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Link development is a blessing and a curse in the SEO world. If done right, the benefits for a client’s rankings are insurmountable; if done wrong, your client will deal with the aftermath for years to come. We know link development is one of the top-ranking factors because Google tells us so in their Webmaster Guidelines. In the spring of 2012, Google rolled out the Penguin Update which aimed to take down spammy, low-quality link building tactics that artificially inflated website rankings. Since then, the importance of natural link development, influencer outreach, and social media marketing has skyrocketed in the SEO industry.

What is Link Development?

SEO - search engine optimization concept or mind map - sketch on a matting board

(Image Credit: PixelAway)

Link development is the process of earning links to a website. This process takes many forms, such as influencer outreach or directory submission. It relies on high-quality, valuable content on a website that’s shared via email, social media channels, and picked up naturally across the web.

One authoritative link from a high-value website, such as the Huffington Post or Wikipedia, will have more impact on a client’s rankings than low-quality links from spammy websites across the web. The more high-quality links pointing to a website from a variety of sources online will boost the overall rankings of that website almost immediately.

Learn more about the importance of link development with this breakdown from WordStream.

Google Search Console

Google Search Console Example

When starting any link development campaign, you must know what quality content exists on a client’s site. You can do this by leveraging Google Search Console’s Search Analytics data by going to Search Traffic > Search Analytics. Click on “Pages” and set the Dates to “Last 90 Days.”

This report will give you a breakdown of the top pages, which usually includes the homepage. Now, you can see where your client is showing up the most and what content is the strongest according to Google’s search data. You can leverage these pages when looking for websites, forums, and influencers to reach out to and gain links from for your client.

If your client doesn’t have enough content to leverage, you must make content suggestions to help with your link development efforts.

Examples of great content to leverage for link development from your clients include:

  • Long form content (2000+ words) specializing in what client does best
  • News or socially relevant content in client’s niche
  • Infographics and videos highlighting tutorials and information about client’s industry


SEM Rush Example

SEMrush is an aggregate resource that provides a wealth of SEO data on a given domain but using its competitor research is where we find the most value in this tool. While tools in the industry showcase some form of competitor data, our agency has found that SEMrush provides the most accurate competitor data based on SEO factors.

With this data, we can see which competitors to target for link opportunities that would directly benefit our clients. If a competitor is doing better than ours, we can use that as a springboard to go after similar links that will help improve a client’s rankings.


Ahrefs Example

Ahrefs is one of the best backlink tools on the web. While other tools, like Majestic, are powerful, too, we’ve found the most success using Ahrefs over the years. Ahrefs allows you to pull backlink reports for your client and their competitors. This allows you to both audit the links pointing a client and identify problematic ones while targeting links their competitors have earned.

Once you’ve pulled a competitor report, the real fun begins. You want to go through these reports link-by-link and find high-quality websites that would benefit your client. From there, you will approach that website showcasing why your client provides a powerful resource and should be featured on it.

Sometimes this leads to a link right away, other times it’s a cat and mouse game of convincing a website why your client is the best resource at what they do. Many times, link development offers other positive gains for a client, such as guest posting stints, social media promotion, and advertising opportunities.

Examples of powerful links to target for your clients include:

  • Websites that rank well for similar topics to your client’s websites
  • Links that have a high domain rank or domain authority value (typically above 50)
  • Sites that are updated with new content, tweak their design, and provide a solid user experience for visitors

Examples of weak links to avoid for your clients include:

  • Websites hosted on shared domains like Blogger or
  • Links that have a low domain rank or domain authority value (typically below 25)
  • Websites where content isn’t written for quality (i.e. low word count, poor English, unrelated to client’s niche)

What If These Tools Aren’t Enough?

While the tools above aren’t the only ones used for link development, they’ll help guide your initial efforts for link development. As with any SEO tools, you’ll find there’s a variety of them on the market. Find a tool to identify competitors and to pull backlink reports to guide your efforts, and you’ll be good to go.

Learn more about link development strategy with this SEO guide from Moz.

Link development is all about perseverance for your agency and its clients. It takes a variety of factors to succeed, like quality content, good research, and patience from both your agency and the client. Work with your clients, so they understand the impact of link development, be transparent with your results – good and bad – and you’ll be on your way to earning high-quality links that will make any SEO campaign beat the competition.

Melissa Popp headshot
Melissa Popp
Director of Digital Engagement at |

Melissa Popp is Director of Digital Engagement for Altitude Agency, a boutique agency helping small businesses win with content online. As a digital strategist with a passion for technology and travel, she coaches her partners to connect with their audience through experience optimization, with the goal of retaining more loyal visitors, creating brand ambassadors, and increasing conversion goals. She can be found online writing for TripSavvy, TechNorms, and The Emmys. Past clients include Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and Samsung.