62 steps to the definitive link building campaign

Posted by on 21 September 2011
Illustration for 62 steps to the definitive link building campaign

Successful search engine optimization (SEO) requires inbound links from quality relevant websites. Using extracts from their book, Wordtracker Masterclass: Link Building – How to build links to your website for SEO, traffic and response, Ken McGaffin and Mark Nunney here outline the definitive steps in a successful, long term link building campaign.
Search on Google with one of your most popular keywords and you’ll likely find millions of results. How does Google decide who comes first? And how can you persuade Google to give you a higher ranking in the results?
Search Google with office furniture, for example (see image below), and there 120 million sites in the results. How do you beat over 120 million other websites?

You’ve got to work on two main areas – the keywords you use on your own web pages (on-page SEO) and the links on external websites that point to yours (link building).
On-page factors are easy to manipulate and therefore search engines don’t base their algorithms on them alone. They look for more information in the links that point to your website. These are much more difficult to manipulate and so are given precedence in search engine algorithms.
So successful SEO soon requires successful link building. That can be a daunting task and it’s why we’ve written this book.
Good content, an understanding of your online community and knowing how to get external sites to link to yours are all needed to build quality links over time.
This is entirely possible no matter what your level of experience – just approach the job systematically and give it sufficient time and you’ll soon be getting quality backlinks without even asking for them.
Here we’ll take you through 62 steps of the following seven stages of the definitive link building campaign:
1) Strategy
2) Management & metrics
3) Networking & prospect hunting
4) Content creation
5) Promotion
6) Debrief
7) Repeat
We’ll then give you a link to a spreadsheet containing a checklist you can use for your own link building campaigns.
You’ll find more how-to detail on practical link building in Wordtracker Masterclass: Link Building – How to build links to your website for SEO, traffic and response, by Ken McGaffin and Mark Nunney.

Stage 1. Strategy

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat”. Sun Tzu.
It’s best to know where you’re going before you start your journey.
SEO translates your company and marketing strategies into target markets and matching keyword niches.
1) Choose target keywords. For SEO, this means you must decide which keywords you are targeting. And you must include those keywords in the link text of internal and external (from other sites) links.
2) Group your target keywords into market sectors. So, for example, if your website is an online garden center you might categorize your keywords into groups, including the following:
garden furniture
water features
• etc, etc…
3) Focus your link building work on each market sector in turn, eg barbecues, water features. For each of those, you might further refine your target keywords into keyword niches, eg for barbecues, this could include:
gas barbecues
charcoal barbecues
portable barbecues
barbecue accessories
• etc, etc…
A keyword niche is all keywords containing a seed keyword, eg the gas barbecues keyword niche includes camping gas barbecues and natural gas barbecues.
4) Infuse all your link building and promotion with your brand name. Eg, if you have any influence over link text then don’t just use gas barbecues, use (if ‘Barbilicious’ is your brand name) Barbilicious gas barbecues.
If you are launching a new design line called, say ‘Vintage Chic’, call it (if ‘MyBrand’ is your brand name) ‘MyBrand Vintage Chic’.
There’s much more on link building strategy in Wordtracker Masterclass: Link Building – How to build links to your website for SEO, traffic and response, by Ken McGaffin and Mark Nunney.

