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The Modern Mentality of Link Builders in Competitive Niches

by Jon Cooper
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If you’re a consultant or an agency, you’ve undoubtedly dealt with clients in tough verticals. We’ve all been there. The amount of quality link prospects is saddening, and on slow days, it’s hard not to think twice about joining the dark side.

But after working in verticals like this more intensely over the last few years, I’ve realized the thing that I need to change most is my mentality. That doesn’t sound like the answer most, if not all, of you are looking for, but you’d be surprised by some of the things I’ve recently discovered.

Before we go too far…

Let’s define exactly the type of industry I’m talking about.

The industry I’m referring to is predominantly defined by the lack of quality link opportunities.

No, not the adult or gambling verticals of the world, where few would actually be a lot more than what they’re dealing with, but for the most part, competitive, legitimate industries that involve paid links, but the opportunities for non-paid links are out there, but sparse.

Why mentality matters

If you’ve seen Zero Dark Thirty, an American move film released in 2012, you might remember a scene from the movie in which Tim tells Maya:

“And you of all people, should know that once you’re on their list, you never get off.”

It took me a while, but after rereading Think & Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill (great book; about more than money) a few weeks ago, I realized how applicable this quote was in a non-Taliban scenario. It applies directly to competitive verticals.

Here’s what I mean. Let’s say you’re starting off in one of these competitive verticals, and you start by doing some extensive competitor research. You grab all their links, merge CSVs in Excel, and go down the list, qualifying prospects by type (i.e. resources list, guest post, etc.).

In the end, there are some great prospects here that you’d more than love to get, but the list doesn’t end up being huge. It’s actually quite small compared to the average vertical.

A few weeks later, the outreach emails leave the inbox, and you settle for the regular conversion rate that’s normal across the rest of the verticals you’ve dealt with in the past.

But what comes next is you hitting that link wall. Sure, you can do some custom prospecting, but it doesn’t take long before you get to a point where you’re coming across the same opportunities again & again.

You check Ahrefs and see the new domains your competitors have touched in the last few months, and it doesn’t take long to realize that the only new links coming in are either paid or from the churn & burn of scraper sites. A quality link might come here & there, but usually when that happens, the rest of the competition eats it up (authority bloat as Ross Hudgens puts it).

Where most SEOs (and I for awhile) mess up is that they fall into the same cycle. They start mimicking their competition (at least the good ones) and become sheep; sure, they might start a guest blogging initiative (probably a low quality one at that), but outside of that, they don’t touch many new root domains.

However, there is a way out, and as previously mentioned, it takes a change in mentality.

It takes someone to say “alright, we’re going to make a list of the best prospects out there, and we’re not going to take them off that list until we get a link. It doesn’t matter if we have to follow up 15 times, call them another 5, and even send a letter each month in the mail. It doesn’t matter if they shoot us down, we’ll find out why they did, and we’ll come back a second time.”

But there are opportunities in which you’ll never be able to get the link. However, they’re few and far between. The best ones I can think of is a site saying that they will not link to a commercial website (it’s usually organization/school/government policy) or the site/page in question is no longer being updated (even then, I’m a bit uneasy to cross them off the list).

However, more times than not, the reason (if given) someone will not link is something you can change. For example, I recently got a reason out of an organization as to why they couldn’t link to a piece of content I created, and I was told this (exact quote):

“We take several things into account when reviewing requests. Please keep in mind that we do not customarily provide specific feedback on link requests. We found some formatting issues with the page and have a concern about the frequency of how often the page is updated.”

To me, that’s a huge win. Even though they won’t link now, I can almost write them down as someone I’ll get a link from. All I have to do is better format the page (more than fixable), and I had to emphasize somewhere on the page how often it’s updated (maybe include a date of last update, add an email address people can contact if they want to email in something that needs to be updated, etc.).

