What Are Natural Backlinks? (+ 4 Ways To Get Them)
Sounds basic, and perhaps presumably obvious to some. But then again, it’s the same presumptions that make this two-word phrase a particularly interesting bone of contention in the SEO world.
For demonstration, consider a series of quality backlinks built through guest blogging. And to be specific, assume the inbound links were placed contextually within a well-written article, which was then published without soliciting payment.
How would you describe this backlinking method? Natural link building or unnatural link building?
Well, some webmasters would say that natural backlinks are the unpaid ones, while unnatural gains involve the link schemes that are widely penalized by the Penguin algorithm.
Others argue that natural backlinks are contextually placed white hat links, which are meant to act as an organic connection between the referring and the destination domains.
Notice the confusion between the two sets of definitions?
If you, otherwise, try to seek clarifications from Google, you’ll notice that its Webmaster Guidelines only describe possible scenarios of unnatural links – leaving the rest of the interpretation to you.
Tell you what, though. This uncertainty ends today.
We invite you to follow along as we explore the basic concept of natural backlinks, how they differ from unnatural links, plus the benefits of natural link building. Then to top it all off, we’ve featured four actionable strategies that you could use to get natural backlinks.
What Are Natural Backlinks?
Natural backlinks, in simple terms, refer to those inbound links that you gain without actively or passively creating them. They just randomly come in from external websites that found your site content worthy of attribution.
You can think of it as a system of earning genuine endorsements from external parties who are referencing your stuff. They publish the links not because of your outreach efforts, but rather, as a way of acknowledging the value they are getting from your content.
This, according to Google, is the best form of link building. Its PageRank algorithm is built to promote the rankings of web pages that appear to be receiving natural backlinks from relevant third parties.
The search engine argues that natural backlinks are a reliable indicator of the relative value offered by various pieces of content. Hence, by taking this as one of the ranking factors, it manages to offer search engine users relevant results from their queries.
As such, it’s understandable that Google would wish to have this as the sole method of earning backlinks. Unfortunately, however, it turns out that it’s not that common. Only a minority of the indexed websites today enjoy the privilege of natural backlinks.
An Ahrefs study that sampled over one billion URLs established that as many as 66.31% of the web pages are yet to earn even a single backlink, while 26.29% have gained theirs from three referring domains or less.
The share of websites with backlinks. Source: Ahrefs
This desperate situation has driven webmasters to engage in unnatural link building strategies, in the hope of enhancing their SEO profile for better rankings.
You see, while natural links are acquired without any form of coercion or direct promotion, unnatural backlinks are created directly or indirectly through backlinking campaigns. So, in other words, unnatural backlinks refer to inbound links that you artificially sourced for the sake of search engine optimization.
This is where you place guest posting links, HARO links, directory links, tiered links, blog commenting links, forum links, press release links, paid links, and the likes.
(Here’s a more in-depth guide that explains the different types of backlinks.)
Google considers all these solicited link building methods to be a direct violation of its Webmaster Guidelines. And to crack down on them, it relies on highly advanced algorithm updates such as Penguin – which uses AI to flag and penalize low-quality link schemes.
It’s worth noting, however, that while Google has made huge strides in the war against unnatural backlinks, its algorithms are still not intelligent enough to pick up on all link solicitations.
They are pretty effective in catching up with link farms, link exchange programs, private blog networks, bookmark sites, article directories, backlinking bots, etc. But, this doesn’t stretch to the unnatural links that are tactfully optimized to appear like natural backlinks.
Yes, that’s right. Unnatural link building is still an effective way of growing your backlink profile, as long as you know how to optimize the links, content, and placements according to Google’s quality guidelines.
But, if you get carried away and end up overdoing your stuff, Google is bound to pick up on the violations.
Why Is Natural Link Building Important?
#1. Recommended by Google
When computing the order of its search results, Google reportedly takes into account more than 200 ranking factors.
But, get this – the factors are not weighted equally.
According to Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, the search engine principally prioritizes three factors – links, content, and RankBrain.
We’re not talking about just any links. PageRank, the original Google algorithm on which the search engine is built, tends to place special emphasis on natural backlinks.
