What Are Earned Links & How Do They Help Your SEO? (10+ Tips)

What Are Earned Links & How Do They Help Your SEO? (10+ Tips)

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Earned links are the holy grail type of backlinks when it comes to SEO link building.

They are “earned” because your content was so valuable someone decided to link to it, over any other possible webpage they could have linked to. Without you paying or doing outreach.

On top of that, Google also loves earned links, as they demonstrate your authority and credibility as a source.

Some acquire backlinks through white hat techniques, such as guest blogging, journalist outreach, and digital PR. 

Others engage in black hat techniques like link selling, private blog networks (PBNs), and link spam. A big no-no in SEO!

Understand that not all backlinks built are equal. 

Some can help your SEO; others can harm it. 

But when it comes to link building, earned links are the holy grail.

This page tackles everything you need to know about earned links. We’ll cover the following:

  • What are earned links, exactly? How they work, why Google likes them, and how they’re “earned”.
  • 5 Biggest earned links benefits when it comes to SEO.
  • 10+ Proven tips to start building earned links today (with real examples).

What Are Earned Backlinks and How Do They Work?

Earned backlinks are self-explanatory on a surface level – links earned from other websites. 

However, they aren’t links you pay, trade, or ask for. 

Websites link to you because your content pieces are relevant and valuable to them or their audiences. 

That’s how you earn them!

That said, there’s a line drawn between link building and earning.

Here’s the difference between the two:

  • Link building entails a deliberate approach to securing backlinks from other websites. Think of intentional guest posting, niche edits (broken linking and link reclamation), and business listings. 
  • Earned links involve earning good backlinks from other sites due to the content relevancy and value you offer. However, it’s not an intentional approach since the focus is on creating high-quality content pieces. 

That said, not all links are created equal.

Regardless if you’re doing outreach link building or aiming for earned links through quality content – what matters is that the links are coming from a reputable, good website.

What makes a good backlink, then? 

Take it from Google’s John Mueller:

“The traditional good link is someone who comes across your website and thinks it’s a fantastic website and recommends it to other people with a link.”

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In other words, people link to your content because it’s interesting and helpful. That’s how you earn good links!

Mueller, however, argues that he doesn’t build links; he earns them

The message is crystal clear: 

You don’t chase for backlinks by begging for links from various industry websites and online publications. 

Instead, with earned links, you promote your content pieces to them in hopes they’ll link back to you.

Let’s take a look at how earned links work in practice below, before covering their benefits and best practices.

How are links ‘earned’?

An earned backlink typically happens naturally

This means that people love your content and link to its web page. You didn’t ask for it or, worse, pay for it!

So, how do you earn SEO backlinks?

You produce and publish content that is:

  • Educational: Adds value by informing the reader through information they didn’t know about before. E.g. “Effective time management guide for freelancers”
  • Inspirational: Inspires the reader to take action or change their mindset. E.g. “Going from adversity to triumph: stories of resilience and success.”
  • Informational: Offers practical, helpful, and insightful information. Other sites might use this as a credible source to show how to take action on a certain topic. E.g. “Health benefits of these daily supplements.”
  • Entertaining: Content that’s interesting, appealing, or simply enjoyable to read. E.g. “The funniest moments from real historical events.”

Look at this kind of content as “journalist bait”, high-quality content that is created to attract the attention of bloggers and journalists.

Some examples of link bait content include:

  • Well-designed infographics.
  • Original studies.
  • Data analysis.
  • Statistics compilations.
  • Listicles.
  • Unique findings.
  • Trends and predictions.
  • Ultimate guides.
  • Yearly recaps.
  • And more.

People link to this kind of content for two reasons:

  • They serve as credible sources.
  • They provide additional resources.

When it comes to infographics, for example, journalists love to link to them and re-use them in media publications. For example, this one that got picked up by CBSNews.

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Keep in mind, link building is still relevant when it comes to SEO.

And earned links are one of the best types of backlinks you can build.

Why’s that? 

In addition to other websites linking back to you (often, without you doing anything)…

Search engine algorithms also highly favor earned links and consider them to be the safest and best types of backlinks.

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They tell Google that people naturally link to these content pieces because they offer real value. 

Hence, they deserve higher rankings on the search engine results pages (SERP).

Now, let’s take a look at what earned links mean for you as a website owner.

5 Biggest SEO Benefits Of Building Earned Links

When you first start with link building, the goal is to build your foundation links

But if you want long-term, stable success, earned links are the way to go as you gain access to benefits such as:

  • Being safe and future-proof.
  • More affordable compared to other SEO tactics.
  • Demonstrating experience, expertise, authority, and trust.
  • Establishing website authority and social proof.
  • Increasing site traffic and web presence.

