Build Relationships, Not Links


Build relationships, not links. If you’re in the business of link acquisition and looking for a new mantra, or a way to be great at your job, there it is.

Building relationships is a new beast to tame. It’s not about trying to influence machines – it’s about trying to influence people. Every human is a kaleidoscope of attitudes, behaviors, and emotions.

Empathy – immersing oneself in the prospect’s world – is an asset for fostering trust, negotiating exchanges, and building lasting relationships.

Here’s how tapping in to the study of human behavior can help us better understand people’s actions and build stronger ties in a post-Penguin/Panda world.

1. Man (and Woman) is a Perpetually Dissatisfied Animal

Time warp back to philosophy class. Karl Marx’s theory of production and consumption says, “When basic needs have been met, this leads to the creation of new needs.”

Every prospect you contact has a need, something they want or they don’t know they can have – yet. The first step for building relationships is identifying why the person that you’re trying to foster a connection with would benefit from a relationship with you.

Robert Cialdini, author of “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”, identifies six key principles of persuasion. The very first principle is reciprocity: “People tend to return a favor”. The idea is that when someone makes an effort to do something for us, our moral fabric tends to make us feel obliged to do something in return.

If your client sells shoes and you approach a fashion blogger with a free pair to review, their conscience (and their shoe addiction) will make them happy to review.

Not only does your offer have to be creative when you approach a prospect, it has to relate to how they can achieve a goal.

This may mean having to re-evaluate your link acquisition strategy with your clients, to identify the collateral you can exchange with prospects, whether free samples and trials, exclusive offers, or expertise.

2. Personality Can Tell us a Lot About What Motivates People

The extinct practice of paying for links is now frowned upon by most SEOs, bloggers, and search engines alike. Since Google’s Penguin/Panda updates, outreach solely based on “link building” significantly reduces your response rates and terminates your chances of being considered on an A-list blog.

Now you have to work harder to learn more about who you’re contacting and what you can offer each other in the long-term. There’s a lot more involved than just evaluating the keyword relevancy or pagerank value of a site.

The secret to relationships lies in knowing people’s underlying interests, needs, and values. That’s what helps you determine what motivates them and how you can help each other in the future.

Every one of your prospects is a potential ally. And empathy is the way you will step into their world, and understand what drives their behavior and how you can influence it.

Fortunately (for marketers), you can tell a lot about a person by what they post online. They leave an entire trail of digital footprints for you to follow, from their “About” page, their blog posts, their LinkedIn profile, to what kind of stuff they post on Twitter and Facebook. Your detective work is all laid out for you. It just takes a few extra clicks and a little curiosity.

3. Identify Relevant “Currencies”; Theirs and Yours

MindTools’ Influence Model talks about using “relevant currencies” in order to influence people. The model was actually developed for a work setting, but it’s incredible how these principles can be applied to relationship building. The idea is to establish what the most meaningful “currency” is to the person you are reaching out to.

The five currencies below can be great sources of inspiration when you’re negotiating an exchange:

  • Inspiration-related currencies. People who value these currencies want to find meaning in what they’re doing. To appeal to these people, approach them with a cause, something that will lead to a greater good.
  • Task-related currencies. Task-related currencies are often highly valued where supplies and resources may be scarce. Offer them your client’s expertise on a topic that’s relevant to their site that they haven’t covered yet.
  • Position-related currencies. People who value this currency focus on recognition, reputation, and visibility. Create content relevant to their interests that make an active attempt to engage them, either directly through the content or through social channels.
  • Relationship-related currencies. People who value relationships want to belong. These people want to feel connected on a personal level, with you or the organization you’re representing. Show them that they aren’t just a means to an end and involve them in various initiatives.
  • Personal-related currencies. These currencies relate to the other person on a personal level. You should give courtesy and gratitude for the help you receive. It’s as simple as writing “Thank You” follow up emails, sharing a person’s blog post, and making it a habit of acknowledging people for their efforts.

4. The Medium is the Message

From email to Google+, Facebook to face-to-face, each of these communication channels has their own unique characteristics, much like the people who use them.

Marshall McLuhan stated that the medium through which we choose to communicate holds as much value than the message itself. One contact might like IM, another might always be on Twitter – it’s good to know where people want to be reached.

5. Influence is Give and Take

In Francisco Dao’s article Networking is for Losers, he makes a key point that sums up how you should approach building relationships; a road to quality versus a shooting slope to quantity:

“A few strong relationships can open far more doors than a thousand evenings of glad handing and networking.”

With that, keep in mind these six steps for building fruitful and lasting relationships. See if getting to know the person behind the email address might be worth the time and the nurturing.

Image source: Brands & Idea



12 Questions to Ask a Prospective Link Building or Contact Marketing Client

If you’re an SEO/SEM/inbound marketing/content marketing agency that offers link building or content marketing services independent of other services (such as keyword research, a technical site audit, etc.), you’ve probably gotten an inquiry from someone who wants “link building” services but isn’t exactly sure what that entails.

Obviously, if a prospect has a very specific request (i.e. they know that they want X guest posts placed per month or Y articles created and promoted), that’s easy enough to figure out, but what if they have a list of target keywords they want to drive more traffic around, and they are asking for “link building” while expecting you, the vendor, to help them sort out what they need?

Questions You Can Ask to Help Structure a Link Building Proposal

There are some core questions we’ve found to be helpful in customizing a proposal for someone who is interested in link building services in one of two core areas:

  • Goals & Budget – There’s almost an infinite number of things you could potentially do for a site under the link building and content marketing “umbrellas.” By understanding the specific goals and budgetary constraints of the client, you can better comprehend the tactics that will help you get a desired result.
  • Internal Resources – Understanding what resources the potential client has available can help you determine which tactics will be possible and where you might be able to leverage existing internal assets to help the client achieve their goals while conserving budget.

