Inbound link strategy basics

Ruth G. | October 20, 2020
21 mins

The name says it all. Search engines such as Google use links on the web to find and evaluate new sites and pages. Links to pages are a vital part of any search engine algorithm; the more links to a page from elsewhere on the internet, the more likely it is to answer a user query.

Link Building is a marketing strategy that uses a combination of interesting content and outreach to drive those connections that can help you in the search engine results. Additionally, those links can drive targeted, relevant traffic from websites in the same sector as yourself.

Creating inbound links is a true win/win situation when done right: the website linking to you provides interesting content to its readers, and you get traffic and help in the search engine results.

If you're just starting in the world of online promotions and e-commerce, you'll have your work cut out. Yes, it's an uphill battle, but a necessary one if you want to grow and succeed. Many businesses have been doing this for years, shifting and adjusting with the changing technology trends. Considering that it can feel daunting to begin, it's all part of running an online business.

It's crucial to understand the current trends of inbound link generation and be aware that tactics employed just a few years ago may be useless now. In the early days of promoting personal web-pages and small e-commerce businesses, owners would seek out forums to promote their businesses. This created a wariness among community members and made them suspicious of any commenter loosely remarking within a conversation then dropping their link.

Some backlinks were auto-generated by bots on forum posts, which offended the real human users of said forums. More old tactics that can get your website penalized include buying backlinks from cheap websites that promise this as well as buying social media followers. It was tempting to purchase thousands of backlinks for a few bucks, but they were all useless and did more harm than good.

Link Building requires patience. It can be a serious waiting game in watching the rankings of your web page once a strategy is implemented. The good news is that in the long-term, the hard work of building links will pay off. With gradual success, each new link to your site will grow upon the last.

Certain factors go on when Google takes note of a new link. Google will pick up the new backlink for its directory in a process called indexing. This will take a few days to show results in a search, and depends on the ranking of the page that is providing the link.

After the indexing phase, ranking takes a while as well — around ten weeks to see a page jump up in rankings.

The older and more established a website is (i.e., your competition,) the higher their ranking will be. Patience is the name of the game if you're seeking to climb ahead of a well-established online business. While weeks or months can feel like an enormous amount of time given the speed at which our attention spans move these days, think of link-building as an investment in time. This investment will bring you a larger audience and clientele that you need to stay in business and keep ahead of the competition.

Think of link building as an online reputation building. In the world of brick-and-mortar, traditional advertising and networking build a brand. The more people talk about your product, the more recommended and recognized it becomes.

By this logic, Google generates similar results when more high-ranking websites link back to your website. Google's PageRank Algorithm uses backlinks as a way of establishing a site's overall reputation. The more reputable a site, the more likely it is to be ranked well for key terms.

One of the most important factors in Google's ranking systems is the quality of content. Always remember that your audience on the other side of the screen is made up of real people with a need for answers, or curiosity, or products and services. Depending on your business line, catering to these needs with exciting and engaging content is the primary element that will lead to success.

Generally speaking, strong content can be the single most powerful draw to a website. It may seem like a silly reminder, but it can be easily lost within a complicated marketing and SEO strategy that employs all the latest techniques and tricks. The human element is what keeps the internet interesting, and it's humans who decide what to link to. The more you remember to factor this in, the higher your page will rank. Good content and real-live people engaging with it is what Google wants to see.

When considering what type of content to share, consider what is most useful to your customers, and build from that point. By researching what they engage with and enjoying on your site and on the websites you'd like to be featured and backlinked on, you can get a sense of what will work.

There are a few key steps to consider when creating content that customers want to see.

  • Perform marketing research

Understand who your site visitors are. By learning about where they come from and what interests them, you can tailor pieces that will grab their attention. For instance, do they hail from Colorado and are males between the ages of 25 - 35? If so, that would help you narrow down to certain topics on which to focus.

  • Take a look at the competition

 What makes your competitors leaders in their field? Read their reviews, both positive and negative, and see what customers say about them in various forums. You could find some insight into why your product is better, and create content around that need-gap found in online reviews.

  • Read the news

 By understanding public sentiment and current events, you'll be able to capitalize on trends or avoid horrible mistakes that can quickly happen by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

For example, if you are selling homeowner insurance, you may want to adjust your outreach during a natural disaster. If your content marketing campaign continues without addressing current events, your customers could interpret this as capitalizing off a tragic event. Think of it as 'reading the room' and adjusting accordingly.

A vital step in content building and the opportunity to be creative is maintaining a consistent blog or news space on your small business website. Choose an interval, perhaps weekly or bi-weekly, and stick to constant updates and interesting writing. Instead of flooding the internet with frequent updates of little value, consider how you would like to engage with your favorite brand or service. Keep your website entertaining, as well as pushing products and services. Maintain a level of enthusiasm that will keep your audience returning to your website. Before you decide to post that latest product-focused cat video, ask yourself a few pertinent questions.

