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Link Building for SEO: A MarketMuse Guide

11 min read

Over the years, Google’s search engine algorithms have transformed pretty drastically to ensure that internet users get the best quality search results. Although diminished in importance, backlinks are frequently an important criteria in achieving success in capturing organic traffic. A backlink is a link that points from one page to another. They’re like a vote for your page. Get enough of them from high-quality and relevant pages, and Google may consider your page to be equally authoritative.

This is the first chapter in our guide to link building, covering the basics of link building, including link analysis, outreach, digital PR, and internal linking.

Link Building for SEO Guide Index

How do you get those high quality backlinks? By link building. In the old days, website owners would resort to black hat link building strategies, like link spamming. Google quickly caught and learned to filter out the low-quality links from the high-quality ones.  Gradually, link building strategies have evolved to include sophisticated link outreach, link analysis, and most importantly, creating quality content. This guide will break down all you need to know to nail link building in the modern age.

Backlink Analysis

A big aspect of link building is backlink analysis. After all, you may be acquiring backlinks, but they need to be of high quality and relevance or they won’t do much for your site. Performing an analysis of your backlink profile will show you where high quality linking opportunities lie, and reveal those of lesser quality. A proper competitive backlink analysis will also shed insight into your competition and how your links compare.

Before delving into how to undergo a backlink analysis, it’s important to understand what makes up a quality backlink. A high-quality backlink is found on web pages that have lots of website traffic and are considered reputable by others, often said to have a high “page authority.” The site should also have a topical relevance to your web page so that the link makes sense from an editorial standpoint. Lastly, a good link position can have a significant impact on its value. Backlinks should be in the main content of the webpage as opposed to the head or footer.

Poor quality, toxic links lie at the opposite end of the spectrum. Poor quality links aren’t necessarily toxic; they may simply have less authority, as in the case of a backlink from a new site. Toxic links, on the other hand, are more cause for concern. We’re talking about those coming from link farms (sites created for the sole purpose of generating links), sites not indexed by Google, in some cases paid links, those that may host potential malware, or lack moderation.

The next step is undergoing the actual backlink analysis.

1. Collect competitor sites to analyze

Start with a competitor backlink analysis. You can find your competitors by looking at the top sites that come up on Google’s SERP based on target keywords related to your industry.

2. Select a backlink analysis tool

Fortunately, you don’t have to take on the entire backlink analysis journey yourself. There are plenty of backlink checker tools that provide you with all the data you need, including SEO Spyglass and Google Search Console.

3. Perform a backlink analysis assessment

Once you’ve selected a backlink analysis tool, input the website domains you’d like to research. From there, you can see metrics such as how many backlinks your competitors have, which sites link back to them, and what types of content they are posting that get them backlinks.

4. Remove toxic links

After you’ve gathered info on competitors’ sites, you can input your site to analyze your efforts. If you find any toxic backlinks that could lead to the manual action of removing your site by Google, you can use its disavow tool to ask that these backlinks be removed.

Outreach for Link Building

Another factor in successful link building is social outreach. This involves reaching out to others on the internet and asking for a backlink. Done correctly, outreach link building can provide value to others. Sure, your content can help their site build credibility and engage a wider audience. But if you want to stand out from the crowd, look beyond this as being a transactional relationship. At minimum, proper link building helps increase search engine rankings and organic traffic. Done well, you can create business partnerships that offer far greater rewards.

So, what are the key factors to keep in mind to master link building outreach?

Finding prospects

Your best bet for link prospects are influencers or individuals who have a following online. Influencers have an audience that trusts them to provide engaging and useful contact. Get a backlink from the right one, and you’ll establish your site as a trustworthy and reliable source.

Often, influencers mention products or services they use in their lives that are useful to them. The great news? They may already be talking about your product and just haven’t linked back to you yet. You can check out your brand name on social media to see what people are saying about you in a social media mention. Software can also help identify unlinked mentions.

Alternatively, you can check out what audiences are saying about your competitors to see if you can find potential influencers there. Another option is to keep track of keywords related to your industry across social media. There could be influencers with a good number of followers who haven’t had an interaction yet with a product or service in your field, but who may be interested in learning more.

Gathering contact information

Once you’ve gathered a list of potential link prospects, you’ll need to collect their contact information. This process can be as easy as looking up an individual’s name on LinkedIn, which usually contains a person’s contact information. Sometimes a prospect will list their email address on their social media page, especially a business-related page. To make the gathering step a bit easier, tools such as Hunter and Voila Norbert can help to speed up the process.

