Got a new site and tempted to pay that guy on Fivver to get you 5,000 backlinks?

Well don’t.

Ironically it will now eventually decrease your site in the rankings, rather than increase it. Yes, we are living in a post-Penguin era people, and generating backlinks has got a whole lot harder.

A brief history…

PageRank was founded on backlinks, which treated them like ‘citations’. Unfortunately, this led to people spending a lot of their marketing budgets on acquiring backlinks, where quantity was largely the aim of the game.

I’m talking link exchanges, paying for links, submitting their sites to a thousand low-quality directories, posting on thousands of blogs, doing guest posting on any site just to get a link….this one Russian guy even deliberately gave the worst customer service in the world so that everyone would review him online saying ‘This guy is a jerk: check out his site here’.

His actions were based upon the theory ‘no link is a bad link’ and yes, he got to the top of Google.

Fast forward to today, and

there is definitely such thing as a bad link.

One in 10 sites were hit by the Penguin update, which ruthlessly adjusted its algorithm to penalise low quality backlinks. And the changes just keep on coming.

Many sites are being left in a mess, trying to ‘clean up their act’, which is incredibly difficult. Even changing your domain completely only has around a 50% chance of offering you a clean slate.

Bottom line: Don’t do it!

Backlinking should be treated with caution. But it is still very important. You cannot get to number one on Google without a backlinking strategy.

So without further ado,

Here are 8 techniques in 2020 that won’t make the Google monster angry.

Create great content

This sounds so obvious you must think I’m stupid, but it really is key.

You can no longer get backlinks through ‘unnatural’ means.

Google says:

“Any links intended to manipulate PageRank or a site’s ranking in Google search results may be considered part of a link scheme and a violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.”

This may seem kind of confusing, implying that if you’re trying to get a backlink, you’re breaking the rules. But of course everyone is looking to get a backlink!

You just have to be smart about it.

For example, if you create great content, people will naturally share it and link to it.

If some reporter or blogger is writing an article on interior design, and you did a great article on ‘the top 10 interior design trends in 2020’, they might naturally read your article when researching around the topic and then link to it.

Now, if you have a basic website just listing your products and services, you aren’t going to be able to create any great content.

So the first thing is, if you don’t have one, to get a blog. And start creating stuff, but not 200 word posts, Really good stuff.

You can use sites like BuzzSumo and Topsy (and Google) to see what’s trending in your industry.

I can guarantee you, whatever industry you’re in, there will be a demand for it. And if there’s a lack of competition, that’s even better – dive in and steal the number 1 spot without much effort.

Say you have a furniture store. Pretty boring right? What are you supposed to write about, your products and offer some discounts?

No, no and no again.

Start typing keywords into Buzzsumo and check it out.

For example, let’s start with the very general keyword ‘furniture’:

As you can see, ‘How to’ articles make up the top 3 posts in the last 6 months.

Just look at those Pinterest shares!

This is obviously where the target audience hangs out. Just look at that market you could be tapping into if you create some valuable ‘how-to’ articles involving furniture!

This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Make sure you do your research before posting.

Infographics and list posts

There are two types of content that people seem to love sharing: Infographics and list posts.

Just think about how many list posts you’ve read recently on things you never knew you cared about, like ’10 Game of Thrones actors that look totally different in real life’…etc. There’s just something about numbers and pictures that humans seem to gravitate towards.

But you have to be careful here:

Google has wised up to the tendency for infographics in particular to go viral, and so did the backlink gatherers of old, who churned out one low-quality infographic after another.

So make sure that you first and foremost create them with your audience in mind.

Ask yourself, would I create this if it wasn’t for the backlink? Will this infographic really help them? Is it high quality?

And don’t just create infographics and list posts.

Make sure you’re creating in-depth articles alongside them.

Promote it on social media

They key here is to promote your content as much as possible, just don’t ask for a backlink.

This is in clear violation of Google’s guidelines. Trust to the content. If it is great, people will link to it. If not, go back to the source.

Work out which social networks to focus on (as in the furniture example above, Facebook and Twitter are not always the best).

Post it to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and YouTube; send it to your email list; submit to Stumble Upon, Reedit and Growth Hackers.

Promotion is hard work and never really a job done.

You need to interact with your fans, not just sell to them. As a side note, you should be aware that links included within a tweet or a Facebook post do not count for a lot. That is not the aim here.

The more your content is shared, the more people will become aware of it, think it is a trusted source and then link to it in on their own websites.

And it really does work. For example, the top shared ‘furniture’ article got 203 backlinks. From one article!

Guest blogging

Again, guest blogging has got a bit of a bad rep recently. Matt Cutts even famously said ‘guest blogging is dead’.

However, in reality this isn’t true.

It’s a bit like infographics: yes, they are less effective now, and yes, you have to be more careful – but they still work.

Only aim for high-quality blogs that you would be proud to see your content on and be associated with in the googleplex.

It’s fine to put a link to your site in the by-line with the blogger’s permission. Only link to your site within the article if it will honestly help the reader. If you add a couple of links to every guest blog you do, this is not cool.

