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Every Link Building Strategy You Need to Know

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Every Link Building Strategy You Need to Know

Let’s not mince words: Most link building guides are utterly terrifying for the average person. Broken link building, ego bait, content marketing, and email outreach is not exactly what most of us want to take on when we’re running our own business or managing client expectations on a day-to-day basis—or ever. So. Much. Can. Go. Wrong. In the grand scheme of SEO strategies for 2016, link building is, undoubtedly, the most overwhelming tactic.

As you probably already know (thanks to case studies like this from Brian Dean) link building can totally change your website traffic. You can use your content marketing strategy or a bit of ego bait to make your favorite blog pieces stand out, as well as send organic traffic to your website. Translation: Don’t fear the word “link building”, because it’s nothing more than a channel to connect with your audience.

Want to make your organic traffic pop or get your content featured on a high-authority site? Looking for a way to show off your new piece of content? I got you. In this post, I’ll walk you through my link building strategies for 2016 that will show you exactly where to spend your time link building.  

What is Link Building?

Despite what many self-appointed gurus out there would like you to believe, link building will never be completely dead—and honestly, who would want to be? A life free of link building would mean a life filled with bad reviews, zero brand mentions (unless you are an Amazon or a Target), no branding power, and all the things we, at Search Engine Journal, care about.

The point is: Forget everything you think you know about “link building”. This article is not going to tell you to take a step back, stop guest blogging, or not to promote your content. Sure, link building is very challenging work.

As Matt Cutts, Head of Google’s Webspam team (who is now on leave), puts it, “link building is sweat plus creativity”. If you’ve ever launched a manual email outreach campaign, you know what he means.

Link building is now about marketing your brand, product, or website to your niche-obsessed audience with the primary goal of building a relationship. Yes, if you can create a link out of that relationship, great! If you can create a brand ambassador that will represent your brand for years to come, even better! Link building is a staple piece in your online marketing strategy and reputation management. Oh, and let’s not forget all the PageRank and authority that is passed to your website, which, in turn, improves your rankings.

And while many link building tactics are great, you need to build links by customizing each link building campaign with a little TLC. Ensure there are no shortcuts, no thin content, no payment exchange, and no links from robots.

Why Are Links Still Important in 2016?

Google stopped the world with the release of Penguin in 2012. The sophisticated algorithm update took action against spammy websites, link schemes, and made us all think twice about our backlink profiles. Now, in 2016, Penguin may be presenting itself soon. Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, Gary Illyes, stated we may see Penguin this quarter.

Every Link Building Tactic You Need to Know in 2016 | SEJ

And, although you may not be waiting on pins and needles for this Penguin update, it shouldn’t alter your link building strategy.

Cultivating relationships online, discovering new communities, building brand value—these small victories should already be imprints on your link-planning process.

While there are distinct elements of link building that are now so 1990s, the human need to connect with others will never change. The irresistible need to share LOL-worthy six-second videos, react with GIFS, or complete a sentence with emojis (💩), people want to build that personal one-on-one relationship.

Nevertheless, if Google does change their algorithm (Penguin, Panda, Pigeon, other non-animal related update), you’re still going to be marketing your brand with intentional link building. No matter how amazing your marketing strategy (or website) looks, it’s only part of the equation. A link is your workhorse: It’s used more than almost any other factor to add value to the search engines and your site. They are gritty, hard-working, and no one ever stops to marvel at the beauty of link. 

History of Links

Back in 2014, Matt Cutts used the Google Webmaster’s YouTube channel to honor backlinks in all their glories. The subtext of this particular video is, “It turns out backlinks—even though there’s some noise and certainly a lot of spam—for the most part, are still a really, really big win in terms of quality for search results.” It was pretty awesome, but he definitely wasn’t the first person to make a search-altering announcement.

Backlinks actually date way back to the Lisa Frank and TRL days. In 1999, link farm exchanges were developed to take advantage of PageRank. In 2000, email link requests were the rage. But, quickly, emails with the subject line “LINK SUBMISSION” were filtered to spam folders, earning email link requests another spot in the faded tactic category.

We officially had a trend on our hands. Sure, link building had a rough start. But, link building picked up steam quickly in the late ‘00s. These days, it’s an art form that allows brands to develop a relationship with its customers. (You may not realize it, but this was a great piece for building relationship and influence that did well on SEJ.)

