As we discussed in our introduction to the Importance of backlinks, links to your website remain an important ranking factor in Google. As well as a host of things you can do in WordPress to improve ranking, you should have a strategy for obtaining links from other websites. This may involve running link building campaigns. Some of this work is also known as “Digital PR”.
Analyzing your current links is a good start to any link building strategy. See our guide on auditing backlinks in WordPress to learn how to do this. The types of sites that are linking to you are interesting to note, but also have a look at the type of content that is receiving links. You may also want to audit competitor websites to understand who they get links from.
From the creation of PageRank in 1998, Google was well aware that some web owners would try to create artificial links to their sites to boost ranking and the search engine works constantly to stop link schemes working. Techniques such as buying links from private blog networks may not work at all and may even have a negative effect on your ranking. At worse, sites that have unnatural link profiles can receive a manual action from Google that will remove them from search engines results completely.
Bearing in mind the types of techniques that are discouraged by Google, here are the types of link building campaigns you should consider running to get links.
Contact People you Know
This is the best-kept link building secret ever: Success is not based on what you know, but who you know. This can encourage you to extend the number of people you are in contact with on Internet, but we will save this for later (see Outreach below). To start with, just try and map out the other businesses, people, and organizations you are in frequent contact with (in real life or online). The websites of clients, suppliers, family, neighbors, local clubs and trade organizations may all be great places to get links from.
Compile a list of people you know and contact them one-by-one to tell them about your site. Visit their website first. If you notice that they provide links (i.e., a trade organization may provide links to members), ask if they can add a link to yours. Otherwise, just invite them to visit your website and subscribe to your mailing list.
Do not send a mass mailing or cc: all these people into one mail, contact them individually, checking off their name in the list you compiled as you do so.
Self-Service Link Building
Great content and relationships are the best sources of links for SEO but there are a lot of important links that you can just create yourself. Wikis, online directories, and social networks are good examples of sites that can provide this sort of link.
Anybody can add content to Wikipedia and this includes links. If your or your business is already featured on Wikipedia, then it is perfectly acceptable to add a link from your Wikipedia page to your website. Links from Wikipedia are NOFOLLOW so they do not influence PageRank directly, but there are many ways these links can benefit your SEO indirectly.
Online directories have a bad press in SEO as many were created solely to provide or sell Page Rank. Yet directories such as Google My Business or Yelp! are popular with your clients and can provide important links to your website. In most cases you can create an account on these sites and add links to your website for free. Some directories charge a fee and you should consider this like advertising rather than link building – is having a link worth the fee beyond all SEO considerations. Paying for a business listing in an important online directory should not make you worry about violating Google’s guidelines.
Social networks like Facebook and Twitter allow you to add links from your profile pages. Although these links are NOFOLLOW and are not used to calculate Page Rank, they are a popular place for users to find links to your website. Make sure that your links on social networks are up to date (i.e., they start with https if your website has moved to https).
Produce and Promote Great Content!
Having great content will help you get links. In their most natural form, links happen when another website owner sees your content and finds it so good that they want to share it with their readers. As you write a post or produce any other type of content, try and imagine who would want to share it.
See our article on 15 Ideas for Link–Worthy Content.
However, producing link-worthy content is only the start of a link building campaign. You will have to promote each piece of content to make sure that people who may link to it, actually see it. Every piece of content you produce could launch a link building campaign.
Make sure that you are promoting that content through your social media. Social shares do not affect Page Rank, but you are hoping that your content attracts attention from media or other bloggers and being visible on social media may be essential. Set aside a small budget for sponsoring posts to those who already follow your page.
Invite visitors to your website to subscribe to a mailing list to receive your news once you publish it. Among the people who subscribe could be people who will link to your website.
Going beyond mailing new articles to a mailing list, you can create a specific list of people (usually press or media) that you will give a “heads-up” to before you publish new content. This will give them time to prepare an article that can be published at the same time as you launch your content – or even give a sneak preview.
This is the work that we associate the most with link building campaigns. It involves finding people who may be interested in your content and reaching out to them one-by-one.
Outreach is one of the most challenging tasks in link building and it is often discouraging to receive negative responses or no responses at all! But if you are contacting the right people with interesting content, you should find this work rewarding. It can help you build your mailing list, get social media shares, build backlinks and also just help you meet some really interesting people!
The simple steps of an outreach campaign are:
- Identify a piece of content you want to promote,
- Search for websites you think would like to link to that content,
- Identify at least one person to contact at each website,
- Write template emails to present your content,
- Using a template, but personalizing the message each time, contact each person on your list,
- Handle the replies, providing visuals and text the site can use to link to you if they ask for it.
Some people like to send follow-up mails when the first mail gets no response. You may also want to approach contacts via social networks or even call them rather than sending them emails. One piece of often repeated advice is not to ask for a link directly in your first mail. Back in 2011, Rand Fishkin wrote an article entitled Head Smacking Tip #20: Don’t Ask Sites for Links. Find People and Connect. Reading this now, you wonder if it didn’t spark the idea for SparkToro!
Tools like SparkToro can help you find good people to contact. Tools like BuzzStream can also help you run outreach campaigns, but you can do everything manually by searching the web for keywords related to your content, visiting each site and noting if it appears to be a good candidate for a link. A lot of link builders use Excel to store contacts and note responses!
Check Existing Links
You can use Google or specialist tools to find sites that mention you on the web, you can then check these sites to make sure that they are linking to the correct URL.
Using Google, simply search for your company or website name (and city name if needed to filter the results) and start visiting all the pages that are listed in the results other than your own sites and properties. Things to look out for are:
- Websites that mention your company, but do not include a link to your website – contact them to ask for them to add a link to your site, because it will be useful for their readers.
- Websites that link to pages on your website that no longer work (broken links) – contact them to signal the errors and ask them to correct the links.
- Websites that link to a specific page of your website, but that you would prefer to link to another page – contact them and ask them to change the link.
When you are promoting some new, great content, you may want to contact these sites to let them know about it. Certainly offer to add them to your mailing list or follow you on social media when you contact them to request changes to your links.
Link-Out to Other Sites
Contrary to much popular SEO advice, you should link out to other sites. Website owners may become aware of your website when auditing their backlinks or reviewing web analytics. However, avoid linking back out to every page that links to you as you may nullify a hard-earned link or make it look as if you are participating in excessive link exchanges.
Good links will improve ranking but also give you an extra source of traffic that is an alternative to search engines. Produce link-worthy content, but also make sure it is of value to your clients. Promote your content and reach out to people you think will be interested, without spamming them.
Success in link building is through developing relationships with people who are genuinely interested in what you do and what you have to say. Once you get better rankings, you will also find that you get a lot more spontaneous links from other websites and this, in the end, is what makes link building campaigns worthwhile.