google penalty - google logo on red card

The Unwritten Rules of Link Building

Those of you that are new to this and well, those of you that aren’t, will know or begin to realize that link building is the single most important factor a business could focus on from an SEO point of view. So much, in fact, that in some cases it actually accounts for up to 80% of your search engine rankings. Google has also confirmed this as the #1 ranking factor. So it’s important to get it right.

There was a time in the distant past where link building was almost irrelevant, or as it was known… “dead”. New rules published back in 2003 changed the game completely and for anyone already involved in the game had to keep up with this world order, or could be left behind. So, now that it is acclaimed to be the most important aspect of SEO, what do we take into consideration?

Review the Link Value

The first thing anyone should be doing when link building, is checking the value of the chosen link. Why should i link this? is it good for authority? is it valuable to my content? or will it drive traffic to my page? If the answer to all of these questions is no, then move on.

You’ll firstly want to start by analysing the domain authority of the link. Domain authority is a 3rd party metric that is used to determine the strength of a domains SEO and link building campaign. This typically ranges on a scale from 1-100. 100 being the highest possible score.

domain authority example ahrefs

The higher the domain authority of the link your acquiring, the more impact it will have on your site, and the more “juice” it will pass across.

You can check the authority of a link by using several tools available online. Personally I like to use Ahrefs, which is a paid programme, but if your on a budget, Ubersuggest is a great free tool.

You just pop the chosen domain into the search bar and you will be given a simple screen that will provide a number of useful metrics for that particular site.

ubersuggest domain search

Another metric you will want to look out for is Page Authority, not to be confused with the above. Page Authority is very similar to domain authority, except it is a metric used for a specific page rather than the whole domain.

Again, you can use the free tools available to check this metric, but it’s also a good idea to give the page a look over with your own eyes. Make sure the content is relevant and of a high quality otherwise the link will be useless, and could in fact have the opposite affect if it’s a bad link.

page authority ahrefs

When we say relevant and high quality, it’s not a general rule of the thumb, you’ll need to understand the type of page your link building for and assess whether or not the link applies to its content.

For example, a simple link for an web design agency based in London might be something along the lines of “top 10 web design agencies in West London”. It’s relevant, location based, and will provide value to the reader as your exactly what they’ve searched for.

Perform a Competitive analysis

I imagine every SEO expert uses this strategy as it would be unwise to cast it aside. Before you search endlessly through the night for new link building opportunities, take a peak at your competitors.

There are many tools and software out there, such as Link Assistant or Majestic SEO that can give you a rundown of your competitors backlinks.

This data shows you exactly what you need to do beat your competitors. You’ll need to start by making a note of any sources you have found and then analyse them individually to make sure everything is relevant to you.

I usually perform a Google search for queries I would like to rank for, then jot down the top 10-20 websites on the results page.

backlink competitor analysis

These tools can be a great asset, and if your looking closely enough, can often expose a “hole in their defenses”, so to speak. Ranking at the top of Google for one query doesn’t mean the website is dominating its industry, you can use these tools to analyse different aspects of their websites and find where they are lacking in performnce.

For example, a site may have a high domain authority, but fall on its page rank. This is an opportunity for you to create an awesome piece of content and outrank them.

Of course, this is a simple example, but the principal remains. Just have a look around and see what weak points you can find.

Once you have your list of competitors, start to input them in to your tool and open up their list of backlinks. This will show you all the links they have acquired and the metrics for each.

backlink profile ahrefs

You can use this on a domain level, or break it down to each page. You can now analyse each link to find ones that are suitable for your content and start to make a list.

Before long, you will have a whole document full of high quality link building opportunities.

Pace Yourself

If you attempt to acquire too many links in a short period of time this can actually have the opposite affect you were originally looking for. This is known as “link velocity“.

However, this isn’t always the case as it mostly applies to business’s with new domains, ones that generally have no authority or are not yet redeemed “trustworthy” by google.

But make no mistake, this can happen to anyone. So, as the heading says; pace yourself. Don’t book a week off and try to cram everything in at once, spread it naturally over a few weeks, or even months if your not in any rush. There are many other aspects of SEO you can focus on in the meantime.

The best strategy is devise a list of link opportunities and consistently acquire new ones every week, along side the other aspects of SEO your working on.

Never Buy Links

A lot of people get caught with those catchy adverts screaming at you that “you can be no.1 on google”, well, its a lie.

Google Penguin changed the way people could link build and buying links is unfortunately a long time gone. Google Penguin is essentially a spam filter and works in real time, meaning buying links now carries a risk, a risk that could potentially land you a penalty and ruin all the hard work you’ve put in to your campaign; and nobody wants that.

If you are going to buy links, make sure you stick to ones that are only used for authority purposes, such as business directories and paid listings. These are often from big providers such as BT or Yelp. Never buy them from ‘scammy’ businesses or people who pop up in your inbox.

google scam example

Paid links are usually ones that are implemented on low performing sites, or of extremely low quality. As we’ve mentioned above, domain authority can be a large indicator when acquiring links, but it needs to be combination with relevancy and quality.