Below, a brief history of some of the most memorable moments in link building:

1999: Link farm exchanges
2000: Email link requests
2001: Directory submissions
2003: Blog comments
2004: Article submissions
2005: Blogroll links
2006: Paid links
2007: Link networks
2008: Link bait, social media links
2009: Guest blogging, UGC links
2010: Press Releases, editorial content, content licensing
2011: Broken Link Building, Infographics
2012 & Current: Relationship building

So, why does link building get a bad rap? Google created its own Webmaster Guidelines that states:

“The best way to get other sites to create high-quality, relevant links to yours is to create unique, relevant content that can naturally gain popularity in the Internet community. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it.”

You have to create unique, relevant content. And drive relevant links. That’s the good news. The bad news is that if you’re doing the majority of your link building tactics jamming to *N SYNC and living like you’re in the early 00’s, you’ll need to stop…now.

Here’s a great example of what you should not be doing:

Every Link Building Tactic You Need to Know in 2016 | SEJ

So what’s the latest in link building? I’ll walk you through the biggest link building strategies for 2016 (and beyond). Plus, check out the email templates to complement each strategy, as well as my favorite tools.

Link Building Strategies for 2016 (and Beyond)

1. Content Marketing

We’ve all been there: you’ve just poured yourself into a 2,000-word, killer piece of content and are waiting just to see the deluge of traffic to your website. Your social media squad has already got you covered. What’s next?

Creating amazing content (white papers, infographics, guides, etc.) can attract links naturally, especially if you’re someone like Neil Patel.

According to Buzzsumo, Neil Patel’s Quick Sprout Advanced Guide to Content Marketing has attracted over 200 links. Or, check out Rand Fishkin’s Whiteboard Friday on Moz Why Good Unique Content Needs To Die that received 200+ links. But, what if you haven’t quite reached Neil Patel or Rand Fishkin status? You have to get there by writing evergreen content that can be of use long-term.

Upgrading content isn’t simply about investing in good content anymore. It’s as much about the quality of writing as it is about the user experience. So, as we progress further into 2016, it’s essential to update and upgrade content with graphics, checklists, any form of “bonus” to capture emails—as well as to devote the resources into development of evergreen content.

Here’s an example of a content upgrade for this article. Or, check out Bryan Harris’s content upgrade at VideoFruit.

Every Link Building Tactic You Need to Know in 2016 | SEJ

Although, creating quality content helps, you do still need to obtain links manually. It’s great to think that links appear like unicorns. But, these are magical moments and rare. Distribution of content is often an afterthought. A recent study done by BuzzSumo and Moz analyzed more than one million articles, showed that there was no real correlation between social shares and links. By manually outreaching to a relevant niche target audience, you are attracting links your ah-mazing content deserves.


How to Execute the Strategy:

  1. Decide what type of content marketing strategy you want to start with (ebook, guide, how to, lists, video, podcast, etc.)
  2. Begin building your list for your niche target. These could be other people in your industry who share similar pieces of content. Then, start engaging with them by commenting on their blog, sign-up for their newsletter, DM them on Twitter. By making these personal touch points repeatedly, you’re at the beginning stages of establishing a relationship.
  3. Now, once you’ve published your content, email people you’ve mentioned in your article. Also, email people in your community sharing similar content to see if they would be interested in sharing yours. Make it easy for them by sending pre-populated tweets in your email and keep your email short. #Easypeasy
  4. Don’t forget to amplify your content by using targeted social media advertising and content syndication with Outbrain, Tablooa, or Zemanta.

Outreach message sample:

Subject: Brian Dean, You Were Featured in My Article on Search Engine Journal
Body: Hey Brian,
Happy Monday! I’m a huge fan of your work and frequent retweeter of your content. Your skyscraper technique literally changed the way I did link building.
I just wanted to let you know that I mentioned you in my article here: https://www.searchenginejournal.com/link-building-tactics-for-2016/156519/.
I know you’re probably swamped, but would you mind sharing this today?
Here are some tweets for ease of sharing:
.@sejournal just released the most epic list of #linkbuilding strategies for 2016 @neilpatel @randfishkin http://bit.ly/1PMoiop
Thanks so much,

2. Interviews

The ultimate link building goal: become an authority in your niche in an effortlessly cool sort of way. You can master this by being quoted on websites and in publications. But how do you go about getting those opportunities to impart your words of wisdom and show off your knowledge?

