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4 Steps To Executing a CRO Approved Link Building Campaign

by Jon Cooper
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You know what makes me sick? Hearing about a “link builder” who sends out hundreds of generic link request emails that get less than a 5% success rate. Normally this wouldn’t make me cringe, but he outsources all of the link building to a few virtual assistants willing to work for $2 an hour, who send out an email every three minutes. <sarcasm> You can guess the emails were just overflowing with quality. </sarcasm> Granted this strategy was profitable in his situation, it’s just not the way SEOs should attack link building.

12 months ago I was an average link builder. I spotted out a few guys I wanted to get a link from, did what I could, and when I didn’t get a response or an immediate link, I moved on. Even though I ended up getting the success I wanted, I got lucky. REALLY lucky. I was link building for a client in a niche where few link building opportunities existed. I know for a fact some of you are struggling in niches like this. If this is you, I’ve got a very important message for you.

 

Make every link prospect count! (tweet this)

 

Here’s what I mean. You can be average like I was, spending 5 or 10 minutes doing what you can to find a broken link or two, get an email address, then shoot over an email at whatever the time it was convenient for you.

Or…

You could go out of your way to make sure you know everything about this prospect, their website, and how to contact them. You’d take the time to personalize the email based on that information. In the end, you’d be spending less time on less prospects but you’ll be getting more links. How so? Through a better success rate, or in this case, a higher conversion rate.

That’s why I’m going to take you through an entire link building campaign, from prospecting and tracking to planning and executing. The best part: I won’t talk about using any fancy paid tools. Granted, most of them will save you loads of time (I’ll talk about a few of these in future posts), but not every one has access to them. So let’s get started!

 

1. Prospecting

 

prospecting-link-building-campaign

In most link prospecting posts you read about going for bulk, but in this case we’re going for quality. Because of this, high quality prospecting will be a much quicker process. A good number of prospects for this campaign is 50. Go find 50 relevant blogs, static websites, or news sites in your niche that you want a link from.

I preach hustle, so when I say 50 prospects, I mean we’re going to do everything in our power to get links from each of them. In reality, you’ll never get a link from every one of them, but having that mindset reaps greater results.

You probably have a pretty good idea of the top 50 sites you want links from, but if you don’t, I’ll run you through a few ways to find them:

 

  1. Followerwonk – I’m not going to reinvent the wheel, so here’s an awesome post from John Doherty on link prospecting with Followerwonk & other twitter tools.
  2. “Top X” posts – Look for “top 10 blogs” or “top 25 blogs” posts in your niche. Go to these blogs, check out who they’re linking to (both in their blogroll and in their posts), and add these to your list.
  3. SEOquake – This is a toolbar you can use to find statistics on search results. You can export these results to a CSV. Check out Jason Acidre’s post on link prospecting with SEOquake.
  4. Mozbar for Firefox – Just like SEOquake, you can export results with link data straight from the SERPs. The only catch is that the Mozbar only allows this on Firefox.
  5. Technorati – This is a great way to find authoritative blogs in your niche. For example, here’s the list of top blogs about pets.

 

I’d point out a few other link prospecting techniques like using the scraper chrome extension or using a few paid tools like Buzzstream or Ontolo, but as I said before, we’re just trying to find a solid 50 or so prospects. Once you’ve made a list of 100-150 or so using the techniques above, narrow it down by retrieving SEOmoz’s linkscape data into excel for each of the prospects. If you’re looking to get fresh links on new content, sort by domain authority and then aim for relevancy. If you’re looking to get a link from a static page, sort those pages by page authority. This is critical!

 

2. Tracking

 

Tracking-link-building-campaign

Now that you have the prospects you want links from, make sure you have them all in an excel spreadsheet if you haven’t already done so while prospecting. The biggest mistake I know I’ve made is not keeping a record of each of the prospects I’ve contacted. This leads to less hustle, because you might not remember to email them a second time if they don’t respond the first time around. Being able to keep track of how you’re doing is also a key to motivation (who wants to see a spreadsheet about prospects you never ended up getting links from?).

In the end, if you aren’t organized in tracking your efforts, you won’t have near the success as those who properly track. It’s as simple as that.

 

3. Planning

 

Planning-link-building-campaign

As I said, you’re going to want to get to know the prospects as much as possible. But whom are we trying to get to know? If it’s a blog, obviously it’s the main bloggers. If it’s a news site, it’s going to be the journalists and reporters. If it’s a static website, it’s going to be the webmasters (this can be difficult to find out, but I’ve got a trick for this below).

Here’s a great trick to find out who’s the one that’s going to be giving you your link. Download Xenu’s link sleuth and find broken links on their site. Find a couple, let them know in an email, and chances are the person who answers your email & says thanks is the same one who’s going to eventually be giving you your link (see how cocky I can be sometimes?). I wouldn’t suggest this for large scale news sites, as these don’t go back and update their content really at all. I’ll talk more about Xenu’s link sleuth and timing emails a little further down this list.