The majority of these paid links trick people into thinking they are exactly that. The often have a high domain authority to ‘prove’ they are legitimate, but they’re not.

If the site has absolutely no relevance to your content, its only going to do more harm than good.

You can acquire a link with 100 domain authority, and it’s not going to do anything for your SEO efforts if your promoting a coffee shop and the link is for a holiday blog in Japanese.

While some people may try to tell you that buying links is ok, it isn’t. Apart from the fact they are useless for SEO, often way overpriced, and have no relevancy to your content, Google hates them, and has specifically declared (the Panda update) that under no circumstances should they be used.

Add to Local Listings

Local SEO has always been important, but local backlinks can be very powerful. Google aids these as it shows them exactly where your business is in the real world.

Sadly, google doesn’t update local listings very often, so the best thing you can do, is to also create your own page or area on your website letting your visitors know exactly where you are. Google will index this page and in affect confirm where you are located with your local listings. A little confusing, i know but think of it as a boomerang effect.

west midlands business listings

A common practice among SEO is to create local landing pages for your site. This involves creating a page for each location or service area your business caters for.

You can then create backlinks for each of these pages from an appropriate area.

There are thousands of business listings out there up for grabs, so do a little searching and try to acquire some links from all the different areas you serve.

businesses uk listings

Aside from the SEO benefit of creating local links, they’re actually quite popular amongst visitors. A lot of listings will have the ability to set up an entire profile, including reviews from customers, its a great opportunity to show off to customers in your service areas and get your brand name out there.

Find Unlinked mentions

One super easy way to get a backlink is to figure out who has mentioned you but not linked to your website.

For example, if a blog published about the “best pastries in town” and your bakery was among those results, your name may have been mentioned at some point in the article. All you have to do is contact the owner of that blog and ask if they would mind adding a link to your website.

These are definitely low hanging fruits and can be acquired easily.

However, it’s unlikely that your going to find any unlinked mentions if your brand isn’t quite established yet. You will need a larger online presence for people to start talking about your brand in their articles.

How do you find these unlinked mentions amongst millions of websites you ask?

Simple, open your favourite tool and drop in your domain. Not every tool offers such, and you will likely need a paid version of the software to access this.


Though, if you have a larger presence as I mentioned above, it’s definitely worth the investment.

You can check out a guide here on how to use Ahrefs’ Content Explorer to find unlinked mentions.

Once you’ve popped your domain into the tool, it will scour the web for your brand name and any reference of it to see who has mentioned you.

You can export this list however you please, and start to reach out to each of them.

Remember to check the metrics of each link before reaching out, although you might be mentioned in an article, there’s no guarantee that it’s worth it.

Try to stay away from those spammy looking websites, as again, they will only do more harm than good.

Be Consistent

As mentioned before spamming out hundreds of links in a single weekend can do more damage than it can good, you need to be consistent.

Though you need to pace yourself, it’s also important to create some sort of plan to continually improve your backlink profile.

Not doing anything for a couple of weeks or months, then building a flurry of links all at once is just as bad as not doing anything at all.

Doing something like this can get you penalized the same way as above. Keeping consistent and building your SEO on a regular basis will grow your authority at a steady but effective rate.

google penalty - google logo on red card

Best practice would be to use the tips on this page to create a large list of high authority and quality links, export them and use on a weekly basis alongside your other SEO efforts.

Mark off once you’ve acquired a link and follow up on them every couple weeks to check on their indexing status.

Spread Your Links

If every link you build points directly towards your homepage it won’t appear very natural. Your backlinks need to go deep into your site, into your blog, your sub-pages, anywhere that may contain the specifics that are needed or most appealing to the page you are linking from.

Remember, the most important aspect of link building is relevancy. If you’re acquiring a link from a local business directory, try to link out to your service location pages with the same service area.

sovereign marketing backlinks profile

This will create a much more powerful link than if everything was directed towards your homepage.

It will also improve the authority of each page on your site, which in turn will increase your overall domain authority and the ranking power of each of those pages.

This will make it much easier to rank you blog posts etc once you have an established site.

It’s also important to create links for articles on your site. Rather than just acquiring a business listing try to acquire something relevant to the article.

If you create your links on an array of pages it will almost mimic a natural existence.

Reclaim Broken Links

Sometimes a page may become obsolete, this may be from a restructure of your website, or possibly a page has just been simply, deleted; either way, this page is now currently a 404.

This means it basically a broken link at this point, so how do we fix it? We make sure that we 301 the deleted page to redirect the authority of what was once there to a different page.

sovereign marketing broken backlinks

This way, even though the page is no longer part of the site, the juice from the link is now passed through to the page to where you are redirecting.

Make sure to redirect is somewhere relevant and not just to your homepage or a completely random article on your site.

Use Anchor Text

When linking a page back to your site it is most common to use the same keyword or bunch of keywords as your anchor text, well, don’t do this.

It all comes back to what I’ve mentioned a few times, looking unnatural, and encase you have grasped yet, Google hates unnatural.

