Safe Link Building Tips for The Seasoned SEO

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If you are here, it is very likely that you have read dozens or even hundreds of blogs promising things like: ‘Link Building on steroids’ or ‘Top Secret SEO tricks’. 

You have likely had to sift through hundreds of thousands of words to get just a few nuggets of information. 

The truth is, link building guides are mostly used as filler content for SEOs trying to get one up on their competition in terms of word count. 

This blog is different (yes, I’m sure you’ve heard that a million times as well). 

Put frankly, this is my first blog for DFY Links meaning that I am out to impress both my boss and you, my readers, who will hopefully become loyal fans of my blogs 🙂 .

More importantly, the industry is in desperate need of an up-to-date guide that is adapted to Google’s latest algorithm changes.

Table of Contents


The Nature of Link Building Has Changed

Internet super-stars among us, like Craig Campbell, who has been rinsing Google since I was defecating in my own nappies (I’m in my early 20s), will notice that link-building has changed immensely. 

Google always updates to make our jobs as SEOs and link builders so much harder.

The Penguin algo  was the first shock, hitting our ridiculous and often hilariously conspicuous, spammy link building techniques. Then came the panda, which teased out our use of low quality PBNs and SAPE links. 

But the latest round of quality-driven algo update was the biggest shock to link building. 

The 2017 Fred Update has completely changed the rules of the game. 

SEO, which was once a wild-west like an industry where aggressive black hatters could win simply by having the balls to work outside of Google’s guidelines, now demands a high-quality link building campaign

Google’s Algorithm is Niche Specific 

This guide offers a comprehensive look at safe link-building methods that are still competitive in 2019 and won’t get your site penalised. It shows you how to run a safe, high-quality link building campaign.

As has always been the case, some of the link-building strategies require capital ($$$) while others are totally free. 

At the end of the page, I also offer my negative recommendations (things not to do) for link-building in 2019.

A Few Key Principles of Link Building

Before I go on to show ways of getting backlinks, I just want to describe a few key principles that you should always consider when doing link building in 2019 and beyond. 

These consist of ways to measure the power of backlinks as well as how to apply the backlinks to your site.

The principles we will look at are:

  • Niche-specific backlink count
  • Realistic Link velocity
  • Realistic Link acceleration
  • Linking Site Authority
  • Linking Domain Relevancy 

No matter whether your links are white hat, grey hat or blackhat, you need to keep in line with these principles in order to keep safe from google penalisations.

1. Make sure your backlink count is appropriate to your Niche.

As mentioned, Google’s algorithm is niche-specific.

Therefore, competitor analysis has become an essential part of link building in 2019. 

It is clear that Google has started targeting sites that appear to have an anomalous amount of backlinks compared to the other sites in that niche.

Sites that have a load more backlinks than the other sites in their niche usually stick out like a sore thumb and their backlinks will most likely be recognised by Google as part of a spam campaign. 

Before you begin your campaign, you should use Ahrefs to do a quick check of the backlinks profiles of the other sites in your niche. 

Head to Ahrefs.com → Keyword Explorer → enter your main keyword → scroll down to SERP overview.

Look at the main competitor, how many backlinks do they have? That will probably be the upper limit for how many backlinks you want.

However, if a lot of the links are spam, you won’t need as many links as they have — a lot of these are probably ignored by Google.

After this, just scan to see how many backlinks you need to compete.

You should also consider backlink count page-by-page as well. 

You might want to look at the backlink count for competitor pages targeting similar keywords to you. If your competitor has one blog that has 5 links to it, you shouldn’t build 50 as this will also look like spam.

In general, the pattern is that the bigger the niche, the more backlinks you will be able to build. 

But always take a look at what your competitors are doing before you embark on your campaign. However, since your competitors won’t sit still while you steal their SERP position, you will need to regularly monitor how many backlinks your competitor has and keep ahead. 

Not only by doing this will you avoid a penalisation, but you will avoid wasting energy on building too many links to get to the top of the SERPs. 

2. Consider Link Velocity

Over the years, talk of link velocity has increased among the SEO community. Link velocity is essentially measured as the number of new links per month – referring to the speed at which you gain links.

When you are building links to your site you need to consider whether or not the speed at which you are acquiring backlinks looks realistic.

In short, Google is on the hunt for ‘link schemes’’, and one key sign of a link scheme is high-speed link acquisition. 

In sum:

Google is always observing link velocity, and if you get more links than you should be getting, you risk penalisation, even if the links are legitimate.

If you don’t believe me, see for yourself. 

It’s written into Google’s Quality Guidelines:

You can find the full page on Google’s Search Console Help page.

This is especially important to consider for black hatters who could potentially create hundreds of links in just one day if they wanted to.

What Link Velocity Should I Use? 

There is so much dispute about what link velocity to use. There are so many different responses.

Officials at the popular forum affilorama.com argue that “getting 3 backlinks to an article for a week or 2 would appear natural to search engines” whereas other responders say:

“You can create 10 backlinks per day.” and another: “I sometimes do 50-100/day”.

Clearly there is no definitive answer for ALL sites. 

This is because It is clear now that Google’s algorithms have become SERP specific, meaning that ranking in niches demands completely different actions.

The best way to determine what link velocity to use is to look at the competition relative to each page. How fast have your competitor’s pages been getting links?  

You need to do Page by Page Competitor Research (see above infographic)

3. Consider link acceleration 

Whereas link velocity refers to the number of new links per month or per day, link acceleration refers to the change in the speed of link acquisition over time.

Link acceleration isn’t talked about so much in the community. However, it should be…

if you think about it… since Google is on the hunt for ‘link schemes’, it is going to be looking out for sudden increases in link velocity. 

A site that was getting 5 links a month but now gets 300 links a month is going to look very dodgy to google.

Conversely, a site that normally gets 4 links a month but now gets 8 links a month may look like a naturally growing site.

Provided that your site displays other growth signals, such as new content and new traffic, Google is not going to bat an eye and an increase in link acceleration will look like growth.

How to Avoid Penalisation for Excessive Link Acceleration

Engage in context and competition dependent link acceleration, simple.

In other words, you need to seem like you are following the overall trends in your targeted SERPs.

For example, If a page for old granny knickers built 30 new links last month and this month it builds 90 new links while its competitors build only 3 more links, this will hint at ‘link schemes’ because the page is growing at an anomalous rate. 

Instead of just going all out on your link building campaigns…

Use Ahrefs to check what the rest of your competitors are doing and use them as a test to see what link acceleration levels Google is letting your industry get away with.

In general, the size of the industry and its overall growth (the amount of websites and organic searches) makes a difference.

In more stagnant niches, the natural level of link acceleration will be much lower than in rich, growing niches. 

However, if your small niche suddenly starts growing like wildfire, you shouldn’t worry too much…

You don’t really need to worry about being penalised for massive increases in organic backlinks due to ‘going viral’, as Google is good at detecting virality. 

ALS Challenge & rorystewart.co.uk  – case studies of ‘safe’, massive link acceleration

Remember the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge several years ago? 

Well, imagine, prior to that fad, posts about ALS such as ‘What is ALS’ were acquiring links at quite a slow rate. 

What Is ALS page

However, after thousands saw people like Mark Wahlberg, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg tip ice over his head to raise money for ALS, all of a sudden, millions of people started searching for queries about ALS.

 This led to a scenario where tons of money grabbers started purchasing expired domains in the ALS niche to try and ride the wave. As these new sites start to build more content, naturally links to ‘What is ALS’ increased dramatically.

Just take a look at the acceleration of links for the blog above during the period when the ALS challenge went viral from August 2015

As you can see, in just 1 month this page safely built thousands of new links: more than tripling its backlink profile. 

The site was not penalised because of these new backlinks and the site maintained its high domain rating.

