Link Building in 2012 and Beyond: Scalable Link Building

by Jason Acidre on April 12, 2012 · 49 comments · Search


There are tons of things happening and changing in the link building game since the start of the year, from the finer value being given to social signals, changes in the search results (primarily with Search plus your World and continuous roll out of different versions of Panda update), expected demise of link networks, to the improvements made by Google in interpreting the use of anchor texts to determine relevance.

Most of these changes clearly denote that we all have to adapt and evolve as well with how we market, brand and make our websites more visible through link building.

Ethical link acquisition has grown more significant, especially nowadays, wherein the practice’s results affect and encompass other areas of online marketing if done in large scale and targeted approach, such as:

  • Referring click-through visitors
  • Building brand signals
  • Keeping the site regularly crawled and indexed by search engines
  • Improving search rankings
  • Lead generation

But of course, we always have to remember that link development is only one part of the pie – and an important one that makes SEO as a whole – considering that to really be efficient in getting great results from link building requires a well-optimized site/landing page (for search, UX and conversions). Marrying a solid on-site and off-site campaign is the key to attaining ROI-driven results, as always.

So the big question, does link building for this year differ from what was mostly done last year? If I would have to answer this question based from what our team has been doing these past few months, I would say not that much, since:

  • We still use the same link valuation technique in identifying possible link prospects.
  • I still believe that content is the center of an effective link development campaign
  • It’s still bloody, as we still do things manually and mostly content and community-based links.

However, there are some things that have changed along the way such as:

  • Focusing more on partial match anchor texts, with longer strings (as they have higher CTR, particularly when placed within the body of the content).
  • Aiming to get more content published on sites that have strong social following (to maximize the value of the link(s) that will be acquired through social and branding signals).
  • Getting more value from the links acquired, like acquiring links that will translate to rankings, branding, lead generation/customer acquisition, and a constant source of traffic (as the linking page continuously gets pageviews through search and other channels), which means each link should have a long-term purpose/benefit for the business.

And as I have mentioned above, we’re still using the same methodologies in assessing our link targets, and in building strategies to acquire links from them by evaluating link opportunities through:

  • Domain level metrics such as PageRank (homepage) and Domain Authority
  • Relevance of the site’s theme and audience
  • The target site’s volume of traffic
  • Quality and usefulness of their content
  • Visually attractive web design
  • Level of difficulty of obtaining links from them
  • If they are ranking on Google (can be easily seen if you’re using SEOQuake’s SEMrush data).

Basically, the link development strategies that you’ll want to implement to your site’s marketing efforts has to have the potential and ability to be naturally scaled and grow on its own to benefit both of the campaign’s short as well as long-term goals. That’s the kind of link building principle that any serious business should have.

Here are some of the mantras and methods that you can use to scale your link building efforts this year.

Find, build and leverage Linkable Assets 

Any part of a website or organization that is capable of continuously attracting traffic and natural links to it is linkable asset. It is definitely easier to build and request for links to these types of properties/materials as people will have viable reasons for linking to it, mainly the value being offered by the content or a particular element of the site.

Some of the most common types of linkable assets that a site can have are as follows:

  • People/Experts – people who offer valuable content and have managed to build strong personal brands get cited most of the time on other blogs/sites and can also be interviewed, which can generate strong links to the site.
  • Events (Awards, Conferences, Seminars, etc…) – can naturally acquire in-content links and press mentions when heavily promoted through social media and can also be a strong front when reaching out for content-based link acquisitions.
  • Site’s Key Features (News Voting, Forums, Q&A, Free Tools, products and downloadable apps) – there are so many ways to build and attract links to these pages, such as getting links from bloggers through experiential reviews, guest blogging, requesting for resources links, sourcing for industry news and through community discussions.
  • Free Extensive Resources or Lessons – which can easily attract linkers (especially when they have to bookmark the page) when it’s receiving a lot of traffic. It’s also easier to request other relevant websites (even .edu sites) to link to this type of content, as it contains high-value information. Broken link building and linker outreach will work well when building links to your comprehensive free lessons.
  • Data Visualization (Infographics, Linked Data and Kinetic Typography) – which can certainly bait links if promoted well via social media. Providing embed codes can also increase the chances of getting more natural links, so that the page’s visitors can easily grab and embed the material to their own blogs. News sites also have a weakness for data-driven content, so pitching it to news writers in your industry might also help in getting press mentions and more editorial links.
  • Coin an industry term and build a definition page for it – use it frequently when distributing content externally, as when other people in your industry start using the technical terminology that you have invented, you can easily attract link attributions for the term. You can use Google Alerts to keep track of the sites using your industry term and you can also build a Wikipedia page for it which can link back to your term’s definition page (hosted within your site).
  • Job Boards – can help increase response and approval rate when requesting links from .edu sites, given that most of them have pages that list possible jobs where their students can send their applications to.

