How to Actually Achieve High-Quality Backlinks in 2021
Backlinks are still an amazingly effective way of improving your content’s SERP ranking.
In the past couple of years, a number of relatively new SEO tactics have started to get a lot of attention. Search intent, mobile responsiveness, and topical authority are three SEO tactics that are, rightfully, quite hot right now.
But that doesn’t mean older, more established methods of boosting your content’s rankings have become irrelevant at all.
On the contrary.
Google still loves seeing credible websites link to your web pages. When a site with a great domain authority references your content, they’re essentially helping the search engine do its job of verifying content quality.
Obviously, the more backlinks a piece of content generates and the higher the reputational “score” of the link source, the more beneficial the link will be in SEO terms.
In this article, we’ll take a good look at how you can improve both of these things. We’ll delve into credible, white-hat tactics that you can use to improve both the number and quality of inbound links for your content.
Let’s get started.
What Makes a High-Quality Backlink?
Not all inbound links are created equal.
Some that have been procured using black-hat techniques like spam comments or via link farms may even result in a ranking penalty for the linked domain.
Google is getting pretty darn good at identifying these scenarios, so attempt them at your peril. I highly recommend that you don’t; the reputational fallout is definitely not worth the risk.
Other backlinks may have come via totally legit channels but won’t carry much weight in the eyes of Google. These are links from places like social networks or online directories. In fact, there’s some debate in the SEO community about whether social media links even count as backlinks.
Ideally, a backlink comes from a website, blog, or online article that has a genuine editorial reason for linking to your content.
A backlink’s weighting/credibility also gets a boost if:
- The linking content covers the same topic as the one it links to.
- The linking and linked domains operate in the same general spheres of interest.
- The backlink does not appear out of place in the context of the surrounding text.
- The link appears relatively early in the body of the linking content.
- The link appears in the body of the referring page’s content as opposed to the sidebar, for instance.
- There is a direct correlation between the linked content’s keyword and the backlink’s anchor text.
Even better, the source of the inbound link has a high domain authority.
“Domain authority” is an expression of a website’s perceived value in the eyes of Google. Important to note here is that the search engine’s actual perception of the domain isn’t known outside of their mysterious black box. What they think about any domain is not public knowledge.
However, some industrious SEO experts (Moz, Ahrefs, Semrush) have developed complex algorithms to calculate their own proprietary interpretations of a domain’s authority. Interpretations that many content marketers comfortably assume to be fairly accurate reflections of Google’s score.
Essentially, a site with a really good domain authority score is likely to feature higher in search results than a site with a significantly lower score.
Some very influential SEO professionals also believe that domain authority also has a major impact on the weight of a backlink.
To summarise this section:
- Stay away from black-hat backlink strategies.
- Don’t stress about chasing links from article directories.
- Actively seek out editorial backlinks from websites and blogs.
- A link from a strong domain is worth more than a link from a domain with a weak authority score.
How to Get Great Quality Backlinks for Your Content In 2021
Right, with the necessary preamble out of the way, let’s get into the important stuff. What follows is our detailed treatise on how you can get the best possible backlinks for your content in 2021.
Most of these tactics are well-established, while a few are slightly newer. Regardless, they’re all tried, tested, and verified by numerous experts in the SEO field.
Let’s get started with the most important tip.
Publish Exceptional Content
We have to discuss content quality first. Virtually nothing is more important when it comes to generating backlinks. It’s extremely rare for websites to link to mediocre content. Sites link to content because it adds value to theirs. No other reason.
No matter how they become aware of your post on the 8 Different Ways You Can Potty Train Your Puppy, they’re not going to link to it if it doesn’t contain exceptional content.
Now, I’m fully aware that I’ve used the term “exceptional” three times already. It’s probably a good idea for me to give it a clear definition.
In the context of this article, “exceptional” content refers to a post that either:
- Contains original data based on credible research
- Is more comprehensive, authoritative, and accessible than competing content
- Contains original visualisations of existing information
- Includes fresh, provocative opinions expressed by one or more industry experts
Let’s take a closer look at each one of these points.
Original Data Based on Research
Many information-based articles are reliant on research. It’s hard, if not impossible, to make a credible point without real proof. This is why writers so often link out to articles that have already done the legwork for them.
Taking the time to conduct fresh research into a specific topic may require a ton of effort, but you’ll be creating content that is extremely likely to generate tons of backlinks.
And don’t get me wrong here – by “research,” I don’t necessarily mean that you need to bust out a lab coat or enrol for a PhD. Surveys are a great way to build interesting, useful data. Many businesses reach out to their email subscriber list, social media following, or their blog’s current reader-base to gather extremely useful information.
