What is Link Building for SEO All About? The Complete Guide


When hoping to improve your visibility in search engine results, link building is a key tool for you to use. When high-quality and trusted sites include links to your site, you receive a significant SEO boost. Attaining such links, called backlinks, can be a significant challenge, though.

With a tool like Semrush Backlink Gap, link building for SEO becomes an easier process. This software, coming from a highly trusted SEO service provider in Semrush, helps you build a strategy to fill in gaps in your backlink profile.

What Are the Best Tools for Link Building for SEO?

Because we focus much of our work at Crazy Egg on improving websites, we frequently make use of SEO and link building tools. Here’s a selection of three effective platforms we rate highly:

Semrush Backlink Gap is incredibly easy to use, letting you see your link building successes (or failures) in a report that also compares you to competitors. Get started with Semrush by making 10 requests for free.

Ahrefs uses reverse engineering to track down the backlinking strategies your competitors are using, giving you a chance to create similarly effective strategies. Purchase an annual subscription to Ahrefs and receive two months for free.

Help a Reporter Out (HARO) may be a great tool for improving your SEO, as it helps you build backlinks through stories and posts from trusted journalists by letting you serve as an expert source. Try HARO’s Basic plan for free.

Crazy Egg's best tools for link building for SEO: Golden Eggs.

More Top Link Building Tools

SEO is a big category, and there are a lot of different tools for accomplishing different optimization goals. We’ve done the work of sifting through all of those to pick out the platforms best suited for building up backlinks. You can learn more about these products in our full post about the top link building tools available today.

How Do I Get Started with Semrush Backlink Gap? 

Semrush generously allows you to use their Backlink Gap tool for free for up to 10 requests. You will have to create an account with Semrush to try it for free, and if you want to keep using this tool (plus get access to many others that Semrush offers), you must sign up for a paid subscription.

Simply enter your website’s domain in the first text box. You then can add the domains for up to four competitor websites in the subsequent text boxes. Semrush makes suggestions on competitor sites if you aren’t sure which sites to enter. Then, click the Find Prospects button.

Screenshot of SEMrush's backlink gap tool.

Semrush Backlink Gap will return a list of backlinks you are using, as well as those your competitors have. This can help you learn about backlink opportunities you may not be using currently. Additionally, Semrush Backlink Gap will give you a list of domains that you can target in an effort to gain additional backlinks. 

You also get information about the quality of these links, including the number of monthly visits and an authority score. 

How Does Link Building for SEO Work? 

One of the best ways to think about backlinks is that they serve as a vote of confidence in the quality of your website. If the trusted website links to your site, it shows your website can also be trusted to provide quality information.

Google’s ranking system relies heavily on determining which websites and webpages are trustworthy and valuable for searchers to visit. One of the criteria Google uses for determining trustworthiness and value involves the number of backlinks your site has. The reasoning is that if other websites are linking to your site, this shows those other sites trust the information on your website to be true and useful.

Waiting around for other websites to create backlinks to your website is one strategy you could use. However, this is a passive tactic and one that will take a long time to pay off. 

Instead, you can be proactive in seeking backlinks from other sites. Using an analysis tool like Semrush’s Backlink Gap can help you identify quality sites to ask for backlinks from. This also gives you better control, which is important because Google penalizes your ranking if most or all of your backlinks come from low-quality sites.

We’ll delve into how to gain new, high-quality backlinks in a bit, but keep in mind something else before you proceed. It is important to make sure your site is already as strong as possible in terms of the content on it. That’s how you build links in the first place—when your website has trusted content, other high-quality sites are more willing to link to it. 

So, before proceeding, make sure to analyze and reassess your existing content and content strategy. That way, your website and its content will have a solid foundation on which to build your link building strategy and efforts.

For those websites that recently started, link building can be a great way to improve your SEO results quickly. Create a few strong pieces of content and then work on getting other quality sites to link to it and give you a quick, early SEO boost even if your site hasn’t existed for long.

How Do I Know What Constitutes a Good Backlink?

The process of finding high-quality backlinks for your site is easier when making use of a tool like Semrush Backlink Gap. Software like that can analyze your existing backlinks for quality and other sites to see if they would serve as a high-quality source for new backlinks.

There are a lot of factors that go into measuring quality in this regard. But there are two that are easy to grasp, allowing you to make determinations on backlink quality yourself.

First is whether the topics of your site and the one providing a link to your content match. It’s helpful if the site that is linking to your content covers topics similar to your site. Google’s system may not believe the backlink is genuine if your site deals with mower repair and the site with the backlink is about women’s fashion accessories, for example.

The next is site activity. If the website generating the backlink for you only has a little bit of traffic or if it isn’t very active on other platforms, Google may not consider the site to be credible or trustworthy. This also applies to new sites that just haven’t had time to build up trust with Google.

Semrush includes a helpful tool, Backlink Audit, that analyzes your collection of backlinks for quality. There, you’ll find a handy Toxicity Score, which clearly displays how much of your backlink collection is having a negative impact and the total number of toxic domains that are linking to your site.

