Link building has changed dramatically over the last dozen or so years that Ken McGaffin has been in the business. In this article he advises how the linking landscape has changed and how to target new prospects.
It used to be that you could succeed if you simply sent out hundreds of link requests, swapped reciprocal links, submitted your site to directories or (worse) bought links.
None of that is enough any more.
If you’re going to succeed at link building you’ve got to actively engage with your online community in all its richness and variety. You’ve got to invest time in networking, carefully researching link prospects, establishing your own credibility and building relationships with people who can give you links.
First, you need to adopt a link building mindset and ways of working that are going to bring you success. Understand that mindset and you’ll find the whole process of link building much easier. Then, go on the hunt for link prospects:
Checklist for quality link prospects
|Is it relevant?|
|Is the content well-written?|
|Has the content been updated recently?|
|Does the site link out to many other sites?|
|Are there real people on the site?|
|Has the site got good inbound links?|
|Does the site score well on Google PageRank, Alexa, Compete, etc|
|Is the site well-established?|
|Does the site perform well on keyword searches?|
|Are they easy to contact?|
|Do they publish resources or reviews?|
|Do they interview people for opinion or case studies?|
Different types of sites need different approaches
You’d never dream of approaching a directory in the same way that you’d approach a blog, and you’d never dream of approaching a trusted site (for example, a .gov site) in the same way you’d approach a shopping site.
You’ve got to have links from different types of sites and you’ve got to adapt your approach to each different type.
Here are the strategies that we automatically create within Link Builder together with notes on the best approach for each.
No matter what industry you’re in there’ll be many blogs that write about it. The great thing is that blogs contain lots of fresh content and links and are therefore popular in search engine results. They’re usually written by a single individual who makes themselves very easy to contact.
Best approach: A personal approach is important and rather than just ask for a link, you should seek to build a relationship with the person behind the blog. Start by commenting on interesting posts, summarizing them and linking to them from your own site. Monitor content of blogs that are of interest to you by signing up to their RSS feed.
Trusted sites include government sites (.gov), academic sites (.edu, .ac.uk) and non-profit organizations (.org). Trusted sites, particularly government and academic sites, can be difficult to get links from because they generally have a high level of bureaucracy, high standards or are reluctant to link to commercial businesses. However, because they are difficult to get, links from such sites may be valuable.
Best approach: Become involved in some way. That might mean offering discounts to government employees or students, supporting an economic development initiative or jobs program, or taking part in research. Being energy efficient, recycling or following green principles are some of the best ways to attract attention and win support of government or academic sites.
These vary from dedicated directories such as Dmoz, Business.com and JoeAnt to a whole variety of ‘Top 10’, ‘Best of’ and ‘Recommended’ lists of resources that are regularly published by site owners, bloggers and journalists. Such lists provide an immediate opportunity for new link builders, and are often the first place where people start.
Best approach: Directories are in the business of publishing links to other websites so approaching them should be a no-brainer. However, there are a number of things to look out for:
- All directories have guidelines – make sure you read them carefully and follow their instructions to the letter – otherwise you will waste your own and the directories time.
- Do your preparation in advance – prepare short, punchy and keyword rich descriptions of your site – go for 10-word, 20-word, 50-word and 100-word descriptions of your website. Then you can slot them in as appropriate.
- Use a variety of keyword rich linking text to your site whenever you get the opportunity.
Resource lists are informal collections of links published by an industry expert or blogger. Usually the authors of such lists will invite new suggestions and contributions. Be direct and brief in manner.
Newspapers, radio and TV stations and magazines now have a significant online presence to complement their printed or broadcast editions: there’s also exclusively online media outlets, podcasts and video blogs. These offer great link building opportunities.
Best approach: To get links from news media your content needs to be newsworthy and two tactics work very well:
- Make yourself available to reporters and become a source of ready quotes. Sign up for the excellent HelpaReporter and you’ll see what journalists are looking for.
