Linkbuilding in seo 2021: how to build backlinks properly?

If you want a website to rank well in Google in 2021, you can’t ignore the importance of link building. Nor the need for a solid strategy that will help you get quality backlinks. In fact, links are still one of the three most important ranking factors there are.

And yet, whether you’re a complete beginner to SEO and learning about off-page SEO and backlink building for the first time, or have been doing it for years and are just looking for new tactics that work: There are literally dozens of approaches you can use in this discipline of online marketing.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to build links with strategies and tactics that still work. Thereby you are able to get the desired top rankings. At the same time, you’ll recognize the backlink building strategies that will only waste your time and resources – and potentially negatively impact your organic visibility.

We share with you some tactics for quick wins and others that take a little more time and planning, but really help you get links you can’t buy.

If you want to learn how to build better links than your competitors, read on ..

  • What is link building?
  • You can think of links from other websites like votes.
  • 1. Contextual links
  • 2. A high percentage of "follow" links
  • 3. Editorially placed links
  • 4. Focus on links from unique referring domains
  • 5. A high thematic relevance
  • 6. A natural mix of anchor texts
  • Survey on link building
  • Backlink building with fast results
  • Traditional link building
  • Gaining links
  • Link building with paid links
  • Black Hat Link Building
  • 1. Linkbuilding with broken links
  • 2. Unlinked brand mentions
  • 3. Get back lost and broken links
  • 4. Repositioning links
  • 5. Links from suppliers
  • 6. Association& Membership links from associations and memberships
  • 7. Recovering links via reverse image search
  • 8. Links from question and answer platforms
  • 9. Internal links
  • 1. Listings in directories
  • 2. Guest article
  • 3. Sending out press releases and content syndication
  • 4. Blog comments and forum links
  • 5. Reciprocal links
  • 1. Digital PR
  • Data driven studies
  • Infographics
  • Surveys
  • Interactive assets and tools
  • 1. Sponsored blog articles
  • 2. Reviews of donated products
  • 3. Scholarships
  • 4. Sponsoring
  • What is Outreach?
  • Top tips for successful outreach
  • 1. Use of Google’s search operators
  • 2. Make an analysis with backlink gap
  • 3. Find the most linked pages of your competitors

What is link building?

Link building is an important part of any successful SEO strategy. In doing so, you get other websites to link to your own – simply a link from one website to another. Many people agree that this is one of the most difficult components of ranking a website – although one of the most rewarding if you do it right. Because backlinks are still among the most important ranking factors.

You don’t know exactly how links work?

When website A links to website B, it’s a strong indication to Google’s algorithm that they are ranking higher for relevant keywords ( What is a Keyword?) has earned. Terms you’ll hear in this context include inbound links, backlinks, external links, or simply links.

You can think of links from other websites like votes.

The more quality links pointing to your site (and building your backlink profile), the better you should rank on Google. Your organic traffic should also improve.

However, not all links are the same. Some of them may even be to blame for decreasing the visibility of your website. We will talk about this in a moment.

There are many different tactics that you can use to build backlinks. Some of them are easier to implement than others. Sometimes it can be difficult to know where to start – especially when you know that some methods can do more harm than good.

Why link building is important for SEO?

Link building takes time and is tedious. You can’t hide from this fact.

Correct implementation is also difficult. This means that if you successfully implement tactics to build better links than your competitors, you will usually see significant growth in organic traffic and revenue.

For this reason, you should understand why links are so important and should take up a large portion of resources in your SEO campaign.

In our guide on backlinks, we took an in-depth look at the importance of link building for SEO. Be sure to check out this detailed introduction to the what and why behind the most important pillar of any successful campaign.

However, these are the main reasons why you as an SEO should definitely focus heavily on link building:

You will achieve higher rankings in Google and other search engines.

Google will find new subpages on your website faster.

You will enjoy more credibility and trust as a company.

You can benefit from targeted referrer traffic.

You cannot ignore link building. Make sure you roll out tactics that give you a competitive advantage. We’ll show you how to do that in this guide.

The most important elements of a successful link building strategy

There is more to link building than meets the eye. And it’s not just about the complexity of the tactics that deliver the best results and have the most impact.

When planning a link building strategy, remember that not all links are created equal and there are important elements that drive success.

You shouldn’t build links blindly.

By this we mean: You should know what a strong link looks like to you, and understand that the more effort you put into creating the right links, the more impact you will see.

Here you will find some of the most important components to focus on that are part of a great link building strategy. This will help you understand what a strong link profile looks like.

1. Contextual links

Links on a page that are more likely to be clicked are usually the most valuable ones.

They can have the biggest impact on rankings and how Google measures the value of a link with PageRank. The underlying "Reasonable Surfer Model" indicates that different characteristics related to links change how it is inherited. Bill Slawski explains it this way:

If a link is in the main content area of a page, while having an eye-catching font and color, and using text that makes it slightly more likely that someone will click on it, then it could inherit quite a bit of PageRank.
On the other hand, if it combines characteristics that make it less likely to be clicked, such as being placed in the footer of a page, having the same text color and font as the rest of the text on the page, or having anchor text that is uninteresting to users, it is likely to inherit little PageRank.

– Bill Slawski

Contextual links placed in the body of a web page rather than in the footer or sidebar are usually of higher quality and important in a successful strategy.

