13 Takeaways from the State of Link Building Report 2021

Last week, we released the State of Link Building Report for 2021. With insights and views from over 250 people and comments from over 20 experts, there is a lot to get through. You can start using the link above and get into the details, or you can grab the PDF version here.

If you’re looking for a quick overview of the takeaways, I’ve summarised 13 of them below:

1. The most popular link building tactic is content-led link building

For the second year in a row, content-led link building was the most popular tactic for building links. Whilst not a surprise generally, seeing it as the most popular tactic by quite some margin was a little surprising and perhaps a sign of the continued shift toward content as a way to get links.

What techniques do you use for link building?

 

Due to the expectation of this tactic being so popular, this year we did a deeper dive onto it and asked a range of questions focused on content-led link building. As you can see, it was also a popular topic with our experts, attracting a range of views and opinions. 

2. Success for a content-led link building campaign means generating up to 40 links

Brands, quite rightly, want to know how many links they can typically expect from a single campaign and whilst campaigns aren’t everything, we were keen to learn what the consensus was for this. The results were very heavily weighted toward success being between 1-9, 10-19 and 20-39, with a total of 81% across all three ranges.

Typically, how many links does a campaign need to have in order to be deemed a success?

 

This is somewhat reassuring to hear due to the SEO and Digital PR communities often sharing viral campaigns on stages, in case studies and on Twitter, sometimes creating a false perception of what typical results can be. 

3. A third of people have had a campaign completely flop and get zero links

Leading on from this, we wanted to also highlight that 31% of respondents admitted that they’d experienced a campaign getting zero links.

If you do create content specifically to generate links, in the past 12 months have you created a campaign that generated:

 

Again, this is reassuring to hear and something that is often not talked about openly (with some exceptions) but is clearly a reality for a good chunk of people. Whilst we try our best to create ideas and outreach them to the best of our ability, the truth is that success can lie in someone else’s hands and sometimes, campaigns just won’t work.

Of course, there are ways to come back from this and turn things around, but our focus needs to be on ensuring that we launch campaigns consistently and make our websites link-worthy in the long run. If we do this, then the odd flop here and there won’t break a business. 

4. Long-form content is the most effective execution to use for a link building campaign

When asked about the more effective way to execute a link building campaign, the most popular answer was long-form, report style content.

When it comes to the execution of your idea, which of the following do you find to be the most effective in generating links?

 

This surprised me in some ways because despite seeing success with this format at Aira, this format isn’t talked about that much and is often pushed to one side in favour of shinier, more complex executions. Personally, I think we’ll see this trend continue and grow because this style of content can lend itself much, much more closely to the core products and services of a brand. This means that the content can add a lot more value than just links. 

5. The majority of people believe that links will continue to be a signal that Google uses for organic rankings for years to come

For the second year in a row, the majority of people felt that Google would continue to treat links as a ranking signal. Confidence was pretty high thinking five years into the future:

Do you think links will be a signal that Google use in their ranking algorithms in five years time?

 

Confidence dropped slightly when asked to think about ten years out, but there was still a clear winner.

Do you think links will be a signal that Google uses in their ranking algorithms in ten years time?

 

For me, I can’t see links going away any time soon, but I do think that they will become far more refined and granular in the way that they can add value to organic rankings. 

6. Most people said that link building can have an impact on rankings within 6 months, assuming no other fundamental SEO issues are present

A common question from stakeholders is how long does it take to see the impact of links. To get the most out of this question, we asked people how long it would take to see an impact when we assume that any other major SEO issues are taken care of.

Assuming no other major technical, content or penalty issues, how long does it typically take for you to see the impact of link building on rankings and traffic?

 

I’ll admit, this is a big assumption to make! But the timeline of up to six months is consistent with my experience for most clients. You can see results much more quickly in less competitive industries or when you’re activating links for the first time. But generally, link building still isn’t a short-term win or fix. 