Goals & Budget

  1. Are there any specific goals we should be aware of (i.e. you’d like to increase organic traffic by X% by Y date, or you’d like to rank well for the following terms, etc.)?
  2. How many different keywords and/or pages are you planning on targeting?
  3. Will the link building efforts be focused solely on your core site, or do you have microsites you’re also planning to target?
  4. Do you have an idea (even a range) of where you’d like to be in terms of budget?
  5. Is there anything we should know about current traffic levels, value per lead, or conversion rates as we’re evaluating the opportunity for you? For instance, if you’re converting traffic at 1%, and each lead is worth $10, then for us to be a profitable expense for you, you’ll need to get around 100 additional unique visitors for every $10 spent.

Internal Resources

  1. What sort of content resources do you have in-house? Do you have people who could write a blog post or an in-depth guide that would be compelling to writers/bloggers in your niche?
  2. Is there any content you have (PDFs, brochures, engaging videos, interesting charts, graphs, etc.) that is primarily informational that you haven’t previously promoted online? Some things we commonly find are really in-depth guides on topics that are in PDFs, but they haven’t been “pitched” to bloggers, or a tool or widget or calculator that you have on your site that you haven’t done a lot of promotion around, etc.
  3. Do you have any development resources in-house? Mainly, we want to know if there’s someone who would have the bandwidth to develop a free tool or widget.
  4. Do you have any graphic design resources in-house? One tactic we may want to leverage would be data visualizations (a.k.a. infographics). Is there someone who could execute on a design concept?
  5. Do you have any video content or the capability to easily create video content?
  6. Do you do any industry studies or surveys?
  7. Are there any hurdles to publishing content on your site that we should be aware of?

Depending on the prospect and the conversations you’ve had with them, you may not need to include all of these questions. And, of course, depending on the client and the services you’re offering, you may consider asking additional questions beyond this list.

The main thing, though, is to try to create a framework for gauging as quickly as possible exactly what questions will get you to a detailed proposal that will allow you to get the client as close to their goals as possible with the budgetary constraints they’ve outlined.


17 Types of Link Spam to Avoid

If the last few months of ranking changes have shown me anything, it’s that poorly executed link building strategy that many of us call white hat can be more dangerous than black-hat strategies like buying links. As a result of well intentioned but short-sighted link building, many sites have seen significant drops in rankings and traffic. Whether you employ link building tactics that are black, white, or any shade of grey, you can do yourself a favor by avoiding the appearance of link spam.

It’s become very obvious that recent updates hit sites that had overly aggressive link profiles. The types of sites that were almost exclusively within what I called the “danger zone” in a post about one month before Penguin hit. Highly unnatural anchor text and low-quality links are highly correlated, but anchor text appears to have been the focus.

I was only partially correct, as the majority of cases appear to be devalued links rather than penalties. Going forward, the wise SEO would want to take note of the types of link spam to make sure that what they’re doing doesn’t look like a type of link spam. Google’s response to and attitude towards each type of link spam varies, but every link building method becomes more and more risky as you begin moving towards the danger zone.

1. Cleansing Domains

While not technically a form of link building, 301 “cleansing” domains are a dynamic of link manipulation that every SEO should understand. When you play the black hat game, you know the chance of getting burned is very real. Building links to a domain that redirects to a main domain is one traditionally safe way to quickly recover from Google actions like Penguin. While everyone else toils away attempting to remove scores of exact-match anchor text, the spammers just cut the trouble redirected domains loose like anchors, and float on into the night with whatever treasure they’ve gathered.

A cleansing domain for NFL jersies

When Penguin hit, this linkfarm cleansing domain changed from a 301 to a 404 almost overnight.

Link building through redirects should be easy to catch, as new links to a domain that is currently redirecting is hardly natural behavior. To anyone watching, it’s like shooting up a flare that says, “I’m probably manipulating links.” The fact that search engines aren’t watching closely right now is no guarantee of future success, so I’d avoid this and similar behavior if future success is a goal.

2. Blog Networks & Poorly Executed Guest Blogs

I’ve already covered the potential risks of blog networks in depth here. Google hates blog networks – fake blogs that members pay or contribute content to in order to get links back to their or their clients’ sites. Guest blogging and other forms of contributing content to legitimate sites is a much whiter tactic, but consider that a strategy that relies heavily on low-quality guest blogging looks a lot like blog network spam.

With blog networks, each blog has content with a constant ratio of words to links. It posts externally to a random sites multiple times, and with a lot of “inorganic” anchor text for commercially valuable terms. Almost all backlinks to blog networks are also spam.

I cringe when I see low-quality blogs with questionable backlinks accepting guest blog posts that meet rigid word length and external link guidelines. Quality blogs tend not to care if the post is 400-500 words with two links in the bio, and quality writers tend not to ruin the post with excessive linking. Most of us see guest blogging as a white-hat tactic, but a backlink profile filled with low-quality guest posts looks remarkably similar to the profile of a site using automated blog networks.

I’d obviously steer clear of blog networks, but I’d be just as wary of low-quality inorganic guest blogs that look unnatural. Guest blog on sites with high quality standards and legitimate backlink profiles of their own.

3. Article Marketing Spam

Article link addiction is still a real thing for new SEOs. You get one or two links with anchor text of your choice, and your rankings rise. You’re not on the first page, but you do it again and get closer. The articles are easy and cheap, and they take no creativity or mental effort. You realize that you’re reaching diminishing returns on the articles, but your solution isn’t to stop – you just need to do more articles. Before you know it, you’re searching for lists of the top article sites that give followed links and looking for automated solutions to build low-quality links to your low-quality links.

Most articles are made for the sole purpose of getting a link, and essentially all followed links are self-generated rather than endorsements. Google has accordingly made article links count for very little, and hashammered article sites for their low-quality content.

