In the world of SEO, link building reigns supreme. But not all links are created equal. The secret to skyrocketing your search rankings lies in understanding the crucial difference between backlinks and referring domains - and crafting a strategic approach to earn the right links.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll dive deep into the intricacies of backlinks and referring domains. We'll arm you with the knowledge and tactics you need to analyze your current link profile, identify opportunities for improvement, and implement proven strategies to attract high-quality links that will propel your site to the top of the SERPs.

So buckle up and get ready to revolutionize your link building game. By the end of this guide, you'll have a powerful action plan for maximizing your SEO potential and dominating your competition.

Backlinks are the lifeblood of SEO. Simply put, a backlink is a link from one website to another. When Site A links to Site B, Site B receives a backlink.

Not all backlinks are created equal, however. There are several different types:

  • Dofollow links pass "link juice" and directly boost the linked site's authority in Google's eyes
  • Nofollow links do not pass authority, but can still drive referral traffic
  • Sponsored links must be tagged as such to adhere to Google's guidelines around paid links
  • UGC (User Generated Content) links, like blog comments, also need to be tagged to avoid manual actions

What are Referring Domains?

A referring domain is a unique website that links to your site. So if Site A links to you three times, and Site B links to you once, you have two referring domains and four total backlinks.

Referring domain diversity is a key consideration in a healthy link profile. Generally, it's better to have links from a wide variety of unique domains rather than many links from a small group of sites.

Both the quality and quantity of your backlinks and referring domains play a huge role in search engine algorithms. Google sees each link as a "vote of confidence" in your site's authority, trust, and relevance for particular topics.

Numerous studies have found a strong correlation between the number of high-quality links pointing to a site and its organic search rankings. Sites with more backlinks and referring domains tend to outrank those with fewer.

However, chasing links through spammy or manipulative tactics can backfire spectacularly. Low-quality links from irrelevant or dubious sites can hurt your authority and even lead to manual penalties from Google. The key is to focus on earning links naturally with outstanding content.

To improve your link building approach, you first need to understand your current backlink profile. There are several powerful tools that can give you a detailed look at your links:

  • Google Search Console shows you a sampling of your backlinks and referring domains, as well as which pages on your site have the most links. It's a great free starting point.
  • Ahrefs, Semrush, and Moz are paid tools that provide much more comprehensive backlink data. They allow you to drill down and examine links at the URL level, analyze anchor text distribution, identify your most linked content, and much more.

Conducting a Referring Domains Audit

Armed with this backlink data, it's time to conduct a thorough referring domains audit. Here are the key things to look for:

  • Low-quality or irrelevant referring domains: Do you have links from spammy, off-topic, or very low-authority sites? Make a list of any questionable domains that you may want to disavow.
  • Link diversity: Is your link profile well-balanced with links from many unique domains, or is it heavily concentrated in just a few domains? A diverse link profile is ideal.
  • Competitor comparison: How does your link profile stack up against your search competitors? Do they have significantly more referring domains or backlinks overall?

Based on your link audit, set some concrete goals for improving your link profile. For instance:

  • We will increase our total referring domains from 50 to 150 over the next 6 months
  • We will earn links from 10 high-authority sites in our niche (DA 70+)
  • We will build 5 links per month to our main product pages to improve their authority and rankings

Having specific, measurable goals will help guide your link building efforts and allow you to track your progress over time.

Creating Linkable Assets

The most reliable way to earn quality links is to create outstanding content that other sites will naturally want to link to. We call this "linkable asset" content.

Some examples of linkable assets include:

  • Original research and data
  • Definitive guides or tutorials
  • Helpful free tools or templates
  • Eye-catching infographics or visuals
  • Engaging, in-depth content on trending topics

The key is to create something uniquely valuable that fills a need or answers a question for your target audience.

To make your content as link-worthy as possible, make sure it's:

  • Comprehensive and covers the topic in full
  • Accurate and well-researched
  • Engaging and easy to read
  • Visually appealing with a clean layout, images, etc.
  • Optimized for relevant keywords you want to rank for

Conducting Targeted Email Outreach

With your linkable asset in hand, it's time to conduct targeted outreach to put it in front of the right people.

Use tools like BuzzSumo, or Google search operators to find relevant sites that have linked to or written about similar content in the past. These could be blogs, industry publications, or resource pages.

We like using SpyFu for a seamless process. Start with the Backlink Builder to find solid leads for backlinks. These are pages that are likely to add a backlink based on the keyword you search.

For each of these pages, your next step is to find the best person to contact--ideally the author of the specific page you want a link on. The site's editor is another good option. Still on SpyFu, switch to the Backlinks Outreach tool to find the best contacts for those pages and their email addresses.

Then, send a personalized email to each prospect. Avoid generic link request templates - customize each email to mention:

  • Their name
  • Something specific you like about their site
  • Why you think your content would be valuable to their audience

Here's an example:

Hey [Name],

I was just reading your excellent guide on [topic] over at [site name]. Love how you broke down [something specific].

I actually just published a really in-depth piece on [related topic] that I thought might make a nice addition to your page. It covers:

- [Key point 1]
- [Key point 2]
- [Key point 3]

Here's the link in case you want to check it out: [URL]

Either way, keep up the great work!


[Your name]

Keep your outreach emails short, friendly, and focused on providing value to their audience rather than just asking for a link.

