Michael O'Neill

Think of the common phrase you heard growing up:

“You are the company you keep.”


“You are the average of your five closest friends.”

This wisdom holds true in the realm of link building. Consider the backlinks connecting your website’s pages to those of other sites — these inbound links are like the friendships you maintain. 

So, what do they convey about your link building strategy? Are they backlinks from relevant websites? Do they add value through high-quality content?

Hopefully your backlink profile – essentially the nerdy equivalent of your Tinder account – reflects well on you.

Does it not? Well, you need to raise your link standards then.

types of link building

What We Talk About When We Talk About Links: Internal vs. External

First things first.

There are internal links, and there are external links. Here’s what to know about each:

Internal Links

Internal = links that connect pages on the same domain.


  • Create a structured hierarchy of pages within your domain, allowing search engines to better understand how pages relate to one another and how they should be crawled/indexed.
  • Enable site visitors to navigate throughout your domain in a logical, predictable manner using anchor text.
  • Pass link equity (i.e., a measurement of authority and rank-worthiness) between pages, which is a key part of any link building strategy.

External Links

External = links that connect pages from different domains.


  • Serve as “third-party votes” for the authority and credibility of the page that is linked to, often seen in guest posting or editorial links.
  • Provide relevant context and additional content to users who land on one page then navigate to another via a hyperlink.
  • Direct traffic to targeted pages on separate domains, which may benefit content marketing, social media campaigns, and collaborative marketing efforts.

So what, then, is a backlink?

Simply an external link pointing back to your domain.

You want as many backlinks from credible sources as possible. That’s what link building is all about – establishing a mechanism for finding, generating and attracting backlinks to your domain.

Simply an external link pointing back to your domain. 

You want as many quality backlinks from relevant websites as possible. That’s what link building is all about – establishing a mechanism for finding, generating, and attracting backlinks to your domain using various types of link building tactics, be it through guest blogging, broken link building or other link building campaigns.

Why Build Links?

In the realm of SEO strategy, there are numerous types of link-building tactics you can pursue. It’s important to remember that there isn’t a single approach that is a silver bullet; each tactic certainly has standalone value in its own right, but a defined link-building strategy should include multiple tactics being deployed simultaneously.

That’s because with each quality backlink won, a snowball effect occurs.

  1. Your Page Authority is likely to rise.
  2. Over time, your Domain Authority, too, will likely rise.
  3. Search engines will view your site more reputably.
  4. Readers are more apt to find your site because its Authority scores provide a boost to organic ranking capabilities, positioning you higher in SERPs.
  5. As your pages prove to be valuable to readers (as evidenced by strong click-through rates and dwell time), Google will continue to push your listings higher in SERPs.

So, as you can see, links matter. There are proven correlations between sites that generate a lot of backlinks and their rankings in organic search results.

Here’s a quick explainer of a few key terms:

  • Page Authority: A score of 1-100 that represents how likely it is that a web page will rank well in search. The higher the score the better.
  • Domain Authority: A score of 1-100 that represents how likely it is that your entire website (a collection of all your crawlable pages) will rank well in search.
  • NoFollow links: A link to your site that is tagged with “nofollow” code, meaning search engines do not acknowledge the link and web crawlers do not follow the hyperlink to your domain. You, in essence, receive no credit for the backlink.
  • Follow links: A link to your site that search engines do recognize and your domain receives link equity from. This is the default type of link and no additional coding is required. You want Follow links.

Links and Content: The Dynamic Duo in Google’s Ranking Arena

Google might be a tad mysterious about the inner workings of its search algorithms, but it’s dropped enough breadcrumbs over the years. We’ve mapped out the SEO landscape through a cocktail of Google Webmaster blogs, X (previously Twitter) teases and official whispers. While there’s a sprawling list of over 200 factors in play, a top 10 have emerged as the VIPs:

  1. High-quality Content.
  2. Backlinks.
  3. Search Intent and Content Relevancy.
  4. Website Loading Speed.
  5. Mobile Friendliness.
  6. Domain Authority.
  7. Keyword Optimization.
  8. Website Structure.
  9. Website Security.
  10. On-page Experience.

