How to Link Build: 70 Creative Ways to Attract 5 Star Links

This is a long and comprehensive list (5,256 words) of the best link building strategies for 2012 onwards. Search is changing and so is link building. Half assed link building projects just won’t cut the mustard anymore, you have to be putting in the extra effort to get on ahead of your competitor. This list covers all the tried and tested white hat, long-term stable link building techniques there are. I spent a long time combing for ideas and listing all my own pearls of wisdom for a full set of link building ideas. This isn’t the first how to link build list and definitely won’t be the last but you can be sure that this gives you all the BEST and most recommend ways to collect links without risking another google fallout like Panda. There are plenty of examples and links to additional reading to fully illustrate the strategies.

This is the list I wish I had when I started link building but had to learn the hard way. : )

Remember the link building golden rule: The harder the link is to get, the more value the link has.


Article Submission

Guest blogging. IMHO currently the best ways to build links, network and gain referral traffic from your niche community. But, let me stress, article writing starts and ends with quality. Forget the days of trash spun articles: you have to write for people and you have to write remarkable content to stand out from the saturation of competition. By identifying the key influencers within your niche and placing quality articles on their sites you will be found by more relevant people who are interested in what you have to say.

Accept guest bloggers on your site. Publish content from others active bloggers in your niche and they will naturally want to link back to the article from their own blog and promote it on social media. The more influential the blogger the better.

Article directories. Let me be clear I do NOT mean anything like the spam article marketing strategy of spinning crap content and using automatic submission tools to even crapper directories. Articles only need to be 500 words long and can be a summary version of an article already on your site but MUST be unique. Submit to sites such as Ezine, Go Articles and The Free Library.

Write for industry niche sites. Identify the key influential sites in your niche (e.g. for SEO: Search Engine News, Marketing Land, SEOmoz, econsultancy) and apply to be a writer. This is not an easy option as you may be required to provide a considerable time commitment. The quality of your writing has to be better than average and it also helps to have some authority in your field. If you can nail this then the potential traffic referral will be HUGE.

Offer testimonials on other company sites. Technically not an article but you can offer a testimonial of a product, or service, to a supplier. Be surprised if they don’t snap your hand off – businesses love testimonials. Your limitation here would be finding sites you can give a testimonial to.


On-Page Content

All the following ideas for creating quality content on your site can be used as link bait to encourage natural links through outreach.

Resource sections.  I usually only find a handful, at best, of decent resource sections when searching niches. Think: a collection of useful sites and information all bundled up into a neat package. Perfect link bait.

Curated lists of sites. Collate the best sites relevant to your niche such as: best blogs to read, best evergreen articles to read, do follow bookmark sites, infographic directories etc.

Curated video section, You only have to search and collate the videos (not create from scratch) and with so much content on youtube you can put together a great section worth promoting. Think: funny, tutorials, product demonstrations. Please avoid cute kittens, I know cute overload is a great site but don’t destroy your credibility with this gimmick.

Curated royalty free photos section. You either have to be a reasonable photographer yourself, know someone who is or pay for a pro to take snaps for you. Doesn’t have to be a huge offering, a simple set of high-quality images based around your niche will do. Just add the proviso of a link back to your site where it is used. You can push this on sites such as Flickr, Picasa and the new über bookmark site Pinterest.

Evergreen articles. Always popular and well linked to. Titles such as: guide to, how to, how not to, 101 ways to, Lists of. Ensure you do your research and spend time writing, a piece like this cannot be knocked together in a few hours. And double check your grammar and spelling afterwards.

Best site lists. Top Ten … or 25 Best Industry … or Best … posts this month. These titles always get a high number of searches so you can have a lot of competition but they are so popular and like evergreen articles these are the link magnets.

Be controversial. Publish a purposely provocative article to encourage comments and get people talking about what you had to say. Take a stand and be bold, Sugarrae does not pull any punches in her rants in bitchland.

Trend surf using QDF (query deserves freshness). If you get this right you will rank higher than other authority sites and attract traffic, and links, with your hot topic article. I would recommend watching this video from Ian Lurie who explains it so well.

Break a news story. Following on from QDF: score more points if you can actually break a news story, this can catapult your site into the stratosphere in terms of authority and links. When Pot Pie Girl got the scoop of posting a link to the 2011 Google Quality Raters Handbook, the community went wild and she got masses of exposure and links.