1. They are safe and future-proof

Earned links stand out as the safest, future-proof strategy when it comes to SEO link building.

Unlike purchased or manipulative tactics, earned links are a testament to your credibility and the value your content provides.

This is why search engines prioritize organic growth. And by constantly earning links through quality content and real engagement, you start building a foundation of trust, in the eyes of the search engine.

This not only ensures the safety of your SEO efforts, but also positions your website for long-term success.

As algorithm changes continue to prioritize user experience and authentic interactions, your earned links become a strategic asset, safeguarding your online presence against algorithm changes and future updates.

2. They are affordable and results-oriented

Unlike pricier outreach strategies which involve prospecting and email tools, earned links offer a budget-friendly alternative.

Keep in mind, creating high-quality content can still be expensive. Especially if you work with writers and also invest in promotion.

But compared to other SEO tactics, you can still come out cheaper, without compromising on effectiveness. 

Here are a few practical ways you can approach earned links while still keeping things affordable and results-oriented:

  • Create content as an industry expert yourself.
  • Consider what information your target audience would like to know and why you’re the best person to tell it.
  • Look into keyword research and trending topics to capitalize on what people are looking for.
  • Invest in building relationships with media experts or publications within your niche.
  • Use HARO for link building and PR and answer journalist queries so that they can link to you or feature you in media publications.
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3. They demonstrate E.E.A.T.

Earned backlinks are a reflection of quality content pieces. 

They tell Google and search engines that these pieces are credible and authoritative. They show them that they are valuable to relevant web users.

High-quality content pieces stem from Google’s E.E.A.T guidelines (experience, expertise, authority, and trust). 

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This acknowledgment signals to search engines the value your content provides to web users.

That’s through:

  • Organic endorsements: Earned links from other websites that find your content valuable.
  • Credibility and trust: Reputable sites linking to you without prompting.
  • Diverse link profile: Links coming from various sources that use different anchor text.

4. They establish website and social proof

Looking to become a thought leader in your industry? 

Earned backlinks contribute to your website authority as well as social proof for being an expert.

When authoritative industry publications, influential blogs, and reputable social media accounts create content, it’s common to see them feature and showcase relevant experts.

This is a win-win situation because experts improve said content, while also leveraging the audiences of those media web pages.

In turn, this sends a powerful signal to both search engines and your audience that your website is a reliable and authoritative source of information.

This then validates your credibility, allowing you to attract an even wider audience.

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5. They increase site traffic and overall web presence

Finally, if done right, earned links can also help boost website traffic.

Here’s how this works:

  • If you get featured in a big media publication with a link to your website or article, their readers might get interested to learn more about you. This lands you referral traffic from their site to you.
  • With enough earned links from big-name websites, your domain authority (DA) increases, which makes you more likely to rank for harder keywords.
  • Finally, by getting your name out there, you’re also likely to expand your network and partnerships. Making you more likely to connect with other businesses, influencers, or industry leaders.

11 Tips To Start Building Earned Links Today (With Examples)

Link building usually involves implementing strategy, measuring link metrics, tracking performance, and so on.

However, earned backlinks are not asked, paid, or traded for. 

So, how do you obtain earned links then?

Here’s an overview:

  1. Create content that’s actually valuable.
  2. Diversify your content pieces.
  3. Produce and publish linkable assets.
  4. Create interactive or engaging content pages.
  5. Share your content and make sure the right people see it.
  6. Collaborate with other thought leaders in your industry to increase your reach.
  7. Request earned links for brand mentions.
  8. Submit guest posts.
  9. Send out press releases (PR).
  10. Connect and develop journalist relationships.
  11. Leverage HARO (now Connectively) to build earned links.

1. Create and post quality content

How do you earn backlinks over time? 

The whole idea is to provide relevant web users with what they need. 

Quality content is key here.

Typically, quality content isn’t something you can write up in a few hours with AI or overnight.

To craft a great content, Google guidelines recommend the following:

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Further, Google Search Central recommends producing helpful, reliable, people-first content. 

To ensure this, focus on people-first content and ask the following questions:

  • Does your content provide original information, reporting, research, or analysis?
  • Does it provide a substantial, complete, or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Does it provide insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond the obvious?

So, when creating this kind of content, take into consideration your:

  • Personal experience.
  • Unique processes.
  • Original data.
  • Or otherwise, information you might have access to but not everyone does.

2. Diversify your content pieces

Content isn’t solely confined to written articles published on your blog. 

They come in different types. 

