How Does Link Building Work?

By: Michael Johnson

If you’re a marketing professional or business owner with an online presence, chances are you’ve heard of link building as a key component to increasing your web traffic and search engine ranking. But how does it actually work? What are the best ways to go about starting a link building campaign? What kinds of tactics are at your disposal? 

Let’s take a closer look at what link building is, how it works, and how you should go about doing it, so you can feel confident in your ability to build high quality, authoritative, relevant, and contextual backlinks.

Link Building Defined

Link building at its core is the process of earning hyperlinks that connect websites to each other. These links act as a way for users to easily navigate different pages on the internet. 

You might think of a backlink as a “vote of confidence”  suggesting that your content is valuable, credible, and useful to the website’s readers. Your site is then rewarded by search engines with an increase in organic search rankings.

What Do Links Mean to Search Engines?

Links serve as the number one way that search engines determine the organic search ranking of a website. 

Search engines, like Google, crawl the links placed either on your own website or between your site and others creating a connecting web. Those backlinks become pathways for crawlers to help find pages on your website and throughout the broader internet. 

Search engine algorithms are always striving to mimic human behaviors. Search engines like Google use crawlers that visit sites and index the backlinks within them. From there, crawlers collect information about all the pages on your site and feed it back to a primary database. 

Does Link Building Benefit Your Site?

The goal of link building is to help improve your site metrics and overall SEO scores, increasing your overall organic search rankings and giving your site a competitive advantage. Backlinks give your site credibility allowing you to be seen as an authoritative voice on your given area of expertise.  

Good quality links benefit your site in a myriad of ways. Backlinks signal to search engines that you have high-quality and relevant information to provide to your target audience.  The more authority and trust you have as a site, the more likely search engines are to rank your website for relevant keywords. 

Types of Links and How to Build Them

All the link building tactics combined will amount to nothing if you don’t have specialized blog pages, studies, graphics, etc. built into your website worth linking to. In order to build links and scale them, you need to have foundational content that is capable of earning those links. 

There are a ton of different types of link building tactics you can utilize. But not all backlinks are created equal. We will talk about the types of links, how to build them, and what to avoid. 

Natural Editorial Links

Natural editorial links are hyperlinks that occur in the wild that you didn’t ask to be built. 

A “Natural Link”, also known as an earned link, editorial link, or organic link is an external link that has been voluntarily placed on another website because the content you have is relevant to an external website’s readers.

Natural editorial links are those that have been acquired without directly asking or reaching out for them to be linked. The best way to ensure you receive these organic links is by:

  • Creating relevant authoritative content 
  • Updating your content regularly
  • Referencing other companies in your content 
  • Looking at what your competitors editorial links look like

These hyperlinks are usually created at an enterprise level, but it’s completely possible for small businesses to also rank if there is great foundational content on your site.  


Research Links

Research link building is the process of building backlinks to pages that have an already curated list of external websites or resource pages. 

The goal is to get your site included on a page with other resources. You build these links by reaching out to websites with already curated resource pages and letting them know why a piece of content on your site is valuable.

There are several types of Research link-building, but the most common are:

  1. Link reclamation: These are links that used to direct to your website, but for some reason, they are now broken and no longer do. These links have been removed from a blog and need to be reclaimed to get the full power from that backlink. This process is crucial to ensure your site is getting the full recognition from Google it deserves and is as crucial to your SEO metrics as building a new link.

  2. Unlinked Brand Mentions: As your company becomes well known, people will start to talk about it. Websites within a similar subject area will mention your brand and related services in their articles without actually linking to your website. These mentions show that the linking site is already aware of you, which makes outreach and backlinking more natural.
  3. Find resource pages that might link back to your content. For example, some libraries have a list of resources for single parents who are trying to homeschool. A book reselling company might then create a piece of content that discusses helpful content for that audience.


Content Links

Building quality content that is beneficial to a large audience is the best way to approach content link building. Quality content links can only be built off of content that answers questions or addresses a problem your audience routinely faces. By directly answering questions that your audience is asking, you show the search engines that you know what people are searching for and are the best equipped to answer that question for your audience. 

