Want to create a solid and durable link building strategy and avoid painful pitfalls? Say no more!
In this piece, we’ve put together the 22 common link building mistakes every SEO specialist has made and explain how to address them.
Once you finish reading, you’re ready to build quality backlinks that improve your site visibility in the SERPs.
Let’s dive right in!
Table of Contents
- 22 Link Building Mistakes to Avoid
- What to Do Instead: 5 SEO Link Building Strategies That Work
22 SEO Link Building Mistakes to Avoid
Here we’ve outlined and exemplified the 22 common link building mistakes.
While reading, try to reflect on your current strategy, as some mistakes might be eye-opening to you.
And may the force help you avoid Google penalties!
Mistake #1: Buying links
This is the most frequent mistake that literally every link builder commits at least once.
Buying links is against Google’s guidelines and can get a website into serious trouble if spotted.
This is even the first practice Google mentions to avoid in its guidelines about link schemes:
Well, if this is so bad, why do so many SEO specialists go for it?
The answer lies in the speed of acquiring backlinks. To buy a link, you just have to find sites or guest bloggers who sell links and make a deal. With that simple process, you can build dozens of links, both high and low-quality, and manipulate PageRank (aka Google search results).
If it works, your site will climb high in the SERP.
In reality, if you buy a couple of links per month, nothing will happen. The main issue is that the quality of such links is quite questionable. Sites that are selling links or where link sellers can get links are usually of poor quality. Such link farms don’t care about the sites in the long run, so their domain authority is steadily dropping, and so is yours. Such links might help you close your link gap in the short term, but that’s it.
So if buying links is your main strategy, this is a surefire way to get the site penalized as Google’s search engine algorithm has learned to discern such links.
Mistake #2: Relying only on high-domain authority links
When it comes to link prospecting, many SEO beginners rely heavily only on domain authority (DA) and fail to consider other essential metrics like site relevancy, traffic, DA growth potential over time (e.g., corporate blogs), etc.
By chasing websites with a high DA, they’re also limiting backlink opportunities and increasing the time it takes to acquire them. Instead of helping their site grow, they somewhat slow it down. They also create unnatural backlink profiles, and this is quite dangerous. Do you think that in real life only high DA sites will be linking back to your site? Definitely not!
«You can’t rely on Domain Authority only when building links. This metric shows the relative strength of a website’s backlink profile. There are many other factors that you should rely on when building links, like topical relevancy, organic traffic, the overall health of the domain, etc.
Obviously, if you have to choose between building links from DA 20 and DA 80 websites, you should prioritize the latter. But when the domain authority difference is much smaller, you must consider other factors.» — Irina Maltseva, Growth Lead at Aura, Founder at ONSAAS. me
Let’s look at Ahref’s ranking study. It explicitly highlights the impact of a high DR (domain rating = domain authority) in reaching the Top 10 faster. But not that much faster.
In turn, pages from websites with a lower DR perform better once crossing 122 days.
The takeaway: focus on building a diverse backlink profile.
Mistake #3: Using over-optimized anchor texts
Over-optimizing anchor text or using a lot of exact match anchors or keyword-rich anchors is risky and seems unnatural to Google.
Let’s consider the Penguin algorithm. It values hundreds of spam signals and adjusts the site’s rankings accordingly. Most importantly, the algorithm checks websites for keyword stuffing (aka over-optimization) and different link building manipulations with backlink relevancy, natural anchor text, etc.
Our advice is to keep a well-diversified anchor profile. Exact-match anchors occur very rarely in real life unless they are forced and can appear as a pattern to Google, which is why it may stop showing your page in the SERPs. This is what happened to this blog page with tons of backlinks using direct anchors:
«If you publish a guide on video marketing, it’s unlikely that everyone describes it in the exact same way. Somebody may use a variation of „video marketing tips,“ „guide for making videos,“ or something else.
When you ask people to link to your page with a specific anchor text, this falls into the realm of trying to manipulate your rankings and link spam.» — Debbie Chew, Global SEO Manager at Dialpad
So, instead of targeting exact-match anchors, focus on the reader’s intent first. Want to insert a link? Ensure it sounds natural and contributes value to the piece/audience.
