5 Link Building Opportunities Minus the Content

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Content is nearly synonymous with link building these days (or link ‘earning’, depending upon who you talk to). Even Google recently changed their user guidelines, which now imply the need to invest in content:

“In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by creating high-quality sites that users will want to use and share.”

This is a shift from their previous guidelines, which read:

“In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by increasing the number of high-quality sites that link to their pages.”

And, with the proliferation of content marketing (not to mention guest post link building), content has seen more emphasis today than ever before.

That’s without even mentioning Penguin, which strictly enforces link quality over link quantity. Seemingly all of the non-content strategies have been abandoned in favor of long term investments that take a lot of time, money, and resources to pull off.

But, there are still great link building opportunities that don’t require content, and can be pulled off with a fraction of the effort in many cases. Opportunities you shouldn’t be ignoring.

Here are five of my recent favorites.

1)    Watch Brand Mentions

This is a strategy absolutely every SEO should be implementing, period. Monitoring the web for mentions of your brand/products is a must, because it can lead to:

  • A free link
  • The opportunity to participate in communities interested in your brand
  • A better understanding of how your brand is perceived

The internet is full of noise, and it can be very hard to filter that out into important interactions involving your business. Don’t sit back passively and let the internet rush by. You need to dive in and engage, especially when it comes to your brand.

A few tools that help you discover when your brand or product is being discussed:

Google alerts can be truly useful when used appropriately and spammy when used poorly. My advice is to play around with Google Alerts and create multiple filters to find what brings in the best leads. Don’t forget advanced operators when setting your queries – they’re a must.

Some examples I’d initially set up for myself:

  • “Page One Power”
  • “P1P”
  • “Page1power”
  • “Jon Ball” “Founder” OR “CEO”
  • “Jon Ball” SEO
  • “Jon Ball” link building
  • “Jonathan Ball” SEO
  • “Jonathan Ball” link building
  • “Jonathan Ball” “Founder” OR “CEO”

The Fresh Web Explorer from Moz is a more proactive approach to hunting out brand/product mentions, although it requires a pro account with Moz (formerly SEOmoz).

The tool is essentially a search bar enabling you to search for mentions either one week, two weeks, or four weeks back. Unlike Google Alerts, which will email you a list of URLs that have mentioned your keywords, you’ll need to manually search every so often to stay up to date.

Having said that, I consider the Fresh Web Explorer to be by far the superior of the two tools, doing a much better job of finding real, relevant mentions.

2)    Help a Reporter Out

Help a Reporter Out (HARO) is again something every SEO should ensure implementation throughout the company. I can’t say it any better than the site itself:

“Everyone’s an expert at something. Sharing your expertise may land you that big media opportunity you’ve been looking for.”

Obviously there are no guarantees, but it’s a chance at a home run in terms of exposure and link building, for virtually no effort.

So make sure you’re working with whoever serves as the general voice of your company to get them listed with HARO in a meaningful and opportune manner.

And don’t forget to use best practices – check out this article for 10 tips on getting press as a HARO source.

3)    Competitor Backlink Analysis

Competitor backlink analysis should be step one in a proper link building campaign. Unfortunately, I often find this lacking or underutilized with new clients.

It’s such an easy win on multiple fronts – you have an easy shot at high quality links, you get to better know the client and the industry, and even potentially understand competitor strategies.

The whole process is fairly straightforward.

1)      Create a list of direct competitors. Don’t gloss over this step by simply asking for a list – do a little investigative work!

2)      Run a backlink analysis on the competitors. This can be done with a variety of tools, including:

3)      Download various competitor’s backlinks

4)      Merge into an excel doc

5)      Delete duplicates and filter using predetermined metrics

6)      Compare and contrast!

Also, don’t forget to compare overviews to get an idea of the big picture. Overview questions you should be asking:

  • How many links competitor vs client
  • How many linking domains vs total links
  • Anchor text diversity
  • Branded vs money keywords
  • Link velocity
  • Type of links
  • Type of sites linking
  • Average DA/PR

And certainly don’t think this is a once and done activity – you need to keep an eye on fresh links competitors are building to ensure you’re not missing any great opportunities!

If you’d like a more in-depth guide, SEER wrote a pretty solid guide for competitor backlink analysis in Excel.

