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Content Marketing 16 min read October 28, 2023

How To Get Backlinks in the Age of AI: A to Z Guide

How To Get Backlinks in the Age of AI: A to Z Guide
Nick Zviadadze
Nick Zviadadze
Founder at MintSEO

Link building is a sticking point for most SEOs. While there are many guides on the topic, not many are up-to-date.

The usual approach — “Hey, I like your content, here’s my article, please link to it” — just doesn’t do it anymore. Over the past year, I’ve built over 1,000 backlinks for several clients. In this article, I’m going to show you just how you can accomplish the same and start ranking organically on Google.

Here’s what I’m going to cover:

This is gonna be an interesting one, so let’s dive right in!

Why is Link Building Important In 2023

Let’s start with the basics — why is link-building so important? AI content generation tools are making content writing significantly easier. Small teams of skilled content writers can now use AI tools to generate significantly more content at a fraction of the cost. And this change is only going in one direction — content tools are going to get better and better, while blogs will be able to churn out more quality content at an even lower cost.

Once everyone has a ton of quality content and topical authority, Google will have no choice but to put more emphasis on backlinks. Even today, link building is the #1 determining factor in any competitive industry. At the end of the day, if everyone has good content, link quality determines rankings.

Let’s take a look at how this works.

What Kind of Backlinks Deliver Results

There is a lot of talk going around on what kind of backlinks work. If you go on Fiverr, you’ll see countless service providers offering hundreds of links for less than a dollar a pop. You don’t need to be an SEO genius to understand this looks suspicious:

Fiverr

This is exactly why it’s essential to learn how to evaluate the quality of backlinks. Links that DON’T work include:

  • Web 2.0 backlinks. Backlinks from websites like Quora, Reddit, etc. Only people who claim that Web 2.0 links work are the ones selling them. Google can tell that these websites have many outgoing links, so they devalue them.
  • Forum backlinks. Such backlinks are, most of the time no-follow, and, hence, have no impact on your rankings.
  • Blog comment backlinks. Reputable blogs have their comment sections disabled or set on an approval basis. The ones that don’t do this get spammed; hence, their links don’t mean much.
  • Anything on Fiverr. Anything you see on Fiverr is pretty much a scam. No one can realistically deliver “100 backlinks for 20 dollars.”.
  • Backlinks from Google Sheets. If someone’s DMing you a Google Sheet with hundreds of backlink options (usually on LinkedIn), the sites are either low-quality PBNs, link farms, or something sketchy.
  • So, what does work? Well – real backlinks from real websites.

    Real backlinks from real websites

    As you can see in the screenshot above, this is a link from a real website with real categories. The link placement above is:

  • Do-follow
  • Not sponsored
  • Topically relevant
  • From a strong site (DA 40+ with plenty of organic traffic)
  • Now, let’s look at how to evaluate backlink quality through some of the most important metrics. Then, we’ll go over how to actually find backlink prospects.

    Backlink Quality Checklist (5 Essential Metrics To Help You Avoid Low-Quality Links)

    While there are a ton of various factors that determine whether a backlink is legit or not, the essential ones are as follows:

    #1. Good standing in terms of rankings

    Visibility trend

    If a website ranks on Google and gets consistent, healthy traffic, that means Google approves it. To get an overview of a website’s traffic, simply plug the site through Serpstat. And if the website looks like a healthy hockey stick graph with no sudden drops, that’s a green flag. It likely means any major penalty hasn’t hit them, and they’re in Google’s good graces.

    Unlike the website below:

    #2. No drastic traffic drop

    Traffic trend

    This website was driving a lot of traffic...until it crashed completely. While the site might seem alright at first — their DR is good (54), and they have a bunch of backlinks (over 24K+) — it’s all completely deceiving. The site has most likely been using some shady SEO techniques and got penalized hard.

    Hence, a link from such a site won’t positively impact your rankings.

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    #3. Topical relevance

    Topical relevance

    Let’s take another example. This website is scoring lots of traffic (21,300 monthly), is ranking for 31,200 keywords, and has a TON of backlinks with seemingly healthy growth.

