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  1. The Definitive Guide to Referral Traffic

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    You need traffic to be successful in any online business, but not all types of traffic are created equal. Search engine optimization (SEO) experts often focus on organic traffic—the type of traffic that visits your site after finding it in search engines, while paid advertising experts obviously focus on paid traffic.

    But one of the most important—and most cost-efficient sources of traffic gets left out of the conversation: referral traffic.

    Referral traffic (a term from Google Analytics) is any traffic that comes to your site from a link outside of search engines and social media. If an online visitor of an external site clicks on a link that leads them to your site, that visitor is counted among your referral traffic, and the external site is known as the “referrer.”

    So why is referral traffic so powerful, yet so underrated? And what strategies can you use to increase it?

    In this guide, I’ll walk you through the basics of generating referral traffic, including several reliable strategies you can use to build a referral traffic stream from scratch.

    Table of Contents

    + Why Referral Traffic Is Valuable
    + Building Referral Traffic Through Link Attraction
    + Building Referral Traffic Through Link Building
    + Measurement and Analysis
    + Conclusion

    Why Referral Traffic Is Valuable

    First, let’s go over why referral traffic is so valuable for your campaign in the first place.

    • Complementary traffic. First, referral traffic serves as a complementary source of traffic; you can optimize your strategy to focus on referral traffic, but it’s also supported by multiple independent strategies. For example, you’ll need to build links in pursuit of SEO and organic traffic, so you’ll earn referral traffic incidentally there. You’ll also need to run press releases and network with influencers to build your brand reputation, which can also help you earn referral traffic.
    • Funneling potential. If you’re building links manually for your referral traffic, you can use your content and link targeting to funnel the traffic that ultimately makes it to your site. Using titles that are only relevant to your target niche, you can practically guarantee that each visitor who follows your link could be a potential customer. Furthermore, as you gather more data about the type of traffic you’re getting and how that traffic behaves on your site, you can adjust this funneling stage of your strategy to attract more valuable users.
    • Context and interest. The type of link you build, along with its placement, has great potential to influence your referral traffic’s behavior. For example, if you’re a local handyperson, and you write an article about “What to do if your sink won’t stop leaking,” you can use the content of the article to steer users toward calling in a professional. Once they’re convinced of the importance of this step, you can use a well-placed link to lead them to your site. This greatly increases the chance that a website visitor will be interested in your services.
    • User behavior data. Finally, thanks to Google Analytics, you can dig deep into your referral traffic metrics and learn exactly how that traffic is behaving. You can segment your traffic to look only at referral-based visitors, and even look at individual sources to see which ones are most valuable to your brand. From there, you can evaluate onsite user behavior (along with purchasing activity), and make more educated choices on how to optimize your strategy in the future.

    Now, we’re going to take a look at strategies you can use to build streams of referral traffic to your website. Ultimately, these strategies can be grouped into two main categories: attracting traffic as naturally as possible, and building links manually to attract that traffic more deliberately. In both strategies, your end goal is accumulating more high-quality links that pass traffic through to your site, but as you’ll see, each is distinct in the philosophy behind its approach.

    Building Referral Traffic Through Link Attraction

    With link attraction, your goal is to earn links as “naturally” as possible; Google may devalue or penalize links that appear “unnatural” in any way, so it’s definitely a safer strategy (though as you’ll see, it’s not hard to build natural links on your own). The trouble is, you won’t have as much direct control over the location, frequency, context, or overall power of the links you build.

    Still, when used in conjunction with a manual link building strategy, these tactics can be powerful in shaping your streams of referral content.

    High-Value Content

    The most cost-efficient way to attract links naturally is to create valuable content on your site, which other readers and content producers will be able to read. If they find it interesting, unique, or valuable, they’ll build a link pointing to your site in their own work.

    The strategy is especially valuable because you’ll be able to reap the value of that content in your other strategies, harnessing its power for SEO and conversion optimization alike. But if you want it to earn links on your behalf, you’ll need to make sure it has the top-tier qualities that your citing sources will want to see:

    • Originality. If you’re the only person saying this, there won’t be any other sources to cite. Making original claims or new arguments is one way to make your content stand out, but be careful here; if you make unfounded claims, or if your work is original only because of its audacity, you won’t be treated as an authority. Strive to stand out without alienating your core readership (or other members of your discourse community).
    • Statistics. People love to get their hands on numbers and statistics, but it’s expensive to procure them on your own. Conducting your own studies, including surveys of your customer base, is a cost-efficient way to present those numbers to the world; once they’re out there, your contemporaries will want to cite them so they can use them for their own work.
    • Images and video. Including visual content, like images or video, is another good way to earn links, since visual content is highly shareable and much harder to produce than written content—in fact, a single infographic can cost thousands of dollars to produce. If you’re willing to put in the time and/or money, it could be a valuable way to earn a few extra links and citations.
    • Depth and comprehensiveness. In general, longer, more detailed articles tend to attract more links than their shorter counterparts. That doesn’t mean you can stuff your content full of fluff, however; the secret is to achieve depth while remaining concise, which means your content dives deep into a single issue, rather than speaking generally about a number of interrelated issues. The more comprehensive your content is, the better.
    • Controversy or compelling viewpoints. If you want to stand out further, you can take a controversial stance or introduce some compelling new viewpoint in your industry. This is a bit of a gamble, since you might push some of your target demographic away, but you’ll stand apart from your competitors and will make yourself a valuable resource to cite when someone in your industry inevitably comes along to cover the topic in more depth.

    Promotion and Syndication

    If you already have an audience and your content is good enough, it might be able to attract links on its own—but realistically, that’s unlikely. Even the best content needs some line of support, to generate an initial audience and build momentum. After all, what good is your groundbreaking content if nobody knows it exists?

    The best way to support your content is through a cycle of promotion and syndication. With promotion, you’ll use social media marketing and similarly inexpensive channels to raise awareness of your content’s existence. You might also share it in a company newsletter, pay for advertising, submit a press release about it, or share it to a community forum. Ideally, this will get hundreds to thousands of initial eyes on your work, and those readers can share your content even further.

    As an added measure of support, you can redistribute your content periodically, every few weeks, to capture the attention of any readers or followers you missed the first time around. Granted, this strategy works much better if you already have a social media following in place, but any steps you take to improve your content’s visibility will be valuable.

    Influencer Marketing

    Another way to earn links as naturally as possible is to work with other influencers within your industry. Influencer marketing is a topic that warrants its own article, but the basic premise is easily digestible; you’ll target a handful of people in your industry who already have a significant following and lots of respect, expose them to your work, and somehow persuade them to share it with their followers.

    Depending on how you use the strategy, this could aid you in almost any online marketing campaign, but since we’re focusing on referral traffic, your goal should be to get yourself cited as a resource in your target influencer’s ongoing blog work. Accordingly, you’ll need to present each influencer with a link to or a copy of your most valuable content, and explain why you think it’s going to be beneficial for them. It could be a list of statistics, a new research essay, or some critical counterargument to a topic they’re passionate about. If they take notice, and rely on your work to fuel theirs, you could easily find yourself cited in their next landmark piece.

    Volunteering and Appearances

    You may also be able to earn links by participating in various community events, or volunteering for charitable causes. For example, if you donate your space, or food and drinks to a local charitable event, they may thank you on their donor page with a link to your website. Or if your company seizes the opportunity to become a speaker at a local event for entrepreneurs, you might be listed as a featured brand on the event page.

    The advantage here is that you won’t have to do much work to get featured, and you may earn a reputation boost simply by being affiliated with the organization or community. The disadvantage is you won’t be able to guarantee any context for the people encountering your link.

    Building Referral Traffic Through Link Building

    Natural link attraction can only get you so far. If you want to see consistent, measurable effects from your link building strategy, you’ll need to build at least some links manually. So long as you build links in a natural way, you won’t have to worry about getting penalized by Google, and you’ll have much more control over where your links are posted, how often they’re built, and what kind of traffic is exposed to them.

    Though guest posts on external publishers are the all-around best way to earn referral traffic, there are several strategies you can use under this umbrella.

    General Notes on “Good” Links for Referral Traffic

    No matter what specific strategy you use to build links, you’ll need to pay careful attention to the quality of those links, both so you can escape the threat of a Google penalty and ensure that your links yield referral traffic as reliably and as valuably as possible.

    These are the essential qualities you’ll need to keep in mind:

    • Permanence. One of the advantages of a referring link is that it keeps sending traffic to your site indefinitely—so long as it remains active. There’s no way to guarantee the permanence of your link, but there are some strategies you can use to maximize your potential here. For example, you can choose publishers that are well-known and unlikely to go under in the next several years, and you can only choose to publish links that are highly relevant for the target audience of a given publisher.
    • Relevance. Speaking of relevance, you’ll need to make sure all your referral links are as relevant as possible—to the article, to your publisher, and to your readership. This can be a stretch for some publications and some topics, so don’t be afraid to forgo an opportunity if it means building an irrelevant link. Relevant links attract better traffic because that traffic is genuinely interested in your brand—plus relevant links are less likely to be removed.
    • Exposure. The more exposure a link has, the more traffic it’s going to yield, which is why it’s better to procure a link on a highly authoritative source with lots of regular traffic. When you’re first starting out, getting featured on high-authority publications is difficult, bordering on impossible, but as you gain more experience, you’ll be able to get links on bigger, more powerful sources.
    • Urgency and appeal. Your end goal in building links for referral traffic is getting a click—but users will forgo clicking a link if there’s no apparent immediate benefit. You need to construct links that have some kind of direct appeal to your readers, such as promising to give them a practical tip, new knowledge, or further information on a touched-on topic. The more urgency you’re able to instill in your anchor text, the more likely it will be that your readers will follow the link. This is a subjective art, so it’s hard to master.
    • Nofollow potential. Remember, since you’re going after referral traffic primarily, you can take advantage of nofollow links. Nofollow links are links with the “nofollow” HTML tag and are, for the most part, ignored by search engine crawlers. This means you won’t have to worry about being penalized by Google for the nature of a nofollow link, since Google is essentially blind to it – but human readers won’t be!
    • Incidental bonuses. Finally, you’ll need to think about any incidental bonuses you’ll get from a referral link. For example, if you don’t have a nofollow tag, the link may help you increase your domain or page authority for SEO. If your anchor text directly calls out your brand name, it may help you build your brand’s recognition, reputation, and influence.

    Types of Citations

    The best way to build a link off-site is to “cite” something. In other words, you’ll be using your link to validate, point out, or reference something that’s already on your site. This will ensure that your link is relevant, since it will be giving a reader context or important information to understand the full scope of the article. It’s also a standard practice for writing articles, regardless of any promotional intentions you have, so it will be easier for your links to blend in.

    There are several sub-types of citations to consider:

    • Using your business as an example or feature. You could list your business as an example within the body of your content, or even highlight it as the main focus of the feature. For example, you could write an article in the style of a press release (or even an actual press release), and explain something newsworthy that your business accomplished; the problem here is you might have trouble getting accepted by publishers. You could also list your company as an example in a long list of possible options; for example, your productivity app could be listed as one of several productivity apps in a list about how to get more work done during the day.
    • Referencing specific data or research. This is one of the best modes of citation, since nobody can dispute its importance. When you mention a specific fact, statistic, or data point, you need to credit the original source by linking to it. If that source happens to be a page on your website, you’ll reap the benefits of the traffic that chooses to follow that link. The only trouble here is that not all readers make it a point to follow up on the numbers; they might take your data at face value.
    • Lending a quote. You can also cite a page of your website if you’re borrowing a specific quote from it, or link to your homepage if you’re quoting someone within your business specifically for the piece. Again, these types of links have strong permanence and relevance, since they need to be included for citation purposes, but you might see a lower rate of click-through traffic as a result. It’s a tradeoff all referral traffic marketers have to live with.
    • Referencing a page with more information. One of my personal favorite methods is to link to a page with the specific intention of using it to provide readers with more information or elaboration on a key point. For example, let’s say I’m writing an article about how to make a home look more attractive for prospective buyers, and one of my points is about painting your rooms the right color. I could then encourage readers to read my own blog post on color theory, which would elaborate on the main point of the article. This provides readers with valuable information without detracting from the core subject of the piece, so it has a low likelihood of being removed, but at the same time, it encourages them to click through.
    • Fleshing out your author byline or profile. Most off-site publishers will ask you to write a byline for your author profile, or create one for you. This is usually your chance to link to a homepage, a social media profile page, or a specific internal page of your site. You might not get a spike of traffic initially when the link is first posted, but as long as you continue to contribute regularly, this link will be a source of consistent returns for you. This link is also straightforwardly described, so the only visitors you get from it will be people actively interested in your brand.
    • Acknowledging a partnership or affiliation. You can also earn a link with potential for referral traffic if you’re being acknowledged as a partner or affiliate. For example, if you donate or volunteer services to a charitable organization, they might thank you on a “sponsors” page, or if you’ve created an app that manages company security, you might be included as a kind of trust badge. These links can be valuable, but in terms of referral traffic, they’re usually a secondary priority.

    Articles on External Publications

    As you’ll see in the next few subsections, there are many possibilities for building links capable of sending referral traffic your way, but the most valuable is building citation links in the body of an article you’ve written for an external publisher.

    Why is this so powerful?

    • Consistency. Building links through other methods can be hit or miss—you might get a link removed by the hosting website, or incur a penalty if your work isn’t relevant. You also have to be more opportunistic about when to strike. Publishing with external authorities allows you to create a steady stream of content, yielding much more consistent returns.
    • Contextual control. Because you’ll be in charge of writing the content surrounding your referral link, you’ll have more contextual control. You can use your choice of topics to funnel your audience down to more relevant readers, and create lead-in and anchor text that gives you the highest potential rate of click-throughs.
    • Scalability. With guest posting, you can scale your strategy as far as you want. The more you work to build your authority, the greater your reputation will become, and the more publishers you’ll gain access to.

    The major downside of writing articles for other publishers is that your returns will be based on the level of effort you put in; this isn’t a fast strategy, and it’s one that demands intensive, consistent effort for the best possible returns.

    That said, the process is learnable.

    Establishing Your Reputation

    Your first goal should be establishing a reputation. This is going to help you in two important ways.

    First, you’ll need a reputation if you’re going to be accepted by external publishers—and the bigger, the better. Publishers want to make sure they’re only accepting content from verifiably authoritative authors, so you’ll have to prove that by building your reputation to their level. The better you’re perceived, the easier it will be to get a guest slot, and the more high-level publishers you’ll be able to access.

    Second, you’ll need somewhere to reap the benefits of your incoming traffic. Referral traffic is only as valuable as the actions they take when they’ve reached their destination—so you’ll need a strong archive of content ripe for conversions if you want to be successful.

    You’ll need four main things to build that reputation:

    • A niche. Publishers look for experts—they don’t want anyone with an internet connection to start writing for them. And while it’s possible to build expertise in a general area (like “marketing”), it’s better to pick a specific niche for yourself to start, and expand from there (like “search engine marketing for small businesses”). The more specific, the faster you’ll be able to build your reputation—and the more you’ll distinguish yourself from your competitors. Do your market research before you come to a decision, and start looking at prospective publishers within that niche.
    • A blog. Next, you’ll need to have a blog in place. This is going to be the first place your prospective publishers look when they’re evaluating your expertise and determining your writing abilities. It’s also going to give you space to create content that you can eventually link to. Accordingly, you’ll want to have a few dozen posts in your archive before you start trying to get featured. If you’re starting from scratch, make sure to backdate them so your blog appears older than it actually is.
    • A personal brand. I also advise you to have a personal brand in place. Too many companies make the mistake of writing blogs and building a reputation around their corporate brand, but this is limiting; personal brands are easier for developing a readership, and are more trusted by both readers and publishers. If you’re new to the world of personal branding, don’t fret; this is just a way for you to advertise your individual personality as an author, rather than your alignment with a brand, specifically. It’s also possible to have multiple personal brands under the umbrella of your corporate brand, which is especially advantageous for large-scale initiatives.
    • Social media channels. Finally, you’ll want to develop your presence on social media, claiming specific profiles for your personal brands and syndicating your best content regularly. Here, you can start engaging with followers who might be interested in your work, and integrating yourself into the communities that will eventually be reading your publications. Talk with your followers regularly if you want them to stay interested. And while more followers isn’t necessarily better, a higher follower count may look more impressive to a publisher evaluating your current reputation.

    Getting Your First Feature

    Once you have a solid reputation and a foundation of content in place, you can start working on the next major milestone: getting your first guest post. In some ways, this is the hardest step of the process, since you won’t have much external work to reference when applying for the gig.

    Still, you can maximize your chances for success with attention to the following:

    • The publisher. Don’t email dozens of publishers in the hopes that one of them will bite. Instead, narrow your focus to a handful of publishers who have the highest chance of accepting your publication. Usually, that means picking a publisher somewhat low on the totem pole—they should have a reputation, but nothing so significant that you don’t stand a chance of getting accepted. If they have an open submission policy, even better. Finally, make sure the publisher is as close to your niche as possible; if you can’t find a publisher with your niche exactly, find one with subject matter that is niche-adjacent.
    • The pitch. Once you’ve decided on a publisher, it’s time to make a pitch. You’ll need to look over the website to find contact information for the editor or webmaster in charge of operations. If the information isn’t publicly available, consider using online search tactics to find it. Once you have the editor’s information, address them personally and directly; make it clear that you understand the intentions of the publication, and indicate your desire to be a part of it. Then, pitch two or three ideas for content, falling in line with the publication’s target audience and typical content. Include a couple of title options for each, as well as a one- or two-sentence description of what the article would be about. You’ll also want to include links to your blog and social profiles, as a kind of resume.
    • The editorial process. Assuming your pitch is accepted, you’ll begin the editorial process. This process will vary wildly from publisher to publisher, but there are a handful of similarities that nearly all publishers share. You may be given a deadline, or have free reign for submission. Either way, you’ll need to review any editorial standards or guidelines they have before you begin your draft. When you’re done, you’ll submit the first draft to the editor, and they’ll usually come back with suggested edits and tweaks—try not to argue at this point. It’s better to get your foot in the door, even if it means making significant compromises. If they remove your referral link, ask yourself why, but continue forging the relationship; you’ll have more opportunities for referral links in the future.

    Maintaining Relationships

    At this point, your goals are twofold: maintain your working relationship with your original publisher, and expand to new territory.

    It’s important to maintain relationships with any editor or publisher you’ve had a positive relationship with in the past. This is partially to stay on good terms, so you can all but guarantee that your existing referral links will remain active and relevant. It’s also so you can have the opportunity to post more content in the future, should you decide to do it. If you stay on good terms with the editor and the community as a whole, you might also earn the chance to get referrals for other opportunities with other publishers.

    Working Up the Ladder

    In addition to maintaining your existing relationships, you’ll want to start “working up the ladder” of domain authority. Higher-authority publishers, with higher volumes of traffic and (typically) more attentive readers, will earn you more traffic for every link you build. They’ll also serve as more valuable stepping stones to whatever your next publishing opportunity is.