Mistake #4: Building backlinks from irrelevant websites
Link relevancy is one of the factors the Penguin algorithm watches for.
If many links regularly come from unrelated sites, then you’re putting your site at risk of being penalized. Irrelevant backlinks also confuse Google about your site’s niche.
All that may impair or slow down the site’s rankings.
Mistake #5: Excessive reciprocal links
Reciprocal linking is trading or bartering links. For example, saying, «Link to me, and I’ll link to you. Win-win.»
Reciprocal links are also a natural byproduct of forging good relationships with webmasters and industry experts. It’s kind of the «paying it forward» concept.
First, you link to their content because you find it valuable and relevant to your audience, and then they link back to you.
Will Google see that as a link exchange? Probably, yes.
But will it damage your website ranking? No.
Ahrefs’s study has shown a whopping 73.6% of sites have reciprocal links. And they still rank in the SERP.
However, if your site is abusing backlink exchange and reaching the point of a critical, unnatural quantity of such links—you're playing with fire.
Even though there’s nothing wrong with that technique on the surface, it’s a no-go tactic as it still violates Google Webmaster Guidelines.
Mistake #6: Building links to low-quality directories
Directories link building may be a fast and easy way to build links. But doing so in low-quality directories can be harmful. It all comes down to the same Google algorithms and penalties for webspam.
Unrelated, spammy, or shady directories with a low DR are not your friends in building quality backlinks.
«I think the only real value in directories comes from being discoverable. There is still value for restaurants to be on Yelp, SaaS companies to be on G2, and agencies to be on Clutch, but it isn’t for the backlinks.» — Nate Turner, Co-Founder & CEO at Ten Speed
Still considering applying this tactic?
- Is it a reputable site?
- When was it founded?
- Would your target audience hang out on this site?
- Do any respected media or industry experts mention this directory?
In short, prove that the chosen directory is not a nasty swamp of low-quality links.
Some good business directories are Nextdoor, Yelp, and Yellow Pages. Google understands the nature of such sites, which means linking from directories is an essential part of your brand authority, but sadly such links pass close to zero link juice.
Note: Link juice (link equity) is a link value that backlinks pass to the site they link to. If you build links from quality sites, you will see how your domain authority will grow, thanks to the link juice it gets.
Mistake #7: Only building links to your website’s homepage
Not building links to other web pages apart from the homepage is the wrong approach.
Here is why.
Your website isn’t just the main page. By flooding it with backlinks, you’re avoiding other crucial pages you’d like to boost to the Top 10:
- Landing pages showcasing product features or services
- Blog posts with a commercial intent
- Categories for e-commerce, etc.
On top of that, building up links only to the homepage looks artificial to Google. Think of user experience and user behavior. Would they refer to your main page alone? Is there no other valuable information on your site?
«I am a big proponent of building links directly to blog content and other deeper content because it takes fewer links to level 3 or 4 pages than it would to build links to the homepage and depend on the trickle-down impact. Links built directly to deeper pages on your site also have the ability to be more contextually relevant to the source of the link than your homepage would be.» —Nate Turner, Co-Founder & CEO at Ten Speed.
In summary, you should maintain a link building balance between internal pages and your homepage.
Mistake #8: Purchasing links from non-trusted vendors
This mistake can cost you a fortune. Beware of cheap, dubious vendors that promise you to land a huge number of backlinks.
Such vendors may apply shady or black hat SEO strategies to pollute your site with bad links from PBNs, fishy directories, forums, link farms, etc. All that will make your backlink profile look spammy, and you will have to invest 10x more money into cleaning the mess. If you’re not sure about the current state of your backlink profile, we highly recommend using tools like Link Research Tools or Semrush backlink audit to ensure that you’re on the safe side.
Before shaking hands, check up on a potential vendor. Ask for client feedback, read testimonials, and reach out to the folks from testimonials. Request the vendor provide samples of links they built for customers in your niche.
We at Digital Olympus use only the white-hat method to get links for our clients. We focus on relationship-based link building and land links from over two thousand corporate blogs across various niches with excellent DA and organic traffic.
