If you’re reading this guide, chances are you searched for “contextual link building” on Google.

Maybe you’re an SEO professional trying to sharpen your skills. Perhaps you’re a  business owner looking for ways to increase your visibility. Maybe you’re just curious about the topic.

Whatever the case, we’ve got you covered.

In this blog post, we’ll define contextual link building, give some examples of how it’s been used effectively, and lay out 5 ideas for building contextual links yourself.

Let’s start with the basics.

To understand the concept of Contextual Links, we might need to compare it to old-school methods.

Back in the day, people would spam article directories, guest blog on irrelevant websites, and try to get whatever links they could. To be blunt, it was shady and not helpful to the reader.

But it worked. And people got away with it.

Then Google’s Penguin update came along and lit a fire under everyone’s butt.

Suddenly, mass link building wasn’t as effective. It was like the rules changed overnight (and Google made it clear that this type of strategy will get you penalized).

Google wants to provide the best experience for its users. And that means making sure the links people see are relevant to their search. Here’s an example of a contextual link:

example of a contextual link

As you can see, it’s talking about Moz’s Domain Authority metric, and links back to a specific article they have, talking about DA. 

Building contextual backlinks is a more natural approach to SEO and focuses on relevance and message-to-market match. It’s no longer about the links, but about context.

Contextual links can come in different forms. They can be found in some of the following ways:

External Links: like the example I shared earlier, this is where the link actually makes sense within the content, and the context in which it is situated – and it links externally, to another website. 

Internal Links: This is where the content on a website links back to other relevant pages, within the site itself. 

Inbound Links: This is when other websites link back to one of your pages. Just another way of saying “backlink”.

In terms of the tactics you can use to get contextual links:

  • Natural backlinks generally speaking, will always lead to contextual links, because people would only naturally link to something, if it makes sense within the article they are writing. 
  • Reciprocal links, also usually lead to contextual links, but, you do also need to be careful here. Sometimes if the context is forced, it won’t make much sense. 

It’s important to remember that contextual links can be gained in a variety of ways, and ultimately, as long as you have the right overarching strategy in place – you should be able to gain contextual links regardless of the tactic you use. 

Why Is Contextual Link Building Crucial?

To answer that question, we must ask ourselves: Why do backlinks matter?

Backlinks are one of the biggest ranking factors Google uses to determine a site’s relevance and authority.

How come?

Because they’re a measurement of trust.

A trustworthy dog site won’t probably link to a shady online pharmacy. But it might link to other trustworthy dog sites.

A great way to measure relevance is to look at a site’s backlink profile and try to find patterns in the sites linking to it.

Google looks at this information and determines how relevant pages and links are.

Multiple patents show how Google uses context and relevance to determine the quality of a site.

Some of the most important include:

  • Anchor text: The original PageRank patent that showed Google’s observation of anchor text relevance.
  • Reasonable Surfer: This patent shows how Google determines the number of clicks, page depth, and other factors when ranking sites.
  • Authority pages (also known as the Hilltop algorithm): This patent demonstrates that if a given page has been linked from multiple and relevant authority pages, that page itself will be seen as relevant.

Google is always improving its algorithms to better understand content.

And as a result, it’s becoming increasingly crucial to focus on the user experience and relevance to earn the coveted “in” spot in Google’s SERPs.

The question is: How can you actually build contextual backlinks?

You must focus on a few key elements…

Enhance User Experience (UX)

Contextual links are really just another element used to improve user experience. By linking from one content piece to another piece of content, that website is providing further and deeper information, about a specific topic or point they’ve just made. 

In fact, before search engines like Google were a thing, it was one of the only ways for people to find more and more information about a topic. They would start with one informational source, and then use links, to read deeper into a topic. 

Brand Awareness and Referral Traffic

If you’re linked in the right websites, and content pieces, this will eventually lead to some referral traffic and brand awareness. The audience of those sites will see your brand being linked to, and will either click through to find out more about brand and/or content piece – or at the very least will just remember your brand or product being mentioned. 

In fact, this actually happened to us, when I was quoted in an American Express article some years back via my old brand.

contextual backlink from American Express

A potential client was reading an article at the time, and clicked through to find out more. They booked a call, and we ended up working together for over 3 years! 

Not all contextual links are created equal.

Now that you understand the basics, you need to know how to improve your backlink building efforts.

