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We all know that links are a critical part of SEO. Most of us also know just how difficult it can be to earn these links.

You can probably relate.

I’m sure you can remember putting in countless hours trying to find the right people to reach out to, followed by hours carefully crafting and sending your messages.

And then… silence. And you wonder what went wrong.

There are a variety of tools available for link building today.

They range from powerful aggregators that compile contact information of website owners, contributors, and editors, all the way down to a combination of Google, email, and old-fashioned hard work, and everything in between.

Tools are great, but they’re not a magic bullet. The fact is that no such thing exists.

Effective link building to earn the type of links that will survive the fluctuations in search algorithms requires the right tools combined with an effective strategy.

In this article, I’m going to outline a strategy for using LinkedIn to:

Identify potential link partners.

Engage with them prior to outreach.

Finally, ask for the link in a way that dramatically increases your chances of success.

Identify Ideal Link Partners

Have you ever watched a war movie?

You might see troops hauling weapons and equipment around, soldiers loading magazines, and even stealthy spec ops teams quietly infiltrating the enemy position.

And you’ll most certainly see enough savage firefights, rapidly maneuvering vehicles, and explosions to make even Michael Bay drool uncontrollably.

But while we all focus on the exciting parts of the battle, we rarely see the extensive planning that would have been required to conduct that mission.

Frankly, that’s because that part is not very exciting. But this planning is what determines the success or failure of a mission.

So we want to first use LinkedIn to identify people who may be able and willing to link to our website.

There are two ways to do this.

Seeking Known Opportunities

The first way is to connect with people associated with specific websites.

This means you need to first identify the websites you want a link from, and then use LinkedIn to find people associated with those websites. This might include:

Owners

Editors

Contributors

People who have previously been featured or interviewed on the website

Webmasters

This works for commercial, education, and even for government websites.

In fact, I recently used this approach to track down the sole person responsible for the website of a particular large governmental agency. (This person’s title on LinkedIn did not indicate his role, so this case required a unique approach.)

Your situation and goals will determine who is the best person or people to connect with here.

For example, if your goal is to become a contributor, you’ll generally want to connect with the editor. If your goal is to earn a mention and a link, you might want to connect with a contributor or the webmaster.

In the real world, you rarely get to take a direct path though, so you’ll often need to connect with several people in order to eventually get connected to the right person and achieve your goal.

The next step is to filter by “Current companies” by entering the name of the publication.

This will return a list of people associated with that publication.

This may not be a complete list, and you may find people listed here who are not actually associated with the publication, so proceed with that in mind.

Identifying New Opportunities

The popular websites on your radar are very likely only a fraction of the relevant, high-quality websites available within your industry. While you certainly should work to earn links from those websites, you shouldn’t overlook the newer or smaller ones.

LinkedIn can be used to find some of these websites that other tools may not identify.

Now you might be thinking, “Why would I waste my time with these newer or smaller websites when there are already more popular ones out there?”

There are two reasons for this. First, they are often low-hanging fruit. In many cases, you can earn a greater number of links with less effort when focusing on these websites.

Second, some of these websites will eventually become just as popular as the ones everyone is focused on today. When that happens, the links pointing to your website will become more powerful, and since you’ll already have an established relationship, you’ll be able to continue earning new links from these websites more easily.

Rather than searching for people associated with a particular website, you’ll search for people in a particular industry and people posting content on particular topics.

It’s more labor-intensive because not everyone you find will have a relevant website that you can earn a link from. You’ll have to manually visit each profile to see if there might be a fit. This creates an opportunity to earn valuable links your competitors have overlooked.

This will return a wide variety of types posts, including people sharing useful information, job postings, and a fair amount of garbage. But many of these people will have a website that’s relevant to yours. presenting some potentially valuable link opportunities.

Engage with Potential Link Partners

Now that we’ve identified the people who might be able and willing to link to our website, it’s time to take action.

It may be tempting to start sending canned direct messages to everyone in a misguided attempt to maximize efficiency.

Don’t do that.

Even though cold pitches on LinkedIn seem to be the hot new trend today, that’s just a really efficient way to piss off a lot of people in a very short period of time.