    Each new publisher you contact should show an improvement in at least one of the following areas:

    • Traffic. Some sites openly publish their traffic volumes, but for other sites, you’ll have to get creative. The higher and more consistent a site’s traffic stream, the more referral traffic your links are going to receive.
    • Relevance. Early in your referral traffic campaign, you’ll want to focus on publishers related to your core niche, or at least publishers that appeal to your target demographics. But once you establish a bigger authority, you may want to expand your reach to more general publishers; you might have to get creative when working niche links into generalized content, but the end results will be a bigger reputation and far more incoming traffic.
    • Authority. You’ll also want to keep a site’s domain authority in mind; while authority and traffic are highly correlated thanks to search rankings, you may find that some high-authority sites have lower volumes of traffic. This is because some sites are more concerned with quality, authority, and esteem than generating traffic. Use this information to your advantage; if your goal is referral traffic, don’t be afraid to turn down a high-authority opportunity in favor of a publisher with more traffic overall.

    The process will be slow at first, but once you reach a high level of authority, and build a reputation with thousands of followers, you’ll have access to virtually any publisher you want.

    Maintaining a Consistent Approach

    For optimal results, it’s a good idea to keep a consistent process. That doesn’t mean publishing the same types of content to the same publishers over and over (on the contrary, fresh content ideas are far better), but it does mean remaining consistent in the following areas:

    • Goals. You need an overarching vision for your campaign. For example, are you striving to reach a certain milestone of traffic volume? Or are you more concerned with getting high-converting traffic to your site? All your efforts should be focused on achieving this goal, however it manifests.
    • Relationship maintenance. Consider setting up an editorial calendar, so you can continue making submissions to most (if not all) of the old publishers you’ve worked with in the past. Keeping them on a regular rotation, even if it’s only one post per month, can help you keep your traffic streams fresh and your relationships active.
    • Progression. You should also prioritize consistency in your progression up the chain of authoritative publishers. Don’t remain complacent with your current lineup of publishers for too long; advancing into new territory, with publishers of higher authority and access to higher traffic, is the only way to reach new audiences and maintain your growth. As with most inbound marketing strategies, the more you invest, and the longer you pursue this strategy, the higher your returns are going to be.

    These three areas of consistency will ensure you keep receiving a steady stream of inbound traffic, with enough momentum to sustain whatever type of growth you’re pursuing.

    Consistency is also important because it allows you to more efficiently evaluate your progress; when you have a long history of documented traffic patterns and solid expectations for the results of your work, you can tell when a certain publisher isn’t working out, when one article significantly outperforms your others, or when your efforts are cumulatively yielding a higher or lower return. I’ll dig more into the ROI of your campaign in the final section of this article, but to reap the full benefits of that analysis, you’ll need to be consistent in your approach.

    Outsourcing Your Work

    You’re going to encounter a couple of key problems as you attempt these efforts:

    • Pace. Generating referral traffic isn’t going to net you an immediate return; your first few publishers won’t give you much traffic, and it’s going to take months to build your reputation enough to see something substantial. Accordingly, you may become frustrated with your pace of development.
    • Time investment. As you start adding more publishers, you’ll find that maintaining relationships with all of them can be ridiculously time-intensive. You’ll need to generate dozens of articles per months, and at higher levels of development, per week. Maintaining a level of quality and thought leadership in those conditions can be a challenge for even the most effective, experienced writers.
    • Trial and error. If this is your first time attempting the strategy, you’ll face a steep learning curve. You’ll struggle to come up with topic ideas consistently, you might experience difficulty finding relevant publishers, and you’ll certainly face significant rejection from editors. This trial-and-error process can significantly interfere with your return on investment (ROI), and frustrate you to the point where you don’t want to continue—even if better results are just a few tweaks away.

    The solution to all these problems is outsourcing your referral traffic strategy. Some content marketing firms, like AudienceBloom, specialize in creating off-site content for the purposes of link building.

    Because they already have an extended network of publishing profiles, connections to editors, and a fleet of talented writers, they can place content and generate referral traffic far more efficiently than any newcomer. Even high-budget plans should cost you far less than the equivalent time required to build a campaign on your own.

    Q&A Sites and Forums

    Another option for building links capable of generating referral traffic is to place links on Q&A sites (like Quora) and special forums (related to your industry).

    The overall goal here is to use a personal branding profile to answer other users’ questions, including a link to back up your statements or elaborate on a specific point.

    There are three main steps to take:

    • Establish yourself within the community. First, work on establishing yourself within the community. Create and flesh out a profile for your personal brand, and start engaging with posts and other individuals. Avoid building links right away; it’s better if you have a few answers, comments, and interactions under your belt before you start trying to self-promote. Over time, you’ll establish your expertise within your target niche.
    • Start slow, and avoid excessive promotion. Be careful how you include your first few referral links. If it looks like you’re answering questions for the sole purpose of generating referral traffic, people aren’t going to value your response, and you might get your link removed—or your account banned entirely. You can make your links stronger and more relevant by including links to other resources, by ensuring your link is genuinely valuable to the thread, and by including a diversity of links across your responses (and sometimes, not including a link at all).
    • Create synergy with your other strategies. Posting links on these channels allows you to build synergy with your other strategies; by building a reputation for yourself on Quora and forums specific to your niche, you’ll be able to attract more social media followers—giving you two more good reasons a publisher would want to accept your work. As you gain more upvotes and notoriety, make sure you reference your profile when pitching to new editors.

    Because many threads and questions will only get limited exposure, there isn’t as much room for growth in this method of referral traffic generation. However, it’s a great way to build a foundation for your strategy.

    Blog Comments

    In a similar approach, you can use your personal brand to leave blog comments on other authors’ blog posts, with links pointing back to your site. This can be a risky strategy, since blog comments are typically heavily monitored for spam and self-promotion; accordingly, these links will need to be highly relevant if they’re going to survive.

    Make sure you choose blogs with heavy traffic and active comment sections, and link your social media profiles if you can. If you’re active enough on a blog related to your industry, you can build your visibility and reputation, and hopefully make it easier to get your content featured on that channel in the future.

    Affiliate Links and Paid Promotion

    Google’s link policy forbids you from paying for links for the purposes of boosting your reputation and search rankings, but there’s a significant exception: affiliate links. Affiliate links are paid promotional links, which typically compensate the link’s host for any meaningful traffic they send the affiliate’s way.

    Because Google considers this a form of advertising, rather than rank manipulation, it’s an acceptable form of promotion—so long as you use the nofollow tag and don’t attempt to disguise the fact that it’s a paid link. But because it’s a link, it operates in a gray area between paid traffic and referral traffic.

    Paid links aren’t nearly as inexpensive or efficient as other link building strategies, but if you’re struggling to generate early momentum for your campaign, this can be a way to kick-start your inbound traffic—and maybe start building a relationship with another publisher.

    Measurement and Analysis

    How can you tell if your efforts are working? You’ll feel good when you get your first few articles published, but how are you going to gauge whether you’re getting enough traffic to justify your efforts? In other words, are you seeing a higher rate of return than your rate of investment?

    The only way to know for sure is to commit to regular sessions of measurement and analysis. By using tools like Google Analytics, you can delve into the exact makeup of your referral traffic, and monitor how it develops over time.

    ROI

    Ultimately, the best measurement you have for the success of your campaign is your return on investment (ROI), which will tell you how much value you’re getting compared to what you’re investing into the campaign.

    This is a simple formula, but a complex metric to track.

    Let’s start with the “investment” side of the equation. You’ll start by tallying up all the costs you’ve expended for a given period—let’s say a month. Include any money you’ve spent on outsourcing, as well as a cash equivalent of whatever time you’ve spent on creating content and placing links. Time tracking software like Toggl can help you keep track of your time expenditure if you’re confused on how much time you’re spending.

    Let’s say you’ve come to a total of $2,000 for the month.

    The “return” side of the equation is a little more complicated to track. You’ll need to know two things:

    • The average value of a visitor.
    • The number of referral visitors you receive.

    To calculate the average value of a visitor, first calculate the value of a conversion. If you sell a product, you can get to this figure by finding the average value of an order. If you collect form submissions as leads, you’ll need to calculate the lifetime value of a customer and multiply that by your average close rate. You’ll need to rely on internal tracking methods to figure out these metrics.

    Once you know the value of a conversion, things get much easier. By setting up Goals in Google Analytics, you can track the number of conversions you get in a given month (or any other time period you choose), as well as a percentage-based conversion rate.

    conversations in google analytics

    Goals Google Analytics

    (Image Source: Google)

    If you need help setting up Goals, Google has an excellent guide on the subject.

    Once you know your conversion rate and the average value of a conversion, you can multiply them together to get the average value of a visitor. For example, if your average conversion value is $50, and your conversion rate is 5 percent, your average visitor value will be $2.50—and that’s the first metric you need to know.

    Next, you need to know the number of referral visitors you receive. You can access these data by heading to the Acquisition submenu, then the All Traffic submenu, and then clicking on Referrals.

    Referrals in Google Analytics

    Once there, you’ll be able to view all your referrals for given period. Use the upper-right parameters to select a specific date range, and for now, pay attention to the total number of referral visitors for the month.

    Referrals Traffic in Google Analytics

    Now let’s say you’ve gotten 1,000 referral visitors for the month.

    Here’s what we know:

    • You’ve spent $2,000.
    • You’ve gotten 1,000 referral visitors.
    • Each referral visitor is worth an average of $2.50.

    Multiply the average value of a referral visitor by the number of referral visitors to get your total return—$2,500—then compare that figure to your investment–$2,000. In this case, you had an ROI of $500, which means you’re making more money than you’re spending.

    Do note that since referral traffic is a strategy that takes a long time to develop, your ROI for the first month or two will likely be low, or even negative. Only after a few months of consistent effort will you see your ROI start to grow.

    That said, if you’re doing everything correctly, you should see your ROI growing consistently, reaching significant positive territory at the peak of your campaign. If your ROI stagnates or never becomes positive, it’s a sign there’s something wrong, and you’ll need to make an adjustment.

    Source Quality

    Your overall ROI is an important snapshot to evaluate how your campaign is going overall, but if you want to make intelligent changes to your campaign, you’ll need to dig a bit deeper. To start, you can look at the quality of each of your sources, based on the following criteria:

    • Visitors per referring link (or per article). In the Referral traffic section I mentioned in the previous subsection, you can find a list of all the traffic you’ve gotten from each of your referring sources. This should sort your sources in terms of most to least traffic by default; accordingly, your most valuable sources will be listed at the top. Look at how many links you’ve built or how many articles you’ve posted, and divide your traffic by that figure—this will tell you how much traffic you stand to gain from each new article or link, which should allow you to gauge the relative worth of each source.

    traffic sources

    • Article popularity and traffic potential. It’s also a good idea to check the publishing site directly for metrics related to your work; most publishers will make statistics like pageviews and time spent on page available to their guest authors. The more popular your articles are on a publishing site, the more valuable that site likely is for your brand. You may also want to look at the traffic potential of a given site by looking at some of their top overall articles. If there’s a major discrepancy between the top articles on the referring site and your articles, it’s a sign your content isn’t as relevant or appropriate for the site as it could be. Keep this in mind when evaluating the worth of each source.
    • Number of opportunities and ease of publishing. It’s also worth considering the degree of effort you must put into publishing on a given site; if the editors are picky and it takes you three times as long to write the articles you publish, it might not be worth the extra effort if it only results in a marginal increase in referral traffic. Conversely, a site that makes it easy to publish may be worth the minimal investment even if it only yields a small amount of traffic.
    • Audience quality. Quantity doesn’t always mean quality, even in the world of referral traffic. Make sure you also evaluate the qualitative aspects of the traffic you get from each referral source. There are several things you can look at here, including user behavior (which I’ll dig into in the next subsection), but for now, take a look at the Behavior and Conversion metrics you’ll see on the Referrals page of Analytics. If a source has a particularly low bounce rate, a high session duration, and a high number of pages per session, it’s a sign that this referral source is especially valuable to you. The same goes for if a source’s traffic has a higher conversion rate than another’s. Keep this in mind when comparing sources.

    audience quality

    • Domain authority. Finally, consider checking the domain authority of each referral source; this can tell you how much secondary SEO value you can get from your links, and give you an indication of the relative strength of each publisher. Moz’s Open Site Explorer is a great tool for calculating this metric—just enter the URL and view Authority on the left.

    moz open site explorer

    (Image Source: Moz)

    If you use the ROI calculation above while filtering traffic based on individual sources, you can loosely calculate the ROI of your individual sources. This is more information than most early-stage campaigns will need, but it can be a valuable tool if you’re on the fence about a particular referrer’s value.

    If one source appears to have a problematically low ROI or overall value, don’t be afraid to cut it from your regular lineup—especially if you have lots of other sources to make up the difference. And if a source appears especially valuable, see if you can step up your quantity of posts there.

    User Behavior

    Let’s take a deeper dive into user behavior, since it can tell you about a referral source’s traffic makeup, as well as how effective your site is at handling incoming referral traffic. This is more of a qualitative evaluation than a quantitative one, so don’t expect any absolute conclusions to come from it. Instead, use it to:

    • Break ties between similarly-valued sources. If two referral sources appear similar, gauge user behavior to determine which one is “better” for your brand.
    • Learn how topics relate to onsite behavior. Pay attention to the user behavior associated with referral traffic from different articles and links. You can use this information to select more powerful content topics and link archetypes in the future.
    • Adjust your site layout. Optimizing for user behavior and conversions is a topic that warrants its own guide, but it’s important to acknowledge; even if you’re getting lots of referral traffic, if your site isn’t optimized for conversions, you may still see a low ROI. Examining user behavior can clue you into weaknesses and point you in the direction of useful optimizations.

    The Behavior tab in Google Analytics will give you access to tons of metrics, including pageviews, time spent on page, bounce rates, exit rates, and how users are navigating throughout your site.

    Behavior tab in Google Analytics

    Up top, you’ll have the ability to filter traffic by referral source by adding different “Segments.”

    Segments

    Comprehensive Analysis

    It’s also worth measuring other benefits you get from your referral traffic strategy that aren’t specifically referral traffic. For example, your link building endeavors will likely boost your domain authority and search rankings, and therefore improve your organic traffic figures as well. Being more active with offsite publishers, blogs, and forums will also have a measurable impact on your brand awareness, which is difficult to calculate, but is significant nonetheless.

    If you’re pursuing other marketing strategies, give them a comparative analysis; you may find the need to tweak your budget toward or away from referral traffic once you learn how its ROI and overall effectiveness compare to those of the other tactics in your wheelhouse.

    Conclusion

    Referral traffic has enough power and potential to serve as a standalone strategy to support your brand, but because it has so many ties to other valuable marketing strategies, it’s best used as another thread of traffic generation in a comprehensive campaign. It may take you a few months to a few years to gain the experience and build the authority necessary to reap the fullest potential of a referral traffic-centric strategy, but it’s worth the effort.

    Alternatively, you can enlist the help of a content marketing firm that specializes in generating referral traffic for its customers. At AudienceBloom, that’s precisely our specialty. Contact us today to learn more about how we can amp up referral traffic to your site—with some of the best content in the industry.

    What can we help you with?

  2. Why Isn’t My Link Building Working?

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    Why Isn't My Link Building Working?

    As marketers, we’ve all been in the difficult position of feeling like we’re doing everything right—yet the results just aren’t going in our favor. In the realm of search engine optimization (SEO), and especially the sub-field of link building, this feeling creeps up often; these are complex tactics with hundreds of variables, so when things go wrong or when your results grow stagnant, it’s hard to tell exactly where the problem lies.

    Fortunately, with a bit of digging—and the help of this guide—you should be able to uncover at least a few of the issues plaguing your link building campaign.

    So why isn’t your link building campaign working?

    Let’s find out.

    Table of Contents

    + How Link Building Should “Work”
    + High-Level Issues
    + Ground-Level Issues
    + Other Issues
    + The Biggest Overarching Problems

    How Link Building Should “Work”

    First, let’s talk about how link building is supposed to “work” in the first place, and the various ways that link building can go wrong. By now, you’re familiar with link building basics, if you’ve read my guide, SEO Link Building: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide—you understand the goal is to establish or earn links pointing back to your domain to reap the benefits of increased authority and traffic—so how can you tell if your strategy is working or not?

    • Link permanence. Nothing on the internet is truly permanent—at least, that we know of—but for the most part, the links you build should seem that way. One of the biggest advantages of link building is its capacity for accumulation; since all your links remain in place indefinitely, they’ll continue paying dividends of traffic and building on each other’s authority to improve your campaign further and further over time.If your links are getting removed, or if they’re otherwise unable to fulfill that duty, your link building campaign can’t possibly work.
    • Increasing referral traffic. Link building should also increase your referral traffic; each new link you build serves as another portal to your site, and if that portal is relevant to your audience, at least a portion of your readers should be inclined to click through. As you build more links on higher-authority sources and continue reaping value from your old links, your total referral traffic should be on a trend of constant incline.If your growth slows to a negligible crawl, or worse, if your traffic starts to actively decline, you have a problem on your hands.
    • Increasing domain authority and organic traffic. Similarly, as you progress in your link building efforts, you should see both increasing domain authority and organic traffic growth. Domain authority growth is an indication that you’re building positive momentum with the number and diversity of links you build to your site, and you can calculate that figure using Moz’s Open Site Explorer or a similar tool.If your domain authority becomes stagnant or starts to decline, it’s a sign that your campaign is in jeopardy. If your domain authority is rising, your organic traffic should also start to rise, since your overall search rankings will rise; if it doesn’t, something isn’t working correctly.
    • New opportunities and reputation growth. Throughout your link building campaign, you should be met with a steady stream of new opportunities and the growth of your reputation. That means, you should gradually work your way up to bigger and higher-authority publishers; if you find yourself trapped in the same handful of publishers you started with, you’re doing something wrong.Though reputation is linked to this upward momentum, it’s a distinct concept that’s much harder to measure; if you feel you aren’t establishing your brand as an authority in the industry, it could be a sign your link building isn’t working as well.

    These general problems all indicate that something is probably wrong with your campaign. Even if you’re earning value in some areas, a disruption of growth in any other area is enough to warrant closer inspection; detecting and correcting the issues within your campaign can always make it stronger.

    That said, there are many different possible issues to address, so I’m splitting them into two main groups: high-level and ground-level issues.

    High-Level Issues

    First up are high-level issues; these are general problems with your approach, your overarching strategy, and your means of execution. They aren’t specific to any one aspect of your campaign, but can affect almost all aspects of your campaign when they exist.

    Publisher Inaccessibility

    One of the most effective ways to build links is creating guest content to be featured on off-site publications; this provides context for your link, gives you a good excuse to be featured on high-authority sites, and gives you a recurring platform for development. However, if you can’t find your way onto a publisher’s site, which is usually the case, then this option is closed for you. I wrote an in-depth guide on how to become a contributor at major media publications, called The Ultimate, Step-by-Step Guide to Building Your Business by Guest Blogging.

