As professional SEO pros, most of us are usually thinking about ways to earn links for keywords that we have already chosen for reasons related to relevance, profitability, or audience size. But, sometimes, we should be flipping this approach on its head.
Choosing keywords that will earn us links, instead of ways to earn links for keywords we’ve already chosen, allows us to build up referral traffic and authority in the most natural way possible.
All of these methods can be supplemented with outreach, but their magic lies in their ability to earn you links even if you don’t do any promotion.
Here are three ways to make that happen.
1. Keywords That Journalists & Bloggers Search For
Why It Works
While journalists aren’t expected to reveal their sources when they speak with a whistleblower or insider on some breaking piece of news, journalists are generally expected to cite their sources for more general pieces of knowledge, such as statistics and studies. Articles and blog posts will also typically link to the resources that they used in writing their content.
As a rule of thumb, any piece of information that lies somewhere between “everybody already knows this” and “this is an insider information and it would be irresponsible to reveal my sources,” is a piece of information that deserves a citation.
Since we’re talking about the internet, not an MLA formatted academic work, those citations are usually going to come in the form of a hyperlink, although admittedly they do often also show up in the form of a mention or not at all.
So, the idea behind this is fairly straightforward. Choose keywords that journalists and bloggers are likely to search for, and you’re more likely to earn a citation from them in the form of a link.
Let’s talk about how to do that.
Where to Find the Keywords
How can we anticipate which keywords do journalists and other content producers search for? Where can we find these kinds of keywords?
I’d start with this approach:
- Make a list of news sites, blogs, and media outlets that you would be interested in earning links from.
- Scan the site with a crawler like Screaming Frog. If the site has many pages, you may want to limit the crawl to a specific section of the site using “Include” and “Exclude” settings.
- Export a list of the outbound links on your target sites, including the anchor text, and import it into your spreadsheet or analysis software of choice.
- Analyze the anchor text for any repeated words or phrases.
- Manually inspect the URLs linked; especially the URLs that are linked more than once and the anchor texts that are repeated, and take note of any subjects that keep coming up.
- Brainstorm queries that journalists and bloggers would search for to find this information, as well as any related queries you suspect a journalist might look for that you can think up during the process. Use a tool like SERanking to identify similar keywords and expand your list. Make a list of these queries.
- Paste these queries into a keyword tool, such as Google Keyword Planner or KeywordTool.io, to identify the ones that look promising enough to have an audience. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that volume is not nearly as important here, as it is for more traditional keyword research. We are looking for an audience of journalists and bloggers, which is obviously a smaller audience than the general population.
- Analyze the search results for these keywords with tools like Ahrefs paired with manual inspection to determine which ones have levels of competition you can reasonably compete with.
- Visit forums, Q&A sites, and any other sites you can find, where discussions take place and identify any related questions that people are asking about the subject, in order to build a list of long tail queries for inclusion in your final product.
How to Produce the Content
Once you’ve identified your main keyword and a list of related long tail queries, it’s time to start putting together your piece of content.
Here’s where it’s especially important for you to think like the journalists and bloggers who are going to come across your page. They aren’t going to link to just any piece of content they find.
Journalists and bloggers link to sites to back up what they are saying to make themselves look authoritative. That means the information you provide needs to be super concrete.
At the same time, you need to give journalists and bloggers a reason to link to you specifically, as opposed to just linking to the same sources you do in your own content.
You can start by using sources that aren’t publicly available on the web. The added inconvenience a journalist or blogger would need to go through to find the original source and provide an MLA style citation means they’re more likely to take the convenient route and just link to you. For example:
- Provided you have the life experience and, if the subject requires it, there’s nothing wrong with using your own life experience and expertise as a source. As long as the information you are providing is what the journalists and bloggers will be looking for, and it is unique enough to stand apart from other things they might find on the subject.
- Use academic studies. Google Scholar is your friend.
- Contact a few industry experts. They don’t need to be especially prominent influencers or anything like that (although this always helps), just individuals with some life experience on the subject matter that you can quote in your content.
- Cite a quote from a video.
- Visit your local library.
- Make a case study.
- Conduct a survey, use your own proprietary data, or otherwise conduct original research.
Additionally, the way you format your content can also increase the likelihood that you will be linked directly. Formats like the following are more likely to earn a direct link, as opposed to causing journalists and bloggers to just mine your content for your sources:
Just be creative and always put yourself in the mindset of the journalists and bloggers who will be seeing this content. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself why you would link to this content.
2. The Most Linked Keywords on Sites with Comparable or Weaker Authority
Why It Works
The idea behind this one is straightforward. You are replicating the success of another piece of content on the web, by identifying which pieces of content are already earning links, then simply borrowing the same keywords used by that content.