2. A high percentage of "follow" links

Not all links inherit PageRank and have an impact on a website’s rankings.

Links can be given different attributes. The main ones you should be aware of are nofollow, sponsored and UGC links.

Links with the attribute rel="nofollow" indicate that Google should not crawl them and should not relate the two websites in ranking.

The attribute rel="sponsored" indicates that money was paid for a link (and therefore it should not inherit PageRank).

Rel="UGC" Point out links that come from user-generated content such as forums or comments. It makes it known that these links are not editorially placed and can be manipulative.

When a link is referred to as a "follow" link (or sometimes a "dofollow" link – even though this is not the technically correct term), it means that it has no attributes that prevent PageRank inheritance. A strong link profile should have a high percentage of such links, as long as they come from high-quality sources.

3. Editorially placed links

Editorially placed links exist simply because a third party made the decision to add a link to yours on their site. And not because of any payment or other incentive. Nor is it because you were responsible for the link placement and did so to improve your rankings.

The most effective links are set editorially. Google itself emphasizes in its guidelines that links that do not fall into this category are considered unnatural.

4. Focus on links from unique referring domains

With a strong link profile, links come from a higher number of unique referring domains and rather rarely from a few domains that are the same over and over again.

For a successful strategy, the focus should always be on tactics where link building campaigns get links from new domains that have never linked before. How to increase the number of unique linking domains.

It is often reported that links from a larger number of unique domains can help a website rank in high visibility positions. Expert Nick Eubanks makes the following comment in this blog article, "When I see sites ranking with significantly lower authority, they often have a much stronger ratio of referring root domains compared to their competitors."

5. A high thematic relevance

Links should come from sites and content that are closely related to the topic of your own site. This is another great example of why you should make a point of not only any Build links, but the right ones.

Remember that links originally existed on the web to take a user from page A to page B. Based on this assumption, why would a link take you to a non-topically related place??

That doesn’t make sense, does it? So make sure you follow this stance in your link building efforts.

A great way to put yourself in the right mindset when looking for link opportunity candidates: Ask yourself if you would still be targeting the link if Google didn’t exist or links weren’t a part of its algorithm.

If the answer is "yes," it may be because you would expect high-value referral traffic to flow through that link, or it may help increase your brand awareness or authority. This usually means that it comes from a thematically related website where your target audience is traveling online.

If the answer is "no", this is a good indicator that the link is not relevant to your business.

6. A natural mix of anchor texts

An anchor text is the text used to link from one page to another.

When linking naturally to a website, you would likely use the brand name, the title of the article, or perhaps just a "click here" or similar wording.

Nevertheless: Google’s algorithm uses the anchor text as an indication of what a page is about. Therefore, it can have an impact on rankings.

However, Google’s guidelines clearly indicate that optimized anchor text (using your main search terms or commercial phrases) is a violation of the guidelines. Overuse is known to contribute to manual actions and the application of algorithmic filters.

Your link profile should contain a natural mix – with no obvious clusters of links with optimized anchor texts.

White Hat vs. Black Hat vs. Grey Hat in link building

If you are new to SEO and especially backlink building, you may have encountered references to white hat, grey hat and black hat tactics

We should touch on this briefly, although we will look at some of these approaches in more detail throughout this guide.

It’s actually quite simple: White Hat SEO Applies tactics that strictly follow Google Webmaster Guidelines and use an ethical approach to get top ranking positions. It focuses on optimizing for a human audience and is considered a long-term approach to gaining sustainable visibility in search engines.

In contrast to this uses Black Hat SEO Tactics that violate these guidelines. This is an attempt to rank a website with the help of manipulative tactics, and is usually followed by quick successes.

Grey Hat SEO Is somewhere in between. This is where tactics are used that can be considered manipulative and carry a higher risk than white hat tactics. Nevertheless, they do not violate Google’s terms as obviously as Black Hat does.

Google deploys a webspam team whose main focus is to prevent ranking of websites that use black hat tactics.

Toxic Links: Potential negative impact of the wrong strategy

If you build the wrong links and use risky black hat tactics, you run the risk of having toxic links in your backlink profile. These can have a negative impact on your rankings and organic traffic.

We addressed this in detail in our guide to Negative SEO important topics like:

  • Conducting a backlink audit
  • Finding toxic backlinks

We highly recommend reading.

But you must be aware that using the wrong tactics for link building can have devastating consequences.

Things you should keep in mind:

  • If Google finds that you are building links that violate webmaster guidelines, you can see that your site is affected by either a manual action or an algorithmic filter (most likely from Google Penguin). Both can cause your site to lose rankings.
  • You can check for the Google Penalty using these tactics.
  • Usually it takes months or even years to recover from such a negative impact.
  • You should be aware of the time it takes a website to recover when weighing low-effort, high-risk tactics against others with lower risk but higher effort.

The most successful strategies ensure lasting success. You should use tactics that don’t put your hard work at risk of being hit by a web spam filter or showing up negatively in a manual assessment.

Link building strategies you should know about in 2021

To build the right links that will have a positive impact on your organic rankings and traffic, you need to make sure you’re using the correct strategy.

But first, you need to be clear about the difference between strategies and tactics, and you need to get a handle on both.

  • Strategy = what you will do.
  • Tactics = how you will do it.

