Gavin Hirst - Thursday 10th November 2016

Earning links that matter for SEO

Link earning is the new link outreach

The difference between being on the first page of the search results and being on page two comes down to a number of factors, however one of the most important is still links. Yes, the laborious and often painstaking work of manually reaching out for links still matters. Gone are the days when it was a simple case of going out and buying some links from sites with a good domain authority score or going even further back, just buying links period.

Link building, link outreach, link acquisition – whatever you want to call it has now evolved to link earning and this requires a much more scientific approach.

Link earning takes time and effort

The question abounds today as to whether it is worth the time and resource that many companies still invest in link earning. And how do you actually go about ‘earning’ links effectively? Let’s start with the basics. Link earning is not limited to outreaching people and asking for linking opportunities (link exchanges, guest posts, profiling, and other such practices). It’s more of a combination of good old fashioned marketing tactics, understanding the psychology of your targeted audience, great content creation, communication and programing. All of this requires an investment of both time, resource and at the end of the day, money.

As Brian Dean, founder of Backlinko suggests, a link building formula that works every time is:

Great Content + Targeted Outreach + Added Value = Links

I will modify the proposed successful formula and present a more effective solution because we do not need all the links, we need links that really matter:

Great Content + Targeted Outreach + Added Value + Smart Choices = Links that Matter

Let me explain in a bit more detail. Suppose you have created a great infographic and have received a great response from people you have sent it out to. Great! But if you ask them to embed your lovely infographic on their website, you will minimize the impact of your link bait, as Google does not like embedded links, so be smart and try earning contextual links rather than embedded links.

In this post, I will devise a systematic approach towards link earning that will help you increase return on your SEO spending.

Link earning strategy

Here are my three top tips for earning high quality backlinks:

  1. Set your goals before starting any campaign

First ask yourself the question ‘what is it that I really want to get from this campaign?’ The answer to this question helps you to set more specific goals for your link earning campaign. Common goals include:

  • Get high number of links to increase traffic on your website
  • Increase customer engagement
  • Raise brand awareness

Ideally, we want to achieve all three of these goals from one piece of content but that rarely happens. That’s why it makes more sense to set a more specific goal and focus on just one of these goals. You may keep experimenting with your creativity, however, at the same time you need to define what specifically are you aiming for from a piece of content that you have generated and what sort of resources can you dedicate to content creation and crucially promotion.

2.      Keep in mind the long term impact of links before you start to put in your efforts

High quality back links to your site will bring more traffic and increase the authority of your website along with increasing brand awareness, authority, and trust. At the same time, an inappropriate strategy can bring threats in the shape of penalties from search engines which will badly impact your business.

For example, you have created a fantastic piece of content and promoted it well. As a result, it goes ‘viral’, receives a high volume of mentions and entices people to share and link back. Awesome! But what if you are getting links from websites that are totally irrelevant? Search engines consider irrelevant links as negative signals and could penalise you for your efforts. Once a content piece goes live, it is important to track all the links back to that piece of content to ensure you are getting the right calibre of links that will benefit your business, not harm it in the long run.

3.      Link relevancy is a key factor to consider

A link from a high authority but irrelevant website is less likely to impact your rankings positively compared to a link from a low authority but relevant website. How you define relevant can change from piece to piece and what seems relevant or irrelevant at the outset should not always be taken at face value. That is why it is important to have a link auditing process in place which allows you to look in detail at the type of links you are getting, allowing you to make an educated call on whether or not any given link has relevance.

We define the relevance of a link as something that offers value to the end user. The reason links still carry so much weight in terms of rankings is because the internet is built on a system of links that take people from one place to another. Improving that path and simplifying a user journey is what makes a link relevant and it is not always from the most obvious places that you will earn a relevant link.

Creating content

After you have set your goals for a specific piece of content, before you even set pen to paper on your content, make sure you carry out your keyword research. This post is not going to delve into the details of performing keyword research. There are many great posts out there about how to conduct keyword research including these two from Moz and HubSpot so take some time to familiarise yourself with the best practices of optimising for topics rather than individual keywords and then it’s time to delve into content creation.

Once you have a topic, it’s then time to brainstorm some content ideas. Leave no turn unturned at this planning stage and throw no idea out. Some of the best content out there comes from the craziest ideas that get refined over time before becoming something unique and of extremely high value to the target audience. A quality piece of content, in any given format should tick at least one of the following boxes:

  • Provide useful insights with some proven stats
  • Is interactive and fun content such as quizzes
  • Brings in celebrity element (personalities which people love to brag about)
  • Carries a controversy
  • Addresses/discusses a social taboo
  • Combines information and entertainment

Whatever you choose to do, keep in mind the audience that you are after. So you need to understand your target audience and identify their needs (basic traditional marketing stuff).

Targeted outreach and promotion

This is the part of link earning and content marketing that is most often overlooked and undervalued. There are many examples out there of people who have the mind set of ‘build it and they will come’ but in such a crowded space, this is simply not true any longer. The internet is saturated with content but that’s not to say there isn’t room for more. People are consuming content at a rapidly increasing rate and there is a constant demand for high quality content. You just need to make sure you get your content in front of them.

By setting goals and identifying influencers at the start of your project, you will already have a strong foundation of people you want to target which is great. Then there’s promotion. When you have a great piece of content, you want people to see it. Facebook’s news feed is now overloaded with content and their algorithm means that your content is less likely to be seen without putting some budget behind it. Promoted posts are a great way of expanding the reach of your content and getting it in front of more eyes. Their targeting options mean you can really focus in on that audience you identified at the start of the project and ensure the content is being seen by the right people.


As we have already mentioned, monitoring and auditing your backlink profile should be a part of your monthly work, but especially at a time when you have launched a new piece of content. There are a number of tools you can use to monitor your backlinks, both free and paid including Ahrefs, Majestic SEO, Google Search Console and our own personal favourite, Kerboo. If you see links that you feel are not relevant or are of a low quality, your first action should be to contact the relevant webmaster and request a link removal or ask them to make it a nofollow link on the least. If these tactics do not work, you can simply add those links into your link disavow list and submit it to Google. Since Google added the Penguin algorithm to their core algorithm, monitoring your backlink profile on a regular basis has become an even more important task for SEOs to ensure you maintain a healthy backlink profile.


When you set your goals for a piece of content or a link earning campaign, this should enable you to set some KPIs. At the end of any given project, you should measure your outcomes against these KPIs and assess what worked and what didn’t. Link outreach is a constant evolving process and one that you should continually refine to make things streamlined and more efficient the more you do them. You will soon get a feel for the type of content that resonates with certain audiences/influencers and things that don’t work. By noting these against the project, you have something to refer back to for future campaigns which can save you time and resource which can be used to try new avenues.

Link earning relies on those four pillars we talked about at the start of this project:

Great Content + Targeted Outreach + Added Value + Smart Choices = Links that Matter

Keep these in mind at all times and you will soon start to see the rewards for your hard work and time.

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