That means understanding the different types of relevance associated with contextual links:

1st-Degree: Relevant Paragraph, Broad Topic

1st degree contextual link building

In this scenario, you have a relevant link in a relevant paragraph, but the content surrounding it talks about a wider topic.

For instance, let’s say you’re promoting a dog collar brand. You stumble upon an article named “10 Gifts for Valentine’s Day.”

In one paragraph, the author suggests that, if your partner is a dog owner, you could give them a dog collar.

If your brand is mentioned in that particular paragraph, we could say it’s a 1st-degree backlink.

2nd-Degree: Relevant Article, Not As Relevant Website

2nd degree contextual link building

In a 2nd degree scenario, you get a link from an industry-relevant article, but the website itself isn’t as relevant. 

For example, let’s say you’re a fitness coach trying to get some exposure.

A local newspaper publishes an article named “Top 10 fitness coaches in Tennessee.”

If you get a link from that article, we could say it’s a 2nd-degree. 

3rd-Degree: Relevant Article, Relevant Website

3rd degree contextual link building

This is what you should strive for: An article on a relevant site with a relevant topic.

Of course, you can’t always get his type of link. But, if you do, it’ll give you a massive edge.

3rd-degree backlinks not only boost your rankings, but also attract quality prospects to your site.

Many agencies focus too much on PageRank, Domain Authority, and other SEO metrics, but forget the most important of them all: Message-to-Market Match.

In other words, will the link drive relevant traffic, or is there a high degree of relevance to your site?

If you base your efforts on that question, you’ll see much better results, even if you don’t get a link from a high-ranking site.

Nuances of Contextual Linking

In addition to the different degrees of relevance in contextual linking, many relevancy factors impact within them as well.

For example, you may get a link on a website that doesn’t seem to have your target market. However, the article, the right link, and the right context could drive clicks and even potential customers.

At TLG, we had such an instance with a client in the logistics industry.

We had set up tracking to determine where organic inquiries clicked through from. We expected all our clicks to come from the UK. However, we were also getting clicks from mainland Europe

You may surprise yourself and discover a new target audience when you take a closer look at the context of your links.

At this point, you now understand the theory behind contextual link building. Now it’s time to step into the practical information.

Here are five ideas you can use to develop a solid contextual links strategy.

1. Define What Success Means to You

What are your goals, and what’s the best way to achieve them?

Do you want to increase your brand awareness? Get more qualified traffic? Improve conversions?

For example, you might want to attract fewer leads who are earlier in the buying cycle.

That means you’ll need to develop a different strategy than someone who wants more traffic or conversions.

Building links now is much more than just SEO. It’s about developing a digital marketing strategy that integrates search, content, and social media.

It’s about building the right type of relationships to help your business grow.

Before you even start looking for opportunities, you need to decide what the ultimate goal is.

2. Identify Your Assets and Prioritize Your Efforts

Perform an audit of your website and identify the most valuable content.

  • What posts have performed well?
  • Which posts have attracted a lot of engagement through shares and comments?
  • Which pieces have the most backlinks?
  • What patterns can you identify?

Once you know the answers to these questions, you should prioritize your assets based on their current relevance.

Tools like Ahrefs and SEMRush can help you with this process.

You must also consider the ROI of each opportunity. Just because something takes a lot of time doesn’t mean it’s worth your while.

For example, a link from the New York Times would be great, but it’s also going to be very difficult to get.

On the other hand, a link from a relevant, high-quality site in your industry is much easier to obtain and could have a similar impact. Even if the ‘overall authority’ or traffic level isn’t as high as NYT, you do also need to think about the relevancy of that traffic, and most importantly, from an SEO perspective – how search engines like Google attribute value to a link that is more contextual.

Think of it this way: If you had to choose between the two, which one would you rather have?

3. Focus on Providing Value

Remember; link building is about building genuine relationships and providing value to your target audience.

Instead of focusing on backlinks, focus on creating good content.

Instead of sending massive email blasts, personalize each pitch.

Instead of trying to build a massive list of prospects, focus on fewer but more qualified leads.

This might sound a bit counterintuitive, but the results will be amazing.

By shifting your focus from backlinks to providing value, you’ll have a much easier time getting your content shared and recommended, and also building lins from exactly the kind of sites you want.

You might not get the link right away, but that’s OK. 