Stage 2. Management & metrics

To be successful, any project needs to know who does what, when, who is in charge, what’s being measured and how. Let’s break that down. Before you start, make sure you have answers to these questions:
5) Decide who will do what and how? Who blogs? Who tweets? Who comments? What’s your company’s social media policy? What software will be used? What account will be used for sending and receiving emails from bloggers? How will records of (and contact with) link prospects be kept and accessed?
6) Make sure you’ve got a clear decision-making process You might be going into new territory for your company. Is blogging the PR department’s brief or the online marketing department’s? (We’ve seen SEO under one and blogging under another). How will options be discussed and decisions reached? If these issues aren’t sorted out then you can be paralyzed (and it’s why big companies often are).
7) Ensure you can make rapid changes to your site Sounds simple enough but it often isn’t. With one client, to get a blog post live, we had to: write it, get it approved by a PR company and then a government department – the process took up to a week and at times a post would come back unfit for purpose and too late to be worth publishing!
8) Decide what metrics to use, eg inbound links, traffic, SERPs ranks, mentions, email recruits, feed subscriptions, sales. As well as total links, you might count links containing target keywords in their link text.
Be aware that there are many factors outside your control – you might get lucky and deserve no credit for good results; and you might have the best link building campaign ever but fail for other reasons.
Metrics are there to help you – of course you need results but concentrate more on how you do things (your method, your process – this is what this book is for) and results will be more to do with your considered actions than luck.
9) Choose your monitoring tools. You can count links with Google Analytics, Google Webmaster and Wordtracker Link Builder.
I recommend using Link Builder because:
• It uses the Majestic SEO crawl of the internet which is as big as almost any search engine’s but without their filters (ie, you can see the lot).
• You can see your competitors’ inbound links and your own with one ‘click’.
• You not only see inbound link counts but also a breakdown of those links into different types like blogs, directories, media and social.
• Everything is displayed in attractive, easy-to-read graphs.
• Er, I managed much of its redesign with my link building partner Ken McGaffin.
It’s now time to get out into the community…
There’s much more practical advice on planning and managing link building campaigns in Wordtracker Masterclass: Link Building – How to build links to your website for SEO, traffic and response.

Stage 3. Networking & prospect hunting

Find and explore your target market’s online community. Make friends there and build lists of link prospects.
There are many opportunities for this as we show below. But you must always record your prospects’ details either in a spreadsheet like this, a bespoke contact management tool or specialist link building software like Wordtracker Link Builder.
10) Check your own site’s inbound links and referrers. Use your site’s analytics, Google Webmaster Tools and Wordtracker Link Builder.
301 redirect any 404s you find whilst there.
11) Find relevant blogs. Study, start commenting when confident, don’t mention your own products at first.
12) Monitor news sites. Make sure you know what’s going on. Comment, be supportive and helpful, make friends.
13) Build press lists. Contact journalists, make yourself available as an expert – show your pedigree.
14) Join forums. Register, use your signature, be more helpful than promotional, earn community trust.
15) Look for specialist sites that accept article submissions. Contact any specialist sites and bloggers and ask if they want guest content written by you.
16) Take part in specialist social sites. egister, help, etc. Here’s a list of 193 of them.
17) Look for specialist groups on big social sites. On Facebook, StumbleUpon and Twitter, search for groups and lists
18) Look for local sites and small news sites. Make contact, offer help, stories and content.
19) Join trade associations and chambers of commerce. Be active, look for contacts and linking opportunities. They are there to help and that includes mentions and links.
20) Look for relevant libraries. Great resources for communities and quality links.
21) Approach your suppliers. They have websites, right?
22) Watch competing websites. Study inbound links, press releases, successful content and tactics.
23) Find directories. Consider becoming a directory editor. Don’t submit your own site until it’s established.
To help find all the above:
24) Enter your targets keyword into Link Builder. One search with a target keyword on Wordtracker Link Builder will find the inbound linking sites to the top 10 sites on Google for that keyword. Those inbound links are all link prospects. They are organized into different types of sites that can be used for different linking strategies including blogs, directories, social, news, business and jobs.
25) Do regular searches with your target keywords to find all of the above. Start with a systematic search.
26) Search with advanced queries. For example, try the following …
Find pages with your keyword on them and “submit url” contained within the anchor text of links pointing to them (in other words, find sites about that keyword who accept submissions):
keyword inanchor:”submit url”
Find pages that link to competitor1 and competitor2 but not your site:
linkdomain:competitor1.com; linkdomain:competitor2.com; -linkdomain:yoursite.com
For more advanced Google queries, aka ‘search operators’, See GoogleGuide.
27) Read all you can on the quality sites you find. Follow links to the websites they mention. Wander around and see what and who is in the community. What do people like and dislike? What do they get passionate about? Always be looking for link prospects and ideas.
Learn how to find more link prospects in Wordtracker Masterclass: Link Building – How to build links to your website for SEO, traffic and response.

