Link building—the process of getting more high-quality backlinks— is still the most important aspect of SEO, with backlinks still being the most important ranking factor. So, link building should be a very important focus of any SEO strategy, including for startups.
Link building by itself is already a very challenging process, but for startups and lesser-known websites, the challenge of getting high-quality backlinks can be multiplied: it’s obviously more difficult to outreach to authoritative sites and influencers when your brand isn’t (yet) well-known.
Also, link building is a very demanding process that can involve various skillsets from content creation and promotion to relationship building. This is why in this guide, we will discuss all you need to know about link building for startups. By the end, you can use the knowledge and insights in this guide to develop a comprehensive link building strategy.
Let us begin from the very beginning: the basic concept of backlinks.
What Are Backlinks?
Backlinks, or also known as “inbound links” are any hyperlinks from other sites that point to your site.
In the internet real estate, we can think of a backlink as a vote of confidence. When someone links to your site, it’s basically saying that your site is trustworthy and credible and that the specifically linked page contains something useful. Backlinks will obviously bring people to your site besides, as mentioned, it is a very important SEO ranking factor whenever you do SEO for SaaS, SEO for Technology/IT or SEO for B2B company.
This is why backlinks are arguably the most important online commodity.
Just like in the offline world, a vote or recommendation letter coming from relevant and famous individuals will pack more weight. So, the quality of the backlinks is also important: it’s better to get just five links from high-quality sites than getting hundreds of links from low-quality, spammy sites.
Google themselves have admitted that getting more high-quality backlinks is among the most important ways of improving our site’s SERP rankings, and this is why link building is very important in SEO for startups.
Link Building For Startups: Best Practices
Before we discuss various techniques we can use in link building, let us first discuss several principles and best practices in executing effective link building:
Content Quality is King
The most important thing to understand about link building is that the quality of your content is everything. If your content is good and promoted well, you will always get backlinks sooner than later. On the other hand, no amount of promotions and link building tactics can help low-quality content.
So, before anything else, work on your startup content marketing strategy: research your competitor’s content, check their approach and develop better or unique content compared to your competition.
Dofollow VS Nofollow Links
Above, we have discussed that links are votes of confidence.
With that being said, we can technically link a site without giving our “vote” for SEO purposes by adding a rel=nofollow attribute to our link. Just like the name, the nofollow attribute tells Google not to follow this link, and so this link won’t give the “vote” or equity.
A standard link (or dofollow link) looks like this:
While a nofollow link looks like this:
<a href=”” rel=”nofollow”>Example</a>
So, in general, we’d want more dofollow links, but links from major legitimate places (i.e. Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) are mostly nofollow links.
While a nofollow link might not pass a “vote” it could still send valuable traffic to your site and can still produce more dofollow links in the future. For example, a link to your website from your Twitter account will be a nofollow link, but it’s still an effective practice to bring qualified traffic to your site.
Alignment With Your Marketing Objectives
Different content (and so, different pages) should have their unique objectives which will be related to the target audience’s search intent. With that being said, you should aim to get links that can support this objective, and so can also provide more value for your target audience.
For example, if your content is designed to be informative, then you should aim to get backlinks from authoritative sites that can support this content’s credibility as an informative source.
Remember that link building is not and should never be solely about ranking, but these links’ main purpose is to send qualified traffic to your site. This is why it’s very important to acquire links from websites whose audience would also find value in your site.
Relevancy of Backlinks
Not only you should pay attention to the quality of backlinks, but we also need to consider the relevance. That is, links from websites that cover similar topics to yours are generally preferred than links from sites that aren’t relevant to your site.
For example, if your site mainly covers digital marketing, then getting a backlink from another marketing blog matters much more than another link from a golf website. In fact, if you get too many links from totally irrelevant sources, it may confuse the search engines and in a worst-case scenario, you might get penalized for this.
Optimized Anchor Texts
A proper anchor text will tell Google what the content of your page is about. If, for example, you get 10 links to a page that uses roughly similar anchor texts (with similar meaning or contexts), then the page has a higher chance to rank on phrases related to this anchor text.
However, too many backlinks with exactly similar anchor texts could indicate manipulation, and if you are not careful, your site might get penalized for this.
In most cases, how optimized the anchor texts pointing to your site would depend on the relevance and quality of your content. That is, if the content is focused on a certain topic with great relevance, you’d most likely get anchor texts related to this topic. You can reach out to sites who’ve provided you with backlinks and suggests changes to these anchor texts if necessary, but be careful of overoptimization.