It’s sure enough that there are other types of content that could serve as a linkable asset for your site (like an evergreen and well-research blog post). So finding already existing strong pages lying beneath your site that could possibly be an asset for your link building campaign is also crucial. In finding possible linkable assets, you can start by identifying them through digging deeper into your site’s pages and identifying the ones that are:

  • Already attracting natural links (which can be tracked via Google’s Webmaster Tools)
  • Generating constant traffic and have high user-activity (ranking on search results, have high percentage of new visits and have low bounce rates).

Understand why people are linking and staying longer on these pages of your website, and enhance them to be able to attract more natural links with minimal effort.

You can check out my post on SEOmoz about building links to linkable assets, which elaborately discusses almost everything you need to know on how to make the most of your site’s socially engaging and link-worthy content.

Reverse Engineer your Competitors’ Links

Knowing where your competitors are getting their links from is still very much important this year (and definitely will be as long as SEO/link development is alive). Competitor analysis, particularly with links, is not just about identifying the sites linking to your competitors, since you’ll also have to understand the relationships between these linking sites to be able to replicate and overcome your competitors’ strategies in terms of link acquisition.

It’s always important to know who are linking to them (especially the authoritative ones), how they got the link and why they are linking to them, before approaching these link targets. Once you have the answers to these questions, then it will be easier to build strategies on acquiring the same type of link.

You can use tools like Open Site Explorer to find your competitors top pages (and most linked to) as well as Ahrefs to track sites linking to their strong pages. Make a list of those sites and segment them by level of difficulty and importance so you can easily set priorities and goals in acquiring links from them.

Study the average volume of links being acquired by your competitors on a monthly basis and also the types of links they are mostly getting to get a clearer picture of how you can outrank them by pinpointing the things that are obviously working for them.

Content Marketing

Many people in the industry are already seeing content marketing as the new face of link building. And that’s quite true, given that the more you push great, useful and share-worthy content to your audience, the more it can attract possible links to your site and its content, which is the real essence of whitehat link building (linkbaiting).

Content marketing is a practice that simply allows a site to build enormous amount of middle of the funnel offerings to their target consumers that could be in the form of:

  • Expert content or useful blog posts.
  • Free whitepapers and/or ebooks.
  • Newsletters.
  • Social media content (content shared on social networks, which can also be from other sources or websites).
  • Infographics.
  • Videos.
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Curated content

These types of web content are able to help in increasing the site’s conversions, especially when they are heavily promoted through social media and manual link acquisitions to make them more visible to its target audience, since the campaign gives the site’s visitors more reasons to return and consume more of the information that website is offering, which can lead to brand loyalty and transactions.

Apparently, the more these web-based materials are able to push your brand as an authority in your industry, the better chances of getting more natural referring links (as well as deep links) from other websites/blogs in your industry. This also helps in continuously growing a strong following base on social networks that can certainly make a closed-loop funnel for both link development and social media marketing purposes.

Few important factors and actions in content marketing:

  • Develop a content strategy including content inventory and a strict schedule for publishing
  • Identify different classes of personas of your business’ possible audience, so you can easily build content with targeted messages and calls-to-action.
  • Use keywords that will most likely be used by your market when searching for the information your content will contain.
  • Heavily promote your content through social and email outreach (target influencers and people who will really find your content useful that also have a substantial following). Assess your content if it is really worth promoting before actually reaching out to industry linkers.
  • Make social buttons very visible to force multiply the content’s social sharing process.
  • All of your content for this part of the campaign should internally link to your most prized pages (important landing page(s) of your site), to convert visitors and to help those pages rank better on search results, since these contents will be carrying high amounts of link juice as they naturally acquire links and social signals.

