The first step is making sure your prospects are worth the effort. The better the prospect the higher the amount of effort it's worth putting in. Much like with sales, a bit contract or sale merits more investment in the pitch.
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.
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 the support of government or academic sites.
Directories and lists
Most directories have disappeared but there are still a few directories out there. Whilst the reward from these is small, the effort required also is. Try and target list based sites such as ‘Top 10’, ‘Best of’ and ‘Recommended’ 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 anchor text to your site whenever you get the opportunity, remember not to just use core terms as this will get your links devalued.
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.
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. Try 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.