Instead, treat this like any other relationship. Start by engaging with them in a meaningful way.

You might even tag them in posts where other people are asking questions they might have an answer to or looking for the products or services they offer.

I want to note that if you’re building links on behalf of a client rather than for yourself, you can use their LinkedIn profile for this as long as both you and they fully understand the ramifications.

You need to truly understand their industry and their voice, otherwise, you risk long-term damage to their reputation and personal brand.

The idea here is to first build a relationship based on adding real value over a period of time long before asking for a link.

It’s critical to truly focus on adding value.

Sharing their posts with your opinion on key takeaways is another valuable approach, but it’s important to clearly articulate what you found useful in their post. Simply sharing it without substantive context will ring hollow.

And as I’ve mentioned earlier, tagging them where someone is asking a question they are uniquely qualified to answer, or where someone is in need of their products or services goes a long way in developing a strong relationship.

Ask for Earn that Link

Now comes the point we’ve all been waiting for…

Asking for that juicy link.

The asking part is really just the culmination of all the hard work you’ve put in up to this point to earn it. But even at this point, it needs to be handled with finesse because if you fumble here, all of that effort will have been wasted.

Think about this phase the same way you would any face to face business relationships.

You probably know what your friends are up to, right? You know what events they’re planning to attend in the near future.

You know what they’ve been talking about lately. And you might even know what articles they’re writing or planning to write.

The same applies to your contacts on LinkedIn if you’re paying attention.

This can all be useful information in creating an opportunity to earn a link because you can find a way to work a link to your website into what they’re working on.

For example, let’s say that a contact is writing an article about how a new law affects their industry.

If you (or your client) previously wrote an article that supports their position, and you’ve established a relationship by genuinely engaging with them over time, sharing that article as a possible resource for them to cite will often result in a link.

You could also take a more proactive approach by asking people what topics they’re planning on writing about in the near future, or depending on your relationship, you might even suggest certain topics that you already have resources available for them to cite.

More resources:

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Link Building For Small And Local Businesses

If you read a blog post about link building recently, the odds are pretty good you’ve read about content marketing, info-graphics, or RCS. These are all great. They work. They bring more traffic and links to your site and can help build your brand. For those you who run or market small and local businesses, odds are these strategies are not within reach. Either there are no resources or time.

Local Newspapers

Everyone wants a link from the New York Times or the Huffington Post right? If you’re a local business, you really don’t need that strong of links. A couple links from your local newspaper will usually provide significant value. There are a couple ways you can do this. The first is to do a press release. Often times local newspapers will run press releases for local businesses online. Write up a press release the next time you offer a new service, move, get a new product line, hire a new manager, sponsor an event, and, well you get the idea.

Search for Mentions

If people are talking about you, hopefully they are linking to your site. If they aren’t email them, or better give them a call, and ask if they would mind linking to you with your name (or business name) in the post or article.

There are a couple ways to go about this. The old way is to create a Google Alert for your name. Once you set this up, you will get emails whenever your name is mentioned. There can be significant lag time though.

Remember when you set it up to put your name in quotes, this will search for your name exactly.

The new way is to monitor for mention with SEOmoz’s new Fresh Web Explorer. This is a great new tool that scans the web for mentions of your brand and name. While this only recently came out there are a lot of great resources on this. Below are some blog posts that should get you started to finding brand mentions to turn into links:

Local Maps

You can use Google Maps to build links really easily. Simply create a custom map with points of interest on it. Then grab the embed code. Now edit the embed code and remove the link to Google maps and replace it with a link to your site. Below is an example from my site – I made a map of ski resorts in Colorado while planning a ski trip.

View Map of Ski Resorts in Colorado by Geoff Kenyon

What’s really great about this tactic is that you can do it for just about anything. If there is a conference coming to town, make a map of restaurants and coffee shops near the event venue and hotels. You can also do this for local points of interest related to your industry such as bike trails, running routes, breweries, historic landmarks, or simply a collection of local points of interest for tourists.

To do this simply grab embed code from Google Maps.

Once you copy the code, edit it as shown below:

Original Embed Code

Edited Embed Code

Note, in the above code that is edited, we have added attribution to your homepage.

