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Link Building 101

Discover how to build relationships, build links, and build your authority

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Chapter #6: Link Building 101

The most successful New Zealand businesses have people talking about them.
Link building is the process of turning that digital word of mouth into backlinks. When Google sees links coming from external sites to your own website, it’s a clear sign you’re an authority in your niche.
Think about it, if someone asked you for a recommendation for the best coffee in town you’d only offer up the best coffee shops you know. The same thing is happening online. If businesses are using YOUR content to create links to, it means you’re a thought leader worth paying attention to.
In the previous chapters you learned how to create irresistible content that helps people solve their problems. But Google needs more than top notch content to rank your site. If you want to get to the #1 spot, you also need authority. And the best way to demonstrate authority is through earning backlinks.
In this chapter we’ll teach you:
  • What a backlink is
  • How to earn backlinks
  • What type of backlinks build your authority
  • Why ‘creating great content’ is NOT the best way to earn backlinks
This chapter is the missing link in your SEO campaign (pun 100% intended).
Let’s get right into it.

What Are Backlinks?

Backlinks, also known as external links or inbound links, are links between one website to another.
Backlinks are similar to citations, which are necessary for local SEO. But while a citation is a mention of your business’ NAP online, a backlink is a clickable link to your site.
It’s very hard to earn backlinks, so each link you receive adds to your digital reputation. The more backlinks you earn from quality sites, the better your reputation in the eyes of Google. In the same way, spammy backlinks from spammy websites can harm your reputation.
The connection between backlinks and reputation has been used by Google since the 1990’s because link building is tough to manipulate. For that reason the current ranking algorithm judges the value of backlinks to understand how authoritative a website is. Again, reputation matters to your SEO because it’s hard to exploit. Convincing high-quality sites to create backlinks to your content requires great content and forming relationships. This is why Google considers backlinks among the 3 most important ranking factors.
The more links you earn, the better your chances of improved rankings. But here’s the catch – not all links are created equal. Your backlink building results will impact three crucial SEO metrics:
  • Expertise
  • Authority
  • Trust
Also known as your E-A-T.

The Importance of Your E-A-T

You are what you E-A-T.
In other words, if you want to improve your rankings on Google your site needs to demonstrate expertise, be an authority, and be trustworthy.
You should always be trying to improve the E-A-T of your site through publishing quality content regularly and improving your technical SEO so users enjoy a fast and problem-free browsing experience. You can also boost your E-A-T by earning high-quality backlinks.
The E-A-T of other sites flows through their backlinks and helps improve your own E-A-T. For example, a website like Wikipedia receives thousands of backlinks. This proves Wikipedia has expertise, has become an authority, and is trusted by other sites. Your website can enjoy the same benefits once your backlink portfolio improves.
If you earn backlinks from quality sites, Google will see that you have expertise, you’ve become an authority, and you’re trusted by others. It’s worth pointing out you don’t need to be getting thousands of backlinks like Wikipedia does. Instead, you’ll want to target sites in similar industries (relevance) and with high Domain Authority (DA).

To Follow or Not to Follow

Let’s keep things super simple – links help build your reputation.
Each link is a vote of confidence for your site. When Google sees 100 different domains linking to your website, it’s like 100 votes from those websites saying “Hey Google, we think this content is great, and you should too”.
However, each website can remove that ‘vote’ of confidence while still creating a backlink. This is done using a nofollow tag which stops Google from seeing the ‘vote’ but allows people to see the backlink and jump from one site to the next. If you want to stop Google from seeing the ‘vote’ behind a backlink, you can add an HTML attribute to pass on your wishes.
This attribute looks like this: rel=”nofollow”
By default, all backlinks have a follow tag (and pass link equity from one page to the next) so use a nofollow tag wisely, for example when linking to an untrustworthy website, or when a link has been bought.

Would I Ever Want Nofollow Backlinks?