Want to know more? Contact our team.
Mistake #9: Building exclusively do-follow links
The more diversified a backlink profile is, the better its impact on the site’s ranking.
Building exclusively do-follow links seems artificial to search engine algorithms, as well as for the human eye 🙂
No-follow links, despite not passing link juice, help in keeping a diversified backlink profile.
If you’re at the starting point of building links, ensure to acquire do-follow and no-follow links. You can stick to a 90/10 standard (90% do-follow links, 10% no-follow). However, the best way to understand the right ratio for the site is to take a look at its competitors and other industry players' sites.
Mistake #10: Using PBNs (Private Blog Networks)
PBNs (private blog networks) are hazardous and must be avoided at any cost. In essence, PBNs are built by one webmaster in order to create a network of similar sites in the same niche to then place links to the main commercial site that generates profit.
The purpose of PBNs is to flood the site with links to manipulate search engine rankings.
This method refers to a black hat link building strategy and is strictly forbidden by Google.
Although the temptation of fooling Google algorithms is always in place, think twice before acting. If Google detects a PBN, which happens relatively often, it will penalize all related sites.
Mistake #11: Sending non-personalized outreach emails (aka email spam)
Bloggers, digital marketing specialists, and webmasters get tons of emails asking for links, guest posts, content collaborations, etc. The higher the domain authority, the more cold pitches are piling up in editors' inboxes.
Sending just another generalized outreach link building email is a waste of time and resources:
- You’re unlikely to see any replies
- You put YOUR domain at risk of being banned by Gmail’s spam filters
- You’re jeopardizing your brand’s reputation by sending a ton of dull pitches
Instead, personalize each email you’re going to send. Be honest with your intentions. Don’t be cheesy, and don’t try to outsmart your connections. Pitch only to relevant sites with 100% related articles' topics to appropriate people.
Mistake #12: Not creating linkable assets
A link builder relying only on outreach and not creating linkable assets (aka link bait) loses fantastic opportunities.
In essence, a linkable asset is a piece of content created specifically to gain high exposure and prompt people to link to your site as an initial source.
When done right, a linkable asset can bring you numerous links from high-authority sites and impressively boost referral traffic.
So what is that?
Simply put, linkable assets are pieces of content with unique data in place:
- Studies & research
- Awards & rankings
- Infographics & «map-o-graphics»
- Coined terms
- Free online tools & calculators
- Opinionated content & round-ups
Mistake #13: Spamming links in forums or blog comments
Spamming in blog comments is an outdated and dangerous approach. It all comes down to the Penguin algorithm again that protects us from low-quality sites artificially boosted to the first Google results.
Thus, putting links in the comments will not improve your Google ranking. Rather it’s a waste of time and marketing budget.
«Honestly, I would avoid building links via forums unless they are organic via threads or posts. It’s all about getting the highest quality links now. Links on forum profiles likely will harm your website authority in the long run.» — Felix Rose-Collins, Co-Founder & CEO at Ranktracker
Mistake #14: Using only one link building method
Experienced link builders use different link building techniques to earn links.
This is important due to constant updates in Google algorithms. One method that worked yesterday may stop bringing you results tomorrow because the rules have changed.
It’s always better to combine two to three tactics to diversify risks and create a steady link stream.
For example, if you stick to acquiring links with guest blogging alone, hire a link building agency or create linkable assets.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Mistake #15: Using irrelevant anchor texts
Using irrelevant anchor text can hinder the target page from ranking high in the SERP.
Let’s learn how it works.
For example, you’ve linked to your pillar page «7 ways to grow organically for SaaS» using the target keyword «how to grow tomatoes» which has nothing to do with the topic of the destination page.
When Google crawler follows this backlink, it will get confused because the anchor text is not relevant to the target page content. Hence, you won’t benefit from this link.
Mistake #16: Building backlinks to low-quality and spammy websites
Building links from random websites just to increase backlink quantity is a surefire way to land your site in Google «jail.»
Low-quality inbound links damage your site’s DA and increase the chances of getting penalized.