Different link building strategies typically involve varying levels of effort and resources versus potential reward and return. This means that the more difficult a tactic is to implement, the better results you will see. Because it’s harder for competitors to do the same thing. It’s the same with the varying levels of risk around algorithmic or manual actions from Google.

Survey on link building

A few months ago, we conducted a survey of 850 SEO professionals to reveal which link building strategies and tactics they rely on the most. In the process, we found out a lot of interesting things.

In fact, we were a bit surprised that guest articles are still the most popular tactic.

The most popular link building strategies

But far too often we rely on the tactics we’re familiar with and know best. With this knowledge in mind, let’s cast the net a little wider.

We explore five different strategies before diving deep into the tactics. In the process, we will hopefully show you some new methods that you can use to build strong backlinks.

Backlink building with quick wins

A common misconception is that all link building approaches are resource intensive. This is simply not true. Although it is certainly the case for many, you will see many chances for quick successes. You just have to look for tactics that will allow you to get some good links quickly.

  • Low hanging fruit" means the easiest links to obtain. This also means that your competitors will also be targeting those links first. (That’s not to say you shouldn’t build these links – because you definitely should.)
  • A strategy for quick success often yields a lot of return with little effort you have to put into the tactics.
  • These successes build a stable foundation and put you on par with competitors who have already implemented these tactics.

However, you must remain realistic and understand that this strategy alone is rarely enough to achieve top rankings in competitive fields.

To take your SEO performance to the next level, you need to shift your strategy in favor of others after you’ve exhausted the opportunities for quick success.

Traditional link building

Traditional link building tactics are based on manually placing a link through your actions. That is, you usually have full control over the outcome of tactics in backlink building. It’s different if you depend on a journalist or other third party to link to your site.

This is exactly why these tactics are often referred to as "manual link building". But let’s get one thing right: Links that you have control over don’t usually have the highest quality links.

  • In Google’s eyes, any non-editorially placed links (where the decision to place the link lies with a third party) are manipulative.
  • As a result, they are likely to have less impact on rankings, simply be ignored, or, if you use the tactic on a large scale, can harm your site’s performance.

These, in and of themselves, are still not bad links. It can definitely bring benefits like referrer traffic or help position you as an opinion leader, regardless of influence from an SEO standpoint. But make sure you take time to properly understand the tactics, know the risks involved, and use them carefully.

Another point worth mentioning: As with tactics for quick wins, a strategy around traditional link building tactics is very likely to be copied quite easily by competitors. It doesn’t give you a significant competitive advantage.

Gaining links

If you really want to secure that competitive advantage through links, you need to adopt a strategy where you gain editorially placed links.

Link building tactics require a lot of effort, but they are also lavishly rewarded. You need to be prepared to invest time and resources into gaining links. If you implement this, you’ll get links that your competitors can’t easily replicate.

And let’s not forget that Google has been telling us the following for years as part of its Webmaster Guidelines:

The best way to get webmasters of other websites to refer to your website via high quality links is to have individual and relevant content that is popular with the internet community without manipulation. Creating good content pays off: Links are mostly editorial reviews that are given voluntarily. So the more useful your content is, the higher the chances that someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to your site.

– Google Webmaster Guidelines (link exchange programs)

When you gain a link, a third party actively makes the decision to do so. This means it places a link because there is a reason to do so. It adds value to its own target audience.

These links are the true Holy Grail in link building and the tactics indispensable for success in competitive niches.

Link building with paid links

Despite being a clear violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines and a tactic clearly defined as a link exchange scheme, building paid backlinks is still relatively common in 2021. The simple reason for this: results are guaranteed.

Gaining links is hard work – there’s no denying it. And even manual backlink building and a variety of tactics that deliver quick results still require effort to see results. Some things to keep in mind:

  • The use of paid links is, according to popular opinion, a convenient way of link building.
  • Paid link building is a clear manipulation of Google’s algorithm – a tactic with little effort but extremely high risk.
  • Most paid links end up coming from off-topic sites with a high number of outbound links and generally low quality.
  • Apart from this risk, don’t forget: If you can buy links, so can your competitors.

There are, of course, some exceptions to the rule here: if your primary focus is not on gaining links to support your SEO strategy, you either want to gain referrer traffic or build your brand authority and do so via sponsored placements or advertorials on high-quality websites, using one of the attributes rel="nofollow" or rel="sponsored" used to prevent a negative impact on your search engine rankings.

As a general rule of thumb, you should consider paid links that only improve your rankings as a no-go.

Black Hat Link Building

Black hat link building strategies often aim to manipulate search engine rankings. As outlined above, they often focus on unethical tactics that directly violate Google guidelines, and use these methods defined as part of a link exchange program.

  • Little or no focus is placed on the user. The deception of the algorithm is in the foreground.
  • These tactics usually result in a manual action being taken or an algorithmic filter being used. Since algorithms are always evolving, they can also detect links that do not trigger such a correction and are simply ignored.
  • Black hat strategies are not sustainable. You shouldn’t consider them a viable option for 2021.

We will not present these black hat tactics in detail. We don’t want to spotlight them, because we strongly believe that these tactics should not be used – especially if there is no extensive understanding of the risks involved.

Common black hat link building tactics you should know about

However, it’s important that you are aware of what types of tactics fall under black hat strategies. So you can ensure that you avoid them if they are recommended to you by someone you work with, or if you encounter them in your continuing education.

