One of the biggest challenges you face as a small business is growing your customer base. Between emailing leads and running ads, you have access to what feels like an infinite number of digital avenues to pursue. In addition to focusing your customer acquisition attempts on ads and marketing campaigns, get customers to come to you with the help of multiple well-placed links.
We’re talking about getting more backlinks—links to your site from other websites. Before you question the effectiveness of growing your customer base with links, hear us out. Sites that consistently publish relevant content for their audience rank high in Google search. When these sites link to your content, it’s like they’re endorsing you as a subject-matter expert. The more links you get from high-ranking sites, the higher your content ranks in search, and the more people you attract to your website.
SpyFu's backlink data is helpful for backlink discovery. It shows you where domains are getting links and which links help them rank for certain keywords. For more audit-based research, we folded other tools into our process.
Using our backlink data and additional backlink profile data from Ahrefs, we ran an experiment to find out how high-ranking blogs attract backlinks. We focused on nine popular types of content and found the total number of backlinks different posts received. We also looked at the keywords each post used, the type of sites backlinks came from, and the domain authority of these referring sites.
To increase the number of backlinks to your site, you need great content and the strategies that these blogs used.
Type of content #1: “How to” posts
“How to” posts are some of the most popular types of content because they educate readers by leading them step by step through a process. These articles earn backlinks because they break down big ideas so other sites can easily find relevant info to link to.
HubSpot, a leader in online marketing content, published a post called How to Create Detailed Buyer Personas for Your Business [Free Persona Template]. The post is a classic “how to” post because it takes an idea—creating buyer personas—and explains in detail what personas are and describes how to use them and how to create them. There are even tips, sample questions for marketers to ask, and a template to kick-start the creation process.
HubSpot refreshed this post to keep it relevant and updated the URL to include only the keyword “buyer persona research.” The first image below is of the original URL; the second image is the new one. The original URL has a 301 redirect added so site visitors find the page with the new link.
URL structure is an SEO best practice with two big benefits. First, site visitors know what to expect—they’re more likely to click, read, and link. Second, keywords in URLs help determine relevance—Google’s ranking algorithm ranks relevant pages higher in search.
Overall, the article has earned 6,512 backlinks from high-ranking sites like Buffer, Social Media Examiner (SME), and Neil Patel.
Each of these sites focuses on different topics, but all of them link to the same HubSpot article:
- Buffer’s post mentions marketing persona templates.
- SME's post mentions using buyer personas to define and target the right people.
- Neil Patel’s post mentions building landing pages for different buyer personas.
By attracting a wider range of backlinks, you increase your exposure to different audiences.
How to build links with “how to” posts
Write about topics that can be broken into smaller steps. Figure out what the main ideas are, and then explain how each one works, offer tips, and include examples and images to boost linking opportunities. Follow the example in HubSpot’s post, and give readers tools to help them through the process. For example, include questions they can ask or a template they can use. The post becomes more valuable, so it appeals to other sites and offers lots of backlink options.
Consider the length of “how to” posts. Research shows that longer posts—1,000 words or more—rank higher than shorter posts. In fact, HubSpot found that its posts between 2,250 and 2,500 words rank higher in organic search. Consider writing “how to” posts that are at least 2,000 words to improve your chances of being found online and linked to.
Type of content #2: Guides and Ebooks
Guides and ebooks are long-from content that addresses one main topic. Guides and ebooks attract backlinks from third-party sites that cover similar topics. These third-party sites link to resources that explain, in more detail, content they (the third-party sites) address only briefly.
Search Engine Journal (SEJ) published a guide titled The Complete List of Google Penalties & How to Recover, which is a deep dive into how companies rebound after they get a Google penalty. The post includes fixes and tips to avoid future penalties. The guide even includes links to articles that readers can access for more related information.
These extra resources include keywords like “how to secure your website from hackers” and “google penalties.” When people search for these terms, they’ll find SEJ’s Google penalties guide first in search—which is more comprehensive than the individual posts.
How to build links with guides and ebooks
Research page-one search results to find popular topics that would benefit from being turned into a guide or an ebook. See where gaps exist, and create a guide or an ebook that combines ideas so people don’t have to jump from page to page to find what they need.
For example, let’s say that only general articles about Google penalties and fixes existed before SEJ wrote its guide. It would make sense to combine these ideas into one long post (remember, Google tends to rank longer posts higher in search—like it does with SEJ’s post) and create one source of information.
Type of content #3: Opinion posts
Opinion posts have a diverse or controversial perspective on an important topic. Whether other sites agree with the opinion or not, they may want to link to your piece to address audience questions or concerns. Or other sites might write their own perspective on the topic and link to your post.
