Link Building: How To Rank Above Competitors On Google In 2021

Computers & TechnologySearch Engine Optimization

  • Author Oliver Lewis
  • Published February 26, 2021
  • Word count 4,080

To rank above your competitors your website needs to establish more authority than others. This can be done by receiving inbound links from authoritative websites, building up your brand awareness and remaining close to your audience. This article is all about building high-quality links and improving your domain authority.

Don’t take our word for the importance of building links, Google has confirmed it. They have stated that quality content and backlinks are two of the three most important SEO factors they look at when deciding where to rank a website. As a rule of thumb, you are very likely to find spammy websites link to other spammy websites, while trustworthy sites link to other trustworthy sites.

So, for your website to look trustworthy, you need to go on the hunt for trustworthy websites and attain a backlink from them.

This article is going to answer the following questions:

  1. What is a backlink?

  2. How do you get other websites to backlink to your website?

Let’s start by breaking it down.

What is a backlink?

Backlinks, also referred to as ‘external links’ or ‘inbound links’, are hyperlinks made up of HTML that point to one website from another. Having a lot of backlinks is a lot like having a good reputation.

Imagine if you went on a holiday to Rome and bumped in to three people, all unrelated, and you asked them where the best restaurant is for pasta, and they all came out with “Luigi’s near Vatican City”, you would most likely feel confident that Luigi’s is the best place to eat some authentic Italian pasta. Backlinks have the same effect for search engines.

Internal links

We touched on internal links earlier on in the course, but we thought we would just recap for this next part. Internal links are used to connect pages on the same website. A substantial amount of internal links pointing to a certain page on your site will give Google a signal that the page you’re pointing to is important and they should look at it. This concept can be applied to the use of backlinks and as long as its not done in a spammy way, can be very effective in the quest for higher search rankings.


If you’re familiar with Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines, then you will know that they have highlighted great importance in the concept of E-A-T. This stands for Expert, Authoritative and Trustworthy and if you receive a low score in any of these then you can bet that your rankings will reflect it. You see, websites that don’t work on these characteristics will be seen as low-quality and as a result, search engines will not be favourable towards them.

This acronym should be considered as the magic formula and the secret to future-proofing your website. By following these guidelines, you will be providing excellent value to your visitors and that is just the thing that Google is looking for.

Links directing towards your website

The higher importance and popularity of a website, the larger the weight that come from the links on that website. An example would be Wikipedia. They have quite literally thousands of diverse sites or all shapes and sizes directly linking to it. This shows search engines that they have a lot of expertise, cultivated authority and is a trusted site.

If you want to increase your website authority then you will need to receive backlinks from trustworthy websites, the ones that demonstrate the qualities of E-A-T. Don’t worry, you don’t need to chase sites as large as Wikipedia, but they must provide searchers with useful content.

Follow or nofollow

Backlinks should be considered as votes. The rel=nofollow code enables you to directly link to a resource while at the same time removing your “vote” for search engine purposes. As the name very much suggests, a “nofollow” link tells a search engine not to follow it.

This type of link does not pass link equity but can be useful when linking to a web page that is untrustworthy or has a low authority score.

An example would be if you decided to write an article about fire safety in the workplace and add links to some of the resources you used. If one of the source websites was untrustworthy you can provide Google with a signal to tell it that you don’t trust it. Remember spammy sites link to spammy sites so you need to make sure that Google doesn’t see you in that light.

You should aim for a natural balance between follow and nofollow backlinks to your website. Here are some benefits and examples of both types:

  • Follow Backlinks – These types of links will pass on link equity which will allow your page authority to grow. An example of a follow backlink would be if you have written an article about baking a sponge cake and allow another website to publish on their page in return for credit. This is where there would create a HTML code linking directly back to your website.

  • Nofollow Backlinks – Even though these types of links don’t benefit your page authority, they can still increase website traffic. An example of a nofollow backlink would be a user comment on a blog post of someone else’s website. If your comment is engaging, informative and adds value, then it is likely that other visitors will click through to your website.

It is important to note that one of the most popular places to gain backlinks from is website directories. Whilst this may seem like an easy win, they are more often than not, nofollow backlinks and will not count towards your domain authority.

