High-quality backlinks are among the most effective SEO strategies to increase page rankings, but obtaining links ethically requires time and dedication. Converse to black-hat link farm techniques, earning high-quality backlinks is a long-term growth solution that avoids Google penalties.
In this link-building guide, we differentiate between white-hat link-building strategies and black-hat, explain how white-hat strategies help you build quality backlinks, and share eight white-hat SEO strategies to build ethical backlinks.
Let’s dive in.
What Is White-Hat Link Building?
White-hat link building is an SEO technique that follows Google’s guidelines to improve a website’s authority through high-quality inbound links.
Links from other websites, particularly those with high domain authority, signal to Google that your content is relevant, helpful, and high quality. Websites with more backlinks typically rank at the top of search results because search engines recognize them as a trusted source of information.
While most backlinks are earned naturally when one website references another website, some white-hat link-building techniques involve outreach to other website owners. As long as your content is relevant and helpful to the website’s readers, outreach is an ethical way to obtain a backlink.
To avoid Google penalties, all strategies must follow Google’s spam guidelines.
White-Hat vs. Black-Hat Link Building
White-hat link-building strategies stay within Google’s guidelines, while black-hat SEO techniques are attempts to game the algorithm system. Black-hat link-building strategies focus on gaming the algorithm by buying spam backlinks, using link farms or Private Blog Networks (PBNs), and leaving links in mass-generated blog comments.
Black-hat strategies are spammy, and search engines keep getting smarter. They’re rooting out these bad links faster than ever.
Why does this matter?
Well, neglecting to follow Google Search Essentials (formerly Google Webmaster Guidelines) can result in Google dropping your rankings and even removing your website from search results entirely. It can take years to recover from these penalties.
Google’s core system for detecting toxic backlinks was launched in 2012 as part of its Penguin algorithm, a system designed to uncover websites earning unnatural, spammy backlinks. More than 10 years later, Google still makes adjustments to its algorithm for detecting backlinks with ongoing spam updates. In addition to these dedicated spam updates, Google’s algorithms are tweaked on a daily basis to deliver relevant, helpful websites that are free of spammy backlinks.
While black-hat strategies may offer some short-term benefits, the risk of Google dropping your website from its search engine simply isn’t worth it.
Note: The terms “black-hat” and “white-hat” have been identified as non-inclusive language. In the future, SEOs should aim to use the terms “ethical” and “unethical” as descriptors of these strategies.
Why Is White-Hat Link Building Important?
When multiple websites link to a page on your website, it signals to search engines that your content is relevant, valuable, and high quality.
White-hat link building is important because search engines use backlink data to inform page rankings by rewarding higher rankings to pages with more backlinks. Using white-hat methods ensures Google approves of your SEO methods. It avoids unethical shortcuts that could get your website banned from search engines.
Google-approved link-building strategies increase your domain authority and greatly improve SEO over time. Link building is an essential component of a website’s overall SEO strategy, which also improves brand awareness and increases website traffic across multiple channels.
8 White-Hat Link-Building Techniques
To drive traffic to your website and improve your organic search rankings through ethical link building, follow the white-hat link-building techniques below:
- Guest Posting
- Cold Outreach
- Share Proprietary Data
- Broken Link Building
- Create Link-Worthy Content
- Make Use of HARO
- Search for Brand Mentions
- Work With a Reputable Link Building Service
1. Guest Posting
Guest posting is the practice of publishing content on another website as a guest author. It’s a popular link-building strategy where the writer is allowed to include a link back to their website when writing for another website that explicitly states they accept blogs and article submissions.
Ideally, a guest post should not be generated solely for the purpose of building links. While a guest post is a great way to grow authority through links, its primary purpose should be knowledge sharing.
As Google continues to emphasize Experience as the newest part of E-E-A-T, sharing your experience and expertise through a guest post on other websites is ok. Trying to game the system by writing a generic piece of content to gain a backlink is not.
Inbound links from guest posts on relevant industry sites are far more valuable to your SEO success than any irrelevant links obtained from black-hat strategies. An additional benefit of guest posting is the referral traffic driven to your website if the article ranks.
Important note: Make sure you are guest posting to other white-hat sites that aren’t asking you to pay to post your blog on their site. Otherwise, this can turn into a gray or black-hat technique.
This collaborative approach to content marketing fosters connections within your industry while also boosting your website’s visibility and credibility. Looking for these opportunities should be based on your motivation to share information across your industry and grow your expertise rather than a desire for backlinks.
1. Start by making a list of websites to reach out to. To find websites looking for guest posts, search your topic keyword + “write for us” or “guest post.”
2. Reach out. Send a personalized email to the websites on your list introducing yourself as an expert and sharing your credentials. Provide relevant article ideas for their audience related to the topics on their existing blog or website. Include links to your content to show the quality of your work and to show you’re a valuable contributor. Be sure your credentials align with any guidelines they provide for writers, as well.
3. Deliver the post. When you’re ready to deliver the guest post to the website, make sure your content is well-written and helpful to the website’s audience. If you fail to provide quality content, the site won’t post your blog, you’ll lose the backlink opportunity, and you won’t align with Google’s best practices. Again, a guest post shouldn’t exist as a thinly veiled attempt to achieve backlinks; it should reflect your knowledge as a subject matter expert.
