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Category Archive: Link Building

  1. SEO Link Building: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide

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    You know you need inbound links; they’re the single strongest factor in Google’s ranking algorithm, so if you want search visibility, you need them – and lots of them.

    But, ugh. Link building also happens to be the most difficult element of search engine optimization (SEO) as voted on by a recent survey of 357 marketers that we conducted. Furthermore, unless you’re an SEO guru, you probably don’t have much technical expertise.

    So how in the heck are you going to build good links for SEO?

    Here’s your definitive guide for doing so – with no technical expertise required. Enjoy!

    SEO Link Building

    Table of Contents

    + Introduction
    + The Concept and Benefits of Link Building
    + Two Theaters of Link Building
    + Old Link Building vs. Modern Link Building (and How Not to Build Links)
    + Modern Link Building Option 1: Attract Links Naturally
    + Modern Link Building Option 2: Build Links Manually
    + Developing Your Strategy
    + Conclusion

    Introduction

    Few terms are as polarizing in the online marketing world as “link building.” Sometimes misunderstood and sometimes neglected, link building is actually one of the most beneficial, cost efficient, and powerful strategies you can implement for your brand online. So why is it that a whopping 38 percent of online marketers aren’t using the strategy at all?

    The way I see it there are three main reasons:

    • Marketers misunderstanding link building, thinking of it in terms of archaic tactics that are no longer effective (or even safe).
    • Marketers not seeing the true impact of the strategy, missing the potential value it holds.
    • Marketers not knowing how to implement the strategy properly, leaving them unable to begin work, or leaving them with less-than-ideal results after pursuing the strategy for some time.

    This guide is intended to help resolve all three obstacles to link building adoption. Over the course of this guide, I’ll explain exactly what link building is (and what it isn’t), what kind of impact you can expect to see from link building, and how to implement a link building strategy that actually works in the long term. By the end of this guide, you should have a thorough understanding of modern link building, with all the tools and knowledge you need to get started.

    The Concept and Benefits of Link Building

    Let’s start with the basics. Link building is a long-term strategy designed to increase traffic to your site while improving your reputation, all through the use of external links pointing back to your domain. All the approaches and tactics I’ll be discussing in this guide have the same fundamental purpose; earning a greater number of powerful links on other sites that point to pages on your site.

    Why is this important? How does it work? What’s the best way to do it? I’ll dig into these topics shortly, but for now, let’s take a look at the key benefits.

    The Benefits

    Link building is about far more than just earning traffic (though that is certainly a key benefit). Take a look at some of the ways link building can support your brand:

    1. Brand (and content) visibility. Building more links on more prolific sources means you’ll increase your brand’s visibility. That may not seem like a big deal by itself, but it can cumulate into a powerful effect. On one level, you’ll improve your content’s visibility; by publishing your work on outside sources, you can gain access to wider spreads of more diverse readers, increasing the reach of your material. On another level, your brand name will reach more online users. Even readers who consume content at-a-glance will start becoming more familiar with your brand in passing, which will lead to more direct traffic and conversions later on.
    2. Reputation by affiliation. In the early stages of your link building campaign, you’ll be working with relatively low-level, niche sources, but as you build up, you’ll start getting positions on high-authority, noteworthy publishers. I’m talking about major household names like Forbes and Huffington Post. You can use these affiliations to promote the notoriety of your own brand, such as by including references to these publishers in trust badges or icons. The goal here is to associate yourself with names that the public already trusts, helping you establish a reputation with users who may not have ever heard of you before. Think of the immediate trust you could generate by showing off how you’ve been featured in these top-level publishers:Reputation by affiliation
    3. (Image Source: Kickstarter)

    4. Referral traffic. One of the biggest benefits of link building is the generation of referral traffic, which refers to any readers who click on your links and get to your site. Your website is where your actual conversions take place, so the more people you have coming to your site, the more direct revenue you’re going to receive. Different wording and placement choices can affect your click-through rates, but the biggest factor here is how popular your content is. Getting featured on a publisher with millions of hits per day can wind up funneling hundreds or even thousands of new users to your site—all from a single piece of content. Over time, you’ll be able to learn what types of pieces generate the most referral traffic, and which publishers generate the highest return for your efforts, giving you the opportunity to improve your results over time.
    5. Search engine optimization (SEO). Link building, as a strategy, first emerged as a means of increasing your ranks and visibility in search engines. To put it simply, Google takes two main things into account when pulling in pages for its search engine results pages (SERPs); the relevance of a page to the query, and the authority of that page. It measures authority based on the types of sites linking to that page, as well as to the entire domain, so as a general rule, the more links you have pointing to you (provided those links are valuable), the higher your pages are going to rank. Higher ranks means more traffic from search engines, which means more opportunities for conversion—and you can even control which pages you want to rank higher by the type of links you build. A good link building campaign can easily multiply your organic search traffic many times over.
    6. Ongoing return. Another major advantage of link building is its power to generate ongoing returns. When you build links, they’re almost always permanent. Yes, a publisher can choose to remove your link eventually, and your off-site content will usually generate a decreasing amount of attention over time, but the authority you build from those inbound links is cumulative, and you’ll indefinitely get trickles of referral traffic from even your oldest posts. This gives link building the power to generate compounding returns, multiplying your return on investment (ROI) the longer you pursue the strategy. This means you’ll see less of a return early on, but after a few months of consistent commitment, you’ll start seeing better and better returns.

    Two Theaters of Link Building

    You have the basic idea of link building, but how exactly do you go about building the links in the first place? The phrase “link building” was actually coined in reference to an archaic strategy of stuffing links everywhere you could online, but modern link building takes place in two main theaters, or approaches:

    Link attraction

    Link Attraction

    Link attraction, often referred to as “link earning,” is exactly what it sounds like. In this strategy, you’ll be developing pieces of content for your link building campaign that you’ll publish directly on your own website. The goal is to entice people to link to them based on their innate quality or “linkability.” This is advantageous because it circumvents the possibility of a Penguin-based penalty (more on that in the next section); all the links you generate in this method will be completely natural. The downside is that it’s difficult to control. You’ll be relying on social syndication and users’ natural tendencies to cite sources they’ve found valuable, which doesn’t always pay off the way you think it will. Think about the strange articles and pieces of content you sometimes see in the trending sections of social media platforms.

    Most Shared Articles on Facebook

    (Image Source: KissMetrics)

    Manual link building

    manual link building

    Manual link building sounds like it would be closer to the original practices of link building, which often involved spam-based tactics. However, modern manual link building is more sophisticated, and revolves around producing guest content for external publishers. Essentially, you’ll be producing material that these publishers find valuable for their own audiences, resulting in a mutually beneficial relationship. Within the content, you’ll include a natural, value-adding link to one of your pages within that content, and each party will gain from the relationship. As you gain more authority and produce better material, you’ll be able to engage with higher-authority publishers, gradually increasing the traffic, reputation, and authority you get from the process. It’s a bit riskier than natural link attraction in some ways, but it’s much easier to control, and will practically guarantee you some level of results.

    I’ll be covering these two approaches to link building in their own respective sections later on.

    Domain Authority and Page Authority

    When it comes to earning higher ranks in search engines through link building, everything boils down to authority, but until now I’ve only referred to “authority” in the general sense. In reality, domain authority and page authority are slightly different, and the way they’re calculated is complicated—to say the least.

    “Authority” is a subjective, unofficial score assigned to different websites based on how trustworthy Google deems those sites. This level of trust is determined by recognition throughout the web. A relevant link from a site Google knows to be trustworthy might pass a ton of authority to your site, while one from a decent site might pass a bit of authority, and a link from a known untrustworthy site might actually drag your authority down.

    Whenever you link to a specific page of your site, that link increases that page’s “page authority,” which increases its likelihood of ranking in search results. However, you’ll also be increasing your overall “domain authority,” which applies sitewide. While domain authority and page authority are not officially used by Google (in fact, they are calculated and provided by Moz), correlation studies have shown that Google takes both domain authority and page authority (or something similar) into account when calculating ranks. With this knowledge, you can increase the chances of a specific page of your site ranking higher by directing more links to it. For example, you could boost the visibility of a certain landing page or product page. Keep this in mind when shaping your strategy.

    Also note that authority is probably only passed if the link is a “dofollow” (ie, non no-follow) link. Most links are “dofollow” by default, which means that Google will actively view them and consider them as authority-passers. Some publishers, however, mark links with a “nofollow” tag, which essentially hides them from Google’s view. Nofollow links can still be valuable, as they’ll increase your brand visibility and pass referral traffic your way, but they probably won’t pass any authority to increase your search ranks. Using the “nofollow” tag helps publishers remain in good standing with Google, as too many authority-passing links to the same source, or in the wrong context, can be a red flag.

    Key Principles for Success

    Before I get into the specific strategies for each of the two main approaches to link building, I want to mention some overall guidelines for success in this strategy. These are key tenets you’ll need to achieve if you want to see the best results:

    • Context. Google looks at the contextual value of your links to determine whether or not they’re “natural.” This means you need to pay attention to your context, and only publish links that are truly valuable for your target audience. For starters, if you’re guest posting, your content needs to be in line with your chosen publisher, and your link must appear naturally in the body of your work (as a citation, or as a reference to more detailed information off-site). Generally, you’ll want to include other links to other outside authorities as well. Ask yourself; does this link add value for the average reader?
    • Domain strength. The domain authority strength of your link sources is the single biggest indicator of a link’s potential value. The higher your source’s authority, usually the harder it is to get a link from that source. When it comes to manual link building, you can iteratively climb to more authoritative sources, earning more value for every link you build.To an extent, you can rely on common sense here. Niche blogs without much readership won’t have much domain authority, but major household names (like national news sources) will have authority in spades. If you’re ever in doubt, you can use a domain authority checker like Small SEO Tools to estimate the authority of your selected source.

    domain strength

    • Diversity. Diversity means a lot of things here, but the general concept is the same for all of them. Google is extremely sophisticated, and can detect patterns in links fairly easily. If it detects a pattern, it interprets an action as being manual, possibly manipulative, and it could trigger a red flag that ends up penalizing you. Diversifying your strategy is the best way around this.Diversify the following:
      • Sources.If you build too many links on a single site, it will start to look shady, and you’ll earn less authority over time. Attracting links naturally can help you mitigate this risk, but you can also simply choose new publishers in your manual link building efforts.
      • Linked pages. Linking to the same page (especially a home page or other “anchor” page) over and over will be a red flag as well.
      • Nofollow vs. Dofollow links. Don’t be afraid to build nofollow links, and even unlinked brand mentions as substitutes and complements for your ordinary link building efforts. Normal link profiles always include nofollow links.
    • Scale. The last general principle I have to tell you about link building is the importance of scale. When you first start out, you’ll be relegated to leveraging low-authority sources. This isn’t a bad deal at first, as your own domain authority will probably be low, and even low-authority sources can give you significant results. However, as you spend more time, you’ll find your results plateauing. Even new sources in the same authority tier won’t do much to elevate your site’s authority.

    Instead, you need to seek bigger and better sources. This is difficult, as each rung in the ladder will prove to be its own obstacle, but if you want to improve your results, you have to continue moving up.

    Old Link Building vs. Modern Link Building (and How Not to Build Links)

    Now that I’ve outlined the basic concepts of modern link building, as well as a high-level view of the strategies you’ll need to be successful at it, let’s take a step back and look at how link building came to be, how it’s evolved, and why it has an undeserved questionable reputation in the SEO (and general marketing) industry.

    Old-School Link Building

    old-school link building

    Old-school link building (a technical term, I assure you) was nothing shy of atrocious. Nobody liked it, even the people reaping the benefits of it. Why? Because Google’s authority measurement algorithm was painfully simple. Links couldn’t be evaluated in terms of quality, which meant that any link on the web passed roughly the same proportionate value to whatever site it pointed to.

    As you can imagine, there was too much wiggle room for abuse in this model. Any webmaster with enough time on their hands could spam links everywhere they could—on blogs, forums, and so forth—and see their ranks climb in a linear and predictable fashion. Irrelevant and low-quality sites frequently made it to the top of the SERPs, frustrating searchers, and spammy links were popping up everywhere on the web. Even software was developed that could automate the entire process of signing up for sites, creating content with links in it, and posting that content. That’s why Google stepped up its game in 2012, with an algorithm known as the Penguin update.

    The Penguin Update

    The Penguin Update

    The Penguin update was released in April 2012, and even though Google had taken measures to improve its link evaluations in the past, this was the first real step toward the modern ranking system we know today. Essentially, Penguin overhauled the way Google viewed the quality of links pointing to various websites. It became able to detect how “natural” a link was, and took a more natural approach to evaluating anchor text, which could previously be stuffed with keywords to improve a relevance score for those targets.

    Penguin penalized sites that used these old-school, shady, “black hat” tactics, and instead rewarded sites that had a natural link profile. Any sites that had “bad” links pointing to them (i.e., ones with keyword-stuffed anchor text, ones irrelevant or non-valuable to users, etc.), could have those links removed, or in extreme cases, disavowed in order to eventually restore their ranking to its previous levels.

    disavow links

    Multiple iterations of Penguin have rolled out since then, including Penguin 2.0 and 3.0, both of which have added new ranking signals to the algorithm. However, most of these updates have been small, and have essentially been “data refreshes” that haven’t overhauled Penguin’s core system of evaluating links.

    How Not to Build Links

    link building bad practices

    It’s hard to say exactly what Google views as a “good” or a “natural” link, but we do have some pretty good indicators—feel free to skip ahead to the “anatomy of a perfect backlink” section if you’d like. Still, it’s better to outline what Google considers to be a “bad” link in contrast, instead.

    Avoid these types of link building strategies at all costs:

    • Spam. If your link exists by itself, with no context, it’s spam. There are many definitions of spam, and it can be quite subjective, but chances are, you’ll know it when you see it. Trust your gut here, and don’t build a link unless you have a good reason for doing so.
    • Comments and forum posts. Comments and forum posts used to be excellent opportunities to build links thanks to their easy accessibility. However, most forums these days carry low authority, or use nofollow links, or are too keen to link building techniques for this to fly. Avoid them.
    • Paid links. Google explicitly forbids webmasters from paying people to post links to their sites. You can pay for consulting or help with executing a link building strategy, but the direct exchange of money for links between you and a publisher will put you at risk of being penalized.
    • Link schemes. There are many types of general link “schemes,” most of which involve two or more parties engaging in tactics designed to increase the ranks of everyone involved. Link circles and article directories are just a couple of these. As a rule of thumb, if an opportunity seems too good to be true, it probably is.
    • Exchanges. Link exchanges are basic “post a link to me and I’ll post a link to you” deals. Avoid these; they are known as reciprocal links, which Google easily identifies and essentially ignores for ranking purposes. Too many of them can get you penalized for being manipulative.

    If you engage in any of these practices, Google will undoubtedly catch you, and you can expect your rankings to tank as a result.

    EzineArticles.com was a popular source for posting articles that contained links in them in the pre-Penguin days. Penguin, along with another algorithm known as Panda, hit EzineArticles significantly, as you can see from this screenshot illustrating their organic search traffic over time:

    ezinearticles

    (Image Source: Moz)

    Why Link Building Gets a Bad Rap

    link building bad rap

    To this day, there are search marketers who swear that link building is “bad,” “risky,” or flat-out “dangerous.” These are usually people who got hit by Google’s Penguin update and never bothered to update their strategies, or people who mistakenly associate the term “link building” with these bad, black-hat practices.

    However, as you now know, modern link building is quite different, and a much safer, more beneficial play for your marketing strategy. Now, let’s take a look at the two main approaches you can use to build more links to your site without ever risking the threat of a penalty.

    Modern Link Building Option 1: Attract Links Naturally

    This is the first main “theater” or approach to link building you can take as a brand, and it involves the natural attraction of links to your site.

    The Concept

    I’ve already mentioned the concept high-level, but here’s a rundown of how link attraction might work in a practical environment. You’ll create a high-value asset—one that people need for information or entertainment value, preferably both—and distribute that asset to the masses. People will naturally pick it up, sharing it and linking to it either as a citation or to show their friends and followers. Create an impactful enough piece, and you could earn hundreds to thousands of natural links pointing back to your domain. This very guide is an example of our “link attraction” strategy (so if you like it, please share it!).

    The advantages are enormous:

    • Guaranteed safety. You won’t be building these links; your customers, followers, authors, columnists, and other industry stakeholders will. Accordingly, you’re guaranteed to be safe from any link-related Google penalty. After all, how can you be accused of manipulating your rank if your hands are “off” the proverbial wheel?
    • Potential for mass link attraction (“going viral”). If you create content that’s valuable enough, it can be shared virally, earning incredible levels of visibility from potentially millions of people. These events, while rare, are enormously valuable to your link building campaign.
    • Secondary benefits. Don’t forget the raw value in creating good content—reputation, visibility, and of course, more conversions.