- Learn how to write and distribute press releases through sites such as PRWeb, PRNewswire and BusinessWire.
The shopping category is made up of sites that are primarily interested in buying and selling on the web. They range from shopping directories through to resource lists and recommended products.
Best approach: Be businesslike in your approach - shopping sites are interested and cater for people who want to buy products. So:
- Be direct about your products and where you can emphasize the benefits that your products bring to customers.
- Offer special deals or pricing geared to the audience each of these sites have.
- Highlight the advantages you have over competitors.
Social media sites
Social media sites allow the sharing and spreading of a wide variety of material – articles, ideas, opinions, videos, links, news, content, offers and much more. They’re hives of activity where huge numbers of people interact and you’ve got to be among them if you want to get links.
Best approach: The most important part of getting links from social media is the social bit – taking part and interacting with others. This spreads your message and builds relationships and that can be a powerful way to promote your business and generate links for your website. You’ve got to explore and find out which social media sites work best for you. You could start with Twitter Facebook, YouTube, StumbleUpon LinkedIn and others. Look out for social media that is specific to your industry – and take part!
Finding jobs, recruiting staff and other employment related issues are popular activities on the web. And there’s a useful niche of sites that list jobs and CVs and offer recruitment advice.
Best approach: Getting links from job sites is a niche opportunity and perhaps not for everyone. However, if you do have regular vacancies, then it may well be for you. Here’s some guidelines:
- Be honest – only use such sites when you have genuine opportunities or career advice to offer. A well-written job description is essential.
- Recruitment sites usually charge a fee for listing a vacancy so make sure you budget for that.
- If you do use such sites and have successfully found new employees through them, write a short case study and let the site concerned know – that might be enough to win you a link!
Sites related to business advice, exhibitions, summits, conferences and other business events are good places to pick up business links. They will often list and link to attendees in order to promote their event, and can lead to editorial opportunities from people who have attended the event.
Best approach: Running events can be an absolute nightmare for the organizers. If you can offer any help to make their lives easier they’ll be very grateful and that can bring you links. So:
- Be helpful to the organizers whenever you can.
- Always submit your details or company description well ahead of time. If you reply early, you’ll get additional opportunities for coverage and links.
- Be prepared to talk to experts or journalists who are looking for people to interview and good stories to tell.
- After the event, give honest testimonials. Let organizers know right away the benefits you gained from attending.
When we first introduced the Link Builder tool, we advised you to browse through the results to first get a feel for who was linking to other sites in your industry; second, see the link in context; and third, understand what you might have to do to get a similar type of link from that prospect.
I really enjoy that type of quick overview because it gives me a feel for the market and starts to influence how I’ll approach the link building task.
But of course, I’ll quickly want to get down to the task of picking actual sites to target.
I’ll look at the rank of the site and I’ll click on the top link and it will open up in a new window. I’ll mentally apply my quality criteria and if I like the prospect, I’ll go back to Link Builder and ‘target’ the site.
So here I’ve spotted http://www.tutorialblog.org as a likely prospect:
I’ll click on the top link and have a look at the site:
I see that the site has both a link directory and an invitation to submit a guest post. I like the look of the site and decide that I’ll target it.
To mark it as a target, I click on the grey target icon and it will change to red:
And it will then appear as ‘targeted’:
I’ll work through my list of prospects like this, always hitting the target icon for every prospect I like.
This targeting is essential because:
- Concentrating on quality sites rather than blasting every prospect is fundamental to good link building.
- It allows us to check and report on your success in the future.
- It will allow us to easily collect contact details for you (see below).
Collecting contact details
Now that you’ve selected sites to target, Link Builder can get you additional information on each prospect – this includes Alexa rank, Compete rank, social media links as well as the URls for ‘About us’ and ‘Contact us’.
We’ll collect all of these details for up to 100 prospects at a time – that’s a fantastic time saver!
