Quality backlinks do boost SEO and search engine rankings. The question is: What are quality backlinks and what are the most strategic and effective methods to acquire them?

In the past, as long as a link appeared somewhere on the web and linked back to a page, that page would be ranked. The more frequently that happened, the higher the ranking. To fight those spammy backlinks and the resulting negative user experience, Google created new algorithms that value links that come about through natural sharing, popularity and relevance. Still, a savvy SEO team can’t simply put out content, sit back and hope for the best. There are smart strategies websites can use to encourage a diverse, natural pool of backlinks from quality sites and boost their rankings.

Public Relations

In a Moz.com analysis of top startups, the 55 domains that most frequently appear in backlinks reports share a common strategy: PR. This is not old-style press release submissions. This is directly contacting those who write about topics related to one’s business—think of promotion and marketing. Reporters are always looking for good quality content to write about, and a strategic brand will make themselves known to those who write in their locality or niche. These reporters should be notified of any company-sponsored events, special offers, product releases, awards, or community outreach. A good guideline to follow is to always be mindful that this is relationship-building, and be respectful of the reporter’s time and inbox.

SearchEngineLand.com suggests running daily scans (possibly using Google Alerts) to keep abreast of industry and/or competitor news items. When relevant articles are found, complete action items such as commenting on the article, sharing the post or emailing the author to continue the conversation. A related suggestion is creating private Twitter lists of reporters and actively monitoring what they’re working on in order to offer information they will find useful and usable. Offer interviews when appropriate.

Placed Links

A second strategy shared by top-performing startups (in terms of link-building) is placed links.

Placed links are those found in profiles, information pages, ‘about’ pages, etc. The local Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureau are trusted sites that could also easily publish a link. Other good link sources may be niche lists (such as eco-friendly businesses) or ‘best of’ articles that highlight local businesses.

Editorial Links

Editorial links are those that are given freely by other websites. It can be considered true ‘link-earning,’ as opposed to link-building.

The best way to achieve these types of backlinks are to create amazing content that others will find valuable or interesting. Fortunately, this can cover a vast variety of topics and delivery. Always popular types of content include ‘how to’ articles, informative blog posts, videos (both informative and funny), articles with an emotional hook, rankings, polls or surveys, pop culture references and other nods to current events.

Provide ways for readers to share these on social media to further boost backlinks. Great content will be shared many times over, providing a large number of quality backlinks.

Build Relationships to Get Links

Building relationships and connections can take time, but can also provide a wealth of valuable backlinks. It’s easiest to begin with friends and acquaintances when requesting backlinks. Other sources could be vendors, customers, suppliers or industry organizations. Many people purposefully begin building relationships with influencers in their fields by following them or connecting to them on social media. They offer thoughtful comments on articles, ask advice and, as appropriate, introduce them to their own articles, posts or videos. SearchEngineLand.com offers a few nice ways to approach these connections.

Here’s a great tip from Moz.com’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO: With a keyword or phrase search, find sites that appear in the search for those terms but are not direct competitors. They may offer complementary goods or services. Then simply contact the site owners to begin the conversation about getting a link—being willing to post one in return. This can work well if it is truly a targeted effort toward relevant sites rather than a random free-for-all. All backlinks are not quality backlinks.

Expanding Reach and Awareness

Participating in social media is an excellent way to expand reach and increase brand awareness, eventually resulting in organically increased backlinks. As contributions are shared across social media, awareness grows and backlinks do, too. Join the most popular social networks—Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn. Regularly post and comment on what others are doing and saying. Relationships can grow naturally from these interactions. Other places to submit posts and get links are Reddit, StumbleUpon, Digg or other bookmarking sites. Share photos and videos on Pinterest, YouTube and Vimeo. Visual content can be very powerful and attractive.

Guest blogging can be another way to get backlinks. Before agreeing or offering to write, evaluate sites based on authority, audience, reputation and popularity. Study the site to determine what should be written and offered for posting. These should be original articles. It may be necessary to write a few things to determine whether or not the site is worthy of continued effort. Great sites will offer a lot of value in terms of readers who may be otherwise difficult to reach.

Provide Value

Another way to encourage backlinks is to create value that people will feel good telling others about. These could be downloadable reports or guides, ‘how to’ videos or even special offers or sales.

What Not To Do

Don’t buy links. This is a discredited, ‘black hat’ SEO tactic that will damage SERP rankings.

Don’t bother with posting in article directories. These are generally considered to be a waste of time. If they are free and willing to post just about anything, they will not be considered valuable. If they charge, then the link may be considered a ‘bought’ link.

Don’t be willing to exchange links with anyone and everyone. Varied sources of backlinks that are site-relevant are good; random backlinks from scores of unrelated sites are not.

Key Takeaways

Aim for a natural, organic diversity in backlinks. Focus on providing quality content, building relationships, being active on social media and remembering the principles of good public relations.

Stay away from ‘spammy’ link-building such as purchasing links or relying on low-quality sites that search engine algorithms don’t value.

Remember that it can take time to make this organic link-building happen but don’t give up. This is a long-term investment with long-term rewards.