7. Links from websites that are closely related to your niche are most impactful when it comes to organic rankings

A hot topic of conversation over the last 12 months amongst the SEO and Digital PR community is the relevancy of links and to what extent this matters to organic search rankings. I wrote up some thoughts here on the topic and stated that I don’t think it’s a binary decision. With that in mind, when we asked respondents what attributes they felt led to the most impact for a link, those which are closely related to your niche came out on top.

What attributes of a link do you focus on when it comes to positively influencing organic search rankings?

 

For me, I think it’s about more than just the ranking value that a link can give. It’s about what else it can give you, whether that’s brand exposure, traffic or a new relationship. We need to start thinking beyond how much PageRank a link can give you. 

8. The most popular metric for measuring the quality/authority of a link is Domain Rating by Ahrefs

In 2020, we saw that Ahrefs was the most popular tool for link builders. This trend continued this year.

Do you use any of the following tools for link building purposes?

 

And alongside that, Domain Rating was also scored as the most popular metric that link builders used to measure the authority and trust of a link.

Do you use any metrics to measure the authority and/or quality of a link?

 

This was a change from 2020 which saw Domain Authority from Moz at number one, perhaps signalling a slight shift across the industry.

9. Most agencies do not offer a link guarantee, along with most not offering performance-based incentives for their work

This is an interesting one for those of us who work agency-side. The majority of agencies and freelancers who responded to the survey said that they do not offer any kind of guarantee on the links they build.

Do you offer your clients any kind of guarantee for link volumes or metrics?

 

Alongside this, the majority do not offer performance-based incentives for link building.

Do you provide any services on a performance-based model?

 

Aira falls into the majority on both fronts here, so I can understand this perspective well. Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve seen more and more talk of clients expecting agencies to put more skin in the game and have their fees tied directly to performance. I’m still sceptical of this in organic search but wouldn’t be surprised to see it become the norm with paid media in the coming years. 

10. Only 10% of agencies and freelancers said that they’d seen demand for link building decrease over the last 12 months

It goes without saying that the last year has been a tough one for many businesses, with agencies and freelancers (including us) feeling the effects of the pandemic. Despite this, the vast majority of agencies and freelancers have not seen demand for their link building services decrease:

Has demand for link building services changed over the last 12 months?

 

I hope that this is a sign of health for the SEO and digital marketing industry as a whole and that despite the difficulties we’ve all experienced over the last year, that we can come out stronger as an industry. 

11. The hardest industry to build links in is healthcare/pharma, whilst the easiest is leisure, sport or tourism

A new set of questions this year focused on asking about the hardest and easiest industries to build links in. We limited this question to just agencies and freelancers, with them saying that healthcare/pharma was the hardest to build links in.

Which of the following industries do you think are the hardest to build links in?

 

Whilst on the flip side, leisure, sport and tourism was seen as the easiest.

Which of the following industries do you think are the easiest to build links in?

 

Obviously, there is a lot of subjectivity at play here and sometimes, luck, but it is useful again to get a view on what people struggle with across the industry and demonstrates how hard link building can be. 

12. The most common budget levels for in-house SEOs is $1,000-$2,500 and $10,000-$25,000 per month

Another topic that isn’t talked about a whole lot online is budgets. Getting some benchmarks here both as an agency and in-house marketer is really useful and we saw a few budget levels being popular, with these as the top two.

How much budget do you invest in link building each month for external suppliers?

 

With that in mind, the distribution of other budget ranges wasn’t too far behind, especially if we keep in mind that the raw number of respondents here was lower than we’d have liked. 

13. Almost all in-house marketers expect their budget for link building to increase or remain the same over the next 12 months

Another good sign for the industry is that the majority of in-house marketers said that they expect their budgets to either remain the same or increase over the next 12 months.

Are you expecting this to increase, decrease or stay the same next year?

 

Personally, I think that we will see digital budgets increase and that the demand for services across multiple channels will increase massively in the coming years. More and more companies are realising that they may have an unhealthy reliance on Google and Facebook and want to spend more time spreading the load between more channels. 

If you want to check out the report in more detail, you can take a look here or you can download it here:

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