Getting interviewed is a performance. You come in tune with the niche—a quote here, a new relationship built there. Depending on your comfort level, this can often be a podcast or a Google+ hangout from your office/bedroom. But, honestly, ask yourself, when was the last time you were interviewed? Ever?

If you’re an average newbie, your inbox is most likely not filled with interview requests like established vets. So how do you start to build your authority through interviews? Full disclosure: you’re actually going to have to do manual outreach to see if there are people interested in collaborating.


How to Execute the Strategy:

  1. To start, contact smaller websites in your niche that you have already developed relationships with.
  2. Find other sites in your niche that are holding regular interviews with other bloggers. Reach out to them. If you belong to any Facebook Groups or participate in Twitter chats, pop in to ask for a group interview opportunity. This also gives you an additional relationship building opportunity.
  3. Sign-up for HARO (Help A Reporter Out) to help establish connections with journalists. Reporters are always looking for insights and ways to make their jobs easier!

Outreach message sample:

Subject: Collaboration Idea
Body: Hey Brent,
I watched your podcast with Mark Traphagen from Stone Temple Consulting and thought it was great. Mark’s insights on mobile ranking and what to expect in 2016 was very insightful and really game-changing. I would love to be considered for your next podcast. I specialize in Search Marketing and have some great advice to offer [link to top performing podcast].
Would you be open to interviewing me?
Thank you,

3. Guest Posts

Confession: Before 2010, I’d never created a single guest blog post.

I had blogged three times in my entire life. And I’d never been asked to do anything other than the blog for my school newspaper in high school. My knowledge of writing was limited to what I’d seen in movies like Sex and The City and Romancing the Stone.

Well, I’m here to tell you that guest blogging is perfectly acceptable in 2016 when you’re contributing high-quality content to authoritative website—it’s not so acceptable to exchange $$ in a keyword-spammed publication when you can hit “publish” within 30 minutes of landing on the website.

And before you can battle this hot topic, yes, I know not all guest posts are created equal. A high volume of search traffic, high social shares, and quality content should make up the core of the website you’re looking to get your work published on. 

Greg Ciotti grew 36,733 subscribers on Help Scout by guest blogging.

Every Link Building Tactic You Need to Know in 2016 | SEJ

Or, find out how Groove reached more than one million people with guest blogs.

A guest blog posted on a site with little search volume, low social shares, and zero quality content is not worth posting. You’ve seen that guest blog—you may’ve been that guest blog—that has valuable content, but no social interaction or comments. It’s as if your guest blog went to the black hole of the internet. This is a plight of all guest blog posts, but if you only post to websites with high-quality traffic and aim to become a regular contributor, you will immediately distinguish yourself as an expert in your niche.

So, whether you’re on the guest post bandwagon or not, one thing’s for sure: You need to start utilizing your content partnerships. Keeping your partnerships on the sidelines does nothing for you, or your guest blogs. Instead, collaborate with a content partner on your next guest blog post by offering to co-author. If you’re a newbie, connect with a partner that has that dream list of websites you want to be featured on. Then, do the work for them. Yep, I said it.

Here’s the thing: Either you’re the person who brings the distribution list where the content will get published on high-traffic websites, or you’re the person who creates the content. Either way, it’s a win-win.


How to Execute the Strategy:

  1. Pick one incredible piece of content on your website.
  2. Create a list of websites in your niche relevant to your content from above that allow guest posts. Do your research! Make sure these websites fit your criteria with a large search volume, high social shares, and quality content.
  3. Pitch your guest blog post topics to these websites.
  4. Write the guest blog post and include backlinks to your piece of content from step one. 
  5. Don’t forget to add a byline at the bottom of your guest posts. This can be a question or acknowledging the end of your article (ex: “In conclusion”). Also include a call-to-action. This could be a link to a downloadable PDF, checklist, or ebook on your website.
  6. Respond to comments and promote the guest blog post on your social channels.

