As an industry, our position on what makes a quality link has changed over the years, specifically in the past 18 months, and most tactics have followed suit. The culprit for shifting our paradigm has been the Panda and Penguin updates that have made valuable content and natural, quality link signals a necessity.
With this push towards the complete removal of manipulative practices, in addition to an increase in the correlation of social signals and rankings – and I say correlation, because that is what it is for now – SEOs are left with a smaller tool set of tactics that work to produce link signals that are beneficial to a site.
In short, the gap between the links that actually work to increase authority and what Google says works is closing. And, if updates continue on this track, those opting for quick and easy links are going to find themselves booted.
- Why Build Links
- An Authority Site vs. Any Other Site
- Types of Link Building
- Outreach Examples
- Outreach Tools and Productivity
- Building Relationships
Traditionally, hyperlinks were the main method of building the Internet and connecting sites through HTML, allowing people to move around and find what they needed. Fast forward to the creation of the search engine and link became a ranking factor, allowing not only users but search engine bots – or spiders – the ability to go from place to place.
Basically, imagine the Internet as the United States, cities are pages and links are roads. It’s going to be hard to get from Boston to San Diego without that link. And, conversely from an internal perspective, it’s hard for search engine spiders to get from your home page to internal pages if there is no links directing them.
So, after the history lesson, what is the case for building external links if you could be penalized by something you spent hours, days or even weeks to create?
The answer is simple. Links matter for the same reasons that they have always mattered. Link send traffic by making connections and yes, they are still a large part of ranking, even though other factors such as social signals and user experience are becoming more important. And, if you’re worried they’re going to stop working, forget about it. If you don’t believe me, check out the most recent (September 16, 2013) Mozscape Index.
Mozscape Correlations w/Google US Rankings
- Page Authority – 0.35
- Domain Authority – 0.19
- MozRank – 0.24
- Linking Root Domains – 0.31
- Total Links – 0.25
- External Links – 0.29
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a proponent of links being the end-all of search. They are just the beginning.
Google’s original search quality algorithm had a strong basis in links and viewed a link similar to casting a vote in an election, and while this continues to work, the weight once given to links has decreased in favor of social signals. One social signal – not yet active - that intrigues me is authorship markup, aka rel=author, aka Author Rank.
AuthorRank has given rise to the new theory of rewarding individual authors over the authorless content of a website. This new premise, what I see as the demise of the anonymous content writer, has made it evident that Google may once again add value to the theory of a democratic web and using links as votes by verifying the “vote” through a legitimate name on the ballot.
Determining authority can be a difficult process. Everyone knows that the New York Times is an authority, but things may become blurry when looking into local websites or unique niches.
This is when your best tool is your brain.
Too many organic search teams out there rely heavily on whatever tool promises to yield results, but in all actuality, the best tool out there is just common sense.
What I’m saying is simple. Do your due-diligence. Before diving into Page Authority, Domain Authority, MozRank, MozTrust, Trust Flow, Citation Flow and the other link metrics out there, get your hands dirty and perform a site:”example.com” search to see if the target site is being penalized. Go ahead and look at the Robots.txt file, check the source code for nofollows, see if they have social signals, check if they implement rel=”author”, check the number of comments on the posts (possibly one of the greatest determining factors of a good site is legitimate comments), determine the post frequency, understand the readership and its relation to your niche, all of which can be used to provide user value on your end.
If you’re still having trouble, the points below are just a few from Amit Singhal on the Official Google Blog, and are questions that should be used to define quality:
- Would you trust the information presented in this article?
- Is this article written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it shallow in nature?
- Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
- Does this article have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
- Are the topics driven by genuine interests of readers of the site, or does the site generate content by attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?
- Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
- Was the article edited well, or does it appear sloppy or hastily produced?
- Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?
- Are the articles short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
Like I said above, these weren’t all the questions Singhal provided, but the most important for the purpose of determining the quality or authority of a site – you can find the rest the questions here.
There are many different types of link building, but not all of them provide the same return. Below are some of the highest quality link building tactics to aid you in increasing rankings.
Guest posting has been one of the most popular ways of procuring links; however, this has led to editors receiving hundreds of crap emails a week, making it absolutely necessary to stand out. In addition, don’t forget that the search quality team at Google doesn’t just overlook guest posts. Matt Cutts has said multiple times that low-value guest posts will be devalued and recently dropped the bomb that SEOs should nofollow all guest post links.
However, I don’t see this as being an issue for an author that provides a unique thought and value to the user.
Guest Posting gives people and brands the opportunity to get in front of an audience that is directly related to their niche. The main part is knowing and using the most beneficial tools available to you, as well as having an idea of what to search.