Crafting the perfect pitch

All link building techniques rely on a well-crafted pitch. Do it right, and you can find yourself building relationships with influencers that lead to further fruitful collaborative endeavors. As such, there are several components that make up a quality pitch.


Generic emails aren’t interesting to anyone, especially influencers who receive many pitches every day. Personalize every pitch by addressing the influencer by their name and adapting each one to that particular individual and how your link would benefit them specifically. Always think of what’s in it for them; it’s just basic human nature to be more concerned about ourselves than others.

Engaging subject lines

The best subject lines are short and tell a prospect immediately everything they need to know. If you want to talk about a specific mention, be sure to use “mention” in the subject line. Conversely, if you want to talk about a broken link or an expired link they have on their site that you’d like to update, reference “broken link” in the subject line.


Research is the best friend of anyone focused on SEO-related strategies. When you come across a potential influencer you like, be sure to take a little extra time to look through their previous posts and gather an idea of who they are and their passions. Reference these interests in your pitch and show that you don’t see this prospect as a transaction but as a real person with whom you’d like to work.

Understanding the process

Remember that link outreach takes time, patience, tenacity, and a lot of social interaction. Not every pitch will lead to success, but every response you receive will help you shape your link building strategy. Additionally, know that there are a number of tools out there to help you find, contact, and track the results of your interactions with prospects. These include Ninja Outreach, Buzzstream, BuzzSumo, and Pitchbox, all of which offer their own unique assistance with this process.

Link Building With Digital PR

You can scale social outreach when building quality links, and that involves link building with digital PR. Digital PR seeks to enlarge your overall online presence. Like traditional PR, it consists of reaching out to relevant individuals or businesses to promote your own. The difference is that you’ll be reaching out to influencers, bloggers, and other internet-based prospects about your site.

Use link building digital PR to build credibility, increase organic traffic, and create a more engaged audience. The following tips will help you develop a campaign that actually works:

  • Select anchor text: the right anchor text can make the difference between whether or not you receive a click. Be selective about which words you’d like for your backlinks so that they are both appealing and related to your content. You can include your favored anchor text in your pitches.
  • Build up a media list: organizational consistency leads to a digital PR strategy that’s much easier to execute; it’s one of the best tactics overall. So be sure to organize your link building opportunities into an easy-to-reference list complete with contact information.
  • Gather content ideas: influencers will only link to useful and interesting articles and blogs. Although it should go without saying, making sure the content that you promote is the stuff that people would naturally want to link. You can always refer to editorial calendars, trade magazines, or even competitor sites for content ideas.
  • Measure your success: track your digital PR campaign performance so that you can measure success. A simple way is to examine your website analytics to see if there’s been an increase in views and clicks. Be sure to set up alerts on your social media pages as well to see if you get a boost in mentions or engagements there.

Building Internal Links for Topical Authority

So far we’ve only been discussing external link opportunities. But there’s one more place to focus your link building strategy: that’s internal linking. This link building technique refers to linking to other parts of your website, such as a relevant and useful blog post or article. Believe it or not, an internal link can also help you rank higher on Google and establish your topical authority. If you have strong topical relevance, linking in this manner demonstrates to Google and site visitors that you are an expert authority on the subject. There are a number of different ways you can approach this SEO strategy.

A good plan for incorporating an organized set of internal links is to create a pillar page. Pillar pages act as in-depth guides on large and complex topics while also acting as a hub for link authority. In fact, you’re reading one right now! On these pages, you’ll usually find plenty of internal links to other pieces that users will also find helpful. Google also loves them because they are easy to understand and are often quicker to rank. You can create pillar pages on any topic, as long as that topic is broad enough to warrant additional coverage from supporting pages.

Whether you decide to create a pillar page or just want to incorporate internal links to articles you already have, you have plenty of online tools to help you.

MarketMuse scales your link building capabilities by analyzing your site and suggesting internal, external, and network links that will demonstrate your authoritative website. The internal links suggested by MarketMuse provide the highest-quality resources that your own site already has related to the content. You can then link to those related pages with optimized anchor text to encourage users to click on them and continue along the buyer journey.

The Takeaway

If you want to increase your online visibility, up your SEO performance, establish your authority, and boost your site’s ranking, link building is the way to do it. While incorporating link building strategies takes time, effort, and research, it’s an impactful approach to SEO. Do it right, and you’ll build an authoritative website worthy of many clicks and fantastic content marketing.

Link Building for SEO Guide Index

Stephen leads the content strategy blog for MarketMuse, an AI-powered Content Intelligence and Strategy Platform. You can connect with him on social or his personal blog.