This shows that big backlink acceleration did not seem unrealistic to Google due to a ‘viral effect’ that Google recognises. 

I know some of you will be thinking: oh! … but the ALS challenge in 2015 was way before the Fred Update. 

However, the ‘viral effect’ still applies now…

Let’s look at a guy called Rory Stewart’s website, which to an extent became viral this summer. 

Rory Stewart was a relative outsider in British politics before he announced his bid to become Prime Minister in the Conservative leadership election. 

Between the 1st of May and the 1st of June, rorystewart.co.uk accumulated only 5 new referring domains.

However, after the announcement of the Conservative Party leadership contest started on the 7th of June, the number of pages linking back to rorystewart.co.uk increased wildly. 

Between June 10th and the 1st of July, this website had an increase of 35 referring domains. 

ALS Virality

This reflected the sudden media attention Rory Stewart got in the UK and the increase in links from news websites. 

Google could read into the fact that Rory Stewart had gone viral. This is likely because of the fact that the increase in backlinks was mirrored with a huge increase in traffic.

As you can see… the increase in referring domains was mirrored with an increase in organic searches — indicating to Google that the site had gone ‘viral’.

Rory Stewart Organic Traffic

Therefore, it appears that the traffic seems highly linked to the safety of your backlink acceleration.

In summary, In order to embark on ‘safe’ link building, you need to be smart…

Tailor your strategy accordingly: 

  • Be wary of link building too quickly. You should see what the rest of the competition and try not to be an anomaly in the niche.  
  • If you want to accelerate your link building dramatically, try to get your content viral.
  • You should also check on your competitors link velocity

Importantly, no matter what strategies you chose to implement from the list below, whether it is buying links or cultivating them in a white hat manner… make sure you implement them safely by making them look realistic.

If that sounds like a difficult proposition, why not get somebody else to build links for you? 😉 

Someone who will not only build you links but also implement safe seo linking strategies such as ‘slow burner’ link building which produces new links at a realistic link velocity and acceleration. 

3. The relevancy of your links matter

When building links, you want the backlink to be as relevant to your page that is being linked to as possible.  

Google is always trying to figure out what your website is about in order to give its users the most relevant search results as possible.

You should always prioritize the most relevant links. We do not recommend going for links with no relevance, as these will just confuse Search Engine Crawlers and make targeting certain keywords much harder. 

How do I know which backlinks are relevant?

Many SEOs in the community have run tests to determine the extent to which different factors of a website determine its relevance. 

According to the SEO @Grindstone, there are 6 key factors which determine relevance. These are (in order of importance):

  1. Domain name – if you are in a cat grooming niche, a link from www.catgrooming.com would be more relevant than a link from www.catlitter.com for obvious reasons. Nonetheless, links from www.catlitter.com would be more relevant than links from www.petstore.com.
  2. URL – Although not as powerful as a relevant root domain, a link from a relevant URL is very powerful. For example, although the root domain buzzfeed.com is not relevant, the URL buzzfeed.com/5-best-catgrooming-businesses is. 
  3. Title – Links with relevant title tags are preferable to ones without.
  4. H1 – Links from pages that have more relevant H1 tags are better than irrelevant h1 tags.
  5. Meta Description – The meta description is one of the less important indicators of relevance
  6. Content – Content is still the weakest indicator of relevance, although you are probably not going to want a link from a page without relevant content. 

4. Consider authority of linking pages

What is authority

@Grindstone has done data-driven experiments to show that a  link from a site with a less relevant domain but high authority and a relevant URL is more powerful than a link from a low authority, highly relevant page.

//twitter.com/GrindstoneSEO/status/1087836159969914880?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

However…

Don’t be fooled by a site with massive authority.

You also need to account for URL (page) authority. 

If you get a link from The Guardian but the specific page is quite weak and has few of its own backlinks, then the link itself will be a lot less powerful than you would imagine. 

Therefore, before building links, you should use a search tool to check the authority of the site and page to determine whether it is rewarding:

Make sure you don’t just ditch a page because it has a low URL authority as soon as it is posted. If you really believe the prospect is strong and you think it will grow, it might be worth giving it a shot. 

Moreover, 

The picture below shows the UR and DR for a post I did for The Tab. As you can see, the authority of my post was a lot slower than the overall domain rating.

Although the URL rating is a lot smaller than the DR, this is still a very rewarding link prospect for someone. I would say that the high Domain Rating outweighs the low UR

5. Inverted Silo Site Structure

In SEO, it has always been like a law these for sites to have an inverted silo site structure. This has not changed in 2019.

Site structure refers to the way you link your different pages. 

The silo structure focuses your link building campaign on rich, powerful content and then shoots internal links towards category pages and money pages. 

So…

You want to have great content like blogs, info, video or infographic pages which get lots of traction then get backlinks to fire here because these are the pages which will get the most traffic. 

See the infographic below, to understand what the inverted silo structure looks like:

How to build site architecture

You can replicate this structure all over your site to build a powerful web of internal links from powerful content with tons of backlinks. 

This is a more effective approach for link acquisition because people are much more willing to link to valuable information than sales-driven pages. If you were to try to develop a link building campaign that targets your home page, you will probably find that the types of links that you can get are limited.

Think about it,

Other webmasters want to give their own readers the most value possible…

Linking out to your money pages or home page is unlikely to add the same value as an anchor towards a really rich, useful content page.

Surprisingly, the silo structure actually provides your product pages with more traffic and authority.

Since a product page alone is unlikely to develop authority, a content-rich page should be used to distribute some of its own authority to the money pages.

A content-based approach is probably the most sensible approach.

Follow The Ground Rules When You Build links.

Whether you choose the black-hat or whitehat tactics I am about to list, the quality of your grand strategy is key. 

Don’t just blindly apply your link building tactics, as this is unsafe for your site and for your budget.

You need to make sure that you are running a campaign that looks realistic and doesn’t raise any red flags for google’s quality raters or get picked up by Google’s algorithms.

As we have mentioned, this means making sure that you build links at a realistic rate.

Also, you should prioritise links from high authority pages on domain-relevant sites (HADR). Then below this, aim for high authority sites with relevant URLs (HAUR) or bursts of low authority but with relevant domains (LADR).

What are the best links

By applying the principles described above, you can ensure that you’re backlinking campaign is ‘safe’ and guaranteed to win you big.

Like what Sun Tzu said in The Art of War:

Sun Tzu - Art of War Quote

In our context, this means that if you just start link building without any fore-thought,  you are destined for failure. You will lose the battle against the rest of the SERPs. 

Now you know how to embark on a safe link building campaign, let me show you exactly how to gather some high-quality links.

How to Get Great Backlinks in 2019

The rest of this article will show you how you can attract high-quality links or go out of your way to find them. 

Fix Broken Links to your site

The most obvious safe link-building technique is to ‘restore’ any broken backlinks that you might have.

Broken backlinks, i.e, links from other pages to any pages of yours that pop up with error messages such as a 404 error, are a total waste of link juice as well as a bad trust signal and a  distraction for Google’s crawlers. 

Google has even stated that they don’t score you based on backlinks to your domain. It is linked to the URL that matters. Therefore, broken backlinks are a complete waste of potential authority.

So basically if your URL is //pokemon.com/bestpokemon2019  and someone else links to //pokemon.com/pokemon2019 this is still a total waste of link juice.

Broken links are also a total waste of all that time you spent building the links.

Why Would a Backlink Break?

A backlink will return a 404 error if the page doesn’t exist anymore.

It is likely that you have:

  1. 1. Relentlessly deleted a page that has backlinks on it without redirecting it
  2. 2. The people linking to you have got the URL wrong.

How can you find broken backlinks?

At DFY Links, we use Ahrefs to check for broken links.

The software has its own Broken Link Checker.

