14 Link Building Strategies Professionals Choose in 2021 [Big Survey]


14 Link Building Strategies Professionals Choose in 2021 [Big Survey]

We all know how important link building can be; done right, it can help your rankings. Done wrong, your rankings disappear. Link building is not easy, and there are so many strategies that vary in terms of their efficiency, expertise, and required resources. If you are new to link building, you most likely need some insights on what you should do, shouldn’t do, and what strategies are available. 

SEMrush surveyed its users to review the most effective link building strategies. We asked 850 SEO and digital specialists about their goals, experience in their niche, and, most importantly, the link building strategies they use to grow their backlink profile.

Specialists from four professions took part in the survey:

  • Business owners – 38.29%
  • In-house specialists – 30.24%
  • SEO consultants / freelancers – 22.44%
  • Agency SEO specialists – 9.02%.

Over 34% of respondents said they have intermediate skills in link building, while near 17% are professionals, and > 4% are experts. Almost 34.5% of the specialists said they are newbies in link building or have no experience at all. 

We will focus on only experienced users (near 65%, including experts) and look at each of the strategies these specialists find the most effective.

Let’s explain in detail what these strategies are about and how to use them with SEMrush’s Link Building Tool and other useful instruments. 

Most Effective Link Building Strategies According to the Survey

We all have different skill levels, but we all have the same need to promote our products, services, or content. According to the survey, link building strategies are mostly used to enhance positioning on search engines and drive website traffic (94.39% and 79.02% of experienced users, respectively).

We are going to start with more high-level strategies that will take more time, resources, and effort. Some of the skills needed for these include PR, content creation, and detailed keyword research. You need to stick to them if you actively promote your content, for articles, blog posts, reviews, press releases, etc. 

Let’s go over each one in order.

Advanced (Outreach) Strategies and Link Building Tool

Our Link Building Tool (LBT) is designed to help you apply all these strategies and harness their full potential. Let’s take a look at each of them and explain in detail their working principle with SEMrush.

The whole workflow takes 6 steps.

  1. Set up a project by entering your domain.

  2. Add up to 10 keywords that you want to rank for.

  3. Add up to 10 competitors to look up the best backlink prospects for your website.

  4. Find prospects. Set up a strategy for each one and carry it out.

  5. Reach out to the website owner within the Link Building tool interface.

  6. Track your success.

Guest Posting

Recommended: 53%

Although each of the respondents pointed out several preferred strategies, guest posting is at the top of the list. An overwhelming majority of the specialists consider it to be one of the most effective ways to grow a backlink portfolio. As part of the link building strategy, guest posting serves as a means to increase the visibility of your website on someone’s blog by placing a link on it. The links may be placed either in the text body or in the “About the Author” section with a No-Follow attribute, provided the blog owner allows you to do this. In turn, you can place a link on your website to that blog, so the blogger increases their blog’s visibility as well. 

Tip: With the Link Building Tool, you can select a blog you would like your guest post to be placed on. When doing research, pay attention to the rating and trust score of the website you want to place your resource backlink on. It is directly related to the visibility of your website on Google. This advice applies to any link building strategy.

Resources and Links List Pages

Recommended: 43.55%

Resource pages and link lists are other strategies you can apply with the LBT’s Prospects. This strategy involves providing someone with your high-quality content as a resource page for a particular niche. For example, let’s say you have exclusive content with singing techniques. You can propose the source link to a website designed for musicians and singers, and perhaps they will place a link to your website.

Tip: Use LBT for keyword prospects to find the website that might place your content, and to reach out to website owners. To find the most relevant websites, use the following combinations:

  • Keyword + “resources”

  • Keyword + “useful resources”

  • Keyword + “helpful resources

  • Keyword + “links”

  • Keyword + “useful links”

  • Keyword + “helpful links”


Social Media Backlinks

Recommended: 38.7%

This strategy is quite effective when it comes to brand promotion or presenting yourself as an expert. Creating a personal profile and dedicated communities can significantly enhance your brand positioning and help you gain trust. It works perfectly when you need to leverage your branded traffic and make people want to learn more about you. 

Presence on social media positively affects your branded Search Engine Results Page (SERP) with new SERP features people typically click, like the example below.

If you don’t have an account on social media or haven’t used one yet, you now have a good reason to start. Note, however, that this strategy is related more to gaining branded traffic than growing a backlink portfolio. 