    Seems ideal, right?

    Well, not quite. If you look under the hood at the keywords they are ranking for, you’ll see it's all fluff, zero-difficulty, random keywords anyone could rank for.

    #4. Other positive factors than just DA or DR

    Other positive factors than just DA or DRTraffic trend

    Many people look at DA and DR as significant backlink metrics. While these metrics have their uses, it’s important to note that they should never be the only thing you evaluate when deciding if a backlink is worthwhile.

    For example, if a website has high DA but isn’t driving any traffic, then what’s the point? It’s easy to manipulate your DA and DR. For example; you can just pay someone on Fiverr $15 to boost it.

    Other positive factors than just DA or DR

    This does not mean that you will rank higher on Google. Many low-quality backlink farm websites use Fiverr to boost their DA/DR to make them seem like good backlink prospects. In reality, though, links from such sites literally deliver zero value. 

    #5. Website trust factors

    Another important factor in whether a site is a good backlink source is how “legitimate” it is. Is it a real website with a cause or goal, or does it solely exist to sell backlinks? To evaluate a website’s trust factors, look at things like:

  • The “About Us” page: At a glance, is it clear that an actual person or a team is running the page?
  • Social media profiles: Does the company regularly post on social media, or is it a ‘ghost town’?
  • LinkedIn employee list: Are there real people working for the company?
  • What kind of content is being published? Are they publishing content about a clear industry or just targeting random topics?
  • Essential pages: Does the site include things like a Privacy Policy, Terms, and Disclosure? While this doesn't necessarily affect the rankings, it's a good sign the sign is legitimate.
  • Now that we’ve explained how to evaluate backlinks let’s talk about the practice of link-building.

    The Give And Take Of Link Building And How To Find Backlink Prospects

    First things first, let’s talk about something a bit controversial:

    Is it OK to pay for backlinks?

    Yes, yes, it is. According to the Authority Hackers 2023 survey, 74.3% of link builders pay for links. In case you forgot — it’s 2023. Just about everyone with a blog knows about the importance of backlinks. This means that a simple “Hey! I made this cool article. Can you link to me for free?” email just doesn’t work anymore. When you reach out to someone with the intention of convincing them to link to you, the only thing they care about is: “What’s in it for me?

    So, what can you do instead? Ideally, you should offer something in exchange, such as:

    1.Reciprocal backlink. This is the classic “you link to me, I link to you.” In most cases, this works. But, some people are worried about Google’s stance on this. If that’s the case, you can do an ABC swap instead.
    2.ABC backlink swap. An ABC backlink swap means you link back to them from another website (e.g., another guest post you’re publishing). You get a backlink, they get a backlink; win-win!
    3.Free (product) sample. In this case, you send them a sample of your product in exchange for a backlink. This can be a physical product, access to your software or course, or anything along those lines.
    4.Cash. This is literally paying for a backlink, which is very common. The average price of a backlink can be around $80-$500+, depending on several factors.
    5.SEO-optimized guest post — Most people who do guest posts write mediocre, 500-word articles. Such a guest post delivers zero value to the blog you’re contributing to, which, in turn, means they won’t be too happy to accept it for free. So, you can do this instead: identify a keyword that the website would want to rank for. Then, create an SEO-optimized guest post. This way, you get a free guest post, and the site owner gets a free and useful article; win-win!
    6.Expert round-up. Feature your prospect in a “Top X Bloggers In a Niche” type of article and ask them for a favor back (namely, linking to your site).
    7.(ACTUAL) unique resources or value-add. Finally, if you have an article that’s actually valuable and unique, you might get some free links just because. That said, this is very unlikely these days. Epic content is not nearly as rare as it was 10 years ago.

    Now, how do you find people to reach out to so they can link to you? This is where prospecting comes in.

