Hartley Brody

9 Link Building Tips From Matt Cutts

If you have a business or organization that you’re trying to promote on the internet, you’ve probably heard of “link building”. The basic idea is that, if you want your website to rank highly in search engine results and get a lot of traffic, it needs to have links that point to it from other websites. But how do you get other sites to link to you?

Matt CuttsIf you’re ready to invest a little time into it, building great links is easy.

There’s a great video from Matt Cutts – head of the web spam team at Google – where he outlines several easy steps to get inbound links for free!

It’s a great summary of the basic tactics to start building links to your website. The video is 8 minutes long, so I summarized the main points here.

1. Have a Blog and a Newsletter

At the core of any link-building or internet marketing strategy is great content. And the easiest way to publish a lot of content on a consistent basis is to have a blog.

“There’s no excuse these days for a company not to have a blog.”

Make sure you setup your blog so that it’s on the same domain as the rest of your website (ie “blog.hartleybrody.com”). If your blog is hosted as companyblog.blogpsot.com or companyblog.wordpress.com, then all of the links to your articles won’t be helping the main site you’re trying to promote, they’ll be helping blogspot or wordpress instead!

In addition to having a blog, make sure you setup some sort of newsletter service. If people find one of your articles particularly engaging, you want to make it easy for them to sign up and give you their email address. That way you can start building a core readership that are more likely to link to your articles.

2. Be Controversial

It’s true what they say: controversy sells. Matt mentions this as a link building tactic, but then goes on to say that it’s not a great idea in the long run.

If you feel really passionately about something, or really need to rant and rave, then go for it. Take a stance that’s controversial or call someone out. These articles tend to get shared a lot more than most articles because they get people worked up and agitated.

Controversial articles make great link-bait, but they can also be off-putting if they become too frequent. Don’t rely on these as an everyday link-building tactic.

3. Participate in Your Target Demographic’s Community

If you’re running an organization or company that solves people’s problems, then that means you have valuable advice to offer. Figure out where your target readers “hang out” online and interact with that community in a positive, constructive way.

Maybe it’s a community Q&A site or a forum. It might just be Twitter or Facebook, or maybe it’s the comment section of another popular blog. Anywhere that people tend to congregate and come back to over and over again.

Answering questions and showing that you’re knowledgeable is a great way to build trust. If people notice that you’ve posted several great answers, they’re very likely to click through to your profile or look you up on Twitter.

This does NOT mean creating an account on some forum and just blasting your links everywhere. Spend 15 minutes a day and actually participate in the community. Being a respected authority among your target audience is a great way to get traffic and links back to your site in the long run.

You can also leverage communities and forums more directly in the short term.

If you find a question that addresses something you’ve written about on your site, then it’s certainly appropriate to put a link to your article in your answer. Conversely, if you’re writing an article that you think will be helpful to people, look for existing questions that can be answered with a link to your article.

Another great way to leverage communities and forums is to look for popular questions, or ones that seem to come up over and over again. If you write a blog article that addresses a common issue, now you’ve got a great piece of link bait that you can post over and over again.

4. Publish Original Research

You don’t need a PhD to write a great data-driven article.

Start looking through whatever data your company collects and look for trends. Maybe you’ll find data to suggest that people who live on the east side of cities spend more on your company’s plumbing services. Or you could run a test on your website to see if people convert at a higher rate when you use one type of messaging over another.

You don’t have to give away all of your company secrets, but if you share a few interesting points, you’re sure to attract some inbound links.

They may not be obvious, but if you spend some time thinking about it, you’re sure to discover lots of interesting pieces of data that you can write good articles about.

5. Promote Your Website in Real Life

Matt mentions speaking at conferences as a great way to get lots of links. People might live-blog or tweet about your presentation, and you can tell your audience to visit your website for more information or to download your slides.

Stickers and other merchandise can be another great way to promote a website. Use QR codes so that people with smart phones can get to your site quickly.

6. Write “How-Tos,” Lists and Tutorials

Increasingly, when people are stuck on a problem, have a question, or just want to learn about something, they go to a search engine and look it up.

As I mentioned earlier, having articles that are geared towards helping people solve their problems is a great way to get found on the internet, grow your readership and get more views.

What could be easier than writing about the stuff you help people with every day?

7. Release a Free Product or Service

A fantastic example of this is HubSpot’s Website Grader (disclaimer: I work there). It’s a free tool that will grade any URL and tell you how the page ranks from an internet marketing perspective. It’s run almost 4 million reports and has boatloads of inbound links.

It can be hard to come up with, develop and release a free tool. But companies that do, usually have outrageous success with them so it’s worth the investment to try and come up with one for your organization.

8. Take Care of Your Website

It’s always important to make sure you take care of your on-site optimization before you embark on any of this other stuff.

Can people link to individual articles on your site? Can people bookmark your pages? With most websites, this is possible by default, but on some sites that use special effects or weird scrolling behavior, it might actually not be possible to link directly to certain content!

Do you have a sitemap? Do your pages have proper headings and meta tags? Is your site update regularly? Make sure your website is optimized so that you can get the most out of all those inbound links.

9. Create Great Content

This is the linchpin that holds everything else together. With great content, your site will organically attract inbound links and visitors without you having to do much at all. Conversely, a site without great content won’t attract links and visitors, even if you follow all these other steps.

If you make useful, interesting content and promote it naturally by participating in the community, then your link building will take care of itself. It doesn’t take a lot of time, and you can do it all for free!

Check out Matt’s video for more great examples of organic link building.


Updated March 2013 with a few more ideas for organic link building that weren’t in Matt’s video.

10. Reach out to Educators

College professors often post public class syllabi, or maintain a resource page for their students that’s hosted on a .edu domain. Even outside of academia, there are probably a dozen other sites in your niche that put out tutorials and educational information.

While you should be putting out educational content yourself (see #6), getting mentioned or featured in someone else’s educational content is a great way to get qualified traffic and high-quality links.

11. Join the Neighborhood

Search for the keywords you want to be ranking for and look at all the sites that are currently ranking well. Reach out and ask if you could do a guest blog post, or mention a piece of your content that their audience might enjoy.

Reaching out and asking for links is always tricky. There’s no guarantee site owner respond well, or even respond at all. But it never hurts to network with other webmasters in your industry. Approach it politely and humbly and you might get a few high quality links without much fuss.