Does your website perform well in the search engines? If not, you need to learn how to build backlinks! Building backlinks is a fundamental part of SEO and essential for high rankings in the search engines. However, there’s no doubt that achieving relevant and high quality backlinks that will help your content to rank for your chosen keywords, is hard work.
But don’t worry. I’m going to show you two excellent techniques to help you build valuable backlinks i.e., ones that are relevant to your content, are from sites with good authority and that are also free. And by the end of this article, you’ll also have a spreadsheet to keep track of all your research and marketing activities.
While good content is a vital component for high rankings, there’s no doubt that strong content combined with strong backlinks will be a more effective strategy. So first of all you’ll need to ensure that you have well-written, informative copy as no one wants to link back to poor quality content.
This article is aimed at all levels. So those of you who already have some experience may wish to skip the first few items.
Table Of Contents
What Are Backlinks?
Is Link Building Black Hat?
Domain Authority – What is it?
Part One: Research, Research and More Research
- Creating a Master file
- Master file Sheet 1: Tasks
- Master file Sheet 2: Social Schedule
- Master file Sheet 3: Competitor Info
- Master file Sheet 4: Published Posts
- Master file Sheet 5: Content Ideas
- Master file Sheet 6: Skyscraper
- Master file Sheet 7: Broken Links
Part Two: The Backlinking Methods
- Method 1: The Broken Link Technique
- Method 2: The Skyscraper Technique
WHAT ARE BACKLINKS?
In simple terms a backlink is a link from another website to your website. If your site has good content and backlinks then it tends to have more authority, resulting in higher rankings in the search engines.
You could create a site and not do any link building in the hope that links will come naturally from the sharing of your content. This will take a long time, so in order to see more immediate results, it’s important to set some time aside and do some link building.
IS LINK BUILDING BLACK HAT?
Interestingly there is a misconception when it comes to link building and hats. Link building is neither white nor black hat but is instead a tool. It’s how you use that tool that determines its nature.
Think of link building as a way of forming connections around the web and attracting relevant audiences to your own website. If you’re building a link that carries no traffic because the audience isn’t interested or it isn’t relevant, it could be considered black hat.
Three tips to avoid black hat link building:
1: If you can scale them up indefinitely or automate them in someway then it is considered black hat. Links should be earned and also developed at a natural rate.
2: When building links think about them as a means of marketing and not as SEO. If you’re creating links from a site that is not related to your niche, you won’t attract the right people onto your site.
3: Consider the links you’re producing and never create ones that you wouldn’t click on yourself when browsing. Make sure the content around them is natural and doesn’t look spammy.
DOMAIN AUTHORITY – WHAT IS IT?
The first thing to remember is that Domain Authority is not a metric provided by Google. It was developed by Moz after Google removed the PageRank system to help you determine how Google ranks your site based on its authority within the web and your niche.
The score is based on a scale of 0-100 and comprises many SEO factors. In addition, other factors impact the DA such as age, popularity, backlinks, MozTrust and MozRank.
Throughout this article I mention a number of useful tools. Here’s a list of each one and what they do:
- Ahrefs – This is the main tool used in the article. It’s used to analyse competitor data and to collect top landing pages as well as their backlinks
- MajesticSEO – Not used in the article but an alternative to Ahrefs
- HootSuite – Web-based tool to help schedule posts for social accounts
- ScreamingFrog – Helps to locate broken links
- Domain Hunter Plus – Chrome plugin used to find on-page broken links
- Xenu – Windows program to find broken links on-site
- ScrapeBox – Tool to find email address from list of websites
- Social Media Scraper from OctaTools – Extracts social media contacts from list of websites
I haven’t personally used all of these, so I‘d recommend reading reviews and doing your own tests first to see if they suit your needs.
PART ONE: RESEARCH, RESEARCH AND MORE RESEARCH
80 per cent of the work required for acquiring good backlinks is research; the other 20 per cent is generally content generation or outreach. Without some initial research you won’t have a clue where to find valuable backlinks. It’s important to be organised and plan well to avoid wasting time on poor sources. The best way of finding out where to get relevant backlinks from is to see where your competitors are getting links.
Creating a Master File
In order to be methodical and organised you’ll need to create a master file. This is a spreadsheet where you’ll keep all of your research.
As well as storing details on competitor websites and their backlinks, you can compile content ideas and social network research. Over time you could end up with hundreds of different spreadsheets, so it’s important to have a good filing system.
To start with, your master file will contain the seven main sheets listed below. I will provide a copy of this spreadsheet below but will explain each sheet individually.