Using Ahrefs To Find Broken Links

There are two ways on Ahrefs to find broken links ready to fix. 

One of the quickest ways and most time-effective ways is to look for broken pages on your own site. If these broken pages have any backlinks to them, these links are broken. 

You want to find these pages because you can redirect them to other relevant pages or know that you need to recreate them.

Finding Broken links using the “Best by Links” tool

Click on site-explorer on the menu.

Enter your domain and head to the Best By Links option on the left-hand side, under the drop-down ‘Pages’ 

  1. Choose “404 not found” on the response filter

When you are here, you will be able to see all the URLs that return a 404 when people try to link to them, deeming these links broken.

You should reorder all the pages that it returns by the number of referring domains — by doing this, you are able to prioritise fixing the links for URLs with the most backlinks – giving you the most link juice.

You can do this by clicking ‘referring domains’.

If none of your broken pages has any backlinks then you do not need to worry about anything. You will not get much ROI (return on investment) by fixing these links.

However, in this case, we have come across broken links, so if we were the content marketing institute, we would want to start fixing these broken links. I will describe how to do this shortly.

Unfortunately, the method above will only find the broken links that have occurred because of a deleted page. It won’t find the broken links that have occurred because of something that the person linking to you has done. 

Using Ahrefs Broken Link Finder

 Enter your URL into site explorer and hit search. Then go to “Broken” under the Backlink Profile drop-down on the left-hand side.

This will give you a list of the names of pages and their URLs that are attempting to link to your site but it is returning a 404 not found. You should prioritise fixing the most important. I normally order by Domain Rating. You can do this by clicking “DR”.

As well as showing linking parties that are just linking to broken pages, the Ahrefs broken link checker also provides us with URLs that people are trying to link to but don’t exist on your site. You can use this, as I will show, to find out whether the linking party has just made a mistake. 

If they have, you can then contact them to get them to link to the correct page. 

Restoring The Link Juice

Okay, so now you’ve found the links that you want to fix, go out and fix em. 

There are 4 things you can do with broken links to fix them and avoid their damaging effects, depending on why the link is broken.

  1. 1. If the linking site has mistakenly linked to the wrong URL, reach out to the linking website and request a fix.
  1. 2. If you have moved a page and changed but forgotten to redirect, this is an easy fix. Redirect (301) the broken page to the new location of the page.
  1. 3. If you have deleted a page purposefully and you have other relevant pages, redirect (301) the broken page to another relevant page on your website. 
  1. 4. If you have deleted the page mistakenly, you may want to recreate the page and 301 redirect the broken page to the new page.

How do you know the linking party linked to the wrong URL?

 When you bring up the “broken” links on the “backlink profile” of your site on ahrefs. Look at the URL for mistakes. If you notice a mistake, you should contact the webmaster and try to get them to correct the URL that they should have linked to.

I recommend pulling up your sitemap.xml and doing a quick comparison of the URL listed here and the URLs on your sitemap.

In the case above I have found a backlink which is clearly not broken, and I know this because it matches up with the URL on the sitemap.

However, if the link was broken because the linking party had misspelt the URL, then I would look for similar-looking links on the sitemap to the broken link. 

If there is nothing similar, then it is likely that the page has been either deleted or moved. 

How to know if a page is moved or deleted?

Go into google and insert: site:domain.com + “title of the page” 

Provided Google shows no results, this means that the page has been deleted. This may have been an accident or done for a reason, e.g: because you don’t like the page. 

As mentioned, if it was deleted on purpose, you may want to restore the links by redirecting to a different, relevant page. 

You can easily find a relevant page to link to via Ahrefs or a simple search on Google using the search operator: 

site:”yourdomain.com” + overall topic of the page

 If, however, the page is found but at a different URL, you know that it has been moved and that you can just redirect it to the new page.

How to recreate broken pages?

As I mentioned, if you weren’t meant to delete a page that has lots of backlinks. You will want to recreate it.

The best way of recreating the content is to go to site explorer → pages → best by links → filter by 404 not found then copy the URL and paste it into the Wayback Machine. This should ideally take you back to a screenshot of what the page looked like back in time before the page was broken.

Below is Facebook from 2008, what a throwback! Obviously this isn’t an example of a broken page but you get the idea. 

I also just thought this was pretty cool!

Unfortunately, Archive.org sometimes lets you down, as it did when I tried to look at broken pages from this website. In this case, you want to just look at the context of the anchor to the broken link which you will redirect to new content. This can reveal a lot of information about what the page was.

To do this go to site explorer → search your Domain → backlink profile → broken. On the right-hand side of every broken link it will have a brief bit of context about the page.

For example, this broken link is to the page called “find your content tilt” which might not give much information away about it if you’ve forgotten what tilt means ;). This alone isn’t enough info to use to recreate the page. 

However, you can look at the content surrounding the anchor “concept introduced by Joe Pulizzi”  which clearly shows that the article is about the importance of differentiating your content from the competition. 

Therefore, the owner of this site would want to recreate a killer new page about how to make your content better than the competitions and why this is important. Once they do this, they can then redirect the old page to the new one. 

When should you leave links broken?

Note: In general, you just have to use your common sense a little bit as to the relevance of the fixed link. Does the context around the anchor text match up with the new content you are delivering or the content on the page you are redirecting to?

If you don’t have any relevant pages to redirect the broken link to or you deleted the page for a reason and you don’t want to recreate it (perhaps because you can’t remember what the old page was), feel free to leave the page being linked to as a 404 and the links broken. 

This may be better than confusing the google spider by redirecting the page to an irrelevant one. 

Importantly you want any broken pages which you leave to show a “hard” 404, not a “soft 404”.

In this guide, Reich Web Consulting talks all about what Soft 404’s are, why they are bad and how to avoid them.

FAQs about fixing broken links

What is a 301 redirect?

 a 301 redirect is a permanent URL move (redirection), which basically sends lots of data about page A to page B – including the backlinks.

How can I perform a 301 redirect?

You can use the Yoast plugin to do this.

Will I lose link authority from a 301 redirect?

Nope 😀

(Gary Illyes is a webmaster trends analyst at Google)

This statement still has not been qualified by Google yet, meaning that we should still take it as lore.

What about 302 directs?

302 redirects are the same case scenario, it is just that these indicate to Google that the redirect is permanent. 

What is PageRank and link juice?

PageRank is one of the rating systems that Google uses to determine how a site ranks on the SERPs or is predicted to still use. In short, every site has a rank. Higher authority sites will have a higher PageRank. By getting links from sites with high PageRanks you get some of their limited link juice.

Backlink (or Link) juice is the value a page passes to another page on an external website in terms of a ranking signal to that other website.

It is split among every page that is being linked to.

Therefore, what Gary Illyes is saying above is that when you fix a broken link by 301 redirecting it to a different, relevant page, the site being redirected to does not have its rankings affected.

Build A Link Asset (Material that Attracts Links) 

One of the best ways to cultivate links nowadays is to build incredibly valuable, unique content that could have new insights or just better information for other people in the industry you are working in. 

High-quality blogs get relevant links because they are easily shareable by people in the industry who want to link out to guides and pages that help them prove a point like this:

#

This screenshot is taken from jeffbullas.com blog on ‘How to Find a Profitable Online Business Niche In 4 Easy Steps’. 

In one of the sections, where he describes how to measure the profitability of a niche, he refers to keyword research. But rather than adding a long-winded section about keyword research and how to do it, he links out to Neil Patel’s high-value, informative article: ‘The Guide to Keyword Research’ to give additional value to their own readers.

Neil Patel’s value-rich blog content is what the industry calls a ‘link asset’ because it attracts natural links from other people when they build their own content. It is also called a link asset because it is easy to promote and get links shot to it. 

You want to create material like this.

