Link building is the largest needle mover for any SEO campaign, like it or not. It’s not technical SEO, it’s not on page SEO and it isn’t content either.
It’s high quality white hat backlinks.
I tested this personally as I grew one of our sites from 1k to 20k global traffic in 6-8 months, more growth in the last 5 years combined by meddling around with keyword density etc….
Yet, link building is one of the hardest thing to perform in SEO, especially at scale.
I started link building by submitting articles to article directories all in the efforts of getting ONE irrelevant backlink from some shady directory.
This technique has been widely abused by SEO and Google has also severely devalued this technique.
The worst of all: you can’t scale your link building efforts.
So how do you:
- Scale your white hat link building process without going crazy with all the moving parts
- Ensure each and every link hitting your site is of quality, audited and doesn’t get you penalized
So… how do you do link building without going crazy?
You need systems.
Firstly, I see SEO outreach and link building like a funnel.
You reach out to X number of prospects, Y replies and you continue to build relationships with these Y number of replies and you get Z number of links built, whether be an editorial link placed or a guest post placement.
Let’s talk about the two major forms of outreach I use.
Skyscraper Outreach: Creating High Quality Content and Promoting It
The skyscraper strategy is popularized by Brian Dean and it remains today one of the best ways to build backlinks at scale.
Firstly, you write high quality, researched content filled with amazing content that you know is one of the best pieces of content on the internet.
Secondly, you then go out and put pitch your content out to bloggers, influencers and authorities in your niche or related niche.
Site owners are always looking for great resources to help out their audience: if your content is truly OUTSTANDING! They will directly link to your content as a resource or a guide.
This is only doable with high quality content.
The skyscraper method is great for building authority and driving organic white hat backlinks to your site.
Secondly, skyscraper outreach allows you to build a list of relationships with site owners to work with:
- Even if you don’t get a link, you can always get them to promote your article to their audience/ newsletter
- You can suggest publishing a guest post article on their site!
You’re simply funnelling in prospects for further link building.
Skyscraper Link Building at Scale
- Reverse Engineer Competitor’s Skyscraper Pages that are Ranked on Google’s First Page
I use Ahrefs to research backlinks. (in fact, I use Ahrefs for many things)
Step 1: gather a list of the top 10-20 SERP results of the topic you are publishing content about. For Eg: on page SEO.
Then pop them into Ahref’s open site explorer to analyze backlinks > export them out -> create a list of prospects -> search for emails using Hunter.IO -> Outreach using Mailshake
I find bloggers hugely more responsive than huge corporate sites.
I collate prospects on a Google spread sheet and get my SEO team to reach out to these sites. The cool part is that you can repurpose one relationship with a single site in multiple manners:
- The skyscraper pitch
- Pitch them a guest article
- Pitch them on their resource page
- How to Never Run out of Prospects: Find Niches Parallel to Your Niche
You can also reach out to other sites that are parallel to your niche.
For Eg. If you’re marketing running coaching on your website. You can include the health and fitness bloggers, influencers in your skyscraper research.
- The Tools to Find Emails at Scale : Hunter IO
I use Hunter.IO to find email addresses of webmasters. The important key here is to train your team to outreach to the right email.
I also use the Hunter.IO email verification tool to double verify the deliverability of my emails.
For EG. pick out the right emails that has their name attached to it. Eg. Marcus@PinkElephantconsultancy VS Info@Pinkelephantconsultancy.Com
Skyscraper Link Building at Scale: Systems
Skyscraper outreach is tedious. You’re dealing with thousands of data points. To scale you must break it down to a process and get a team to do it:
I don’t over complicate this process, I use Mail shake as an outreach tool, emails are verified and make sure my SPF, DMARC and DKIM are all setup properly to increase deliverability.
- Placement and documentation
Once you have broken it down to a process, then you can train an SEO team of virtual assistants to execute different components of this process.
Once again, all of this is doable from a simple Google sheets.
