Grab a marker, go to your whiteboard, and add a daily priority task: “Check, monitor, and create backlinks!” After a time of fulfilling that order every morning immediately after your first cup of coffee, you will see the results in the form of hordes of new visitors coming to your website.
If you own or manage a website, you must have an SEO strategy that thrusts your pages to the top of SERPs. (In case you don’t understand any of these acronyms, you should probably read an introduction to SEO before reading the rest of this article.)
Your SEO strategy should have as the number one priority the creation of excellent and original content. And the second priority should have a great link-building strategy that gets you a lot of links pointing to your pages — that is, backlinks.
Why are backlinks so relevant?
Search engines favor web pages that are authoritative for each keyword searched. That means those pages appear in the first places in the SERPs for those keywords or, even better, are placed inside featured snippets, which practically guarantees thousands of visitors each day.
To be considered authoritative by a search engine, the webpage must meet some conditions. One of them is to have as many backlinks as possible.
By now, you are probably thinking “well, that’s easy, I can place a lot of links to my page in other pages I own, and problem solved.” Nah-ah. I’m sorry, but it is not that simple. You don’t just need links — you need high-quality backlinks.
See, not all links are the same when it comes to SERP scoring. There are good links, that is, links that come from other authoritative pages for the same keywords. These will skyrocket your SERP positions. And then there are bad links, also called toxic links. You should avoid or get rid of these because they could nullify your whole SEO efforts.
A backlink can be considered toxic for many reasons, but all point to the same concept: a backlink is toxic when it is not authentic. A toxic link can be utterly artificial, for example, if it is placed on a page full of links to unrelated pages with even more unrelated content. That could be a payed-for backlink, and search engines hate that. All links in unsafe websites or in low-reputation pages are also considered toxic.
Link building strategies
Basically, any link-building strategy reduces to the same idea: generate links to your site on authoritative sites you don’t own. Are you wondering how you can do that? Well, first of all, you should know it is not easy. You need to discover hard-to-find opportunities, taking into account that your competitors are doing the same.
So, what you need are good tools to reveal those opportunities. Think about the gold rush: miners with the best picks and shovels had the best opportunities to find gold nuggets. We’ll talk about tools further below; first, let’s review some tips for which the tools could be used.
First of all, rule out the obvious backlink ideas. Yes, you can put a comment on a blog post, adding a link to your website, and it is possible that that link gets you some visitors. But chances are it won’t carry the SERP information search engines take into account to rise (or lower) your rankings. Most of that easy-to-post links are created with the “nofollow” attribute, which basically suggests search engines to drop all SERP information before crawling them.
“nofollow” is one of four attributes that can be added to a link in order to guide search engines on what to do with that link. There’s also the default “dofollow“, which is the opposite: it suggests the search engines carry the SERP information when crawling that link.
There are two more attributes: “ugc” and “sponsored“.
UGC means User Generated Content, and it could be used to mark links inserted in the content generated by the users of a website. For example, post comments or forum entries. Finally, “sponsored” is used to mark links created as an advertisement, sponsorship, or any other compensation agreement.
White hats and black hats
When talking about easy (or automated) link-building tactics, you will hear about “white hat” techniques and “black hat” techniques. As you have probably imagined already, a white hat is good, and a black hat is bad. Black hat refers to foul-playing tricks that could be dangerous for your SEO because search engines don’t like them, and if they discover you are using them, your SERP rankings could take a dive to the bottom of the search results.
So, let’s see some white hat techniques. Your first priority in this matter should be to work on your outreach. You need to identify potential websites that could benefit by placing a link to your site on theirs, get their contact information, and send them messages asking them to link to your site. But you don’t need to browse randomly to see who to send those emails. The right tool will show you the sites with the highest chances to accept your linking proposals.
Guest blogging is an old-school tactic that works pretty well. You have to offer bloggers to write a post for their blogs, with your name and a link to your site on it. There are lots of blogs that welcome guest bloggers, but you have to find them. If bloggers don’t take your guest blogging proposal, you can offer them to fix their broken links. That means detecting broken links, create content similar to the missing resource, and ask anyone linking to it to point to your content instead.