    However, there are some disadvantages:

    • Less control and direction. You’re trusting random strangers to build links for you. As a result, you’ll have far less control over which sites link to you, and less direction for your strategy’s growth.
    • Wasted efforts. There’s always the chance that your content, no matter how exceptional it is, won’t be noticed or loved by your audience, resulting in wasted content effort that could have been spent on a safer bet.

    Creating a Linkable Asset

    create linkable asset

    Your first job with this strategy is to create what’s known as a “linkable asset”—something that people want to link to. This can take a variety of forms, but must be on your site in some way:

    • Content. This is by far the most popular choice, since it offers the most options and tends to have the most “permanent” value. Articles, whitepapers, eBooks, infographics, and videos all fall under this umbrella (as do a variety of other forms I haven’t even mentioned). The sky is truly the limit here, as long as you’re following the basic tenets of asset creation (to follow in the next section). Content is valuable because it provides information, or entertainment, or both, and it can be consumed and shared quickly between users. If you’re just starting out in the link building game, I highly recommend using content as your first few linkable assets.
    • Data. In many ways, data is a form of content. After all, how can you express data if not through content—either in explanations, numerical projections, or graphical representations? Still, any form of data or data analysis you can offer is a strong opportunity to earn inbound links, mostly because it’s original and citable information. For example, let’s say you conducted a recent survey and gathered insights about one of your key demographics. You could post your main takeaways, or key statistical figures on a page of your site, and even use it to build a PDF report which can be offered for free or in exchange for an email address.
    • Functionality & tools. You could also have some kind of functionality, or interactive tool that provides value to and draws in more visitors. The more practical this is, the better. Some examples include:

    Quizzes or games are great ideas, too.

    • Gimmicks. There’s also room for some gimmicks in your linkable assets (though I dislike the term and what it usually applies to). For example, you might sponsor a contest that involves user participation on a page of your site.

    Pintermission

    (Image Source: Ignite Social Media)

    • People. Don’t forget that the people on your team may also be valuable assets. You could host a different page, or maybe a different segment of your blog, for some of your top team members (or anyone affiliated with your company who might carry influence in your industry).

    Value and Shareability

    content shareability

    No matter what type of asset you choose to create (though again, I strongly recommend content here), there are two basic principles you’ll need to have in order to be successful: value and shareability.

    Value is important because it makes your content inherently worth linking to. This is a vague description, because it applies to so many different contexts. For example, it might be worth linking to your asset if it has factual data that can prove someone’s point, or it might be worth linking to if it serves as an illustration of someone’s idea.

    Shareability is important because it increases the potential visibility and reach of your asset. The more “contagious” your piece is, the further it’s going to reach, and the more people will have the opportunity to link to it in the first place. For example, it might be shareable if it evokes a strong emotional reaction or if it’s especially easy or rewarding to share.

    Elements of Value

    First, let’s explore the elements that constitute value.

    • Originality. There’s a ton of content already out there, on just about every subject. Content marketing is extremely popular, and major informational sites like Wikipedia have a solid lockdown on most general topics. Why would anyone link to your content when they could link to Wikipedia for an even more reliable, in-depth look at an identical topic? If you want your piece to be valuable in any way, it needs to be original. This is going to do two things for you; first, it’s going to narrow your potential audience. This may sound like a bad thing, but as your audience gets smaller, your relevance goes up. Second, it’s going to decrease the competition for the link. If someone out there is looking to cite information like yours, and yours is the only or best reliable source they can find, you’re going to get the link. Make sure nobody has done this topic before—or at least that nobody’s done it as good as you will.
    • Practicality. For the most part, your work will need to have some practical element to it, and almost anything can be practical if you put the right spin on it. For starters, there are obviously practical topics, like how-to guides, tutorials, walkthroughs, and research publications:But don’t be afraid to step outside these boundaries. For example, let’s say you’re writing a          personal post about your opinions on the state of your industry. On the surface, this doesn’t seem practical—your opinions aren’t helping anyone do anything. But if you include the right framework, your opinions can be made practical. For instance, you can come to some general conclusions about the state and future of the industry, then come up with several potential strategies other business owners can use to make the transition. You can also back your opinions up with original data that others can cite for their counterarguments.

    how to change a tire guide

    (Image Source: DMV)

    • Detail. The level of detail in your piece is a crucial factor in how valuable it’s going to seem to your target audience. For example, let’s say you’re writing an opinion piece on the state of your industry. Do you fully explore all sides of the situation? Do you present counterarguments and rebuttals to your main point? Do you exhaust your resources to find data points that back up what you’re saying? This isn’t an excuse to stuff your pieces full of meaningless information; you’ll still want to be concise as possible. However, the more pieces of valuable information you include throughout your piece, and the more thorough you are in your overall coverage, the more valuable and linkable your piece will be overall.
    • Effort. How can you quantify “effort” when it could apply to so many different elements of your work? The effort could refer to how much time you spent doing research, how many images and videos you pulled to illustrate your core concepts, or how much time you spent revising and polishing your work to make sure it’s the best piece there is out there. All of these factors, even the small ones, are important. Why? Like I said, the content marketing world is hyper competitive. There are millions of people producing and syndicating content—but there’s a normal distribution curve at play. For every person spending dozens of hours on a single piece, there are hundreds of people popping out fluffy, low-value pieces every minute. Guess where the links are going?This chart should make it painfully clear; only the best of the best content earns links. The rest fall to the wayside.

    article shares

    (Image Source: Moz)

    If your content isn’t the best in its subject matter, it’s just a waste of time and money.

    Elements of Shareability

    Now let’s take a look at some of the elements of “shareability” you’ll need to target to maximize the potential reach of your piece:

    • Accessibility. Your first goal should be making sure your piece is accessible. If it’s hard to get to, hard to read, impossible to play, or otherwise invisible, it’s not going to get shared. Make your piece prominent on your site as a first line of attack, interlinking it with the other pieces of your site and making sure it’s featured prominently on your home page. If it’s something you want to promote, it should be impossible to miss. Next, you’ll want to check on your web development fundamentals, making sure your content loads on mobile devices and on all web browsers. You can use sites like MobileTestMe and Browserling to help you out here. How quickly is your page loading? How well is your visual content displaying? Is your text easy to read? Beyond that, you’ll need to make your piece visible using an initial “boost”—which I’ll get into in my next section.
    • Skimmability. I get it. You don’t like the idea of people skimming your piece. You’ve spent a lot of time doing the research, outlining, writing, and revising, and you’ve made sure that every sentence of your work is valuable. That doesn’t change the fact that some people are going to want to skim it – some people are just skimmers, and nothing is going to change that. If they skim it and get some value out of it, they’ll be likely to share it with their friends and followers (who might read it in full). If they skim it and gain nothing, they’ll click away, never to return. Accordingly, it’s in your best interest to make your content as skimmable as possible.Skimmability

      (Image source: Mcgill.ca)

      Make your main points clear in the introduction and conclusion of your work, including as many bulleted and numbered lists as possible along the way. Separate your work into clear, prominent sections with sub-headers and visual navigation tools to help guide your readers’ eyes to the most important parts. Will these people get the full value of your piece this way? No. But it’ll help your link building efforts because you’ll get more shares and engagement from skimmers.

    • Emotional resonance. People are far more likely to share content that has sparked some level of emotional resonance with them. What this emotional connection is, precisely, is up to you. It could be positive or negative. It could be present- or past-focused. The only requirement is that it’s a strong one. For example, you could use chilling statistics to illustrate a social problem that’s bigger than most people imagined it to be, like institutional racism. Or you could go the opposite route and try to evoke a response of humor and levity, like with Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” video. Emotional resonance is tough to pin down, so in order to be effective, you’ll have to dig deep into some market research and find out what really makes your users tick. You may even have to try some experiments and A/B tests to get it right.
    • Utility. In addition to being practical, your piece should also offer a degree of utility—or a degree of relevance in your target readers’ lives. Think of this as a way of aligning your content topic with the current environments and lifestyles of your users. For example, let’s say your target demographics are in college, and it’s April. At this time, most students are getting ready for final exams, so you can create and promote a piece that has some practical value for this scenario, such as tips on how to better retain information or how to study more effectively. If a person reads a piece of content and is helped, even in a small way, he/she will likely share it with his/her peers.
    • Convenience. This is a simple tenet of shareability, but it’s one you can’t afford to ignore. People are only going to share your content if you make it easy for them to share it. Honestly, if the process takes longer than a single click, your users aren’t going to take action. Your first job is making sure your social media share icons are present and prominent on each page of content. If it’s published on your blog post, these should already be here. Beyond that, go out of your way to include social share icons in any way you present your piece—for example, you’ll need to include these in your email newsletters, in your press releases, and you could even ask your followers to share your work directly on social media. It has to be easy, and it has to be obvious.

    social media sharing

    Providing the Initial Boost

    linkable content boost

    The theory goes like this: if you create linkable assets that are valuable enough and shareable enough, they’ll start attracting links all by themselves. There’s a problem with this theory. You can write the best content in the world, perfectly valuable and shareable, but if nobody’s there to build that first link or push that first share, your content will never build momentum.

    Accordingly, you’ll need to provide an initial “boost” to your linkable asset to get people seeing, reading, sharing, and linking to it. If it’s valuable and shareable enough, your users will take care of the rest, and it will eventually start earning more popularity just because it’s so popular already. But you still need to provide that initial boost—and this is how to do it:

    • Social media distribution. First, the obvious one. Syndicate your asset on social media. Hopefully, by this point you’ve already built up a large enough audience for this step to be worth it. If not, you may have to start by building an audience from scratch (and even if you have, it pays to recruit more followers within your target demographics). You can learn more about building and executing a social media marketing strategy in my eBook, The Definitive Guide to Social Media Marketing. When you publish your asset, immediately perform a distribution across any and all social channels that are appropriate for it in terms of audience and medium. After that, schedule it for re-distribution on each one, too; as long as you frame your asset differently each time, you can push it out multiple times, at multiple times of day and days of the week, to maximize your initial potential audience reach. You can ask your teammates and employees to share it out on their personal channels as well.

    social media distribution

    • Interlinking. Interlinking is a necessary strategy for SEO, and the concept is pretty simple. Include helpful links pointing to the various pages inside your site from the other pages. This is effective for a few reasons. First, it helps shorten the potential distance from one page of your site to any other page. Second, it gives users more intuitive forms of cross-page navigation. Third, it enables users to spend more time on your site overall, which creates brand familiarity, trust, and loyalty. Include links from your latest content to other pieces of content on your site, as appropriate, and be sure to also link to your latest piece from older pieces of content, too.
    • Email marketing. Email marketing may not seem like one of the latest and greatest online marketing strategies, but it still sports an astoundingly high ROI. Your first step is to build an email list. Ideally, you’ll already have an email newsletter, which you can use to notify your users of your latest content. If this is the case, all you have to do is keep your asset at the top of the newsletter and work it into your usual rotation. Here’s an example of that from our newsletter:

    email marketing

    If this is an unusual development for you, or if you just want to add a bit of extra flair to your submission, you can create a dedicated email blast for your new asset, letting your users know it exists. Here’s an example of that from AgencyAnalytics:

    agencyanalytics

    In any case, make sure your users have the opportunity to view and share it easily from their inbox.

    • Influencer marketing. Influencer marketing can be a powerful tool to get more eyes on your piece, especially if you’re in the early stages of your brand’s development and you don’t have a massive social following or email list to work with. Basically, the idea here is to work with an established thought leader in the industry—someone with a ton of social influence—and get them to either distribute, or at least talk about your piece. The best way to do this is to make it valuable for them in some way, such as mentioning them by name, or by sharing some of their content first. This is a value exchange, so as long as you offer something in return, they’ll probably help you out. It’s possible to get in front of thousands of new people this way, sometimes even more.
    • Paid advertising. If you’ve tried all the above methods and you’re still struggling to attain that initial audience, paid advertising is another potential option. I tend to stay away from paid advertising because its benefits are relatively short-term, but it can be valuable as a way to provide a temporary increase in campaign traction. Google and Facebook are two popular options here, since you’ll be able to drill down to specific demographics and get more “bang for your buck,” but there are dozens of other choices, including:

    If you do use paid advertising, be sure to set up a custom landing page so you can target your audience effectively.

    After you’ve created an asset that’s valuable and shareable, and you’ve given it an initial boost, the rest should take care of itself. Unfortunately, this gives you little control over your final outcomes, which is where our next major approach specializes in compensation.

    Modern Link Building Option 2: Build Links Manually

    Now that I’ve covered how to naturally attract inbound links, it’s time to take a look at the more manual, controllable side of link building.

    The Concept

    The concept here is pretty basic too, but the execution is a little trickier since it demands more precision control and more variables. With each link you build, you’ll develop a new piece of high-quality content, tailor-made for the audience of a specific publisher, and you’ll “guest post” that content on their site. The content will contain one or more links pointing back to your domain. Over time, you’ll target a wider diversity of different publishers, eventually inching your way up to bigger, more reputable sources.

    Again, there are some excellent advantages here:

    • Refined direction and control. You’ll have much more precision and control with manual link building. Rather than publishing a piece and hoping for the best, you can target publishers you know will link back to you, and seek sources closely in tune with your target audience.
    • Reliable scaling. Link attraction is nice, but it’s almost impossible to scale—most of the sources from which you’ll acquire links using the “link earning” method are low- to medium-authorities. One link from a high authority website is worth dozens from lower authorities, so the long-term play is important here.
    • Secondary benefits. There are a host of secondary benefits to manual link building including personal branding, visibility, reputation, and relationship building.

    And some disadvantages:

    • Increased risk of penalty. If you aren’t careful, you could wind up building links on bad sources or in “bad” ways that end up getting you penalized (though if you follow best practices, this shouldn’t be an issue).
    • Ongoing time investment. Manual link building demands a heavy investment of time, and on an ongoing basis to build and manage all your publisher relationships. It’s truly a game of persistence and relationship building.

    Anatomy of a “Perfect” Link: 6 Essential Factors

     

    anatomy of a perfect link

    Okay, so you have the basic concept. Your guest post is going to serve as a kind of housing for your inbound link, but don’t let that description fool you—your content still needs to be top-notch.  Let’s explore some of the factors that will make a “perfect” link—one that most publishers will accept, one that Google will never penalize, and one that will earn you the highest amount of authority and referral traffic:

    1. High-authority source. First on the list is your choice of a high-authority source. If you’re looking for a direct measure here, you can shoot for domain authority. The higher the domain authority of your link source, the more authoritative value your link will pass (and the more referral traffic you’ll probably get as well). The problem is, you can’t post links on any high-authority site that easily—if you could, they’d lose their authority! Instead, you need to work on some lower authority sources first, gradually working your way up (more on this in the next section).
    2. Natural placement. Next, you need to make sure your link doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. It needs to be placed naturally in the body of your content; there’s no need to be sneaky here, but it shouldn’t appear out of place. For example, if you’re writing a longer piece (1,000 words or more), you’ll want to include at least several links to outside sources, only one of which is to your domain. These should be spread throughout the piece, rather than lumped together, and should appear naturally in your work while adding value. That means it should support a fact or claim made within your content, or provide an example that illustrates a point. If a publisher suspects you of trying to sneak your own link into the body content, or if it doesn’t add value for readers, they’re either going to reject your submission, or remove the link.
    3. High-quality content. Remember all those elements I listed for how to make your piece “valuable” as a linkable asset? All those are going to apply here. Beyond that, your content needs to be high-quality in two different ways. The first of these is the conventional, intuitive way. Your content should be well-researched, logically organized, with some compelling points, multimedia integrations, and of course, eloquent writing that’s accessible enough for almost anyone to enjoy. The second requirement of “high quality” is a bit more subtle and variable—your content has to be valuable specifically for the readers of your chosen publisher. Though it may be tempting to try and write what you know or what your main audience might want, you’ll need to compromise and keep your publisher’s audience in mind as the priority.
    4. Contextual relevance/value. Context is everything when considering the value of a link, and “context” can apply to a few different things. First, your article has to be contextually relevant to the site it’s published on—that’s a given, and one that I mentioned in the preceding sub-section. Fortunately, you’ll have a bit of help here; if your article isn’t contextually relevant to a publisher’s audience, the publisher will flat-out reject it, saving you the trouble. Second, your link has to add some kind of value to your piece—you can’t just shoehorn it into an unrelated or out-of-place section, and you can’t just call out your brand name at the end. Instead, you need to find a natural, value-adding way to get your link in the body of the content. For example, you could cite a statistic or quote in your on-site work that validates the main point of your article.
    5. Optimized anchor text. Earlier, I explained one of the old-school “black hat” practices of over-optimizing the anchor text of your links. In the old days, “optimized” anchor text referred to text that contained one or more target keyword phrases, in order to increase the relevance of the target page to those phrases. These days, optimized anchor text is more about explaining or justifying your use of the link. You’ll need some contextual clues here too, and you might even call them keywords, but be sure your anchor text fits naturally into your writing. For example, you might call to the link in question with something like, “according to our recently published data on ____, X percent of all marketers take this action,” or “for more information, check out my post on _____.”code sample
    6. (Image Source: Moz)

    7. Broader context. Your link should also fit neatly into the broader context of your campaign. for example, a link and a guest post may fit all the requirements I listed above, but if you’re posting to the same site for the 100th time (and you don’t acquire links from anywhere else), you’re going to see greatly diminished returns from every new link posted there. Remember, one of your key principles for success is diversification, so in addition to adhering to all the best practices above, your links should be distinct from one another in both form and source.

