Backlink building: how to generate strong backlinks

Backlinks are links that lead from one website to another. They help users navigate the Internet and reach other websites with a single click of their mouse button.

When building backlinks, satisfying the end user is no longer the main goal. Instead, the focus has shifted to their influence on search engines. From Google’s perspective, linked sites are comparable to recommendations and therefore are an indication that a website is relevant to users. Hence, a higher number of backlinks leads to a higher ranking in search results. Google continues to improve its algorithm and penalizes abuse. In addition to the number, the quality of the backlinks is now decisive for the ranking. This article reveals how to build strong backlinks and what to watch out for.

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What types of backlinks exist?

A backlink consists of a link target and a medium that is linked to it. With a text link, a section of text, the so-called anchor text, is added with a hyperlink that leads to the linked website. Alternatively, it is also possible to link a photo or a graphic. Both types of backlinks are relevant for search engine optimization and have a positive effect on the ranking.

The differentiation between dofollow and nofollow backlinks has a far greater influence on the ranking. If the HMTL source code of a backlink does not contain an additional attribute, it is automatically considered a dofollow backlink. Some site operators link to sources on your site that you do not trust or for which they do not want to build valuable backlinks. In this case, webmasters can insert the nofollow attribute into the source code as follows:

<a href="" rel="nofollow">anchor text</a>

Up until 2019, backlinks with this attribute were not included in Google’s rating. This changed after the algorithm was updated. Social signals are a special type of nofollow backlinks. This term describes backlinks that originate from a social media channel and lead users to your website. However, their importance for search engine optimization is comparatively small. Therefore, social signals shouldn’t be your first choice when it comes to building backlinks.

As part of its guidelines, Google forbids building backlinks for payment. With the attribute rel="sponsored", however, site operators can indicate if a link was created in exchange for money or free products. This prevents such backlinks from negatively affecting your site ranking. In forums and blogs, the rel="ugc" attribute identifies user-generated content that does not originate from the site operator.

Which factors influence the quality of backlinks?

Google rates the link popularity of a site using the PageRank algorithm. During the early stages of search engine optimization, the more links led to a website, the more relevant it was. Therefore, site operators began to focus on quantity and generated many backlinks with the help of so-called link farms. Google reacted to this by updating the algorithm several times. The evaluation of backlinks is now much more complex and takes the quality of the links into account.

Google has improved the evaluation of backlinks by diversifying the ranking factors. The search engine does not reveal how strong the weighting of individual factors is. When building backlinks, it is advisable to consider all ranking factors and pay attention to organic link building.

Link structure and anchor text

In most cases, a backlink consists of a linked URL and the clickable anchor text. Select meaningful words or phrases that reflect the relevance of the linked site for your anchor texts. General phrases such as “This article” as anchor text make it difficult to classify the links thematically. It’s best to avoid using the same text for every backlink. (You can find out why this has a negative effect on the ranking in the section “The most common mistakes in link building”.)

Authority of a linked site

The higher the authority of a linked website, the more positively Google rates the quality of the backlink. However, if the search engine classifies the site as a link farm or link seller, building a backlink via this website could lead to a penalty. This could result in a drop in PageRank, achieving the exact opposite of what you set out to do. Therefore, pay attention to the seriousness of the linked sites.

Thematic relevance

Google rates websites to present users with content in the search results that is relevant to their search intention. Accordingly, the thematic relevance of backlinks also influences the ranking. If you want to build strong backlinks, select websites with a similar thematic focus that link to relevant sub-pages of your website.

Position of backlinks

A link placed for higher presence, is rated as more valuable by Google. Placing a link at the start of a page or at the heart of written content is particularly relevant. Google assigns a lower relevance to backlinks in the footer, the navigation bar, or the sidebar.

Topicality of content

Google registers when there are no new backlinks for a longer period of time. The algorithm evaluates this as a sign that the website does not provide current or new content and thus loses relevance for users. It is therefore advisable to steadily build up backlinks over the long term.

The most common mistakes in link building

Building backlinks is an integral part of online marketing and offpage search engine optimization for companies. For long-term success it is essential to avoid the following mistakes as these are punished by Google and thus lead to a poorer ranking of your website.

