A website’s backlink profile plays an important role in driving organic traffic from search engines. Effective link-building strategies are crucial for SEO, domain authority, and brand awareness. Whether you’re starting a new website from scratch or you’re trying to improve a well-established site, this ultimate guide will explain everything you need to know about link building for SEO.

What is Link Building?

Link building is the process of acquiring backlinks. A backlink is a link from one website to another—different from an internal link, which links from one page to another on the same website.

Some backlinks occur naturally. Others are the result of carefully crafted SEO strategies and content marketing efforts specifically designed to build more links.

But not all links are created equally. That’s why it’s important to understand how Google and other search engines treat a website’s backlink profile. Spammy and irrelevant links from low-quality websites won’t help you as much as relevant links from sites with domain authority.

With tools like Moz, you can check the domain authority of any website for free. 

 screenshot of Moz's free domain authority checker tool landing page.
Moz’s free domain analysis tool is a fast and easy way to check domain authority.

Moz has lots of other free tools that will help you identify backlink opportunities and improve your overall SEO efforts. 

How Link Building For SEO Works

When search engines crawl the web, they also crawl the links on pages. Those links create a backlink profile, which is a list of every instance another website links to yours.

Google and other search engines use backlink profiles to determine a website’s authority. This is part of the algorithm that determines how a website is ranked and indexed for various searches in the SERPs.

When one website links to another, something called “link juice” gets passed between them. Well-established sites with more authority have the ability to pass more juice to other sites via links.

For example, let’s say you created a brand new website today. If you write a blog post and add a link to the Wall Street Journal to reference a statistic you found, that link is pretty much worthless to the WSJ’s backlink profile—since no one knows about your site yet, your site has no juice. But if the WSJ linked out to a business blog in a news article, that link would definitely pass some juice. 

Here’s an excerpt from a blog post we published here at Quick Sprout discussing heat map tools. When the name of a tool is mentioned within the paragraph, we link to the product.

Screenshot of a Crazy Egg post = Best A/B Testing Tool for Small Businesses: Crazy Egg. Special emphasis on the two backlinks.
These are both backlinks for VWO and Crazy Egg.

Since our blog has a solid domain authority and the topic is highly relevant, these links will naturally pass some juice. 

One or two backlinks from reputable sites won’t be enough to move the needle, though. Just because we linked to Crazy Egg on this page, it doesn’t automatically mean Crazy Egg will rank on page one for heatmap tools.

But hundreds or thousands of high-quality backlinks combined with other SEO strategies will help your website rank above the competition in the SERPs.

Why is Link Building Important For SEO?

Link building is important for SEO because it’s a factor in Google’s ranking algorithm. High-quality websites typically don’t link to poor-quality and spammy sites. So if Google sees a well-established site link out to another website, it’s a sign that the other website is also legitimate and authoritative. 

A good backlink is essentially a vote of confidence or endorsement of your website. 

It’s like Michael Jordan saying a pair of sneakers help him play basketball better. His endorsement is going to be more significant than some unknown rookie playing in his first professional game.

Acquiring backlinks shows search engines that your website is trustworthy. If your website is already up and running, you can use Moz to check your backlink profile. 

Screenshot of Moz link explorer tool web page.
Moz’s Link Explorer is a free tool for finding existing backlinks.

Just enter your website’s URL to get started. You’ll be asked to create an account, which is 100% free and doesn’t require any credit card information. 

Your free account gives you access to ten searches per month, which is more than enough to get started with link building. You also export the reports as a CSV file and reference them later on. 

Understanding the types of backlinks you’re naturally getting is an important step in this process. You can see which pages or types of content are getting linked to the most, which will help you down the road when you’re trying to create more linkable assets for your backlink profile.

Nofollow vs. Follow Links

Not every link is the same in the eyes of search engines. Understanding these differences is important as you’re planning and executing your link-building strategy. 

A nofollow link is still a hyperlink that links from one website to another. But the rel=”nofollow” attribute tells Google that the link shouldn’t pass any link juice through PageRank—Google’s ranking system.

Nofollow links are commonly used when a website wants to give credit to a source without endorsing it. They should also be used for paid or monetized links. 

For example, if you’re partnering with another website to endorse your products or services, Google prefers that those links use the rel”=sponsored” attribute. 

While nofollow links do not directly pass domain authority or link juice, they can still be helpful for brand awareness and referral traffic. 

Conversely, follow links tell Google and search engines that the link should go through PageRank and pass link juice. When you’re building backlinks for SEO, you want to aim for follow links. 

Screenshot showing metrics over time of follow vs nofollow links.
Use Moz to check your follow and nofollow links.

When you’re analyzing URLs with Moz reports, you can see which percentage of external links are follow vs. nofollow. You want that follow number to be as high as possible. 

The best backlinks are natural links from other websites or blogs. 

For example, let’s say you published something that has unique research or data. If other sites link to your research in a blog post, that link is going to be much better for your backlink profile compared to a link in an unmonitored forum or advertisement. 

What Makes a Good Link?

Beyond the anatomy and technical aspects of a link, there are other factors that must be considered when you’re looking for link-building opportunities and assessing your backlink profile. 