Once you have your map and embed code, reach out to local blogs and organizations that would be interested in the info and give them the embed code. Remember, you need to tell them what benefit this map provides for their readers or members.

YouTube Videos

Like the map tactic above, you can shoot a quick video to help people with something – either explain a topic, provide a review, or show someone how to do something. Then grab the YouTube embed code and make it link back to your site.

Below is an example of this tactic.

The code for the above video was originally:

To do this yourself, simply append your homepage attribution and link to the page on your site the video appears on.

Once you’ve got the embed code edited, you just have to reach out to local people who’d be interested, just like with the map.

Local Bloggers Love Reviews

Local Bloggers are overlooked all the time by the big companies looking to give away free stuff. Find some local bloggers in your area and ask them to review your company. If you’re a restaurant offer them a complimentary meal for two and as long as you deliver a decent meal you should get a great review and some links. If you’re a store, offer them a product to review. As long as you don’t give them something cheap (<$50), they will probably be really excited.

Testimonials

Testimonials help everyone, right? Who doesn’t want to appear credible? Odds are you use services all the time. Offer a testimonial to the people you’ve hired or work with. Have you moved recently? Write a testimonial for your moving company and real estate agent. Do you use an office supply company? What about a chiropractor, printer, marketing agency, or computer repair service? Write them a review.

All you have to do is write your business under your name and link your business back to your site.

Local Magazines

Reach out to a local magazine in your area and ask if you can contribute a one off piece. The smaller magazines will typically welcome the added content. Write about whatever you want – either a topic you’re passionate about or teach people to do something related to your business. In your bio make sure you link back to your site!

Those are my seven link building tactics for small and local businesses, what are yours?

7 Advanced Link Building Strategies For A Competitive Edge

We all know it’s not worth our time to build sub-par links anymore. It’s time to get innovative with our link building tactics. We previously shared a few lesser-known link building techniques and post panda/penguin era link acquisition strategies here, but we are of the opinion that you can’t have too many.

So, here are a few more techniques that will help you push the envelope and approach link building with the mindset of a serious marketer:

1. Coin a Phrase and Set Up Alerts

The idea behind this strategy is to invent a new buzzword, try and get it to catch on, and then capture links as a result. Since not everybody who uses the phrase is going to send a link your way, you can set up Google Alerts to capture mentions of the phrase. If it’s clear front context that they’re talking about the buzzword you coined, this can be a great opportunity to build a link.

Now, if your site doesn’t quite have the exposure to get a buzzword out there, this might seem like a pointless exercise in futility. However, all it takes is $50 to get your article in front of 1,000 people on StumbleUpon.

If your campaign is targeted toward the right people, and the phrase is catchy enough, this could well be enough to start getting the phrase in use by many in the online community.

2. Produce a Resource and Set Up Alerts

Similarly, you can put together a video, white paper, or infographic, set up Google Alerts on the topic, and start contacting people. Any time a question about the topic comes up online, this is an opportunity to answer their question with a link to your resource. This is a great option because the answer is completely on-topic.

3. Update Somebody Else’s Content

You know those pieces of content that seem to just keep on giving? This is the content that you want to keep investing in with updates, corrections, etc. to keep it relevant. It’s common practice to revisit your best content, keep promoting it, and keep improving it.

But fixing up your old content can be also be a chore, and that’s where you come in. Instead of submitting a guest post, why not contact a blogger with an interesting fact or update that will help keep one of their top posts fresh and interesting?

Try doing a search for some of the more broad terms related to your keywords, and visiting some of the blog posts you come across. Focus on the ones that already seem to have massive appeal. Read through, and catch yourself if you start thinking this reminds me of…

As soon as that happens, get in touch and let them in a surprising piece of information that’s relevant to the article. This can be a great opportunity to earn a link.

4. Customize a Widget

You might not be a coding master with the ability to put together a master widget that everybody’s going to want to download. However, odds are pretty good you have the coding or design skills necessary to customize a widget so that it fits a site’s branding and appearance.