Tip: Use SEMrush’s Social Media Toolkit for tracking and posting your content. The tool helps you research relevant topics and audience engagement and track your competitors.

Public Release and Content Submission

Recommended: 35.48%

One of the most effective link building strategies is the submission of news, press releases, research, opinions, guides, and other sorts of content on dedicated platforms.

These platforms imply the following websites on which you can submit paid or free info on your services:

  • Aggregators

  • Marketplaces

  • Article promotion websites

  • Press release distribution portals

  • Blog platforms

  • Wikis

  • News portals

  • Online magazines.

This strategy suits well if you promote a particular product, be it e-commerce, apps, or services. 

Tip: Use LBT to reach out to site admins that will help you submit content on their websites. 

To focus on content-submitting websites, go to LBT’s Keywords tab and input keywords from your masterlist. You can also try to use advanced search operators, who will help you focus on specific content-submitting websites.

Pick the most interesting ones, move them to In Progress, then contact the right people, and track their answers.

Collaboration with Opinion Leaders

Recommended: 22.58%

[community-related src=”https://www.semrush.com/blog/semrush-digital-pr-solutions-for-small-business/”]

Reviews, testimonials, or interviews with well-known people amongst your audience are a breeding ground to grow your backlink portfolio and increase brand awareness. Involve experts in your brand promotion – run interviews, AMA sessions, get high-quality reviews, and gather brand advocates. This strategy will definitely help your brand not only grow but also establish a strong relationship between the brand and its customers in the long run.

Tip: Offer only proven information from real people that reflects a necessary point meeting your customers’ needs, be it a review, testimonial, or feedback. Focus on consistency, language, and the value this message brings. 

Skyscraper technique

Recommended: 14.52%

The most mystical yet effective strategy is picking popular content loaded with backlinks and making it better! It is not as simple as it sounds, though. This strategy requires you to perform detailed research on the niche you are making content for. Pinpoint all the weak spots and omissions of the current content that targets your audience, including text structure, visual components, readability, and keyword density. Create something better than your competitors.

Once better content is made, reach out to the websites that have backlinks to the original content, and ask them to replace one with yours. 

Tip: Create exceptional content that provides in-depth expert knowledge. Use Topic Research and the SEO Content Template tools to find the most relevant topics and enrich them with excellent written content. 

Quick Strategies

Now, let’s explore easy strategies that aren’t linked to PR and content creation. Using these strategies is healthy for beginners to take their first steps towards driving traffic, as well as for experienced specialists to help them stay on track. Let’s take a look at these strategies and the scope of other SEMrush tools that may work best for you

Replicating Competitor's Backlinks

Recommended: 46.77%

[community-related src=”https://www.semrush.com/webinars/semrush-toolbox-4-backlink-gap-tool/”]

This is one of the most popular strategies among respondents due to its simplicity and effectiveness. You just take the backlink profiles of your competitors, that you can find in the Backlink Analytics group of reports (Competitors tab), and spy on it to get more backlinks.

Its working principle boils down to two key points, depending on your goals. If you want to improve rankings, this strategy helps you build the same backlink profile as your key competitors. If your goal is to increase traffic, you can peek inside and get some ideas on traffic-driving websites. Once you figure out where your rivals place their links, you can pinpoint the websites on which you also need to place your link.

Tip: In the Link Building Tool, specify your key competitors and let the system find the websites they have backlinks to, but you don’t. 

You can also rely on the Backlink Gap tool for a side-by-side comparison of your backlinks and those of your competitors. Filter the results by selecting your domain, so the table will show you all the backlinks your rivals obtained, but you missed.

Adding URL to a post

Recommended: 38.71%

This is a bit of a controversial technique; essentially, you place a URL in your message or comment. Treat this strategy wisely, as Google doesn’t like spammy links. Make sure your link and message bear relevant and valuable information for readers. This strategy is bound often includes Guest Posting, Forums, and Blog Commenting (below). Indeed, such an approach improves the visibility of your website and accumulates traffic, provided it has been placed correctly, with no spam intentions.

Tip: Use the Link Building tool’s Prospects page to figure out keyword-related websites where you can post or comment about something relevant (a comment that contains a useful link for the reader). 