Every year WyzOwl publishes one of my favourite examples of this type of content. Take a look at their latest Video Marketing Statistics post.
Content that’s Comprehensive, Authoritative, and Accessible
Sometimes writers want to provide their readers with supplementary information that’s related to their content but not appropriate to include. I’ve done that on a couple of occasions in this piece – three times in the second paragraph, in fact.
In these cases, what a writer is looking for is content that’s all about quality. This type of content covers a specific topic comprehensively, speaks with authority, and reads easily. By linking to content, they’re actively endorsing it and they want their brand associated with high-quality pieces.
Original Visualisations of Existing Data
Sites love linking to content displaying infographics and other data visualisations. If you’re not able to generate your own unique data, nothing is stopping you from obtaining existing information from a credible source and visualising it in a unique, interesting way.
The key to being an attractive link proposition is to go the extra mile with your visualisation. Don’t be satisfied with a simple bar graph or pie chart. Be unique, offer a ton of valuable data, and your outreach efforts have a much bigger chance of success.
It’s also important to stay aware of data visualisation trends. There’s never a shortage of innovative, eye-catching ways to represent information and getting clever here will often have a great impact on your content’s link-worthiness.
Content Expressing Fresh, Provocative Opinions
There are several ways that a blog can go about expressing the opinions of industry experts or thought leaders. Regardless of the approach you take, the opinion must be interesting and credible enough to warrant attention.
Don’t get your expert to sit on the fence. Entice them to lay down a controversial, thought-provoking quote. Make sure they can back this up with more than just “instinct” and you’re golden.
Here are some potential formats for these kinds of articles:
- An in-depth interview
- An op-ed-style opinion piece written by the thought leader
- A transcribed podcast episode
- A roundup post that includes the opinions of industry experts
Regardless of your chosen format, be sure to lead with a provocative quote from the piece. In fact, if it ties into your target keyword, you can even try to work it into the post’s title.
Take Outreach Seriously
There’s a lot that can be said about this aspect of link building. Outreach is an art. It’s a complex, nuanced process that many marketers don’t pay sufficient attention to.
Here’s a quick definition. Outreach is a term used to describe all the tasks involved in getting a website (called a prospect, in this context) to link to your content.
Marketers use outreach because they don’t want to wait for someone to stumble onto their web page. It’s a proactive way to promote content and solicit inbound links.
Despite what some marketers think, success in this space isn’t about firing off as many cookie-cutter emails to as many prospects as possible.
Successful outreach needs diligent research, personalised engagement with your prospects, and showing genuine interest in improving the quality of their site.
Let’s take a closer look at these steps.
Find Appropriate Prospects
A great link-building prospect is one whose content has a meaningful overlap with yours and isn’t reluctant to include links to external sites.
There are many ways to find prospects like these. But in this article, we’ll be discussing one that I consider the most effective. Here’s how you go about it:
- Use Google to find as many posts that compete directly with yours as possible. Search for your exact keyword as well as related keywords and synonyms. Build as big a list of article URLs as you can and capture it into a spreadsheet.
- Using a tool like Ahrefs, do a backlink check on every single one of your competing articles. This will result in a second list that contains web pages linking to content just like yours. Let’s call them “link sources.” Enter these into your spreadsheet, too.
- Using Ahrefs, flag each link source according to its domain authority (note, Ahrefs uses the term “domain rating”). This will help you prioritise your outreach efforts. Be prepared to go the extra mile for link sources with a higher priority.
- Visit each link source and read the entire article. Find a logical reason why a link to your exceptional content will add value to their post. This reason is called the “hook.” Capture it into your spreadsheet next to the relevant link source. A good hook diplomatically shows where there are potential “gaps” in the source’s content and how your article fills that gap. Maybe you have data that supports a particular claim they made. Maybe you have an infographic that will help their conversion rates. Spend time thinking about the hook – it will significantly improve your chances of successful outreach.
You have now identified, validated, and prioritised your prospects. You’ve also composed a compelling reason for them to link to your content.
The discovery phase of your outreach efforts is now over, and you can kick-start composing your first contact emails.
Find The Right Contact Person
Don’t send your initial pitch message via a contact form on the prospect’s website. Do some legwork and find the right person to get in touch with.
Unfortunately, this is a little harder than it sounds; websites very rarely list their employees’ email addresses.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and for those of us who have a real incentive to find someone’s contact details, there are options.
My favourite one is using Hunter.io. It’s simple, reliable, and exceptionally accurate.