Ezine Articles SEO visibility

Maybe you’re wondering how to get a piece of that awesome trend, but hopefully you’ll join me in accepting that article directories aren’t coming back. Because they can theoretically be legitimate, article links are generally devalued rather than penalized. As with all link spam, your risk of receiving more harsh punishment rises proportionate to the percentage of similar links in your profile.

4. Single-Post Blogs

Ironically named “Web 2.0 Blogs” by some spam peddlers, these two-page blogs on Tumblr and WordPress sub-domains never see the light of day. After setting up the free content hub with an article or two, the site is then “infused” with link juice, generally from social bookmarking links (discussed below).

Despite their prevalence, these sites don’t do much for rankings. Links with no weight come in, and links with no impact go out. They persist because with a decent free template, clients can be shown a link on a page that doesn’t look bad. Google doesn’t need to do much to weed these out, because they’re already doing nothing.

5. (Paid) Site-Wide Links

Site-wide footer links used to be all the rage. Google crippled their link-juice-passing power because most footer links pointing to external sites are either Google Bombs or paid links. Where else would you put a site-wide link that you don’t want your users to click?

To my point of avoiding the appearance of spam, Penguin slammed a number of sites with a high proportion of site-wide (footer) links that many would not have considered manipulative. Almost every free WordPress theme that I’ve seen links back to the creator’s page with choice anchor text, and now a lot of WordPress themes are desperately pushing updates to alter or remove the link. Penguin didn’t care if you got crazy with a plugin link, designed a web site, or hacked a template; the over-use of anchor text hit everyone. This goes to show that widespread industry practices aren’t inherently safe.

6. Paid Links in Content

There will never be a foolproof way to detect every paid link. That said it’s easier than you think to leave a footprint when you do it in bulk. You have to trust your sellers not to make it obvious, and the other buyers to keep unwanted attention off their own sites. If one buyer that you have no relationship to buys links recklessly, the scrutiny can trickle down through the sites they’re buying from and eventually back to you.

If you do buy links, knowing what you’re doing isn’t enough. Make sure everyone involved knows what they’re doing. Google is not forgiving when it comes to buying links.

7. Link Exchanges, Wheels, etc.

Speaking of footprints, I believe it’s possible to build a machine learning model to start with a profile of known links violating guidelines, which you can acquire from paid link sites and link wheel middlemen with nothing more than an email address. You can then assess a probability of a site being linked to in that manner, corroborating potential buyers and sellers with a link graph of similar profiles. I have no idea what kind of computing/programming power this would take, but the footprint is anomalous enough that it should be possible.

Exchanging links through link schemes requires a lot more faith in a bunch of strangers than I can muster. In a link wheel, you’re only as strong and subtle as your “weakest links.” My opinion is that if you’re smart enough to avoid getting caught, you’re probably smart enough to build or write something awesome that will have superior results and lower risk than link wheels.

8. Low-Quality Press Release Syndication

High-quality syndication and wire services possess a few unattractive attributes for spammers: there are editorial guidelines, costs, and even fact checking. Low-quality syndication services will send almost anything through to any site that will take it. You’ll end up with a bunch of links, but not many that get indexed, and even fewer that get counted.

My experience has been that press releases have rapidly diminishing returns on syndication only, and the only way to see ROI is to generate actual, real coverage. I still see link-packed press releases all over the web that don’t have a chance of getting coverage – really, your site redesign is not news-worthy. I’m not sure whether to attribute this to bad PR, bad SEO, or both.

9. Linkbait and Switch

In this context, we’re talking about creating a real piece of linkbait for credible links, and later replacing the content with something more financially beneficial. Tricking people into linking to content is clearly not something Google would be ok with. I don’t see linkbait and switch done very often, but I die a little every time I see it. If you’re able to create and spread viral content, there’s no need to risk upsetting link partners and search engines. Instead, make the best of it with smart links on the viral URL, repeat success, and become a known source for great content.

10. Directories

Directories have been discussed to death. The summary is that Google wants to devalue links from directories with no true standards. Here’s a Matt Cutts video and blog post on the topic. Directory links often suffer from a high out/in linking ratio, but those worth getting are those that are actually used for local businesses (think Yelp) and any trafficked industry directories.

  1. Would I pay money for a listing here?
  2. Are the majority of current listings quality sites?
  3. Do listings link with the business or site name?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, don’t bother with a link. This immediately excludes all but a handful of RSS or blog feed directories, which are mostly used to report higher quantities of links. When I was trained as an SEO, I was taught that directories would never hurt, but they might help a tiny bit, so I should go get thousands of them in the cheapest way possible. Recent experience has taught us that poor directory links can be a liability.

Even as I was in the process of writing this post, it appears that Google began deindexing low-quality directories. The effect seems small so far – perhaps testifying to their minimal impact on improving rankings in the first place – but we’ll have to wait and see.

11. Link Farms and Networks

I honestly can’t speak as an authority on link farms, having never used them personally or seen them in action.

“I’m telling you right now, the engines are very very smart about this kind of thing, and they’ve seen link farming over and over and over again in every different permutation. Granted, you might find the one permutation – the one system – that works for you today, but guess what? It’s not going to work tomorrow; it’s not going to work in the long run.” – Rand in 2009

My sense is that this prediction came true over and over again. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

12. Social Bookmarking & Sharing Sites

Links from the majority of social bookmarking sites carry no value. Pointing a dozen of them at a page might not even be enough to get the page crawled. Any quality links that go in have their equity immediately torn a million different directions if links are followed. The prevalence of spam-filled and abandoned social bookmarking sites tells me that site builders seriously over-estimated how much we would care about other people’s bookmarks.

