The Definitive Guide to Ethical Linkbuilding

Backlinks have become one of the main pillars of digital marketing in recent years, as Google heavily emphasizes web pages with rich backlink catalogs.

Every backlink is essentially a vote of confidence from another site. 

They tell search engines that your page is not only trustworthy and secure but also contains relevant, quality information that will help users get what they want.

Since backlinks are as good as gold, it’s not surprising that marketers have used some questionable methods over the years to obtain them.

Today we’re looking at the best practices for ethical link building, meaning no loopholes, shortcuts, or legal grey areas. 

These methods will help you develop a wealth of real, reliable backlinks that move your site up the ranks without treading on thin ice. Let’s go.

How NOT to Get Backlinks

Marketers have been scrambling to get backlinks since search engine technology was first introduced. As you may recall it wasn’t pretty at first.

Remember those old-school websites that loaded keywords in “invisible ink” at the bottom of the page to get boosted in organic search? Nothing very organic about that.

The same shady tactics were used to build backlinks, such as buying them in bulk or spamming low-quality websites with links back to the site.

This may have worked decently in 1999, but we’ve come a long way since then. 

Here are some backlink strategies that you want to avoid in 2020:

  • Buying backlinks in any capacity (even through middlemen who seem legit)
  • Obtaining backlinks from sites that have nothing to do with your niche (irrelevant)
  • Forgetting anchor text when building backlinks (not optimized for search)
  • Using site-wide links instead of targeted links to a specific page on your site
  • Linking to sites without a good reputation and with low domain authority (DA)

You’ll want to steer clear of “nofollow” links and stick to “dofollow” links as much as possible. While nofollows can still bring traffic to your site, they aren’t recognized by Google in the same way, and therefore pack less of a punch for SEO.

It should go without saying, but also try to avoid auto-blogging sites and links from any page conducting illegal activity since these can result in major penalties to your rank.

Cheap, Fast, Easy? None of the Above?

With those bad practices out of the way, it’s worth mentioning that some link building methods bring about results faster than others, and are perfectly acceptable.

One great way to get links quickly is to filter your backlinks by status code, identify any broken links, and make sure they’re replaced with links live pages.

Error 404s are still common on the web, and since you aren’t getting the credit you deserve for those empty links, aim to remedy the problem ASAP.

An article from Moz also suggested that you search the web for any pages that include links to your competitors, and ensure that you get a spot on the list as well.

Look for pages that review a lot of products or services in your niche, and connect with the webmaster to earn an easy backlink or two. This requires some finesse when reaching out, but the reward is certainly worth taking the time and effort.

SEMRush noted a few other quick-hit backlink tactics, such as unlinked brand mentions, images, and roundup posts. 

Pro tip: Think of these methods as renovations to your existing backlink catalog, rather than additions to your empire.

Check these boxes and you’ll make up lost ground in the battle for backlinks.

Make Content Worth Sharing

The truth is that while some of these backlink strategies are easier and less time-consuming, the best way to build strong links is to create value with great content.

We’re talking about case studies, white papers, long-form blogs, step-by-step guides, and anything else that truly helps readers accomplish their goals.

You’ll find that when your content is legitimately useful and informative, you won’t have to convince anyone to link to your page or share the material. It will happen naturally!

Your primary focus should be on creating content that makes a difference in peoples’ lives. This takes time, but the fruits of your labor will be well worth it in the long run.

Connect With the Right People

In many cases, great backlink practices overlap with the core principles of networking.

Reaching out to relevant blogs and news sites in your niche and asking to drop a guest post is a highly effective way to get ethical backlinks. 

Some tools can streamline this process for you.

One of the most highly-regarded backlink builders is HARO, short for Help a Reporter Out.

This strategy ranked number one on the Backlinko guide to quality links and earns you some of the strongest backlinks available on the web.

The HARO platform connects journalists with sources and vice versa. Your web page of choice can be that source, meaning you get backlinks from major news sites and media aggregators.

It’s not the most intuitive resource to navigate, but with some practice, it can become a goldmine for top-notch links from the biggest sites in the world. 

Let a Professional Lead the Way

Even with so much free advice available online, a lot of digital marketers are still in the dark about how to build backlinks ethically and effectively.

If you are totally lost on the subject, or just want to refine your game plan in the new year, it’s worth reaching out to an expert in the field, or an agency that specializes in backlink strategy.

The best backlink professionals will not only help you network and create effective online partnerships, but they’ll also advise you on content marketing best practices that aid in your broader SEO goals.

Platforms like HARO, influencer marketing, and guest posting are not easy to break into, and a good agency can help you get up to speed in these areas. Consider outsourcing at least a portion of your backlink strategy to accelerate your efforts.


Building backlinks the right way requires knowledge, technique, and a lot of ongoing effort. 

We’ve laid out some of the key components to ethical link building here, but the majority of your progress will be made from applying these practices and making discoveries on your own.

Don’t shy away from the trial-and-error aspect of backlink building, and reach out to an established freelancer or agency to get a boost if you need one.

There’s no such thing as a quick fix or magic pill when it comes to backlinking, so embrace the grind and take your time developing strong content that will last years.

Best of luck on your backlink journey!