Link building can be one of the most challenging parts of an SEO’s job; however, for me, it’s often one of the most rewarding. Not only is it fun getting that win, but link signals are weighted heavily enough in the algorithm that you can almost get an immediate tell after building an awesome link.
Additionally, link building provides a great opportunity to bring out the creative side – which is why it is important to stress that any tactics below are meant to be examples, providing a starting point or refresher for those reading. I’d implore you to use your own creativity and add some of your own spin to them. After all, using cookie-cutter or “scalable” link building methods is what gets sites into the most trouble.
- Why Build Links?
- Where to Begin?
- Types of Link Building with Example Pitches
- Outreach Tools and Productivity
- Building Relationships
The first iterations of Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s algorithm used links as “votes” to signify a democratic web. However, after more than 15 years and over two hundred signals later, it’s fairly safe to say the once democratic web is more of an oligarchy these days. Reason being that up to even five years ago you could send a decent amount of spammy links to a site and get it to rank, which isn’t the case today.
So, with the continuous uncertainty around actively building links, what is the case for building inbound links if you could be penalized by something you spent days, weeks or even months to create?
The answer is simple: they are a strong signal as to how search engines rank a site. Through link signals, search algorithms can tell how important a site is, why it is important, how the sites linking to it are related and if the content should be trusted – among many other things. If that’s not enough, check out Moz’s annual Search Engine Ranking Factors study which shows just how much links still work into the algorithm.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not a proponent of links being the end-all to organic search. They are just the beginning.
Let’s jump back to the democratic web I talked about above. From the beginning, Google’s search quality algorithm had a strong basis in links and viewed a link similar to casting a vote in an election. A version of this system is still running; however, in today’s version you’ll find that only a select group actually can move the needle – like in an oligarchy.
Note: That select group is fairly large and varies by niche, but you’ll find that there’s a portion that will have no effect and another segment that can hurt you – or if you’re not careful, you can hurt yourself.
One of the hardest parts of link building is efficiently scaling the process while collecting the data needed to make informed decisions. Too often, traditional link building methods lead to disorganized, unproductive behavior – due to lake of goals, benchmarks and KPIs.
With that being said, just remember that before you ever create a content asset or send an outreach email, ask yourself questions like:
- What needs to be accomplished?
- How do you plan on accomplishing it?
- What supporting resources or information is needed?
Knowing what you need to accomplish and how you plan on doing that is one of the most important things you can do – for yourself and your client.
When I begin prospecting in new niches, two of the most beneficial places to begin are in your competitor’s link profile and sites already ranking for your search terms. You can find these pretty easily with some advanced search operators and other prospecting help seen here.
Once you get your list going, you mind find that determining authority can get a bit murky. Everyone knows that the New York Times is an authority, but things can be difficult when looking into local websites or unique niches. In these cases, the best thing you can do is use common sense before jumping on the latest and greatest link research tool.
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 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 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. With this being the case, I’ve outlined some of the highest quality methods, or those that will last without harming your site.
Create Killer Evergreen Content
Evergreen content is highly separate from link bait in my opinion, which is discussed more below. Evergreen content is a long-term strategy, and is content that never really goes out of date, it is always relevant in some capacity to the reader.
Creating evergreen content is simple. Research what the target audience wants to read and find every major area a visitor would enter the site. The easiest way of doing this is taking notice of what your readers love by researching competitors – or major outlets covering the topic – and create extensive, long-form content that revolves around that subject.
You’ll want to do this for content that doesn’t become dated; however, if your niche has regulations that update yearly, then be mindful of URLs, keeping them generic instead of including the date. For example, when HUD updates loan limits each year, I may want a URL that is simply /loan-limits/ instead of /2014-loan-limits/.
Content like this naturally works for you, becoming a link magnet. Additionally, this type of content is also very easy for you to naturally link back to when using a strategy like guest posting.
No matter what you hear, guest posting is still one of the most valuable ways to get links, citations and referral traffic. Even though Matt Cutts declared guest posting dead, said it will be penalized and practically pissed all over it, the tactic still works.
My thoughts on the matter are simple; if you are providing something unique and are adding value to another’s audience then you have something. Now, if you’re spinning the same article over and over, are using the same anchor text, trolling fiverr for your writing staff and don’t care about relevance, taking any crap link you can get, then you’ll run into issues.
Beyond adding a contextual link to your profile, guest posting gives influencers and brands the opportunity to reach a new audience that is directly related to their niche. However, finding these audiences can sometimes be more difficult that you may think.