    Building a Perfect Foundation

    Foundation for Link Building

    Unfortunately, unless you already have a reputation established, building the perfect link (or the perfect guest post) won’t be enough. You need to establish yourself in some way, or publishers aren’t going to look twice at you. Remember, this is an exchange of value; you’ll be getting a link pointing back to your domain, but at the same time, you need to bring your target publisher some meaningful contributions as well. The best way to prove your worth early on is to build yourself a foundation independently. This takes a lot of work, but it’s going to serve as a kind of resume you’ll use to attract new publishers as part of your portfolio.

    If you haven’t already, design an amazing-looking website and take care of all your on-site optimization; this is going to serve as many publishers’ first impressions of your brand. After that, create a blog, and fill it up with as many high-quality posts as you can. Back-date your posts so it looks like you’ve been at this for a long time, and do shoot for an impressive volume (at least 30 posts), but never sacrifice quality for quantity here. Your first round of publishers will have nothing to go on except these posts to determine your level of expertise, so get ready to impress them.

    Once your blog is established, start syndicating your posts on social media and build your audience. There are a number of ways to do this (and the topic itself warrants a separate guide), but here are some of the basics:

    1. Post content regularly.
    2. Respond to your followers.
    3. Engage new followers in conversation.
    4. Participate in community discussions.
    5. Reach out to influencers and engage with them.

    Your goal should be to develop an impressive blog with a decent recurring readership and an active social media campaign to match. Once that’s established, you can start shopping around for publishers.

    Identifying Your First Publishers

    identify publishers

    Every rung of the authority ladder is going to present its own challenges, but identifying and earning a guest posting spot on your first few publishers is likely the most challenging part of the process. Once you have a handful of external presences under your belt, you can use those as a testament to your writing ability and overall reputation, but building that initial momentum is tough.

    Here are the strategies you’ll need to get there.

    1. Start with a niche. The best way to get started is to choose a specific niche, as specific as possible. Why? There are a few good reasons. First, consider the fact that most “general” publications like The Huffington Post are quite discerning about the authors they onboard—they cover a lot of subjects and have a huge readership, so they want absolute experts on every subject they offer. A niche blog on the other hand, is much more limited in the experts they have access to, and will be willing to take in a new voice. They tend to run smaller, which means you’ll have an easier time getting in contact with a webmaster or editor, though this isn’t always true. But in any case, you can choose a niche very close to your own business, either in terms of industry or geographic location (such as a neighborhood blog).
    2. Find several key options. Don’t just settle on the first place you find, however. Dig deep into your research by looking for niche blogs and contributors everywhere—go to Google and type in “[your niche] blog” to find blogs in your niche, and use BuzzSumo to find key influencers within that niche. Take a look at each niche blog you find, venturing into peripheral niches if you have to, and start categorizing them in terms of their advantages and disadvantages. Some of the key traits you’ll want to look for are notoriety within the industry, traffic volume, domain authority, and willingness to accept new material. If you’re just starting out, you don’t need super high authorities, but you do need someone who’s going to accept your work—so consider setting aside your higher-authority or stricter publishers for later.
    3. Search for contact information. At this point, you should have at least one or two key blogs on which you’re willing to guest post. From there, you’ll need to find the contact information of the editor or webmaster so you can pitch a potential submission. First, look for a “Submissions” or “Contributors” page—these aren’t always there, but if they are, they’ll give you everything you need in terms of contact information and content requirements. If not present, check out the blog page and see if you can find contact information for the writers or the editor. If that fails you, a Contact page or Team page may have individualized contact information you can use. Try using LinkedIn or Twitter search to find the editor at each publication, too.
    4. Make a pitch. Once you have the contact information of the person in charge, whether that’s an editor or a webmaster, you’re ready to make a pitch. This is simpler than you might think, but it does require some strategic forethought. Remember that this is an exchange of value. Present yourself in terms of what value you can bring to the publisher. Introduce yourself briefly, and state why you’re an expert in the subject and why you think you’d be a valuable contributor. Don’t get too fancy or go over-the-top here; I’ve provided a sample pitch below that has worked well for me:

      Hi [editor name],My name is [your name], and I currently write for [website A, website B, website C].I’m a business owner and passionate about [your industry]. I’m trying to meet new people, and build a name for myself as a thought leader in the [your industry] community. I would be honored to have the opportunity to contribute to [website]. My goal is establish my name as an expert in the industry while giving positively to the community.Would you please let me know if you’d be open to having me write for [website]?

      Samples of my writing:

      • Sample URL 1
      • Sample URL 2
      • Sample URL 3

      Sincerely,

      [Your Name]

      As you send outreach emails, I highly recommend using Boomerang for Gmail, which is a Gmail plugin that will automatically remind you if you don’t receive a response after a certain amount of time. This tool is essential because the vast majority of editors are probably not going to respond to you, and that’s where persistence comes in. Don’t stop following up with them (every 4-7 days or so) until they give you an answer – whether it’s yes or no. Persistence has paid off for me so many times, I can’t recommend it enough.

    5. Get published. If the editor or webmaster accepts your outreach, they’ll probably ask you for some specific ideas on what you’ll contribute. Send along some ideas that fit the industry as well as their readership, and once you agree on an initial article idea, you can get started writing it. There are just a few more items you’ll need to bear in mind during this process. Remember that each publisher is going to have their own formatting and writing requirements. They may require that you adhere to a specific word count minimum and/or maximum, a specific number of images to include in the piece, or a different style of writing than what you’re used to. Be sure to ask and clarify what editorial guidelines they have before you make your formal submission—this will help bring a smooth start to your relationship. From there, it’s a simple matter of getting your work published. Once published, you can start syndicating and following up on that post (commenting, etc.) to promote it even further.
    6. Maintain a relationship. Even one post on a new publication can be a valuable addition to your link building strategy, but if you can post more content through building a relationship with that editor or publication, by all means, do so. Try to maintain an ongoing relationship with your publishers, sproviding new pitches for approval every so often. Ask them what types of content they’d like to see more of, what they think of your past pieces, how those pieces have performed for them, and how their audiences are reacting to the content they’re currently publishing. Again, you want to bring each publisher as much value as you’re taking from them, so remember that this is a two-way relationship.

    Adding New Publishers to Your Arsenal

    new publishers

    You’ll probably start with two or three decent publishers, but those won’t last you forever. Eventually, you’ll need to add more, higher-authority publishers if you want to be successful with your link building campaign in the long run. This is due to the the law of diminishing returns when it comes to links coming from the same external domain.

    When you first earn a link from a new domain, that link will pass significant authority to your site. However, earning a second link from that domain will only pass a fraction of that original authority to your site. Posting your 10th or 12th link will pass an almost insignificant portion of that original authority, and so on until each link passes almost nothing. This is because you’ve essentially already “won” that domain’s third-party vote for your site’s trustworthiness. These links will still generate brand visibility and referral traffic, so they’re often worth building, but eventually, this law will force you to seek out new sources or start forfeiting the long-term compounding results of your campaign.

    This is how you’re going to do it.

    1. Identify high-authority sources. Your long-term goal should be identifying and building relationships with some of the highest-authority sources online. There are many ways to find these high-authority sources, some of which are intuitive—make a list of all the major content publishers you read on a daily basis, and all the noteworthy influencers in your industry. Keep a list of these publishers, your end-goal targets, in a spreadsheet. You can’t go straight from small-level niche publishers to these major players (unless you have some sort of catalyzing action, like publishing a book), but you’ll want to keep them in mind as you start working on your next level of publishers.
    2. Bridge the gap. Instead, shoot for more middle-of-the-road publications, with authority scores in the neighborhood of 40-60, and then 60-80. It can be tough to find these; they’re not as specifically targeted as your niche specialists, nor are they as prominent and recognizable as your major players. It will take some research and some digging to find these sources. However, once you find them, you’ll follow almost the exact same process you followed to pitch new topics to your niche sources—except this time you’ll have more features on external publications to beef up your portfolio.
    3. Learning to handle rejection. Even if your pitches are fantastic, your demeanor is polite and professional, and you have ample examples of what a great content marketer you are, you’re going to get rejected. A lot. Don’t take this personally, and don’t take it as a sign that you shouldn’t be link building. It’s a normal part of the process. Ask for feedback when you can, so you can learn from any mistakes you might be making, but otherwise, simply cut your losses and move on. There are tons of publishers out there, and too many of them can benefit from you for you to dwell on a few that don’t want to work with you.

    AudienceBloom’s Link Building Services

    AudienceBloom Link Building Services

    AudienceBloom’s link building services replicate this entire process; we just do it all for you. We identify publishers in your niche, handle the outreach, write pitches, write articles, and handle the submission process – all with your approval at every step of the way, of course. So if you’d rather skip these steps and have us perform this execution for you, let us know!

    Other Feasible Link Building Options

    Though the two main approaches to link building I covered in detail above are the main ways to earn links, there are some peripheral strategies you can use to earn more links for your brand.

    Press Releases

    press releases

    Press releases used to be incredibly powerful sources for link building, but they’ve been diminished in recent years. News sources used to hold tremendous authority in Google’s eyes, but that all changed when Google decided that press releases were too easy to acquire and resulted in far too many links, all of which resulted in duplicate content (which Google hates).

    Still, press releases can carry lots of authority depending on who and how many sources pick up your article. By using a distribution platform like PRWeb, you can take a press release and submit it to thousands of news sources at once, many of whom will “pick up” your content and link to you in the process. The only limitation here is that you need to cover an event that’s truly newsworthy, such as a monumental step for your business like a merger or acquisition. While links from press releases can help with branding and referral traffic, don’t expect them to make much of an impact for SEO.

    Donations and Contributions

    donations and contributions

    It’s bad form to pay for links—in fact, you’ll be pretty much asking for a penalty if you do. However, you can establish relationships with outside sources in order to earn a spot on their “donor,” “sponsor,” or “contributor” pages. These links tend to be higher in value than mere blog content links, especially if you can secure a place on high-authority domains, like those that use .edu, .gov, or .org extensions.

    Take a look at how this is done on the Cleveland International Film Festival Sponsors page.

    CIFF Sponsors Page

    (Image Source: CIFF)

    Oftentimes, a significant charitable donation will be more than enough to land you a spot here. But you can also contribute in other ways—for example, you could donate raw materials, or even have your employees volunteer to earn your brand a spot as a partner.

    Interviews

    interviews

    Interviews are goldmine pieces of content for a few different reasons. First, they involve you and (usually) an influencer in your industry. You only have to come up with the questions—the bulk of the “content” is created by your interviewee—and then, you can produce and syndicate your content in a number of different ways, including video, audio, and written transcripts. What’s really valuable about interviews as link building assets though, is your interviewee’s vested interest in making the post more popular. Both of you stand to benefit by sharing, distributing, and promoting this piece, which is instantly going to double your shareability (and give you a shortcut to influencer marketing in the process).

    Collaborations

    collaborations

    Like interviews, this is another way to bring someone else into the fold when it comes to producing and distributing your content. The difference here is that you’ll be working jointly on a single anchor piece, or if you prefer, a linkable asset. There are tons of options here, as there are with general production content, so pick a target collaborator first, and then choose a subject and angle that each of you could contribute to equally.

    Developing Your Strategy

    No matter what approach you’ve picked, once you start, you’ll need to take some steps to develop and improve your strategy over time.

    Start With Goals

    link building goals

    After reading this guide thus far, you may be tempted to jump right in and start working with new publishers. However, before you begin a campaign, I highly recommend you take a step back and set goals, objectives, and targets for your team to pursue. This is going to help you focus your campaign and give you something you can use to measure your success later.

    For example, what are you more concerned about—building your reputation or attracting more referral traffic? Are you looking for fast results or long-term growth? These types of questions will help you outline what publishers you’re going to target and how much time, money, and effort you’ll need to put into your campaign.

    Hedge Your Bets With Multiple Approaches

    multiple approaches link building

    Most people tend to gravitate toward one approach or the other, but if you want to see the best results, it’s a good idea to target all of them. Use both link attraction and manual link building as elements of your overall strategy, and you’ll be able to compensate for each of their weaknesses. You can even throw in some of the peripheral link building strategies I mentioned in the preceding section. Hedging your bets this way maximizes your potential return while mitigating your risk. It’s more to manage, but it’s well worth the additional effort.

    Measure Your Impact and Adjust

    Link building impact

    This is key. Don’t just build links blindly and hope for the best; you’ll need to measure the results of your efforts and determine what’s working and what isn’t. If a certain strategy is working well, invest more time and energy into it. If something isn’t working well, cut it out from your strategy. Most of your measurements here can be done in Google Analytics, though there are dozens of online tools to help you measure your link building success.

    • Search ranks and organic traffic. Take a look at how your search ranks and organic traffic develop over time. This should be one of your biggest indicators of success. Your organic traffic measures how many people found your site via search engines, and is the bottom-line measure of your success in SEO. More organic traffic means more value to your business, so if you notice your organic traffic stagnating, it means your link building strategy has hit a plateau. You can find this information in the Acquisition section of Google Analytics, along with referral and social traffic.

    organic traffic

    • Referral traffic. Your referral traffic is a measure of how many people found your site through external links, which is perfect for determining the relative strength of each publisher you work with. If you open the referral traffic section here, you’ll be able to see a list of all the external publishers you work with and how much traffic each is bringing to your site. Use this information to improve your relationship with your most valuable contacts and filter out the least valuable ones.
    • Domain authority and link profile. You’ll also want to keep a close eye on your domain authority, and your link profile in general, and Open Site Explorer is one of the best ways to do this. Plug in your URL here, and you’ll get a breakdown of all the links pointing to your page and domain, which you can then evaluate in terms of authority and value. You’ll get to see how valuable your current link profile is, where your heavy hitters are, and just as importantly, if there are any “bad” links that have cropped up that might be interfering with your authority score.

    domain authority

    (Image Source: Moz)

    Gradually Scale Your Efforts

    Link Building Success

    Remember one of the key principles to link building success, which I mentioned in the introduction of this guide—scale. As you invest more time and energy into your link building campaign, and as you work with higher-authority sources, you’ll start earning more value for every action you take. This is because link building is a strategy that compounds in value over time—but only if you scale your efforts upward. Be careful not to become too complacent with your domain’s position, even if you’re doing well; keep pushing boundaries and moving yourself forward, even if you have to take baby steps to do it.

    Keep Your Focus on ROI

    Link Building ROI

    Link building can bring tremendous value to your organization, but try to keep your bottom-line focus on ROI. Take all the benefits link building brings you—including organic and referral traffic—and try to reduce those to actual numbers. How much money are these visitors spending with you? How much revenue have you received that you wouldn’t have gotten without link building? And just as importantly, how much money and resources are you spending on your campaign? You need to make adjustments so that you’re earning more than you’re spending. Your ROI will almost always be negative to start out with, but as you expand your efforts, your ROI should grow in turn.

    Conclusion

    I’ve essentially covered everything you need to know about link building—start to finish. With this guide, you can theoretically take even a brand new site to any level of organic search traffic and domain authority (given enough time). But there are a few more tidbits I want to leave you with.

    Link Building Tools

    There are a number of tools I’ve found to be useful in my link building efforts, and I think you’ll like them too:

    • Google Drive. Free and cloud-based, Google Drive can help you keep an entire team on the same page—literally. Use the spreadsheets here to set your goals and strategies, and keep active lists of your current publishers.
    • Google Analytics. I mentioned this already, but Google Analytics is indispensable for measuring the success of your campaign.
    • Open Site Explorer. When it comes to evaluating your current backlink profile (or looking at a competitor’s), Moz’s Open Site Explorer can’t be beat.
    • Boomerang. Boomerang is a Gmail extension that helps you manage your responses and follow-ups—it’s perfect for keeping tabs on your publisher outreach.
    • BuzzSumo. When you’re scouting for new blogs and publishers of any level, BuzzSumo can help you find exactly the types you’re looking for.
    • Klout. Klout measures relative influence scores for social media personalities, which is useful for finding new publishers and influencers for your strategy.
    • Alltop. Alltop lists top content in an insane number of niches, making it ideal for finding new publication opportunities (and content topics).

