Sunday 24 January, 2010 by Daniel Westlake
If you are new to link building then have a look at our first post, an introduction to link building which covers the basics concepts and terminology.
If you are going to succeed in your link building campaign we need to understand that only a small percentage of web users are willing and capable of linking to your website. These are web users who have their own websites and have the time and inclination to link to content they find interesting. They are broadcasters as well as consumers of information online and are near the top of the 'food chain' of web users.
The majority of web users read information online but don't contribute or edit information themselves. The Linkerati are a small minority of web users who add new content online on blogs, forums or their own websites. They are bloggers, social media taggers, website editors, content creators, forum members & moderators. They enjoy spending time online, sharing their views and most importantly (in this context) sharing what they enjoy reading online. The Linkerati are essential to any long term link building campaign and if we are to be successful we need to understand this special group of people online.
Manually asking for links is possibly the most well known link building strategy and although its unlikely to bring huge rewards it is a good place to start if your site has low link popularity. Form a list of possible websites who may link to your site by looking at websites that link to your competitors. Look at sites that rank highly for your target keyphrase and then use advanced Google queries or specialised backlink software to analyse who links to them as they are likely to link to you as well. Filter the list down and remove anything that looks spammy or is in direct competition with your products or services. Make sure all of the prospective sites have a links page and before you contact them make sure you link to the prospect's website on your links page.
A good rule when writing a link request is to flatter and compliment the subject and take time to prove that you have carefully selected their website. Everyone loves to be picked out from the crowd so use this to your advantage. Also make sure to include the link text (and or HTML) that you would like in the email to keep things as simple as possible. Here's an example:
My name is ____ and I work for a small independent _____ company based in ____. I came across your website this afternoon and think that your (details of products/services) might be of interest to our customers who (will be interested because). As such I have decided to add a link onto our website for you and you can find this at ___
Please let me know if this is okay and would be more than happy to change the wording etc. if you would like. I would appreciate it if you could return the favour and add a link to (your website name) on your website as well? Something like:
(insert your link request text)
Would be brilliant and help to spread the good word so to speak. Finally, (remember to compliment their website, products, photos or something else).
As you may have noticed, it is very time consuming to manually identify, filter and contact a decent amount of websites this way. You might be tempted to use some sort of automation but I would advise against it as much of the reason that the above approach works is that it makes the website owner feel good about their site.
Unfortunately this has its limitations for larger firms, wholesalers or websites that don't want to be associated with smaller 'hobbiest' websites. There could be commercial reasons why link building with just any old site would not be appropriate. For these scenarios you might need to consider a more commercial approach such as setting up a 'customer directory' where you contact customers who have active, high ranking websites and invite them to join your customer directory in return for an endorsement on their site 'we use XXX products'. This can work well for ecommerce sites and you could even incentivise the links further by offering a personalised promo code.
Another solid link building strategy is to write informative (or sometimes inflammatory) content and then use this content to attract incoming links to your site (also known as linkbait). Of course, good content takes time to research and write so you need to consider what sort of content will attract good links. As always you should write content for your website visitors rather than just the search engines. Avoid sales pitches, happy talk (we are the best, la, la) and creating any content that doesn't add value to visitor's experience. If you find yourself on the phone, explaining a concept or idea to your customers a number of times, then this might be a topic you could consider writing about on your business website.
Blogs are a good way to generate regular new content without the formality of normal company communications. Everyone is busy and its easy to find an excuse not to write new content for the website. If every update has to be approved by the MD, then its unlikely that your website will be able to sustain its growth. With Blogs you can make it clear that the article has been written by an individual rather than representing the whole organisation. Sure, you still have to be careful about what you say but the informality of a Blog can give you a lot of freedom to develop a writing style that you are happy with.
Here are some content ideas for company linkbait articles
And if you are really lazy you don't even have to write new content yourself. Instead do some research online and compile a list of the top 50 [topic] resources and link to them on your article. This obviously isn't as good as writing new content so I wouldn't do this too often but its a good way to share some websites you have found when doing your research online.
So far we have concentrated on writing articles or lists to act as linkbait on a company website (this is an eBusiness Blog after all) but is also worth mentioning that there is huge potential for generating incoming links from social media. In this arena, the buzzword is fun rather than knowledge so videos, games, gizmos and quizzes all can work well but its a fast moving area and what works now may soon become identified and downgraded by the search engines so be careful.