These elements will help you understand the difference between good links and bad links:

  • Relevance — Good links come from sites that are closely related to your site’s brand or topic. For example, let’s say you run a golf blog. A link from ESPN or a GolfDigest will be better than a link from a food blog. 
  • Trust — High-traffic websites that have been around for a long time are generally considered to be trustworthy. Trustworthy sites are secure, have a privacy policy, and are hosted in locations that have a low spam score. 
  • Link Placement — Good links are placed in the upper body of content near the top of the page. Links in the sidebar, in the footer, and in the comments aren’t always as helpful for SEO purposes. 
  • Domain Authority — Domain authority is based on a 1 to 100 scale. The higher the domain authority score, the more link juice will pass. When you’re prospecting for new link opportunities, you should look for sites that have a minimum authority score of 70.
  • Anchor Text — The text that actually links to your site helps provide context to visitors as they navigate through the page of another site. This also helps Google understand what the page is about and helps influence rankings. With that said, keyword stuffing in anchor text violates Google’s guidelines and can actually lead to a penalty. So the anchor text should be as natural as possible. 

Having a link-building tool to reference as you’re trying to identify good link opportunities is crucial. 

Screenshot of Moz home page.
Sign up for free to get started with Moz.

Moz makes it easy to check the domain authority and trustworthiness of any website. They can also help you identify new backlink opportunities based on your backlink profile and competition. 

Pro Tips For Effective Link Building

How can you build better links for SEO? Just follow the proven link-building methods below. These strategies are a great place for beginners to start. 

Create Linkable Assets

A linkable asset is any piece of content that has a high probability of attracting backlinks. Examples of linkable assets include:

  • Infographics
  • Charts, graphs, and diagrams
  • List posts
  • Original data and unique research
  • Ultimate guides
  • Content that shows expertise and authority

Think about what other websites in your niche would want to reference in one of their posts. It’s probably not going to be a blog post about your morning routine or commute. So focus on creating more linkable assets instead of fluff. 

Guest Post On Other Sites

Guest blogging is a highly effective way to get more backlinks. Most guest posts typically allow the author to include a link to their site within a blog. Your author bio might also include a link to your homepage. 

This strategy is highly effective if you’re guest blogging on sites that are directly related to your site’s topic and industry. 

So when you’re presented with a new guest blogging opportunity, you probably shouldn’t turn it down. If nobody is knocking on your door to write on their website, you can always go out there and start looking for relevant sites that accept guest blog submissions. 

Reverse Engineer Competitor Backlinks

This is somewhat of an advanced strategy. But it’s highly effective when done properly. 

The concept is pretty straightforward. If a website links to one of your competitors, there’s a good chance they’ll link to you as well. The tricky part is identifying those sites and then reaching out to them with your linkable assets. 

Identifying those sites is easy with Moz’s free link explorer

Screenshot of moz link building tool showing inbound links.
Use Moz to reverse engineer competitor backlinks.

You can enter any domain into this tool and see inbound links that link to it. Then you can quickly qualify or disqualify the links as an opportunity or not.

For example, one of the top results comes from Reddit. This won’t be as worthy as going after links from The New York Times, HubSpot, and Harvard Business Review. 

Resolve Broken Links For Others

Broken links are bad for SEO. So if you can identify broken links on someone’s website and let them know about it, you’re doing them a favor. 

In an email letting them know about the broken link, you can offer a link to your website as a replacement. 

While there’s no guarantee the webmaster will actually replace the broken link with yours, it’s still an effective approach that’s worth trying. 

ID Unlinked Brand Mentions

People might be talking about your site or brand on the web. But not all of those mentions are linked to your site. 

The idea here is simple. You just need to identify all of those unlinked mentions and then send an outreach email asking for a link. 

Link Building Strategies to Avoid

There are lots of misconceptions about link building. Strategies that worked ten years ago may not work as well today. Other strategies can actually backfire and penalize your site.

Generally speaking, it’s best to avoid the following link-building methods:

  • Buying links
  • Spamming blog comments
  • Adding links to forums
  • Focusing strictly on social media
  • Trading links with other sites 
  • Unpersonalized cold outreach

These strategies are a waste of valuable time and resources. Depending on the tactic, it can also hurt your SEO efforts. 

Is Link Building For SEO Right For Your Website?

If you want to build domain authority and get more organic search traffic, link building for SEO is definitely something you need to be working on. 

While backlinks aren’t the only factor used to rank sites on search engines, they’re very helpful in telling Google which site better serves an audience. If you and your competitors each have the same quality of content and other similar SEO practices, the sites with a better backlink profile will likely rank above the ones without quality backlinks. 

Focusing on link building for SEO is great for the long-term growth and success of your website. New links may not move the needle today or tomorrow. But if you can steadily build more links over time, it will help keep your website ranking high in the SERPs for years to come. 

Final Thoughts About Link Building For SEO

Link building for SEO is crucial for the long-term success of any website. Your backlink profile plays a significant role in how Google ranks your site compared to others. So, follow the link-building strategies in this guide to get started.

Turning brand mentions into links is a great way to build momentum. Then you can take your efforts one step further and look for guest posting opportunities before diving into other methods. 

Just make sure you follow the proven link-building tactics and stay away from the strategies that could hurt your site’s SEO progress.