Blog: SEO
Abstract concept of website linking and data streams

Link Building 101: A Beginner’s Guide to SEO and Links

John Koinange

John Koinange is a digital marketing associate and regular contributor for the Lockedown SEO blog. His work has appeared in numerous online publications.

How does Google determine what pages to rank highest?

One signal that Google and other search engines use is back links.

Links from external websites are one of the most integral ways of assessing a page’s importance, relevance, and authority.

Additional context for incoming links helps search engines understand why other prominent websites refer or link to the content. I couldn’t come up with a more beautiful way to underscore the value of link building as a key SEO strategy.

Surprisingly, while Google’s algorithms remain unpredictable at best, link building withstands the test of time as an unwavering ranking signal.

What Is Link Building?

Link building refers to the practice of getting hyperlinks from other websites, preferably from industry-related niche websites, to your site. A hyperlink is the mode of navigation used to search internet pages. It implies that once search engines crawl a site, they entirely crawl links present in your website, and also the links between the entire website.

Which Links are the Most Useful?

Do you know what’s an amazingly awesome SEO strategy?

Accessing and acquiring backlinks that you didn’t actively pursue. However, it all starts with making your website link-worthy. Period.

White hat SEO practices including excellent content and impressionable user experience, and offering quality products, and services are a necessity. Take a long-term approach if you truly wish to reap maximum benefits from link building.

From personal experiences and SEO expertise, the best answer to most SEO questions remains it depends. In solidarity with the SEO community, let me say that the most useful links are dependent on your intent. Irrespective of this, a common consensus exists on the prudent and recommended method to determine the most useful links; the E-A-T model.

Expertise. Authority. Trust.

Imagine a scenario whereby an industrial manufacturing website gets most of its backlinks from dating sites. Take a moment and try to visualize such circumstances.

Herein lies the difference between a high-quality link and a poor-quality link.

The New York Times linking to a manufacturing website significantly changes its fortunes for the better. However, in SEO terms, the utility of a backlink from a site like Xometry to another manufacturing site generally has more positive weight than a link a generic website. Context makes a difference in how much power and influence a back link has on your rankings.

Here’s another example.

Here at Lockedown SEO, we target industrial manufacturing clients. Consequently, if Donaldson, an industrial manufacturing company, links to our site that becomes a good backlink. Similarly, if we recieved a link from Search Engine Journal, that would also benefit our rankings, because both sites write about SEO.

It’s important to understand that a New York Times backlink wouldn’t harm our ranking. Nothing could be further from the truth. The point is, relevance to your page’s niche and theme matters a great deal. The most useful backlinks should not only compliment your expertise but also validate your authority in a specific niche. It translates to trust with the desired target audience. The search algorithms, in their crawling mystery, notice these signals and rank pages accordingly.

Getting links from authority sites is critical and highly encouraged but more so, let these authority sites be highly related to your niche. These are the most useful links.

The more niche authority a site possesses, the more relevant their link becomes.

Should You Pay Attention to Domain Authority?

Yes, absolutely.

Going back to the E-A-T model, earning links from a relatively new site carries less weight than getting links from an established and popular website. Crawling allows search engines to assess a domain’s authority based on factors such as content quality and overall user experience. If found to possess the desirable brand signals, the search engines assign a PageRank, which determines the domain authority of the site. Links from authoritative domains help to improve your page rankings since the search engines interpret the association as a shared badge of quality.

Types of Links

Follow vs. Nofollow Links

Suppose you want to link to a site but wish that Googlebot will not crawl the site? This is called a nofollow link and tells the bots not to follow the link and crawl the linked site.

These types are important for two key reasons:

  • Prevents one from directly endorsing a site while linking to it. This is not necessarily bad for SEO, as most social media sites and third-party lead generation sites use the nofollow attribute on profile links.
  • Applicable to profitable sites, or affiliate sites where links are incentivized. Google introduced the attribute rel="sponsored" to distinguish between profitable and paid sites. Rather than using the nofollow attribute, Googlebot prefers using the sponsored attribute. This is the only time Googlebot expects to see paid links. While you can sneak (emphasis on sneak) a few paid links in, since they boost rankings, Google flatly views paying for links in order to manipulate search rankings, as prejudicial to its ‘honest, objective and mechanical’ model of assigning PageRank.

Nofollow links yield brand recognition and referral traffic despite not passing the domain authority or link equity.

Follow links directs Googlebot to follow links and pass PageRank, and are the most regularly used links. The follow links are used to endorse a site and pass the authority of a web page. Furthermore, follow links help bots understand the utility and relevance of the content.

User Links

Integrating user-generated links isn’t a highly-recommended SEO strategy. Traditionally, Google penalized sites for tapping links from users, as many users would end up building spammy, low-quality links. Manipulating user-generated links is a common link building strategy with inexpensive, low-quality SEO service providers. Some user-generated links include uncontrolled comments, embedded widgets and infographics, guest blogs with keyword-saturated anchor text, advertisements, and user profile pages.

Generally, these links may not hurt your rankings but are considered low-quality. It’s probably a good idea not to spend time and resources investing in such links.

Natural Links

These are links organically generated by people who come across your website and decide to link without asking. Lack of tracking parameters and inability to exist in sponsored or paid content characterize natural links. The goal of these links is to provide value to the target audience. Videos, blogs, images, and product listings are some common areas where natural links are available.

