10 Practical Backlink Strategies I’ve Extensively Tested — Why Some are Better than Others

SEO is overwhelming. It just is. There are just too many strategies and a shortage of human resources to execute all of them. If you are a startup, small business, or even in early growth mode, it’s going to be impossible to work on every SEO tactic at once. One tried and true SEO strategy is backlinking.

This article walks through the 10 most effective backlink building strategies for SEO that I’ve personally tested. And to help you get into action, I’ve added commentary on why I focus on one over another. Get ready to supercharge your content marketing.

Backlinks – “The Basics”

Why are backlinks important and why do they continue to be one of the most effective ways to increase search traffic to your site. There is no trickery here, it’s fairly straightforward. When a site that is highly ranked in the eyes of search engines links to your site or content, then the search engine will assume your site is worth sending traffic to. It makes sense.

Google sends a lot of marketing-related searches to Hubspot.com. Google knows that when they send users to Hubspot, those users regularly get the information they are looking for. So Google assigns a high authority rating to Hubspot for marketing queries.

If I write a blog post about marketing and I’m lucky enough to get Hubspot to link to my article, Google assumes that Hubspot has already done the due diligence to determine that my article is high quality and relevant; so, Google increases my domain rating a little bit. Search engines essentially view each link to your site as a vote of confidence in the quality of your content.

Unfortunately, one vote of confidence from Hubspot isn’t enough, although valuable and hard to get. In the end, it takes many links from many different authoritative websites in the content categories that your website focuses on to start to see organic traffic increase.

Domain Authority as a Gauge for Quality

Of course, Google and other search engines don’t publish the intricacies that go into ranking search results. But there is a generally accepted gauge for quality called domain authority or domain rating. There are several free tools you can use to get a sense of your domain rank. I like rankwatch.com domain authority checker. The idea is to use one of these tools to get a baseline of how authoritative your site is, then work at growing that rating. As your rank goes up, so will organic traffic.

Getting Quality Backlinks

There are a ton of strategies for getting links from higher authority sites. I can’t say I’ve tested everything that’s ever been done, I have experimented a lot in the past year and want to share my experience with the 10 most effective and doable strategies. And as you’ll see from my commentary, some are better than others IMHO.

1 — Use HARO to Contribute to News and Blog Articles

HARO (Help A Reporter Out) is basically like a dating site for writers and experts. Writers for large publications like The New York Times or Routers use this service to find sources for their articles. And you can be one of these sources, for free. It takes some work to weed through the opportunity requests and find something relevant to your area of expertise. And this is critical — do not submit yourself as an expert unless you have something unique and valuable to say about a particular inquiry.

Most HARO requests ask that you submit a short paragraph on a very specific topic in which you can thoughtfully intertwine a link to your site. Don’t be spammy. Only submit to requests that logically make sense for your expertise and website. Not every submission will get picked, so you’ll have to respond to a bunch of requests before you get picked. But the upside is huge. The writers that use HARO generally write for highly authoritative sites — sites you normally would have no shot at getting a link from.

Commentary: I’ve had some success with HARO but I find it tedious so I periodically spot-check requests and only respond to the absolute best opportunities; those are ones where I’m the perfect person to respond. If I can’t honestly say that, I just skip it and move on.

2 — Publish “Ultimate” Guides

One of the most effective ways to get unsolicited links to your site is by creating intelligent and thorough guides on a particular subject — an “ultimate” guide to whatever. As an example, if I wanted to turn this article into an ultimate guide to backlinks I’d need to include every known strategy for getting links, not just the top ten.

Moreover, these articles should be north of 4,000 words to get the attention of search engines and other sites. So, writing an ultimate guide is a lot of work, both in terms of research and time to write. But the effort can pay off. Brian Dean from Backlinkio wrote a link-building definitive guide 3 years ago and it still gets links and comments today.

Commentary: For me, as a single man marketing team, this strategy takes too much time, and given my areas of expertise (content marketing, SEO, link building, SaaS, etc.) are so saturated, it’s hard to create content that stands out. If your area is a bit more niche, this might be a good approach for you.

3 — Write Guest Posts

Writing for other high-ranking sites is a great way to get a quality backlink, and it’s surprisingly easy to get a site to say yes. Many popular sites, including this one, have published instructions for submitting guest post content. A quick search for your target keyword and a few guest post phrases will return tons of sites and instructions (examples below).

keyword “submit a guest post”
keyword “guest post”
keyword “guest post by”
keyword “accepting guest posts”
keyword “guest post guidelines”

Moreover, many articles have already compiled a list of sites that accept guest posts, although I’ve noticed these are frequently inaccurate so double check before setting out to writing for one or another site.