After sending your first email, be sure to follow up 3-5 business days later if you don't hear back. Many successful link builders say they get a majority of their links from follow-ups.

Broken link building is a tactic where you find pages relevant to your site that have dead outbound links (links that no longer work), then reach out to suggest your content as a replacement link.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Use Ahrefs or Screaming Frog to find relevant sites in your niche that have broken outbound links. In Ahrefs, you can use the "outgoing links" report and filter for "404 not found" links.
  2. Plug the URL of the broken link into the Wayback Machine to see what content used to be there.
  3. Create similar content that would be a relevant replacement for that broken link. Or, if you already have a great piece of content on that topic, you can use that.
  4. Reach out to the site owner to let them know about their broken link and suggest your content as a replacement.

Here's an example outreach email:

Hey [Name],

I was just browsing your excellent resource page on [topic] and noticed you have a broken link:

[Broken URL]

Looks like it used to point to a guide on [topic], but that page is no longer live.

I actually have a really comprehensive, up-to-date guide on that same topic. It might make a good replacement for that broken link:

[Your URL]

No worries if not, just wanted to give you a heads up about that dead link. Keep up the awesome work!


[Your name]

Broken link building is a win-win--you get a high-quality link and they get to fix a broken link and provide a better user experience for their readers.

Pursuing Unlinked Brand Mentions

Sometimes sites will mention your brand or products without linking to you. You can turn these unlinked mentions into links with a quick, friendly outreach email.

To find unlinked mentions, set up Google Alerts for your brand name and key products. You can also use a tool like or Ahrefs Alerts.

When you find an unlinked mention, reach out to the author with a message like:

Hey [Name],

Thanks so much for mentioning [Your Brand] in your recent article on [topic]! Glad you liked our [product/service].

If you'd like to provide your readers with a bit more info, feel free to link that mention to our site at:

[Target URL]

No pressure at all, just wanted to say thanks for the shout-out and provide the link in case you wanted to add it.


[Your Name]

Because they've already mentioned you, there's a much higher chance they'll be willing to add the link.

Maximizing Existing Content with RivalFlow AI

Getting the most SEO value out of your existing content is crucial. That's where RivalFlow AI comes in.

RivalFlow AI is a powerful content optimization tool that analyzes your site against competitors and identifies opportunities to improve your content and earn more links.

Here's how it works:

  1. RivalFlow AI crawls your site and your competitors to identify content gaps -- topics that your competitors are ranking for that you don't have comprehensive content on yet.
  2. The tool provides detailed recommendations on how to enhance your existing content to be more in-depth, cover related subtopics, and include relevant keywords.
  3. By beefing up your content to be more comprehensive and search-friendly, you naturally make it more link-worthy. Other sites are more likely to reference it and link to it as a valuable resource.

Maximizing your existing content is a low-effort, high-impact way to earn more links without having to create content from scratch.

To understand the impact of your link building campaigns, keep an eye on these key SEO metrics:

  • Total referring domains -- Track this number (easily found in Ahrefs or Moz) to make sure your unique linking domains are steadily increasing over time. This is a good top-level indicator of your overall link acquisition.
  • Domain Authority -- DA is a score developed by Moz that predicts how well a site will rank based on its backlink profile. Track the DA scores of your new referring domains to ensure you're earning links from authoritative, high-quality sites.
  • Organic traffic -- Ultimately, the goal of link building is to increase your search rankings and organic traffic. Use Google Analytics to monitor your organic traffic and look for upward trends as your link building ramps up.
  • Keyword rankings -- Track your rankings for your target keywords using a tool like SpyFu. As your link authority grows, you should see your rankings climb.

Adjusting Your Strategy Based on Results

Regularly review your link building results and use that data to optimize your approach:

  • Double down on what's working. If certain types of content or outreach tactics are driving a ton of links, focus more of your efforts there.
  • Scale up your top performers. If a particular linkable asset is getting great results, repurpose that content into new formats or update it regularly to keep it fresh and link-worthy.
  • Cut what's not working. If you're investing a lot of time into a link building tactic and not seeing results, don't be afraid to cut it from your strategy.
  • Experiment with new tactics. The most effective link builders are always testing new strategies. Dedicate 10-20% of your link building time to experimenting with new tactics and see what moves the needle.

Conclusion and Next Steps

Building a diverse portfolio of high-quality backlinks from authoritative referring domains is one of the most impactful things you can do to boost your organic search performance. But it takes the right strategy and consistent execution.

As we've covered in this guide, focus on:

  • Creating truly valuable, link-worthy content
  • Conducting targeted, personalized outreach to relevant sites
  • Leveraging tactics like broken link building and unlinked mentions
  • Enhancing your existing content to maximize its link potential
  • Tracking your progress and adjusting your approach based on data

One of the best ways to level up your content and earn more links on autopilot is RivalFlow AI. This powerful tool makes it dead simple to find content gaps and opportunities, then enhance your pages accordingly.

We've seen sites increase their organic traffic by 70% or more and earn dozens of high-value links--just by following RivalFlow AI's recommendations for existing content. It's like having an expert SEO looking over your shoulder.

So if you're serious about taking your link building to the next level, definitely check out RivalFlow AI.

Now it's time to put this guide into action. Reference it as you analyze your current link profile, brainstorm link-worthy content ideas, and map out your outreach plan.

Stay consistent, keep learning, and don't be afraid to experiment. Here's to earning more high-quality links and dominating the SERPs!