We all know that links are the lifeblood of search engine optimization. While there is no shortage of advice on link building tactics, focusing on tactics before strategy is always a mistake that leads to wasted time, energy, and money. A well-defined strategy helps you plan your tasks efficiently to produce greater results with less time and money invested.
In short, it enables you to become a link building rock star.
Since I know that’s exactly what you’re all looking for, I’m going to outline five strategies that will help fast track your link building efforts to improve your performance in organic search while also helping build a stronger brand for your company.
Before we dive into the details, I want to emphasize how important it is to utilize a blend of strategies to build a more natural and diverse link profile. This helps you to better weather the updates to Google’s algorithm, as well as build a wider range of links, making it more difficult for competitors to replicate.
Focus on Relationships
I’m sure you’ve invested a lot of time developing great relationships within your industry, whether through social media, at conferences, or through other channels. There are probably quite a few valuable contacts already in your cell phone, and I’m willing to bet, that if you told them about an awesome new blog post you just published, they would happily throw a link your way if they could naturally fit it into an upcoming blog post on their own site, right?
(Spoiler alert, this isn’t just a theory—I’m basing this on years of first-hand experience. The answer is yes.)
While earning that link still depends on your blog post absolutely rocking, your relationship with the person you’ve asked also carries tremendous weight because they already know, like, and trust you. That reduces the friction dramatically.
I’ll give you an example…
My company manages a lot of websites. This means that we get a lot of link requests across a lot of industries, and to be honest, most get deleted because the content they’re asking for a link to is complete garbage. Maybe 10% of them are asking us to link to great content, and those requests get set aside until we have enough to justify setting aside an hour or so to batch process them, which may take a few weeks, or even months depending on the site. But if someone I know personally asks me to link to a great new piece of content, I’ll immediately find a way to drop a link into any relevant sites we manage where it adds value to the visitor.
You should approach all link building with that exact mindset. Add value long before you ever ask for something by building relationships in the industries you want to build links in. Link to their amazing content first. Share it on social media, and engage with them regularly. Connect with them through email and LinkedIn. If they’re local, meet them in person. You can even offer to take them out for coffee or drinks. I like scotch. 🙂
After a few months of consistent effort, you’ll be able to pick up the phone and instantly get the kind of links that everyone else drools over. Don’t get complacent though, because if you don’t continue to nurture these relationships, they will dry up.
Make Them Come to You
While sometimes necessary, cold link building via email sucks. Even if you’re great at it, and let’s be honest, most people aren’t, you’ll be lucky to get a 10% conversion rate. For most people, it will be a lot less.
But what if instead of furiously churning emails out like some Nigerian prince, you could get potential link partners to come to you?
You can flip the link building model upside down by optimizing specific pages/posts on your website to rank for search terms that link builders in your niche will look for. Here are a few examples:
niche “guest post”
niche “submit a post”
niche “become an author”
This will cause other marketers to reach out to you, either asking to submit a guest post to your blog or to have you link to their website from one of your existing posts/pages. Think of this like lead gen for link building. When they contact you, you’ll immediately know at least one of the websites they own, and if it’s a worthy link partner, you can either ask them to link to your website from a relevant post/page, or ask to submit a guest post on their blog.
It’s important to emphasize that the standard guidelines still apply here, so don’t link to a website just to get a link in exchange, and don’t request links from websites where there isn’t a natural fit. It’s easy to abuse this strategy, so be extra careful with it.
The good news is that once you’ve set this system up, it pretty much runs on autopilot. Instead of sending out hundreds of emails every month, you can just open your inbox, pick the ones you like best, and send a canned response through Gmail. Bing, bang, done!
It won’t be all ponies and sunshine, though, because you’ll still have to sift through a lot of contacts from brand new or low-quality websites. Brand new sites are OK because while they won’t have much impact in the short-term, if they’re well-written, they will eventually become authoritative. Avoid the low-quality sites entirely, though, because you don’t want your URL associated with them at all.
Contrary to what the infamous Gordon Gekko once said, business is not a zero-sum game.
I believe we all have a responsibility to give back to society in some way. For me personally, that means giving back to the veterans community, the SEO community, and education.
The specifics are less important than the action, but I aim for giving back at least 10% of profit to the causes that matter most to me. Do what feels right to you.
Here’s why giving back matters to link building. We’ve already discussed that people do business with people they know, like, and trust, and by giving back, you’re showing your human side which makes it easier for people to connect with you on an emotional level.
According to a study conducted by Forbes, Americans are 8.1% more likely to purchase from a company that shares their opinions and are 8.4% less likely to purchase from a company that doesn’t. That has an impact on areas beyond sales numbers, too.
Sure, depending on the causes you support, you may turn some people off—but that’s OK because you’ll also convert some people into rabidly passionate fans. That kind of loyalty fosters a willingness, even an eagerness to link to your website. Especially when you take a strong stance on a topic that resonates with them.
Become an Influencer
This is easier said than done, but well worth the effort, because once you’ve been established as an influencer, people will link to your website citing you as the authority on your industry. Especially when you publish something that supports or confirms their view.
There are a few ways to do this, but the first and most important step is to produce a library of your own content to showcase your knowledge and expertise. The more prolific, the better. This gives people both something to judge you by, and something to link to if they feel it’s worthy.
Once that’s in place, it’s time to start building momentum with third party media.
HARO is a great place to start because it gives you access to bloggers, reporters, and television, radio, and podcast hosts who are actively looking for experts to answer specific questions. Think of it like a dating website that matches people who need answers with people who want exposure. HARO sends queries categorized by topic via email three times per day, and all you need to do is click to respond to the ones that match your expertise.
Don’t expect a lot of interaction though, especially in the beginning before you’ve built up your reputation. In most cases, if they use your answer, they’ll simply publish it without notifying you. Just set up Google News Alerts for your name and your company name, scan the SERPs and keep an eye out for new inbound links, and you’ll be able to get a good feel for what what’s delivering results and what needs work.
Next, work to become an author on some of the top websites in your industry. To pull this off, both your ideas and your writing style must be outstanding. Getting in front of peers through a trusted source is a fast and effective way to build authority. You can then use that to leverage into mainstream news sources if you play your cards right.
The final step is becoming a guest on podcasts, radio, television, and if you’re truly dedicated to this goal, public speaking.
This will be an ongoing campaign that requires constant effort. It will be a lot of work in the beginning, and your progress will be incremental, but if you keep at it, people will eventually start coming to you instead of you chasing them. Even then, you’ll need to continually produce exceptional ideas.
For the longest time, I had disabled comments on all of the websites we managed because they were constantly deluged with comment spam. It didn’t seem worth the effort for a few great comments buried within a pile of spam.
I no longer think that’s the right approach because of the powerful effect that a sense of community can have on link building. If you want an example of a company that’s doing this well, look at the comments section of a few articles on Moz’s blog to see how passionate and engaged their visitors are. That is exactly the kind of people who will link to a website!
If you can make your visitors feel like they belong by getting them engaged, they’ll be far more likely to link to your website because they’ll know that you care what they think. This means responding to their comments with an appropriate and thoughtful answer on your blog as well as on social media.
A hidden benefit to this strategy is that you’ll understand exactly what your customers/clients want, which may help save you a lot of work deciding what products or services to offer, as well as saving money on marketing.
Successful search engine optimization depends on link building, and successful link building depends on solid strategies. If your efforts are based on a strategic plan, you’ll achieve far greater results than if you blindly dabble in random tactics.