    The Future of Link Building and Search

    future of link building

    Finally, I want to note that everything I’ve covered in this guide is relevant to the modern era, but the modern era is always changing. You never know when Google will come out with a new update, or when the landscape of link building and SEO in general will change. Accordingly, it’s in your best interest to stay up-to-date with the latest link building news, which you can do on the AudienceBloom blog, and be ready to adjust your campaign at a moment’s notice. In any case, as long as you’re providing genuine value to your readers and publishers through high-quality content and relationship building, you’ll never have to worry about a penalty. Search engines care about users, so if you treat your users well, users and search engines both will reward you.

    This concludes my guide on link building! Wherever you’re at in your SEO and link building journey, I hope this guide inspires confidence in you going forward:

    link building journey

    Of course, if you would like AudienceBloom to create and execute a hands-off (or hands-on, if you like) link building campaign for you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

  2. How Much Time Does Link Building Need To Be Effective?

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    Link building is an essential component of any SEO strategy; links are what Google uses to evaluate the authority of any given site. The simplified version is that links pass a finite amount of “authority” (based on the authority of the hosting site), which can cumulatively improve your site’s authority and increase the likelihood that you rank for various queries related to your brand. Link building, then, is the process of establishing external links that get you the authority you need to rank.

    link building

    (Image Source: Wordstream)

    Unfortunately, this isn’t a straightforward or simple process. You need to consider not only the authoritative strength of your chosen link building targets, but the type of content you write, the appropriateness of the link, its contextual relevance, and how you balance this source with all your other sources. Not to mention, when you first start out, you’ll be relegated to posting on low-authority sources, scraping by with minimal yield until you build up enough of a reputation to start posting on bigger, more prominent publishers.

    So where’s the tipping point? At what point do your skills, experience, and brand reputation become strong enough to start earning you a positive return?

    Two Forms of Link Building

    There are actually two types of modern link building that can be effective:

    • Earned links depend on the creation of highly valuable content with the potential to go viral. Essentially, the idea here is to create something awesome, and rely on your audience to naturally link to it. This is an exceptional strategy for ensuring your links are natural and diverse, but it’s hard to create content with this level of viral potential.
    • Manual link building puts matters in your own hands. Here, you’ll work to establish relationships with offsite publishers, writing guest post content with embedded links pointing to your homepage. It’s a much more controllable and reliable strategy, but requires more finesse.

    The Complicated Nature of Link Building ROI

    When I talk about how “effective” your link building strategy is, what I’m referring to is your overall ROI, or return on investment. This, in turn, is complicated because ROI can be manifested in a number of different areas:

    • Increased rank potential, even though link building is only one of several ranking factors.
    • Higher brand visibility, which is hard to measure.
    • Higher brand authority, which is hard to measure.
    • Direct referral traffic from click-throughs.

    Overall, though, each of these benefits will scale along with your strategy, and there will be relatively few payoffs in each area when you first start out.

    The Learning Curve

    When you first start out, you’re going to be bad at link building. No matter how many posts you read or how much advice you get from people who have already done it, chances are you aren’t going to be effective until you get your hands dirty and start figuring things out for yourself. This is also true because every company is going to be different, and a link building strategy that works for one company won’t necessarily work the same way for another. For this reason alone, it will likely be months before you start settling into a reliable strategy.

    Getting Set Up

    Even assuming your strategy is flawless, when you first start building authority, your return is going to be a pittance. You’ll first have to invest heavily in your onsite authority (to show you know what you’re talking about), which usually involves building up an archive of content posts, then establishing an ongoing rhythm for your blog. This alone can take weeks of intense work. From there, you’ll start working with low-level publishers, or posting on social media with hardly any followers to pick up your content—accordingly, your ROI is going to be abysmally low for a while.

    Scaling the Strategy

    Once you start scaling your strategy, you should start to see better results. This means attracting and retaining new and more engaged followers, working with a greater quantity of high-authority publishers, and overall developing better content. Getting here takes a number of steps, and depending on your level of commitment and experience, it could take anywhere from months to years.

    When Will You See a Positive ROI?

    It’s hard to say exactly when the crossover to positive ROI will be for your strategy, but if you’re starting from scratch, you can count on a few months—at a minimum—to develop your campaign. Though every campaign will be distinct, most campaigns will start to see this transition upon breaking into a secondary ring of publishers—ones that demand higher standards for their guest posts than the entry-level circle you’ll start with.

    The Shortcut

    Link building demands a heavy upfront investment before you start earning a suitable return on your ongoing efforts, but it’s definitely worth it once you understand the many types of returns you’ll see. Still, if you’re feeling intimidated by the steep and long learning curve, or if you’re just eager to start seeing results quickly, there is one potential shortcut: working with an agency.

    There are a lot of spammy agencies out there, promising fast results and using cheap overseas labor to build manual links, but there are also agencies dedicated to producing quality content and maintaining relationships with hundreds of high-profile publishers. These types of agencies, like AudienceBloom, can help you skip the learning curve, skip the gradual transitions, and start earning the authority usually reserved until after your initial investment.

  3. Link Building Evolved: The Age of Brand Mentions

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    More than ever, online marketing demands a new approach. Search engines—the primary drivers of website traffic for most businesses—require a more sophisticated, thoughtful approach in order to achieve visibility, traffic, and sales. In stark contrast from dangerous, spammy tactics still perpetuated by many marketing agencies for their clients, achieving SEO success requires strategic branding and authority building, and there’s one strategy rapidly growing in popularity that provides more consistent, powerful returns than any tactic that has come before: brand mentions.

    The Benefits of Brand Mentions

    sideDraw

    Brand mentions are linked mentions of your brand name on major media publications like Mashable, TechCrunch, or The Wall Street Journal.

    Brand mentions begin with great content. If you have fantastic content on your website, such as an infographic with unique insights, or an in-depth blog post written by an industry expert on your staff, journalists at major media publications may find it helpful to cite those resources to support claims within stories that they’re writing.

    When a journalist publishes a story that cites or references your content within their story, you get credit in Google’s search ranking algorithm. Google’s algorithm has grown so sophisticated that the mere mention of your brand in an authoritative context (even if it’s not linked) is enough to pass trust and authority to your site. Google uses mentions and links as the primary ranking factors in its search algorithm; the more brand mentions you have from authoritative, trustworthy, quality publications, the more Google will trust your brand, and thus display it higher in search results.

    But brand mentions are far more than just an SEO strategy. There are 4 main benefits:

    1. Increased Referral Traffic

    Mashable. TechCrunch. The Wall Street Journal. You recognize these names because they’re some of the most popular publishers in the world. Each article published on these sites attracts thousands of views during the course of its existence, and each reader will become aware of your brand if it’s present within the article. The end result is new, direct visits to your site from these referral sources. One of our clients has earned more than 10,000 referral visits from brand mentions, with new referrals still coming in daily—a result that would typically cost $100,000 or more through a traditional PPC campaign like Google AdWords. The same client has also seen an increase of 75,000 unique monthly visitors from search traffic, growing from 100,000 to 175,000 and beyond.

    2. Increased Brand Visibility

    The value of brand familiarity is incalculable. Each time a potential customer is exposed to your brand name, that customer grows more familiar with your business. Studies have shown that familiarity results in favorability, and thus higher conversion rates. Appearing more frequently than your competitors also makes it more likely your brand name will come to mind first when potential customers are ready to make a purchase. Making your name visible and available through brand mentions greatly increases your brand’s visibility, which results in greater conversion rates.

    3. Improved Reputation and Trust

    Once you’ve gotten published on a major publisher, you’ll earn the right to brag about it. An “As seen on” section on your homepage or “Contact Us” page that highlights logos of publishers on which your brand has been featured serves as extremely strong social proof, thereby increasing conversion rates.

    4. Compounding Returns

    Appearing in a published article through a brand mention isn’t a one-time tactic; it’s an investment with compounding returns. Articles published on major media publications almost always remain online and indexed in Google indefinitely. The more time that passes, the more views each article will receive, and the more referral traffic you’ll earn. The more articles you appear in, the more authority you’ll build, and the better reputation you’ll develop.

    So, How do I Get My Content In Front of Journalists?

    Earlier, I discussed how brand mentions begin with exceptional content. There’s just one problem; how do you get that content in front of journalists so they can reference it in their stories?

    You have a few options for doing so. The DIY-approach is to identify publishers on which you’d like to acquire brand mentions, then identify journalists and editors at each publication, then contact them to make your pitch. Unfortunately, this approach tends to rarely yield any responses because of the high number of spam emails journalists and editors receive from eager business owners hungry for a chance to have their brand mentioned on these publications. Additionally, it’s often difficult to find contact information for journalists and editors, as many have hidden it as a result of growing tired of the bombardment of cold outreach.

    The next alternative is to hire a PR agency. PR agencies build email lists of journalists and send them story “ideas” or “interview opportunities” via email. These emails often become annoying after a while; as a journalist myself, I receive up to a dozen of them per day. This is called the “spray and pray” approach. If they send enough emails, maybe a journalist will bite; it becomes a numbers game for the PR agency. Unfortunately, they generally have no idea how many journalists will respond, or from which publications.

    At AudienceBloom, we take a different approach. We build relationships with journalists and then provide elite support for them, assisting with writing, editing, obligations, and quotas. If they need a story, or a source for a story, we work with them directly to write and edit the perfect story, or identify the perfect source. Within these stories, we identify opportunities to reference our clients’ content, in order to highlight our clients as experts or authority sources within each story. Using this approach, we bridge the gap between your content and journalists at major media publications, and we’re able to include our clients in the content writing and approval process.

    This approach results in a much more clearly-defined deliverable than what PR agencies offer. Rather than guessing at the number of placements you’ll get, or on which publishers they’ll appear, we’re able to tell our clients exactly which publishers will be publishing each story, and allow our clients pre-approval of each story before publication.

    Final Thoughts

    In reality, brand mentions are nothing new; nor is content marketing, which is at the heart of the strategy. What’s new is the rise in popularity of the strategy, which is a direct result of recent Google algorithm changes that emphasize brand signals over other metrics. Google has evolved its algorithm to favor brands that show strong ties with trusted publishers, and specifically branded links and mentions on trustworthy sources.

    These changes have resulted in an explosion of popularity in content marketing, which many have called “the new SEO” and blurred the lines between PR and SEO. Google has finally created an atmosphere where cheap, spammy gimmicks don’t work, while real, quality content publication and branding signals do work. Unfortunately, the majority of SEO and digital marketing agencies are still stuck performing tactics that no longer work for their clients, because they haven’t developed the resources, processes, or relationships to keep up with the evolution of the industry.

    How to Get Started With Brand Mentions

    We’d be happy to help you get started acquiring brand mentions. If you’re ready to get started, or if you’re just looking for more information about the strategy, get in touch with us or see our brand mentions services page to learn more!

  4. What Is the Actual Value of Link Building?

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    Few SEO strategies are as discussed or debated as much as link building, and for a few good reasons. Despite some claims to the contrary, link building remains an integral part of SEO—so it’s always relevant in discussion. Thanks to Google’s Penguin update (and subsequent updates), the process of link building has changed dramatically over the past decade—so it’s in a state of evolution. And it’s less precise and calculable than certain “gimme” SEO strategies like ensuring your onsite SEO is in order—making it more uncertain to many practitioners.

    On the surface, link building seems so simple, so how can it be so complicated?

    What is link building

    (Image Source: Moz)

    The apathetic marketer will denounce link building as being too complex to approach, and the frugal marketer will see the costs of link building—which often run up to thousands of dollars per month—and immediately write it off as too expensive. But the reality is, link building is incredibly valuable, usually worth far more than the money you put into your campaign. Yes, I’m biased, but if you break down the benefits, the actual value of link building is more or less provable.

    The Trouble With Pinpointing an Exact Value

    I’ll make this statement early, so you aren’t misled. I’m not going to be able to put a firm numerical value on “link building” or the value of a single link, or anything like that. Pinpointing an exact value is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for the following reasons:

    • Ambiguous authority measures. Domain authority (and subsequent ranking power) is one of the most important benefits of link building—you can measure it easily with any number of online tools, often for free.

    SEO Authority Results

    (Image Source: Small SEO Tools)

    With link building, you’ll be able to track gains in your authority, but it’s almost impossible to correlate these to individual links or efforts in your strategy.

    • Unpredictable variables. Assuming you could calculate the precise value of link building, there’d still be a problem with projecting its overall value—unknown and unpredictable variables. How many people will see your offsite article? Will your publisher replace your link with a nofollow link? How long will it stay up?
    • Peripheral values. Link building has a number of calculable values, but also some incalculable values, such as visibility and reputation increases. This complicates our ability to measure the value of link building.
    • Overlapping influencers. Despite being one of the most important SEO strategies, link building is still just one strategy. In conjunction with onsite efforts and ongoing content, it’s hard to isolate which influences came exclusively from link building.
    • Long-term gains. This is a long-term strategy, so measuring your short-term gains isn’t enough to give you an accurate depiction of your overall earned value. By extension, it’s almost impossible to project your growth over subsequent months and years.
    • Strategy variation. This should go without saying, but every business is different, and will need a different strategy to be successful. Some of these are more expensive than others, and some yield more value than others.

    With those considerations in mind, let’s take a look at exactly how valuable a link building strategy can be (within the limits of our understanding).

    Anatomy of a Modern Link

    First, it’s important to know exactly what “modern” link building is, as there are still a number of misconceptions and poor descriptions of the strategy floating around. Link building used to be pretty simple—you’d post links pointing back to your domain wherever you could, sit back, and reap the benefits. Today, Google knows the difference between a good link and a bad link, and publishers are ever watchful for links that are only used to manipulate rank or increase traffic.

    Modern link building is somewhat straightforward, but it isn’t easy. There are two main approaches. The first is direct and controllable; a domain produces valuable content that an external publisher would like their audience to read. The content contains a number of links, one of which points back to the author’s domain, and when posted, the link goes live. It’s not a form of manipulation or deceit because the primary goal is writing good content for the publisher’s audience.

    The second approach is more about attracting links naturally. With this method, you’ll produce an extraordinary piece of content, syndicate it, and hope it goes viral, getting shared by thousands to millions of people. When this happens, you’ll naturally earn dozens of links pointing back to you.

    Main goals

    So, with both of these approaches, you have a handful of important goals. These goals are the “value” that link building provides. I’ll introduce these values as general concepts here, then dig into them in dedicated sections.

    • Authority. Google uses inter-domain links as third-party verifications that a site is authoritative. The understanding is that an authoritative site will only link to a domain if that domain is trustworthy; using advanced algorithms, Google can trace link networks and site relationships to evaluate which domains (and pages) are most trustworthy. The further away you are from a trustworthy site, the less authoritative your site will be.

    Trust Rank Concept

    (Image Source: Moz)

    Authority is important because it determines your ranking potential. Assuming a user query is     relevant to your site, your domain authority will determine how you rank compared to other              sites. Getting more links from more valuable sources will therefore rank you higher, and earn   you lots of additional organic traffic. Every visitor to your site is valuable.

    • Referral traffic. Search-based organic traffic isn’t the only traffic that link building provides, however. You’ll want to target valuable publishers, as they’ll give you the most authoritative links, so naturally, these valuable publishers will have a dedicated readership. Anyone who reads the content you post and is intrigued to learn more may follow your link directly, getting to your site as “referral” traffic. Think of this as a secondary way for new users to get to your site from link building. Though standard links are more valuable due to the authority they pass, even nofollow links can generate referral traffic. You can measure both Organic and Referral traffic using Google Analytics.
    • Brand visibility. Brand visibility is a secondary consideration, because it isn’t objectively measurable the way your search ranks and referral traffic are. For the most part, you’ll be publishing content as a personal brand affiliated with your corporate brand, which gives you additional exposure to new markets on each new publisher. Even if you aren’t, you’ll get an opportunity to make your brand visible when you introduce the link. Brand visibility alone won’t bring you much value, but visibility leads to awareness, which leads to consideration, evaluation, and eventually loyalty—it may even help you earn some word-of-mouth referrals!

    Brand Visibility

    (Image Source: Pinterest)

    • Tangential benefits. In addition to the benefits above, there are some tangential benefits to link building. These are less reliable and tougher to measure, but they do have a positive impact on your brand and your bottom line. For example, the strength of your content may serve a value to increase your brand reputation, positively associating your brand as a thought leader in the industry. People may socially share or link to your externally published article, sending more secondary link juice your way. And of course, most publishers socially syndicate your article anyway, earning you more total exposure and possibly an increased social media following.

