Posted by BritneyMuller

In Chapter 6 of the new Beginner’s Guide to SEO, we’ll be
covering the dos and don’ts of link building and ways your site can
build its authority. If you missed them, we’ve got the drafts of
our outline,
, Chapter
, Chapter
, Chapter
, and Chapter
for your reading pleasure. Be sure to let us know what you
think of Chapter 6 in
the comments

Chapter 6: Link Building & Establishing Authority Turn up the

You’ve created content that people are searching for, that
answers their questions, and that search engines can understand,
but those qualities alone don’t mean it’ll rank. To outrank the
rest of the sites with those qualities, you have to establish
authority. That can be accomplished by earning links from
authoritative websites, building your brand, and nurturing an
audience who will help amplify your content.

Google has
that links and quality content (which we covered back
in Chapter 4) are two of the three most important ranking factors
for SEO. Trustworthy sites tend to link to other trustworthy sites,
and spammy sites tend to link to other spammy sites. But what is a
link, exactly? How do you go about earning them from other
websites? Let’s start with the basics.

What are links?

Inbound links, also known as backlinks or external links, are
HTML hyperlinks that point from one website to another. They’re the
currency of the Internet, as they act a lot like real-life
reputation. If you went on vacation and asked three people (all
completely unrelated to one another) what the best coffee shop in
town was, and they all said, “Cuppa Joe on Main Street,” you would
feel confident that Cuppa Joe is indeed the best coffee place in
town. Links do that for search engines.

Since the late 1990s, search engines have treated links as votes
for popularity and importance on the web.

, or links that connect internal pages of the same domain,
work very similarly for your website. A high amount of internal
links pointing to a particular page on your site
will provide a signal to Google
that the page is important, so
long as it’s done naturally and not in a spammy way.

The engines themselves have refined the way they view links, now
using algorithms to evaluate sites and pages based on the links
they find. But what’s in those algorithms? How do the engines
evaluate all those links? It all starts with the concept of

You are what you E-A-T

Search Quality Rater Guidelines
put a great deal of importance
on the concept of E-A-T — an acronym for expert, authoritative,
and trustworthy. Sites that don’t display these characteristics
tend to be seen as lower-quality in the eyes of the engines, while
those that do are subsequently rewarded. E-A-T is becoming more and
more important as search evolves and increases the importance of
solving for user intent.

Creating a site that’s considered expert, authoritative, and
trustworthy should be your guiding light as you practice SEO. Not
only will it simply result in a better site, but it’s future-proof.
After all, providing great value to searchers is what Google itself
is trying to do.

E-A-T and links to your site

The more popular and important a site is, the more weight the
links from that site carry. A site like Wikipedia, for example, has
thousands of diverse sites linking to it. This indicates it
provides lots of expertise, has cultivated authority, and is
trusted among those other sites.

To earn trust and authority with search engines, you’ll need
links from websites that display the qualities of E-A-T. These
don’t have to be Wikipedia-level sites, but they should provide
searchers with credible, trustworthy content.

  • Tip: Moz has proprietary metrics to help you determine how
    authoritative a site is: Domain Authority,
    , and Spam
    . In general, you’ll want links from sites with a higher
    Domain Authority than your sites.

Followed vs. nofollowed links

Remember how links act as votes? The rel=nofollow attribute
(pronounced as two words, “no follow”) allows you to link to a
resource while removing your “vote” for search engine purposes.

Just like it sounds, “nofollow” tells search engines not to
follow the link. Some engines still follow them simply to discover
new pages, but these links don’t pass link equity (the “votes of
popularity” we talked about above), so they can be useful in
situations where a page is either linking to an untrustworthy
source or was paid for or created by the owner of the destination
page (making it an unnatural link).

Say, for example, you write a post about link building
practices, and want to call out an example of poor, spammy link
building. You could link to the offending site without signaling to
Google that you trust it.

Standard links (ones that haven’t had nofollow added) look like

<a href="">I love Moz</a>

Nofollow link markup looks like this:

<a href="" >I love Moz</a>

If follow links pass all the link equity, shouldn’t that
mean you want only follow links?