Sheet 1 – Tasks
You will typically have two different types of tasks, those that you do on a weekly basis and then one-off tasks. This will help you to keep track of what needs to be done and when.
Naturally your tasks might be different or change over time, so swap these out for ones that are more relevant to you and your website.
Sheet 2 – Social Schedule
In order to utilise social media effectively, you need to ensure your posts are actually seen by your followers. Interestingly only 0.2% of stories make it into a user’s newsfeed. There are two main factors at play here: one is timing and the other is your post’s EdgeRank score.
EdgeRank is FaceBook’s algorithm to determine what news stories appear in users’ feeds. The problem is if your story doesn’t score very well, then it can mean that it just doesn’t get seen. To learn more have a look at EdgeRank
I would recommend setting up a social schedule for your posts. In order to achieve as much exposure across the social media platforms as you can, you’ll need to consider sharing at different times to accommodate different time zones.
As well as sharing posts at different times, try them in different formats to see if the interaction improves or varies. You could try the following:
- Plain text post
- Post with featured image
- Opinion polls
- End with a question
- Video content
There are some excellent sources to get content spun into other media. I would recommend Fiverr as it has a quick turnaround and isn’t expensive.
The optimal amount of times to share does vary on the social network, this sheet will remind you how many times you need to share your recent content.
Note: Don’t neglect the social work…
Remember they’re called social networks for a reason. You’ll find that you can get more engagement by monitoring relevant replies and inserting the article you’re sharing.
Posting on a daily basis is time consuming. However, using a tool to schedule them will not only save time, it will also streamlines the whole process ensuring that the right post goes out on the right day at the right time. I would recommend scheduling these straight after you make the post.
Hootsuite is a great program to use for the scheduling of your posts. It’s free for up to three accounts or £7.99 per month for access to more features and more social accounts. Automation tools are effective once you have a good following, but if you’re just starting out with your channels, I’d be tempted to post manually to begin with.
You can also use Hootsuite to schedule other people’s posts which will encourage them to share your content with their followers. If possible, I would recommend doing at least some of these manually. You can time the shares for when you know your followers are active, which will increase the chance of engagement. This will help to build the affinity score with their audience, which helps improve the EdgeRank score.
Sheet 3 – Competitor Info
This is the main sheet that you will use when it comes to collecting data for building backlinks. You’ll input the competitor’s website, contact details, Domain Authority, social profiles and followers on here.
It’s worth remembering that as well as looking at the authority of a site you may want to look at its trust. Trust and authority are very different concepts. For example, both the BBC and The Sun will have similar authority, however you will receive more trust from the BBC than you would The Sun.
Trust Flow is a metric designed to decide how trustworthy a link is based on the quality of backlinks pointing to the site. If you can secure backlinks from sites that have a high Trust Flow then you can be confident that they will be decent ones.
I personally use this sheet as a way to keep track of my competitors and what they are doing. It’s also useful when doing blog commenting as you have a large list of blogs you could potentially comment on.
I also add social profiles and followers, as this data can be useful if you want to grow your social following. For example, viewing someone’s Twitter feed allows you to follow their followers in the hope of them following you back. Alternatively you could contact them to do a ‘share exchange’. You share one of their Facebook updates to your followers, and in return they do the same for you. This is potentially a good way of getting more exposure to your posts as well as more likes.
Sheet 4 – Published Posts
When your website is still relatively new, you might easily be able to remember what posts you have live. But once your site gets bigger and you have hundreds of pages of content, it can become hard to remember what’s live and also what has been done to promote that content.
This sheet is designed to help you keep track of each post you make live, allowing you to make sure you give it as much publicity as possible.
Refreshing content is just as important as building new links. Keeping a log of posts you published, when you published them and when they were updated is an excellent way to efficiently manage your published content.
You can also keep track of news alerts relevant to your niche, and if you have some old related content, you can refresh it and give it some extra exposure.
Sheet 5 – Content Ideas
It can be hard to devise original content, particularly if you already have a lot of content on your site. Once you’ve done your research into building backlinks, I’ll give you some tips for creating great content that could be added to your site. This is essential if you’re intending to use the skyscraper technique later.
While you can use other websites as inspiration – do not copy content as this will not do you any favours in the future.
Sheet 6 – Skyscraper Technique
This is the sheet that will contain all content relating to the skyscraper technique. More details on this can be found in the next section of this article.
It will feature links to potential backlinks, the original content and your improved version of it. It is also designed to allow you to keep track of whom you have contacted and whether they have added your link.
Sheet 7 – Broken Backlinks Technique
This sheet will keep track of all the sites that have broken links. It will allow you to create the content and then contact the sites in question to ask them to update the broken link to your site.
