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Backlink Strategy: How to Earn Backlinks Without Begging

November 13, 2021 8 min read

Backlink Strategy: How to Earn Backlinks Without Begging

No one likes beggars. Yet, I see it all the time in digital marketing. My email inbox is flooded every day with requests to add a link to an old blog post or article on our site. Quite honestly, most of these messages go directly to the trash.  

But, there are a few requests that spark my attention. And they all have something in common. An offer of value. 

What they don’t do? Beg. 

So if you're looking to build more backlinks to your own site, I’ll share with you ideas on how to earn backlinks without begging, and how it will help boost SEO and improve search rank.

Why You Need a Backlink Strategy

First, let’s talk about the importance of earning backlinks in the first place. 

Simply put, backlinks are links on another site that link back to your site. Think of it like a “mention” on the internet. This builds authority for your site, and consequently boosts your SEO rankings. In fact, Moz sites backlinks as the heart of off-page SEO and essentially one of the most important ranking factors. 

It makes sense. If someone in your industry cites your page, you’re being painted as an authority in that subject. The more you're linked, the more authority your site gains. The higher your authority, the higher Google ranks your page. 

Even as Google continues to update its algorithm, page authority and backlinks remain a key ranking signal. So if your goal is to raise your organic rankings, a backlink strategy is key. 

But again, there are a lot of people doing backlinks wrong. Here are some alternatives to begging for backlinks that will help guide you in the right direction.

Create and Share Valuable Content Worth Backlinking To 

So first and foremost, you have to have content worth linking to in the first place. We recommend putting together specific data or research unique to your industry. Compile these findings into something you can share like an e-book, infographic, or an in-depth blog post. Whatever the content, make sure it’s relevant and unique. Remember, valuable content is something that’s hard to find, and that offers a different perspective. 

If you're stuck on what type of content to share, consider Search Engine Journal’s analysis of the most linked-to content. SEJ lists the top 5 article types with at least 50 backlinks as:

  1. How-to Articles
  2. General articles
  3. List Articles
  4. Newsletters
  5. Videos

Other ideas for unique content include creating your own survey, and publishing a blog post about the results. Infographics are also extremely sharable, and often receive a great deal of backlinks. Consider finding a relevant article on a topic you already have an infographic about, and sharing that with the author to add more value to their existing post. 

Remember, the key is to provide value. Though your overall goal is an SEO boost, you want to make sure your offer will also benefit the linker, otherwise you’ll come across as a beggar, and I promise you, they’ll see right through your request. 

Once you have the valuable content you’d like to share, use the email template below to reach out. But don’t just copy and paste. Put your own spin on it, as a canned email is easy to spot. 

Hi (site owner or author), 

I came across your post on (relevant topic), and enjoyed your insights. I especially liked (insert a part of the post that caught your attention). 

Recently, I did my own research on this topic. I’ve put together this (resource) that would be both enticing for your readers and help articulate your point. Here’s the link: (insert resource link). 

I’m curious to hear what you think, and would love it if you included it in your post. In return, I’d be happy to share your post with my own readers.

Offer Something in Return for a Backlink

Take close notice at the last sentence in that template. “I’d be happy to share your post with my own readers.” If you want to be successful in securing a backlink, an offer in return is pretty crucial. It all comes back to Robert Cialdini’s Rule of Reciprocity. If you want something, you’ll be a lot more successful in getting it, if you offer something in return. 

Now, there’s a bit of controversy when it comes to the types of offers you should consider. See the simplest and seemingly most effective approach would be to offer a link in return. An eye for an eye right? But a wise word of warning for you if this is your approach. Don’t go overboard. 

Google lists in their webmaster guidelines that this can actually hurt SEO. Under the list of “link schemes”, Google states “excessive link exchanges or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking” are one of the factors that could impact a site’s ranking. 

are link exchanges badSo what’s considered excessive, and how do you still offer something of value but avoid hurting your SEO? 

If you do offer a link in exchange we suggest following these best practices: 

  • Do so sparingly, meaning no more than once or twice a quarter. 
  • Make sure the site is relevant to your industry, and isn’t a spammy site. 
  • Never pay for a link exchange. 
  • Always make sure the content your linking to is high quality and valuable to your reader. 

Now that we got that out of the way, there are other - more encouraged - ways you can offer something of value in return for a backlink.

Offer a Free Trial or Product for Review

One of the easiest ways to both secure a backlink and delight your linker, is to offer a free trial of your service or product, and ask for a review. Assuming you have a high quality service, you’ll likely receive a well written review and link that will not only boost SEO but encourage future prospects to do business with you. 

Sponsor a Contest

Another idea is to come up with a contest they could promote on their site, and sponsor the prize. This not only builds relationships with a potential linker for future partnerships, but also helps build more attention, rapport and domain authority for your site. Plus, other prospects will experience your product or service first hand, which potentially could lead to more business for you. 

Use Social Media

Finally, if you have a solid reputation on social media, use it to your advantage. Site owners like nothing more than their brand to be exposed to thousands of potential customers they’ve never been in front of. Consider offering to share their article on your social pages, your email newsletters, or even through a webinar you’re hosting. Here’s a great example of how Larry Kim uses this offer technique to build backlinks.

how to reach out about backlinks

Use Your Content to Improve Existing Links 

A foolproof way to avoid coming across as a beggar only interested in their own website is to take the improvement approach. Find a source they’re linking to that is either outdated or just low quality, and offer your content as a replacement link. By showing you want to help them improve their content, they’ll be more likely to give into your request, and even trust you as a resource. 

