoyed it, and if you really want the link - write something insightful about what they say, don't be afraid to bring up a point you didn't understand or don't agree with - it's all about starting a conversation, not just asking for a link!
- Use an interesting but vague subject line, such as 'question about [their site name]
- Use their name
- Don't use a generic template
- Write a bit about why you're emailing them, how you know about them, etc.
- BE GENUINE
- Be interesting
- Make sure your content is aligned with their interests
One tactic I like to use is not to include the URL of your post in the first email, but ask them if they would be interested in seeing it.
This gets them to agree to a very small ask, but asks them for a small 'yes' that's non-binding, and can help get the second, bigger 'yes' when you finally ask for the link.
Pro Tip: By now you should be using HTTPS on your site. Sending emails with non-secured links in the body can trigger spam filters, so if you insist on sending your URL in the first email, make sure it's secure.
Reap the rewards
It may not look like extreme traffic, but just a couple of years ago, we started working with a site on a brand new domain, with zero backlinks, and executed a comprehensive content marketing and linkbuilding campaign, using the process in this guide (among others), and got the site to over 40,000 monthly sessions in just twelve months.
It was an affiliate site that went from no income at all in the first few months, to tens of thousands per month in a pretty short amount of time.
Linkbuilding does work, and is relevant in today's SEO landscape, but must be done right, and have awesome content to back it up.
So there you have it, a basic linkbuilding process you can use to find high-quality prospects and start your outreach the right way.
If you've found this guide useful, why not give me a link?