You’ll build a strong reputation for your brand, which could also help you acquire new customers, or build relationships outside of just links. 

On top of that, the feedback you get from your outreach can help inform your overall link strategy – either showing you how to change up your approach, or to direct you towards finding new link opportunities.

For example, we were working with an eCommerce client, where we were trying to get links from tattoo studios. 

However, early on we realized this was a sector that probably was not marketed much to, and very unfamiliar with the concept of allowing guest content, and links. Here’s an example below of a tattoo studio owner who was confused.

tattoo studio link building example

But, this was a good learning experience for our team – it taught us to approach the sector with a different tack. 

And on the next round of outreach, we used much simpler, mindful language, and clarify before we made assumptions.

4. Use Link Baiting

Link baiting is the process of producing content with the sole purpose of attracting natural links.

For instance, you could create a list of industry-relevant stats. This way, whenever a blogger or editor needs to back up their claims, they could use your piece as a source.

You could also create a guide, checklist, or infographic. All of these content types work well because they add value to the reader’s life and make for good link baits.

You could even combine several of these types into a single piece.

For example, you could create an infographic on the most recent project management stats.  This way, you’ll attract links and social shares.

You’ll also end up with a content piece that’s good for PR and lead generation.

5. Create Guest Posts that Offer a Fresh Perspective

Guest blogging is as old as the hills, but it still works in securing contextual links

First, guest blogging provides you with a hyper-targeted approach to link building. Since you can hand-pick your targets, you can attract links from sites in the same niche.

Second, writing the content yourself allows you to add context to the link you’re trying to build.

Many bloggers shy away from this technique because so many people do it these days — including those who don’t add value to their target audience.

Here’s the thing: you can still do it effectively as long as you provide a unique angle to a popular topic.

For instance, you could give your take on a piece of news or add some data from your company’s research.

Publications always appreciate a fresh perspective.

The key is to do something different.

6. Leveraging Interviews and Podcasts

What better way to build contextual links, than to do niche-relevant interviews and podcasts?

Not only does it help you build up some brand awareness in your industry or a related sector, but the interview will often get published on their website, along with show notes and a backlink to your site. 

While looking for podcasts with a high authority domain could be one focus, don’t ignore the smaller podcasts with a more moderate following – its still contextual and their podcast, and website could grow with time. 

Here’s an example of a podcast episode on Majestic, which was shared across the major podcast platforms, and was published on the blog, along with a transcript and backlink.

Leveraging interviews and podcasts to gain contextual backlinks

After Google’s Helpful Content update, this is an especially useful tactic, as brands try to find ways to make their content more expert-driven and people-first

7. Broken Link Building

Broken links within your niche are a great tactic you can leverage, when you have a suitable replacement to share. 

The key thing is that you are able to match the context of that broken link closely enough, where they can justify linking to you. 

The process is straightforward:

  1. Find high quality sites within your niche who you know have a large backlink profile, and look through their broken links, using a tool like Semrush or Ahrefs. The “Best by Links” feature in Ahrefs can do this, and if you filter for “404 Not Found”, it’ll show their pages which  no longer exist, but that still have inbound links. 
using broken links to get contextual backlinks
  1. Find a content piece which aligns with something you think you have, and then look at it using Wayback Machine, just so you can see what content used to be on the page. Ensure your piece is as valuable, and preferably, even better than theirs used to be. 
  2. Go back to that opportunity in the first step, download the list of backlinks and after filtering out junk links – reach out to those opportunities with your content piece, and ask them to replace their existing broken link with your link. 

This has a relatively high success rate and will yield some really contextual links. But most of your time will be in the first step, ensuring you can find a dead content piece with a lot of links. 

For Modern Search Engines, the Rule of the Game Is Context

If you want to stand out, you need high quality contextual backlinks that make sense. That is, links that people will click on and enjoy.

Instead of obsessing about domain authority and other metrics, you should focus on providing value and interesting content.

That’s the only way to attract contextual links in a way that Google will appreciate. It’s also the only way to build higher search rankings and a solid brand in the long run.

Manual outreach is key when you want to get truly contextually relevant, and niche relevant backlinks. 

And this doesn’t mean manually outreaching to sites on a predefined list and asking them to pigeon-hole a link (yes unfortunately some agencies are selling manual outreach link building as this!)

What we mean, is building relationships with appropriate sites that are covering, or have an appetite for content, which aligns with ours. 