    Rejection is to be expected with this strategy; no matter how authoritative you are or how strong your pitches are, some publishers just won’t be interested in what you have to offer. But if you find yourself rejected consistently, and unable to land your first guest spot or advance to another publisher, you won’t be able to progress.

    There are a few possible influencing factors here:

    • Status and reputation. First, your status and/or reputation may not be sufficient to land you a guest spot. Publisher standards vary from highly restrictive to universally open, but if you don’t have a portfolio of content to demonstrate your abilities, or a sufficient online presence to prove your background and expertise, you may still face rejection. You can overcome this obstacle by spending more time on your personal brand, building up your social media profiles and following, and developing more content on your own personal blog.If you have a handful of strong, original pieces of content to show off, and an impressive follower count, you should be able to make an impression with a first line of publishers. For help, see 101 Ways to Get More Social Media Followers.
    • Publisher choice. If you have a decent reputation already in place but you’re still facing rejection, consider your choice in publishers. If you’re targeting high-authority publishers that cater to a national audience of experts without the credentials to back up your work, you’ll have a hard time getting accepted.Consider starting by targeting lower-authority publishers, more local publishers, or publishers more closely related to your niche. You can always work your way up to bigger publishers as you build a stronger reputation for yourself.
    • Pitches. Even a questionable reputation can be overcome if your pitches are strong enough—and conversely, even if you have a strong reputation, a set of bad pitches can earn you a rejection.When writing pitches, make sure you’re talking to the right person; find the editor of the given publication, or at least someone you know to be affiliated with the blog. Keep things light, personal, and concise in your introductory email, and don’t waste their time with flattery or a template you copy and pasted from another source.Make it clear that you understand their publication, and come up with two or three original ideas that their audience would genuinely like to read, describing them in just enough detail to get the point across.

    Content Quality

    Content quality can affect your campaign in a number of different ways; content quality can indirectly affect the strength of your link, it can affect which publishers accept you, and it can even determine whether your link stays in place or gets removed. Of course, content quality is an important factor for many aspects of SEO, so low-quality work will practically guarantee the ineffectiveness of your link building campaign.

    There are hundreds of variables and considerations that relate to content quality, but these are some of the most important with respect to your link building campaign:

    • Depth, conciseness, and wording. “Quality” is a vague term that refers to many dimensions of written work, including depth, conciseness, and the eloquence of your wording. Deeper pieces almost universally perform better for link building; “deep” pieces are ones that incorporate lots of outside research, and dig into the details of a given topic. This makes them more likely to get published, earn attention, and attract inbound links.Conciseness refers to the piece’s ability to convey as much information as possible in as few words as possible—in other words, making good use of your space. Wording is the most subjective quality; you’ll want to use a diverse vocabulary, but never extending beyond a high school reading level (for most publishers).You’ll also want to vary your short and long sentences to build cadence, and write as clearly and specifically as possible.
    • Relevance to publisher audiences. Even eloquently written pieces won’t make it to publication if they don’t speak to your publisher’s audience. You’ll need to do your research to fully understand each publisher you write for, and propose topics that appeal specifically to their target audience.Though the relationship is mutually beneficial, the publisher has more power in this relationship, so you need to prove that your content is worth the effort to publish, and make your editor’s job as easy as possible.
    • Thought leadership and engagement. On top of that, you’ll need to write pieces that people haven’t seen before, and push the boundaries of your industry by stating new opinions and presenting new information. Thought leadership distinguishes you from the hundreds of other writers in your niche competing for space, and makes your work far more attractive to prospective publishers.It also helps if you can make your pieces more engaging—that is, make them more interactive, or make them encourage action and discussion. More engaging pieces generate more readers, which in turn build your reputation and promote your work further.

    Imbalance of Building and Earning

    You might also experience stagnation in your link building campaign if you have an imbalance between building and earning links. Thus far, I’ve mostly focused on manual link building, but it’s important to remember that link earning can be just as valuable.

    While link building requires you to target new link locations and build them yourself, link earning is a process of trying to earn links naturally by creating and promoting amazing, linkable content on your own site.

    Link earning is advantageous because it employs a more hands-off approach, and because all the links you earn here will automatically be “natural,” meaning you shouldn’t have to worry about quality issues or penalties related to link manipulation. However, growth in link earning is much more difficult to predict or control—and even if your content is truly astounding, there’s no guarantee it’s going to earn links for you.

    Link building, by contrast, is more controllable and conducive to strategic direction. However, it doesn’t have the same explosive potential as link earning. Accordingly, the best link building strategy incorporates elements of both building and earning (skewing toward building if you’re serious about achieving consistent growth). Any imbalance here can skew your results and leave your link building strategy less effective.

    Diversity

    A lack of diversity in your link building campaign could also be to blame for a non-flourishing strategy. You need to rely on a number of different sources, internal destinations for your links, and tactics throughout your campaign to see the best results; a show of diversity makes your links seem more natural, and exposes you to a wider audience, which in turn helps you see better returns on both domain authority and referral traffic.

    It also gives you more practice with a wider range of publishers, giving you more experience and flexibility that you can use in future endeavors.

    Diversity is important in multiple dimensions of link building:

    • Source diversity. When you build your first link on a new external source, you’ll get a boost of authority passed to your domain. However, when you build a second link on the same source, you’ll see a much lower return.Any subsequent links you build there will have an even lower return (though you’ll still see benefits from the referral traffic you gain). Accordingly, it’s in your best interest to diversify the sources you use, seeking new sources whenever possible.If you’ve only been relying on the same handful of sources, you’re bound to see a plateau in your returns.
    • Destination diversity. Source diversity is important, but so is the diversity of links you actually build on those pages. Each link you build passes authority both to your overall domain and to the individual page it’s targeting; you can use this to your advantage by building multiple links to a particular page you’d like to emphasize.However, if you rely exclusively on one blog post or one internal page, eventually, you’ll run into problems; your other pages won’t have as much authority, and won’t succeed as easily, and your links will begin to look unnatural, making them more likely to be removed or be discounted from Google’s ranking algorithm.
    • Exchanges and relationships. There’s generally no harm in building links on the same source over a prolonged period of time, so long as you have other sources in your wheelhouse.However, you still have to be wary of link exchanges; if your site and another site constantly link to each other, with little diversity on either side, you could be accused of participating in a link scheme, designed to manipulate your ranking unnaturally, and at the expense of users.
    • Timing. Finally, you need to work on the spread of your timing with how and when you build links. Instead of clustering a dozen links to build at the start of every month, consider spreading them out to build three or four every week. Instead of following a rigid routine of when to add a new post to each publisher site, try to follow a looser, more variable schedule.Even, random-looking timing will seem more natural to search engines, and give you a more even spread of traffic and authority boosts, which will both help your campaign grow more steadily.

    Pacing and Scale

    The scale and pacing of your operation is important to consider; by “scale,” I’m referring both to your frequency of building links and the number of high-tier publishers you use, and by “pacing,” I’m referring to how quickly or slowly you increase that frequency.

    If you scale too slowly—in other words, if you spend too much time on low-authority publishers, building one link at a time—you’ll reach a plateau before long, and you’ll be stuck there until you make the investment to grow more quickly. However, there’s also a danger in growing too quickly; if you try to reach out to high-level publishers before you’ve built a decent level of authority yourself, you’ll end up facing more rejection than acceptance, rendering your efforts useless.

    On top of that, if you start building too many links too quickly, Google might view your link building tactics as spam, and penalize you.

    The extremes are dangerous here, so your best bet is to set a clear path forward, gradually increasing the number of links you build as well as the quality of sources you use to build them. It’s difficult to find this balance, but if you set both long-term and short-term goals, and keep inching your efforts forward, you’ll eventually settle into the right pace.

    Competition

    Even if your link building campaign is conceptually flawless, there’s a chance you’ll see worse returns on your investment if there’s significant competition interfering with your work. If a competitor is building the same types of links you are (or better ones), for example, they may rival your rankings, making it nearly impossible for you to advance and keeping your organic traffic consistent (despite increasing investments in your work).

    Earlier, I made reference to Moz’s Open Site Explorer, a tool used to monitor the domain authority and inbound links for practically any domain on the web. In the previous context, I recommended you use it to calculate your own authority, but you can also use it to see a competitor’s authority (as well as what types of links they’re building).

    If you can identify your key competitor culprits, noting their positions in search queries you’re currently targeting, you can use this tool to investigate how they’re building links, and decide whether they’re the ones stifling your campaign growth.

    If they are, there are several potential solutions. The easiest path forward is avoidance, steering clear of the most brutal competition by investing in other keyword targets and link sources that your competitors don’t touch. You could also invest more time and money into your highest-profile targets to assert your dominance, but the chances of succeeding are lower, and the costs are higher, so judge the benefits carefully before proceeding.

    Knowledge and Adjustments

    One of the most common mistakes I see in link building is not paying close enough attention to your costs and benefits. If you don’t know whether or not your strategies are effective, how can you set yourself up for success long-term? How can you know how and when to make improvements?

    The real danger here is that the people making this mistake often don’t even realize they’re making it; they neglect the importance of tracking their link building efforts, don’t know which stats are most important to measure, and ultimately are blind to the full potential results they could be seeing if they spent more time measuring and analyzing their work.

    There are many variables to consider when calculating the ROI of your campaign, including your total traffic figures, conversion rates, and profit margins, as well as the total costs of your efforts. But with consistent reporting (at least once a month) and a firm understanding of your most essential metrics, you should be able to forecast your results, interpret which of your efforts are effective and ineffective, and use that information to make meaningful improvements to your campaign.

    Ground-Level Issues

    Next, there are the ground-level issues. These are problems that develop despite having a solid direction for your campaign. They may be a result of a mismatch between your strategy and execution, mistakes, or inefficiencies that prevent you from getting the full value from your campaign.

    Bad Sources

    Choosing bad sources is a problem that can ruin an otherwise solid link building campaign. In the early stages of your campaign, a “bad” link to your site can make it harder to build a baseline authority. In the later stages of your campaign, with a tight network of high quality links, a bad link can halt your momentum, or even attract a penalty, setting you back several steps.

    So how can you tell if a source is bad?

    • Authority. The most obvious type of bad link is a link from a very low authority site. You’ll note that earlier, I actually encouraged you to build links from low authority sources (when guest posting) if you’re having trouble getting attention from high authority sources, since it’s easier than building one on a high authority source; I used the term relatively in that instance.The worst sites—ones with a domain authority score below 20, or those with a history of spammy tactics or bad content—can actually do more harm than good if they link to your site. Bottom-feeders are usually easy to spot, and therefore easy to avoid, but if you build links there, you could end up sabotaging your own site’s authority.Similarly, if you spend too much time or effort on low but reasonable authority sites, you might trap yourself at a low authority and be unable to progress. Choose your sources carefully. For help, see my article, The 7 Characteristics That Can Make A Link “Bad” For SEO.
    • Relevance. During the early stages of your campaign, you’ll also want to keep the relevance of your sources in mind. Each link you build should be on a publisher site that has some degree of relevance to what you do; for example, if you run a marketing business, anything related to marketing and advertising would do just fine.As you develop more authority and create more diverse content for your main site, you’ll be able to expand the range of publishers you can reasonably work with. If you spend too much time on non-relevant sources, creating content that doesn’t fall in line with your expertise, you might reach a standstill.
    • History. It’s important to judge each new potential source individually, evaluating it based on its authority, relevance, and other merits, but you should also pay attention to your history with other sites.For example, have you linked from this site in the past many times? It may be time to move on to a bigger and better site. Could your relationship with a given site be interpreted as a link exchange scheme? Consider sticking to nofollow links for a while. This is related to the importance of campaign diversity I mentioned in the previous section.

    Spammy Tactics

    Google doesn’t tolerate any tactics it believes to be spam, or a deliberate intention to manipulate your rankings without benefitting the general audience of web users. It judges links based on their merits, or their usefulness to readers; if a link is found to be unnecessary, irrelevant, or otherwise useless, it could be considered a “bad” link. If that’s the case, your publisher will have clear grounds to remove the link, and if they don’t, you could end up facing a Google penalty.

    These are some of the most common spam-like tactics marketers use—if you’ve participated in any of the following strategies, it could be the reason your campaign isn’t progressing:

    • Links without content. There’s a reason guest posts are such a popular means of link building; Google (and web users) want their links to mean something. They want context for the links, and a clear, straightforward reason why they should click them. If a link is introduced with a paragraph of text explaining its value, or as a citation for an important statistic, it’s clear why the link needs to exist.If it’s standing by itself as an entry, or if it otherwise doesn’t have any content for context, it’s clearly promotional and unnecessary. It’s unlikely that any respectable publishers will let you get away with this tactic. This is most commonly seen in comment spam, where users try to leave a comment on a relevant story that consists solely of a link. Spammers often use automated methods for distributing these comments to a massive array of sites, where some of them inevitably stick.Not only is this an extremely ancient method of link building, it will only harm your efforts. Don’t let any website or person convince you this is a good idea.
    • Forum comments. Forum comments used to be one of the best ways to build links to your site; you could answer a question or provide some information on a relevant thread, and include a link pointing back to your site to cite the information or redirect the user.However, modern tactics have rendered such comments obsolete; forum moderators and other users are stricter with self-promotional content, so if you post a link too often, or even if you post just one link before you’ve established yourself as a valuable contributor to the community, your link will likely be removed or your entire account could get banned.Forum comment links can be useful for driving referral traffic, but shouldn’t be considered useful for an SEO campaign.
    • Paid links. Google’s terms of service forbids you from paying other sites to place your links unless that link is clearly marked as “sponsored” and tagged with the nofollow If you’ve done this, it could be the reason why your campaign isn’t progressing.There are some interesting possible exceptions to this, however; for example, if you donate money to a charity and they feature a link to your site to highlight your donation, you’re unlikely to face a penalty.It’s also perfectly fine to work with an agency (such as AudienceBloom) to pay for them to develop content that carries a link to your site, then help you pitch that content to various media outlets. This is, after all, quite similar to what any PR agency does.
    • Other link schemes. Google has an extensive list of link schemes that it considers to be a breach of its terms of service, including link exchanges, paid links, link circles, and automated link building efforts.If you used any of these as a shortcut to build your authority rapidly, you made a mistake; these could actively interfere with your ability to build your site’s authority.

    Note that it’s unlikely that you accidentally participated in any of these spammy tactics; if you used them deliberately, knowing the risks involved, it should be clear that they were a contributing factor to the stagnation or reversal of your campaign momentum.

    Publisher Link Removal

    You might be seeing a decline in your link building returns if your publishers have a habit of removing your links before or after your content is published. This is a factor that’s easy to observe and check for; do a manual review of any content you’ve submitted to external publishers, and look to see whether the links you originally included in your content are still present.

    If more than a few of them have been removed, this could be part of the problem. A link removed before publication will never contribute to your authority, and a link removed after publication will negate any authority you may have originally gained from it.

    There are a few good reasons why a publisher might remove your links, and they’re all preventable:

    • Context. If your link doesn’t seem like it fits with the rest of your content, or if it doesn’t add value to the piece, it’s going to be removed. For example, if the only link in your piece is to your website, that’s grounds for removal.If the link isn’t necessary to improve a reader’s understanding of the work, or doesn’t back up a fact or claim you make, there’s no reason for it to exist. You might also see your link remove if it isn’t relevant to the overall work, or if your anchor text doesn’t seem natural. For help understanding what makes a link stick, see my article How to Properly Include Links and Penguin-Safe Anchor Text in Your Guest Blogs.
    • Content quality. Consider what pages you’re linking to as well—your editor will be visiting every link in your article to make sure they’re high quality. If you link to a page of your website that has very little content, it’s probably going to be removed.If you link to a product page, or a page that’s exceptionally promotional, you might also set yourself up for removal. You can correct this and prevent this by striving to link only to your best-researched, best-written, and most relevant onsite content.
    • Publisher standards. Some editors are just plain picky, especially at the higher publisher authority levels. If you’ve been link building a long time, and you notice a greater percentage of your links being removed by higher-level publishers, it may not be a result of anything you’ve done wrong; it could just be a result of evolving, higher journalism standards at those publications.If that’s the case, you can step up the quality of your content even further, or work on finding new, more amenable publishers to round out your sources.

    Efficiency

    I also want to point out that your efficiency has a bearing on your overall results as well. You may be seeing a respectable increase in your organic and referral traffic, but if you’re hemorrhaging money to make it happen, you might not consider your efforts to be “working.”

    Take a close look at how you’re spending money, including:

    • How much money you spend. You might be tempted to believe that spending less is a good idea, since you’ll have fewer costs to offset your returns. However, lower-cost services and low-level employees are more likely to make rookie mistakes.You’re better off dedicating a sizable portion of your SEO budget to link building—so long as you spend it wisely.
    • Who you’re spending money with. Whether you’re hiring someone full-time, or working with a link building agency, do some background research before you hand over the reins of your campaign. Look for someone with ample experience, and services and/or guarantees to back up their work.
    • How your efforts are paying off. Are there specific tactics that work better than others? If you’re wasting money on underperforming tactics, you could end up with a mismatch between your investments and results, ultimately leading you to a poor-performing campaign.

    Other Issues

    These aren’t the only issues you could be facing. You could also have trouble with:

    • Publisher issues. If you end up with publishers who are difficult to please, or if a major publisher goes under (taking all your links down with it), it could interfere with your campaign’s effectiveness. Hedging your bets by working with a diversity of publishers can mitigate your risk here, but there will always be a chance that strict, unconventional, or poor-performing publishers get in the way of what are otherwise solid link building practices.
    • Brand issues. If you’re building good links and writing good content on good publication sites, but you aren’t generating much referral traffic, you might have standing brand issues that have nothing to do with your link building tactics; for example, if your brand has poor customer service, or a bad reputation for other reasons, it’s going to be especially difficult to make up for that with offsite content alone.
    • SEO issues. Remember, link building is just one of many components to an effective SEO campaign. If you have other SEO issues, such as thin on-site content or poor direction with your target keywords, even a great link building strategy may not be able to compensate for those weaknesses. Make sure you do a thorough SEO audit before you blame link building for your organic traffic stagnation.

    The Biggest Overarching Problems

    You’re likely reading this guide because your link building campaign isn’t getting you the results you wanted (or maybe you just want to ensure you don’t make any of the mistakes that commonly cause poor results). I’ve covered many different potential issues on this list, but most of them can be categorized into one of the following broad categories:

    • Investing too little. If you don’t put in enough time, money, and effort, you aren’t going to get impressive results. Link building is a science and an art that demands commitment if you want to see a return.
    • Emphasizing quantity over quality. That said, you can’t invest in heavy frequency or rapid expansion and expect to see the best results. Quality is far more important than quantity, and you have to work hard to ensure your content, link placement, and publisher relationships remain as strong as possible.
    • Jumping in too quickly. If you start link building before you understand how it works, or if you try to scale too quickly, you’ll end up making a critical mistake or overextending your resources. Take your time, learn as much as you can, and be patient as you develop your campaign.
    • Failing to measure and adjust. This is crucial. You need to be able to measure your results so you can understand how your individual efforts add up—and figure out what you need to adjust in the future. Without this information, you won’t be able to conclude whether or not your campaign is working—and if it isn’t, you’ll never figure out how to correct it. For help, see The Ultimate Guide to Measuring and Analyzing ROI On Your Content Marketing Campaign.

