SEO – three letters which hold so much power and potential. Effective search engine optimisation holds the key to immense marketing potential for your blog. Ranking well for popular search terms will increase your search visibility and sky rocket your traffic.
There are many aspects of SEO, from keyword research and onsite optimisation to technical amends and link-building. Aside from creating great content, writing optimised metadata, and avoiding the most common SEO mistakes, one of the most influential ranking factors is backlinks.
What are backlinks?
A backlink is essentially a link back to your website from another website. The search engines use these links to crawl the web. Think of a backlink as a vote of endorsement, or a big ‘thumbs up’.
The logic behind it is that if lots of high quality, relevant sites are linking to your content, then it must be offering value to users. This provides handy signals to the search engines, as it helps them understand which pages and posts offer the most value.
How do you measure your backlink profile?
There are a number of ways to assess and measure your backlink profile. Each of the methods uses a different tool to provide metrics which you can use on a comparative basis. The most popular metrics are as follows:
Domain Authority (DA) is a metric provided by Moz, one of the most widely recognised SEO tools and valuable resources for all things SEO. You can use their Link Explorer tool to find out the DA of a website. You need to sign up for an account to use the tool and you get 10 free queries per month.
Domain Authority is essentially a prediction of how well your website will rank in the search engine results pages (SERPs). It is measured on a scale from 1 to 100 – the higher your score, the greater your ability to rank highly. The score is based on the number of backlinks to your site, as well as the value, quality and relevance of those links.
Moz’s Link Explorer also provides you with a Spam Score. If there are a lot of low quality websites linking back to yours – especially in comparison to the number of total backlinks you have – then you may have a high spam score. You need to keep your spam score as low as possible, ideally below 5%. If you have a high spam score, I’ll explain what steps to take later in this guide.
Ahrefs provides two scores: Ahrefs Rank (AR) and Domain Rating (DR). Similar to Domain Authority, Domain Rating shows the strength and quality of a website’s backlink profile and is on a scale from 0 to 100.
Ahrefs Rank ranks all the websites in the Ahrefs database based on their DR. So the more high quality, relevant links a website has, the closer its AR will be to #1. Currently the website at #1 is Facebook, followed by Twitter and then YouTube.
Citation & Trust Flow
Citation Flow and Trust Flow are metrics provided by Majestic. I don’t tend to see these metrics used as often as they used to, but it’s still worth being aware of them. Citation Flow measures the link equity or ‘power’ that a website carries. It is on a scale from 0-100. In short, it predicts how influential a URL will be based on how many sites link it.
Trust Flow is a score based on quality, and therefore the trustworthiness, of a given website. Combining both Citation Flow and Trust Flow gives the overall Flow Metric.
So, the million-dollar question: how can you improve your backlink profile? There are a number of different link-building techniques and approaches you can use, which I will cover in this guide.
Before we dig in, I feel it’s important to mention that link-building is not easy. If you’re doing it right, then it’s very time-consuming and can be a frustrating process. There are no quick wins with link-building. And if anyone tries to tell you there are then you should be suspicious of their methods. It may be hard, but equally it can be extremely satisfying when you start seeing successes – especially when that equates to a big increase in website traffic!
The crème de la crème of link-building. Link earning is when websites link back to you naturally. It’s the best kind of link-building because it doesn’t involve any proactive outreach on your part. Links just appear and it’s truly magical!
Of course, naturally earnt links don’t come easy. For other websites to link to your website, you need to be offering high value content. Your content needs to be so good that people feel the need to share it with other people. Unfortunately, you are unlikely to benefit from link earning if your site does not currently rank well. Even if you are producing fantastic content, the chances are that not many people will be finding it.
But the more your site grows in visibility, the more likely it is that other websites will start linking to yours naturally. Link earning is also great because the links are natural. There’s no ‘paid for’ links, no sponsored posts, no affiliates – and the search engines love these natural links. The result is a backlink profile that looks natural and will therefore avoid getting a high spam score.
