Introduction

Most link building strategies that you will come across don’t work. Most of us cannot build a personal brand and even if we could it would simply take too long. Similarly, you probably do not have $1,500 to pay for a professional graphics designer to create a link-worthy infographic. Then you would still have to do the outreach …

In my opinion, link building is not difficult per se and the theory behind getting a link remains unchanged. That is, web page A will link out to web page B if web page B can provide something of interest or value to the readers of web page A.

With tactics, hacks, and an insatiable desire for quick wins, we have over-complicated link building. And that is the problem I see across agencies and SEO freelancers.

No one needs 19 link building strategies because no one has time to carry out 19 link building schemes.

The Secret To Link Building Is ..

Link building is a game of attraction and an exchange of value. It is understanding what the other party wants and presenting yourself as a solution to their ‘problem’. For example, a webmaster may want content that resonates with their readership. Therefore, you would pitch them a content idea that goes beyond the typical superficial guest post rubbish. Instead, you’ll spend hours crafting something that the webmaster will want to publish.

Similarly, if you want to earn editorial links, you will have to invest in gathering firsthand data; regurgitating the same information doesn’t help anyone.

The best framework for approaching link building is this. Before you produce any content and do any outreach, ask yourself the following:

What does this person want and how can I help them achieve it?

Stop thinking of link building as building links, but rather, building relationships with real people.

Why?

Behind every website, brand and media publication are decision-makers who can either choose to link out to you, or not. But they don’t care about links – they care about revenue, sales, and readership engagement. If you can offer a solution to one of these 3 things then the chances of getting a backlink is going to be very high.

You don’t need 13 link building strategies. For most businesses and business owners, you will only have resources to do 1-3 link acquisition strategies well. The keyword is on the word ‘well’. There’s no point pursuing a high number of link building techniques superficially.

If you’re going to take link building seriously, you’re going to have to go deep and narrow.

Before we dive into link building strategies that you should consider, here are a few link building strategies that, in my opinion, are completely ineffective for most of you.

Note: The following SEO tactics and strategies are valid ones. They do work and continue to work for many SEOs. However, from my experience, they tend to be costly and the time, money and effort spent on these could be better used for more efficient and effective link building strategies.

Inefficient (But Popular) Link Building Strategies

Skyscraper technique – In theory, the skyscraper technique holds a lot of value. Where it falls apart, however, is in its execution. Creating amazing content is resource-heavy and even if your content is better in every respect to an existing piece of content, there is no incentive for a webmaster, editor/publisher, or blogger to change a link. Therefore, if you were to follow skyscraper technique, you’re going to sink a lot of time and effort upfront based on hope alone. Personally, I find this to be a huge risk and a poor usage of resources.

Broken link building – Similar to the skyscraper technique mentioned previously, broken link-building has 3 distinct phases. The first is to identify web pages with broken links. The second part is to create content that will fill the gap. And the last step is to ask the webmaster, editor/publisher, or blogger to change the broken link out with your one. The first 2 steps are relatively easy; again it is the last step that makes this strategy inefficient.

Here are some further reasons why broken link building should not be your primary strategy:

  • The target web page is old, the information on it is outdated and the page doesn’t get crawled frequently (if at all).
  • The target website is not contextually relevant to your business/brand.
  • The target web page lacks authority.
  • The original content piece was a paid editorial piece and it would be a clear conflict of interest for the webmaster, editor or blogger to change out the link.
  • Webmasters, editors/publishers, and bloggers don’t care about 404 errors. It may be easier for them to archive/delete the entire article than to go in and manually update a piece of content that they no longer care about.

Broken link-building has its place and if you want to know how to carry it out, I’ve linked out to a great resource guide by Ahrefs at the bottom of the page.

Earning editorial links via creating great content – I saw this as one of Neil Patel’s recommended link building strategies and in my opinion the old saying of ‘produce great content’ is complete garbage.

You can create the best content that humanity has ever seen and publish it onto your website and for all eternity, it will never climb the SERPs or gain traffic.

