Link building is a long-standing SEO practice, but acquiring backlinks isn’t as easy as it may seem. The most effective strategies for acquiring backlinks are time-consuming and research-intensive, but when you follow best practices and avoid making common link-building mistakes, it’s a valuable inbound marketing strategy that not only attracts visitors to your website or blog, but also boosts your search engine rankings.
From content syndication to creating link-worthy evergreen or “pillar” content, there are many strategies for acquiring backlinks that work. When used in conjunction with a carefully crafted outreach campaign, today’s link-building efforts could pay off for years to come. But to do it right, you’ll need to avoid common link-building mistakes that are not only a waste of time and effort but could also earn your site a penalty from Google. To help you avoid the most common link-building mistakes marketers make (and learn what to do instead), we reached out to a panel of digital marketing pros and asked them to answer this question:
“What’s the biggest mistake companies make when it comes to acquiring backlinks?”
Meet Our Panel of Digital Marketing Professionals:
Read on to learn about the mistakes you might be making when it comes to acquiring backlinks, and what to do instead.
“The biggest mistake companies make when it comes to acquiring backlinks is asking for the link. Instead, create link-worthy content. This may sound counter-intuitive; however, asking for links directly is the quickest way to turn off potential link partners. Instead, give value to readers. Then, top quality sites will naturally link to your site. Create linkable assets to attract backlinks such as:
- Industry statistic roundups with expert commentary
- Original images with niche-specific content
- Tools to help people solve problems such as calculators and quizzes
- Guides and tutorials”
Nijat Huseynov is a Content Marketer at Cash4Toners.
“The biggest mistake I regularly see companies make when it comes to acquiring backlinks is prioritizing quantity over quality. Often, businesses go after quick and easy links, compromising on the quality and relevancy. Nine times out of ten, this kind of strategy backfires in the long run.”
Louis Watton has been working in the SEO and digital marketing sphere for nearly three years. He is currently the digital marketing executive for a transport marketplace called Shiply.
“In my opinion, the biggest mistake that companies make when acquiring backlinks is assuming that all links are of equal value. While it’s not wrong to assume that any (legitimate) backlink achieved will boost your business’ SEO efforts, some will simply not move the needle as much as you would like. The important thing to consider when building backlinks is whether the website linking to yours is related to your field and whether it is actually useful for customers that the link is there. For example, if I run a cooking website, then a backlink from a financial analyst site isn’t going to be very relevant to me, and Google is able to see that. If I had a recipe site linking to me, however, this is highly relevant and will carry more weight. Remember, It isn’t just the backlink that matters; it is also the context around it!”
Jayson DeMers is the founder & CEO of EmailAnalytics, a productivity tool that visualizes your email activity – or that of your employees.
“The biggest mistake companies make when it comes to acquiring backlinks is to pay cheap vendors for tons of spammy links, thinking (incorrectly) that more links is better. The truth is that only certain links will help your SEO rankings, while others will actually harm your rankings, and could even get you hit with an algorithmic or manual penalty from Google.
The thing is, Google learned about spammy link building tactics and adjusted its algorithm to penalize such activities back in April of 2012, with the release of its Penguin algorithm update. This update completely changed the landscape of SEO and link building, and nothing has been the same since. However, spammy, low-price vendors still lurk everywhere and prey on business owners who don’t have an in-depth knowledge of how links work or Google’s algorithm updates. These vendors convince business owners that any link is a good link, which is not true. So, don’t buy links from cheap vendors who claim they will get you thousands of quality backlinks for a low price. The links won’t help your site, and they could actually hurt your organic visibility.”
Joseph Paul Digital Agency is an SEO and content marketing agency based in Metro Detroit. JPDA has clients who range from Fortune 1000 companies to local businesses.
“The mistake I see in a lot of backlink outreach campaigns that land in my inbox is they’re not personalized and don’t add any value to myself or my site. It’s 2020, and fake flattery does not work like it used to, because that strategy has been beaten to death.
One example of lack of personalization that comes to mind happened last week when I received an email that started with, ‘Hi Joseph Paul Digital Agency,’ despite my name being plastered everywhere else on the website as Joe. It continued with a few generic compliments about my article and then ended with asking for a link. It goes without saying; they did not get a link.
