Linkbuilding for Dev Tools

Dino Kukic

May 7, 2024

Building backlinks must be one of the sketchiest parts of digital marketing and for a few obvious reasons we tend to not talk about it.

backlinks high da dr

The impact is often indirect and working in growth means you may be responsible for bringing signups, MQLs, pipeline, revenue or alike. To get there, first you need to be sure whether organic traffic brings any of that in order to be worrying whether backlinks help you with higher rankings and organic traffic. But, a backlink or two does help and many dev tools did (and still do) see success coming through organic search.

Now, backlink building probably requires no further intro, because if you had ever had ‘marketing’ in your job title or a form on your website you surely have gotten a ‘DR80 links’ type of email at least at some point.

Let’s get the technical part out of the way

There are few things to have in mind just on the technical side of links before you jump into this adventure and we’ll resolve this right away.

  • nofollow, sponsored, ugc - the backlink itself has no ‘SEO’ value, the first one was introduced to fight of SPAM, the second denotes that it’s a paid collaboration and third that it was generated by a user that site has no control over.
  • noopener, and everything else - has no impact on the value of the backlink (at least in theory), but can look confusing.
  • UTM tags - if the link has UTM tags or similar it will likely be considered just like sponsored, so no luck. This is something to have in mind if you want both backlink value and referral traffic, you can still track things through your analytics tool looking at the referrer if you also want backlink to have some value.
  • links to your 404 page - 404 pages get dropped from the search engine index and as such have no value nor they pass any to other pages. So if you have external links to a page, the best is to redirect it to a page that is the closest to the deleted one. A sidenote here, you want a use a permanent redirect (301 or 308). Even though it’s well-debated, it’s better to be on the safe side.
  • backlinks vs. referring domains - while we almost always talk in terms of acquiring ‘backlinks’ what you want is actually more referring domains. As a rule of thumb 2 backlinks from 2 referring domains is better than 5 backlinks from 1 referring domain.
  • DR, DA and similar metrics - these metrics were invented by SEO tooling companies to make us buy more of their tools. Joke on the side, these aren’t official metrics and while they are pretty sophisticated in some cases, they are not a reflection of link value. A good contextual link from a smaller website can have more impact than a backlink from a DR85 news outlet.

What doesn’t work

In terms of link value, unfortunately, a link is not a link and their value varies greatly. In a similar manner, some ways of getting links are less successful than the others (too put it mildly).

Anything submission based - as a rule of thumb, anything where you can go to the website, click submit and have your link up there either instantly or through some rather flexible approval process, is likely not going to move the needle. You may still do it if those website do have relevant traffic that will bring referral traffic, but value of those links will always be debatable. So if you do, here are a few where you can add a free version of your dev tool.

Skyscraper - the idea here is that you find a page either on competitor’s website or just a topic that is relevant to you that had been linked to from a lot of websites, you write a better guide and reach out to those websites to ask to swap the link for yours, because, well yours is better. It’s highly unlikely this will happen so I wouldn’t spend time on it.

skycraper linkbuilding

Truth to be told, I am saying this because I personally haven’t had any success with it, so there you go. But, I tried really hard.

Most of the cold outreach for that matter - things such as broken link building and reaching out for unlinked mentions may work, but almost never when you cold outreach. So, unless you are in one way or another connected to someone who may push it internally, it’s not worth your time.

Product category listicles

If your product is in a well-established category, reaching out to the websites that have listicle on those may be worth your time. It’s also a good way to get some good initial backlinks. For example if you search for ‘best headless cms’ you will see a blog post from HubSpot that not only is a pretty valuable link, but also works well in terms of signups.

Solution & Tech Partnerships

If you are operating in an ecosystem that is heavily dependent on tech and/or solution partners this could be a good source of backlinks. For example, Hygraph, DatoCMS, Cloudinary and many more have links to their partner’s websites. So one relatively easy way got get some backlinks would be to tap into existing partnerships and request a link, also because you likely already have a relationship with those folks.

Another way to leverage this is to pair it with something else such as guest posting or a mutual campaign. Cold outreach to write blog posts for websites usually doesn’t work since it’s oversaturated with irrelevant requests, but if the relationship is there, it will likely work.

Backlink-focused Communities

Joining a community mean joining other link-hungry people, but it also means joining a group where there are people who focus exclusively on this and know damn well how to get backlinks. So here’s a few Slack communities:

Backlinks - I included this to make this post richer, but I don’t recommend it. Too much spam, meaning too much work to separate the valuable from the invaluable. But, because of that notion, I also haven’t tried that much, maybe there’s some value.

DO_LinkBuildingHub - The community I can actually recommend, the agency behind it, Digital Olympus are true pros in what they do. It’s either paid or you provide them 1 backlink a month (which is more than fair given the value).

Pro SEO & Link Builders - Similar like Backlinks, there’s some barrier to entry if you want to get to the good stuff.

Help a Journalist

One cool and relatively low effort way to get some backlinks would be to help the journalists looking for experts in your field or the information you have at hand. Some of these tend to be quite saturated, but not all of them and it also depends on your area. Here are a few:

  • Help a B2B Writer - it’s pretty good, mostly around online marketing, but I’ve had some success there.
  • Featured (prev. - also pretty good and also had some success there.
  • Qwoted - never tried, but feedback seems to be okay.
  • Connectively (prev. HARO) - I believe HARO is one of the first ones and initially it was okay, but it also became saturated at some point. I haven’t used it since the rebrand.

