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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 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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33 Comments
  1. 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!

  2. Alex Miklin says:

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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!

  9. 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

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

  11. 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…

  12. 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!)

  13. 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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