There are a lot more link-building tips you can use — you can find dozens of them on good blogs about SEO. But a comprehensive backlink strategy includes more than just link building. It also requires you to regularly check and monitor your backlink inventory. And that is something you can’t do manually. So let’s talk about backlink tools.
Backlink management tools
The huge number of existing tools to help people implement a successful backlink strategy could give you an idea of how important backlinks are. Inside this universe of tools, the most useful ones keep track of the mesh of backlinks on the whole internet and assist you in your link building and management activities.
Just don’t get dazzled by “magical” tools that promise to automatically generate backlinks to your site; always remember that link building is not an easy task, and it cannot be well performed by any automated tool. Be careful with link-building promises that employ black hat methods and could end up harming your SEO.
So, the best tools are the ones that give you a lot of information about backlinks that you could use to get the best results of your link-building efforts.
Let’s check out the top picks.
Ahrefs holds one of the largest backlink indexes in the whole world.
Besides managing backlinks, Ahrefs is designed to perform most of the activities an SEO Pro needs to do daily, although it is pretty easy to use for non-Pros. But specifically in the backlink area, Ahrefs provides a lot of tools to do backlink research.
For example, one of these tools, called “Link Intersect,” lets you discover sites that link to your competitors but not to you. This is very useful information because if a site links to more than one of your competitors, there’s a good chance that it could add a link to your site.
Ahrefs offers a free version that lets you monitor ten backlinks and two domains per request. If you are willing to pay $ 82 a month, you’ll get a comprehensive analysis of your backlink profile, including image backlinks, dofollow/nofollow, anchor text, etc. Such information could prove invaluable in case you get a penalty from Google because it gives you figures about the anchor text ratio on your site.
The information provided by Ahrefs not only helps you with your link-building activities. It also shows lost backlinks and new backlinks to your site, so you can thank the webmaster or return the favor with a reciprocal link. For the lost links, you will be informed about the reason for the loss, so you won’t need to guess why it happened. The Ahrefs dashboard also shows suspicious links that you can disavow to avoid penalties.
Within the Semrush, you can find the Backlink Analysis tool, a powerful aid for getting functional data about backlinks from any domain. With its huge database of 26,5 trillion backlinks, Semrush offers a lot of revealing charts showing new & lost backlinks, authority ranks of all referrals, the evolution of backlink generating processes, and much more.
With the Backlink Audit tool, you can integrate your Search Console data and avoid being penalized by Penguin. You can also discover and delete toxic backlinks and send them to Google’s disavow tool, keeping your backlink profile clean thanks to automatic and periodic tracking.
Besides backlink analysis, Semrush offers a full set of SEO tools you can use for free, for an unlimited time, but with limited functionality. This includes keyword research, monetizing analysis, traffic analysis, SERP position tracking, CPC mapping, and many more.
Moz Pro is a complete suite of professional SEO tools, in which Moz Link Explorer is one of the main utilities. It is especially useful to do reverse engineering on your competitors’ backlinks. To see its magic at work, you just have to enter a competitor’s domain or a specific URL, and Moz will show you all of its backlinks. For each backlink, you could see some metrics, such as a domain authority index, the number of linking domains, a spam score, and a list of the top links.
Its pricing plans range from $ 99 to $ 599 per month, depending on how many features and how “pro” you want to be in your SEO activities.
One of Link Explorer’s distinctive features is Anchor Text Analysis, which shows the most common anchor text in a website’s backlink profile. Many would ask what the use of this feature is, and the answer is that it helps to detect black hat linking techniques: if there’s a lot of exact match anchor text, it could be a sign of fraudulent tactics.
Although Moz’s database is not as big as Ahrefs’, its subscription fee includes several other tools besides Link Explorer, which could be worth paying for.
Majestic SEO offers this tool as a Chrome App, bringing backlink analysis directly to your browser. It’s a fast way to verify the strength of any page according to its backlink information. The Trust Flow and Citation Flow scores appear immediately on the URL bar for any page you visit, together with summarized information about URLs and domains linking to the page.