Sites focusing on user-generated links and content have their own ways of handling trash. Active sites with good spam control and user involvement will filter spam on their own while placing the best content prominently. If you’d like to test this, just submit a commercial link to any front-page sub-Reddit and time how long it takes to get the link banned. Social sites with low spam control stop getting visitors and incoming links while being overrun by low quality external links. Just ask Digg.

13. Forum Spam

Forum spam may never die, though it is already dead. About a year ago, we faced a question about a forum signature link that was in literally thousands of posts on a popular online forum. When we removed the signature links, the change was similar to effect of most forum links: zero. It doesn’t even matter if you nofollow all links. Much like social sites, forums that can’t manage the spam quickly turn into a cesspool of garbled phrases and anchor text links. Bing’s webmaster forums are a depressing example.

14. Unintended Followed Link Spam

From time to time you’ll hear of a new way someone found to get a link on an authoritative site. Examples I have seen include links in bios, “workout journals” that the site let users keep, wish lists, and uploaded files. Sometimes these exploits (for lack of a better term) go viral, and everyone can’t wait to fill out their bio on a DA 90+ site.

In rare instances, this kind of link spam works – until the hole is plugged. I can’t help but shake my head when I see someone talking about how you can upload a random file or fill out a bio somewhere. This isn’t the sort of thing to base your SEO strategy around. It’s not long-term, and it’s not high-impact.

15. Profile Spam

While similar to unintended followed links on authority domains, profile spam deserves its own discussion due to their abundance. It would be difficult for Google to take any harsh action on profiles, as there is a legitimate reason for reserving massive numbers of profiles to prevent squatters and imitators from using a brand name.

What will hurt you is when your profile name and/or anchor text doesn’t match your site or brand name.


“The name’s Insurance. Car Insurance”

When profile links are followed and indexed, Google usually interprets the page as a user page and values it accordingly. Obviously Google’s system for devaluing profile links is not perfect right now. I know it’s sometimes satisfying just to get an easy link somewhere, but profile link spam is a great example of running without moving.

16. Comment Spam

If I were an engineer on a team designed to combat web spam, the very first thing I would do would be to add a classifier to blog comments. I would then devalue every last one. Only then would I create exceptions where blog comments would count for anything.

I have no idea if it works that way, but it probably doesn’t. I do know that blogs with unfiltered followed links are generally old and unread, and they often look like this:

Followed blog comments

Let’s pretend that Google counts every link equally, regardless of where it is on the page. How much do you think 1/1809th of the link juice on a low-authority page is worth to you? Maybe I’m missing something here, because I can’t imagine spam commenting being worth anything at any price. Let’s just hope you didn’t build anchor text into those comments.

17. Domain Purchase and Redirect/Canonical

Buying domains for their link juice is an old classic, but I don’t think I have anything to add beyond what Danny Sullivan wrote on the matter. I’m also a fan of Rand’s suggestion to buy blogs and run them rather than pulling out the fangs and sucking every ounce of life out of a once-thriving blog.

Domain buying still works disgustingly well in the (rare) cases where done correctly. I would imagine that dozens of redirected domains will eventually bring some unwelcome traffic to your site directly from Mountain View, but fighting spam has historically been much easier in my imagination than in reality.

This list is not meant to be comprehensive, but it should paint a picture of the types of spam that are out there, which ones are working, and what kinds of behaviors could get you in trouble.

Spam Links: Not Worth It

I have very deliberately written about what spam links “look like.” If you do believe that black hat SEO is wrong, immoral, or in any way unsavory that’s fine – just make sure your white hat links don’t look like black hat links. If you think that white hat SEOs are sheep, or pawns of Google, the same still applies: your links shouldn’t look manipulative.

I’m advising against the tactics above because the potential benefits don’t outweigh the risks. If your questionable link building does fall apart and your links are devalued, there’s a significant cost of time wasted building links that don’t count. There’s also the opportunity cost – what could you have been doing instead? Finally, clearing up a manual penalty can take insane amounts of effort and remove Google’s revenue stream in the meantime.


Linking 2012 – Effective Link Building Techniques in 2012

With Google’s constant effort to improve their search results, their algorithm is evolving to better understand and compliment organic versus spam link building. Since links are still (and will continue to be) a crucial ranking factor for websites, SEOs are focusing efforts on strong organic link building methods which in the short term are relatively tougher to track but in the longer term are extremely valuable to their websites overall domain strength and in turn increasing their SEO market share.

Organic or natural link building is the method of building high quality links irrespective of the anchor text or landing page. When I say its relative tougher to track I mean that in a pure ranking perspective – since we’re acquiring a large volume of links across the board it’s become difficult to hone in on the effectiveness of the campaign. However, there are domain strength signals that can be tracked which give you an idea of the overall success of the campaign.

Before we discuss the tracking methodology lets dive in to the three effective organic link building techniques:

1. Link Reclamation

Link reclamation is the process of winning back the links that you once had but are now broken due to changes in your website or the external links are pointing to pages via 301/302 redirects that don’t pass the full value of the link authority.

So how does link reclamation work? We follow a scalable process that helps identify and acquire broken links. Here’s how it works:

A). Phase 1: Discovery

We analyze the links from three main tools – OpenSiteExplorer, MajeticSEO and Google Webmaster Tools. We form one consolidated excel sheet that has all the links with duplicates removed. Since Google only gives us the URL for the linking page, we need to run our (AdLift’s) internal scrapper tool to give us more information on linked page and anchor text. Here’s the list of data that we need to help with the outreach process:

  1. AC Rank of Linking Page (From MajesticSEO)
  2. No. of External links pointing to Linking Page (From MajesticSEO)
  3. Linked Page (Internal Scraper)
  4. Anchor Text (Internal Scraper)
  5. HTTP Status Code (Screaming frog SEO Spider)

The first two data sets (ACRank and No. of external links) helps us identify high value sites.