    If you’re still struggling to get your link building campaign in order, you may be in need of some outside direction. For a free consultation on your efforts thus far, and a recommendation of where to go next, be sure to contact us today!

    What can we help you with?

  3. How to Become a Guest Author On Major Media Publications

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    The following is a transcript of a presentation I gave at the Neil Patel Advanced SEO Summit on April 20, 2017. I am constantly asked the question “How did you get to be a contributor at so many major media publications?” so this presentation is an in-depth look at exactly how I did it, and how you can do it too. I hope you find it helpful! For more help, see my guide, The Ultimate, Step-by-Step Guide to Building Your Business by Guest Blogging.

    How to Scale Guest Posting to Major Media Publications

    Hey everyone, and welcome to my presentation on how to scale guest posting to major media publications. The goal of this presentation is to give you the tools you need to get articles published on major media publications, like Forbes, Inc, TechCrunch, Entrepreneur.com, and others, which is awesome for branding, awareness, website traffic, and SEO.

    But first, a bit about me. My name is Jayson DeMers, and I’m the founder & CEO of a Seattle-based content marketing agency called AudienceBloom. I’m also a regular contributor or have contributed to a bunch of various major media publications, including Forbes, Entrepreneur, The Huffington Post, Inc, Time Magazine, Fortune, MSN.com, Yahoo.com, The Wall Street Journal, Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch, and the list goes on.

    My company, AudienceBloom, specializes in link building. We help our clients get links and brand mentions from major media publications, and we do this by working with our clients to select publishers they want to appear in, then helping them reach out to those publications and pitch them with content the publication would want to publish.

    If you’re here because you want help getting links for your website from major media publications, I’m about to show you the exact process that worked for me to become a contributor at all the publications I’ve written for. If by the end you decide you still want help, check out our contact form at AudienceBloom.com, or shoot me an email, and I’ll be happy to help.

    I wish getting published on major media publications was as easy as just emailing an article to an editor and seeing it get published. Unfortunately, it’s not.

    Getting published on major media publications requires carefully executed strategy, which can be divided into three phases. Phase I is to establish your reputation, phase II is to get your foot in the door, and phase III is to maintain and grow the relationship.

    Phase 3 actually covers what happens after your first post is published, but it’s critical if you want to publish more than just once on a publication, and become a regular contributor, which has awesome benefits.

    As you might imagine, major media publications have no problem finding people who want to become contributors on their websites. And because they have no shortage of eager contributors, they can afford to be picky about who they work with and who they don’t. They want people with a proven reputation or specific expertise that will add value for their readership, and that means you need to start by establishing a reputation for yourself. What makes you qualified to speak or write on a given subject?

    If you can’t answer that question right now, and you want to be able to get published on major media publications, it’s time to start working toward being able to answer it.

    There are 4 steps for doing so, and we’ll go over each of them. They are defining your niche, establishing standout pieces on your own blog, building strategic relationships, and building a social following.

    Your first step may seem a bit obvious, but you’ve gotta start by defining your niche. For me, I started with SEO and have since branched out to just about all other aspects of online marketing, and even broader entrepreneurial topics. But you’ve gotta start small when you’re just starting out, and not try to convince an editor that you’re an expert on everything. Being an expert on one topic is much more believable, and will be a more compelling reason for the editor to want to give you a try.

    Get as specific as you can; for example, instead of saying you’re an expert at social media marketing, say you’re an expert Instagram marketer.

    Next, think about your specific time period. For example, will you cover the history of your niche? Or will you cover current events, or perhaps even make predictions about the future of it?

    Once you’ve defined your niche, the next step is to establish some standout published pieces which you can use as your portfolio. Getting an editor to respond to an email is already a major accomplishment, so you don’t want to fall flat when they ask you for published samples of your writing and you can’t truly impress them. Editors will almost certainly ask you for examples of your previously published work, so you need to prepare for this by establishing an impressive portfolio.

    This portfolio should eventually include works on and off your website, but for now you can start with your own blog or website, since you can control everything on it, and can make sure it looks polished.

    When you send links to your previously published works, generally sending 3 links is enough, but you want there to be more than only those 3, so that when the editor visits those articles, they’ll see there are more, which will make you look more experienced. So, aim for at least 5 to 10 standout pieces on your blog, and down the road you can supplement those with some other published works on small or medium external publications.

    So how can you know if an article is worthy of being considered stand-out? Odds are, you already know if it is or isn’t. Ask yourself this question: If your best friend was looking for advice on the topic you wrote about, would you feel 100% confident referring them to your article? If not, it’s probably not stand-out.

    Stand-out pieces are generally at least 1500 words, and include embedded supporting media such as images, videos, or infographics.

    If those articles have any comments on them, be sure you’ve replied to all of them thoughtfully and politely; this is a really good sign to editors that you will engage their audience, which drives more visits and pageviews for them.

    Finally, be sure that the articles you send to the editor show impressive performance metrics, such as views or social shares.

    Here’s one article from my company blog at AudienceBloom.com that got over 2,000 shares across various social networks. This would be a great article to include in my portfolio because it has performed so well.

    I use a plugin for WordPress called Social Warfare to display these social share counts. It’s not free, but it’s cheap – only $29 per year for one website, and I think it’s well worth it. It’s actually #26 on my list of the top 30 marketing tools I couldn’t live without, which if you’re interested in checking out, you can find at https://bit.ly/audiencebloomtools.

    Of course, getting a ton of shares on your content isn’t easy, but I’ve written an entire guide on exactly the process I use to do it. It includes free tactics and some paid ones, and has an infographic at the end that breaks down the whole process into a checklist you can use for every piece of content you publish.

    You can check it out on the AudienceBloom blog by visiting https://bit.ly/contentunleashed. After you’ve published your articles, you’ll want to use the steps I outline in the guide to get a bunch of shares and views on them.

    If you haven’t already caught on, I obviously practice what I preach about promoting my content, and I highly recommend you do the same.

    Once you’ve defined your niche and established some standout pieces on your blog, you’re ready to start building strategic relationships.

    The goals of this are to grow your reputation by expanding horizontally (because more appearance across various publishers equals a bigger reputation), to establish a credible publishing history (because many posts over time is better than one post recently), and to become familiar with different editorial processes so you’re prepared to deal with the big guns at national media publications.

    Obviously, you can’t just jump from having no reputation to a big one; you have to start from the bottom and work your way up, one step at a time. For instance, looking at this drawing, starting at the bottom step could mean reaching out to your friend who has a blog or a Youtube channel you could be a guest on.

    Moving up to the next step, you might leverage that first guest appearance to pitch an acquaintance you’ve met at a networking event or perhaps a 1st degree connection on LinkedIn who’s an editor at a small or medium-sized publication. You could subsequently leverage those appearances to take the next step up and pitch a 2nd-degree connection on LinkedIn who’s an editor at an even larger publication, and so on, gradually working your way up to national media publications.

    Another good option is to find publishers that publicly solicit guest posts, and pitch them. I Googled “publishers that allow guest blogs” and took a screenshot of the results, which you can see here. 4 of the top 5 results were lists of blogs that accept guest posts, so finding these publishers isn’t hard to do. This is an excellent way to get your name published at a variety of publishers in your niche, which is extremely helpful for establishing your credibility, authority, and expertise; the crucial elements of being able to publish at big, national media publications.

    Your social media numbers have a huge impact on your likelihood of getting consideration from editors at major media publications. Publishers want authors who can promote their own work and drive pageviews to their website, so if you aren’t on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, it’s time to get active on them.

    Post at least once a day to each one, and multiple times a day for Twitter.

    Be sure to promote your published works through your social media accounts, as this shows editors that you will essentially give them free social media promotion if they work with you – that incentive grows as your audience grows, so work on getting more followers, especially on Twitter.

    You can get more followers by following other people, since they’ll often follow you back, and simply engaging other people on these social media platforms so they have a reason to follow you and stay following you.

    Be active and don’t treat your social accounts as a one-way communication channel; engage with people in conversations.

    And of course you can also use paid ads to get more followers if you’ve got a budget.

    Of course, getting more followers on social media is much more complicated than that, so I’ve written a huge article called “101 Ways to Get More Social Media Followers” which you can find on my blog if you want more ideas. You can find it at https://bit.ly/audiencebloomfollowers.

    After completing all the steps in phase 1, you’re ready to move onto phase 2: Getting your foot in the door with major publications. Your first guest post with a major media publication will be the hardest one to get, but after you get it, it will start a snowball effect that will make the rest easier. In fact, with every new publication you land, every new subsequent one will get easier than the previous one.

    The steps for phase 2 include identifying editors at target publications, reaching out, and then accommodating everything.

    Since this discussion is focused on major media publications, I’m going to skip covering how to find publications in your niche, since there aren’t a ton of major, national media publications, and if they fit that category then you probably already know about them.

    So, assuming you already have a list of publishers you want to target, it’s time to figure out who to contact at those publications to become a contributor.

    Start by browsing the publisher’s website to see if they offer a way to pitch an article or make a contribution. If they don’t have any information on how to do so, turn to Twitter or LinkedIn and try to find out who the editors are. From there, you can use a tool to help you find each editor’s email address, which you’ll use to introduce yourself and get your foot in the door.

    Here’s a nice trick that will help you speed up the process of checking to see if a publisher accepts guest posts. You can use the Google “OR” operator along with the “site:” operator in your search query to see if a specific domain has a page about guest posts or on how to become a contributor.

    I’ve got a screenshot of an example search query here so you can see how it’s done. I tried this search query for VentureBeat.com and the first result in Google was Venturebeat.com’s guest submissions page. Clicking that link takes you to a page that provides instructions on how to get in touch with editors at VentureBeat, so that’d be a promising next step to take.

    That trick won’t always work, though. I tested it on HuffingtonPost.com and didn’t get any promising hits. That second result that says “guest post” turned out to just be a tag directory, so it’s useless for our purposes.

    However, the third result does bring up the contact page for The Huffington Post, which includes a subsection that has instructions on how to contact the editors to pitch them a post. That’s a promising lead to try!

    To be honest, though, in my experience it’s really unlikely you’re going to receive a reply if you reach out through a generic contact form. Your best bet is to get in touch directly with an editor at the publication. LinkedIn is my go-to tool for finding editors at various publications. A simple search will often turn up the right person to contact, or at least someone who can point you in the right direction.

    As you can see from the screenshot here, I did a simple search for “venturebeat.com editor” and Harrison Weber was the top result.

    I clicked on his name to see his profile, and boom, here’s his email address, listed right there at the top.

    I hope Harrison doesn’t mind that I haven’t censored his email address here, but I figure that since he has it displayed publicly on his LinkedIn page, he won’t mind. Just do me a favor and don’t reach out to him for at least a few months so he doesn’t hate me if he suddenly gets a hundred emails because of me.

    I have to admit that it’s pretty unusual for editors to make their email addresses so easy to find; I usually have to do some digging to find it. If Harrison’s email address wasn’t listed here, the next thing I would do is try to find him on Twitter. A quick Google search led me to his Twitter profile, which you can see on the right side of the screen here, which includes a link to his personal website. I visited his personal website and his email address is also listed at the bottom of it.

    So if I wanted to reach out and make a pitch to Harrison, I know how to contact him!

    It’s a good idea to repeat this process and try to gather as many editor names and email addresses as you can find at a particular publication, because if one doesn’t respond to you, you can always try another. Just don’t email them all at once – that’s a surefire way to get on their radar as an annoyance rather than an asset.

    Once you’ve got a list of editors and publications you want to reach out to about contributing, it’s time to actually reach out to them. Start with just one publisher at a time, rather than sending emails to all the editors, because with every publisher you get published on, that’ll increase your success rate on each subsequent publication.

    I’ve found email gets a far better response rate than LinkedIn messages, so go with email as your outreach method.

    The process is pretty straightforward, and I’ve got it listed here. You’re going to start by sending your initial outreach email. Assuming you don’t get a response from the editor (which is safe to assume) after 4 days, follow up with another email. Keep persisting with two more follow-ups, a week apart. You can use a browser plugin called Boomerang for Gmail to automatically remind you if you haven’t received a response from someone after a certain number of days, which makes sure you’re able to stay persistent with your follow-ups. Boomerang is actually my #1 favorite marketing tool, so definitely check it out. Persistence really is key with outreach, because it separates you from the hundreds of other people who are reaching out but never bothering to follow up.

    If, after 3 follow-ups, you still haven’t received a response, it’s safe to assume you aren’t going to get a response from that editor. Look at your list of editors and start the process over again with a new editor at that publication until you either get a response from someone, or exhaust all your options at that publisher.

    If you exhaust all your options at a particular publisher, you can either move on to another publication and repeat these steps, or you can try to schmooze with the editors you emailed on Twitter or LinkedIn so they recognize your name in their inbox, which will hopefully lead to them replying to you.

    The email you send to the editor is the most critical component to getting a reply from them. Everything from your subject line to your spelling, grammar, and formatting are going to be scrutinized by the editor, and play an enormous role in whether the editor will reply to you positively (or even at all).

    In the next slide I’ll show you an example template for a cold outreach email, but for now I’ll cover the main elements of importance.

    The subject line should be unique or simple. The body of your email should start by addressing your contact by their first name, not something generic. Then, start by introducing yourself briefly, in no more than one sentence.

    Follow that by explaining why you’re reaching out. Be humble and honest, and don’t try to put a sales spin on anything you say; you’re reaching out because you would like to contribute an article to the site, or perhaps become an occasional contributor to the site.

    Follow that by including some links to your standout pieces, and make sure they are highly relevant to the publication you’re reaching out to.

    End your email with a thank you for their time and consideration.

    Here’s an example of an email I could send to Harrison. Since I’m already a columnist at some big-name publications, I have the benefit of including that in my first sentence. Obviously, you’ll need to replace those publishers with wherever you’ve managed to get published during phase 1.

    I like to use the subject line “Introducing myself” because it’s simple and honest, but you can try other subject lines and see how they work for you. I haven’t really tested subject lines to see which ones have better open rates for these purposes, so feel free to test and see what works.

    I’ll read the email so we can all read along:

    [read email]

    I’ve found that it’s unlikely you’ll receive a response after your first outreach attempt, but you can increase the odds of getting a response by being persistent with your follow-ups. Unfortunately, it’s still unlikely you’re going to get a response (and even less likely you’ll get a positive one), even after all your follow-ups.

    But when you do get a positive response, it’s kind of like the feeling you get when you finally feel a bite, to use a fishing metaphor, and sealing the deal feels a lot like reeling in a big catch.

    A positive reply from an editor will generally be a request for pitches, or ideas, as a starting point. This is the part where you’ll need to familiarize yourself with the publisher’s website, the types of articles they typically publish, and the ones that typically perform the best.

    A tool like Buzzsumo is a great way to find out what articles have performed well for that publisher in the past. This is a screenshot that shows the results in Buzzsumo for when I searched for “Inc.com”. The results show articles published on the site, ranked in order of how many shares they received across Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+, combined. Buzzsumo, by the way, is #5 on my list of must-have marketing tools, which again, you can find at bit.ly/audiencebloomtools.

    I can use these search results to propose some article titles and short descriptions for each article idea to the editor.

    After you send in your pitches, the editor will either accept one or more of the pitches, or send you some revisions on your pitches based on what they want or need. They may even ask for something unrelated to the specific niche you started with, depending on how badly they need something written on a particular topic. This most often happens when there’s some hot item in the news that they want covered from every angle possible to maximize pageviews.

    At this point, all you need to do is accommodate everything they ask for, no matter how ridiculous it seems. This is your chance to get your foot in the door; and you’ll have more flexibility and authority once you build a reputation and establish trust with the editor.

    After your first pitch is approved, write the full article, ensuring it complies with any and all guidelines they provided to you, then send it to your editor. There are three common ways editors prefer to receive articles and make revisions on them:

    The first is via direct submission, which is where they give you an author login to the WordPress backend, where you can submit your article draft directly for review. Editors will make changes as they see fit before publishing the article.

    The second is through editorial review, which is where you’ll email in a draft of your work, usually as a Word document, then receive feedback from the editor on any edits or revisions they need, which you can incorporate into your second draft.

    The third is through collaboration, which is where you’ll use Google Docs or a similar collaboration software.

    Of course, even after multiple rounds of editing, it’s still possible to have your article outright rejected. Outright rejection usually only occurs after a first draft is submitted and before the revision process has begun, but I’ve had it happen after multiple rounds of revisions, which is disheartening, but still something to be prepared for.

    Once you make it through the revision process, the editor will usually ask you for a headshot and a short author bio. Make sure you have a professional-looking headshot ready to send in, and craft your bio.

    You can see my standard bio and headshot here.

    A bio typically consists of a sentence about who you are and what you do, and I also recommend including social media links so your readers can follow you.

    After sending in your headshot and bio, it’s usually just a matter of time until the post is published.

    Once you get your first post published, you’re gonna to feel like a total bad-ass. Not only will you get bragging rights about being published in a major media publication, you can leverage that fact in your other marketing efforts.

    For instance, if you look at my company homepage at audiencebloom.com, we’ve got a scrolling banner that shows all the major media publications we’ve appeared in. It’s a fantastic way to prove your legitimacy and credibility, which can be a huge boon for your site-wide conversion rates.

    Including these logos on your contact page can also help improve conversion rates for new leads reaching out to you.

    Also, don’t forget to share and promote your newly published article on your social media accounts and any other appropriate channels you can think of.

    Content without any readers is lonely content. Don’t let your content be lonely.

    I mentioned this earlier, but for a whole bunch of ideas on how to promote your content, you can see my full guide at bit.ly/contentunleashed.

    Phase 3 is all about building on your new relationship with the editor or publication. Getting published once is great, but becoming a regular contributor or columnist at a major publication is even better. The steps for phase 3 include discovering or creating a rhythm, learning from the past, accepting direction, promoting your best work, and growing your audience.

    After your first post is published, reach out to the editor to establish a few things.

    First, your “beat,” or niche within this publisher.

    Second, how to submit ideas in the future. For example, you can ask if the editor prefers to receive pitches for approval first, or if they’re cool with letting you submit full articles for consideration.

    Third, find out how often you should pitch new ideas or submit new articles. Some publishers will allow you to send in as many as you like, and others, such as Inc or Forbes, require a certain minimum amount per month.

    Be sure to set Boomerang reminders whenever you send an email so nothing falls through the cracks. This is super important, because it’s very common for editors to just not respond to your emails until after a few follow-ups. I don’t know why this is, and it’s frustrating, but follow-up reminders will save your sanity here.