Natural links are considered ‘good’, high-quality links and are one of the safest and most efficient ways to build and promote one’s content.

The Position of the Link Matters

The right question under focus is where a link should be embedded: in the main content or the secondary content?

Presumably, your main pages showcase services and expertise. Compared to footer pages on a site, it’s preferable to have links on the services page, or in a blog post. With no intention of undervaluing the footer pages, the services page, and the informational resources form two critical parts of your site. Furthermore, links embedded in sidebars and footer pages aren’t as important as those found in the middle of the content of the main page. The footer and sidebar links, which are duplicated on many pages, are known as sitewide links. Google is believed to treat sitewide links as though they were a single link.

In one of the Google conferences, John Mueller, head of Webmaster trends at Google, explained that it does matter if the primary content page contains lots of external links and minimal links to other pages on the same domain (internal links). Additionally, to further boost your rankings through internal links, Google advises one to use a clear linking structure. It happens when a site integrates a clear setup such as navigation menus, sidebar menus, etc.

Without a clear linking structure, complete crawling can fail because the bots cannot follow internal links due to discoverability challenges.


If someone links to your site to endorse the quality of your content, that’s an editorial link. A good link. Don’t go around manipulating search engine algorithms by scrapping for unnatural links. It’s a violation of the set guidelines and can lead to penalties.

Anchor Text in Links

Anchor text refers to the actual text the linking page uses to talk about your content. In simpler terms, link anchor text forms the clickable text section of a link.

For example, here at Lockedown SEO, we help industrial companies get meaningful leads and sales from organic traffic. Therefore, if a site offered to link to us using the text ‘SEO for industrial companies’, then this would be a good link due to relevance and quality. However, if a person linked to our site using the anchor text ‘SEO for healthcare’, that sends a different message to the search engines. The ranking advantage gained is more in the former anchor text compared to the latter.

At this juncture, it’s imperative to mention that you should divest providing all your linkable content on one primary page. Normally, when people talk about a site, they point the links to the home page. The problem is, this makes it more difficult for other pages to attain higher rankings making it difficult to generate their own link equity.

How to Earn Backlinks Through Quality Content

We’ve generated an exhaustive guide on practical ways to earn backlinks for SEO. Take your time to explore these ways and find out which works best for you.

Irrefutably, the ultimate goal remains to get improved rankings and website relevance to meet the search intent of the target audience. The refined search engine algorithms can distinguish the quality and relevant content from drivel, and assign rankings accordingly. Acquiring good links is preceded by excellent content. Anyone linking to your website must see the value. Before even thinking about backlinks, start by creating content that provides answers to solve a specific challenge.

Here are Some Tips for Creating Quality Content

  • Research and understand the target audience. Who will consume your content? It doesn’t matter how passionate you’re about a topic. Successful and relevant content starts by acknowledging that it’s a dual functionality between the audience and the writer. The idea is to generate interest and get feedback and reviews. Research on factors such as age, education, and values among others to ensure that the target audience is part of your content generation process.
  • Identify the Core Content Topics. Think of the core topics aligned to your target audience and explore the pain areas your products and services solve. These pillar topics act as a foundation for the rest of the content.
  • Keyword Research. With tools such as Keyword Planner, SEMrush, etc., you can narrow down the relevant keywords relevant to your niche. Such metrics define the content process and guide your ranking journey.
  • Be Consistent. SEO is a journey. Always remember to keep posting new, quality, and relevant content. Engage the target audience and endeavor to be their trusted source of information.

Quality content is king when it comes to earning backlinks. Consistently offer value and other sites will validate this through backlinks.

Link Building Practices That Can Induce a Penalty

I always say, never dare to outsmart the search engine algorithms. Life, in its ancient wisdom, advises that patience pays. The truth will win out. So, here are a few gimmicks to avoid when undertaking link building.

1. Use of Private Blog Networks (PBNs)

PBNs are a network of websites used to pass links and build authority to a single website with the intent to manipulate the search engines. In the past, PBNs had a field day until the search engines finally caught up. Crawl bots detect and punish PBNs, no matter how randomized they appear. It leads to a loss of organic traffic.

2. Blog Comments

As a rule, comments attract lots of spam. The idea of spammy comments incensed Google enough to introduce the nofollow links. It aims to prevent spammers from gaining traction by abusing the comments section. However, topically relevant comments on topically relevant sites can help.

3. Automated Links

Tools such as Scrape Box and XRumer can help you build links but over time, they have become ineffective. My two cents are, avoid using these tools for your money-making sites. They are not worth it in the long run. Google is most probably ahead of these tools by using pattern variations to neuter their impact.

Other harmful backlinks include using platforms such as Fiverr to build spammy links, social bookmarking links, and buying links from article farms.

In simple terms, avoid shortcuts!

Need Additional Help With SEO?

Are you looking to generate qualified leads for your industrial or manufacturing company? We offer SEO services across Sacramento, California, and the United States.

Contact us and we can help you boost your rankings in organic search results.

John Koinange

John Koinange is a digital marketing associate and regular contributor for the Lockedown SEO blog. His work has appeared in numerous online publications.

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