When you think you’ve seen it all, you’re not even close.
A couple weeks ago I emailed ~50 high profile SEOs in the industry asking them one simple question:
“What was the most creative way you, or someone you know, got a link?”
That was the question, these were the answers.
When I was younger I had a lot of success with proxy websites. At
school I couldn’t access the websites I wanted to so I set up a proxy
to bypass any restrictions. I built them around popular search phrases like Facebook proxy and Youtube proxy and so on. They became quite successful, and I sold them for a few thousand dollars.
Getting links to a one-page proxy website covered in ads is not easy. And from relevant sites? I decided to take a tried and tested formula and applied it to my niche. I had decent HTML / CSS skills so I found out where proxy webmasters were hanging out online and decided to make some free themes. We all pretty much used the same script, so making the theme work was easy. It took me less than a day to make a decent looking design.
I then released the themes for free with my link in. I’ll admit this isn’t anything new (people have been doing it for ages with blogs and forums) but for me it solved the challenge I had of – again – getting links to an ugly one-page website. Though 90% of people removed the links, enough of them didn’t, so I had really relevant links pointing back to my site. I ended up ranking number one in Google for pretty much all my keywords.
The most creative tactic I’ve seen is using a hoax or a prank. The
primary one that comes to mind is a Seattle seafood restaurant called
Ivar’s installing billboards at the bottom of the Puget Sound in the fall of 2009 and claiming they were put there many years ago by the founder because he was expecting submarine travel to grow rapidly [wikipedia].
Search for Ivar’s Billboard Hoax on Google – you’ll find 2.5 million results, and I’m willing to bet a few of them included links. Best part is – I doubt that acquiring links was their primary focus. They did, however, quadruple their monthly clam chowder sales versus the year prior (albeit at a steep discount) and increase their customer count by 5-10%:
“We now know that the billboard was not steel but rather painted wood; that Seattle advertising veterans, Heckler Associates (2701 1st Avenue) helped devise the campaign; that a $250,000 budget was allocated for creating the hoax and pushing it with TV and radio ads. And that the hoax worked. As the November 12 Seattle Times piece noted: ‘In September, sales of clam chowder more than quadrupled when compared to September 2008, from 19,000 cups to 83,000 cups.'”
I was working on a Christmas campaign last year for a client and
one “mommy blogger” wanted $175 to place my client’s link in a
roundup for gift ideas.
Now I wasn’t prepared to give this particular blogger that as a) there’s no way my client would be happy to pay that amount & b) it’s totally against Google ToS and that’s a big no no, kids.
I can remember now looking at her awful blog header thinking I bet she spent hours in MS Paint to make it look that bad. So I proposed I would design her a new blog header image in exchange for the link.
Anyone who knows me, knows my Photoshop skills begin & end with opening the program so I hopped over to Fiverr & I found a designer willing to make me a WordPress header image for $5. I was surprised how great the final result was and he turned it around in just 3 days.
Original Price of link: $175
Price of new blog header: $5
Happy blogger & happy client: priceless
This isn’t really new, but we’ve seen success by reaching out to
“celebrities” in various verticals. The process goes something like this:
Convert a keyword into a more broad vertical that is likely to have a larger audience and more interesting topics:
Video Game News -> Gaming
Use Followerwonk to find Twitter users related to the travel industry, sort by influence:
Look for the first real person who has the most influence in that space and follow them. Identify why that person has the most influence; it’s not always because they have the most followers, but because an authority is following them.
Now that we have 2 influential personalities identified, we begin investigating where they exist online and what types of content they create and read. Search for an email address tied to the influencer’s Twitter account or other social profiles and use Rapportive to find even more touch points. Also consider using Ian Laurie’s guide to Random Affinities to uncover topic themes you may not have thought of. Don’t just write to write: set up a goal and make everything you do a part of that goal.
I used this process for my new gaming site project (link) and scored some high authority followers in less than a week of deployment and with less than an hour of work. Social media link building is like SEO where people are the pages. Quality > quantity.
As cool as this is, these aren’t my prime targets. Yet. I want a personal/professional profile of a person first. Brands are great to have in your follower list, but it’s more natural to engage with a person as they may not be to hesitant to have a conversation. Identify who this user follows, starting with the most influential. This requires an SEOMoz Pro account, but it’s worth it just to see the data.
Quick Shout Out: Congrats to Wil Reynolds and the SEER crew for creating something worth sharing and proving that good techniques do work in SEO. Their RCS tool was picked up by Mashable, Lifehacker, Wired and other publications.
The most creative tactic I have seen recently was a team at SEER
creating an event and using a tough keyword the client was gunning
for in the actual name of the event. Getting anchor text links is getting much harder, and this was a great way to get some without having to awkwardly ask webmasters for it.
A team at SEER came up with the idea to have a client throw a philanthropic event and market it to local newspapers and blogs of non-profit organizations. In order to get links, we hosted the sign up form for the event on the client site. Anyone who covered us pretty much had to link to us (we also used tactics from Kane Jamison’s awesome post on local event linkbuilding – the post is a beast).
The goal was to get links, but competitive anchor text was a great added benefit. After the event we had the client add an internal link to the page were we are targeting that keyword to in order to send all that anchor text coated link juice to the proper landing page.
I once got a link for one of our clients in the leisure industry by
inviting the editor of a prominent golfing website here in the UK out
for a round at my local club. I’d pitched him a review of the course (they frequently featured reviews on the site but hadn’t covered my closest club).
In the past it had been staff writers who did the course reviews so I knew if he was going to allow a guest contribution I would need to stand out. I made it clear that I was a genuine person, I actually played the sport and would be somewhat of an expert on my local course.
He came along, we played 18 holes, he beat me but I still got to write the review and get the link.
A story for another time would be when I sailed a boat, ran a half-marathon and climbed a mountain all on the same day for a link 🙂
Actually it was on the SEO Chicks site when Stephanie Weingart
commented on a post (link is here but the comments don’t seem to
be accessible at the moment) and basically baited me into an interview. We argued a tiny bit and then she interviewed me.
What’s creative about this is that she commented and baited me in order to get me to talk to her…then we thought it was such a witty thing (this WAS 2007) that we asked her to become an SEO Chick. It’s funny because in the interview she asks me where I’ll be in 5 years and this was 5 years ago.
