Link building doesn’t have to be a complicated part of SEO.
My idea behind this article was to put together the type of free guide that I would’ve wanted when starting out in SEO. Like any aspect of digital marketing, there are often reams of misinformation that go along with learning how to do things… and link building is certainly no exception.
Over the next 6 days, I’m going to show you how to get the most out of your link building processes, where to start when you’re completely new, and how you can build links on a low budget.
Link building is one aspect of SEO, and you still need to be aware of how you use content, technical aspects and UX as part of your strategy. But link building is often misunderstood and is seen as complex… which it can be, but I’m here to help you get the right processes in place to break through the noise.
In this article we’ll cover:
- Using tools to analyse competitor link strategies
- How to use HARO effectively
- Blogger outreach – What it is and why it’s effective
- Use the tools that digital PR pros use to build high-authority links
- Link building methods that you may never have thought of before
- How to use Twitter for link building (this final one is worth the wait)
I’m looking forward to putting you on the path to building links that your competitors can only dream of.
Believe me, I asked myself that question for far longer than I should’ve done!
The issue oftentimes is that link building is synonymous with black hat tactics, or it’s just not done right. Technically any link building is against the terms of service of Google, but when done correctly it’s a very important part of any SEO campaign (and you shouldn’t be put off from doing it). You should be put off from doing link building badly… that’s when it can land you with a manual penalty.
So, how do you do link building badly? What does a bad link look like?
- A link from a PBN (Private Blog Network)
- A link from a website that is just selling links to anyone, without a care for the quality
- A link building strategy that is rushed and forced e.g. the number of links per month do not look natural in relation to a new website
- Anchor text that is keyword-heavy e.g. you have more backlinks that mention your target keywords than you do that mention your brand or website
– You get an average number of quality links that your competitors are getting each month. If your competitors are getting an average of 40 links per month but only 3 are of any quality, then on average your number of ‘good’ links from active link building should be 3 – ultimately it’s these links that begin to move the needle.
Using your SEMrush Extended Free Trial here’s how you can get that average. First, search for your primary keyword and find the sites that are ranking on page one.
Take the site in position 1, and paste it into the domain search tool. Go to ‘Referring Domains’ underneath ‘Backlinks’ and then sort the backlinks by the last 28 days:
Sort by the highest ‘AS’ (authority score). Click ‘View’ underneath ‘backlinks’ and you’ll see the exact link that the site has obtained from that domain:
Now we have the sites with the highest authority, to the lowest, for the last 28 days. So, what are we looking for here? One, we’re looking for the ‘good’ link average. Two, we’re looking to create our quick-win list of sites we can outreach to. What type of sites do we want to outreach to?
- We want sites that look natural and do not have ‘write for us’ or ‘guest post’ plastered all over it
- Sites that are relevant to your niche. For example, if it’s SEO, we want to work with digital marketing websites and SEO blogs
- Sites that do not have evidence of being a PBN – go to my blogger outreach guide to see how you can identify what a PBN looks like
- You can see that the site publishes in-depth articles and isn’t just publishing irrelevant content. We want to land links on sites that are industry-leading, not useless blogs
- For each site you identify, paste the page your competitor has the link from into a spreadsheet
Repeat this process for all of the sites on page one. Now you have your average and your hitlist of quick-win sites.
So, what do we do now that we have this list of sites? One of the best ways for us to reach out directly to the blogger or publisher is to use the Hunter.io Chrome extension.
Open up one of the links that you’ve identified as ‘good’. With the extension active, click on the extension image (an orange fox) and you’ll see the email for the publisher of that exact article. Now, instead of submitting your request to a contact a form, you can pitch the exact publisher directly. Don’t know what to say to them? No worries. Here’s a really handy guide on creating unique outreach emails that people actually want to respond to.
Also, if you’d rather just use the outreach tool within SEMrush, then have a look at how it works – it’s not as in-depth as this process, and it’ll provide you with your competitors too, so be prepared to sift through plenty of irrelevant sites before you find your target list.