  • Is this new content consistent with your publication schedule?
  • Is this interesting, or does it look like filler?
  • Is this content useful?
  • Is this piece engaging and inviting for viewers and readers to be motivated to share with their networks?

Of course, the single most important questions to ask before you hit 'publish' is: "Would I want to read/share/engage with this? Am I entertained?"

If you, as the expert and business owner, are reinvigorated by something interesting and useful that you wrote, you know that you should hit get that content online and then promote that piece!

In addition to blog posts, shareable assets for content-based link building will increase your visibility. With today's short attention spans, sometimes the best way to grab attention and encourage sharing is with visualizations. If your products or services require an intricate explanation, graphic representations can be an excellent addendum to longer texts. Infographics visualized data charts, and quick video clips are all forms of assets that achieve this goal.

  • Cisco projects that an increase in video traffic by 2021 will grow to 81% of all online audiences.
  • According to Google, 6 out of 10 people prefer online video platforms to live TV. 

With numbers like these, one can't afford to ignore the role that video content plays in building a strong, dedicated user-base.

Infographics are a hot trend that, when designed well, can be both pleasing to the eye and the intellect. For the audience, an infographic can speed up the time it takes to understand a concept or complicated topic. Some infographics use humor and cartoonish visuals that grab the audience, while some create interactive maps that invite a sense of play and curiosity.


Here are some examples of cute, edgy, and informative graphics:

 170 backlinks from 43 unique referring domains

 The graphic walks the reader through scientific information, whilst breaking it down to an understandable, user-friendly concept.

 19 backlinks from 12 unique referring domains

 It invites the reader to become absorbed in the topic and imagine how they would decorate their living environment. This could lead the user to your products page for inspiration without directly pushing them there.

     408 backlinks from 130 unique referring domains

 A playful, animated infographic that packs a punch with data, comparisons, and short quips.

While some infographics are very involved, complicated works of art that require hiring outside design firms, there are ways to make them in-house. Resources such as Visme and Snappa simplify the process for beginners who want to create something quick and easy on the eyes.

Short video clips

A short how-to or product demonstration goes a long way, especially for the competitive world of e-commerce websites where links to product pages are always needed. For instance, Sierra Designs understands that their product requires more than just a printed instruction booklet. They offer multiple demonstration scenarios to make the customer feels at ease with the product even before it ships. Additionally, a well-produced video makes it more likely for websites and individuals to notice and share the product in the outdoor gear space.

When posting, make your video shareable and enable embedding for easy link-building with influencers.

Numerous high-profile platforms allow for sharing, including the leader of the pack, YouTube, and Vimeo, Wistia, and Brightcove. When posting on the popular secondary platforms, it is a good idea always to include YouTube. Since many customers are still not as well acquainted with the others, even if their platforms are more aesthetically pleasing, assume they'll feel comfortable with YouTube's share and embed tools, therefore give them that option.

Consider self-hosting your videos as well. While this may have some drawbacks in sharing via popular platforms, it allows more control over privacy and design. You will keep users on your website, and not burden them with unwanted ads popping up through a third-party platform. This another option to be considered in conjunction with uploading to YouTube.

Outreach through email

Just putting content online isn't enough, of course. You have to be willing and able to send appropriately personalized emails to site managers, writers, and editors. Remember that these people receive dozens of requests for links per week. If you show that you're genuinely interested in helping their readers solve a problem or answer a question, you have a better chance at a positive response from the person to whom you're reaching out.

Here are some tips for writing an excellent outreach email and managing your success:

  • Personalize it and target it

Spell their name right. Mention a piece that they wrote that got your attention. Most importantly: make sure that you understand who the person is and what they write about. If you're trying to drive attention to your Android app, you're wasting the time of the person who writes about outdated computer technology.

  • Keep it brief

Most people who write professionally are on a deadline. Be friendly, be bright, but get to the point quickly. Give them a quick list of reasons that your content might be of interest to their readers and offer to answer any questions they have. Bullet points are your friend.

  • Confirm your credibility

Give the recipient reasons to pay attention to you. Has your business won any awards? Is your process patented? Did you make an appearance on the morning news?

  • Check everything before you send it out

 Again: check the spelling of their name. Confirm the links in your email work properly.

  • Track everything

Keep track of your efforts through a spreadsheet or email management program. Create columns for the website, the writer's name, and the individual pieces of content you're performing outreach for. If there's a writer you've sent three dozen outreach messages to with no response, you might want to check to see if they're the best choice.