Another mistake made by others is not adding value to their request. Instead of highlighting the mistake, it would probably be more beneficial to highlight how providing value improves your chances of getting a link. We recently built a campaign for a client that provided a course and all its upgrades for free to anyone who linked to their content. That campaign boosted backlink acquisition from 37 links in a month to 112 links in a month.
I’m not sure why backlink outreach is everyone’s least favorite part of SEO. I personally love to do it, because it combines my passion for connecting with people and SEO. A lot of the people I have reached out to have become personal friends of mine.”
Rameez Ghayas Usmani
Rameez Ghayas Usmani is currently working as a Digital Marketing Executive for PureVPN. He loves to travel, read books, and occasionally writes to spread his knowledge via blogs and discussions.
“The most common mistake companies usually make is acquiring too many backlinks in a short span of time. After the Penguin algorithm update, Google bots are intelligent enough to validate whether the links are natural or you used one of the shady backlinking strategies that aren’t approved by Google. Link exchanges are one of the white-hat strategies for getting backlinks; however, there are various deceitful webmasters who will scam you by tagging a nofollow attribute once you pay them. Make sure to verify that the link has a dofollow attribute before making a payment.
Image links can be a more risky option than text links, but in cases when an image link is the sole possibility for gaining a backlink, don’t dismiss it. But, always ensure that the ALT text of the image link includes your focused keywords. Keywords present in the anchor text are essential, so if the backlink doesn’t include them, it cannot prove to be a valuable one. Try to use branded or long-tail anchor texts that are relevant to the context. Avoid using anchor text such as ‘Click here!’ or similar to avoid getting flagged by Google.
Focus on getting backlinks from relevant sites. Companies often try to get links from everywhere, which barely provide any link juice to the domain. Verify the DR (Domain Rating) and reputation before linking to any other websites. You should always consider the trustworthiness of the website. A mix of backlinks from both high and low PR (Page Rank) sites is required to get link juice. Avoid acquiring links from high PR sites only.”
Raj Dosanjh is the Founder of RentRound.com.
“The mistake commonly made during backlink generation is a lack of tracking. When conducting a backlink campaign, hundreds, if not thousands, of bloggers and sites will be reached out to. Some will respond with questions, prices, or acceptance of your request. Tracking where each outreach target is at in the process is essential. It’s easy to lose track and miss out on fruitful backlinks because of a lack of tracking. A strong Excel-based template or bespoke tool is needed to help coordinate responses and create reminders when follow up is needed.”
Ian Kelly is the VP of Operations at NuLeaf Naturals.
“The biggest mistake I see companies making with backlinks is neglecting the trend line. It’s not enough to score backlinks, but they should be scored consistently over time, and in response to value adds. This means you shouldn’t be buying links, and you shouldn’t do all of your backlink building at once. Also, not all backlinks are created equal, so a backlink building strategy implemented over time is essential for success.”
Winston Nguyen is the CEO of Bitcoin SEO Services, the world’s first SEO agency in the crypto/blockchain space.
“The biggest mistake companies make with their link building efforts is not taking into account the outgoing links of a website. It’s not uncommon for journalists or site owners to sell backlinks on their sites (this stuff happens with some really big publications, too), and this can dilute the link juice for the entire site. Google has a mechanism for detecting low-quality linking, and if a site links to too many low quality sites, its link juice becomes devalued (partially or entirely). If it’s easy to get a backlink, then it’s probably not that valuable (sign up and post sites, sites that sell links, or writers who sell links for cheap). If two sites have the same domain rating, but one sells links and the other doesn’t, the one that doesn’t sell links will be a lot more powerful.”
Elmer Tabby Taboada is the marketing manager of DaVinci Tech, home of DaVinci Vaporizers — the most advanced, premium vaporizers in the market today.
“Companies don’t filter sites based on domain ratings and reputation. I’ve seen websites that value backlink quantity so much that they’re swamped with backlinks from websites people don’t even bother to read. The practice wastes precious resources – time and energy. If companies nitpick which sites from which to acquire backlinks, this high-standard practice will earn them better results with minimal effort.”
Stacy Caprio writes on her blog, her.ceo.
“The biggest mistake companies make when acquiring backlinks is trying to do it in an automated or spammy way. When you acquire backlinks through mass automated blog comments, for example, it only hurts your site and does nothing to actually boost your results in the eyes of search engines. Instead, you should take the time to acquire links manually in a targeted way for optimal results.”
David Leonhardt runs The Happy Guy Marketing, helping businesses find the right words to make an impact online and offline.