Skyscraper Outreach Email Template:
I especially enjoyed your guide to *insert topic* here:
‘X Advice’ is GOLDEN advice even for *insert topic*. Being a *insert topic* nerd for half a decade, some times I can get too self absorbed and not getting any *Y result with topic.*
This is why I recently published this kick butt article with tons of research behind it, it’s published on my own site.
Once again, thank for your time to read this *insert topic*. I hope to hear from you soon. Thanks for making the world a better place by imparting your knowledge about *insert topic*.
I can’t teach you how to write great copy, but most outreach messages are boring. The better you stand out with your copy, the higher your chances of getting a backlink and/ or building a relationships.
Placement and Documentation
I’m a huge advocate of documentation in all my SEO campaigns:
- Tracking and documenting every link built
- Tracking and documenting relationships built so that they can be repurposed down in the future
The key is to come with your own unique research, outreach, documentation and decision framework.
Guest Blogging as a Link Building Strategy
Matt Cutts, former head of spam at Google has expressed in the recent years that guest blogging is dead.
However, many SEO experts say otherwise. Guest blogging isn’t dead if it’s done ethnically and it’s still an extremely relevant strategy to build backlinks.
The advantages to guest blogging is that you’re able to control the anchor text on the editorial content.
However, do note that linking in an un-common “un-natural manner” may land you with a Google penalty.
You should do natural link building by using diversified anchor text instead of keyword focused one.
In most cases, the site that you are guest blogging on is going to care about editorial value, user experience.
They’re more than likely to reject your guest post if you’re ‘anchor text’ hacking.
Guest Blogging Outreach Email Template
I recently started X Website publishing high quality X advice.
“I’ll like to guest write for your site and I came up with multiple ideas that I think your readers will like a lot. Either that, if you’re not accepting guest posts at the moment, I will be comfortable with another form of format such as a podcast or an interview.
I believe I can contribute a unique perspective as an X.
How to Find Guest Blogging Opportunities?
Here are some ways that you can find guest blogs, sites that you can pitch to.
You can Google:
Keyword in URL: ”write for us”
Keyword + title: “write for us”
Keyword + title: “contribute to”
Keyword + title: “submit” + URL: blog
keyword “Guest post” / keyword “Write for us”
keyword Intitle: Guest Post
keyword Intitle: Advertise
keyword “Guest*” blog
“your niche” + guest post
“your niche” + guest author
“your niche” + write for us
“your niche” + guest article
Sometimes, it’s difficult to write for sites in your industry if it’s a special niche.
This is where you can research parallel niches: niches that are indirectly related to your niche.
The entire internet is your playbook, you can reach out to international sites from other countries simply by adding a location qualifier in your search.
You can also get creative by looking at the backlink profiles of competitors.
How to Scale a Guest Blogging as a Link Building System
I am a huge fan of guest blogging. You’re simply writing high quality relevant content, offering it to another blog or site.
The problem is scalability, can you scale with so many moving parts?
To scale you must break it down to a process:
- Placement and documentation
Once you have broken it down to a process, then you can train your virtual assistants to execute different components of this process.
Once again, all of this is doable from a simple Google sheets.
I get web researchers, outreach managers, SEO project managers and content writers all working on one single sheet.
How to Filter the Sites to Reach Out for a Guest Post From?
I filter sites that I decide to write for, (or spend resources on writers to write for). Hence, there’s a need to filter your SEO research.
Here are some important questions to ask yourself before reaching out:
- Is It Relevant? Is There Editorial Value?
When I started guest blogging, I randomly sent out messages to websites that wasn’t really relevant to my niche. I was obsessed over getting that one or two backlink from any site that’ll take my article in.
Needless to say, I was rejected, and waste a lot of time and effort.
This is why you’re not going to be pitching to random sites that have guest blogging opportunities.
You’re only going to be pitching to sites whose niche is topically relevant direct or indirectly to yours.
You also aren’t going to be pitching just to get a link. You’re going to pitch with an ‘audience mindset’.
You’re going to ask yourself: what kind of readers does this blog or site has? If I had my article published on this site, will this site get me readers and viewers that will benefit my site?
You should also be strategic about guest blogging outreach by slim lining your outreach by choosing sites that are of high quality, with a level of domain authority or engagement.