Backlink profile

The phrase ‘backlink profile’ refers to the total number of links directing towards your website, the quality of them, the diversity, and many other factors. A search engine will read and assess your backlink profile to understand the quality of your site. The backlink profile of all websites is a major SEO factor and something that needs to be monitored.

There are hundreds of free tools out there that can dissect your backlink profile, but our favourite and one of the most popular across the web is ‘Ahrefs Backlink Checker’. There is a free version and a paid version available at a small cost. The free version gives a breakdown of the links a website has, as well as identifying the domain authority score.

The importance of a healthy backlink profile

When backlinks first became a deciding SEO factor for search engines, people immediately began manipulating the algorithm for their own benefit. There were and still are several ways to gain artificial backlinks to improve search engine rankings. Although this is an easy solution, it goes against Google’s Terms of Service and can result in huge penalties and even having a website deindexed which basically says game over.

Don’t cut corners to get to the finish line faster, build and maintain a healthy backlink profile and futureproof your business.

The importance of a healthy backlink profile comes down to the way a search engine views your website. If they can see you have high-quality, natural backlinks and have built up your page authority fairly, then they will reward you.

Editorial backlinks

What is an editorial backlink and why are they important? These types of backlinks are created naturally by other websites that want to link to your website. By supplying publishing websites high-quality content that they want to post on their sites, you are able to gain high-quality backlinks.

Don’t think that if you string a few sentences together about driving laws, then send it to an online motoring magazine that they will publish it and you will receive a backlink. Your content must be the best and most interesting resource they have read about a particular topic.

These types of links are our favourite because they require no major work from you except the time put in to creating a piece of high-quality content.

Stick to what you know, write about things you’re passionate about and have fun! If you’re having fun when you’re writing, it will show through in your content and hold readers attention for longer.

Relevant backlinks

When creating a backlink profile, it is important to stay relative to your niche. For example, if you sell used cars, a backlink from an online motoring publication will matter a lot more than a backlink from a wedding photography website.

As well as the odds of you finding more customers on websites relevant to your business, it is worth noting that search engines can get confused if you have a wide variety of backlinks that cover alternative topics. Keep it relevant!

Don’t get spammy

As you already know, Google doesn’t like to be manipulated so it dishes out heavy penalties to those they believe are spammy websites. One major element that SEO’s get wrong is anchor text.

Using anchor text is a fantastic way to tell search engines what a page is about. However, too many backlinks with the same anchor text will indicate to search engines that you’re trying to manipulate your websites search engine rankings. Proceed with caution and maintain the quality of your content.

A great analogy to get your head around this concept is to imagine that you met up with five different friends, at different times of the same day and asked what they have been up to that day. This is the exact response from each one:

“I began my day with a bowl of Shreddies followed by a walk on the beach with my dog, Todd. When I got back, I cooked myself a sirloin steak and asparagus.”

How weird would that be and how suspicious does it sound? It is the same principle for Google. Using anchor text to describe the content of the target page is an excellent way to support a search engine to understand what your page is about. Too many of the same description though, well that will just look suspicious and it could be considered as spam.

Qualified website traffic

Although a healthy backlink profile is primary built for search engines, it is important to remember that you should focus on acquiring links that will bring qualified traffic to your website.

If you are selling dog collars online, build links that come from dog-related websites such as puppy training or dog grooming forums. These types of websites will have an audience that will find value in your content and products.

Methods to avoid

There are a few link building methods that are still very popular in this day and age but involve unnatural, sneaky methods that search engines are cracking down on.

One method to avoid is buying links or engaging in a link building exchange programme where you add multiple backlinks to your website in exchange for backlinks from a variety of other websites. It might seem like there’s nothing bad in doing this, but they are not natural, and you can receive a penalty.

A rule of thumb is to never try and manipulate a website ranking. Build links naturally and watch your website grow.

Top 3 things to avoid in link building

  1. Buying links – Even though a search engine cannot identify the exact links that a website purchases, there are some signs that their robots can identify. Buying backlinks will only end one way, a severe penalty, and a significant drop in search engine rankings.

  2. Exchanging links – Have you received one of those emails or messages on social media that reads something like “I will link my website to you if you link your website to me”. Now this can be a bit of a grey area so pay attention. It is perfectly fine to link to a partner website or a supplier that you use or even a customer. What Google doesn’t like however, is excessive link exchanging that occurs on a mass scale with unaffiliated websites. This method will result in a penalty.

