Link building remains one of the most effective digital marketing tactics, and not just for higher rankings (even though links do still remain the major organic ranking factor). Links drive referral clicks, and generate leads, making your site less dependent on search and advertising traffic.
But how do you build links these days, now that most self-serving link acquisition tactics are frowned upon by Google and can result in lost search visibility?
Here’s what we know for sure:
- Link building cannot be scaled
- Link building is not easy or fast.
A new approach to link building integrates all kinds of marketing assets and processes including content marketing, relationship building, and influencer outreach.
This article outlines exactly how to create an effective link building campaign.
Link Acquisition Campaign Goals:
For your campaign, you want to achieve the following:
- You want that asset to bring in links
- You want that asset to rank (because high-ranking content keeps bringing links organically as most writers/bloggers search Google to find sources to reference)
So there’s a little bit of a vicious circle here: You cannot rank without links but links also help to rank.
If you really want your link acquisition campaign to work, you need to aim for both: Your content asset should be linkable as well as rank on top of Google for related keywords.
What Non-Spammy Non-Scaled Link Building Methods Do We Know?
- Researching and creating linkable content (i.e. Content that attracts backlinks)
- Vanity baiting (ego-baiting): Featuring influencer(s) in your content for them to link back to the published content as well as attract more links (by name association)
- Relationship building (i.e. Connecting to publishers and journalists on social media for better brand familiarity and hence higher response rate)
- Broken link building (i.e. Reaching out to website owners linking to broken pages and offering to link to your live page instead)
If we really want to achieve both links and rankings, we need to combine all of those link acquisition methods within one campaign:
Before we get into steps and tools, let’s illustrate the above with an example:
Sample Link Building Campaign
We had an ecommerce client manufacturing and selling LED lamps and our research included “light” as the core topic. We came up with the following content angles:
- Light Therapy
- Light and (Kids’) Creativity
- Light and Productivity
While we were doing our content research, we came across multiple articles across a lot of top publications referencing an interview (dating back to 2015) with a professor from NY Lighting Research Center talking about the impact of blue light on Alzheimer’s patients.
The interview had long been deleted but the links were all still there.
With that in mind, we took the following steps:
- We contacted the professor to get an updated quote on the topic. The professor shared her new interior room designs for Alzheimer’s patients which happened to perfectly align with our client’s main ecommerce focus, i.e. “interior lightning.”
- We did some additional research (including keyword research) to identify what we want the asset to rank for to be able to get discovered by more bloggers and journalists.
- At the same time, even before we started working on the actual content, we tracked down all those journalists and bloggers who had written about the deleted interview. We also identified more key influencers who were covering the topic (sticking to our specific angle, e.g. Alzheimer’s disease). We put together a Twitter list and started interacting with them to familiarize them with our team before we reach out.
This way, by the time we started to work on the actual content asset, we knew:
- The specific linkable asset topic
- The expert(s) we were able to include in our content
- The bloggers and journalists we were going to reach out to as soon as it went live
By the time we started our actual outreach, we had two strong advantages:
1. We could reference our professor in the outreach email:
2. We could reference other influencers who interacted with us on Twitter (or even already linked to us). Additionally, we could use our newly-built social media connections to follow up and find more people to reach out to:
Note: None of these tactics should be step 1: They are all launched together to inform, direct and empower one another.
Tools for every part of the process
Now that we have agreed there are no “steps” here (because all of those tactics should be connected), here is the tool you can use to launch a well-integrated highly-effective link building campaign:
1. Content asset creation
Like most content creation campaigns, this one starts with brainstorming. It is a specific type of brainstorming, though, one that starts with “linkable” angles, i.e. you want to keep your planned “linking” leads in mind. Generally, the following content angles usually bring in links quite easily:
- “Safety of XX”
- “History of XX” (especially if you plan to reach out to educators)
- Recent research (especially if you plan to reach out to journalists)
- Industry survey (and stats). This usually goes well with niche bloggers.
Image source and more details: digitaleagles.com.au
But there can be more, depending on what it is you are doing. For example, if you own (or market for) a local business, those angles should be localized.
The format of your linkable asset is another thing to think about. There are many options here:
Note: There’s no need to stick to one format. You can (and probably should) experiment with several of those by using content re-purposing.
2. TextOptimizer for Brainstorming
Text Optimizer is a great tool to help you find more angles to narrow your research down. It uses semantic analysis to extract related concepts and entities from Google search result snippets, helping you to find more specific angles to cover.
More tools for content research: Research and optimize for niche questions
3. Determining your outreach targets
This is a multi-step, continuous process that never really stops. One of the easiest and quickest way to start is to run the “Top pages” tool inside Serpstat that determines web pages that show up in Google for the variety of queries around your core term:
Note: Export the whole list of top-ranking pages for your core query and determine outreach tactics for each one.