However…

This doesn’t mean that you should just go straight onto your laptop and write a 10,000 blog while the rest of your competitor pages are writing the same blogs in 1500 words.

“Why have you written a 15,000-word blog then, Luke?” 

This is the SEO niche… meaning that the content standard is mega high and you, therefore, need mega content to compete. 

All in all, you can over-optimize your content.

If you do this, your content will reek of filler content or the work of a dodgy SEO. 

Just make sure your content is as meaningful, creative and as useful as possible in exchange for backlinks. 

Note: when I talk about Content, I don’t just mean blogs. I mean infographics, pieces of creative, videos and other public communications.

Value in Exchange for Links Is a Law of Nature

There is nothing new about this principle of exchange. It is a law of nature.

Adam Smith — an economist and philosopher from Scotland during the industrial revolution — practically wrote about this in The Wealth of Nations, which was published in 1776. 

Even all those centuries ago, they had already figured out that people like to exchange ‘productive labour’ — i.e useful, valuable items, for money. 

‘Productive labour’ was that stuff which was created that added value to the beholder.

Well, backlinks are something you trade in response to the value gained from the content. They are the search engine equivalent of money. 

How To Create Value in your content

First of all…

You need to stop using overly-cheap VAs and making shit content in 20 minutes. (if you are doing this) 

Now, there’s nothing wrong with using a VA to create content, our most experienced content writer is a former VA turned employee and he does a very good job — creating high-quality, 5-10,000-word blogs.

However, there are plenty of VAs that are awful. They tend to come at extremely low rates and spam advertisements on facebook content writing groups.

The content they create, most of the time, will not end up as a link asset but another piece of digital rubbish to be forgotten amongst the 2.5 quintillion bits of data created per day.

In today’s search engine environment, where content is key. I think a total mindset change is in order to avoid thinking about content as something you can whack out in ten minutes. 

Rethinking Content Creation Strategy

I actually think if you see content as a conversation with your readers, you can really change your mindset about how to present your ideas, skills and services. 

Be patient and let me explain the analogy for a second…

Think about conversations you have had with people. Which ones have you found particularly memorable and shared with others and what made them so shareable?

Think about what makes a good conversation compared to a bad conversation.

A bad conversation is one where nobody leaves with any new information or any kind of satisfaction from the chat…

In a bad conversation, you could stay in small talk forever, revealing near to no substantive information about yourself, your work or anything; or, you could end up feeling bored because it’s a conversation you have had 6 times already. Worse, you could be made to feel small by an egomaniac who is just trying to propel their imaginary ‘higher status’ on you. 

You don’t really remember these conversations, or more importantly, you try to forget these conversations.

Well, bad blogs and other content is like a bad conversation. Akin to bad convos, the symptoms of bad content are: 

  • Lack of in-depth material (almost a clear attempt to avoid revealing industry information)
  • Repetitive information that is covered in another blog, creating a feeling on behalf of the reader that they are wasting time.
  • A blog that is aimed to gloat or impress – ‘the smoke and mirror’ blog.

Content like this tends to just fall to rest on page 3 to ∞ of the SERPs, with few social shares and even fewer backlinks — similar to the forgotten conversations you have had in your life.

Long-Lasting Link Assets Are The Best

Since it is clear that value produces links. You want your ‘link asset’ to be as valuable as possible for as long as possible.

Therefore, it is a good idea to create content that lasts for a very long time and does not become outdated.

Long-lasting resources, which people can come back to again and again will become link hotspots over time (powerful pages that get more and more links over time as they gain authority from previous backlinks).

Unfortunately, the link velocity of a page with short-term information will drop off over time as the value of the article drops off and it becomes less useful.

As you can imagine, a guide that was really valuable in 2010 might not be as valuable in 2019.

As a result, if you already have ‘link assets’ but they are short term, you want to turn them into long-term assets.

How can I do this?

If you already have guides and informational content you may want to keep updating it and changing the title or description to mention that it [still works in (date)]

For example, 

Search Engine Watch regularly updates their backlink techniques blog to include up-to-date information and change the title to original title + still works in (current year).

On the other hand, you could create content that never gets old, such as useful toolbars and things that people will keep going back to. 

Finding Content Ideas To Create Link Assets With

As I’ve said, old link assets can be reinvigorated to get links coming to them again. However, you can also create brand new link assets. But in order to do this, you need content ideas! Of course.

You COULD find your own unique ideas for link assets. 

A good way to do this is to do some market research — finding out which questions people are asking the most on forums.

However, I much prefer using already existing content though. 

After all, coming up with brand new ideas can take a lot of time and resources.

Try out the skyscraper technique

There is a method, often called the ‘skyscraper technique’, which looks at finding posts within your niche – ‘skyscrapers’ –  which are already huge and getting loads of links and recreating these. 

The skyscraper is a much more scientific way of creating link assets because the content you are creating has already proven to be capable of getting links.

Moreover, with a little bit of promotion, which I will show you how to do later, you can build even MORE links than your competitors since your content is now the best out there.

For example, you can find all the people that are linking to your competitors original, but now less good, pieces of content and get them to link to you. 

How To Find Existing Link Assets to Recreate

One way you can find topics which you could write about to become link assets is to use the UberSuggest content idea toolbar.

This tool finds out what content is already being shared on social media and ranking well. You can filter by minimum facebook and Pinterest shares. It also shows you how many backlinks. 

All you have to do to use it is enter your target location and target keyword and it comes up with tons of existing link assets and popular content.

So, once you have decided what topic you are going to write about, you need to create the content and make it better than everyone else’s…

For more about how you can find link assets ready to recreate, check out our previous blog on The Skyscraper Technique

In that blog, Christopher talks about how to use Ahrefs and other tools which allow you to find competitor content which are already link assets.

So, once you have decided what topic you are going to write about, you need to create the content and make it better than everyone else’s by adding as much value as possible. 

Promoting Your Link Asset To Boost It’s Link Acquisition

Big sites will often find that their content grows into link assets naturally. They get organic traffic to their site already and regular users of the blog link out to the blog because why not. For them, it’s always guaranteed to offer good value.

However, if you’re a small site, people aren’t necessarily going to link out to your resource (and soon to be link asset) organically. 

You need to promote your content. There are many ways to do this. 

This mainly involves 2 processes: searching the web en-masse for link opportunities and secondly, using your link asset to transform these prospects into actual links. 

The following sections explore how to use free and paid tools to ‘scrape’ the web to find link prospects and then how to sell to your link asset to them.

Use Broken Links As A Source For Link Opportunities 

As usual, in SEO you can get ahead of the game by using your competitors.

You can find broken links to your opponents, contact the linking party and get them to replace the broken link of your competitors with a link to your own powerful content.

Essentially, you are just doing the same link fixing talked about above but rather than fixing competitors links, you are sending them your own way.

You can do this using any backlink checker. Here, we use Ahrefs (as usual). 

How To Find Competitors Broken Links And Replace Them With Links To You

Okay, so what you want to do first is find competitors with broken pages. 

If they are at the top of the SERPs, it is likely that these broken pages will have DoFollow links that are either lost or victim to a dodgy 301 redirect to an irrelevant page. This means it is easy to convince people linking to them 

You can find these broken links by going to the keyword explorer and searching for relevant terms to your niche. 

We are going to use the term “content marketing” for the sake of providing an example.

After this, the results for the keyword should show up. 

From here, scroll to the bottom to find the SERP overview.  One by one you will want to go through your competition. 

Copy and paste the link address of the chosen competitor into Site Explorer (sorted by domain) 

This will bring up the competitors Ahrefs profile. From here, you can find any of their broken pages by heading to Pages → Best By Links.

You then want to filter them by 404 not found error messages.

You can do this by clicking the drop down box and selecting 404 not found.

For our example, contentmarketinginstitute.com has thousands of broken links that another content marketing company could use to acquire new links.