I’m fairly old school in my process for finding guest post opportunities, generally starting with competitor link profiles, moving to identifying influencers and running their Twitter and Google+ profiles through a backlink check and then on to beating advanced search operators, like intitle, intext and inurl, to death before touching a resource list. Nothing against resource lists, just my progression. There are some amazing lists out there, such as Topsy, Blog Rank, and even Ad Age’s Power 150 if you’re in the business/marketing niche.
Note: as for advanced search operators, 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 marketers the ability to get in front of new audiences, build clout in a vertical and also you can’t forget about a relevant, contextual link. And, if you ever run out of topics, just throw some sites in Similar Site Search and see if there’s something you may have overlooked. If that doesn’t cut it, check out this article, it should clear things up.
Guest Post Pitch Example:
Guest posting is one of the most USED tactics out there, so make it unique. To be honest, I don’t even like this example pitch because A) I personalize about every pitch sent and B) I would never say “huge fan” unless I actual was one. However, you will get the general gist.
Hi [First Name],
I’m a huge [site name] fan. I especially enjoyed your take on [specific article + link to work].
I work with [company name] and we recently released a four-part series on [niche topic + link to work].
It was so popular with our readers that I wanted to touch base and see if [site name] would be interested in a similar series.
Is this something you’d be interested in?
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 running through sites relevant to your niche and finding links that 404 then letting the webmaster know, along with a link to your site that can replace the broken link.
Broken link building is seen by most as making the web a better place, and is also a huge help to webmasters, since you’re correcting a poor user experience. Additionally, broken link building also produces good results without a whole lot of work.
Finding broken link opportunities is generally simple. I like to search for things such as:
|Search Term||Search Term||Search Term|
|keyphrase site:.gov||keyphrase “favorite websites”||keyphrase inurl:”useful resources”|
|keyphrase links||keyphrase “related links”||keyphrase inurl:”useful sites”|
|keyphrase resources||keyphrase “related resources”||keyphrase inurl:”useful websites”|
|keyphrase intitle:links||keyphrase “related sites”||keyphrase inurl:”recommended links”|
|keyphrase intitle:resources||keyphrase “related websites”||keyphrase inurl:”recommended resources”|
|keyphrase intitle:sites||keyphrase intitle:”useful links”||keyphrase inurl:”recommended sites”|
|keyphrase intitle:websites||keyphrase intitle:”useful resources”||keyphrase inurl:”recommended websites”|
|keyphrase inurl:links||keyphrase intitle:”useful sites”||keyphrase inurl:”suggested links”|
|keyphrase inurl:resources||keyphrase intitle:”useful websites”||keyphrase inurl:”suggested resources”|
|keyphrase inurl:sites||keyphrase intitle:”recommended links”||keyphrase inurl:”suggested sites”|
|keyphrase inurl:websites||keyphrase intitle:”recommended resources”||keyphrase inurl:”suggested websites”|
|keyphrase “useful links”||keyphrase intitle:”recommended sites”||keyphrase inurl:”more links”|
|keyphrase “useful resources”||keyphrase intitle:”recommended websites”||keyphrase inurl:”more resources”|
|keyphrase “useful sites”||keyphrase intitle:”suggested links”||keyphrase inurl:”more sites”|
|keyphrase “useful websites”||keyphrase intitle:”suggested resources”||keyphrase inurl:”more websites”|
|keyphrase “recommended links”||keyphrase intitle:”suggested sites”||keyphrase inurl:”favorite links”|
|keyphrase “recommended resources”||keyphrase intitle:”suggested websites”||keyphrase inurl:”favorite resources”|
|keyphrase “recommended sites”||keyphrase intitle:”more links”||keyphrase inurl:”favorite sites”|
|keyphrase “recommended websites”||keyphrase intitle:”more resources”||keyphrase inurl:”favorite websites”|
|keyphrase “suggested links”||keyphrase intitle:”more sites”||keyphrase inurl:”related links”|
|keyphrase “suggested resources”||keyphrase intitle:”more websites”||keyphrase inurl:”related resources”|
|keyphrase “suggested sites”||keyphrase intitle:”favorite links”||keyphrase inurl:”related sites”|
|keyphrase “suggested websites”||keyphrase intitle:”favorite resources”||keyphrase inurl:”related websites”|
|keyphrase “more links”||keyphrase intitle:”favorite sites”||keyphrase list of links|
|keyphrase “more resources”||keyphrase intitle:”favorite websites”||keyphrase list of resources|
|keyphrase “more sites”||keyphrase intitle:”related links”||keyphrase list of sites|
|keyphrase “more websites”||keyphrase intitle:”related resources”||keyphrase list of websites|
|keyphrase “favorite links”||keyphrase intitle:”related sites”||keyphrase list of blogs|
|keyphrase “favorite resources”||keyphrase intitle:”related websites”||keyphrase list of forums|
|keyphrase “favorite sites”||keyphrase inurl:”useful links”||keyphrase resources|
Once you have a good list of sites, you can run your resource pages through a few different tools. I love Screaming Frog SEO Spider, but Xenu’s Link Sleuth is another option if you don’t want to spend around $150 a year (which is practically nothing in the SEO tool space). Screaming Frog and Xenu both crawl websites and return status codes for links on each page. If you want to go the more manual route, or when you’re identifying the broken link, use a browser extension. There’s a few out there, Check my Links for Chrome is a personal favorite.
