Most companies (brands and SEO agencies alike) make the same link building mistakes. If you want your website to generate traffic, it needs to achieve decent search engine rankings. In order to achieve decent search engine rankings, it needs to have quality inbound links.
But simply building links isn’t enough. A lot of webmasters and even marketing professionals spend countless hours on link building campaigns only to see their rankings flatline—or worse, plummet.
If your efforts aren’t bearing fruit, check out our list of the biggest link building mistakes and see if you’re making the same ones.
1. Ignoring Link Building
The first link building mistake is perhaps the most obvious. By Google’s own admission, links are the single most important ranking factor next to the content itself. Some people in the SEO community say that superb content and on-page optimization will be enough to get Google’s attention, but that’s a myth.
Problem: Many site owners make the mistake of assuming that they can rank without active link acquisition. Or they assume that their content is good enough that it will generate links on its own. But here’s the catch 22: If you’re not actively building links, your content probably won’t be visible enough for others to find and link to—even if the quality is dynamite.
Solution: If you want your site to rank, you must build links. Some links are easy to build, like those from your social media profiles and from popular business directories. Those should be first on your list. Then you can start going after the more challenging links.
2. Pitching the Wrong Websites
You may score a hundred links, but if they’re all from websites unrelated to your own, you may be surprised to find that they won’t help your rankings much. Every link may have counted equally in the early Yahoo! and Netscape Navigator days, but today’s search engine algorithms are far more sophisticated. Google in particular considers the linking site’s relevance to your website when attributing value to the link.
Problem: If a large percentage of your links aren’t from websites relevant to your niche, there is little to no relevance. Google is constantly weaving a web of knowledge, so you want to closely align yourself with relevant websites in your industry. Additionally, since inbound links count as votes, search engines want to be sure that those votes are legitimate.
Solution:. You should always be asking yourself who would make a good link partner. When looking for guest blog opportunities, focus on blogs within your niche. When going for directory links, try to find a few directories that are specific to your industry. There are directories for attorneys (like Avvo and Nolo), for writers (like Content Runner), for home contractors (like Contractor Registry), and for countless other trades, hobbies, and geographic locations.
If you’re not sure where to start, check the backlink profiles of your top competitors. You can do this using Moz Link Explorer to see if any relevant sites linking to them might be good potential partners for you too. You can also use Google to find relevant directories and blogs by searching for industry/trade + directory (ex: marketing directory).
Additionally, you can use tools like BuzzSumo to search for relevant influencers who publish content in your niche. Their platform allows you to find a few highly qualified bloggers who allow guest blog publishing, and reach out to them.
Agencies that specialize in small business SEO may have an existing repository of blogs and directories they can quickly reference to expedite niche-specific link acquisition. These firms typically maintain relationships with high-authority brands across a wide range of industries and can help you to obtain links that would otherwise be out of reach.
3. Focusing Exclusively on Authority Sites
Another common link building mistake is only targeting sites with high authority scores. Domain Authority is a ranking score, developed by Moz, that predicts a website’s likelihood of ranking. Domain Rating is a similar type of SEO score developed by Ahrefs. The higher the score (on a scale of 1 to 100), the more valuable the site is considered in the eyes of search engines.
When building links, it makes sense that we would want to focus on links from domains with a high DA/DR. After all, the more authoritative the domain, the better the link. Right? Unfortunately, this logic is flawed.
Problem: For starters, high-DA links are typically much harder to acquire. In the time it takes you to acquire one high-DA link, you could have built 10 smaller links and generated more value for your website.
While quality certainly matters, quantity is also vital for SEO. This is especially true for local businesses, as they don’t require the same kinds of high-authority links required of large national brands. That’s why local SEO campaigns often focus a lot of energy on generating links from sites in the 20-50 DA range.
Solution: It’s a good idea to research the Domain Authority scores before reaching out to potential link sources, but don’t automatically dismiss those on the lower end of the scale. As previously noted, other factors (such as domain relevance or quantity of links) may be more helpful to your SEO efforts.
4. Not Vetting Sites for Guest Posting
Writing guest blog articles is an easy and effective way to build valuable, relevant links. You produce a piece of blog content for another website, and they allow you to include a link back to your own site. Many site owners are happy to offer guest blogging opportunities because it provides them with free content that they don’t have to create themselves.