4. Twitter Bio search for more outreach targets
Social media marketing won’t probably bring in organic links on its own but social media (especially Twitter) is an awesome outreach tool to utilize in combination with traditional email outreach.
Twitter bio search is one of the most effective ways to generate link-building leads. Twiangulate is a great Twitter bio search that helps you:
- Find Twitter users by a certain keyword mentioned in their bio (or the combination of keywords)
- Find Twitter users by location (this is a great way to find local journalists and bloggers)
- Find common connections of two Twitter accounts (this is a very useful feature for ego-bait content outreach which allows you to find who is connected to your included experts)
- Find Twitter followers by a keyword (among friends of a certain account). This one can be used to find active Twitter users that work at the publication you are targeting for links:
5. Broken link building
Ahrefs has one of the coolest link building features out there allowing you to see (and export) all pages linking to broken pages within any domain. To access the report, run your identified leaders in the target niche and click through to “Backlink Profile -> Broken” report:
All you need to do now is to export the report into an Excel spreadsheet, identify most linked-to content on the website, and decide if you can build content to replace the deleted page and claim all those links.
CognitiveSEO is another (newer) tool that shows the most linked-to broken pages on any website:
6. Social media outreach
Since your link building outreach is going to include the social media component, you need to figure out how your link building and social media teams are going to collaborate on that.
ContentCal is a solid collaborative tool that can be used to include your link building team into your social media marketing. Encourage your link building outreach team to use ContentCal’s “Pinboard” feature that will allow them to add social media updates for the social media manager to approve and schedule them to go out from your company’s official Twitter account:
Note: ContentCal allows your link building team to contribute to your brand social media channels without sacrificing on the overall quality: There’s always a moderator making sure everything looks good before updates go live.
7. Email outreach
We have tried multiple tools and ended up building our own in-house solution, but there’s no link building tutorial possible without at least one outreach tool included. So I’ll go ahead and recommend Pitchbox (Disclaimer: This is the only tool here I haven’t tried yet but I’ve heard very good people recommend it, so I have full trust in its awesome-ness):
Pitchbox stores your contacts and email templates as well as manages the follow-ups and reports]
8. Monitor your campaign performance
If you are managing a multi-format link building campaign that includes more content types beyond text (e.g. a downloadable whitepaper, an embeddable infographic, a video, etc.), you may want to keep a close eye on what content formats your link building leads engage more with.
Finteza is the free analytics software focusing on monitoring and reporting on specific on-page events.
While you are actively emailing to your identified link building leads, keep an eye on how they interact with your linkable assets. This is a great experience to learn from for your upcoming campaigns.
Finteza also offers a free WordPress plug-in that makes adding on-page events to monitor easier:
9. Personalize your content asset based on the referral
Since your link acquisition campaign includes both email and social media outreach, it is smart to customize your content asset based on the referral source to make sure your link building leads will see exactly what they came for above the fold.
Alter is an easy tool for personalizing your content based on your settings. You will need to add their script to the page to serve a slightly different page copy based on the source.
The first step is to create your audience inside Alter:
Depending on your outreach tactics, you can combine as many criteria as you want
You can create your personalization using Alter’s built-in editor:
10. Monitor incoming links
Finally, set up link monitoring using Brand Mentions. This tool will promptly alert you of any new linked and unlinked web mentions and allow you to better monitor the effectiveness of the campaign as well as quickly interact with your promoters.
Brand Mentions allows you to authenticate your Google Analytics account. This way you’ll be alerted by new referral traffic immediately — remember: Traffic sending links are the best types of links!
Launching a well-rounded link building campaign: Takeaways
- An effective link building campaign includes most of effective and legit link acquisition tactics, including linkable content creation, ego-baiting, broken link building and (social media) relationship management.
- None of the above tactics are step one in the campaign: They all need to be connected — informing and directing one another.
- A key to successful link building campaign is collaboration (between teams, as well as with niche influencers and experts).
- One of the major goals behind your linkable content asset is that it needs to rank in top five for a popular query. Once you achieve that, you can stop the proactive outreach process, as links will start coming in naturally: All bloggers and journalists use Google to find sources to reference.
- An effective link acquisition campaign includes more than one content format. Give your media contacts more reasons to link to you by visualizing results, building embeddable content, and downloadable assets to take home.
With so many ideas, parts and tools, it may also be tough to get organized. In most cases, your campaign manager will be able to put everything together using shared (Google) Spreadsheets (that also easily integrate into online calendars). There are of course many more tools to check out.
Finally, there are many more tools I’ve used at some point or another. There’s no way I could list all of them in one article. I did my best to include newer tools (those that are not already well-covered and well-known) because I believe they bring something innovative to the table allowing you to take a new approach or experiment with new tactics.
If you are using any other link building tools in your process, please list them in the comments below — I am always on the hunt for more tools!
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