The columns will include the following: the site that has the broken link, where the link goes to, DA, contact details, content title and subject, and finally whether you have contacted them or not.
Click here to download the spreadsheet – don’t forget to make a copy before you start to edit.
PART TWO: THE BACKLINKING METHODS
Now we have our spreadsheets sorted out, it’s time to describe the different backlinking methods. This section will be split into individual methods but will use the spreadsheet we created to store data.
For these tutorials I used Ahrefs, which is a very powerful tracking tool. They offer a 7-day free trial and if you have the budget, I would recommend paying for it after the trial. If you don’t want to buy it, I’d advise you do much of the legwork before starting the trial, and then spending a good, solid seven days getting all the data you need.
Another alternative is MajesticSEO. I haven’t used this yet so I can’t comment on how it works. It is cheaper however, so it might be worth looking into.
Both methods would be considered white hat, as you are targeting related links within the same niche/industry as your website.
It will require a lot of work to generate links using these tools but generally they are going to be of high quality.
METHOD 1: THE BROKEN LINK TECHNIQUE
The World Wide Web is 25 years old and in that time many sites have come and gone. (I probably have at least a hundred in the website graveyard!) What happens to the backlinks that these sites may have received? They become broken. When a user clicks on them they will get the dreaded ‘404 file not found’ error.
What a waste of a backlink!
Now imagine that you could find some of these broken backlinks, contact the website owners and get them replaced with links to your site… well you can, and here is how…
Step One: Finding Related Websites
There are two ways in which you can find sites related to your niche in order to identify broken links.
Finding sites in Google
The simplest way would be to use a search engine such as Google to find sites relating to your niche and the keywords you wish to target. You’ll need to use a wide range of keywords as well as brand names for competitive products
Using the related Query
You can also use the related query in Google to find websites that it considers to be related to the one you have input, as seen below:
Finding Sites using Ahrefs
Ahrefs allows you to find other websites based on specific keywords. This search finds the most popular and most shared content on specific keywords.
It’s worth noting that if you’re just planning to use the Ahrefs 7-day trial, you should first focus on compiling competitor data from Google, and then use Ahrefs to find the backlinks.
Adding these sites into the Master File – Competitor Sites Sheet
Each time you find a potential competitor you should add them to the competitor sites sheet in your master file. Include the URL, DA, contact details and the social followers if available (useful if you want to grow your own social following).
If you are unable to find an email address or contact form on a site then use a ‘whois’ service. This allows you to enter the relevant URL and get contact information on most sites. Many will have a privacy set up, but will still work if they are forwarded to a working email.
Step Two: Locating Broken Links
By now you should hopefully have a spreadsheet full of competitor information. It’s best to choose sites that have a decent DA because these will probably have more pages of content and more links pointing to them.
I wouldn’t recommend moving onto this step until you have a good few hundred competitor sites in your spreadsheet as you’ll want to find as many broken links as you can in the Ahrefs trial.
Load up your Ahrefs account and start off by clicking the Site Explorer tab.
You will then see all of the broken links that are related to this domain name. You’ll find that a percentage of the sites that you search for don’t have any broken links. If this is the case simply move on to the next one until you find one that does.
You can also use Screaming Frog for a more thorough review:
This takes a lot more time but has a less limited index of pages than Ahrefs. Crawling the sites yourself using Screaming Frog gives you a fresh, accurate result and you can also provide the website administrator with more broken links to fix including internal links, so they tend to be pretty grateful and more likely to link externally to you.
I would recommend adding a filter so that it only displays ‘DoFollow’ links. You will also want ‘NoFollow’ links, however many of these tend to be blog comments and you won’t be able to get these changed.
DoFollow links tend to be contextual links, which are ideal for your purposes.
As you can see, the site itself looks okay, with a nice amount of content and images – well worth contacting to see if you can get their broken link updated.
Step Three: Updating the Master File – Broken Links Sheet
Now you’ve identified a potential candidate, you’ll want to add this to your master file so you can keep track of the sites that you’ve contacted and the backlinks you do and don’t acquire.
You should enter the website containing the backlink first, followed by a link to the landing page so you can reference this in your email.
Don’t take too much notice of the DA; the example here is low, but it’s still worth pursuing since a relevant backlink is a good thing. You can obtain their email during the ‘outreach’ step.
Next you need to add the content title and subject as this will help to remind you what content is needed. Finally, there columns to record whether the content is published, whether the website owner has been contacted and whether the link was accepted or not.