Integrate a social media strategy

Social media is a crucial element to be integrated into any type of link-building marketing plan. Using a social media platform can yield the quickest results if done in the right way. To make your ideas go viral, adopt a social media plan, and stick to it diligently. Be aware that while you're focusing on social media, it does not count for backlinks in conjunction with SEO goals. A link on Facebook may affect Google rankings slightly, but not in a significant way.

The first step is researching your audience's online behaviors. Find out where they frequent, be it Twitter, Facebook, or elsewhere. See if key influencers are posting at certain times of the day. Post content based on what interests your customers online and gets them talking. Using your social media presence, repost that content on these chosen platforms.

A standard platform to consider for your business is LinkedIn. While it is not generally space for advertisements, it is a public arena to engage with colleagues and the business community. By republishing a blog post, or creating a new one written with an angle focusing on the analysis of your specific field of business, LinkedIn can bring a whole new audience to your product. It's also useful to engage with your business community and build a strong rapport, even among competitors.

Think of LinkedIn as the place to establish your authority within your field. If you're promoting the latest in cryptocurrency, LEED-certified housing units, or the latest in VR technology, LinkedIn gives professionals a platform to boast a bit and engage with colleagues on a business-to-business level. Typically, LinkedIn doesn't require the frequent posting that is expected on other platforms, so a monthly post will go a long way and also reduce your marketing workload.

If you're promoting your online business with a podcast, be consistent. Upload new shows at exactly the same time and day of the week or month. Listeners appreciate reliability, even if they can save and share your episodes whenever they want. Research podcast promotion strategies and get listed in directories such as Google Podcasts, Spotify, and iTunes. Host a link to your podcast on the main website along with show notes and comment sections. Like traditional radio, which welcomes callers, podcasts are community builders when they allow for comments or call-in questions to be featured on follow-up shows.

What if you don't have a podcast? Consider sponsoring a popular show or shows. The broadcaster will talk about your product during their podcast at frequent intervals, building your audience as they make theirs. Companies like MeUndies, Fabletics, and Casper Mattresses have become household names via their podcast sponsorships.

Consider podcast guests as a way to promote your business. Reach out to influencers and community members who have relevant podcasts and volunteer your time to talk on their shows. The SEO benefits of podcast links can be massive.

Pay attention to the standard platforms of Facebook and Twitter. Even if your core audience is elsewhere, post and share on these mediums as it is expected to maintain a presence. New customers will frequently start searching for your online presence with Facebook or Twitter pages.

Guest blogging

Guest blogging was once the go-to tactic of link building techniques. It was relatively easy to approach a high-quality blog and offer to write a post for their website. The problem was, once this became a popular method, the quality of the blog posts plummeted. Google got strict on obvious keywording and overuse of the strategy. That said, good content is still valuable, and if your writing is high quality, and offers something real for the audience, guest blogging is still a technique to employ for link building.

The first step is ensuring you don't waste any precious time on writing for blogs that have a low profile in your line of work. Make a list of the qualities you need to justify approaching the blog as a guest writer. Once you find a blog that seems good to approach, find out if their quality is consistent and if they are seen as a respected voice in their field. If so, add this blog to your list to contact for guest writing opportunities.

Checklist before approaching a blog to guest write:

  • Do they accept guest bloggers?
  • What is their Social Media following?
  • What are their site traffic numbers?
  • Who is their target audience and demographic?

When working on your guest blog article, there are some tactics to add that may get even more attention. Try to loop in the present day, timely issues into your business topics while educating them on the specific focus at hand. Avoid obvious listicles as audiences are increasingly growing tired of this and wary of it being click-bait. Another good thing to keep in mind, keep your post titles short and catchy.

Think about solving a problem that your customers might encounter. For instance, if your company builds custom backyard decks, bad weather affecting materials is a problem that needs addressing. Therefore, by offering expertise and advice without directly speaking about your services in too forceful a manner will build confidence and trust in what you write as an authoritative voice in your field.

By offering content, you take the pressure off the blog host to constantly write their own, and develop good relations with major influencers. It's a win-win situation that can create a year's long rapport with relevant players.

Return the favor

Some may jokingly refer to this strategy as ego-bait but think of it as community building. In this tactic, you will write a blog post, hosted on your site, that sings the praises of other businesses and resources relevant to your own. By doing so, you garner goodwill, make your name known, and encourage sharing and backlinking.

Not only bloggers pay attention, but journalists also do this as well. They notice when someone mentions their work and make a note of it for future stories or quotes. Include news outlets in this strategy to broaden your reach.

Create a blog post that lists the top five or six thought-leaders, or suppliers, or even news aggregator websites such as The Photo Daily. Include screenshots and short blurbs about why their site is so fabulous. Reach out to them when you publish the post and refer to their handle on Twitter when promoting it too. Once these website owners get a linkback notification, chances are they'll start sharing your post from their social media accounts.