Once you’ve harvested all the contact details at a particular domain, verify them using Mailtester.com. This will reduce the irritation of sending out emails to defunct addresses.
Failing any of these methods, you could always also check to see if the website’s social media profiles. LinkedIn is an especially handy platform for finding people’s contact details.
While pitching via a social channel isn’t ideal, it’s also not a complete no-no. Provided your social media profile is suitable. The last thing you want is to pitch someone via Twitter when you use your account to get involved in ugly flame wars with random internet strangers.
Craft a First Contact Pitch Email
This is the most delicate part of the outreach process. That’s mainly because people don’t always respond well to unsolicited contact – especially when they’re being asked for something.
That’s why it’s critical for the first contact email to make as good an impression on the recipient as possible.
- It has to be personalised.
- The tone has to be professional, polite, and not overly demanding.
- Your intentions have to be clear.
- There has to be a tangible reward in it for your prospect (the hook).
- It cannot have the appearance of spam.
Many backlink experts have put together first contact pitch email templates, and they’re usually very good.
I suggest doing a bit of research in this area, finding some templates that feel right for your brand, and testing them out against each other.
I’m going to stress this point again. The hook has to be clear to your prospect. You have to make it obvious to them why your content will add value to theirs.
Aside from the hook spelling out an incentive for the backlink, it also helps with optics. If your hook is logical, it will be obvious that you’ve read the prospect’s content and that you’re not just sending out a spam email. This adds enormous credibility to your pitch.
Send a Follow-Up Email
Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get a response from your backlink prospects. Sending a follow-up email is part of the outreach process, and you may be surprised at how many times you’ll have to do it.
A good follow-up email is short, keeps to the point, and reiterates the value proposition.
Don’t overdo the follow-ups, though. Industry experts (like Tim Suolo at Ahrefs) believe that one is enough.
Help a Reporter Out
Haro (Help a Reporter Out) is a fascinating online portal that connects subject matter experts with writers looking for original quotes to use in their content.
Brands looking for backlinks use the platform to find queries from journalists and write unique, insightful responses (pitches) to these queries.
Journalists would then choose whichever responses they feel are adequate and use them in their content. Each quote is accompanied by the source’s name and a link to their website.
One of the main reasons HARO is so popular despite the amount of effort it can take to submit a successful response is the profile of the writers that use it. It’s not uncommon for sources to get themselves featured on prestige platforms like The Wall Street Journal (domain authority of 92) or The New York Times (domain authority of 94).
There are two things to bear in mind before creating your HARO account, though.
Firstly, backlinks will contribute to your site’s overall domain authority since they go to your site’s home page rather than a specific blog post.
Secondly, it can take a while to get skilled on the platform. Be prepared to submit many unsuccessful pitches before you learn the delicate art of HARO.
Click here to read Ivan Ambrocio’s excellent guide to achieving success on the platform.
Give Your Content a Solid Chance to be Found Organically
If you want high-quality backlinks, your content has to be visible on Google.
Yes, outreach is an important part of generating inbound links, but you can’t rely solely on this approach if you want your domain to sustainably benefit from high-quality backlinks.
That’s why you have to remember the fundamentals of SEO when strategising and creating your content.
- Do keyword research. This is the most important link between your website and people looking for exceptional content. Read HubSpot’s amazing, in-depth guide on this topic.
- Apply keywords intelligently. Make sure you follow best practice when using keywords in your content.
- Educate yourself on search intent. This is a very influential new concept in SEO, and you can’t afford to ignore it. Read more about it in this piece from Semrush.
- Develop topical authority. Google loves seeing websites publish many articles covering the same topic.
- Ensure your website is mobile-friendly. Domains that don’t have a mobile “version” are penalised by Google.
There are plenty more SEO tips and tactics you can and should apply to your content to ensure a good rank on Google. Don’t be scared to delve headfirst into this topic.
High-quality backlinks are gold. There’s no debating this statement. Getting yourself noticed and referenced by prestigious websites is one of the most effective ways to boost your content and your domain’s authority in the eyes of Google.
If this hasn’t been a goal for you in the past or if you’ve tried and failed at generating great inbound links, it’s possible that you need to rethink your approach.
The tactics we talk about in this article all have one thing in common. They depend on an exceptional dedication to quality, diligence, and persistence.
Backlinks don’t happen easily. And they don’t happen with mediocre content. There’s no getting away from this. If you want to see backlinks from top domains, you have to put in the hard yards.
Fortunately, if you apply yourself and follow the advice of experts, it’s a virtual certainty that you will start attracting high-quality backlinks.
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