Google’s algorithm is looking for backlink portfolios that look “unnatural”.
If your backlinks are unnatural, you may end up being penalised by Google and lose your hard-earned rankings. While backlinks are great, and pass link equity, it’s natural for a website to earn nofollow links as it grows.
Natural nofollow links might come from Facebook (remember, social media links don’t pass link equity but they are great for brand building), Twitter, or the Yellow Pages. Even backlinks from high-quality websites marked with a nofollow tag are natural. After all, not every site will want to pass link equity to you. By creating a backlink portfolio that has nofollow links as well as follow links, you’ll show Google you’re not looking to manipulate their algorithm.
Even better, nofollow links can still send traffic from another website to yours. So while they won’t directly boost your SEO, the extra clicks on your site is a valuable metric and can boost your SEO.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, great SEO puts people first. If backlinks help people find your site – even if they’re marked with a nofollow tag – it’s going to help your SEO.

What is a Link Profile?

Your link profile is the overall picture of your inbound links.
This includes:
  • Your total number of links
  • The quality of the sites linking to you
  • Backlink
  • The number of unique URLs linking to you
It’s worth keeping an eye on your link profile to understand how Google sees you. You might have the fastest website with the most valuable content, but if your link profile consists of 50 links from the same spammy website, your E-A-T signals to Google will be poor.

4 Signs of a Healthy Link Profile

With great power comes great responsibility.
As Kiwi businesses learn the power of backlinks, it’s common for manipulative link building strategies to pop up. It’s true that these black-hat SEO tactics can drive quick results, but they leave those New Zealand businesses vulnerable to devastating penalties that cripple rankings, reputation and revenue.
Your own link profile is one that grows organically and naturally increases over time. A sharp increase of 100 backlinks in a week may appear unnatural, while 100 links spread over a period of months is organic growth.
Thankfully, there are many ways to build a link profile full of high-quality and relevant sites, using 100% Google-safe and organic methods.
Here are 4 signs your link profile is healthy and impressing Google.

#1 – Links are earned organically
Links that you earn naturally are known as editorial links. These come about when other sites see your content and think “wow, this is super helpful. I think my audience would find this helpful too”. The most common way these diverse links occur is when other sites reference your content.
For example, let’s say you created an in-depth guide on New Zealand’s best fish and chips, full of prices, reviews and statistics. When another site writes a blog post about New Zealand’s fish and chip industry, they might reference your guide to back up a claim they made about the average price of hoki. All you did was create amazing content; and it earned editorial links from websites who saw you as an authority and used you to back up their own content.

#2 – Links are coming from relevant websites
A healthy link profile will have backlinks from topically related websites. Remember, not all links are created equal. Niche links from contextually similar sites bring more value than links from random, unrelated sites.
Let’s say you sell rugby balls online. A link from the All Blacks website means more than a link from the New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). Off-topic backlinks can confuse Google and hurt your E-A-T, making it look like your site isn’t an expert in the field.

#3 – Link anchor text is relevant (and not stuffed with keywords)
In the previous chapters you learned about the importance of anchor text. Anchor text are the words used to link to your site and help Google understand what your page is about. Because anchor text is helpful to Google, filling it with keywords can harm your SEO.
For example, let’s say 10 different websites created backlinks to your content. If those 10 x links used 10 different anchor text variations, this looks natural. But, if those 10 websites all used identical anchor text phrases, this may look manipulated, and that can hurt your rankings.
A healthy link portfolio will have variations on a central theme. For example, if you had a page about New Zealand’s top attractions your anchor text could include:
  • KeyNew Zealand attractionsword
  • Top NZ attractions
  • Things to do in NZ
  • Best things to do in New Zealand
  • Top 10 attractions
The examples above are descriptive and help Google understand what your content is about – but they’re not crammed with the same keywords. As Google wants to see natural anchor text, you should always avoid exact match anchor text. Exact match anchor text occurs when your anchor text is the same as the page it links to. For example, ‘SEO strategies’ as your anchor text, linking to a page called ‘SEO Strategies’.
Avoid using the exact same anchor text variation, but encourage variations on a central theme to help your backlink profile. It’s worth noting you won’t typically have control over the anchor text used to create backlinks, as those will be up to individual webmasters and blog owners. This is where it pays to develop relationships. Experienced SEOs and site owners will know the importance of anchor text variation, while spammy websites may make mistakes that hurt your SEO.
#4 – Links send qualified traffic to your website
This may sound counterintuitive but great link building isn’t about improving our rankings, it’s about helping people. Remember, rankings are great but without people buying your products and services those links are useless.
A healthy link profile will be driving qualified traffic. This comes back to the point of relevance. Links from unrelated sites may drive traffic, but those people have no interest in your business. In contrast, when people move from Website A to a thematically-related Website B, they’re more likely to be interested in the products and services on offer.