  • Paid links that inherit PageRank
  • Private Blog Networks (PBN)
  • Article marketing and guest article campaigns on a large scale, using anchor texts with many search terms
  • Low quality directories that exist for link building only
  • Links peppered with keywords that are included in widgets on third-party websites
  • Links that come from hacked websites
  • Links built through automated programs or services
  • Requiring links as part of terms of service or a contract
  • Comment spam
  • Widely distributed links in footers or sidebars

Link building tactics that bring quick results

Try the tactics shown below if you’re looking for methods that do a lot with little effort and don’t require a lot of time or resources to implement.

All these tactics are worthwhile. It makes sense to focus some of your efforts on these, as they are easy to implement.

1. Link building with broken links

A tried and true link building tactic that you can start with quite easily and that can bring quick results is link building with broken links.

This strategy includes finding relevant sites in your industry that could link to you and have broken outbound links. You can contact the site owners and suggest that the broken link be updated so that it points to a thematically relevant content on your site.

You can do this quickly by monitoring your competitors’ backlink profiles for broken links. Learn how to do this with the SEMrush backlink audit tool in this guide to finding a competitor’s broken links.

Example 404 error to find broken links

2. Unlinked brand mentions

Most companies get mentioned in the press every now and then for many different reasons. Some of these links are natural, others are the result of actions taken by your PR team.

It is not uncommon that no link is placed and only the brand is mentioned. But often it can be easily turned into a link with minimal effort.

The hard part of the job, securing coverage, is already done.

Youtube video thumbnail

You can find brand mentions using the SEMrush Brand Monitoring tool. You will then receive a notification whenever someone mentions you, but has not linked to your site.

SEMrush Brand Monitoring to find links example

You can then write a polite email to the person who mentioned you. Ask to add a link and explain how the link adds value to the readers – this will make the decision easier.

You will not always get a link added. But the ones you actually gain via this tactic justify the effort.

3. Get back lost and broken links

Over time, links get lost or broken – for various reasons beyond your control.

It may be because an author updates a piece of content and removes the link. It can be lost during the update of a website. The page may also redirect to a 404 page or via 301.

It may even happen that a subpage on your site that links point to becomes a 404 page. And links pointing to a 404 page are not counted by Google’s ranking algorithm.

For whatever reason, you should monitor your site’s lost and broken links and take action to get them back:

  • Contact the original website contact and try to get the link added back or fixed if that’s where the problem lies.
  • If you find that a page on your site has become a 404, resulting in broken links, either redirect that URL to the most appropriate page, have the original page go live again, or contact the referring site and ask that the link target be updated.

You can find and monitor broken and lost backlinks with the SEMrush backlink audit tool.

Backlink audit tool for link building example

Backlink audit tool for link building example

4. Repositioning links

A great tactic Ross Tavendale recommends in his Weekly Wisdom on technical link building: repositioning links.

But it can be applied relatively easily and makes your existing links even more effective.

Simply analyze the links pointing to your home page and filter out any that talk about product features or services you offer. Such links that would be more suitable for linking to an internal sub-page of your site, rather than to the home page.

Ross recommends the following:

What I would do: look at all the links pointing to my home page, and analyze that content to see if any of them are related to our blue widgets.
For some of them this is probably the case.
I would contact the people who wrote about my blue widgets and say, "Hey, you linked to my home page. Thanks for this. That’s really totally awesome of you, but the user experience is suboptimal. People click on it, get to the home page and don’t find what you wrote about my blue widget. Is it possible to link to here instead?"
And in most cases, people are nice enough to update the link and actually let it point to the landing page.

– Ross Tavendale

This tactic is also perfect if you’re launching a series of regionally-focused sites and previously had only one global site.

Let’s imagine you’re launching a new website for your business that targets customers in the UK. Analyze your link profile and look for domains lookout. Then contact operators and ask for those links to be updated to your new, regional website.

5. Links from suppliers

If you sell other people’s products, chances are high that suppliers and manufacturers will link to their distributors from their own websites. These links can be gained really quickly.

Using supplier pages for link building

Compile a list of all manufacturers and suppliers. Look at their websites to see if they link to specialty and retail stores. If so: are you already doing it?

Often you will find that these sites are not updated as frequently as they should be, and that merchants are missing out. If your business is not listed, contact the supplier and ask if they can arrange for you to be added.

6. Association& Membership links from associations and memberships

Do you pay money to be a member of an industry association, such as your local chamber of commerce?

If this is the case: such organizations often showcase their members and link to them. If you are not already listed there, an email request is usually all that is needed to get you added.

7. Recovering links via reverse image search

Have you created infographics in the past as part of your content strategy or published photos that fit the bill?

Maybe there is a recognized industry expert in your company (or the client’s) who frequently appears in the press?

Go to Google Image Search and run a reverse image search.

reverse image search

If you find that websites are using your image but have not yet linked to you as a source, contact them and ask them to add one.

8. Links from question and answer platforms

Remember we said link building should focus as much on tactics that send significant referral traffic to your site and help you build your brand as it does on impacting your search engine rankings?

Even if you only get nofollow links there, using Q&A platforms like Quora and Reddit is a great way to build links that drive targeted traffic to your site. These links also help you diversify your link profile.

