The Wordtracker Academy

Father of link building, Eric Ward, reveals his link building secrets

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Key Points

  • You need to be passionate about your business to write original, helpful and link-worthy content.
  • Play to your strengths. You can't rank top for everything, so pick a set of keywords you want to rank highly for, and add value to your site by building content around them. As you succeed, you can expand the list of keywords you’re targeting.
  • Always be on the lookout for sites that might like to link to your content. Scan the web for news and information sites, resource collections, blogs and social media that are relevant to your industry. Be aware of what’s happening and what the hot issues are. Remember, the harder a link is to get, the more valuable it’s likely to be.

You need to actively build links if you want to improve your traffic and get high search engine rankings. But how do you do it? Eric Ward is a master link builder who counts the likes of Amazon, the Discovery Channel and Warner Bros among his list of clients. As a healthy obsessive, there is nothing Ward doesn't know about link building, making him the foremost expert in his field. In our exclusive interview Ward imparts some of his best pearls of wisdom on everything you ever wanted to know about link building.

It's rare for an interviewee to issue a warning before we start the discussion, but that's exactly what Eric Ward did.

“I hope you are taping this because when I get going, I really get going.”

And he wasn't joking. Ward can talk a hundred miles per hour, and could most probably talk all day about how people can go about improving their site by gaining links. What's really interesting about him is that he never helps a client who isn't willing to learn the techniques for themselves. He wants to educate people so they can gain total control over their site. In this interview he sets about giving Wordtracker readers a few lessons on how they can link build successfully.

First, a quick definition: link building is the process of actively targeting quality sites – directories, resource sites, news sites, blogs, social media sites, etc - and giving them compelling reasons to link to your site. Such links will bring you direct traffic and are one of the most powerful ways to improve your search engine rankings.

Where do links come from?

There are multiple opportunities for getting links. It comes down to being methodical in looking for them and creative in approaching them.

“Many people put together resource collections around a specific subject area and they want their resources to be as comprehensive as possible. They try and list all the sites they think the fans will love.”

These resource collections are a prime target for link building. “So if I wanted to build links for a blog about the New York Giants, I’d look for resource collections on the New York Giants or American Football, and ask them for a link.”

Are trusted sites important?

Ward explains: “Of the potentially thousands of inbound links, there are only going to be certain types of links that the search engines feel they can trust to a degree that they can make a decision about rankings.”

“There's a lot of terminology that people use, like authority or hub, but to be honest I’m not too worried about that. I base my judgement on 15 years experience looking at hundreds of thousands of websites.”

Ward concentrates on finding people who show a passion for a particular subject area. He went on to say that his career has not been based on getting links just to rank well on search engines. When he started link building, search engines were in their infancy.

If they have that passion, then their site is sure to have the quality that makes a link worthwhile. “My approach is driven by trying to identify the type of person who would care about good content and be interested in linking to it.”

How do you link build?

(A word of warning: as I asked “How do you link build” it was as if I wound up a coiled spring, and as I finished the question it was released. His enthusiasm can't be contained).

Add value through content

It's important that every website adds value through content. That content needs to be unique and highly relevant to the website's target audience.

Ward says: “If I had a company which manufactured boats, I'd have a list of the boats I sold of course, but what else? What kind of content could I add that would be useful to someone interested in buying one of my boats? What type of content could I add for someone who has already bought one of my boats?”

“Why not create content on every boat I have – content such as online manuals, guides to maintenance, or a live Q&A on boating issues and problems, or maybe I could create content on moorings...” The list is virtually endless once you focus on the value you can offer your customers.

Think geographically

“Think of the number of marina websites there are across the USA. I would think about linking to and getting links from them.

“Then I'd target the specific coastal towns where I know boating is a big activity - like Miami, Tampa or Boston. What location-specific websites could I target? Then I'd make a deduction that in these towns their libraries – and their websites – will have some kind of special section on boating and sailing. Could I get listed there?