- Quality of the Content of The Site
Ss this site well managed? Can I see myself writing for this site? Is the content they are publishing high quality and relevant?
- The Quality of Prospect’s Backlinks
One other thing I look at is the quality of backlinks built by their site. Is it relevant? Is it white hat? Is their backlink profiles filled with spammy Russian sites?
- Guest Post Guidelines
Some sites do not accept guest post at all. You’ll be wasting your time reaching out to these people. They often state clearly on their guidelines.
If they aren’t accepting guest bloggers, then they probably aren’t, and you’re wasting your time with reaching out to them.
- Traffic and Audience
When you’re reaching out to another site, simply ask yourself: will the readers and visitors of that site care about my product or service? If not, why should I be reaching out to guest write or earn a link from that particular site?
This way, you won’t be wasting efforts attempting to pitch to sites that aren’t looking for content like yours, you also won’t run to risk of being penalised by Google for unnaturally linking from sites that aren’t topically relevant to you.
You can take a look at Ahrefs traffic metrics to gauge the traffic of a site, and look at their organic keywords ranked for to take a look at the topical relevancy to yours of the site.
- Domain Authority
These days I don’t place much emphasis on domain authority. However, DA still can be used as metric.
The more important metric is the quality of the site that you want to look at: Is their content updated? Is it an active site? Are they actively selling links? Is the site’s content thin or of quality? How about their backlink profile?
Lastly, what I look out for is engagement on the site. Here are some simple questions: Is there people commenting? Is there genuine engagement? They can have a hundred thousand Facebook likes, however, what if those paid likes?
The 2 Question Litmus Test
Here are the two questions litmus test that I use to determine when determining if I should try to get a link from the site.
- Question 1: Does this link to my site add any editorial value?
Links should be seen as a way to send human web traffic, and should not be seen as a way to ‘pass page rank’.
- Question 2: Is the site linking to me topically relevant?
The entire point of links on the internet is to inform internet users of relevant data and research by pointing to another resource through a link.
This means: backlinks has to be topically relevant. I can’t get a Mom’s blog to link to my SEO article.
This is why you need to ask yourself if it’s relevant or does it add editorial value?
This a much healthier approach towards SEO, instead of obsessing over trying to get backlinks from everyone on the internet.
Final Thoughts on Guest Blogging
Guest blogging is one of the most powerful ways to drive traffic and earn powerful backlinks to your site. It’s one of my go to’s. That’s because you are adding value to the person you are pitching to: you aren’t begging for a free link.
Ultimately, I don’t see guest blogging as a one way street.
It’s about building relationships with other site owners so that you’ll have an opportunity to:
- Pitch another piece of guest article
- Pitch a piece of skyscraper content
Thirdly, when you link back published articles and/ or content on your site in guest articles, make sure that your article is informative and remarkable. The majority of quality sites CARE about what they link out to on their site. Thin, slipshod content is rarely accepted.
Outreach Mindset: Building Relationships and Negotiating
It’s important to see outreach akin to relationship building with an actual human being instead of a data point.
When you are sending outreach emails, don’t be a complete robot. You don’t have to personalise each and every outreach emails to all your prospects, however, if they do reply, you got to personalise and not come off as a robot.
These days, webmasters get spammed with guest post requests and outreach messages.
It pays to have outstanding copy that doesn’t annoy their day when it lands in their inbox.
- Call To Action
In outreach emails, you got to tell the webmasters you outreach what you want them to do with your piece of content. They will not automatically share your article OR link to you from their site.
It’s all about the follow up.
Secondly, you’ll want to negotiate in your emails. It’s common for sites to charge a fee for sponsored content and blogger fees. Hence, always always negotiate.
You can scale this process by coming up with a process for it. Personally, I come up with a pricing table, and my SEO team negotiates for me if there are blogger fees involved.
Other Link Building Strategies:
Every link building system can be systemised if you a) come up with a process for it b) train virtual assistants with link building and off page SEO knowledge to handle the processes for you
Resource Page Link Building
Resource pages are lists of resources that sites curate to point people to other useful resources on the internet.