Try seeking out blogs in your niche, or peripheral niches, that use widgets you recognize. Give the widget a tweak so that it fits the site better, place a link, and offer the new take on the widget to the blogger. This is especially powerful for popular blogging topics that aren’t centered around the tech industry.

That said, be ethical, and make sure the blogger is aware of the link back to your site. There’s no reason to hide this. As long as you understand how to work with people amicably it shouldn’t be a problem.

5. Buy Display Ads

6. Work with Experts

There’s no reason to produce content in a vacuum. In fact, most of the best content is the result of collaboration. Involve experts in the creation, fact-checking, and refinement of your content before it goes live. The more experts you work with, the more opportunities you have for additional links.

Don’t try to scale this too much. The more people you try to involve, the less commitment you can get from each of them, especially if you are automating your outreach. Instead, customize your outreach emails and be clear about why you are contacting them. Don’t ask for too much from them, and make it clear that they will be getting something out of the exchange as well.

7. Get In Business Directories

Most “link” directories are useless (though exceptions like DMOZ and AllTop are worth your time). However, getting added to relevant business directories is certainly a worthwhile effort, since these links are from reputable organizations and are a good sign of trust. These kinds of links can come from:

The Better Business Bureau

The Chamber of Commerce

Your local library

Other relevant city and state government resources

Accrediting organizations

Business memberships

Focus on links from reputable business lists that people actually use and care about. Avoid directories that exist simply to provide links for search engine authority, since these are the least likely to offer any real search engine authority.

Can you think of additional alternatives? If you can, pass them along, and if you liked this, be sure to pass it along as well.

Link Building For Search When Google Does Not Exist

Let’s all take the time to stop checking our rankings, searching for new blogs in TLA and sending link request emails to envision an alternate universe, a world wide web where Google does not exist. An Internet where link anchor text does not influence ranking, because link based ranking does not exist.

Let us pretend that only on-page content and some other form of ranking algorithm, like consumer ratings, influence how users find web sites, and linking means nothing in terms of search. For a moment, let’s believe that PageRank is still a distant dream of Larry Page, who left Stanford to open a hugely successful In-N-Out Burger franchise and Matt Cutts followed up his NSA internship with a job at Booze Allen or possibly went down the road of stand up comedy.

Sure, it sounds like some sort of Zen riddle, but if Google did not exist … would you still build links? Instead of trying to build links to rank highly in Google, if Google did not exist, what would you link for? Relevant traffic of course.

If Google did not exist and Matt Cutts & the spam team were not picking through sites looking to penalize and expose sites which sell links or break the Google Webmaster Guidelines; wouldn’t you take a whole entire different approach to link building?

Here are the ways I would practice my link building in a world with no Google.

1. Directories: No longer would anchor text heavy links from meaningless sites and directories have value and no longer would there be a market for freebie directories which accept any anchor text or link heavy spam sites set up for the sole purpose of selling anchor text links.

In a world with no Google, anchor text is not important anymore.

I would make sure these links are placed in visible areas. Not in the footer of news sites or any site where web surfers and readers would not see them, but in the direct view of the reader. Paying a bit extra, in my opinion, is worth the investment.

Similarly, I would set up exclusivity plans with sites I’m buying these high profile links, or even banners on, where none of my competition could buy a similar link. If the site directs relevant traffic which we can track, I’d set up a revenue sharing plan with these sites to secure a permanent link with little upfront costs. Again, such negotiations are worth the time and investment.

4. Public Relations and Editorial Placements : Reaching out to bloggers and news publishers with an active audience would be extremely powerful in a world without Google because those power links in the stories that everyone is reading. Having a link from USA Today would be incredibly powerful because it’s syndicated to so many other sources.

Press releases would still be useful, but mass press release firms that only exist to syndicate content in Google News or Google listings would not be as important. BusinessWire, MarketWire and Eric Ward’s URLWire would be essential to web product launchings, but close participation and relationships with influential web bloggers and journalists would be key.

I recently worked on a blogging project for Barry Williams (yes, Greg Brady) and good PR and communications have already led to coverage of the social project in USAToday, WashingtonPost, AdAge and New York Magazine. These authority links are eternally valuable in a world with Google, or without.