2. Cold Outreach
Reaching out to niche websites that aren’t specifically looking for guest posts is a strong alternative to only emailing sites that mention they’re open to guest posts. If your ideas are relevant to the website and helpful for their audience, they may accept your pitch even if they don’t explicitly ask for guest posts.
For example, if you’re a heavy metal machinist, the ideal opportunity for a byline is Popular Science. But, Metal Center News might be a more achievable goal.
The plus side to this type of cold outreach is that these websites aren’t as inundated with pitch requests, so there’s less competition. The downside is that you could spend a lot of time pitching before anyone accepts your proposal. However, receiving one or two “yeses” from relevant industry websites could have a substantial impact on your backlink strategy.
3. Share Proprietary Data
Collecting proprietary data by conducting a survey and sharing your interpretations is a great way to earn high-quality links from sites that value original data sources in their content.
Authoritative sites, in particular, want data and statistics to support their commentary and advance the industry. If you publish relevant statistics and/or fresh data, your content can easily become the source they cite.
Beyond white-hat backlinks, proprietary data positions you as a thought leader, and any research reports derived from your surveys make high-quality lead magnets. Increasing traffic to your website is easier when you have original data.
4. Broken Link Building
A broken link occurs when a web page is moved or taken down, resulting in a 404 status code. A broken link-building strategy is built on creating backlinks to your site by asking websites to replace broken outbound links in their content with a new link to your site.
Updating old content to keep it current and relevant is essential for creating a seamless experience for readers. Broken link building is another collaborative approach where you’re helping the other website improve its content.
To identify opportunities for backlinks from broken links, use an SEO tool to uncover a competitor’s broken links. Once the tool has identified those websites, reach out to the highest-quality, relevant sites about the broken link and ask them to replace it with pages on your website.
5. Create Link-Worthy Content
Creating high-quality content that is naturally link-worthy is a strategy that doesn’t require outreach, but it does require substantial effort.
If your team isn’t already working on creating high-quality, link-worthy content, an SEO content writing service can help.
To create link-worthy content that marketers and industry leaders want to reference in their content, focus on:
- Offering a new perspective.
- Matching search intent.
- Covering a topic extensively through “how to” articles, long-form guides, and list posts.
- Creating evergreen content that remains relevant regardless of trends.
- Updating content frequently to ensure your content remains relevant.
Google’s entire system of following and ranking sites based on their backlinks is rooted in the concept of value. If your content is providing value to others, then it should earn links naturally.
6. Make Use of HARO
Media outlets like TIME Magazine and the Wall Street Journal use the Help a Reporter Out (HARO) website as a resource to find experts for their content. Since these websites have high domain ratings, they provide excellent backlink opportunities for their sources.
Simply sign up to receive HARO source requests in your email. When you spot a relevant request in your inbox, respond quickly with a concise and helpful reply. Check out our guide to HARO link building here.
Here are some tips for crafting a great HARO pitch:
- Ensure you meet the requester’s requirements.
- Understand their audience and make your reply targeted to that audience.
- Provide proof of your credibility as a source for the topic.
- Keep it short and skimmable — fewer than 300 words is ideal.
- Follow the platform rules.
7. Search for Brand Mentions
Unlinked brand mentions provide a direct opportunity to gain links from websites that are already familiar with your brand and supportive of your content or products.
An unlinked brand mention is when another website refers to your content, brand, or products without linking to your website. If the website is speaking positively about you, then it makes sense to reach out to them about adding a link to your website.
Tools like Ahrefs, Semrush, and BuzzSumo can help you find unlinked brand mentions.
It goes without saying, but if the website isn’t speaking positively about your brand, don’t ask for the link. Also avoid asking for the link when the website is part of a PBN, a link farm, or if the website owner asks for payment.
8. Work With a Reputable Link Building Service
Not all link building agencies focus on quantity and use black-hat tactics. As an SEO agency, Victorious understands the magnitude of off-page SEO. We offer link-building services to support our customers’ comprehensive SEO strategies and provide them with the best chance of ranking for their desired keywords. Schedule a free consultation to learn more about how our link-building services can help your website.
Helpful Link-Building Tools
There are myriad SEO tools to support white-hat SEO link-building activities. The following are some of our favorites.
To use Ahrefs to find broken links, follow these steps:
- Select a competitor and enter their URL into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.
- Navigate to the “Broken backlinks” report in the left column.
- Sort by Domain Rating, with the highest at the top.
- Scroll through the broken pages and find relevant topics you either already have content on or can easily create.
- Reach out to the domains that link to your competitor’s 404 URL, notify them of the dead link in their content, and suggest your link instead.
By signing up for Google Alerts, you can monitor brand mentions and create notifications for any topic.
BuzzSumo helps marketers discover the industry’s most popular backlinks. Use this tool to find influencers who are sharing your competitors’ content and thus might also be interested in your content.
Article Source Tools
We already mentioned HARO, but it’s not the only expert sourcing tool. Research some HARO alternatives to monitor media outlets and blogger source requests.
Get To Work on Your Backlink Strategy Today
High-quality backlinks are a cornerstone of an effective SEO strategy that drives higher rankings and relevant traffic to your site.
Here at Victorious, we’re a white-hat SEO agency that uses only ethical, data-driven SEO strategies.
Book a free SEO consultation to discuss how we can become your white-hat link builders and SEO strategists.