When working in-house as a full-stack marketer at Jungle Scout, I was fortunate enough to touch many areas of our marketing operations. From SEO and content, to email marketing, seasonal campaigns and playing a part in the Million Dollar Case Study, publicly launching products on Amazon to provide insightful and transparent content, whilst raising thousands of dollars for charity.
One thing that I took under my wing, was link building and guest content. Any good SEO (I hate calling a person an "SEO" but I guess it does the job), knows the importance of link building and gaining authoritative links back to your domain. Actually come to think of it, I also hate using the term "link building" and "guest content swap", because they have such negative connotations. But getting good links is still important. So how should we be doing it in 2018?
In the past, the main headache I had with most of my clients was, how am I going to convince these high authority sites to link to us? It can feel like shouting from a rooftop into an abyss where no one cares or listens.
The struggle is real, especially for small niche businesses, or those who are just starting out trying to build up their authority and climb the rankings.
This is still true to some extent for bigger brands with more authority of course. But those brands are usually in the fortunate position of seeing the other side of the story. Where companies and marketers with a lower domain authority are reaching out to them for links. Every damn day. Don't get me wrong this is a nice position to be in. But it does also involve developing a thick skin and saying no quite a lot. It also involves seeing a lot of link building efforts that completely miss the mark.
Here's some of the observations I have made from several years of experience on both sides of the story.
1. Using your existing content
This is the laziest way to get links, isn't it?
Create list of the domains you want backlinks from and send them a blanket email pointing them to your content and asking for a link.
What bothers me most, and maybe this is just me, is the seemingly unwritten rule that you shouldn't outright ask for a link. Instead, you see emails from people like: "Hey Kym, we wrote this article about this topic that you are interested in, let me know what you think".
We all know the desired outcome, so why beat about the bush? Your email has no discernable action and I am probably just going to move on because I don't have time to read your article, let alone tell you my thoughts about it and then get into a 5-email-deep discussion about backlinks.
Why can't we all be open, up front and honest with each other?
How to do it right:
- The key is to be much more specific, and do your research.
- Explain exactly why your article (yes, choose the most relevant piece) is useful to their audience, not yours.
- Identify what information it has that their content doesn't have.
- Show them exactly where they could link to it in one of their articles. It needs to be relevant and supportive content, not just some random article that sort of fits in.
Not only does this present your content as being valuable to their audience, but you have also done the hard work for them at this point. If you send something vague and leave them to guess why your article is useful and how it connects to their own content, the chances are they aren't even going to revisit your email. Assuming they read it in the first place.
Naturally, this relies on having very strong content. Content that is useful not only for your own audience, but also for the audience of the person you are asking to link to your site.
This is the sweet spot and the hardest thing to get right. In fact when you do get it right, you should find people linking to your articles organically as well.
2. Creating a specific article
This seems like more of a considered effort on the face of it. You create an article specifically for the purpose of getting backlinks from certain websites.
The problem is, this can go from being a well-placed intention to a waste of time very quickly. An example of this taken from the SaaS arena would be an article about the "top 5 tools" for something.
It seems like a great idea right? Compliment people, then reach out to them for a backlink. Realistically though, where could they use this as link back to your page other than maybe in a testimonial? But you're not even a customer and you may have unwittingly included one of their competitors on your list!
How to do it right:
Again, think of relevancy and quality. Any authorative domain worth it's salt only wants to add in backlinks when it genuinely adds something to their own content. Here's some examples:
- If you are an industry expert in something that many influencers write about in their content, then provide a really useful piece of content about that which people can use to support their own writing about these topics.
- Do you have proprietary data? Industry, consumer or customer data can really make a piece of content shareable and link-worthy. If you don't have any data, think of ways to gether some.
- Find topics where you can actually add detail, demonstrations or facts, rather than trying to get a backlink with content that basically repeats the same information everyone else has. Spend some time on case studies or tutorials, for example.
If you know which influencers or domains you want links from, scour their content, find the gaps, fill those gaps with a great article, and then do your outreach.
You will usually find common themes in these gaps and find ways to maximise each piece of content through this.
Are these dead yet? No? Ok then.