5. Presell Pages or Hosted Marketing Pages : I remember back in the days before Google I was working for a company which sold licensed I Love Lucy products. We located all of the I Love Lucy fan sites we could via the Yahoo Directory, DMOZ and UCmore. Then, each site linked out to other I Love Lucy sites, both personal or professional, via sidebar links or web rings (remember web rings?).

I then contacted these site owners, asking for coverage of the products I was representing. Some of the site owners were so happy we had reached out to them that they set up an entire page about the products, and linked to that page from their navigational linking. Back then, we were happy to get a link or a mention, but these product pages which are now referred to in the industry as Presell or Hosted Marketing Pages had much more influence than we could have imagined. And that was 8 years ago and those listings still exist today.

6. Blog Reviews : In a world without Google I would contact webmasters and influence them via praise or payment to set up such product pages on their sites. In the blogging world, we call these same ideals blog reviews and although some of the blog review brokers have databases full of amateur or spammy blog sites, they have a great deal of authority and respected blogs in their libraries as well.

Take Search Engine Journal for example, we have over 14,000 RSS Subscribers as tracked by Feedburner and 7,000 + readers a day from search engines and external blog coverage. If you are launching a product or service for the search marketing industry, wouldn’t it make sense to try and obtain some coverage on this site?

You can pay for blog reviews or develop relationships with those bloggers asking for reviews. Just do it. In return your product, site or service will attract the eye balls of hundreds, thousands or millions of readers. And that coverage includes a link to your site, which will bring traffic and may bring sales.

7. Guest Authoring : In a world without Google, mass article distribution sites would not have the value they have now, because now they more or less only exist so novice link builders can distribute an article with a footer link to hundreds of these sites, hoping to influence Google rankings.

Sure, chúng tôi shows up for just about every Google query, but the site itself was developed to be an article database for email newsletters to use, not really any website. In a world without Google I would identify 20 or so sites, blogs or veritcle portals to contribute original articles to, and make sure those articles link to the source, which is the site I own or represent.

Coming back to the Search Engine Journal example, I was told that one of my contributing authors landed a $80K deal via a referral that came from an article they contributed to this site (heck, maybe I should charge people to contribute). The point is, a carefully and strategically placed article on one authority site has much more value than mass distributed articles, in a world with or without Google.

Ranking in Google By Not Linking for Google

These are just some examples of how linking like one who lives in a world without Google would theoretically result in better rankings in Google itself via high quality and authority linkage and placements. SEO should be performed with the end user in mind, and linking performed with alternative forms of ROI besides Google rankings.

Sometimes when I look at Google rankings for the keyterms which I am trying to rank on or my clients are, I’m exposed to all kinds of spammy listings, and a quick check of those backlinks exposes tricky and transparent techniques used to trick Google.

But I assure myself, and my clients, those sites will come and go, like someone cutting off traffic during rush hour, cutting in line at McDonalds or a crotch rocket swerving in and out of cars, they will get their just deserves in the end. If you can steer the steady path of righteousness, and plan a smart linking campaign with long term effects in mind, you can sit back, see how those cheaters work, and perhaps learn from them.

The conundrum in this Zen Koan, If Google does not exist, how would you link build for Google?, is that by link building without the goal of manipulating Google rankings, and by convincing yourself that Google does not exist, one can in fact, link build incredibly efficiently, especially for Google and other search engines.

Your thoughts?

Alternate Link Building Strategies: The Linkerati Effect

Several bloggers have suggested writing about the linkerati as way to draw editorial backlinks. This post is a sort of lens to some great articles elsewhere, plus a bit of value-added on my end.

Rand at SEOmoz identified the linkerati, and says that every site is linkbait and linkerati worthy. But that’s provided that you can identify the people most likely to link to you and attract them to your site. Obviously, you want to profile them or give them recognition in some fashion, and more often than not, they’ll link to your article. You also want to put some thought into your content. (I’ll be repeating that mantra a great deal.)

A summary of tips:

They get lots of link love as it is. Go after the other linkerati. Of course, ByLinking takes care of that indirectly, though Google may soon be devaluing links from theme templates, etc.

