The link building mindset - a baker's dozen

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Ken McGaffin's picture

We all know that one-way links from authority web sites are essential if your link building efforts are to be successful. But what does it take to get those authority sites to link to you? Well, you’ll probably guess that it is not easy - quality links don’t materialize from feeble or automated requests. To get those ever so valuable links you’ve got to adopt the right mindset - the principles that show link targets you mean business and that you’re worth linking to.

Here’s my baker’s dozen…

1. Know your marketplace

The majority if not all of your potential quality links will come from the online marketplace around your industry. They will be made up of information web sites, forums, associations, logs and email newsletters specializing in your industry.

You really must get to know this marketplace and you must establish your position within it. To do that you must devour information: you must know the best news sites, the most popular newsletters, the busiest forums and the most popular blogs. Sign up for the newsletters, get yourself a news reader and sign up for as many useful RSS feeds as you can. These will deliver news to your desktop rather than you having to go and search for it - used well they can be a huge timesaver.

2. Obsess about your customers

Get to know them inside out. Understand their stories. Statistics about customers on their own are not enough - statistics don’t give you much to use in link building. Customer stories on the other hand provide wonderful material.

People are interested in other people and if you write web copy that highlights interesting stories, you’re sure to attract links.

So find about your customers. What are their needs? How did they arrive at your website? What did they do when they arrived? And most importantly what did they do when they left? Did they find the answer to their problem? How did your site help them?

You can start this process simply by looking at the emails you receive - reply people’s queries, enter into email conversations, probe a little deeper to find out more. Ask your customers directly to share their stories - direct requests can give you some terrific insights. You might even put a formal story gathering project in place.

Whatever you decide to do, the main objective should be to add detail, opinion, examples and ‘color’ to your web copy.

3. Understand the language that your customers use

Keywords are just ‘the words people use when they search’. It goes without saying that using keywords is fundamental to successful link building: there is nothing better than getting keyword rich links coming back to your site.

Keyword rich links are easy when you’re buying directory listings or text link ads, or indeed when you have relationships with other sites and can ask them to link to you using your chosen keyword phrases.

But there are other ways to get keyword rich backlinks. When people link, they often use the name of a product, a publication or the title of an article or blog post, as the linking text. So use keywords wherever you can in names and titles - it’s a great way to influence the words people use when they link.

4. Be wary of automation

There are many link building schemes that claim to be able to build you inbound links automatically. Avoid them like the plague - they invariably involve some variation on search engine spam. Don’t waste time trying to fake an inbound link network: rather, invest your time and money in building real links from quality sites.

5. Be generous with your outbound links

Giving outbound links to quality content is one of the best ways of establishing yourself in your online marketplace. But be selective with the sites you link to - don’t just link to any relevant sites you find, choose sites that have exceptional or useful content.

Add some comments and descriptions as you link. The readers of your website will appreciate it and your generosity will encourage some valuable word of mouth marketing for your site.

And of course, the publisher of the site that you’ve linked to will appreciate it. Think how badly you want links - other webmasters are the same and they will pay attention to sites that link to them. Your outbound links could be the start of a beautiful relationship.

6. Watch out for great content, no matter where it comes from

There’s an old technique that comedy writers use. It’s called ‘switching’. The idea is to create a new joke from the basic elements of another, successful joke by switching the situation. So the basic elements of a joke about salesmen could be switched to a joke about teachers.

You can do the same switching for content ideas. Take a close look at any piece of content that catches your eye - an article, a contest, a survey. Isolate the basic elements and then transfer the idea to your own industry.

So Pointsec, experts in security for mobile devices does research to find the safest place to lose a cell phone. They surveyed nine major cities and found that a taxi is the safest place to lose your cell phone.

The basic element of this story is to pick a fear that customers have, and conduct some research to find when the consequences are minimized. Could you adapt that to your own industry?

7. Get your message out

Great content on your site is wonderful to have. But if people don’t know about it and if search engines have not indexed it, then you’ll not be getting the payback that your hard work deserves.

You need to take steps to get your message out and make sure people know about it.