On an average, we see that out of all the links pointing back to a particular website 15-30% of the links are 301/302 and 3-7% are 404s. Depending on the size of your website this a substantial link acquisition opportunity. (Data collected through a sample size of 10 websites)

Next, we append the target linked pages/anchor text for URLs that are either broken (404s) or are redirects (301/302). We’re now ready for the outreach process

B). Phase 2: Outreach

The outreach process is probably the most time consuming but that’s because it’s the most rewarding. Here’s where you need to segment the above data by 301/302 and 404s and reach out to webmasters that are linking to broken pages. The conversion rates (20-40%) on fixing broken links are high because it’s a win-win for both the website that’s currently linking to the broken page and obviously the linked website.

C). Phase 3: Tracking

The last piece of this campaign is the tracking how effective this has been. There are several ways of doing this but one that proves to validate the effectiveness is the tracking of the overall domain and page authority (OpenSiteExploer) of pages that the links were reclaimed.  For projects we’ve worked on, we’ve seen this number move in the positive direction within 30-45 days of all links being reclaimed. Alternately, if you reclaim broken links for specific anchor text you can track the rank/traffic improvements over time.

Overall, getting in to the numbers – if you have a link profile of 10,000 links, its safe to assume 5% are 404s and 25% are 301/302 – that’s 3000 links that have a high potential of converting.

2. Competitive Link Audit & Acquisition

The competitive link audit and acquisition is similar in some ways to link reclamation in that it involves understanding the link profile of a particular website and uncovers unique link targets. There are a number of tools you could use to help you analyze the competitions linking strategies. Here are some important graphs that help analyze the competitive link landscape.

A). Domain and Page Authority Segmentation (Tools used: OpenSiteExplorer or MajesticSEO)

This is a segmentation of all in coming links to a competitor website by domain and page authority.

The above graph shows us that a majority of incoming links has a domain authority between 50-60.

The above graph shows us that a majority of incoming links has a page authority less than 40.

B). Non-Brand Vs. Brand Anchor Text Segmentation (OpenSiteExplorer or MajesticSEO)

C). GEO Linking profile (Tool used: Blekko)

The GEO linking profile is particularly helpful in analyzing the link profile for global brands. It helps uncover unique linking opportunities for international sites where building quality GEO specific links becomes tough.

The example below shows Acer Germany’s link profile, where a large majority of inbound links is coming from Germany – which is great!

Source: /seo 

I’ll have to admit that these techniques are very time consuming, but gone are the “get rich quick” days of SEO.  To build up your domain strength with quality links and garner a greater share of the SEO traffic this level of effort is a must and it definitely pays off!


9 Tangible Linkable Asset Ideas and How to Build Links to Them

When I started to work as an SEO for an Australian-based SEO agency in early 2010, I never knew anything about the work (optimizing websites and building links to them) and definitely unsure of most of the things that I have worked on during that time.

All I did was to follow all the instructions given to me, build links in volume and research/learn all the basics of SEO from scratch. I got the hang of it after a couple of months, and I thought that I was doing great. Then I got fired.

I guess it was a tragic story, but not quite true, since I was immediately hired by Affilorama and Traffic Travisright after getting ditched by my former employer. Fortunately, this led me to getting acquainted with the works of Ross HudgensGarret French and Wil Reynolds in mid-2010 – the people in this industry who have really influenced my thinking on SEO, particularly in scaling almost all encompassed processes and methodologies when optimizing a website, which certainly include building and promoting “linkable assets”.

So let’s head over to the main topic of this post (sorry for the long introduction), and start defining what a linkable asset is. Basically, a linkable asset is any part of a website or organization that its target audience will genuinely perceive as worth citing/referencing to. It could be people, content, events or anything that can be really interesting to a specifically targeted market.

This aspect of a website is so important to any form of online marketing campaign, especially these days, seeing as these materials are able to benefit a site/brand in so many ways, such as:

  • Ability to continuously attract links to the domain
  • Strengthen a site’s online brand presence (substantiates the brand’s authoritativeness)
  • Generate more interested/fascinated brand followers and leads to the business
  • Becoming more visible through search and social channels (and yield more traffic to the site)

To give you a clearer picture of how linkable assets work, I’ll give several samples below as well as the link building methods that you can implement to promote each type of content.




How to build links to online Award-giving Bodies:

  • Provide embeddable widgets – Offer widgets that the award’s nominees, finalists and winners can use and embed to their sites/blogs, which will link back to your site.
  • Get press mentions – find columnists and authority bloggers who will most likely be interested to cover your online event (particularly those who write about your business’ industry). Engage and pitch a newsworthy angle about your upcoming event. For a more in-depth guide on pitching news to authority news sites, you can check out Chris Winfield’s recent post on getting press coverage.
  • Reach out to content curators – identify the top curators in your industry, probably bloggers who have published lists of top blogs and resources in your field. Contact these people and ask if they’ll be interested to make a write up about your event, or offer to do a guest post for them.
  • Leverage social sharing to nominees, members and/or winners – encourage participants to share their entry, as the more your content gets across their network and audience, the greater chances of getting second wave coverage/links from small and medium-sized blogs.

News Voting Feature

News Voting


A news voting feature is best built to already existing communities that have a strong following base, like industry-specific forums and blogs, since they already have users who can regularly submit articles and contribute to discussions. It’s also a great way to engage an already existing community, seeing that you can incentivize the approach by allowing your community to promote their own content within the site.