Let’s look at this as if we are a search engine, looking at how to judge authority between two sites. One has links from a couple of bloggers, and the other has links from national press and high-authority industry websites. Which one would you aware the higher position to? Which one would you trust?
This is the thinking behind using media placement platforms and, to a broader extent, digital PR for link building. It’s the best way to build long-term authority into your site, and most actionable way to land links on sites with huge authority. Here’s how you can use HARO, one of the more popular platforms, for this approach to landing media links from the types of websites you’ve definitely already heard of.
1. Create a custom email account for yourself
This one is important as it can get very messy when you’re trying to outreach across multiple accounts, or for several clients. Also, you want your responses to be as unique as possible, and not all coming from the same account to try and snag a feature for multiple clients.
Yes, it can be a bit frustrating having to set up an account per client, but it works so much better and allows you to keep track of your responses much easier too when you’re using the free version of the service.
This also means you can set a custom signature per email account. In the custom signature you should include the following (this information is taken directly from what one journalist very directly asked for as part of their query – and it makes so much sense):
Link to a headshot (not an attachment as this will not pull-through into the platform)
Link to the site
2. Don’t take forever to reply
On average, journalists have to write anywhere between one to five articles per day (data via The Dublin Inquirer). They’re literally crying out for quality content to publish, and they don’t have all day to wait around for a reply.
The following is taken directly from the HARO site, so there’s no excuse to miss an email as it comes through:
“Sources will receive three emails a day, Monday through Friday at 5:35 a.m., 12:35 p.m. and 5:35 p.m. EST, with requests from reporters and media outlets worldwide.”
3. Provide a response according to the request
By this I mean that if the journalist or publisher is asking for 50-100 words, don’t send them 750. It’s a waste of your time and they’re not going to read it.
I even like to directly bold my main answer sentence or paragraph so that they can immediately see the main section of the response, and pull it out as required. For example here’s a response that ended up in a feature… short and sweet, and fairly generic too:
4. Don’t make your response too commercial or spammy
Anyone requesting a response for a query via HARO is going to be bombarded with answers. You can bet that a lot of these will be spammy in nature, so don’t fall into the trap. If you provide a quality response that actually answers the question and fulfils the intent of the query, you’re going to get a link.
If you’re writing a response that reads likes a dodgy landing page from 2003 stuffed with keywords, you’re probably not going to get that feature.
5. Consider (and plan) the types of queries you want to reply to
This is another one that sounds obvious, but when you’re doing this type of outreach for yourself and your clients you have to have a plan to make the process as efficient as possible. For example, I want to go through every HARO email I get because I go specific and then go broad in my search, but I have a process. Using the example for this site, that’s something like:
Immediately ‘Control/Command-F’ for my main target keywords that would naturally sit within a query e.g, :
Head to the business section of the email – Is there anything relevant here that broadly relates to your service offering e.g. any responses looking for a freelancer or business owner
Go even more general…within the ‘general’ section – A quick look here to see again if there’s anything generic where you can add value with a reply (like my book example at the start of this guide)
6. Involve your client if you’re wanting to do this as a service alongside your own marketing
This final one might sound like a no-brainer, but if you’re trying to pitch some fairly specific queries, you might not get very far when it comes to providing a generic answer when an expert opinion or in-depth response is required.
Get your client involved and let them know that you may require a quick response from time to time (freeing you up to respond to all of the others that you can).
If you’re more a visual learner, here’s my video guide using HARO over on my YouTube channel.
Raring to go for the next lesson? Me too!! Same time tomorrow we’re going to cover blogger outreach and how you can use it for hyper-targeted link building. Boom!
You just need to know how to do it right.
This lesson is about blogger outreach and how to do it effectively. For the full guide, go to my extensive breakdown of blogger outreach strategies.
When I first started out in SEO, the industry was (and in some parts still is) plagued with dodgy agencies and link sellers who would either just sell a link on a PBN, or resell from a reputable provider at an extortionate price.
