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How to Create a Link Building Strategy for Acquiring External Links (Backlinks)?

le Thursday 21 October 2021 - Mise à jour Sunday 03 March 2024
Temps de lecture : 16 minutes

The reputation of your website is essential for your SEO! And to develop it, you must create backlinks to your most important pages. However, this doesn't happen on its own. To achieve this, you need to implement an effective link building strategy. After giving you the definition of an external link and explaining why it's so important for your SEO, I will reveal my 9-step method. To conclude this article, I have gathered information provided by Google on this subject and collected the opinions of several experts in the field.

🔎 Definition of link building

Link building is the act of creating backlinks (external hyperlinks) to your website. Also called link building or external linking, its purpose is to improve your visibility on the Internet. To go further, we could even extend this definition to internal linking (links pointing from one page to another within the same site). To learn more about this topic, I suggest you read this other article:

Link building strategy also helps attract qualified traffic to the pages you want to promote. Indeed, if a site that generates a lot of traffic places a link pointing to your site, you will certainly get many more visitors on your targeted pages. For this traffic to be of quality, it must, of course, come from a site with a theme close to yours.

Moreover, it is an essential factor for improving your organic SEO. Indeed, Google reacts in the same way as Internet users. If it considers that the source is reliable and that the link adds value, it will tend to consider that the destination page provides good answers to search intents.

✌ The importance of a link building strategy in SEO

Link building should have a significant place in your SEO strategy. Indeed, creating backlinks helps improve the authority of your website. And, as you know, this is one of the three fundamental pillars of organic SEO.

Implementing a good link building strategy is therefore the best way to increase the trust index of your website. This index is calculated based on the proximity and relevance of backlinks. You can, for example, see the trust rate of your site on tools like Majestic SEO (trust flow) or on Ahrefs (Domain rating).

More generally, we can also consider that a good link building strategy has positive effects for all Internet stakeholders.

  • Website owners: more qualified traffic means a better conversion rate. This is therefore an important factor for improving your ROI!
  • Internet users: a link should lead to content that adds value to the original text. The reader can thus expand their knowledge and get a complete answer to their question.
  • Search engines: hyperlinks allow indexing robots to browse the Web more quickly. This is therefore an essential element for discovering new pages or knowing the freshness of old ones.

📜 9 steps to create a good link building strategy

Illustration image of the steps for a good link building strategy

Now that you know the importance of a link building strategy, I offer you a list of 9 steps to implement it in compliance with Google's algorithms. However, I must inform you that this work requires paid SEO tools and good SEO knowledge. That's why I strongly recommend delegating this task to an SEO specialist (freelance SEO consultant or digital agency, depending on your needs and budget).

1. Compare your site with SEO competition

The first thing to understand is that your SEO competitors are not necessarily your close competitors. To discover them, simply search for your main keywords on Google and analyze the top ten results on the SERP.

You can then use the tools mentioned above to analyze the essential data of your competitors. You will know their authority score and have an overview of their link building strategy. Here are the elements to check.

  • Trust index
  • Trust rate by theme
  • Number of referring domains
  • Quantity of backlinks
  • Quality of backlinks
  • Origin of external links (also gives you good leads for your future link creations)

The next step is to compare all this information with that of your website. You will then have a good idea of the work to be done to improve your positioning on search engine results pages.

2. Choose the right pages for backlinks

This step obviously depends on your company's business strategy. But not only! Your goal is to increase your traffic and improve your reputation. That's why a blog is an excellent ally. Indeed, it allows you to work on an almost infinite number of keywords and thus constantly evolve your visibility on the Internet.

To find the right pages to point to when creating external links, you will analyze the SEO potential of each of them. If you are already in the top three Google results, then you don't need to focus on them. On the other hand, you will be interested in the results ranked beyond the first page, mainly those between positions 11 and 20 (second page).

However, also check the SERP for each of these results. Indeed, Google's enriched results (map, photos, videos, etc.), the number of ads, and the power of competition are essential elements to check before embarking on backlink creation.

3. Optimize destination pages

Once the destination pages are chosen, you will move on to the next step: checking their optimization. To do this, simply type the targeted keyword into the SEOQuantum analysis tool and then check the optimization score of your page. You will then know the updates to make to meet search engine criteria.

In parallel, also make sure that:

  • the content offered is up-to-date (dates, information, etc.);
  • the theme matches the user's expectations (informational, commercial, or transactional);
  • the subject is treated relevantly, exhaustively, and adds value compared to the other top results on the SERP.

Finally, also check that the technical factors are respected to allow efficient crawling of your page. So, check the HTML markup (hierarchy of Hn) and indexing first. Indeed, if your page is in noindex, you will waste your time and money!

4. Know your budget dedicated to link building

This subject depends entirely on your financial resources and your objectives. I'll be frank with you: creating backlinks is not cheap! At least when talking about quality links...

Beware of dream sellers who guarantee you quick and cheap results. As you know, SEO takes time and money. These sales arguments simply don't hold up.

To define the ideal budget for your company, the best thing is to find an SEO consultant you trust. Explain your long-term goal and your monthly budget to them. You will then have an idea of the feasibility of your desires and know your ideal budget.

5. Determine the number of links needed

The number of monthly links in your link building strategy will be established based on your budget. Remember that it's not the number of links that matters, but their quality. This is what John Muller (webmaster trends analyst at Google) explained in February 2021:

"We try to understand what is relevant for a website, to what extent we should weigh these individual links, and the total number of links doesn't matter at all. Because you could create millions of links on millions of websites if you wanted, and we could just ignore them all."

He then added:

"Or there could be just one quality link from a website that is, for us, a very important sign that we should consider this website as relevant because it has this link. I don't know, maybe from the homepage of a big news site, for example. So the total number is not relevant at all."