    Once you have at least 10 articles published with a certain publisher, you can start analyzing trends. Take a look at your articles and find out what topics get the most views, likes, shares, and comments.

    What post features stand out in your successful content, such as images, length, structure, or takeaways?

    How does your audience respond? You can look at comments on your posts to get a feel for this.

    Buzzsumo is a helpful tool for quickly finding out which posts performed the best in terms of social shares. It’s especially helpful if you want to compare posts across different publishers.

    You can use the “author:” search operator to filter posts only by a specific author, such as yourself, and rank them in order of social shares they received.

    This screenshot here shows my most popular posts over the last year.

    It looks like businessinsider.com and entrepreneur.com are working pretty well for me; all of my top 5 articles in terms of shares come from those 2 publishers. Three of these posts are directed toward millennials, with titles that tell you what to do in your 20s or 30s, so that tells me that much of my audience are probably millennials.

    You and your editor will be a tag-team. Your editor will love you more if your articles perform well, because it’ll make your editor look good. Their job is probably to maximize pageviews, so do what you can to help them achieve their goals, and they’ll help you achieve yours.

    Always accept any direction they give you, and don’t hesitate to ask what you could be doing better or how to improve.

    If you can build relationships with other editors or staff members at the publication, that’ll help solidify your standing as a valuable contributor in the eyes of not just one editor, but the whole team.

    If you have a piece you’re especially proud of, promote it. This’ll earn you more visibility, and will also prove to your publisher that you’re worth keeping around.

    Some ideas for promotion include immediately updating your social networks with every new post, interlinking your posts, which means linking to old posts from newer ones to boost their search rankings and direct readers to them in order to increase their pageviews, and even paid ads to drive short-term traffic to the posts.

    Whenever you publish a new article, there’s a few things you need to be sure to do.

    Fist, announce it to your social media followers.

    Next, watch for new comments so you can reply to them. Reader engagement through comments is a great way to pick up new followers and build brand loyalty.

    On an ongoing basis, keep building up your followers in each of your social channels so you can get new eyeballs on your content, and periodically ask your followers what content they’d like to see, then give it to them.

    As an example of this, in early 2016 I created a one-question survey in Typeform that asked my email newsletter audience what topics they wanted me to cover in-depth so they could learn more about. 540 people responded, and the results of that survey question are shown here.

    Content marketing, social media marketing, and brand building were the top 3 topics voted on, so I created guides for each of those on the AudienceBloom blog. I also used that information to inform the content direction I took with the other various publishers I work with.

    The survey was a fantastic way for me to get a snapshot of what my audience wanted or needed from me in terms of content.

    After you’ve developed a relationship as a consistent contributor with your first major media publication, it’s time to set sail, expand your horizons so to speak, and look for new publishers to repeat the process with.

    With experience at one major media publication under your belt, you’ll see that your success rate increases with the next, and it’s a snowball effect; the more publications you get onboard with, the easier getting onboard with the next will be.

    The only problem at that point will be managing all your relationships, ensuring you have enough time to write all that content while maintaining a high level of quality, and promoting the content. You can outsource certain pieces of this process, such as by hiring a personal editor to proof-read your work, and a social media manager to promote your work after it’s been published.

    Find your perfect balance with all the other responsibilities you have in your business, and you’ll have it made. I can tell you that this is the exact process I used to become a contributor at all the places I write for, and it’s been the single-biggest factor in growing my business. It’s content marketing at its finest, and while it takes consistency, persistence and dedication, it’s well worth it in the end.

    So to wrap up, here are the key takeaways.

    In phase 1, you’ll need to start by defining your niche, creating awesome portfolio pieces, building strategic relationships, then building your social media audience.

    In phase 2, you’ll start by identifying editors at target publications, perfecting your email outreach template, reaching out, and then accommodating all the editor’s requests until you get published.

    In phase 3, you’ll work to establish a posting rhythm, learn what works and what doesn’t from your past pieces, accept the editor’s direction, promote your best work, and nurture and grow your audience over time.

    The three tools we’ve covered in this presentation include Social Warfare, which is the plugin for WordPress that displays social media share counts on your posts, Boomerang for Gmail, which is a plugin for Gmail that automatically reminds you when an email recipient hasn’t responded to your email after a certain number of days, and Buzzsumo, which is a web-based tool that helps you figure out what content is the most popular on a particular publication or by a particular author.

    So that concludes this presentation. Thanks very much for listening, and I’ll now open the floor to Q&A.

    What can we help you with?

  4. 101 Ways to Improve Your Website’s SEO

    15 Comments

    Table of Contents

    + Domain optimization
    + Global on-site optimization
    + Page-level on-site optimization
    + Link building
    + Social media
    + Correctional strategies

    When you’re looking for something—a good restaurant to eat at, the name of a good tax attorney, or just a random fact about the movie you’re watching—you usually turn to Google. Everybody does. And everybody clicks on one of the first entries in the search engine results pages (SERPs) they find.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if your site was at the top of that list?

    This is the goal of search engine optimization (SEO), but getting your site to rank that high—especially in a competitive environment—isn’t exactly straightforward. Google only reveals ambiguous descriptions of how its main algorithm works (to prevent spammers and manipulators), and over the years, we’ve discovered hundreds of potential ranking signals. Add in the fact that algorithms are always changing and improving, and it’s easy to see why SEO seems so confusing to so many.

    That’s why I’ve assembled this extensive list of 101 different ways you can improve your search rankings, boiling down our SEO knowledge into concrete, executable points that are easy to understand even for a novice.

    For organizational purposes, these are split into categories:

    • Domain optimization. These are strategies for how to choose, host, and maintain your domain.
    • Global on-site optimization. These are on-site tactics that apply to your entire site, either improving your authority and trustworthiness or ensuring your visibility to search crawlers.
    • Page-level on-site optimization. These are page-specific on-site updates, again either improving your authority and trustworthiness or ensuring your visibility to search crawlers.
    • Link building. These are strategies to build and earn backlinks, which are crucial for increasing your domain authority.
    • Social media. Social media marketing can’t increase your rankings directly, but it can have a massive bearing on secondary ranking factors.
    • Correctional strategies. These are tactics to fix issues or course-correct a slipping strategy.

    Without further ado, let’s dig into these 101 ways to improve your site’s search rankings!

    Domain Optimization

    1. Optimize your domain with target keywords.

    Your first job is to optimize your domain name with keywords you intend to target. The process of choosing keywords is a bit complicated—in fact, it’s worthy of its own monster post which I recently wrote, titled Keyword Research: The Ultimate Guide for SEO and Content Marketing—but for now, I’ll assume you’ve already gone through the process of picking target keywords relevant to your brand with high search volume and low levels of competition. Including one or more of these keywords in your domain name can be helpful in boosting your search rankings, as you’ll get added relevance for related queries. For example, if one of your keywords is “replacement windows,” a domain name like bobbysreplacementwindows.com could be advantageous. Obviously, this is much harder to do if you’ve already got an established domain—generally, it’s not worth changing your domain, but if you’re starting from scratch, it’s definitely worth considering.

    2. Shorten your domain length.

    While you’re in the process of choosing your domain name, it’s also a good idea to keep your domain length as short as possible. As you’ll see in some other URL-based optimization techniques, Google prefers to keep things as short, simple, and as straightforward as possible. The more characters you add to your domain, the more complicated it is for users to figure out what you do and the harder it is to remember or access a domain. When it comes to domain names, shorter is better.

    3. Keep subdomains clear and optimized.

    Not all brands or websites have subdomains; these are hierarchal distinctions within the coverage of a broader domain and can be used to distinguish a separate area of the site or a different brand entirely. For example, you might have example.com and blog.example.com domains to keep your eCommerce platform and blogging platform separate. Again, for the sake of pleasing Google with simplicity, you’ll want to keep your subdomains as concise and clear as possible; describe the nature of the subdomain in as few words as you can, and use target keywords when possible. For the record, I don’t recommend using a subdomain for your blog; instead, host your blog in a subfolder of your domain, so it looks like this: example.com/blog.

    4. Publicize your WHOIS information.

    WHOIS (pronounced “who is,” appropriately enough) is a protocol for registering and finding various resources attached to a given website. For example, you might be able to look up a website’s IP and contact information for the webmaster. As the creator of a site, you’ll have the option of publicizing this information or blocking it from public record. You might be tempted to choose the latter under ordinary circumstances, but it’s actually better to go public. If you hide your information, Google may think you’re attempting to do something sneaky.

    whois

    (Image Source: WhoIs)

    5. Choose the right hosting provider.

    On the surface, most hosting providers seem the same. They all offer the same service, and for close to the same price depending on what other services and features you get. However, your choice in hosting provider could play a crucial role in how your site appears in search engines in a number of different ways. For example, in a worst-case scenario, if your host is accused of engaging in suspicious activity, it could reflect poorly on the authority of your site. On a more common level, if your hosting is unreliable, site outages could disrupt your site’s appearance in SERPs. I’ve used a number of different hosts, and currently have AudienceBloom.com hosted at WPEngine, which I’ve been very happy with (note: that’s an affiliate link. If you use it, thank you, I really appreciate it!). It’s on the pricey side, but it offers really good customer support, security, speed, and so far, zero downtime.

    6. Migrate carefully.

    There will likely come a time when you need to migrate your site to a new domain, a new hosting provider, or build a new website entirely. When this happens, it’s absolutely imperative that you migrate with SEO best practices in mind. Otherwise, you’ll run the risk of search bots getting confused; they may see two versions of your site and register them as duplicates, or they may search for nonexistent pages, or they may even rob you of your domain authority entirely—like what happened to Toys R Us in a major SEO blunder back in 2014.

    7. Wait.

    Though there is some debate on the subject, it’s generally accepted that the age of a given domain has a bearing on that domain’s authority. Conceptually, this makes sense; the longer a domain is around, the less likely it is to be a spam or gimmick site. The boost you get from this is fairly minimal, so you don’t need to sit on a domain for years before you start reaping the benefits of an SEO campaign, but at the same time, the older your domain gets, the higher your authority will rise.

    Global On-site Optimization

    8. Clean up your code.

    This is an ambiguous statement, and it might not make sense to someone who isn’t intimately familiar with web development. The basic idea here is this; just as there are an infinite number of paths from point A to point B but only one “optimal” path, there is an infinite number of ways to code any function, but some are more efficient than others. Unnecessarily complicated code has a number of disadvantages, including slower site loading times and more legwork for search engine crawlers, so take the time to “clean up” your code.

    9. Optimize your robots.txt file.

    This step may or may not apply to you, depending on what your intentions and goals are in the indexation of your site. Ordinarily, search crawlers will track down and index every page of your website, but you can change this based on instructions you give those crawlers in what’s known as the robots.txt file of your site. Here, you can block crawlers from indexing certain pages—which is ideal if you have intentionally duplicate pages or other content you don’t want search engines to see. Just don’t use this to try and cover up black hat tactics—Google will find out.

    robots.txt file

    (Image Source: Robotstxt.org)

    10. Note and correct server errors immediately.

    Your site isn’t going to be up 100 percent of the time. You’re going to have server crashes, and your pages will occasionally be prone to individual errors. This is a reality of modern web development. All you can do is keep a close eye on the status of your servers, and respond to errors as quickly as possible to keep your domain up and running.

    11. Keep your URLs static.

    If you’re not familiar with dynamic versus static URLs, this terminology may seem strange to you. It’s easier to describe dynamic URLs first; these are URLs that provide different content depending on the nature of the query to the site’s database. Static URLs, by contrast, only change if someone manually makes a change to the site’s backend code. With very few exceptions, your site’s URLs should all be static, only changing when you push manual changes to them. This is generally a more trustworthy practice, and will help keep the authority of your domain and individual pages high.

    12. Organize your URLs logically with a breadcrumbs trail.

    You should also keep your URLs logically organized by using a breadcrumbs trail. In the realm of website development, breadcrumbs trails are strings of sectioned-off extensions to the end of your URL. For example, you may list out the categories and subcategories where a page is located. For example, you might have example.com/maincategory/subcategory/page instead of just example.com/page. This gives you the opportunity to optimize for more keywords, provide a more convenient user experience for your customers, and give more information to Google about how your site is organized. There’s no reason not to do this (and it happens automatically for most template-based CMS’s like WordPress).

    13. Shorten your URLs.

    For the same reasons that you shortened your domain name, you should shorten your URLs. This is as much for your own benefit as it is your users’, as it’s going to make organizing your site much easier. For example, if you have a “products and services” subcategory page, consider shortening it to just “products” or “services.” If you have a long blog title like “how to recover from an embarrassing situation at work,” consider shortening it to “embarrassing-work-situation” as an extension of your URL. Remove any unnecessary additions or extensions whenever possible and focus on what really matters. I realize this seems to counter-act my advice from #12 (adding a breadcrumb trail increases the length of the URL), so to be clear, what I suggest is using breadcrumb trails and keeping them short and concise, while also making an effort to keep URLs short after the inclusion of the breadcrumbs.

    14. Create an HTML sitemap.

    An HTML sitemap is a way to organize your site easily for users—not to be confused with an XML sitemap, which I’ll cover in the next bulleted tactic. Here, your goal is to make a comprehensive list of all the pages of your site, organized logically so users can follow it—and follow its links to those specific named pages. Generally, webmasters include a link to the HTML sitemap in the footer, where users intuitively seek to access it.

    15. Create and upload an XML sitemap.

    An XML sitemap is a more technical version of the HTML sitemap, marked up with code so that search crawlers can make sense of your data. Creating one is easier than it seems, and some WordPress plugins do it automatically for you. When you have your XML sitemap complete, you can upload it to Google Search Console to instruct Google about the exact layout and structure of your website. Note that Google will crawl and interpret your website without this sitemap, but this can accelerate and increase the accuracy of the process.

    XML Sitemap

    (Image Source: Sitemaps.org)

    16. Keep your sitemaps updated.

    Your site is going to go through changes, whether you currently know what those changes are or not. You’re going to add pages, remove pages, and possibly restructure entire swaths of your site. When this happens, it’s easy to forget about updating your sitemaps—so establish a reminder to keep your sitemaps up-to-date. Forgetting this won’t crush your rankings—Google will eventually catch up with what you’ve done—but it’s a way to help your web strategy run smoother.

    17. Ensure your content loads correctly on all devices and browsers.

    This is a major step of the process; make sure that all of your content is loading, correctly and fully, on every possible device and browser. Most web developers go through a testing process to see how your site looks, but are they using older versions of their browsers? Different browsers? Different devices? An image that doesn’t load on Internet Explorer could make your page less authoritative due to “broken content.” You can use a service like BrowserStack to help you out here.

    18. Optimize for mobile devices.

    You also need to optimize for mobile devices. The majority of all web traffic now happens on mobile devices, so it makes sense from a pure user experience perspective, but it’s also important for Google’s consideration of your site (thanks to the Mobilegeddon update and several algorithm changes before it). Thankfully, Google offers a free test that will tell you not only if your site is mobile-friendly, but what’s wrong with it if it isn’t. Just keep in mind that mobile optimization is about more than just meeting the minimum requirements of Google—it’s about giving the best possible experience to your mobile users.

    19. Improve your navigation.

    You can also improve your navigation bar to improve your search rankings. Google takes user experience seriously; the search giant rose to dominance because of its commitment to connecting users to the best possible content for their queries. Google wants users to have a convenient, straightforward, interpretable experience, and part of that includes being able to navigate the site easily. Organize your site into categories and subcategories, and make your menus accessible and easy to click. This may seem like a simple feature, but it’s one that’s commonly neglected and much more important than most people realize, because of the way PageRank ‘flows’ throughout a site. Try to put only your most important pages in your navigation; they’ll be the ones that get a significant ranking boost.

    20. Feed search engines more information with structured markup.

    Google’s Knowledge Graph is continuously growing in size, able to answer more user queries with short, concise answers pulled from sites across the web. How can you get your information featured in these boxes, which automatically take visibility priority over organic search results? The key is to use structured markup, organizing your site’s content in a way that makes sense to search engines. org has plentiful tutorials to help you figure out exactly what to implement and how to implement it—you just have to take the step of committing it to the back end of your site.

    21. Use internal links with descriptive anchor text.

    The navigation of your site is partially dependent on how your internal pages link to one another. For example, it might be easy for a user on your homepage to jump to whatever page is most relevant for him/her, but can he/she quickly and easily jump between pages to explore your site further? Try to include at least one link to another page on your site within every page you develop; some of your blog posts might have several or even many links to other pages on your site. Internal linking won’t just increase your search rankings; it will keep your users engaged on your site for longer, which increases the likelihood of a conversion.

    22. Link out to high-authority external sources.

    Internal links are just the beginning—it’s also a good idea to link out to other external sources to back up the information you present. For example, if you’re referencing a statistic, fact, or other piece of specific data, it’s important to cite the source you got it from. Doing this also adds to the trustworthiness of your site; it shows that you’re not just making information up, and that you have verifiable primary and secondary sources to vouch for you. Just make sure you’re choosing high-authority sites, as linking out to low-authority sites could have the opposite effect.

    23. Keep your images formatted properly.

    It’s good to have images throughout your site, whether they’re entries in a photo gallery or supplementary material for one of your blog posts. However, not just any images will do; some images are better than others when it comes to suitability for the web. For example, some formats may not load properly on some devices, and others may drag down your loading speed. As a general rule, formats like JPG, PNG, and GIF are reliable choices. Beyond that, you’ll want to make sure your images are reduced to a smaller size to keep your site speed as fast as possible.

    24. Title your images appropriately, with proper alt tags.

    Going beyond the simple formatting of your images, you can also optimize them with text and descriptors to increase their chances of appearing in Google Image search. This won’t have a direct bearing on your domain authority or general SERP rankings, but can give you another outlet for search optimization. First, give your image an appropriate title; keep it short and simple, but relevant to what’s happening in the image. Then, include an alt tag (which isn’t a literal “tag”) that describes the image in more detail. Think about what a user would search for to find this image.

    Image Tag

    (Image Source: Yoast)

    25. Maximize your page loading speed.

    Next up, you’ll want to improve the performance of your site. The shorter your page loading time is, the better, and even a fraction of a second can bear a significant improvement. This isn’t as big of a ranking signal as some of the other factors on this list, but it is worth optimizing for—especially because of its peripheral benefits. When a user clicks through to your site, he/she will make a decision of whether to stay within seconds of arriving. According to KissMetrics, 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less, and 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load, while just a 1 second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions. Make sure your content loads within that timeframe, or your bounce and exit rates will suffer—even if you’re sitting on a top search position. You can conduct a speed test on your website using this tool from Pingdom.