4)    404 / Dead Link Building

One of the hardest (and most frustrating) parts of traditional research based link building is convincing a webmaster to include a link to your site. Often times it can feel as if you’re traversing the web panhandling relevant sites.

Added value should be the mantra of every professional link builder – tell them whats in it for them!

One of the easiest ways to bring added value is to quickly scan a page for broken links that you’ve determined to be a solid link building opportunity.

Webmasters are generally grateful for notification of broken links, and with the proper tools they’re extremely easy to isolate.

Domain HunterI recommend using Domain Hunter Plus, an extension easily added on to Chrome. It’s very lightweight and quick, requiring a one button push to examine all the links of the page you’re currently on. Once it’s scanned, it will let you know precisely which links are dead, which you can then roll into your outreach asking for a link..

Just remember to change your pitch; include the broken links first and then follow up with a link request – my favorite pitch goes along the lines of:

“While you’re updating your resource you might find it helpful to include (my client). They have some great information about (client’s niche).”

And it’s as easy as that – what normally feels like begging for a link is suddenly a friendly, helpful email with a much higher conversion rate. And best of all? You don’t feel like the SEO begging for yet another link.

5)    Badging

Badging campaigns are one of my favorite win-win link building strategies. It does require a little bit more time, but I’ve never been disappointed with the results.

The concept is simple – you create a badge to serve as a reward or medallion of recognition for relevant sites. The badge itself serves as the link, and will closely match both the target site and your own.

For example, if you’re working with a site that sells fishing supplies, you could create an “Amazing Angler” or “Catch of the Day”, or even “Monster From The Deep” badge.

The idea is to create a badge that’s not only relevant to your site, but that centers around some kind of activity that other sites actively display and are proud of. Offering a badge from an official site will only increase their pride, and add value to their site (not to mention yours).

Just do me a favor, and please don’t spam this tactic. Make sure you’re an actual authority, the badge is highly relevant, and you’re only approaching other quality sites that truly deserve the badge.

This link building strategy can be highly effective, but only if you use it well. Pursue only quality links and you won’t have to worry when Google updates their algorithm, again.


There you have it – five high quality link building opportunities using only research based strategies.

There really are great link building opportunities that don’t hinge on content and aren’t manipulative or against Google’s guidelines. Although content is absolutely a great way to build links, link building campaigns need multiple strategies to be successful.

Quality unique content often takes a large investment, and can be slow to turn a profit. I’ve always said the best link building tool in the world is the human brain. A little creativity and understanding of an industry can go a very long way, and yield some amazing results.

So, before you go all in on a content based strategy, take some time to make sure you’re covering the basics and securing any quick wins available.

And always, always make sure you’re pursuing relevant, high quality links.

Jon Ball
Jon Ball is CEO and co-owner at Page One Power. He is a research expert that specializes in the implementation of highly effective link building strategies for clients all over the world. He’s also an avid photographer. Page One Power is a link building firm that focuses on relevancy and transparency.
Jon Ball
Jon Ball
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  • http://www.searchforcharlestonrealestate.com/ Lee Keadle

    I just signed up at HARO, so thanks for sharing this source!

    • Jon Ball

      Glad to hear Lee! Best of luck.

  • http://sweetwhitewine.net/what-is-sweet-white-wine/ Natalie

    For one of my previous sites google webmaster tools is recognizing 168 links, however the site itself is buried deep in the serps (it has sloooowwly crawled upwards these past few weeks without any effort from me). However many of the links point to internal pages on my site rather than the homepage which gets something like 24 backlinks. The homepage keyword is one for which I am not ranking for at all. I think my mistakes have been to not write an actual article targeting my domain keyword and to build most of my links to internal pages targeting different keywords. However I can’t be sure about any of this because I am a beginner. Do you think that building links exclusively to the main keyword article on your site is the key to ranking? I’ve failed at this point but I want to understand exactly why so that I know what not to do next time.

    • Jon Ball

      Hey Natalie,

      Personally I love links to internal pages (sometimes referred to as ‘deep links’). From the way you’re describing it, building these links sounds like a natural process, which is great.

      I definitely wouldn’t focus on building links exclusively to one landing page, or building links in a singular fashion. The worst mistake you can make in link building is to spam a single tactic to a single page.

      If you’re looking to build links to your homepage, you might consider trying for some resource links. Basically, find good sites in your niche that have a list of resources, and ask to be included if it makes sense for your site. Just make sure you’re vetting these sites for quality, and that their resource pages are truly useful.