3 Link Building Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs

You can only do what’s right when you know which link building strategies are wrong.
The most common way to damage your own link profile is to pay for links or enter into a link swapping relationship to try and drive your rankings up. These can seem like easy ways to earn links – and links are a top 3 ranking factor – but they put you at risk of manual penalties (and just aren’t worth it).
“But I DO want my rankings to go up, doesn’t that mean my link building strategies are risky?”
Great question. This is the fine line required for successful link building. Google wants to see your site earn links because this helps with your E-A-T and rankings. But Google does NOT want to see those links earned unnaturally.
Here are 3 unnatural link building strategies to avoid:

✘ Bought Links
The best things in life are free. Like free samples at the supermarket, this free SEO guide, or free links.
Google prefers links be built organically without money changing hands (as paid links would allow businesses to buy their way to the top of Google). You can add a paid attribution to bought links (using one of the ‘nofollow’, ‘sponsored’ or ‘ugc’ tags), though not all webmasters do this. As Google wants to minimise these unnatural link building practices, there are clues the algorithm uses to catch out link buying schemes not using correct paid attribution tags. If you’re caught paying for links, your rankings can drop significantly.
If you’re nervous about link building, but keen to improve your rankings, an SEO consultant can tap into existing relationships to quickly build organic links without putting you at risk.

✘ Link Exchanging
Link exchanging, or link swapping, occurs when Website A builds a link to Website B, and vice versa. Google’s quality guidelines recommend avoiding excessing link swapping as it can lead to unnatural link profiles. You won’t see your rankings drop for the odd reciprocal link – as these may happen naturally – but too many swapped links and you’re asking for trouble.
✘ Spammy Directory Links
Online directories, think Yelp and the Yellow Pages, are a valuable way to build local citations and drive referral traffic. However, there are a ton of low-quality directories set up specifically to build links and pass themselves off as quality directories. They look the same, but too many spammy directory links can put you at risk of a penalty.
As long as there are SEOs, there will be SEOs trying to manipulate the link building process. If you’d like to learn more about unnatural link building tactics, read Google’s official blog here.

7 Ways to Build High-Quality Backlinks

Short answer: Strategically target relationships with thought leaders in your niche and earn links naturally.
OK, slightly longer answer. Link building campaigns will differ from one Kiwi business to the next. There’s no ‘magic’ number of links to build. Instead, you’ll need to earn links to help you hit your specific link building goals. For example, if your competition has content that’s similar to yours and 0 backlinks, you may be able to leapfrog their rankings with 1 or 2 quality backlinks. But if your competition has 20 backlinks from high DA sites, your own link portfolio may need to be much stronger.
To get your started on your link building journey, here are 7 proven strategies to earn high-quality backlinks for your New Zealand business.

#1 – Start a blog
The most common link building strategy is to start a blog on your website. By publishing high-quality content on your blog you can earn links from people who cite your content to back up their own content. Creating a blog is a strategy recommended by Google, so you’re in safe territory. This link building strategy takes time though, so you won’t be earning links right away, but over time a blog can become a proven source of natural links.
You can also earn links through guest posts on other popular blogs – find out how here.

