50 Ways to Get Quality ‘White Hat’ Backlinks and Leave Your Footprint
50 Ways to Get Quality ‘White Hat’ Backlinks and Leave Your Footprint was originally published on BruceClay.com, home of expert search engine optimization tips.
Obtaining “white hat” SEO links is really only in part about the link itself. It’s also about serving the audience and community of the site that links to you … and real relationships.
People should link to you because you have earned the link, not because you bought or bartered for it.
It is our opinion that link building is less about the number of links and more about the number of linking domains from within your industry. Quality over quantity always.
Our list of 50 ways to get quality SEO backlinks is different from other link-building-idea lists in one important way. We stay focused on how you can add value for your ultimate audience through your website.
Then, with a little extra effort, you can get a link from other sites serving that same audience.
The List: 50 Ways to Get Quality Links to Your Site
1. Ask — It Sometimes Works
When it boils down to it, links are about relationships. The business you run may be of service to another business and its audience.
Think about link building first in terms of building a library of helpful resources in the form of content.
Then think about people in your network that could use the resources you have to offer. It can be as simple as asking another business if a link on their site to yours might benefit their audience.
Example: A music website might have a great collection of music and articles on a particular singer or band. Form relationships with the artist’s fan clubs. Some may accept articles, and some will simply link to your great content. This would be a relevant link, and a win-win. Fan clubs love free information for their audience.
As another note here, if they just mention your site, maybe asking for a link to be added to that mention will make it more useful for you both.
2. Do Some Blogger Outreach
Since a big part of links is relationships, think about who you know.
Who in your industry would benefit from knowing about your website content and sharing it with their readers?
Some bloggers like to link out and some do not. Some will gladly curate and some need to write for themselves. Some are influencers and some are not.
Choose what is most appropriate for your content, and work with the bloggers as best fits your industry and content.
Forge relationships with those people. Face time could be an important part of this.
Do you attend the same industry events? Send a note ahead of time and plan to meet there. A few minutes over a drink or coffee could pay dividends for your content and link-building efforts.
3. Approach Colleagues Gently
Think of your current business network as a gold mine for getting links. However, depending on the industry you’re in, you want to tread lightly when asking for a link. A mere mention of the content you’re working on that might be a fit for their audience could work.
Example: If you publish a research report, even a competitor’s audience would appreciate reading it. This type of content is almost always attractive to others in your space.
And remember, never compensate anyone in your industry — even if they are influencers and you’d really like the link. This is against Google’s guidelines.
4. Write for Your Audience’s Audience
Your audience will be more likely to share your content if it helps expand their audience reach.
What would make your audience want to share your content with their audience?
An example is a newspaper journalist. When trying to get in front of the journalist, your content should be less about what things they (the journalists) like and more about what their readers like. This approach (what their readers like to read) is very powerful.
5. When You Have a Link, Stay Engaged
You might be surprised at which sites are linking to your site.
Do the research. Find the relevant domains that link to your site, and forge a relationship. If they have a quality site that’s relevant to your industry, stay in touch with them.
This is especially important if they are well connected and/or the site’s owner is an influencer within your industry. They might need guest bloggers, and you could potentially offer useful content to their audience. In your author biography, you can also include a link to your site.
6. Host a Contest
Recently I visited our Bruce Clay India office. The team took the opportunity to run a contest in which private consulting time with me was the prize. The content generated a lot of mentions and shares, drawing attention to Bruce Clay India and the contest page itself.
If you do something like this, your website might receive links from your social media followers (see No. 28 for why social links/mentions matter) and from your colleagues’ blogs and websites.
7. Host an Event
Think of ways you can enrich your local community with an event.
Example: You might host a business luncheon in the community to divulge some of your business-success secrets.
Then, tell people about your “mini-conference” through an events page. You will get some links to the page (and maybe some clients as well). Once the event has passed, consider doing a 301 redirect from that event’s page to your main events landing page.
8. Join Local-Focused Organizations
Your business is part of a local community. Being listed in directories, like the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and Chamber of Commerce, secures a link. They also help your potential customers find and learn more about you.
And if you’re in good standing with organizations like the BBB, it can lend credibility as well. Also, is there a significant attraction in your area (such as a local kids camp) that gets a lot of links? Sponsor them and get a link on their website (see No. 10 for more).
9. Speak at Events and Have Something for the Audience
If you speak at community or industry events, offer something useful for your audience to download after the talk. Provide a link to the resource and encourage them to share.