I really wanted to challenge this, so since becoming a full-time SEO consultant I’ve been working with businesses of all sizes, and blogger outreach is an aspect of most campaigns that I love to get involved in. It’s also something you can do for your site, and replicate the process at scale.
Okay, so straight away, what actually is blogger outreach?
Blogger outreach is a method of link building that involves working with bloggers and content publishers (and more broadly, influencers) in order to obtain a link to your website.
The link can be obtained in many different ways, but it all really boils down to building relationships with reputable bloggers, and providing them with either a free product, promotion or content in return for a link on their website.
Blogging or even influencer marketing is an ever-growing industry, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. Even though I’m an SEO consultant, I suppose I’m a blogger in some aspects because you’re reading this post!
And, the data really speaks for itself:
- Between 2014 and 2020, the number of bloggers in the United States alone increased by 10 million
- The industry is predicted to be worth over $400 billion by the end of 2021
- Bloggers are putting more time and effort into their content and treating their blogs as an actual business. On average, they spend 6 hours writing one post (I can agree on that one too!)
What to look for when analysing the quality of a blog (and how to spot a ‘bad’ one)
Let me preface this by saying that, technically, any form of link building goes against Google’s guidelines. Whether that’s digital PR, HARO link building, or plain old generic outreach, you have to ensure that you’re approaching the method of getting links in a manner that doesn’t upset the overlords at Google.
We covered this in the previous lesson, but I really want to reiterate the following points about link building because it’s really important:
Look at your top 10 organic competitors through a tool like SEMrush or Ahrefs:
- How many good links are they building per month? What is the average across those top ten competitors?
- What are the types of links that they’re building? Can you replicate them with your strategies?
- What anchor text are they using? I would recommend that you stick with branded homepage anchors and plain URLs to begin with as it’s the most natural approach when compared to exact-match anchors for your keyword(s).
Now that you know exactly how many links you need to build to effectively compete, let’s look at what you need to spot when analysing the quality of a blog.
Evidence to look for that the site is a PBN (when doing guest posts or blogger outreach)
A private blog network or ‘PBN’ is usually a number of sites that are all owned by one webmaster. By hiding their identity behind WHOIS and various other methods, the owner of the network can link between the sites, and trick Google into thinking the links come from legitimate bloggers or authority publishers.
The easiest way to spot a PBN is to look in a tool like SEMrush or Ahrefs to see the IP address of the site, and then the related IP addresses to see if that one related to any other sites.
Over time, you get really good at spotting these types of sites. IP is a main indicator, put you can also:
- Check to see if the WHOIS information is available. If it’s a really bad PBN, you’ll see the same information across the network
- All external do-follow links to less-than-reputable sites. It’s clearly being used as a link farm
- Poorly written, duplicate or spun content. If it doesn’t look legit, then it probably isn’t
- External links to the PBN from other PBN-looking or otherwise unnatural sites
- Lack of natural diversity within anchor text
How to scale your blogger outreach approach
There are a few ways that you can approach mass-outreaching to bloggers. Tools like Pitchbox are awesome for this, but naturally this comes at a cost. You could always sign up for a demo and see how you get on. Using Pitchbox is a post for another time, but if you have the budget and are looking to scale then Pitchbox is a really natural way to approach outreach.
It’s used by myself and my team, and ultimately you get what you pay for with this tool. It’s not cheap, but it works.
Let’s look at how you can scale blogger outreach, one by using free tools, and another by using a tool like SEMrush.
Using free processes to outreach to bloggers
- Use Search Operators – here’s a simple one that you can tweak “fitness” accepting guest posts. Here’s a really handy guide on the different types of operators you can use for this approach
- Use SEMrush to export referring domains of your competitors, then use Hunter to get their emails and contact them (bcc multiple bloggers if you want to do this all in one go)
- Reach out to industry and news sites – have a look around in Google News to look for reputable sites. Follow their bloggers or publishers on Twitter, get in touch with them and establish a relationship
- Reach out to blogging Facebook groups – this is a goldmine, as many bloggers are looking to expand their guest post offerings to reputable businesses and sites
Using paid tools for blogger outreach
SEMrush is a really good tool to use for this, because you can analyse competitor referring domains, and then actually outreach to the sites from within the tool.