#2 – Create irresistible content
Think of this as an extension of creating a blog. Irresistible content should be so high-quality it’s impossible for people to ignore. This is known as content marketing. Content marketing is a time-consuming strategy as irresistible content should be more in-depth and valuable than your ordinary blog posts (for example, the Digital Estate’s ‘Introduction to SEO’ guide you’re reading right now).
Use this short checklist to make sure your content is truly irresistible:
  • In-depth or ultra niche on a topic or location
  • Brings new information on an existing topic
  • Visually appealing and easy to read
  • Elicits strong emotions
  • Relevant and timely
When you create content that’s so jam-packed with value, other webmasters and internet users will naturally link to it, so their own followers and communities can benefit. Irresistible content is a powerful link building tool that improves your E-A-T while you sit back and enjoy the rankings boost.

#3 – Use your best customers
Your best customers are more than a source of revenue, they can be valuable link building partners too. Loyal customers, or even ongoing commercial partners, have their own businesses to run. By writing a testimonial (that’s honest and from the heart) about their products and services, you could receive a backlink on their website.

#4 – Use your local community
Got existing word of mouth buzz? You can use this to create backlinks. If you regularly meet your customers face to face, your community can create links to your site as part of their connection to you.
For example, if you offer a sponsorship of a local rugby team, you could secure a backlink from the local rugby club’s website. The same goes for loyalty programs, local competitions and charitable causes. When you put your brand in the local community, you create opportunities to be talked about and linked to.
#5 – Repurpose your content
If you’ve got content that’s already earning editorial links, you can repurpose it to promote your business on channels outside of Google.
For example, if you have a guide that drives the bulk of your monthly traffic and has your highest time on page, turn it into multiple pieces of content. You could share an amended version on Quora, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Reddit and YouTube to create 6 x new opportunities for links. Don’t worry if these are nofollow links. Remember, nofollow social signals help create a natural backlink profile and drive referral traffic to your site.
#6 – Be newsworthy
There are two types of content that drives links – evergreen content and time-sensitive content. Evergreen content is typically more valuable as it retains its value over time. This means a guide will still help people in 2025 as well as 2021. In contrast, time-sensitive content is only relevant for a short period of time.
You can use time-sensitive content to your advantage by catching the attention of news outlets and bloggers to drive quick links. This could be done by releasing a new product in your market, breaking a story about your niche, or offering a controversial opinion on your industry. Avoid being controversial for the sake of controversy, but if you believe in your views, don’t be afraid to create eye-catching content.

#7 – Utilise outreach email (but be yourself)
A common mistake Kiwi businesses make is to read helpful guides (like this one) and think they have to change their brand values to create irresistible content and earn editorial links. This ends up creating generic content that doesn’t stand out. Successful link building comes from staying true to your brand. Take the time to be personal, to bring value, and share what makes your business special.
This applies to ALL aspects of link building. For example, once you’ve created your awesome new content it’s common to email blogs or websites in your industry and let them know. This is a perfectly acceptable form of self-promotion and can lead to backlinks if your email recipients love your work. The problem is 99% of New Zealand business owners use email templates which are copied and pasted to every single person they reach out to. You’ve likely received a spammy email yourself that’s obviously been sent to multiple people.
Here are a few proven tips to help your outreach emails feel personable and unique:
  • Keep it short (no one has time to read walls of text)
  • Offer value upfront. Don’t just ask someone to link to your content, explain what value it can bring to their audience.
  • Build rapport first. It’s fine to share your content without asking for a link, and let your recipient make the decision to link back to you
  • Make it personal. Take the time to research your target then mention something to back up your research, like a recent article they wrote or a project they’re working on.

How to Improve Your Link Building Campaign

In this chapter you’ve learned how to build links, maintain a healthy link profile, and the key link building mistakes to avoid at all costs. But your link building campaign will only deliver results if you can track its success and improve your results.
Ask yourself the following questions to stay on target for your link building goals.