She got links from the SEO Chicks blog obviously and then I ended up interviewing her on Search Marketing Gurus…more links!
I’ll share one that’s a bit on the “grey side” which could cause
controversy. Let’s face it, it’s more fun that way. 🙂
I have a technique that I used in the past (not so much today because its very work intensive for a single link) that combines broken link building and building links with expired content.
I’ll search out highly authority domains within my niche that have a resources or links page, then run Xenu or Screaming Frog to find a broken link. Assuming I find one I’ll go to that domain and look at what the content looked like via archive.org. Assuming it was valuable (reason why it was linked to originally) I’d simply copy all the content and re-post it on my domain. If the resource has been dead for a long enough time its likely dropped out of the search engine index. Ideally once your page gets indexed it would be “unique” to your site.
After the resource has been revived on a new page from your domain you simply contact the webmaster and point out the broken link. You can easily explain that you have something very similar (they likely won’t remember the exact source let alone if you copied it) and they could update the link to your site if they so choose.
I had been working with a local client who was having trouble
gaining the top spot due to a competitor having a very old domain,
and I knew I’d have to get an extra powerful link if we were going to play catch-up.
In my area, the University of Delaware is the biggest academic institution around, and the udel.edu domain obviously holds quite a lot of authority. From a brainstorming session, I surmised that I might be able to get a link from the domain by helping out one the student organizations.
After getting a list from the office, I found one that related to my client’s industry, and noticed that they didn’t have a homepage setup. I contacted the head of the organization saying that my client and I would like to build them a site for free, as long as we got credit in the footer for doing so.
They got back to me saying that they had been wanting one for ages, so I built them a quick site in WordPress and handed them instructions on what to do (and who to get in touch with at the Uni) to set things up.
In a few days I had an incoming link from the udel.edu domain thanks to the student site being run under a subdomain!
I recently targeted a very large “center of learning” for a specific
medical specialty. I made initial contact with the director of education
and offered to provide a niche resource page (which was already developed by the way) if he would be interested in citing it as a resource on a “Resources” page that the educational organization already had on their website.
After swapping a few quick emails his interest was captured and I supplied him with the link to review. Obviously the content was approved and he linked to this page. He was even willing to offer some additional information to the page as well (which was an added bonus to the already solid content).
Best part about it, this link has supplied ample amounts of referral traffic which convert extremely high.
Some time ago when I was doing work for a pet related eCommerce
site I actually did a spot of dog walking for some local homes and picked
up a bunch of links. I didn’t set out to do it specifically with the link in mind, and I’d say that the most creative link building doesn’t always start with the link anyway.
I went down there just to do a bit of helping out in my spare time. As you get chatting to people and you say what you do for a living though the conversation inevitably turns to their websites, I suggested a few things they could be doing a little better, just really simple things in most cases and to thank me (for the tips and the walking) I got a few great links for the client’s site.
I have a few that I had used in the past that were really effective,
though not super out of the ordinary. Basically not so subtle ways of
sucking up to influencers. I’ve watched what movies someone likes (horror movies was the specific example) and then purchased the Nightmare on Elm Street box set off Amazon and had it sent to them. Did the same tactic with fruit baskets and gift baskets a fair number of times as well to the “mommy blogger” crowd.
The dark-side tactic I saw happen and kind of sat back in awe after I saw it play out was… really dirty, but very creative. When ITT Tech was running a lead gen program, I saw a guy set up a website for a fake company, and then blast Craigslist with links to their “online application”. Keep in mind – this company, and the job openings, didn’t exist.
After the person went through the online application (for a job that wasn’t real) and uploaded a resume, etc – the “thank you” page was a message about how the company really believed in continuing education. If you were offered the job and accepted, the company would fund classes for you at the local ITT Tech. The call to action was then to click the (affiliate) link and browse the courses at ITT Tech and get info on what classes you might want to take if you got the job.
Needless to say, once ITT started doing followups and calling these people, they all said that they were only interested in the class if they got the job and it was going to be paid for by their new employer.
But, by the time the whole thing blew up, the guy already banked 30k.
Now, that’s straight up fraud, so I don’t condone/recommend it. But it was definitely creative (in a dirty way).
I’ve got 2 examples of getting links from .edu domains.
1. Working on a site called lowfares.com I was doing outreach for getting .edu links and ended up giving a lecture to a Business and Hotel Hospitality Class at University in Wyoming. Ended up doing tons of research for the lecture as I know nothing about hotel hospitality. LOL
2. Edu.com was a brand new domain that was being built out. While doing competitor analysis I looked at the backlink profiles of the strongest players and while comparing them to edu.com realized that there were 1000s of .edu links already pointing to various subdomains of edu.com, none of that actually existed on edu.com. After further investigation I discovered that people often type .com extension when they link out to harvard.edu or any school website by accident. I suggested to create schoolname.edu.com and through that they were able to instantly get 1000s of .edu links and compete in a very difficult industry. On top of that it helped edu.com get natural links for years to come.
Back in a previous life I was working on a project in a less than savory
search vertical, for all intents and purposes let’s just call it ‘adult.’
To make matters worse, we were seeing a lot of traction around one particular topic area. And I mean some serious traction, to the tune of month over month growth in the hundreds of percent, average pages per visit in the 30’s, and average time on site within this category upwards of 20 minutes. Yeah. It was an opportunity.
This was back before the algorithms had 200+ signaling factors and also when anchor text was still the holy grail of SEO. Domain authority (although it wasn’t called that back then) was still a major factor, and I still believe that Google uses some form of categorical tiering of websites to make sure searchers are served, for the most part, results relevant to their intent. So for example a medical site about topic abc may receive a higher priority tier than a blog about abc.
This led to the thinking that we needed to find some new ways to build better exact match anchor links from sources that weren’t in the ‘adult’ tier. The good(ish) news for us was that the category we had traction in was somewhat of an obscure term and we could probably flex our creative muscles pretty hard without sending up any red flags. We set out and created a medical organization and used our money phrase as the last name for one of the doctor’s. We built a long and comprehensive medical bio talking about Dr. [one word keyword] and at the very end of the bio place a link to learn more about [keyword].