To write great content, start by looking at your website for pieces that are useful to a large group of individuals. Utilize long-form resource pages for high authority placement on search engines.  

When a person finds your content valuable, they are more likely to spend more time on your page or even link to it. This adds value to your site.

By creating content that people want and need, you can help to establish yourself as an authoritative source on the subject and build your brand.

PR Magnets

Digital PR is a new and valuable trend that can have a tremendous impact on your SEO. The goal is to write a press release or news story that relates to your business, and then distribute that press release to media sites or journalists within your niche.

In order to rank for content links, think of the top 20 questions that your customer/audience has and write content that directly addresses those questions. From there you can build links to those pages.

These could include positive news and information about your company, industry, state, or community and a backlink to a webpage. Or it could be information related to your industry overall. Again, if you run a book reselling business, you might choose to compile stats on the most popular book in every state. 


By posting your own Digital PR, you place content in the hands of those that can share your story, and in turn sharing your backlinks. 

It also gives you access to community radio stations, news sources, libraries, etc that might have been uninterested in your content before.

By creating content that people want and need, you can help to establish yourself as an authoritative source on the subject and build your brand.

User-Generated Links

User Generated Content (or USG)  is another way to build organic backlinks. USG’s became a subset of Google’s “no follow” attribute in 2019. This attribute allows website owners to imply that from an editorial level, they do not back certain hyperlinks placed on their site. 

A UGC tag on the website lets Google know that the hyperlink is linked within User Generated Content such as: 

  • Blog comments
  • Directories
  • Reviews
  • Infographics
  • Profile pages 
  • Guestbooks 
  • Etc. 

While this practice doesn’t have a significant impact on overall SEO rank, it is still recommended to mark any content written by visitors to your website as USG. Including user generated content attributes helps Google understand why those links were added in the first place.

It also gives you access to community radio stations, news sources, libraries, etc that might have been uninterested in your content before.

By creating content that people want and need, you can help to establish yourself as an authoritative source on the subject and build your brand.

Can Links Hurt Your Website Rankings?

The answer to this question is nuanced. Is one bad link going to tarnish your online reputation? Likely not. But it’s important to keep up to date with best practices for link building in order to be sure your rankings don’t slip because of shady practices. 

The best way to avoid links hurting your website is to avoid bad linking practices all together. We highlight some of the ways you can do that below.

Focus on Relevance

Relevance is key when it comes to success in link building. You want to be sending signals to search engines that indicate what your site is all about and what your expertise is in. For example, you wouldn’t expect a blog whose primary expertise is in healthcare to be frequently linking to a site that does TV Recaps and vice versa.

But relevance is also a nuanced concept and Google has become sophisticated enough that it can parse out relevance on multiple levels, including:

  1. Domain-to-domain relevance
  2. Domain-to-page relevance
  3. Page-to-page relevance
  4. If the link makes sense contextually in a piece of content

Simply put, the black hat link-building techniques of yesteryear will do you no favors today thanks to a number of updates from Google, including Google’s recent SpamBrain update. So long as you’re focused on relevance, you shouldn’t have to worry about any consequences.

Use Multiple Tools to Shape Your Link-Building Campaign

As mentioned above, relevance is key to a quality link-building campaign, but how do you tell if your target site has the same linking philosophy as you do? How can you really tell what a link farm is as you’re looking for potential target sites? How do you determine if a site is a worthy target for your link-building efforts?

The answers are varied, but we recommend that you utilize a number of different tools in order to determine the quality of a target site, and how to shape your campaign. After all, no one singular metric will be able to give you a definitive answer about your website’s credibility and authority.


Moz is an online software platform that provides a suite of tools for SEO, including keyword research, link building, site crawl analysis, and rank tracking. In addition to its software platform, Moz also provides a wealth of educational resources, including blog posts, webinars, and a community forum where users can exchange tips and strategies. With its comprehensive suite of tools and resources, Moz is a must-have for any business looking to improve its organic search rankings.

