A Link Development Strategy for Large Websites

by Jason Acidre on March 5, 2012 · 49 comments · Search


Building links to websites has been known to be one of the most important processes in making a business website more visible to its target audience, as links are able to improve the rankings of a certain site’s pages on search engines to be served for web searchers specifically seeking for what those pages are offering (information, service and/or product).

Links are also considered as a powerful element of the web, knowing that web users are also able to discover pages by being directly referred through linking web pages that connect pieces of information. It’s basically a source of web traffic and a building block of information (both for users and search engines).

There are so many ways that businesses and marketers can use links to promote their websites, though most of the time, developing link building strategies are more complex than what we usually expect, as it would sometimes need science to fully understand its entire process (basing it from the nature of a certain vertical, competitiveness, understanding changes on search algorithms and availability of resources).

Link building is situational, and that’s what makes it complicated. There is no one-size fits all strategy, since what works for others might just not work for your campaign. However, there’s one practice that can extremely work well for any type and size of website (news, blog, magazine, affiliate and/or ecommerce websites), and that’s:

Building strong links to the site’s categories.

The value of optimizing categories for links and search

Categories are known to be the foundational passage of a website’s structure that allows visitors to navigate and flow towards your site’s desired business objectives (to cultivate activity, capture leads and/or sales).

Ecommerce sites use departments/product categories to segment relevant products, as it’s a way in which their visitors can easily find the specific product(s) that they are really looking for. And this also occurs to other types of websites, making these pages very essential parts of any website.

Optimizing (building solid links to) categories is imperative, if seen and analyzed in an SEO perspective (particularly to large websites):

  • Categories are more likely to rank better on search engines for industry-specific terms, as the page’s content heavily depicts the targeted keyword(s).
  • Categories are composed of highly relevant internal links that flows down through product pages, information pages or articles, which makes the page more relevant for users. Pushing high quality links to your categories will allow your inner pages (products or articles) to rank better on search engines for the long-tail keywords they are assigned to, as the value of the incoming links (to your categories) are passed through and distributed along the internal pages it supports, which will allow the PageRank to fully circulate within the domain (since your product pages will most likely link out to your site’s other pages as well).
  • Internal links to inner pages also (presumably) use their targeted keywords as anchor texts (exact match), which also add weight for the internal links to influence search rankings.
  • Categories have high user activity if set as a landing page, since users (especially search traffic) click-through internal pages instantly – most of the time – when they land on a category page through search engines (compared to aiming to direct all your traffic to the homepage for industry-specific keywords).
  • Continuous link building to a site’s categories makes it easier for search engines to crawl and index all the site’s both new and aging pages, which allows your inner pages to be regularly calculated for relevance that can make their search rankings constantly improve or be maintained.
  • More links driven to your other important pages (categories) will boost the site’s overall domain authority, which can then allow your homepage to rank for general industry keywords as well as with your other internal pages.

A great link building strategy requires the full collaboration of on and off-site optimization processes, because the more your links are pointing to a solid content, the more they’ll be efficient to have impact on search rankings.

Finding keywords to match with your categories

Categories are already good keyword identifiers – for they let your visitors know what topics, products or services are within those certain site departments.

Judging from the category itself, you can easily identify appropriate keywords to target by basing it through page perspectives. If you have a category that tells people it contains everything you’ve written about Link Building, then it will most precisely be efficient to target the keyword “Link Building” for that page/category.

Just to give a quick overview for the keyword research phase of this strategy, I’ll try to use Cadence Wu’s graphic design blog – You the Designer – as a live sample.

You The Designer

As you can see above, I’ve highlighted the site’s important categories (Inspiration, Articles, Resources, News, Tutorials and Contests).

But if you try navigating each, you’ll notice that each category wasn’t optimized for search, as the site’s category are not targeting specifically targeted visitors, as their categories aren’t using industry-related keywords (primarily on the title page as well as the incoming links pointing to each category).