Write something unique, debunk a myth or blow the lid on a scam. So many blogs are posting ‘me too’ articles that are regurgitating the same old same. Do your research, put the effort in and write an outstanding article with a fresh perspective challenging old ideas.

Interview industry experts. Bagging industry star interviews has been rife in the SEO community the last few years but for good reason. Link magnets. It’s not easy as these people will be getting hundreds of requests; make sure you have a set of questions that stand out. Hard work but top dollar if you pull it off. Throw in the bonus of a potential vanity link from the interviewee’s site back to your article.

Conduct a niche survey. People love data, stats and figures. Compiled industry data is usually sold through expensive reports or subscription sites. Get your own research going on and stage your own survey or mine your customer database for buying habits; otherwise you need to buy in help from a specialist research company. The payback on this can be huge as readers are hungry for stats to quote in their research. The added bonus here is being able to compile your own unique data backed infographic to push out.

Summarise conference presentations. Compile notes and a breakdown of the speakers, what they said and the main takeaway points. Even better if you can video but most events won’t allow this.

Niche calculator or widget. I am talking mortgage calculator, energy consumption calculator or calorie counter. You get the picture, a useful little tool to calculate a common required metric. Makes a great feature on the home page.


Viral Content

Creating remarkable content and seeding it to become viral is a great link building strategy which can produce hundreds or even thousands of natural links. It’s not an easy tactic and can be a considerable investment into the content creation. You need to really know what you are doing to make this work but if it does catch fire the potential exposure can be huge. Viral marketing is best used in combination with social media and taking time to build a network: identify the key influencers in your sphere and build relationships. Might sound simple but believe me this can be months of pre-work.

Micro sites. Build a simple site from a quirky concept. A viral micro site can be built in a day, it doesn’t have to be complicated. Basic concepts rule but the ability to emotionally connect with a user is what encourages the stickiness. Check out these examples, here, here, here and oh yes here.

Infographics. One of my favourites and a hot trend for the last few years. There has been plenty of anti infographic articles springing up recently in a backlash to the saturation of badly designed content that is being released. Ensure you have a strong concept, strong research and stunning graphics and an infographic can be a natural link machine.

Alternative advertising stunt. Combine offline with online to make an awesome viral marketing campaign. Create something like the worlds best sandcastle or stage a flash mob (T Mobiles flash mob in Liverpool Street Station was viewed a staggering 29,923,965 times) and use the video or images of this to inspire an online viral campaign. Social media love these kind of wacky stunts.

Viral videos. A really simple video which catches fire such as cat hugs kitten which was viewed 30,757,859 times. And this was just a home mobile footage of a cat hugging a kitten (it is cute though). Or an animated words and images piece such as Tramp Typography. Will it blend created an inspiring viral campaign of simply throwing different items, like an iphone, into their blenders to see if it would blend. This Gymkhana infographic is a great example of how you can use an infographic with a viral video campaign to leverage exposure.

Addictive games. Users love little interactive games which can get under their skin: consider the crazy popularity of Angry Birds (you shoot a bird in the air, big deal). I’m not talking about fully scripting something as sophisticated as World of Warcraft. Think: the simpler the better. Go niche and focus on a group, for example the Kerning Type Game, you have to be a typographer or designer to even get what this means. I love it because I used to be a designer. Check out the incredible Draw a Stick Man game, I defy you not to love it. You want to be aiming for something that people get immediately and can play in a five minute break from a boring job. Spread it online through social media and watch the links roll in.

Podcasts. A lot of people are jumping on podcasts, Glen Allsopp has an in-depth post here about how he reached #1 on itunes for his first podcast attempt. Create a regular series to encourage a following or a remarkable, one-off exposé which gets people talking. Very easy to produce.

Google alert for your brand. With any viral marketing campaign you want to ensure you are getting all the links due back to you for a campaign. Set up a Google alert and a twitter search for the keyword title of your article/infographic/podcast then proceed to check every mention that comes through on the alert. If you find your article/infographic/podcast doesn’t have a link (or has someone else cited) a simple friendly email asking for the link usually suffices.


Off-Page Content

WordPress themes. Create a designed wordpress theme for your niche and share on theme directories. Make sure you ask your template builder to embed your link in the footer of the theme so it can’t be removed. If you have a popular theme imagine all those links coming back to you from all those relevant blogs.