But how can we do this?

Master Personalized Outreach

So this comes with a confession. Manual outreach isn’t about doing the entire campaign by hand without any tools. By all means, use tools to speed up and streamline parts of the process. 

But the core essence of manual outreach, is that it needs to have a personalized approach at its core. This is why it’s hard to scale up link building to a huge volume, without causing a loss of quality. 

So what is a truly personalized outreach and link building approach? 

Here are the main tips:

  • While you can speed things up with segmented templates and using an outreach system like Pitchbox, you will also need to apply some personalization in your pitches as well, rather than simply blasting out a catch-all template. 
  • Manual outreach is less scalable VS automated outreach: Because it takes more time to do and it requires creative elements by a human. 
  • When it comes to the really high quality sites (such as large businesses or large editorials in your industry), a manual approach will really pay off, as the recipient of the email is savvy to link building emails, and will know if someone is being genuine about sharing good content, and if they’ve done their research. 
  • Even at the prospecting level, having a manual approach plays a part. You need to go through sites with a fine tooth comb. It’s not just about passing lists through a tool because it passes arbitrary SEO metric numbers – its about determining if the site/content is contextually relevant for that campaign, and categorizing it into the appropriate bucket of targets. 

Partnerships with Content Curators

People in your industry who curate industry content, are also a really good source of contextually relevant links. This also requires more of a manual approach, and would be more like networking – but once you have the connection established, is can really pay off later. 

For example, SE Roundtable, run by Barry Schwartz, shared my interview on RankRanger/SimilarWeb on their industry roundup as shown below.

partnerships with content curators to get contextual backlinks

We actually got this naturally, but if you can proactively connect with content curators, establish a relationship, and show them the content you’ve been working on, it’ll not only help from a link building perspective, but help drive some brand awareness, lead to social shares and open the door to other business opportunities.

Depending on how high-value the content curator is, you may even want to cement the relationship further by jumping on a call with them to talk shop, or meeting them at an industry conference if one happens to be coming up.

Analyzing Link Quality and Relevance

We have covered a number of ways in which you can measure the quality of a link opportunity using the right link building metrics. That helps when you need to filter down the lists at the prospecting level. 

On top of that, a metric like Topical Trust Flow (TTF) from Majestic can help you gain insights on the topical category a link falls under, and that enables you to measure if the links you’re collecting (and getting backlinks from), are niche/contextually-relevant and how contextual your campaigns are overall. 

It’s important to note though, that as long as your campaigns are constructed in the right way at the foundation, this should lead to contextual links anyway. But metrics like TTF are really useful when you’re analyzing a competitor’s links and you need to understand from that data, if there is some kind of contextual makeup you need to match. 

In this example below, we analyzed some competitors and saw that one particularly successful competitor had an abundance of links in one particular TTF category. 

Tracking Referral Traffic and User Engagement

Another area where you’ll see some impact is the user engagement with these types of contextual links, and the referral traffic that can click through. Now, it’s important to note that you may not always get a lot of click through traffic from your backlinks. 

But the chances of getting any clicks and direct user engagement, is highly increased when the context is there. 

Put it this way. Imagine you’re a real estate company who simply did link exchanges with SaaS sites  – and compare that to if you were getting links from moving companies, storage facilities and home improvement sites? The difference can be stark. 

Here’s an example where a couple of very well placed links actually led to referral traffic (and even direct sales!). Not huge amounts by any means, but every little bit adds up. 

Contextual link building – i.e. securing contextual links on relevant content, on relevant websites – is ultimately going to require an agency that takes a quality, and personalized approach. 

Getting a truly contextual backlink that will most effectively drive higher search engines rankings, regardless of it being via guest posting, analyzing competitors backlinks, or whatever else – has to be about building out a strategy with context at the core of everything. Without that, you are simply building links based on arbitrary numbers or metrics, in the hope it leads to something. 

That’s where an agency like TLG can help build more contextual links, where many others cannot. 

It requires a much more thoughtful, client-centric and arguably, labor-intensive approach to link building which a lot of agencies are not willing to do, because (quite frankly), it’s too hard. And when link building becomes hard, it will eat into margins and requires a stronger team in place to execute. 

That’s where TLG’s  is different – we do things the hard way, because it’s the right way to build links and get top search rankings on Google & other search engines