Still with me? Now it’s the time to figure out what type of link you want from each of these sites. Are you trying to get a guest post? A link from their links page? Do you think your content should be mentioned in a blog post? How about trying to have them embed an infographic? Or maybe even a video? You have to figure out these things before jumping in to the outreach process. It’s easy to just say “I want a link from this site, and I want it now!” but being demanding never helps in link building. Here are a few types of links you can try and pursue:

 

  • guest post – A solid number of blogs you’re trying to get a link from will most likely allow guest posts. Although the post will cost you usually an hour or two of your time, you can probably get multiple links as well as traffic from those links. Make sure you don’t make these mistakes.
  • links page or blogroll – Pretty self explanatory. The link won’t pass as much value because it’s surrounded by a lot of other outbound links, but nonetheless a link is a link. If it’s a sitewide, this can obviously have a bigger impact (although how much of an impact is up for debate).
  • embedded content – Whether it’s an infographic, video, or even an image, you’ll get to choose the anchor text (that’s if your content is worth embedding). For example, photography blogs should take advantage of imbedded images as a blog posts.
  • news related – for example, if you’re company has a recent press release that’s relevant to that niche, contacting a journalist or blogger to mention it is a great idea if it’s newsworthy. They might end up writing about your press release, and in doing so, they’ll mention and link to it.
  • broken link replacement – ahhh. One of my favorites. Find a post on their website with a broken link, find the content via the wayback machine, create the same content (obviously don’t copyright), and ask the webmaster to replace the link with a link to your content.
  • Citation of a source (that backs up their argument) – If you’re in a niche where debate is a daily occurrence, write or create a study about something that backs up the writer’s argument. Mention it to them & ask them to link to it (make it seem as beneficial to them as possible). Depending on the situation, either ask for an entire post around the subject or ask for them to update an old post on that subject with a link to your source.

 

Note: These aren’t the only links. These are just ones that are easy to classify. In reality, a lot of links you get during outreach aren’t the ones I mentioned above, because most of them are unique in their own way.

 

4. Executing

 

execute-link-building-campaign

Now that you’ve prospected, set up tracking, and planned, it’s time to actually go out and get those links. Make sure you have each of the contacts email or twitter handle, because these are the most popular & effective ways to get in touch.

Because you’re conducting a CRO approved link building campaign, you’re going to be personalizing each email as much as possible. To help, add Rapportive for Gmail so you can see what they’ve been posting to their social media accounts. Also, in order to get your emails actually opened (link builders know this is one of the toughest issues we face), use Boomerang for Gmail to schedule emails to get in their inboxes first thing in the morning. This gives your emails a better chance of being opened!

Make sure you understand one thing before going through this entire process: Putting links last can be the most effective strategy you can use. What I mean by this is keep helping out and adding value so when you finally ask for a link (and if you have a good reason), then you are much more likely to get it. This doesn’t hold true for all link building, such as broken link building (I find that getting straight to the point for this strategy works best), but it will hold true in things like media news mentions and imbedded content.

Now it’s time to segment prospects based on what type of links you’re trying to get.

Guest Post

If you’re going after a guest post, look at what they’ve recently posted about and see what resonated with their audience. This is so obvious, yet sometimes I’m guilty of just blindly throwing an email at a blogger without seeing what has worked best with their audience. If they have a “what’s popular” section, this will take you literally 30 seconds.

Links page or blogroll

This one can be tough if you jump right into emailing the webmaster, so I suggest you start building up a relationship in one way or another before hand to get the best results. If you really want the link, you’ll have to offer value in return. I do this by checking for broken links, correcting grammar, checking spelling, helping curate the content, etc. The more creative, the better.

For example, I was in a niche where there was a very authoritative resource list written back in 2009. I went through it with the blogger to update it with new resources & take out the old, broken ones, and in the middle I mentioned a few of my client’s resources to be added. It worked :).

Embedded content

If the piece of content you’re trying to get imbedded is so informational that it can be a post itself (i.e. an infographic or a “whiteboard friday” type video), then you’ll have a much higher success rate. Also, if the content isn’t outstanding, don’t waste your time. If you’re reaching out to the upper echelon of your niche, the content better be so good that you’ll get a “Wow” from every reader.

News related

This is tough, but doable. If your website had a recent press release that means something to the industry you’re in, contact journalists from a news site (or even a blogger) to ask if they’d like your input on the recent news. Make sure you preach that this is more than newsworthy, and to get direct information right from the source, you’re their go to guy (or gal). If this resonates, make sure you get a link to the press release. If you can, try and get a second to your site’s home page, because when news sites mention a brand, they’ll usually link directly to them.