Find broken pages that are similar to your link asset by using the Search in Results bar and enter a general topic that your link asset is about. 

How to Find Webmasters and Ask For A Replacement Link

Go onto the list of DoFollow links for the broken page to see the websites linking to the broken page.

Often contacting the webmaster will be as easy as going onto their site and finding the email at the bottom of the page.

You then want to pitch your article to the webmaster. Selling them the fact that your article either/and:

  • Is more up-to-date 
  • provides a better user experience
    • Contain more enjoyable infographics
  • Talks about an interesting tool/tactic/method that nobody else knows about.
  • Potentially gets more traffic than your competition

Obviously don’t lie about why your article is better.

More importantly, 

Make sure the article is relevant to the context of why they linked to the broken link. 

Say if the broken page is a case study about an amazing content marketing campaign and the linking page has anchor text celebrating the epic results of a campaign, a case study with small/average results is hardly going to entice a webmaster to link to your site. 

NOTE: Since we are trying to build safe backlinks, you want to vet the linking sites to decide whether they have the authority or relevance to make them a safe link building opportunity.

Get links from resource pages and expert roundups 

Resource pages are those pages with lists of useful tools/content about a particular blog. Your ‘Top 10 such and such’ blogs and things like that.

If you’ve created genuinely valuable content, and you are already a reputable source, this link building strategy should be fairly easy for you. All you need to do is find the resource pages and expert roundups and 

How to find expert roundups

You can do this with some advanced Google searches:

You want to search: 

General topic (main keyword of content) inurl:resources

Or  “best resources”

Or  ”useful resources”

Or  “expert roundup”

Or intitle:links

Or “helpful links”

When you search for these terms, you can use SEOQuake to gather all of the links and qualify them (we do this using SEOQuake or Ahrefs Batch Analysis) — deciding which prospects are worth chasing based on various metrics such as URL rating or domain rating. 

In other words, you are making sure the resources pages are ‘safe’ prospects to chase!

Download the SEO Quake plugin on chrome. 

Turn it on.

Do the queries mentioned above and then click export CSV.

This will provide you with a list of unordered information about the SERP, such as the URL.

You want to order this list and analyse the information it provides.

To do this (on google sheets): 

Click on column A and then click Data -> Split Text to Columns.

A little box should pop up, saying “Seperator:” next to a drop down menu. You want to click the dropdown box and then select “Semicolons”.

This will structure your results.

You can then use outreach to target the most appropriate of these pages to try and get ‘safe’ links. In order to vet these sites, I normally go one step further by pasting column B into Ahrefs Batch Analysis (I will show you how to use Batch Analysis when I explain how to turn unlinked) mentions into backlinks. That way I can chase links that have both a high SEMrush rank as well as Ahrefs URL and Domain rating. 

Unfortunately, This technique might not work for you if you are not yet a reputable source.

If you are not reputable, getting into link roundups may be a little bit more difficult for you. With reference to the resource pages above, Moz is unlikely to use your site as a learn to link build resource if you have not got a proven reputation. 

However, there is a way to get around this, which makes getting into link roundups easier. This involves leveraging broken links to your competitors to replace them on link roundups with links to your high-value (potential) link asset content. In other words…

Stealing Competitor’s Resource Page Links

As you know by now, you can get onto the list of broken pages of a competitor site to find the broken links.

If you are not sure how, please read the section above called ‘Use Broken Links As A Source For Link Opportunities’. 

Well, if you just look through the list of broken links to a page which is similar to your asset, you can look for roundups to target with the aim of replacing your competitors’ broken link with a link to your asset.

If you find a target page, you want to do outreach to the owners of these roundups. 

How to Email a Link Roundup Owner With a Pitch

You can do this for pages on all your competitors which are similar to your new resource. 

You want to send them an email like the following.

Courtesy of Backlinko

It is in their best interest to link to you since a broken link on a resource page looks really bad on their behalf and is not very valuable at all.

You will need to just sit and wait for a response.

A few other ways of promoting your linkable assets to get links fast

Infographic Submissions and Reverse Image Search

As I mentioned earlier, link assets don’t just have to be blogs. Infographics make great link assets too. Creating amazing infographics is a whole different story. 

Visme has a great blog that provides lots of information on how to make high-value infographics. 

Alternatively, you could pay for infographics to be made for you. This is a service we are offering now.

Anyway, assuming that you have a great infographic. You can promote this by going onto sites which accept the submission of infographics which link back to the site. 

Infographics are a weird one because they are a link asset that can exist on another site but still be a link asset for you. 

When you submit your infographic, first of all, this produces a backlink from the site in which you have submitted. Yet, there is a second advantage. People use these infographic pages like they do Getty Images — to find great images (infographics in this case) to use in their own content. When people take these infographics and put them on their own site, that is another potential link because you can find these ‘image mentions’ on Reverse Image Search tools like Google Image Search and ask them for a link.

Instead, I use Tineye. You can just upload your infographic and it will search the web for instances where this picture exists.

When it finds sites using your infographic, you can message the webmaster with a pitch asking to link the image.

As part of our 5 data point infographic submissions, you can have a custom made infographic which we submit to various different – niche-specific sites that are all vetted beforehand to make sure they provide a ‘safe’ backlink.

Backlink bargaining

There is nothing quite like a little bit of backlink bargaining. This involves finding sites that you want a link on and emailing the webmasters and promising a link in return. Alternatively, you could do this on Facebook.

However, this is unlikely to work if your site is not very authoritative and the other parties’ is. Be realistic folks.

There are loads of ways to find link prospects. Be creative with it. I have only listed a few, but using the art of web scraping, finding link prospects can be both enjoyable and easy to do.

For more information on how to use big data to find link prospects, check out this video by BHCommunity:

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=rF5mCboWdv8

As you’ve probably figured, a bulk of the strategy behind finding link prospects is about searching the web as efficiently as possible, to find places to promote your link asset. However, there are other ways of building links that don’t involve promoting a link asset as such. The last few sections are devoted to these alternative link building strategies.

Get Redirect Links After A Merger 

As part of a business acquisition, all the assets of one company are given to the other. Backlinks are one of these assets. 

So basically, when you buy a business and/or their website, you get all of their backlinks. This includes when you buy expired domains.

Unfortunately, when you buy someone’s website, the backlinks do not automatically get ‘given’ to your site. 

You have to redirect links pages from the website which you have acquired to your own pages.

The merger technique is proven. Companies like Nutshell and Gotch SEO used the merger technique to grow the authority of his site and rank for new keywords. 

As you can see below, if you look at the backlink profile for either of these two companies, you will find lots and lots of backlinks have come from redirected pages. That’s a successful application of the merger technique for you!

Importantly though, you should make sure that you only acquire RELEVANT domains. Back in the hey-day of black-hat, sites used to acquire other irrelevant sites and totally absorb the PageRank but now that just isn’t the case.

As we have mentioned, relevancy definitely comes into Google’s ranking calculations.

Where should I send the redirects to? 

You could just redirect all of the pages to your homepage and get it ranking for tons of different keywords. 

However, I wouldn’t recommend this as homepages are unlikely to get a good click-through rate compared to a hyper-relevant blog post on the SERPs.

Example:

Your website is links.com and on the SERPs, it looks like this:

Meta Title: Links | Where the world gets links from

Imagine, you are redirecting blogs like How to Build Links 101 to your homepage and your homepage gets to page 1 of the SERPs relating to the term “How to Build Links” for a bit.

Your competition on this SERP is pages like 10 Link Building Strategies to Beat The Competition, or Link Building On Steroids. 

Whose page is going to get more clicks?

Not yours, that’s for sure. And before long, your homepage will drop in the SERPs as it appears that it isn’t giving Google users what they want to see from the search query: How to Build Links.