  • http://yourgreenlife.org Niki

    Thanks for this information. I’m wondering if this tool coud be used to find bad links on your own site? Negative SEO is apparently a real danger and it also seems to be a bit of a process to find, access and ask for removals of the suspect links. Could this tool at least be used on your own site to identify suspicious spammy links? While we’re on the subject, why is it not possible to simply remove the negative links yourself from your own site? As you will probably tell from my queries, I am a relative newbie to creating an online presence. Thanks and cheers

    • Jon Ball

      Hey Niki,

      First I want to say that I think Negative SEO isn’t something the average webmaster needs to worry about; I really don’t believe we’ve reached that level yet. Furthermore, removing or disavowing links is a serious undertaking, and if you’re not absolutely sure the link is toxic you could in fact be harming your site instead of helping.

      The tools listed under “Competitor Analysis” can find links to your own site as well. Whether they’re toxic or not will have to be a judgement call you make. There are other tools that will make that analysis for you (rmoov.com, removeem.com, deletebacklinks.com), but they cost further money.

      Check out this video from Matt Cutts, Google’s Head of Webspam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znOqJu3le2g

      Let me know if I can go into more detail or you have further questions.

      • http://yourgreenlife.org Niki

        Hi Jon, thanks for that. I’ve found differing opinions on whether the ordinary person needs to be concerned about negative SEO – some say it’s a real threat and others like you feels it’s not a major problem.
        As there’s not really a lot I can do except monitor my links I shall choose to believe the optimists out there and pray that nobody targets me. I do hope Google comes up with a solution to stop the nasties before they attack our honest sites. It surely can’t be beyond Google’s capabilities with all their algorithms. Thanks for taking the time to reply.

  • http://list25.com/ Juan Castillo

    Thank you for sharing this post!

    • Jon Ball

      Glad you enjoyed Juan.

  • http://2anonymousproxy.com/ Gelly Bean

    Useful tips. In my opinion, making links with brand would make you much more effort to your rank.

  • http://www.diwali2013greetings.com Rajesh Patel

    Awesome post man! Doing all this now and searching so far, but the most disappointing thing is “SEO MOZ” requires pro account, and I don’t have 🙁 that’s sad! But, not a problem, it will be with me in upcoming days. thanks for it.

  • http://webblogjournal.wordpress.com Saurabh Sharma

    This is called a simple and precise piece of content!! Well written john. I really didn’t know the concept of HARO which i read here first time. Apart from this, all are known techniques but i like your presentation to put all these techniques together in right manner. Thanks…

  • http://lonelybrand.com Katherine Leonard

    This is a fantastic list Jon. Thanks for including my article on getting press through HARO!

    • Jon Ball

      My pleasure Katherine! It was well deserved.

  • http://www.daily-vibes.com Salifu

    I have been particularly interested in HARO for a while and I think with the right type of content , HARO could be both a great source of backlinks hundreds of visit s too. Blog talk radio could also be used to get interviews with experts which can drive traffic too

  • http://www.dytek3.com Daniel Sanchez

    Nice post, I’m glad to see other ways of link building other than this content marketing spam the internet is currently starting to drown in.

  • http://purplehazard.com Sarel Jan

    Thank you Jon, never heard of HARO before, definitely going to sign up.

  • http://raffaeleconte.com/blog/ Raffaele Conte

    Thanks for you great article,.
    I would like to know if the guide for competitor backlink analysis in Excel that you linked is still valid, it was written in 2011, I think many things happens .
    What do you think?

  • http://shopfancy.com ShopFancy

    Badging is a strategy I haven’t seen discussed much, in fact, I have never heard the word before, but it looks like it could be right up our alley. We need something to get us going in terms of branding and creating a badge for quality shopping sites looks like it may be just the thing. Very, very interesting, indeed, and rife with possibilities for us. Thanks for the idea.

  • http://afvallenmet.biz johan

    Thank’s for this good information, especially the introduction of the 404 approach
    and these Raven Tools Link Assistant’s SEO SpyGlassAhrefs MajesticSEO Moz’s Open Site Explorer
    websites helps a newby like me a lot with building links!


  • http://www.sieradenvanstraatsburg.com Melle

    Useful tips. Thank’s a lot