How effective is your link building campaign? I bet your answer is “I wish it could be better.”
Talking to business owners and executives on a daily basis, I have yet to meet one who would be satisfied with their link building strategy.
Everyone needs links, yet they are getting harder and harder to get.
Change your link building mindset.
How link building is similar to lead generation
In any business marketing strategy, we’re really interested in one thing: sales.
Yet, if we keep focusing on that end goal, we won’t achieve much. A customer may need up to eight touchpoints before they finally make a purchase. If you only focus on that final sale, you’re missing out on all those extra steps that drive your customer to buy.
It may sound obvious (so I’ll stop here) but the point I’m trying to make is: Marketers cannot focus on the final sale. We need something in between — a secondary metric that will bridge the gap between “a stranger” and a “a buyer”.
This is where the notion of a “lead” came from, i.e. a contact which we consider our prospective/possible/future customer.
A journey from a “a stranger” to a “lead” is shorter and much more predictable than a journey from “a stranger” to a “a buyer”, and once we turn a visitor into a lead, we can reach out to them in a much more meaningful and personalized way (via email, Facebook re-marketing, on-site personalizations, etc.).
What does this have to do with link building?
In link building we need links, just like in marketing we want sales. But focusing on the final goal is just as limiting in link building as it is in marketing.
Very few link builders these days do anything beyond sending an email, then using automated follow-ups. There’s no “lead generation” in link building. It’s either “link or no link” reporting.
And that’s where that process is broken.
In link building, all those bloggers, publishers, editors, etc. may also need several touchpoints (from something beyond an email). Furthermore, they may not be proper decision makers within the publication you are targeting.
If you apply that lead generation process to link building, you may see much better results, and more importantly, those results will keep growing the more leads you acquire.
How to add lead generation processes to your link building strategy
1. Define your linking leads prior to creating content
In B2B marketing, this is called outcomes-focused data strategy, which basically means you need to know exactly what you want to achieve (the outcome) before you start developing your strategy of achieving said outcome.
This concept is — sadly — seldom applied to link building.
What usually happens:
- The content team creates what they think is a great content asset.
- The outreach team identifies website owners who are likely to be interested in that asset, and starts the outreach.
Both teams are working in isolation.
But what happens if you turn that process around?
- The outreach team shows the content team what’s attracting links on a specific topic (with examples). This insight should come from prospect research, current or upcoming trends, from previous outreach campaign data, etc.
- The content team (in collaboration with the outreach team) creates something better than what currently exists on that topic. At this point, both the teams may involve those linking leads in the actual content creation (by reaching out and asking for expert opinions on the topic).
- The outreach team delivers that content to the contacts they identified prior to the content creation.
Depending on the outlined link building opportunities, the linkable assets should take a specific format or angle, for example:
- Curated lists of resources: Make sure your article fits one of the existing categories in the list, better fills a gap, or fixes an existing broken link.
- Links from influencers or experts: Prior to publishing your article, reach out to those influencers and get their quote (opinion) to include in your article. Influencers are more likely to link when they’re featured on that page.
- Links from peers and friends: Follow those people everywhere and start interacting with them on a daily basis. Think of this as “lead nurturing” — increasing your chances of creating long-lasting partnerships.
- Editorial links from popular blogs: Track down authors and editors of those sites and start interacting with them on social media. Consider inviting them to contribute a quote to your article as well.
By letting your link building research guide the content creation process, you will end up with a highly successful campaign that is still delivering links (without the need to do the active outreach anymore).
2. Organize your linking leads
As we said previously, in link building the end goal is a link. But different leads will need a different number of touchpoints to finally link. Plus, more links are better than one.
This is where a lead nurturing process comes into play.
Just like B2B marketers using different methods to “warm up” leads and take them close to a sale, in link building you will get many more links if you keep reaching out to your leads to remind them of your asset.
If you’re using an outreach tool (both Pitchbox and Link Hunter are good options, depending on your budget and complexity of your project), it will handle some of the lead nurturing for you. At the very least, any outreach solution will:
- Save all the emails you sent
- Update the email status and dates (replied, bounced back, followed up, etc.)
Many link building teams will find that sufficient. I recommend going further and using a solid customer relationship management approach, which would also include:
- Creating a detailed profile for each lead (which would also include their sites and columns, social media profiles, etc.)
- Reaching out on social media (through ads and/or manual outreach)
If you want to go even further, you can adopt a well-organized customer relationship management strategy towards your linking leads. To get you started, here’s a solid comparison of major CRM types, as well as lead generation and nurturing platforms allowing you to properly organize and monitor your link building prospects.
You can set your link acquisition workflow and automate some parts of it (like follow-ups) while being in full control of everything that is going on.