Yes, content is important (why do you think I’m writing this article?) but without the marketing aspect of content marketing, you’re wasting your time.

After publishing this page, what do you think I will do?

I’m going to push ads to it.
I’m going to add internal links to it.
I’m going to tweet people I have referenced in this article.
I’m going to buy niche edits to it.
I’m going to repurpose it into YouTube content.

Your content should be great to begin with. But don’t expect your content to earn you backlinks automatically.

Building a ‘tool’ – This recommendation is particularly ridiculous. This strategy requires that you cobble together a tool that will help you gain links. Have you seen the structured data generators that Merkle and Saijo George have put together? They’re not simple and they would have cost some serious development resources.

The average business owner will not have the resources to build a tool let alone do the email blasts required to get said links. Similar to my objections to shotgun skyscraper, the weakness of this strategy is that it you’re doing hope-based marketing. The resources spent executing a tool and doing outreach could be better spent elsewhere. Based on my experience, you will get better conversion rates by gathering firsthand data and giving it to relevant journalists and bloggers.

Outsourcing link-building completely to a third-party – When I went through Ryan Stewart’s The Blueprint SEO Training™ I was surprised to learn that he outsources all his link-building to a marketplace (NO BS). This is because through my own experiences with white label SEO marketplaces such NO BS and Loganix, I found their guest post placements to be lacking.

Specifically, I found the content quality to be excellent. However, the metrics of the link placements were average at best. For example, many websites were rebirth guest post farms. They tended to have a Domain Rating of more than 35 but they lacked any real organic traffic. Similarly, when analyzing the ranking keywords and top pages, most were spammy. In addition to this, link marketplace solutions remove any control you have of your anchor text and surrounding content. More often than not, you will find some other outbound links on the guest post (which isn’t great for link sculpting).

And, they’re not cheap!

Please note that I am not advocating against these white label SEO services. They serve a purpose but they should not be the foundation of your SEO strategy.

Replicating ranking competitor’s backlink strategy – If you have access to Ahrefs, you can easily discover the exact link acquisition strategy that ranking competitors are using. If you don’t have access to Ahrefs, you can always pay someone on Fiverr or Upwork or Freelancer to run you a Site Explorer report (or you can ask someone to do this in one of the many SEO Facebook Groups). However, this is not a strategy in itself, but rather, the first step to take as part of your discovery phase.

As you will discover, your competition may be guest posting. They may be paying for link placements. And they may have a PR team. Knowing this is not enough. You still have to pick and choose 1-3 link building strategies to invest in. Therefore, in my opinion, this is not an actual strategy, but rather, essential research that you should carry out.

Link Building Strategies Guaranteed To Work (Pick 1-3 From This List)

Here are 5 effective link building strategies that still work.

1. Be Strategic In Your Guest Post Outreach

The concept of guest posts is not a new one, however, the mechanics of guest posting has evolved as it has gained more prominence in SEO. The good news is that there are tons of ways to find guest post opportunities.

One way to do so is via search operators. These include:

  • “write for us”
  • “write for me”
  • inurl: guest-post
  • “guest post guidelines”
  • “become a contributor”
  • Inurl:guest-contributor-guidelines
  • Inurl:”become-a-contributor”

Specifically:

  • “[your keyword’} + “write for us”
  • “[your keyword’} + “guest column”
  • “[your keyword’} + “submit a guest post”
  • “[your keyword’} + “blogging guidelines”
  • “[your keyword’} + “contribute to this site”

Once you have found a website to guest post for, you then have to:

  • Locate the owner’s email address (some contact forms don’t work and some website owners deliberately hide their contact information).
  • Reach out to them (and that’s assuming you hear back from them).
  • Come up with content ideas.
  • Then write the actual article.
  • And liaise back and forth with the website owner until the content gets published.
  • In some cases, you’ll have to pay the website owner or blogger for the privilege of being published on their site.

As you can see – guest posting isn’t exactly a walk in the park.