Outreach message sample:

Subject: Guest Blog Post Collaboration
Body: Hey Amy,
Your article, Meet Fear’s Antidote: Hope, was truly inspiring. I try never to let my fears define me, which is why I’m writing to you today. I would love to be considered as the next writer for Entrepreneur. I specialize in Search Marketing and I have some great advice to offer. Here are some topics I’ve been brainstorming:

  • [insert topic title]
  • [insert topic title]

Here’s some examples of my past guest posts:

  • [insert link to guest post]
  • [insert link to guest post]

Would you be open to featuring me?
Thank you, Amy!

4. Infographics

Bringing a new life into the world of infographics is incredibly daunting. If you infographics are unsourced, have low-quality design work, or you’re using infographics to build links to spammy websites, you can bet that you’ll grab Google’s attention. But thanks to the wonders of modern technology, interactive infographics have become part of that whole data visualization process. You can watch your target audience engage, grow, and learn, and know that you’re also gaining knowledge about your target audience.

Even the most die-hard, anti-infographic fans can’t say no to these powerhouse link generators. But there’s one way to expand beyond our straight, typical static infographic. Interactive visually rich infographics created with HTML impart something for every visual seeker out there. You can also add Google forms to generate data.

Here’s a look at the shares from the top infographics in 2015:

Every Link Building Tactic You Need to Know in 2016 | SEJ


How to Execute the Strategy:

  1. Do your research to find compelling data.
  2. Create a beautiful, powerful, image that’s HTML-friendly.
  3. Develop a distribution list for your niche target audience and start pitching. When you post, don’t add the “embed this” code feature.  
  4. Once your infographic is live, share on your social channels.

Outreach message sample:

Subject: Infographic Collaboration
Body: Hey [First Name],
Just read your post, “[link to relevant post]” and I thought your post had some [compliment post and make a connection].
I recently published an article, featuring custom graphics that speak about [title of your article with infographic]: [link to article with infographic]
Would you be interested in posting the infographic (located at the bottom of the article) on [Website Name]?
Here is an introduction paragraph: [write 3-4 sentences introducing your infographic. This should be different for each pitch].
If so, I’d love to share this on my social channels; I have a reach of over [social reach + email list number]. Please let me know when the post is live.

5. Local

To some, the term “local SEO” still conjures images of 100+ citation listings and claiming your Google+ profile.

But local SEO has changed.

Today, local SEO has become the link building alternative for brands, where domain authority matters less and the IP address matters more. No longer taboo, local SEO is bridging the gap between online and offline marketing.  These are links that people will click on. You’d be surprised at how much more traffic local links will bring you. By harnessing the influence of your local community through sponsorships, volunteering, and local meetups, you’re adding exposure for your brand.

By now, I like to think I know all things local SEO like the back of my hand; I regularly volunteer with charities, stay-up-to-date on community happenings, and I’m kind of obsessed with talking about how cool I think my Tampa neighborhood is. But don’t get too jealous. Despite what you may have been told, you don’t need a local zip code to reap all of the incredible local SEO benefits. As proof, let’s stalk the Airbnb Neighborhood Guides. Airbnb picks a market they want to target, asks local photographers for photos, and then creates original content for each guide. 

San Francisco Airbnb Travel Guide Example for Local SEO | SEJ


How to Execute the Strategy:

  1. Decide which strategy is best for you (hosting a local event, guest posting on a local blog, participating in a local MeetUp, etc.). Do you want to partner with another local business to expand your reach?
  2. Ask yourself: do you need any sponsors? Sponsors can help with giveaways, lower costs, and increase your reach.
  3. If you’re hosting an event or giving away a scholarship, create a distribution list for your niche audience. This should include high-quality local directories, local blogs or news channels, and local resource pages.
  4. Begin pitching to get coverage for your local event. This is when you should be posting the event or scholarship everywhere you can.
  5. Share on your social channels (Facebook events, Google+ Communities, etc.), your partner social channels, and your sponsor social channels. I’d also send an email newsletter to your subscribers and your partners subscribers. Cross-promotion is key! 
  6. After the event, get feedback from the people who attended your event. A tool like Get Five Stars is a phenomenal help for getting reviews. 