The point is, don’t settle for “no” (or even no response). 99.9% of the time, there’s something more you can do to increase the likelihood of you getting the link, whether it be following up with them again, or by getting an answer as to why they won’t link and using that as constructive feedback.

To put the process best, here’s the flow chart Justin Briggs made on iterations in getting links.

Link Building Flowchart

As you’ll see, even when you can’t get the link, there’s still something you can get out of it. For example, in that same outreach campaign mentioned form earlier, the content I created was a list of items (unfortunately can’t divulge much more than that). I quickly realized that even the sites I couldn’t get a link from, I was able to get them to either:

A)   Get the list republished on their site as a PDF with a link to me in the footer of it

B)   Get the link sent out in their newsletter (more eyeballs, more natural link opportunities)

Even though I didn’t get the link, I still got something of value (in some cases, even more valuable).

Final Note

So there. That’s how you penetrate SERPs in similarly competitive verticals. But even if you’re not in one, that mentality can be applied to great effect. I’m even using it in a vertical where opportunity is so plentiful I can hardly believe it (I could’ve easily settled for bulk outreach with average conversion rates).

I want to leave you with one final note, and it finally hit home with me in the past weeks.

Your thoughts have far more impact than you realize.

If you set your mind on something and let desire take such a hold of it that you don’t take no for as even a possibility for an answer, you’d be surprised at what you can accomplish (beyond link building).

As always, I’d love your thoughts in the comments below, and if you want to take your link building knowledge to the next level, check out my link building course and follow me on Twitter @PointBlankSEO.

This post was written by...

Jon Cooper – who has written 121 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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33 Comments
  1. Brian Dean says:

    Great post, Jon. I’ve been a big believer in the importance of mentality in SEO. I still see a lot of people view SEO as a way to make money online…instead of a legit marketing strategy that’s part of a larger business.

    The “make money online” mentality sets you up to use short-term strategies, and ultimately, Google slaps. While the latter helps you create a long-term business model that just happens to leverage search traffic. And the difference between the two is really just a difference in mentality.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Totally agree Brian – that’s why I actually love the “make money online” approach, because it creates opportunity for the rest of us who are willing to do the work :)

    • Rank Watch says:

      Totally Agree Jon! Link building is more than just outreach or getting all possible free for all links, its about building relationships, engaging with the users to gain trust to make a new visitor a returning visitor and to convert visitors/users to customers.

  2. Thomas says:

    Tackling a stale niche were link opportunities appear rarer than hen’s teeth can often be though of as a drag. Hat’s off to you Jon for sharing this morale boosting post which provides inspiration for overcoming a negative attitude with ingenuity and determination.

  3. Jan-Willem says:

    This is what makes the difference between a linkprovider and a linkbuilding agency.

  4. Anthony Pensabene (or Content Muse when dressed in costume) says:

    hey dude – this is a bit more exploratory and ongoing than immediately actionable, and i personally dig it. i like reading thoughts and philosophies, which though you cant spend ALL reading time upon in a physical world perhaps, does have their place, and if you respect the author’s views, can be just as enjoyable as exact, didactic tips. in short, i liked this read.

    what do you think about establishing mini battles within the ‘war,’ say using pomodoro time tools for short bouts (say 30 mins a piece), allotting say x amount of hours toward this competitive niche. i like the dedicated, unswerving approach, but knowing when to pivot within a certain amount of time can make for a well-engineered approach? just some thoughts. be good, dude.

    • Jon Cooper says:

      Knowing when to pivot is definitely huge; my main jab is just that sometimes the opportunity is right in front of you, and pivoting shouldn’t be & isn’t always the right answer. I think we’re pivot first, work second (the other way can be even worse); I just think there should be more balance.

  5. Great post Jon, however I would like to add something to it. It seems like many agencies are replying on Guest Posts only as a mean of placing link they are not focusing on link earning OR trying different forms of marketing.

    I have been rejected by Big sites like Mashable and TheNextWeb and many other sites for Guest post Requests but managed to place links through Infographics. Heck I even secured a link on Discover.com and which then went on to be featured in their Weekly Vlog.