Participate in relevant communities on these platforms and make sure to add value to them. So it’s not about jumping right into the fray and adding a link, it’s about sharing relevant content and suggestions that help other users with questions.

Here’s a great guide that Julia McCoy wrote for Search Engine Journal. In it you can learn more about how to use this tactic as part of your strategy.

9. Internal links

This tactic is a little different.

When we talk about link building, we often focus solely on building external links. Another tactic you can use to get really fast results: Invest some time in improving and optimizing your site’s internal link structure.

Internal links are important to distribute PageRank appropriately across your site. If you’ve been getting links for specific subpages but haven’t yet optimized the impact of those links by spreading authority and linkjuice to other, related pages, you can achieve remarkable success via this tactic.

Even though proper internal linking takes time and effort, it’s completely under your control and something you can do today without any third party input.

Check out this step-by-step guide to building a working internal linking site.

Traditional link building tactics

Some tactics were once widely used and abused, so they have come under criticism in recent years. This is usually because the links have not been earned, but the link builder is actively involved in the placement of the link. On social media platforms, it is relatively easy to set this type of backlinks.

Please don’t get us wrong: these tactics won’t necessarily result in toxic links pointing to your site. Quite the opposite.

You just need to understand how to use each of these tactics and at what point to stop scaling the number of links you build this way. Likewise, you should consider other benefits that these links can bring.

1. Listings in directories

There used to be a time when directories were only created as a method for link building.

They look something like this:

Pretty spammy, isn’t it?

There is no added value for users. This website obviously exists only to link to others. Better not build links from directories like this one.

But you should not banish this tactic completely. Because it’s still great for building some strong links – especially if you’re in a narrow niche or run a local business.

Look for regionally specific directories or those that exist in a niche and whose main purpose is to help users find a business that fits their needs. Your common sense will usually tell you if there is value in being there.

Just ask yourself the question: if you were a potential user, would you find it useful??

If you do, it’s probably worth it to get a link from there.

2. Guest article

Google’s Matt Cutts announced the death of guest articles in 2014. But this was related to how the industry abused these tactics to build links through bylines in articles from any site that accepted that content.

These tactics are still a great way to earn links in 2021. The prerequisite is the right approach and that you understand that these tactics are not massively scalable.

Forget about links for a moment: Publishing your content on a relevant blog where you share valuable insights and expertise is a great way to build your profile. The fact that you usually get a link that supports your status is an added bonus.

In fact, a quick search in Google with a few different search operators can reveal a lot of opportunities for guest articles. Here’s an example of "write for us".

If you can find opportunities to publish guest articles, so can your competitors. And that means any links you gain may not provide you with the same competitive advantage as other tactics.

3. Sending out press releases and content syndication

Google has openly stated that they ignore links from press releases. Reference was made here to press release distribution services that essentially syndicate your content across several different sites.

Although this tactic was once valuable, times have changed. If you’re using PR distributors just for link building, chances are you won’t see any value.

However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pitch the press for links and coverage – quite the opposite in fact

4. Blog comments and forum links

You may have noticed that blog comments and forum links are listed as types of links that violate Google guidelines.

This is, again, a tactic where it "depends".

Don’t just leave comments with a link to your website on irrelevant blogs. Because that’s just spam. The same goes for leaving links in forum posts that don’t offer any added value.

However, you can still gain traffic with thoughtful, relevant comments and forum posts. This is what happens when you see the tactic as a way to contribute something valuable to discussions and only link when it adds value.

5. Reciprocal links

Reciprocal links – you link to me and I link to you – are another tactic outlined in Google’s definition of link exchanges and policy violations. But this is true if done on a large scale.

If you have the chance to link to a partner in your industry and send them referral traffic, and they do the same in return, nothing will happen to you.

But don’t just trade links without considering context and relevance.

Tactics to gain links

Won links are the holy grail of link building.

Why? Because someone is making a conscious decision to link specifically to your site and not some other site.

Using tactics to gain links is a method of gaining a competitive advantage and getting links that your competitors can only dream about. And for this reason they will fail to simply replicate these links.

These tactics are very advanced, but deliver the best results. To do this, however, you need to be prepared to put in the effort and learn how to use it successfully.

1. Digital PR

Digital PR has quickly become a proven link building tactic for many SEOs. It originated as a method to get links with a high authority from press publications through PR tactics.

It is simply the most effective way to naturally and scalably gain a significant number of high-quality editorial links. This includes creating engaging content assets that entice sharing, and using PR pitches and outreach to convince journalists to cover these stories in their articles and link back to the source.

But there’s more than one way to run a successful digital PR campaign. We’ll look at four of the most effective approaches.

Data driven studies

When you build a digital PR campaign around data, you make sure you pitch a variety of compelling stories to the press.

The most attractive stories and pitches to journalists are those that contain something they can’t easily generate themselves. You are busy people and often have the task of writing 7 or 8 articles a day. And that includes researching quotes and images, creating copy and more.

  • Using data means you are sharing unique stories that are backed up by results from a study or research paper. Journalists love it.
  • The data sources you use in your campaigns can range from your own internal data to trusted third-party public datasets. For example, here comes in question, the home of US government open data. You can find a German equivalent at govdata.en.

Be inspired by this study of the world’s hardest working musicians. A music college has the tour data from for Billboard’s most popular artists analyzes and reveals which artists are touring the most and have the highest number of appearances.