Outreach message sample:

Platform: Twitter

Tweet: @[username] loved the story on [something recent the news writer about that is relevant to you]. I have a great story idea on [your idea]. How can I follow up with more details? [link to your event/scholarship page]

6. Resource Pages

Remember above where I mentioned content marketing? That amazing content you need to invest in? Well, here’s your chance to use that again. If you’ve spent valuable time and money creating an ebook or a white paper, give it the attention it deserves by placing it on resource pages. 

Resource pages are awesome. For one thing, they often lead to more links, so you can expect to see this popping up on Quora. You’ll also get links high in the site structure, since these typically aren’t blog posts. And you’ll get links to your deep link pages (or your individual resource pages, like that stunning piece of content marketing you just did).

From personal experience, I managed an outreach campaign for an Australian pet care brand that was launching for the first time.  I designed the campaign to bring awareness to the site and, of course, bring in the moolah. I put together a strategy to target relevant sites and associations in Australia that provided outbound resources.

Here’s an example of a link we got:

Every Link Building Tactic You Need to Know in 2016 | SEJ


How to Execute the Strategy:

  1. Assuming you have your content ready to rock, develop your distribution list. This will be a manual process, whether you’re stalking your competitors backlinks or using Google search queries. You can also download Check My Links to see if there are any broken links on the resource pages you discover.
  2. Create your pitch and hit send.
  3. Remember to follow-up a week or so later. 

Outreach message sample:

Subject: Collaboration Idea
Body: Hi [First Name],
I really enjoyed your article on traveling with your dog to the beach. Norman and Mabel (my basset hounds) will be getting those cooling bandanas for the upcoming summer months. Florida gets a little hot for them!  
Anyways, I am starting up a pet blog myself and it just went live a couple of days ago. The blog covers everything from trimming your dog’s nails to pet humor. I was wondering if you would be kind enough to drop a link to the blog [insert your website URL] on your resources page [link to resources page]? I’ve added you onto my Twitter Lists and I’ll drop you some retweets.
Feel free to get in touch at any time.
Thanks, [First Name]!

7. Link Reclamation

You know how there are some link building techniques that seem effortless? Well, SEO practitioners are not just lucky. Chances are they’ve integrated link reclamation into their quarterly link building strategy–even in 2016. Whether or not you’re gearing up for a new client or starting a new campaign, now is always a good time to revisit link reclamation.

If you’ve moved a page on your site without redirecting it (guilty!), you could lose some seriously valuable links. Link reclamation finds (and restores) those under-the-radar opportunities that you thought you may have lost. Likewise, you should monitor your competitors backlinks. If they ever have a 404 error or go out of business, this is a prime opportunity for you to pounce.

This is also the case when sites mention your brand name or website, but don’t link to you. While many of us are guilty of thinking “I’m too busy”, ignore that thought and send the email template below the website not linking to you. 

How to Execute the Strategy:

  1. If you’re fixing backlinks for your 404 errors, run a batch analysis in Ahrefs using your Crawl Errors from Google Search Console.
  2. If you’re searching for unlinked mentions, hop over to Moz’s Fresh Web Explorer to search variations of your brand.
  3. Create a list of links you’d like to reclaim. 

Outreach message sample:

Subject: Whoops! Could You Update This?
Body: Hey [First Name],
I wanted to reach out to you personally and say thank you for mentioning [your brand name] in your article yesterday. The article was [compliment the article and make a personal connection].
Again, I really appreciate you taking the time to feature me. Would you mind adding a link back to my site? This way, people can easily find us while reading your article.
Thanks, [First Name]!

Anna’s Favorite Link Building Tools:

So, yes, a new year in link building means resolving to be harder, better, faster, stronger in marketing as a whole. In 2016, if you’re active in link building, I suggest prioritizing these strategies above to create a discoverable and engaging experience for your audience. Whether it’s through paid content distribution or manually optimizing outreach naturally, link building continues to evolve and it’s important to revisit these strategies to make the most of the blurring lines between “white hat” and “grey hat”.

What link building strategies are you using 2016? Tell me in the comments.


Image Credits

Featured Image: Image by Anna Crowe
All screenshots by Anna Crowe. Taken February 2016.



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Anna Crowe

Assistant Editor & Content Strategy Lead at Leadfeeder

Anna is the Assistant Editor for Search Engine Journal and Content Strategy Lead at Leadfeeder. Over the last 9 years, ... [Read full bio]

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