structuring a link building campaign

While you may have all the pieces to run link development campaigns, putting them together is crucial.

Structuring linking campaigns can be tough.  There’s so much contrary advice on the internet – Make big content! 301 redirects! Guest post! Make friends! Promote Your Content! And the list goes on.

Most of these tactics will work – up to a point, where you’ll hit the point of diminishing returns.  However, how you structure your campaign – and what you do first – can lead to you to a campaign with a tremendous ROI, or a difficult and troubled effort.

In the past, you might’ve used a large number of directory submissions to start your campaign, followed by other mechanical ways.  These days, you’ll want to embrace a strategy that’s based on audience development and digital PR, in a larger bid to develop great authority and a good reputation.

There are ways to structure these campaigns where you find yourself running up a wall, instead of starting a fly wheel and carefully picking up all of the  low hanging fruit before advancing to high quality .

Nothing Attracts a Crowd Like a Crowd – Nothing Attracts Links like Links

In 2004, Mike Grehan wrote a now-famous essay, “Filthy Linking Rich”, on the tendency of well-linked sites to organically gain more links and make new competition impossible.  As Grehan put it:

So, the “filthy linking rich” get richer and currently popular pages continue to hit the top spots. The law of “preferential attachment” as it is also known, wherein new links on the web are more likely to go to sites that already have many links, proves that the scheme is inherently biased against new and unknown pages.

PT Barnum allegedly said ‘Nothing Attracts a Crowd Like a Crowd’ – and nothing draws links like links.  (The other thing you can learn from this is essay is people have been complaining about link acquisition and how big sites have an unfair advantage since 2004.)

Start at the Beginning

When I think about link building activities, I put them into five buckets:

-          Reclamation – Activities where the link is already there, but you’re not getting credit for it.

-          Link Demand Harvesting – These are pages that exist to link to sites like yours, but don’t yet include your site

-          Links Utilizing Pre-Existing Relationships - Where you don’t have to make new friends, and get links from folks you already know.

-          Links Requiring New Relationships - Links where you must make new friends. 

-          Links Requiring Both New Relationships and Large Amounts of New Content - Links that require new friends and lots of great content.

You can also think about these criteria through a series of questions:

  • Do I have to ‘build’ a link?
  • Do I have to persuade someone to do something they were not already inclined to do?
  • Do I have to make a new friend?
  • Do I have to make new content?

link harvesting v link demand gen slide

 

Start with the Easy Stuff

Whenever you start a project, you want to start with the easy stuff to build up your audience and link popularity before you tackle the big projects.  This will both give you a base to work with, and often the people you meet and relationships you build as you take care of the easier link opportunities (links on resource pages, etc.) will be interested in your larger, content-heavy projects like guest posts, interactive content, and more.

Additionally, if you can show your boss or clients wins and increases in organic traffic and sales for initial activities, it will be easier to get buy in on bigger projects in the future.

The Beginning, a Very Good Place to Start

I recommend starting link building projects with link reclamation. There are lots of great descriptions of link reclamation processes around the SEO blogosphere – basically the process consists of finding links to 404’ing URLs on your site, and either 301 redirecting them a resolving URL, or asking a webmaster to change the link’s destination. 

These people have already linked to you, so little persuasion is required.  Additionally, most webmasters who have intended on linking to you are open to fixing links.  (And if they don’t respond, you can always 301 redirect the URL to the most appropriate URL on your site.)

If the motto of salespeople (from the Glengarry GlennRoss) is “always be closing”, link development professionals should “always be building relationships.”  When you approach a webmaster about fixing a broken link to your site, think about building a relationship.  You may want to approach them in the future about guest posting or placing an infographic.

 And even if you’ve already received a link from that site, and thus are less interested in future links, they may have other sites, or friends with sites.  I recommend you store all of your contacts in a database like BuzzStream so you can sort them when opportunities arise.

The Next Step: Resource Pages

Once you’ve reclaimed your existing links, through 301 redirects or asking nicely, it’s time to move on to building new links.  The place I like to start is with resource and links pages.  (I don’t mean those ‘link exchange’ pages from the 90s – I mean legitimate resource pages like this one, this one, or this one.)

