Written by Neil Patel
This article originally appeared on Search Engine Land.
Any trustworthy, white hat SEO knows that “link building,” while necessary, can be potentially dangerous.
In the minds of many, “link building” is synonymous with the spammy, black hat SEO techniques of years past; yet, high-quality links remain the single largest off-site ranking factors used by the search engines.
Google has evolved to the point where it’s simply not possible to indiscriminately build links to a site and expect to rank. Try that, and you’ll get a penalty.
So, how can you safely build links in 2015? There remain several legitimate and appropriate ways. The following are the five that I use most often.
1. Guest Blog & Get Others To Do It, Too
As with any technique, you have to be careful with guest blogging. The declaration from Google head of webspam Matt Cutts that “guest blogging is done” is only partially true. Google took down several major blog networks, indicating that they were really serious about penalizing spammy guest blogging. It is likely that Google will continue to refine their algorithm to weed out even more of these less-than-trustworthy forms of guest blogging.
But there remains and will remain a strong and authentic side to guest blogging. That is what I’m referring to.
Guest blogging is not in itself a method of gaining guest blogs. If a website owner or editor trusts you to create high-quality content, they are not giving you permission to start aiming backlinks at your website. They are instead trusting you to produce excellent content that their readers will love.
If you have a byline or an occasion to mention some other articles you’ve written, then you may be entitled to a link.
Let me be very clear about guest blogging and its relationship to backlinks. The purpose of guest blogging is not backlinks. The minute you start doing that, websites and editors will know what’s going on. You’ll get voted off the island.
If, however, the context, content, and subject of your guest post require it, then you can link to your own material. The goal is to be as helpful, clear, and informative as possible.
Keep in mind that guest blogging is a scalable way to earn great backlinks. If you have other influencers in your company who are skilled and willing to write, then encourage them to get into guest blogging, too. Guest blogging is a powerful method for growing one’s personal brand, and it benefits the company as a whole.
2. Make Infographics
Are infographics still a viable method for building links? Drew Hendricks of AudienceBloom recently asked this question in his article, and his answer was clear:
“Infographics are still effective for link building.”
He’s right, but he gives some necessary disclaimers. To be clear, infographics aren’t as effective as they used to be. Today, infographics are mass-produced by any business that possesses an ounce of strategy and a marketing budget.
I’ve seen a decline in infographic popularity and link building potential. Up until 2012, my infographics earned about 876 backlinks each. Since 2012, my infographics generate 371 backlinks each. That’s a decline of 57%.
In spite of the sag, I still use infographic marketing because it’s helpful for my audience. Plus, 371 links is still a lot of links.
3. Get Active On Social
Creating content is only half of content marketing. The other half is promoting your content. In 2015, the best way to promote your content is on social media. If you promote your content, you’ll start to earn links to it.
In my 2015 predictions, I wrote that “social media will become the cornerstone of blogging.” I can safely make that prediction because it’s already happening. I’ve seen it on my own sites.
When I get active in social media, my articles are shared, distributed, tweeted, mentioned, retweeted, talked about. As a result of this social buzz, I get links.
When I say “get active on social,” I don’t simply mean to dink around on Twitter for a few minutes each day. Here’s what you should be doing:
- Post links to your article on every social network of which you are a member.
- Post your link to relevant LinkedIn groups that you’re a member of.
- Submit your posts to Reddit.
- Submit your posts to StumbleUpon.
- Submit your posts to GrowthHackers.com
- Send DMs to people whom you mention or link to in your post (see the “ask” section below for more details on this technique)
This is an indirect way of gaining links. Social signals are not links, and they do not possess the same ranking impact as links. However, as you share your content, other people will read it, notice it, and start linking to it, too.
That’s where the links come in.
Let me illustrate this. BuzzSumo tallies up the most socially shared articles from Search Engine Land. Here are the top three results.
- The first article has 15,172 shares.
- The second has 10,318 shares.
- The third has 8,868 shares.
Now, how do those social shares translate into backlinks?
The first article has 18,310 backlinks from 1,456 domains.
The second has 5,017 backlinks from 461 domains.
The third has 2,626 backlinks from 385 domains.
There is a direct correlation between the number of shares and the number of backlinks.
Many SEOs proudly declare, “You must earn your links!” I agree, but that doesn’t mean that everyone will suddenly discover your great content by chance. You have to be out there, actively promoting it.
Keep in mind that there’s no need to beg for retweets or shares. If your stuff is good enough, people will want to share it anyway.
4. Ask For Links
Taken at face value, it may seem very unwise to ask for links. In reality, it’s one of the easiest ways to get links.
First, let me tell you what I don’t mean by “ask for links.”
- I don’t mean “beg for links.”
- I don’t mean “trade links.”
Let me explain how this can work. Peep Laja of ConversionXL is a great example. It used to be that whenever he wrote an article he “reached out to people and companies mentioned in a post, and many of them shared it on social media.”
It was a subtle way of asking. He messaged people with this short note:
“Hey XYZ, Just mentioned you in this blog post: http://www.xyz.com.
The note was simple, and the message was subtle: I did something nice for you. Would you do something nice for me?
If you want, you can be even more direct:
“Hey XYZ, I just cited your article in this infographic. Do you think this would be of interest to your readers?”
The most effective way of asking for links is by approaching people whom you know personally. It’s a bit creepy to go around asking people for links when you don’t know those people. It could work, but it’s way less effective.
It helps to have a platform built for yourself – a personal brand that is strong and trustworthy. Industry leaders recognize other industry leaders. Once your name gets bandied about in your niche, people will think they know you even if they’ve never met you. They may assume that they ran into you at a conference or that they saw your name on a workshop speaker list.
These types of relationships will grow over time. You’ll gain trust and respect from your industry peers, and your articles will get shared even more. You may not even have to ask.
5. Grow Your Personal Brand
You can’t create links instantly. Growing your personal brand is one of those slow-and-steady-wins-the-race techniques.
You can build your personal brand by outreach, helping people, speaking at conferences, getting press coverage, connecting with mentors, guest blogging, and other techniques. It’s not easy, and it definitely takes some time.
But the payoff is incredible! As my personal brand has grown through toil and hard work, my marketing efforts are now much easier. I can essentially generate new business growth simply by force of my personal brand.
And backlinks? They come naturally. Like other forms of creating links, this technique takes time. It’s hard to track backlink quantities directly to the power of your personal brand. However, as your name and brand begin to trend higher, you’ll notice a correlating rise in the number of backlinks to your personal or business website.
2015 marks a new era in link building. Even though earning links is far more labor intensive, it is still important. You simply cannot have a top-ranking site without generating top-quality links.
If you follow these five techniques, you’ll be able to increase your site rankings higher than you ever thought possible.
What safe techniques are you using to get links?
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.