The subsequent weeks were spent building medically related links to the practice website, which funny enough resulted in what would have been a few legitimate leads, not for Dr. [keyword], but for the other skin related health issues our organization consulted on. Over the course of building out this site and gaining our best search rank, #2 on Google, we used the approach of abstracting out our money term into other markets/verticals over and over again to build literally thousands of links, resulting in hundreds of thousands of visitors and some decent ad revenue.
That’s kind of a tough one to answer. I’ve heard some great stories
of how links were achieved, but they were primarily accidental. I think
the most creative (on purpose) links I’ve ever seen acquired were by a friend of mine who personally reached out to small business owners and bloggers in his hometown. Basically, he asked to meet them in person for a review/survey he was conducting about online user experience. He would do a complete UX audit of their site at coffee shops, their office, their apartments, wherever they wanted to meet up.
The survey was composed of several UX questions that had to do with their site. After each question, he would give them advice on how they could improve the related site element. This ran the gambit of anything from SEO to design advice.
At the end of every audit he did site owners were so grateful for the advice that when he mentioned they could return the favor by linking back – they would! Nearly every single person he met with linked back to his site. The kicker is there was never a survey to begin with. He just used it as a means to get them to meet and build a personal connection with them. Obviously, it worked.
The client I ran this campaign for is in the concrete business. His site has been online for a several years and was optimized and ranked in the high teens. Concrete is not a sexy topic; it generates little interest outside its industry and it isn’t in mainstream media unless someone is found buried in it.
My client wanted to increase his visibility in the concrete community but also increase his search rankings for a new site since he had just invested major money into creating a new department focused on re/paving homeowners driveways. I knew I had a challenge; concrete providers are fiercely competitive and filled with men named Bubba who don’t give a hoot about participating in social media, blogging or link building.
Since I understand what does/n’t motivate Bubba, I decided not to waste time and energy trying to think up cutesy infographics or writing top ten articles. Instead, I focused on trying to find what motivated concrete operators and the issues they were concerned about. I stumbled across an article from a building association talking about the reduction in association membership levels & how companies were not renewing as a way to cut costs. Knowing this and seeing a need for free information, I convinced my client to build a resource center anyone could access free of charge and fill it with information they had been paying for previously. Once complete, we would promote the resource center and use it as a way to attract links.
Initially we thought the resource center would be 10 – 15 pages deep but in the end there were almost 100 pages of content added. Once we started looking, reading and asking people what they wanted to see, it grew like crazy! While we were researching content, I found several articles talking about the heavy toll wet concrete takes on workers shoes and uniforms and how this issue costs companies a lot of money. A light went off and armed with this information, I developed a simple incentive program as a way to promote the resource center and get companies to link or host our link embedded content. The offer was simple:
Reprint our content or link to our resource center and we’ll send each of your
employees a free tee-shirt.
The promotion was a hit! We gave away hundreds of shirts and got a ton of publicity. The t-shirts had funny generic sayings on them which eliminated the objection of wearing a competitors logo. I sent personalized emails to concrete companies and companies in a couple of complementary niches plus ran ads in trade magazines. After three months, we closed the promotion and counted 131 one-way inbound links from relevant, on-topic pages.
All the link building methods you hear about still work and produce results, but sometimes we get so involved in keeping up with the latest social media this or linking that we forget the simple, non-technical stuff works. If you’re in an industry that does not engage in social media, or tends to be self-focused like concrete, look at creatively overcoming objections as a way to build links. It works!
I’ve got 2 examples to share with you. They may not be unique or
creative, but here it goes.
Viral campaign by Kogan.com:
This one is from me:
An example of a creative link building campaign comes from a brand
I used to be the SEO Lead at, Virgin Mobile Australia. The benefit of
working with a brand like Virgin with SEO is that they are not afraid to try new things in SEO and are not afraid to push the boundaries with link building. This is more an example of creative link bait, yet it worked very effectively.
The campaign was called “Drunk Dialing”. Basically, it was a number that people could block specific numbers from their phone before having a big night out on the town drinking. So if you didn’t want to make a mistake of messaging or calling your girlfriend or EX-girlfriend, it worked like a charm. This also unblocked the number at 6am the next morning.
This was just a basic page of text on the URL and it went viral with over 71 different websites linking back (with 226 total backlinks) to the page. Even websites such as College Humor were linking back :).
Now the sad part of the story is that campaign has now been taken down due to brand 301ing the page to a different page as they discontinued this product :(, but I had to make a quick mock up of the old text for the campaign so others could see it.
I strongly suggest anyone interested in creative link building to read
everything by Debra Mastaler on her own blog and on SEJ. There’s only
so many strategies out there but it’s in the approach and implementation that you can really get creative.
What I love about Debra is the unique approaches she finds to traditional strategies (like competitions), and instead of documenting them in a high level conceptual format, she shows you step by step how to recreate her successes. Incredible free resources.
If I’m being creative and spending my time to get a link, I’ll try to get as much value as possible from my investment.
That means the checklist I’m ultimately using is:
Guaranteed authority links + relationship building + brand association + new contacts + new followers + traffic + get work + exposure both on and offline + help people.
My primary goal for his talk was to help the students passing through the college’s new Entrepreneurial Training Centre and raise awareness of its existence (help people).
As a consequence of organizing the event, both the college and Dixon linked to us (authority links + online exposure + brand association).
Other local web/seo companies attended the event and I made sure to speak with them (new contacts + new followers).
The college put the event in their printed 6 month calendar and got the local paper to promote the event both of which mentioned us (offline exposure).
I got to know the staff at the Centre who now invite me to their events, and I got the chance to have lunch with Dixon (relationship building).
This led to a feature/link on the Majestic Blog (traffic) and the college staff referring some clients to us for web design work (get work).
Obviously you can’t always tick every box in that list, but I hope this real life example helps someone get some great links.
I don’t know if these ways can be described as creative, but I’ll list a
few ones so that you can decide if one of them is worth citing.
The most creative way I’ve ever built a link was born out of the usual
task of checking site errors. The chore involves searching for broken
links pointing to pages on my site that no longer exist. This is a common task, looking for where you might have fumbled and forgot to redirect old URLs to new ones. This is a simple way to get a couple of good links with little effort.