First, let’s collect all your selected targets together by applying a filter:
Now select all your targeted prospects by clicking on the box:
Switch to ‘Contact’ view and hit ‘Find contact data’:
Click on ‘More info’ to get this card view for each prospect:
There’s space to add your own notes on what you’ve done to contact the prospect:
– and you can search this field using the filter function.
Quick Win: Hidden niches
Your campaign can contain ‘hidden niches’ – sites that have something in common but which don’t appear automatically. Such niches are powerful because they’ll be entirely as a result of your work – they’re unique and your competitors will not have access to them as a group.
Here’s where a bit of creativity can come in handy.
Suppose, as you’re working through your prospects, you come across a site that is obviously concerned with green issues. If you find that appropriate to your site, you’ll probably wonder if there are other sites that belong to a green niche?
You can find out easily using the filter function.
Filter on the top link for any that contain the word ‘green’. In this case, Link Builder has found 233:
That’s a nice size of a niche, so you can tag these prospects and save them into a custom strategy – I’ll call it ‘Green sites’:
I can now save these prospects, 100 at a time and a new tag will appear under the strategies menu, so you can access them at any time:
If I was doing this in a real project, rather than as an example in this book, I’d go on to tag all 233 prospects.
And I’d also filter on other related words such as ‘enviro’, ‘eco’, ‘sustain’ and so on. The end result would be a hidden niche clearly focused around green issues.
I’ll just show another couple of examples.
Why not explore the different filters on Link Builder and see what hidden niches you can come up with?
Building relationships with prospects
So you’ve found some great link prospects. And you’ve created some great reasons why someone should link to you. Now you want to make an approach and craft a great link request. But are your link requests missing the most vital ingredient?
It used to be that a polite email would set you off on your link building. It was the email equivalent of a ‘cold call’ – you had no contact with and you probably didn’t know too much about the person you were targeting.
The fact that you didn’t know too much about the person was a real problem. Because it is not websites that give you links, but the people who are behind them that decide that you’re worth the effort and go ahead and give you that link.
Through social media we can get to know people before we make a link request.
Instead of spending time writing the perfect link request email, spend time getting to know the people who could give you the links you’re after. NEVER send a link request if you haven’t done this preparation.
Here’s the process to follow:
i. Identify the blogs in your industry you want to target. You can do that easily by taking the most popular from Link Builder Or by doing a search on Technorati or a search on Google using something like top 10 blogs on mountain bikes.
ii. Browse through your chosen blogs and follow the people behind the blogs. Tweet any articles you find particularly interesting. You’ve now done your targets a favor and you’ll find that most of them will follow you back.
iii. Set up an RSS reader to give you automatic notification of any new posts on your chosen blogs. That means rather than having to go to each blog in turn, the blogs almost come to you. You can get all the latest news in one place: Google Reader, for example, is very easy to set up.
Just look for the RSS feed on your target blog - Serious Eats in this case:
Click on the RSS link and you'll see:
Once you’ve subscribed to several blogs, this is what your Google Reader will look like:
The list of blogs you subscribe to will be listed in the bottom left. And new posts will automatically appear when you open up your reader:
iv. Check every morning for new stories once you have Google Reader set up. Spend perhaps 30 minutes to an hour looking at the news stories that have been published.
When you find useful articles, you can catch the attention of the author by making a comment.
Do this immediately – authors always look for early reaction to their pieces. Make your comment meaningful and useful. Agree with the point the writer is making, or give an example from your own experience, tell them that you found the article helpful and give a reason why.
v. Tweet the articles you find useful. Copy the title and URL into Twitter and add a short comment yourself such as "check this out", "very useful", "interesting thoughts" and so on.
vi. Write a blog post expanding upon and linking to the original article. Make your opinions clear, give further explanation or other resources that you have created.
Another possibility is to take the post as inspiration for one of your new posts.
vii. Look for dissenting voices. Does anyone really disagree with the author? Is their opinion valid? Is there a debate that you can join in? Write a post outlining the argument, give your opinion and encourage others to contribute.
viii. Tweet your post or article once it's written, and don't forget to ask for re-tweets – just add "Please RT".
ix. You’ll acquire new followers and fans if you’ve done your job well and your name will spread. Thank people for follows and re-tweets.