For example, let’s say we’ve identified the following site as a competitor – first let’s look at their referring domains to outline any authority blogs that we also might have the opportunity to work with:
Go to referring domains and filter by Authority Score (it’s ultimately a vanity metric but it’s a good place to start). We can also filter by ‘Arts & Entertainment’ if we’re wanting to get a link that is 100% contextual to a guitar or music site (as part of this example):
Once we’ve identified them as a competitor with relevant referring domains, we can add them to our competitor list within the ‘Link Building Tool’ section. Let’s use my site as an example of how to use it (just because it’s already set up in my SEMrush profile – naturally you can do this for any campaign you add to SEMrush, which is exactly what my team does):
There’s a lot to work through, so want to identify authority sites that would actually make sense to outreach to. In this example, Ahrefs probably won’t accept a guest post, so we carry on working through the list.
If we find a site we like the look of, we go through the process I outlined in the ‘what to look for when analysing quality’ section. If they pass these checks, they get added to the ‘In Progress’ list.
Let’s stick with the Ahrefs example for now to see what you can then do once you’ve found a site that passes all the pre-checks:
We can outreach to Ahrefs using a set template or a custom one, and SEMrush provides what it deems to be the most relevant emails. We can also go directly to relevant blog posts within Ahrefs and use the Hunter extension tool to directly email the author of a certain post that we feel resonates the most with the site we’re outreaching for.
You can repeat this process, and then outreach to prospects within the platform
This is just one very quick example of how you can do it, and naturally the more tools you can work with, the more quickly you can refine your outreach processes.
This one is a bit longer and there’s quite a lot to take in, but it’s really worth the time to test and refine your blogger outreach process so that you can both understand what a good link looks like, and know how to outreach without coming across as spammy.
You can also outsource your blogger outreach – I even offer this a service through my agency, Complete White Label.
I hope this lesson today has been helpful. In tomorrow’s lesson we’ll cover the tools that digital PR pros use to get their clients featured in high authority sites. HARO is just the tip of the iceberg, so get ready!
There’s an argument that digital PR is link building, but to me they’re not really one and the same. However, there are tools you can use that PR pros have been relying on for years… but you can use them to build backlinks from high-authority sites. I’m talking sites like Forbes, Wired, and a lot more. Let’s get into it.
A lot of these platforms are very similar, but that’s okay. Ultimately, this is a bit of a numbers game, so the more platforms you’re on, the greater your chances of landing a feature. Let’s have a gander…
Qwoted is a tool that connects huge, well-known websites with a relevant source. And YOU can be that source. Whilst you need to pay to respond to more than three requests within a month, you can very easily get started with the free version. There are also many pitches that are ‘free to pitch’ within the platform.
You register as a source and fill out your information in the same way that you would with HARO.
You can see when journalists see your pitch, and they’ll communicate with you from within the platform. You’re also emailed with relevant opportunities, even on the free version.
Response Source is a very well-known resource that journalists use to find relevant sources, reach out to publishers, and as a source you can sign up to register for opportunities and even publish press releases.
Like Qwoted, journalists will send requests for sources on a regular basis. It’s a huge industry tool so definitely worth checking out. I once signed up through a local review site I had and got invited to restaurant openings, got free meals and even free hotel stays… okay, it might not be a link but still, not to be sniffed at!
Press Plugs is another tool that connects sources with journalists and publishers. Essentially the platform summarises and formats relevant requests from journalists, so it can save you a lot of time if you’re otherwise trawling multiple platforms.
Editorielle is a fairly new platform that summarises and emails you the latest journo requests at the same time every day The turnaround time for a lot of these pitches is tight, but there are some huge publications and businesses in their emails so it’s definitely worth getting signed-up.