Not necessarily. Think about all the legitimate places you can
create links to your own website: a Facebook profile, a Yelp page,
a Twitter account, etc. These are all natural places to add links
to your website, but they shouldn’t count as votes for your
website. (Setting up a Twitter profile with a link to your site
isn’t a vote from Twitter that they like your site.)

It’s natural for your site to have a balance between nofollowed
and followed backlinks in its link profile (more on link profiles
below). A nofollow link might not pass authority, but it could send
valuable traffic to your site and even lead to future followed

  • Tip: Use the MozBar extension for
    Google Chrome to highlight links on any page to find out whether
    they’re nofollow or follow without ever having to view the source

Your link profile

Your link profile is an overall assessment of all the inbound
links your site has earned: the total number of links, their
quality (or spamminess), their diversity (is one site linking to
you hundreds of times, or are hundreds of sites linking to you
once?), and more. The state of your link profile helps search
engines understand how your site relates to other sites on the
Internet. There are various SEO tools that allow you to analyze
your link profile and begin to understand its overall makeup.

How can I see which inbound links point to my

Visit Moz Link
and type in your site’s URL. You’ll be able to see how
many and which websites are linking back to you.

What are the qualities of a healthy link profile?

When people began to learn about the power of links, they began
manipulating them for their benefit. They’d find ways to gain
artificial links just to increase their search engine rankings.
While these dangerous tactics can sometimes work, they are against
Google’s terms of service and can get a website deindexed (removal
of web pages or entire domains from search results). You should
always try to maintain a healthy link profile.

A healthy link profile is one that indicates to search engines
that you’re earning your links and authority fairly. Just like you
shouldn’t lie, cheat, or steal, you should strive to ensure your
link profile is honest and earned via your hard work.

Links are earned or editorially placed

Editorial links are links added naturally by sites and pages
that want to link to your website.

The foundation of acquiring earned links is almost always
through creating high-quality content that people genuinely wish to
reference. This is where creating
10X content
(a way of describing extremely high-quality
content) is essential! If you can provide the best and most
interesting resource on the web, people will naturally link to

Naturally earned links require no specific action from you,
other than the creation of worthy content and the ability to create
awareness about it.

  • Tip: Earned mentions are often unlinked! When websites are
    referring to your brand or a specific piece of content you’ve
    published, they will often mention it without linking to it. To
    find these earned mentions, use Moz’s Fresh Web Explorer.
    You can then reach out to those publishers to see if they’ll update
    those mentions with links.

Links are relevant and from topically similar websites

Links from websites within a topic-specific community are
generally better than links from websites that aren’t relevant to
your site. If your website sells dog houses, a link from the
Society of Dog Breeders matters much more than one from the Roller
Skating Association. Additionally, links from topically irrelevant
sources can send confusing signals to search engines regarding what
your page is about.

  • Tip: Linking domains don’t have to match the topic of your page
    exactly, but they should be related. Avoid pursuing backlinks from
    sources that are completely off-topic; there are far better uses of
    your time.

Anchor text is descriptive and relevant, without being spammy

Anchor text
helps tell Google what the topic of your page is about. If dozens
of links point to a page with a variation of a word or phrase, the
page has a higher likelihood of ranking well for those types of
phrases. However, proceed with caution! Too many backlinks with the
same anchor text could indicate to the search engines that you’re
trying to manipulate your site’s ranking in search results.

Consider this. You ask ten separate friends at separate times
how their day was going, and they each responded with the same

“Great! I started my day by walking my dog, Peanut, and then had
a picante beef Top Ramen for lunch.”

That’s strange, and you’d be quite suspicious of your friends.
The same goes for Google. Describing the content of the target page
with the anchor text helps them understand what the page is about,
but the same description over and over from multiple sources starts
to look suspicious. Aim for relevance; avoid spam.

  • Tip: Use the “Anchor Text” report in Moz’s Link Explorer to see what
    anchor text other websites are using to link to your content.

Links send qualified traffic to your site

Link building should never be solely about search engine
rankings. Esteemed SEO and link building thought leader Eric Ward used to say that you
should build your links as though Google might disappear tomorrow.
In essence, you should focus on acquiring links that will bring
qualified traffic to your website — another reason why it’s
important to acquire links from relevant websites whose audience
would find value in your site, as well.