Most of these pages are curated in an attempt to provide visitors a great resource – so if you have a great resource, you can get it added to these pages by asking nicely.

And as I’ve written about before, often people build lists for their own site from other resource pages, so these links can often lead to second degree links – some on quite authoritative sites.

Again, Always Be Making Connections.  Lots of these curators are in a position to work with you in the future.

Mine Your Own Business: Finding Influencers on Your List

Many link development professionals start hitting up strangers at this point.  While this approach certainly can be effective, often these people are targeted by hundreds if not thousands of link development folks, and considerable effort is required to stand out and be different.

A better approach is starting with website owners who already want to hear from you.  You already have a big list of these – you just may not know it.  If you have an email lists or a social following, it’s very possible you already have a list of webmasters and bloggers who’d be happy to hear from.

You can mine your email and Twitter lists for bloggers and online influencers to work with.  These people want to hear from you – they are, after all, on your email list.  Many of them may even be customers.

If you start with them and build relationships, you can gain exposure you couldn’t get through cold emails.  Additionally, bloggers know other bloggers.  If you work with a blogger who’s already interested in your company successfully, you can ask them if they know anyone else who might be interested in the same review or guest post opportunity, and get a warm introduction.

Mining Your Twitter Account

This method was originally discussed by Wil Reynolds at Mozcon 2011.

Effectively the process is:

  1. Gather a List of Your Twitter Followers (from Twitter API or Simply Measured)
  2. Grab a List of the URLs Associated with Your Twitter Followers
  3. Remove Sites Like Pinterest, Etsy, YouTube, Facebook, and Other Non-Opportunites
  4. Use the SEOMoz Mozscape API (or BuzzStream) to Grab Link Metrics for Each Site
  5. Compare These to a List of Your Linking Domains from Your Favorite Backlink Tool
  6. Start with the High-Authority Sites, and Work Your Way Down

Now you have a list of bloggers who already want to hear from you and your company.  Keep in mind you’ll still have to vet the list manually (or use the BuzzBar), as some of your Twitter followers will be competitors or vendors, and not great opportunities.

Mining Your Email List

You can also mine your email list, just like you mined your Twitter account.

To do this, follow essentially the same procedure, except start by using the FullContact API to attach social profiles to your email records.  Then apply the same procedure – using the Twitter API, grab the URLs attached to each of these social profiles, and then sort by domain authority and prepare for outreach.

If you have interesting data you can attach to your email records (for example, what kind of product the blogger purchased), you can add that to your database and segment your outreach based on that information.

Making New Friends: Guest Posts and Product Reviews

Once you’ve reclaimed links, found resource pages, and mined your permission marketing assets for influencers, then it’s time to start using conventional link building processes like guest posts and product reviews. 

We’ve written about effective guest posts before – try to be the kind of guest poster bloggers want to introduce to their friends, rather than the kind they don’t want to invite back.

Big Content + Big Outreach: The Final Stage

Now that you’ve built relationships and exhausted all the low-hanging fruit, it’s time to employ big content and big outreach.

Whenever you do big content, set a release date, and work with influencers in advance.  We’ve all been a part of content marketing failures, and these can be prevented using ‘Lean Startup’ style audience feedback.

In this case, the big content is even easier because you already have so many influencer relationships.  Because you pulled in a lot of links already, I recommend aiming high here as far as distribution goes (aka Mashable or whatever the equivalent in your vertical is) and aim for a strong multiplier effect across paid, earned, and owned media.

Conclusion: Always Be Making Connections

As you go through this process, remember: people, not websites, have the power to make links.  Keep building your ‘little black book’ of bloggers as you execute your campaign, and you’ll find that your ability to build links grows over time, rather than reaching a point of diminishing returns.

Photo Credit: 1

mattgratt

Matt works on customer acquisition at BuzzStream. Before BuzzStream, he worked as an SEO Strategist at Portent and a Marketing Manager at AppCentral (acquired by Good Technology). You can follow Matt on Twitter or Google Plus.

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