There are loooooaadddssss of opportunities through these platforms, and just like HARO, you can get by with free versions. Check them out and get building the links that really move the needle!
I think a lot of people tend to be put off by link building because they view it as manual, boring, uninspiring outreach. This really doesn’t have to be the case.
Below are some of the ways that you can build links that break out of the manual outreach bubble.
Alreet….let’s have a look at some of the methods…
Podcasts offer a very natural and logical way to land a link on a relevant site. Whatever podcast you feature on will naturally mention your business and what it is you do, and they will more than likely publish the podcast across multiple platforms.
Each site it is published on then means more opportunity for a brand mention, and more importantly, a link.
Below is a podcast link I obtained with a SEMrush authority score of 65…boom!
Content & Data Landing Pages
Creating these types of authority landing pages via stats and data then using them to pass authority back to your primary pages is one of the best ways to use outreach to your benefit. You’re creating your own linkable asset in the form of a data piece that, if done correctly, should continue to get data. You then also have full control over the anchor text you use back to the pages you want to rank (and the anchor text can then be updated and amended as required).
So, where do you start with creating this type of content? First, you’re going to either need budget for a survey, or the time to collate existing data and put a spin on it. When it comes to surveys, I’d recommend using something simple like Survey Monkey. When it comes to finding existing data to put a spin on, have a look at Statista.
Often the hardest part of creating this page is landing on an idea that sticks, and something that you know will have a high chance of gaining traction in the outreach arena. One of the best ways to do this is to review existing pages from competitor sites, and look at how you can make these better.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel here either. Try to find pages that have done well in terms of their quality referring domain count (bonus points if they have secured press coverage). How can you make this data better?
Some examples could be:
- In the gaming niche, you could create a games console stats page which details global sales, sales by region, most popular games etc
- You could create a ‘jokes’ resource landing page for people searching for puns. This could be super broad, so for example a ‘Christmas jokes’ page that provides unique jokes – you’d be surprised about who links to these types of things!
- In the guitar niche, you could create a data guide on the best-selling guitar brands of all time, and then break that data out into the best-selling models of guitar (with affiliate links to each model too).
If you’ve already paid for the data and landed the outreach links you wanted to go after, what’s next?
Creating an infographic and putting it on the data landing page will increases the chances of the page appearing in image search results, and also it’s another link opportunity as you can request that any sharing of the infographic requires attribution in the form of a link back to your site (or to your client).
My favourite here by far is creating content and data landing pages. Journalists are always looking for stats to back-up their writing, and you can very easily be that source by creating an in-depth page with fresh data.
Part 6: Twitter? Link Building? Really??
Yup. This is a short and sweet finale but packed with information and a great way to end this actionable guide to link building.
Twitter has been the way for me to land standard press features, and links from high-authority sites. Just two weeks ago I landed a link for a client with an authority score of 70, all through Twitter. Let’s have a look at how you can replicate this winning approach.
Say hello to #journorequest
In this guide, I’ve covered a lot of different ways to use journalist request platforms. And yes, they’re a great way to aggregate relevant pitches and see them all in one place… but you can do that within Twitter directly.
Here are my final link building tips on how you can use Twitter to land high-authority features that provide serious results:
– Search #journorequest within Twitter on desktop and filter by ‘latest’. Next to that, type in the niche that you’re working with, and go as broad as possible:
- For example, if you have a website in the e-commerce sector, add ‘retail’ next to the hashtag like I have in the image above. This will pull-through any journalist requests that mention the ‘retail’ keyword
- Ensure that you have your DM’s open, and that you message the journalist on their request itself just to say you’ve emailed, messaged, or would like more information
- Use #prrequest and #bloggerrequest too, and follow the same process as above
- Use Tweetdeck – It’s incredibly simple to use Tweetdeck to filter tweet listings for the types of keywords related to what you’re looking for, so have a play around with it
I really hope you enjoyed this link building breakdown and that it was helpful for you. Here’s to building links that move the needle!
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