“Google likes trustworthy and useful websites such as libraries. It knows that a library website would only link to another site if it thought it was a useful and good source of information.”

Look for partners

“You could partner with an organization that delivers safety manuals or videos which instructs beginners on how to sail safely. Now you are starting to augment your content.

“You just have to keep thinking about how to create good, useful and link-worthy content for your customers,” Ward advises.

Ward to the wise

Ward believes that everyone should pretend once in a while that they work for Google, their role being to make sure search results are good for their particular industry.

“Imagine you had that job and looked honestly at your own site. What would you see that would justify your site ranking above all the others?”

Ward says, “If you are honest with yourself and can't think of anything, then ask yourself what you do better than anyone else and how you can tell people about it.”

“You should also be asking; what am I passionate about that I can use as a source of new content? If you have no passion for the business you are in, get out of it,” Ward says bluntly.

“If you care enough about a subject and learn everything you can, write about it and provide useful content about it. As time goes on you will attract the kind of links that search engines reward.”

What makes a good linkbuilder?

It requires a willingness to do the hard work required, and not to depend on shortcuts that any website can take, regardless of quality. Take article marketing - for a few bucks you can buy software that will automatically generate articles for you, but do you think any of those articles will be worth reading?

Putting it in his oh so unique way, Ward says: “Even if you raised Ernest Hemingway from the dead and paid him to write richly textured articles about subjects related to your web-site, and even if those articles had perfectly placed keyword anchor links back to your site - if all you do is take those articles and submit them to the same generic article dumping grounds that everybody else is submitting to 24/7/365, then it will have no impact whatsoever, and Mr Hemingway will probably smack you in the head for reviving him.”

How do I start link building today?

  1. Write down everything about your site that you feel makes it unique. Each point you come up with gives you an opportunity to create unique, link-worthy content. The shorter that list is the more trouble you are in. If the only thing that's different is that your navigation buttons are red – you're in really big trouble.
  2. Here's a tough question for anyone, but imagine that tomorrow you could come top on Google for just one keyword of your choice - what keyword would you choose? Think about it and then make that one keyword the focus of your link building efforts. So, if you sold nautical antiques, your chosen keyword might be 'vintage sailing maps'. To come top for that keyword you need to demonstrate your passion for vintage sailing maps.
  3. When you've chosen your keyword, have a look at the search engine results, first to see what competition you're going to face, and second for information or community sites that you'll target in your link building. So enter the keyword 'vintage sailing maps' into the top search engines and collect the first 50-100 results from each. You will start to notice a trend and you will also notice that the same sites appear in the results time and time again. These are obviously sites that the search engines trust, so you’d want to build links from them.
  4. Split the results into two groups – competitors who may be potential business partners, and information sites that could give you some quality links, if you've got quality content. Now concentrate on the information sites and see if you can get some articles published. Review the unique points you wrote down in step 1, and browse the editorial content in the sites you have identified. You should be able to find many opportunities where your site can be listed or where you can publish interesting articles that will get you links back to your site.
  5. Continue to write and publish good content on your own site and let the sites you've identified in your research know about the wonderful content you've just created.

(Eric Ward writes extensively and is a top speaker at search engine conferences, where he is the recognized authority on linking. Check out his link building services and his hand-crafted news announcement service, URLwire.com)

For more articles on link building within Wordtracker, see The Link Building Mindset by Ken McGaffin and How To Count Your Site's Inbound Links by Mark Nunney.

About Rachelle Money

Rachelle Money is a freelance journalist based in Scotland, UK, who worked for Wordtracker from 2007-2009. She wrote extensively about keyword research, search engine optimization and link building

Rachelle is a contributor to The Web Content Recipe book

Nowadays, Rachelle is Communications Manager at Scottish Renewables.

She graduated from the Scottish School of Journalism in 2005 where she was awarded an internship with two national publications - The Sunday Herald newspaper and The Big Issue magazine.