The ways of building backlinks are changing. As digital marketers, we know that. Everything we do is in beta, it seems. Until Google releases the secrets to their algorithm, we have to be agile and constantly evolving with the latest trends. And what is the latest trend? Be relevant and compelling.
One of my favorite SEO experts, Rand Fishkin, says it best: “Best way to sell something: Don’t sell anything. Earn the awareness, respect, and trust of those who might buy.” So basically… create really awesome content that people just have to share it. No problem, right? Well hopefully this will help. We’ve created a list of 30 tips for building authentic backlinks.
Local link building is often an untapped strategy. It’s a great way for small businesses to establish themselves online. If there is even a small local element in a search query for your products or services, you have a great opportunity. By optimizing for local terms and acquiring authoritative local links, you can improve your search engine chances with potential customers in your community. It’s really a great place to start if you’re just beginning your link-building venture.
- Leverage local relationships. One of the keys to local link strategies is to use your existing relationships with others in your community. Provide a testimonial, participate in their events or just reach out and be a resource for them. The value of local links is inherently that they are local so evaluate and capitalize on these current relationships.
- Increase your local presence. Getting involved in new areas of your community can be an important step in local link building. Creating those connections strengthens that relationship to local search. A few common tactics are:
– Event sponsorships
– Student scholarships
– Giving to local charities
– Being part of an industry-related board
This method can be a little more time-consuming, but it can payoff both online and off.
- Create hyper-local content. Develop a piece of content that is purely targeted at those in your community. Find a topic that your local customers could relate to and, if possible, evokes emotion. People love reading about themselves and their city. Get it posted and then promote it, share it and pitch it to the local press.
- Feature others in your content. People love to be (positively) talked about. Develop a piece of content about those in your community who are doing something inspiring. Look for a topic that is flexible and can be shared through numerous channels. A great example of this kind of content is a list of local businesses that are environmentally conscious or a piece about local leaders who positively impact the community. And be sure to let the featured people know about your content — they will surely link out and share.
Relationship building = content discovery
The use of press releases for building backlinks is dead. With the updates Google has made in recent years, those backlinks are becoming less important in news releases. The only real value of a backlink is if a reporter links to your site in a natural way. Your goal with a press release should be to create awareness and genuine interest so that media will be compelled to link to your content.
- Identify your industry influencers who are active online. Being a thought leader in your industry should be a goal for your organization. But if you’re not there yet, find those who are. Develop a list of bloggers, journalists, executives and tweeters and follow them on social media. Build a relationship with them by interacting with them and sharing their content. This is not only a great way to help you work on your own agenda but also a good way to stay in the know with your industry’s news.
- Monitor online editorial opportunities. No matter your industry, there are editorial opportunities available — sometimes you just have to dig a little. Many online shops publicly post upcoming topics, along with the author’s name and due dates. All you have to do is pitch the journalist! We realize we could write a whole e-book on pitching media ideas, so in short, just remember to try and make a journalist’s job easier.
- Be the first AND newsworthy. Newsjacking isn’t unique in nature. Companies are getting more and more creative in order to capitalize on a trending topic. So it’s not just about being the FIRST to publish something quippy about Peyton Manning yelling “Omaha! Omaha!” 44 times during the AFC Championship game. It’s creating something newsworthy like the Omaha Chamber of Commerce did in the days after the game. They have garnered more than 3,000 new backlinks since the January 12 game. #GeniusGenius
- Include targeted Twitter handles in your media lists. Yes, send your press releases via email to your media lists but don’t forget to reach out to a targeted group via Twitter. Identify a group of bloggers, reporters and industry influencers who may be willing to share your content or even pick it up for their own publications. Like marketers, journalists are constantly under fire to produce more content and many use Twitter to search for ideas. Be proactive and reach out to them directly.
- Images matter — even in press releases. You’re spending time developing a nice press release and posting it to your site and now you’re ready to pitch. Don’t forget the images! Remember, we’re focusing on creating compelling content — even in our press releases. PRESSfeed’s data shows that 80% of journalists are more likely to cover news that includes an image.
- Exploit your existing public relations strategy. Integrated campaign is the name of the game these days. Your traditional public relations program should incorporate content marketing, social media and SEO. Don’t just send your news release to your group of media contacts. Do a little keyword research, write a compelling release and then post, tweet and publish the heck out of it. If it’s worthy of a press release to your local newspaper, it’s worthy of shouting it from the (digital) rooftops!
- Write your releases for more than just journalists. The majority of press releases are shared, tweeted and blogged about hundreds of times a day by non-journalists. So keep that in mind when you’re writing. Publish an occasional news release geared toward the bloggers or social media sharers. Keep it short, engaging and shareable!
In a crowded world, stand out.
Easier said than done, right? In a digital world where you hear “content is king” too many times to count, it is the truth. The trick is to develop shareable content that resonates with a segmented audience. Research your industry, your prospective customers and your current customers and see how you can answer their problems and provide them value.
- Find your targeted niche audiences and write to them. People typically share content not because it’s perfectly written with just the right image. They share it because it says, “This is me!” Take a look at upworthy.com and buzzfeed.com. They don’t produce the most researched or fine-tuned content, but they have done a phenomenal job figuring out what resonates with segmented groups of their audiences. Think of your niche audiences as your long-tail keywords: lots of potential!
- Go big: over-commit every once in a while. E-books, blogs, checklists and worksheets are great. But there are (literally) millions of these out there. Think outside of the box and develop big content on occasion. Spend the time, money and energy in creating something more that will help solve your customers’ problems. Big content normally has a longer lifecycle too. Depending on your industry, it could be something as simple as a flow chart or as robust as an interactive app.