This digital PR campaign received links from over 30 publications.


A few years ago, it was really easy to use infographics to get links from high-profile press publications. In fact, simple infographics with instructions could collect a significant number of links relatively easily. All it took was a little effort to reach out to them.

Times have changed. Most likely, if you use a simple infographic with advice and opinions (like how-to’s and listicles), you won’t see a strong impact anymore. But that doesn’t mean infographics are any more effective.

Things to think about:

  • It only takes one story.
  • Infographics should be used as an easy way to visualize your content in a straightforward shareable way.
  • An infographic is just one format. But if you use it as a method to tell a story, you can still observe successes.

Case in point: this simple infographic lays out the potential Instagram earnings of the cast of Too Hot To Handle. It has been included in high-profile publications such as Daily Mail and OK.


If you’re looking for a way to launch a digital PR campaign to get people talking, surveys are ideal. They help you figure out how the public is taking a topic.

More closely aligned with traditional PR tactics, but still a way to get coverage and links from the press: Survey the public through platforms like OnePoll and Pollfish.

Make sure you write up (and ideally visualize) your findings as a content asset, rather than just pitching the results as a press release. Here’s how to make sure you’re getting links and not just brand mentions.

Interactive assets and tools

If you have the resources, launching interactive assets and tools is a fantastic way to get an impressive number of quality links from the press.

Check out this simple tool you can use to calculate your potential earnings as an influencer on Instagram. Linked to more than 300 times.

When you create an engaging, interactive tool or content, you are essentially making a link an indispensable part of the story.

Imagine a journalist mentioning a great tool but not linking to it. That wouldn’t make any sense, would it? By making links an indispensable part of your story, you’ll work toward maximizing links and minimizing brand-only mentions.

2. Link building with resource pages

Sometimes you don’t need to create assets, studies or data-driven campaigns to earn links.

If you can find where your business can provide value to your target audience, you can use this to build links to resource pages. Great examples of this can be found on travel and tourism portals, universities and local government agencies.

Competitor analysis can often help you find resources that link to competitors, but not to you. In another step, you can search for similar link opportunities for yourself.

See this page on career tips from Oxford University?

It includes several external links to job portals and recruiting specialists. This makes it the perfect target for anyone working in the sector.

You just need to make sure that the link you suggest enhances the page. This can be through a piece of content, a guide, or simply through your company’s main offering.

3. Case studies and testimonials

Using case studies and testimonials can be a great way to gain links. To do this, write a brief summary of why you love the product or service.

This tactic is often used with existing relationships. You have the opportunity to share your views on an offering to help sell even more.

Or you can even give permission to be featured in a feature. When that happens, you often get a link in return. A great example is Squarespace’s customer sample pages.

4. HARO& #journorequest

If you’re not already monitoring HARO (Help a Reporter Out) and the hashtag #journorequest on Twitter, you could be missing opportunities to get press coverage (and links) for your client or business.

Every day, journalists and content creators search these platforms for sources for their articles.

They are looking for companies like yours to add value to their content and bring in insights from experts. Use these tactics to your advantage.

At HARO, you’ll receive three emails a day, Monday through Friday. Include requests in multiple categories (or just the category you want to receive notifications for).

A screenshot of a HARO email

If you think you could provide a great response for a query, just submit it.

You will find that not all of your answers will be used. But this is a tactic with relatively little effort that can deliver strong results in gaining authority links. Just make sure you only respond to queries for which you can actually provide expert commentary.

#journorequest works similarly, except here journalists use the hashtag on Twitter to obtain sources.

To learn more about how to use HARO to successfully build links, here’s a great guide you should check out.

5. Newsjacking

Reactive PR, also known as newsjacking, is a technique that PR people use. This includes responding quickly to breaking news stories and finding opportunities where you or your client can make a trusted comment on the topic or story.

The term "newsjacking" was popularized by David Meerman Scott. Essentially, this includes "piggybacking" brands on news stories to draw attention directly to a piece of content, or to get coverage or links for the brand’s website.

Newsjacking is all about reacting quickly. With that said, you should definitely not try to customize a comment or piece of content to relate to a news story that is not at all relevant to your brand.

6. The Skyscraper Technique (and Reverse Skyscraper Technique)

The Skyscraper technique can be traced back to Brian Dean of Backlinko and has become firmly established in the SEO and link building community in recent years.

A complete guide on how to use this tactic you can read here. It involves three steps:

  • Find a linkable content with good performance.
  • Create content that is even better than the original.
  • Contact people who have covered the topic and ask them to link to your enhanced resource.

This tactic is based on creating the best content on a topic and using that fact to steal links from those whose content you have improved upon.

Brian even produced a great video outlining the steps involved in this tactic.

Youtube video thumbnail

One thing that often doesn’t get attention when people talk about the Skyscraper technique: Something that can be called the reverse Skyscraper technique.

It is based on a similar principle. But instead of finding content that performs well, you can also look for weaker content that has the potential for more. Basically, it’s about content that could be great, but where the execution has been poor so far.

Go ahead and create the best content around the topic. And make relevant webmasters and publishers aware of it.

7. Content compilations

Have you created a great article as part of your content marketing strategy?

It’s not uncommon to come across compilations in most industries. In fact, there are even monthly compilations in the digital PR and SEO industries. This includes content, curated and The Weekly SEO.