    26. Secure your site with SSL encryption.

    This is a small ranking signal, but it’s worth optimizing for in part due to its surprising simplicity. Google introduced SSL encryption, a way of securing the information on your site, as a ranking signal back in 2014, and it may increase in significance as the years go on. Contact your hosting provider, and you can apply this encryption for a small additional fee, earning you the “HTTPS” designation and making your site more secure. Even if you don’t do this for the search rankings, it can keep your customers’ information safer. Note that I haven’t experimented with switching established domains/websites to https, as I’ve seen anecdotal reports of websites doing so and losing significant ground in the rankings. That’s why AudienceBloom.com hasn’t been switched over (our search traffic is great, and I don’t want to imperil it for a shot at marginal improvement). With that said, I would recommend any new website or domain to utilize SSL encryption. It may also be more important for websites that transmit data frequently, such as e-commerce sites where users must login and input personal or credit card information to complete a transaction.

    27. Hunt down and eliminate duplicate content.

    Google hates to see duplicate content, for somewhat obvious reasons. If a chunk of text already appears somewhere on the Internet, why does it need to exist again somewhere else? Plus, it’s sometimes an indication of plagiarism. However, it’s possible (and, in fact, quite common) to have duplicate content on your site even if you’ve never plagiarized a word; sometimes Google indexes two separate versions of a single webpage, such as the HTTP and HTTPS version, leading it to “see” duplicate content where there isn’t any. You can use Google Search Console or a third-party tool such as SiteLiner to quickly and easily check for these errors and correct them by eliminating one version of the page.

    28. Utilize rel=canonical tags.

    Sometimes, there’s actually a justification for having duplicate content on your site. For example, you might be running two distinctly designed versions of a page that has identical content between those versions. If this is the case and you don’t want to be brought down by any duplicate content issues, your best bet is to use rel=canonical tags to resolve the issue with Google. These tags instruct Google which page should be categorized as the “canonical” or official version of the page and which one should be ignored; note that this is distinct from using the robots.txt file to ignore one page completely.

    29. Categorize and organize your content.

    Next, you’ll want to make sure all of your content is well-organized in categories and subcategories. Create an ongoing list of your main blog topics, and assign at least one of those categories to each blog. Google is able to see this information and use it to figure out what your content is about; it’s also a valuable opportunity to showcase some of your target keywords and phrases.

    30. Offer ample contact information.

    This isn’t a huge ranking factor, but it’s something Google takes into consideration—plus, it’s a general best practice for optimizing a user experience. You should offer prominent contact information throughout your website, preferably with at least one obvious means of contacting you (such as a phone number in the header of your site). You’ll also want to create a designated contact page, with your company name, address, phone number, social media information, and a contact form at a minimum.

    31. Offer Terms of Service and Privacy pages.

    No matter what type of business you have, it’s a good idea to spell out your terms of service and your privacy policy on dedicated pages. Having these pages as part of your sitemap demonstrates that you care about your users and are transparent about how you conduct business and use your customers’ information. You won’t skyrocket to a number-one position just by adding these pages, but they’re a staple feature that every website needs to have.

    32. Find and correct issues with Google Search Console.

    Google Search Console is a goldmine of information about how your site is performing and how it looks in search engines. It’s a Swiss army knife of diagnostic tools you can use to proactively identify any issues with your site that could interfere with your other ranking efforts. For example, Search Console can send you an alert when your site goes down, or you can get a first-hand look at how Google is currently indexing your site, making note of any erroneously indexed pages. Check this information often to stay on top of your site’s development.

    33. Display user reviews on-site.

    This is especially important if you’re an e-Commerce platform selling products online. Give your users a voice by offering up customer reviews on various pages of your site. You can offer them the ability to give you a star or number rating, but the big draw here is giving them a platform to write their thoughts. This is a way of capitalizing on user-generated content (which will naturally be optimized for the types of products you sell), but you can also use microformatting to increase the chances that these reviews could be featured in SERPs directly.

    34. Decrease your bounce and exit rates.

    On the surface, bounce and exit rates may seem like the same metric, but as explained by Google below, they’re actually distinct. Neither is a good indication of user experience; both imply that a user has left the site after visiting this particular page. A high bounce or exit rate could imply that the content on the site is unsatisfactory, and could play into how Google measures the relevance or authority of that page. Try to improve these rates by offering more unique, valuable content, and by keeping users engaged for a longer period of time, such as by offering longer, more in-depth, valuable content.

    Decrease your bounce and exit rates

    (Image Source: Google)

    35. Maximize time spent on page.

    The good news is, by decreasing your exit and bounce rates, you’ll likely increase the time a user spends on that page of your site by proxy. You won’t have to do much else to increase the time spent on each page of your site. Google takes time duration as an indirect measure of the value of the content of a page; for example, if you have a blog post that averages 30 seconds of visit time versus one that averages 10 minutes of visit time, the latter is clearly a superior piece.

    36. Optimize for repeat visitors.

    For the most part, SEO is about attracting people to your site who have never heard of your brand before; optimizing for commonly searched queries is a way of getting in front of people who have otherwise never heard of you. However, it’s in your best interest to optimize for repeat visitors as well; publishing new updates frequently, encouraging users to come back for daily or weekly specials, and rewarding repeat customers with accumulating incentives can all help your strategy thrive.

    37. Optimize for local keywords.

    Not all companies will want or need to pursue a local SEO campaign; however, it’s crucial for businesses who have a brick-and-mortar presence and rely on customer foot traffic. Google’s local algorithm works differently and separately from its national algorithm, identifying the three most relevant and authoritative local businesses for a given query when it detects a local-specific indicator in what’s called its “Local 3-pack.” Chances are, Google will already know your location based on your business’s address and your presence in local citations (more on those later), but it could also be advantageous to optimize various pages and content entries of your site with local-specific keywords, such as the name of your city, state, or region. For help getting your business in the local 3-pack, see Local 3-Pack 101: Everything You Need to Know About Getting in the Top 3.

    Page-Level On-site Optimization

    38. Build personal brands.

    It should be obvious that you need a blog if you’re running an ongoing SEO campaign; as you’ll see in some of the coming strategies, the optimization work of your blog posts feeds into a number of SEO angles. However, before you start, it’s a good idea to set up author roles as personal brands in the context of your site. Personal brands will allow you to characterize various writers on your team, giving them each a unique voice and area of expertise. You can showcase these brands on an “author” or “team” page, but the real benefit is having these personal brands develop your articles. It will optimize your articles for author-specific searches and give you better options for guest posting and social media marketing (which I’ll dig into later).

    39. Optimize your title tags.

    Your title tags are the bits of information Google uses to fill in the headline for sites in its SERPs (like “AudienceBloom: Link Building & Content Marketing Agency” in the screenshot below). This tells Google much about the content of your page, so include at least one target keyword here. You’ll also need to make sure your titles are 70 characters or less, and try to make them catchy if you can. Remember, earning rankings in Google is only part of the equation—you also have to persuade your new viewers to actually click through. Most CMS platforms allow you to edit this easily for any page on your site.

    audiencebloom title tags

    40. Optimize your meta descriptions.

    Similarly, you should optimize the meta descriptions of your pages—these feed into the text beneath the green link to your website. Here, you have more wiggle room—160 characters—so make sure you include multiple target keywords that accurately describe the content you have on-site. Again, this is your chance to be persuasive, so show off your marketing skills and write copy that entices the user to actually click your result instead of the other 9 competing results on the page. While there’s debate about whether the meta description is actually a ranking factor anymore, there’s growing evidence that the CTR (click-through rate) of search results is a strong factor in the ranking algorithm, which means a good meta description could indirectly affect your rankings, depending on how well it compels users to click your result.

    41. Keep your title tags and meta descriptions unique.

    When you learn that every page of your site needs a title tag and a meta description, and that all of them should be optimized for target keywords, you might be tempted to create “templates,” which you can then copy and paste or modify only slightly to make quick work of optimizing each page. However, it’s actually in your best interest to develop unique titles and descriptions, from scratch, for every page. Having too many duplicates or near-duplicates can make you seem like you’re keyword stuffing. It will take some extra time, but it’s worth it. You can use a tool such as Screaming Frog to check the title tags and meta descriptions of each of your pages and identify duplicates or blanks.

    42. Include proper header tags on all your articles.

    In your website’s code, there are header tags, numbered sequentially (H1, H2, H3, etc.) to indicate where the main headlines and sub-headlinese of an article are. When evaluating the subject matter of content, Google looks at these tags to give it a better sense of the article’s structure. To optimize these, you’ll first need to outline your articles with headlines and sub-headlines, and then you’ll need to ensure they’re marked up with appropriate tags in the backend of your site. Finally, for each article, you’ll want to include keywords and/or highly descriptive phrases for these key opportunities.

    43. Optimize your URLs for your on-page content.

    I’ve already talked about general principles for URLs—they should be static, short, and featuring a breadcrumbs-style trail to help users with navigation. But on the page level, they should also be optimized to appropriately describe your on-site content. For example, if you have an article on how to make chocolate fudge, a URL ending in “how-to-make-chocolate-fudge” is more descriptive and therefore better optimized than “online-recipe-3331.” Generally, you’ll want to avoid any numbers or special characters, include keywords where you can, and strive for intuitiveness. If a user can figure out what a page is about just by looking at a URL (without even clicking it), that’s ideal.

    44. Include a few hundred words of unique content on every page.

    Every page of your site needs to have some content on it—otherwise, Google may see it as a placeholder page, something worthless, or something designed to manipulate users or search rankings. Obviously, the length of content you can write for a given page is dependent on its subject of focus, but you’ll want to include at least a few hundred words of content as a minimum. Of course, you’ll also have to make sure this content is unique—don’t copy and paste paragraphs between pages unless you have a darn good reason to. This advice applies to product and service pages; for blog posts or other content, aim for at least 1,000 words. For homepages, you don’t need to worry about this; focus instead on creating a high-converting design that drives users to the pages you want them to visit (such as product or service pages) along with a strong navigation architecture.

    45. Create specific pages to highlight your target keywords.

    Though some would argue this practice is somewhat antiquated, I still see positive results from it. For some of your most important target keywords and phrases, create dedicated pages with titles that correspond to those keywords. For example, you might create a page for “custom picture frames,” or one for “emergency vet clinics.” The only caveat here is that you’ll need to create pages that seem natural; in other words, if you have a strange-sounding page title (one that’s clearly just a play at ranking for a keyword), it could do your site more harm than good. Keep it natural.

    46. Utilize target keywords throughout your content.

    There isn’t a specific rule for how Google evaluates the keyword density of your content—in fact, thanks to the Hummingbird update, it pays greater attention to your semantics than the actual words and phrases you use. Still, it’s a good idea to include your desired keywords on every page of your site. This will increase the perceived relevance of your content to queries that match those keywords and phrases, and increase Google’s understanding of your brand and site. However, your keywords still need to be worked in naturally; if they appear unnatural, Google could flag you for keyword stuffing, which could cause your rankings for that page to drop thanks to the Penguin algorithm.

    47. Aim for high-length content posts.

    There’s no hard rule for how long your content has to be. I’ve seen incredibly short posts circulate virally and earn tons of links and long-winded detail-stuffed eBooks get practically no attention. The quality and appeal of your work is far more important than the length, but the data points toward longer posts as being more popular for link building and SEO—that is, at least several thousand words long. These posts tend to be more detailed, more practical, and more unique than shorter articles, and therefore attract more attention.

    48. Produce new content regularly.

    Google pays attention to how often you produce new blog posts. You might have a large archive of valuable posts from 2012 and before, but if you haven’t posted anything in 4 years, you’ll probably see a steady decline in your organic traffic as time passes on. Increasing the frequency of your updates won’t be a major boon here—though having more high-quality content is always a good thing—so strive to update your blog at least once a week.

    49. Make your content more useful.

    I’ve already casually mentioned that your content needs to be high-quality if it’s going to succeed; that’s because Google judges the quality of your piece when it considers how to rank your authority (both on a domain and page level). What does “high-quality” mean? A lot of things, actually—just take a look at the Search Quality Rater’s Guidelines Google publishes. However, one of the most important qualities is usefulness. How beneficial is this content to an incoming audience? Do you answer their questions succinctly and accurately? Do you give them instructions or directions where appropriate?

    50. Make your content more unique.

    You’ll also need a degree of differentiation if you’re going to stand out in search engines. If you’re competing with several big-name companies with similar pieces of content, you’ll probably have a harder time getting that number-one position. But if your content features topics that no one else is doing, or if you explore those topics in new and innovative ways, nobody will be able to touch you. In many ways, SEO is just about being better than your main competitors. Take advantage of that.

    51. Update your content significantly.

    Google also pays attention to how often you update the content of your site and how significant those updates are. For example, if you rewrite the entirety of your homepage with information about your latest products, that registers as more significant than only changing a few words around every few years. It takes extra work to consistently keep your site updated, but it will help you not only earn more authority, but keep your users up to speed as well.

    52. Check your grammar and spelling on every page.

    Google has built-in quality detectors that can immediately evaluate the subjective quality of a written piece. For example, it can tell if the article was written by a native speaker of the language, and it can tell if the article is riddled with grammatical and spelling errors. In the case of the latter, Google may degrade the quality of your work—even if it’s well-written—costing you serious ranking opportunities. You don’t need to freak out over every little detail, but do take a few extra minutes to proofread your pages before publishing them.

    53. Include multimedia in your content.

    Every content marketing strategy should have a place for multimedia content. Visual content, like images and videos, are naturally more engaging than written content because they require less focus for comprehension and indulge us in our strongest and most important physical sense. Make sure all of your posts have at least one visual element in them—even if it’s just a simple doodle or a photo of what you’re doing. It will increase the authority of your content and provide peripheral ranking benefits.

    54. Include supplementary content features.

    It’s also becoming more important to offer supplementary content features, such as interactive components. These could include calculators to help people estimate costs or project needs, checklists they can print out, infographics they can reference easily, or worksheets to help them put their new skills and knowledge to the test. Though there’s no direct evidence that there’s a specific ranking signal for these features, they will improve the engagement and quality of your content, which in turn will earn it more links, traffic, repeat visits, shares, and, as a result, higher search positions.

    55. Optimize for organic click-throughs.

    I referenced this briefly in bullet #40, but it’s worth revisiting in more detail here. This is a subject that’s been hotly debated over the years, but the most recent data seems to suggest that organic click-through rates (the percentage of people who see your entry in SERPs and click through to your site) does have a direct and significant bearing on the ranking of your site. For example, if you have higher-than-average CTRs, you’ll have a tendency to move higher in rankings; still, this is hard to measure because of the correlation between ranking and CTRs. Still, optimizing for higher CTRs is sure to be a benefit to you even if they didn’t have an impact on domain authority, so do what you can to encourage more people to click through to your pages with compelling, unique language. You can affect your CTR in search results by testing your title tags and meta description tags for each of your pages.

    56. Find and eliminate broken links.

    Google doesn’t like to find broken links on your site. If you have a link that points to an external source that source no longer exists (ie, it’s a 404 error page), it’s not a good user experience. It could also mean either your linked source wasn’t effective or worthwhile enough to stick around, or you don’t update your content frequently enough to keep it relevant. These aren’t good things. Take the time to occasionally comb through your old material and find any links that are broken; then, replace them with more modern, live equivalents. There are tools that can help with this, such as Screaming Frog.

    57. Include content tags.

    This is a way of categorizing your content, but on a smaller scale. With categories, you’ll select one or two big-picture themes in which your content topic fits. With tags, you’ll be selecting a number of different descriptors—sometimes into the double-digits—to assist in categorizing the blog post for searches. This is a key opportunity to tag relevant content with your target keywords—be sure to include multiple synonyms and variations if you have room.

    content tags

    (Image Source: WordPress)

    58. Use more bulleted and numbered lists.

    Providing your users with bulleted and numbered lists is a great way to make your content more engaging; not everyone has the time or patience to read every line of your deftly considered and worded content; the majority of them will probably just skim, taking away only high-level insights. Lists allow them to glean these insights and takeaways easier, helping them save time, which provides a better user experience. It also gives you an opportunity to include more sub-headlines, optimizing smaller entries of your content’s sub-sections for your target keywords. Use <h2> tags for your subheaders to maximize the SEO benefits here.

    59. Use 301 redirects appropriately.

    There are dozens of reasons to set up a 301 redirect, and almost all of them have benefits for SEO. For example, if you have inbound links pointing to a page of your site that no longer exists, you can use a 301 (permanent) redirect to re-route that passed authority to a new, equally relevant page of your site. It’s a way of telling search engine crawlers that you no longer wish to index the old page, but the new page should take its place. Best of all—they aren’t that difficult to set up.

    60. Fix 404 errors (for the most part).

    When someone attempts to access a page that no longer exists, it’s called a 404 error, and they can crop up for a number of reasons. You might have a server error or something wrong with your website, but it’s more likely that a page got deleted or removed. Some 404 errors are necessary to show that a page is gone, but others can interfere with your search efforts (if they appear as errors in search results or serve as dead-ends for older links). Correct these errors by restoring your old pages or setting up redirects.

    Link Building

    Note: We specialize in helping our clients with link building. If you’re interested in working with us, get in touch!

    61. Guest post on industry sites.

    A big part of success in SEO comes down to how many links are pointing to your site and where those links come from. Your domain authority is dependent on these metrics, but you can’t just go out and build links with abandon. Instead, your best bet is to use guest posts—custom-written content for external publications that contain a relevant, informative link pointing back to your domain. It’s hard to get featured as a guest contributor until you’ve built up some credibility, so one of the best places to start building links through guest posts is on sites relevant to your industry, such as industry news sites or forums.

    62. Guest post on higher-authority sites.

    As you gain more experience, respect, and followers in your specific niche, eventually you’ll want to move up to higher authority publications, where you’ll get more visibility and reach. Niche industry sites give you tons of opportunities to develop relevant content, but their authority scores tend to be on the low side. Instead, start making pitches to major national players that see hundreds of thousands of visitors a day. It’s hard to break into these sources, since they have high standards of quality to maintain, but even one link from a landmark source will justify your efforts. See The Ultimate, Step-by-Step Guide to Building Your Business by Guest Blogging for help here.

    63. Diversify your inbound link profile.

    While it’s a great thing to become a guest contributor or columnist at a relevant publication, you’ll see diminishing returns from the value of each new link you acquire from that publication. You probably don’t need more than three links from any single publication, from an SEO perspective (though there are still benefits to having more links if they are driving referral traffic!). That’s why it’s a good idea to seek new publication sources in order to diversify your link profile.

    64. Build links on key pages.

    Some pages of off-site sources are able to pass more authority than others. For example, getting featured on the blog is a noteworthy achievement and you’ll earn substantial authority that way—but you could get even more SEO value or “link juice” if you’re featured on a “Partners” page, or if you have an entire page dedicated to your brand. Building links on more prominent, important pages can help you squeeze more PageRank flow out of every link you build.

    65. Focus your inbound links on key pages.

    “Authority” actually exists at both the domain and page level. A link pointing to a specific page of your site will pass authority to your domain overall, but also to that specific page. If you’re interested in getting higher rankings for one specific page of your site, you can use this to your advantage by funneling many of your links to that page. For example, if one of your products or services yields a significantly higher ROI or conversion rate, you can focus SEO efforts on that product or service by building more links to its corresponding page URL on your website. If you do this too excessively, though, it might appear unnatural to Google, so be sure to mix it up plenty.