And well… that is a fat waste of capital that you spent on acquiring another site.

Instead, I would recommend spending a load of time 301 redirecting relevant pages on their site to relevant posts.

Provided that you do a merger properly, If you redirect a site that is ranking for keywords that you aren’t, you will most likely start to rank for those keywords since as part of the merge you acquire the backlinks that got the target site onto the top of the SERPs in the first place. 

However, don’t expect to rank for keywords straight away if your site is just a pile of rubbish.

Prioritise getting your content tip-top before you start building links.

But in all likelihood, if your site’s content is rubbish, it’s doubtful that you have the earnings to acquire a site in the first place.

How to Get Domains To 301 Redirect To Your Site

There are plenty of tools and services which allow you to add filters to a list of buyable domains — meaning that you can buy authoritative, relevant domains from these vendors.

Because this is not an expert roundup of expired domain vendors, I’m not going to list them all in order of preference.

But here are a few vendors you can check out:

SpamZilla

GoDaddy

DomCop

FreshDrop

You can use these vendors to scour the web for expired domains that are relevant and high authority.

In the past, we have used SpamZilla to find expired domains to redirect.

//www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Km6K-UJ0Cs

FAQs for Web scraping and Website mergers

“So, earlier you talked about Link velocity, saying that Google will penalise you if you build links too quickly over a period of time. Surely, you will be penalised for suddenly 301 redirecting an entire website to your own and acquiring all their links at once?” 

Google is weird, a lot of its behaviour is incongruous and does not logically follow. In fact, to date, no SEOs have recalled being penalised for acquiring a website and redirecting it to their own.

The only reason they have been penalised for it is that the website that has been redirected has been irrelevant to the mother site. 

If you don’t believe me, here’s a personal conversation I had with Gotch SEO on Facebook which he later retweeted. 

“What happens if you can’t find any relevant or safe expired domains?”

Back in 2015, when PBN and Sape links weren’t risky, we used to use web scraping marketplaces a lot of the time. It was easy to find sites to use as PBNs or as sites to merge with. 

However, now, it is actually a lot harder to find high quality expired domains. Over the years, probably most, but certainly a lot of sites with have changed hands over the years and had PBN links sent to them or Sape Links or other irrelevant and impotent links.

You might end up spending hours trying to vet expired domains to see if they are worthy prospects.

Instead, since…

Buying expired domains isn’t ‘too’ safe. Buy active websites instead.

These days, since google has really hit websites with spammy links, it is difficult to find an expired domain that hasn’t been hit and damaged by spam over the years. 

It may be more time effective to find opportunities to buy domains that are still registered, with the motivation of 301ing the site to your own. 

In many niches, there are plenty of sites that are high authority but not making money. Hobby projects can make an excellent buying opportunity. 

Someone who has a site which is gaining a lot of traction or is ranking quite well but not making any money might be inclined to sell you their site if you wave a wad of cash in their face.

Alternatively, but perhaps not recommendable, you could visit premium website marketplaces, such as empire flippers. However, these tend to be very expensive sites and you would actually probably get a better ROI just running your own affiliate campaign from a purchased site then using it to gain new links.

Using Guest Posts

Guest posting was always going to be included on a link building guide.

But I just wanted to point out that we are not talking about black hat guest posting.

What was black hat guest posting?

Back in the day,  there used to be a thing called Content Farming or Automated Guest Posting. 

Well… I say back in the day, but in reality, there are some dinosaur SEOs out there who are probably still doing this but we don’t associate with them.

It will get you penalised.

It was kind of simple really. You farm some content on the web and submit it to sites like Ezine Articles and Buzzle which accepted guest posting.

People also used to just create one piece of content and automatically submit it all over the web. 

How to build safe backlinks from guest posts

Instead, you can use high-quality blog posts to get organic links

There are actually two ways to use guest posts to gain new backlinks. 

Allow Others To Guest Posts On Your Site

Another person… an intruder? post on my site!? 

Well, let me tell you now, this person is actually giving you a link asset and they definitely shouldn’t be perceived as an intruder.

Remember, those things — link assets — we talked about earlier?

Yeah, that’s right, you don’t have to make them yourself.

You can actually get people to guest post on your site to create a link asset. Better yet, a lot of people are willing to do it for free to help build their reputation.

Alternatively, you could host a content competition as we did at DFY Links with a cash prize on offer with the hope that the amount of people entering into the competition gives you a good ROI.

For our competition, we gave away $4000 in cash and $10,000 worth of store credit to run a guest posting competition. But from that, we gained 6-7 link assets (we received plenty of articles that we didn’t publish). These assets, provided that we do minor updates on them, will last for a long time… hopefully turning into link hotspots?

Note: A link hotspot is a page that increases in link velocity as time goes on because the more backlinks a site has the better it ranks and the better it ranks, the more links it gets.

Niche Relevant Guest Posts On Other Sites

Smaller sites, who haven’t yet got the reputation and the traffic to gain natural links from a link asset will need to do outreach.

Along with encouraging edits to blogs, as we spoke about earlier, you can guest post on other people’s sites and include a link back to your site.

But don’t just post on any site. I’m sure you know this already. You should look for niche relevant sites to guest post on it.

How can you find relevant sites?

Outreach. Simple. Find a site that you want to post on — send the owner a personalised message on LinkedIn, Facebook or an email. 

Talk about your credentials and what Guest Post you want to offer in exchange for a link. You can use your competitor’s backlink profile to find where they have guest posted and outreach to these as they clearly offer the opportunity for guest posts.

On your competitors’ backlink profile, the page names on these types of sites will look like a blog title. It just requires a bit of common sense really.

Alternatively, you could find these opportunities the old fashioned way: 

Use a few simple search operators on google. 

CAUTION: In 2019, as part of the Google Algorithm, it footprints the use of these type of search operators– recognising the sites which offer easy links. The ranking signal that comes from links which you have used these operators to find will be lower than those links provided by those you have organically found. This is because the links are supposed to be brand referrals, not links that are put there by SEOs through a ‘submission’ process. 

You want to enter: 

NICHE + “guest post”

NICHE + “contribute to”

NICHE + “write for us”

NICHE + “contributors”

NICHE + “guest writer”

NICHE + “guest post guidelines”

Or anything else in the second part that you think will be associated with people needing blog posts.

Then you want to pitch your guest post. You should make it as valuable as possible. Like a link asset that you’re willing to share.

Alternatively, you could use a guest post service like our one at DFY Links.

(shameless advertisement) 

Since guest posting takes forever to do, if you’re doing high-quality outreach, you may just want to get it Done For You  😉

Our guest posting service provides a unique outreach campaign for every customer but only posts on sites that hit the authority criteria which you provide/pay for.

Turning Unlinked Mentions Into Links 

As a seasoned SEO, or at least somebody who is on the road to being a professional SEO (shown by the fact you’re reading a blog like this), it is likely that you will be working with clients that are being spoken about on the internet.

Unfortunately, a lot of people either forget to add links to brands they mention. Rather than referring to a business by website, they refer to them merely by name.

If you left the mention as just that, a piece of text about the company, then it will remain a wasted link opportunity.

People that mention your company but don’t link to its website probably just haven’t thought to provide a link or don’t know your website exists. 

You basically just need to remind those people that your (or your client’s) website exists and get them to turn that mention into branded anchor text for a link to your site. You want to contact the webmaster and get them to convert that mention into a backlink.

Using a few simple google searches, you can scoop up plenty of backlinks by seeing all the mentions of your business/company. 

Finding Unlinked Mentions 

We will prioritise links from high-quality pages.

There are a couple of ways to find unlinked mentions from these pages. We just use Google and some free web-scraping tools. 

Unfortunately, like all things in life, this technique has its drawbacks. It requires a lot more manual work and just general effort.

But-hey-ho, everyone in SEO knows the grind well. 