Essentially, these compilations are simply lists of the best content in a field over a period of time. Often they’re pretty easy to find if you use search operators in Google, for example:

  • "search term" + intitle: "weeklyoverview"
  • "keyword" + intitle: "overview"
  • "search term" + inurl:ueberblick
  • "searchbiff""article of the week"

You need to make sure you’ve already created great content that’s worthy of a performance. Then make contact to suggest their inclusion.

8. Interviews

If you have an industry expert in your company or the client’s company, arranging interviews with industry-specific publications is a great way to not only get a relevant link, but also to position them as an opinion leader within the scene.

Here’s a great example from Small Business Trends. Here’s how to get an idea of how these tactics work in practice.

Google’s search operators are a great help in finding these opportunities. Don’t limit yourself only to interviews in written form. Videos and podcasts are also great and are often accompanied by a backlink to the guest’s website.

9. Bringing experts together

Although this tactic almost died a few years ago, gathering experts can still be a great way to earn links.

To do this, you need to gather a number of experts within your industry (this is almost like the opposite of content assembly, where you are the person creating the content) and ask them a series of questions. From this, create compelling content that pulls together opinions and insights from industry leaders.

Once you click publish, stay on top of it and let each of the contributors know that the content is live. Pitch the main headlines and insights to the press and other relevant publishers.

Some of the experts who have contributed will naturally link to it from their press page or similar subpage. Often the industry publications will love the interesting angles and debates.

Example of expert roundup

Provided you choose the right experts with a certain level of credibility, this tactic is still great to use. It also helps you establish your brand as an opinion leader.

Link building tactics for paid links

To be clear, all paid links are in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines unless they are tagged with one of the rel="nofollow" attributes or rel="sponsored" were tagged to prevent them from inheriting PageRank. We have already highlighted the risks of these paid links, which are a convenient tactic, and will not go into them further here.

Regardless, you can still use paid links to build your brand and get referral traffic. This is the intention of these tactics.

1. Sponsored blog articles

Let’s imagine there is an influential blogger in your industry. He has made a name for himself and receives thousands of page views each month from your target audience.

It’s unlikely that this will link to you for free – at least if you ask specifically. Why should he? He’s invested time to build his following, and won’t give attention for nothing in return.

You may want to work with influencers this way to publish a sponsored content or blog article. Especially if they feature and link to your company for a fee.

  • This opportunity is perfect for getting the attention of new audiences and referral traffic.
  • Make sure that the link has the attribute rel="sponsored" Used to clearly indicate that it is a paid collaboration.
  • Advertorials with high-profile news publications also work this way.
  • These links are not placed for SEO purposes, but for attention and brand building.

2. Reviews of donated products

You may not be aware of this, but in the eyes of Google, links are classified as paid if they were gained by giving away a product to a tester.

Even if no money changes hands in the process, there is an implicit transaction in the value of the product.

Similar to sponsored blog articles, giving away products to influencers can be a great way to bring your brand to the attention of new audiences. But make sure that any links have the attribute rel="sponsored" include.

3. Scholarships

Offering scholarships as a link building method is another tactic that has been abused. Indirectly, it is a method for building paid links.

To do this, simply set up a scholarship fund in an appropriate amount (for example, 1.000 € or more) and list the requirements together with the offer on a subpage of your website. Then you contact colleges and universities and hope they link to it.

This method is popular. Because it has been proven to provide links from educational and other institutions that you wouldn’t normally get links from. However, in recent years it has also been misused or overused.

This method lends itself very well to the "grey hat" category. Because even if you don’t pay for a link directly, it’s the main reason you’re building a scholarship fund.

Be careful not to abuse this tactic. Then it can continue to help you build some strong links.

For example, Starbucks’ scholarship page has received links from over 700 unique domains.

Links from educational institutions

4. Sponsorship

Sponsoring, for example, a local sports team, meetup event or conference is also a tactic that is used quite often for link building.

It would be unusual in these cases if the sponsors were not listed and you did not backlink to their websites. Again, this is a gray area.

Making sure the event or organization you’re sponsoring is a good fit for your business. Then, in addition to a link, you have other benefits. But if your sponsorship is only a link building method, you need to ask yourself if this investment would be better spent elsewhere – even more so if the links you receive are not thematically appropriate.

How to use outreach for your link building

In almost all link building strategies you’ll use, you’ll need to reach out via email to open up opportunities and discussions to actually gain links.

From pitching to the press to outreach campaigns to get opportunities for guest articles, this is all the same process in different variations.

To really master link building, you need to get good at outreach (or work with someone who is).

What is Outreach?

Outreach for link building is identifying people in your industry (this could be influencers, journalists, bloggers or webmasters) who might have an interest in linking to you, and contacting them to build a relationship and explore opportunities for them to cover your content.

But content can mean many different things.

Contact us for exclusive interviews with your company’s CEO, your latest data-driven digital PR campaign, or a pitch for guest article ideas.

Outreach is simply the process of finding and connecting with potential candidates who might like you,

Top tips for successful outreach

Some elements are especially important for successful outreach.

  • Finding and identifying the right candidates.
  • Writing compelling subject lines that actually get your emails opened.
  • Writing compelling outreach emails that encourage the recipient to take action.

In this process it is a good idea to try out your own approaches. It should be specific to the link building tactics you are using

Be sure to always personalize outreach emails and clearly highlight the action you expect them to take.