Once you’ve exhausted finding potential sites through the previous forms, you need to use searches. Google searching with traditional searches works for a short period of time and that’s why you should switch over to Google’s advanced operators, such as intext:, intitle: and inurl:.
I used to give long lists of example queries, but with tools like Ontolo’s Link Building Query Generator, there’s no need. Basically, you can go to this tool, add a keyword or topic and change the three options provided to fit your search, and you’re good to go.
I generally have them set up like the screenshot to the right.
Guest posting gives a great opportunity to put the anchor text in your hands and get the links we want. Just remember to keep it quality. Also, if you ever run out of topics, just throw a similar site in Google’s Double Click Ad Planner and check out audience interests or sites also visited and go for it.
Broken Link Building
Broken link building is the act of acquiring a link to your website through pointing out a broken link on someone else’s website. This technique involves going on pages only relevant to a niche industry or topic and pointing out broken links, suggesting ours be put in place of the broken link.
This sounds like it may be difficult, but it’s not. It’s making the web a better place, adding value to their site (your giving them something by helping them out), it produces quickly, and it’s highly effective.
For this, you can use a few different tools. One, download Xenu’s Link Sleuth, a free URL checker that looks sketchy, but is awesome. Another think you’ll need is an on-browser link checker, like LinkChecker for Firefox.
Basically, all you have to do is run Xenu on URL’s of sites that are in our niche, find the broken links, and request your link to be put in its place. If you don’t have a resource that fills the broken links, use Way Back Machine and see what page used to be there and write up content to fill the spot.
In similar fashion, you can also use this tactic, but instead of links, you go after content. Find old, outdated content or content that is missing supporting information and use your expertise to fill in the gaps, linking back to yourself.
Link bait is content that would be appealing to other sites and sets your site apart from everyone else, such as guides, infographics and instructographics.
Other types of link bait include:
- Quizzes and Tests
- Top “X” Lists
- Printable Resources or Guides
- Case Studies
- Make News
- Statistical Compliations
- Unique Research
- Seasonal, National Holiday and Event-Specific Content
- Glossary of Niche Terms
- Niche FAQs
- Webinars and How-To’s
Attracting these types of links will be beneficial in the long run as you attempt to establish a stronger brand. Keep in mind that attracting these types of links requires creativity.
In addition to that, link bait isn’t a sit and wait pull strategy, you can still pitch them and use it in your push strategy.
Take contests for example, Veterans United Home Loans runs the Military Education Scholarship program, essentially a contest. They take this to military blogs, .edu’s, and scholarship sites and don’t write about it, but get bloggers to.
If you want complete details on contests as a strategy, be sure to read The Ultimate Guide to Running Online Competitions from Matthew Barby. He thoroughly explains it and provides some great resources for building out a campaign.
Press releases are misconstrued. Many think they can release their links out on a newswire, get picked up by a huge news site and increase rankings; however, the real truth is that the links in a syndicated press release provide no value.
Don’t let this discourage you, a skilled PR can still spin the release to get more press. This means reaching out, providing interviews (ever heard of HARO?), resources and connections to the news that will get you natural links.
Niche Directory Submissions
This is where things start to get blurry. If there’s something I can’t stand, it’s a useless directory; however, if you are a local or niche business and there is a high quality, moderated directory that people actually use, then securing a spot on there wouldn’t be a bad idea. The downside is that directories haven’t been popular since search engines become good at what they do, so bypassing any of these that aren’t legit is a great idea.
Easy Links with Value
Register with your local Better Business Bureau, city chamber of commerce, sponsor events (contests, clubs, charities, etc.), offer unique discounts (e.g. expecting mothers, veterans, wounded warriors, etc.), hire industry veterans with a following and take advantage of speaking opportunities when they present themselves.
Most importantly, create content assets. This can be the link bait we mentioned above, or can be as easy as starting a blog and implementing rel=”author”. Either way, You are going to want to leverage your expertise and build your credibility; however, if you can’t produce high quality content, then hire someone who can.
Just like all sites are not created equal, all pitches are not created equal. Basically, what I’m saying is don’t use the same pitch for every site with every link building tactic.
Guest Post Pitching
The best pitches are short, to the point and can have more than one angle or multiple topics. Not only does the pitch format carry these qualities, but within the pitch, you want to be seen as a honest, approachable person that wants to genuinely provide value to the other party. Give people a reason to look into who you are, who your company is and what you’re all about.
I just had a chance to read your take on Niche Topic. I agree with the majority of your points, but still wonder Specific Thought.
My name is Your Name and I represent Featured Author and why they are important.
Let me know if you would be interested in working with Featured Author and we can set up a time later in the week to figure out the details.
How does this sound?
Broken Link Pitching
I work with Niche and was browsing through Site Name, and would like to thank you for this resource. It has been truly helpful for guiding Niche Clients through the complexity of their Niche.