    Not all links are created equal

    Of course, it needs to be acknowledged that not all links are the same. In fact, a bad link can actually hurt you by earning you a penalty or sinking your domain authority. I’ll get into the costs of negative link building on my section on Authority, but before I go any further, it’s important you understand the variables at play here. A link on a local news site won’t pass nearly as much authority or see nearly as much traffic as a link on a national publisher’s site—but the latter is, of course, far more difficult to earn. It takes much better content, foundational authority, and a solid understanding of the publisher’s target audience to get accepted.

    Accordingly, the value of your link building campaign depends greatly on the value of the links that comprise it.

    Authority

    Let’s take a look at the domain- and page-level authority influences that link building has, and how that translates to an actual value.

    Link Building as a Necessity for SEO

    First, let me explain why link building is important to any SEO campaign. Quite simply, without some link building measure, it’s impossible to gain any significant rank in Google.

    Take a look at the relative influence of ranking factors, according to correlational studies by Moz and SearchMetrics:

    influence of ranking factors

    (Image Source: AudienceBloom)

    Take a look at the top two most important influencers. Don’t let the technical descriptions fool you. These two entries refer to links pointing to your domain and links pointing to your individual pages in question. Links are even more important to rank than keyword- and content-based features, and more important than page-level keyword-agnostic features. Some of the most important factors of SEO still pale in comparison to the influence that link building has on your overall ranking potential.

    This has been shown in a number of independent studies, and suggests that the quantity and diversity of your inbound links directly predicts how you’ll rank for a relevant query:

    Google Rankings Links Relationship

    (Image Source: AudienceBloom)

    Unfortunately, this correlational data can’t tell us the amount of ranking influence a single link has, but the takeaway that link building is a necessity for earning higher ranks is what we’re after in this section. The bottom line: SEO is not possible without link building.

    The Value of Higher Ranks

    Now that we know SEO depends on link building, let’s take a look at the value of SEO. As an abstract concept, SEO seems valuable—you, like every other modern consumer in the United States, often consult search engines when you’re making a buying decision. That means any increase in search visibility you have has the potential to be valuable.

    There are too many variables to try and isolate any search conditions or direct values—a high rank for a nationally relevant, broad keyword will result in far more traffic than a high rank for a local niche keyword. However, in the case of the latter, it will be far easier to rank. Anecdotal evidence suggests it’s possible to earn 100,000 organic visitors a month or more—but what can you reasonably expect?

    First, recognize that there’s are some steep cutoffs when it comes to the payoff of search rank:

    Value of higher rank

    (Image Source: Chitika/SearchEngineWatch)

    The vast majority of searchers click on the first site that comes up for their query. This means that, all other things being equal, it’s better to have one or two positions as number one than it is to have dozens of positions on the second page or lower. With the right keyword strategy, your link building campaign can support this upward momentum, helping you to cross the tough thresholds from page two to page one, and up each additional rank.

    Value of a Single Link From a New Domain

    It’s hard to say exactly how much value a new link can generate for your brand in terms of authority and rank. If you somehow earn a link from a high-authority national site like Huffington Post while you’re still in your infancy as a brand, you could easily move up several points in terms of domain authority, resulting in a kind of “rising tide” that increases all your ranks significantly.

    value of a single link

    (Image Source: Moz)

    On an iterative scale, any link from a new domain could be the one to bump your keyword ranks to the next level.

    So let’s run a quick thought experiment as an example. Let’s say you have a modest range of targets—three keywords that each receive about 30,000 searches per month. You currently rank on the second page for all of them, getting almost no traffic whatsoever. In month one, you earn links from three new domains and you move up to position 5, which gets about 5% of all traffic (according to the graph in the previous section). That earns you a total of 4,500 monthly visitors for as long as you maintain this rank (we’ll project this indefinitely). If your conversion rate is even 2%, that’s 90 new conversions from the authority boost of your links alone.

    Now, this model doesn’t account for the time it took to get to page two, nor does it account for the even more massive link to the top spot—which multiplies your traffic sevenfold. It would also take some pretty strong domain links to jump five positions in one fell swoop for what are probably highly competitive keywords. Take this illustration for what it is—an indication of potential. Without any link building, you forfeit that potential.

    The Cost of Negative Link Building

    This doesn’t mean that you need to build as many links as possible, however. Be aware that there is a sliding scale for link quality, and that scale runs into the negative; building a bad link won’t just stop you from making progress, it could easily reverse some of the progress you’ve already made. Your domain authority will suffer, and you may even incur a manual Google penalty.

    cost of negative link building

    (Image Source: Visually)

    There are many link building companies out there who try to make a quick buck by building “bad” links. Not all of these are malicious, per say, just misinformed or misguided. If a link building service is suspiciously cheap, there’s probably a reason for it. Good link building—the kind that actually can earn you sweeping changes in rank—demands experience, investment, and effort, and that costs more money. Though some agencies have higher profit margins than others, as a general rule, you get what you pay for.

    Recurring Value

    Finally, a quick note about the recurring value of authority and organic traffic. When you earn authority, as long as you don’t commit any egregious offenses, it’s hard to lose that authority. Other competitors may wrestle with you over individual positions, but for the most part, your ranks are earned. You don’t just earn organic traffic for a few days or a few weeks—as long as you maintain your link building strategy, you’ll reap organic traffic month over month, indefinitely, adding to the value of your efforts.

    Referral Traffic

    All the benefits and value I described in the preceding section is just one of the two concrete ways your link building strategy will earn value in the long term. The other is through referral traffic. Though the concept of referral traffic is simple (the number of people who click through your established link to your domain), the execution and variables surrounding it makes it hard to estimate a concrete value. We’ll strive for a reasonable estimate.

    Publisher Traffic

    The first and most important determining factor in how much referral traffic your inbound links can generate is the amount of traffic the publisher receives. Assuming you’re getting a spot on the front page or in your industry section of choice, you’ll earn a fraction of the monthly visitors to that section. It’s hard to say definitively, but once you’ve published 4-5 articles on a given source, you’ll have a reasonable estimate for how many visits an article on that source can generate.

    Publisher traffic varies wildly, and may change without warning. For example, Huffington Post’s estimated monthly unique visitors is on the order of 200 million, but that number tapered off dramatically when BuzzFeed emerged as a serious competitor. There’s no way to speak generally and accurately about this, but your first circle of external publications will likely generate very little in terms of referral traffic. Once you earn enough authority to post on national-level publishers, you can count on hundreds to thousands of unique referral visitors to your site every month.

    Informational Value

    The type of link you offer has a significant bearing on how much referral traffic you earn as well. For example, if you simply have your link as one of several examples, buried deep in your content, few people will venture to follow it. On the other hand, if you make reference to a much larger issue, or a separate study, that your link provides access to, it’s likely you’ll pique your readers’ curiosities enough for them to follow it. Your wording and persuasiveness also come into play here, just as they would with a traditional call-to-action. This could mean the difference between earning 100 referral visitors out of 1,000 readers and earning 500.

    You’ll need to keep a careful balance here. If you make your links too persuasive, too obvious, or too geared toward attracting new traffic, they’re liable to be rejected by the publisher—especially at the higher levels. If you make them too “hidden” or innocuous, you’ll miss out on tons of traffic.

    Traffic Optimization

    It’s also worth noting that not all traffic will yield the same value for your brand. You may get 500 visits from a high-level publisher, but if you write for a general audience, you’ll get people who are only fleetingly interested in your business. On the other hand, if you earn 100 visits from a niche industry publisher, you may end up with 100 potentially interested customers.

    Again, you’ll need to strike a balance here. If even 25 percent of those 500 national visitors are interested in your products, you’ll earn more total value than with your niche publisher. Maintain a blend of link relationships with different publications to maximize your value, and understand that not every “visit” can be calculated to have the same potential value.

    Recurring Value

    The timing aspect of link building is also important to consider. Most “new” posts get an immediate surge in popularity, earning the majority of their lifetime value of traffic within the first week of publication. However, don’t forget that online articles usually remain up forever, along with whatever links you’ve built to go along with them. If your content is evergreen, you can feasibly syndicate it on an ongoing basis for the foreseeable future, reaping more and more social and referral traffic as new people discover your content. If you land a breakout piece, this effect is multiplied, as your offsite article will start ranking high for related searches and earning regular organic traffic that could filter into referral traffic.

    Total Referral Value of a Link

    Much of the “total referral value” of a link depends on the value of an average visitor to your site (just like organic traffic). If you have a 1 percent conversion rate and a $100 value of conversion, then each visitor is worth an average of $1 to you, excluding some of the variables listed above.

    I’m working under the assumption that your traffic has some value, let’s say $1 per visitor, and that you’re link building on a national level, where it’s possible to earn hundreds of visits in referral traffic for every new post you create. With strong content, strong link placement, and strong publishers, every link you build could yield hundreds to thousands of dollars’ worth of referral traffic. The only caveat to this is the understanding that it usually takes time to work up to this level, meaning the value of your link building strategy increases based on your commitment to it.

    Brand Visibility and Tangential Benefits

    Though the tangential benefits of link building are difficult to measure, they’re worth acknowledging, since they can affect you in real ways.

    Brand Mentions

    Any mention of your brand on an external site is going to increase your brand visibility in some small way. A flippant user may not register your brand name or follow your link, but the next time they see you, they’ll remember seeing you in the past. They may even mention your name to a friend or family member thinking of making a purchase in your niche. Brand awareness isn’t as concretely measurable as referral traffic or organic traffic—in fact, it’s usually invisible—but it can push unfamiliar consumers closer to becoming actual customers.

    Personal Brand Reputation

    When your personal (or corporate) brand posts on an external publisher, particularly a reputable one, you’ll immediately get a boost to your reputation by sheer affiliation. Take a look at just some of the places where AudienceBloom team members have been published:

    Being featured on any one of these publications makes your brand seem more authoritative, and listing all of them out like this makes a powerful first impression. Inbound users will instantly grow more familiar and trusting of your brand.

    Brand Reputation

    Social Traffic and Engagements

    For the most part, publishers will work to syndicate your article on their own social accounts. Take Entrepreneur as an example:

    Entrepreneur Magazine Tweet

    (Image Source: Twitter)

    In many cases, they’ll call out your own brand’s social media information, and might even link to your site depending on the circumstances. This could lend you social traffic to your site, more social followers for your brand, or just more opportunities to engage socially with your readers. You can even jump into the comments section on your post and engage with your users to build stronger community relationships. Again, the value here isn’t precisely calculable.

    Growth Factors and Relationship Value

    When it comes to starting, growing, and maintaining your strategy, you’ll find a handful of variables that influence how much value your link building campaign actually returns.

    Single-Source Returns

    When posting new links on the same domain, there’s a law of diminishing return when it comes to domain authority. It’s far more valuable to earn links on new domains than it is to earn successive links on the same domain. However, the referral traffic value remains constant—and may even increase as you earn more loyal readers. It balances out so that there’s only a slight decrease in value with successive link building opportunities.

    Higher Authorities

    Getting yourself published on one high authority gives you more credentials to post on similarly high authorities—or even higher ones. This makes even small-level link building opportunities valuable just for the fact that they can lead to high-level link building opportunities. You’ll need to bear this in mind, especially in the beginning of your campaign.

    Ease of Entry

    To build links effectively, you need stellar content, great relationships with high-level publishers, and an intimate understanding of what makes a “good” link. It often takes years to build up these credentials on your own, meaning you’ll probably be operating with negative value until you cross a certain threshold of experience. Fortunately, there’s a shortcut to this—partnering with an experienced firm who already has the relationships, knowledge, and capacity to execute this work on your behalf.

    Putting It All Together

    There’s a lot of information in this guide, but I’ve intentionally stayed away from pinpointing a solid number value, for reasons that should be apparent to you by now. Still, I’d like to conclude this resource by attempting to definitively estimate—or at least describe—the real value of a link.

    The Real Value of a Link?

    In the later stages of a link building campaign, when you know what you’re doing, have existing relationships with publishers, and have the potential to work with high-authority sources, the value of link building is enormous. Assuming you remain consistent, with a targeted strategy, it’s possible for link building to directly influence thousands of organic visitors and thousands of referral visitors per month—even in exchange for moderate effort—and that’s not even counting the indirect benefits. At this level, a single link, accompanied by good content, can yield up to thousands of dollars in value.

    The only real problem is getting to that level. Unless you want to spend years and thousands of man-hours inching your way up, there’s only one ideal solution to see this return.

    The Value of Outsourcing

    You know that low-quality link building, or cheap link building will only hurt you in the long run, but the hundreds to thousands of dollars a month it costs for an experienced link builder seems excessive on the surface. But remember, you’re paying for your partner’s experience. You’re paying for their relationships. You’re paying for their quality. It’s a big investment that yields a big return, as you’ve seen in my illustrations and examples. If you don’t engage in link building, you’re leaving those thousands of recurring visitors on the table.

    If you’re interested in starting a link building campaign for your company, contact us for a free proposal.

  5. Will Google Start Penalizing Bloggers Who Link to Gifted Products?

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    Companies are always looking for legitimate, natural ways to earn more links pointing back to their domains. One backlink from a qualified external source can be a significant boost to your domain authority, helping you rank higher for keywords relevant to your brand, not to mention its potential to send referral traffic your way. As Google cracks down on low-quality and unnatural links, we’ve been left with only a handful of legitimate methods to get the job done.

    One of these reliable methods, sending complimentary or trial products and services, has come under fire recently as Google has made a major change to its stance on the subject.

    The Method

    The method itself is innocent and fairly straightforward. You have a product, or a service, that you want to get more publicity for. You know there are tons of bloggers out there who make a living by reviewing said products and services. As an example, head to any tech site and you’ll see dozens of articles reviewing products:

    review articles on blog

    (Image Source: CNET)

    There’s significant opportunity here. The process goes like this: you make a request to a well-known blogger (the bigger, the better) and offer a complimentary product or a trial of your service in exchange for a write-up on it. Naturally, they’ll post a link pointing back to your domain. The link is important to the review, natural for readers, and valuable for both the blogger and the person receiving the link. Theoretically, it’s a perfect relationship. So what’s the problem?

    Google’s Latest Reaction

    Earlier in March, Google made reference to this practice, identifying it as an opportunity for unnatural links to develop. Google warns that such an exchange is not conducive to a healthy or valuable network of online resources for users, and cautions bloggers to engage in the following best practices:

    • Use nofollow links. Google cautions bloggers to use “nofollow” tags for any link pointing to a company’s website, social media accounts, or apps—pretty much anything that could pass any kind of domain authority. Nofollow tags immediately remove these links from Google’s consideration, rendering them completely ineffective for SEO purposes (despite retaining the value for referral traffic).
    • Disclose the relationship. This one makes more logical sense, and bloggers should have been doing this from the beginning. Whenever a company has given you a product for free or has otherwise compensated you or encouraged you to post a review, it’s a journalistic expectation that you disclose such a relationship. You’ll naturally be more biased in your writing, and users need to know what pre-existing relationships you have before writing.
    • Provide unique, compelling content. This one should be obvious, but Google wants to clarify that any product review should be a piece that’s wholly original (if not exclusive), and actually important to your users. If it’s just a duplication of something 100 other bloggers have published, it won’t be considered a “good” piece of content.

    Are These Links Unnatural?

    Taking a look at the first piece of Google’s advice, we can infer that Google views these product review links as unnatural, much like a stuffed link in a blog comment or forum post. In my opinion, comparing these two links is a little strange. Google’s argument is that the link wouldn’t exist if the company weren’t bribing the product reviewer with a free product; however, this doesn’t seem to hold in cases where reviewers review paid-for products. Imagine a scenario where a tech reviewer was planning on purchasing a new phone to review, but the producer comped the device. Is that link unnatural? Since it would exist in either case, the answer is no.

    Of course, I get what Google is driving at—if a company uses free things as a bribe to get a free link, that link definitely is unnatural. But the line is blurry, and to instantly mandate that all product review links be nofollow links seems a little extreme.

    What Are the Risks?

    As for the second two points of Google’s advice—disclosing your relationship with the company and creating unique, compelling content—you should be doing these, no matter what. They’re easy to accomplish and can only reward you. Don’t worry about the consequences of not doing them, and instead worry about the benefits of actually doing them.

    As for the first point, and my point of contention, it seems unlikely that Google’s algorithm is sophisticated enough to discern when a blogger’s review is the product of a free gift, and then pick out which links are and aren’t tagged with nofollow. Accordingly, I must conclude that it’s highly unlikely that any bloggers will be formally penalized for neglecting these nofollow tags (unless they’re engaging in egregiously spammy behavior). I’m not saying to ignore Google’s advice here, but I don’t think there will be stiff penalties for continuing to pursue and post backlinks in product reviews.