Do you want them to add a link to an existing article, feature your story in their publication, or accept your suggestion for a guest article? Be sure to make this clear.

In fact, Fractl 2019 highlighted in a study the value publishers see in pitches:

publisher survey

publisher survey

Outreach is definitely an indispensable tactic for building and gaining strong links. You just need a little time to perfect your approach.

But one thing that the success of any outreach campaign stands or falls with is the quality of your outreach list. It’s important to be prepared to invest time and effort into finding the right candidates, using tactics like:

  • analyzing the backlink profiles of your competitors.
  • Finding journalists through Google News who have covered other stories in your industry.
  • Using a media database to find relevant candidates.

Building a smaller but more targeted list for outreach often yields better results than larger lists. With these, it often feels like you’re throwing as much as you can against a wall and hoping some of it sticks.

Research and gain knowledge about how your outreach pitch will add value to the recipient.

3 easy ways to discover link building opportunities

We have already presented a huge amount of link building tactics. Hopefully you now have some ideas on how to use them to build strong links.

But how do you even begin to find these opportunities??

1. Use Google’s search operators

Whether you want to use guest articles, link compilations, or even niche directories, Google is often the best place to start.

You don’t need any tools. And within minutes you can usually find tons of opportunities.

Use search operators to output the exact results and opportunities you’re looking for.

Want to write guest articles? Try this:

  • [search term] intitle: "contribute" or [search term] intitle: "join"
  • [search term] intitle: "write for us"
  • [search term] intitle: "guest article" or [search term] intitle: "guest post"
  • [search term] intitle: "guidelines for authors"

Want to find overview pages to share your latest post with? Try this out operators:

  • [search term] intitle: "overview"
  • [search term] intitle: "weekly overview"
  • [search term]"article of the month"

Or test these search operators to find opportunities for links from resource pages:

  • [search term] (intitle: "resources"| inurl:resources)
  • [search term] intitle: "useful links"

Search operators for link building

2. Undertake an analysis with backlink gap

You can use SEMrush’s backlink gap tool to find opportunities to gain links that your competitors don’t have.

In fact, this is a great way to identify links that help your competitors rank. And if there’s a link to them there, there’s a good chance you can get a link from the same site as well.

Add up to five competitors in the tool. This will even show you suggestions that will help you analyze even more links.

Backlink Gap Tool

You then get to see a veritable goldmine of insights into the link profile of your competitors. Below, those that have gained the most links, the Authority Score (AS) of each, and which websites have received links from the domain.

Backlink gap results link profile

This is a really quick and easy way to find candidates where the chances of getting a link are higher. It also gives you insights you need to reconstruct your competitors’ strategies to find out what tactics they use to build links.

3. Find your competitors’ most frequently linked pages

Whether you want to use the Skyscraper technique to create impressive content and take links away from your competitors’ site: Insights about the types of content used by your competitors (and others in the industry) to gain links are valuable in shaping your own strategy.

If other sites in your field are using data-driven digital PR assets, for example, you should do the same to gain links of similar (or better) quality.

You can find the most frequently linked pages from other websites with our Backlink Analytics tool. There you go to the tab Indexed pages and sort them by the number of referring domains.

Now you can see the most frequently linked subpages of the website.

Use your common sense and skip pages with guidelines and the like. But you can apply some of the insights offered to your campaigns.

How to find the pages with the most links

How to find the pages with the most links

Metrics to measure the success of link building

The success of a link building campaign can look very different for different people.

It all depends on the goals of your campaign. However, it’s important that you understand the metrics involved in setting these goals.

It is dangerous to look at the sheer number of links built up. Because you will find that quality is sacrificed in the process. And you need insights about competitors to determine the link gap between you and other sites and make sure you’re building the right links that will actually boost your rankings.

But when looking at metrics, you should pay attention to one or more of these points:

  • Authority Score (a proprietary metric from SEMrush that rates the overall quality of a website as a domain rating and tells you how influential a backlink from a website can be to your SEO).
  • The ratio of folow to nofollow links (Ideally, a link profile will contain significantly more follow links than nofollow links).
  • Topic Relevance (How close to your business are the websites you get backlinks from? Link that come from closely related content tend to be more valuable).
  • Unique referring domains (You don’t want to just get links from the same domains over and over again, and should focus on increasing the number of unique referring sites in your link profile).
  • Toxic links (This is another metric from SEMrush that indicates whether a link may pose a risk to your site’s rankings.). You can find this metric in Backlink Audit.

You should also pay attention to goals like brand mentions, links and placements in certain publications, referral traffic, and other things. It comes down to measuring the things that matter to your business.

Go ahead and start building better links!

Now you have a detailed look at link building tactics for 2021 that work, and others that don’t. It’s time to get started.

If you’ve never built links before, hopefully you’re now highly motivated to start, and looking forward to that first link you win. If you’ve been link building for years, hopefully we’ve inspired you to try a new tactic.

Nobody ever said link building is easy. Because it is not. And the tactics you should use are constantly evolving.

But we hope that by taking a colorful bouquet of different approaches, you can provide a diverse link profile and maximize the opportunities that come from all directions.

Become a better link builder and you will be in high demand. Because this is the tactic that most SEOs find most challenging. Any proven success you can show makes you all the more valuable to potential clients or employers.

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