It perceives them as some form of direct validation from the referring domains. That means whenever an external website publishes a link pointing to your webpage, PageRank counts it as a vote for your authority on the subject – which then translates into favorable search rankings.
This trend was confirmed very recently through an analysis of 11.8 million search results. The order of the domains in the SERPs was shown to correlate with their backlink volume. And in particular, pages at position one boast an average of 3.8 times more natural backlinks than their counterparts between positions two and ten.
The correlation between rankings and backlinks. Source: Backlinko
PageRank’s obsession with natural inbound links comes from its quality-over-quantity method of analyzing indexed pages. Although it’ll consider your number of backlinks, the bulk of the points is reserved for the organically gained dofollow backlinks.
Otherwise, if you randomly build backlinks to game the system, the likes of Google Penguin will take you down. These link spam algorithms are built to sniff out and penalize all those unnatural links that seek to manipulate PageRank.
#2. Drives brand awareness and recognition
By virtue of being published contextually on third-party platforms, natural backlinks are also great for spreading brand awareness and popularizing your website.
You see, a natural link – whether dofollow or nofollow – is essentially an acknowledgment from the publisher that you’re an authority in the subject matter. Hence, it’ll not only get you noticed, but also boost your reputation and credibility among external audiences.
Now that, in a way, makes natural backlinks even more influential than paid ads. You get to reach readers matching your target audience profile, who then take the links as genuine recommendations.
Imagine, for instance, landing a feature on a high-traffic media platform like CNN, Wall Street Journal, NYTimes, or The Huffington Post. The post would reach millions of readers interested in the subject, and some of them might even proceed to share the article with their peers across social media.
One practical example of such a beneficiary is the SearchEngineJournal. While 45% of its traffic comes from search engines, 20% comes from high authority referring domains like Businessweek.com, Wall Street Journal, and Wired.com.
But, don’t just look at the numbers as supplementary traffic. These are highly interested individuals who’ve trusted the recommendation enough to follow through with it. In the business world, we call them “warm leads”, as they come ready to be engaged for conversion.
#3. Triggers infinite link profile growth
Search engines and external audiences are not the only parties paying special attention to natural backlinks. The links also happen to pull in editors, researchers, bloggers, and influencers, who at times combine to form an extensive web of references.
This expansion often starts when a well-respected domain publishes a link that points to your site as a credible reference source.
Among the followers of such authoritative platforms are other bloggers, who are bound to take the attribution as a cue to check out the link sources for themselves. This is how they too end up drawing insights from your site, which they subsequently use to compose their own unique versions of the story.
From there, the cycle proceeds with additional rounds of publications, as more and more publishers learn of the insights on your website.
Then with time, the external references manage to grow your link profile to the point of improving your search rankings – after which, your newfound prominence goes on to set off yet another series of chain reactions.
We call this the “vicious circle of SEO”. Research by Ahrefs revealed that the never-ending cycle repeatedly earns the top-ranking pages 5% -14.5% more dofollow backlinks per month, which in turn keeps them at the helm for the long haul.
Check out, for instance, this graph that we pulled from SEMrush’s backlink analysis tool. It shows how Ahrefs has been amassing natural backlinks progressively over the years. The trend started off in 2014 with just a handful of referring domains, which have then expanded to almost 80,000 in just eight years.
The growth of Ahrefs’ backlink profile.
A uniquely insightful content resource, especially on a trendy subject, has the potential to exponentially expand your link profile without any major outreach efforts. It just needs to gain good backlinks from high authority pages and then the attention will start streaming in from all corners of the web.
#4. Diversifies your backlink profile
By virtue of not being directly influenced by the recipient, natural backlinks are capable of growing beyond the confines of your original SEO strategy.
You can’t, for example, expect to restrict your natural link building to a specific set of target keywords. Referring domains will publish the links in the form they deem fit, with the anchor text formatted according to their editorial preferences.
As such, a website whose content targets key phrases like “online marketing”, “digital marketing”, and “web promotion” could end up gaining natural backlinks highlighting “public relations”, “press briefing”, or “media announcements”.
The links themselves might be coming from all sorts of referring domains, in the form of both dofollow and nofollow attributes.