3. Find alternative contacts and decision makers within each publication
In B2B, this process is called “account-based marketing”, i.e. when you know exactly which company would make your ideal customer and you start researching how to best onboard it.
In link building, this strategy applies to huge multi-author publications that would make ideal and ongoing backlink providers for your content. Think of the New York Times, Mashable, or a huge research magazine in your niche.
Emailing one of their authors with a request to link to your study or your infographic may not be enough (in fact, it will hardly ever be enough).
To investigate publications I’m really interested in getting links from, I use the following tools:
I don’t use Linkedin for outreach, but I just love its company profiles, which show me which friends (or friends of friends) I have associated with those entities. I have been introduced to quite a few great publications this way:
Twitter bio search
While Linkedin may be useful to identify existing contacts, Twitter is great for building new ones. For bigger publications, all you need is to find people including that publication in their bios.
A tool called Twiangulate is a great and free option for doing that: Just specify the company name (or its Twitter handle) as a keyword and the tool will find all the Twitter profiles that include it:
Now create a separate Twitter list to keep in touch with all of them.
Website’s “About Us” page
This may seem obvious, but it’s often a missed step. Many publications list their whole editorial team with all the emails included on their “About” page.
Try developing an outreach strategy for each of those emails. For example, a CEO may not be the best contact to request a link from, but they may reply and give you clearer directions for who to speak with, so ask for a contact!
4. Diversify your touchpoints
In my experience, an email is still the most effective link building outreach method. Truthfully, I’ve seen better success with a follow-up email versus the initial email.
But other ways to reach out certainly increase your chances of hearing back. These include:
- A simple Twitter follow or retweet (no requests here)
- A DM (especially when journalists claim their DMs are open for pitches and ideas)
- A comment on their personal site
- A LinkedIn message
- Adding a contact to a Twitter list (Twitter will notify them)
- Tagging them on social media (especially when they’re referenced or quoted in your content)
The bottom line here: Simply being there may remind them of your request and prompt them to open your email.
5. Diversify your assets
With diverse touchpoints comes the need to diversify your assets. Your outreach will be more effective if you give your linking leads something of value to include in their article.
If your initial email and the first follow-up weren’t successful, try creating a visual summary (an infographic) in your second follow-up to give them something fresh.
The process may turn quite easy and effective if you provide your outreach and content teams with tools enabling them to handle the creation of those assets. These tools include:
6. Keep an eye on your team performance
Your team is everything. If you fail to train them properly or distribute tasks among your team members effectively, the whole process will fail to move along.
At the very least:
- Include your outreach team in your social media marketing so they can extend their outreach methods beyond emailing. Tools like Agorapulse will help in that process. You can set up lists, monitor certain keywords, save and delegate certain updates to turn them into tasks, etc.
- Track your outreach activity. Tools like Email Analytics will help you with that. It will generate daily and weekly reports showing you how actively your team was emailing and how many responses they got. It will also save all emails to backup conversations.
7. Optimize your landing page
Your linkable asset should make an instantly positive impression on the people you email. There may by different ways to achieve that, but certain things help for just about any SEO campaign:
Your page needs to be ad-free
I’ve seen lots of people not willing to provide “a free link” to a page that is monetized with ads. There’s no point in arguing with your linking leads on that. It’s easier to remove the ads from the page you’re actively link building for at the moment. Besides, more often than not, it’s very easy to do.
Create CTAs targeting your linking leads
This one is a little bit advanced, but it will help a lot. Adjust your CTAs on the linkable asset page to fit your linking leads rather than your regular ads.
For example, instead of “Sign up for a free trial”, you may include a press coverage link or invite visitors to download additional data or resources.
Using Facebook pixel to record everyone who initially landed on the site through your linkable asset is another great way to re-market your asset to your linking leads.
8. Keep an eye on those links
Very few people will reply to you saying they have indeed linked to your content. But knowing if they have is important because conversion is a crucial part in the lead nurturing process. It doesn’t stop your relationships with your lead, but it impacts your interactions going forward. Those leads who end up linking to you are your best friends. Cancel your follow-ups, thank them, and keep interacting with them on social media.
Again, if you are using an outreach platform, chances are the link tracking will be included. Otherwise, check out Site Checker that has a handy link monitoring feature included.
Safe links mean those we cannot control. This turns a link building process almost into a form of art, or a well-manufactured serendipity (one of my favorite business concepts). You need to do a lot before reaching your end goal, all while keeping your end goal in mind.
These days, when any site owner — professional or amateur — is bombarded with link requests, you need to up your link building game. Luckily, there’s a neighboring marketing area that you can learn from: lead generation. Adopt more complicated and more diverse outreach methods to acquire great links to your website. Good luck!