There are many newer bloggers that just don’t get the attention they deserve. Profile them, their blogs, their niche. Interview using video Skype or just voice or text.

Profile those who link to you – makes it easy to choose the next post. Put some thought it into the content you use.

Instead of one big linkbait per week, try 5-6 solid smaller resource posts. Why? Well, you’re casting your net wider for editorial links. Maki’s DoshDosh and Daniel’s Daily Blog Tips are two of the best examples. There is so much linkworthy content there. I may link to 3-4 posts there, and so will another several dozen bloggers, because there’s just so much good content.

For example, if you write one solid, linkable article per day, 5 d/wk, that’s about 250 per year. If they’re good, and you’ve developed enough of a profile, each post is probably worth 3 backlinks each or more – because you’re catering to other bloggers. That’s at least 750 backlinks per year, hopefully from different sites. And slow and steady links are often more valuable and persistent – at least to some SE algorithms. [Of course, if your blog is new and has low visibility, you may not gain 3+ backlinks per post, but going wide is still a good strategy.]

If you go with the root domain trust model, you place this blog aimed at linkerati/ bloggers in a subdirectory of your main site. Not just another blog about blogging, but one with your personality and enough extra content value that you stand out and induce editorial links. (Of course don’t forget to deep-link your archives or try alternative link building strategies.)

The diagram below shows the Linkerati effect. Write something interesting about one member of the Linkerati, and if they link back to you, their readers may see that and link back to you as well. I’ve seen it happen first hand, though I stumbled across this concept. And after the primary and secondary back links are the tertiary links. Those are from readers of the secondary linkers.

Successful Link Building In The Content Marketing Era

Make no mistake about it: SEO is getting tougher. A lot tougher

With Google becoming increasingly sophisticated at identifying and penalizing unnatural link profiles, it’s the companies that are able to evolve their SEO strategies that soar past their competitors in the search results. Not too long ago sites could rank well from only building links to pages that make money. This strategy is rarely effective today.

In the most competitive markets top sites have increasingly diverse link profiles. Increasingly, quality content is the ultimate way to earn natural links and increase trust from the search engines.

Despite this new landscape, many SEOs are continuing to use outdated strategies. They will first identify the keywords they wish to target, create pages around these keywords with little value to the user and then focus obsessively on building links to these pages, thus creating a very unnatural link profile.

As I outline in a new report, “Successful Link Building in the Content Marketing Era,” SEOs can implement a five-step plan to diversify their link profile through the judicial and strategic use of content marketing.

Here’s a look at some key points to keep in mind in order to have success with link building in the content marketing era:

How to Build a Natural Link Profile

Instead of worrying about sheer quantity, scale back your ambitions but make each piece of content truly worthwhile. Have the content custom designed, commission illustrations or develop impressive graphs and charts. The more work you do, the more links you’re likely to get.

When you are coming up with content ideas, it’s worth thinking about the terms that the content could rank for. Write a post on a popular topic, and it’s more likely to get search traffic. It’s also more likely to be discovered by bloggers and journalists and acquire links on its own.

When you build links to your content, don’t worry about how people link to you. Some might use the URL as the anchor text, and others might even misspell your company name. These are all traits found in natural link profiles, and are more likely to benefit than hurt you. Regardless of anchor text or the target page, quality links will improve the trustworthiness of your domain and improve your stature in the engines.

As your content efforts expand, you should start to build a solid picture of the methods and strategies that work best. Perhaps you will find it easier to gain traction with one subset of your audience, or you will see incredible search traffic from pieces about a specific topic.

When you come across a successful strategy, give it increased prominence in your editorial calendar. At the same time, don’t give up on methods that have yet to work effectively. Instead, constantly iterate until you find something that works. Over time, you must continue to acquire new links from new sites, and this is only possible through expanding beyond your most comfortable niches.

Companies must move away from promoting conversion pages via manual link building and instead use their resources create quality content. Then focus link-building efforts around the content they create. Over time, the content will begin to garner links as bloggers and journalists come across it. For every piece of content you invest in, you create an opportunity to build natural, organic links in the long term. You will also gain links from credible, authoritative sites that would never link to one of your commercial pages.

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