Broken link replacement

Although this should classify as a strategy rather than a type of link, there are cases where it’s not on a links page or blogroll. For example, year old blog posts that have a few broken links are worth contacting the webmaster and notifying them. This is especially effective if the blogger knows SEO, because you can remind them of Panda and how they should be curating their old content. I do not recommend this for trying to get a link from a large news site, because as I said they don’t have the time to go in and edit old content because they have so much of it. It’s just not worthwhile for them.

You need the right tools for the job, so I recommend Xenu or Screaming Frog for checking links on a domain, as well as Check My Links (chrome) and Linkchecker (firefox) for checking individual pages.

 

Hustling

 

Hustling-link-campaign

Sometimes you aren’t going to get a link the first time around. If you’ve done outreach in the past, then you know this happens quite a lot. Most of the time, though, you can overcome this with hustle, hustle, and more hustle. If you get an email back saying they won’t link to you, make sure you get a reason why. I’ll go into that below.
 
 
 
Here are the most common reasons for not getting a link:

  • You didn’t get a response
  • You couldn’t find their contact info
  • Your content isn’t worth linking to
  • Your site’s design sucks (they might not say it, but it’s sometimes the reason)
The first reason can be overcome with hustle. The first thing you can do is send another email. You can also find the person on twitter, linkedin, or facebook. From there, if you still can get in touch, try picking up the phone. If you can’t find their phone number, try calling the generic phone number on the site’s contact us page. You might get lucky and get told the phone number of the person you’re looking for. Now, if you’re really a hustler, pull out pen and paper (dare I say it!) and send an actual letter to any address you can find. You can use whois if you can’t find one on a contact us page.

 

The second reason can, once again, be overcome with hustle with some of the above mentioned information. You can also use some of the awesome tools Justin Briggs mentions in his link building tools post. Buzzstream‘s bookmarklet is also great for this – with one click, you can get the contact information for almost any site. The only catch is that this is a paid tool, and I said I’d only be talking about free tools, but I thought I’d mention it anyways.

 

The third reason takes a little more determination. If the person tells you they won’t link because it’s just not worth linking to, then ask why. If they think content is boring, it’s difficult to read, or anything else about the content, then modify your content to their liking! They’re putting a link on a platter saying “here’s a link, and here’s what you have to do to get it.” Make the changes to the content, email them again, and ask if it’s now worthy of being linked to. Guess what? This actually works.

 

If your site’s design sucks, this is where not even hustle will get you a link. The best way to describe what to do is by sharing Justin Briggs’ awesome flow chart below.

 

If you can’t overcome the reasons why you can’t get the link, then find out what else you can get, like asking if they could tweet about a recent post you published instead. At this point, it’s up to you to figure out what else you can get.

 

In the end, the block “can I overcome reasons?” defines what hustle is. If you’re willing to overcome them, then you’ll get the link, but if you’re lazy, then you won’t.

 

Conclusion

 

Maybe sending out 100 link requests in an hour isn’t the best use of your time & resources. Maybe you should start focusing on a few prospects instead of the entire pool. Spend an extra hour going above and beyond for even just one person, because a relationship isn’t a one time deal. You’ll add another name to that “little black book” which can be used over, and over, and over again.

 

The last thing I want to leave you with is that the good and the great link builders are separated by hustle. The best link builders are the ones that make every link prospect count (tweet this).

 

Photo attributions: First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth.

 

This post was written by...

Jon Cooper – who has written 119 posts on Point Blank SEO.

Jon Cooper+ is an SEO consultant based out of Gainesville, FL who specializes in link building. For more information on him and Point Blank SEO, visit the about page. Follow him on Twitter.

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23 Comments
  1. Excellent post Jon. One of the best I’ve read on link building. I Tweeted and Stumbled it as well. Keep it up!
    - Mike

  2. Kane Jamison says:

    I was watching a YouTube video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbHy7yESiyg) with a keynote speech from Gary Vaynerchuck yesterday, and there’s a great clip at the very end during the Q&A. Basically, this guy gets up and asks for Gary to tweet about his company, since Gary has nearly a million followers.

    Gary gives a great explanation why this guy is acting like a 19-year old guy on a date who moves too fast, and tells him how he could have actually gotten the tweet from him.

    Good real-life scene played out on video to display how to go about link building in a poor manner.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Great point. Asking for too much at first can really backfire, that’s why when I’m getting to know someone online, I don’t ask them for anything until it’s at the right point in the relationship.

      Thanks Kane!

  3. Neil says:

    Awesome – what a great post Jon. Thanks for the information, I’ll be implementing some of these strategies in the coming months…

    What’s your opinion on getting product reviews from a respected blogger? I’m thinking of mailing some of the bigger players in my niche a free copy of my book, then asking them if they’d do a review (and act as an affiliate for me).