How to build links to a news voting section of a site:

  • Get press coverage – as always, getting links from news sites that have strong readership can help drive massive traffic to your site, especially in its launching stage, and can eventually bring more natural link acquisition opportunities from bloggers in your industry who might write about your site’s news voting section. Track and make a list of the people who’ll share the news articles about your launch, and segment those who have blogs, as you can also reach out to these people and ask if they’ll be interested to link to your news voting page.
  • Embeddable widgets for top members – you can also choose to offer widgets to your active members to generate more links to your site.
  • Acquire links from industry resources pages – Find resources pages in your industry and offer your news voting section to be included on their list of resources (you can start with queries like “keyword news” + inurl:resources). Given that this area of the site will be mostly user-generated, your link requests will have higher chances of getting approved.
  • Get blogroll links – start with blogs that have already linked to your site in the past and with individuals that you have already connected with, and pitch the idea of including your news voting site to their blogroll links. Psychologically, the request will have more impact, since the page will surely be offering fresh pages/articles about your industry around the web (which means the page is able to offer real value to possible click-through visitors).

Free Learning Tools and Extensive Lessons



How to build links to free lessons:

  • Contextual links from externally distributed content – cite your extensive free lessons whenever you contribute to other blogs through guest blogging. Place the links within your guest posts’ content and always vary your links’ anchor texts. You can also link to them through the other formats of you content you distribute, such as free whitepapers, slide presentations and newsletters.
  • Push content via social media – increase awareness by launching a social media campaign for your free lessons. With more people discovering the content, the more it can translate to possible editorial link opportunities and acquisitions. You can start with a Stumbleupon marketing campaign through paid discovery or by just promoting the shared links through to increase unique pageviews to your free lessons.
  • Linker Outreach – make a list of known linkers and social sharers in your industry and let them know about your free course. You can easily identify these people by tracking your competitors’ social and link data, particularly from your competitors’ strong content. To learn more about this method, you can check out this guide on linker outreach that I wrote several months ago.
  • Request links from .edu sites – this type of material will almost always have higher response rates when pitched to .edu sites, knowing that the offered content is providing high-value information. Search for .edu sites (ex: “keyword resources” who might be interested to add your lessons on their resources pages.
  • Build links through community discussions – search for questions that relates to the information supplied by your lessons on related forums and Q&A sites. Link to your free lessons’ page when contributing to these highly-relevant discussions and make the link serve as a reference.
  • Get featured on other bloggers’ newsletters – if you’ve done your homework and have managed to build relationships/connections with bloggers in your field that have a substantial amount of email subscribers, then pitching to have your lessons featured on their newsletters is a very feasible idea. Absorb their audience to take a look of your site and try to contain them once they land on your free lessons page.

Video Series


How to build links to a page with series of videos:

  • Embed and incorporate videos when submitting guest blogs – this will make your guest posts look more comprehensive and it also gives you the right to link back to the category or main page of where you host your videos.
  • Promote via Stumbleupon – this social platform is a home to millions of cerebral and social media-savvy users, they basically know how social media works, so you’ll definitely want to have your page filled with high-quality videos in front of their users. You can invest $20 – $100 on paid discovery just to get a jumpstart with your social media campaign and probably expect to have your pageviews multiplied if you’ve positioned your social buttons well to act as obvious CTAs. The more the content gets exposure from these types of viewers, the more opportunities your page get for link acquisition.
  • Track the links and social shares from your competitors’ videos – you can use tools likeTopsy and Ahrefs to identify the sites and Twitter profiles who have shared their content. List these people/blogs and try to be in touch with them, and then ask if they’ll be interested to see your videos and perhaps share and/or link to it as well.

Job Boards

Job Boards


How to build links to Job Boards:

  • Blogroll links – most independent blogs are publishing tutorials to help their readers learn, earn and probably get a job, and with that being said, requesting for them to link to your site’s job board makes it absolutely reasonable and relevant. Start with blogs who have already linked to your site in the past, as these blogs are already aware of your brand and somehow trusts you as a resource in your field of expertise. You can eventually expand to your other link/blog prospects along the process of building relationships with them.
  • Acquire links from those who are posting job offers in your site – some of these businesses could be a good link/content partner for your site, so it’s best to build relationships with them as well.
  • Encourage visitors to socially share their entry or the job board page – building social signals is quite important these days, as it will not just help in making the page more visible through search and social, but it also denotes high-activity and usage of the page.
  • Request links from .edu sites – there are tons of .edu sites that list job vacancies/openings from different companies, primarily to make it easier for their students to find jobs right after they graduate. Use Google Search to find job resources pages from .edu sites and make contact to ask if it’s possible for your site’s job board to be included on their resources page. Specificity is the key to get high approval rates from your link requests. Ensure that the jobs being offered in your page will bring value to the page you’re trying to get a link from.

Graphic design jobs

Bonus tip: You can use this scraping method and CitationLabs’ contact finder to easily extract each of your target .edu site’s contact details, because they really do reward links to job listings.

Data Visualization


How to build links to these types of rich-media content:

  • Create news through your data and pitch the story to news sites and authority blogs – journalists and top/pro bloggers love data and numbers, so if you can do an extensive research about your industry, which can provide stats that could be helpful to build a newsworthy story, then you can improve your chances of getting solid links from authority domains just by presenting your data to columnists/bloggers who specifically write about your industry.
  • Offer embed codes – make it easier for others to copy and embed your rich-media content to their own blogs (that links back to the original source of the content – your site).
  • Feature it on your guest blogs to increase approval rate – you can also build more content that supports the data/information provided by your infographic/video and submit those as guest blogs, along with your infographic/video embedded within your guest entry. This will then amplify the reach of your data, as more brand signals will be sent out to people (your blog prospects’ audiences) who will be able to see your contributed content.
  • Promote heavily through social media – reach out to known influencers in your industry and ask for feedback or if they can share your content on social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc…). It’s important to evaluate your content, if it’s really compelling and share-worthy, before sending your pitch.