Buffer’s post titled The Future of Social Media (And How to Prepare For It): The State of Social Media 2016 Report addresses the challenges they think are most important to businesses. The post uses data and real-life examples to back up its opinion. Data makes this type of content sound more authoritative, which helps the post rank high in search and attracts backlinks (and potential new customers). Buffer’s post has 962 backlinks from sites like Medium and Entrepreneur.
How to build links with opinion posts
Differentiate your opinion post by adding in stats and facts to increase backlinks—just like Buffer does. The Medium post explains Facebook video ads and mentions the section in Buffer’s post about increased video use. Medium calls out the fact that 30% of marketers want to use Facebook video. Entrepreneur’s article highlights the skills social media managers need to have and mentions the stat Buffer includes: 21% of businesses use social media for customer support.
Compared to other opinion posts that call attention to social media trends, Buffer’s post includes more stats, insights into how social media marketing has changed, and details about how they came to their conclusions.
Hootsuite ranks high in search, just like Buffer, but its post Social Media in 2020: 11 Data-Backed Predictions attracts only 418 backlinks (57% less than Buffer). Hootsuite's post doesn't include as many stats as Buffer's and has 11 trends versus 13.
Type of content #4: Interview-based posts
Interview-based posts share the expertise of subject-matter experts so topics can be thoroughly explored. Interview posts attract backlinks because they increase your blog’s authority by making it look trustworthy to other sites.
The First Round Capital website has a lot of content about tech startup companies—they regularly interview founders and industry leaders to find out the secret to their success. Their post about Slack’s launch strategy, based on an interview with founder Stewart Butterfield, earned a total of 2,243 backlinks from sites like Fast Company, Medium, and Entrepreneur.
In Medium’s post, they refer to the First Round Capital article as a “must-read,” which flags it as quality content coming from Medium. Authors from other blogs are compelled to click, read, and potentially link to it in their own content.
Entrepreneur’s post explores why some startup ideas are more successful than others and lists seven companies. There’s a section for Slack and a link to First Round Capital’s article, because it mentions product development.
Fast Company went even further and republished the full article (with permission) on their site and linked to the original article at the end.
How to build links with interviews
Give sites with a higher domain authority permission to publish all or parts of your interview-based post, just as First Round Capital did with Fast Company. If you let other sites publish your content, ask them to use cross-domain rel=canonical tags so your post won’t have to compete against itself when it appears on other sites. Google will be able to tell the difference between the original and the copy. Your post will rank higher in search, so new backlinks go to it, not the copy.
Type of content #5: Original research posts
Research posts that use first- or third-party data are unique and engage customers in the mid to late stages of their customer journey. Research posts are informative, persuasive, and relevant, so they build your site’s credibility, which helps attract backlinks.
HubSpot publishes an annual report that covers marketing stats, trends, and data. The most recent report is called The Ultimate List of Marketing Statistics for 2020.It’s a big report, but it’s broken into eight smaller parts, with each focusing on a different type of marketing, such as content marketing or video marketing. Research posts are a type of content that gives other sites lots of chances to link, because the subject matter is so broad. For example, HubSpot’s report has 42,469 backlinks, with many of them from sites like Neil Patel, Entrepreneur, and Forbes.
The Neil Patel blog has multiple posts that link to HubSpot’s report. For example, How to Get Google to Instantly Index Your New Website and The Ultimate Guide to Writing Blog Posts That Rank in Google's Top 10 cover very different topics but find relevant resources in HubSpot’s report.
How to build links with original research posts
To write a report that sites want to link to, create a detailed solution to a specific audience need or pain point. With HubSpot’s report, the goal is to educate marketers on market trends so their campaigns are relevant. Create categories in your report so it’s easy for people to wade through the content to find what they’re looking for. The easier it is for them to find content, the better the chances of them linking to your research and sending traffic your way.
Type of content #6: Gated posts
Gated posts are high-value reads, such as articles, reports, ebooks, and case studies, that require readers to share data (like their email address and payment information) to get access. Gated posts attract backlinks because this type of content relies on human psychology to attract people—“people value things that they have to work harder to get.” For example, an industry report might be seen as more credible and insightful than some articles. Often, only highlights or a snippet of text from the article is visible. The snippet is enough for Google to index the page so it appears in search, and it’s enough to convince authors from other sites that you know what you’re talking about.
Adweek’s post 81% of Shoppers Conduct Online Research Before Buying [Infographic] talks about shoppers and their online habits, but it’s gated. However, the post still has 6,476 backlinks.
Some of the backlinks are from sites like HubSpot and Constant Contact. Only the introduction is visible, which is an incentive for readers to share their email address or buy a subscription to get more insights. Adweek offers a premium subscription, which adds to their authority and helps attract new customers.
How to build links with gated content
The gated content debate makes it harder for this type of content to get backlinks. Some readers just want to read a post; they don’t want to trade their email address or buy a subscription, so they leave the site. Since you’re using backlinks to grow your customer base, high bounce rates won’t do.