However, one day I had noticed a bunch of links pointing to pages on my site which never existed at all. Some of these were simple typos in the URL, some were cut off, and some were half-formed with ellipses at the end. The key difference here is that while fixing broken links pertains to pages which once existed, this method involves URLs which never existed at all. I call this method “Reactive Link Building” since I’m essentially reacting to linking attempts which were unsuccessful.
Using this method, you can create a desirable link or two by allowing the linker to dictate what URL you’ll create, and then simply redirecting it to a real, relevant page. This way, you can salvage some link equity from a 301, whereas previously a 404 created no linking relationship at all. I realize this short blurb is likely not enough to explain the strategy fully, so I’ve just written a post on Reactive Link Building Reactive Link Building which you can find on my site.
And remember, smart marketers are more creative than any artist you’ll ever meet!
I’d actually have to say that one of the more “interesting” ways
anyone I know has gotten a link was actually my colleague Dave, who
ended up having our client write a *letter* (like, not an email. A letter.) to a site linking to the client with a broken link. Hand-written. It was a good site, and worth the effort. He wrote about it for SEOmoz here.
Granted, it’s already been written about, but I think it’s smart and kind of adorable (in a very British way, with the picture of the red post box at the top!).
I’ve worked with a company whose site sells casual games. They are
well known in their industry, but because they have an affiliate program,
most bloggers in that space use their affiliate links when linking to the client.
To help us get links from other reputable sources outside of casual gaming, we created infographics that talked about gaming but appealed to Environmental & Health bloggers. The infographics did well in getting us links from our target industries as we expected.
We then did reverse image searches on the infographics and found that we were getting links from websites in several other languages. We translated the graphic into some of these languages and reached back out to the blogs. They were excited to get the graphic in their own language & shared it again on their sites which got more sites in those languages to link to us.
TL;DR Continue to reverse image search your infographics & translate if necessary.
I think the most creative ways of getting a link usually don’t put link
building as their top priority, although it’s an added bonus. I really like
Edinburgh brewery Brewdog’s methods of generating PR, which in turn builds them links.
They created a number of products that they knew would get them attention – in 2009 they released the world’s strongest beer at 32%, leading to very wide press coverage. This created an ‘arms race’ with some German breweries, but Brewdog won when they brought out ‘The End of History’, a 55% beer in 2010. Not only was this the world’s strongest beer, it was also the world’s most expensive – at over £700 a case. They also served it in stuffed squirrels.
More recently they brought out ‘Never Mind the Anabolics’ to coincide with the London Olympics – a beer that contained six substances which were banned for athletes. All good coverage builds links – I really like the way they started with a product that created a marketing story.
This one is a long story and one that goes back to my days working
for a publisher where we regularly brainstormed content ideas that
would make the news rather than simply reporting it. On one particular occasion I was working at Angling Times, a UK angling magazine and website brand.
I wanted to create a front page story and the idea I had to do that was to fake a record. The premise was simple; use a quality printer and photoshop to scale up a roach (fish), print it out a stick it to a card. Angler would then have his picture taken with the fish and we would ‘weigh’ it and claim it had broken the most revered record in UK coarse angling.
Amazingly the idea worked and we submitted it to fisheries scientists for verification – and they passed it as a true roach and a record. We thought we would attract non angling PR out of it and that did happen with the Daily Star and Mail covering it as well as the UK’s Environment Agency website (responsible for verifying fish records).
The BBC also reported on it and I ended up on the popular UK primetime show They Think it’s all Over as a result.
The exercise taught me the power of great content to attract not just links but bigger branding wins and exposure. A BBC link and .gov link wasn’t a bad result though!
I’d like to answer your question with a story about how link building
helped us solve a business problem.
Before joining SEER Interactive, I was an in-house marketing director and part of that job was to protect the brand’s reputation in the SERPs. There was a particular problem with a negative review about the product appearing on page 1 of the SERPs for three branded keywords.
How link building and SEO helped solved the problem
Step 1 – fix the client’s problem and ask her to go back and write a positive review to let people her problem got solved.
Step 2 – reach out to existing clients and ask them to write an honest review on the review site that was ranking.
Step 3 – get an industry influencer to write an independent review on her authoritative site.
The unhappy client got won over and wrote a heartfelt, positive review. Eight other existing clients wrote positive reviews. I gave the influential writer the product for free. She had a great experience and her review was written more like an endorsement, and she gave us two links.
Once steps 1-3 were completed, I launched a PR campaign to bring awareness to the glowing endorsement the product received. And finally, I built about a dozen links to the page where the influencer wrote her review/endorsement.
Fortunately, the plan worked. We reclaimed the SERPs, and through this experience I realized that link building can help solve business problems.
One of my favourite link building techniques we’ve used was creating
a video about one of our products.
Here’s the video, using our product the ‘What Gravity Mobile Phone Holder’.
The concept of the video was my idea, and my colleague Lianne (@LianneCai) planned how the products would fit and in what order. We got a local video guy in to film it and edit it to the music (Unfortunately I can’t take credit for the music idea – that was Lianne’s).
Anyway, we did a load of outreach and got the video featured on lots of high profile sites and technology blogs. Japan went crazy for it! The link I wanted to talk about was this one.
This guy Roy had somehow seen the video on one of the tech sites that had embedded it, and tweeted about it. Being good social media patrons we replied, and realising he had a decent site, asked him to embed the video himself. We got over his initial reluctance by offering to send him a sample, and the review speaks for itself.
The best thing about this campaign wasn’t actually the links (although we gladly took them!) but the interest and enquiries it managed to generate. We made several £1000s worth of sales off the back of it, more than justifying the £350 spend on the video production and our time in promotion/outreach.
First, I should say I’m not a link builder. I grok on the technical side of
things and analytics. That said, not being a link builder, some of the best
links I’ve earned almost accidentally have been from helping people in the industry with their Excel data and doing things like making Raven’s PDF audit checklist interactive (well, interactive for a PDF). You can see that here.
Note from Jon: moral of the story, offer your help/expertise to others! You might just be able to use it to get links.
I couldn’t really narrow it down to a perfect example – so here are a
few of my favorites.