But here’s the thing, websites that have these call-to-actions leave a significant footprint. If you can find them, so can others. When you start making a list of these websites, you will notice a trend – sites that accept guest posts tend to publish articles on all sorts of topics. And you can bet your left arm that each guest post on that site is there for SEO purposes.

For certain situations, it may be OK for you to get a few of these guest post links. For example, if your website has little or no authority, getting a guest post on content farms may be safe. But in general, you will want to avoid relying on guest post farms as your primary source of referring domains.

Another effective way to identify guest blogging opportunities is by reverse engineering competitor’s backlinks. In order to do this, you will need access to an Ahrefs subscription.

Again, once you have found a website to guest post for, you then have to:

  • Locate the owner’s email address (some contact forms don’t work and some website owners deliberately hide their contact information).
  • Reach out to them (and that’s assuming you hear back from them).
  • Come up with content ideas.
  • Then write the actual article.
  • And liaise back and forth with the website owner until the content gets published.
  • In some cases, you’ll have to pay the website owner or blogger for the privilege of being published on their site.

As you can see, there are obvious pitfalls to the guest post strategy. But what if you were to approach guest posting with strategic intent?

With any guest post strategy there will always be two fixed costs – the cost of creating the content and the cost of outreach. For example, I would not be surprised if I spent 9-hours writing and editing this article alone – that’s a HUGE cost!

Getting well-researched and well-written content is relatively cost-effective. There are literally millions of content writers available for hire. You’ll find them in SEO-focused Facebook Groups, on Upwork, on Freelancer, and any talent marketplace. The downside with hiring someone is the hiring process. It will often take 3-4 goes to find the right content writer for you and in my experience, having clear guidelines and processes reduces a lot of the headache and wastage.

A common mistake that I see with guest posting is that the resultant content is very top-level. Most guest posts lack depth and if you want to secure high referring domains that will actually have a positive impact on your SEO, you will need to do proper research into your topic and provide tons of value. Your typical ‘X ways to Y’ are not going to cut it.

Here is an example of a guest post I got for my personal website from SaaS company Beamr. I probably spent 10-hours writing and fine-tuning the article before sending it across to the head of marketing. The target site has a DR of 78.

Here is another example of an in-depth guest post I authored for an agency client. I spent no less than 5-hours writing this 3,000 word article. The target site has a DR of 88.

As you’ll see in this guest post example on a DR48 website, the topic that you write about does not have to be specific to your business. However, it is best if you can work in some way to make it relevant.

For full disclosure, I did not pay for any of the aforementioned content placements. I went through the process of identifying suitable targets, manually reached out to each respective site owner, pitched a topic, wrote the content, and sent across the final work to them.

In order to off-set the fixed cost of content creation, minimize the time spent looking for guest post targets. To be able to do this, you will need to understand why you’re building links in the first place.

As Tim Soulo, CMO at Ahrefs says, “you don’t need [..] many prospects.”

Therefore, ask yourself: do I need high DR websites to achieve my goal? Or will a mid-tier referring domain do?

Knowing what type of website you wish to pitch will determine the level of investment you will need to put into your content creation.

Now that the prospect and content aspect of the strategy are accounted for, let’s address outreach.

Outreach is the other fixed cost that you cannot escape with guest posting as a link building strategy.

Here are my tips on how you can approach outreach with strategic intent:

If you have the funds to do so, use tools to help find site owner email addresses.

Research the website thoroughly – One of the biggest reasons why your guest post pitch gets rejected is because the recipient doesn’t feel valued. To them, they’re just another source of a backlink. Instead, take the time to look at what topics they cover, how much detail they provide in their writing, and perhaps find ways to internally link to their existing content.

Personalization goes a long way – When was the last time you achieved anything of worth via an email blast? Chances are, you haven’t for a long time. Remember the first rule of marketing – we’re speaking to real people and people love receiving special treatment. If you want to be strategic in your outreach, forget Pitchbox and Ninja Outreach blasts. I can tell you with certainty that any website worth getting a link from will not respond to email blasts. Instead, find out who you’re emailing, find areas of overlap (stalk them on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook without being creepy etc), and demonstrate that you see them as a human being.