Think of it like a complication of like a greatest hits page.
The process here is simple:
- Find a list of resource pages in your niche/ niches that are parallel to yours
- Outreach, and pitch for a link
Usually, you can get a backlink from resource pages by creating high quality, skyscraper styled content.
Content Submission Sites
Huge how to sites are always looking for writers to contribute articles to their websites. This includes Forbes, Elite Daily and major publications.
Getting published on these sites and backlinks from these sites help build authority on your site
High-Quality Business Directories
Thin, slipshod content will rarely be accepted. However, they have been devalued by Google in recent years. It’s still recommended to have a couple of links from high quality ones.
It is noted that Google takes a look at the quality of the directory to determine the authority of a business directory.
You can ask your some questions:
- Does the directory have minimal quality control to prevent spammers? Do they charge a fee yearly or monthly for a listing?
- Does the directory go out looking for articles and content? Or they wait for businesses to come approach them?
- Does the directory provide an editorial value add to internet users?
- Reach Out to Unlinked-Mentions from Other Sites
Your site, content, brand name from your site may be mentioned somewhere else on the internet without you being aware of it. This can be found out by doing a Google search on your brand name. You can then reach out and ask for a link back to your website.
It’s as simple as that.
- Press Releases
It’s common for businesses to do a paid/ organic press releases as an SEO strategy.
If your business is newsworthy and has a good story behind it, why not aim for the stars, go straight to the press and pitch a press release?
Getting a publication on the press increases brand visibility and because most press outlets have gone digital, you may also earn highly authoritative backlinks.
Promote Your Content to Your Subscribers
This is as simply as creating a newsletter campaign and then sending out newsletters notifying them with your latest blog post.
Keeping your users updated on your latest content is a great way to build a relationships with your audience and they’ll may share your content on social media that’ll generate social shares and potentially backlinks.
I use Mail chimp: check out my lean and mean SEO tools stack.
How to Not Do Link Building:
- Spam Blog Commenting
There are ways NOT to link build, for example, spam blog commenting.
Here is one way NOT to do it:
I was being nice in the comments, but it’s obviously a blog commenting strategy.
- Forum Commenting
Can commenting on blogs, answering questions on forums and internet platforms such as Quora be helpful in driving traffic?
Yes. However, there’s a right way to do it: leave helpful answers that’s to the question and THEN include your link as part of your answer to statistics, guides and etc.
One of the old school link building strategies involves participating in forums and then linking back to your website/course/eBook in your signature.
There are people that participate in forums and there are those that go around spamming, creating threads hoping they are able to drive traffic back to their site.
Today, most forums aren’t going to like outbound links (and a lot have disabled them), and it’s not a scalable strategy.
- Black Hat Links, PBNs
I haven’t bought a private blog network links or attempted black hat SEO, hence I can’t really comment on this.
Here’s my take: Google, being a billion dollar company and having the brightest brains on the planet should be smart enough to eventually figure them out in the ling run. In the long run, you’re far better off playing by the rules.
How Many Links and How Fast: Thoughts on Link Velocity
One might be worried about building links too rapidly, especially when you get up to scale.
Trust me, when you are sending 500 emails a day, your inbox is going to be filled.
Matt Cutts former head of the web spam team that worked for Google, stated to ‘get as many links as you can get’ if your links are achieved organically.
Sites such as Youtube, Digg, and Stumble Upon get many incoming links due to its nature of producing engaging, funny and helpful content. Google would never penalize those site, would they?
It’s safe to say if links are built in a natural organic matter to you site, you should not have to worry too much.
Lastly, I’d like to conclude by saying that as much as backlinks are the biggest needle movers for your site’s traffic.
It is a MUST to get good at.
The only way to scale link building is to build a system around it:
- Train local/ offshore staff (I use Upwork, it’s great!)
- Come up with processes
Note, building backlinks aren’t an end all for SEO and business outcomes. There are other factors involved such as keyword research, technical SEO, customer researched content, unique selling proposition and other aspects of business and marketing that leads to favourable business outcomes.