The gold in this strategy is in choosing to look specifically at sites that aren’t already super authoritative. That way, you know the subject matter is important enough to content producers and web developers that they will link to content about it even if the site in question isn’t already a big name.
Here’s how to do it.
How to Find the Keywords
Here’s how to find these kinds of keywords.
- Identify some generic keywords that people use in your industry, or that are used in relation to the kind of topics you cover on your site.
- Do a search for these keywords and browse through the search results.
- Dive deeper into the search results and find sites that cover these and similar topics that have relatively low authority metrics according to SEO tools like Ahrefs or Link Explorer. Look specifically for sites with authority metrics similar to or lower than your own.
- Put the site into Ahrefs, Link Explorer, or your tool of choice, and identify the pages that have earned the most links, also the most authoritative links.
- Do a manual inspection of the links to ensure that the links were placed editorially by the sites that link to them. To be clear, you’re not just trying to avoid pages that have spam links, you’re trying to identify pages that seem to have earned their links without any outreach.
- Analyze the anchor text and the content of these pages to arrive at an idea of what content people are linking to and why.
- Make a list of keywords and possible queries people might use to find this kind of information.
- Put the queries into your keyword tools of choice and continue onward from there, as you would in the section on keywords that journalists and bloggers use.
Making the Content
My advice on producing this content will mirror what I said above in the section on keywords associated with journalists and bloggers, since your target audience will be very similar, and only the method of finding the keywords has really changed. Even so, there are a few considerations to keep in mind that apply more to this than to the above:
- Employ “Skyscraper Technique” here. You’re trying to replicate the success of another piece of content, but you aren’t going to do that if you produce the same piece of content. What you make needs to one-up the original and be enough to replace it as the go-to place to cite for this kind of information.
- Using more current information than the original pieces of content you are emulating is one of the best ways to ensure that you will earn links in their place.
- In your promotional efforts, you can reach out to the sites that linked to the original piece of content and mention yours as a possible alternative.
3. Keywords That Specific Influencers Obsessively Follow
Why It Works
The idea behind this approach is to narrow your audience to basically one particular influencer.
Instead of writing for a generic audience of “journalists” or “bloggers,” you are writing with a single individual in mind. That means you can craft your content with the laser-like precision of an email.
In doing so, you dramatically increase the chance of earning a link from that specific influencer, and while you still might not necessarily succeed in accomplishing just that, the clarity of purpose that it gives to your content will almost certainly boost your impact.
Writing for a specific influencer also does not limit you to an audience of one in the end. While it certainly narrows the scope of people who might link to your content, that narrow audience will inevitably be larger than just one influencer, and the specificity of your audience also means any other influencers you might reach will also have a more heightened sense of interest, since they will feel like the content is laser targeted for them too.
Finding the Keywords
Here is one method that you can approach for finding keywords:
- Make a list of influencers you would be interested in earning links from.
- Start by analyzing their sites to identify any outbound anchor texts that come up often.
- Dive deep into the content they link to and the content that they write on. Read it all manually.
- Make a list of things you suspect the influencer would be interested in diving deeper on.
- Identify some specific kinds of facts, statistics, guides, problems, and solutions you think they would be interested in.
- You can use a keyword tool, but this should be secondary to targeting the specific influencer in question.
- Incorporate any mannerisms and jargon the influencer might use.
Making the Content
It shouldn’t be any surprise that everything I said above about producing content for the other methods still applies. But, there are some other things to keep in mind that apply specifically to this kind of content.
- The influencer in question himself/herself should also be considered a keyword. Mentioning them in the title, or at the very least within the content, is the most likely way they are going to find the information.
- There is no shame in contacting them before, during, and after producing the content. Involving them in the process is more likely to lead to a result and may lead to a long-term business relationship.
- Try to mention and involve as many influencers who are in their circle of friends as possible, provided the inclusions are relevant to the content itself.
- Taking an “open letter” approach to the content is one way to make it work, although by no means is it the only way to produce a piece of content targeting a specific influencer.
- The content should still be for the benefit of a larger audience. As laser targeted as it should be for your targeted influencer, it should be useful, or at least entertaining, for the rest of your target audience. While this is obviously true for all forms of content discussed in this post, this is the method where you are most likely to falter on this point. Don’t let your audience feel out of the loop.
- Consider the influencer’s audience and their needs just as heavily as the influencer themselves. The conversation you are having with the influencer should always be for the benefit of both of your audiences, not just for one.
When we reverse our thinking and ask ourselves which keywords will earn links, instead of asking how to earn links for the keywords we’ve chosen, we can earn attention, SEO authority, and referral traffic that would otherwise be outside of our reach, or at least require a great deal more outreach efforts.
Use the methods above to earn a steady trickle of inbound links without continued promotional efforts.
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