Commentary: I’m a big yes on this one, as demonstrated by this article. In addition to getting high-quality links, I find guest posting to be personally satisfying because I’m building my brand as much as growing my organic search. Writing guest posts is more work than writing for my blog — attention to detail, quality, adhering to writing requirements, etc. — but for me, it’s worth it.

4 — Replace Broken Links

The idea is to compile a list of articles with broken links to content that you already have or you can write to replace that link. It’s fairly easy to search for broken links using rankwatch broken link checker for search specific sites or ahrefs content explorer to search based on keywords. Once you have a list, then rank the list based on the number of broken links that could logically link back to a single article.

For example, if you find 10 broken links with anchor text of “content marketing” and you already have a great content marketing article or can write one, start with those because you can get 10 for 1. Then continue down the list as applicable.

Commentary: I’ve personally found this approach to be more work than it’s worth, but results vary depending on the keyword topic you’re going after. The process is pretty tedious and response rates are so-so. My suggestion is to focus on the low hanging fruit (i.e. broken links where you can get at least 10 to 1 article).

5 — Write “Skyscraper” Content

This popular backlinking strategy is really about copying existing “great” content and making it even better. Sometimes this means writing longer posts with more details, more images, and insights. But as David Zheng shares in his backlink building article, look at the content you’re skyscraping and ask yourself:

Which questions go unanswered?
Which instructions are hard to follow?
Who isn’t getting served here?

Looking at the content this way can help you build a “new” version of a popular article that better addresses the needs of the reader. And that’s a good rule of thumb because Google and other search engines prioritize results based on how confident they are that the user is going to get the answer they’re looking for — not just good content in general.

Commentary: I’m not a huge fan of this strategy. I think mostly because this exercise is a very technical one, meaning it’s about reading good content, researching user intent, finding holes, and plugging them. And I’m more of a creative writer than a technical one, so I’m better suited for writing content from scratch and I’ve generally found that readers appreciate “how” I write more than “what” I write. That doesn’t mean I don’t need to write highly relevant content, of course, I do, but readers stick with content partly because it has the information they’re looking for and partly because they resonate with the delivery of that information.

6 — Create How-To Guides

Roughly 8% of all Google searches are questions and “how to” is one of the most popular question formats. You can use that intent to your advantage by creating how-to articles for your target keywords. Of course, it’s easier to rank on low competition keywords so you’ll want to do some research using Rankwatch keyword explorer to find some good targets. Then use Visme’s well-known keyword opportunity score calculation to pick the best ones. Then write your response to the search query how to {your keyword}.

You’ll have to do some wordsmithing on the article title, but you get the idea. Bonus point for this backlinking strategy because how-to articles are easier to get other sites to link to. In other words, it’s easier to get a yes when doing backlink outreach when your content fits nicely into theirs.

Commentary: This is one of my favorite strategies and I frequently write how to guides. I find this type of content easier to write and there are more long-tail keywords to target. As an example, a while back I was trying to create ringtones for my iPhone from Youtube videos. This turned out to be difficult and required many steps to do it. So I wrote a “how to create ringtones from Youtube” article and I regularly rank in the top 10 Google search results for how-to queries like “how to create a ringtone from Youtube”.

7 — Steal Competitor Backlinks

Here’s another approach that is similar to the 404 broken link strategy. In this case, you’re looking for sites that link to competitors’ websites or content. The idea is to choose competitors that you can clearly show your advantages over. In most categories, there are always older, less updated, and less innovative competitors. Start with those guys.

You can use a range of tools from rankwatch.com to find opportunities, then reach out to those sites and suggest why they should replace a link to an inferior competitor for yours. You can also use this approach to find when multiple competitors are linked to from the same article and ask that your service be included as well.

Commentary: Like the broken link strategy, I’m not a huge fan of this one either. When I first launched Markup Hero I thought this was going to be a no-brainer because there are a ton of older and rarely updated screenshot and annotation tools we would easily outmatch. But I found that a lot of these articles and links were really old themselves and connecting with the right person to make the update was difficult. And, when I did find the right contact, they just weren’t that compelled to do anything about it. The whole approach proved fairly fruitless and the quality of the sites I was targeting wasn’t that awesome anyway. This might work better for different product categories so it will probably take some experimentation, but I’ve back-burnered the tactic for now.