“The biggest mistake companies make, and I have seen this time after time, year after year, is thinking of backlinks as a business transaction. That mentality blinds them to how the search engines look at backlinks, as a vote of confidence in content.
This is, in fact, a classic mistake companies make in all communications: thinking that what they say is about them rather than about their audience. A backlink communicates to search engines that certain content is more useful than similar content elsewhere. To get that message across, the content has to be at least as good as content elsewhere. The link has to come from a page that makes sense linking to it. The link has to make sense in the context of the page. Most of all, the pattern of links has to make sense. It has to come naturally.
Many businesses, for instance, want only high-profile backlinks. Is this a credible pattern? If only top influencers think you have great content, and nobody else does, does that look normal or natural…or does it look like you’re trying to game the system? Backlinks should never be viewed as a business transaction, but they very often are.”
Alex Chenery-Howes is an SEO Executive at Yellowtail, a London-based digital marketing agency. He specializes in creating and implementing organic search strategies, which include content writing, link building, and technical SEO.
“When it comes to acquiring backlinks, the biggest mistake companies make is ‘leading’ with the backlink. Say an agency pitches a piece of editorial content to an authoritative website. The first thing they may ask is whether they will gain a backlink. If the company knows the agency’s main purpose is acquiring a backlink, they may become skeptical about the quality of the content.
Of course, a backlink is the ideal strategic outcome. However, companies will not link unless they believe that they are receiving something of value in exchange. After all, no one is obligated to link back to your website.”
Alex Denholm is the co-founder of Ghost Insights.
“Many webmasters are aware of many techniques marketers use to try and get a link for free. For example, we may say that we are a big fan of their blog, but we haven’t actually read a single page – and the webmasters know that. Also, while links may be valuable to us, the webmaster doesn’t usually get much in return. After all, there must have been a reason if they didn’t link to us when they wrote their content in the first place. So, in order to get around these issues, it’s important that when approaching a webmaster for a link, we must offer them some value in return for the link. It could be that we offer to share their post through our social to boost traffic to their page, include them in an expert roundup post, etc. Being upfront about how I can help them improves my outreach success dramatically.”
Joe is the Owner of Karasin PPC. He has spent the last decade helping clients with SEO, PPC, social media marketing, and general marketing strategy.
“I see plenty of companies I work with making mistakes when attempting to get backlinks. The biggest mistake is not researching the link ahead of time. One client, more recently, was hyper-focused on getting links from sites he recognized and was missing opportunities to get links from lesser-known outlets with equally good digital reputations. Another client was so desperate to get backlinks that he was having someone submit to every site he could. So, they ended up getting a link from a site with decent DA, but with a high spam score, and on a page with low PA. This doesn’t help at all, and the wasted time alone cost him thousands.”
Alan Silvestri is the founder at Growth Gorilla, an agency that provides high-quality, no bullsh!t link building outreach for SaaS companies. Growth Gorilla was born from the idea that great products and content deserve to be found.
“If I was to do a 80/20 analysis of the link building process, I definitely think that link prospecting (finding and qualifying the websites that we are going to be reaching out to) is the 20% that gives 80% of the results. With this in mind, I see way too many people focusing too much on the outreach phase (emails). The problem is that if the people you are pitching to are not the right people and their content is not aligned to yours, you might even have the best article on any topic, but it will get denied. By carefully and strategically planning your outreach angle in advance, you can find your ideal prospects: people who would actually benefit from including your link into their pages. To do this, you can:
- Reverse-engineer your competitor backlinks and look for “patterns” – the kinds of pages that are linking to them.
- Pick those patterns and look for multiple pages on that same topic or with that same angle.
- If a page about X has linked to your competitor’s page, chances are you can maybe find 10, 20, or 50 more pages about X. Why not pitch to them as well?”
Catherine Way graduated from Michigan State University with her Bachelor of Advertising, with a specialization in Graphic Design. She is a content marketer for the business, mortgage, photography, and real estate industries. She currently writes and reports for Prime Plus Mortgages, which offers Phoenix hard money loans.
“The biggest mistake companies make when it comes to acquiring backlinks is that they only post content to their own site and don’t have an outreach strategy in place. Many take a wait-and-see approach and only post on their own blog, and they don’t go the extra mile to write guest blogs or respond to posts asking for contributions. Outreach is so important for building links and networking with others in your industry. You should have a great inbound and outbound strategy to see links coming to your site!”