    66. Use appropriate anchor text.

    Anchor text—the text that features the embedded hyperlink to your site—used to be a huge deal. Before Google’s Panda algorithm in 2011 (and then Google’s Penguin algorithm in 2012), anchor text manipulation was rampant because it worked so damn well. In those days, to get the most out of your link, you’d embed at least one keyword into your anchor text. Today, this could still theoretically be beneficial, but to a much lesser degree; aside from that, it’s actually the #1 way Google identifies link spam, so I recommend avoiding it altogether. Having too many links with unnatural anchor text (such as anchor text that includes a keyword within it) is the easiest way for Google to identify rank manipulation, and can quickly earn you a devastating penalty that can be extremely difficult to recover from. It’s far more important to ensure your anchor text flows naturally in the context of the article. Besides, assuming you’re building links through content marketing, like I recommend in SEO Link Building: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide, then you’re not only dealing with Google catching your fishy anchor text; you’re dealing with real editors at the publications with whom you’re working. Many of them are trained to look out for manipulative anchor text, and if they see something suspicious, they could either refuse to publish your content, remove your link, or refuse to work with you at all.

    67. Utilize the nofollow tag strategically.

    If you’re guest posting regularly, you’ll find that guest posting has a ton of advantages unrelated to SEO, including passing referral traffic and building your brand awareness and reputation. If you’re interested in doing more guest posting but don’t want to spam links back to your site for fear of being accused of exchanging links, rely on the “nofollow” tag, which tells Google to not consider the link as a vessel for authority. You can also use the nofollow tag on your own site, to link to external sources without Google associating you with those sources.

    68. Consider link velocity.

    The rate at which a piece of content or a page earns links over time is referred to as “link velocity.” For example, the typical link velocity for a standout piece would be a high velocity in the beginning as links rush in, an average velocity after a few days, followed by a slow taper of links as the piece begins to age. If your content doesn’t have a link inbound link velocity, Google is less likely to consider it a “trending” or “timely popular” piece, and thus less likely to rank it highly in search results. What this means is you should focus on promoting your content extensively after publication so it can earn as many links – and as quickly – as possible. For help, see Content Unleashed: The Ultimate Guide to Promoting Your Published Content.\

    69. Cite yourself on Wikipedia.

    Wikipedia is a major authority, and earning a link there could be a major boon for your SEO. Wikipedia is also open to the public for editing, so you can link yourself wherever it seems appropriate. Keep in mind that the Wikipedia crowd takes their responsibilities seriously, so if your link isn’t 100 percent valuable, it’s probably going to be removed.

    Cite yourself on Wikipedia

    (Image Source: Wikipedia)

    70. Find and eliminate “bad links” in your profile.

    If you’ve ever built links or hired a company to build links for your website that could be considered spammy or questionable, then those links may be holding you back in the rankings. Unnatural links are algorithmically caught and monitored by Google – too many of them can cause a ranking penalty. That’s why it’s a good idea to routinely check your link profile and scan for any “bad” links. You can use Google Search Console (Search Traffic à Links to Your Site) to download a list of links pointing to your site, then analyze them using a tool like Screaming Frog or Scrapebox. When you find a spammy or suspicious link, first try to remove it yourself. If you can’t, contact the site’s webmaster and request its removal.

    71. Disavow links you can’t remove on your own.

    Sometimes, you’ll reach a wall—you won’t be able to remove a link at all, either manually or with the help of a webmaster. In these cases, use Google’s Disavow tool. It should only be used after you’ve already tried to get the links removed (which is optimal), but is a useful second-best option.

    72. Eliminate link exchanges.

    Google categorizes link exchanges as a link “scheme,” or a deliberate attempt to manipulate rankings. The “scheme” part of it comes into play when two sites agree to reciprocally link to each other to boost both parties’ search rankings. If you’ve engaged in a link exchange, either remove one or both links, or add the “nofollow” tag to one or both of them. If Google suspects you of engaging in link exchanges in such a way that it deems excessively manipulative, it will either nullify the value of the links, or, worse, hit your website with a ranking penalty.

    73. Capitalize on your competitors’ link wins.

    Using a tool like Open Site Explorer, Ahrefs, SEMRush or SpyFu, you can take a closer look at your competitors’ link profiles to see what sites they’re getting content posted on, how much authority they’re getting, and what types of content they’re getting published. Odds are, if they can do it, you can do it too. It’s not a good idea to straight-up copy a competitor’s strategy, but you can use this as a research and learning tool to fuel your own strategic approach.

    74. Correct errors in local citations.

    Local citations aren’t “links” per se, but they are an important part of how Google measures your authority, especially in the context of local SEO. Broadly defined, these are instances of your business’s information listed in popular third-party resources, such as local directories and review sites. Google draws upon this information to gain insight on local businesses, and how you’re listed can have an impact on your visibility. For starters, you’ll want to hunt down and correct any errors you find in your existing local citations; make sure your company name, address, and phone number are correct at a minimum.

    75. Build new local citations.

    Like with links, local citations aren’t necessarily a game of quantity, but having more citations in more diverse places can help you achieve more authority—as well as earning you more visibility on other outlets. Take the time to build new local citations in directories and review sites where your business isn’t currently featured. As you might suspect, some directories have more weight than others, and are updated more frequently, so bear that in mind when searching for new places to establish references to your business. For most platforms, the submission process is free and simple—they’re incentivized to offer the most information.

    76. Encourage local reviews.

    On many of these local review sites, you’ll earn reviews from your customers; the more reviews you have and the more positive those reviews are, the higher you’re likely to rank in Google search results for local-specific queries, so take some steps to encouraging more positive reviews. You can’t pay for or modify reviews (if you do, you could be de-listed), but you can make your presence on Yelp and other review sites known by displaying their logos in your establishment. Furthermore, you can comment on good reviews to reinforce them and thank their respective authors, and reach out to negative reviewers to try and correct any regrettable situations.

    77. Create content that can go viral.

    Instead of building links manually or intentionally, you can go the route of attracting them naturally with the power of the content you produce. This method is far less predictable, but it also has great potential; if you can get a piece of your content to go viral, you could earn thousands of links in a single go. There are some factors that can increase the potential “virality” of your piece, such as making it long and detailed, adding elements of humor and surprise, and giving it an early push on social media, but it’s also a game of timing and pure luck.

    78. Ask for citations (subtly).

    If you have a piece of content that you’re using to earn more links (such as a research report), you can try to ask for links from people who use your research in their own pieces. Ideally, they’ll do this on their own, but the visibility of your request could be enough to make them pull the trigger. For example, at the end of your piece, you could say something like “like what you read? Feature our work in your own piece—just be sure to cite us.”

    79. Pace your efforts.

    This isn’t a strategy that can increase your search rankings all by itself, but it can increase the effectiveness of your link and local citation building campaigns. When you start to see early momentum, it’s easy to get excited and think that you’ll see even more impressive, faster results if you just build more links in a short period of time. However, building links too quickly can work against you, because doing so often decreases their quality; instead, it’s better to slowly escalate the authority and frequency of your link posting efforts. Draw up a plan and stick with it.

    80. Learn from your most popular content.

    Use Google Analytics or a similar platform to track the popularity of your best posts. What types of content seem to earn the most referral traffic? What external channels are passing the most authority to you? Which breakout features helped you earn the most inbound links? Learn which content qualities made these feats possible, and integrate them further into your ongoing efforts.

    Social Media

    81. Optimize your social profiles.

    Optimizing your social media profiles won’t help the domain authority of your existing site, but it will boost the visibility of those profiles in search engines. For example, if you fill out your Facebook profile with keywords related to your industry, there’s a higher chance that your Facebook profile will appear in those types of searches, not just in Google, but in Facebook, too. Furthermore, having robust social media profiles will increase the likelihood that they populate the search results for searches on your brand name. This is crucial for online reputation management. Fill out every field you can for as many platforms as you have for your brand, and be as descriptive and concise as possible.

    Optimize your social profiles

    82. Make it easy for people to connect with you.

    Having more followers won’t increase your rankings directly, but it will give you a bigger audience with whom you can share your content, which in turn will earn you more visibility on your content, which leads to more inbound links and social shares – factors that certainly do increase rankings. Make it easy for people to find and connect with your social profiles by including links to those profiles everywhere—on your site, in your emails, and in all your marketing and promotional material.

    83. Offer social share icons in all your content.

    In a similar vein, include social share icons for all your individual blog posts, making it easy for people to share it with the click of a button. Most people won’t share your article, even if they like it, unless it’s incredibly easy to do so. This is a simple step—it takes mere moments to set up—so there’s no excuse not to have it for your site. Here at AudienceBloom, we use Social Warfare, a plugin for WordPress that I really dig and highly recommend.

    84. Promote your latest content on as many outlets as possible.

    The biggest advantage social media gives you is a bigger platform to distribute your blog posts, which aids in visibility and increases your chances of earning authority-giving inbound links. Whenever you publish a new blog, make sure you promote it on every social platform you have. You can even go above and beyond social media and leverage social bookmarking sites like Reddit or StumbleUpon. For a full walkthrough on how to promote your content, as well as a nifty checklist you can print out and use each time, see Content Unleashed: The Ultimate Guide to Promoting Your Published Content.

    85. Ask for shares of your best content.

    It may seem like a breach of etiquette to ask your users to share your content, but as long as you do it sparingly, it can be a positive tool to increase the reach of your material. Save these requests for only the best content you produce, and help it reach bigger circles of followers faster and more reliably.

    86. Syndicate your older content on a recurring basis.

    Social publishing isn’t just about getting eyes on your latest and greatest pieces—it can also be a way to revitalize an older piece that has lost momentum, or make sure all your followers see all your content at some point in time. Keep a running list of all your “evergreen” pieces of content (which don’t have an expiration date or a temporary relevance), and work on syndicating them regularly, in a loop, over time.

    87. Engage with influencers.

    Social media influencers are people, preferably in your industry, who already have large followings and a reputation to match. They have the potential to reach thousands of people with a single mention, so you can use this to your advantage to get more eyes on your content (or more followers). Engage with influencers by asking them questions, replying to them in discussion, or sharing their material. You can even ask them to share some of your material (if there’s an incentive for them). Getting their attention could earn you a massive boost in visibility, along with inbound links and shares.

    88. Collaborate with influencers.

    Rather than asking influencers for favors or relying on their independent actions, consider collaborating with influencers on a shared piece of content. For example, you could conduct an interview or swap research to make a mutually beneficial piece. Regardless of where it’s hosted, you’ll earn at least one strong link to the piece immediately, and you’ll then earn the benefits of having two strong social media personalities sharing the piece in the future.

    89. Reach out to new potential followers.

    One of the best ways to build your following is also the simplest—simply reach out to new people who might be interested in your brand. Find companies similar to yours and access their list of followers, then follow those people to get their attention. Many of them will follow you back.

    90. Attract and retain audiences through engagement.

    You can both attract new followers and retain the ones you already have by increasing your engagement. “Engagement” here is a vague word that refers to any type of social interaction—it is “social” media, after all. This starts with basic social media courtesy, such as saying “thanks” to people who compliment your work and responding to questions or criticism about your content. It also extends to finding conversations relevant to your industry and partaking in them to show off your expertise. The more you engage with your users, the more likely they’ll want to keep following you.

    91. Optimize your YouTube videos.

    The majority of this guide has focused on Google as the main consideration in SEO, which is a good thing—Google still dominates the web with two-thirds of all search traffic—but there are other search engines to optimize for. For example, YouTube has its own ranking system. It’s somewhat similar to Google’s, drawing on keywords in the title and tags, as well as the quality and support for the content itself, but it’s worth considering as a secondary route of optimization. This is especially important because how you optimize your YouTube videos will affect how and whether they show up in straightforward Google searches. Post new videos on an occasional basis and optimize all of them for both modes of search.

    Optimize your YouTube videos

    (Image Source: SearchEngineWatch/TagSEO)

    92. Build up your personal brands.

    It’s also a good idea to build up your personal brands (such as your own, or your employees’) on social media. You’re already using them as ways to increase visibility of your content; optimizing their presence on social media is the next step. Work with the owner of each participating personal brand within your company and have them build individual social followings of their own. Ultimately, this will serve to make your blog content more personably syndicated (and therefore, more trustworthy), and also has the potential to multiply your overall social media audience a few times over.

    Correctional Strategies

    93. Reduce keyword volume in your content.

    Earlier in this article, I covered the importance of including keywords and keyword phrases in the body of your on-site content. This is a necessary tactic if you want to earn higher rankings. However, it’s also possible to over-optimize your content if you’re not careful. It’s easy to go overboard with keyword terms when you’re focused on making the most of your strategy, so take the time to reevaluate your content and eliminate any keywords that seem to stick out. Read your content aloud; if it sounds weird, revise it.

    94. Remove outbound links to spammy sites.

    Hopefully, you don’t have any links to spammy sites anywhere on your website. However, if you do, remove them as soon as you find them. The term “spammy sites” here is ambiguous; it can refer to any type of site that engages in unseemly behavior, such as spam (obviously), schemes, or generally deceitful tactics. It’s unlikely, but possible, that an external force would build these links on your site pointing outward, (such as if your site got hacked or someone gained unauthorized entry to it) so do what you can to keep your site clear of them. Otherwise, Google could start to associate your website with these black hat practitioners. I’ve actually had this happen on another website I own (not AudienceBloom.com) – a hacker gained access to my site, and placed links to spammy sites throughout my own site. Google started displaying warning messages to users that my site had been hacked, and its search traffic completely dropped down to zero. It was only then that I realized the site had been hacked. It was an expensive and time-consuming hassle to clean it all up, so instead of letting it happen to you, prevent the problem by securing your site.

    95. Disclose any sponsorships or affiliations.

    If you’re being sponsored, or if you’re linking to an affiliate, or even if you’re just reviewing a product that was given to you for free, make sure you disclose those relationships to your audience. Google has refined its rules for this over time, and it’s unlikely that you would face a harsh penalty for a violation here, but better safe than sorry. For example, let’s say you’re writing a review for a new tablet that was gifted to your company; in the body of your review, you can explicitly state how this was given to you and why, and make sure any links are nofollow links as an extra layer of security.

    96. Discontinue use of sneaky redirects.

    The more open you are, the better, and that rule applies to redirects as well. One formerly popular tactic was to set up “sneaky” redirects, which take a user headed for one page and lead them to something they didn’t originally want. As a scheme, this could serve to help you get more traffic to a sales page by poaching traffic from other, more organically valuable pages. Doing this, of course, is a violation of user trust, and is considered deceitful. If Google catches you doing this, they’ll make you regret it pretty quickly. Ensure you don’t have any sneaky redirects set up, and if you do, remove them.

    97. Keep your ads tastefully and appropriately placed.

    There’s nothing wrong with placing ads on your site—and you wouldn’t think so, considering Google makes the vast majority of its revenue from advertising. However, the types of ads and placement of those ads can have a massive impact on your overall user experience. For example, advertising products your customers might actually be interested in the footer and sidebars of your website, away from your main content is ideal. Overwhelming your users with popup ads (especially on mobile devices, where they occupy the entire tiny screen) is not only frustrating to users, but it’s now a negative ranking signal to Google. This is about more than just improving your search rankings; it’s about keeping your users satisfied.

    98. Stop auto-generating or “spinning” your content.

    Lately, there’s been a trend of automatically generated content encroaching on the content marketing world. Because most webmasters recognize the need for ongoing content but don’t want to spend the time or money to have real content developed by humans, they rely on cheap, automatic bots or tools that either generate nonsensical content from scratch, or take existing content and “spin” it into a slightly different variation (usually by automatically replacing certain words with synonyms). These shortcuts might seem like a cheap way to trick Google and get more content for less time and money, but Google’s Panda algorithm is specifically designed to detect this sort of manipulation and penalize websites that use it.

    99. Keep your meta tags to a minimum.

    Just like with keywords, this is actually a good strategy that only becomes burdensome when you abuse it. When you’re considering meta tags to describe your content, images, and video, you’ll likely run through the list of accurate descriptors and try to find as many target keywords as possible to include; after all, there’s rarely a technical limit imposed on how many meta tags you can assign to a piece of content. However, stuffing your meta tags with keywords can not only look unnatural to Google, but it can totally give away all your target keywords to any crafty competitor who wants to know exactly what keywords you’re targeting (since meta tags are publicly accessible in the HTML code of your site).

    100. Use a reconsideration request to lift a penalty.

    If you’ve followed all the strategies and best practices in this guide so far, and you’ve avoided any schemes, shortcuts, or other gimmicks in your strategy, it’s incredibly unlikely that you’ll ever face a penalty from Google. That being said, if you choose the wrong SEO agency, or deliberately manipulate your rankings, or are the victim of rare, random chance, you might eventually encounter a penalty that sends your rankings plummeting. In this scenario, you can contact Google to file a reconsideration request and work your way to restoring your rankings to normal. If you suspect you’ve got a manual or algorithmic penalty and need help recovering from it, including filing a reconsideration request, see The Definitive Guide To Google Manual Actions and Penalties.

    Use a reconsideration request to lift a penalty

    (Image Source: Google)

    The Golden Rule

    101. Measure, learn, adjust, repeat.

    There’s one strategy more important than all the others, and it applies to the majority of these tactics in some ways. It’s a “golden rule” to your SEO approach, and if you follow it, you’ll be more likely to see your results improving over time. The idea is to measure, learn, adjust, and repeat; collect as much data as you can about your strategy’s performance, learn why it improved or was weakened, make adjustments to your strategy, and repeat the process again. The more you do this, the more you’ll be able to improve your approach—no matter what tactics you’re using. Believe it or not, this list is still not comprehensive. There are tiny ranking factors I haven’t mentioned, there are ranking factors we haven’t yet discovered (and ones Google hasn’t disclosed), and because of the nature of this post, I’ve deliberately kept some points brief that warrant a more thorough explanation in other formats.

    This post isn’t everything there is to know about SEO, but it is relatively thorough in its approach. With the strategies and tactics you’ve learned in this guide, you should have enough ammunition to launch and maintain a healthy SEO strategy.

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

    17 Comments

    This post is now available as a free PDF eBook! You can download the eBook here.

    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!

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  6. 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.

    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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  7. How Much Does SEO Cost?

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    You’re interested in pursuing an SEO campaign, or maybe you’re already doing SEO and you’re wondering if there’s something else better out there. Either way, you’re contemplating how much SEO costs—or should cost. It’s a big question, and I’ll warn you in advance that there isn’t a singular answer, but exploring the types of SEO cost structures and the value of SEO services can help you better understand the best way to pay for SEO and how to get the most bang for your buck.