The title page of the category was too vague. But if a more specific string of keywords were used that match the blog’s target audience (like “graphic design inspiration”), the page could be a very strong landing page that’s enough to drive highly interested traffic to the site. The page will also have high chances of ranking for the term, as the page fully describes the targeted keyword.

Also, if there were links built from external sources that use a more descriptive anchor text to the category, it could pretty much improve the category’s search rankings for a keyword that gets purposely searched by users (most probably the site’s target audience), and can also improve referred traffic to the page.

Allocate keywords (that a certain market really use when searching the web) to a site’s different categories for them to have better chances to rank, instead of trying everything to rank on a single webpage of the site (most people do it to their site’s homepages).

Given that categories have high user-activity and click-through rate within the page, making it act as a landing page for search traffic can increase your site’s conversions, which is an added value when it comes to improving search rankings, since search engines are now considering usage data as a ranking factor.

Once your categories own most of your campaign’s secondary keywords, it will be easier for search engines to understand what your brand is all about – and you can have better chances of ranking for your main keyword.

Another way to make this approach to link building more effective is to create custom categories (for content-centric websites, but could also work for ecommerce sites) to serve as landing pages for exact match queries.

Here are some quick samples of my own custom categories (you can actually see them on my blog’s footer links):

SEO Strategies:

Link Building Strategies:

Both have high user-engagement and low bounce rates:

I used the same pattern, wherein both custom categories internally link to my blog posts using each post’s targeted keyword as anchor text. The links that these categories receive from external sources are all passed through and distributed to my posts, which helps them rank better on search engines.

Types of links you can build to your categories

There are many link sources over the web that you can try obtaining links from for your site’s categories, and I’ve listed some of those link building methods below.

Guest blogging

Considered as one of the most effective link building, content marketing and online branding tools these days, seeing that contributing content to blogs where your target audience is at helps generate more traffic, awareness to your brand and produces links that can really affect search rankings.

Links and resources pages

Requesting to be included as an additional resource to links pages can also benefit your categories through traffic referrals (as people do utilize these pages, particularly on buyer’s research phases). This can also help your categories rank better, if the targeted keywords (partial or exact match) will be used as anchor text. You can also use the broken link building technique when trying to obtain links from list pages, as most of the time these kinds of pages contain links that are directing to defunct web pages (dead or 404 external pages), particularly lists/resources that have been around for more than a year.

Contextual links

Acquiring in-content links for your categories is possibly the best type of link that gives greater value in terms of improving search rankings. There are many ways to build editorial/in-content links such as through expert interviews, finding broken links on already existing documents and offering your page as a replacement, and by getting better link positions and anchor texts from sites that are already linking to your site (but try to get new links for a different category).

Press release

If you have released a new product line, tool, free resources (infographics or whitepapers) or have ventured out to a new set of topics/products, doing press release would be also a good way to build links to your site’s categories. Changes on your categories (like redesign, new product to be launched on a certain category) could also be newsworthy and can be used as an angle to create a story. But for highly interesting changes or updates, try to pitch the story to industry news sites.

Sitewide links

Blogroll, footer and navigation links directing to your categories from link partners (especially from related blogs/websites) can also help drive relevant traffic and somehow influence your categories’ search rankings. Several ways to acquire this type of link could be through building relationships with bloggers, sponsoring blogs or building/buying websites/blogs that are related to your niche.

Community discussions

Communities such as blogs, forums and Q&A websites are good sources of visitors and highly-relevant links, especially if you’re contributing genuinely to the community, since most of their users will click-through to your links if they find your contributions useful.

If you have a large website, and you consider your blog section as an important department/category of your site, leaving comments to other blogs can be a good way to build links to your site’s own blog, since it can attract your blog prospects’ audience back to your site’s blog, when you continuously build conversations through blog comments.

You can build links to Tools, free resources and product categories through forums and Q&A sites, particularly when answering to members who are asking about a certain problem that your product/tool can provide a solution to (this is something that I’ve tried before with Affilorama’s affiliate marketing tools).

Business directories

Submit your site’s categories to relevant business/web directories. Links from these sites can naturalize the link profile of your website, which is good in developing domain authority and trust.

