We all know how effective link building can be for SEO, but it's a daunting, intimidating process. That's because the traditional way of building backlinks doesn't work. We can't rely on cold email pitches to authoritative people, on buying sponsored posts on industry blogs and websites to ask for links back to our amazing blog.
I tend to take link building out of the strategy portion of the equation and add it in at the tactical level later. The strategy for me is: how do I get a large group of trustworthy authoritative folks to know what I am doing, to care about it and to amplify it?
This says Rand Fishkin during an interview on YouTube. Rand Fishkin doesn't mention outreach, cold email pitches or paying for sponsored reviews. He focuses on building a large group of authoritative people that care about what he is doing. This means that you too need to build relationships with a meaningful network of people, get to know who they are and what they do.
Just because you have managed to pay for a sponsored post on their website, doesn't mean you have achieved much. If it was that the case as paying for sponsored articles, I would invest 100% of my SEO budget on buying reviews, posts, comments and detailed product descriptions.
Yes, I would get people to read your post and see what I am offering but it's highly unlikely to actually generate any result because they have the feeling I want to sell them something. Not only that, but I would have no real indication those blogs care about what I am doing and, even if they do, I have no reassurance they would amplify it because I don't even know who these people are capable of.
Relationship over money
For any activity you engage with, there are people involved, which means building a solid relationship is what makes the whole difference. By that, I mean that you should be spending most of your time before, during and after the link building process to effectively building relationships with people from other websites.
If your primary goal is to build 50 backlinks, you need to have a large network of people, be constantly updated on what they do and make sure they care about you, your website and what you are trying to achieve.
On a more detailed level, you should follow people you like, reply to comments, give value in what you say, even if you don't need any backlink from them. In my opinion, backlinks don't come into play only when you have a website to promote, it's a constant effort in extending and upgrading both your reach and quality of the relationships online.
Relational link building
One of the metrics that Rand Fishkin developed was Domain Authority (DA). As we all know, the domain authority is a search engine ranking score that predicts how well a website will rank on search engine result pages.
The reason why DA is the first metric I find useful is that allows me to target website that has the same DA as mine. If my website, for example, has a DA of 45/100 have better chances to build a relationship with a website that has 50/100 DA than with one that has 85/100. If you don't work for the Economist or the Financial Times ( to make just two examples), your website won't have many chances to engage with them as they have a very high DA.
Putting too much effort into getting backlinks from very high DA websites means you put yourself in a difficult situation. Your only chance is to pay thousands for a promoted post to those websites.
That's why I recommend searching websites with the same DA as yours. You are better off establishing relationships with them, simply because it's easier. There isn't a secret formula for building relationships online, but surely there is a step by step guide that I have used successfully.
Lately, I have built a new relationship on LinkedIn with an SEO professional that lead me to build a second relationship with a so-called influencer. I have simply made a comment on an article that some of my connections on LinkedIn has shared about how to build a stable income with affiliate marketing.
This is my first comment on the article, where I say I am bit disappointed on the content of the article, I was expecting to read how this affiliate marketer has managed to build $10K/month revenue with his website and this is exactly what triggered the relationship.
I accidentally stumbled upon building a link with this folk.
Because I wanted to have more details on how he managed to build his affiliate revenue, I have contacted the person directly on his website contact form and started chatting. After a few days, it happened to have acquired a backlink on his website.
While there isn't a recipe for relational link building, here you can follow a few tips on relational link building:
When you read something of interest online, whether it's a post or an update someone shared on social networks, leave a comment and, when needed, be critical in a good way. People don't always write good things, sometimes the title is misleading, say it out loud!
Make sure your comment has a value for everyone reading it. For example, I have said in my comment I wanted to read a step-by-step guide on exactly how to build a revenue with affiliate marketing, not just that is possible, I already know that!
Contact the author directly, make him aware of your comment and let him reply to your questions. I won't guarantee that every author will reply, but if you "click" with him, he will do.
If your comment was constructive and the author has an interest in what you have to say, then you improve your odds in getting a reply back.
Improving your DA
A related simple tactic toward your link building activity is working to improve your Domain Authority. If you want to target higher DA websites, that's the way to go. The current DA allows you to target similar DAs as yours, but an increased DA puts your website in a more negotiable position.
How to increase DA is a task on his own. Here a few tips on how to do this:
Improve internal linking: do an audit of your website and actively search broken links that can prevent crawling and increase bounce rate. If you fix them, your bounce rate will go down, which means you offer a better user experience and increase DA. It’s easy to forget that you can use the existing juice on your site to rank your content higher for your target keywords
Remove toxic backlinks. I have written a detailed guide on how to do this for Smart Insights. In short, use SEMrush backlink report or other specialised software tools like OnCrawl and identify toxic backlinks, then upload them on Google and remove them from your website.
Keep producing engaging and valuable content. There is nothing new about this, if you already produce content, you should see your DA increasing anyway. Explaining how to produce great content is outside the scope of this article.
The connection between relationships and link building
We have talked about the following:
Relational link building
What you want to avoid is thinking about these two as separate topics. The potential to obtain more backlinks is actually influenced a lot by the Domain Authority of your website.
The key is to understand exactly which of the two metrics influence your link building the most. This way you can use your DA and good relationships as a basis for your link building efforts in order to make the biggest impact on your ranking.
Let me explain with an example how you can approach relational link building and DA to get the most out of your work.
Your website represents your company, which is your brand. As a brand, you should have (your success depends on it!) a mission and a vision. In a very succinct summary, you should communicate the value to your prospective clients.
I run, for example, a cloud storage reviews website where I provide impartial, independent and experts reviews on more than 45 cloud storage products. My website can be perceived as an independent reviews blog and this is the value I offer my users: help them saving money while searching for the ideal cloud storage solutions where to save their files.
In my example, even if my DA is just 27/100, I can approach and work with sites within the cloud technology sector and offer experts and independent comparisons to their audiences (in exchange for a link of course). On a more tactical level, for me, link building is just a matter of building my profile as an expert about cloud storage and use my website to show off the detailed reviews. Any website that wants to talk about cloud storage can be my potential target for a link building activity, even if their DA is much higher than mine.
Work on your own brand and when you are perceived as an expert in your industry, it will easier be for your website to be linked back.
When your position is strong enough to be seen as an expert in what you do, also your potential network will look at you more closely and they will probably care about what you are doing.
Advantages and disadvantages of relational link
As we have seen, relations work very well for link building. Relational link building has some solid advantages:
You can take control of which link you want to add on the hosting website, where to put it, which anchor link you need and which article to cite as the source;
The better is your relationship is with the blog owner/manager, the better is the quality of your link;
Outside link building, if you keep the good relationship you can develop more working opportunities, such as guest posting, conference speaking or attending, projects, etc...
However, relational link building can come with some challenges:
Not always you can establish a good relationship with someone on the other side, especially if their website is much bigger than yours. It also depends a lot on common interest and sometimes it even goes down on mutual sympathy and consideration;
It takes a long time, efforts and the willingness to offer free advice, comments and experiences without any guarantee of success.
The above example of my cloud storage reviews website is just one example of how working to increase your DA can be used to build backlinks too. My advice is to build a solid reputation for what you offer to gain trust from both your target audience and target network of potential links and then go through with proposing your expert advice on a subject matter.
More than anything, I recommend you take a step back from cold emails and expensive sponsored reviews of your product and re-value your link building strategy into a relational link building. Check if what you are offering can be of interest to your network. You can spend thousands from your marketing budget, but if people don't care about what you offer, it's all spent on nothing.