Of the three main components of search engine optimization: technical and on-page (content), off-page (links), and link building (backlinking); to implement a strong link acquisition strategy, optimized technical SEO and on-page content are a prerequisite. For this reason, link building is one of the primary indicators to Google that a website is quality and worthy of ranking favorably in the SERPs (search engine results pages).
Like most things, there’s a wrong and right way to implement link building to compliment your SEO strategy. Today, in a SaaS market that is more competitive than ever, executing the right way has never been more critical if your goal is long-term organic growth success. While link building the right way can be a time-consuming exercise, it’s a small tradeoff as opposed to the consequences of being banned from the search results entirely.
This article will cover the fundamentals of link building, industry-relevant ideas for acquiring external links for your SaaS solution, and internal link building.
In its most diluted form, link building is the exercise of acquiring links, which are less often referred to as hyperlinks, from other websites to refer back to your own. Google’s algorithm uses these links as context about the meaning of your website and if its content is ‘cite worthy’ from other domain authorities.
Though not all links are created equal, and thanks to Google’s Penguin update, websites are evaluated based on link quality more so than simply quantity, meaning a link from G2 (if your solution is B2B) will be much more meaningful than a small or newly created website referring back to your domain.
The first component is page authority, we’ve seen that page authority matters more than any other factor since links from authoritative pages pass more trust or authority (or PageRank) to your website. Thanks to tools like Semrush, you’re able to evaluate PageRank, or Page Authority Score, by simply inputting the page's URL.
This is not to be confused with domain authority, which indicates the domain's overall authority.
While the page and domain authority of the site will ultimately play a significant role in Google’s evaluation of your website, and while it’s ‘okay’ to have a link from a website with a lower domain authority, your goal should be to ensure links are coming from sites within the range of 20-70+.
It’s essential to keep in mind that these referring websites and pages must still be relevant to your solution. This is to ensure the page is passing domain relevant authority and that your business is maximizing the value of the traffic provided, as you wouldn’t want your B2B Marketing Automation solution to have traffic being referred from ESPN.
Another indicating factor for Google’s evaluation is where your link is positioned on the page as a link embedded in the body text will be looked upon more favorably. This indicates to Google that your link is editorially placed, meaning that someone is referring to your content because it is of value to the context of their page.
This added context of why your page is of value is called ‘Anchor Text’, or the clickable section of a link, and supports Google in determining what your website and domain authority are on.
For example, if the body text is ‘our organization leverages Salesforce as we believe it’s the best CRM to act as an integrated hub for our hub and spoke system architecture’ using the ‘Anchor Text’ in conjunction with the link co-occurrences (words around the anchor text) Google will understand that Salesforce is a CRM and a business application.
The last factor is Nofollow vs. Dofollow, this is the outcome of Google’s decision whether they determine the link as a strong endorsement or not and if you see rel=”nofollow” that means Google doesn’t consider the link authoritative or relevant to your website. This can also be checked on Semrush to determine which of the links that are referring to your website Google has tagged as nofollow.
Now that we’ve evaluated the factors that determine the overall link quality let’s apply this to industry-relevant examples of how your organization can acquire world-class links through content marketing.
Before divulging the various strategies for organically acquiring links through content marketing, it’s worth noting that several other acquisition methods can be leveraged solely based on having a solution on the market with a strong unique value proposition. To keep the scope of this article focused on link building through content marketing, we’ll only briefly highlight them below before pressing onward.
While these outbound link acquisition strategies may seem like low-hanging fruit, ultimately without a well-optimized and content-heavy website for these external links to link back to your conversion rate on the link referral traffic will be impacted. Now that we’ve acknowledged content as a pre-requisite to outbound link building, let's discuss how industry-leading content that’s naturally produced by your solution can be leveraged for organic link building.
The relationship between content and links is analogically comparable to a flywheel; if you produce industry-leading content, you’ll be featured in industry-leading publications. Sounds simple right? Not so much, but to aid this discussion, we’ll reference SaaS companies that have been exemplary in creating reference-worthy content and creating the content/link flywheel.