Both webmasters and Google will realise what you’re up to and your credibility will sink faster than the Titanic.

Your reputation is at stake here; do not trade it for one spammy link.

Kissmetrics has a great guide on how to get guest blogs here.

(P.S See how they just earned themselves a backlink through great content…?)

You can also invite people to post on your blog.

They will promote it though their own social media channels, and if it is good every backlink that it generates will be a backlink to your site. Pretty neat huh?

But again, be strict on accepting posts from credible sites only, not just anyone with a marginal amount of traffic.

If you link to their site, you are ‘associating’ yourself with them, and you do not want that if they are in the midst of a Google penalty.

Comment on blogs and forums

Again, this should come with a warning: tread carefully!

Do not just comment in the blogs loads of times with ‘that’s a great article, check out my link here’. This is defined as spam.

This will do your Google ranking AND your online rep no good.

Instead, you have to put real thought and effort into your comments. This means you have to read the article, and say something insightful about it, not just ‘great read’ or ‘I agree’.

Also, for backlinking, be aware that many blogs have a nofollow rule for their comments.

Blogs with the ‘CommentLuv’ plugin installed, however, will automatically include a link to your site when you comment.

One great way to gain easy manual backlinks is to create a great free resource that is specific to your industry (such as the Kissmetrics’ ‘Guide to Guest Blogging’). It is much easier and more natural to pepper this in with some of your blog comments as:

  1. It will be relevant to most topics within your industry.
  2. It’s a free resource, so people will appreciate it and hence are less likely to think you are spamming them.

Like social media, blog comments shouldn’t always be about backlinks and I would be sure to comment on ‘nofollow’ blogs as well.

The more your name gets recognised and the more you connect with people, particularly with the influencers who write the articles, the more backlinks will naturally come your way.

The final tip here is to make sure you comment on blogs as soon as they are posted.

The reason being is you’ll get way more eyeballs on your comment when the webmaster’s email list reads it when it’s first published, and also webmasters tend to respond to the early comments and then move onto something else.

Go off topic

What, are you crazy? That’s a total black hat technique!

Actually, no it isn’t.

All the conventional advice will tell you to build up a reputation around your own niche. And that’s true. But you can get great links by going off topic once in a while.

Even Matt Cutts even admits in this video that writing ‘controversy’ articles isn’t a bad thing if used sparingly and that it does work.

Of course, do use this sparingly or you will get penalised, and don’t talk about something completely unrelated like Harry Style’s new tattoo just for link bait if you run a flower shop (unless his tattoo is of a flower, which would be a great example).

Pick something that is semi-related but is hot on the news right now and you will be well-rewarded and pick up links from sources that were never possible before when you were only talking about one thing, particularly editorial sites, which are highly valuable backlinks.

Replace other backlinks

When I say other backlinks I’m talking about two types: inferior ones, and ones that are totally extinct, 404 pages.

Both are up for replacing with a little hard work.


Step 1: you find a popular article that got a lot of backlinks and social shares using tools like BuzzSumo, Majestic SEO, etc. Particularly great ones are ones that are outdated.

Step 2: you make a better one. You bring it up to date, or write a more detailed post with more research or more practical advice, or you make it look better by transforming it into an infographic.

Step 3: you track down the people that linked to this article (through their email or their social media accounts) and you simply tell them ‘Hey, I came across this article that you linked to and noticed it was a bit outdated so wrote a new one with XXX better stuff, would love your feedback?’

Remember, don’t ask for a link.

It’s bad for both Google and your self-respect. Just make them aware of your article and give them an easy choice. I’ve found that with this technique a lot of people will at least tweet your article out, even if they don’t link to you.


Now you’ve tried that, handling extinct backlinks should be a piece of cake.

It’s the exact same process, but instead you tell the webmaster that you noticed that they link to a non-existent page, and just make them aware that you wrote an updated article on the same subject.

It’s a no-brainer for the webmaster to link to you, right?

You can check for broken links using the ‘Check My Links’ Google plugin.

Get Famous – the positive feedback loop

Like a lot of things, you will find that backlinks are a lot easier to come by once you are famous.

For example, if you are the top of Google, naturally people will link to you way more. Because your article will get read more, people will know about it more, and people will assume you are an authority in your industry if you are at the top.

But that’s hard to do without backlinks.

Similarly, if you have a great brand that everyone knows and loves, people will link to you too.

To do this, you need to really get involved within the community, both online and offline. For example, social media, forums, conferences, connecting with influencers, guest posts, PR…you name it.

It’s not direct and it’s not a get rich quick scheme, but indirectly it is the most valuable technique for building backlinks.

So, what do you think? Does this sound like more of a content marketing article to you, rather than an SEO one? Well, consider that that’s what Google is aiming for – for webmasters to focus on the user experience, and for the SEO to naturally follow.

Looks like they’re starting to do pretty well, huh?

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Daniel Carter

Director at Assertive
A driven entrepreneur providing the fearless counsel to clients who need to maximise their investments in Digital Marketing, Advertising, Business Development and End User Strategies. Twenty years of SEO experience – and still learning.