  • Tip: Use the “Referral Traffic” report in Google Analytics to
    evaluate websites that are currently sending you traffic. How can
    you continue to build relationships with similar types of

Link building don’ts & things to avoid

Spammy link profiles are just that: full of links built in
unnatural, sneaky, or otherwise low-quality ways. Practices like
buying links or engaging in a link exchange might seem like the
easy way out, but doing so is dangerous and could put all of your
hard work at risk. Google penalizes
sites with spammy link profiles
, so don’t give in to

A guiding principle for your link building efforts is to never
try to manipulate a site’s ranking in search results. But isn’t
that the entire goal of SEO? To increase a site’s ranking in search
results? And herein lies the confusion. Google wants you to earn
links, not build them, but the line between the two is often
blurry. To avoid penalties for unnatural links (known as “link
spam”), Google has made clear what should be avoided.

Purchased links

Google and Bing both seek to discount the influence of paid
links in their organic search results. While a search engine can’t
know which links were earned vs. paid for from viewing the link
itself, there are clues it uses to detect patterns that indicate
foul play. Websites caught buying or selling followed links risk
severe penalties that will severely drop their rankings. (By the
way, exchanging goods or services for a link is also a form of
payment and qualifies as buying links.)

Link exchanges / reciprocal linking

If you’ve ever received a “you link to me and I’ll link you you”
email from someone you have no affiliation with, you’ve been
targeted for a link exchange. Google’s quality guidelines caution
against “excessive” link exchange and similar partner programs
conducted exclusively for the sake of cross-linking, so there is
some indication that this type of exchange on a smaller scale might
not trigger any link spam alarms.

It is acceptable, and even valuable, to link to people you work
with, partner with, or have some other affiliation with and have
them link back to you.

It’s the exchange of links at mass scale with unaffiliated sites
that can warrant penalties.

Low-quality directory links

These used to be a popular source of manipulation. A large
number of pay-for-placement web directories exist to serve this
market and pass themselves off as legitimate, with varying degrees
of success. These types of sites tend to look very similar, with
large lists of websites and their descriptions (typically, the
site’s critical keyword is used as the anchor text to link back to
the submittor’s site).

There are many
more manipulative link building tactics
that search engines
have identified. In most cases, they have found algorithmic methods
for reducing their impact. As new spam systems emerge, engineers
will continue to fight them with targeted algorithms, human
reviews, and the collection of spam reports from webmasters and
SEOs. By and large, it isn’t worth finding ways around them.

If your site does get a manual penalty, there are steps
you can take to get it lifted

How to build high-quality backlinks

Link building comes in many shapes and sizes, but one thing is
always true: link campaigns should always match your unique goals.
With that said, there are some popular methods that tend to work
well for most campaigns. This is not an exhaustive list, so visit
Moz’s blog
posts on link building
for more detail on this topic.

Find customer and partner links

If you have partners you work with regularly, or loyal customers
that love your brand, there are ways to earn links from them with
relative ease. You might send out partnership badges (graphic icons
that signify mutual respect), or offer to write up testimonials of
their products. Both of those offer things they can display on
their website along with links back to you.

Publish a blog

This content and link building strategy is so popular and
valuable that it’s one of the few recommended personally by the
engineers at Google. Blogs have the unique ability to contribute
fresh material on a consistent basis, generate conversations across
the web, and earn listings and links from other blogs.

Careful, though — you should avoid low-quality guest posting
just for the sake of link building. Google has advised against this
and your energy is better spent elsewhere.

Create unique resources

Creating unique, high quality resources is no easy task, but
it’s well worth the effort. High quality content that is promoted
in the right ways can be widely shared. It can help to create
pieces that have the following traits:

Creating a resource like this is a great way to attract a lot of
links with one page. You could also create a highly-specific
resource — without as broad of an appeal — that targeted a
handful of websites. You might see a higher rate of success, but
that approach isn’t as scalable.

Users who see this kind of unique content often want to share it
with friends, and bloggers/tech-savvy webmasters who see it will
often do so through links. These high quality, editorially earned
votes are invaluable to building trust, authority, and rankings

Build resource pages

Resource pages are a great way to build links. However, to find
them you’ll want to know some Advanced Google
to make discovering them a bit easier.

