It’s no secret that backlinks are one of the most important ranking factors for SEO, and thus link building should be a part of any startup SEO strategy.
However, we all know how challenging link building is, and if you don’t like link building, we don’t either.
While link building is going to be challenging for all kinds of businesses, arguably it’s even harder for startups. After all, if you have a website and/or a content piece, more likely you’ll give backlinks to established and/or famous websites than a startup website, right?
This is why startups need to think harder and try different approaches with their link-building strategy. We can’t simply rely on the same spammy outreach email templates everyone is using to reach out to potential link sources, but we’ll need to be creative.
With that being said, if you run a startup and are currently confused about how to do link building for your website, you’ve come to the right place. Here, we will discuss all you need to know about link building for startups, and by the end of this guide you’ll learn:
- The concept of backlinks, link building, and how backlinks affect SEO
- Best practices of link building for startups
- Effective link building strategies for startups
- Do’s and don’ts of link building for startups
Without further ado, let us begin right away.
Backlinks: The Concept
What actually are backlinks?
First, this is a link to Google.com.
A link, or to be more accurate, a hyperlink, is a text or a button/icon you can click to move from one website to another.
There are generally three types of links:
- Internal links: links between pages from the same website
- Outbound links: links from your website going to another website. If you link to another website, they get a backlink from you
- Inbound links: or also called backlinks, links from another website to your website
So, why are backlinks, or inbound links important?
First, search engines (like Google), see links as a vote of confidence of the internet. When you link to another website, it’s basically saying you trust the website’s content and its credibility. So, the more “votes” your website has, the more likely Google will promote you on their search results, so your site will move higher on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) for the keyword.
It is important to note, however, that the quality of these votes also matters. A backlink from a famous site relevant to your niche will count more than a backlink from a brand new website.
Search engines like Google also regularly crawl pages they’ve already indexed to check for new links, and Google crawls popular pages and websites more often than unpopular websites. Meaning, if you are linked by a popular website, Google may discover your page and your content faster.
Last but not least, although not directly related to SEO performance, backlinks naturally function to bring more people to your website. When a user clicks on a backlink pointing to your website, you’ll get referring traffic, which is very valuable on its own.
Backlinks: Quality VS Quantity
Above, we have discussed how the quality of the backlinks matters, but this hasn’t always been the case.
In the earlier days of SEO full of black hat and grey hat tactics, Google and the other search engines aren’t as “smart” as they are today in understanding the quality and context of links. So, it’s a common practice back in the early 2000s to spam a page with numerous backlinks from low-quality sites. In fact, this type of practice is still here in 2022, like PBN (Private Blog Network) schemes offered by many SEO “experts”.
Nowadays, however, Google’s algorithm has become really advanced, and so the quality of your links really matters. Generally, Google will judge a link’s quality by checking the following factors:
“Authority” refers to a website’s SEO prowess or strength. This can be difficult and vague to calculate, but generally, the older and the more famous the website is, the more authoritative it is, although it’s not always the case.
Here are some factors we can use to determine a website’s “authority”:
- How many unique websites (domains) link to this website
- The “authority” of these linking websites
- The unique websites linked by the website (outbound links)
However, backlinks from “strong” websites don’t always equal more authority for your site, SEO-wise. According to Google, the authority is split equally between all outbound links on a web page. Meaning, if you get a backlink from a page, but the page has 10 other outbound links, then you’ll receive less “authority” than when you’re linked by a “weaker” page that has only one outbound link (to your page).
Pretty self-explanatory, pages with higher organic traffic (traffic directly from search engine results or when the user types the URL on their browser) are considered higher-quality than pages with lower traffic.
How relevant the website is to your website. For example, if you are a website mainly discussing digital marketing, but then you get a backlink from a popular website that covers basketball, the link is considered low-quality. In fact, Google might suspect this as a fraudulent link and might penalize your website.
In general, links are considered more relevant when people are more likely to click on them.
Similar principle to the above, links are considered higher-quality when users are more likely to click on them. So, links that are placed in the main content area of the page and have different colors than the rest of the content (so that they stand out), will be considered higher-quality than, for example, a link placed in the site’s footer or the sidebar.
- Anchor text
Anchor text is the clickable text of the backlink. While it’s not as prominent as other factors above, the anchor text that is more related to the context of the linked website and your target keyword will help.
- Dofollow VS Nofollow
We can tag a link with rel=”nofollow”, which essentially tells the search engine not to count this link as our “vote of confidence”. So, only links without this tag (called Dofollow links) will help with SEO performance, although in rare cases Nofollow links can help.
Also, links coming from social media platforms (i.e. Facebook, Twitter), are typically always Nofollow links.
How Can We Get More Backlinks?
Now that we’ve understood the concept of backlinks and why they are important for your website’s performance, how can we get more backlinks?