1. When Bob Parsons, the GoDaddy CEO, released the video of him and a group of GoDaddy garbed Zimbabweans shooting an elephant, the internet erupted in anger. I promptly ordered several hundred Fatwallet.com branded stuffed elephants. We ran a few contests and gave away the elephants on twitter, facebook, and to Fatwallet users who posted discount domain coupons on our site. The elephants created a buzz of their own and earned more than enough links to cover the cost of the stuffed elephants. My dog still plays with his Fatwallet elephant too!
2. Several years ago during a site redesign, I worked with the developers and produced a rather humorous (and borderline offensive) 404 not found page. To test the waters a bit, we shared the 404 page (in link format of course) in a few dozen web design and programming forums that we were already active in. The discussions about our page became heated and controversial and even sparked a few bloggers to blog about it – with links. The links had even spread a bit out of control and onto some of our competitors pages.
After the dust had settled, we 301d all of those 404 links to the homepage.
3. Last year at SMX Advanced, I walked down to the Seattle aquarium for one of the event parties. I entered the wrong door and ended up hanging out with a party of stock brokers and finance bloggers for 20 minutes before realizing I wasn’t surrounded by SEOs. I spent the next 20 minutes networking like I had never networked before. The humor of me being in the wrong venue (and me ‘buying’ people drinks from their party’s open bar) was enough to connect with me a couple people who wrote for different publications. We remain in contact and I’ve collaborated on several high quality, link earning content pieces already.
This one’s not really that creative, but I believe that this one’s the
most efficient artificial link building technique out there that offer tons
of long-term value to a campaign (and best of all, any industry can easily implement it).
Invite/hire authority guest bloggers to contribute content to your blog
I know, it’s pretty simple, and many have already done this. But, this method of marketing a brand online is more powerful than ever, especially that Google is now looking on authorship as a ranking factor as well as in determining authoritative domains.
Basically, if you can build a strong author portfolio within your domain, with highly credible authors contributing content to your site’s blog (with authorship markups), the stronger signals you can send out to Google.
Here are a few simple steps on making this an actual link building process:
Find authority bloggers in your niche and make a list of them. Segment your list by separating those who you’ll need to build relationships with first and those who you can offer to pay and write for you (known freelance bloggers). There are so many ways that you can do in prospecting bloggers, like using Google search (“industry + freelance blogger”) or using Followerwonk to find bloggers who have strong social connections.
Create an email template that can easily be personalized, which you’ll be using when you start asking the listed bloggers if they’ll be interested to do a guest blog or be a paid regular contributor to your site.
After doing your outreach, you can start creating a content marketing calendar, which can be based on the hired/invited bloggers’ schedule for content submissions.
Implement authorship markup for all guest authors, and have them reciprocate their Google+ profile to their Author profile page on your site. It’s a win/win situation, as they’ll also benefit from this kind of content partnership, knowing that their content contribution will definitely add value to their AuthorRank.
So why invest in buying links when you can just invest on buying content from top content creators in your industry? The best thing about this approach to content marketing and link acquisition is that it taps and improves other areas of inbound marketing such as:
Guy I know – can’t name names – really ‘got his hands dirty’ to get a
link once. As is sometimes the case, we realised there was a linking
opportunity for something a colleague had done a little while after it had taken place. The contact details of the person we needed to get hold of had been scribbled down on a bit of paper, which we couldn’t for the life of us find.
After a morning turning the office upside down for the bit of paper and doing our best to track the person down online, it dawned on us that if it was anywhere, it was probably in the dumpster outside. Not to be deterred, said person rolled up his sleeves, went out to the bin and started wading through the trash. 20 minutes later he reappeared clutching the sacred bit of paper.
I’m pleased to say he managed to get the link in the end and he’d testify it was all the more rewarding after the saga that went into locating the guy’s contact details.
I also asked my colleague Craig too if he had anything and he sent me this:
We were once looking for links from fire prevention type websites. After finding a site that was perfect for what we were looking for, we realized the company wasn’t too far away and the MD of the company clearly had an unhealthy obsession with caramel cupcakes, so we had a box delivered that very next day with a little note saying “from your friends…” He called us up and we admitted it was a bribe. He saw the funny side, gave us a link and thanked us for our generous gift :).
I’ve recently been engaging in a number of backlink removal and link
audit campaigns, with the primary goal being of course to clean up a
backlink profile and remove links. One particular client had a negative SEO campaign against him, and as a result, there were about 200-300 wiki platform backlinks pointing to his site with exact match anchor text. A number of these wiki platforms were left open, but some had since been safeguarded against further edits.
In an attempt to get these links removed, I trawled these websites for contact information (a task made infinitely easier thanks to BuzzStream) and attempted to get in touch with the webmasters. After initial contact, I explained the client’s predicament, requested the link removal and pointed the webmaster to a blog post detailing how to safeguard your wiki against spammers and automatically clean up low quality posts. A handful of webmasters were grateful for my attempt to contact them, and two went the extra mile to blog about “a stranger who helped clean up their website”.
Thanks to this routine link removal campaign and my previous experience with the MediaWiki platform, I was able to remove a number of bogus links for my client, as well as other sites that may had been hit by negative SEO and score two backlinks for myself!
For me the most creative linking effort I have done is the creation of
an entire website just for a link. The link sought was from seomoz.org
and it was part of the MozCation 2012 entry. In ever spare moment I had I created http://mozcation.co.uk and started to populate it with content. This was my entry to the competition and whilst I really wanted to have MozCation hosted in my area, the main goal was to get a link.
Now it might have been easier to simply write some awesome content and do some genuine outreach to get something great on YouMoz, however, I wanted something that everyone would see and therefore link back to – and that is what I got.
It was a lot of effort, and I didn’t win (to be honest I didn’t have the resources by myself to really compete), but it was a lot of fun and I managed to drum up a fair amount of support in my local area and at the end of the day, I got the link!
I used extortion. Many moons ago, when Napster was a controversy,
I owned a music “e-zine”. My partner would carry his dictaphone to
every event we went to. One night in New York we hung out with a drunk “product manager” for a huge teen pop singer from the 90s. He started telling sloshed stories about this artist, so we asked if we could tape it. He unwisely approved.
He went on to tell us about how his client, the “pop star,” secretly got a boob job, and how it was his job to hide it from the mainstream pop culture media outlets, who were already speculating like crazy. Obviously us “internet journalists” weren’t threatening enough, so we got the scoop.