Example: You may have the results of an informal survey, an ebook, or some other content on your website that would be helpful to the audience in some way. Create a shortened link that they can remember (for example, a Bit.ly link) and drive traffic to the page. They may, in turn, share it with others.
10. Do a Sponsorship
Do you want to make an impact on your community?
Sponsorships can do that and get your name out. Moreover, you can obtain links to your website from the organization you’re sponsoring, as well.
Think local softball teams, not-for-profit activities (like a beach cleanup), school scholarship funds and so on.
11. Reference an Industry Leader
Write content that references an opinion of someone in the Top 10 in your industry.
You may not even need to interview them. You can draw upon previous statements made elsewhere (with attribution).
Identify the influencers in your industry who tend to either link to articles mentioning them on their site or share such posts on social media. These are the ideal targets.
12. Create/Review Case Studies
Write case studies that your audience can learn from.
You could identify major blunders that turned around. Or hot breaking news stories (that involve terrible losses or even massive wins). This ties well into the “unicorn” approach we will discuss in No. 14.
Example: In the digital marketing community, a popular journalist who wrote a lot about Google for many years ended up joining Google as an employee.
Also remember that, similar to the nightly news, “dirty laundry” types of headlines are always read and quoted with links (narrative on society omitted).
13. Start a Blog
Having a blog is one of the basic tenets of attracting links. After all, the content you’re blogging about focuses on your business and brand. While a blog is essential to your SEO, it doesn’t stop there.
Blogs that tend to do best express strong opinions about matters in their industry, things that their clients care about and so on. That doesn’t mean every post is controversial. Every now and then, plan to tackle a topic that matters to your industry or business with gusto.
Example: Say you have a casino in Las Vegas. Every so often, you might tackle the topic of gambling safely, or express an opinion on the changing regulations you face.
14. Create Great “Unicorn” Content
“Unicorn” content is any article that strikes a community’s chord. You’ll know a unicorn article by the high level of traffic, comments, shares and backlinks it generates.
You’ll want to latch on to a unicorn. For example, take note of what your competitor’s unicorns are, and write your own unique content on that same topic.
A unicorn article stands out from the competition, meaning it’s better than other articles on the topic.
Take best advantage of each of your unicorns. Publicize them well within the community.
This content should ideally be published on your website. If you publish this type of content on a third-party website, include embedded links to your site. This includes useful “find-out-more-on-the-topic”-type content (in moderation).
One approach similar to this is creating “skyscraper content.” This is similar to unicorn work, except it’s on the level of an entire website. Find a great website, mimic it, do it better, add engagement, then see if links to that other site can be switched to links to your site instead (see No. 34 for more on this).
15. Consolidate Landing Pages
Do you have a handful of similar landing pages on your website that garner a lot of traffic and links?
Assume you have two great pages, one page on how to choose the right microscope for your job, and the other page on how to choose a microscope for your specific needs. You should consider combining the content from those two landing pages and 301 redirecting the page(s) to the chosen URL.
The popularity of those landing pages now combined gives you one powerful webpage that reaps the benefit of aggregate traffic and links. See: https://www.google.com/search?q=how+to+do+a+301+redirect.
16. Help a Reporter Out
If you’re short on money for public relations, you can take matters into your own hands.
HARO (Help a Reporter Out) connects you with reporters who are looking for subject matter experts in your field. If you get interviewed for a story that will run on the web, it’s likely you’ll get a link to your website when you are cited.
17. Be Interviewed by Bloggers
Creating quality content these days means citing credible sources. One way that bloggers like to cite sources is through interviews.
Find out who the writers and bloggers are in your industry, and become top of mind for them.
Engage with their content online. Add value by commenting or resharing, and you’ll start to build a relationship.
Ask them what they’re working on, and let them know you’re available to offer quotes or interviews on “X” topics whenever they might need it. This will almost always guarantee a link to your website when you’re cited in the article.
18. Interview Experts
A great way to attract links and traffic to an article is to interview experts yourself.
People like to be recognized for their expertise, and every expert has their own audience. The people you interview will usually share and link to the article on your website.
Try an in-depth article interviewing just one or two experts, or a “roundup” that features quotes from many. The more experts you can pull together in a roundup interview, the better! For example, you might write an article on “What the Top 10 Digital Marketers Predict Will Be Most Successful in [X Year].”
19. Educate, Educate, Educate
Part of building your business into a brand involves thought leadership. You do indeed have a specialization and unique insights. Share those with your audience on your website to help them do something or understand a topic better.