    As you said the opportunities are always there you just need to find out how to break the ice and penetrate the ever so pleasing golden link opportunities.

    • Anthony says:

      “As you said the opportunities are always there you just need to find out how to break the ice and penetrate the ever so pleasing golden link opportunities.”

      Couldn’t agree more Salmaan. SEO agencies, link builders or whoever need to get creative when it comes to link building/earning these days.

      Good read Jon…. as always

  6. Ian A says:

    Jon – found your site through Pat’s SPI newsletter. Really enjoyed your piece on the Niche Duel Site 2.0, well written and thorough. Just signed up on your blog. Going to follow along to soak up the knowledge.

  7. Jon,

    I can totally appreciate your passion for your expertise. It’s refreshing to read your posts and feel it through the copy.

    Keep it up,
    Mike

  8. Melanie says:

    Hi Jon,

    You’re so right about how the right mentality can get you where you want to be in any walk of life not just SEO. It’s the difference between setting yourself up to succeed or fail right from the start.

    I personally found Napoleon Hills chapter on persistence in “Think & Grow Rich” to be particularly motivating, and it has helped me no end when playing the game called Link Building!

  9. The Rookie says:

    Great post,
    Persistence overcomes all obstacles. Found you in google from an old post on your bpoindustry niche. Looks like you let it go. I wanted to comment on that one and ask if you tried selling it or anything. Regardless Im glad I checked out your other blog posts. Great real info. Get tired of seeing the link schemes people promote. I used to use senuke a long time ago –Im not knocking that program it is truly great– Its the moderators their or at least that used to be. They took a great automation tool –I know you aren’t into them– and they promoted spamming with it. I used it very well for syndication but took a long break from it. I was constantly arguing with the moderators about teaching correct methods. In the end I got fed up with them and let my subscription expire.

    Thanks for the real examples and great strategies.

  10. Christopher says:

    This is a great topic to write about lately. With the recent changes in Google, and the ones we haven’t seen yet I’m sure, the end goal is about quality. In order to improve the user experience, they have to throw out the garbage because in recent years it has simply piled up too high. As far as links are concerned in that equation, it’s just a matter of time before it’s entirely about quality (as it should have always been.) Sure the quality links may not be the easiest to get. But that’s exactly why they’re necessary. And learning how to build (a more accurate term might be EARN) those quality links now is a sure way to secure your spot at the top later. You hit the nail on the head Jon. Thank you.

  11. To echo Christopher, the new updates from Google have the potential to devalue links from guest blog posts. So you need to approach your outreach not just with the intent to get a link. Pulling link profiles from your competitors can do more than just guest blogger outreach, it can show you what the competition isn’t doing, and how you can fill that void.

  12. Hey Jon…

    I loved the idea of the process map showing all those iterations on the attempts at getting valuable links. I was born under the Taurus sign and somehow that shows in my own ‘stubbornness’ at achieving any goals I set – and I liked that same thing on you.

    But what I liked even more was the final twist, where you are looking to get, at least ‘something’ if not necessarily what you first asked for. That’s creative thinking. Kudos!

    What sign are you, btw?..

  13. Mike says:

    A common theme amongst many of the outsourcing companies overseas is “cheap” links. Sure you may be getting a great price, but when they say “cheap” they’re also referring to quality. And we all know that a site full of these “cheap” links won’t get you anywhere in the SEO world. It’s a great way to see rankings go down, sites get sandboxed, etc. In other words, if you’re a newbie, don’t be fooled by these lowball link packages. Big promises, no results.

  14. Riza says:

    I can see the point. I’m also reminded of the book “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne that talks about law of attraction and how positive thinking can change a very dismal situation into a successful one.