The next day I got a phone call from a publicist from RCA asking for a copy of our tape. Instead I sent the completed, unpublished article. They threatened us a bit and asked us to remove the offending content. Being young, dumb, broke, and scared of lawyers, I made a deal that we’d remove that part of the article for a link from the artist’s website. Pulitzer wouldn’t have been proud, but the link helped the article get picked up dozens of times over, creating new links from MTV, RollingStone, and a bunch more. It taught me that negotiating for a link can go a long way, especially if you have really appetizing content.
Each beginning of the school year, sift through databases of the new
students in nearby universities who are studying a domain related to
the one we want to target (not just first years, any level student in fact). I got access to such a database in the university I’m from, so it’s been quite easy for me the two years I did that, but there must be other ways to obtain such a list.
When you have a list of names and/or emails, it’s easy to google them or reverse whois them to find if they blog, if they tweet, etc.
Sure it’s a lot of work for something that can sometimes be found just by googling (for the blogs anyway), and it’s not that original, but it’s of value when you find persons of authority in a domain.
For the story, I discovered some influencers this way who had no blog and no website, but they tweeted like mad. One of them says one day that they want to test a product, but they don’t have the budget for it. I bought it for him in the name of the ecommerce brand I worked with, asking nothing in return. He tweeted a link that got a little bit of traffic (not very much though), but he mentionned it to a blogger friend who put a link in one of his article, and this one was golden!
This guy I know ran a website centered around embeddable widgets.
Stuff like hit counters, badges, weather widgets, all of that (embeddable
Well, in the snippet he’d embed a PHP file that’d come to life whenever a PHP-based site used his widget. He used the PHP file to modify on-page elements, mostly to add ad spaces (that he owned) but he’d also use it to bomb a site with anchor-text-heavy phrases when he wanted to boost his rankings for a high value term once he hit a critical mass of generic links.
Very devious, very black-hat, but very creative. He had an impressive back-end for managing anchor text and ad slots just… really, really risky.
One of the most creative things that we’ve done we actually did by
mistake. We created a top 10 list of great businesses that we admired
using Facebook. Originally, we just wanted to highlight and give people examples of companies using Facebook right, but what we found was that they were so proud to be featured that over half of them actually added us to their website saying they had been featured on our blog.
It not only got us great links, but also potential clients, because it helped us develop new relationships with those companies. So we’ve been going about it much more purposefully now and highlighting not only great companies, but also ones that we love to build relationships with.
That’s a very interesting subject! Creative link building can take on
so many forms, as you can be creative in a technical way, use creative
persuasion methods or just be creative with your copy or design.
However, in most cases and especially at larger organizations, what requires the most creativity is to actually get things done. Getting past the legal department, while skillfully stretching the corporate communication limits and trying to get the technicians to work for you requires a lot of hustling, perseverance and, well, creativity.
I think that about 80% of the cases that are often mentioned as a ‘succesful and wonderfully creative example of link building’ are either a lucky shot or were never intended as a way of link building. At the same time, some other campaigns that seem to be a little less over the top, extravagant or innovative might have required much more effort and creativity, and therefore deserve more recognition. Unfortunately these cases are a lot harder to identify.
That said, I think that some parts of TripAdvisor’s link building strategy show signs of great creativity. They are intentionally getting links from highly reputable sources to a site with a great brand but a declining user friendliness (one visit, three pop-ups? really?), and seem to be doing this consistently and at different levels within the organization. Although I really enjoy a superbly created interactive infographic or a stunning viral campaign, as a link builder, a carefully crafted campaign like TripAdvisor’s is what I probably like seeing the most.
One of the most creative ways I’ve seen someone secure some great
links was actually by my colleague Chris Jones, and originally started
off as a bit of fun. Back in March the controversial subject of ‘Pasty Tax’ exploded across all the major news outlets here in the UK, and as the name suggests was a proposed tax on a favoured hot snack with Cornish origins. For those of you who aren’t clued up on the culinary delight that is the Cornish Pasty, it’s a baked pastry which can be filled with a range of ingredients such as meat and vegetables. We had a client who was based in Cornwall who had voiced his disagreement with said pasty tax and the concept was formed.
Apart from the obvious flack prime minister David Cameron received for such an absurd proposal, he was the victim of even more back lash when he claimed to be a regular eater of pasties, stating that he last indulged in one at a shop in Leeds not long ago. However, it was brought to attention that the aforementioned shop had closed down in 2007, dismissing any factual integrity Cameron’s claim had.
As debates reached boiling point, Chris took it upon himself to set up a ‘Cameron With Pasties‘ tumblr, populating it with entertaining image edits of our Prime Minister with pasties. To cut a long story short, the tumblr really took off after receiving tweets from popular BBC1 radio presenter Greg James, who has a large following. It wasn’t long before people started submitting their own edits, and as the site gained more and more traction it bagged a handful of nice links, including one from a PR9 news website for example.
Attention inevitably died down as the story got buried, but it was great fun watching the real time analytics which emphasized the importance of timing when trying to ride on a controversial and topical subject. We have since had a lot of fun with these types of viral sites which are hot for a short period but crash and burn quickly.
We work with over 60 clients on monthly SEO retainers and build
links from around 1000 domains a month (around 60% are unique). This
gives us some really good insights into what works and what doesn’t, and to be honest nothing beats classic outreach, individual, personal and targeted emails generate 80% of our links. Having said this we almost always have a unique proposition to leverage, so here are a few:
1. We worked with an online jeweller who wanted to rank for ‘engagement rings’, so we dug into their analytics, broke users down by city, and pulled the average amount spent on an engagement ring from each city. We pushed out a press release, designed an infographic and pushed the story out to local newspapers and press. This gave us a really unique proposition and the local papers lapped it up. We got around 200 unique domains, and a ton of tweets and likes etc…
2. Very often we find we have a great idea but our client lacks the credibility to really make it work from a link building point of view. So we look to source a trusted authority in a particular niche, offer them the idea and any resource needed to produce it. They publish it with a reference to our client, it goes viral, we’re all over google alerts and chase up every site that mentions it to let them know our client delivered the idea, whether it be an infographic, data set or just opinion based.
