Link building is a critical off-page ranking factor for SEO, but often less understood than on-page factors. When visitors interact with top inbound marketing sites like Hubspot, you see and engage the content, making it appear that content is doing the heavy lifting in generating search engine results. But backlinking is going on invisibly “under the hood”, and plays just as important a role.
In this guide, we’ll look under the hood and see what’s going on when sites are doing effective link building. First, we’ll consider the importance of choosing which pages to build links to, including the differences between linking to content pages versus commercial pages. Then we’ll look at the two top link-building strategies, digital PR and tactical link building. We’ll share the top tactics used for implementing these strategies and some tips for executing them effectively for winning SEO results.
The first step in an effective link-building strategy is deciding which target pages on your site to build links to. There are two major approaches you can take:
An optimal link-building strategy should use both of these approaches.
Particularly if your website is new or you haven’t been pursuing SEO until recently, your blog may lack a large number of pages with keyword-targeted content. However, this doesn’t mean you need to wait to create content before you can start link building. You can start by leveraging your existing pages.
In most cases, certain pages on your site are already generating more traffic than others. Even on a site with highly successful link-building results, certain pages attract the bulk of visitor traffic. Analyze your traffic to identify which pages on your site are already attracting visitors. An SEO tool with backlink analytics capability such as Ahrefs can assist you with this.
After auditing your existing pages and identifying your top landing pages, select which pages would make most sense to drive traffic to, and include these as targets in your link-building campaign. In some cases, you can backlink to these pages without modifying them. In other cases, you might want to consider optimizing them for target keywords before you begin backlinking.
While leveraging your existing pages gives you a foundation to build on, adding new pages expands on your current material to empower growth and increase your traffic. Good keyword selection forms the basis for creating new target content. Use your navigational structure, brainstorming and keyword trend research to identify which keywords to include on your new pages.
Once you’ve identified some target keywords, develop corresponding content and place your keywords in strategic on-page locations. These include titles, headings, body text and meta descriptions.
When choosing target pages for your link-building campaigns, it’s important to be aware of the difference between building links for commercial pages versus content pages. Generally speaking, commercial pages are more difficult to build links to, making it more strategic to focus on content pages, although you should not neglect commercial pages altogether.
If you’re SaaS company doesn’t have a well-developed keyword-oriented blow, chances are that your top pages are your home page or feature pages directly promoting your software solutions. Such feature pages fall into the commercial category.
If your feature pages are already ranking well, this indicates that Google considers them as relevant to your software product. In this case, building links to these pages may help boost their natural rankings.
However, building links to such feature pages can be challenging. Because such links are promotional rather than informational, many sites won’t be inclined to link back to them. This can make it difficult to outrank content pages targeting the same keyword. However, if you’re competing primarily against other commercial pages, you may have more success.
But even competing against other commercial sites can be challenging because of review sites which compare multiple software products. Due to such difficulties, commercial pages normally should play a secondary role in link-building strategies.
Content marketing does the heavy lifting for most link-building campaigns. A content page allows you to target a specific keyword and build hyperlinks incorporating that keyword and related phrases. When target keywords are combined with relevant content which informs your audience or offers solutions to their needs, this delivers value and creates the potential for high-quality backlinks.
Content pages may include pillar content providing comprehensive guides to topics of interest to your target audience. They can also include less comprehensive blogs, articles or videos on narrower topics and niched long-tailed keywords.
The more content you have, the more opportunities you have to build links. However, link-building is also about quality, not just quantity. Certain content on your site such as pillar posts will tend to attract more traffic than others and should form a priority in your link-building campaigns.
When it comes to link building, two methods are most commonly used, link building vs. digital PR:
These two general strategies each encompass multiple tactics, discussed more below. Note that both digital PR and tactical link building differ from branding PR efforts which aren’t necessarily focused on link building, such as generating social media likes, shares and follows. Such branding campaigns are important, but they don’t automatically create backlinks. That’s where digital PR and tactical link building come in.
Digital PR methods are public-facing tactics which reach out to your target market’s buyer persona to drive both search and social traffic to your site. Such tactics include:
What distinguishes these methods is their focus on generating publicity which encourages others to talk about you and post links to your site. This contrasts with tactical link-building methods which rely on getting other sites to post backlinks to your site. You generally have less control over the results from digital PR methods than you do from tactical link building, but the link juice you generate can be significant. Here’s a closer look at each of these tactics.
Thought leadership involves cultivating an individual or company as a promotional partner to post content which builds your authority in your market space. This builds your reputation for expertise in your market, increasing the authority of your brand and creating backlinks in the process.
Hubspot facilitates this tactic through what is called a “thought leadership committee.” This involves hiring a professional or aspiring journalist and forging them into an expert-level content marketer for your brand by pairing them with a team of high-level executives to give them a continuous amount of information to write about. This resembles hiring a technical writer to create internal content for your site, but the content is intended for public posting on the Internet. Sites such as Contently allows you to recruit journalists for this type of purpose.
