Beginner’s Guide to Link Building for SEO

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Link building for SEO (search engine optimization) is one of the essential components of a successful SEO strategy. Links signal to search engines like Google that your site is a high-quality resource, establishing your website as an expert, authoritative, and trustworthy. The E-A-T acronym (expert, authoritative, trustworthy) has become a more critical component of SEO, with a direct correlation to link building.

As easy as link building for SEO sounds, it takes ample time and effort to create a successful link building strategy; when you get there, the reward is oh so sweet!

In this beginner’s guide to link building for SEO, I’ll be discussing…

What is SEO?

SEO, also known as search engine optimization, is the process of improving your website to increase visibility in search results organically (meaning no paid ads). SEO is the practice or method of increasing the quality and quantity of traffic to your website from organic search results.

There are two (2) sides to the SEO coin: user intent and quality of content. User intent refers to understanding what people are actually searching for online, recognizing the words and phrases they are using, and the type of content they are consuming.

Your quality content, side two (2) of the SEO coin, becomes the answer to their questions and the solution to their problems. You want to ensure the content you’re creating can be read easily by both users and search engines.

SEO takes time and effort, but the payout, if done correctly, keeps on giving! A high-quality blog post or piece of content on your website can bring in organic traffic for years and years. What Instagram post or paid ad has brought continual high-quality traffic to your website for years and years? Don’t think too hard – the answer is none. With SEO, the limit does not exist (yes, that’s a Mean Girls reference).

RELATED: SEO for Beginners – Glossary of SEO Terms Explained

What is link building for SEO?

Link building is an integral component of a solid organic SEO strategy. When paired with high-quality & informative content, a great user experience, and solid SEO foundations, link building is effective at driving even more traffic to your website.

Links are one of the main ranking factors search engines like Google considers in its rankings. As with most things, quality over quantity when it comes to links. The quality of links is just as – if not more – important than the number of links.

A successful link building strategy helps boost your domain authority and can also help improve your website bounce rate. The main types of links in SEO are internal links, external links (also known as outbound), and backlinks (also known as inbound). Each link type serves a purpose in your overall SEO link building strategy.

What are the main types of links important to SEO?

The three (3) main types of links you’ll need to focus on when crafting your link building strategy for SEO are internal links, external links, and backlinks. They each serve their own purpose but are all important in their own right when it comes to improving your rankings in search results.

Internal Links

Internal links are links on your website that link to another page, product, blog post, etc on your own website. Internal links are designed to keep website visitors navigating through your site, which in turn keeps them on your site longer and helps to avoid website visitors from bouncing. The longer people stay on your website, the better for SEO.

For example, if someone is reading this blog post on link building for SEO, we know that they are interested in SEO content. Because of that, I’ve included a “Related” content link under the “What is SEO?” section that goes to my blog post on SEO terminology. That is an inbound link.

External Links

External links are links on your website that link out to another website, product, blog post, etc. Essentially if it has a different domain and you are linking to it, it is an external link. In our blog post on tools and resources for small businesses, we include links to some of our must-have platforms like Social Squares, Grammarly, and Toggl Track. The links in that blog post to these other sites are external links.

Linking to other websites may seem counterproductive – why send someone off your website?! I always set external links to open in a new browser tab so people can easily refer back to our site. Linking to other high-quality websites can help you to improve your rankings in search results. Don’t get spammy with it though and start linking to every and any related website; make it authentic and a worthwhile link click for your website visitors.


Backlinks are links to your website from other websites. Think of backlinks, also known as inbound links, as a digital high-five. They signal to search engines like Google that your content is high quality and engaging, which can help improve your rankings in search results. Backlinks show search engines like Google that your content is valued and trustworthy. Ultimately, backlinks tell search engines that your content has been vetted by other reputable sources as being reputable.

I did a really in-depth interview with Sara from Between The Lines Copywriting about Squarespace website design and everything your web designer wants you to know. In the blog post that Sara wrote, she included numerous links back to The SM Collective and various blog posts that were relevant to what we chatted about. The links from Between The Lines back to my site are backlinks. Oh, and that link to the interview on Sara’s site I just did gave her website a backlink.

RELATED: Whiteboard Wednesday Instagram Training on SEO Link Types

How to get quality backlinks

Now that you know what backlinks are, you’re probably wondering how to get them. The good news is, I’ve got you covered! The key here again is quality and industry-related.

The authority of a website plays a factor in the quality of the backlink. In fact, it might be one of the most important factors. For example, a backlink from a website like or is of much higher quality than a link from your town’s local “News and New Shoes” blogger. Think of authority as trust. With backlinks being like a digital high-five or digital review, you want those high-fives from the NY Times and CNN’s of the world over Jane Doe’s local blog that only her mom reads; they are trustworthy, credible, and have more authority on the topic at hand.

The relevancy of the referring website also plays a large role in the quality of the backlink. Links from topically irrelevant websites can cause confusion not only for users but also for search engines as to what your page and/or website are about. For example, if you are an interior designer, a backlink from Studio McGee is of much higher quality (and relevancy) than a backlink from your local spin studio.

How do toxic links affect SEO?

On the flip side of quality links and backlinks, toxic links can also affect your SEO. Links built in a spammy, unnatural, nonsensical, low-quality way can negatively impact your SEO more than you think. In fact, Google penalizes sites that have spammy and low-quality link profiles so don’t fall into the link trap! Spammy link building techniques seem like an easy fix but they can do more harm than you realize.

