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White hat link building - What it is and how to do it
If you're looking into link building and you're interested in learning about the best link building techniques to safely boost your rankings, you've probably come across white hat link building.
Here, we've shared everything you need to know about white hat link building, including what it is, how it differs from grey hat and black hat link building, and our 8 recommended white hat link building techniques that actually work.
- White hat link building refers to the search engine optimization (SEO) techniques used to drive traffic to a website that don't violate any of Google's rules.
- Building white hat links is a safe and effective way to boost your search engine rankings, but it's also time-consuming and can be expensive.
- Examples of methods to build white hat backlinks are guest posts, blogger outreach, publishing link-worthy content, writing testimonials for your favorite brands, and offering to replace broken backlinks.
What is white hat link building?
White hat link building is the name used to describe link building methods that are safe to do and won't put you at risk of a Google penalty.
These techniques are considered "legal" and won't get you in trouble with search engines because they don't manipulate the algorithm to help you achieve the results you want.
White hat link building, like any other link building method, has the goal of increasing your website's authority, which should boost your organic rankings on the SERPs.
What makes this method better than gray or black hat link building techniques is that it focuses on the creation of high-quality content that offers value to the user - rather than simply placing a link on a website that's solely designed for backlinking to other websites.
The long-term purpose of white hat link building is to build your brand and help you to organically rank for your target keywords.
Why use white hat link building techniques?
SEOs recommend using white hat link building methods because they're earned within Google's guidelines.
That means it's safe to build links with white hat methods, and you're not at risk of a Google penalty (called a manual action).
Manual actions have serious consequences - they could cause affected pages to lose their rankings or even be removed from search results. Improving your rankings after a manual action could take time as Google has a reason to be wary of your intentions.
In short, getting a manual action could reverse all the months or years of hard work put into your SEO efforts, so it's simply not worth it. Using white hat link building techniques means you don't have to worry about these consequences.
White hat link building vs grey hat & black hat link building
White hat link building methods are considered the safest for boosting your organic traffic. You might also have heard of two other types of link building: grey hat link building and black hat link building.
Here, we've compared white hat link building to each of these other link building types.
White hat link building vs black hat link building
Black hat link building techniques are considered the riskiest methods of link building that you can use today.
If you've ever bought links on link farms, or your website has participated in a link scheme, you've used a black hat link building method. Originally, before Google's algorithm become more intelligent and capable of detecting these strategies, they were considered effective and relatively risk-free.
Now, the Google algorithm is capable of detecting attempts to manipulate the SERPs with black hat link building techniques, so they're now seen as a high-risk method that only the shadier SEO companies still practice.
Examples of black hat link building techniques are:
- Private Blog Networks (PBNs)
- Spamming blog comments with links
- Buying low-quality backlinks
- Cloaking (when the server offers different content and context to the search page)
- Low-quality guest posts
- Devious redirects
All of these are examples of when links are built for the sole purpose of backlinking to a website to give it an authority status and boost its rankings.
These methods don't meet Google's intentions of providing high value to its users, which is why they're considered "black hat" and put you at risk of a Google penalty.
If your website is flagged for using black hat link building methods, you'll have to fix all the manual actions on your site and submit your site for reassessment. Your rankings may be at a disadvanage in the meantime.
White hat link building vs grey hat link building
Grey hat link building techniques aren't as shady or risky as black hat tactics, but they're still borderline illegal and still carry the risk of being punishable by Google.
Gray hat tactics sit in the middle of white hat and black hat tactics because they combine methods that are compliant with Google Search Console and methods that violate them.
Some of the gray hat link building methods to avoid are:
- Creating content that offers little-to-no value
- Using expired domains
- Building backlinks on hosted blogging platforms
- Paying for reviews
- Duplicate content
There's a common misconception that grey hat link building methods are undetectable and are usually mistaken as white hat by search engine algorithms.
This might be true to some extent, but it certainly isn't guaranteed. Because gray hat link building techniques incorporate an element of black hat tactics, their goal is also to exploit how search engines determine ranking, so there's always a risk that you'll get penalized for these techniques just as you would with black hat methods.
If you want to avoid the risk of destroying your rankings with your link building efforts, you need to avoid grey hat link building as well as black hat techniques.
Benefits of white hat link building
Here are some of the top benefits of white hat link building:
Boosts your search engine rankings
The obvious benefit of building white hat backlinks is that they give you the best chance of boosting your search engine rankings.
A Backlink.io study found that a site's overall link authority has a strong correlation to high rankings on the SERPs.
It also found that pages with lots of backlinks were ranking better than pages with few or no backlinks.