To see his complete response to the question "What matters most? The number of unique referring domains or the total number of backlinks?", I suggest you watch the following video from the 27th minute (in English):

6. Find quality sites in the same theme

This step in your link building strategy can be extremely time-consuming if you don't already have a network of partner sites. Once again, I advise you to get support during this phase.

However, if you have the time but not the budget, you can contact other website owners who match your site's theme. You can then offer them to write a guest or volunteer article.

Another way to create a backlink is to visit link building platforms or other directories offering links. However, this is an area where competition is fierce, and you will find a bit of everything. I suggest you check all the data provided and ensure the permanence of the created links.

Finally, you can use your private network to ask for a link to your site. The most common mistake I see in this kind of agreement is the direct exchange of links, meaning you both create a link pointing to the other's site. This model is considered black hat by Google and, at best, will not bring you any SEO results.

Diagram of reciprocal link exchange in link building

Link triangulation is also an old process that does not bring good results for organic SEO.

Diagram of link triangulation in link building

The only white hat technique that exists is to create links without return!

Diagram of a non-reciprocal link exchange in link building

7. Vary link anchors

A link anchor is the text on which the user will click to access another website (or another page of the website). Varying the content hiding the link is essential not to send an alert message to Google.

Indeed, as always in SEO, you want to optimize your content without over-optimizing it! Using only link anchors with the keyword you want to rank for is not a good link building strategy.

As a result, you will make a thoughtful variation between several anchors and place your main keywords in them reasonably. Here are some variation ideas to implement.

  • Brand name
  • Brand name and keyword
  • URL of the targeted page
  • Article title
  • Generic anchor (click here, learn more, ...)
  • Exact keyword

8. Create a link building calendar

Once you have completed all the preliminary research (points 1 to 7), you can plan the implementation of your link building strategy. All you have to do is create an Excel table with the following data.

  • Date of backlink creation
  • Destination page
  • Link anchor
  • Partner site
  • Link price

Then send the information to your various partners, and you're done!

9. Analyze the effectiveness of the strategy

As you certainly know, monitoring is essential in SEO. Indeed, nothing is won in advance, and staying attentive to the evolution of results allows adapting the strategy in the long term. I suggest you keep an eye on the following elements:

  • Evolution of the trust rate of your entire website
  • Evolution of the trust rate of your various targeted pages
  • Main themes of your website
  • Evolution of the ranking of your targeted pages in the SERP
  • Evolution of the number of referenced keywords on each of your targeted pages
  • Evolution of the SEO traffic of your targeted pages

If you observe an improvement in these factors in the months following the implementation of your link building strategy, don't change anything and continue like this!
On the other hand, if you notice that nothing moves after several months, don't hesitate to refine your strategy.
And if you observe a significant drop in your positioning on Google, it is likely that you have crossed over to the dark side of SEO and have implemented actions penalized by search engines. You will then need to arm yourself with patience and start over!

🧙‍♂️ What does Google say about external links?

As always, the search engine leader is not very talkative when it comes to explaining how its algorithm works. However, John Muller frequently gives his opinion on good and bad SEO practices.

As explained earlier, the quality of links seems to take precedence over quantity. This is also information found in the search quality raters published in October 2020 (only available in English). You will find a summary of this document in my article: "Google EAT Criteria: Why is it important for SEO?".

Another interesting piece of information concerns the budget to allocate to the creation of external links. This demonstrates how much the link building strategy must be implemented with great caution to avoid a penalty. In response to the question about buying backlinks, John Muller says:

"Artificially creating links, depositing links on other sites, buying links, all of this is against the webmaster guidelines."

Before adding:

"That being said, I think there are ways to approach the subject of links in a less black hat way where you buy links from other sites... Encourage creating a link to your site, but without exchanging value, money, or anything else."

According to Google, it is therefore obvious that any optimization that is not done naturally tends to be penalized. Would the only possible solution be linkbaiting? However, SEO specialists are constantly trying to find ways to improve website SEO. They try to implement discreet but effective actions without ever falling into over-optimization.

🔮 SEO experts' opinions on the future of link building

According to link building specialists, the influence of external links is fundamental for SEO. The fact that an authoritative site in a theme mentions another article is an essential factor for Google's algorithm to evaluate the reputation of other sites. (Russ Johns)

Another interesting point is that if Google were to disappear (which seems unlikely!), then the main source of traffic would mainly come from links placed in other articles. This seems indeed relevant, especially if the source site has a large number of visitors. (Britney Muller)

Other SEO specialists have another opinion. They believe that the importance of link building will gradually decrease. However, they agree that, according to Google EAT criteria, the indicator given by backlinks is still crucial at present. (Brian Dean)

It therefore seems evident that a well-conducted link building strategy is still essential for improving a site's organic SEO. For its influence to last in the long term, it must be based on quality links from reliable sources.

## 🎬 Key takeaways on link building strategy

A well-established link building strategy is essential in SEO. It must be thought out and implemented according to principles that respect both users and search engines. Don't miss any of the 9 steps mentioned in this article and don't hesitate to get help from a professional. As a reminder, here are the elements to consider.

1. SEO competitor analysis

2. Good choice of destination pages

3. Content and technical optimization

4. Budget adapted to needs

5. Priority to link quality

6. Careful selection of partner sites

7. Variation of link anchors

8. Planning of the link building strategy

9. Continuous monitoring

All these recommendations are essential to respect, especially since we do not know for sure what the new Google algorithm, which is gradually being implemented, has in store for us. To learn more about this subject, don't hesitate to read my blog post: "Google MUM | The new algorithm that will impact SEO (or not) ".

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