Whilst some of my more successful link building efforts have been more along the lines of opportunistic and ad-hoc rather than planned to perfection, I still prefer to plan as much as I can wherever possible. Link building can be hit and miss at the best of times so you want to do everything you can to make sure you stand as much chance as possible of getting the links you want.
This post will outline the top level process that I’d recommend for planning a link building campaign with lots of things you need to consider.
Step 1 – Kicking things off – start with questions
Any link building campaign starts with questions, if you’re an agency, this means sitting down with your client and learning more about them. If you’re in-house, it means sitting down with your team and your bosses to get these questions answered.
The goal here is to sit back and listen, absorb as much information as you can and use this as an information gathering session. You don’t need to worry about coming up with creative ideas or solutions right now – you’re simply gathering information. Make this clear to the client too so that their expectations are set.
What should you ask? Well everyone is different but here are some of the more common questions that I’d ask:
- Have you undertaken any link building activity in the past?
- Do you have any previous link building reports or history to look at?
- Where do your customers hang out online?
- What interests your customers?
- Do you know any competitors who do an awesome job of content creation?
- What makes your website link worthy?
- Do you have in-house resources to create content?
There are more, but you can see what we’re trying to achieve.
Step 2 – What’s the goal?
Answering this with “more links” is not a good start. We need to be thinking about more than links because links do not pay the bills (unless you sell them, but that’s a whole different post!) customers pay the bills. There should be over arching goals for your online marketing efforts, your link building campaign should tie into these goals and help you hit them. If they don’t, then why are you bothering?
There are a few ways that a link building campaign can be tied into genuine goals which should give you an idea of what I mean here:
- Getting links on websites where your customers hang out – leads to click throughs from potential customers who you can then try and convert
- Building links to particular pages which, if they rank better for targeted keywords, will lead to more traffic
- Building links with small amounts of targeted anchor text, to help you rank better for targeted keywords, leading to more traffic
These are just a few basic examples but you can see how these are a bit smarter than “get links” and instantly make the type of link building you do a lot more targeted. If the goal was just to get links, I could go get a bunch of directory links, press releases and spin out a terrible infographic. None of these are going to help a business hit their goals.
For those of you who are in-house and work with SEO agencies, I encourage you to push back on link building proposals and ask how x number of links will directly help you hit your goals. They probably won’t have the correct answer straight away, but it should provoke a good discussion with you about what your goals really are and how they can help you.
Step 3 – What is your link building asset?
Why will someone link to you?
It is as simple as that.
Ask yourself (or your client) that question and being honest, it can be a difficult one to answer. But you shouldn’t be afraid to ask it because it can highlight the difficulty you’ll have getting links if you don’t have any assets at your disposal. It can also go some way towards making your client understand that they need to deserve links and people won’t usually link to you for no reason.
If the answer to this question isn’t immediately obvious, you need to start digging deeper into the business and finding out what they have for you to possibly use. Here are a few examples of what you may look for:
- Truly knowledgable staff – particularly in technical fields
- Existing online content that is under performing
- Existing offline content that has never seen the internet
- Influential senior figures who don’t mind an ego boost by giving interviews / speaking at conferences
- Existing marketing campaigns (offline and online) that can be leveraged
There are many, but you only find them by looking for them. Many clients will take a lot of these things for granted and never even think that they could also be useful for link building. Spend some time talking to as many people from your client as possible, for non-SEOs you can ask them questions such as:
- What makes your company better than everyone else?
- What interests you about the products / services you sell
- What questions do customers always ask?
Note down absolutely everything you can and use this as a basis to pull out the assets that you may have for link building.
If you genuinely have no existing assets to utilize for link building, all is not lost. You’ll just have to create some! How about these ideas:
- Content – don’t sigh, great content gets links, exceptional content gets links and customers
- Photos – what photos can you get hold of that make your products look amazing or relate to your industry?
- Product – can you get budget for some product giveaways?
- Data – what publicly available data can you get that relates to your industry and provides something of value? No excuses here guys – this and this were both made with free, publicly available data
Once you have your link building assets identified, you need to sense check your idea and see if it can get links.
Step 4 – Sanity check your idea
Whilst still in the planning stage, you should try and do as much testing as you can to see how viable your idea is. Don’t just limit this to people within your team either because they will probably be too nice to tell you if an idea is bad! I recently read a book called Creative Mischief written by Dave Trott who works in advertising. In it, he outlined a simple idea for getting feedback from people.
The principle is that you need to take emotion out of the equation and try to objectively discover if an idea will work or not. Therefore, an answer such as “I like it” is far too subjective and not very helpful. Instead of this, ask anyone who gives feedback to answer with one of the following openings:
“It works because…”
“It doesn’t work because…”
This will give you a much better insight into the idea and how good it really is. At this point you can either take the feedback and improve the idea, or decide to ditch it if it can’t be salvaged.
Something else that would be hugely beneficial at this point would be to sense check with your target audience for links too, this leads nicely into the next step.
Step 5 – Identify who cares about your link building assets
This part of the process should be familiar to most of you – finding people who may be interested in linking to you. It can be simplified by saying:
Who cares about what you have to offer?
You need to make people care in order for them to link to you. It can be positive, neutral or negative, but they need to somehow relate enough to log into their CMS and link to you. There are loads of ways to find potential link targets so I won’t repeat loads here, I’ve talked about a fair few in my previous State of Search posts here and here.
Something I do want to mention here is trying to find an intersect between websites who are likely to link to you and where your customers hang out. I could go into detail but Rich Baxter wrote this great post about the process which I’d highly advise you reading. It basically outlines the process for finding the websites that your target customers like and read, thus allowing you to get in front of them at the right time. It is techniques like this that make your link building go so much further.
When you find a website that you think would fit nicely with your link building asset, make a note of the URL and contact details in a spreadsheet, Google Doc or whatever system you use. To find contact details quickly, you can use a tool such as Tout App for Chrome, Rapportive or BuzzStream has a feature built in that tries to find contact details for you.
Remember in step 3 that we sanity checked our idea? Well at this point I’d recommend taking a few of the people you’ve identified here and asking them about the idea you have. See how they react and ask for feedback, is this something they’d link to and promote? Has anyone else done the idea before? I have done this for a few client campaigns and it has worked well because the bloggers usually gave really good feedback which helped improve the overall idea too.
Step 6 – Schedule your time and resources
Now that you have your assets, link targets and are pretty sure that you have a good idea, it is time to schedule in the work you need to do. This is particularly relevant for agencies who work on several clients at once so you need to make sure that the right resources and time is available at the right time.
A few things to bear in mind:
- Do you need specialist skills such as designers, copywriters or developers?
- Do you need to outsource any work such as research?
- What does the client expect in terms of timelines and seeing progress?
- How much time do you plan on spending? Do you want to spread it out over a few months or hit the campaign in one go?
- Any UK or US holidays to remember? i.e. doing a US outreach campaign during thanksgiving may not be the best idea for getting quick responses!
All of this should feed into your plan and make sure that the right people are available at the right time. It is also a good idea to plan in some contingency time because there are always things that overrun, trust me!