The important thing to note when using this technique is that it’s easy to be misread. You don’t want to come across as downgrading their content by elevating yours. So when you reach out to these authors or site owners, come up with a compliment about their content, and reference what they’re doing right first. Then expand upon how your content could make that thing they’re doing right, even better. Here’s a template that will guide you as you create your own outreach email: 

Hi (site owner or author), 

While doing some research about (relevant topic in industry), I came across your post on (title of blog). 

I love how you (reference something they are doing right in the post). I noticed you linked to (other resource). They make a lot of great points, and I’ve even used some of these methods myself. But I’ve actually found (unique perspective on topic) to work even better. 

I compiled my research into a resource called (title). It could be worth mentioning in your post. Let me know what you think, and if it might be valuable to your readers. 

Either way, keep up the great work! I love reading your content. 

An easy place to start to find these types of posts is to scan the backlinks your competitors have. SEM Rush is a great tool you can utilize to find backlinks for competing domains. Naturally, you already aim to have better content than your competitors, so this should be an easy argument to make. If you don’t have a piece of content that rivals what they’re linking to, consider creating one. Consider improving it in one or all of the following ways: 

  • Length (expand upon the point already being made) 
  • Currentness (offer updated data or research) 
  • Format (provide a more user friendly design, create an infographic, or just write your own post that’s more visually appealing)

Turn Unlinked Mentions into Backlinks 

Don’t forget about low hanging fruit as you work to build up your backlinks. Chances are there are already quite a few sites out there mentioning your brand, but not linking to your site. 

SEMrush can be used to find mentions of your site. Some other media monitoring tools include: 

Here's a helpful list of SEO tools we put together that breaks down backlink checking capabiltiies. 

The other, free alternative, is to just use Google. Search for your brand name, and click on the news tabs to see if there’s been any recent posts about your company. Keep in mind that Google may show you articles that are located on your website. Adding the following search phrase -site:domain will help you see only articles that aren’t on your website. 

Once you’ve compiled a list of sites mentioning your brand, it’s time to reach out and ask for a link. Also remember when coining these messages always remember to start and end with thanks. They are already citing your site, hopefully in a positive light, and you want to reiterate your appreciation. Here’s a template you can use as a guide: 

Hi (site owner or author), 

Thanks so much for mentioning my name (or referencing our site)  in your post. It’s an honor to find our brand as an authority figure in (your industry). I’m glad that (content cited) was helpful to you. 

Along with saying thanks, I was hoping you might be able to include a link to your mention. It would be greatly appreciated! 

Thanks again for the mention, and keep up the good work!

Turn Yourself into a Thought Leader

Finally, the last piece of advice we have to help you build up your backlinks, is to turn yourself into a thought leader in your industry. This one will take a bit more heavy lifting, but the value will be unmatchable. 

By becoming a voice of authority in your industry, people will end up coming to you for backlinks, instead of vice versa. 

So how do you do it? Just start getting busy. 

First, start monitoring social media for relevant content in your industry. Join specific groups and like pages that your audience or competitors is active on. Then start commenting. Add your own thoughts to the comments of existing posts. Share a unique perspective, individual research, or just commentary on some of these posts. It’s a place to start and get your name out there. 

Here's a great example from a post on HubSpot's LinkedIn: 

how to be a thought leaderTake it a step further by starting to reach out to some of these authors, and offer your services as a guest poster. Guest blogging is a great way to reach new audiences, and get backlinks on other sites, some of which could be very authorative. Guest blogging requires creating original and unique content, which isn’t already on your site, so again, it takes a bit more work. But it’s worth it. 

Larry Kim is another great example as an excellent guest blogger. Consider just one of his posts, 40 Amazing Places to Learn Something New Every Day on Inc. has more than 40 backlinks. 

It’s easier said than done, but here are some quick tips that can help if you choose to embark upon building a guest blogging profile: 

  • Choose a site relevant to your industry. 
  • Make sure the site’s authoritative enough - we suggest a domain authority of at least 50. 
  • Be sure you’ll get a featured bio and link to your site. 
  • Craft your pitch using our suggestions from above. 

Again, it will take some time to define yourself as a trusted and authoritative voice in your industry, but with a little work and some dedication, it’s possible. And once readers recognize your voice as a trusted source, they’ll begin to flock to your site or blog for more. 

Final Advice

Building backlinks isn’t as hard as it sounds. It really all comes down to positioning yourself and your brand. If you have truly valuable content that will improve the experience for another site’s audience, it will be hard to argue with not giving you a link. But you have to learn how to position your content, and yourself as a trusted source worth linking to. The above tips, tactics and templates are a great place to start as you embark upon your backlink journey. 

Remember, it’s all about what you can do for the other person. Keep them first, and don’t make backlinking all about you and your brand. In return, you’ll find more and more sites willing to give you a mention - with a backlink. And you won’t even have to beg.

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This post was originally published February 24, 2021