Peter Fitzgerald

Link building can sometimes be a painstaking and thankless task. It can often devolve into a numbers game, reaching out to enough potential sites in an understanding that only a small percentage will respond to your request. Compounding this issue is the fact that the value of a link is well understood amongst most digital professionals, and as a result, links often come with a price tag attached. This means that when you do get a result, you might then be asked to pay at the end of all your hard work.

In reality, when you are doing link outreach you are asking another organisation or person to do something that benefits you. Despite it being against Google’s guidelines, that inequality in value keeps the practice of link buying in business.

When we look at link building, we aim for a more strategic approach that cuts out both of these problems. Firstly, by narrowing the list of sites we are going after we can reduce the amount of time we have to commit. Secondly, by finding another way to provide value for those websites we reach out to, we avoid getting caught up in link buying.

When we look for a solution that delivers on those ideas, we end up with something more akin to digital PR than traditional link outreach. In this article, I’ll take you through this approach so that you can apply it to your link building process.

Identifying the right outreach targets

As mentioned before, the first step is to refine our list of sites that we’re reaching out to. There are tools we can use to do this, but there’s actually an easier first step.

Start by thinking about your brand and sector, asking these kinds of questions:

  • What are the influential publications in your sector?
  • What kinds of websites do your target audience use?
  • Have you received any good press or positive mentions on other websites in the past?
  • Do you have any existing relationships with influencers in your sector?

These initial questions can help you start to build out a target list based on your knowledge and experience of the digital landscape around your brand.

If you have access to tools like SEMRush or Ahrefs, then you can also take a more data based approach. If you don’t have access to any premium SEO tools, then Ubersuggest is a good free alternative.

Here you want to look for relevant sites with high domain authority. One place to start is to cross reference the sites you came up with based on your previous experience and sector knowledge – running these through the tool will confirm if they have the search authority you expect them to. To find more opportunities, look at the sites that are linking to your competitors. Are there any heavy hitters among them?

Boil all of this down into a list. We don’t want too many, maybe 10 as a good starting point. Once you have this list of targets, it’s time to move on to the next stage.

Using digital PR to deliver value

We’ve eliminated our first problem, the workload of mass outreach based on a predicted low success rate. Now we need to remove our second problem, the fact that the value of what the linking site is offering us is much higher than the value of what we are offering them.

That’s where content comes in.

Every successful site needs quality content. If you’re reaching out to sites with good domain authority, then you would expect them to know that.  So that’s exactly what you’re going to offer them.

The first thing we want to do is rank our list of target sites by priority. Then, based on the kind of content they publish or focus on, group them by topic. What we’re trying to do is build groups of sites where there might be some kind of crossover in the content they’d be interested in.

Once you have these broad topic areas, it’s time to come up with a concept. In this case, a piece of content for each of those topic areas where you can demonstrate expertise and create some real value for the publishing site by expanding the authoritative voices on their platform.

Now, flesh out those concepts into fully-fledged articles. Remember, the key goal here is to get a link on these high impact sites, so make sure you work in a natural link to your website as well. One way to make this look natural is to include other links to authoritative sources within the copy.

With regard to the content you’re producing, it goes without saying that quality is important here – this is where you need to think more in terms of digital PR than link building. Yes, the link is our goal, but we want to give the site a piece of content they’d be happy to place regardless of whether it was a piece for link outreach or not.

Pitching out your content

Now you have the content, it’s time to reach out to those high priority websites. Starting with the highest priority site per topic, reach out and pitch your content into them. Remember, treat this like digital PR – the topic and the content are the selling points, not the fact that you are looking for a link.

For each topic, if you can’t house the content with the top priority, work your way down the list. We want to place each piece of content with as high an impact site as possible. Once you’ve found a place to publish the content, it’s worth making it clear at this point that you’ve included a link within the content. There may be some push back – but remember this is the reason you’ve gone to all this effort, so make sure you fight for that link. If you can’t get it, then it’s time to move on to the next site on the list.

Pick the right method of communication

There is an art to sharing content with journalists, webmasters or whoever it is that you want to reach out to. Simply creating a template email which you amend for each person often won’t get the job done.

The real trick here is understanding what you can say that will catch their eye. Have they written something in the past which could be mentioned as a precursor to your content? Have they written about you or your brand before? These things can be the perfect way to prove you have done your research and care about the bigger picture, and that you’re not only interested in the link.

Finally, whilst we live in the modern world of technology, it is important to remember the trusty telephone. If you can find a phone number and you know who to ask for, then pick up it up and get them listening to you. Sometimes a chat over the phone can speed the process up and give them a reason to read your email.

The failure cases

If you can’t place an article (link included) with any of the sites you’ve found, then you have a few options.

The first is to return to your research tools and find more quality sites to potentially sit the article with.

The second is to use the content yourself. That’s the great thing about quality content, it’s never a wasted effort – make a few tweaks and publish it on your own site.

And remember, even a ‘no thanks’ can open the door to a future relationship or opportunity. Although the chosen topic might be slightly off the target this time, there’s no telling what else they may be on the lookout for in the future.

Embrace the strategic approach

Using the above process, you can get away from sending bulk outreach emails and seeing relatively small returns. Instead, you can make steps towards impactful and quality links that are based on good content – a win for both you and the site linking to you.

We’ve seen this strategy deliver great results for clients – if you’d like to find out more how we’d implement this approach for your website, give us a call and let’s talk about how we can make your link building more efficient.

More on this subject