This act of creating unique, quality, educational content benefits your website’s search engine optimization, too. Google wants to feature high quality webpages in its search results, and its ranking algorithm is designed to find them.
20. Offer a Webinar
As part of a low-key, educational approach to sales, webinars are great. People love free training.
You can embed the recorded webinar on a webpage with the transcript. This engaging content can drive traffic and links.
Consider partnering with someone in your industry who has a large audience. You can tackle different aspects of a topic together, and you’ll benefit from the partner’s wide reach.
21. Do Original Research on a Topic
Creating standout content that people want to link to and share takes time. Put your journalist hat on and take a deep dive into a topic to create a long-form webpage. Consider topics that have burning questions in your industry, or timely topics as well.
22. Create a Whitepaper
A whitepaper is a great way to demonstrate your expertise. Use them to show you’re aware of the challenges facing your clients and can offer solutions.
Example: Maybe you are selling a revolutionary new cleaning system. In a whitepaper, you could show how it is more cost-effective and friendlier to the environment than other systems. You can use this content asset to gather emails in exchange for the download.
Aside from gathering email addresses for drip email campaigns, whitepapers can rank on their own merit. A useful whitepaper also gathers links.
23. Create a Graphic
Graphics are big wins in the link world.
People like easy-to-digest visuals, and if you do it right, these can spread like wildfire.
One example is an infographic that shows trends in an industry, like the types of jobs available, their salaries, employment rates and so on.
To facilitate a link, make it easy for people to share by offering a link for attribution, and add your logo or company name to the image. Make sure that you take the same care creating visuals as you would with text content. That means everything is fact-checked and quality.
24. Create Videos
YouTube is the second largest search engine, aside from Google’s web search engine. In all cases, the power of a video link is massive and it must be a priority.
You can create a video, host it on YouTube, for example, and then offer a link for more information from the video that leads viewers to a page on your website.
Example: Let’s say you have a style-focused YouTube channel. You might create a video reviewing a new beauty product and include a link to a full review on your site within the video. That would let people learn more (and even buy the product with your affiliate link attached).
25. Be Mentioned in a Podcast
Consider putting your useful content in front of podcast creators. They, in turn, may mention that content in one of their episodes as a resource on the topic.
Example: Say there’s a podcast that tackles psychology issues, and you have an ebook on overcoming anxiety. A mention of the tips in your ebook on a podcast is like a verbal testimonial. It could carry a lot of weight with listeners and lead to people visiting your site and linking to your content.
26. Create and Promote Web Tools
Create useful tools that people can access on your site.
Example: Here on BruceClay.com, we offer some of our popular tools for free, integrated into our SEO Tutorial.
Use the tool’s name as the anchor text for the link when you link to the tools yourself.
27. Get a Mention in Wikipedia
Obtaining a link from Wikipedia does not pass link juice since all their links are nofollow. However, it CAN give your site a huge boost in traffic, and probably expert status.
Since the community at large maintains Wikipedia, obtaining a link may not be too difficult if you are truly worthy.
Example: Say you are a thought leader when it comes to software development. You might identify Wikipedia articles that talk about your involvement in software development. Or your thought leadership content could be a reference.
But be aware that Wikipedia frowns on self-promotion. Editors will likely reject any links that you try to insert on behalf of you or your business. Worse yet, if you are too persistent about adding links to your site, your website can be added to a spam list.
The key is in your approach. Focus on adding value with content, not links. For more information, read Wikipedia’s general guidelines for links.
28. Get Mentions in General
Online mentions (such as in social media or reviews) are important, too. They help search engines determine that people have an interest in what a brand is about.
Social mentions may not generate valuable links to a site. However, social mentions signal to the search engine how people are talking about a brand.
Example: Pizza Franchise-A may be mentioned more often and more favorably than Pizza Franchise-B.
29. Create Quizzes and Puzzles
People just love to take quizzes, and that engagement is an important step. Create a quiz that you can run on social media, where a click to the webpage for the right answer gains traffic. And as they finish your quiz, be sure to give them social icons to easily share your quiz with others.
If it is fun, then word may spread and links can be generated.
Example: If you run a dating website, you might create a quiz on “Your Perfect Soul Mate.”
30. Attract Links from the Right Neighborhood
Links from spammy sites can harm your website. Keep this in mind as you’re link building.
If your link profile has a fair amount of these types of links (think “Viagra”), it’s risky business. Google devalues these types of links in general (so no value to your site) and in some cases, penalizes them.
31. Get Listed in Online Directories
For getting listed online, think geography-specific directories that would be relevant to your business. Add your business link there.