Problem: It is time-consuming to find guest blog opportunities, so it’s tempting to seize any opportunity that comes along. But just because a website is offering you the chance to submit a guest post doesn’t mean that it’s in your best interest—even if publication is guaranteed.
Relevance is once again a factor, but you also have to consider the quality of the site itself. Google has been known to crack down on spammy guest blog links, so you have to be especially careful when writing guest blog content. Choosing the wrong guest blog opportunities won’t just result in wasted time—it may even result in a Google penalty.
Solution: Whenever you find a guest posting opportunity, take some time to conduct a complete audit of the site. Note the quality of the existing content—low-quality or spammy content is an immediate red flag. Consider the industry relevance, and determine if visitors are actually engaged.
If you have Ahrefs access, do a deep dive and review metrics like the site’s traffic history and the ratio of inbound vs. outbound links—ideally, you’d like to see more inbound linking domains than outbound linked domains. For more details, check out our post on vetting guest blog opportunities.
5. Choosing the Wrong Anchor Text
Your anchor text refers to the words that accompany your link. For example, if we wanted to link to our content marketing page, we would use the anchor text “Content Marketing,” like so: Content Marketing. (See what we did there?)
Problem: If your link is accompanied by generic or less-than-perfect anchor text, you’ll still get the full SEO value of the link—at least in terms of authority. But it’s nevertheless a missed opportunity because you could be associating that authority with an important, relevant keyword. Anchor text helps Google understand what the linked-to page is about – which helps it weigh the page for relevance when matching for specific queries.
Solution: You don’t always have control over the anchor text (such as when you ask another webmaster to link to your blog), but quite often you do—especially when writing guest blog content. Choose your anchor text carefully. It should be an important keyword that’s directly relevant to the content you’re linking to.
Relevance is key when choosing your anchor text. Use anchor text that naturally fits the context of the sentence and paragraph where it appears. If you use spammy, awkward, or forced anchor text, you’ll alienate your link partner and possibly signal unnatural linking behavior to Google. You should also mix up your anchor text to create a natural-looking backlink profile.
6. Building Links to the Wrong Pages
As part of your link-building effort, you need to find relevant link partners and persuade them that a link to your site would be beneficial to them. If you’re pitching links to the wrong pages, though, you’re not going to make a very persuasive case. And believe it or not, you may actually get more long-term value by linking to blog pages than commercial pages.
Problem: If you’re reaching out to webmasters and hoping to acquire links to your homepage, product pages, or category pages, your efforts will usually be met with little to no response. Even if you think that your product will be highly useful to someone’s readers, they’re not likely to link to it just because you ask. They get tons of solicitations like that, and most go right into the trash.
Solution: You shouldn’t focus all your energy on building links to the big money pages. Building up traffic through blogs/content on the site brings more value in the long run. Category pages have a finite amount of keywords they can rank for, but blog content can be dynamic and generate far more traffic. The resulting brand awareness is why ranking content may provide more value than just ranking commercial pages.
And remember, even if you build links to non-commercial pages, it all benefits your Domain Authority (so long as the links are relevant and high-quality) and gives you the opportunity to pass that equity to other pages via internal links. So focus on producing the best content available on a given topic, and promote it as part of your outreach.
7. Not Personalizing Your Outreach
Speaking of outreach, your approach is every bit as important as your content—sometimes more important. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and it needs to be effective. Sending out a template-based mass email is one of the most egregious link building mistakes in SEO.
Problem: In order for a link-building outreach effort to be successful, you have to reach out to a lot of website owners. To save time, it makes sense to draft a single email and blast it out to everybody on your list. The problem is that website owners can spot a generic form letter from a mile away. It looks spammy and insincere, and it will kill your ability to close the deal.
Solution: Go ahead and draft a master template email, but make sure to personalize it for every webmaster on your list. The introduction and general details can remain the same, but you need to tailor each email to the recipient. Include a sentence about a related piece of content on their site that you found engaging, or point out something specific from their About page that you think would make them a relevant link partner.