Once you  know who they are and what type of content they like to share, it’s time to put your email together. For fucks sake, address them by name! There is nothing more insulting than “Dear Sir” – especially if the site owner is female!

In your email body, propose 3-5 article headlines. Make sure that they’re a good fit for their website.

Show that you’re a good writer by linking to examples of previous work. If you have been published elsewhere, it’ll be a good idea to include these here. If you have never had any work published anywhere – you may have great difficulty getting high DR websites to accept your proposal.

Last of all, before you hit the SEND button, re-read your (draft) email. Make edits and polish it. If you need to, cut down on the wordiness.

Is it OK to follow up with the website owner if I don’t hear back from them?

Yes. In fact, you should always follow up with guest post pitches. This is because many website owners and bloggers are busy people and your email may have been forgotten. If you haven’t heard back in 3 days since your pitch, follow up with short and polite email to check if they received your email.

What makes a good site to receive a guest post link?

Domain Rating is a rough metric to gauge the link popularity of a website. A low DR-score does not mean that the website is a bad fit for you and a high DR website does not necessarily mean that getting a backlink from them will help your SEO.

To find out more on what makes a good link good, check out this guide I wrote. For a deeper dive on DR and other metrics, read this post.

Why aren’t guest posts free?

Many websites are run as businesses. Therefore, it is only fair to pay a site owner or blogger for a content placement.

2. Pitch Journalists With A Great Hook & Story

The disadvantage of Help A Reporter Out, SourceBottle and Muck Rack is that they are reactionary. You’re always one-step behind the journalist and as a source, it is difficult to stand out. Therefore, instead of waiting for a possible story where you can contribute something, be proactive and seek out journalists, understand what type of stories they write about and come up with interesting stories that they cannot refuse.

From a recent 2020 Muck Rack webinar, the following insights were revealed:

  • Almost half of all journalists receive up to 5 pitches in their inbox per day.
  • A small portion of journalists (12%), consistently receive 10-20 pitches per day.
  • Most (86%) journalists will consult a company’s social media before reporting on them.
  • Stories are more shareable if it connects to a trending story and contains an image.
  • Most journalists (64%) prefer to be pitched before midday.
  • The 2 biggest reasons why journalists reject otherwise relevant pitches are lack of personalization and bad timing.
  • Most journalists (82%) are OK with receiving a follow up.
  • Academic subject matter experts are seen as the most credible sources by journalists, followed by CEOs and internal PR professionals.

Therefore, to improve the chances of successfully pitching a journalist, try the following things:

  • Pitch via email but engage with journalists via Twitter.
  • Make sure the story is easily localized and relevant to a journalist’s target audience (i.e., what does the journalist care about and what do they cover?).
  • Learn the frequency of those you target.
  • Cap your pitches to 3 paragraphs.
  • Write a sentence or two then follow it up with a few bullet points.
  • Be mindful of what you are putting out on social media. For example, are you purely self-promoting on Twitter or do you curate interesting content and share other people’s content?
  • Email blasts are ineffective (treat each pitch like an in-person introduction). Take the time to find out who is a good fit for your pitch and tailor your email to demonstrate that you have made the effort to show them that they’re important and not just another target.
  • Make sure your font typeface and size is consistent throughout the email.
  • It is OK to follow up with a journalist once.
  • The definition of an ‘expert’ is evolving and as long as your pitch references someone that will connect with the target audience, you have a good chance of being considered.

3. Gather and publish first-hand data (then run Google Ads to it)

Neil Patel isn’t completely wrong when he tells you to produce great content. I just wished he went into more detail instead. An effective way to earn links via editorial mentions is by gathering your own data set. Statistics are one of the most commonly cited things in both our daily conversations and in popular media. Statistics give an opinion or story legs.

Here’s the bad news however – gathering your own data is a not cheap exercise. You’ll have to come up with a topic, create a survey, somehow get enough people to fill out your survey, analyze the data, before tabling the results.

