White-Hat Link Building: What Is It and Why Does It Matter?

Morgen Henderson, Outreach Specialist

Outreach as an SEO practice is becoming more common—and more difficult. With backlinks being one of the top Google ranking factors, the term “link building” is turning into a popular buzz word within the marketing industry. Most online marketers are desperate to build their brand’s backlink profile and are willing to do anything to get a link. But there is a fine line between how you should and shouldn’t build links, and it can drastically affect your search engine rankings. That’s where white-hat link building comes in.

What Does “White-Hat” Mean?

The term “white-hat” isn’t limited to just link building. It’s used to define agreeable SEO practices as a whole and should be an important part of any off-page SEO strategy. Practices that align with Google’s guidelines are considered white-hat. In other words, keep it clean and play by Google’s rules. Your goal should be to focus on the user by creating a good experience and adding valuable content to the internet, not manipulate search rankings with dirty (black-hat) SEO methods.

What is White-Hat Link Building

White-hat link building is an SEO practice for gaining backlinks from authoritative, trustworthy websites compliant with Google’s guidelines, usually by outreach or digital PR. Gaining inbound links through outreach is a sustainable way to improve rankings and traffic for almost any website.

Why Should You Engage Only in White-Hat Link Building?

While black-hat tactics are tempting and seem quicker and easier, they won’t withstand the test of time—or Google’s algorithm updates—and could cause you a manual penalty that will set you back months, if not years and have you buried trying to correct it. It’s serious stuff.

Google is constantly updating its algorithm. When it identifies spammy or low-quality backlinks pointing to your site, you will likely be penalized, and your rankings will plummet. Just ask JC Penney—they learned the hard way.

Manipulating search engines in any way is against Google’s guidelines, so make sure you aren’t using black-hat tactics. Don’t participate in link schemes, such as buying, selling, or trading links for SEO purposes, using link farms, or producing low-quality, auto-generated or spun content to place links.

If you have only authoritative, high-quality backlinks, earned naturally through a variety of white-hat link building strategies that I will go into next, you don’t need to worry about your rankings when the algorithm updates since you aren’t breaking any rules. White-hat methods are “future-proof”; they hold up in the long run.

White-Hat Link Building Techniques

If you can’t buy, sell, or trade links with other websites, then what can you do to build authoritative links? Here are a few squeaky-clean white-hat strategies that you can implement without crossing the line.

Guest Posting

This is a slow process and yields a lower number of links, but these links can be highly valuable to your site—well worth the extra effort if they’re relevant! The links you place through guest posting should be extremely relevant and authoritative, and it allows you to control the context around your brand and include suitable related keywords. Placing guest posts on sites with greater authority will add nicely to your backlink profile and gain link equity (the value a link passes onto your page).

Your main focus in this approach is to create quality content and cater to the audience. Reach out to online media outlets, bloggers, and other websites related to your industry and ask to write an article for them. Within the article, you’ll link back to relevant content on your site as a resource. Many outlets that accept outside contributors will allow you to have a link to your site in the author bio as a way for you to gain additional exposure. This will help establish your brand as a reliable source of information and an authority in your industry.

It’s against Google’s guidelines to trade or pay for links in any way. If another site asks you to place a link on your site for them or asks for payment to place a link or publish a post, RUN. This is a clear violation of Google’s guidelines and puts your site at risk of being penalized.

Content Promotion

Guest posting is a slow, low-volume approach, but content promotion is quite the opposite. If you follow off-page SEO best practices, you can place a large number of links in a short amount of time, which can result in a high volume of referral traffic and quickly expand your brand awareness.

You’ll create and publish an exceptional piece of content on your site, such as a comprehensive how-to guide, tool, or original data. Then, reach out to online media outlets, like news stations and magazines, and ask them to cover your content on their site. This tactic will showcase your brand’s expertise and help to build its authority in your industry.

Utility Link Building

If your company sells local services like home security, TV, or internet, then utility link building can be beneficial and require little effort on your part. You don’t need to write articles or create new content at all, just send a quick email.

Look for utility and resource pages on local government (like city and county) sites and real estate sites. Reach out and ask them to include your website as a resource. This is an easy way to target local, engaged audiences that are already searching for the services you provide.

Link Reclamation

Like utility link building, link reclamation doesn’t require you to create new content. It’s a simple way to turn unlinked brand mentions into links or fix broken links that should lead to your site but don’t.

Reclaiming Unlinked Brand Mentions

Using off-page SEOtools or Google search queries, find instances online where your brand name is mentioned but doesn’t link back to your site. Email those sites and thank them for referencing your brand, then ask them if they would (pretty please) include a link to your site.

Broken Link Reclamation
You might have discontinued a product or service, removed outdated content, or re-launched your site and it affected some of your URLs so the pages they refer to no longer exist.

Use your off-page SEO tools to find these broken links that should lead back to your site. Figure out what the links originally referenced and find a new page on your site with products or content similar to the original. Email the sites and let them know the link is broken, provide them with a link to the new page, and ask them to replace the old link with the new one.

Stick to the Guidelines

In the end, white-hat link building (off-page SEO) is the only way to ensure your brand obtains high-quality backlinks and maintains its place in the SERPs over time. Don’t be tempted to use sloppy black-hat tactics and link schemes, or else your site will pay the price in the end. Adhere to Google’s rules and don’t be a cheater!

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