Some of the publishers could be high authority media sites, others could be bloggers with half the domain authority, while the bulk of the nofollow links might be arising from forums, social networks, and blog comments.
All these variations, when put together, form quite an expansive backlink profile. One that could potentially extend your Google search rankings beyond the initially targeted keywords.
This is how you get to grow your SERP footprint to cover an extensive range of relevant keyword rankings.
Consider the case study of Ahrefs, for instance. Whereas it’s understandable that the keyword “Ahrefs” generates most of the organic traffic, it turns out that the site manages to gain a fair amount of additional clicks from no-so-direct keyword rankings like “conservative search engine” and “Google search operators”.
Ahrefs top ranking keywords.
Overall, the more than 73,000 referring domains in Ahrefs’ backlink profile have given it a large footprint that stretches across tens of thousands of keyword rankings. It holds positions 1-3 on about 3,500 of them, 4-10 on over 9,000 of them, 11-20 on about 10,000, and so forth.
Ahrefs keyword ranking distribution.
4 Ways to Get Natural Backlinks
Now, don’t get us wrong when we say natural backlinks are acquired without active or passive solicitation. This doesn’t mean that you can sit back and relax, hoping to someday catch the attention of a high authority domain.
Hate to break it to you, but the chances of that happening are almost nil. About 94% of the global content today has zero backlinks largely because their publishing sites are putting any effort into natural link building.
Contrary to popular belief, the process of creating inbound links is not restricted to unnatural types. It turns out that there are also effective ways to build backlinks naturally, without necessarily crossing over to the unnatural side.
The trick to natural link building is to approach your SEO campaign indirectly. Instead of reaching out to potential referring domains, you might want to competitively position your site for easy discovery and continued link growth.
At the center of all that is content marketing, which is meant to provide a strategic foundation for natural link building. The backlinks almost always go to the few sites that have methodically aligned content marketing with their link building goals.
Here are actionable tips on how you can achieve that, plus some extra pointers that’ll keep those natural backlinks coming.
#1. Use The Skyscraper Technique
The first method of building natural backlinks is courtesy of Brian Dean, a well-renowned authority in the world of SEO and digital marketing.
He came up with what we know today as the “Skyscraper Technique” – a three-step process that is meant to capitalize on your competitors’ loopholes and, in so doing, convert existing opportunities into high-quality white hat backlinks.
The concept is pretty straightforward. You’re supposed to discover link-worthy content in your industry of focus, create a piece of content that offers better value, and then make it all available to the same referring domains that point to your competitors’ inferior content.
It’s expected that upon discovery of your great content, some of those referring domains will pull the plug on your competitors, and then replace their inbound links with new ones that point to the more valuable insights on your site.
Here’s every step in detail:
- Start by finding out the trendiest topics in your space, attracting the highest amount of traction and natural backlinks.
- SEMrush is one the best tools to leverage here, as it’s capable of generating in-depth metrics on what people are searching for, the resultant organic traffic patterns, plus the backlink gaps between you and the competitors.
- The tool to use in SEMrush’s all-inclusive suite depends on how you intend to approach your research. If you have a competitor in mind, you could go straight to the “Backlink Analytics” tool for a domain search.
- The “Indexed Pages” tab will then reveal the web pages attracting the highest number of natural backlinks, from which you could borrow great content ideas.
The backlink metrics are displayed on the Indexed Pages tab.
- When you finally choose a topic, proceed to the “Keyword Magic Tool” to uncover metrics on the specifics of what people are searching for. At least then, you’ll have a better idea of what to work into your skyscraper article.
- You can now create a piece of content that stands out from the rest qualitatively and quantitatively. Take the time to research extensively about the issues that people are interested in. And while you’re at it, remember to include up-to-date insights on the specific points that seem to attract backlinks.
- Once you ultimately publish the piece of content, you can go ahead and share it on social media, as well as popular industry forums. The objective here is to give it as much exposure as possible, in the hope that it’ll eventually win the attention of publishers
We’d say the Skyscraper Technique is particularly ideal for a new website that seeks to hit the ground running. It’ll help you quickly catch up with the industry leaders by developing your backlink profile while, at the same time, progressively undoing your competitors’ natural gains.