Hannah Stevenson is a Content Marketing Manager at UK Linkology.
“The biggest mistake companies make when acquiring backlinks is to focus on only one metric. They’re so busy looking for high DA sites, or sites with a high metric from another platform, that they miss out on sites with great traffic that are new and still not established enough to register highly with popular SEO tools. Always review traffic as well as your chosen metrics, and try to explore a range of metrics if possible. This will get you the best possible sites and ensure that you’re not overlooking valuable link building opportunities.”
Jeffrey Barroga is a Digital Marketing Officer at Paxful, one of the biggest peer-to-peer bitcoin marketplaces in the world. (The commentary below is his personal opinion and not the official stance of the company.)
“When building links, it’s a bad idea to respond to unsolicited emails sent by website owners and eventually buy links from them. An unsolicited email typically contains a list of websites where you can place links for a price. Backlinks from these domains have no value as they were made specifically for SEO purposes, often link to bad neighborhoods (gambling, porn, or drug-related content), and are usually part of a private blog network (PBN). The worst-case scenario is that your company website will get hit by penalties, either algorithmic or manual action from Google. Even if the domains offered are clean, who’s to say that it will remain that way for the foreseeable future? Not to mention, your company website will not be the only one to place links in said domains, as it’s likely that the owner has sent the same unsolicited email to thousands of others.”
Elliott Brown leads the marketing team at OnPay, the top-rated payroll software company. He previously led content teams at SurveyMonkey and Walmart.
“When companies are trying to build backlinks, looking for shortcuts in the process is the biggest mistake they can make. You earn links by delivering value, period. That can mean creating great content people want to link to, contributing great content to other sites, or providing some other valuable service (like helping other sites update broken or outdated links). If your efforts to build backlinks don’t somehow make the sites you’re trying get links from better, you’re not not going to be successful – and you probably run the risk of doing things Google will frown upon.”
Izzy Jack has 3 years of experience as a digital marketer with a focus on SEO and link building. She currently works as a Digital Marketing Specialist at Epic Marketing in Silicon Slopes, Utah.
“The biggest mistake I see is businesses jumping into link building without first fine-tuning their website. Companies should fix issues with technical SEO first, and then publish high-value, linkable content before ever starting a link building campaign. Without a great webpage to link out to, it’s impossible to ask other websites for a backlink – unless you want to pay (which you really shouldn’t). Building links without solid on-page SEO and linkable assets is like building a house without pouring the foundation. In most cases, it’s doomed to fail.”
Matt Zajechowski is the Outreach Team Lead at Digital Third Coast. He has over 14 years’ experience in acquiring backlinks for clients.
“The first mistake companies make is strictly focusing on Domain Authority, Page Rank, or any other third-party metric used for measuring the quality of a link. While a link from a domain with a high domain authority is great, if it’s not relevant to your brand, I question the overall value it’s providing for your website.
I encourage our clients to pursue links that are relevant, first and foremost. You should ask yourself if acquiring this link is just for the sole purpose of link acquisition, or will this link actually drive users to your website? Your company will see far more value in acquiring links that expose people to your brand and lead to business conversions, over links that are not relevant and only acquired because the domain authority of the website is high.
The second mistake companies make when acquiring links is focusing on the quantity of backlinks over the quality of backlinks. Google used to reward websites that had the most backlinks pointing back to their website with a top search engine ranking. This no longer works and is an outdated tactic for link acquisition. Google cares way more about who’s linking back to your website rather than how many people are.
The last common mistake that I want to cover focuses on over-optimized anchor text. Anchor text is the text that is highlighted in the backlink example at the start of this sentence <–. It’s how people describe the content of the page they are linking back to. So, if you did a study on link building, it would make sense to use an anchor text descriptor like ‘link building study’ or ‘link building study by Digital Third Coast.’ It would not make sense for everyone who links back to that page to use the exact same anchor text description. In the past, link builders used this strategy to try make their page rank high for a certain keyword. This is unnatural, and Google penalizes sites with their Panda update that engage in link schemes like these.
One thing to keep in mind is that you often don’t have control over the anchor text of the links you are building. This isn’t a bad thing, because your backlink profile will appear more natural because the anchor text distribution is varied. If you do have control of the anchor text of a link, best practices to follow are to make it natural sounding, relevant to the page you are linking to, and varied.”
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