Examples: YellowPages.com or Angie’s List, to name just a couple. In many cases, this may also include the BBB (remember No. 8 on this list), but there are many others you should consider.
32. Get a Link Audit
An SEO vendor or a consultant that is savvy in link building will have all the tools and data needed to decide if your backlink profile needs cleaning up. This will point you in the right direction on what to do next.
These audits can typically cover things like:
- Link analysis from Google Search Console link reports.
- Link analysis utilizing our proprietary tools.
- Anchor text analysis.
- Identification of links that need to be pruned, general link-pruning guidelines, and recommendations for how to submit for reconsideration.
- Checking for any other possible “Penguin”-related problems, such as the “cupcake effect” or over-optimization
33. Buy a Competitor
A merger or acquisition has the potential to give you some great (or bad) links.
Suppose there’s an opportunity to purchase a competing and popular website in your same industry. If you buy it, then you will have the option to either consolidate the sites, thus combining links, or generate new link prospects from having an additional site.
Tip: We highly advise SEO services such as a link audit as part of your due diligence when acquiring a new domain (see No. 32).
34. Perform a Competitor Backlink Analysis
Find out the quality sites that are linking to your competition and try to hijack those links.
This is not as nefarious as it sounds, especially if your resource on a given topic surpasses the competitor’s page.
Contact the webmaster and ask them to consider your page as a more relevant source for their readers. Hijacking links is fair competition.
35. Reanimate Links on a Competitor’s Site
When your competitor has websites linking to them but the competitor’s page returns a 404 error, it creates an opportunity for you.
Example: Let’s say your competitor had an article on how to create a custom wood table, step-by-step, but it has been moved. Now that page looks broken to visitors. You are a furniture maker who has a great article on this (or you can whip one up).
Contact the webmaster and offer them a better link — to your relevant webpage — instead. Also remember to keep your links updated so that this doesn’t happen to you.
36. Evergreen Your URLs
Without changing your URLs, you can replace old content with newer, more relevant content. That way, any links to the existing page still benefit the site.
Example: If you have a page on Ford Mustangs with data from 2017, you might replace the content with the current year’s data. Do this each year.
37. Fix All 404s
A 404 “not found” error occurs when a user reaches a page URL that doesn’t exist. As we mentioned in No. 35 on this list, this creates a bad user experience.
A 404 error is especially problematic if the broken page has a lot of inbound links.
Just as you can find dead links to competitors and “hijack” them, your competitors can do the same to you.
Routinely run reports to identify any 404s. Then 301 redirect each 404 URL to its most relevant equivalent live page (if the page returning a 404 truly no longer exists).
38. Fix Your Site’s Quality
Another reason to address 404s and have good content is to raise the quality of your site. This is an indirect link-building technique.
The publishers of quality websites and the people in charge of building links for those websites will not link to a site that is not maintained. A low-quality website cannot be considered a link-worthy subject matter expert.
Again, the reason is user experience.
39. Link Prune
If your website has been hit with a penalty, sometimes the best option is to cut the junk.
See our link removal flowchart and recommendations for more:
We call this link pruning, and it’s something we offer with our penalty assessment services at Bruce Clay, Inc.
Perform Site Migrations with Care
PageRank cannot transfer from an old site to a new site until you can get the old pages re-crawled by the engines. To facilitate that, submit the old URLs to Google and Bing via an XML Sitemap file (see Google’s recommendations on this). The PageRank will transfer in a matter of days instead of months.
41. No Site-Wide Links
Sometimes a link to your website appears on every page of a site. For example, your website development company might put a footer link on your site such as “Created by XYZ” that points to their homepage. These links might seem helpful, but they do not send much traffic — and search engines may view them as spam.
Run-of-site links can look like an ad. If the links pass PageRank (i.e., they are followed), they may look like paid links. It’s not natural to link from every page to some third-party site.
There is no reason to have an excessive number of links from a third-party site unless it is an actual ad (and nofollowed).
We believe that it is the number of linking domains and not the number of links that has a high correlation to ranking. Choose wisely and get very few “right” links, so you do not look like spam.
42. Have One Redirect Jump Only
In recent years, Google representatives have said that no PageRank is lost for any 3XX redirects (301, 302, etc.). However, all redirects come with risk, and this risk can get larger if you have more than one redirect in place for a page.
Any given page may naturally experience a redirect in the case of a site redesign (or two or three) over the years. Here’s some basic information on how to properly implement a 301 redirect.
43. Silo Your Website
Once you obtain links, the next concern of link building should be to make the most of the link juice you receive.