    How to Find Backlink Prospects

    Prospecting is about 50% of a successful link-building campaign. Reach out to the wrong prospect, and they’ll never link to you. Here’s what a rock-solid prospecting process looks like:

    #1. Make a list of keywords related to your adjacent niches. 

    If you’re in the weight loss industry, for example, such niches would include: 

  • Exercise
  • Fitness
  • Weight lifting
  • Dieting
  • Recipes
  • And so on.

    #2. Ensure that the keywords are long-tail. 

    If you’re going to pick a competitive keyword, it’ll mainly be larger websites that won’t link to you. For example, if you google something like “lose weight,” you’ll see sites like Healthline, CDC, Medical News Today, and other major publications coming up first.

    Google “lose weight”

    These sites will likely not link to you. If you google “lose weight without cardio,” on the other hand, you’ll get a list of much better prospects:

    Google “lose weight without cardio ”

    #3. Split your campaigns by keywords. 

    This allows you to personalize your outreach emails much better. For example, with "weight loss without cardio," you can send hundreds of personalized emails using a SINGLE template because the template will be accurate for each of those bloggers.

    #4. Gather the prospects.

    Once you've defined the keywords, you must gather prospects in a spreadsheet. There are two ways you can go about this. Ideally, you’ll want to use a link-building software like Pitchbox to do your prospecting for you.

    This eliminates the need for VAs and manual prospecting. You simply input your keywords, and the tool automatically generates hundreds of prospects that fit your criteria:

    Pitchbox

    You can then launch your link-building campaign straight out of Pitchbox, centralizing your link-building operations in one tool.

    The other option is to prospect manually, which will be more labor-intensive. The process here is as follows:

    1.Google your keywords.
    2.Extract relevant websites and put them on a Google Sheet.
    3.Use email-finding software to find the website owner’s contact information.
    4.Use email marketing software to launch an outreach campaign.

    Now that we’ve covered prospecting let’s talk about the other important part of a link-building campaign: email personalization and outreach copy.

    How to Write Email Outreach Copy That Gets You Backlinks

    You need to know that personalization doesn’t have to be hard. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to mention something unique and ultra-specific in each and every blog post. The key here is solid campaign segmenting.

    If all 150 of your prospects wrote about losing weight without cardio, it’s easy to personalize your campaign in bulk. This is where ChatGPT can give you a hand. And no — you shouldn’t use ChatGPT to write outreach emails for you. The output will not be very good. Instead, you can use AI to write niche-related puns, jokes, and other openers to come across as authentic.

    ChatGPT

    For bloggers in the gardening industry, emails like this help you come across as someone passionate about the topic (and not a greedy SEO asking for a backlink). Once you’ve got the intro down, make sure to also include something worthwhile in your email. As in what you can offer in return.

    Obviously, this will vary depending on the industry, how competitive it is, and so on. But typically, it’s as follows.

    For B2B websites:

  • ABC link swap
  • Guest post partnership
  • Value-backed guest post
  • Exchanging favors
  • Software credits
  • For B2C websites:

  • Easy backlink
  • Free product or sample
  • Cash
  • Free publicity
  • And finally, some offers that I’ve seen perform well include:

  • “I’ll give you free credits to my SaaS for a link.”
  • “I’ll return the favor by linking to you from a guest post on X+ DA site.”
  • “I can offer back a link from our site in return.”
  • “If you’d like to review our product, I’ll ship it over for free.”
  • “I’ll deliver a 2,000-word, SEO-optimized guest post targeting (target keyword).”
  • “I’ll promote your latest blog post to my 10,000+ Twitter followers.”
  • “Care for a sponsored link placement? Here’s how that works…”
  • Key Takeaways

    Remember, link-building is all about building long-term relationships. So, put anyone who replies to you in a spreadsheet of people you’ve collaborated with. Over time, this will allow you to build backlinks by brokering partnerships and exchanges.

    The more relationships you build and the more give-and-takes you do, the more leverage you gain to build quality backlinks that deliver results.

    The opinion of the guest post authors may not coincide with the opinion of the Serpstat editorial staff and specialists.

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