I’m contacting you because a client alerted me that a few of the resources went to a blank 404 page, specifically Broken Link 1, Broken Link 2 and Broken Link 3. Other than that you’ve got an amazing resource.
I have two more suggestions for sites that were extremely helpful to me as someone who works with veterans that would make good additions to your list – Resource 1 and Resource 2. Resource 1 is a comprehensive and entertaining resource and Resource 2 offers an in-depth look at Niche.
Just for future reference, I was wondering if this was useful to you?
Link Bait Pitching
Pitching link bait is also different from your usual guest post pitch. When you’re pitching these kinds of content, the goal is to get them to write about your properties or add your site to their resources. Here, you want to show how you can provide value to their site through amazing content, resources, statistical compilations, and so on.
I just had a chance to read your take on Niche Topic. I agree with the majority of your points, but still wonder Specific Thought.
On a similar subject, Person/Company – Why They Are Important – recently released a Niche Resource to our social media community.
We’re getting ready to release this to the public and would like to give you the series for the community at Site Name. The embed can be found below if you’re interested. And, if you’re not, that’s okay too!
Is the embed size correct for Site Name?
The goal here is to tailor your pitch to the site you’re pitching. You want to provide value to their site with free content they can’t make or get anywhere else.
Who hates copy and pasting every pitch, tracking response rates, pitching to someone who’s already a contact or losing contacts due to employee turnover? I know I used to. That is until I started using BuzzStream.
BuzzStream is the ultimate outreach/PR tool that allows entire teams to keep track of who is in contact with who and how many times they have been contact – including the context of each email or tweet. BuzzStream has been a Godsend for me, since I coordinate outreach with roughly 20 people at a time.
Now, if you don’t have the budget for BuzzStream, then my goto is a mix of Google Drive, Boomerang and Canned Responses. Canned responses is a Gmail labs tool that allows you to save email templates so you aren’t constantly copying pasting from one source to another.
I have multiple pitches set up under the insert tab, which allows me to easily insert the pitch I want. You can add as many as you’d like to help speed things up. This tool is just for Gmail and can be found under the Labs tab in the settings panel.
As for Boomerang, you can:
- Send emails at certain times. So if you’re pitching Hawaii and know it’s 5 am there set it to send in 4 hours so they get it at 9 am.
- Send messages back to you if you don’t hear back within a certain time frame. Most useful for reminders on follow-up emails, something we all should be doing.
Building relationships has become one of the most important parts of link building. Think about it, would you rather write about, interview or take content from someone you know, or a random person you’ve never heard of. Easy answer there.
Building relationships with journalists, influential bloggers and site owners in a niche is crucial. Just a few of the ways to build relationships include:
- Picking up a phone and calling someone
- Leaking a tip to a journalist
- Connecting via Google+ communities and Twitter
- Commenting on blogs and websites where they hang out
- Sending emails, asking for nothing more than advice or to compliment a piece of their work
First off, SEOs burry their head in computer screens way too much. To be good at building relationships, skip being passive, learn to be vocal and pick up a phone.
As for leaving comments, this is a fine line between building a rep and being a spammer. Anymore, I’m 100 percent more in favor of tweeting at someone over comments; however, if done correctly commenting not only helps you with outreach, but it also can make you more influential.
Leaving comments shows bloggers and readers that you read the blog and leaving a good comment shows you spent some time on it. But, if you added 10 comments all in one day, then go to reach out. You’re going about it all wrong. A commenting strategy is meant for the long-haul.
As a side note, I would rarely leave a link, and if you do, leave one that furthers the conversation.
When you are commenting, emailing and tweeting, remember to understand your blogger and their audience. I recommend using Followerwonk or just taking the time to read the blog and realize what they write about and who’s there. Nothing is more two-faced or insincere to a blogger than leaving them a half-hearted with no real value.
A couple things to ask yourself should be: What is the community like? Are they friendly? Sarcastic? Mean? Smart? Will you be getting over your head if you leave a comment?
In addition, always be authentic. You want to use your identity. Remember the goal of phone calls, social interaction and sending emails is to build a long-standing rep.
Overall, when building relationships, be genuine, be unique, and be nice or easy to talk to. This isn’t easy work and is most likely something you’ve never done before, so my recommendation is to talk to a PR professional. And if you don’t have access to one, then start following a few on Twitter – but be careful, you may actually learn something new.
For a final thought on relationship building, I’m taken back to what Julie Joyce said to Search Engine Watch last March:
Yes, it may be a lot of work at times, as this is a different process than sending 100 emails offering $50 for a link or filling out 9,000 contact us forms. However, what you gain from it should make it worth putting in that extra effort, and you’ll also have the added plus of potential benefits in the future.