While this study looks at backlinks in general, SEO experts say that white hat link building gives you the best chance of ranking because there's no potential for Google to discredit your link building efforts for being manipulative or unnatural.
"Future proof" method
Building white hat backlinks is also a "future proof" method because these links should hold up in the long run.
As Google's algorithm continues to become more sophisticated, Google is becoming stricter and stricter on backlink creation. Grey or black hat SEO tactics that you may have once got away with now put you at risk of a Google penalty.
The only safe way to build links was with white hat SEO practices, since these should always be seen as natural and valuable by Google, so you're not setting yourself up for penalization in the future.
Brand promotion potential
Many grey or black hat link building techniques are only designed for one purpose: to put your link on another website.
White hat link building, on the other hand, is often a lot more thought-out and involves sharing your link within a piece of valuable text or content.
Many white hat SEO tactics, like HARO responses and blogger outreach, enable you to promote your brand and product/service to a new, interested audience in your area of expertise.
So, not only does white hat link building give you the chance to build a high-quality link, it also allows you to reach new audiences and become a well-known name in your industry.
Creates the right impression
Finally, using white hat SEO strategies to build backlinks will show your audience and fellow industry experts that you're a professional business.
To understand why, let's consider the impression that you would make if you chose to build links using a black hat strategy.
Perhaps you posted spam comments underneath articles published on popular websites in your niche, or you placed links on poor-quality blog content on PBNs or link farms.
Anyone who came across your link on one of these websites would instantly assume that your company was spam or not to be trusted.
On the other hand, if your link was placed in a piece of high-quality content that provided valuable, insightful information, you'd be seen as a trustworthy source by the reader.
If you care about your brand image, regardless of where on the internet somebody might hear about you, you need to focus on building white hat links.
Setbacks of white hat link building
You should always be aware of the potential setbacks of white hat link building:
One of the biggest setbacks of almost all white hat link building strategies is that they're incredibly time-consuming.
Many of these processes involve conducting manual research and reaching out to various sources. This takes much longer than many grey hat strategies, which provide near-instant results.
If you're the owner or manager of a business, your time is probably already taken up with marketing your products, managing a team, and dealing with customers. It's unlikely that you can commit hours per week to trial various methods of building white hat backlinks that might ultimately get you nowhere.
For that reason, most business owners choose to outsource their white hat link building efforts to a professional link building agency. That, of course, costs money - but you may believe that your time is more valuable.
No guarantee of results
Another potential setback of white hat backlinking is that it doesn't guarantee results.
It's certainly not the same as paying for links, when you're guaranteed one link built for every investment you make.
Many of the manual white hat SEO tactics have no guarantee of a response, and no guarantee that you'll receive a link at the end of the process.
You could reply to 10 HARO requests per week for a month, but if the journalists don't decide to publish your comments within that month, you won't build a single link.
The good news is that your likelihood of obtaining results increases over time. However, you might still miss out on opportunities simply because you're not an expert in the strategy you're carrying out, so you don't know exactly what your recipients are looking for.
Another major downside of white hat links is that they're expensive to build if you do decide to outsource the job to a link-building agency.
You pay extra for the additional time and effort it takes for an SEO company to secure white hat links for your company.
The fee structure can also be more complex because there's no guarantee that links will be built, and you will often have to pay for the link building agency's time spent on white hat SEO techniques, rather than paying per link built.
If you're a small business or a startup company, you probably won't be able to afford the expense of high-quality backlinks, which may lead you to resort to paying for riskier grey hat tactics.
8 effective white hat link building methods
Now you know the difference between white hat, gray hat, and black hat SEO tactics, let's focus on which white hat link building methods are the most effective for boosting your authority and rankings.
Our top recommended white hat link building technique is content contributions, otherwise called guest blogging or guest posting.
This method involves contacting blog and website owners and pitching an article idea to publish on their website.
If your pitch is accepted, you can write a high-quality, valuable guest post, which will then be published on the blog or website with a backlink to your website. You'll benefit from increased brand awareness (you'll be targeting a new audience pool) and a high-quality backlink, which should help Google to see you as an authority and rank you more favorably on the SERPs.
If the content is well-written, helpful, and high-quality, it also has the potential to rank organically and stay in those coveted top spots on the SERPs for years to come. That means you'll drive traffic to your website for as long as the article continues to provide value to the user (which it should if it's on an evergreen topic).
Finding high-quality websites that accept guest posts is tricky. We recommend avoiding websites that offer "guest post programs", since these tend to be saturated with poor-quality content, and have a publishing fee, which puts them in the "gray hat" category.
Rather than looking for websites that advertise guest post positions, focus on looking for blogs and websites that you value or admire, then send a thoughtfully-curated email requesting the opportunity to write a guest post for the site.