Step Three: Scale Up To Find Even More Broken Links
Now one backlink is great from a single piece of content, but what if you could get more? If the owner has taken the trouble to build a backlink to his article then it’s a good bet that they’ve actually built more than one link to it.
Next to the backlink there is a small arrow. Click this and another menu will appear.
Click the Backlinks option to allow you to see which other sites link to this landing page that are returning a ‘404’ error.
Here’s another broken backlink from the same site. By checking for additional backlinks, we can see that there are potentially 11 other sites linking to this same broken backlink. So if we were to create an article on our site based on this term, we could potentially get 12 backlinks! Now imagine what you could find by searching through your entire list of websites.
Is there a free way to find broken links?
Due to Ahrefs’ cost, I’d recommend that you first of all take advantage of its 7-day trial.
However, there is a cost-free way to search for broken links, but it does take a lot longer to do. Domain Hunter Plus is a Chrome plugin which checks for broken links on a page-by-page basis so it can be a lengthy process.
You could also try Xenu if you are using Windows; this allows you to find broken links across a complete site. I haven’t tried either of these so I can’t comment on their effectiveness.
Step Four: Content Creation Stage
By now you should have a nice list of sites to check for broken links, together with a list of broken links that could potentially be redirected to your own site. More often than not, the links will be for content that you don’t actually have on your site, even though it’s probably in the same niche. So before contacting the site owners with your request, you’ll need to start adding content to your site.
You’ll need to write articles based on the same subjects as those articles with the broken links, so the sites you’re contacting have something relevant to link to. In order to maximise your chances, you need to make sure that it’s high-quality content with useful, interesting information and images.
It also means additional high-quality content on your site, which is never a bad thing.
Step Five: Outreach To Website Owners
Once you have published your content, you’ll be ready to contact the website owner to advise them of their broken link.
The first step will be to obtain contact information. Head for the website’s ‘About Us’ or Contact Us’ pages but if you can’t find an email address or contact form there, you could also try making contact via their social channels. Messages are usually answered very quickly, making this one of the most reliable forms of contact, especially if the website is small.
You can also use Whois (http://whois.com/whois/) to collect email data as mentioned previously. Simply input the URL and contact information will be shown.
Remember, it’s likely that these email addresses will be protected by a privacy tool, and will usually include a large string of letters and numbers. But they should still work as they simply forward your email to the registered email address.
There are some excellent tools that can get all of this information for you:
The following ScrapeBox tools will be useful:
- Email scraper
- Contact form submitted
- Phone number scraper
There’s also a tool for social profile scraping:
This one also does other stuff that may be of use:
Copy all of the found information into the Broken Links spreadsheet. Once you have contact information for all the broken links, it’s time to contact them. Below is an example of an outreach email you could use to persuade website owners to update their broken link to your own.
Subject: Error found on (insert URL)
Hi (insert name),
I was on your website and I came across this page (insert URL).
I noticed that one of the links doesn’t work and goes to a ‘page not found’ error. The link is (Insert link text and location)
Ideally you don’t want to be sending your visitors to a ‘file not found’ error. I have an article similar to your linked item on my website, and wonder whether you might be interested in linking to that instead?
The URL for my article is (insert URL)
I look forward to hearing from you.
Keep Track Of Your Outreach Emails
Once you’ve emailed your contacts, update your backlink sheet to keep track of the ones you’ve dealt with. You could add a column to show the date your emails were sent, so you can target those who don’t respond with a follow-up email.
You should recheck the links prior to sending your follow ups in case they have updated the links without contacting you. If your link has been added, you should send a thank you email. This may also help to build contacts for potential partnerships later on.
Broken Link Technique: Conclusion
This is a great way to get yourself some white hat backlinks. As you’ll be targeting websites with broken links which are relevant to your own site there’s a good chance that they will be swapped out with your own links. It’s a time-consuming technique, but getting a couple of high-quality links from these sites could really give your own site a boost.
METHOD 2: THE SKYSCRAPER TECHNIQUE
The skyscraper technique works in a similar way to the broken link method. The main difference is that the links targeted here aren’t broken. So you need to be able to convince the site owner that the content they’re currently linking to is inferior to similar content on your website, encouraging them to update their link to your site.
Why would they change the link?
Most sites that link out to others want to provide their visitors with accurate and informative content. This content reflects on them and helps determine their site’s authority. Sites they link to also impact on this authority. If your linked content is perceived to be of more value to their visitors, then the site owner may well be willing to update the link to your site.
Step One: Using Competitor Data
If you’ve followed the broken backlink method then you will already have a spreadsheet full of potential competitor data. This data can also be used for the Skyscraper technique. So if you haven’t done it yet, I’d recommend having a look at the initial steps of the Backlink method and start collecting some data from the search engines.