For example, if you were doing link building for a company that
made pots and pans, you could search for: cooking
intitle:”resources” and see which pages might be good link

This can also give you great ideas for content creation — just
think about which types of resources you could create that these
pages would all like to reference/link to.

Get involved in your local community

For a local business (one that meets its customers in person),
community outreach can result in some of the most valuable and
influential links.

  • Engage in sponsorships and scholarships.
  • Host or participate in community events, seminars, workshops,
    and organizations.
  • Donate to worthy local causes and join local business
  • Post jobs and offer internships.
  • Promote loyalty programs.
  • Run a local competition.
  • Develop real-world relationships with related local businesses
    to discover how you can team up to improve the health of your local

All of these smart and authentic strategies provide good local
link opportunities.

Refurbish top content

You likely already know which of your site’s content earns the
most traffic, converts the most customers, or retains visitors for
the longest amount of time.

Take that content and refurbish
it for other platforms
(Slideshare, YouTube, Instagram, Quora,
etc.) to expand your acquisition funnel beyond Google.

You can also dust off, update, and simply republish older
content on the same platform. If you discover that a few trusted
industry websites all linked to a popular resource that’s gone
stale, update it and let those industry websites know — you may
just earn a good link.

You can also do this with images.
Reach out to websites that are using your images and not
citing/linking back to you and ask if they’d mind including a

Be newsworthy

Earning the attention of the press, bloggers, and news media is
an effective, time-honored way to earn links. Sometimes this is as
simple as giving something away for free, releasing a great new
product, or stating something controversial. Since so much of SEO
is about creating a digital representation of your brand in the
real world, to succeed in SEO, you have to be a great brand.

Be personal and genuine

The most common mistake new SEOs make when trying to build links
is not taking the time to craft a custom, personal, and valuable
initial outreach email. You know as well as anyone how annoying
spammy emails can be, so make sure yours doesn’t make people roll
their eyes.

Your goal for an initial outreach email is simply to get a
response. These tips can help:

  • Make it personal by mentioning something the person is working
    on, where they went to school, their dog, etc.
  • Provide value. Let them know about a broken link on their
    website or a page that isn’t working on mobile.
  • Keep it short.
  • Ask one simple question (typically not for a link; you’ll
    likely want to build a rapport first).

Pro Tip:

Earning links can be very resource-intensive, so you’ll likely
want to measure your success to prove the value of those

Metrics for link building should match up with the site’s
overall KPIs. These might be sales, email subscriptions, page
views, etc. You should also evaluate Domain and/or Page Authority
scores, the ranking of desired keywords, and the amount of traffic
to your content — but we’ll talk more about measuring the success
of your SEO campaigns in Chapter 7.

Beyond links: How awareness, amplification, and sentiment impact

A lot of the methods you’d use to build links will also
indirectly build your brand. In fact, you can view link building as
a great way to increase awareness of your brand, the topics on
which you’re an authority, and the products or services you

Once your target audience knows about you and you have valuable
content to share, let your audience know about it! Sharing your
content on social platforms will not only make your audience aware
of your content, but it can also encourage them to amplify that
awareness to their own networks, thereby extending your own

Are social shares the same as links? No. But shares to the right
people can result in links. Social shares can also promote an
increase in traffic and new visitors to your website, which can
grow brand awareness, and with a growth in brand awareness can come
a growth in trust and links. The connection between social signals
and rankings seems indirect, but even indirect correlations can be
helpful for informing strategy.

Trustworthiness goes a long way

For search engines, trust is largely determined by the quality
and quantity of the links your domain has earned, but that’s not to
say that there aren’t other factors at play that can influence your
site’s authority. Think about all the different ways you come to
trust a brand:

  • Awareness (you know they exist)
  • Helpfulness (they provide answers to your questions)
  • Integrity (they do what they say they will)
  • Quality (their product or service provides value; possibly more
    than others you’ve tried)
  • Continued value (they continue to provide value even after
    you’ve gotten what you needed)
  • Voice (they communicate in unique, memorable ways)
  • Sentiment (others have good things to say about their
    experience with the brand)

That last point is what we’re going to focus on here. Reviews of
your brand, its products, or its..

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