Anyone involved with online marketing and SEO already knows link building can be a dangerous game to play. For starters, you have to keep up-to-update to Google’s algorithmic changes and play by Google’s ever-changing Webmaster Guidelines. You also have to make sure you’re getting links from high-quality sites – and not those spammy, black-hat locations. Despite these challenges, link building works.
According to a study conducted by Moz—which examined the top 50 Google search results for approximately 15,000 keywords—99.2% of the top 50 sites had at least one external website pointing to it. The study also discovered that more links correlate with higher rankings and the chances of ranking for anything competitive is rare without links. While it is possible to rank without links, Moz warns “if you’re looking for a site that ranks well with no external links, be prepared to look for a very long time.”
But, that presents another dilemma. Since people use links to manipulate rankings, Google has cracked down and penalized those sites participating in any sort of link schemes.
So, how can you safely build links?
One of the most common, and legitimate, techniques is to use content to earn those quality links. In fact, as John Ball pointed out in Link Building and Content Marketing: Two Different Peas in a Pod here on SEJ,
“A slew of SEOs are moving towards content marketing as a primary method of link building.”
The reason? Webmasters want great content, not poor content just for the sake of a link. Because you’re already creating and sharing top-notch content, your site will become more linkable.
While content marketing and link building are two different things, you can most definitely use the following 11 content marketing strategies to build links safely and legitimately.
1. Reach Out to Influencers
Most of us already know who the influencers are. These are the bloggers, journalists, or industry analysts who have the power to influence buying decisions in our market. They can also become brand advocates who passionately promote your band. By taking the time to reach out to these influencers, you’re not only gaining a new audience, you’re also increasing your credibility.
The first step to reaching out to influencers is to determine who is influencing the buying decisions of your audience. You can begin to target these influencers by knowing which individuals fit best with your brand and who has plenty of reach. While Katy Perry may have the largest Twitter following, do you think that she would be a good match for a company like Dollar Shave Club? Begin your search for influencers by doing some good old fashioned keyword searches that are relevant to your brand. You can also search on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Technorati or use tools like Social Mention to discover influencers who have mentioned your brand on social networks like Facebook or Twitter.
Once you’re found your influencers, Kevin Cain on Convince and Convert, suggests that you prioritize them into a list based on who will have the most impact. From there, you want to begin building a relationship with them. One of the easiest and most effective ways is to follow them on Facebook or Twitter and to like or comment on their blog posts or social media updates. However, don’t hesitate to submit your posts on Reddit, Stumbleupon, Growth, and any LinkedIn groups you’re a part of.
After you’ve established a relationship, don’t be shy about sending your influencer a direct message or personalized email. In the email, you want to introduce yourself, offer some sort or assistance, and ask them for their help. The body of the email could even include a link to your site.
For example, if you’re a dog groomer, you could email relevant local businesses like veterinarians asking for a link to your site.
Finding the influencers for your brand will take some research and time to build a relationship. It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. But, if you’re able to find influencers in your specific niche and reach out to them, you’re not only helping your content marketing campaign, you’ll also secure quality links.
If you want more information on influencer targeting, I suggest you read this guide from KISSMetrics.
2. Guest Blog
Remember when Google’s Matt Cutts declared that guest posting was dead? That exactly hasn’t been the case. Guest blogging remains an effective way to get your brand noticed, increase your search ranking, and build links. What Google doesn’t want, however, are those spammy links. To properly use guest blogging to build links you should only focus on getting top-notch content published on high-quality sites and blogs that are relevant to your niche.
When looking for guest blogging opportunities, there are a couple of different approaches. For starters, you could do a simple keyword “guest post,” see where your competitors are guest blogging, search Topsy or Blog Rank. Remember, you should be familiar with the content of the blog so that you can craft an effective elevator pitch. You’ll also want to make your presence known prior to making your pitch, such as leaving comments on a blog post or following the blog or author on social media. Again, it’s about building a relationship.
When it’s time to make your pitch, be familiar with the guidelines, personalize the email, introduce yourself, and give your reasons on why you’d be a great guest, blogger. You could also give a sample of your work to further convince the website owner or editor that you’re worthy of the blog. And, don’t be afraid if you’re too busy to write something original. You could send an older blog post to a blog in order to land a link or two.
3. Snag an Interview
Industry interviews can be a powerful way to give your content marketing campaign a little boost. Some of these advantages include building a relationship with an industry expert and expanding your network to those who are already familiar with your subject. Along the way, as Bernadette Coleman points out here on SEJ, you’ll also secure some quality backlinks because the subject’s network will share the interview. And, you’ll also be getting some fresh content to place onto your website.