Basically, content marketing is a link attraction technique, and being consistent with it is definitely a scalable link building strategy.

Partial-match Anchor Text Strategy

Since Google has now have implemented some changes on how they use anchor texts as a ranking signal, employing a partial-match anchor text strategy for your link building is just as vital as how exact-match anchor texts were before.

Have different sets of variations for your targeted keywords to use when building links from other websites. You can use the technique that was shared by Ross Hudgens on generating anchor text variations through excel.

The main key to an effective partial-match anchor text link building is to just secure the targeted keyword(s) within the link’s text, while making the link more descriptive than usual (ex: “Affilorama’s free affiliate marketing training lessons” instead of  the plain “affiliate marketing training”).

With this, you are also able to target and optimize your pages for the keywords’ other possible long-tail queries. Another advantage of placing longer strings of texts for the links you are building to other websites is that it gets higher chances of being clicked, since it’s more perceptible to readers, plus the fact that the link’s visible text is very descriptive.

Guest Blogging

Guest blogging has been one of the most effective ways to build links these past few years, and seems to be the top method of most agencies and practitioners for link acquisition, knowing that the value of the links acquired through this technique appears to have great impact when it comes to pushing keyword search rankings, along with its other advantages like the capability of the method to refer traffic, followers, leads and disseminate online brand presence.

An efficient guest blogging campaign focuses on getting content placements on sites/blogs that are known to be an authority in your field (or closely related to your industry that caters to a fraction of your market), have high traffic and will pass link value that can influence search rankings.

Finding blogs where you can submit guest blogs to is easy. You can use this link prospecting method to make a big list of highly relevant blogs where you can acquire links from by pitching to write a guest entry for them.

Other factors that you should also consider when doing guest blogs:

  • Prioritize content submissions to blogs/sites that have robust social community, to build content/links from them that will generate social signals. This will also allow you to absorb some of their followers when they start sharing your content.
  • Focus on getting live guest posts on blogs that have trusted author agents (blogs that already have their authorship markups displaying on search results, or blog owners that have strong following on Google+).
  • Implement authorship markup (rel=”author”) on all of your guest posts if possible.

Bonus tip:

This originally appeared on my last month’s newsletter:

Are you struggling with volume link building? Well, we all do, sometimes, especially if you’re in the whitehat arena (whether you’re working for an SEO agency that have monthly KPIs or working on a very competitive vertical that necessitates content-based links), as penetrating content-based links from highly relevant sites takes time more often than not.

Anyway, I’ll just share something that our team has been implementing that allowed us to meet the volume needed for some of our clients’ link building campaigns – covering industry-related news and pitching it as a guest blog/column.

Basically, you’ll just need to be updated with the news in your industry and recreate/rewrite it (and you could also include your own views about it) and then offer it as a guest blog to relevant blogs, since most bloggers are busy researching, writing or with their day jobs, and most of them have no time to cover these topics.

The great thing about using news stories as your topic for guest blogs is that blog owners will most likely publish your guest blog right away, since it’s news (and their readers wouldn’t want to wait for weeks to have that story published on their blog). So you’re doing them a favor.

And that kind of content relationship can grow eventually, and perhaps you can be a regular contributor/columnist to their blog who’ll specialize on news-related posts (which means more high-CTR link opportunities for your site).

How to do this:

  • Hangout on news sites that provide articles about your industry (for instance, if you’rein the tech/business industry, you can find content ideas from Technorati, Gizmodo, Mashable, Techcrunch, Yahoo! News, etc…).
  • Become the second wave coverage, by writing (rewriting) about the news articles you find from your news sources.
  •  Find blogs that have readers who’ll find your “rewritten news article” useful. You can easily do this through Google Search (example query:  tech news “write for us”).
  • Contact the blog owner, and ask if you can submit a “news article” to their blog that’s related to what most of their topics is about, and mention that “their readers may find your contribution useful”.