Before we’ll jump into the actual tactics and strategies we can use to get more backlinks, there are three main approaches we can use to get more backlinks: earning, creating, and outreaching backlinks.
- Earning backlinks
Arguably the best type of backlinks is earned backlinks.
You get an earned backlink when people discover your page on their own (i.e. from Google search, social media mentions, recommended by their peers, and so on) and choose to link your page because they find the content useful/interesting/informative.
The best way to get earned backlinks? There’s no shortcut besides regularly publishing high-quality content that is relevant to your target audience.
- Creating backlinks
Created, or artificial backlinks, are links you manually add on your own. For example, mentioning your content in blog comments, social media posts, forum threads, linking to your own site when guest posting, submitting to online directories, and so on.
- Outreaching backlinks
The backbone of most link-building tactics, outreaching backlinks is when, as the name suggests, you reach out to site owners, webmasters, or editors, build relationships and ask them to link your page. The key here is to offer value to these website owners and webmasters. You may convince them that your content is better than what they are currently linking to, or offer to write high-quality content for free in exchange for a link (guest posting).
Based on these three methods, we can start developing the link-building strategy for your startup.
Link-Building Strategy for Startups
Before we discuss the actionable tips and strategies you can use, let’s discuss the key principles we should pay attention to when executing effective link building for startups:
- Content quality is the most important factor
The most important principle to remember in link building is that there’s no shortcut to content quality, period.
If your content is attractive, engaging, and/or informative, sooner or later you’ll get those earned backlinks as long as this content is promoted well. On the other hand, no amount of promotion can help low-quality content get linked by high-quality, relevant pages.
So, a huge aspect of link building is to have a working content marketing strategy for your startup, The basic (and effective) approach is to perform competitive analysis and check your competitors’ approaches with their content. For example, Google your target keyword and check the pages on the first page of SERP for this keyword.
Your job is to either:
- Create significantly better content than these pages, or
- Be unique, and cover the topic from a different angle so you’ll have an interesting take on the keyword
Before anything else, work on your content quality.
- Content relevance: meeting searcher’s intent
Even if your content is really well-developed, you won’t get much traction if it’s not relevant to your target audience’s search intent.
Perform market research and continuously monitor the trends and preferences of your target audience, and develop content to meet their intent. The better you understand your target audience’s needs, behaviors, and especially pain points, the better you can develop relevant content for them.
Remember that relevant content will also net you those earned backlinks, and will also effectively generate qualified traffic to your site.
- Dofollow links
We have briefly discussed the importance of dofollow links above, and in general, we’d always want more dofollow links.
However, keep in mind that links from major social media profiles including Wikipedia are nofollow links that won’t pass “authority”. However, nofollow links can still send valuable referral traffic to your website, which in turn can help you generate more earned links in an indirect way.
- Optimal anchor texts
We’ve also discussed above that anchor texts do have their importance in determining link quality, although not as much as other factors.
Anchor texts essentially tell the search engines the context of the linked page. So, in practice, if 5 different pages link to your page using roughly similar anchor texts with similar context/meaning, then your page will have a higher chance to rank on keywords related to this anchor text.
So, if possible, ask your link source to use certain anchor texts according to your target keywords. Keep things natural, however, and use slight variations whenever possible. Too many backlinks with exactly similar anchor texts might be investigated for manipulation, and you might get penalized for this practice.
It’s very important to ensure your backlinks have enough diversification in several aspects:
- Backlink types (i.e. not too many links from directories)
- Variety in referring domains (not too many links from one domain)
- Variety in anchor texts, as discussed above
A very common mistake regarding diversification is putting too much focus on getting backlinks from top websites. In fact, having your link profile only consisting of top-quality sites can be considered a major red flag by Google.
Keep things natural: build long-term relationships with various websites related to your niche, give them your outbound links, and get links from diversified websites while ensuring the consistent publication of high-quality and relevant content.
Maintaining diversification and a healthy link profile is the only way of link building in 2022 and beyond, and for startups, arguably this is even more important.
After all, if a startup (unless you’re heavily covered by top publications) suddenly gets a lot of links from high-quality websites but no links from lower-quality websites, it’s going to look very unnatural. For startups, it’s important to also get backlinks from other startups, relevant influencers, lower-quality publications, and so on. Keep your link profile as natural as possible.
- Link velocity
Same as the above, it’s important to keep a natural speed in building/getting your backlinks, or in its technical term, link velocity. A natural link velocity is when you gradually get more links as you also publish more content to your website.
Google will be suspicious if your site has a very sudden spike of generated backlinks, but on the other hand, Google will also grow suspicious if your site suddenly stops generating links (or shows a significant slow down).
To maintain a healthy link velocity, it’s important not to use too many different link-building tactics at any given time but focus on just one or two tactics that will gradually generate links.
- Never purchase any links
This one is very important, and it’s crucial to embrace the fact that there are no secret link-building tactics or “hacks” that can magically generate links for you. Instead, consistency and a healthy link profile are the keys to success.
