What is link building
Link building can be defined as the actions aimed at building backlinks to a website (inbound links) with the purpose of improving the position in organic rankings. To simplify, link building is about getting backlinks to your site, or to particular pages, in order to rank better for the keywords that you are targeting. It’s very important to understand that link building works for high quality content, getting links to low quality content will not help that much. As Bill Gates said, content is king!
Black hat link building – forbidden strategies
Black hat link building is when the actions taken are not following Google Webmaster Guidelines (other search engines have similar rules). Some of the most common black hat link building strategies are:
- Buying/selling links.
- Link exchange (I’ll link to you if you link to me).
- Large scale guest posting with rich anchor text (having a link to your target page under a keyword you are trying to rank for. E.g. if I would write a guest post about SEO on different sites and add links to this post with the anchor text “link building strategies”).
- Using PBN’s (private blog networks) – a collection of sites to which you have access and where you can easily add links.
- Requesting a link through a legal contract (even if the contract is about something that happens offline).
- Paid links that pass PageRank (also known as do-follow links or follow links).
- Widely distributed links in the footers or templates of various sites (for example wordpress templates that force you to have a do-follow link at the bottom).
- Forum and article comments with rich anchor text.
What happens if you use black hat link building?
In the short run, you might see ranking improvements, but soon after – in the worst case scenario – your site/page gets deindexed for playing dirty. In the best case scenario, the violation was not that bad and Google decided to ignore those links, resulting in ranking in the same as before getting the links.
We, at Precis Digital, strongly advise against any black hat strategy.
White hat link building – most common strategies
Here are the most commonly used safe strategies to do link building:
- Content marketing – produce unique, high quality, content that gets attention and it’s worthy of being shared. The content can be in the form of blog posts, industry studies, videos, podcasts, Q&A content, infographics, etc.
- Email outreach – this one is self explanatory – you reach out via email to get a link to your page. The tricky part here is identifying the sites where you want to reach out.
- Unlinked mentions – this is a great way of getting easy links. Monitor mentions of your brand and when you identify unlinked mentions, reach out and ask for a link.
- Guest Blogging – this isn’t really a scalable strategy since Google advised against abusing it, however this is a very good strategy when trying to get links from highly authoritative sites.
- Broken Link building – Go to sites that link to broken pages and propose a resource of your own to replace that link.
In a more concrete example – one of your competitors has a resource page that got 30 links and now returns a 404 error. You go and create a resource page to address what they had and reach out to the 30 sites that linked to them and ask to replace the broken link with the one from your newly created resource page.
- Community Sites – This is more about getting links that bring traffic to your site rather than direct SEO benefits since almost all of the links are nofollow. However, Google recently announced that nofollow links will be considered when creating the rankings.
Sites like Quora and Reddit get huge attention nowadays. Why not leverage that traffic for some potential traffic of your own? The way to do it is to provide high quality, non-promotional content to the questions asked. You can add a link at the bottom of your answer as a byline. Something else to consider is commenting on popular articles and blog posts – again, make sure to be on topic and helpful with the comment and don’t abuse this tactic.
Now that we explored what falls under black hat and white hat, we can dig into the subject – a great methodology of building links.
How to create a scalable and sustainable methodology of building links
Building links is a challenging, never ending task since your competitors could always build more links than you and outrank you, so having a good strategy for a constant flow of links is very important.
This method, that I’m proposing here, requires time and a certain amount of resources to develop and maintain, but the benefits are huge for those that are in very competitive verticals.
The benefits of this method are as follows:
- Good stream of links from various domains.
- Increased direct traffic.
- Improved brand visibility.
- Opening doors to some very beneficial partnerships.