Embedable badges. You need to focus on a reason why people would want to embed your badge on their site. If you can crack this you have an amazing little bit of link love. Think on the lines of an Ad Age or Technorati rated blog badge and adapt for your site.

Useful tool, plugin or extension. Firefox extensions, wordpress plugins or free seo tools can gain trusted authority links from the distribution site and then natural links back from happy users. Yoast has totally nailed this with the best SEO plugins online. Get creative and try to focus on solving a common problem. Glen Allsop has just posted an in-depth article here about his experiences building tools.

ebook. Another free download idea which can be distributed in return for links. You can outright ask for a link in return for the free book or just write something so spectacular that the online world goes crazy linking to you! Don’t forget lots of link opportunities with ebook distribution sites and directories.

Mobile phone app. Another useful tool idea. Think of an app that solves a common problem in such a simple and efficient way people cannot do without it. Then place on your site for download and push virally.


Outreach to authority sites

Broken links. This technique has had an explosion of articles in the last few months and potentially could suffer from overkill but is still one of the best outreach methods for link begging. Basically works on the psychology principle of reciprocity (read this book). First you offer something of value and then ask for what you want. Check a page for broken links and inform the webmaster whilst asking to slip your own link in to replace the broken one. Read this article for more explanation.

Organise a seminar. Collect industry links by staging an event, could be a collection of prominent local business leaders in your niche for a Q&A session at a local space.

Organise a contest. This is a productive and sometimes underused link building tactic: you can either offer a giveaway contest (ipads have been popular) or stage a writing competition with all entrants having to add a link to their site. People love the opportunity to win something (look how popular lotteries are) so a cash prize or top  tech gadget will draw in the crowds. As a bonus this can be pushed virally on social media for even more links and social signals.

Online showcases and galleries. Adobe, WP Themes, CSS. The investment in this strategy is ensuring you have quality design before you submit. But just think of those authority links from Adobe! Loads of me too products in this realm have sprung up with a lot of wordpress paid theme sites having galleries, so plenty of scope.

Dmoz and Wikipedia. At one time a link in Dmoz was THE holy grail but the site seems to have fallen from favour the last few years. It is now near to impossible to get a link from them and I have heard reports that submission are not being managed efficiently but it’s still worth taking 15 mins of submission time. One potential back door strategy is to sign-up as a moderator but most pages on Dmoz are already run by SEOs.  Wikipedia links can be added manually but beware the moderators who scan your IP and check your submission. The best results I have are by adding one link at a time that is a high-quality content page with subject relevance – these seem to stick well. But don’t try and do more than one at a time!

Speak at industry events. If you have the balls get up on stage and walk the walk. Not for the feint hearted or the cripplingly shy! If you want to be seen as a authority it’s the only way. Read this great article here on being an authority

Network at conferences. Link building is networking online: you create a wide network of referral links from many sources within your field. It’s all about building your lists of contacts, just like old school PR. Get yourself to conferences where you know leading authorities are speaking. Sit in the front row and then introduce yourself at the end. Then spend time buying people coffee and cakes (amazingly something so obvious works) and even better get in the bar at night, stay late and buy drinks and listen to people and make friends. These contacts can be the best you ever make for building links.


.edu and .gov links

Known as the holy grail of all links. Considered the highest trusted authorities of them all and therefore the hardest links to get. You have to think creative strategy and persistence with this one and be prepared to put the hard work into the research.

Make a donation to your local University. Plain and simple give them money, can get expensive. Contact your local Uni for any opportunities. Scour University websites advertising such events. You could just try to sponsor a small event.

Government sites. Scour .gov sites for prospects of news sources or local business directories. You have to polish your persuasion skills and probably spend a lot of time trying to find out who is responsible for the links. Do something altruistic to get on a news source: go to a deprived area and offer your skills to kids, for free.

Post a job listing on a jobs board. Pretty straightforward if you can justify the position. If you don’t have the budget for new staff try posting for interns looking for work experience.

Offer to speak at your local University. Give your time for free and speak about your work. Helps if you have an interesting job, if you don’t make it a motivational speech, read as much Tony Robbins and Dale Carnegie as you can get your hands on.

Staff discount sections. A lot of education, hospital and council sites offer staff benefits and rewards to their employees. Usually has to be from a local business to pitch this one but can be an easy link score.