Constantly using your branding keywords as anchor text will definitely lose your position in the SERP’s. Instead, try varying your text, use another keyword if you have to, it doesn’t have to be completely off topic but at least try to use some alteration in each link.

sovereign marketing anchor text backlink profile

Try not to use exact match anchor text either, it may seem like a good idea to use the main keyword of your article as the anchor text for the link, but this can be an overload and actually damage your chances of ranking.

The best way to avoid this is to use synonyms and other descriptive words that relate to your article, but aren’t necessarily keywords your targeting.

It’s also a good idea to include a few natural call to actions such as “read more” or “we’ve written this great article, check it out here”.

Obviously these have no relation to your targeted keywords or LSI’s so try to keep it to a minimum, but don’t count it out completely as it ensures your anchor text has variation.

Write High Quality Content

High-quality content is perfect for many possibilities. Obviously good content will help your own site through on-page techniques but it can also be used to create great backlinks.

The most common form would be guest posting. Find a site that allows guests to sign up for a free account and post to their blog, most guest posting sites have a strict set of rules so make sure to follow them properly.

Again, be careful because irrelevant posts and comments can lead to a penalty.

Guest posting isn’t as powerful as it once was, so make sure you’re finding a established brand that allows such posting rather than these low-quality sites that are churning out terrible content on a regular basis.

It make take a little more effort to find something like this as they generally aren’t as simple as signing up, it may be easier to reach out to your local journalist and try to get your article posted that way.

The content you write must have value and help others in the process without appearing spammy or overused.

high quality seo friendly blog posts infographic

Just think of it as producing articles for your own site, you’ll need to show visitors that you write amazing, knowledgeable content, regardless of whether it’s on your own blog or not.

You’ll create a great list of powerful backlinks and grow your brand name in the process.

Of course this is going to take a lot of work to get your name shared on domains such as Forbes or The Guardian, but keep at it, and if you have a story to tell, make sure you do.

Stay Clear of “Black Hat”

Taking care of where your backlinks are placed is a must. Google has become very strict about placing your links in bad neighbourhoods.

Avoid pursuing sites like adult websites, foreign languages with no relevance, or simply low content sites. Having your backlink on any page that uses Black Hat SEO can seriously damage your rankings, and not to mention get your site penalized.

This in its most simple form is an easy concept to do, just consider where your linking to, make sure you’ve thoroughly browsed and are certain it is relevant, if it is, you have nothing to worry about.

Before you acquire a link, it’s a good idea to check over the domain’s authority and similar metrics. You should even check the domains spam score to be certain.

Ignore Pagerank

A simple point, but a lot of “SEO Experts” fall for the PageRank or domain authority – this is mostly inaccurate.

As we’ve mentioned in previous points, there are many more relevant metrics to pay attention to, to determine the quality of a domain

ubersuggest domain authority score example

When link building pay more attention to active, aged sites and not just the PageRank metric produced by 3rd party software.

Sites with high value and active traffic will be the best to use, ultimately pushing your site up the rankings. Once a link has traffic flowing through it, not only is it likely to get indexed a lot quicker, but will also become a more powerful asset to your site.

Build a Variety

Although having a variety of backlinks from different sources and content is good for your site, never lose sight of the content your linking to. Keep your link building within your scope of work and avoid anything that isn’t relevant to the work your doing.

how to build backlinks infographic

You now know that you need to link to other pages aside from your homepage, but don’t neglect it either.

Create a variety of backlinks from different types of sites, listings, and blogs and try to spread them evenly across your entire site.

Remove Bad Links

Keeping bad links around never does you any good. Fortunately, with all these tools lying around that you can use at no cost, discovering bad links has never been easier.

So, what is a bad link? A bad link is simply a link you have built in the past that is no longer effective.

The page you were linked to could have shut down, been penalized, or banned.

Another factor to look out for is that an anchor text could have also shown a red flag, it may have been over-optimized. This will damage your ranking and needs to be resolved, after you have identified the bad link you should completely remove the domain as soon as you can.

If the site is still active, you can reach out to the business and ask them to remove your link from their site, failing that, you can ‘disavow’ it in your Google Search Console.

moz should i disavow backlinks

This will tell Google to ignore any data coming from this link, or entire domain.

Sometimes this has to be done on a regular basis, especially when you have a larger presence, as you may know, you’ll get a lot of spammy links generated without your consent that need to be removed.


Don’t forget to ask.

The response rate is tremendously low which is why this technique isn’t also the first protocol. It stands around an average of 5%.

There’s a lot of resources to help you proceed with this a little better, ask the people you know, be strategic about it, and don’t give up trying.

A lot of big names will have great downloadable’s full of outreach templates. I’ve just recently picked up one from Neil Patel for a refresher.

linkbuilding outreach template

As with the process of building links, the same can be applied here. Export a list of quality, relevant sites and reach out to their owners and quite simply, ask for a link.

Obviously, there are different angles you can come at this from, so try to be a little creative. As with larger sites, they no doubt get hundreds of these emails every week.

You’ll need to stand out if you have any chance of getting a link.

This technique is much more effective on smaller sites and blogs. Try reaching out and nurturing a relationship with the owner, or even a writer.

Eventually, you’ll be able to straight-up ask for a link, or even a guest post when they know you produce good enough content.

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