Although you can subscribe for a fee to get all the features, the Chrome App offers some bits of data for free, which includes link profile charts and link counts at the URL, subdomains, and root levels. Subscribers get more details about the links, including lists of the ten strongest backlinks and of the ten strongest anchor texts. They can also dig deeper into link analysis, accessing the tools directly from the App.
A new contender entered the SEO arena recently, and the leaders of the pack should pay attention to it.
SEO Spyglass is part of SEO PowerSuite, a set of tools awarded with lots of positive reviews. Unlike most SEO tools, this one is an application you install on your computer, whether it be a Mac, a Windows, or a Linux machine. You can use its basic functionality for free as long as you like, or you can pay $ 299 per year for a professional license, which offers such goodies as unlimited backlink monitoring, task scheduling and basic reporting functions, or $ 699 per year for an enterprise license, which unleashes all of PowerSuite’s functionality.
SEO Spyglass reportedly has the biggest link database of all known tools. You can also add your own links, importing them directly from Google Analytics and Google Search Console. The tool identifies potentially harmful links to avoid being penalized by Penguin 4.0 (the most recent version of Google’s search engine). It calculates the risks involved in a penalty, taking into account the same factors used by Google. If it finds a threat, you can neutralize it with a few clicks, using SpyGlass-exclusive disavow file generator — you don’t have to worry about doing it right on your own.
Some SpyGlass users say that the tool allowed them to duplicate their organic traffic only by following its SEO advice. They even say that the return of investment (ROI) of the Enterprise version was less than a month, so if you are serious about your SEO strategy, you might want to try it out.
SE Ranking is a backlink checker that uses Google Webmaster Tools data to check incoming links to your website or your competitors’. The tool generates a detailed link analysis that shows follow/nofollow attributes, index/no index, cached/not cached, domain authority, anchor text, social popularity, Alexa rank, and lots more. It lets you disavow links and generate files to submit them directly to Google.
SE Ranking offers three basic plans: Optimum ($ 39/month), Plus ($ 89/month), and Enterprise ($ 189/month). They vary in the number of websites checked and the number of backlinks monitored. You can get discounts by subscribing for many months or by reducing the check frequency: 20% for checking every three days, and 40% if you’re OK with checking weekly; otherwise, the checking task is performed daily.
A backlink monitoring tool that analyzes the true impact of your backlinks on your SERP rankings. Through smart notifications, Nightwatch sends you regular updates on newly discovered and lost backlinks. It uses its own crawlers, combined with multiple external tracking sources, to provide accurate and up-to-date information on all the backlinks that could affect your rankings.
The visualization tools offer segmentation by any kind of parameters to help understand the impact of each backlink. A backlink portfolio summarizes different segments, acquired at different times. You get to know their diversity by quality, domain, follow/no-follow attributes, and spam status.
Nightwatch performs an automated checking of alive and dead links, to show you which links are adding value to your website and which are reducing that value.
A big database — bigger than Elon Musk’s ambitions, as its own website states — is the foundation on which LinkMiner is based.
Just by typing in your competitor’s domain name, it can identify its most powerful backlinks, evaluating them with renowned metrics such as Citation Flow, Trust Flow, and others. A simple visualization panel avoids the common problem of excessive browser tabs: with just one click, you get a preview of each referring website with the anchor placement highlighted.
LinkMiner gives you the option to find backlinks from all its 9-trillion-backlinks database, or search only the newest data, to limit the search to 30 days old links. The “Lost” option helps you find deleted backlinks and get the opportunity to replace your competitors. To keep your focus on the links that matter, LinkMiner offers you to save the best finds into a list. You can save the most relevant backlinks and get back to them whenever you want.
Pick a tool; any tool.
Now there’s no excuse for not adopting a link-building strategy. Search engines are constantly evolving and getting smarter. Never forget that their goal is to index the best content of the web to make it easily reachable. And you should help them with those two goals, by creating great content and making sure it can be easily reached from as many places as possible.