How To Find Unlinked Mentions (for free) 

Firstly you need to create a list of all the things that your site will get a unique mention for. This could be iconic products or services that you offer, brand representatives or the names of employees.

These are the things we are going to search for.

Next, you will need to do a search that looks for the chosen branded words. But you want this search to exclude your own website as well as social media mentions. 

You can do this by inserting the search parameter below into google:

Intext: chosen brand words -yoursite.tld -twitter.com -facebook.com -pinterest.com -youtube.com

This will bring up all the instances where you have been mentioned in the text of web pages without a  link.

From here, you will want to scrape the list of links, so that you can narrow down your search to find which of the mentions are unlinked (I will show you how to do this shortly). So far, the text you have specified in your search could still be anchor text.

Scraping the SERPs for unlinked mentions

Firstly, you want to set the number of results per page to 100 to ease the scraping process. 

You can do this by clicking Settings -> Search Settings and then dragging the dial to go to 100.

You should also download a google extension called SEOQuake. SEOquake has a simple feature that allows you to export an entire SERP. It then puts links to all the pages which mention your company into a spreadsheet — automatically.

However, when you upload the SERP, the results come all muddled up.

To structure the results, click on column A and then click Data -> Split Text to Columns.

A little box should pop up, saying “Seperator:” next to a drop down menu. You want to click the dropdown box and then select “Semicolons”.

Now you have a list of all the sites which mention your website. However, many of these will be backlinks. 

Next, you want to find out which of these mentions are not actually links, yet…

You can use Screaming Frog to do this, they have an interesting functionality which can crawl through a list of domains to find a specific line of code and then filters the results into just those with or without the line of code.

This means you can bring up all the results without a link to see where the unlinked mentions are.

Unfortunately, Screaming Frog requires a paid version to do this. Instead, I’m going to show you how to find unlinked mentions using ScrapeBox, which is a decade-old tool that is still free to use.

Firstly, you want to download Scrapebox Free Link Checker

Scroll down and click download and choose the appropriate device.

The link checker can only process sites on a txt file, so next, you are going to take all the URLs from your SeoQuake CSV file and paste them into a txt file and save it.

Following this, open ScrapeBox Link Checker and click ‘blogs’ 

Then upload the txt file that you have created. This will tell the software that these are the sites it wants to crawl and look for links to “your sites”.

Following this, you will want to create a new txt file, and write down every variation of your site including those with the prefixes: //, //, www and the various domain.tld’s you have.

For example:

Next, Click “Your Sites” and upload this TLD. This tells the software that these are the sites to look for inside the ‘blogs’ you have specified. 

Then click start 

It will take a couple of minutes to do the check. But each site will be given a status. Sites with unlinked mentions will return a Not Found Status — Implying that within the SERP results, these were the sites where the branded term was mentioned but not linked to. 

Next, click export ‘save all “not found” to .csv file(all fields). This will create a CSV of sites with unlinked mentions on.

After this, you will want to vet all the sites to see whether they are link prospects worth chasing.

We do this on Ahrefs, using the batch analysis tool. But you could do this on any Batch Analysis tool

Using the Ahrefs Batch Analysis tool 

Head to Ahrefs.com → More drop-down → batch analysis

Copy and paste the list of URLs from the final list exported from ScrapeBox

Click analyse and it will bring up the Ahrefs statistics for each of the domains. 

You could export this file and analyse it in excel or google docs.

AS you can see, some of the results come up with mentions on sites which I had forgotten to remove from the advanced search, such as Soundcloud and yelp.

However, I can analyse the other sites, to weigh up whether or not they are good prospects. Clearly, the mention from authority hacker is a good site to chase up for a backlink because it has a huge Domain Rating of 74 and 24 referring domains, meaning it is likely to pass a lot of link juice.

Again, you want to outreach to these sites and send them a personalised email asking them to turn your mention into a link. If it is relevant.

In certain cases, however, even if the page mentioning your brand is relevant, it is unnecessary to outreach to the site – making it a total waste of time.

When should I ignore a prospect?

Does this domain link out to you on tons of other pages? Or elsewhere on the page. Leave it if it does. You don’t want to come across as too pushy, as this could be bad for your brand and put them off linking you in future.

Think about the context of the mention. If there are mentions that are negative, you probably don’t want to turn them into links.

For example, there are a lot of trolls that used to get pissed off by Charles’ old spammy SEO methods back in 09’. We have found them mentioning our site in a negative way, so we wouldn’t want to get a link from them. 

Using HARO (Help a Reporter Out)

Pretty much since the start of SEO, paying off reporters to build links on news websites has been a favourable link-building technique. 

However, a recent BuzzFeed article spoiled the game:

 Now, the news companies are on the watch for SEO bribery. 

That is why I haven’t included paying off newspapers. 

Unfortunately, this means getting links on high authority news sites have to be cultivated using rather difficult white hat means.

HARO (help a reporter out) is now the best option.

What is HARO?

HARO is a platform that offers reporters sources for the information they may want to consolidate with quotes from industry experts or individuals that may be able to offer unique insights into life and various areas of business.

For us, this means that you can sign up to be a ‘source’ and try to get your company or product or service cited by professional reporters.

Ideally, this will come with a backlink, however, this is by no means an absolute guarantee.

When you sign up as a reporter, you will receive daily emails with pitch information on them. You can then choose to pitch to relevant pieces to your niche or ones that you think will accept a pitch from you.

Why should you use HARO

Although it requires a hell of a lot of painstaking work and disappointment because a large proportion of your pitches won’t come through, HARO can give you some real good ROI.

if you can work HARO to death it can create you some crazy backlinks which you never thought you could get.

Through using the Help a Reporter Out service, our domain has referring domains that are DR 70-90 such as business.com and AVG.com.

How to use HARO

  1. 1. Sign up as a ‘Source’ by clicking the ‘I’M A SOURCE’ button.

You will want to sign up to a HARO package that suits your budget.

The free package is great if you’re on a  tight budget and you can still get a lot of value from it.

You still get daily pitch emails, three times a day.

  • 2. Plan which type of emails you will respond to.

When you first sign up, you will get to choose what category of articles you are looking to be a source for.

When you choose one, this will narrow down the list of queries that come up.

On the site, you will get opportunity lists relevant to your category like this:

 

However, the opportunity lists under the different categories are still immensely broad. 

You are better off having in mind the type of articles that you want to pitch for.

There is absolutely no point responding to every HARO email you get. 

You will quickly realise that you don’t know anything about what they’re asking for.

You are far better off thinking about what unique insights you have to offer, and which opportunities would benefit from your specialities. 

When I was at university, I went to a journalism workshop, with attendees from major UK newspapers. There, one of the features editors of iNews told me that the best way to make your pitches successful was to show that you are the most suitable to write this piece. 

For example, say if an editor was writing a piece about animal cruelty, a pitch from a seasoned RSPCA executive is going to look far better than an opinion piece from a dog owner. 

So, before even considering to start writing a pitch for an opportunity — make sure that it is relevant to your expertise. 

You should also think about whether the reporter is likely to offer a backlink as part of the opportunity. You can do this by doing a simple search into google to find the authors page. Here, you can read their post articles and see how often they link out to businesses.

In one successful case study, Luana Spinetti from Monitor Backlinks describes how she would only reply to queries relating to three niches and only respond to queries from publications that provide backlinks– or at least are most likely to. 

  • 3. Create an SOP (Standard operating procedure) for replying to HARO opportunities

Since this guide is for seasoned SEO’s, it is likely that you are working with a team who are helping you build links for your clients or your business.

In order to make sure that your team are only replying to pitches that have a high likelihood of success, you want to create an SOP for your company’s link builders. 

One good way to do this is by writing down a list of example queries which have led to great success in the past. That way, your link builders can easily evaluate the viability of HARO opportunities by comparing them with the list you created.