    Even though Google’s warning comes without a significant threat of penalty, it may be wise to heed its advice at this juncture. Remember, even nofollow links are inherently valuable—they’ll earn you referral traffic proportional to your audience size—and brand visibility and reputation are always good areas to improve. In short, even if you’re only getting nofollow links out of the deal, it’s probably still a valuable investment to distribute free samples and trials for the extra visibility—as long as you’re working with the right bloggers.

  6. Do Outbound Links Contribute to Page Authority?

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    In the SEO world, domain authority and page authority are the biggest indicators for how well a page of your site ranks for a relevant query. Accordingly, search experts prioritize them above all else. For the most part, there’s overlap here—a strong domain authority will lend itself to each of your individual pages, and any actions you take to increase the page authority of a specific page of your site will likely also contribute to your domain authority (in a smaller way).

    The factors responsible for increasing your domain and page authority are diverse, and sometimes hard to improve. For example, the age and history of your domain is a major influencer in how authoritative it seems—but you can’t just tack on years to your experience to give it a worthwhile boost. Instead, most ongoing SEO programs rely on inbound link building as third-party indicators that a domain is valuable. The idea is, the more trustworthy the links that point to your site, the more trustworthy your site will be.

    Link Analysis(Image Source: Moz)

    Google evaluates the vastly complicated interrelationships between websites, and uses this data to decide which ones are most deserving of higher ranks. We all tend to focus on inbound link building, since our domain is the one we’re concerned with, but what about outbound links? What about a domain’s external linkage to other sites? Are they a significant factor to page and domain authority as well?

    User Experience Factors

    First, let’s take a look at the practical reasons why you’d want to include outbound links in the first place. Isn’t it better to keep your users on your site for as long as possible?

    Actually, outbound links are indicators that you’ve done your homework, or that you’re meaningfully connected to a given industry. For example, you might cite a major study that was conducted by a leading authority in your industry, or make reference to a professional blogger’s article on a semi-related topic. This shows users that your content is well-researched, shows that you’re well connected, and gives them additional, valuable information they can use to make informed decisions. In short, when used as citations, references, and “further reading,” outbound links improve your reputation.

    How Outbound Links Can Help SEO

    Now let’s look at outbound links from an optimization perspective. When Google indexes your pages, it does consider the types of links on each page. There are a few ways it takes these into considerations:

    • Authority. Linking out to high-authority, trustworthy sites tells Google that you do your research, and that your content has a trustworthy basis. Accordingly, pages with lots of trustworthy links are seen as more trustworthy by extension.
    • Relevance. The relevance of your links also comes into play. Google uses your link relevance to gain further understanding of your site’s purpose, industry, and niche. Include links to sites within your industry, or ones that have a particular relevance to your company, to strengthen the accuracy of your associations.
    • Function. Google wants to see links that add value to users’ experience. If you just feature a list of full-URL links, it won’t look good for you. Instead, embed links in hypertext for meaningful citations in the body of your work.
    • Diversity. Finally, don’t just link to one or two sources all the time. The more diverse your outbound link profile is, the more authoritative you’ll seem.

    Do these considerations look familiar? It’s because they’re almost identical to how Google considers inbound links. All these factors can influence the power an outbound link has, just like an inbound link. However, be aware that since you have more control over outbound links (i.e., they don’t serve as third-party indicators), they tend to carry less power.

    How Outbound Links Can Hurt SEO

    Unfortunately, there are also a couple of ways your links can damage your page and domain authority:

    • Poor associations. If your outbound links point to irrelevant sources, or if they direct users to spam sites or other low-authority sites, it will bring down your site’s authority just as high-authority links would increase it.
    • Overabundance. Google used to have a rule that it wouldn’t index a page if it had more than 100 outbound links. This isn’t the case any longer, but Google still cautions users to use links reasonably. If you feature too many outbound links, it may think you’re a link scheme or spam site. If you want to include more links but want to play it safe, you can always use a “nofollow” tag to prevent Google from considering it.

    Best Practices and Takeaways for Outbound Links

    Now that we’ve looked at both sides, we can compile a list of handy “best practices” for outbound links on any given page on your site:

    • Include multiple outbound links to back up your sources and provide additional information for users.
    • Keep your links authoritative and relevant, and diversify your pool of external sources.
    • Try to limit the number of links you use to avoid triggering any red flags, and use nofollow links if necessary to mitigate your risk.

    With these best practices in place, you’ll see better results for each page on your site (as well as your overall domain). However, this strategy is not as powerful as others in the realm of SEO, such as link building and ongoing content marketing. Keep it as a useful tool in your arsenal—but don’t prioritize it higher than it needs to be.

  7. The SaaS Company’s Guide to Off-site SEO

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    Offsite SEO Guide for The Saas Company

    You’re a SaaS company, and you’ve either decided to start an SEO campaign, or yours is in trouble and you need to whip it back into shape. You know all about the onsite portion of SEO — optimizing your site with the proper technical structure, ongoing content strategy, and meta data—but you’re struggling to find your place when it comes to offsite strategies.

    You’ve come to the right place.

    This guide is designed to walk you through the fundamentals of offsite SEO, in total, with specific respect to the unique challenges SaaS companies face. If you’re not in the SaaS industry, you can still use most of this guide—just know that different industries face different challenges, and yours may present obstacles I haven’t fully accounted for in this guide.

    This guide is also broken down into a few main sections, so feel free to skip to the ones you feel are most relevant to your needs:

    • Introduction, to clarify what offsite SEO is and why it’s important for SaaS companies
    • Unique challenges, to elaborate on the main obstacles and priorities a SaaS company should focus on
    • Guest posting and manual link building, to cover best practices for a manual link building approach
    • Link cultivation, to explain the mechanisms of earning links naturally through content
    • Ongoing considerations, to maximize the long-term returns of your campaign

    Without further ado, let’s explore what offsite SEO is and why it’s an essential component of any SaaS company’s marketing strategy.

    The Complex Relationship of Offsite SEO

    Offsite SEO is a culmination of all the ranking factors Google and other search engines consider that aren’t directly on your site. Because these aren’t on your site, they’re more difficult to control, but they also offer more credibility, as these factors serve as third-party indicators to your domain’s authoritative strength.

    Take a look at Moz’s breakdown of ranking factor clusters (which is an approximation, but still relevant):

    Ranking Factors in Google

    (Image Source: Moz)

    Link features alone account for a cumulative 40 percent of total rank potential, compared to only 15 percent for on-page keyword and content features. Along with social metrics, offsite SEO accounts for 47 percent of your total propensity to rank—meaning if you ignore offsite SEO, you’ll be sacrificing 47 percent of your search visibility potential (more on that later).

    Unfortunately, offsite SEO isn’t as basic as it used to be. Thanks to updates like Penguin, posting links pointing back to your domain all over the Internet isn’t going to boost your ranks—instead it’s going to get you penalized. Instead, you need to carefully balance your strategy, building relationships with other authorities, placing links only when relevant and valuable to users, attracting links naturally with your best content, and nurturing user relationships on social media.

    Offsite SEO is a complex web of habits and exchanges more akin to relationship management than construction.

    Why You Need It

    As I’ve already established, you can’t have an SEO campaign without an offsite component. It simply won’t work; even if your onsite strategy is perfect, you’re still only accounting for just over 50 percent of Google’s ranking considerations.

    You could argue, then, that you don’t need SEO at all. It’s possible to skate by without a bona fide SEO strategy (though I haven’t seen any shining examples of SaaS companies who have done this), but let’s take a look at why SEO is an almost-necessary investment.

    First, consider the ROI of sales and marketing for SaaS companies:

    Marketing Spending Levels

    (Image Source: KissMetrics)

    After hitting a critical threshold of 20 percent investment, there’s a major turn in the growth of monthly revenue. This is because SaaS companies are dependent on visibility to new customers in order to make new sales. Since most SaaS companies operate exclusively online, the only options for increased visibility are advertising and organic improvements, the former of which is ridiculously expensive at higher volumes, and the latter of which is most successfully executed with a content and SEO strategy. SEO also offers compounding returns, compared to advertising, which offers reasonable, yet linear growth patterns.

    Long story short? SEO is the best tool you have to sustain long-term revenue growth.

    But offsite SEO is about more than just increasing your visibility and traffic in search engines. If done correctly, you’ll increase referral traffic from whichever sources you build links on, your brand reputation will improve, and you’ll earn more customer loyalty as a result. As a SaaS company, customer loyalty is vital if you want to stay alive. Take a look at this customer churn graph:

    Churn by Growth of Companies

    (Image Source: Totango)

    The fastest-growing SaaS companies are the ones with the highest rates of customer retention, and offsite SEO can help you achieve them in addition to all its other benefits.

    Unique Challenges for SaaS Companies

    Hopefully, you now see why offsite SEO is so critical for SaaS companies. I’ll get to the “how” in a minute, but first, I want to address some key, unique challenges that SaaS companies face while pursuing the strategy.

    • Differentiation. The SaaS model has potential for huge revenue growth, but because this is common knowledge, the market’s been flooded with competitors in recent years. If you want to be featured as a thought leader, you need a solid way to differentiate yourself. If your niche is especially competitive, this can be hard to find; think about how to angle your brand to a specific demographic, or what information you can gather that no one else can.
    • User trust. You can gain ranks pretty easily with a consistent offsite content strategy, but users’ impressions of your brand are an independent concern; just because you successfully earned a link doesn’t mean you’ll generate additional user trust with its placement. Finding a way to build and improve this trust is essential if you want to attract more loyal customers; this generally requires an even greater focus on the quality and value of your content.
    • Building authority from scratch. All SaaS companies are relatively young, since it’s a relatively new concept. Building authority is easy when you have lots of history and data to support your brand:

    Salesforce CRM App

    (Image Source: SalesForce)

    If you’re starting from scratch, however, you’ll find it’s notoriously difficult to get your foot in the door anywhere. The most critical period for offsite SEO development is your first few months—you’ll see the lowest returns on your investment, but you have to keep going if you want to scale.

    Scaling to new sources. After your early momentum starts to subside, you’re going to find it difficult to keep scaling upward. SaaS companies have a huge potential for future returns, especially compared to SaaP companies:

    SaaS vs SaaP Revenue Growth

    (Image Source: Cloud Strategies)

    However, to sustain this exponential growth model, you also need to exponentially scale your offsite strategy. This is certainly possible, but it requires a steady increase in your time, effort, and quality.

    Keep these challenges in the back of your mind as you read the next few sections and start planning your strategic approach. Understanding and compensating for these weaknesses is critical if you want to be effective.

    Guest Posting and Link Building

    Guest posting and link building should constitute the bulk of your ongoing strategy, as it’s the most reliable way to build a reputation and guarantee high-profile links. In this strategy, you’ll be producing high-quality content that other sites host for their users. Many of these posts will contain links that point back to your domain, which in turn pass authority to your site to support your ranking efforts. These links may also be followed by interested users, generating referral traffic, and having your name associated with this content can also increase your brand visibility and authority.

    However, it must be done properly, or you risk ranking penalties, growth stagnation, and even consequences for your brand reputation.

    Ingredients for Success

    First, understand that not all links are the same. There are dozens of qualities that factor into what makes a good link “good,” the most important of which revolve around making sure your links are valuable for any users encountering them.

    To achieve this, you’ll need to pay attention to four critical ingredients: the strength of your sources, the quality of your content, the placement of your link, and the overall diversity of your offsite strategy. I’ll be taking a look at each of these, in turn.

    Identifying the right sources

    The domain-level and page-level authority of your link’s placement source factor in to how much authority it ends up passing to your site. For example, a high-authority site (like an international news publisher) will always pass more authority per link than a low-authority site (like a domain that just emerged and posts questionable-quality content).

    There are a handful of ways to determine the overall authoritativeness of a chosen source. The easiest is intuitive—think about whether this is a site you personally trust. The more objective method is to use an external tool to help you calculate a domain’s authoritative score. I’ve done this for YouTube in two examples below, using Moz and SEO Review Tools:

    YouTube SEO Review

    (Image Source: Moz)

    Domain Authority

    (Image Source: SEO Review Tools)

    You can see its authority is about as high as it gets, with a long age and millions of root links.

    The relevance of your source to your domain may also factor into the quality of your source, especially at lower levels of authority. For example, if your software is designed to help college students study better and you’re posting content on a niche site dedicated to helping the elderly pay their medical bills, you better have a good reason to post.

    Of course, finding the perfect site—one with an exceptionally high authority and relevance to your brand—is hard, and it’s even harder to get content featured on those sources, as most high-authority sources are highly discerning in what they allow to be published. Your strategy should carefully balance sites that are easy to have content posted on and sites that are more authoritative, gradually increasing the overall authority of your backlink profile—but I’ll get into more detail on this later.

    Drafting the right content

    You also need to make sure your content is up to snuff, for three major reasons:

    • Publishers will only accept good content.
    • The strength of your content will support your link’s authoritative strength.
    • Good content will leave users (and other publishers) with a better impression of your brand.

    So what constitutes “good” content here? Mostly the same factors that constitute good content on your site:

    • A valuable or practical function (preferably related to your software).
    • A unique topic that hasn’t been done before.
    • High levels of detail.
    • Multimedia integrations (i.e., images and video).
    • Original findings (data, research, opinions, etc.).
    • A strong, consistent tone.
    • Proper formatting, with scannability.

    These are some of the fundamentals, but there’s one more factor you have to consider when drafting content: the relevance to your source. Users of your target site will be accustomed to certain content features. This may mean a specific formatting, a specific topic, or a specific angle. You need to be prepared for this, and draft your content around those requirements. Otherwise, you’ll be rejected—either by the publisher or by the users themselves.

    Securing link placement

    Once your content is drafted, you can’t just stuff a link in and expect to reap the benefits. Remember, your link placement has to be valuable for the users, or else you’ll stand to lose more than you gain. Keep the following in mind:

    • Contextual relevance/utility. Your link should be a citation of facts originally posted on your site, using your site as an illustration of a point you made, or referring to your site as a source of more information. These functions (and a few others) make the link useful to readers.
    • Appropriate anchor text. Old-school methods required stuffing keywords into your anchor text, but Google now explicitly warns against such practices. Take this snippet as an example of what not to do:

    Optimized Anchor Texts

    (Image Source: Google)

    Instead, use your anchor text naturally, such as with a phrase like, “you can learn more about link building here,” or even simpler with “according to AudienceBloom…”

    • Innocuous positioning. Publishers know that posters often leverage their platforms to build links. Accordingly, they’re on the lookout for link builders—and they’ll weed out your links if they suspect them as being intended to manipulate your rank. Accordingly, you’ll need to disguise your link among other links to make sure it doesn’t stand out.
    • Timing and frequency. It’s rarely a good idea to include more than one backlink in a single post—doing so makes your effort riskier in exchange for a very small increase in potential value. You may also want to avoid including a link with every post—but I’ll touch on this in the next section.

    Diversifying your strategy

    It’s a bad idea to use the same tactics over and over again. If you do, you’ll see diminishing returns, and your reputation might start taking hits. The best way to keep your SaaS reputation intact and improve growth at the same time is to diversify your strategy in three key ways:

    • Sources. Posting more links on the same source offers diminishing returns; the better way to increase authority over time is to seek out new sources. Diversify your backlink profile as much as you can.
    • Destination pages. Links pass page-level authority as well as domain-level authority, so mix up what pages you link to (i.e., don’t always link to your home page). This will also make your links seem more natural over time.
    • Nofollow links. Google is wise to link schemes, and is always on the lookout for predictable patterns of link building. Accordingly, it’s in your best interest to omit links from your guest content occasionally—but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice referral traffic. Including nofollow links instead of regular links will mask these links from search engines but still give you referral traffic potential.

    Now that you know all the ingredients that make up a strong SaaS offsite SEO campaign, let’s take a look at the steps you’ll need to take to go from 0 to 60.

    Step One: Building Onsite Authority

    If you currently have no offsite strategy, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an initial source to take you on as a guest poster. You’ll first have to build up some authority on your own; that means making sure your website is chock full of great content, including a regularly updated onsite blog. You can complement this with some social media following building or some professional networking—the end goal is simply to make yourself seem like more of an expert.

    Step Two: Finding the Low-Hanging Fruit

    Once you have an onsite basis of authority you can cite as a kind of “resume,” you can start scouting for sources that present low-hanging fruit opportunities (I’m not a fan of this buzzword, but it fits here). You’re looking for any reasonable opportunity to get your content featured, so start with local publishers who might be interested in your business, such as neighborhood communities or local news publishers. You can also target specific niche sites, like blogs or forums, that only cater to businesses in your industry. This will help you develop an early momentum for your reputation—don’t worry if they’re not the best of the best.