    Nice elaboration on it, Jon :)

    By the way, I’ve initially read your article on the IM social networking site, Kingged.com.

    http://www.kingged.com/the-modern-mentality-of-link-builders-in-competitive-niches

  15. Jon –I’ve found your site and blog through a friend who runs a local SEO/SEM group in Dallas, Texas. You wrote a lot of great posts and I really enjoyed reading them. He mentioned you’ll be coming to give a talk so I look forward to seeing you at the next month meeting. Cheers!

  16. Alex Miklin says:

    Makes sense to me. I’ve been reading “The Art of SEO” which hits on a lot of the same areas.

  17. Matthew says:

    Jon – Wonderful post about our mentality in SEO link building, these days people use link building as push button to earn quick income and slap by Google algorithms and finally they feel like they made mistakes and search ‘how to remove un-natural links’.

    So as you said link building is like a bridge to build real audience and engage with them will help businesses climb the top on the websphere.

    Thanking you.

  18. SLS says:

    Mentality is key. I always approach a project with PMA [Positive Mental Attitude] because it truly makes a big difference how you see the task at hand. Reading about your Link Wall analogy, is similar to writer’s block. Thinking about the next progressive step on helping improve link building opportunities instead of being herded like sheep is challenging, but do-able. True inspirational quote to LIVE by (beyond link building): “If you set your mind on something and let desire take such a hold of it that you don’t take no for as even a possibility for an answer, you’d be surprised at what you can accomplish.” Fighting for possibilities, following up, and staying persistent are all ways to improve your link building knowledge and opportunities.

  19. Michelle Z says:

    This is off topic, but is there any chance you can add a search box to this blog? I bought the course (love it) and sometimes want to find more info on the blog. I can use Google as a work-around, but it would be easier if I didn’t have to!

  20. Daniel Law says:

    Thanks for the great read Jon. Like you said, most of us have been there and experienced it. It is discouraging but in the end, yes it all comes down to mentality. The person with the greatest positive persistent will always come out on top.

  21. Gotch says:

    Great article Jon. Acquiring links can be an excruciating process in challenging niches and it’s always tempting to take the paid route. But there is no denying that the process of link acquisition is much better long-term because of the potential to build relationships. Thanks for the read!

  22. David says:

    Thanks for your point of view Jon.
    Fall in the Dark side is always tempting us. The main hard moment is when google lanunch an update, so some of your work become useless,
    Thanks for the article!

  23. melissa johnston says:

    Hi Jon,
    Excellent post.. Thanks for sharing this. The ideas you shared seems to be useful in the current scenario. Recently, I found another blog related to the link building it is Top 3 Link Building Strategies in 2013 @ http://www.techwyse.com/blog/search-engine-optimization/expert-link-building-strategies-2013. In this blog several SEO Geeks are talking about their experiences in link building. .
    Hope this will help you all! Thanks

  24. Hey Jon,
    Thanks a lot for this excellent post. You have share some brilliant ideas.

  25. Vince Lin says:

    Awesome mentality. Its weird how the gatekeepers are now coming into play industry by industry in the SEO world. The wild west is not as free as it used to be…

  26. Gotta say. Today I’ve spent towards 6 hours catching up with your website. I tend to go in and out of hibernation when reading through SEO blogs. A lot of the time it’s regurgitated information, and often quite useless. I find myself once again so overly impressed with yours – top quality as always.

    And this post in particular is my kind of post. The thought provoking type which doesnt necessarily just address link tactics, but addresses much bigger picture. Awesome.

    Lastly, I may have tweeted you already (can’t remember, manic day in between reading.) I know the source to your Anonymous – Who Knows contributor on the first most creative link building post ever. If you want to know, I’ll let you know in private as you may or may not wish to post the details.

    Keep up the good work buddy!

    (p.s totally should of hit you up for a beer when i was in Florida a few weeks ago, woops!)

  27. Clay Nichols says:

    Jon,

    I have one quick question. What is the social media plugin that you use that follows you as you scroll down the page? I’d love to use that on my site if possible. Thanks!

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