Forum and Blogs comments

Recommended: 22.58%

[community-related src=”https://www.semrush.com/blog/getting-views-on-quora/”]

This is pretty much the same as the strategy above, except this one focuses strictly on forums and blogs, as well as on imageboards, and questioning platforms, like Quora or Stack Overflow. If applied, along with other strategies, it can work perfectly. The crucial point in this strategy is finding appropriate forums and blogs with relevant and valuable content. Note that Google may consider both techniques spammy and lower your ranking positions.

Tip: Consider websites like Reddit, Quora, or Stack Overflow for posting your links. To avoid spamming, don’t use this technique too often, and place only useful topic-related links. Once posted, track the success in SEMrush’s Post Tracking.

Business Directories and Local Citations (Listings)

Recommended: 38.71%

[community-related src=”https://www.semrush.com/news/listing-management-tool/”]

If you are running a business for a particular niche or providing local services, placement on business directories is a must. Although you can only place nofollow links on these websites, this strategy has a positive impact on your search ranking, because it sends you potential customers, that have already found you for a particular purpose. 

These directories involve a place where you can add information on your company, contact information, an address, and link to your website, e.g., Google My Business, Yelp, Yellow Pages, Trip Advisor, Apple Maps, etc. 

Tip: When distributing your business info, use the Listing Management tool. Just input your NAP (Name, Address, Phone) in the corresponding field once, and the tool automatically submits this info across all listings chosen. The tool helps you monitor and revise/update your info afterward.

Broken backlinks

Recommended: 38.71%

Google appreciates your contribution to making the internet better. The goal of this strategy is to detect a broken link somewhere, report it to admins or webmasters, and try to get it replaced with a link of yours to the same sort of content. The easiest way to do this is to look for the broken links of your rivals. It may seem a bit monotonous at first glance, but if applied correctly, this strategy might make a difference. 

Tip: To find all the broken links of your competitors, run Backlink Audit on one of them, and tick the box near Target URL Error in Advanced filters. This is a brand-new filter that shows you the target pages that weren’t crawled due to an error. This is the very thing you need!

Once these pages are found, you can search them in order to find the sources leading to those pages.

There you go! Now you can contact the owner of the source page and inform them that they have a target link that doesn’t work. A good reason to replace it with your relevant content instead!

Unlinked mentions

Recommended: 35.48%

Did you know that there could be many websites mentioning you but not linking to your website or content? With the unlinked mentions strategy, you contact the admins of the sources linking to your website and ask them to add a link to the mentions in their content.

Tip: Use the LBT to quickly find the unlinked mentions of your brand in the Prospects tab. Pick the website you want to reach out to, and move them to In Progress to contact their owners. 

If you want to know about your brand’s overall mentions in the market, we suggest using the Brand Monitoring tool. This is a real-time feed containing all the mentions of your brand on blogs, social media, and other platforms. If you have found something interesting, move the mentions to the Link Building tool and start communication with the authors.

Reciprocal Links

Recommended: 9.68%

This strategy is the most controversial one, as Google treats it unpredictably and may lower your website ranking. Reciprocal link building is when you link to someone’s website, while they link to yours. Roughly, this is an agreement between two site owners who place mutual do-follow links, often with keyword filled anchor text.

Why can it hurt your rankings? Well, if overused, Google may consider it as ranking manipulation.

Tip: Treat this strategy wisely. If you still want to use it, make sure your backlink looks natural, and the site owner vouches for it.

What about outsourcing?

Regardless of their experience, over 63% of the respondents prefer to outsource their link building routines: 34.6% outsource, 29.2% do it partially. 

Delegating your tasks to professionals in some cases may turn out to be more beneficial and cost-effective than handling it on one’s own. Especially if you have self-doubt about how to make good traffic-driven content and when to implement or avoid the strategies above.

SEMrush provides essential tools for link building and content creation, whether you execute your marketing plan yourself or trust others to do that for you. If you want to get well-written copy that will meet the needs of your product or services and drive more traffic to your website, you can rely on SEMrush’s Content Marketplace.

Take-home Message

There are many ways to enhance your ranking and boost your traffic. Building a backlink portfolio is by far the oldest and most commonly used means of achieving this goal. The outlined strategies above are considered by those that answered our survey some of today’s essentials in link building. Whichever strategy you choose, SEMrush will provide you with all the necessary tools and suggest proper solutions. 

Have any suggestions on link building strategies? Anything listed above that you would avoid? Give us your insights in the comments below. 

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