    Step Three: Managing Ongoing Relationships

    Once you establish a network of different contacts and publication opportunities, work on cultivating those relationships. Submit content regularly, engage with your new audiences in blog comments and on social media, and work to solidify your foundation at this level before you attempt to move on. This means stepping up the quality of your work, writing more types of content that your readers want to see, and giving back to the community (possibly by offering guest spots on your own blog).

    Step Four: Seeking Bigger Targets

    Once you’ve managed this stage for a while, you can start scaling up your strategy. Start looking at higher-profile targets, especially ones with a national readership, and pitch content to them. At higher levels, don’t be surprised if some of your applications get rejected; competition is tough, and it takes time and patience to earn a spot in these circles. Stick with it, keep improving your content, and don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone to build more links; not every publication opportunity necessitates you writing about your software. Once established as a major national thought leader, you should have no trouble developing even more opportunities to place links.

    Link Cultivation

    Of course, manual link placement through guest posting isn’t the only way to earn more links. Some have even criticized this strategy, saying it inherently violates Google’s terms of services, which state that any link intended to manipulate rank is a “bad” link. However, rank manipulation is only a secondary motivation when you’re using links to support your arguments or cite facts—as long as your content quality is in check, you shouldn’t have to worry about a penalty.

    On the other hand, there is a strategy that can earn you more links without any manual placement whatsoever. In this strategy, you’ll be producing content specifically intended to circulate (“go viral”) and naturally prompt people to build links pointing back to your domain. In effect, you’ll establish yourself as an authority people naturally want to cite.

    This is especially valuable for SaaS companies because it naturally encourages a word-of-mouth-based wave of attention. As you gain more social followers (and users of your software), these effects will become even more pronounced.

    To be effective, there are four goals you must achieve.

    Goal One: Produce Quality Content

    The first step is the simplest to understand, yet the most difficult to accomplish. You have to create content that people consistently want to link to—completely on their own. What type of content earns links?

    • Long-form content, generally more than 1,500 words.
    • Original content, such as original research or extended reports.
    • Emotionally compelling content, including content that offers a surprise, or content that stimulates fear, elation, laughter, or sympathy.
    • Utilitarian content, meaning anything that makes life easier for someone—people want to share useful material with one another.
    • Multimedia content, especially infographics and informative videos.

    It’s easy to digest these qualities, but hard to put them all together in a single, well-written package. There’s no perfect formula for viral content, but these guidelines should serve as a decent starting point for you.

    Also, don’t expect every polished piece you produce to be a major hit—sometimes, even the topics and body content that seems like it would perform the best falls flat once it hits audiences. I hate to say it, but there is a bit of luck involved here.

    Goal Two: Syndicate!

    The mistake most SaaS companies make at this point is assuming that your content will magically start attracting readers and visitors. Yes, once it rolls out to an initial audience, those audience members will theoretically share and link to it in further circles, but you have to syndicate your piece to those audiences first.

    How can you do this? Social media’s a good place to start. Leverage all your relevant platforms, especially Facebook if your platform is B2C and LinkedIn if your platform is B2B. Both platforms offer in-depth tools to help you target the right audience; for example, Facebook offers organic audience targeting features, and LinkedIn offers selective screening through the use of Groups.

    These are just a handful of the hundreds of SaaS-related Groups that exist on LinkedIn:

    SaaS Related LinkedIn Groups

    Of course, you may be targeting a different niche, such as Human Resources or Stock Investing. Cater to your demographics here, and don’t be afraid to push your content out multiple times!

    Goal Three: Engage With Influencers

    To give your content even more of an initial push, reach out to major influencers in your niche. What are “influencers?” They’re basically rockstars with huge social media followings, regular activity in the community, and a powerful reputation.

    The theory is this: if you can get just one influencer to share a piece of your content, it will instantly generate thousands of new views. Oftentimes, you can accomplish this with a simple request or exchange of value. If you engage with these influencers regularly and start building a rapport with them, it becomes even easier to participate in these exchanges.

    Finding a target isn’t that difficult, but think about your likelihood of success before you get too involved. For example, take a look at the CEO of SalesForce, Marc Benioff’s Twitter account:

    Twitter Profile

    (Image Source: Twitter)

    He has 204,000 followers (which is a lot), and almost 9,000 tweets which shows he’s active. He’s also seen retweeting others quite frequently. These factors make him a decent influencer to target, though you’ll notice his engagement factor isn’t as personal or frequent as some other big names in the SaaS industry.

    Salesforce Twitter

    (Image Source: Twitter)

    SalesForce, the corporate brand, has even more followers and a more active posting schedule—but the account doesn’t retweet very often, and its engagements are typically limited to customers talking about the brand.

    You’ll find advantages and disadvantages in every influencer you size up as a prospect. The key is to find ones who have the highest likelihood of fitting your needs and the lowest demand for investment of personal time. It’s easier said than done, but once you start landing influencers in your professional network, the power of your content will instantly amplify.

    Goal Four: Repetition

    Sometimes, it takes a while for a content to “take hold” with an audience and start earning hundreds of inbound links. Sometimes, an “ideal” piece of content will fall flat. Sometimes, a piece of content will explode in popularity after you’ve already written it off.

    The world of viral content and “link cultivation” is a volatile, sometimes unpredictable one. The best way to hedge your bets and guarantee a long-term return on your investment is to stay consistent in your strategy, and repeat it. Keep producing new content. Keep syndicating it in new places. Keep reaching out to new influencers. Keep refining your approach. Eventually, you’ll get what you’re looking for.

    Ongoing Considerations

    As you form your strategy and begin to develop it over the coming months, keep the following considerations in mind:

    • Your reputation always comes first. No matter how juicy an opportunity might seem, it’s only worth it if it makes your company look better to users. Customer retention—and therefore, brand reputation—is your greatest asset as a SaaS company.
    • Take the best of both worlds. Manual link building through guest posting and link cultivation through content syndication are complementary, effective strategies. Make use of both on an ongoing basis if you want to see the best return.
    • Make adjustments. Doing the same thing over and over again will make your strategy stall (and might drive you crazy at the same time). Don’t be afraid to make adjustments and try new things, especially as you learn more about what your readers like and want.
    • Scale with your audience. SaaS is an industry with massive growth potential, but if you want to see that growth, you have to grow your investment in your marketing strategies as well. Keep pushing the limits with better content, higher frequencies of publication, better publishers, and bigger influencers.
    • Admit when you need help. Offsite SEO is an intensive strategy that requires expertise, commitment, and tons of time and effort. It’s not for amateurs, and it’s not something you can half-invest in. Don’t be afraid to admit that you need help; there are many companies out there, including AudienceBloom, who specialize in client-focused link building, and chances are, they’ll be able to do it more effectively and less expensively than you can.

    Conclusion

    I feel as though SEO is hands-down the most effective strategy for SaaS companies to establish a reputation, attract more users, and increase customer retention. It’s cost-efficient, scalable, digital, and offers compounding returns over time. But for this strategy to be effective, you need a strong, consistent, offsite component that not only increases your rank, but builds your reputation.

    Throughout this guide, I’ve helped you understand the fundamental components of such a strategy, and how a SaaS company should specifically adjust these fundamentals for the greatest possible benefit. Now, it’s on you to start taking the steps to earn these results. Whether you take on the work yourself or work with a link building expert to ease the burden and increase results, your commitment to the strategy is critical if you want it to pay off.

  8. 5 Ways to Build Links for a Brand New Startup

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    So you’ve started a service or app, your product is ready, and you need new users. Now what?

    One of the best ways of getting new users is good old SEO; drive users to your site organically through Google.

    If done properly you can get tons of new users to your website with a small marketing budget. The basic equation to SEO is simple: find useful keywords to target + ensure your website is optimized + build links.

    In this article I won’t be going over the first two parts of the equation, here are some SEO tutorials to get you going.

    The section of SEO that new comers find daunting is link building. It can be tough to build high quality, white hat links to a new website. Also building links to a startup can be very different than to an ecommerce website.

    Lucky for you, I’m here to help!

    I’m going to walk you through five link building strategies that will get your startup ranking in no time. To demonstrate clear examples let’s pretend we have a SAAS company that sells an appointment booking calendar app… named Calendar Pro.

    1. Run a PR Campaign

    Good old PR is still one of the best ways to build links to a website. You can get links from massive publications with a little bit of work. Coverage on these publications can also drive lots of new users to your website regardless of links.

    The most important part of any public relations campaigns is that you have something to talk about. When reaching out to reporters make sure you tell them why your company is different and why what you’re doing is special. What does your app do different? What service are you providing that nobody else is?

    Another important aspect is picking the right reporter and getting their personal email. In most cases, pitching to a general support email will go unnoticed. Make sure they’ve covered a similar topic before and what you’re saying interests them. For example, Samantha Kelly at Mashable has written an article about the Google Calendar app.

    author on mashable

    She’s a perfect person to pitch to! Now you need her personal email. Go to Find Any Email, toss in her First Name, Last Name and Email and get it.

    start your search

    Once you have her email shoot her an email saying:

    • You saw that she covered a similar article
    • You have a new startup that she may be interested in
    • Demonstrate why it’s different from the others

    That’s it!

    Now that you know the basic process who do you pitch to? There should be two levels to your public relations campaign for link building:

    Local

    Find relevant local publications that may be interested in covering your story. Local newspapers and blogs love covering things going on in their home town. For example, if Calendar Pro was based in Toronto I might send emails to the Globe and Mail, BlogTO, and CBC.

    Category Specific

    No matter what your startup does, there are most likely a number of blogs which write about it. In my mind, Calendar Pro falls in to two main categories: SAAS and business organization. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of website which cover these topics. Think Tech.co, Entrepreneur, and Forbes.

    BONUS: You can also use HARO (Help a Reporter Out) to get some sweet links for little work. See Quick Sprout’s guide for a thorough walkthrough.

    2. Sign up for Startup Lister

    Startup Lister is a service which submits your startup to over 70+ directories for a single price of $89. I know, I know people worry about building links from directories but these are high quality listings that will benefit your website.

    startup lister

    Personally, aside from links, I’ve seen these listings drive a number of sign ups to new startups.

    I believe this is a no brainer for startups that will give your website a little kick in the butt and get you going. The websites they send to include: Venture Beat, G2Crowd, The Verge and Forbes Technology.

    They also have higher priced packages where they will do the PR outreach for you to relevant industry blogs. While this isn’t a complete replacement for doing PR yourself… If you’re funded and have some cash to spare it may be well worth it.

    **I am not affiliated with Startup Lister at all. Just a happy customer.

    3. Competitive Link Building

    The premise of competitive link building is pretty simple: get a list of your competitors, find their backlinks and try and replicate them. Calendar Pro would have a number of competitors, but for this example we’ll use Calendly.

    To find a website’s links you’ll have to get a subscription to either Ahrefs or Majestic. These programs will give you a list of any website’s backlinks. Ahrefs has a free trial you can use, but I’ll be using Majestic here as they work very similarly.

    majestic

    Enter your competitor’s domain and press “backlinks”.

    Then find relevant resource pages or articles where you can ask for a link.

    relevant pages

    For example, this article from Business2Community is about tools that help with B2B sales management. You can email the author and ask that you be included.

    Or this list of scheduling apps on Zapier: https://zapier.com/blog/best-meeting-scheduler-apps/ is another perfect opportunity.

    You can replicate this across all of your competitors to get a massive list of link opportunities.

    4. Reclaim Brand Mentions

    This link building tactic is more passive than the rest, but important nonetheless. It helps you pick up mentions of your startup across the web that may not have linked to the website. Those are golden opportunities for links!

    There are a few platforms which let you track your mentions with the biggest ones being Mention and Google Alerts.

    The premise is simple… They’ll send you a notification if your startup is mentioned (ex. Calendar Pro). If there’s no link, simply email the website or author and ask them to add your link. If you tell them you’re starting out and it’ll greatly benefit your business, chances are they’ll add it.

    And there’s more! You can also add in your competitors to track them online as well. Similar to the competitive link building method, you can chime in and possibly get your link added as well.

    5. Create a Free Tool

    For this tactic you can either create a new tool from scratch or offer a freemium version of your software. If you’re a startup company, chances are you have developers who can create a small tool with ease.

    A free tool is considered a “linkable asset” and gives you a good reason to reach out to blogs.

    For Calendar Pro, an example would be to develop a free program where people can input their phone numbers to get text alerts before a meeting. A simple page with meeting time, number of alerts and phone number.

    When the tool is developed you can do another small PR campaign and reach out to relevant sources who would be interested. You can also search for “Free calendar tools” on Google to find website who may be interested in linking to the tool.

    People are more likely to link to a free product than paid. Also, the tool will get shared organically if it’s useful!

    Conclusion

    Organic traffic is essentially free and can be generated with a very small marketing budget, which is perfect for new companies. Even a beginner to SEO can follow these techniques. Start your PR campaign, delve in to your competitors backlinks, or build a free tool and see your search rankings soar for your startup.

  9. 7 Barriers Preventing Your Agency From Doing Effective Link Building

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    I love SEO agencies. I should—I operate one. They serve a wide range of needs, from the major corporation that needs to outsource some of the work that its in-house team can’t handle, to the fresh entrepreneur who doesn’t know the first thing about SEO and needs some seasoned guidance.

    Unfortunately, even talented agencies with years of experience sometimes struggle to attract and retain clients on the SEO front. SEO has a few factors working against it; it’s a complicated strategy that involves lots of moving parts, it’s hard to objectively quantify your results, and even when you do, those results take lots of time and patience before they start justifying your costs. Accordingly, I’ve seen a number of agencies straining in recent years, sometimes going under, and sometimes dropping an entire wing of service from their lineup.

    One of the first services to fold, it seems, is link building. Why is this?

    For starters, it’s confusing. On one hand, you have Google engineer John Mueller telling you not to link build at all, and on the other you have respected SEO authority Moz telling you it’s almost impossible to rank without it—domain-level and page-level link influence adds up to nearly 40 percent of a page’s ranking influencers.

    Page-Ranking-Influencers

    (Image Source: Moz)

    Add in the fact that link building parameters keep changing with Penguin (and dynamics within publishers), and the fact that it’s notoriously hard to tie efforts to results, and you have, on the surface, a challenging, unpredictable SEO strategy.

    So why do it at all? Because it’s valuable. Incredibly so. That is, if you can get past the barriers that typically lead agencies to flounder.

    In my experience, both as an agency owner and as a whitelabel provider to agencies, there are seven main barriers preventing effective link building. I’ll address these one by one.

    Barrier 1: Understanding the Client

    Imagine you have two single friends. You know them well, they seem to have a lot in common, and they seem like they could get along. You might consider setting them up on a blind date—and you’d have reason to suspect that date would go well. Now, what if you tried to set up the random man you sat next to on the subway with the random lady you saw across the street? You have no idea, because you don’t know these people well enough to gauge their potential chemistry.

    This is a colorful and imprecise analogy, but it serves a valuable purpose in identifying link building as a relationship game. It’s no longer enough to build random links pointing to any domain; those links need to be relevant, surrounded with great content, and hosted on sources appropriate to the target domain. How can you expect to accomplish any of these if you don’t know your client that well?

    Ask yourself these questions:

    • What does this client do? This may seem like a laughably simple question, but you’d be surprised how many agencies fail here. You might have a highly technical SaaS provider, or a specialized manufacturer, whose jargon-laced company descriptions make them hard to penetrate. This should dictate the type of topics you choose for your link building material.
    • Who is their target audience? You don’t have to write every piece of offsite content to please one specific target audience, but this should help you decide on an initial list of sources and publishers.
    • What is their industry? The contextual relevance of your links is partially determined by the relationship of your link source to your client’s industry. Can you identify that industry?

    List-of-Industries

    (Image Source: Google)

    • What unique value do they offer? This isn’t limited to their products and services, either; what unique research do they publish? What unique content do they have on their blog? These are valuable linkable assets you can use to build stronger, more relevant links on your outbound sources.

    It might be embarrassing to ask these questions, especially if you’ve been working with this client for a while, but these answers will allow you to build stronger, more relevant, more valuable links on more valuable, appropriate sources. If you don’t know the answers to any of these questions, you’ve been firing blind in your strategy.

    Barrier 2: Outdated Practices

    Link building has changed dramatically since the early days of SEO. There have been dozens of updates and tweaks, but the big game changer here was Penguin.

    Google-Updates

    (Image Source: No Pork Pies)

    This is a basic visual from not long after Penguin’s first arrival, but it helps you understand some of the basic link building practices that are, essentially, “dead:”

    • Links that appear unnatural.
    • Links that aren’t useful.
    • Links stuffed with exact-match anchor text or keywords.
    • Links using repetitive anchor text.
    • Links pointing to the same URL over and over.
    • Too many links from one source.
    • Links from low-quality or irrelevant sources.
    • Links from schemes (too many to list here).