While you can conduct interviews in-person or on the phone, an interview via email is probably the easiest way since it’s flexible with both time and location. When developing questions, it’s suggested that you focus on one specific area like an upcoming event, predicting an upcoming trend, sharing their experiences, or describing how their product or service can help your audience.
Whatever topics you settle on, don’t forget to promote the interview on social media and within your company newsletter if you have one.
4. Expert Roundup
As Brian Lang perfectly states on Moz, expert roundup posts “are a WIN-WIN-WIN for all involved if executed properly.” For influencers and the website owner, it gains additional exposure and the chance to earn some quality links from the subject’s connections. For the readers of the blog, they’ll be able to discover some industry advice from leading experts. Lang, for example, published a roundup post with more than 40 SEO, social media, and blogging experts to share their knowledge and experience. The result? The post received over 1,000 social shares in just three days.
Before you start asking industry experts to participate in your roundup post, make sure your website has a professional design, you already have published quality content, and you have already began a relationship with the subject. Industry experts don’t want to accept a roundup request from a fishy website, so they’ll be a little selective.
When you finally get prepared and organized for your roundup post, focus on questions that can solve a problem for your audience. However, you don’t want your experts to put too much effort into the question. It should be something they can answer easily and quickly. When it comes to promoting the post, you can also submit it to voting sites like Bizsugar or Inbound.org, along with sharing it on your social media accounts.
5. Create a Useful Guide
Always keep in mind that nothing beats quality content. And while video, graphs, and frequent blog posts are all great examples of content, guides are in a league of their own. Not only are they a great way to prove your expertise, guides take more time and effort to produce than the average blog post or graph since they are addressing and answering the pain and struggles of your audience. In fact, before you can being working on a guide, you should find out what your audience is struggling with and how you’ll solve that problem. You should also see what information is already out there. Chances are that even if there are plenty of blog posts discussing this topic, it’s scattered across the internet. Your guide then becomes a one-stop shop for your audience.
One example of a useful guide would be SEJ’s “Content Marketing Guide” which contains 9 chapters of informative information to assist businesses with their content marketing needs. Neil Patel of QuickSprout and KISSMetrics is another example that you could turn to if you need some more inspiration regarding guides.
No matter what industry you’re in, you can create and publish detailed guides that will solve any problems that you’re audience may be facing.
6. Make an Infographic
There’s some good news and bad news when it comes to infographics. The good news? Visual content has never been more popular – and we don’t expect that trend to decline. The bad news? Marketers have noticed how powerful visual content has become and have saturated the market with visual content like infographics. With that in mind, does that mean that infographics are no longer a safe and guaranteed way to earn quality backlinks? According to Drew Hendricks from AudienceBloom, infographics are still an effective way to build links. They’re just not as effective.
If you are able to create a quality infographic that focuses on relevant keywords, shares industry research and statistics, or provides instructions, you’ll be able to promote your brand, gain attention on social media, and increase traffic to your website. Even if an infographic doesn’t bring in as many links, they should remain a part of your long-term strategy.
7. Get Listed on Directories
Submitting your website’s link to directories has been an effective way of obtaining backlinks. The problem with some directories is that they have become link farms – pages that were created with the sole purpose of exchanging links to increase the search engine ranking. Because this is a questionable tactic, Google has frowned upon this method. That doesn’t mean that your brand shouldn’t get listed on respectable directories. In fact, for local businesses, it’s essential that your business is listed on a local directory like Google Places, Yelp, Angie’s List, Craigslist, Yellowpages or the Better Business Bureau. When you do submit your business, make certain that your ‘NAP’ (Name, Address, Phone Number) are consistent across the board.
You can also consider getting listed on niche specific directories to improve your brand presence and drive referral traffic. When searching for a niche specific directory, make sure that it’s relevant to your industry and has a legitimate purpose.
8. Engage Your Community
Engaging your community is absolutely essential—and this means going above and beyond responding to comments left on your blog, social media account, or email. You need to make your community feel like they’re special. By getting your community involved, they’ll be more inclined to share your content and earn some link in the process.
For example, SEMRush conducts weekly Twitter chats entitled #semrushchat. During this chat audience members have a chance to answer five questions that involve a specified topic. Following the chat, SEMRush publishes a round-post that includes the most memorable discussions.
Getting your community involved and engaging them is a simple, yet effective, way for people to remember your brand and motivate them to share your content – which will result in earning more back-links.