Choice of website

A common mistake webmasters make is the selection of websites for generating backlinks. It is advisable to avoid the following types of websites:

  • Websites without topical relevance to your content.
  • Websites with a high number of backlinks; Google may rate them as link farms.
  • Websites that sell backlinks or exist purely for backlinking.
  • Websites with no added value, clear thematic relevance or content with less than 400 words.

Link exchange

Companies often support one another through networking, cooperation or some other type of collaboration. When building backlinks, it is possible to join forces and reciprocally link to your own websites. However, Google lists reciprocal linking as forbidden in its webmaster guidelines and punishes such behavior – even if the two linked sites have a high level of authority and deal with a similar topic.

This can be circumvented. Agree with at least two other website operators that you each link to a different site. This means that there is no reciprocal link: website A links to website B, website B links to C, and C links to A. So, every website has a new backlink without any reciprocal linking taking place.

Poor optimization of anchor texts

Ideally, anchor texts are meaningful in terms of content and include the keyword of the linked page or other relevant keywords. But if you use the same anchor text every time you link a website, Google may penalize it. It’s best to vary the anchor text as often as possible and, in addition to the keyword, use organic and appropriate words, such as the brand name or URLs.


Naturally, you have limited influence on the design of backlinks by others. However, it is worth writing to other webmasters and asking them for better anchor texts.

Building backlinks from unindexed sites

A backlink from an unindexed site has no influence on the ranking in search engine results. However, it is possible that a website is no longer indexed because of a violation of webmaster guidelines. In this case, building a backlink to the site should be avoided.

Inorganic backlinks

Google’s algorithm not only evaluates each backlink individually, but also the entirety of all backlinks that link to a website. This holistic view makes it possible to evaluate whether a link profile was created organically or whether it suggests that many backlinks were created manually and on behalf of the website operator.

A natural link profile includes a certain percentage of nofollow backlinks. If (almost) exclusively dofollow backlinks lead to a site, Google may penalize this. For the same reason, it is advisable to build backlinks for an indefinite period of time. Also make sure that the linked sites are diverse and do not just correspond to one type of site, such as just forums or web directories.

Building backlinks: the three best methods

There are many ways to build backlinks. Basically, it is up to you to decide which options you use and which best suit your website. Always keep in mind that quality comes before quantity and avoid mistakes that Google penalizes. In the following sections, we will introduce you to the most common methods of building backlinks.

Generating your own backlinks

Web directories allow webmasters to build backlinks and link to their own websites. Although these backlinks are comparatively lightly rated by Google, it is one of the easiest options to create a limited number of backlinks yourself. Here, too, the principle of relevance applies. If possible, select industry-specific directories. Local directories have an even higher weighting for location-specific search results. General web directories are only recommended with a domain rating of 50 or higher.

Blogs with a comment section allow you to build your own backlinks. Many website owners already link their sites this way. As a result, comments are now automatically inserted with the nofollow attribute. These types of backlinks are likely considered a ranking factor (albeit a rather unimportant one). Above all, they contribute to a natural-looking link profile. Find out more about connecting to blog posts via pingbacks and trackbacks in our dedicated guide.

Posts in forums are rated higher than blog comments. The challenge of placing links here lies in bypassing trained moderators who recognize and block such backlinks. To be able to successfully build backlinks in this way, it is necessary to be an active member of such forums and regularly contribute.

Building backlinks with good content

To generate organic backlinks, it is usually necessary to create dedicated content. This content is known as a linkable asset. Innovative and useful content, lists, competitions, and entertaining articles are particularly suitable. Infographics are associated with more effort, and because of this they have a better chance of being linked to from other website operators. Offer them free of charge for others to use and ask for them to link to your website in return.

Ideally, other website operators share your content without an active request. However, it is not uncommon that a mention is not followed by an active link. It’s advisable to regularly search the Internet for text references to your content or website and to ask the respective website operator to backlink it. During this research, you have the opportunity to check existing backlinks for their correctness and the quality of the anchor texts. Get in touch with webmasters if you need to request changes.


YouTube analytics include an overview of all websites that embed your videos.

Building backlinks with guest posts

Guest posts are a particularly good way of building backlinks and increasing brand awareness at the same time. Use the decisive quality criteria for backlinks to select suitable websites for a guest post. Check in advance whether the sites are thematically relevant and related to your topic – even with high-quality blogs. Also rate the sites on their outgoing links. Question whether the backlinks offer added value and lead to reputable sites.


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