Coin a term

Inbound Marketing


Creating your own brand’s industry term or technical terminology is a form of thought-leadership, and it’s definitely a linkable asset, wherein people will give credit to your brand whenever they use the term you have created. That’s why it’s imperative to build a definition page for the term(s) that you’re planning to invent, which should clearly define the meaning, usage as well as the history of the word, to own it in the SERPs.

How to build links to your technical terminology’s definition page:

  • Use it frequently when distributing content externally – use the term and make it link back to your term’s definition page (hosted within your domain) when you’re submitting guest posts to other blogs, participating on community discussions and distributing free downloadable ebooks or slide presentations.
  • Create a Wikipedia page for your industry term – use your definition page as well as other high-authority pages/articles that have used the term as references.
  • Set up Google Alerts for your term – track blogs/sites that might use your term through Google Alerts, and try to ask for link attribution whenever you see it getting mentioned by other sites (if it’s not linking back to your definition page).

Extremely Useful Apps and Browser-based Tools

Open Site Explorer


How to build links to Web-based tools:

  • Every major tool version update is newsworthy – if your site is offering free web-based tools, you should take advantage of its major updates, as you can publicize it through content distribution (press release and blog posts). Google is doing it, why shouldn’t you?
  • Get links from bloggers (experiential reviews) – reach out to highly relevant blogs, and see if they’ll be interested to try out your tools. Provide them with all the resources that they might need to help them understand how your tool works, as this can somehow make them more interested to write about your tool. You can also check this list of alternative blogger outreach techniques to improve the chances of acquiring links from them.
  • Obtain links from list pages (top and best resources/tools in your niche) – find pages that list the best tools and resources in your field. Engage the publisher of the content and invite them to try out your tool. Send a link request if they’re satisfied. You can also use the broken link building method to speed up the process of acquiring links from these list/resources pages.
  • Guest blogging – write advanced tutorials on using your tool and/or on how it can improve its target users’ productivity, and then submit it to high-traffic and highly relevant blogs. Use strong calls-to-action on these guest entries, to have better chances of absorbing and converting their readers.

Custom Categories

Eric Ward's Best Practices


Custom categories or high-quality resources pages can easily attract links, seeing that it contains links to highly resourceful pages, in which the traffic it’s able to acquire will more often than not save/share/bookmark the page, particularly if they have found the links that the page host very useful.

This type of page also has greater chances of achieving higher search rankings for industry head terms, since the absolute relevance of the content (based from both internal and external links it hosts as well as the anchor texts used pertain to thematically related subtopics).

How to build links to custom categories:

  • Guest blogs – build contextual links to your custom categories through your guest blogging campaign.
  • Interviews – link to it whenever you get a chance to be interviewed by other bloggers, given that it’s a good page to refer their readers to, wherein they can see almost all of your published works in one place.
  • Author, Social and Forum Profiles – building links through your external profile pages (from other web communities) is also a great way to make this page more visible to your target audience. This will also allow search engines to regularly crawl the links in your custom category/resources page (as well as the new links that will be continuously added to the page).
  • Constantly drive new traffic to gain more natural links – based on my experience, once the page is constantly generating new visitors (when it’s ranking highly for its targeted head terms), the more it can naturally attract and acquire links.

Finding possible linkable assets

There are also other types of web content that could possibly fit as a linkable asset that you can work on for your link development campaign. It could be a well-researched blog post, crowdsourced content, a forum thread, or even sales/product pages.

You can simply find and identify these strong pages resting within your site through assessing and sorting your site’s pages by:

  • Most linked pages or pages that are naturally attracting links (via Google Webmaster Tools)

Google Webmaster Tools

  • Most visited pages with high user-activity, particularly from search engines (via Google Analytics)

Google Analytics

Once you have distinguished pages that can possibly help you build more links with minimal effort (by just constantly bringing targeted traffic to the page that have high probability of sharing or linking to it), start enhancing these pages to strengthen its ability to automate a fraction of your link building process. Enhancements could be on areas/elements of the page such as:

  • Design
  • Usability
  • Length Content
  • Call to action
  • Sociability
  • Internal links to the site’s other important pages
  • More inbound links to the page

It’s also best to understand the linking behavior from your newly discovered assets (or even the linkable assets of your competitors). Know why people are naturally linking to it, so you can have more ideas of how you can replicate the approach for your content as well as to your site’s other possible linkable assets.

Discerning the natural linking activities to your pages will also enable you to create powerful outreach templates that you can use to build more solid links to these pages, as you’ll be able to weigh the value that resonated to your previous linkers, and could then be elaborated as the value proposition of your outreach copy.

Prolong the purpose of the content

Optimize for search

Optimize the page to target industry-specific keywords as it will have better chances of competing for tough keywords, given that you’ll be working on to drive powerful links to the page, as well as with the page having the capability to attract links (where natural linkers will mostly use the content’s title as anchor text when linking to it).

Always Test and Update calls-to-action

This is vital, especially if your site’s strong and link-worthy pages are constantly driving new traffic to the site, as you can always change its call to action whenever you have new offers and/or products, which will allow you to effectively convert new visitors.

Brand strengthening

Let the continuously driven traffic to the page know who created the content. Highlight brand and trust signals on some parts of the content to improve brand retention.

Social CTA to force multiply social sharing

Make the content’s social buttons very visible, to continuously gain social shares, along the process of getting new visitors to the content (probably from search engines and other referring sources).


Outreach Letters for Link Building [Real Examples]

Outreach letters are a primary element in any quality link building campaign: If you’re not getting responses, you’re not getting links. It takes a lot of trial and error to find what works, which can be difficult for new link builders. To make things easier for everyone, I wanted to give several outreach letters I use for contacting different sites.

Although I have done a lot of testing with different letters, I’m by no means suggesting mine are the best of the best. These are what work for me and I do use the conversion rate of my emails as a factor.