Just like you wouldn’t purchase Instagram followers (I certainly hope you aren’t), don’t purchase links! You also want to avoid the seemingly harmless “hey, if I link to your site will you link to mine?!” crap. You want to make sure the source is reliable and vetted; don’t just get a backlink to get a backlink – make it worth it. That quick “you get a link, you get a link, everyone gets a link” can flip and negatively impact your SEO, which will take even more time to rebuild.

The importance of anchor text in link building

Simply put, anchor text is the string of words that are hyperlinked to another page, website, and/or document. When it comes to anchor text and SEO, you want to ensure the string of words being linked is strategically selected. It should be succinct and refer to the nature of the content and/or website.

There are a few different types of anchor text to be aware of…

  • Exact Match: anchor text is considered an exact match if it includes keywords that mirror the exact content of the page (ie: “link building” linking to a page about…you guessed it…link building).
  • Partial Match: anchor text is considered a partial match if the keywords are a variation of the keyword on the linked page (ie: “anchor text in link building” linking to a page about link building).
  • Branded: anchor text is considered branded if the brand or company name is used as the word or string of words being linked (ie: “The SM Collective” linking to our services or about page).
  • Image: I’m guessing you’ve heard of alt tags for images from both an SEO perspective and an accessibility perspective. Search engines like Google can read images (hence the image search function). They use the text contained in the image alt tag as the image anchor text.
  • Naked: don’t worry, I’m keeping things G-rated here! Anchor text is considered naked when there is no string of words being linked and it is just the URL itself ( They aren’t the most attractive link type to see in a blog post, for example, so I usually opt for exact, partial, or branded when possible.

Link building strategies and tactics for SEO

When it comes to link building for SEO, there are various strategies and tactics you can implement. Strategies are what you are going to do while tactics refer to how you’re going to do it.

Here are some link building strategies that help get quality backlinks to your website…

  • Guest blogging
  • Podcast guest (most put episode show notes or recaps on their site)
  • Digital PR coverage
  • Public speaking and/or keynote event speaker opportunities
  • Collaborations (ie: product-based, interview Q&A style, events, etc)
  • Publish ultimate guides and evergreen content (ie: the ultimate guide to SEO for bloggers)
  • Utilize the “skyscraper technique” — find relevant content that has performed well (think page 1 of Google), produce a piece of content even better than that (use it as inspiration but make it your own, don’t copy!), then reach out to people and sources that covered those well-performing content pieces and ask that they link to your even better content.
  • Become a source for reporters with platforms like HARO – Help A Reporter Out (think online dating PR style)
  • Infographics — people love visuals but make sure there is are facts and an explanation to support it.
  • Link and/or image reclamation — if you find your content and/or image is being used without credit given, reach out and request the credit you deserve (and backlink!)
  • Broken link building — find relevant websites (or check your competitor’s backlinks) that have broken outbound links, reach out to them and suggest your content to replace the broken link.
  • Discover “likely linkers” as Backlinko calls them through reverse engineering — similar to the tactic for broken link building, find relevant sites that have outbound links and suggest your content be added to the post and/or list.

How to discover link building opportunities

You’re probably thinking, “those strategies and tactics all sound great but how do I actually find opportunities?!” I’m glad you asked!

Backlink Analysis with Semrush

Here at The SM Collective, I use SEMRush as one of many SEO tools. They have a backlink gap analysis tool that is truly a link building game changer! With the backlink gap tool, you can discover opportunities for links that your competitors have…but you don’t. Sneaky (and totally legit), right?!

You’re able to see what links are helping your competitors rank. If another site is linking to your competitors in a round-up post, for example, there is a good chance they’d want to link to your content on the same topic as well. The SEMRush backlink gap tool allows you to add up to 5 competitors and gives you a wealth of knowledge on their referring domains including the website’s authority score and what sites are giving the most links.

Do a General Google Search

When all else fails, Google has the answers. I’ve said it before but SEO takes time and effort and this method of discovering link building opportunities fits that to a T. Type your target keyword(s) into Google and explore the content on the first page. What content is showing up? How informative and detailed is the content? Where does the content link out to? This is great if you don’t want to spend the money on an SEO platform like SEMRush but still want to spy on your competitors and industry-related content creators.

You can also do highly specific searches on Google that really narrow down your link building tactic. I use a similar technique to explore a website by typing “site:[website URL goes here]” to see all the pages of a website. From a link building perspective, you could search “[keyword] intitle:”weekly round-up”” to find content round-ups to share your latest blog post with. You could also search “[keyword] “best blog posts”” to see the best posts on that topic. With Google, the possibilities, resources, and answers are endless!

There you have it — the beginner’s guide to link building for SEO. I hope this beginner’s guide gives you the foundational tools to start implementing today in your own business. I know SEO seems like some “super-exclusive operation” and I’m here to make the world of SEO more accessible and less techy. If the world of SEO still scares you, we’re here to help with our SEO strategy services.

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Hey there, I'm Stepf—Google Superfan & Passionate Educator

And the showit website designer and seo strategist you’ve been looking for

Through strategic Showit website design and done-for-you search engine optimization, I work with innovative and creative business owners like you to build magazine-worthy websites that effortlessly attract your ideal client—so much so that they’ll never want to leave.

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