It's in everyone's best interest to repost links that mention each other, and for the future, it creates a higher chance of them doing the same as a professional courtesy. This tactic is similar to guest blogging in that the same tactics will apply. Write quality content, mention other sites, and your website will show up on their radar.

This tactic is similar to guest-blogging. The same high-profile qualities sought out in writing for another website will be sought here. When choosing which websites to feature, there are a few qualities to prioritize:

  • High rankings on Google
  • Frequently updated
  • HighSocial Media following
  • Respected for quality in their field of business or known 'thought leader'

If writing an entire detailed post seems too much for trying to prompt backlinks, try creating a listicle. This is a short-form of writing that incorporates a list as it's the main structure. Create a brief introductory paragraph, then a short blurb about each website. Include screenshots or media to reference in addition to linking to their website.
An excellent example of a strong listicle concept is this piece on the Best Residential Interior Designers in San Francisco. Listed by an architecture firm, these interior designers can link back to that firm, and potentially provide referrals.

A sly, somewhat different tactic that sits outside the realm of public relations tactics is Broken Link Building'. Consider how long the internet has existed. Now think about the millions of unused, old, and broken web-pages there are out there. Broken link building is a strategy where one finds a dead link, re-writes or re-creates the content, and then re-directs traffic to the new content page (i.e., your page). The new creator (you) will inform the webmaster, making their job easier and having them more than happy to link to your website.

This method is not a guarantee of success. Webmasters or owners could be busy or unwilling to entertain your request after you've recreated a broken link page. One good thing to consider is the amount of time and staff you dedicate to this type of strategy. When getting started, be patient, and consider a 10% success rate a great outcome.

Finding broken backlinks is the first step. To begin, make a list of relevant and competitive websites in your field of business. From there, use a website search engine such as Ahrefs' Site Explorer for a small fee, or a free service such as Free Broken Link Checker and Dead Link Checker.

Choose the website with most backlinks to a broken link, and start re-creating the content. By using the link with the most referrals, you'll economize your time, and the outcome will most likely be a positive one. In some cases, you may already have the content created and published on your website, and it's just a matter of finding the broken links and reaching out to webmasters.If this seems like a steep learning curve, there are numerous guides to help get you started and take the tech pressure off the task. A great one is Screaming Frog’s link building guide.

The above tactics are useful for almost any type of online small business; however, there are certain specific strategies that e-commerce sites can find beneficial.

When it comes to influencer outreach, products do well to have a few on their side. By offering freebies and special deals to those who will talk about your product, e-commerce owners can stay competitive. Be aware that sites like Instagram and YouTube require influencers to state clearly if the product placement they show is a paid promotion. Users are very wary of sly advertising tactics, so it's best to maintain a transparent ideal.

An example of YouTube product placement and reviewers is the highly visible Marques K. Brownlee, also known as MKBHD. He's considered an authority when it comes to tech video reviews with over 11 million subscribers.

When it comes to beauty products, there are many influencers online with YouTube video tutorials; however, Instagram is an extremely popular platform as well. Customers will note the products listed within the captions to dynamic photography and short video clips that are easily shareable across social media. Take, for example, and Beauty is Boring on Instagram. Makeup artist and photographer Robin Black's feed has over 144k devoted followers who trust the brands she promotes.

Try partnering with businesses that sell products parallel to your own. For example, if you are building custom television cabinets made from recycled or reclaimed wood, try approaching state-of-the-art television set distributors. You could both arrange a unique feature on each other's websites or package deals and seasonal sales.

In terms of sales, it's a standard brick-and-mortar business model to offer special deals in conjunction with holidays and changing seasons, and your e-commerce business is no different. In terms of backlinking, approach regional websites that could specifically benefit from your product and ask to be featured.

Keep your product pages engaging and interesting. Employ good design and update your website to reflect current aesthetic trends. Chances are when a customer goes to your site for a product; they do not expect to navigate a website whose design reflects 1998 rather than 2020.


The key to backlinks is to integrate this intention into every single aspect of your marketing plan. Every time you promote your business, post on a board, and engage with a community member, you should consider how to incorporate a call-to-action that will encourage linking to your online presence. The trick is to use the tools available and be adept at not appearing desperate or clumsy in the approach.

Study the competition to stay on top of link building techniques. Even if you think you know it all, try catching up with a link building tutorial now and then. There could be a new method you've missed out on.

The more backlinks to your website, the better. In terms of SEO, backlinks are vital, considering the direct relationship between links and traffic volume. Google ranks pages placing a high importance on links from other high-rated, high-quality websites. For any owner of a small business online, more backlinks will lead to more customers.

As a crucial factor in SEO rankings, backlinks build a veneer of authority in your area of expertise. The higher the number of quality links, the higher the Google rankings and, most importantly, repeat customers.


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Ruth G.

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