Do I want to do link building?
As I wait for the collective sigh of everyone reading this to subside, I think that this is a question that everyone in search asks themselves on a regular basis.
While the answer being overwhelmingly no for the majority of the population, the main reason being the time that needs to be dedicated to the campaign, everyone knows that link equity is a necessary part of the equation for a successful run.
So that leads to the question, “Do I need to do link building?”
Do I Need to Do Link Building?
The answer to that question depends on your perspective of the industry and where your site falls from an equity standpoint.
To me, sites fall into three buckets which determine how much time and effort need to be dedicated to these types of campaigns:
- Big brand.
If your domain authority (yes, we all know this isn’t a real thing, but it’s widely accepted so let’s get over it) is low because you haven’t been paying attention to your search presence (for shame), then you are probably going to need to spend a sizable amount of time here just to get off the ground.
Being an established site means that while you don’t hold big brand equity, you have been building your authority up over time and can compete on terms that are important to your business and probably have some form of link building in the mix.
If you’re a big brand you have links coming to you like water through many channels naturally with little to no effort, so enjoy that little slice of sunshine while the rest of us try to solve this jigsaw puzzle in the dark.
The three buckets above are not just to characterize sites by equity, it also characterizes them by the challenges they face from a link building perspective:
- Unestablished: Have to launch a campaign from scratch, most likely has zero resources to dedicate to this effort and even less budget.
- Established: Have established search processes and budget but are most likely paying a third party so they don’t own the process or relationships.
- Big brand: While links are naturally coming in, most of them are pointing to the home page, which doesn’t help the site as a whole. On top of that, most big brand sites are glacial when it comes to changing processes and development.
So now that we understand how sites stack up against one another from a link perspective, or at least how you can easily place where your site stands, what do you do next?
Getting Started with Sustainable Link Building
These days you simply can’t just “start doing link building” as there are many questions that need answers:
- Who is dedicating the time to this?
- What’s the process of identifying links?
- How do we avoid appearing unnatural?
- Can I trust this won’t trigger some type of penalty against my site?
While all of these are important questions that need answers, they still don’t speak to the more important over-arching one, “How do we do link building in a sustainable way?”
Sadly, most folks are still doing link building like it’s 2004.
People are burning calories on these campaigns, but they aren’t burning them in a smart way.
Thinking a little bit differently about how you approach this effort will bring much more value in the long-term.
Below are practices and ideas that you can try to run a sustainable link building campaign that won’t burn out in six months or burn your website down.
1. Look Before You Reach…Out
Let’s use data people!
Link building campaigns are typically very myopic in scope as most people think this way:
- Look for a relevant site with high domain authority.
- Send out prospecting email asking for a link.
- Hopefully get a response and work out a deal, rinse, repeat.
2. Get More Specific
Are you focusing on the domain as a whole?
The problem with this approach is that you are only focusing on the overall domain authority, which, as I referenced before, is actually not a real thing even though it is a widely accepted metric.
So why are we basing our efforts on a made-up number?
Get more specific.
It makes more sense to dig down and look at the individual pages that make up a domain you would like to link to and what their backlink profiles look like.
If they have strong page authority and you have a piece of content (or can create one) you believe would make sense for them to link back to, that’s a smarter way to find linking opportunities.
If you are selling baseball tickets to a certain game, wouldn’t it make sense to get a link to that page from someone writing a specific piece of content about that game or the teams playing?
This analysis isn’t hard to do if you are looking at the right data. You can set up a simple table and match up URLs:
|Your URL||# of Backlinks||Page Authority / Equity / TrustFlow||Topic / Category||Their URL||# of Backlinks||Page Authority / Equity / TrustFlow|
If you want to get crazy (and really don’t want to do any manual work) you can also pull rankings from large indexes such as SEMrush for each URL you discover in your link tools and do some math that calls out which URLs rank for the same keywords, which would indicate they are about the same thing.
It would look something like this:
|Your URL||Page Authority / Equity / TrustFlow||# of Backlinks||Their URL||Page Authority / Equity / TrustFlow||# of Backlinks||# Common Keywords||Avg. Rank||Total MSV|
If you’re worried about where you can get the backlink data, there are many tools for large sets of links to do this type of analysis (e.g., Majestic, Ahrefs, Link Research Tools).
Most of these tools will have the URLs categorized already, but even if you have to roll up your sleeves and look at what the content on the page is, that is better than blindly sending out emails with no data behind them.
This approach can also help with your outreach because you can include the rationalization of why that site should link to you and the shared benefits you two could potentially provide to one another over time.
3. Form Partnerships
There is absolutely nothing wrong with forming alliances with sites and writers that are doing things related to your business.
A lot of negativity clouds around this approach because people start throwing around “guest blogging” and “link networks”, which really isn’t what this approach is about.
First off, there is nothing wrong with guest blogging if you do it the right way.
The problem with guest blogging stemmed from a network of sites that were trading them back and forth in an unnatural way, not because Google felt like too many relevant people were writing for each other’s sites.
If you find like-minded folks who run websites in your industry and you feel there is a mutual benefit to contributing to each other’s sites, then you should do that, just do it in moderation and keep expanding the pool of folks you are partnering with.
4. Work with Influencers
In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and that people are going to talk about stuff on the internet.
No matter what product or service you sell, there are people who are considered experts on that product or service – and a lot of other people are listening to these experts.
Your job is to find them.
Most influencers – whether they are writers, vloggers, or speakers – actually aren’t that hard to get a hold of.
Mine YouTube for folks who are reviewing products or services like yours and send them a message to see if they are open to being sponsored.
Most of the time they will partner with you for a free product or a small fee (depending on how popular they are).
They will just have to disclose that they received compensation for the review per Googles guidelines, which isn’t a big deal.
Or they won’t, but you didn’t hear me say that.
5. One Last Thing: Don’t Buy Links
I can’t believe I still actually have to say this, but buying links shouldn’t even be on your radar.
This is an outdated, time-consuming, soul-crushing methodology.
And let’s be serious – you can do better.
While link [building / earning / whatever you want to call it] isn’t the most fun activity, it’s a necessary evil of our trade and shouldn’t be ignored.
Now that you’ve read this, figure out which bucket your site falls into, pull some data, and start making smarter decisions.
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