Link building is a hot topic among Search Engine Optimization (SEO) circles. For years, links have been a key piece of how we promote and rank websites.

Off page SEO is one of the “Three Pillars” of SEO, based on the model I use to explain it to folks who don’t understand how it all works. And yes, off page has changed over the past decade, but that doesn’t mean it’s no longer part of the game.

For those of you unfamiliar with the idea of “off page”, here are the areas I consider to be the three pillars:

  1. Technical SEO – these are factors which determine how crawlable your website is for search engines, and the quality of experience you’ll get when visiting the websites itself. Technical SEO has nothing to do with keywords or links, it’s literally that – technical factors.
  2. On Page SEO – as one might guess, on page SEO includes everything you can actually post yourself on the website. This includes the content, images, meta tags, captions, sidebars, and more. Keywords are a big component of on page, which is often considered the main piece of SEO especially to non-SEOs.
  3. Off Page SEO – opposite of on page, off page SEO is about everything you can do from another website, webpage, directory, etc. that will impact your website performance. Although the rules have tightened for what is and is not allowed off page, it remains an important piece of the SEO puzzle.

So we could cover off any of these three, but this post is about off page. And when you talk about off page, you can’t ignore the most important part of it: Link Building.

You might think link building is optional or less important based on my previous comments. Rest assured, dear reader, that it is in no way obsolete.

I’ve seen estimates that your off page efforts drive anywhere from 18% to 60% of you website performance. If you break it down, off page is clearly toward the upper end of that estimate.

Technical operates much like a gate keeper. If you don’t get your performance, UX, architecture, etc. right in the beginning, search engines may not be able to index your website at all!

And if your home page loads in 29 seconds, you can forget earning traffic from search engines, particularly on mobile searches.

On page helps you “spoon feed” the search engines the keywords and topics that are relevant to your website and content. Without proper on page optimization, the search engines have to rank your content based on their best guess of what it’s about.

So basically, on page SEO helps you show up on the right SERPs.

But showing up on the SERPs doesn’t drive traffic by itself. No one will see you on page 379 or even 122.

You need to improve those rankings, and this is why we pursue link building. The idea of “link earning,” which was espoused widely a few years ago, is a great idea. But to earn a link, someone has to first see it.

You have to take the reins (or hire someone to do it on your behalf) and start link building as soon as your website is live and ready to show. Complacency won’t move the needle in a vacuum. It pays to be proactive.

So Link Building matters…a lot.

If you’re reading this post, you likely have aspirations to manage link building yourself. That’s a great approach, and one you can absolutely own internally if you have the resources to do so.

I always think it’s best to try it out in-house first. When the workload grows and the effort required increases, I strongly advise you to consider bringing in an SEO expert to manage link building on your behalf. But let’s stay on topic and move along to the first step.

1. Know Your Audience

Before you strike out on random link building efforts, take time to understand your audience in great detail. What type of content grabs their attention? What motivates them to read or share it, and also to buy products or services like you offer?

In the Internet Marketing space, you may have heard of Web Personas. These are hypothetical profiles of a typical target customer for your business. Have you created some for your own website? If not, that’s a great place to start.

Logically, good content is written to appeal to a specific audience. This applies to content you create as well as where you go to build links. So know that audience before you get started.

2. Figure Out Where to Find Them

Once you know precisely whom you are targeting and what to say to them, the next logical step is to determine where to find them.

Different target audiences can be found in completely different places.

Older audiences can be reached via email marketing, Facebook, and content.

Younger audiences are more likely to prefer Instagram or Snapchat, as well as more visual and/or multimedia-based content (e.g. YouTube videos).

This is just a sample of how to target based on age, but that’s not the only dimension to take into account.

Are they tech savvy or less technical?

Entrepreneurial or more employment focused?

A cable TV subscriber or untethered?

You could take almost any angle possible when slicing and dicing your customer data. Figure out which data points best help you track down your target audience, and know where to find them.

3. Generate Linkable Assets and Content

Before you can go out and pursue links, you need to have content that someone would be willing to rank to.

This can be in the form of blog posts, unique research not found elsewhere, infographics, one-of-a-kind videos, in-depth guides, tools (like the website auditor tool on our own website), etc.

So make sure you have 10-12 linkable assets before you strike out to build links. Otherwise, you’ll find it harder to place links on external websites pointing back at your own domain.

Once you’ve clearly identified your target audience, determined where to find them, and created special content assets they might like, it’s time to turn your attention to link prospecting.

Link prospecting is a simple concept – it’s about building a list of websites where you might request a link of one type or another. Your list built up in Step 2 is a great place to start, because those sources can not only win you a link but also potentially send referral traffic your way as well.

Always review the potential targets for additional attributes, such as brand reputation, quality of existing content, and domain authority (which is one of the best available proxies for how “strong” a link from that domain to yours will be). Remove sites that fail any of your tests, and finalize the list of the rest.

5. Pitch For the Link or Guest Post

Once you’re happy that you have the right target list for links, it’s time to start pitching.

Guest posting is the most common and safest (with Google) link building technique. So long as you are creating quality content and avoiding link stuffing (forcing a half dozen links to your website into the hypertext), you should have ample opportunities to contribute to third party blogs and article sites.

Search online for some pitch templates if you are unsure how to approach potential guest posting partners, and always edit those templates to customize to your own voice as well as the site you’re targeting.

Don’t make the mistake of forgetting to customize, because that can backfire big time if you screw up and email someone with the greeting “Dear {insert website name here}”! I’ve seen this done, and it’s embarrassing for the person making the mistake.

Of course, guest posting isn’t the only way to build links. You can find different link building techniques to try out from Quicksprout or Backlinko, both of which are solid blogs for SEO advice.

Heck, both of them just “earned” a link from me by having excellent linkable assets of their own!

Once you get a bite, it’s time to put your head down and generate whatever the site requires for placing a link. If it’s a guest post, get to writing and be sure you have a good editor on hand (or be sure you’re a fantastic self-editor).

You should always take time to get your guest posts as close to publication ready as possible. Follow their guidelines to the letter, presuming they shared guidelines in the first place.

For other types of links, ask them what they need to get the link placed. Some sites may want an image, custom anchor text, or a short blurb explaining why the target content is worth checking out. Then create whatever it takes to make them happy.

7. Send and Follow Up

Of course, as soon as your content or other link-supporting submission is ready, get it to the website owner or editor as soon as you can.

You’re not the only person pitching the site. A one-day delay could allow a half dozen other submissions to leapfrog you, which will delay go-live on your link by days or weeks!

Don’t be afraid to ask for an ETA. While you don’t want to be pushy about it, it will only help both of you for expectations to be set up front.

If they promise a specific publication date, don’t hound them again until that day (or even better, the day after). No one likes a pest, so take caution to balance follow up and diligence with overdoing it.

You might want to do another guest post on the same site in the future, so be sure to maintain a solid, respectful working relationship throughout.

Just like with content on your own website, you should expect to take an active role in promoting your content on other websites.

Share on your social media. Send to your email list. Bookmark the page.

The more you do here, the better off you’ll be on a number of things, from their undying appreciation to the content being found and indexed in a timely manner.

And don’t forget – links pass along domain authority. If your guest post is good and earns links of its own, that will only help your website in the end albeit indirectly. The better a linking partner does, the better you do. We can all win!


Link building remains one of the key cogs in the SEO arsenal. If you have a website, you should be link building in some way.

Use these seven tips if you plan to go it alone. If that’s too much, be sure to bring in a talented white hat SEO consultant or firm to execute on your behalf. You’ll be glad you chose only the best.