When it comes to link building, specifically, Moz is a valuable tool due to its comprehensive features and user-friendly interface. With Moz, users can easily identify high-quality websites and specific pages to target for link placement, track keyword rankings, and analyze their competitor’s backlink profiles. 

Its Link Explorer feature allows users to search by domain, page, and anchor text to efficiently find and evaluate potential link opportunities. 

Perhaps most importantly, Moz also offers useful insights into domain authority, page authority, and spam score to help users determine the trustworthiness and value of a potential link. 

This combination of features makes Moz an essential tool for any digital marketer looking to improve their website’s SEO and increase organic traffic through effective link building.


SEMrush is a versatile online marketing tool that enables businesses to research, analyze, and optimize their digital marketing strategies. With SEMrush, you can track your website’s performance, improve SEO, analyze keywords, and monitor competitors’ ad campaigns. 

SEMrush offers a comprehensive database of backlinks (we’re talking over 20 billion keywords and 800 million domains), allowing you to analyze your own backlink profile as well as your competitors and potential of target sites. 

Additionally, SEMrush offers a range of helpful tools, such as their Link Building Tool and Backlink Audit, that streamline the link-building process and make it easier to stay on top of your progress.


Ahrefs is a comprehensive suite of tools designed to help improve your website’s search engine optimization. The platform allows you to track your site’s performance, analyze your competitors, research keywords, and more. 

Ahrefs is versatile in that it helps you identify not only your own backlink profile but also those of your competitors. You can then use this information to find new link-building opportunities and assess the potential risks associated with various strategies. 

With Ahrefs, you have access to a variety of useful features, including the Site Explorer, Content Explorer, Keywords Explorer, and more, all of which help you optimize your link-building efforts. 

Moreover, Ahrefs is known for its accuracy and data quality, making it a reliable option for link builders and digital marketers alike. 


Majestic is a digital marketing tool that allows businesses to track their website’s performance, identify their most valuable customers, and analyze their competitors’ online strategies all in one place. 

Majestic offers a vast set of features that help businesses bolster their website’s visibility and attract more visitors, in part by letting users analyze website backlinks, including those of their competitors. These features allow users to determine the quality and quantity of inbound links to their websites and determine areas they need to improve. 

Additionally, Majestic helps users find new link-building opportunities by presenting them with domains that have backlinks to similar websites. 


SimilarWeb is a powerful tool for analyzing website traffic and gaining insights into online consumer behavior. With its user-friendly interface and expansive database, SimilarWeb allows businesses to track their own website’s performance as well as that of competitors, identifying areas for improvement and targeting new audiences. 

Unlike traditional analytics tools, SimilarWeb provides rich data on the sources of website traffic, the most popular pages, and even the related apps and referrals.

Keep Up With Google Updates

Whether you’ve been in the SEO game for a day or a decade, you know that Google changes its policies all the time. In order to ensure that your link-building campaign is successful, it’s important that you try to keep up with the latest Google updates.

After all, Google’s algorithm updates can impact everything from keyword rankings to link-building strategy, so it’s essential to understand what’s changed and how it affects your website. 

By staying up-to-date with the latest developments, you can ensure that your link-building efforts are effective, relevant, and in line with Google’s guidelines, doing so might even put you automatically ahead of your competition. 

Luckily, Google makes it easy for you to keep up with their latest updates.

When Will You See Results From Your Link Building Efforts?

Search Engine Optimization is an ever-changing industry that requires a sustained effort to outrank your competition consistently.

The results of good link-building efforts will, in most cases, reveal themselves within 3-12 months according to Search Engine Journal but it is dependent on a few factors: 

  • The competitiveness of the keywords used in your specific niche
  • Positive and negative traffic trends on your website
  • The authority of the site you are linking to
  • The types of pages links are built on 


Backlinks are a labor of love. Sending out a handful of guest posts and receiving a couple backlinks is not enough to see a big and lasting change. Each type of link building tactic works together to boost the overall DA of your site. Focus on your current backlinks while working to seek out new opportunities. Focusing on the SEO you currently have as you continue to grow, helps you make the most out of a link building campaign.

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