Another highly effective white hat link building technique is HARO responses.
HARO stands for Help A Reporter Out. It's a website that reporters use when they want to quickly find expert quotes for their articles.
Anyone can sign up to receive HARO journalism requests for content. If you fit the description of the expert that a journalist is requesting, you can respond to the request with a thoughtful response.
For example, if you're in the tech industry, you can respond to HARO requests from journalists looking for tech experts to offer their opinion or advice on a particular subject.
The journalist will often receive tens of responses from experts in your industry. They'll choose their favorite responses to publish in their articles, with a link to the expert's website as the source.
HARO is a completely free method of building links, and it doesn't violate Google's guidelines because you're providing a valuable contribution to a piece of journalism, and your link is included to give readers the opportunity to learn more about you, the expert, or your products/services.
However, this method is also time-consuming, and there's no guarantee the journalist will use your response at all.
You can increase your chances of success with HARO by hiring an expert link-builder who is well versed in creating HARO responses and knows exactly what journalists are looking for in an expert quote.
Publishing link-worthy content
The most white hat of all the link building techniques is when you don't go out in search of link opportunities, but let those opportunities come to you.
You can do this by creating content to publish on your website that's worthy of being linked to, meaning that other websites find your content on Google and are inclined to link to it in their own content.
How can you create content that other bloggers want to link to?
You need to focus on offering as much value as possible. The more unique and helpful the information in your article, the higher its linkworthiness.
A few examples of link-worthy content are:
- Data from a study that you have conducted yourself, which reveals important or telling information that's useful in your industry.
- An interview with an influencer or a professional in your niche that offers a unique, expert insight into a particular topic.
- An ultimate guide or cheat sheet on a popular subject that shares more in-depth information than most other articles that exist already.
- An infographics page that uses images, charts, and graphics, to showcase data in an appealing way.
Producing and writing this content will take longer than it would to produce the average blog post.
However, the results are worth the effort. A quality, helpful blog post should provide value for years to come, meaning that you have a good opportunity to acquire free backlinks from other websites for as long as your article continues to be discoverable on Google.
Blogger outreach is similar to guest posting, but instead of requesting to be the author of a post on another blogger's website, you're asking the blogger to write a post about your product or service to share with their audience.
You can build high-quality backlinks with blogger outreach, and it doesn't violate Google's guidelines because the blogger should produce content that's valuable and tailored to their target audience.
As well as the benefits of link building, blogger outreach should also boost your brand exposure by putting your name in front of a new, interested target audience that you might have otherwise been unable to tap into.
The only real setback of this method is that you don't have full control over the way that the content is written. You can guide the blogger on what you want to be included and how you want them to convey certain points, but you can't write the article for them.
Offer to replace broken links
One clever but time-consuming way to build links for free is to find broken links on popular web content and offer the author of the post a replacement link that leads to your own website.
Broken links, or dead links, are web pages that no longer exist, either because they've been moved, reorganized, or deleted. When you click on a broken link, it'll take you to a 401 error page.
Some SEOs realized that they could use broken links to their advantage - and so the broken link building strategy was invented.
You will need to look specifically at articles within your niche, and find dead pages that would make contextual sense when replaced with a link to your blog content, product, or web page.
This can prove quite tricky, and a way to make this process easier is to first identify the broken link, then write a killer piece of content that could replace the dead page, and pitch this content to the post author. This tends to be easier and less time-consuming than trying to find a dead link that you can replace with a piece of content that already exists on your site.
However, we've found that broken link building is less effective than it was originally, and many websites will now charge a fee for you to replace a broken link with your own link. This might still be worth it, depending on the quality of the site in question.
Reach out to websites that have already linked to your content
Google Search Console is a free tool that does more than just give you the data you need to monitor your search engine performance.
There are a few clever ways that you can use this tool in your SEO efforts, particularly when it comes to securing more white hat links.
The feature you need for this purpose is the Top linking sites report. This report will tell you which web pages have content that includes a backlink to your website.
Take a look at these sites and see what they're about and which of your web pages they've already linked to. The fact that these websites have linked to your page means that they think you're a valuable resource, so they're more likely to be inclined to link to you again.
You can use this information to create a suggestion list of additional pages or blog posts to send out to the site's owner or author, noting that this content might be useful and asking if they would be happy to refer to it on their website and provide another backlink.
Or, since you know that the website owner is familiar with your brand in some way, you could go one step further and ask if you could publish a guest post on their website that features a backlink to your own site.
Write testimonials for your favorite brands
If you've ever visited the website of a business that offers a product or a service - especially businesses that offer a service - you've probably come across testimonials on the homepage and other money pages.