Zendesk is a customer service solution that focuses on omni-channel customer support and its integration into other business units like sales, employee experience, and marketing through its robust analytical capabilities. Zendesk leverages its large customer base and solution functionality to aggregate data and analyze customer support across 97,000 Zendesk customers across 21 countries and create an annual report on customer experience trends. The value of this report alone organically causes other businesses and blogs to reference this valuable customer data. So, it's important to examine your solution’s value proposition and evaluate the data you have and how it can be leveraged through content to add additional value to your industry and customers alike.
Bonus: Zendesk also gates its content and leverages it as another channel for prospect email acquisition to later add to email lists and other marketing initiatives.
Hubspot, what started as a marketing automation solution and has since expanded to encompass most front office workflows, is a master of content marketing through long form, in-depth, and original micro topic guides that are structured around solution functionality.
By producing ‘Ultimate X Guides’ based on their solution’s functionality Hubspot creates prospect and user awareness around industry-leading marketing and customer acquisition tactics in the form of long-form in-depth content such as this one on email marketing.
Again, as a founder or marketing leader, you’re ability to understand your solutions unique value add to your customers, and create ultimate topic guides around the content will not only allow you to showcase solution functionality but also serve as an organic link-building tactic.
Clearbit is a front office intelligence software that spans sales, marketing, and operations that can search and analyze millions of data points in seconds and provide actionable data on your ideal prospects. Clearbit uses its solutions advanced functionality to provide extremely valuable free tools for its prospects such as a weekly visitor tracking tool that displays a report of all the companies that have visited your website broken down by category, employee count, and revenue. Of course, if you want to view who those individual prospects are, you’ll have to pay for the full version. However, the sheer value of this free tool has organically featured it in dozens of industry-leading business articles where their ideal customer personas are active, resulting in high intent and conversion customer traffic.
This is another opportunity for you, as a founder, or revenue leader, to examine what components or functionality of your solution could compress into a free publicly facing tool that would add value to potential prospects that prospects would naturally seek to leverage the full solution.
Gong is a revenue intelligence platform for B2B sales teams that has largely experienced hyper growth due to its phenomenal use of case studies. By implementing a verticalized and SEO-optimized case study content strategy, Gong was able to cite case studies in their blog posts to pass internal page authority and create content more authoritative pages which in result is more sharable through the form of organic linking.
Once you’ve built this foundational content into your website and organically acquired backlinks through these means, your solution and brand will have the authority to unlock additional link-building strategies such as:
Guest blogging generally requires a strong personal brand and solution brand as a prerequisite for two reasons. The website will look for a post of extremely high value in return for borrowing their platform. Also, if you’re featured, you’ll need link worthy and relevant content on your website for the post to link back to. Initially these opportunities will be sparse so you’ll want to ensure that when they appear you’re ready and have strong value add content on your website that converts the traffic the link placement drives.
By leveraging the Ahrefs Content Explorer tool, searching your topic, and filtering only for broken links with thirty-plus referring domains, you’re able to see a list of sites that no longer exist but are being referred to by thirty-plus domains. This is your opportunity to analyze each page on the list, and if your solution or article would be a logical replacement, you can reach out and pitch your page as a replacement link.
Now that you have content and domain authority surrounding your solution, you can begin to reach out to industry experts and ask for their take on your solution. Whether it's on Twitter, a brief email correspondence, or a virtual chat, you can aggregate their feedback and structure an ‘Expert Roundup’ titled ‘33 Experts Review X’.
If your solution takes a contrarian opinion on an industry standard, this is your moment. While this strategy requires significant domain expertise or undeniable data-backed validation, it can be a powerful lever for rapidly acquiring organic backlinks.
Internal link-building strategies, another topic that deserves its own article entirely, is the exercise of linking your existing content to one another through the usage of keyword and topic pillars and clusters. This involves designing a content marketing strategy that structures around 4-8 core topics pillars and then building cluster topics off of each to create a web where page authority is being shared around your website.
If you’re building a solution and want to build a strong website foundation that grows with your solution and organically attracts your ideal customers without pouring thousands into Paid Ads, link building is a customer acquisition strategy you should be focused on.
While it certainly can be a cumbersome process at first, your efforts eventually compound and create a natural flywheel effect that acquires links as you publish new content. Building the foundation can be difficult, so if you have any questions feel free to reach out, I love speaking to innovative founders or marketing leaders to see where we can add value.