Finding Link Prospects for your site’s categories

Link prospecting for this strategy is pretty much the same with how you’ll normally do it on a site-level prospecting, but the difference is just that you’ll be treating your categories as a separate homepage, given that you’ll have different top competitors for each of your site’s category (their keywords).

There are many ways to find sites where you can acquire links from, and there are also tools like Garrett French’s Link Prospector, that automates the process of finding link opportunities for your outreach and link building campaign, wherein the tool generates a list of relevant that will highly depend on the methods you’re looking to execute.

There are also other manual link prospecting methods that you can do to find link opportunities for your site’s categories using free web-based tools like Google search and SEOQuake. Here’s a quick preview on how to do it:

Step 1: Configure your Google Search’s settings

Step 2: Disable Google Instant and allow Google search to display 100 results per page, then save your new Google Search settings.

Step 3: Start finding link prospects using Google Search.

Step 4: Scrape and export the ranking pages as well as SEOQuake’s displayed site data to excel by viewing and copying the CSV version of the search results and pasting everything to an excel spreadsheet.

Step 5: Paste the search result’s CSV format to excel.

Step 6: Clean and segment the list

  • Go to “Data” and choose “Text to Columns”
  • Choose “delimited” for your data’s file type and click on “Next”
  • Check on “Semicolon” and click on “Next”, and then “Finish”
  • Now you’ll have a better looking list of target link prospects.

Step 6: Continuously expand your list by using other related search queries, finding sites/blogs linking to your competitors (using Google’s Blog Search feature) or by using your other categories’ targeted keywords for your prospecting queries.

For a more comprehensive guide on how you can improve (filtering and expanding) your list using this method, you can check out this complete guide to link prospecting with SEOQuake.

Queries for Finding Link Prospects

Google search is certainly the best tool to use in finding highly relevant pages on the web, and using it as a research tool enables a link building strategy to have a strong foundation.

Knowing where you can acquire links that can really help achieve your campaign’s objectives (rankings, traffic and branding) before actually implementing your strategies is vital, as this will serve as a guide for your campaign to be streamlined efficiently along the process of marketing your website.

Planning early on will get you ahead of the search game, and that’s why creating a big list of link targets is essential before launching a link building campaign.

To successfully build a good list of link prospects, you’ll need to know how you can find them – and using Google search is one of those things that you can do to start off. Below are some advanced search queries that you can use for different intents of link building:

Guest blogging:

  • “keyword” “write for us”
  • “keyword” “guest blog”
  • “keyword” “become a contributor”
  • “keyword” “guest article”
  • “keyword” “guest column”
  • “keyword” “guest *” inurl:blog

List/resources pages:

  • “keyword” inurl:resources
  • “keyword” inurl:links
  • “keyword” intitle:list
  • “keyword” “suggested resources/websites/sites/links”
  • “keyword” “recommended resources/websites/sites/links”

Interview opportunities:

  • “industry” intitle:expert interview
  • “industry” intitile:interview –job
  • “your competitor” intitle:interview –job

Blogroll:

  • “keyword” “blogroll”

Web directories:

  • “category keyword” “directory”
  • “category keyword” “submit url/website”
  • “category keyword” “websites”

Sponsored posts/paid reviews:

  • “keyword” intext:paid review
  • “keyword” intext:sponsored post
  • “keyword” intext:sponsored review
  • “keyword” intext:paid post
  • “product name” intitle:review
  • “product name” “ratings”

Blogger Outreach Methods

Approaching bloggers is getting more complicated compared to the old days of online marketing, seeing that most of them have already realized the worth of the links that they could pass through to business websites as well as with the value of the traffic that they could also refer to other businesses.

Guest blogging as a link building and marketing strategy is also getting oversaturated these days, which makes the competition in penetrating content (and links) harder, as editorials get more strict and some also make use of these aspect to gain more profits through their blogs (which leads them to only offer paid guest posts).