Guest Posts

For guest posting, you want to have a more personal approach in your email. However, you don’t want to be overly personal and invade their bubble. I like to do some light digging and find something I can personally connect with them on (if you can’t find something in 5 minutes, move on). I find this works better than trying to explain why the article would be a great fit for their site. Also, I found that adding a small incentive boosts the response rate.

Hey Taylor,

I recently came across and saw that you play a Deering Banjo. I broke the neck on my banjo a few days ago so I’ve been looking for a new one. I’ve never played a Deering before though: what’s your take on them?

Also, I’ve been writing up music articles and would love the chance to write on your blog. I’d be happy to send over a new set of banjo strings as a thanks!


Michael King wrote a great article with a scenario on how you can be personal to leverage a link. This is a perfect example of the quality links you can obtain through manual outreach.

Real Correspondence Example:

guest post correspondence

Broken link building

I target personal sites for broken links. These can be blogs or enthusiast sites and usually have a page of resources or a blogroll. I’m a fan of keeping emails short, so I try not to get personal on these.

Hey David,

I was looking through your suggested links on and noticed a few broken links. Let me know how to reach the webmaster and I can send a list their way!

Also, if you’re open to suggestions, I think would be a great fit. They have a large variety of customized parts that I’ve had trouble finding elsewhere.

All the Best,

The webmaster will nearly always be the person you are contacting. I just use the second sentence as a buffer to get a response before providing a list. Once I get a response (And hopefully a link) I provide them with a list I’ve acquired. You can see a great correspondence example of this on Nick Leroy’s broken link building post.

Also, If broken link building is still a new concept to you, Anthony Nelson wrote a tutorial on broken link building that’s definitely worth checking out!

Links to a Local Business Site

Local businesses are great to target if you have something to provide in return. For example, if you have a tool that would be beneficial for them to use on their site.


My name is Peter. I work for and we’ve recently created a tool for real estate businesses to help their visitors find movers in their area. Since we’re located out of Charlotte, we’re offering this tool to Charlotte businesses for free for a limited time.

You can customize the tool at

If you have any questions or need any help setting it up, let me know!


Real Correspondence Example:

Correspondence Example

Outreach Through Blog Commenting

This is what you can resort to if you can’t find any contact information on a blog. You want to be fairly vague, so that you’re not publicly displaying who your client is. I’ve seen bloggers get quite upset about outreaching to them through a comment and you obviously don’t want them publicly talking about your client negatively.

Hey Todd,

I was wondering if you accepted any guest posting on I couldn’t manage to find your email on the site. If you could get a hold of me at, I would greatly appreciate it!


Note: Sometimes people will respond through another comment first, so you want to make sure you’re subscribed to get emails on comments made on that post.

Real Correspondence Example:

blog comment correspondence


I then got a response via email and was able to negotiate from there.

Paid Advertising

This is more for bloggers than businesses. Businesses that have paid advertising are pretty straightforward about it. You just need to find the “advertise” button on their site and wait for them to send you an obnoxiously long media kit.

Hey Jay,

My name is Peter. I’m doing promotions for a dog related site and would like the chance to put up a small advertisement on I think it would be a great fit considering the relevancy. If this is something you’d be interested in, just let me know! Thanks in advance!

All the Best

Real Correspondence Example:

Paid Advertisement Correspondence


How to Increase Your Response Rate

I do this for hard to get links, like EDU’s. I basically open with a “soft email” to get a response. After that response, I’ll hit them with my actual proposal. This works well for propositions that require a long explanation, where people tend to just skim through instead of actually reading your email.


I’m trying to get in contact with the person in charge of the page. If you could point me in the right direction, I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks in advance!

All the Best,

After I get a response, I give my full pitch. Since they’ve already committed to a conversation with me, they will read my email word for word instead of skimming through.

Real Correspondence Example:

increase response rate email


Keeping your emails short and sweet is a great way to go. I constantly try new forms of outreach and always end up reverting back to small quick emails. They grab attention at a glance and someone can see the point of your email right away. They’re also easier to construct on the fly, which allows you to send out several emails faster.


Link Building Tools We Use at Distilled

We recently gathered up a list of all the link building tools and resources we turn to daily across the company at Distilled. In the “TAGFEE” spirit of generosity, we thought it might be useful to others and we thought we’d share it here.

Link building is on our minds a lot of the time anyway, but even more so at this time of year in the run up to our Linklove link building conferences in London and Boston (it’s in less than a month and yes, there’s a discount for SEOmoz PRO members in the discount store, see below for more details or check out the trailer and a testimonial).

We have a variety of people helping our clients get more links in different ways and in different roles at Distilled. We have:

  • SEO consulting focussed on strategic changes
  • SEO execution and creative focussed on content creation and relationship building
  • Digital PR
  • Outreach

We also just have an ever-increasing number of people spread across three offices and eight timezones!

It’s therefore inevitable that people will do things differently and use different resources. Over the years we’ve talked about a wide range of tools and resources in blog posts, at conferences and in client work – but the ones below are the ones that seem to have stuck around (or that we’re trialling at the moment) and that came out in the canvassing of the team. In that spirit, I hope you’ll find something of use here.

When we recently got our whole company together in London for the first time since Rob moved to Seattle to open our first US office in early 2010, part of the objective was to improve our processes and share knowledge across the company about how different consultants work. On one of the days we ran a (cheesily-named) ship-a-thon where we each aimed to “ship” things in a single day to improve Distilled. To give credit where it’s due, Hannah decided to collate this list – I’ve just added some of the commentary and formatting. Thanks Hannah!

So, without further ado, here is the list of link building tools people in Distilled are using right now:

Data, Analysis and Research

Raven [Paid]


I’m sure you’re all familiar with the Raven toolkit – it’s great for reporting and analysis as well as having a bunch of tools to make your actual link building efforts more effective.