As a general tactic we use a news strategy, a lot of our clients have very little leverage, but everyone has an opinion. So we get quotes from them once a week on relevant news stories. Very often bloggers and journalists will want to use these quotes in their articles, this is really scalable and gets us a lot of links.
Oh if you want to get in touch with journalists, I can recommend Response Source – works really well, unlike some other tools.
I know this isn’t rocket science, but I don’t think link building is, it’s all about hustle 🙂
One of the most creative link building strategies I’ve ever pursued
involved leveraging a client’s annual tradition and turning it into some
of the Internet’s most beloved content: cute animal photos.
Every year, our client in the fashion space would host a Halloween Dog Parade, and all employees were encouraged to create or buy costumes for their pets and walk them around the company grounds. We sent a photographer to capture the cutest outfits on display and circulated the photos to top pet bloggers, company culture blogs, and bloggers who had previously written or Tweeted about the brand. The timing was perfect, as it was right before Halloween, and the bloggers appreciated having seasonally appropriate and adorable content they could share with their readers. It also helped showcase our client’s creativity and spread brand awareness.
One of the most creative, or maybe unusual ways I got a link in the
past was when I was still learning SEO and studying at University. I
met someone who controlled one of the University sports club websites at the student bar. They were the main editors of the content so I offered to do some of their course research (maybe an hours work) in return for dropping in a link to one of my websites. It stayed up for ages until someone else took over 🙂
I realize that isn’t particularly actionable though! Although the principle is the same – good relationships get you links!
Something a bit more actionable which I did more recently was to use Google image reverse search to find a bunch of photos that my client owned the copyright to. I found which websites had used these images and I emailed them asking for a credit link to the client. This worked really well and out of 16 emails, I got 15 links from good, strong websites.
Also here is another one, I don’t personally know the people behind this campaign and the goal wasn’t link building, but they did get a hell of a lot of attention and links out of it.
We used to work with a client that offered low-end hosting ($3, $5,
$10 monthly plans) and through our research into our target market we
realized that a good number of this audience were graphic designers.
Knowing this, we took our research a step further and tried to determine what these visual/graphic designers need that would complement the client’s hosting services and found that many of them, surprisingly, were lacking a quality website to showcase their portfolio. As a result, we designed a WordPress template that was specifically catered to designers seeking to showcase elements of their portfolio.
In the first month, this template was downloaded thousands of times. We were especially pleased with this campaign because it was catered very specifically to the target audience but also took full advantage of the creative assets we have at Nebo to deliver a quality, authentic product to that audience. Personally, I feel that objectively evaluating your strengths as a consultant/agency is a step in the link building process that often goes overlooked or undervalued and may limit the potential success of the campaign.
One of the best links I ever received was when I approached a
website as a freelance journalist. I told them about a story we had
written and asked to write a follow-up article exclusively for them. Not only did they ask me to write the follow-up article (on one of the biggest UK newspaper websites), and allowed me to link to the original story, they also paid me for the time I spent writing the article. Who needs to pay for a link when you can get paid to build them?
I once met a lawyer that was able to dominate search results for
lawyer-related terms in his locale by creating a fairly basic website
that contained a visual map that served as a utility for tourists that were spending time in his town. The map basically pointed out fun things to do as well as interesting historical factoids. He helped publicize the map app via local vendors and community newspapers and the mentions and links made the map site fairly authoritative. He then pointed links from that map site to his law firm’s website.
It was fairly clever and the key was that the map site, though far from high-tech, was unique and genuinely provided value to its users.
As I use creative content for my outreach most of my link building
these days involves the placement of a bit of tasty looking graphics. The
best links I have scored have mostly come about from networking. I put a lot of investment of time into getting to know people online. I would say this is the key to getting the best placements these days. It’s time consuming but you get the payback and I genuinely like getting to know a diverse range of people.
My favourite ways of getting links previously include:
Re-designing banners and offering illustrations to make their posts stand out. I used to be an illustrator and designer so having those kind of skills to offer as a trade comes in very useful. I have found that most companies are open to a little help and trading of services. If this is targeted at influential sites a little time investment has big payback and the best part is not many other people can offer the skills I can (unless they pay good money for them).
Sending surprise boxes of a selection of little treats always gets attention. I scored a few links in a well known UK gossip newsletter with a huge circulation by sending them a goodie box to the office. We got a ton of traffic from that.
I managed to get a connection with a minor (C-list) UK pop star who was touring the UK a few years ago. We put together a joint product which had both our branding and links on and was handed out at all the Gay Pride festivals as a freebie. Perfect brand placement and offline link building to the target demographic.
My favourite ways of creative link building are firmly routed in what you could call classic PR and marketing. I don’t go for the short term gains of getting as many easy links as possible but like to look at a long term project where you invest to get one very hard to score link or you encourage lots of natural linking by offering creative and valuable content. You have to offer something of substance these days and I see the bar getting raised higher all the time with interactive infographics and amazing data-set visualisation.
Knowing the right people is the way forward, so networking on and offline is becoming a big part of the job. Communication skills are essential. I still think it all comes down to putting yourself out there sometimes and just asking. My favourite maxim has always been ‘Don’t ask; don’t get’.
Some of the best fun I had with link building was done on a site I
used to own called johncow.com – this was a parody to the make money
online blogger, John Chow. Some of the tactics I used were:
Hacking my own site and demanding ransom from my readers. Dozens of bloggers felt the need to express their feelings about it.
Pretending to have received a cease and desist from the blogger who the parody blog was about.
Getting funny baby bibs done with my branding and sending them out to a few of the bigger names in blogging who just happened to have babies at the time.
I recently was looking for information on a yearly event that happens
in our city. The only place I could find information was on the event’s
Facebook page. There was a website with an EMD for the event, (i.e. CityEvent.com) that was used years ago for this organization but they had since let the domain expire. Someone else picked it up and put a blank WordPress template on the domain. This domain had a bunch of really good backlinks.My first thought was to try to buy the domain, but despite my best attempts that did not happen.
So, what I did was create a page on our website that had incredible detail about this event. I interviewed the event organizer and wrote about the history of the event, the location (with a Google map), the purpose and so much more. I included youtube videos of past events. I made a massive list of resources that were related to the event. The page took me a good day to create. It is probably the best resource for this event in our city.