What You Should Avoid In Link Building
A very important thing in approaching your link building is a healthy link profile. While there can be various factors determining the health of our link profile, in general, we can call a link profile healthy when it indicates that the links are earned fairly and naturally. That is, we didn’t steal or manipulate the links.
So, unhealthy, or often called spammy link profile is built unnaturally and consists of low-quality sites. Not only these spammy link profiles won’t really help your SEO performances, but Google might also penalize your site for this.
In general, you can avoid having an unhealthy link profile by avoiding the following practices:
Avoid Purchasing Links in Any Forms
Here is the golden rule: there are no such things as working link-building “hacks” or SEO holy grail tactics.
Yes, some of them might work for a couple of months or three, but Google will crack down on it and penalize your site, probably permanently. In fact, in most cases, Google actually knew about these exploits sooner, but just waits a bit and hit it with a huge update to make sure that the manipulation is destroyed completely, which has always been the case so far.
Google, Bing, and other search engines are working really hard to continuously improve their algorithms to recognize paid links from legitimate ones, and they are getting better at this.
Here are some of the common link-building tactics offered by so-called SEO “experts” that actually no longer work:
Links from personal blogging networks or PBNs, we’ll discuss more of this below.
Links on the blog comment sections
Links that appear near phrases like “promotional content”, “paid content”, and similar ones, Google is getting much better at recognizing this
.edu or similar links earned through scholarships and discounts from educational institutions
Some PBN strategies still work if you do it carefully. However, thousands of real human employees are employed by Google and actively comb through various websites every day. This is how you might get impacted by manual penalties. Once a site included in a PBN is flagged manually, then all the websites it links out to might be penalized permanently, and at the very least might suffer a significant ranking drop.
In short, these link building tactics are simply not worth it, especially if you need to pay a hefty price for these “secret hacks”. Avoid them at all costs, and embrace the fact that organic ranking is a long-term game.
Not Diversifying Your Link Sources
It’s very important to ensure that your link profile is diversified enough in several different aspects:
Backlink types (i.e. editorial backlinks, links from directories, etc.)
Variety in anchor texts, which we have discussed above
Variety in referring domains
In general, Google and other search engines prefer that there are as many different sites linking to your sites, so they can objectively assess the consensus on your site’s quality.
Also, you should diversify your link quality. One of the most common mistakes made by many website owners is to aim straight to top-quality websites and only getting these top-tier links throughout the link building process. This is actually a major red flag for Google and the other search engines.
Instead, build your links naturally, as we’ve repeatedly stated throughout this guide. Build genuine and valuable relationships with important sites and influencers in your industry, give them your links, and get them in return while ensuring a good flow of high-quality content. This is the only valid way of link building in 2020, harsh but true.
This is even more true for startups. It is very unnatural for a startup site to get links exclusively from top-authority websites. Instead, startups should stick with backlinks that are natural for your current position (i.e., other startups, influencers in the industry, one or two high-authority sites, etc. ). Just add valuable links every now and then to build a natural-looking link profile.
As discussed, diversification in anchor texts is also very important. You can contact some link sources and get exact-match anchor texts, but avoid over-optimizations.
In short, diversify everything and aim for a natural profile. Diversification is also very important in defending your website from future algorithm changes. If you put all your eggs in one basket, you can lose everything if your current tactic is affected by the next algorithm change.
Getting Your Links Too Fast
Google, Bing, and other search engines are especially sensitive to how fast you acquire your backlinks (and obviously it’s very easy for them to track this). The technical term for this is link velocity and in general, you’d want a natural-looking link velocity where you get more links gradually over time.
So, make sure to grow your number of backlinks as the site itself grows (where more content is added).
There are two main types of unhealthy link velocity: Google will grow suspicious if you get a reduced number of generated links after several months, but on the other hand, Google will also take notes of sudden spikes (especially if the surge is very significant).
The best way to avoid this is to not include too many link-building tactics at any given time. Stick to just one or two tactics that produce backlinks gradually (not produce many backlinks at one tome) like guest-posting, influencer outreach, and other ‘natural’ tactics.
It’s a common misconception that startups should begin with a strong link profile. In fact, this could be a huge problem if when there’s a significant algorithm change (again, don’t put your eggs on just one basket).