Testimonials are endorsements for a business that are designed to reassure customers into spending their money on a product or service.
The difference between testimonials and reviews is that testimonials are 100% positive and are often written by "influencers" or big names in the industry. Businesses are selective about the testimonials they include on their website, and they'll often request certain customers to write them in order to give them the best reputation by association.
The great thing about a testimonial is that it typically includes a link back to the author's website. So, if you can get your testimonial on an influential website, you'll have built a great (and free!) link back to your site. It's a win-win for both parties.
Consider the brands you use and love, and create a list of high-authority sites to write your testimonials for.
Think of unique ways to explain why you love a particular brand - you want to write the best testimonial to be in with the best chance of being featured on the brand's website alongside the testimonials that already exist.
Once you've written your testimonials, email the brands in question and tell them you've written a testimonial and you would be pleased for it to be featured on their website. There's no guarantee that your testimonial will get used, but if it does, you'll have built yourself another white hat link.
Guest-star on podcasts
If you're an expert on a particular subject and you're not shy in front of a microphone, consider reaching out to a few relevant podcasts and enquiring about being a guest star or interviewee.
There are tens of business-centric podcasts that exist today, so you should be able to find plenty of popular podcasts in your industry that may benefit from your input or opinion.
A podcast host will be more likely to invite you to speak in one of their podcast episodes if you have a good online presence, so make sure your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date, and create business social media profiles if you don't have them already, before you start pitching yourself.
If you're accepted as a guest on a particular podcast, ask the host if they'd be happy to include your link in the show notes, so listeners know where to find you if they want to learn more about what you do. This is a great way to bring new leads to your business and build backlinks from high-quality websites in your industry.
We strongly recommend white hat link building over any other link building tactics. It's the safest and smartest way to improve your SERP ranking and retain it, with no risk of being penalized by search engines in the future.
The only real setback of white hat links is that they take a lot of time and effort to build. Most website owners are managing their role with all the other jobs involved in running a business, which is why grey hat link building, which provides near-instant, guaranteed results, is often more tempting.
However, if you are deterred by the amount of time required to build white hat backlinks, there's no reason why you should commit to this job yourself. A professional link building agency can use white hat tactics to build relevant links on high-authority websites on your behalf.
Even better if the agency also produces content - that will allow you to get double the reward from the winning combination of high-quality website content and backlinks, which tells Google that you're a trusted source in your industry.
If you want to boost your rankings without potentially hurting your SEO in the future, our advice is to avoid low-quality links at all costs. Stick with the effective white hat SEO practices listed in this guide to enjoy improved search rankings and domain authority in the long run.
What is the white hat link building method?
The white hat link building method is any SEO link building strategy that uses Google-approved approaches to drive traffic to your website. Examples of white hat link building strategies include high-quality guest posts, blogger outreach, and broken link building.
What makes white hat backlinks ethical?
White hat backlinks are considered ethical because they're a method of search engine optimization that's legally not objectionable and is a "natural" way to become an authoritative source. This method of building links doesn't manipulate search engines and isn't spammy, so it's safe to use to boost your rankings.
What is the difference between white hat and black hat?
In link building, the difference between white hat and black hat is that white hat strategies are "natural" and don't violate Google Webmaster guidelines, while black hat strategies are considered spammy or manipulative of the algorithm, and could put you at risk of a Google penalty.
What's the best link building tool?
There are a few different link building tools that you can use to easily check your backlink profile and devise a white hat SEO strategy to compete with other websites in your niche. Ahrefs is the most popular link building tool, but you can also use Semrush, Moz, Majestic, or Buzzsumo - or, if you prefer to use a free tool, Google Sheets.
What's the cheapest white hat link building strategy?
The cheapest white hat backlink building strategies are HARO responses, publishing link-worthy content, and writing testimonials. These strategies are all completely free if you choose to manage them yourself. However, there's no guarantee that you'll build links from these strategies, and you'll probably have to put a lot of work into achieving your intended outcome.
Which white hat link building techniques are best?
The best white hat link building techniques are quality guest posting, blogger outreach, broken link building, writing testimonials, and guest starring on podcasts. These are all great ways to improve your backlink profile and boost your organic traffic without violating search engine guidelines.
How long does white hat link building take?
The time it takes to complete a white hat link building project depends on the type of technique(s) you focus on and the amount of time you can commit to the project every week. To give an example, building a single link from answering HARO requests could take as little as 1 hour (if your initial response is used in a blog article) or as long as several months (if you only reply to one request per week and your responses aren't picked up for a while). You don't necessarily have to spend time on white hat link building yourself - outsourcing the job to an SEO agency will give you the results without the personal commitment.