You can magnify the PageRank flow of those incoming links by using siloing — a hierarchy structure of your URLs and content through linking.
For example, you might have a page that answers a common FAQ in your industry. But that landing page should also have a call to action that keeps that visitor engaged within your site, pointing to a relevant page on the same topic.
Here’s more information on SEO siloing:
The term siloing originated as a way to identify the concept of grouping related information into distinct sections within a website. Much like the chapters in a book, a silo represents a group of themed or subject-specific content on your site. The reason this grouping is such a high SEO priority is that search engines award “keyword” relevancy within their index based on the page and then the rest of the site with the most supporting relevant content. Well ranked websites are founded upon the concept that a website should physically be organized like a doctoral dissertation. A dissertation has a clearly identified title, abstract, table of contents, then content laid out to reinforce the overall theme of the dissertation as a whole, all with references and footnotes supporting the subject.
44. Post Answers on Question-and-Answer Sites
Quora is an example of a Q&A website that has nofollowed links. But the trust of those links is high, and you control the number of mentions based upon the number of answers you provide as the expert.
Another option is a forum. This is only good for industry credibility, and certainly not for links for search engines. Unfortunately, a forum is generally a place where someone that does not know the answer gets answers from others that do not know the answer.
Therefore, carefully look at the audience and the quality of the answers before joining a forum.
45. Rank in Search Engines
One of the best ways to become an expert in Google’s eyes is to create content that demonstrates your expertise and authority (Google PDF).
The better you do this, the more you become perceived as an expert. Once you start ranking for search queries time and time again, you will naturally be the site that people reference in their links.
46. Get Rating and Reviews
While you may not have much control over what ratings and reviews say, they do send links to your site.
Expanding on that thought, think about industry review sites that you can get to review your site or business. Are there local award contests? Does your local newspaper do a “top places to work” or a fastest-growing list?
All of these reviews can generate business and possibly links, especially if they come from a trusted resource.
47. Get Testimonials
What is your strategy for gathering testimonial reviews from your audience? Reach out to happy connections on a regular basis and ask for a testimonial on their website with a link to your home page.
48. Use Reciprocal Links with Care
There is much debate about reciprocal links (aka I link to you and you link to me back). The bottom line is that if you are linking between similar and relevant websites, it may not be a bad thing. Think of it as adding value to one another’s website.
Example: If you are a real estate agent, you might have a community resources page of helpful businesses in the area, such as local lawyers. By extension, one of those lawyers may also have a resource page or a blog article about helpful resources for their audience, like real estate agents.
49. Expand the Relationship with Existing Links
Websites that have linked to your website previously might link again. Is there another page on your website they might also be interested in linking to? Reach out and propose something.
50. On the “Do Not Do” List: Buying Links
White Hat means never buying links, never hiding links in widgets, and avoiding anything that would violate Google’s guidelines. See Google’s Link Schemes page for more:
Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site.
Remember, there is not really an “under the radar” approach that works for link building, certainly not for long. Google has years of fighting link spam; there’s likely nothing they haven’t seen before.
Can you do it and Google won’t catch you?
Maybe. But if a competitor catches you and reports you to Google, then you are toast.
Additional Notes and a Plan of Action for Link Building
Notice that we did not include some common myths about links such as commenting on others’ posts or even guest posts. These tactics make the other website the expert while giving you less fame and traffic than if you ranked yourself for that content.
Always avoid thin content sites (e.g., short pages) or sites where each page has many outbound links, especially if the linked-to sites are of poor quality. Assume this is the rule that applies to each of the techniques in this list.
So now what?
The recommended link-building process is obviously far more difficult than just reading a list. In general, there are a handful of things that need to happen:
- Invest in what we refer to as a “strategic link analysis report” that talks about the linking opportunities, the risks and the estimated implementation costs. As part of your link building, these insights should balance the links’ SEO value with the traffic value with the contribution to expertise, authority and trust (refer to No. 45).
- Finalize SEO campaign keywords. Variety is absolutely needed since building too many links with the same anchor text may be seen as spam. Select the keyword, select the landing page (new or updated) and then select the top-linking sites that you want a link from.
- Research and finalize SEO campaign content. It could be a blog post, an image, an infographic, a video or something else, but it needs to be created before you embark on link building. Be sure to publicize the new content as appropriate.
- Manage your existing link inventory and link prune the bad links while retaining the best links.
- Go slowly, make sure links are relevant and on topic, and prefer respected sites as link acquisition targets.
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