Here’s the scoop: in the grand theater of SEO, high-quality content is the leading actor. But hot on its heels? Backlinks, especially those quality backlinks from relevant websites.

Breaking it down, Google’s genius – both its brainy engineers and its cutting-edge AI – is undeniable. But when it’s showtime, and you need to discern the web’s heroes from zeroes, links are the trusty SEO tools in your arsenal.

Picture this: after hours of content marketing and perhaps a sprinkle of guest posting, a blog post you’ve crafted starts making waves. It’s collecting editorial links, becoming the darling of social media and even turning heads in site explorer tools. That’s not just applause; it’s a standing ovation signaling your content’s prime-time readiness for top-tier spots in SERPs.

But if your content’s languishing, barely snagging an inbound link or, heaven forbid, attracting those pesky unnatural links, it’s a red flag. Time to rethink your link building strategy.

The bottom line? Link building isn’t just an item on your SEO checklist; it’s the main event. And we’re not talking run-of-the-mill links – we’re talking the gold standard that champions your content, ensuring it’s spotlighted and revered in SERPs.

Black Hat vs. White Hat SEO And Links

Like a devil and an angel resting on your shoulders, there are black and white hat SEO and link-building schemes. I’m sure you can guess which is good and which is bad.

Black hat includes:

  • Purchasing backlinks.
  • Swapping backlinks via guest-posting without adding relevance or value to either domain.
  • Creating multiple blog pages and linking back to a single domain.
  • Backlinking to your domain within comments, footers and widgets.

Don’t do these.

Now, onto the brighter side of things, white hat link building.

1. Publish Quality, Visual Content

To earn a link, you first need quality content that’s link-worthy. 

Large infographics, long instructional videos and in-depth guides stand out. Most brands shy away from creating such high-quality content, but you shouldn’t. If you do, you’re more likely to produce content others see as a resource, leading to more backlinks. Utilizing backlink management tools can help you track and manage these incoming links effectively, ensuring you maximize the SEO benefits of your high-quality content.

In other words, publish BIG content and promote the hell out of it. That’s how you get backlinks.

2. Publish Proprietary Research With Tons of Data Points

What else can’t other brands create?

Research that’s exclusive to you, of course.

We’ve done this several times, including this page with awesome statistics and benchmarks compiled from more than 150 websites. Yes, it took a lot of time, but it’s information that no one else on the web had seen before.

And that makes it valuable.

3. Reclaim Broken Links

Even if your content is performing well, you can’t rest. Every day, sites go down, businesses are acquired, management changes hands.

That means all those backlinks you may have previously earned are now moot. The URLs of those root domains are now broken, painting a poor picture of your site as one that is rarely updated and likely unhelpful to readers.

Using SEO tools like Semrush you can quickly get a list of links that were once directing traffic to your site but are no longer in operation (more on that later). Then, you can reach out to those site operators and ask for an updated, correct link or just scrap it altogether in favor of one that may be more relevant to readers.

4. Reclaim Unlinked Brand Mentions

Search engines have experimented with rewarding brands that are frequently mentioned online in a favorable light even if those brands aren’t receiving backlinks. However, it’s a fuzzy process at the moment and doesn’t seem to be in full effect across the web.

So even if a publication writes in praise of your company or talks highly of a piece of content you wrote, you don’t earn much tangible value from it unless you also receive a backlink. Utilizing a backlink manager can significantly enhance the value of such mentions by ensuring they translate into beneficial backlinks for your SEO strategy.

Use a brand-monitoring tool like Google Alerts to see when and where your company name is popping up online. Email those sources and provide them with a simple hyperlink to use in conjunction with your brand’s mentioned anchor text. This will provide a navigable path for readers to find your domain and signal to search engines that your brand is being commended as link-worthy.

5. Reach Out via Social

You know what really incentivizes someone to backlink to your site?