Build your links with natural velocity, and don’t forget to diversify your sources.
Effective Link Building Techniques in 2020
Improve Your Content Quality and Consistency
We have discussed how important the quality of your content is as a core of your link building tactic. However, another key aspect here is that you’d need to be consistent, both in quality and quantity.
Keep a regular schedule to publish your content. You can plan an editorial calendar so you can keep track of when, where, and how you are going to publish the content, and it’s also important to be consistent in maintaining quality. That is, avoid publishing low-quality or ‘filler’ content just for the sake of meeting your schedule.
It’s very important to embrace the fact, as soon as possible, that there’s no shortcut in getting backlinks besides your content quality. If your content is good, sooner than later you’ll get these precious backlinks, and again, no amount of tactics can help spammy low-quality content to get more backlinks.
Reclaiming Brand and Product Mentions
You’d be surprised how many people might mention your product name or brand name without linking your site. In most cases, this is an omission by accident and not on purpose, meaning, if you ask them to include your links, most likely they’ll be willing to.
So this is actually a fairly simple and effective link building opportunity, and there are various tools from the free Google Alerts, Mention, and others that can help you monitor brand mentions quite easily. You can set up individual alerts for your brand name, product/service names, and key company stakeholders’ names and check for mentions that might generate backlinks.
Link Hook Method
Another important thing to consider in our link building method is to give them a reason to link your site.
Let’s ask ourselves: why did we link other sites in our content in the first place? In most cases, we link sites because they provide useful information that we “cite” in our content, to say that we are providing credible information (backed with the linked website).
With the same principle, if we want to build more links, we can also publish high-quality content that contains this “linkable” information such as:
Useful and original data or information. For example, research reports, white papers, case study, and testimonials, etc.
Something really unique, or at least covered from a unique angle
Visually appealing assets like infographics, photos, well-made designs, etc.
Emotionally engaging content like great stories, photos, etc.
Location-specific information (news about certain events in certain regions, etc. )
In-depth informative content that can act as a resource
In short, give them a “link hook”, a reason for them to link your page. This can be a very effective approach to attract a lot of backlinks to a certain page. The more specific you can develop the page to contain this hook, the more effective this method will be.
Build Lasting Relationships
Remember that in its purest essence, a link is a relationship between two websites. These relationships can be an endorsement, reference, citation, or other forms. When a website links into another site, it’s essentially telling the audience that the website’s owner trusts the site and the audience should too.
Since links are inherently relationships, then one of the best ways in getting these links is to actually build a lasting relationship.
Sometimes, all it takes to get that valuable backlink is to simply reach out to the website’s owner (i.e. sending an email) and ask for one, especially if your content is already good quality. A simple outreach email can be a great start to a fruitful relationship.
Here are some important principles in attempting effective outreach:
Keep it short and concise, don’t give any indication that it’s a spammy email, and you might get flagged/discarded immediately
Communicate how you can give them value right away. For example, let them know that they have a broken link on their site and that your content might be relevant to replace this broken link
You can always approach them by asking an authentic, engaging question and/or contribute to their conversations
There are also other approaches besides email outreach you might want to try:
Guest posting is, to many people, the best method of link building, mainly due to the fact that this method gives you the most control. That is, control over the link placement, the type of link you’ll receive, and especially the anchor text (since you are the one who’ll be writing the article).
However, as a startup, we’d recommend a more strategic approach in pursuing your guest posting opportunities. As before, aim to build your guest posts naturally, but avoid low-quality post exchange sites and focus on authoritative websites in your industry. It doesn’t have to be really big blogs and company websites but choose respective ones.
Obviously this would mean that getting featured might be more challenging, but it will translate into a healthier link profile.
Being Featured on Podcasts/Youtube VIdeos
Many podcasts and Youtube channels might target the same audience as you, and many of those continuously look for contributors and guests to feature on the show.
Review podcast lists on iTunes, Spotify, or other podcast platforms, and look for shows relevant to your product. Do the same on YouTube. They might list the show’s website in the description, and some of them will even show their contact email address.
Send a personalized outreach email to the channel’s owner, and ask for an opportunity, probably by suggesting what you’d like to talk about on the show.
The idea is, once you get featured, the host/channel owner will link your site in the show’s note or description. This can be a valuable backlink especially if it’s coming from the channel’s website.