Don't leave your new content on your website and just hope that it gets picked up by visitors. You need to spend some time pushing the content out across some new channels to attract new visitors. Hopefully they will like what they see and then pass it to their visitors. Here are a few ideas to help distributing your new content:
Although this is an article on link building it is worth mentioning that adding good, regular content to your website can also bring other benefits besides incoming links. Search engines will index your content more often and and you will benefit from the development of a large site with lots of internal links. If you want your site to rank highly, you need to need to add new content regularly to not only get the search engines coming back for more but for your visitors to do so as well.
If you become an authority on a particular topic then you can license some of your content to be used on other websites in return for citation links or commercial fees. You can offer an exclusive on a blog post or act as a guest blogger in return for a profile link. Generally speaking you will have to write something specific for each website you want to target but this approach can be well worth it as you can get some high value links and often re-use the same article a number of times with only a small amount of re-writing.
If you are a photographer or have access to a large photo library then you can license this content in return for a credit link (Photo courtesy of XXX) when a photo is used. Likewise if you have a decent web server then you can use this resource by offering web or video hosting for local community groups in return for a credit link.
If you provide certification or a professional qualification then you can invite people to prove this through the use of an embedded logo with link back to a profile page. Examples of this in action could be the 'Google Adwords Certification' or 'Gas Safe Register'.
If you have developed a tool or gizmo on your website then you could allow this content to be embedded in other websites. YouTube and Twitter have both used this approach to great effect with embedded video or twitter badges / feeds on company sites.
Okay, embedding content in this way doesn't work for every business but if you have something that enough users will want to embed then you can have a very successful and scalable link building strategy.
For eCommerce sites then you could consider setting up an affiliate scheme as a way to get your brand in front of new visitors but also to gain link popularity. If you are new to affiliate programs then they can seem complicated but the principle is really simple. Get people to endorse your products on their site and track the visitors they provide through a special link / cookie. Then if a visitor comes through this link and goes on to make a purchase then you pay a commission on this sale (and sometimes future sales made by this person). As you don't pay any commission unless a sale is made then it can be a low cost way to drive traffic to your site. The downsides are that you sometimes have to join expensive networks to access the best sites and also create a wide range of advertising banners to promote your site.
Away from the traditional affiliate schemes you can use this approach to develop partnerships with carefully selected sites. They link to your site in return for a cut on the sales that come from their visitors. You will need a system to track and manage these sales but once this is ready you grow a large network of incoming links from sites who endorse your products without the upfront cost of paying for advertising.
It wouldn't be right to ignore this last (and most controversial) of link building strategies. Although there is nothing wrong with paying for a directory to review your website, the search engines don't look kindly on sites that offer links for sale for the sole purpose of manipulating rankings. A whole industry has been created with brokers and traders of links who tap into a market where people pay a couple of dollars for a link on a spammy site. Paid links can work in improving rankings but you need to be careful. Most link brokers will remove any links to your site when you stop paying their monthly fees so any short term gains can be wiped out in the long term. Also you might find that your website suffers from a low trust score as it could have close connection with link farms and known spammers.
The worst scenario is to get your website banned from Google for associating with sites that are designed purely to manipulate rankings. I can't pretend that this happens very often but it is really bad news if it happens to your business website. A good rule of thumb is to consider paid links only in proportion. If you have a decent link popularity and say 10 percent of your links come from paid sources then you're unlikely to get penalised. If however you don't have many 'natural' links and 90 percent of your link popularity comes from paid sources then the search engines are more likely to issue a penalty on your SERP results.
In this blog post we have discussed the 5 main types of link building activity. Simply asking for a link is a good place to start if your site is new but this can depend what sector you are in. If you can be connected with a hobby or other popular activity then there can be plenty of potential for link building in this way. If you are a larger firm or in a more commercial sector then you are unlikely to get good results from just asking for links, instead you need to create website content that attracts links. This kind of link building is more sustainable in the long term but you can face a number of challenges in writing the right sort of content. Adding a Blog to your company website can make the process of adding content less formal which gives a certain amount of creative freedom to the writing team but you still have to be careful in what you say in public.
If the business has got a decent amount of content available then this can be licensed & embedded in other websites in return for link popularity. This approach is used by many of the large Internet firms to good effect but might not be applicable to many sectors. The next approach we discussed was using affiliate schemes and endorsements in return for backlinks. This can work well for eCommerce sites and is a technique currently favoured by the gambling industry. Finally we covered the pros and cons of using paid links which is something you might consider in moderation along with the other four link building strategies.
To conclude, there are many link building strategies and you need to choose a combination of techniques that are best suited to your business and goals. One size doesn't fit all but with a carefully selected strategy and plenty of hard work you too can achieve great search engine rankings.