Arguably the most fun part of link building – at least for those of us who are into that sort of thing – is the multidisciplinary nature of the work.
Some parts of link building are creative, while other parts are technical – and of course successful outreach requires interpersonal skills and a deep understanding of human behavior. It doesn’t hurt to be a little geeky, either.
It’s not only a 360° skillset that’s required, though. It’s also a 360° approach. Link builders who don’t look at every angle when building and executing campaigns will find their success limited.
So how do you make sure you’re considering your campaign from every direction?
Start by answering these 5 questions of link building:
Why do we build links?
We have a saying around the SEOA virtual office that answers the most basic reason: “Because Google says so.” As was established earlier this year, links are one of Google’s top 3 ranking factors.
That alone would be reason enough to put time and effort into building links, but if you stop there you won’t have a real understanding of why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Let’s take it a step further, then. Why does Google give links so much consideration when determining rankings?
The reason links are such an important signal is because they are an indicator of content that is interesting, informative, entertaining, or otherwise worth sharing. In addition, in most cases – at least when link builders and websites are keeping things on the up-and-up – high quality links require a human at some level to accept and approve of the content. In that way, the websites you promote your content to are essentially vetting it for Google.
Why, then, do we build links? We do it so Google knows our content is good, and that someone besides us thinks so.
What linkable assets do we already have?
While I understand the impulse to want to create something new and dazzle your clients with a flashy plan, it’s not always necessary right away. Before creating a grand plan, make sure you aren’t overlooking linkable content that already exists.
You can find your existing linkable assets in a few different ways:
- Use your backlink checker of choice to see if any existing content has earned links organically. If someone considered the content linkable without being asked, there’s a fair chance that other websites will also be happy to share that content once they’ve been made aware of it.
- Look at social shares of your existing content. Which links have the most engagement on various social networks? Content that social network communities have already deemed sharable is more likely to be considered linkable.
- Is there content that’s already performing without links? Check your analytics for high-performing pages in your blog or knowledge center, and look for link opportunities to those pages specifically.
- Perform a manual review of existing content and use your own judgment to determine what might be linkable. Focus on the blog, knowledge center, or any unique features on the website.
After all of this, it’s possible that you may still find yourself needing to create something, but the process of checking is certainly less time-consuming than building a piece of content from scratch. Save the big ideas and start your planning, but in the meantime, go ahead and build the links you can.
Who is going to link to this?
There are numerous research and brainstorming methods to help you find likely link prospects. A full explanation of all of them would require far more space than a blog post, but here are two of my favorite quick and easy go-to’s:
- Competitor Research
Search Google for similar content and plug the URLs into your link prospecting software of choice. Examine the links you find there for quality and relevance, and pursue those you identify as the best fit.
In terms of software, that’s another area where you’ll find a wide array of options. There are pros and cons to each, but personally I’m a big fan of Majestic. The Topical Trust Flow data is great for identifying sites where a link will be most valuable.
Competitor analysis is an integral part of the link building process. Why? Because during this stage you can:
- Learn about the industry
- Size-up the competition (and their link building strategies)
- Create a list of obtainable links
- Relationship Brainstorming
Competitor research is great, but do you really want to just keep treading the same ground other link builders have already trod? In fact, in some cases, that ground may not be available to you. If you’ve never looked at a competing website’s backlink report and only found directories, chances are you may be new to the link building game. But I assure you that your time will come.
When it does, don’t panic! This is your opportunity to blaze a new trail. When I run into these situations, there’s one question that almost always results in a linkable concept: What other services do my client’s customers need?
For instance, when I build links for a client like MaxFilings – an online incorporation service for small businesses – I seek out other services an entrepreneur might need when starting a business. Services like accounting, IT, and marketing are all integral to a new business, so there are opportunities for links that will be beneficial to both businesses and their customers.
These sorts of opportunities exist for nearly every industry I’ve worked with. (Full disclosure: Some areas of the legal industry get tricky here and require a different approach, but it’s pretty useful for most everything else.). And the best way to find these opportunities is simply to put yourself in the place of someone who wants/needs your client’s goods or services and consider what else they might be looking for.
How do we earn links?
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when building high-quality links is to forget to treat the person on the other end of your outreach with respect. You are asking them to take the time to not only read your e-mail, but also review your content and link to it. As someone who is sometimes the person on the other end of that outreach, I can tell you for a fact that some link builders are doing it so wrong that it’s practically insulting.
No, scratch that. It IS insulting.
Here are a few recent examples of emails that invoked my professional ire:
- A guest post inquiry that said, “I noticed that you offer guest post opportunities” sent to a website that has never published a single guest post or mentioned any related opportunities.
- A link request that referred to a standard blog post as a resource page.
- The writer who approached us for a guest post opportunity and inquired about pay. This writer almost got a response, but I doubt it would have been the one they were hoping for.
- The guest post inquiry from the writer whose pitches were only tangentially related to the blog they were approaching.
- So many link requests from people who talk about how much better their content will make whatever site they are pitching to, without saying one single thing about the actual site, or ever using the words “please” or “thank you.”
- Obvious, poorly executed automation as far as the eye can see.
Here’s the part where I get a little cranky, because we need to be completely clear about this:
If someone chooses to link to your content, or publish your guest post, or give you the time of day at all when you’ve approached them unsolicited, that person is doing you a favor. When someone does you a favor, you treat them respectfully.
Acting as though you are giving someone a gift by allowing them to publish your link is disrespectful. Pitching content that’s a poor fit for your prospect’s website is disrespectful. Poorly automated outreach that targets unqualified prospects is both disrespectful and wasteful.
So how do we earn links? Respectfully. That means tailoring your outreach with real, specific comments on the prospect’s website, not “I really enjoyed your post at www.badautomation.com/never-actually-seen-your-site.” Don’t expect a prospect’s time if you aren’t willing to give your own.
When can we conceivably expect to see a link?
As nebulous as that sounds, it’s actually pretty straightforward. The speed at which you can acquire links depends on what kind of campaign you are creating, what you are expecting from the people (not websites, people) who will be linking to the content, how good the content truly is, and how well you’ve targeted your outreach.
I’ve earned live links within a day for solid resources that can be added to existing link lists. If the content is useful and relevant and all the webmaster needs to do is add a single link to a list, the process can be surprisingly fast.
I’ve also – in my earliest days as a link builder – banged my head against a wall for months trying to get someone to link to content that was just OK and not that relevant to their website. There’s an undeniable connection between content quality and relevance and how quickly and easily you can build links to that content.
If the content is great and the prospect isn’t required to do very much, the process can be quick. If you’re trying to pass off mediocre content or expecting a prospect to write and entire post around your link, things may move a bit more slowly.
Link Building 101: The Takeaway
In summary, the 5 basic questions every link builder should be asking are:
- Why do we build links?
- What linkable assets do we already have?
- Who is going to link to this?
- How do we earn links?
- When can we conceivable expect to see a link?
No one said building high-quality links was easy, but the payoff makes all our hard work worth it when done right.
What’s your unique take on link building?
We want to hear from you in the comments below or via Facebook!