Complete university Alumni online sections. Have all your employees and yourself complete their alumni profiles with links to their place of work: you!


Buying Links

Yeah, we have all had it drummed into us by Mr Cutts: don’t buy links! But there are ways you can acquire a bona-fide link whilst parting with a cash. These are all genuine  white hat link opportunities even though in a round-a-bout way you have to pay for them.

Sponsor a local event. You can sponsor meet ups and get a link back from the group page. Potentially powerful as you can collect a lot of links from this.

Enter an industry awards. Awards events are so popular as everybody wants recognition for their hard work. You will have to pay an entry fee but all entrants usually get a link. Score big time if you win the event, you can leverage this with media and exposure.

Trade suppliers websites. Check all your suppliers websites to see if they have a links page, if not suggest it to them in return for a big order.

Stumble paid ads. Great way to give viral content a shove. SU can send serious amounts of traffic and their paid ads can be laser targeted so you get seen by the right eyes. In my experience has a low bounce rate too.

Trade associations: Chamber of Commerce, Federation of Small Business, Better Business Bureau etc. You will have to pay to join but have the benefit of the members directory and maybe room to negotiate extra links for a relevant story or offering your services to speak at an event.

Classified ads that contain links. The web is full of classifieds offering ads with links in them. Try to find one relevant to your niche and place your ad. Easy.

Paid quality directories. Directory links can be good for your site and a few well placed paid links can have a lot of juice in them. The main two are still: Yahoo and Best of The Web. Not cheap but powerful links to have.

Charity Donation. Use your advanced operator skills to find charity sites that have a donation page. Lots to choose from and donations can start from a lot less than you would think.

Trade shows catalogues. If you manufacture or sell products then the trade show circuit will be a familiar one to you. The major players all have websites and list the exhibitors and sometimes the attendees. You can also offer services for speaking at the show as a bonus link.

Send product samples/gifts to blog reviewers. The influencer bloggers within your niche are the ones that hold the power to get your site talked about and seen. You want to nurture these relationships and by sending gifts (muffin tray anyone) you stand a good chance of endearing yourself to them. If you have an ecommerce site spread your products about for review by sending samples to the key bloggers in your field. Reviews are excellent traffic drivers, you can always cut an affiliate deal with an especially powerful blogger.

Or sponsored reviews. If the free samples don’t appeal to your blogger, pay them to write a review. This has the added benefit of you having more control over the editorial and the links. You can always write the review yourself and then pay to have it placed on a site.

Affiliate programs. Most product sites now run affiliate programmes – if you don’t, why the hell not? This is a huge marketing opportunity, yes you are giving away sale percentage but the network of affiliates who are driving the traffic to your site will give you a referral network of link gold.

Offer free giveaways for a link. Not dissimilar to the contest tactic above. This is specifically based around organizing an in-demand product as a free giveaway prize. ipads have been used like crazy the last few years and the promise of a free apple product is enough to get anyone in a frenzy. Just make sure you include a condition of a link or spread the viral word. Don’t forget to use the winner as an additional marketing opportunity: nice picture of winner with shiny, new prize and spread it around press sites.


Social Media & Web 2.0 Sites

Maintain profiles. Sign up for all the usual suspects and get your links on the profile pages. Some, but not all, social sites offer a do follow link. You can search for a list of which sites offer links but they tend to change so quickly they are often out of date. The predominant reason you should be using these sites is to have an active presence to drive traffic. 100’s of links from obscure social media profiles is not going to hold much value so please don’t fall for the ‘buy 100 social bookmark links for $50 trick’ .

Use web 2.0 sites: Squidoo, Hubpages, Sites such as and are becoming more popular and are great way to submit your content and get seen. These sites can drive good levels of traffic if you put effort in maintaining a community connection.

Submit to social bookmark site. Yes reddit and new wunderkind Pinterest can push lots of traffic your way but it does tend to have a high bounce rate.If you can tap into a niche community on these sites by spending time connecting with other users you can get better results.


Other Link Building Strategies

Above I have covered a wide range of great link building tactics to get you links which will add value to your site. There are a few other methods that I feel are worth mentioning, they do still have some merit if approached with integrity but have had their reputation smashed to pieces by spam bandits on the rampage.

Mine competitors back link profile and replicate. This can reveal some amazing little gems that a clever SEO has applied. I have found some great link opportunities this way which made it well worth the stupefyingly boring task of back-link mining. Nice little article here about competitor link profiles and how you have to better your competitor.