#2. Publish Newsworthy Infographics
When it comes to content creation, one format that has been shown to consistently produce impressive results is infographics.
Both readers and external publishers find such content to be particularly satisfying because it’s visually engaging, memorable, and easy to digest.
Infographics have a unique way of converting bland, unappealing text into a series of striking images, which are then condensed on a visually appealing canvas. This is the type of stuff that the human brain is naturally wired to process intuitively.
As a result, infographics tend to outperform even videos. Studies have established that the content-rich visual canvases, along with “what” and “why” posts typically attract 25.8% more natural backlinks than “how-to” compositions and videos.
That’s not all. It just so happens that this is also one of the best bets if you hope to convince your audience to actively participate in content distribution. Infographics generally get 300% more social shares than other types of posts – including videos, “why” posts, “what” posts, “how-to” articles, and listicles.
Average social shares by content type. Source: BrandonGaille
Now, for the best possible SEO and social traction, you might want to follow these steps when creating and publishing your infographics:
- At first, you ought to find the type of message that will pull the attention of high authority publishers in your industry. You need a composition that they’d be happy to publish and share with their audiences.
- You could try sampling some ideas from the search reports on Google Trends.
- Otherwise, for more insightful suggestions on the trending topics and subtopics, you can go ahead and compare the industry metrics via SEMrush’s Topic Research tool. It’ll show you an overview of the subjects that people are most interested in, plus the precise types of headlines that they’re bound to click on.
- You could pick one of them, or maybe put together a series of related subtopics to form a more dynamic compilation.
Topic research on SEMrush.
- You can then proceed to conduct thorough research on your selected subject matter. But, don’t just go for the generic points. You should, instead, dive deep to pick out those interesting little-known facts that people would find exceptionally captivating.
- For the design and editing of the infographics, you could turn to an intuitive web-based WYSIWYG editor like Piktochart, Canva, Venngage, or Visme. Each of these comes with a host of customizable pre-built infographics templates, along with a set of dedicated easy-to-use graphical editing tools.
- While you’re at it, keep in mind that quantitative information is best expressed through numerical figures, while qualitative content should use illustrations. Whichever you choose, ensure that you sort out and organize the insights by relevance, with thematic blocks making a clear distinction between the sections.
- You might want to further top it all off with an outstandingly persuasive header, and maybe even cite your reference sources at the bottom section of the infographic.
#3. Create insightful long-form guides
Infographics are highly engaging all right – but, when it comes to SEO, text-heavy articles are king. Hence, the latter should be a regular thing, while infographics are best reserved for occasional link building campaigns.
That said, it’s worth noting that SEO articles are extremely competitive, and only the few who go the extra mile in terms of value manage to secure backlinks and favorable rankings.
“Extra mile” here means diving beyond generic stuff. Your posts should be in form of comprehensive guides that sufficiently satisfy a web user’s search intent. We’re talking about long-form articles with a combined word count that stretches into the thousands.
The average length you’ll find on the top 10 Google search engine results is about 1,447 words. This preference for a long-form type of content applies even in link building, where longer articles happen to register 77% more natural backlinks than their short-form counterparts.
And in terms of figures, Moz analyzed a million web articles and discovered that 3,000+ is the sweet spot for natural link building. Blog posts with a word count of more than 3,000 have been observed to win over more backlinks than articles with less.
Therefore, 3,000 should be your minimum word count for any in-depth guide meant to keep drawing natural backlinks. You can, otherwise, stretch to as much as 7,000 words of good content – which referring domains would then use as a gold mine for deep but relevant insights.
The creation process is as follows:
- To identify the most rewarding topics, go to SEMrush and perform Topic Research on a wide variety of popular industry keywords.
- The point of Topic Research is to identify quality content ideas from the trending topics and subtopics in terms of search volume, keyword difficulty, the volume of natural backlinks, and the most popular search questions.
The content ideas suggested by SEMrush
- Your article outline, on the other hand, could be sourced from SEMrush’s SEO Content Template.