Mistake #17: Not taking organic traffic into consideration
Organic traffic is actually a good indicator of website quality. If a website gets decent traffic, it means that Google sees the website as trustworthy. Placing links on such sites will likely help your site rank higher.
And vice versa. Building links from websites with zero or very low traffic won’t make a difference. Those sites won’t pass any link juice.
One caveat: It’s super important to look at the sources of organic traffic (e.g. top countries) since you have to stick with the right geo to avoid ending up with Indian traffic instead of the US. Use SimilarWeb to make a quick check of traffic geography.
Mistake #18: Not looking for unlinked brand mentions
Unlinked brand mentions are a relatively fast and easy way to get backlinks.
This method is especially invaluable for SaaS companies.
When someone mentions your brand, reach out and ask them to link to your site. Provide them with relevant pieces from your blog to link to upfront. Send a screenshot showcasing the tool’s interface.
Use tools like Mention or Brand24 to instantly detect unlinked brand mentions on social media and across the web.
Mistake #19: Not optimizing your internal links
Internal links play a vital role in passing link equity to the website.
Select some pages you’re going to pump up with backlinks and then utilize those for passing link juice to other internal pages.
Mistake #20: Not prioritizing backlink quality
Prioritizing quantity over quality might result in the worst-case scenario: getting penalized.
But in real life, it depends on the current domain authority and domain age. Old, credible, high DA score websites will only get the most out of a large number of links.
Instead, new sites must first work on building quality backlinks to improve their domain authority. It doesn’t mean that quantity won’t matter. It will. So, if you can afford to build top-notch backlinks at scale, go for it.
Or simply outsource it to a credible link building agency to help you out.
Mistake #21: Not building relationships with other industry players
Cultivating relationships with editors and website owners in your niche is the backbone of a successful link building campaign.
Quote them in your pieces, interact with their content, or create collaborative content. In short, get on their radar, so they can link to you in return or willingly accept your guest posts.
«Response rates for cold outreach are low, like less than 1%. And even then, you’re lucky if you land a link. Over the years, I’ve built up relationships with editors, bloggers, and content marketers where my link placement rates are 80%+, helping me land backlinks from Intercom, HubSpot, BigCommerce, and more.
This would never have been possible with cold outreach.» — Steven Macdonald, Head of Content at INEVO
Mistake #22: Being impatient
Building quality links takes time. Honestly, it will take you months of hard work to earn even 30 or 50 links at the beginning.
On top of that, you will be waiting a couple of months to see links' impact on your rankings in the SERP.
That’s why patience is vital.
And that’s it! We’ve completed our comprehensive list of link building mistakes, but we have more actionable info to share on this topic.
Check out the next chapter. We’re sure you will like it 🙂
What to Do Instead: 5 SEO Link Building Strategies that Work
Let’s quickly share five actionable tactics to earn links and grow your website in search engine results.
- Create high-quality content: Write pieces you’d like to read. When editors pick a guest post to publish, they first and foremost look for super actionable content for their audience.
- Create linkable assets: This is your goldmine! Learn Brian Dean’s The Source Magnet strategy and acquire hundreds of links. Create content that will get journalists to cite it.
- Cultivate relationships with bloggers and webmasters: The only way to get high-quality links at scale is to forge great relationships with industry webmasters. Invest some time and reap the benefits later.
- Build links to relevant and niche websites: Remember relevancy, quality, traffic, social signals, and a high DA are essential factors for selecting the right sites for placing backlinks.
- Put effort into your outreach emails: Personalize each cold email. Pitch only laser-targeted content. Show editors that you’ve done your legwork and offer pieces their audience will admire. Briefly outline the juiciest part to ignite curiosity.
Follow these strategies and unlock the magic of link building! In about three months, you will be happy that one day you decided to build your link profile strategically.
Now Over to You
Not all of the listed mistakes must be avoided and never applied to your site. If you see an opportunity you can take advantage of, and the game is worth the candle, go for it.
But be very careful and in no scenario abuse the tactics. A large volume of dubious and suspicious links will cause only trouble and extra expenses. Most times, it will cost you an arm and a leg to recover your site from Google’s penalties.
Lastly, learn from SEO experts before getting started, or hire them to help you kick off.