An indirect way to implement this tactic is to sign up for one of the Forbes Councils and post regularly on topics related to your SaaS niche. While this can direct referral traffic to your website, Forbes and similar publications provide nofollow links, which limits the actual SEO value of these types of posts. This means you should use them to get the word out there about your expertise in your SaaS niche without relying on them as an exclusive backlinking strategy.
From an SEO viewpoint, podcast appearances provide a fantastic way to gain a contextual backlink, typically from a show that already has a dedicated audience. However, keep in mind that this backlink will usually point to your homepage, which will have limited value for boosting backlinks to other pages on your site.
Unlike thought leadership sites, podcasts tend to be run by individuals rather than companies, giving them more editorial independence. Most hosts will prefer their guests to talk about topics of interests to their audience rather than focusing on direct promotions. Make sure you clear any promotions with your host ahead of time.
HARO, or Help a Reporter Out, is a great way to get quoted as a subject matter expert on select topics, thereby potentially generating a backlink. When journalists are looking for experts, they'll often put a request out and see who responds. Answering these queries and being selected to participate in an article is a great way to get a backlink. As with podcasts, such a backlink typically goes to your home page rather than a specific internal link on your site.
Using HARO dovetails nicely with creating your own thought leadership pieces and appearing on SaaS podcasts. Ultimately, if you are looking to put your company out there and gain backlinks through exposure, then using HARO is a great avenue to get your SaaS company featured in publications like The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Reuters. However, keep in mind that when using HARO, it is likely that most journalists receive far more queries than they could possibly use for a single article. Because of this, you should expect to reply to a large volume of HARO queries before being featured in an article, even for a trade or niche publication.
Using press releases effectively for backlinks can be challenging because of the low number of journalists who cover the SaaS space. To get results from press releases, study your SaaS market carefully and manually reach out to targeted publications which cover your niche. Make sure that your press release tells a newsworthy story of interest to your target publication’s audience. Follow the submission guidelines of your target publication carefully.
Paid social media is a cornerstone of content distribution on the internet. While it doesn't directly affect SEO rankings, it does help in getting your content in front of people who may not have seen it otherwise. If these people are targeted correctly, they may even be inclined to share or discuss the content or your company itself on social media. This can lead to bloggers or journalists coming across your content and linking to it as a resource on their own websites. For example, you can use a LinkedIn retargeting campaign to generate buzz around a content piece.
Where digital PR methods rely on others to generate buzz, tactical link building methods rely on getting content posted on others sites which link back to your site. Tactical link building methods include:
These methods give you more control over your link-building campaigns than digital PR methods, but can be challenging to deploy. Here are some tips for using them effectively.
Editorial link building involves getting the editor of another site to link back to your site, in some cases because you are the editor or you have influence with the editor, and in other cases because the editor saw your content and linked to you on their own initiative. Editorial link building is the number-one link-building tactic to surgically increase the rankings of target URLs. If you want to see your website rank for a specific keyword or group of keywords, and if you already have a relevant and optimized page on your website to target with link building, then editorial link building is the way to do it.
Editorial link building creates a link between the linking site and your site, as well as your content. Usually, editorial links come from sites with medium ranking authority.
When focusing on editorial link building, there is generally a set link estimate that needs to be followed in order to build the requisite numbers of links to rank a webpage for a particular keyword. This is based on a number of factors including keyword difficulty, the makeup of the SERP, the competing authority of other ranking websites and the authority of your own website. If your website is in line with the authority of other websites, or if you at least have a more targeted content asset, then editorial link building can help move the needle in a surgical way.
Guest posting involves persuading the editor of another site to allow you to post on their site. This provides value to another business in exchange for a link back to your website.
Guest posts are often arranged by pitching a topic relevant to the audience of your prospective host. Typically, guest posts link to your home page through your author bio rather than providing contextual links.
Guest posts and links may be arranged by offering mutual backlinks. The difference between these two tactics is that guest post exchanges involve posting new content, while link exchanges involve inserting links into existing content.
Google tends to allow these tactics as long as both links are relevant. However, avoid irrelevant exchanges, which can result in penalties. Also, make sure the site you’re exchanging with is a quality site.
Authority link building is one of the more difficult ways to acquire tactical links. It involves getting links from high authority such as educational sites, government sites and news sites. For example, a news site might link to your site as an authority on a topic.
Such high-quality backlinks can boost your domain rating and authority. However, they are unlikely to surgically produce quick ranking boosts for target keywords. Authority sites tend to have higher editorial standards, making them unlikely to center on the content of your page in a promotional manner. Such sites also tend to give you nofollow links, which are useful but do not have a direct SEO benefit, and should be avoided except where their PR value outweighs this drawback.
There are other link building strategies that SaaS companies can employ in order to achieve links outside of the typical PR approach. Some of them include:
Effective link building starts with selecting the right target pages. While you’re developing pages with target keywords, you can start building links to your existing pages by auditing your site and identifying your top landing pages. Commercial pages are more difficult to build links to than content pages, which should take priority in your link-building strategy.
Major link-building strategies include digital PR methods designed to generate buzz about your site and tactical link-building methods promoting links to your content from other sites. Both types of strategies can be combined into an effective overall link-building campaign.
Simple Tiger helps SaaS companies develop link-building strategies and build links to boost your content to the first page of Google.