To give you more idea on how this one works, here’s a live sample:

There are also other avenues for external content distribution that you can choose to employ to scale your guest blogging campaign:

  • Become a columnist or regular contributor to industry-specific blogs and/or news sites. This will have more impact in terms of branding and SEO, as you’ll get more exposed to your target market by regularly publishing content on different web channels of your industry, which is certainly a great trust signal to both your audience and search engines.
  • Use and incorporate rich-media content when pitching for guest blogs (like infographics or high-quality videos), as this enhances your success and approval rate for guest publishing. And you can also use these rich-media materials as many times as you want in order to build more links from different domains in your industry.
  • Hire authority freelance writers/bloggers/journalists that specialize in your industry, particularly those who are already published in authority content sites (ex: Technorati, Examiner.com, Smashing Magazine, Business Insider, Freelance Switch, etc…).

Editorial Link Building

Like what I’ve said before, I believe that this is the most powerful type of link there is. Simply because it’s voluntarily given, which what Google wants, and are more often than not clicked by people who gets to see the link, seeing that this type of link is placed within the body of the content.

Getting editorial links from content creators requires a content-centric campaign that will naturally attract people in referencing you as the originator (which is why content marketing plays a big role in today’s age of link development), wherein you’ll really have to earn the link/citation.

As always, there are many ways to build editorial links to your site or its contents, such as:

  • Creating a newsworthy content that have viral-marketing potentials, then pitching it to known curators, columnists, bloggers and/or news editors in your industry to get press coverage/mentions.
  • Launching a social media marketing campaign for your compelling content, through both manual social outreach and paid services. You can check out this post on viral marketing strategies for more tips on getting your content in front of possible linkers.
  • Sharing your site to Google News, since most of their channels are sometimes being used by journalists/bloggers as a source for their next stories, and this can lead to editorial link acquisitions and traffic generation to the original source of the story.
  • Tracking the links from your competitors’ similar content, and reach out to those sites and ask if they’ll be interested to link or share your content.
  • Mentioning your content through your externally distributed content such as guest blogs, free ebooks, slide presentations and press releases to increase discovery rate.
  • Reaching out to sites that have already linked to you in the past, as you’ll have better chances of acquiring links/social shares from them.

Authority, Brand and Relationship Building through Communities

Slowly develop your brand as an authority through genuinely contributing your expertise, sharing your ideas and helping out others to solve their problems to online communities and discussions (blogs, forums, news sites, social networks and Q&A sites).

Be consistent with your identity (profile avatar, username, description and approach) and try to assimilate your business’ unique value proposition with your persona as a contributor.

Becoming very noticeable by being everywhere, making yourself (or your representative) stand out in your industry’s online community, and by getting mentioned by people who you have built connections/relationships with will make you a linkable asset, and that what makes this strategy very scalable.

This will then make it easier for you to find better link opportunities in getting:

  • Blogroll links
  • Guest blogs/columns
  • Editorial links
  • Resources/list pages links

BizDev Link Building

Build links that will focus on driving more business to your site. Below are some link building techniques which are more aimed to driving targeted customers, but can also help in improving the site’s branding and search engine optimization campaign:

Blog Incubation – invest on building support blogs that will provide interesting and socially-engaging content for each different sector of your business’ target market (ex: say you have an ecommerce site for furniture and home decors, you can run several external blogs that will strictly focus on a single topic area, such as a home improvement blog, interior design blog, lifestyle blog, architecture blog, room design blog, office design blog, etc…). Once these blogs are already generating a good amount of highly engaged traffic, you can then start adding your main site as an additional navigational link on these blogs (using head terms as anchor texts) to refer the blogs’ interested visitors.

2nd tier link building – build links to pages that have remarkably mentioned your site/brand to boost their search rankings, particularly pages or articles that are from authority websites and are targeting keywords that have substantial search volume and could be found through queries that have intent to purchase (ex: “best link building tools”). Ross recently wrote a brilliant article on this technique being used to increase conversions by continuously referring more possible customers through the page where the site has been mentioned.

If you liked this post, you can subscribe to my feed, follow me on Twitter @jasonacidre and/or add me on Google+.

Image Credit: Sirgerg

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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