I read this article the other day and felt that it answers the question that my clients often ask “How do I build links”.
What do you think: Is link building content marketing – or is content marketing link building?
I didn’t think there was any dispute about this until I saw these results from a survey Moz did last year.
36% of respondents said the best name for link building is content marketing!
That wasn’t the only interesting thing about their answers, either.
Notice how 15% of respondents said link building was “PR” – public relations? And how the same number of people called it “relationship building”?
Usually I’d say the terms don’t really matter. But in this case, I think they do. They speak to how people are getting links (via content marketing, PR, and their relationships) – and how link building is changing.
Do links even matter anymore?
Um, yes. While some SEO sources may say they’re not as important as they were a few years ago, they still have influence over the search results.
A lot of influence, actually.
Last year Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, said the top three rankings factors are RankBrain, content, and links.
So link building is a long, long way from being dead. But it has changed a lot in the last few years.
If you had to sum up all the evolutions in three words, they’d be: “Quality, not quantity”.
So what qualifies a “quality” link? Several things:
A few years back, getting a link on any high-authority page would help a web site’s search engine rankings. And that will still help now, but you’ll get far more mileage if your links come from pages that related to where those links are pointing.
- Site authority matters
Link building experts like Eric Ward don’t mess around with little sites of low authority. The technique of building up hundreds of low-influence links is dead. The best link builders now go directly after the top sites in a given niche – even if it takes months or even years to land those coveted links.
- Location matters
You want your links to be in the content area of pages, not in the footer or navigation areas of a page. This makes the links appear (and hopefully actually be) “editorial links” – links granted because the content is genuinely worth linking to.
- Buying links is even more of a bad idea than it used to be
Aside from possibly buying a listing on a handful of major directory sites, buying links is to be avoided – at all costs. Take that money and redirect it into content and link outreach efforts.
- Avoid “no follow” links
This refers to a tag that can be added to the HTML code that creates the link. It’s a way for site owners to try to limit how much authority they pass to another site. That said, even a “no-follow” link can help.
- It’s better to get links from pages that have only a few outbound links
A link’s authority gets diluted a bit by every other outbound link on the page. So, for example, a high-authority article with three outgoing links will do you more good than being listed on a resource page of 200 other outbound links. But if it’s on a high-authority site, it will still help you.
So that’s the profile of a high-quality link. And as you might expect, it’s expensive. But maybe not as expensive as you might think.
Most companies spend $5,000 or less every month on their link building programs. And nearly half of them (46%) spend less than $1,000.
And here’s what they tend to spend that money on:
And here’s the good part. This is what tends to work best:
Can you see why link building is called “content marketing” and “PR” so often? Those are the two most effective techniques for getting links.
The public relations aspect is there, too. It gets even more interesting if you look at #4 on this table: “Unlinked mentions.” So even if you don’t get a link, it helps your SEO if someone even mentions your company.
How to use this link-building data
So if you were a small company, how can you use all this to put together a link-building program that:
- Won’t ever get you in trouble with Google
- Won’t break the bank
- Will get you results
This link-building strategy also has to accommodate the limitations most small businesses face: Lack of time, lack of money, and lack of advanced skills. Small business owners tend to underfund their marketing (42% spend 3% of less of their revenue on marketing). And most small businesses (72%) aren’t even doing any SEO.
It can be done, though. Here’s how:
3 Core Link Building Tactics To Maximize Your Time
- Create “link-bait”
“Link bait” is any piece of content that’s worth linking to. It could be an epic blog post, an interactive tool – you name it. Any piece of content that’s so good and useful that other content creators might link to it will work.
Sadly, much of the content being published is simply not worth linking to. 75% of it is getting zero inbound links.
So forget the “more is better” approach to content if you want links. Go with quality instead. Your content will generate links only if it is truly exceptional – “remarkable”, as Seth Godin would say.
Here are a few link bait ideas to get you started:
- Original research tends to generate links
Especially if the research is made into a nice-looking infographic or some other easy-to-consume format.
- Don’t gate all of your content assets. Especially the best ones
“Gated” content is any piece of content where the user has to give something to get access to the resource, typically their email address.
- Create more list posts and why posts
Another takeaway from the Moz and BuzzSumo study: “In terms of achieving links, list posts and why posts achieve a higher number of referring domain links than other content formats on average.”
- Make sure those posts and content assets are long, too
There have been several studies that show longer content performs better, both in terms of links and shares.
- Get active on HARO (Help a Reporter Out)
Journalists are always hungry for sources. HARO was built to help them find those sources. It’s basically a meet up service for sources and journalists. But it’s also a very effective way to get high-quality, editorially-placed links that would usually require an expensive PR firm.
It’s also free.
Once you sign up you’ll get regular listings of stories journalists are working on and what sort of people they want to find as sources for those stories. If you’re diligent, you can probably land a short interview and a link at least once a month.
- Do more outreach.
Link building doesn’t happen without relationships. And so if you want links, you may have to go ask for them, even if your content is world-class.
Fortunately, this isn’t as hard or as time-consuming as you’d think.
Say you’ve got a great new infographic you want to share. Your best bet is to go find about 5-10 high-quality, super-relevant sites that might be interested in linking to it, or that might accept a guest blog post about it.
To make that list, you’ll need to know which sites are relevant and high-authority. Then you’ll need to reach out to their owners.
A tool like BuzzSumo can help you find influencers or most-shared articles. And tools like Ahrefs’s Site Explorer can show you how influential a given site is.
Make an Excel sheet of your target sites, including columns for each of these things:
- Site URL
- Their Moz rank or Ahrefs rank
- A list of topics they cover (you’ll need to read at least four blog posts on each site)
- Particular interests of the site owners (possibly their blog post categories)
- Examples of pages they’ve linked to recently
- Specific page (if any) you’d like a link from
- The site owner’s name
- The site owner’s social media accounts (start following them immediately)
- The site owner’s email address
BuzzStream can go actually go a few steps further, which is one of the reasons why it’s the most-used tool for link building after Google Analytics and Moz. It can also personalize your outreach emails with people’s names, websites and more. And it can speed creating your outreach lists in the first place.
Armed with that tool, your next problem will be what to say in your outreach emails. Brian Dean’s backlinking guide has some good templates for outreach emails. HubSpot has a good post about outreach templates, too.
Link building is still an important part of getting your site ranked and getting more business from your site. And while you could “just” publish first-rate content and let the links accrue naturally, you’ll get far more links – and far more results – if you proactively go out and ask for them.
Links really are relationships – literally – between sites. They’re the SEO version of having a great network, and all the benefits that come from that.
So don’t just put your link building into a little automated, dumbed-down box. Think of it as relationship building. Network building. Networking for your site.