Submit Your Site To CSS Galleries
Beautiful websites are a standard for startups nowadays, and the aesthetics quality of the website itself can be a link building opportunity.
Many CSS galleries offer the opportunity to showcase your website’s design to others, which will also give you a valuable backlink when your site is featured. You can check this list and start submitting your site to these CSS galleries.
One of the biggest challenges in link building can be the content creation process itself. Creating original content from scratch can be time-consuming, and even then, there’s no guarantee that the content will succeed in capturing the audience’s attention and generate those valuable backlinks.
With that being said, we can recycle and repurpose our content into other forms. For example, we can combine and repurpose different blog posts into a video or a podcast show, or even into a different blog post.
We can then link back to the original content from this repurposed content, and we can also drive up the reach and the total number of backlinks that we can generate from a single content.
In short, we can maximize the potential of every single content.
Broken Link Building
We have briefly discussed this above, but broken link building is definitely an effective link building method that deserves its own discussion.
Broken links are in a nutshell, links that are no longer available for one reason or another. It could be that the original linked page went down, it could be due to algorithms update, or other reasons.
The thing is, broken like are bad for the site’s SEO and also for user experience, and this is where it can be a great link building opportunity.
So, broken link building is where you try to find these broken links in websites in your niche or industry, and then reach out to the site owners to notify them of these dead links while offering your content for them to link in return for the help. So, suggest content that is similar to the original broken link.
Fortunately, there are various tools that can help you find these broken links, so it shouldn’t take too much of your time. You’d be surprised how, when done correctly, this method can bring in links in a very quick manner.
Utilizing Social Media
First, it’s important to note that although links generated from social media (tweets, Instagram posts, Facebook posts, etc.) are nofollow links, they can bring a lot of traffic which can indirectly boost your SERP performances.
So, don’t underestimate promoting your content on social media: Tweet your content, engage influencers and aim to get those retweets and link back to your site.
Also, hosting giveaways can be a great link building tool. You can run a competition that is designed to engage your audience and generate the number of links going back to your site. For example, you can exchange a prize for a direct link to your site, or you can also ask your followers to share your social media posts.
Don’t stop the link building campaign after the contest ends, and there are many ways to ‘prolong’ the link generation. For example, you can show who the winner is on your site, and the winner might link to it again to show off.
Monitor Your Backlinks Profile
Now that you’ve executed your link building campaigns using the various techniques we have shared above, it’s very important to trank your backlinks and see how they are performing so you can optimize each backlink according to your SEO objectives.
The two most important thins to check about your backlinks are whether the link is still functioning well (i.e. it’s not a broken link), and the overall quality/authority of the incoming link. However, you can also check for other factors like click-through rate (how many people actually clicks on your links), ROI from each link (if you spent any money in link building), and so on.
Also, you should check your competitor’s content and find out who’s giving them backlinks. You can ask these sources to also give you their links, for example by asking for a guest posting opportunity or via link-building method.
So, monitor your link profile and also your competitor’s links. This can help significantly in optimizing your backlinks and overall link building strategy: you can determine which one to optimize and which that already performs well. Also, you can identify various new opportunities and use them in future link building campaigns.
Backlinks, even in 2020 and after the COVID-19 crisis will remain one of, if not the most important ranking factor in SEO, and is a surefire way to boost your SERP ranking.
However, the quality of the incoming backlinks is now even more important than ever, and we all know how hard it is to get these links from high-quality, authoritative sites. So, a performing link-building strategy is now more important than ever. You can also work with a startup SEO agency or go for SEO services.
It’s important to note that any link building strategy should begin with your content’s quality and be a part of your overall digital marketing strategy. No amount of tactics and methods can help low-quality, spammy content in getting links, and on the other hand, informative and relevant content will always get links sooner or later. You can discuss your strategy with marketing consultant to make sure you are not missing important tactics.
Don’t forget that it’s also very important to track all your incoming backlinks to monitor the overall health of your link-building profile and also to monitor the performance of your competitor’s link building approach.
I'm an SEO Consultant with over 10 years' experience, including both SEO agency-side and in-house SEO expert. I work predominantly with B2B, startups, SAAS, IT, technology and software companies who are looking to acquire new customers and add zeros to the revenue with SEO and content marketing. If you are looking for someone who is results orientated and has experience in growth marketing and sales pipelines, then connect with me on LinkedIn and schedule a free SEO consulting session!