    Payment Models

    There are a handful of different payment models, depending on how you’re looking to implement SEO services. Each have their own advantages and disadvantages, and offer their own price ranges. Over the course of this article, I’ll introduce the main SEO services you’ll need to enlist in a campaign, how much effort they take (roughly), and how those efforts are collectively priced in each of the following payment models:

    • In-house experts, who will cost you full-time salaries (or time, if you plan on doing the work yourself).
    • Freelancers and consultants, who will cost you hourly or project rates.
    • SEO agencies, who will generally cost you monthly retainer fees for ongoing services.
    • Hybrid models, which leverage the power of multiple options above.

    A Question of Quality

    It’s also important to recognize the “quality” factor in your SEO services. If an agency is charging far more money than another, it probably means they’ll be doing more work, and you’ll be seeing far better results by enlisting. This isn’t always true; you’ll find price discrepancies among identical services and service discrepancies at the same price level. However, it’s important to realize that SEO costs scale according to the amount of effort involved (and the amount of effort involved often correlates with your ultimate success).

    On the other end of the spectrum, paying too little for SEO services can land you with a bad crowd—keyword stuffers, link spammers, and other schemers who will end up doing more harm than good for your site. If you find a price that seems too good to be true, it probably is.

    You don’t want this to happen to you:

    traffic graph

    (Image Source: Moz)

    With the background information out of the way, let’s start taking a look at how much effort an SEO campaign really takes, and how much each option to pursue that effort will cost you.

    SEO Components to Consider

    There are many working parts to an SEO campaign, so it’s virtually impossible to relegate all of them to a simplified description of “SEO services.” Some agencies and consultants may try, but it’s in your best interest to dig a little deeper and find out what they’re truly offering. Most practitioners will have a few key areas of specialization, and may generalize in the other areas. As you’ll need a little bit of everything if you want to succeed, I encourage you to look at options that guarantee you the best overall range of coverage.

    I also haven’t covered the research and strategy components here, even though they are important, because you may already have a strategy in mind, and approaches vary too wildly to settle on an “average” amount of effort.

    One-Time Onsite Optimization

    onsite optimization

    Image Source: Moz)

    First, your site needs to be cleaned up. If your site isn’t in proper working order, or isn’t optimized for search engines, it isn’t going to rank. Fortunately, most of the changes you’ll need to make—such as restructuring your navigation, writing good titles and descriptions, and optimizing for mobile devices—are one-time changes. I’ve written a (nearly) comprehensive guide on the subject, so I’ll stay out of the weeds here, but know that there are many considering factors that you’ll have to implement only once.

    Depending on what shape your site’s in, this could take a few hours or several days’ worth of effort, maybe even more if new development is involved. Most agencies and consultants will charge a “setup” cost for this work or otherwise include it for free as part of an ongoing package. For an in-house worker, this will mean a delay in beginning the “actual” campaign work.

    Ongoing Onsite Optimization

    Once your site is optimized for search engine visibility, you won’t have to do much on a regular basis unless something changes. For example, you might need to correct a 404 error, get rid of a duplicate page, readjust for new keywords you’re targeting, or change some design element to perform better. Still, it’s a good idea to perform a regular onsite audit, monthly or weekly depending on the magnitude of your campaign. This won’t take much time—maybe a few hours here or there, and shouldn’t factor much into the overall costs of services.

    Ongoing Onsite Content

    Your ongoing onsite content strategy is one of the most important and most intensive tactics to get SEO results because of its sheer scale. Onsite content is important for adding indexable pages, optimizing for keywords, improving user experience and customer retention, earning conversions (not technically part of SEO, but still), and earning backlinks, which pass authority. This is an area you don’t want to skimp on.

    However, it’s also an area with a ton of variability. Content can range from a handful of few-hundred-word posts per month to much more massive, interactive, landmark pieces published on a regular weekly basis. It could take an hour or several hours to create a single post, and your various options may post any number of times on a regular basis. It’s hard to exactly quantify, but it’s one of the most important considerations for SEO cost—look at the quality of the work here, and don’t cheap out. Agencies, contractors, and in-house experts can all do good work here, depending on their experience.

    Guest Content and Link Building

    Guest content and link building is another landmark area for the cost (and value) of a campaign. Backlinks are responsible for passing referral traffic as well as domain authority, which you need if you ever hope to gain rank.

    huffingtonpost backlinks

    (Image Source: MonitorBacklinks)

    Link building here can range from old-school tactics like simple link placement (which is as likely to get you penalized as it is to help you) to complex, intensive efforts like getting high-quality guest work featured on national publications. The key to remember here is time investment; it may take an in-house expert months to years to build your reputation to a level where high-level publishers are a feasible option for visibility. Experienced agencies, on the other hand, may already have well-established connections. Since they’ve already invested that time, they may cost a little more up front, but you’ll find their cost basis more rewarding when all’s said and done.

    Monitoring, Analysis, Reporting, etc.

    There are also some administrative considerations for your SEO investment, as your contacts won’t just be spending time on the actual execution of your campaign. They’ll also be in charge of keeping an eye on your site and your systems, watching for any unexpected drops in rank or search visibility and generally tracking your progress. They’ll need to analyze your results, report them to you, and make recommendations if necessary to see better results.

    analysis report

    (Image Source: Business2Community)

    Agencies often have a critical advantage here because they have access to better tools and dashboards, and more collective experience to analyze the progress of a campaign. However, you’ll likely pay for that expertise. As the “admin” duties of a campaign aren’t imperative to its successful execution, it’s up to your personal expertise and comfort how much you want to shell out for these services. They’re generally not a major factor when it comes to calculating price.

    Peripheral Services

    There are dozens of peripheral SEO services that could feasibly help your campaign, one way or another, but may not be “necessary.” They may be included in a package deal, so watch for them and consider how they affect your price:

    • Social media marketing. Social media marketing is usually used to syndicate your content, earn more followers, and gain a peripheral mode of traffic as well as earning more potential for backlink building.
    • Local SEO. Local SEO is valuable for many businesses, but it functions on an algorithm separate from Google’s core national ranking system. It demands a separate set of strategies, including local citation building and review optimization. It’s going to cost you extra.
    • Paid advertising. Some companies will lump in paid search advertising, mostly because it gives you some immediate results while you’re waiting for the organic optimization results to kick in. However, don’t be confused—paid search ads have zero effect on your organic rankings.

    In-House SEO Experts

    Your first option is to hire a person (or team of people) to manage your SEO campaign. There are a handful of advantages to this, as you’ll see, but overall it’s a costly option.

    Upfront Costs

    The upfront costs for an in-house expert may seem minimal, but depending on your chosen candidate’s level of expertise, you may end up paying more than you expect. There’s no “setup fee” like there can be with an agency, but you’ll be paying this person’s salary as they learn your company, get acquainted with your systems, and start building the processes necessary to execute your campaign. Generally, independent contractors and agencies are better equipped to “hit the ground running,” so you may have a couple extra months of stagnation before you start to see growth.

    Monthly Costs

    Your monthly costs are going to depend on the level of experience and ability your chosen SEO manager has. According to GlassDoor, the national average salary is $61,933, with a range between $36,000 and $88,000 a year. If you take the average, that translates to a monthly cost of more than $5,000, plus benefits. Even the minimum cost is $3,000 a month, which is pricey considering the range of services you’re liable to get from an in-house expert.

    SEO Manager Salary

    (Image Source: GlassDoor)

    This doesn’t even account for the fact that you may need to hire multiple people to manage your campaign efficiently. Think about it—is one person going to be a true expert in writing, onsite optimization, link building, and all the peripheral strategies you’ll need? You’ll likely end up relying on contractors as well, which can drive the price up further.

    Working Style and Expertise

    There are some advantages to working with an in-house expert, however. Once they get going, they’ll learn your brand inside and out, so you won’t have to worry about the misalignment of goals. You’ll have ultimate transparency and an immediate line of communication. You’ll even have an outlet for managing communications with outside firms.

    However, you’ll also have to consider the level of expertise of the expert you bring in. You’re going to get what you pay for here; if you want your campaign to be managed and executed effectively, you can’t hire someone on the lower end of the salary spectrum. You’ll also have to decide between a specialist or a generalist, who will offer different skills at different salary levels.

    Ultimately, in-house experts are costly for small-time operations. Unless your SEO expert is capable of handling other responsibilities, or you have enough disposable revenue to keep several experts on salary, this is one of the most expensive options you’ll face.

    Independent Contractors and Consultants

    Independent contractors and consultants are a diverse crowd, so it’s tough to categorize them all into one group. Some of these variables include:

    • If you though the salary range for an in-house expert was bad, prices here fluctuate on an entirely different level. You’ll find freelance writers working for as low as $10 an hour and professional consultants asking for thousands of dollars for a one-day workshop.
    • I refer to this as separate from “cost” because it’s all about how costs are presented. Some work hourly, some price their work per-project (or by volume) and still others operate on retainer.
    • Though you will find some generalist consultants, most freelancers are specialists, with one key area of expertise. That means you’ll need to hire multiple freelancers at once to keep your campaign running smoothly (or use them in conjunction with another approach).

    Upfront Costs

    There aren’t much in the way of upfront costs for a freelancer or consultant; they’re used to doing this for multiple clients, so they’ll probably jump in and start working as long as you have some direction for them. Since you may be paying per project, it may cost you a few hundred to a few thousand extra dollars at the start of your campaign to get your site set up properly (depending on its current condition).

    Monthly Costs

    The monthly costs for a network of freelancers is difficult to predict, since it depends on what freelancers you need, how experienced they are, and how you’ve pieced them together. Finding freelancers is a bit like finding furniture at garage sales; you’ll have to look closely to make sure they’re in the right condition, and possibly haggle to get the best prices.

    Ultimately, if I had to put a number on it, this approach will probably cost you at least $1,000 a month for any reputable strategy. If you’re paying less than that, I’d start taking a hard look at your strategic approach or the quality of the freelancers you’re working with. At higher levels, prices increase linearly, but it becomes harder for all the moving pieces to work together—so you might end up paying $5,000 to $10,000 a month or more for a loosely connected series of moving plates.

    Working Style and Expertise

    Freelancers are nice because they usually specialize in one area, and you’ll never have to worry about their quality of execution because you’ll pay them based on their output. However, it’s hard to find good ones, and even harder to find all the good ones you need to succeed.

    SEO Agencies

    Finally, you have SEO agencies. And though I might be biased, agencies have a number of advantages over both the in-house model and the freelancer approach. Everything’s in one place, so you don’t have to worry about hunting anyone down, the agency will be on the hook to get you results, they’ll hit the ground running when they start your campaign, and best of all—for the services you get, they’re comparably very affordable.

    Upfront Costs

    You generally will have some kind of upfront cost with an SEO agency. Some offer a “setup fee,” usually between $500 and $2,000, to optimize your site (some even offer setup at different levels), while others offer standalone products and packages like “onsite optimization” that exist outside ongoing work. In any case, you’ll have a minimum upfront investment, but it’s a one-time deal.

    Monthly Costs

    Monthly costs are where you’ll see the biggest discrepancy. Different SEO agencies offer different types of services, levels of expertise, and of course, different packages for you to choose from. Most reputable agencies these days offer the same fundamental services necessary for growth—ongoing onsite content, link building, etc.—but at different volumes for different prices. You may even find specialty packages that fill a niche role that you need.

    Lower-tier campaign packages run as low as $500, but these are mostly reserved as options for brand-new companies or ones merely testing the water of SEO. The main packages tend to run between $1,000 and $5,000 per month, with the goal of manageable growth for small- to mid-sized businesses. Bigger businesses will likely opt for packages $5,000 or higher, and depending on their level of competition they may spend even more. You’ll notice these costs are more or less in line with freelancer rates, but you’ll tend to get higher quality and more streamlined services at these rates.

    Working Style and Expertise

    Agencies will communicate with you frequently, and all in one place, so you don’t have to worry about the logistics of managing freelancers. You’ll get clear reporting, and since they’re forced to stay competitive to stay alive, they’ll be able to make recommendations on how to change your campaign when the inevitable search technology changes do roll out.

    There are only a few logistical hiccups that might throw you. For example, most SEO agencies offer a “suite” of services that are hard to isolate, and package levels that are hard to gauge in terms of relevance for your business. You may also be unable to work with individual practitioners—like writers or link builders—directly. Still, if you’re willing to make those compromises, SEO agencies are probably the most cost-efficient route you can take as a standalone option.

    SEO Agency Services

    A Hybrid Model

    A hybrid model may be your best choice, because it guarantees you the greatest amount of flexibility. Rather than settling on just one option or just one pricing bracket, you can piece together the services you need from different providers. For example, you might use an agency for some baseline services, consulting, and a one-time optimization cleanup, but rely on a rock star freelancer to handle your ongoing content strategy. You might have a dedicated in-house SEO expert to handle the majority of your responsibilities, but outsource some of the work he/she can’t handle effectively, like link building.

    There are no rules here, so start with a firm budget, and work to allocate it in ways that seem to lend you the best possible results. Remember the key advantages of each working relationship, and use those in your favor to get the best possible cost. If you want a good collection of services, you’ll still have to spend at least a few hundred dollars a month

    Final Considerations

    Before I delve into a “final” financial analysis, there are a few other considerations I’d like to address:

    • There’s room for negotiation. For the most part, you can work with your contacts to find a better rate or find a better package of services. Even though your agency may list set packages with set figures, if you call and talk to them, they may be able to help you put together a custom package that suits your budget. You’ll also be able to negotiate with contractors and consultants (for the most part).
    • It takes time to see results. Remember that SEO is a long-term investment. During your first few months, it’s unlikely that you’ll see a positive return on what you’re paying. If you’re receiving quality material, it’s going to benefit you in the long-term, so don’t worry if you don’t see results right away.
    • You can always change your mind. Though agencies may try to lock you into a long-term contract, there isn’t much stopping you from changing your mind at some point in the future. You can switch service providers, change your chosen package, or mix things up with new services any time you want.
    • Working relationships matter, too. In the first section of this guide, I covered the nature and value of several services related to SEO, but there’s a value to the intangible services as well. How your contacts talk to you, how transparent they are, and how available they make themselves are all important considerations for your price as well. It pays to save yourself stress and hassle.

    With those considerations on your back burner, I can give you a final rundown of how much SEO costs. If you’re paying less than a few hundred dollars a month, you probably aren’t building anything substantial—in fact, you’re probably doing more harm than good. Though it’s hard to pinpoint an exact figure, I’d say it takes $500 monthly, at a minimum, to see any meaningful results as a small business or startup. For most companies, $1,500-$2,500 is a much more realistic figure, with added benefits as you scale up your budget. Assuming you’re getting multiple great pieces of content (which can earn you hundreds of dollars of new revenue by themselves), multiple new links (which can send hundreds of new visitors your way), and you have proper keyword targeting to earn solid ranks for relevant traffic, you’ll earn far more than this in new revenue.

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  8. 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!

    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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  9. 7 Problems Facing Small Businesses in Modern Online Marketing

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    It’s almost impossible to survive as a small business in the modern world without some kind of online marketing strategy, even if that’s just a website and a basic social media presence. Assuming you could build up enough foot traffic and reputation in the physical world, you’ll still have to deal with competitors who offer everything you do, plus the online visibility component.

    But getting started with an online marketing strategy (and managing one long-term) isn’t exactly straightforward, nor is it easy, even for an experienced entrepreneur. The truth is, small businesses are facing some hard challenges in the online marketing world. Fortunately, there are always alternatives and workarounds:

    1. Budget.

    First off, marketing can be expensive. There are many cost-efficient ways to market your business, but even then, you’ll be spending hundreds of dollars a month at a minimum to start seeing results. For many small businesses, especially newer ones, this is a crippling additional expense. Plus, in the first few months of your execution, you may have to deal with a negative ROI or break even until you learn how to make the changes necessary to become profitable. Don’t write off marketing because it seems like an unnecessary expenditure; even though it demands additional investment up front, it will pay off if you’re willing to grow your strategy. This is an investment, not an expense.

    2. Strategic Basis.

    As a small business owner, you’ve decided to start online marketing. You have a budget of $2,000 per month, and you’re excited about the potential benefits you’ll see. But what exactly do you do with that money? Do you start with a website and start building arms of your strategy around it? Do you distribute that money evenly across many strategies, or invest exclusively in one to maximize its potential payoff? There’s no one answer to these strategic questions, especially at the beginning of your campaign, when you don’t have any historical data. Though it might be scary, the best thing to do is pick a direction and run with it—you’ll always have time to change later.

    3. Time Investment.

    The time investment is another concern of small business owners, on two levels. On the individual level, it takes several hours to plan, execute, and even understand a marketing campaign. Even if you’re working with an agency or another external partner, the time burden can be significant. On a broader level, most online marketing campaigns only pay off significantly in the long-term; for example, it’s usually several months before a content marketing strategy or SEO campaign starts to pay off. For small businesses in need of more immediate revenue, this is disconcerting.

    4. Trusting an Expert.

    There are thousands of self-proclaimed marketing experts available on the web. Some are individual consultants, some are freelancers, and some are agencies. Each of them claims to have the “secret” to marketing success, but each offers a different price level and very different range of services. As a small business owner without much dedicated expertise in this area, it can be challenging to sort out what constitutes a “good” marketing strategy from a “bad” one. Schemes are always a problem, to the point where Google has several support pages dedicated to helping users understand these schemes.

    Link Schemes

    (Image Source: Google)

    5. Competition.

    Online marketing is popular for a reason; it’s effective. If you’re entering the game for the first time, you’re going to face a wealth of competition, the most concerning being from well-established businesses who have longer histories and bigger budgets than you do.

    Finding a way to beat these competitors can be tough, especially when you’re just starting out.   You may need to be selective about the strategies you use, or find a specific niche to get a good angle. Otherwise, your already-tight budget is going to be stretched thin, and you’ll have a hard time breaking a profit.

    Competition Research

    6. Analysis.

    Small business owners are usually inexperienced when it comes to marketing analysis—they may look at a statistical report and not know what questions to ask, or how to make sense of the data. Because of this, it’s easy to misinterpret the data, or even to draw the wrong data in the first place. To make matters worse, you won’t have much historical data on your company at all, giving you no basis for comparison. The best thing you can do here is rely on multiple external sources and don’t be afraid to experiment.

    7. Adaptation.

    The marketing realm is changing all the time, with new trends and technologies to consider. The most successful marketers are the ones who see these changes and are able to adapt to them, even though it’s easier to stick to the same old strategies you’re used to. Since your attention will be on developing your small business, it’s hard to dedicate enough focus to adapting your marketing strategy to new circumstances, but it’s a major priority if you want to succeed.

    If you’re facing some—or all—of these online marketing challenges as a small business owner, you can at least take solace in the fact that you aren’t alone. Again, these problems won’t go away immediately, and there are no shortcuts to fix them, but they can be addressed, and reasonably, with the right ambition and direction. One by one, as you correct or compensate for these challenges, you’ll find your marketing potential growing in a concretely measurable and consistent way.

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  10. 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.

    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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