- The system will draw data from your top 10 competitors on Google search, and then use the resultant analytics to provide recommendations on the best semantically related words, the referring domains to target, the ideal readability score, plus the suitable text length.
A sample content template from SEMrush
- You could also consider structuring the content as a list to increase its link building potential – as this approach has been shown to attract the highest number of inbound links and social shares. On average, a quality list post would pull in 6.19 natural backlinks, a “why” post would follow with 5.66, then 4.41 for a “how-to” article – while thin low quality content – such as a basic Quora quiz – would only manage 1.6.
#4. Establish yourself as a thought-leader
Natural link building, as you’ll notice, isn’t just about the value and depth of insights in your content. Prospective referring domains will consider even your industry prominence and stature.
Like it or not, no reputable publisher would want to be seen linking to a little-known newbie. If given the choice, they’d prefer linking to thin content posted by a renowned brand, as opposed to referencing high-quality articles from a new website.
Here’s the good thing, though. If you’re just starting out, you don’t have to wait around for that long to join the big boys club. You could, instead, work around the problem by exceedingly growing your popularity.
This is where you bring in PR campaigns to progressively elevate your status, and possibly even get you that coveted thought-leader crown. At least then, publishers will have enough confidence in your website to openly feature its natural backlinks.
Some of the best campaigns to consider include:
- HARO links: This stands for Help A Reporter Out, a platform through which professional journalists get to connect with relevant sources for their stories. They post queries on various topics, which are then compiled by HARO and relayed to registered sources via email. If you manage to offer a valid expert response, the asking journalist might consequently include your links in the published article.
This is a great way to earn credits from highly reputable media platforms such as Fox News, Reuters, Mashable, Wall Street Journal, and Mashable – which could then trigger an inflow of natural backlinks from other referring domains.
- Interviews: You could reach out to popular social media influencers in your field and then maybe pay them for a one-on-one broadcast interview – in which the two of you would discuss a relevant subject. This can be on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, or a podcast channel like Spotify.
Have it on the channels your target audience frequents, and people in your industry will soon start saluting you as a thought leader.
Your reputation would grow even faster if the influencers engaged you on controversial but trendy subjects. Even when they disagree with your views, people will still respect you for taking a stand and voicing your opinion on a highly polarizing subject.
- Guest posting: Having your guest posts and author bio published on prominent platforms will certainly invite the right type of attention to your website. Readers view this as a form of affirmation from the publishing website that you’re indeed a reputable expert on the subject.
You stand to gain even more publicity points if you manage to land guest posts on high DA .edu university blogs. The next part should then be easy, as natural backlinks will start coming in automatically.
Over To You: How To Get Started On Natural Link Building
Overall, the concept of natural link building can be said to be simple yet complicated.
Simple since all it entails is acquiring inbound links from external referring domains without any form of solicitation. But, complicated because if you happen to strictly follow Google’s guidelines on the matter, your chances of gaining natural backlinks would be very slim.
Google advises webmasters to avoid all forms of link building and, instead, rely on the backlinks that come naturally. This is the reason why it even brought in reinforcements like Google Penguin to crack down on violators.
And that’s not all. Google’s algorithms are getting even stronger by the day, making backlink building even more challenging for site owners and marketing professionals.
Fortunately for you, Loganix is vigilant enough to always stay ahead of the curve. When Google tightens its decrees against link building, we respond by strategically adjusting our links to appear even more natural.
So organic are they, in fact, that you won’t find any distinctive differences between our natural and unnatural backlinks. They are both built through highly advanced data-driven campaigns, and the result is always the same – rich backlink profiles that are perfectly aligned with Google’s definition of “natural”.
That is just one of the multiple SEO services in Loganix’s all-inclusive digital marketing package. We have specialized expertise and tools for all forms of link building, local citation optimization, SEO audit, link audit, keyword gap analysis, backlink gap analysis, content marketing, Google Ads management, white label PPC, and SEO copywriting.
Contact us today and we’ll put together a plan that’ll drastically change the course of your online marketing.
Now it’s your turn.
Now I’d like to turn it over to you to spark a debate or lead a new discussion.
What in this post were you excited about? What was useful? What would you like to read more about?
Or maybe you just have a question about something you read.
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