This can be a good way to prevent your link builders from pitching to poor opportunities. 

It will also drastically improve your ROI as you won’t be paying staff for unsuccessful link building.

However, if you’re working on your own, I recommend being open-minded as there are likely to be unique opportunities every day that might not be on your opportunity list. You may suddenly think of a great pitch idea for a new opportunity type which you’ve never seen before!

A creative pitch is more likely to come through than a boring one. 

Note: creating an SOP does not mean just copying and pasting material from previous pitches for a new opportunity. Every opportunity is likely to have slightly different criteria, you should adjust to this each time you write a pitch.

  • 3. Writing the pitch

When writing the pitch, there are a couple of key things you need to do.

These are:

  1. Respond quickly – reporters are working in an extremely quick environment where late stories do not pay and it is likely that they have an inpatient editor screaming down their ear. Actually, believe me, they do. This means that they are going to review responses as soon as they arrive, and you don’t want yours to be later than your competition’s.
  2. Answer the questions directly – journalists are always skimming. When writing to journalists, always use an inverted pyramid structure of writing
Haro Pitching Pyramid

The inverted pyramid basically means that you put the most important stuff first. Get straight to the point and explore the details further down in your pitch.

It is not like an ordinary sale. Although you are selling your pitch, the ideas and your insights should sell themselves. You don’t need to turn your pitch into a mystery.

  • Write in the same style as the target paper or website

There is no point using bucket brigades (phrases designed to excite the reader like) for a broadsheet paper like The Guardian or New York Times.

They are looking for high-quality paragraphs. Before writing your pitch, go to the reporter’s author page and read some of their other articles. See how they write. Think to yourself: how big are the paragraphs? How long are the pieces? What themes does the author like?

By catering your pitch to the author, you are likely to get their attention better.

  • Think about pace and how it reads.
  • Look at using a variety of sentences – Use a mix of simple and long sentences as this will change the pace of your pitch.
  • Use one-sentence paragraphs – in journalism, paragraphs rarely exceed one sentence. Since reporters are used to reading and writing like this, you will want to write like this to ease how the pitch is read.
  • Mix up your phraseology – Sentences that start with phrases like ‘This is because’ all the time are extremely draining and boring to read. Mix up the way your sentences start and try to be creative with it. 
  • Make sure there are no spelling or grammar mistakes – mistakes are a terrible trust signal for reporters. They indicate two things: A) you are not that bothered about the pitch. b) the writing you provide may be lacklustre. 

Grammarly is a great tool to im+prove all of the above. As part of the software, you can select a preferred style (e.g friendly or informative). It will then suggest writing corrections that improve the tone of your writing. 

  • It’s all in the subject line 

Subject lines should be creative and tease the reader. This might mean adding a pun or implying what makes you special. There are plenty of excellent guides out there but generally the rule of three works quite well. 

  • 5. Track your HARO campaign

As you are submitting pitches, you want to carefully track your campaign. By doing this you can firstly scientifically improve your link building: tweaking your responses going forward, for instance, judging if quicker response times yield more links.

When doing HARO submissions, our link builder stores his entries on a spreadsheet.

We use 14 different columns and fill them out after every submission:

  1. Month
  2. Date
  3. Haro day – day the HARO email was received
  4. AM/PM/EVE
  5. Time – the time you replied to the HARO email
  6. Client
  7. Name
  8. Email
  9. Website if known
  10. Summary – what did the HARO email talk about
  11. Subject line – what did you put as the subject line in your email?
  12. Text sent – Content of your message (could include a summary and then save files elsewhere)
  13. Checked for the quote online – yes or no
  14. Success – yes or no

We then include the total amount of links received.

Find your own copy of this spreadsheet on my DropBox.

Alongside storing the outcome of responses, you should also save your previous responses in a folder somewhere so that you could use them when similar queries come up.

Occasionally reporters will put up your comments without letting you know. You want to store your responses so that you can paste it into Google to see if it brings results. 

You want to enter intext:“part of your comment”

If it does come up in the search, you know not to discard this comment. Keep it stored away incase a similar query comes up in future.

  • 6. Follow up on responses

Build up a rapport with the reporters by trying to keep the lines of communication open. Remind them that you are always there if they need quotes in future. Not only will this set you apart from the desperate mob of other HARO sources, it can open up greater opportunities for guest posting.

After celebrating – you should update the sheet as successful – a) you can track trends of winning pitches b) stops you from pitching that company on behalf of the same client again, if you already have a link from that referring domain.

Summary of How to Use HARO

  1. Don’t miss the opportunity deadline.
  2. Don’t be self-promotional or salesy – try not to make your pitch look like a sale for your product. Salesmanship is incredibly annoying for journalists looking for high-quality content. 
  3. Check that your profile fits the requirements – opportunities normally come with a list of requirements. Make sure you match these criteria.
  4. Don’t use attachments – HARO does not allow attachments. Anything you attach will be wasted material.
  5. Don’t send a generic response – as I’ve mentioned, journalists are looking for creative responses. Replicated material from previous pitches is likely to not fit all the specificities of this particular opportunity.
  6. Don’t harass the journalist – sending 20 follow up emails will not get you the opportunity. Respect the reporters by not spamming them.
  7. This will also help safeguard your relationship with them in case another opportunity comes up again which you are more qualified for.
  8. Never miss the deadline – I don’t really need to say anything about this. 

For more help on pitching, check out what journalism.co.uk say about writing an amazing journalism pitch

I repeat, HARO is an amazing and frankly underutilised link building tool — providing you with links that are both high authority with relevant URLs. The links it provides tend to be extremely high quality. It should definitely make up a key part of your link building arsenal.

Some techniques which I haven’t included in this guide and why

You will notice that I haven’t included certain link building techniques in this guide — techniques which, as time has gone on and google has to update for quality assurance, are riskier.

On the other hand, some of these link building strategies haven’t been included because they’ve been spoken about on other blogs. 

Local Link Building – There are plenty of local-centric link building techniques that I haven’t mentioned, such as building up citations. If you are looking for a link building guide specifically for local, we already have a blog on that. 

Using Google’s Authority Stacks  – This refers to providing links in published Google Documents and other Google entities to give yourself a backlink.

As we have spoken about in other blogs, this is more of a tier 2 strategy used to boost sites linking to you, and I would not recommend it as a link building strategy for your main site as this can be quite risky as it is outside of Google’s guidelines — counting as a ‘link scheme’.

PBN links – PBN links are still effective, but we recommend using these as a tier 2 strategy as well because they can be spotted by manual quality raters who will penalise your site if they find you using PBNs directly. PBNs can be easy for Google to spot because they remain inactive, not producing new blog content regularly and just sitting there. 

Web 2.0s 

It is kind of the same with Web 2.0s as with PBNs.

CONCLUSION

In this post, I have listed tons of up-to-date link building methods and described how to apply them safely.  The aim was to give you link building strategies which are not just effective but future proof. By following the principles I mentioned in the introduction, there is no reason why Google would ever hit your site. Period.

If, in general, you focus on high-quality links to great content then your site will rocket through the SERPs — that is a guarantee.

However, the methods described in this guide rest on a lot of hard work. A Haro campaign alone, for instance, can take weeks to get real results. 

Nobody, other than ‘get rich quick’ YouTubers said it was going to be easy — and as a seasoned SEO you probably know this already. Don’t let Gary Vee and other people like that confuse you. Marketing consists of hundreds of different elements, each of which requires A LOT of effort.

My advice would be: don’t stop reading.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my first post for DFY Links, and I welcome any questions about the post – just hit me up on Facebook. 

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1 Comment

Reply Robin M October 6, 2019 at 11:54 am

Good job Luke. You nailed it! There were some good strategies I learned through your article.

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