  3. Directory links – In the early days you could sit at your desk for a few weeks and add your website to every online directory imaginable. These days they don’t count for an awful lot because they are so easy to acquire. That being said, people still use online directories and there can be opportunities to receive additional traffic that you may never have received. Whichever way you look at it, using a directory to receive a backlink is classed as manipulation and if your entire backlink profile consists of only directories, then your website will look spammy.

8 steps to success

We have covered a lot of the methods to avoid in this section, but it is worth noting the steps to success in link building. Here are the 8 most important points to think about when building your link profile:

  1. Earn – Write informative, high-quality content and earn backlinks from other websites using editorials.

  2. Authority – Forget about the low-authority pages, they won’t help. The real results will come from pages with a high domain authority.

  3. Progress – You link profile should gradually increase over time. Don’t build 1,000 links in a few days because it will look spammy.

  4. Relevance – Build backlinks from websites that are relevant to yours or your niche.

  5. Anchor – Make use of anchor text, make it relevant to what your pages are about but don’t overuse them.

  6. Qualified – Bring qualified traffic to your website that show an active interest in your product or services.

  7. Mix – Build a healthy mix of follow and nofollow links.

  8. Natural – Earn links naturally and don’t try to run before you can walk.

Building high-quality backlinks

Link building comes in many forms and it is important to get a good mix of high-quality backlinks from a range of sources. The following part of this section goes a bit deeper into the best methods for acquiring high-quality links.

Partner links

An easy one to kick things off – partner links. Make a list of all your partners and reach out to them to see if you can place your logo or domain name on their website. A great way to do this is by creating a digital ‘partnership badge’ that you can both put on your websites as a sign of a strong, mutual relationship.

Blog links

If you don’t have a blog already, you need to build one. It is a well-known fact that blog posts are personally recommended by the engineers at Google as part of link building strategies. Blogs have an unrivalled ability to publish consistent and new content while all the time linking back to different web pages. They have a very high conversion rate in search engine results because of how specific they are to search queries.

Be careful when commenting on other blogs, however. Even though you will receive a nofollow link back from that page, they are considered low-quality due to the nature in which they can be acquired.

Unique resources

A unique resource is not easy to create during the age that we live it. Often it feels as if everything has already been done but if you can create a unique, high-quality resource then you are on to a winner.

It helps if your resource is visually appealing, addresses a timely interest, is new and elicits strong emotions. It is also worth making it specific to a location.

The idea is to share your resource with as many publishers that you can reach out to with a view of them linking back to your web page. Make sure you keep it specific and target websites that have a similar audience to your own.

Community engagement

There are loads of ways to get involved with the local community and gain valuable backlinks to your website. The community doesn’t necessarily have to mean the local under 11’s football club, it can be a wide range of genres, clubs and educational programmes. Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Sponsor a local club or organisation. It is common practice for a club to put a logo of their sponsor on their website along with a backlink.

  • Host an event or workshop that engages the community. Ask them to write about it on their own personal or business blogs.

  • Donate to local causes and charities. Attempt to create working partnerships with the charities.

  • Loyalty programmes can help increase your brand awareness within a local area.

  • Run a local competition and offer discounted entry to anyone that shares it on to their own web page along with a link.

  • Team up with other like-minded local business owners to create an organisation that helps your local community.

All of these points are authentic and natural strategies to gain backlinks for your website. It will also paint a positive picture of your business and support brand awareness.

Re-write content

Your back-end platform should provide you with the statistics for your web pages so you can see which ones are most popular and has the highest conversion rate.

It is important to keep the content on these pages fresh and updated.

You might one day discover that a few websites within your niche all link towards a resource website whose content is out of date. Well here lies your opportunity to approach those websites and offer to link to your website instead. Remember, they want to provide the best experience for their own customers and will only want to link to the best content. Make sure yours is the best they have read, and you will most likely receive a new backlink for your efforts.

Stay up to date

There are always new topics, stories and controversial opinions that will increase engagement on your website. Be newsworthy and relevant to the world around you.

Remember that the human race is naturally nosey, and you can use that to your advantage when coming up with new content to publish.

Measuring results

Hopefully, you have now gained some valuable insights into how important links are and how to build a high-quality backlink profile. What good is this knowledge if you can’t measure the results and understand what works and what doesn’t. This part of the course is going to guide you on how to track your performance.