Never purchase any SEO services that promise you any types of link-building schemes, including but not limited to:
- Personal Blog Networks (PBN)
- Various link exchange schemes
- Links that appear with phrases like “paid content”, “promotional content”, and so on. The search engine algorithms are getting much better at evaluating these links.
- Spam links on blogs and social media comment sections
While some of these strategies might work to some extent for the first month or so, Google now employs thousands of employees that will actively evaluate various websites daily. Sooner or later Google will hit you with manual penalties, and in the case of PBNs, once a site involved in the PBN scheme is manually penalized, all websites in the PBN might also be penalized.
To reiterate, do not purchase any link-building schemes offered by any SEO “experts”. Not only they are not worth it, but your site might get permanently penalized and won’t show on Google ranking at all.
Effective Link Building Tactics for Startups in 2022
Based on the principles we’ve learned above, here are some safe and effective link building tactics for startups you can try:
- Optimize your content strategy
We have discussed that your content quality and relevance should be the core of your link-building strategy.
You’ll need to have a functional content marketing strategy and be consistent, both in terms of quality but also quantity (how often you publish high-quality content).
While content marketing can be a pretty broad subject to discuss, here are some tips you can use:
- Always begin with keyword research. Develop your content according to your audience’s intent when searching for the target keyword. This is how you ensure relevance.
- Plan an editorial calendar so you can maintain consistency of when, where, and how you are going to publish your content.
- However, maintain consistency in quality. Avoid publishing low-quality content just for the sake of quantity.
- Promote your content accordingly. Use available channels (social media, guest posting, email newsletter, content syndication, etc.) to ensure awareness.
- Include link hooks on each content
A link hook is essentially a reason for people to link your page.
Let’s think about it. If you develop a piece of content, why would you link a page in the first place? There can be various reasons: we cite a page that provides useful information, we provide credit to a page posting an interesting infographic, and so on.
In short, we link a page because they have a link hook.
There are various forms of link hooks we can use:
- Unique/original information like original research reports, case studies, testimonials, and so on
- An entirely unique story that’s covered from a unique angle
- Visually appealing assets like photos, infographics, videos, and so on
- In-depth and informative content (i.e. in-depth guides)
And so on.
In short, when developing your content, design why people should link this specific content from the start.
- Introduce your startup and build long-term relationships
Remember the basic principle that a backlink is that it’s a “vote of confidence”, and the best way to ensure people vote for you is for them to know you well.
Actually aim to build long-term, mutual relationships with potential link sources. You’ll be surprised that most of the time, all it takes is to simply reach out to the website’s owner or webmaster and introduce yourself.
Also, sometimes all it takes to get that backlink is to simply ask for one, provided your content is already well-written, relevant, and valuable.
When sending an outreach email (we’d recommend a formal email, but you can also use other channels like social media), you should:
- Keep it short and to the point. First impressions do matter so aim to capture their attention as soon as possible. Don’t show any indication that it’s a spam email, or they’ll discard, or worse, flag your email immediately.
- Right away, tell them how you can provide value for their site or their business. For example, if you are pitching for a guest post opportunity, pitch your topic right away.
- On social media conversations, you can contribute to their conversations, for example by asking authentic questions or providing useful answers.
4. Broken link building
An effective tactic you can try is to find relevant broken/dead links on target websites, then reach out to the website owner and suggest your content as the replacement for this broken link.
You can use various broken link checker tools for this purpose.
5. Guest posting
Guest posting, when done right, remains one of the most effective link-building tactics.
For startups, however, finding link-building opportunities can be quite challenging, so you’ll need a more strategic approach. Avoid guest posting on low-quality link-exchange sites (which are pretty common nowadays), but focus on high-quality websites and relevant blogs in your niche.
Again, aim for a healthy link profile. It’s okay not to get featured too often on guest posts as long as you can secure those few high-quality ones.
One of the key qualities of guest posting is that you’ll get the most control over the other methods regarding link placement, anchor text, dofollow/nofollow link, and so on.
Another variation of guest posting these days is to be featured as guests on relevant podcasts, YouTube channels, live streams, and other social content. Once you get featured as a guest, ask them to link your site in the show’s description or note. Although these are typically nofollow links, they can still be valuable in driving referring traffic that might indirectly generate more backlinks.
To do this, review podcasts and YouTube videos and look for shows/channels relevant to what your business is doing. Send a personalized outreach email to the channel’s owner and pitch how you can provide value to them and ask for an opportunity.
While generating backlinks for startups can be quite challenging, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible. By using the right tactics and principles we’ve shared above, you can get consistently generate more backlinks to your pages and boost your ranking.
However, with how the quality of backlinks is just as, if not even more important than mere quantity, having a clear link-building strategy is now very important, and it’s a good idea to work with a professional startup SEO agency that can help you plan and implement link building services.