8 — Publish Original Research

Stats and figures are inherently compelling. And it’s one thing to find statistical nuggets to add to your articles as I’ve done in this one. But doing original research and compiling unique stats from that research is a standout way to get backlinks. To do this you’ll need to conduct some kind of study. This could be a survey you send to your users or promote on social media. Or it could be a series of interviews you do with customers or experts.

The idea is to go on a data collecting mission. Generally speaking, more data is better, but it’s not essential to create a compelling research article. Even interviewing ten people in a very specific field would produce valuable results. The key is to focus on collecting data that isn’t readily available elsewhere. And it’s a good idea to do a little keyword research first, then tie your data collection to what people are actively searching for.

I particularly like this story from Project.co where they generate their data and publish reports which create thousands of backlinks each year. The more unique and compelling the data, the more likely other sites are to use your stats in their articles.

Commentary: Here is one I like and I’m working on now. As a product and marketing focused founder, I frequently use the customer development research approach to help decide what to build and what not to. In doing this I often start with an online survey and frequently compile a lot of great data that could I can re-purpose for original research articles. A few months ago, I wanted to learn and validate some assumptions about how teachers might use our product. I set out to collect behavioral data from high school teachers and ended up with survey results from nearly 100 educators. I’m not compiling this into a research article that I will publish and drive backlinks to.

9 — Contribute to “Roundup” Posts

A common article format is a “roundup”. This is where a writer compiles content from a group of like-minded people or similar companies to create a larger article compilation. These formats are liked by content marketing teams because they don’t require significant research or copywriting, instead, they just need to do the work to identify a group of people that can contribute to the piece. There is a little work to be done on the introduction and conclusion paragraphs and maybe compiling some blog visuals but overall the effort is fairly low. Roundups are also desirable because they are likely to get free distribution by contributing authors.

The challenge is finding roundups to be included in before they’re written. One approach is to search for your target keyword “roundup” and find some existing ones. Then reach out to those authors and suggest a new idea. Be thoughtful with your idea; be sure it’s something that they haven’t covered in an existing roundup.

Another approach is to think of an idea for a roundup and do the work to identify potential companies or writers to participate. Then reach out to sites that accept guest posts (see #3 above) and propose the idea and suggest you’ll do the outreach to contributors for them. Ultimately this is a good backlink for you because you’ll likely be in good company, you’re link gets on an authoritative site, and it will get good social promotion by the other contributors.

Commentary: I like this approach although I’ve only done it when asked directly to participate. I’ve yet to find a roundup and ask to be part of it. That feels like a bit of a needle in a haystack approach so I’ve put this on the back-burner. But one thing I’ve done is research sites the do roundups regularly that are in my areas of focus and added myself to their email distribution. When I see a new roundup that I’d be a fit for publishing, I quickly reach out and ask to be included. I’ve had a few successes with this approach over the past 6 months.

10 — Write Testimonials or Product Reviews

Testimonials and product reviews are coveted content by just about any business or service. And there are sites like G2 or Capterra or Yelp and many others that compile and organize reviews for various sectors. But you can offer up your honest feedback for products and services outside of these platforms as many sites love to feature customer testimonials directly on their site or blog. If it’s authentic, and you have a lot to say about a product, you will almost certainly get a yes when doing outreach.

Go the extra mile and write the testimonial or product review before reaching out. This helps the publisher get a clear picture of what you’re offering. Even if they don’t respond or say no, you’ll end up with a good piece of content you can publish on your blog and try to get them to promote it on social channels.

Commentary: I’ve had incredible success with this strategy. I’m a geek when it comes to software and tools so I’m always testing new products. And I have a lot to say when I’m liking something. I’ve written nearly a dozen SaaS product reviews and I even wrote a product review best practices article on Hackernoon that outlines my process from A to Z.

Summary

When it comes to search engine optimization and backlinking strategies, it’s easy to get lost in what “can” be done and not focus enough time on actually “doing”. To make this less overwhelming I’ve tried to compile the best 10 strategies for building backlinks and give my personal experience and opinion for each one. All of the tactics mentioned here I’ve tested extensively and I know they work.

My team launched Markup Hero in March of 2020 with a domain rating of a cool zero. In 7 months we’ve seen that grow to 48 which is now driving some healthy organic search. SEO is a long game. You need to be prepared to work these strategies and consistently produce content for 12-18 months to see sustainable traffic to your site. But that’s the beauty of SEO. While it’s not guaranteed, Google and other search engines may always make changes to their algorithms, what is guaranteed is that paid marketing stops driving traffic the minute you stop paying for it.