The most accurate way to track and understand how effective your link building has been is to count the number of total links to your page or website. There are plenty of tools online that can help you achieve this. One of our most favourite is Moz’s Link Explorer.

By using tools like this you can see if the number of backlinks directing to your website is as high as you planned. You’ll be able to cross reference each page of content to understand what works and what doesn’t. This process is all about learning and there are a few questions you need to ask at the same time.

  • Was your content better than anyone else’s on the subject you chose?

One of the most popular reasons why link building efforts weren’t as effective as people thought they would be is because the content simply wasn’t as valuable as other web pages.

Revisit the content, understand what others are doing well and create something even better.

  • Could you have done more to promote your content?

Please don’t expect people to find your content and immediately want to link to it. Send emails, promote it on social media and speak with your existing contacts to showcase your work and drum up some excitement. It is even worth using your most popular web pages to link to your new content.

  • How many backlinks do you need to compete in search engines?

By using SERP analysis tools just like Keyword Explorer from Moz, you will be able to view a report that outlines who is ranking for particular search terms and how many links you have. This is so useful when coming up with a link building strategy because you can see in black and white how many links you need to be visible at the top of search engine results.

  • Were the backlinks you received of a high quality?

Remember that its quality over quantity and even though other pages might have hundreds of links, if you can get a handful of high-quality links, you will be in the driving position. One link from a website with a high domain authority is a lot more valuable than twenty from directories, blog comments and other low-quality sites.

Growing domain authority

This section has already explained that building high-quality links with the ‘follow’ tag will, over time, improve your domain authority.

There are other ways in which you can gain more page authority. Social media, the one industry that goes from strength to strength and something that has become part of our every day lives. It is also a great place to share your valuable content and make your audience aware of what you’re doing. This will encourage them to amplify that awareness to their own networks by sharing posts.

Although you can share links on to social media, they are not categorised as backlinks so has no direct impact on your SEO score.

Social media platforms do have their uses:

  • Shares can directly increase website traffic and visitors.

  • Attract a brand-new audience.

  • Grow brand-awareness.

  • Increase trust in a brand.

  • Increase links from other websites.

Website visitors may find you through social media and as a result they may link back to your website because the content is such a high quality.

Be trustworthy

Search engines are all about the user experience, so they want to put the websites they trust most, in front of their audience. Trust is mostly determined by the number, and quality of backlinks a website has.

There are some other determining factors that are considered by search engines:

  • Helpfulness – Does a website provide the answer to a query?

  • Integrity – Are they honest and do what they say they can do?

  • Language – Are they able to communicate their message clearly?

  • Value – Are they focused on providing value to visitors?

  • Quality – Is the quality of the product or services better than others?

  • Reviews – Do people have good things to say about them?

The final point in this list is often overlooked but it happens to be extremely important to a business’s reputation. In a generation of total transparency and the ability to dig up dirt on anyone, negative reviews can ruin a business.

The goal is to always provide excellent customer service or sell a product that is of the best quality but sometimes things are out of our control and we face a backlash.

Some things to consider when looking after your online reputation:

  • Don’t review your own business or ask your staff to do it.

  • Don’t offer incentives or rewards in exchange for positive reviews.

  • Don’t pay an agency to leave positive reviews about your business.

  • Don’t leave reviews for customers.

  • Don’t write negative reviews about competitors.

  • Don’t ask customers who are inside your building to leave a review. It can be assumed that a business is spamming if multiple reviews come from the same IP address.

  • Don’t forget to read the terms and conditions of any review platforms that you sign up to.

Although leaving a fake review might seem harmless, it is actually a major problem that’s taken on global proportions. It is in violation of government advertising guidelines and if found guilty can be punishable with heavy fines. Fake reviews really aren’t worth it so don’t be tempted.

So how do you improve your online reputation? The simple answer is to provide exceptional customer service.

Using a combination of exceptional customer service and following search engine guidelines you are creating a winning formula for building domain authority and trust.

Final words

Domain authority is built when businesses share great content, earn reputable backlinks, and make customers happy. If you can tick all of these boxes you are on the road to SEO success.

Oliver Lewis is an SEO and Digital Marketing professional from South Wales, UK. Oliver has an SEO Guide published and works closely with dozens of businesses in order to help them scale their company using search engine optimisation.

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