8. Ignoring Dofollow/Nofollow Balance
As if link-building wasn’t already complicated enough, you have to consider the SEO value of dofollow vs. nofollow links. Nofollow links are the ones that contain “rel=nofollow” in the HTML code, and they pass no direct value to your page from the linking page. The distinction was created to prevent manipulative linking efforts. With that said, you still need a reasonable ratio of both dofollow and nofollow links on your site, thus ensuring a balanced, “natural” link profile that keeps search engines happy.
Problem: Because nofollow links don’t pass SEO value, many people focus exclusively on link sources that offer dofollow links. While this would seem to make sense, it can actually hurt you in the long run. It looks unnatural to search engines when a website has predominantly dofollow links. That’s not what a natural link profile looks like. And if your link profile looks unnatural, your site may be penalized or even deindexed by Google.
It also looks unnatural if the vast majority of your links are nofollow—it gives the impression that you’re spending an exorbitant amount of time building links via blog comments and forum posts. This is equally harmful. And since nofollow links don’t pass SEO value, it’s also a waste of time.
Solution: There is no perfect ratio of dofollow vs nofollow links when it comes to SEO; what works well for one site may not be effective for another. The important thing is to ensure that your link profile looks natural. So try to build both types of links. If you’ve been successful in building a few dofollow links, take a break and generate a few nofollow links in forums and comment streams. This will help you to build your entire link profile while avoiding the ire of the search engines.
9. Building Reciprocal Links
Also known as a link exchange, the building of reciprocal links is among the oldest SEO tricks in the book: you link to me, I link to you. It’s an easy SEO incentive that you can offer to website owners, which explains why this technique remains popular in 2019. This is one of those link building mistakes that not only thwarts your SEO efforts, but can earn your site a devastating penalty.
Problem: “Excessive link exchanges” are expressly forbidden under Google’s Quality Guidelines. If an unusually high percentage of your inbound links are reciprocal, there’s a high likelihood that your site will be penalized.
Solution: Just don’t do it. A few reciprocal links are no big deal because that may be natural in Google’s eyes. You probably already have reciprocal link partners without even realizing it. For example, if you have a Facebook page that links to your website and also a link to your FB page from the footer of your website, those are reciprocal links. However, if you’re actively spending time seeking reciprocal links, you increase the likelihood that Google will flag you for excessive link exchanges.
10. Forgetting Internal Links
Up to this point, we’ve talked exclusively about external inbound links—links pointing from someone else’s website to your website. But internal links (links from one page on your website to another page on your website) are also important for SEO, primarily because they pass SEO value from one page to another and as a whole they tell Google which pages on your site you consider most important.
Problem: Far too many website owners fail to include strategic, anchor-text-rich links to internal pages within their site. But in fact, if you’re strategic about using anchor-text links to associate specific keywords with specific pages, you pass targeted keyword value to those pages while giving search engine crawlers a better understanding of what each page on your site is about.
Solution: Consider which keywords you want a given page to rank for. Then build links to that page using the keywords as anchor text. For example:
- Let’s say that you have a “Men’s Socks” category page, and your primary keyword is “men’s socks.”
- Look for other pages on your website where the term “men’s socks” appears—perhaps on the homepage, on the main “Socks” category page, and in a few blog articles.
- Highlight the keyword “men’s socks” on each of those pages (just once per page), and create an anchor-text link back to the main “Men’s Socks” category page.
Link Acquisition is Hard but Not Impossible
Link-building can seem daunting, but it’s not beyond your reach. There are a lot of ways to mess things up, but if you’re diligent about the process and you consciously work to avoid the all-too-common mistakes outlined above, you will see results.
The important takeaways to remember are:
- You must build links if you want your SEO efforts to be successful.
- Link relevance trumps everything, including quantity and even Domain Authority.
- Be strategic about your links. The pages you link to, the anchor text you use, and even your ratio of dofollow vs. nofollow links are all important.
- Not every link opportunity is a good opportunity. Carefully audit every potential link partner.
- Internal links matter too. Don’t neglect them.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, remember that link-building is a form of marketing. If you want to be successful at it, you need to provide value. Create content that’s link-worthy, and make your outreach personal and meaningful. Your efforts will not go unrewarded.