HomeBlogBlogWhat Are Earned Links and Why Should You Care?

What Are Earned Links and Why Should You Care?

Backlinks remain one of the most important ranking signals for SEO success. Simply put, backlinks are incoming links from external websites that direct to a specific page on your site. By developing a natural profile of high-quality backlinks, you can dramatically improve your search visibility and website traffic.

However, search engines like Google can easily recognize manipulative link building tactics and may penalize your site. The focus has shifted from artificial “link building” to earning links organically.

So what exactly constitutes an earned link?

So what exactly constitutes an earned link?

Earned links, sometimes called organic links, occur when an external site links to your content because they genuinely find it useful, interesting, or relevant for their audience. Unlike paid links that are essentially sponsored or negotiated placements, earned links happen more naturally.

Here are a few examples of earned links:

  • Another site references statistics or quotes from your insightful research in an article they write
  • An influencer in your industry links to your tool while reviewing the top resources in your niche
  • A successful blogger decides to feature your infographic or video because their followers will love it

Because earned links come from merit rather than advertising deals, search engines see them as votes of confidence. The more sites that organically link to you, the more authority you gain in the eyes of Google.

Why Earned Links Matter for SEO

Why Earned Links Matter for SEO

Google has become extremely adept at detecting unnatural link building schemes and low-quality links. Their algorithms now favor websites that earn editorial links naturally through exceptional content and outreach.

There are a few key reasons why quality earned links can boost your SEO rankings:

They Indicate Trust and Value

Earned links signal that your content offers meaningful information or entertainment for a human audience. People and sites are willing to reference your work because it provides something useful. This implies a level of quality and trust that search algorithms pick up on.

The more niche-relevant sites that link to you, the more confidence Google gains about your site’s expertise on a given topic.

They Help Acquire Referral Traffic

Quality links don’t just look nice from an SEO perspective – they also send direct visitors to your website. Earned links on popular sites can drive targeted traffic from new audiences. This gives you the opportunity to convert readers into customers or email list subscribers.

They Influence Ranking Factors

Backlinks remain one of the strongest correlation signals for higher rankings according to Google. As part of their overall domain authority calculation, earned links can directly improve your search visibility for relevant terms.

The Risks of Manipulative Link Building Tactics

The Risks of Manipulative Link Building Tactics

In the early days of SEO, many websites tried to rank higher by exchanging links or buying links en masse. However, Google cottoned on to these tactics and now specifically prohibits link schemes intended to manipulate search rankings.

Here are some of the shady link building approaches that you should avoid:

Private Blog Networks (PBNs)

A private blog network (PBN) involves creating a group of sites, often with fake content, for the sole purpose of cross-linking and directing links at your money site. Google frowns upon these types of artificial link circles.

Aggressive Guest Posting

While guest blogging can be an excellent way to earn legitimate links, you need to focus on quality over quantity. Pitching irrelevant guest posts loaded only with links to your site can get you in trouble.

Buying Links

Paying for backlinks was once an easy tactic before Google updated their guidelines. Now any paid links must use nofollow attributes, which means they pass no SEO value.

Link Exchanges

Swapping links with other sites in an attempt to boost domain authority can seem manipulative to Google algorithms. Avoid participating in aggressive reciprocal linking.

The issue with these shady SEO tactics is that they often work in the short-term before the next Google update catches up. Once the “link selling network” gets flagged, you may get hit with a manual action penalty. Focus on long-term, sustainable strategies to earn links instead of chasing quick wins.

Best Practices for Earning High-Quality Links

Now that you understand why earned links matter for SEO and some tactics to avoid, let’s discuss positive strategies for building natural links.

The key is to focus on creating exceptionally valuable content while also leveraging promotions and outreach.

Craft Content That Gets Referenced

The best way to earn links is to produce content that people naturally want to reference and link to. Useful, engaging content gets shared more, which leads to more link earning opportunities.

Types of share-worthy content:

  • Ultimate Guides: Create expansive resources on your topic for fans and professionals.
  • Data Studies: Conduct and publish original research studies in your industry.
  • Tools and Calculators: Build resources that help people solve problems.
  • List Posts and Comparisons: Curate and contrast the best options on a topic.
  • Infographics: Transform data and stats into compelling visuals.

The focus should be on quality over quantity. One epic, 10,000 word definitive guide can earn more links than 100 thin blog articles. Brainstorm content ideas that would provide immense value for your target audience.

Promote Your Assets

Don’t just publish and pray. Having a solid content distribution plan is key to earning links.

  • Social Media: Share your content with popular accounts in your niche.
  • Influencers: Reach out to leaders in your field to help amplify your work.
  • Email Lists: Alert your current subscribers about new publications.
  • Guest Posts: Contribute articles to reputable sites that allow links back to your website.

Look for creative ways to showcase your best content to relevant sites and external audiences.

Monitor and Request Links

Keep track of sites that mention your brand and don’t link back. Reach out politely to ask if they would be willing to hyperlink references to your content. Most will happily oblige.