Press releases

Now, you may or may not collaborate with a PR agency or have someone internally, it’s usually a later stage thing. And, the reason why is because most of the media outlets through PR won’t be dev focused. However, every investment round, can be a good opportunity to gain some backlinks as well. Sometimes, the news outlets wouldn’t link or the links would be nofollowed, but it’s still okay. It’s a low-effort thing that comes as a side benefit.

Create bookmark-worthy content

This is where the genuinely good stuff starts. The way to go with everything listed from this point below is creating something great and promoting it well. Strong plus if it’s tied to your product, but can also just be relevant to your audience. Two really good examples come from Algolia:

Both really useful and both display the strengths of their product and both gained massive amounts of backlinks.

Benchmarks, Research and analysis

It’s an old trick in the book. People are looking for stats to reference to and if you’ve got them, you win. Ideally you would have some first party data, but sometimes making things just available can also work. When it comes to benchmarks, while not a dev tool, Ahrefs got a tech blog written by their engineers and their comparison between using their own servers versus using AWS and the costs savings from that generated them 176 referring domains. I’d think they barely spent any time promoting this and it still reached a lot of people. On the contrary, another one on that blog that I personally liked about the SSD failure rates got them just 1 backlink.

Kinsta does an awesome job with this both with first party and third party data and one of their PHP benchmarks managed to get them 731 referring domains.

On the research and analysis side, it’s definitely a high effort, but if done well, it’s also a high reward. In most cases this would mean running a survey, doing your analysis and eventually sharing the results with the community. Two awesome examples:

If we were to trust the correlation here, if you want backlinks you just need to name something as ‘State of …’.

Create an examples page

You may already have a bunch of code snippets and examples hosted on Github, but the goal here would be to just make a page or write a blog post where you list them all. Nothing wrong with keeping on GH, but this way you may squeeze some additional value out of it (while still having it in the repo for those who prefer). Jamie had made one for Hygraph a while ago and so far it had acquired 45 referring domains.

Writer’s program

From what I can tell most dev tooling companies are collaborating with external tech writers so if you do, create a page and lay out your terms and way to get into contact. These usually don’t need much promotion either, but they would be picked up. One good example is which got 83 referring domains.

What you can do is check the backlinks that Neptune’s page got, reach out to those people until we all collectively spam them and then it doesn’t work anymore. It’s a circle of link builder’s life.

Event participation

As much as we’re trying to put importance here on backlinks, you wouldn’t participate an event for a backlink, but if you do participate an event there might be some backlink opportunities.

One is if you’re sponsoring an event, usually the conference website would add your logo with a link. Some don’t, but you can always ask. An alternative is if someone from the team is speaking at an event, a website link might be a part of their byline.

Community-driven events are also a great way to acquire backlinks, especially if your product is open-source. and one good example I’ve seen here is Appwrite’s participation in Hacktoberfest which acquired 103 referring domains.

Open-source something useful

While we are at open source, giving something away to the community is another great way to get backlinks. I’ve got two examples here and both from the companies that I’ve already mentioned above:


Probably not so easy to accomplish, but if are in the position, it’s almost always worth it to create a one stop for everything around a certain topic (ideally related to something your company does). I’ve seen two really great examples of this:

Startup and Non-profit programs

It goes without saying that it’s under the condition that your company offers something like this, just build a page around it and make sure to promote it. As with others on this list, a good way to approach it is to find a similar page, check its backlinks for pages that have some lists of ‘software for startups’ or ‘non-profits’ and reach out to those. Segment gets a hat trick in this post with its startup program which got referred to by 167 different websites.

Write truly in-depth pieces

While this subtitle may apply to pretty much everything on this list, I’m somewhat trying to end it on a note that if you approach things from the perspective of ‘I’m doing it for the sake of backlinks’, it’s likely not going to be good enough to achieve that. So while some of these are quite high effort, it sometimes takes a good blog post which is unique and well-covered to get people to talk about it and by that also link to it. For example, this blog about Buildkit on depot acquired 63 referring domains.

A tale of an unintentional link building masterpiece

On January 4th 2023, CircleCI’s had an incident around their Github OAuth tokens. The initial security alert post had generated 355 referring domains while the following incident report 384.

To end those intrusive thoughts, we most certainly don’t want to orchestrate an outage to get some backlinks.

Wrapping up

Iit’s worth mentioning a few things I personally believe worth doing even though I don’t have any data to back it up:

  • Open-source tools - Being fully-open source does bring plenty of benefits in terms of recognition in the dev communities, but just by looking at the number of referring domains (700) at the Meilisearch’s Github repo, even though the link towards their website itself is nofollow, the fact that it’s on that page has to be worth something.
  • Referral traffic from UGC websites - Again, applying some pseudo science here, but strongly believe that popular posts on websites such as Hacker News do bring some value if they generate some buzz and referral traffic.
  • Syndicating content on and similar - The value, again, debatable, but syndicating posts on those platforms and adding a canonical link to the original post on your website should have some value, particularly if the post gets popular.