Journalists, editors and popular bloggers get inundated with tons of information - most of it has not been edited well and contains irrelevant information. So take care when you contact them. The big mistake is to put in too much - to try to tell people everything. That will only overwhelm them: instead, stick to a single aspect of the story you have to tell.

Write the absolute minimum that you need to get their attention: include a link that will take them to more information if they are interested.

8. Incorporate writing into your daily routine

The more you practice the better you’ll become. The web is a text based medium. Even if you’re creating a software application or interactive content, you’ve still got to write about it, to tell people of its existence. And since it is a text based medium, you’ve got to learn how to write, clearly and briefly without waffle.

Learn how to write great copy: even better learn how to write great copy that contains important keywords. And the best way to learn is to write a little bit every day - build time for writing into your daily routine. Start simply - a 100 word blog post once a day should not be beyond any of us.

9. Obsess about quality

It’s not the number of links you get, or the number of articles you write or the number of pages that you publish. It’s about getting links from quality sites in your industry. Remember:

  • In deciding the importance of your site and your search rankings, search engines put emphasis on the quality of sites that link to you. What could be a better source of unbiased information than a link from an article that a journalist has written and an editor approved?
  • Just as important if not more so, is that quality sites will have high levels of traffic and as a result, you’ll get a lot of interested people visiting your site.
  • Quality links attract other links. People see a link to your site on, and many others and they’ll be more likely to link to you. There is a power law at work, the strong get stronger - people with good inbound links get more inbound links without asking.
  • You can also get some pretty neat testimonials - being able to write, ‘as featured on the BBC’ on your website is a valuable endorsement.

10. Build links offline

It’s people who decide to give you links and the great thing about most people is that if they get to know you, they’re more than happy to help. Through comments on forums, on blog posts and the email conversations that follow, you can quickly build up contacts with people all over the world. That’s one of the great strengths of the internet. But don’t stop with just online communication - follow up and build personal relationships wherever you can - those relationships can bring you many future links. So make sure that you:

  • Pick up the phone and talk to some of the people you’ve made email contact with. And with the quality of Skype calls now so good, it costs next to nothing to do.
  • Attend local business meetings, whether web specific or more general from the local chamber of commerce. Funnily enough, the people who attend these meetings have websites - and if they have websites, they can give you a link.
  • Attend national events - these are not only great places to learn but they are tremendous networking events. You’ll easily build contacts among fellow delegates and even among some of the speakers.

11. Monitor your results

The number of links pointing to your site is not a good measure of the success of your link building efforts. A website with 100 quality inbound links will outperform a website with thousands of links from mediocre websites. And the situation is further complicated by the fact that Google does not report all the links that it knows about.

So what should you do? Here are the main things I would look at:

  • Appearance on the top blogs and blog search engines
  • Appearance in Google news
  • The sites that already link to you and drive traffic
  • New sites that link to you - check your log files regularly.

12. Anticipate - be prepared for the unexpected

Things are always happening in your marketplace. Sometimes a sudden development or change will catch you out and cause some real problems. Other times, changes in the marketplace can present you will a sudden opportunity. If you just react to such events, you’ll be in the mix with everyone else.

If on the other hand, you anticipate events and do some basic preparation, you’ll be in a powerful position when serendipity throws you a great opportunity.

So how about introducing a ‘What if?’ brainstorming session into your monthly routine? Pull your team together and ask them to imagine what might happen in your market in the next twelve months: have some fun, be as wild and imaginative as you can.

Draw up a list of people’s ideas and pick the top five or so. Then ask the question, “What would we do if this actually happened?” Such an exercise will get your team focused on your marketplace and who knows how you might take advantage if one of them turns out to happen?

13. Be relentless and determined

Of course, the thing about quality links is that they’re hard to get - you have to really make a concentrated effort, but the results will be well worth it.

Building quality links is rarely an overnight success but there are exceptions. Sites can make a tremendous impact in a short time if they have an exceptional story to tell. But for most of us, immediate success is not usually the case. Sure, go for the spectacular if you can but treat it as a bonus. Don’t forget to stick to the task and build up quality links over time. If you start with content that is genuinely useful, and if you target sites that are real sources of information for sizable numbers of readers in your marketplace, then you will succeed and start to see powerful and sustained results in a matter of months.


Top image from 2nd Skies Forex

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