    It also helps you understand the dynamic relationship between link building and content, which I’ll elaborate on in the next section.

    Unfortunately, even knowing about the major changes of the Penguin update, many agencies continue to use obsolete practices, such as posting links in forum comments or spamming links on outside sources without much consideration to their relevance or diversity.

    Modern practices demand a more refined approach, usually centered on establishing and developing relationships with a plethora of offsite authorities, especially those related to your client’s industry, or those with a national presence. This demands a lot of work; you’ll spend far more time and energy per link than you would with an old method, but it’s worth it. Too many agencies don’t realize this, and opt for the cheaper, easier “old school” methods in the hopes that they’ll yield some kind of benefit. Believe me, you get what you work/pay for here.

    Barrier 3: Content Quality

    After peeking at this title, you’re probably asking yourself, “content? Shouldn’t content be a separate strategy from link building?” Yes and no. Ongoing onsite content (e.g., a blog) is important to add more indexable, valuable material to your site (and provide more linkable assets), but as we saw in the last barrier, in the post-Penguin era, content is important for offsite link building, too.

    In fact, there are four major ways content affects your link building strategy:

    • It helps determine the strength of your inbound link. Imagine two articles on a similar domain, featuring a similar link and covering a similar topic. One is highly detailed, thousands of words in length, with multimedia integrations and an authoritative, playful voice. It’ generated thousands of shares and is visited regularly. The other is short, fluffy, awkward-sounding and has generated almost zero shares or visibility. Which link passes more value to its target domain? The former. The quality of your content plays a major role in how much authority is passed, so the better material you produce, the more value the link will hold.
    • It determines whether or not your content is published. This is especially true as you aim to be published on more authoritative sources. High-authority sites got to be where they are because they’re discriminating when it comes to content. They only want truly valuable, relevant pieces that their readers are going to love. If you submit something hastily written, or poorly conceived, it’s going to be rejected—and your efforts will be wasted.
    • It influences your relationships with other sites. When you try to start a relationship with a new publisher, they’re going to look at work you’ve posted on other publishers. Providing universally solid content, capable of impressing even the most judicious editors, will help you build relationships with those new sites.
    • It affects reader impressions and referral traffic. If readers are enthralled by your material, they’ll be excited to follow your link and will come to the site with a more impressed, positive disposition. If your content doesn’t grab a reader, they may not even finish reading the article, and you can kiss that referral traffic goodbye.

    I won’t get into the details of what makes for “good” content here—that’s a post for another time. Just know that every offsite post you produce needs to be relevant, unique, valuable, practical, and engaging. If you lack any of those qualities, the efficiency of your strategy could crumble.

    Moral of the story? Be as discriminating with your offsite content as you are with your onsite content.

    Barrier 4: Publication Networks

    The authoritative strength of your source domain (and page) matters to the overall value of the link. If you want to see the highest return on your time investment, you need to choose the sites that offer the highest possible authority.

    For this, you don’t have to rigorously calculate the domain authority of the external sources you’re considering, nor do you have to rule out any source that isn’t perfect. You can use your best judgment, based on what you know about the site, to determine whether a source is worth pursuing.

    For example, which of the following two sites would be better to build a link on?

    Link-Building-Opportunities

    (Image Source: Moz)

    CNN

    (Image Source: CNN)

    The second will provide a massive boost to your domain authority, and the first might get you penalized.

    It pays to be discriminating. Consider the old Groucho Marx quote: “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.” If your target source is the type that will accept any content, or any link, it probably isn’t a source worth building a link on. On the other hand, if it takes time, effort, a pre-existing relationship, and a little luck to build a link, your dutiful efforts are justified. It is hard to build links this way, but that’s what separates successful agencies from mediocre ones.

    Barrier 5: The Ability to Scale

    When you first start link building for a client, you have to start easy. You have to find sources willing to link to a newcomer and get published on lower-tier sources before you start building a reputation. After a while, you’ll land yourself on some decent sources that pass a decent amount of authority to your client’s domain.

    The problem is, most agencies stop here. They see their efforts have returned a valuable position, and they keep repeating the process ad infinitum, occasionally adding new sources but ultimately keeping their strategy consistent. They have no ability to scale, and as a result, the campaign begins to see patterns of diminishing returns.

    If you want to keep seeing growth in a campaign, you can’t keep your efforts consistent. There is no “cruise control” for link building unless you don’t want to see any growth. Instead, you have to gradually ratchet up your efforts.

    For example, consider a restaurant getting a link from this site, a local news outlet:

    Local-news-outlet-link

    (Image Source: Cleveland.com)

    It certainly isn’t bad; it will lend plenty of authority and referral traffic to the campaign. But compare that to an international gourmet food critic’s site:

    Andy-Hayler

    (Image Source: Andy Hayler)

    Is this out of reach for you? Yes. But only in the same way that running a marathon is out of reach. You can’t go from barely ever exercising to running a marathon; you have to go from 1 mile to 2, from 2 to 3, and so on iteratively until you can handle the distance. Similarly, you have to find “missing link” sources to bridge the gap between your current authoritative reach and the pinnacle of industry success.

    Again, this takes time and effort, but it’s how you can distinguish yourself from the competition and continue to prove your worth to the client.

    Barrier 6: Optimizing Costs

    Okay, let’s take a step back and remember that “effective link building” isn’t all about getting the best results when you’re an agency trying to make a profit at the same time. Yes, you truly want your client to succeed, but if you’re spending more time and money than you’re earning from your client’s retainer, you’re ultimately putting your business (and your employees) in a tight position.

    The costs of link building are difficult to calculate because they’re based on time, and if you have multiple employees dabbling in the process, it’s almost impossible to calculate how much time they’re spending on a given client’s link building efforts. For example, you might have a team lead who coordinates the strategic directives, a staff writer who generates the content and includes the link, and a relationship manager who takes care of posting and monitoring. Ultimately, just one good link can take 4-8 hours of time to build, maybe even more for long-form content or choosy publishers, and that doesn’t even include the costs of maintaining your ongoing relationships! Even at a modest agency rate of $100 an hour, that’s $800 you’d charge your client for a single link, and depending on what you charge for ongoing “SEO services,” that can eat up your budget in no time.

    So let’s look at the ways you can optimize these costs:

    • Build more links at once. If you’re already writing and publishing guest content regularly, you can streamline the process by having members of your team hyper-specialize in certain elements of the process. This creates an assembly-line setup, which allows you to increase overall productivity; the problem is the overhead, and the time it takes to establish such a system. If you only have a few link building clients, this is hard to justify.
    • Spend less time. The “shortcut” way is to simply force yourself to spend less time on link building in general. You might go after lower-level sources, rush the writing process, or use the same sources over and over. The problem here, as you can imagine, is that the time you spend really is valuable, and if you spend less of it without a corresponding increase in efficiency, you’ll end up earning less overall value.
    • Outsource the work. Think of the infrastructure I mentioned in my first point. What if you could achieve it without the overhead costs or complexities of training an entire team? Outsourcing overrides the necessity for these steps. By working with a link building specialist, you’ll be able to build better links on higher-authority publishers for less initial cost. The trick here is to find an agency worth doing business with. There’s no shortage of link builders out there, but only a handful that approach the strategy properly, with modern tactics. Don’t take “link building,” as a service, at face value. Ask questions of your agency, find out what strategies they’re using, and only recruit the services of a long-term partner who can stand behind their work.

    Building valuable links without spending more money than you’re earning is a difficult balance to strike, but optimizing your costs is a good way to start. This balance is also responsible for another barrier in agency link building relationships: proving your links are worth the cost to the client.

    Barrier 7: Proving Your Worth

    Your client is paying you good money for SEO services. You may keep most of your work behind the scenes, but there are two instances where your client will start questioning your link building services:

    • Your client is unsatisfied with your overall results. Maybe your traffic isn’t increasing, or your ranks have gone stagnant. Whatever the case, your overall SEO results leave something to be desired, and your link building efforts come under scrutiny as part of a collective whole.
    • Your client learns how much time you spend on link building. In this scenario, your client is unconvinced that link building is worth the time you put into it. They may feel you’re wasting time and money by building links that could be spent doing something better to increase rank.

    If you want to attract and retain the best clients, your two goals then should be proving the return of your SEO campaign, and proving the value of your link building strategy, in particular. There are several ways to do this, but I’m going to highlight some of the most effective.

    Organic Traffic

    Organic traffic is one of the best measures you have for the overall health of your SEO campaign. It measures the number of people who found your client’s site through search engines, so the higher this number, the more effective your campaign has been, and you can easily measure growth over time. It’s advantageous over measuring ranks directly, because ranks can be deceptive—after all, what good is a number one position if it doesn’t earn you any real traffic?

    To find this figure, log into Google Analytics and select your client. Head to the Acquisition tab and click Overview to see a breakdown of your client’s major traffic sources.

    Google-Analytics-Dashboard

    Over time, your Organic traffic will likely grow in comparison to your other sources (as will Referral traffic, but we’ll get there in a moment). You can use this as a basis for your value as an agency.

    Now, scroll down and click “Organic Traffic” to see a breakdown of just your Organic users.

    Here, you’ll see a graph a little like this:

    GA-Charts

    Ordinarily, it’s a bad idea to look at fluctuations on a daily basis; rankings are volatile. However, you can use this to help you find specific effects your link building strategy has had. For example, let’s say you’ve posted two new links on new high-profile sources for your client. A few days later, there’s a spike in organic visits. In this case, you can almost objectively tie your link’s value to your pattern of growth in organic search results.

    Referral Traffic

    Don’t forget that organic ranks aren’t the only benefit that link building yields. Head back to the Acquisition Overview section and this time, pull up Referral traffic. This is a breakdown of all the inbound traffic your client received from click-throughs on external links. Scroll down a bit and you’ll find the following breakdown:

    Referral-Traffic

    Here, you can find tons of information—including total number of visitors—from each of your referral sources. Assuming you know the average value of a visitor (which you can calculate using average conversion rates, conversion values, and long-term customer value), you can objectively calculate the value of a link. Keep in mind this value will be a minimum, as the traffic will only grow over time.

    Overall Link Evaluation

    You can also prove your agency’s worth by showcasing the total growth of links as it relates to domain authority, one of the best measures of a domain’s potential to rank. You’ll have to use another tool for this; one of my favorites is Moz’s Open Site Explorer, which is partially free.

    Enter any domain, and you’ll find domain-related and page-related metrics, such as domain authority, page authority, total links, and root domains.

    Link-Analysis

    (Image Source: Moz)

    You’ll also be able to generate a list of each individual link, along with its respective authority scores, which you can export as a CSV file. This is useful not only for showing the ongoing value of your work, but identifying key areas for improvement as well.

    Link-Analysis-Report

    (Image Source: Moz)

    The goal here is to show your link building growth and tie that to authority growth; tying those to monetary value may require additional metrics, such as the ones I referenced above.

    Secondary Values

    The main priorities for link building are building higher search ranks and generating more traffic, both of which generate revenue for a site. However, there are also other, less tangibly measurable values that link building can add:

    • Brand visibility. Every new post that references your client means a further reach for your client’s brand. Not everybody will follow the link immediately, but everybody will see that brand name and remember it.
    • Brand reputation. People will associate your client as an authority in the industry (if the content is strong), which leads to more referrals, more future sales, and more loyal customers.
    • Social clout. If users aren’t interested in visiting your client’s site or buying, they may still engage your client socially thanks to your increased presence, adding to a pool of potential marketing targets.
    • Ongoing growth. As external links are semi-permanent, they tend to grow in value over time. Any metrics you show are only in-the-moment snapshots of value; they don’t tap into the long-term potential of your work.

    Don’t forget to mention these when proving your value to the client.

    Conclusion

    I didn’t say overcoming these barriers was easy, or even straightforward, but with time and effort, you can turn your link building strategy into one that both you and your clients will swear by. Remember, you don’t have to do this alone; rely on the experience and content of others to help guide you whenever you run into obstacles, and don’t be afraid to outsource elements of your strategy to a firm that’s better qualified to handle link building responsibilities. Link building is too important to SEO to ignore, and if done incorrectly, can compromise the ROI of your entire campaign or the relationships of your most important clients.

  10. Is “Local Link Building” Different From “Link Building?”

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    Sometimes, it seems like SEO comes down to a game of semantics. Today, a good “link building” strategy involves circulating high-quality content and getting people to link to your material because it’s worth citing, yet there may be no manual action of “building” a link. Similarly, “technical SEO” may require little to no actual technical expertise, and “keyword research” may be more about finding new content topics than trying to rank for specific phrases.

    Because of this, it’s easy to make assumptions about how different strategies interact with each other, or whether one subset of a strategy can be distinguished from its parent. One of the most significant examples of this I’ve found is the primary focus of this article; you’ve probably heard someone make reference to the idea of “local link building” before, but is that any different from regular, nationally-focused link building?

    How Local SEO Is Different

    Before we get to the meat of this question, let’s take a moment to look at the ways local SEO, in general, differs from national SEO. There are a number of misconceptions about what local SEO is, and dispelling those is necessary to understand the difference between these types of link building (and if it is, indeed, a difference worth noting).

    Local SEO actually functions as a distinct algorithm; that is to say, local search isn’t just a standard search that happens to include local keywords (like your city or state). When Google detects a local indicator (such as your inclusion of geographic keywords, location data provided by your mobile phone, or the common phrase “near me”), it calls upon this separate algorithm to produce three results deemed most relevant to your query.

    Note the difference when I search for “pediatrician”:

    pediatrician local search results

    Versus when I search for “pediatrician near me”:

    pediatrician near me

    Ignore the paid advertisement at the top and note the three organic entries that appear above the “standard” results. In local SEO, your goal is to be listed as one of these entries.

    To do that, you need to achieve a handful of goals:

    • Achieve a high domain authority. You can do this by following standard SEO best practices—writing good content, attracting strong links, and optimizing your site for performance.
    • Get good reviews. Google taps into your business reviews on various third party sources to evaluate your business.
    • Feature yourself on local directories. The more accurate, consistent, and present this data is, the better your chances of ranking.
    • Associate yourself with your geographic area. Make sure your address is accurate, and establish relationships with other local sources and businesses.

    At first glance, it would seem that regular link building—the kind you follow for a national campaign—is sufficient to improve your domain authority. Hold that thought.

    The Tenets of Link Building

    External links pass authority from the linking source to the destination source. For example, if you link from an average source (say a competitor of yours) that’s relevant to your industry, you might get an average amount of authority, and your recognition as a member of said industry will increase. If you link on a high-authority source irrelevant to your industry, you might get lots of authority, but only a modest increase in your recognition as an industry authority (assuming your content is related to your industry in some way). Ideally, you’ll find a balance between high-authority sources and sources relevant to your industry to get the “best of both worlds.”

    Qualities of a “Local” Link

    Now let’s think about what it would mean to have a “local link.” For this, it’s helpful to think of your geographic area as a type of industry of its own. Google looks at the strength of your reputation in a geographic area when it determines the top three results for a local query relevant to you; therefore, having more links pointing to your site from locally relevant authorities (with locally relevant content) can help you increase your local relevance. Examples of locally relevant authorities might include local news sites, neighborhood associations, or organizations exclusive to your area.

    However, don’t be fooled into thinking that local links are only beneficial to local companies. This isn’t the case. Any authoritative link can be valuable in boosting your domain authority, so a business in Houston could theoretically increase in rank thanks to an inbound link from a Detroit newspaper (provided it’s relevant); Google won’t confuse you for being a Detroit business, but you won’t gain any Houston-specific relevance.

    (Side note: if you live in Houston, you’ve got plenty of choices for local links, so you won’t have to go wooing the folks in Detroit to earn some extra authority):

    list of newspapers

    A Practical Introduction to “Local Link Building”

    All this is to say that yes, local link building can be distinguished from traditional link building, if you only seek out local sources. However, because all inbound links will support your domain authority and increase both your national and local ranks, it’s unwise to limit yourself to only local sources.

    Instead of thinking about local link building as yet another separate strategy you must pursue to get your business visible in search engines, think about it as a niche subset of your overall link building strategy; oftentimes, local sources are easy to persuade, and if you participate actively in local events, you’ll probably earn these links naturally (and that’s never a bad thing).

    If you’re looking for a concise takeaway from this analysis, it’s this: know that locally relevant links can increase your reputation in a specific geographic area, but it’s neither essential nor wise to exclusively pursue local links. Keep them as a subsection of your overall link building strategy.

    Want more information on link building? Head over to our comprehensive guide on link building here: SEO Link Building: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide.

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