Screenshot of SEMrush's domain toxicity score with overview and data dashboard.

Semrush looks for a lot of factors to determine link and domain toxicity. If you find some backlink sources may be harming your SEO results, you can block those sites.

How Do I Acquire Backlinks for My Website?

Even though the best tools can help you understand backlinks, the bulk of the work for building links rests with you. 

Use your preferred SEO tool to point you toward the sites where you can seek backlinks, then engage with the site owner to arrange a link exchange. For example, Semrush Backlink Gap spotlights sites that provide backlinks to your competitors, giving you a list for trying to obtain your own backlinks to those sites. 

Screenshot of SEMrush's backlink gap spotlighting sites that provide backlinks to competitors. Screenshot shows a send to prospects function to obtain your own backlinks.

Getting the conversation started is the hardest part. You’ll need to lean hard on email and social media platforms. Look at your target sites for how the owner prefers to interact with their audience. It may be as simple as leaving a comment on a post or finding an email address on the site to send a request to. Or you may have to reach out via Twitter to connect with site owners.

This gets harder the more backlink sources you’re chasing. Bulk emails can get tricky, especially if you haven’t warmed up your sender address or email platform to reach out en masse (leading to many of your messages getting lost in recipients’ spam folders). And asking site owners about building links with their sites tends to get less personalized at scale (and, thus, harder to start the conversation).

Think about the value you can offer site owners in order to break through any distrust or hesitation. For example, you may want to offer to write a guest article or blog post on a topic of interest to both sites, allowing you to include a link to your site within the article. Or, you could offer to serve as an expert source for their content, providing quotes and detailed insight. 

Be patient with this process. Like sales, you’re bound to run into plenty of site owners who say no or simply ignore your request. Think of it like dating—rejection may be tough to swallow, but it tends to lead to you finding matches that are more valuable and worthwhile in the end.

Can I Measure the Trustworthiness of My Own Website?

Link building is a two-way street. In that sense, you can’t just focus on the trustworthiness of the sites you’re hoping to get backlinks from. It can be helpful to take a measurement of the trustworthiness of your own site from time to time. This gives you an idea of whether your efforts around link building are working. 

Semrush Backlink Gap can generate a measurement of your site’s trustworthiness, called the Authority Score. The tool uses a series of measurements to give your site a score on a scale of one to 100. Within the Authority Score report, you can see how certain backlinks from third-party sites are affecting your site’s trustworthiness ranking. Semrush measures the most important aspects of each backlink, including the trustworthiness of the third-party site that created the backlink for you.

How Do I Manage My Backlinks?

Obtaining backlinks is clearly important, but the work doesn’t stop when you have a strong set of them built up. Link building also involves keeping an eye on those backlinks, ensuring they remain healthy and relevant.

You should run regular audits on the backlinks contained on your website, which may occasionally uncover a website that was high-quality at the time the backlink was created has lowered and is now doing more harm than good for your website in search results. On Semrush, for example, you’d look to the Toxic Score and see if that has risen to a detrimental level.

Screenshot of SEMrush's backlink audit with example data listed.

Additionally, your audits may find broken backlinks to your competitors’ sites, where the outgoing link from the third-party site no longer works. You could then reach out to the third-party site, offering a new article or better piece of content that would link to your site. So, keeping an eye on others’ broken backlinks can present big opportunities for you to score new ones. 

After you go through the hard work to obtain links, you certainly don’t want to lose those in the future. Sometimes, though, the third-party site that gave you the backlink changes the configuration of the site or edits the article, breaking the link.

Your backlink audits and routine management should surface these issues. Tools like Semrush will even show you the date the link became active and when it was broken. 

Screenshot of a list of backlinks for an example domain by SEMrush.

With this information in hand, you can then reach out to the third-party website, notifying them of the lost backlink and asking them to restore it. Remind the third-party site that the link is beneficial for the site’s visitors. You can even update the article with improved information, making it even more interesting for the other site’s visitors and giving the other site owner incentive to repair the link.

Should I Buy Links As Part of My Link Building Campaign?

One technique of link building you may have heard about involves purchasing backlinks from other sites. Although this may generate short-term benefits, it almost certainly will cause more harm than good over the long run.

If you are in the midst of trying to earn organic and natural backlinks from other sites, you know how challenging and time-consuming this process is. Consequently, it may be tempting to purchase backlinks to speed up the results. 

Unfortunately, because most sites that sell backlinks have reputations as low-quality sites, the Google search ranking system likely will penalize you for those types of backlinks. 

It may take a few months or longer for Google to figure out that these backlinks are of poor quality, so your site may not see the negative results immediately. But, eventually, your site will almost certainly suffer in the rankings. 

Regardless, you should be thoroughly vetting any backlink source, and any site owner that requires payment for a backlink should cause you to give them even more scrutiny before agreeing.

It’s almost always better to invest your time and money in generating good content and seeking natural backlinks from that content. 

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