9. Broken Link Building
Broken link building is old-school tactic where you discover a dead link on a relevant and quality website and point it out to the webmaster. In exchange, you replace the broken link with a link from your site. Of course, this can be a pretty tedious process. But if you use tools like Domain Hunter Plus, you can quickly crawl hundreds of links on a website. The Free Broken Link Checker can check all of the links on a specific domain. This would come in handy when you have a list of domains you would love to score a link from.
Just like reaching out to influencers, you want to send a personalized email to the webmaster. Besides being personal in the email, you also want to offer new content that is as relevant as possible to the broken link’s content.
10. Get Some Press
Press releases can be a little iffy if not used correctly. For example, Google isn’t too fond of press releases that were created just to acquire links. If it’s spam, such as containing anchor text that is keyword rich and contains an excessive amount of links, then you can be sure that it will be ignored by the Big G. Even worse, you may even get punished.
If you use press releases for their actual intention, meaning a publicity tool, you won’t face the danger of getting punished. This means your press release should be used to inform the media or bloggers in your niche on any upcoming events, a new product or service release, or any other important updates in your company. Press releases that are natural will be able to earn valuable links from news organizations or influential industry websites.
Keep in mind though that your business may not get picked up on major news outlets or blogs, but it still has the chance to gain traction.
Besides sending out press releases, you can also get featured in the press by signing up for services like Help A Reporter Out (HARO). This service connects you with media outlets, like the Huffington Post, where you can share a quote in an area of your expertise. You’ll receive email updates everyday and you just respond to the questions. What happens when a reporter uses your response? You secure a link from a high-quality site.
11. Partner Up
When it comes to link building through partnerships, we often think of reciprocal linking. This means that two parties exchange links. Naturally, this was abused and Google cracked down on excessive link exchanges. If you’re not using reciprocal linking to manipulate rankings, then this is an effective way in obtaining links. Even Matt Cutts has stated that trading links is natural. Just remember, exchanging links should be about establishing relationships and providing value for each other.
One example of how this is accomplished is by looking over the current list of nonprofits on this page from the Idaho Nonprofit Center. It’s beneficial for both parties since it fits the niche and provides value for the audience. It’s just not about building links. Moz Members Perks is another example of effective link exchange building. Instead of just a list of links, members can receive discounts from a number of popular web services.
You could also go in a slightly different direction. Instead of just exchanging links, you could team-up with a fellow blogger or industry leader and create a guide, whitepaper, or infographic to publish which would benefit both parties. One perfect example of this is the annual B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America report that is a joint project by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs.
Final Words of Advice
While you may have to put a little more effort into your link building strategy, it’s absolutely essential. You just won’t be able to have a top ranking site without those high-quality links. As you continue to earn links, always keep the following in mind:
- Follow Google’s guidelines. These guidelines may not always be crystal clear. They can at least steer you in the right direction with a list of practices that you should NOT follow.
- See what’s trending in your industry. Use tools like Google Trends to discover what keywords are trending in your industry. By doing so, you can discover new websites and bloggers to reach out to.
- Accept only relevant links. Don’t accept links from sites that are too far outside of your industry or content. Let’s say that you’re a dog groomer, for example. It wouldn’t make sense to accept links from an online coffee shop. However, if that online coffee shop started offering dog treats that clean teeth, you could use that link in a blog post since it’s relevant to your industry.
- Check out what your competitors are doing, but don’t copy their strategy. It’s not uncommon to keep tabs on the competition. While you can use the competition to get some ideas, you should always have your own brand identity.
- Focus on natural anchor text. Don’t be sales-y with your anchor texts by using keywords and excessive anchor texts. Be natural and use the terms that best describe the content.
- Diversify your content. If you only rely on one tactic, you’re limiting your chances of getting noticed by Google. Create a wide-range of quality content from eBooks, instructional videos, webinars, or podcasts to earn quality links. Don’t forget to syndicate and promote your content as well.
- Reach out to bloggers and webmasters. Identify the influencers and industry leaders and reach out to them by contacting them personally to establish a relationship. This one of the simplest and most effective to build links.
- Create content your audience will find informative or entertaining. As always, create and distribute content that your audience would find valuable. Because when you build, they will come.
Looking for more information on how to safely build links through content marketing and outreach?
Check out the recap of our webinar with SEJ founder Loren Baker and SEJ’s Executive Editor Kelsey Jones on September 2 at 1 pm. They discuss what links not to build, how to find and connect with influencers, and five surefire ways to get links to your content.