It simply involves going through the Google Search with terms related to your site and putting the results into the competitor data sheet in the master file. This data will then be used to find who is linking to them, in the hopes of getting some of those backlinks.
Step Two: Finding Top Pages By Links
As with the previous method, I recommend using Ahrefs to find the backlinks you want to target. Firstly, put one of your competitors’ URLs into the Ahrefs search bar, as shown below:
Next you need to identify the content that is being linked to most frequently, as you want to be targeting popular content. Focus on generic content as you stand more chance of success with that than with review content.
Once you have explored a possible target site, you need to click Best By Links under the Pages drop down.
This next screen displays a list of pages on the competitor’s website, as well as the amount of DoFollow links and NoFollow links. Go through the list and once you find a good generic article, click the arrow on the side and select backlinks.
You will now have a list of all the sites that link to this one article, allowing you to run through them to ascertain which ones are appropriate. Some are not going to be viable, for example blog comments.
Please note: If you are just going to use Ahrefs’ 7-day free trial, I’d recommend using the export feature at this point to save them for later, as the next step doesn’t require Ahrefs.
Step Three: Update Your Skyscraper Sheet
Now you have a nice selection of potential backlinks to target, you’ll need to update the Skyscraper spreadsheet as follows:
Backlink: This is where the backlink originates from and whom you should contact
DA: The Domain Authority of the site that has the backlink
Original Content: A link to the content on the competitor’s website
Contact Email: Email address or contact form for the website containing the backlink
Don’t forget it’s possible that multiple sites are linking back to this one article so you could secure multiple links from it. Once your sheet is updated, it will be time to examine the content.
Analysing and Improving Upon Competitors’ Content
It’s important to look at the content on the competitor’s site, because you’ll need to be able to write on the same subject but offer something more.
Here’s an example:
Almond Oil for Skin
Word Count: 670
Images: 1 Small image
You can see from the amount of content that the purpose of this article is to feed through to a product review.
Creating Improved Content
So once you’ve analysed the landing page, you’ll need to compose a new, improved article ensuring that all content is unique and nothing is copied. The content above only has 670 words and the subject is fairly generic so you could easily write an article that is 1500 plus words. This should include a range of sub-headings, for example:
- What is almond oil?
- Where does almond oil come from?
- What are the benefits of almond oil?
- Why use almond oil for the skin?
The competitor’s page only has one small image that links to the product review. I would break up the content with a couple of different images that have decent ALT tags and describe the content. If traffic justifies it, then I’d also be tempted to add a video about almond oil and skincare.
Once the content has been written and published on your site, add it to your Skyscraper spreadsheet.
Now you have the content online, you should begin the outreach process and see if you can secure the backlink.
Below are a couple of examples of an email that could be used:
Subject: [Page URL] A quick question…
Hi [insert name],
I have read your article on [insert subject] [insert article]
I really like [insert comment on article].
While reading it, I noticed that you link to this article on [content subject]
[insert competitor landing page URL]
I have recently written an article on the same subject and feel that it would offer a lot of value to your visitors and expand upon the excellent information you offer.
Would you be willing to link to my article? I have provided a link to it below so you can take a look:
[Insert your link]
I look forward to hearing from you.
Subject: Question on [insert URL]
Hi [insert name],
I was reading your article [insert URL] and noticed that you’re linking to an article on [subject]. I have recently posted a similar article and think your visitors would be interested in it.
Would you be willing to link to [insert content URL]?
I look forward to hearing from you.
Once you’ve made contact, you should update your Skyscraper spreadsheet and record the outcome. Remember to include the date so you can follow up after a couple of weeks if they don’t respond.
Skyscraper Technique: Conclusion
The Skyscraper technique is an effective method for building related backlinks that are potentially of high quality. If you combine this method with blog commenting and guest posting then you’ll have a nice, varied backlink profile.
Your site will also benefit from an increase in quality content and as we all know by now, content is key to increasing a site’s authority, encouraging visitors and boosting sales. This technique therefore tends to kill two birds with one stone.
TO SUM UP
These two great techniques undoubtedly show how it’s possible with a bit of effort to build valuable, relevant backlinks which will add significant weight to your site’s authority, and lead to better ranking in the search engines.
I hope the master file that I’ve prepared for you proves to be a useful aid and helps to keep your marketing tasks well organised. I’d recommend keeping it up to date and you might even consider using it for other aspects of your marketing, such as blog commenting, content ideas and social media activities.
If you have any comments or questions, please leave them in the comments section below and I’ll answer them as soon as I can.