The Ultimate Guide to Building Backlinks That Drive Massive Referral Traffic in 2024

Not all backlinks are created equal. While any relevant, authoritative link pointing to your site can help boost your SEO, the reality is that the vast majority of links don‘t directly send any traffic.

In fact, an analysis of referring domains vs. referral traffic to leading sites like Search Engine Journal found that less than 1% of their 30,000+ backlinks were driving visitors!

So what separates the link-building winners from the losers in 2024? Two words: referral traffic.

By focusing your link acquisition efforts on the small subset of opportunities that have the potential to drive real users to your site, you can maximize the ROI of your link building investment. You‘ll not only improve your search rankings over time, but start generating meaningful referral visits from day one.

Here‘s a step-by-step framework you can follow to build a backlink profile that pulls its weight in both SEO and traffic value:

Step 1: Identify Referral Traffic Goldmines in Your Niche

Start by putting together a list of domains that are currently sending referral traffic to your top organic search competitors. Tools like Ahrefs, SEMrush and SimilarWeb all have "Referral Traffic" reports that allow you to plug in a domain and see its top referring sites.

For example, here‘s a screenshot from Ahrefs showing some of the domains sending the most referral traffic to

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Export all the relevant referring domains you can find into a spreadsheet. These are your initial link prospects to investigate further.

Step 2: Identify the Exact Pages Driving Traffic to Competitors

Next, you‘ll need to drill down and find the specific pages on those domains that contain the actual links driving traffic to your competitors.

In Ahrefs, you can do this by searching for a domain right inside the Backlinks report, which will then show you all the pages on that site that are linking to your target.

The key metrics to look at are the "Traffic" and "Referring Domains" columns, which give you a sense of how much search traffic the page itself gets, and how authoritative it is based on its own backlink profile.

Add these high-potential pages to your spreadsheet, along with key metrics pulled from the Batch Analysis tool. This will allow you to quickly sort and prioritize your list based on estimated traffic value.

Step 3: Evaluate Page-Level Engagement Metrics

Beyond estimating raw referral traffic potential based on total visits to a linking page, it‘s important to get a sense of how engaged that traffic is. After all, if a site gets millions of visitors but they only spend a few seconds on the page, they‘re unlikely to click on any outbound links!

Key user engagement metrics to consider include:

  • Average time on page
  • Average pages per session
  • Bounce rate
  • Number of comments/social shares on the page

You can find this data using tools, or simply browse around your target sites to get a "feel" for how active and engaged the audience seems to be. The more on-site activity you see, the higher the odds of any given visitor clicking on your link.

Step 4: Prioritize "Linkable Asset" Content for Outreach

While almost any page could be updated to include your link, your conversion rates will be much higher if you focus on reaching out to pages that are likely to be updated regularly.

These include:

  • Resource pages that curate helpful links on a topic
  • List posts that are likely to be expanded over time
  • Long-form ultimate guides that are periodically refreshed
  • Pages authored by employees of the company who can edit them easily

People are much more receptive to link requests that align with the existing purpose of the page and the cadence of how it‘s maintained. A one-off blog post from five years ago will be a tougher sell than an annually-updated list of resources.

Step 5: Focus on Building Relationships, Not Just Links

With your prospect list in hand, it‘s time to start outreach. But before you hit "send" on that first email, make sure you‘re reaching out to the right person in the right way.

Whenever possible, try to establish a prior connection with the page author or site owner via social media, blog comments, etc. People are far more likely to respond positively to a request from someone they recognize vs. a total stranger.

You‘ll also want to prioritize personalization over volume in your outreach approach. Sending 10 highly-customized emails is better than blasting 100 generic ones.

And rather than begging for links, focus on offering a value exchange. This could include:

  • Offering to cross-promote their content to your audience
  • Inviting them to participate in a roundup, interview, or expert quote
  • Giving them early access to a free course, tool or other resource

By making your "ask" mutually beneficial, you‘ll boost your chances of success while building real relationships vs. burning bridges.

The Bottom Line

Building backlinks that drive referral traffic requires more time and effort than simply aiming for raw link quantity. But by being strategic in your approach, the payoff can be huge – think higher conversion rates, lower bounce rates, and improved engagement from visitors coming through those links.

While SEO shouldn‘t be ignored, adopting a "referral first" mindset will ultimately lead to a more authoritative, sustainable and diversified backlink profile for your site.

So before pursuing any link opportunity, always ask yourself: "is this a link that real people will actually click on?"

If the answer is yes, go after it with gusto! The referral traffic will follow.

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