There is likely is still a place for the humble infographic. After all, there is some science behind the fact that most humans learn visually. But I think it's becoming less and less common to find success in terms of getting high authority sites sharing one. Unless it's really flipping good.
In general, I find that most infographics that get sent around tend to be quite basic. Plus, a common mistake I see is when people simply email the infographic over. Even if I did share it, I could just steal it from the email, so at best all you will get is some brand recognition.
Personally, and again maybe this is just me, I rarely read infographics. I usually end up looking at one by accident, and they're usually visually messy and lacking in context, so I just scroll straight past. I think it's increasingly hard to get them right.
If you want to create an infographics:
- Be realistic, if you have minimal resources or budget to create effective visual marketing materials, then it may end up being a huge waste of time and money to go down the infographic road.
- Remember, infographics have been on a right old journey for the past 5 years (maybe more?), and it's nothing new or exciting anymore. If you want big influencers to share yours the content really needs to be exceptional.
- Host it on your own site and provide embed code with a link to your domain. This increases the chances of it being shared in the most desirable way.
Going back to my points from creating an article, if you want an infographic to be shared, you need to do your research. Find the gaps in the information and content on the websites you are most interested in gaining links from, and then fill those gaps with your infographic. Or maybe just don't and see point 5 instead.
4. Guest content swaps
This is where it gets real. This involves a lot of committment from both sides, and it can be very time consuming.
The common mistakes I see when it comes to outreach for a guest post spot is that people just don't spend the time and effort doing their research or creating content that really fits in with the guidelines.
The most commonly rejected guest posts will be ones that come across as a sales pitch, or canned content that is of low quality. Another huge mistake is submitting something which doesn't immediately fit in with the publishers existing content without extensive work being done.
If you are asking to publish a guest post on someone else's website, then you need to provide something worth publishing and not give them more work to do.
How to do it right:
- Do your research before even asking. Go in armed with ideas of topics you can cover (after assessing the gaps in their content). Send examples of your work and make sure they know that you won't be sending in a sales pitch for your own product.
- Talk about topics and send over a content outline before drafting up the article to maximise everyones time.
- If they have content guidelines stick to them. If they ask for a specfic word count, stick to it. If they ask for a well formatted post with subheadings, provide it. If they ask for supporting images, graphs and other visuals, then provide some.
- Write useful and engaging content for their audience - simple.
The same rules apply here to all of the other points. What can you provide that is new or interesting? Can you back up your piece with evidence or data that only you have access to? Yes it takes more time, but it's much more impactful.
Video content is surely the hottest thing on the internet now. There is a higher barrier to entry still. Good video content is expensive to make whether you outsource or have an in-house production team (and gear).
Think of all of the possibilities for shareable content:
- Podcast or webinar recordings
- Animated explainer videos
- Screencasts and how-to demonstrations
You can add transcriptions and captions to make videos extra shareable.
Ramping up the YouTube presence at Jungle Scout was a huge success with significant growth in overall traffic and engagement. Not only that, I am starting to see an upward trend in organic backlinks (read: no outreach) to articles that have a supporting video embedded in them.
Once again, the concepts and topics you decide to create videos about are what really count.
Quality over quantity
The saying "content is king" is still true. But I think this is changing. When it comes to organic traffic, rankings and backlinks - excellent content is the best way to go. But this is becoming more and more difficult as the amount of content out there becomes more saturated.
If you are creating content just for links, then you're probably doing it wrong.
These days companies and publishers need to be that little bit extra. Finding ways to incorporate data, evidence or any form of added value to each piece of content is critical. It takes more time and effort to create but the results are far more substantial than reworking a piece of content that has already been done to death.
This means that unless you're a news organisation or a type of publication that relies on frequency (BuzzFeed or New York Times) - then aiming for a specific weekly quota of content is probably doing more harm than good. Creating lots of fluffy content that sits there doing nothing and becomes difficult to maintain, too.
Getting backlinks organically is the dream position to be in. But realistically many blogs/sites will also need to do some outreach. But this should be treated as an opportunity to make good connections to form relationships with authors and journalists - and an opportunity to really focus down stepping up your content quality game.