    Would you build the relationship first, or just go for the jugular?

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Don’t waste your time emailing each of them for this. If you don’t already know them, then they’re not going to do a product review. That’s just how it is :(.

      In the video Kane mentions above, don’t move too fast like a 19 year old on a date. Asking for something without them even knowing who you are isn’t going to work.

      If you really want a review from one of them, add value to their website such as correcting grammar, spelling, broken links, etc. (all in one email if you can). Also, get their attention on twitter (retweets, @s, etc.). Then try and write up a post on industry experts kind of like the one above, and email them letting them know. Then, when they say thanks, you might have a chance at a product review if you can give them a pretty high commission.

      Thanks for the comment Neil :)

  4. Neil says:

    Hmm, OK. That sounds like a lot more effort than I thought (not uncommon with my experience in internet marketing). I’m still tweaking the conversion pages anyway, so I guess I can start the bridge building now and then reap the rewards later.

    When you say “pretty high commission” what do you mean? I’m giving 50% at the moment, but if I find the right partner I can easily give more (I figure that 100% of nothing is still nothing, so offering high commissions doesn’t phase me much).

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Yeah, anywhere between 50-75% is good if you really want to get their attention.

      Unfortunately, that’s just the way internet marketing can be (like you said), but who said it was never going to be hard work? :)

  5. Neil says:

    Oh, and one other thing (not really related to this post) – I love the new site design, but it would be better if you can create some menus and navigation that lay out your best posts or organize your content into categories. You’re probably still working on it, but it took me quite a while (and lots of scrolling) to find your stumbleupon post.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Noted!

      Thanks so much Neil for all your support so far. I’m really glad to see you commenting :). If you find anything else that needs tweaking, email me and I’ll take care of it. Unfortunately, with how busy I’ve been, I don’t know when I’ll get to around to everything, but I can guarantee that I will eventually!

  6. Neil says:

    Cool. I like your site and your comments are spot on. I think the whole “making money online is easy” message is an easy one to peddle (after all it’s not hard to set up a website and get a few dollars from adsense), it’s the bit about making an actual income that’s somewhat misleading (not blaming you here – your site is one of the honest ones!).

    • Jon Cooper says:

      It might be easy for the experienced ones who’ve been around the block quite a bit, but for newbies even like me, it’s not as easy as it seems. Experience is the best teacher in this example!

  7. Casey says:

    Hi John, great blog post, and even better tips you have here.
    I havent tried Xenu, Screaming Frog, Check My Links (chrome) or Linkchecker. But when I check I use “Ping all links” for firefox, its a great tool also, it will highlight all broken links on the page with a right click menu option.

  8. Jonny Ross says:

    I love how in depth this post is, thank you so much!! its been added to my bookmarks as i will be coming back to it for details!

  9. Colm says:

    Great post Jon and some really helpful tips keep up the great work

  10. It seems to be a quite complex technique rather than other SEO link building techniques and I think it will take a lot effort than others. I must say Jon that you described it in very depth so I shall try this once to get know how it works.

  11. Jon, first I’d just like to say that I dig the blog. I think you’ll be able to snag top spot for ‘link building blog’ in no time if you keep up the work you’re doing. I have no problem giving you a link here and there if you keep writing good content.

    Now, enough greasing of the wheels, and onto the meat of the comment. I understand that blogger outreach is a more labor-intensive way to do link-building, but I have a few questions regarding this strategy:

    1) Do you normally use this method on its own, or do you supplement it with other ‘bulk’ linking methods as well? (i.e. niche directories, article directories, etc.)

    2) How long does it take a slightly seasoned link builder such as yourself to get a single link using this system? (i.e. is it feasible?)

    3) Do you outsource (or insource) any parts of this process?

    4) Would you use this same system on a client that had a $500-1000/mo. budget? If not, what would you use? If so, how many links would you expect to build for that budget?

    I know these are some specific (and slightly revealing) questions, but I can tell you that if there’s one thing that every blog out there lacks right now, it’s the willingness to give REAL information.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Thanks for the compliments Corey :)

      1. It all depends on what my end goal is. Yes if I’m doing this for static opportunities, such as fixing broken links. No if I’m doing larger scale outreach, such as promoting an infographic.

      2. It depends on how many people you contact. I just did outreach to 60 different sites at once, and within 36 hours of the initial outreach, I had my first couple of links. If it’s less people, than probably a little longer (and vice versa).

      3. No, but I will soon. I’ll be trying to write more about outsourcing certain processes.

      4. Once again, it depends. If their niche doesn’t offer much opportunity, then yes, because you have to make the most of the few prospects you get. If they’re in a broader, less competitive niche, and the assets I’m working with are of high quality, than usually not.

      Hope this is the REAL information you’re looking for Corey :D. Let me know what you think!

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