Guest posting has always been a popular method of link-building. As the name suggests, it involves writing an article or guest post for a website. You can often include a link back to your site within the article, or you may be able to get a link back to your website in your author bio.
Aside from the benefits of getting a link back to your site, it’s also a great way of getting your name out there as a writer. This can help you build your personal brand, as well as drive referral traffic back to your site. Once you’ve done a few guest posts, these opportunities will be easier in the future as you become more recognised as a writer.
First up, you need to identify some sites which accept guest posts. A few tips for doing this:
- Make sure the website is relevant to your niche – don’t write for a cookery website if your blog is about photography.
- Try Googling your niche followed by “write for us”, “guest post”, “guest post guidelines”, or “accepting guest posts”.
- There are also plenty of blog posts which list sites that accept guest posts – a simple Google search will help you find these.
- Ensure the site provides high quality content, is active on social media, and ideally has an engaged audience.
- Note that not all websites advertise that they accept guest posts. Sometimes it’s worth getting in touch anyway.
- Your targets don’t just have to be well-known editorial sites, such as the Huffington Post – try reaching out to fellow bloggers in your niche.
Once you have your targets, you’ll need to pitch your ideas:
- Start by reading any guest posting guidelines available on the site – don’t even think about not following them!
- Brainstorm some content ideas – I believe this is the most important step. Make sure your chosen topic hasn’t already been covered on their site and also that it is completely relevant to their audience.
- Pitch your idea – send a polite email with your ideas and be sure to include links to any other guest posts you’ve written. If you haven’t yet written any guest posts, include links to some of your own content.
- Some websites will have a form to fill in and you may be required to submit a full article without pitching ideas.
As a blogger, you will likely find the guest posting process a little easier. When doing this process for businesses, often publications will only accept paid-for advertorials and sponsored posts. These websites are often much more willing to give a platform to bloggers if they have something interesting to write about.
If you are including a link back to your site within the guest post, first make sure that this is allowed by reading through their guest post guidelines. If it is, the link must be relevant to the article. Otherwise the editors will simply remove the link and you may scupper your chances for any future links.
Another link-building technique is to request that a link is inserted into an existing piece of content. This saves time in terms of brainstorming content ideas and writing articles. As with guest posting, both the website and article needs to be relevant to your own blog or website.
With link insertions, as you’re not providing free content, you need to think of another incentive. Some ideas are as follows:
- Perhaps you come across an article that links to another site but that link is broken. Or maybe the content linked to is outdated or low quality. If that’s the case, then you have the perfect opportunity to offer your content as a replacement.
- If you have a strong social media following, then you could offer to share the article across your social media channels as a ‘thank you’ for adding a link.
- You could pay them a small fee for their time in editing the article and adding a link. Generally ‘paid links’ are frowned upon – but as long as the link is not marked as paid then there’s no issue. I view the payment more as payment for their time to edit the article, rather than for the link itself.
- Just ask nicely! Sometimes, if you’re really nice, people will add a link out of the kindness of their own heart. The success rate is relatively low but this has worked for me on several occasions.
When requesting a link insertion, always be really clear on the link, the placement, and the anchor text.
Unlinked brand mentions
It’s always worth doing a Google search for your brand, e.g. “Pocket Wanderings”. Have a look to see if there are any websites which have mentioned your blog / brand name but haven’t linked back to your website.
If that’s the case, simply get in touch with the author or site owner and request that they link back to your website where they mention you. Generally, this technique has quite high success rates but it’s only applicable if unlinked mentions of your brand exist.
There are countless websites, publications and blogs which provide interview content. So why not offer yourself up as an interviewee? Or, you may be approached to do an interview – if so, it’s certainly something worth considering. For example, check out my interview for Skai Social’s Ambitious Women Lounge.
It’s another great opportunity for building your personal brand and they will usually be more than happy to link back to your website.