A little vanity.

Social media is a goldmine for networking and backlink opportunities. A simple retweet on X (formerly known as Twitter or a share on Facebook can be the start of a budding relationship with an industry influencer. By diversifying your engagement — be it a professional chat on LinkedIn or a visual shoutout on Instagram — you cast a wider net in the vast ocean of online interactions.

Embedding influencers’ posts or referencing their insights in your content isn’t just a nod to their expertise; it’s an open invitation for collaboration. Think of the potential: a co-hosted webinar, a joint Instagram Live session or a shared blog post. 

These ventures aren’t just about mutual recognition, they’re gateways to shared audiences and valuable backlinks.

But here’s the secret sauce: consistency. It’s one thing to comment or share occasionally, but regular, meaningful engagement is what truly captures attention in the bustling world of social media. 

Stay active, stay genuine and watch those interactions transform into valuable backlinks and lasting relationships.

6. Strategic Guest Blogging (We Said Strategic!)

Guest blogging too often can be seen as spammy, especially if you only ever write promotional content and use some of the black-hat techniques we discussed above (i.e., hyperlinks in your bio).

But, guest blogging does have significant value if done correctly. By this we mean posting on high-traffic, relevant industry forums where your audience lives.

Offer your opinion on the latest industry trends. Bring something to the table that your audience may not know a ton about. Do not talk about yourself the entire time and do not use multiple backlinks to your site.

Just one will do.

A web of quality links from high-traffic sites is a super effective way to show that your brand has reach beyond its own domain.

7. Use Reputable Platforms Like HARO for Backlinking

HARO (Help A Reporter Out) stands as a bridge between journalists seeking expert insights and professionals eager to share their knowledge. This platform is more than just a meeting point; it’s a treasure trove of link building opportunities. Here’s how it works:

  1. Sign Up & Choose Your Path: Whether you’re a source (typically, professionals or experts in a field) or a journalist, HARO has a place for you. As a source, you’ll receive regular emails with media opportunities that align with your expertise.
  2. Respond Promptly: Journalists often work on tight deadlines. Craft a thoughtful, concise response if a query aligns with your expertise. Ensure your pitch stands out by being relevant and offering unique insights.
  3. Earn Quality Backlinks: When journalists use your insights, they’ll often provide a backlink to your website or profile. These aren’t just any backlinks; they’re high-quality backlinks from reputable media outlets, which can significantly boost your SEO strategy.
  4. Build Relationships: Beyond the immediate link building opportunity, HARO can help you foster lasting relationships with journalists. Over time, this can lead to more media opportunities and a stronger network.
  5. Position Yourself as an Authority: Regular media outlet features can bolster your industry reputation. It’s not just about the links; it’s about establishing yourself as a go-to expert in your field.

For a more comprehensive understanding of leveraging HARO for link building, consider this detailed guide.

The Future of Link Building: Linkless Backlinks

While link building is mostly a manual, tedious process of asking webmasters to include your link on their site, plenty of auto-generated email outreach templates and link building tools can speed up the job.

A few we recommend are:

But the future of link building may not include links at all. SEO without link building? Yes, that’s possible.

Bing is already using a system that judges websites’ reputations based on brand mentions alone (no links) and assigns value to those domains should those mentions be positive. Google announced in 2017 that it was pursuing a similar model.

Algorithms have evolved to the point that cold, hard links aren’t necessarily the sole or best mechanism for measuring value. Social media channels, voice search and digital assistants are all huge players in the publishing world as well, which means the link landscape is much different than it was.

So, if I mention your company name when I’m talking to Alexa, shouldn’t that be evidence enough that your brand is making an impact, regardless of whether a link ever changed hands?

Well, that’s what’s currently being worked out.

There may come a time when, say, a traditional backlink is worth one point and a brand mention is worth half a point, or some similar type of measurement that more fairly factors in circumstances outside of links alone.

But, until then.

You better get to work with that link building.


Quit reading this and get to work.

Editor’s Note: Updated August 2023.