I then contacted people who were linking to CityEvent.com and explained to them that that domain was defunct. I did point out to them that the official page for the event was their Facebook page but asked if they would consider linking to my page as well as it had very good information for anyone who needed it.
I got a few good links by doing this. I also got a pile of traffic to our website. In future years I’ll update the page and should continue to get more links.
This one is a play on sponsorship link building. Commonly discussed
strategies include sponsoring events, local clubs, etc. that are connected
to websites. However, there are sites that make individual items on the website sponsorable.
For instance, I built a link for a client on an online dictionary site that allows for the sponsorship of individual words or phrases. We decided to sponsor the client company’s main product name. This was very quick to execute on (discovery time + two emails to get it all done), and it resulted in a DA80 PA60 link. Bonus: Since the purpose of the sponsorship revolves around the word or phrase, the anchor text was the product name (natural & targeted anchor text FTW).
I don’t always share greyhat link building tips, but when I do, it’s epic.This link prospecting process / methodology was developed at Dejan SEO labs and combines creative thinking with technical wizardry.
80Legs is a server farm, much like Google’s armada of crawling machiness. The service gives you the ability to crawl ridiculous amounts of URLs faster than you can ever achieve using desktop applications, Xenu or your own hosted scripts. Also it’s dirt-cheap when you look at per-URL costs.
In the screenshot above you can see how I crawled 1,000,000 URLs of Yahoo! Directory and analysed nearly as many pages. Amazingly this discovered only 16 errors.
To get started with 80Legs I suggest you load some credits and then click on “Create New Crawl”:
In the dashboard above you can see some reports I’ve already completed.
There are many options and parameters you can configure for your crawl but I suggest you start by scanning the single depth level only to build your seed list. This could be all internal pages on one domain or subdomain. When you’re done upload your seed list.
Start a new crawl and use the seed list to crawl each individual URL for outgoing links:
You can now change the crawl depth and adjust parameters to what suits you best. You can limit the number of scanned links to 1000 or 1,000,000 (depending on your budget) and restricting crawl and analysis to HTML or PDF documents.
See the screenshot below:
Once your second crawl is complete you’ll be able to distinguish which URLs are returning 404 and which ones DNS errors. I’m not going to describe the broken link pitch strategy as it has already been covered on this blog, but in short the idea is that you re-create a valuable resource on your own website (or client’s website) and ask the webmaster to link to that instead of the page which returns a 404 message.
With DNS errors you could have several scenarios, for example misconfigured name servers, hosting or an expired domain. I’m not going to say anything about the last one.
And you’re done!
(No you’re not.)
Next thing you can do is query each URL for qualitative parameters and collate valuable information about each domain and link you could focus on. If you do this right, your options will be vast so it’s important to focus on the best targets and prioritise.
This was a bit of a dull process so I had a php script made for me to make things a bit easier.
Here’s an example of analysed domain overview:
For each missing page you can now discover its other inbound links and ask the webmasters for a link to your site instead:
Notice the “Quality Score” parameter above? That was the key time saver for me and I’m so glad I’ve come up with a good one which is easy to calculate. Let me give you a quick overview of how it works.
Here’s my point system:
I won’t go into too much detail why that particular scoring system, but in short, basic correlation testing showed the above to be a reasonable guess which in turn produced very satisfactory scores with very little mathematics involved.
I add all points together and get the basic “Score” which is then multiplied by a sum of Flow Metrics by Majestic SEO (Citation Flow + Trust Flow). You can see the final result in the far right column:
Excel is kind of neat because it can conditionally format and colour all cells which helps you visualise a juicy link opportunity.
And you’re done!
(Again. No you’re not.)
If you really want to go hardcore on this you can feed the data back into 80Legs and tell it to scan all outgoing links of all pages which contained each broken link from your previous crawl. This will yield 1-3% in broken links because these pages are likely to be slightly out of date and not well-moderated.
Think about the above. You’ve reached the end of my segment and you may not realise the potential behind what I just described. Go one paragraph up and re-read if necessary.
A nice, simple, short email to the webmaster suggesting the 404 fix with a new suggested URL is all you need to proceed. The acceptance rate is around 10% and if you’ve set things up right, it’s only a numbers game.
Don’t expect that low quality content and spammy automated email outreach will do the trick. The above method explains how to automate your link research process, but you will still need to generate content worth linking to and use your charm to connect with the webmaster. My recommendation is to read through Jon’s blog to get some ideas on how to improve your link outreach skills.
There are a few different directions I can go with this one, but one
of my favorites is creating fake products. This isn’t anything new but there
are tons of possibilities here. The best part is that it is relatively low effort; you just need to write a great description and some design time to create images of the product.
Last year 5.11 Tactical did this on April Fools Day – they created a ‘tactical duty kilt’, creating a product page and advertising it on their homepage. It was a huge hit, people were talking about (and linking to it) on forums, blogs, and social media. All of this resulted in 171 links and about 2,000 Facebook shares/likes. The kilt was actually so popular that they actually produced it as a specialty item.
Ok, I’ve done a lot of thinking about this and I’m conflicted about the
definition of “creative,” but hopefully one of these 3 examples will suffice.
Since Thanksgiving is fast approaching, I’ll share a timely link that I acquired for a client over a discussion of sweet potato casserole with a news reporter. She wanted healthy Thanksgiving day recipes and I shared a family tradition in email, which she loved. This correspondence led to a relationship that got our client several mentions and links published on the news site. The thing is, I hate sweet potatoes and my family has never made this, so I stretched the truth a little. This is the worst fib I’ve told for a link, how quaint, right?
One area I like to discover with clients are bizarre hobbies and interests. This really only works for online reputation management clients, but I love finding that strange obsession they have and getting them an interview or mention in the given special interest’s magazine/site. We have a client right now who happens to own an extensive collection of whiskey and has a room dedicated to his collection.
Also on the ORM front, we had a client who made a habit of causing controversy just to get brand mentions and links. The publicity stunts they would pull made international news. We loved that they were fearless, but one idea was definitely illegal and we had to advise that it wasn’t worth the risk (it may have involved hacking the sites of politician’s sites to brand them with the client’s logo and information).
Want to add another creative tactic or story? I’d (honestly) love to hear about it in the comments below. If it’s good enough, I’ll add it to the post!