Paid link-building services
If all this is sounding like rather a lot of effort then you may be wondering whether you can just pay someone to do it for you. And the short answer is: yes, you can. But, be wary. The chances are that you’ve received one of those irritating emails offering you ‘guest posting services’ or other related link-building services. They usually start ‘Hello dear’ and are exceedingly spammy. It goes without saying that you should never enlist the help of these types of services.
On the whole, there are not many reputable link-building companies. One that I can recommend is Fat Joe. They can place links for your website via their blogger outreach service on sites with a range of different domain authorities. They have a whole team of content writers who provide fresh content on reputable sites with a link back to your site. You can also choose the anchor text.
The downside? It’s super expensive. And this is the main lesson here – if anyone is offering cheap link-building services then steer clear. I cannot stress this enough. Link-building is time consuming, so the price should reflect this. If it’s cheap then they are likely deploying spammy or black-hat techniques. This could land you in trouble with the search engines and be extremely detrimental for your backlink profile.
What if I have a high Spam Score?
On the subject of spammy techniques – earlier I mentioned Moz’s Spam Score. So, what if you find that you have a high spam score? Or tools like SEMRush are flagging that you have an abnormally high number of toxic links?
Well, this is unfortunate but you can fix it. Firstly, it’s worth noting that every single website will naturally gain some spammy links. There’s not a lot you can do about this but it’s nothing to worry about. It only becomes a problem when you have an abnormally high number of spammy links pointing to your site.
The main cause of a high spam score is when a website has been engaging in spammy link-building tactics. Or, perhaps you’ve never done any work on your backlink profile and are unlucky to have a high number of spammy links which have occurred naturally. To address the issue, I recommend taking the following steps:
- Export a list of the most toxic or spammy websites with links back to yours.
- See if you can contact the website owner and ask them to remove the link(s).
- Failing that, submit a disavow file to Google Search Console – this essentially tells Google to ignore those links.
- Finally, focus on building a healthy backlink profile full of high quality, relevant links. This will help reduce the percentage of spammy links.
It will take time to see the results of your work to improve your DA and reduce your Spam Score. In fact, Moz is famously slow at updating its metrics. But don’t panic. You’ll get there eventually, it just takes a bit of time.
Different types of links
Finally, it’s important to mention the different types of link attributes. For example, you may have heard the term ‘no follow’ link. When someone adds a link to a page on their website, they can ‘tag’ it with a link attribute. This provides the search engines with a bit more information about the link. You won’t see this on the front-end but you can see these link attributes in the source code.
Many online publications have traditionally used “nofollow” tags on links which are paid for or sponsored. The reason is to help the search engines understand which links are natural and which have been paid for. Natural links carry far more authority. Frustratingly though, a lot of the big publications and some bloggers use “nofollow” tags even when a link hasn’t been paid for. It’s completely unnecessary and a constant frustration – but they likely do it because it’s easier just to cover their backs with editorial content and make all external links “nofollow”.
In 2020, Google’s guidelines around link attributes changed. Luckily, Google has hinted that it will essentially ignore ‘nofollow’ links – it will still acknowledge the link attribute, but will not ignore the link altogether. Google has since added two new link attributes: “sponsored” and “ugc”. The aim of these is to let Google know how to consider links for ranking purposes. Publications should use link attributes as follows:
- Default – default links (with no extra attributes) should be used for non-compensated links to trusted sites (the most influential type of link on rankings – the kind we want from an SEO perspective).
- Nofollow – for non-trusted sites or when you don’t want to imply any type of endorsement or pass on ranking credit.
- Sponsored – for links that are part of sponsorships, gifted or affiliate items, or for other compensated agreements.
- UGC – for links within user-generated content like comments and forum posts.
Phew, that was a lengthy post. But a necessary one, as link-building is a long process. It may take time but it also brings a seriously impressive amount of benefits. I strongly recommend that any bloggers who are serious about taking their blog to the next level start implementing a link-building strategy.