But what if you do not have the resources to gather your own data? Here’s an example of how Hubspot does this. As you can see, Hubspot has mixed their own data with information from other sources. You can do the same.

Gathering the data is just the first part. In order to get links, you’ll need to get your data in front of the right people. The easiest way to do this is via the Google Search Network and Facebook advertising platform.

The Google Search Network is great for intent-based searches. You can trigger your ad to show up for only relevant searches. Similarly, you can also get in front of journalists and freelance content writers by disrupting their social media consumption.

If you don’t wish to run ads, you can manually outreach to bloggers, journalists and freelance writers who have written about your subject matter and inform them of your data.

What are some unique first hand data I can collect for SEO?

  • For wedding vendors you can gather data on the average cost of weddings (you can break this down into regions around the world, segment wedding expenses by services, collect data from a number of years to show a particular trend etc.).
  • For trade professionals such as plumbers you can collect data re: the most common plumbing mistakes.
  • For money lenders, you can gather data on the average cost of common car repairs.
  • For health and wellness businesses you can gather data on treatment outcomes. For example, most common causes of back injuries, dental hygiene statistics, marriage counselling statistics etc.
  • For online education providers you can gather data re: median salary and career progression map of X vs Y.

Should I have internal links to my ‘money’ pages on the data content articles?

As tempting as it may be to link to your own internal pages, by doing so, you will reduce the credibility of your article. Therefore, keep the contents of the page strictly objective and only internally link if it is relevant to data/insights.

4. Respond To Help A Reporter Out Queries

As a premium HARO link building service provider, I had to include Help A Report Out. The best thing about HARO is that if is completely free for you to sign up as a source and respond to journalist queries.

Will HARO link building alone help your SEO? The answer is no. This is because the majority of HARO links are homepage links but that doesn’t mean HARO shouldn’t be one of your backlink strategies. You can find out more about how you can use HARO in this post.

5. Roundup Posts (Otherwise Known As ‘Ego Bait’)

Databox and CEO Blog Nation are two websites that use roundup posts consistently. The premise behind roundup posts is to promote others with the hope of getting multiple backlinks and referral traffic.

In the above example, I responded to a HARO query and was able to get cited. In return for my commentary, Databox gave me a backlink. As you can see, 80 ‘experts’ were included and if each quoted person was to share this article via LinkedIn or Facebook, it would generate a significant amount of pageviews.

To get the most out of ego bait content, encourage your contributors to provide controversial opinions. This is because safe recommendations are boring and nobody enjoys or remembers a boring piece of content. Likewise, opinions that are not mainstream get more attention, generate more discussion, and provide you with more backlink opportunities. Different opinions make for great reading so do not be afraid to ask outspoken individuals to add a voice to your content.

What if my roundup interviewees all have low DR-score sites?

Relevant links from your colleagues and peers are actually good. Don’t get too caught up in DR scores. They’re a metric for measuring perceived link popularity – that is all. Google doesn’t use it.

I don’t know many ‘experts’. What can I do?

Get on Twitter. Do a callout on SourceBottle. Or join specific Facebook Groups. Everybody these days wants to be an expert – you’ll find them everywhere.

In Closing

There are a number of reasons to acquire backlinks and the key to picking which SEO strategy to follow requires that you know what your goals are.

Most businesses will not need more than 3-5 link building strategies. Do each of these well and you will see SERP-moving results.

Further reading:

Britney Muller’s Whiteboard Friday ‘The Rules Of Link Building’ – this is a fantastic 5-minute listen (mostly because she echoes what I have said with regards to how you should approach link building).

Muck Rack ‘State Of Journalism 2020 Webinar’ – in many ways PR shares many similarities with link building. I got so many actionable insights from this panel discussion and I’m sure you will too.

Search Engine Journal ‘Our Skyscraper Technique Failure & The Lessons We Learned’ – Olga Mykhoparkina, CMO at Chanty recounts their experience with following Brian Dean’s popular SEO strategy.

Authority Hacker ‘How To Build White Hat Links At Scale’

Ahrefs ‘A Simple (But Complete) Guide To Broken Link Building’

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