“How many links do I have?”
The most direct measure of your link building campaign is to track how many links you’ve earned. Keep in mind these could take many forms including:
  • Pillow links
  • Diversity links
  • Niche edit links
  • Guest post links
  • Social signals
As quality is more important than quantity, you’ll want to ask a few more probing questions too.
“Have I cleaned up my links recently?”
Link building isn’t just about earning good links – but removing bad links too. As other websites can link to yours, you may end up earning spammy links without even knowing it. Tracking your earned links using SEO tools, or using an SEO consultant to save you the cost and time, means contacting site owners and asking for backlinks to be removed. Or, by disavowing bad links.
“Was my content 10x better than my competition’s?”
Link building is a time-intensive SEO strategy. With so much content published each day, you need to put in extra effort to stand out and earn editorial links. If your content isn’t 10x better than your competition, why should anyone link to it? The easiest way to gauge the value of your content is to Google your target keywords and go through the top 10 results on the SERPs. Does your content add more value than those results? If not, you could be missing out on the opportunity to earn editorial links.
“Did I promote my content?”
Great content needs great promotion. This is tough for many Kiwi business owners who aren’t used to self-promotion, although forming relationships with industry thought leaders and webmasters is crucial to building relevant links. Outreach emails are one of the most well known promotional strategies available. This can be as simple as visiting well known blogs in your niche and contacting the site owners with your new content.
Successful link building comes down to who you know, as much as what you know, so an SEO consultant can save you the hassle of contacting webmasters while providing proven link building relationships for you to tap into.
“Are my backlinks high-quality?”
You’re a link building expert by now, so you know 1 x link from a relevant and authoritative site is better for your SEO than 10 x links from unrelated and spammy websites. The best backlinks for you will be at the cross-section of high Domain Authority (DA) and relevant topics.

How to Leverage Your Audience to Build Backlinks

The link building strategies discussed in this chapter have been about starting from scratch and growing your link profile organically. One of the most valuable benefits of building your backlink portfolio this way is that it builds your brand.
Here’s how that benefits you over time…
As more people link to your content, more people learn about your business. This helps to turn you into a thought leader. For example, if 100 different sites have linked to a single piece of your content, you’re an expert in the eyes of those 100 people. This can lead to more followers on your business social media accounts, and more monthly clicks to your website.
Once you have a community of interested people, every piece of content you publish has the potential to secure more backlinks. The next time you publish an irresistible piece of content, you may find your followers are eager to share it and link to it – after all, they already see you as a thought leader.

A Quick Word on Reviews

Reviews for your business aren’t technically backlinks (as they don’t typically contain a clickable hyperlink to your site) but they’re a valuable form of link building in their own right so we’ll give you the scoop anyway.
82% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses, so you can bet that your future customers are Googling your name right now. To make your reviews as strong as possible, follow these simple review-earning best practices:
  • ✔ Don’t review your own business (or have your employees do it)
  • ✔ Don’t offer incentives, discounts or reward points for reviews
  • ✔ Don’t leave a review on behalf of a customer (ask them to do it instead)
  • ✔ Don’t pay anyone to write a positive review for you (or a negative review for another business)
  • ✔ Don’t leave a review kiosk in your physical business (multiple reviews from the same IP address can come across as spam to Google)
The reason we bring up reviews is because they act as a signal of authority – just like backlinks.
Google uses reviews and backlinks to measure your authority, as well as your expertise and trust (E-A-T). When you do great work online, and offline, you’ll naturally build backlinks and earn reviews. Creating and sharing awesome content, satisfying customers, and earning links and reviews – this is the natural cycle of a valuable business.
Using the link building skills you’ve picked up in this chapter, you’re now equipped to begin that cycle and enjoy the increased rankings, reputation and revenue that snowballs over time.

Well Done! You’ve Found the Missing Link

Link building isn’t easy, but it’s a powerful SEO strategy that needs to be part of your business going forward.
Great link building relies on a range of link types, from foundational pillow links to protective diversity links and brand boosting social signals. To keep things simple for your business, you can boil link building down to 5 key steps:
  • Create truly great content
  • Self-promote your content
  • Avoid spammy link building tactics
  • Focus on earning quality, relevant links
  • Keep your link profile healthy
Follow those steps and you’ll have an off-site SEO strategy that drives higher rankings and the valuable organic traffic that comes with it.
You’re only one chapter away from finishing our ‘Introduction to SEO’ guide now. With your SEO knowledge bursting at the seams, there’s only one skill left to master – Analysing, Measuring, and Improving your SEO.
Chapter #7: Analysing, Measuring, and Improving SEO
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