Now let’s dig into the methodology (I will use examples from the US, financial vertical since that is something I worked with a lot):
1. Identify topics of public interest that are related and relevant to your business
Here are a few examples from wallethub.com (where I worked for several years as head of SEO) which does an amazing job:
a. “most federally dependent states”
This is a keyword with relatively low volume (600) and it’s clearly a non-commercial keyword/topic, it has a lot of public interest. Let’s see how such an article performs:
The top ranking result gets for this article a whooping 6117 backlinks from 1042 domains? Let’s check the next example to see if this is an isolated thing or not.
b. “property taxes by state”
This is a keyword with moderate volume (4400) and again it’s clearly a non-commercial keyword/topic and again it has lots of public interest. Let’s see how they are doing on this one:
Again the top ranking result and 3379 backlinks from 1432 domains. The other site that has high backlinks and domains count are position 3 which is actually a tool so it makes sense to get many links (but from fewer domains) and tax-rates.org which is a site that is focused on tax rates so it has a topical authority.
c. “best cities for jobs”
This is another keyword with relatively low volume (450) and it’s clearly a non-commercial keyword/topic, it has a lot of public interest. Let’s see how such an article performs:
And once again top result with a featured snippet! What is most interesting on this one, is that they outrank Glassdoor which is probably the top authority when it comes to job stats, and they do this only through the power of links. You can see that WalletHub’s article has over 4 times the backlinks Glassdoor has and over 3 times the number of domains linking to it.
2. The distribution network
We saw how the topic is very important, now let’s see how to get our content in front of relevant content creators. Here are the things to consider:
a. Think about who is most likely to quote and even link to your content
Are there bloggers, reporters, scientific institutions, etc that are most relevant? If yes, start researching a distribution network.
You can opt for all in one solutions like Cision or Meltwater or even build your own custom solution where you build your database of relevant contacts and use a different solution like Mailchimp or ConstantContact or any other service that allows you to send newsletters.
b. Make sure to select the proper contacts which you will email
Cision and Meltwater have built in categories from which you can select. If you build your own custom solution, make sure to be as granular as possible with the categories in which each contact is added – this will help with avoiding a high unsubscribe rate.
c. Make sure your contacts list is constantly updated so you avoid a high bounce rate
If you get a high bounce rate, your emails might end up in the spam folder, or even worse, you might get blocked by the emailing service for spamming.
3. The pitch
Once you have the target audience selected and the content created, you need to present it in such a way that it will make it interesting. Here are a few tips to increase your open rate:
a. Have a very good title that presents the topic
In all of our examples, the articles were tops or rankings – there is a reason those articles do better than generic ones – you can send localized content. Eg: a generic title “Best Cities for Jobs – Site Study” might be relevant for many reporters but what if you send an email to Detroit reporters with the title “Detroit is the Worst City for Jobs – Site Study”. If I would be a reporter from Detroit, I would be intrigued and open it to see the details.
b. Present only the most important/intriguing stats
Do not reveal everything in the email, just spark the interest and have them click on the article – this will make them quote your article rather than your email (press release).
c. Offer to help with quotes and more information
Even if everything is available in the article, it’s a good idea to show your availability for any potential questions. This will help build a relationship with your contacts enabling you to get more links from them.
4. Additional tips
- It’s very important to monitor how your campaigns are doing to understand what you need to adjust.
- Take into consideration feedback from the people you emailed and respond nicely to it.
- Say thank you to those that used your study/content.
- Turn mentions into links – a site quotes your study? Email back, thank them and see if you can get a link.
- Use these articles for the middleman method.
For this strategy to work you need a kick-ass content team which can create high quality articles and reports. You will also need unique data or collecting publicly available data and clustering it to create your own unique stats – so most likely you will also need a good research team.
Another very important tip: Whenever you find a topic that does well, update it yearly and send it out again with the updated data – you will again get a significant number of links – those 3 examples gathered those links over time, not all in the same year. See below the graph for the Best Cities for Jobs example:
They got most of the links when the updated version was sent out, which was in January of each year.
I hope this helps and now you are ready to produce some amazing content and get those links.