However, there are still so many ways that link marketers can utilize to efficiently get their target bloggers’ attention, wherein both parties can benefit from that certain partnership. The real key to a successful blogger outreach campaign is for the approach to have a good value proposition, for bloggers to have the interest in working with you.

Here are some of the methods/approaches that you can do to improve the success rate of your outreach campaign:

  • Pitching guest posts that you will heavily promote via social media and link building.
  • Offering infographics and other rich-media content that the target bloggers’ audience will really find interesting and useful.
  • Experiential review of your products and/or services.
  • Find broken links within their site/blogs and help them fix them. You can suggest a page on your site that fits the context of the page as a replacement to the dead links that you’ll find (you can use Chrome’s Check My Links extension to find broken links on webpages).
  • Helping bloggers install the authorship markup, especially on non-techy niches.
  • Giving away free or paid ebooks to bloggers that they can use as a resource for their future posts.
  • Offer premium WordPress themes and/or logos for their blogs.
  • Engage through email and try to suggest topics for them to write, and then tell them that you’ll help send traffic to that particular post if ever it gets published.

You can also check my post about alternative approaches for blogger outreach for more extensive guides on how to do the some of the methods I’ve mentioned above.

Anatomy of an Effective Email Outreach Template

Sending emails to your prospects is a big part of your link building campaign, because it is the actual link building work. Crafting emails to be as effective as it can (by continuously testing your copies) is very important to maximize the time that you’ll be spending in engaging your link targets and in trying to obtain better link positions from their websites/blogs through your requests.

An effective email template is usually consisted of parts that can easily be modified to make the copy look more personalized when received by your link prospects. This effect makes the receiving end more responsive to your requests more often than not. Below are some of the most important elements that your email outreach copy should contain:

Introduction

It’s important that you introduce yourself to your link prospect first and to greet your prospect using his first name. Introducing yourself as a blogger and letting them know where you publish your articles sometimes do have greater impact, as your prospects will have the impression that you already know how your industry works.

But if you have already engaged your prospects through the initial phases of your campaign, like actively participating on their community and have already conversed with them through social networks, you can have higher chances if you’ll make the introduction part more personalized (like complimenting their most recent post).

Proposition

Offer a valuable contribution to their site, and describe what kind of contribution you’re willing to provide to their community (guest post, infographic, etc…). You can also add a short explanation of how your proposition will benefit their community.

Personalized closing

The last part of your email copy is as important as how you have started it. Including your prospect’s name within the body of the email will make it look more personalized and could somehow increase your emails’ response rate.

Tip: In my experience, shorter and straight-forward copies tend to have higher response rates.

Here’s an actual copy of my own guest blog outreach template:

Hi (Name of Webmaster),

I’m (Your Name), and I blog at (My Blog or Client’s Blog). I’m just wondering if I can pitch a guest post to (Prospect’s Blog). I’m thinking of writing about (Initial title for the guest entry), as I think this post might be useful to your readers.

Let me know if this works for you or if you have other suggestions.

Have a great week (Name of Webmaster)!

Regards,

(Your Name)

Keeping track of your links

Monitor your outreach, link acquisitions and its results as you move along with your link building efforts to be able to measure the effectiveness of your campaign and to have more ideas of how you can achieve your campaign’s objectives by basing it through the movements of your results.

Make a list of all the prospects you have already contacted, engaged with and have successfully built links from as well as the improvements on the rankings of the keywords you are targeting (especially on keywords that are driving highly-engaged visitors and are easily converting), to gauge if your link building efforts are generating great results to your website in terms of increase in traffic and revenue.

If you liked this post, you can follow me on Twitter @jasonacidre and on Google+.

A PDF copy of this post will also be available for free download later this week, which will include more sample templates and link reports. Subscribe to my newsletter for updates.

Image Credit: dretavia

Jason Acidre

Jason Acidre is Co-Founder and CEO of Xight Interactive, marketing consultant for Affilorama and Traffic Travis, and also the sole author of this SEO blog. You can follow him on Twitter @jasonacidre and on Google+.

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