To start building earned links, consider switching up your content pieces across:

  • Text: Write articles with relevant topics for your target audience. How-to posts, listicles, FAQs, and product reviews resonate well with people.
  • Audio: Create audio clips to aid people in consuming visual content. Think of how this format can benefit those who are visually impaired.
  • Video: Produce video clips, whether educational, promotional, or educational. They are the most effective, compelling, and memorable among all types.
  • Images: Post striking images, such as product photos, industry infographics, and other visual content. They can make your content visually appealing and easy to read.

Put yourself in the shoes of someone looking up a query on a search engine.

Chances are, they’re not always looking for an article, and they might be looking for a step-by-step video.

By diversifying your content, you’re more likely to satisfy that search intent better.

Here’s what Google guideline says on the topic.

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3. Produce and publish linkable assets

Linkable assets consist of high-quality content pieces people would love to link to. 

Ask yourself: Which article is someone more likely to link to?

  • “Basic tips for daily time management.”
  • “7 science-backed strategies CEOs use to achieve work-life balance and hit deadlines.”

Obviously, the latter, right?

Because it’s more research-driven, original, and most likely – higher quality too.

Other examples of linkable assets to build earned links include:

  • Infographics: Convey complex ideas into simple illustrations like infographics. Think of images, charts, graphs, and other visual elements best for busy web users.
  • Industry statistics: Research niche data and create a list of industry statistics. They serve as credible sources for individuals and businesses in your industry.
  • Resource page: Compile key information your users might need in one place. Resource pages can easily and quickly provide answers to your site visitors.
  • Ebooks and whitepaper: Produce comprehensive content backed by industry statistics and real case studies. Ebooks and whitepapers can help industry-related businesses learn best practices and optimize operations.
  • Case studies: Show how your business provides quality services and helps clients meet their objectives with data. They appeal to digital marketers, content writers, and companies or organizations.

4. Create interactive or engaging content

This is another way to go beyond basic, surface-level text content.

Interactive content is any content type that encourages user participation. 

Not only do they convey a message and offer value, but these pieces also drive engagement. 

Journalists also happen to love to link to them, when creating articles around that topic.

Here are a few examples of interactive content:

  • Surveys and polls: Publish interesting or controversial content and get customer feedback through surveys and polls.
  • Quizzes and assessments: Provide your users and clients with informational content and gauge their understanding through quizzes and assessments.
  • Interactive infographics: Offer your target audiences industry data; however, encourage participation for long-term engagement.
  • Flipbooks or ebooks: Upgrade your ebooks by allowing users to flip the pages. They’ll most likely engage with and link to your content.
  • Calculators and tools: Create content with helpful tools on the side to help your users. The mortgage calculator below used for aspiring borrowers is a perfect example:
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5. Share and promote your content

Once you’ve created original content, you need to make sure the right people see it.

Otherwise, it might be hard to build links.

Producing and publishing content is one thing; sharing and promoting them is another. 

You don’t just sit there waiting for your target audience to view your content. You can get your content in front of the right people to build earned links through:

  • Email outreach: Reach out to both your prospective and existing customers. Provide them with relevant and valuable information, like industry trends, product updates, and company announcements.
  • Social media channels: Harness the power of social media where people live and breathe. Share your content on Facebook, post on LinkedIn with links to your content, and earn YouTube backlinks.
  • Pay-per-click (PPC): Display PPC ads on Google SERP, social media, and other websites. However, include CTAs with links to your web pages. People might visit your blog and share your content pieces.
  • Online forums and communities: Share your ideas on relevant online channels with links to your valuable content to support your claim. Think of participating in online forums like Quora.

Keep in mind, the idea here is to promote your content so the right people see it.

Display PPC ads, for example, do not directly impact your organic search rankings on their own.

6. Collaborate with industry thought leaders

By aligning your brand with recognized experts, you can tap into their existing networks and gaine exposure within your target audience.

  1. Identify key figures who are respected for their insights and expertise.
  2. Reach out for potential collaboration, such as co-authoring whitepapers, join webinars, or participating in industry events together.
  3. Implement cross-promotion strategies, where both your brand and thought leaders promote the co-created content together to amplify the reach.

This can be a great approach for earned links as your collaborative efforts become a holistic approach to establishing authority, fostering relationships, and naturally attracting backlinks.

7. Request links for brand mentions

Unlinked brand mentions are when a publication or a blog writes the name of a brand but doesn’t hyperlink it back to the brand’s website.

For example, in this blog post, HubSpot mentions hunter.io as a tool to get their emails, but they haven’t linked to the website.

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If someone mentions your brand name, typically, you’ll want them to link to you.

In this case, a backlink from HubSpot would be huge.

