While link building methods such as the Skyscraper Technique get the most attention within SEO circles, it’s easy to forget about the tried and proven methods that are still working today.

Link building with referring domains as a guide is nothing new, but there are a few new tools and methods on the scene to help you uncover a goldmine of backlink opportunities.

In this article, you will learn everything there is to know about Referring Domains and their role in link-building.

What is a Referring Domain?

Referring domains are domains (i.e., websites) that are directing visitors to your website.

How is a Referring Domain Different from a Backlink?

Backlinks are URLs that direct people to your website.

Referring domains are domains that contain backlinks to your website (where the backlinks are coming from).

Backlinks are most often embedded in text, but occasionally a backlink will be embedded in an image, video, infographic, button or other page element.

An extremely high number of backlinks versus referring domains can signal a warning of negative SEO or black hat link building methods.

For example, when a site like www.example.com shows up with 1,000 backlinks to your website, www.example.com is the referring domain. 

The backlinks are external links located on that site with anchor text that leads back to your website. In this example, Google is probably going to give your website a smackdown, (a penalty) for violating Google’s Backlink Guidelines.

google and paid links

It seems suspicious that one domain alone has 1,000 backlinks to your website when, in the course of natural link building, one single domain will not contain so many backlinks to a single website. 

When there are too many backlinks coming from one domain, it looks like you might have paid to have so many backlinks placed—especially if the referring domain is poor quality or if the anchor text is exactly the same for all backlinks.

Can Referring Domains Benefit Link Building?

Yes, paying attention to referring domains can certainly help you with your link building.

Link building with a referring domain strategy will deliver valuable SEO results and expand your link building efforts beyond backlink competitor research—if it’s done correctly.

Websites at the top of the search results have backlinks from a variety of unique, high-value, relevant domains, and the referring domain method can help you get there.

In contrast to other methods, the referring domain method gives you the opportunity to build links that are likely to send referral traffic your way by utilizing content that already exists on your website. And there’s no need to look further than your own backlink profile for this.

How to Check Your Site’s Referring Domains

To check your website’s Referring Domains simply go to SEOptimer’s Backlink Research tool. Just add your website’s URL or any page on your website’s URL, our tool will show you a comprehensive list of SEO and backlink metrics.

To see the referring domains that are sending links to your website, click on the “Referring Domains” tab. 

backlink research tool referring domains

Here you will see a bunch of valuable data points such as:

  • Total Referring Domains to your website
  • The number of links from Homepages
  • The number of Dofollow Referring Domains
  • Gov and Edu domains

referring domains tab

For each Referring Domain, our Backlink Research Tool will show you the following:

  1. Domain Strength
  2. The Referring Domain
  3. Backlink Count
  4. Dofollow Count
  5. Date the link was First Seen

referring domains data

How to Use the Referring Domains Method to Uncover a Backlinks Goldmine

1. Export a Referring Domains Report and Evaluate

Log into Google Analytics and pull up the Referral Traffic report. Select a one-year date range.

referral report

Next, scrub the list. You’ll notice quite a few domains from different mobile versions of your own URL, some reporting errors and a few low-value directory sites.

Remember, you’re only looking for gold. Sort and filter all of the websites that are relevant to your industry or niche. 

Focus on trusted domains from news sites, established industry websites and other quality sites.

Backlink evaluation refresher:

  • SEOptimer Domain Strength shows the value of an overall website based on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being the best score possible. A domain strength between 40 to 50 is considered average, over 60 as good and below 30 as poor. Dump everything with a Domain Strength of 40 and below just to be safe.

2. Start with Referring Domains to Find Similar Sites

This step requires a bit of manual work since bulk downloads aren’t an option, yet. 

Perhaps there will be a tool to find similar sites and download all of the URLs. Until then, it’s time to go on a domain hunt.

Plug each valuable referring domain into SimilarWeb and record the results into your spreadsheet.


Keep the websites that have all of the characteristics of a high-value domain and ditch the rest. 

The size of your list is dependent on the amount of time spent searching for similar sites. There are over one billion websites online today. 

If you want to find 500 websites to pitch, you can do it, but it will take time.

Next step: Link building.

3. Choose Your Link Building Strategy

Not all link building is the same. 

Link building automation enthusiasts will bundle everything under one method, but in the age of personalization and high-value links, a custom approach will achieve the best long-term results.

Go back to your spreadsheet and label each site as a candidate for one of the following outreach strategies:

Guest posts: The site accepts guest posts or business listings.

Link bait: The site shares high-value information with its audience and your website has an infographic, video, image or resource they’ll find valuable.

Broken links: The secret to capturing links with the broken link building method is to scan a blog for broken links, not an entire site. Free options like BrokenLinkChecker and PowerMapper will work and Chrome has a “Check My Links” plugin.

broken links checker

Once you’ve labeled the sites according to the link building method, it’s time to go to work and drive more referral traffic to your website.

Modern Guest Blogging

When guest blogging was new on the scene, spamming pitches was very much a part of the process. The news sites and blog community tired of this method quickly, and the SEO community embraces a better method today.

Always follow these simple rules when pitching for a guest blog post:

  • See the submission guidelines. Always follow the website submission guidelines. Don’t pitch an author directly if the site clearly outlines contributor guidelines. No need to snoop through “Who is” to find out where to send your pitch; site owners that want guest blog posts make it easy to find their guidelines.
  • Personalize. Explain your reasoning behind the pitch; how will it help their audience?
  • Post on social media. Many bloggers and journalists are active on Twitter. Engage and follow them if you can, and promote their content if it falls within your niche.

You can learn more about this in our guest blogging guide

Remember, the purpose of your guest post is to encourage readers to click through a link and visit your website. If the site itself isn’t going to attract your target audience, skip it for now.

Link bait is the best shortcut to getting backlinks. 

Review your site and identify the top URLs that have assets that will bring value to industry blogs and news sites.

Reach out to the site owner or editor to let them know about the asset and explain how it will be helpful to their audience. 

As Eric Ward once said, “What many people call link bait, I call content.

If readers find your content helpful, they’ll click through to your website and your “link bait” will also serve as “referral bait.”

Broken Link Building

Broken link building is the most time-consuming process of the three, but it can help you reach your target audience on a site that doesn’t have a blog or guest authors. 

Save this method for the high-value sites that don’t give an option for guest blogging and give it your best shot.

If you don’t have time to put into this method, find someone who is qualified to execute it for you. 

The SEO community is full of freelancers who are willing to take one-off projects if you don’t have a dedicated SEO team. 

seo specialist on upwork

The referral traffic will be worth it in the long run, especially if the site is well-known within your industry or niche.

If you do outsource broken link building, make sure the person doing the outreach has an email address that matches your domain. No one wants to receive a pitch from wonderfulseodude@yahoo.com.


As you can see, the referring domains method to link building focuses on finding high-quality websites to place backlinks to your site.

It’s important that your website has a diverse link profile. To do this, you should focus on building more links from a broader range of referring domains, instead of trying to get multiple links from the same website.