All of these activities draw you to the attention of the person behind your target blogs.
You will have done them a favor in engaging with them, adding your opinion, tweeting their post and linking to the post in articles or blog posts that you write.
And they will have noticed you. That means they’ll be much more receptive to an approach.
Write link requests
Imagine you’re attending an out-of-town business conference where you don’t know a soul. There’s a social event the night before and you decide to go along.
You enter the room and there are over 50 complete strangers. You grab yourself a drink and look round the room hopefully. You walk up to another delegate, also on his own and say:
“It would be mutually beneficial if we could have a chat. Chatting together would raise both our social standings in the room and reduce the anxiety we both feel about being on our own ...”
They would run a mile and rightly so.
The sentiments you’ve expressed to the other delegate are probably true ... but the awkward and labored words you use would have him squirming and looking for a quick escape.
So if that type of approach is disastrous at a social event, it will be disastrous in a link request.
You’ve got to approach people in a natural, friendly way. Don’t fall into the trap of following a rigid format for a link request that makes you look amateurish.
To be successful, the subject line of your link request email needs to be directly relevant to them.
So if I have a fountain pen website and I find someone who publishes a resource that lists fountain pen websites, my subject line would be something like:
“Another fountain pen resource for your website”
If I find someone who has a shopping site offering to review gift products, my subject line would be something like:
“Fountain pen gift set for your review”
And if I find a marketing publication looking for story ideas, my subject line might be something like:
"Story idea: The Handmade Brand”
In each of the three cases above, I’m promoting exactly the same website, but the approach I use is geared to what the individual link prospect is looking for.
Does this mean you can’t use an email template?
No it doesn’t, templates are great for saving time and helping you be effective. But you should only use each template for the appropriate type of site.
So I might have:
A template for all resource sites ...
Another template for all shopping sites ...
Another template for all publication sites ...
And so on.
This variety in link requests will allow your request to stand out, and your link prospect will be more likely to open your email.
Tips for writing link requests:
- Always find a name to approach. It’s people who make links not websites, so spend time discovering the person you need to contact.
- Write a subject line that is going to be of immediate interest to your link prospect. Otherwise your link prospect won’t even get opened.
- Highlight the benefits to them and their site visitors rather than the benefit you’ll get from the link.
- Show you’ve read their site by mentioning a particular resource or article they’ve published.
- Be brief and to the point. Don’t write paragraphs explaining yourself and what you want. Be as direct as you can be - too many words can hide your meaning.
- Be creative. You don’t have to be overly formal - a quirky, funny or original approach can often work.
Networking and link prospecting are essential skills to learn. You must always be on the look out for opportunities.
The techniques in this article should have given you ideas for ‘easy links’ - that is, links where the person behind the site is actively encouraging you to get in touch and suggest resources. For the novice link builder, such easy links are the most likely to bring success.
Once you’ve learned from these experiences it’s time to move on to what every experienced link builder knows: namely, it’s great content that brings you quality links. In the next chapter we’ll look at the processes and ideas that allow you to create the type of contact that can bring you hundreds of links - sometimes without even having to ask. Let’s move on to Content creation
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Link Building Made Simple
Read the rest in this series:
Link Building Made Simple: Introduction
Link Building Made Simple 1: Strategy
Link Building Made Simple 2: Measuring your success
Link Building Made Simple 3: Current situation
Link Building Made Simple 5: Content creation
Link Building Made Simple 6: Promotion
About Ken McGaffin
Ken McGaffin is an experienced internet marketing consultant and has worked for major pharmaceutical companies, advertising agencies, government bodies and non-profit organizations.
Ken unveils the secrets of successful link building in his 384-page e-book, Successful Link Building
You can watch recordings of his extremely popular (and free) Link Building Webinars