The key to using gated content to get backlinks is to gate the right kind of content at the right time along the customer journey. You’ll find people who are more willing to share their info if they’re at a point where they’re ready to buy something.
Type of content #7: Infographics
An infographic is an image-only piece of content that summarizes information that other sites link to for reference. Infographics attract backlinks because they’re simple and easy to follow—65% of people are visual learners and appreciate simplified visual data.
Professionally designed infographics are visually appealing, and the data’s easy to understand. This is especially true when you are sharing a lot of data where the story can otherwise get lost. Use the visual to help make your point.
HubSpot’s The State of Content Marketing 2020 [Infographic] highlights stats about marketers and content strategy, best practices, and industry trends. There are 202 backlinks to this infographic, which is low for HubSpot, but, considering almost all of the backlinks are from high-ranking sites, 202 isn’t so bad. For example, there are links from SEJ and LinkedIn. SEJ’s article references multiple stats from the infographic. LinkedIn’s article mentions B2B video marketing trends, references the HubSpot article, and includes a partial screenshot.
How to build links with infographics
Include written content that introduces the infographic instead of publishing a page with just the infographic. Even if your infographic’s eye-catching and summarizes key insights perfectly, this type of content won’t get you backlinks if people can’t find it. Google can’t rank image-only pages because there’s no way to tell what page the image belongs to. HubSpot includes an intro that highlights some of the key findings of their annual content marketing survey.
You also need to make sure keywords are part of the summary so Google can find and index the page.
Type of content #8: Roundup posts
Audiences love list posts because they’re a one-stop shop for resources. List posts naturally earn backlinks because this type of content is full of insights, tips, and resources.
But here's the unsung aspect of roundup posts. You're likely to get links--and promotional love-- from the resources you listed. Everyone loves to "make the cut."
SEJ’s post titled How to Set up Google Analytics Goals & 7 Tips to Get Ahead shows up on page one of Google search for the keyword “google analytics goals,” which is very hard to rank for. The post goes into detail about how to set up Google Analytics and uses screenshots to guide readers through the process. Also included are tips for how to track goals and tips on how to optimize Google Analytics. This type of content works for sites that want to share helpful resources with their readers.
There are 447 backlinks, with many from sites like OptinMonster, WordStream, and Crazy Egg. These posts address landing-page optimization, explain how to create strong content, and introduce Google Analytics. Each post links to SEJ’s post as a way to help readers understand Google Analytics better.
How to build links with roundup posts
Use the skyscraper technique to create content that’s 5-10x better than page-one results so you appear high in search and attract more backlinks. If you find a post that lists the 10 best tools, you should create one with the 20 best tools.
For example, the SEJ post appears on page one for the keyword “google analytics goals.” SEJ’s post is more advanced than other posts ranking for the same keyword because it goes beyond just setting up Google Analytics and dives into how to use the tool to get ahead.
Type of content #9: News posts
News posts give “hot off the press” company and industry updates direct from the source. This type of content attracts backlinks because news posts are resources that include timely updates—for example, a company might publish a press release introducing a new product or feature. Or another company might publish an industry-wide policy change that affects customers.
It’s harder to attract backlinks to news posts because the content isn’t evergreen—the topic won’t be relevant a year from now. You’ll get a few links initially, probably from niche sites, but links will drop soon after.
A press release published on Business Wire, titled Dentsu Aegis Network Builds Out Merkle’s B2B Services with Acquisition of Digital Pi, covers the purchase of Digital Pi, a digital marketing agency. Even though Dentsu Aegis Network is a successful digital marketing communications brand, the press release has only 118 backlinks. Most of the backlinks come from sites like AdExchanger and Make Me Feed that rank lower in search and don’t help attract new customers. Ninety-six percent of Dentsu Aegis Network’s backlinks to this news post come from a site called “MandASoft, which has low domain authority.
How to build links with news posts
Even though news posts aren’t relevant forever, you can increase backlinks in the short term. Search for sites that interview company leaders in your niche, and ask to share a recent company update. As Dentsu Aegis Network does, you can talk about a recent acquisition. If the published interview is audio or video, ask that a transcript be included on the page so a link to your website’s included.
What our findings tell us about these types of content
Based on all the articles we reviewed, one thing’s obvious: content has to be valuable and relevant and meet readers expectations. Content that hits on these points ranks higher in search and automatically attract backlinks.
List posts, “how to” posts, and infographics are the best types of content to attract lots of backlinks. These types of posts offer up the most information and give other sites lots of chances to link. Our research found that multiple sites will link to one piece of content even when they themselves deal with different topics. List posts, “how to” posts, and infographics cover broad subjects but still manage to be relevant.
Test out our results on your own blog to see how many backlinks you can get, and keep an eye on site traffic.