Structuring a link building campaign

There are various components of a link building campaign; some will be crucial to success and others will be helpful but not necessarily essential. Much will depend on a combination of your available assets and resources.

Setting goals

Link building is a form of online marketing, and with any form of marketing you should start with goals. Knowing the goals of your campaign right at the start helps to ensure that you create a strategy that gives you the best possible chance of success. You also need to ensure that the goals of your link building campaign tie in closely with the overall goals of your business. For example, “build 10 links” is not a good goal to hit if building 10 links does not have any impact on the overall success of the business.

Here, we encounter a slight issue. We learned earlier that links are a strong part of the search engine ranking algorithms. So, wouldn’t hitting a goal of more links help with rankings? Helping with rankings helps drive more traffic and this helps bring more customers, right? All of this is true, but the problem is that it can sometimes take time for the links you’ve built to start having an overall positive effect on rankings. It isn’t as simple as build links one day and see improvements the next. This is particularly true in competitive industries.

This poses a problem for SEOs because it can be hard to show that a link building campaign is successful, even if it hits certain goals.

For this reason, it is very important to not only set realistic goals, but to make sure that the goals you set are more intelligent than “build x links.” The goals need to tie into real organizational goals and ultimately have a positive impact on the bottom line of your business. For example, you may want to increase organic search traffic in order to drive more sales. At the same time, you need to educate those around you that SEO and link building doesn’t succeed overnight and that results are not instantaneous. Like any good marketing, the focus should be on long-term gains, not overnight quick-wins. 

Finding your assets

At the heart of any link building campaign is the asset that you’re going to use in order to attract and earn links. This can also be known as the “hook” that will make people care about what you have to offer, and will entice them into linking to you. Assets will vary from business to business and you need to identify which assets your business has that will be of interest to others and can be used in link building.

Examples of assets may be

Content

Data

Products

Services

People

One other asset that black-hat SEOs still use is money. Obviously, all assets will probably require an investment of some kind, but these SEOs approach link acquisition as a pure cash transaction. Buying links is strictly against Google’s guidelines, and if a website is caught engaging in this practice, it can mean a heavy penalty and loss of traffic. Buying links is risky and usually the risks will outweigh the potential loss, so we strongly recommend against it.

You’ll also need to make sure that the assets you create are relevant to the audience you’d like to attract. Aleyda Solis put together an in-depth walkthrough that’s worth a look.

What types of links you need

When defining the strategy for your link building campaign, you will need to think about the types of links you need to get. There are various types to consider:

Links to your homepage

Links to “deep” pages (such as product or category pages)

Links containing your brand / company name

Links containing the keywords you’re targeting

Additionally, there are combinations of the above, such as a branded link to a deep page. Identifying what types of links you need will start with a detailed link analysis of your current website as well as a look at how you rank for certain keywords in comparison to your competitors. You can use Open Site Explorer to run this kind of analysis and see what your link profile currently looks like.

The analysis will show you opportunities for improvement. For example, you may see that you’re not ranking for one of your main keywords. After doing some link analysis, you find that you have no links pointing to your website that contain this keyword, or, you find that the most relevant deep page has no links at all pointing at it. If you identify something like this, you have a tangible problem that you can work to resolve. In this case, it may mean that your strategy includes trying to build links to the deep page that currently doesn’t have any links and doesn’t rank for your target keywords. 

Finding link targets

The first thing you need to think about is what types of people you should contact, as you want to make sure that you are contacting people who are likely to be interested in your content. If you contact people randomly, your response rate will be a lot lower, and you’re likely to give yourself and your website a bad reputation.

Ideally, before you actually start a link building campaign, you should have a rough idea of who you think will care about what you’re doing. If you create a piece of content that you want links to, such as an infographic, you should ask yourself right at the start of the process who will care about it. More importantly, who will care enough to actually link to it?

This last bit is crucial. While you may find it quite easy to get people look at your content, it is a whole new level of engagement for them to actually link to it. Linking to something requires a bit of effort and time, so you need to make someone care enough for them to not mind doing this. The barrier for getting your content shared on social networks is much lower. More people have a Twitter or Facebook account than a website or blog, making it easier for them to share.

So how do you make people care enough to link?

You need to find a hook that makes people care. You need to work this hook into your content right from the start. If you put off creating your hook until the moment you begin your outreach, you may discover that no one cares about the point of your content, the result being that you will have devoted a lot of time to crafting content no one wants to link to. 

Some hooks that you can think about may be:

News

Funny

Controversial

Data visualisation

Competition

Ego-bait

Long-form, detailed content

There are lots of hooks, but the ones above should at least get you thinking about what you can offer to people that will make them link to you.

A simple exercise you can do here is to go to your Facebook feed and see what links people are sharing. Note down what characteristics each link has and try to find patterns. Chances are that links shared on Facebook are funny, because many people use this platform for personal stuff and may not share more serious stuff there, with the exception of big news or controversial topics. Now go and take a look at your Twitter feed, note down which types of links are being shared there and ask yourself why. You may find that more long-form, informative content is shared on Twitter than on Facebook. 

Identifying your target audience for links

Once you have your idea mapped out, it shouldn’t be too hard to find out who will fall within your target audience. Generally, you just need to brainstorm subjects related to your content. Let’s take a look at an example.

Imagine you are putting together a piece of content entitled, The Definitive Guide to Baking the Perfect Cupcakes. You are producing this content because you own a local bakery which sells cupcakes as well as lots of other lovely things

Who would be interested in this guide?

Food bloggers: the obvious choice!

Parent bloggers: they may want to teach their kids how to make cupcakes and your guide will show them how to do this

Recipe websites: because your guide will contain lots of great recipes for different types of cupcakes

Party websites: no party is complete without a plate of cupcakes

With just a minute or two of thinking, we’ve easily come up with four types of websites that may be interested in our cupcake guide. Now we can start researching these in more detail to get a better idea of whether or not we stand a good chance of getting a link from them.

Techniques for finding link targets

In this section I will outline a few simple techniques that you can use to turn your idea of “food bloggers” into a full list of websites that you can contact. 

Find lists of bloggers

By far the most simple place to start is a search on Google.

This single search gave me lots and lots of great lists to search through. The big advantage of using this technique is that someone else has already done the hard work for you by curating the list.

Once you’ve found a list like this, you can quickly grab all of the URLs from the page using a tool like Scraper, which is a Google Chrome plugin. You simply right click on one of the URLs and click on “Scrape similar”

You can then copy the list into Google Docs or your own spreadsheet. From here, you can copy and paste all the URLs into a tool like URL opener, which will open all the URLs for you with one click. You can then go through them all, find out if they’re relevant to your content, and if so, find their contact details. 

Find bloggers on Twitter

Followerwonk is a fantastic tool you can use for this purpose. It allows you to do all kinds of cool stuff with your Twitter account, but the feature that we’re interested in allows you to search Twitter bios. We are going to search it for “cupcake blogger” to see if we can find anyone on Twitter who mentioned “cupcake blogger” in their bio.

You can select more options such as number of followers and location, but for now we want to keep the search quite broad. This search resulted in 12 people on Twitter being found:

Advanced search queries

There are a number of ways to search Google that are not immediately obvious to us as users. We are accustomed to searching for strings of keywords and this is how 99% of Google users search too. But, there is a set of search tools available to us that can make our results a lot more focused and specific to what we need.

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