Once the links are identified, the next step is to reach out to the site owner or webmaster and request your link be put in the broken link’s place.
Bonus tip 1)
If you don’t have a resource that fills the broken link, use Way Back Machine and see what page used to be there, and then write up content to fill the spot.
Bonus tip 2)
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.
Broken Link Building Pitch Example:
The goal of this is to find sites that link to 404 pages on other sites that are in your niche, contact them, point them to your own site, and get a link for your trouble. If you’re completely unfamiliar with the tactic, check out this piece from Russ Jones and familiarize yourself with the method before going after it too hard.
Subject: Broken resource on your site
Body: Hi [First Name],
I work with [niche specialty] and was researching a topic on [site name] but was unable to access a few pages due to them no longer existing.
The broken resource is on this page: [resource page]. I received an error after clicking on this site [dead url], anyhow the correct link can be found here: [live link].
And while you’re updating your page, I wondered if you’d be open to including some further resources that could help people struggling with similar issues.
[Content Title] – [your link]
[Content Title 2] – [link 2]
Thanks for your help and for providing the resources!
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. Stick figures only work for the Oatmeal, so make it classy and unique.
Before taking on this strategy, understand that even though the main concept is content, you don’t just sit and wait. With link bait, you want to share, reach out and create some hype to get others excited enough to link to it.
Link Bait Pitch Example:
Pitching link bait is also different from your usual guest post pitch; however if it’s a content asset, like to throw a spin on it and Tweet it at the outreach target first. You’ll see what I mean below.
Hi [First Name],
I tweeted a link at you earlier this afternoon, but figured an email would be easier. I know how much [niche community] loves [niche topic] and figured you may like our latest piece. You can find it below:
[Link to Latest Piece AKA Link Bait]
I would love to know what you think!
Thanks [first name]
Ego Bait Pitch Example:
Hard to not include an example pitch for ego bait.
Hi [First Name],
I’m working on a new project for [niche site] and could really use your expertise. I’m in the beginning stages of launching a pretty comprehensive guide to [enter guide name].
Wanted to pick your brain on the topic – specifically for [niche portion of ego bait]. We have our own ideas, but would love to have a quote or two from an expert.
Help a Reporter
Communities like HARO, ResponseSource and ProfNet are great for getting some seriously high quality link love. These programs send out requests from reporters needing sources based on the niches you select and can lead to some great exposure.
The key to getting results with these services is to be quick and organized. ResponseSource is a paid service, while HARO offers both free and paid. If you want to get the best results, go with the paid option to get the opportunity to send your pitch in before it hits the free group. Additionally, be organized. Your inbox will be flooded with requests each day, and the majority won’t be worthwhile; however, you can get past this by setting inbox rules and send each to specific folders and go from there.
HARO Pitch Example:
Subject: HARO: [Subject to Comment On]
Body: Hi [First Name],
My name is [Your name], [Your job title and company]. Below are the answers to your questions, let me know if this works!
- Two sentence MAX comment related directly to the reporter’s question.
- Two sentence MAX comment related directly to the reporter’s question.
- Two sentence MAX comment related directly to the reporter’s question.
Did that hit your points?
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, resources and connections to the news that will get you natural links. Just be sure you don’t load your original press release with links, or at least nofollow them to make sure you don’t look like you’re trying to manipulate anything.
Press Release Pitch Example:
Hi [First Name],
I know they keep you busy at [News Source Name] so I’ll make it quick.
[One sentence as to why this press release is important]
You can find more information here if interested: [link to release **INCLUDE CONTACT INFO ON THE RELEASE]
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
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 in a comment, 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.