- Develop content for more than just links. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, content should be created to help solve a problem — for humans. Don’t create content for search engines or just to build links. Invest the time in quality work and you will be rewarded with long-term, sustainable success.
- We all love lists. They’re everywhere. Your Facebook timeline and Twitter feed are full of lists, but we always seem to share them. Create lists about your industry influencers, products and services or your customers. Your readers love them and in many cases, the people/companies featured on the lists will love them too!
- It’s not always about visual media. Yes, video and great images are engaging and can generate links. But podcasts are becoming more and more popular. (Think Serial or This Old Marketing Podcast.) They’re a great supplement to any piece of content. People who effectively use podcasts, like many journalists, tend to be consistent with when they publish and add value to an existing piece of content. So if you write a weekly blog on Tuesday, follow up with a podcast on Thursday. It’s a great way to reach your audience through a different medium.
- Build a following. One of the easiest ways to generate links is to have a readership. If you churn out content
consistently that brings your readers back, you’re (obviously) increasing your chances for building backlinks. A couple of things that will help: Be sure to set up an RSS feed and allow people to subscribe to your blog so they will be emailed when you have new material.
- Repurpose successful content from the past. You don’t always have to reinvent the wheel. If you have a blog or an e-book that did well, repurpose it into another format. SlideShares, videos and infographics are all great, shareable options.
Join the conversation.
An authentic acquired link has tremendous value. And there is no better way to compel people to link to your content than social networking. Great content will garner links on its own to an extent, but you need to tell everyone about your awesome ebook, checklist or video. Use social media to build relationships that foster your link building goals and strategies.
- Share content written for specific social channels. The more visibility you have on social networks, the more chances you will gain links to your site. Do your research on how your followers share, like and retweet. Certain types of content do better on different channels. Capitalize on what does well and leave the underperforming pieces for your competitors.
- Add value and be helpful. Being helpful and interactive on occasion is far more effective than just posting frequently. Keep an eye on the conversation and respond to others’ questions. If you can help solve somebody’s problem — especially with content of your own — this will help your chances of linking. But remember … don’t spam. People can see if you’re being inauthentic.
- Find the tools that make your job easier. There are tools and resources available that will help you find new followers and influencers in your targeted markets. Followerwonk is one of our favorites. It allows you to dig deep into the analytics of Twitter and discover new opportunities.
- Optimizing sharing opportunities. Make it easy on your readers. Every blog and piece of premium content you publish should have social sharing buttons and widgets to encourage your readers to share with the world. There are obviously a lot of social channels to include, but we recommend erring on the side of caution. You don’t need 50 share buttons. Choose the ones that fit your audience.
- In-person social networking still matters. Social media has become the new business networking tool for many. But don’t forget about the face-to-face element of “social networking.” Look for opportunities to speak at meetings, present at conferences and develop those relationships in person. There are linking opportunities via the conference sites, but the big benefit is developing those personal relationships.
Old school still works
Many SEO experts are saying that the link building strategies of yesterday are dead. While this may be true for some spammy techniques (aka black hat), there are still old school, white hat tactics that will help you acquire links. As digital marketers, we have to remain nimble and evolve as our industry does, but we mustn’t forget the tried and true strategies that still work today.
- Analyze what your competitors are doing. Knowing where your competitors are getting their links is one of the best ways to keep an eye on your industry. Analyzing their sources for links allows you to see what influencers and opportunities you might be missing out on. Developing a strategy behind the data is key — it’s not how much data you have but what you do with it.
- Fix what’s broken. Set up a Google Alert for your brand name or key authors to track who is sharing your content. When you find a broken link, reach out and reclaim the link to your site. It’s surprisingly effective because in most cases, it’s just a simple typo by the linking site.
- Guest blogging. Yes, Matt Cutts dropped the bomb that Google will now be sniffing out some of the spammy guest bloggers. But it’s not a dead tactic. The key is to guest blog (or have guest authors on your blog) on topics and sites that are relevant to your industry and to be natural with links. Don’t force it. Just be authentic, and you will still see some benefit from the links.
- Internal link strategy. A well-executed internal link strategy can have a lot of benefit on your SEO. Internal links pass page rank, increase page views, decrease bounce rates and ultimately help Google crawl your site and understand what you’re all about.
- Quality over quantity. We’ve all heard it. The quality of your external links is much more important than the sheer number. This still holds true. A small number of authentic, high-domain-authority links will prove better than thousands of spammy or low-quality links.
- Understand your anchor text. The words within a link — anchor text — are viewed by Google as the way one site is describing another. You often can’t control the words people use to link to you, but capitalize on the opportunities you can influence. Proceed with caution though as the Google Penguin updates are working to identify over-optimized anchor text. So like all things in SEO, be natural.
- Do a little spring cleaning. If quality is more important than quantity then what do we do with all of those “bad” links? Get rid of them! There are several techniques for doing this, but we like Bruce Clay’s procedure best. You’ll need to create a catalog of all of your external links, determine the less-than-desirable domains and then reach out to the webmasters and ask them to remove your link. It’s pretty basic, but it takes time and diligence, so evaluate the ROI to make sure it’s a good fit for your organization.
In the end… just be useful
The strategy of building backlinks has changed but at the same time nothing has changed. Backlinks still matter in Google’s algorithm, but Google is getting better at detecting spammers. The biggest takeaway is to develop great content that people WANT to link to. The tactics and techniques in this blog should be part of your digital strategy, but at the end of the day it comes down to helping solve people’s problems. Be useful to somebody else!