Relevant Blog commenting. More an exercise in brand awareness then specific link building. There has been much discussion on whether no-follow links from authority sites can add value but the approach here is purely about putting yourself in front of the right kind of readers for your site. Follow the relevant authorities in your niche, get them in your Google reader feed and as soon as they post leave a considered and interesting comment. Get to the top of the list as most people only read a handful of comments. As someone who always reads the comments on blogs (I find the best stuff in comments) I can assure that these links will pass through some traffic. The bonus part is getting your name around your community and can use this to network.

Do-follow blog commenting. This tactic is the one that got spammed to death so most blogs closed their comments or made them no-follow. You can still find do-follow blogs, see this list here. If you are using blogs in your niche I would be aware of always leaving an intelligent response as you never know who might read it. You can use your google advanced operator commands to search for specific sites such as .edu that have open comments and place links in those. Bit spammy but does work. Just don’t leave stoopid or offensive comments and try to find relevant blogs.

Forum commenting. Again another technique spammed to death. Forum users are notoriously cagey and closed to newcomers so you have to put in a huge investment of time integrating yourself into the community to get real benefit. If you do have the time and connect with the right group, you can get a huge payback.

Niche directories. Directories consist predominantly of low value, easy to achieve links. You can still find niche directories of value which can drive traffic so ther is value in submitting – just ensure you always have a spread of different types of links. If your back-link profile is made up of only directory submissions this sends a flag to Google of unnatural link building.

Press release submission through news wire sites. #1 don’t submit any old crap news, it has to be something worth sharing, think this through. #2 write a professional press release and please check your spelling. #3 Don’t throw out rubbish every day or week, I would consider doing this only when you have something worth talking about.

Reciprocal links with competitors in other areas. Awww gawd, reciprocal links, where to start. I honestly believe there are some people out there who think that you can score a bunch of easy reciprocals and that is how link building is done. One part of me thinks that it is such a bad idea don’t do it. Whilst the other thinks there may be some value left in this if you consider which sites you are getting links from. If you have a relevant site with a good links page that has been well tended I would say it won’t do any harm. Just be warned: run a mile from link exchange programmes.


How Not To Link Build

This excerpt made me laugh so much I had to include. It’s from a similar how to link build article, here by Aaron Wall which I highly recommend.

How NOT to link build
92. Send a webmaster an alert to every post you make on your website.
93. Send a webmaster an email every single day asking for them to link to your website.
94. Send references to your site to the same webmaster from dozens of different email accounts (you sly dog).
95. If the above do not work to get you a free link, offer them $1 for their time. Increase your offer by a dollar each day until they give in.


Articles by Other Authors

Rockin’ The Not So Sexy Links
10 Hard Hitting Link Building Tactics
101 Ways to Build Link Popularity
101 Tactics to Buy Text Links
51 Essential Link Building Tips
75 link building techniques in 2008

I also highly recommend reading this list: The Best Link Builders 2012 and following their blogs and tweets on a regular basis to pick up the best link building tips.

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    1. Fantastic post! Whew, I’m exhausted, that was a great deal of link building knowledge that you just dropped. Would you mind adding a link to under the “Paid quality directories” section? We have a very high quality directory.

    2. Re: “you can score a bunch of easy reciprocals and that is how link building is done”

      Ah… those way the days. But since 2004 ish swapping links with any old site hasn’t worked.

      I think their is sitll value in swapping links with quality, relevant websites. Why shouldn’t a wedding cake shop swap links with a wedding dress shop?

      Just be careful who you swap links with. Who you link to says a lot about you!

    3. Scheryl McDavid says:

      Excellent article with lots of usable tactics … well worth the time to read it.

    4. I find offering small contracts to students for content writing and get them to document there work on there uni profiles can get a good portfolio of edu links.

    5. Nice article this – plenty to get your head into I guess…

      I would add that Affiliate Links are treated differently by google, although redirecting through a catch-all clause once your tracking cookie or session has been dropped should see any residual link juice from your affiliate profile scrammed back into your homepage…

      I once saw a company get banned for link building so they emailed all their sellers and asked to append the end of the paid links with affiliate tags… lolzz funny stuff! didnt work.

      Good read! Thanks for sharing


    6. Dude, you explained everything! Respect!

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