You can also install link tracking software to see who links and shares your pages. This allows you to analyze which type of content receives the most editorial links.

Measuring and Improving Your Earned Link Building Over Time

Measuring and Improving Your Earned Link Building Over Time

Gaining high-quality earned links takes time and consistency. It’s important to track your progress so you can refine your content and outreach efforts.

Use Link Tracking Tools

Link tracking software like Ahrefs, BuzzStream, or Majestic can reveal:

  • Who is linking to your site
  • The anchor text they are using
  • How authoritative the referring sites are

Review this data frequently. More niche-relevant links from reputable sites indicate you’re on the right track.

Monitor Search Rankings

Correlate your link building initiatives with keyword rankings in Google search. Are you gaining visibility and traffic for targeted terms?

New relevant links can positively impact rankings, especially if the referring site has strong domain authority in your space.

Set Goals and Benchmarks

Define targets for the number of new referring domains you want to acquire each month. Measure this over time to evaluate the success of your link earning efforts.

Shoot for quality over quantity – a few links from industry publications often outweigh lots of links from small blogs.

Keep Creating Great Assets

Don’t stop producing remarkable content just because you have a successful offer or two. Expand your authority by continually creating website pages and off-site content that builds links.

Develop a consistent publishing schedule to take advantage of link earning opportunities.

Diversifying Link Types to Avoid Over-Optimization

As you build your portfolio of earned links, it’s important to vary the types of links rather than focus on just one approach. Link diversity helps avoid over-optimization penalties.

Here are some best practices to mix up your backlinks:

Editorial Links in Articles

These are links embedded contextually within a blog article, news story, or other piece of online content. Having your site referenced as a source or useful resource in editorial content is a solid earned link opportunity.

Best practices: Guest post on authority sites; Pitch great data and quotes to writers.

Links in Lists & Resources Pages

Links on “best of” roundups, recommended tools pages, and list articles come from creators curating top brands. Getting your site featured provides a relevant editorial link.

Best practices: Reach out to niche sites; Create linkworthy resources and guides.

Links from Brand Mentions

Brand name drops occur when a website mentions your company without necessarily hyperlinking. Monitoring brand mentions allows you to request that they connect your name to your site.

Best practices: Use Google Alerts for brand monitoring; Politely ask to link mentions.

Links in Multimedia Content

Podcast episodes, YouTube videos, and other audio/visual content may reference or recommend your website. Multimedia links indicate diverse authority.

Best practices: Repurpose your content into videos and pitches for shows.

This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, but hitting each type builds more authenticity than just focusing on one kind of link building. The goal is to appear natural to search algorithms.

Key Takeaways For Mastering Earned Link Building:

Key Takeaways For Mastering Earned Link Building

Here are key takeaways to help you become proficient in earned link building:

Focus on Merit, Not Manipulation

Build links through remarkable content and brand advocates instead of shady tactics. Google favors websites with more genuine editorial links.

Track and Analyze Referring Sites

Use link tracking software to see who links to you and optimize accordingly. Review metrics monthly to identify new link building opportunities.

Set Goals for Quality and Quantity

Define targets for both the number of referring domains, and their industry authority levels. 10 great links can outweigh 100 irrelevant ones in search algorithms.

Diversify Your Link Types

Editorial links, resource links, brand mentions, and multimedia links all play a role. Mix it up to appear natural to search bots.

While earning high-quality links demands creativity and persistence, it generates immense SEO rewards. The more authoritative sites that link back to your content, the faster search visibility and organic traffic will grow.

Common Questions Around Earning Links

As you pursue high-quality backlinks, you may have some lingering questions about the best practices and potential downsides. 

Let’s tackle a few key earned link FAQs:

Are All Earned Links Considered Safe?

Generally speaking, yes. If links occur organically through mentions or references, they are considered safe and positive signals by search engines. However, it is possible that sketchy sites could link to you without consent, so you still need some link auditing. Use disavow tools if worrying links appear.

What If Someone Links With Sketchy Anchor Text?

Occasionally you may earn a link with over-optimized anchor text like “buy blue widgets here.” This is rare, but can technically happen organically by chance. Just ask the site to reword the anchor into something branded and neutral. As long as your overall anchor text diversity looks natural, search engines will ignore anomalies.

Is There Such Thing as Too Many Earned Links?

Short answer – no. There are no known limits for earning authentic, editorial backlinks. However, if you did nothing but chase links instead of focusing on the user, you may end up with an imbalanced and ineffective SEO strategy. Make sure to also invest in technical SEO, site speed, content quality, and other important ranking factors.

How Long Does It Take to See Results?

Patience is key in SEO. It can take 2-4 months before new links start positively impacting search visibility for competitive terms. Allow 6-12 months for earned links to compound before evaluating your overall domain authority improvements. But stick with it, because those high-quality backlinks will pay dividends for years to come.


Earning high-quality backlinks remains one of the most important components of effective SEO strategies. By creating valuable assets and conducting organic outreach, you can build an authoritative link profile over time.

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