Link Building – Learning Lessons from Sales and Business
At the weekend I gave a presentation at Think Visibility ‘Link Building Lessons from Swiss Toni’ which was all about taking lessons from sales and successful business people, and seeing how we can apply that to link building. I thought it would be good to go into a bit more detail as to the ideas behind the session. The whole thought process started from my mild obsession with business and being inspired by people who ‘just do it’. It got me thinking that there’s a pretty strong tie in with link building and sales. From finding potential link opportunities, to getting your outreach and pitch right to maximise your success rate – these are all things that great sales people have learnt to master.
When I talk about ‘sales’ I’m definitely not referring to the irritating kind of people that call you up with a well rehearsed sketch of BS; I’m talking about the skill of identifying what other people need and then tailoring your pitch to suit. In my mind this is all about trying to create a ‘win, win, win’ type of situation where everyone comes out on top. Relating that back to link building in a guest posting situation the blog should be ‘proud’ to publish the content, their readers should enjoy it enough to share/link to, and you of course get the link and some traffic. If you can provide stuff that genuinely benefits other websites and their audience, your chances of future links and an ongoing relationship increase dramatically.
When looking into this idea, I started to clearly separate this process into three main areas – research, pitch, deliver. Get all three bits right and you should be onto a winner.
For me, this is definitely the piece of the puzzle that can be easily scaled without comprising any quality. In fact, using a few different tools this should be doable without the need to outsource any work at all, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t outsource this bit if you needed to. When I’m researching link opportunities my priority is to build up a large list of sites that may be interested in doing something together, be that a guest post, a giveaway, a review or whatever the best fit might be. Much in the same way that a new business or sales team will spend time researching the market, I want to find out what link opportunities are available and how many might be a good fit for the project I’m working on.
The end result is a nice big list of potential contacts that I can either use on a daily basis, or refer back to if I ever run out of ideas:
The challenge with scaling this is that on the one hand you want to build a large database, but on the other hand you don’t want to fill it up with sites that you’ll never stand a chance with or are simply not relevant to your industry. To try and get this balance right, I’m looking specifically for sites that link out yet are still related to the industry I’m working in.
To build this list quickly, I tend to use a combination of searching for sites and then scraping the results with Google Docs. There are some amazing things you can do with Google Docs, and I really must say a massive thanks to Tom Critchlow who wrote an amazing post on how to build SEO tools using Google Docs which explains some of the things you can do. I’d highly recommend having a play as it can save you hours and help you to find some fantastic opportunities. Things like looking through your competitor’s backlinks, advanced search queries, My Blog Guest and FollowerWonk are all your friends. Combine everything together and you can quickly build a really useful list for your link building.
If you want to have a play feel free to use my guest post Google Docs sheet here:
Filtering Through the Results
Once you’ve built up a big list of sites, you’ll need to be able to filter through them in order to prioritise your time on the biggest and fast wins first. A good business will choose their battles wisely and try to calculate the risk to reduce the chance of failure. As SEO’s we’ve only got a certain amount of hours in the day, so you need to make sure you’re spending time working on things that are more likely to provide a link than not.
To do this I’ll use any metric I can get my hands on to try and provide an overview of how good a link from a particular site might be. Using SEO Tools for Excel, you can pull in social metrics and page rank to help start sorting the wheat from the chaff. Seriously, if you haven’t had a play with this tool put it on your list now! Once you’ve installed it all you have to do is enter the following functions to get the data you need:
I know there’s plenty of debate about page rank being used as a metric but in my opinion it is still useful to use as a quick glance check of how good a potential link might be. Add it together with the social metrics and you should start to get a good opinion as to the quality of a particular website. Taking things one step further, you can use the SEOmoz API to pull in link counts and domain authority which again is very useful for comparing opportunities and filtering through to the good ones. Explaining this fully is a post on its own, but there’s some helpful posts around that should help you get started.
I think the real point here is that you need to use whatever metrics you can to help you make some decisions. If you want to get technical then the SEOmoz API is a great option, and if not SEO Tools for Excel with definitely make your life easier. Whether you’re using page rank, domain authority, link counts, social metrics – use what you can to identify what to chase and what to leave.
Nailing the Pitch
When contacting other websites you’ve often only got one chance to make the right impression and get their attention. A little bit of thought about what they might want from the ‘deal’ can go a really long way to getting a positive response. Personalising the pitch for me comes in two parts; addressing each blogger individually by using their name and avoiding the use of templates; and secondly making sure you pitch the right content to the right person.
It doesn’t take too long to have a look through a blog to find out what’s working for them and what sort of content they might be interested in. I’d recommend taking a look at things like ‘popular post’ sidebars to identify what topics appear to be ‘clicking’ with their audience. Style wise, it’s always worth checking if they write ‘how to’ posts, ‘news’ posts or another angle. From my experience ensuring the topic and style of the content you pitch is relevant is probably the biggest factor in getting a positive response. It doesn’t have to be 100% perfection, but if it strikes the right cord with the blogger your contacting you can always work on the details later.
Another handy trick here is using SEO Tools for Excel to get the social metrics for the blog in question. I’ll start by importing their sitemap into Excel by clicking the ‘data’ tab and then ‘from web’. Once you’ve done that you can get the Tweet counts and Facebook Like count for each blog post. Armed with that information you can take a quick look through to try and see if they’ve had any ‘hits’. Anyone who’s had an extremely successful post will probably be trying to write another – why not make their life easy and do it for them?! Try to offer them something they can’t resist – that way everyone wins.
In the same way that good products sell themselves, good content should really help your cause. I’m definitely not going to bring out the old ‘Content is King’, but I do know from experience that crap content definitely reduces the amount of links you’ll end up getting. I’ve found that the combination of providing decent content plus being friendly and responsive paves the way for a future relationship, and having a list of bloggers that you’re on good terms with is very handy indeed.
You can definitely outsource your content using sites such as ODesk, but do so with care and remember that it’s your project at stake. In fact, I’ve found that having a group of writers gives you the flexibility to choose between different skill sets and use the writer that best fits the brief.
It’s a bit like turning your link building process into a well oiled machine as you’d expect to see within a successful business. You’ve got your outreach and pitching (sales) and then providing something useful (production). If you can make sure every step is as strong as possible, your link building should be much better for it!