So, to reclaim unlinked mentions you could:

  1. Find unlinked brand mentions by monitoring your brand name through Google Alerts.
  2. Monitor new mentions through SEO tools like Ahrefs.
  3. Or, scrape sites that mention your brand and create an email outreach campaign targeting the right person who could make those changes.

See how Hunter.io managed to build 53 authority links through targeting unlinked mentions using Ahrefs.

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8. Submit guest posts

Guest blogging is the most popular white hat link-building technique. 

But of course, this article is about link earning, not building

So, how can you draw the line between the two?

In essence, link building entails contacting websites for guest-blogging opportunities to secure backlinks. As mentioned, some even go as far as paying for these links. 

Meanwhile, link earning is about providing sites with quality content for their audiences through guest posting.

But combining everything we’ve covered above, it’s important to create guest posts that are high-quality, unique, and/or experience-driven. And not something that could be written by AI.

For example, here’s a long-form guest post on HubSpot about LinkedIn social selling index, that covers everything you need to know about the topic and 37 extra tips.

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9. Send press releases (PR)

If your content is actually newsworthy, consider PR.

Sending out press releases can be a powerful way to attract attention and earn valuable links in media publications.

If your business your business achieves something noteworthy, a well-crafted press release can generate interest from journalists, bloggers, and other outlets.

This, in turn, can lead to PR links as they share your news.

Crafting a PR campaign can be an entirely different guide on its own, but typically the steps include:

  1. Crafting a compelling story and identifying the newsworthiness.
  2. Creating a captivating headline and a strong angle.
  3. Getting it in front of the right, targeted media list.

Alternatively, you can also use HARO for link building and PR.

10. Connect and develop journalist relationships

A lot of marketing and PR (and earned links as an extension) are based on built relationships.

Developing strong connections with reporters, editors, and influencers in your industry can make your outreach more effective.

Here’s how to build and leverage your relationship with journalists for PR and earned links:

  1. Research and identify key journalists in your niche: Identify journalists who cover topics related to you, research their work, and the type of stories they typically cover.
  2. Engage and build a connection: It’s always going to be harder to cold approach someone, compared to having an established connection. LinkedIn or Twitter can work well.
  3. Personalize your outreach and provide value: Before doing outreach, demonstrate you’ve done your homework. Reference specific articles they’ve covered, and explain why your news aligns with their interests. Share relevant industry insights and offer to be a resource that they can’t get anywhere else. This will highly increase the chances of your pitch being considered. 
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For example, with HARO, you get emails from journalists looking to create certain types of content across different niches.

While not all of them will publish your replies, it’s a good idea to note down the name, email, publications, and the kinds of content journalists typically publish nonetheless.

This way, in the future, you’ll be able to contact them directly if you have something of relevance.

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11. Leverage HARO (now Connectively)

We’ve mentioned HARO (now Connectively) before, but as it stands, the platform is one of the best ways to build earned links.

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Here’s how it works:

  1. You sign up for HARO (Help A Reporter Out), which is slowly being rebranded into Connectively. Create your profile based on your subject matter expertise.
  2. Search for and receive relevant queries related to your industry, expertise, or personal experience.
  3. Start pitching your queries, based on the journalists’ questions, with any specified requirements as needed.

For example, in a journalist query, someone might be working on an article exploring the impact of remote work on employee productivity.

To make the article more valuable for the reader, let’s assume they’re looking for insights from HR professionals or business leaders who have implemented remote work-friendly policies.

More specifically, they’d like to know about challenges faced, strategies to maintain productivity, and any benefits observed.

In your reply to the query, you’d want to include your job role, company, your experience with implementing a remote work model and its impact. To make your pitch stand out, you’d also want to include:

  • What specific challenges you faced (e.g. effective communication and collaboration).
  • How you overcame those (e.g. implement regular virtual check-ins and embraced collaboration tools like Slack and Zoom).
  • Its impact on productivity (e.g. more flexible, higher job satisfaction, lower burnout, etc.).

To make your pitch stand out, also consider using:

  • Quantifiable data.
  • Numbers.
  • Measurable achievements or accomplishments.
  • Unique, experience-driven insights.
  • And so on.

Is white hat link building right for you?

See our whitehat process and find the 30-second quiz here for more info!

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Final Words

To recap, earned links are one of the best ways to grow your SEO efforts.

But the benefits go beyond that, as the above tips also help develop your overall online presence – leading to an increase in web traffic, better social proof, and brand visibility.

As far as SEO is concerned, earned links are also one of the safest and best long-term solutions when it comes to link building.

Ready to boost your traffic and authority through earned links?

Learn more about our whitehat process and find our free 30-second quiz here!

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