Stage 4. Content creation

Quality content is essential for natural link building and is a constant theme of Wordtracker Masterclass: Link Building – How to build links to your website for SEO, traffic and response. This is because the most important factor in getting links without asking is creating something worth linking too. The list below takes you through some of your options for creating link-worthy content:
28) Always be looking for spectacular content. It can turbo charge your link building. But even in competitive markets, a solid, consistent approach will bring rewards over time.
29) Make the most of the content you already have Is it link-worthy? Can it be made so? In some recent work for a national retailer, after some digging around I found gold – a large collection of quality how-to content stuffed away in PDF format in a hidden corner of an old website.
30) Publish industry news (one-offs or regular). Industries have industry websites and they want industry news. Provide a regular supply, use target keywords in your headlines and you’ll get links from pages relevant to your content (good) using your target keywords (perfect).
31) Don’t ignore national media news (one-offs or regular). National news is a tougher nut to crack but be persistent and you can get results.
32) Customize your news for regional media (one-offs or regular). Regional news is easier to get coverage and links from. The obvious technique is to give your news stories a regional angle.
33) Ask target bloggers/experts to comment on an article when writing it. Once you’ve earned a reputation, you can post whole articles with no more than other experts’ opinions.
34) Interview key industry personalities. If an expert is speaking at a conference or writing regular blog posts then they want publicity and coverage. Offer it and they will speak to you. Make the interview interesting and others will link to you.
35) Review other sites and resources. You review, they link. You might make friends at the same time too.
36) Link to any reviews of your own site. They review, you review their reviews. Do you have any product you can send for review? If you are a service and you have spare capacity then work for free and for the publicity.
37) Learn how to produce videos. All above in video format. Pretty much all mentioned content ideas here can be in video format or accompanied by videos.
38) Publish photos. People love photographs and will link to them. Social sites like StumbleUpon and Digg love collections of stunning and interesting photographs. Many photographs on sites like Flickr can be reused for free.
39) Publish infographics. Not cheap or quick to make but they can make a dull or hard to understand subject appealing.
40) Conduct surveys or polls (for stories and PR). Surveys are great for market research and improving your products; and provide stories that news sites and blogs love to link to.
41) Run competitions and giveaways. It’s easy for a competition to be ignored, so make it interesting and make it simple to understand and enter.
41) Create free widgets and tools. Some sites create almost useless tools just to get the links from sites that list free tools. Far better to make a genuinely useful free tool that keeps on giving value to users and links to you.
43) Publish free downloadable guides and whitepapers. Take some content, wrap it up into a PDF and you have yourself a ‘free guide’.
44) Collect and publish case studies. Readers want specific content – examples. Case studies are detailed examples.
45) Create lists. Collections of useful stuff like lists, top tips, how-tos, 10 best, 10 worst, etc are really link-worthy. Want some ideas? Search for 10 best and 10 worst then adapt and ‘switch’ (ie, rewrite) the best content to your market.
Find more content ideas for link building in Wordtracker Masterclass: Link Building – How to build links to your website for SEO, traffic and response.

Stage 5. Promotion

So you know why you’re building links (your strategy); which keywords you’re targeting; you’ve researched and established yourself in your market’s online community; and are creating quality content. Now what? You’ve got to let people know, of course.
It’s time to promote and here’s a detailed list of methods for you to consider:
46) Create RSS feeds. Try registering with Feedburner.
47) Publish newsletters. Recruit site visitors to your free benefit-packed newsletter and you are building an emailing list. Use your newsletter to promote your content.
48) Post on your site/blog. You’re doing that anyway, of course. But it’s amazing what people forget if it’s not on a checklist.
49) Submit content to generic social sites, eg Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, StumbleUpon, Digg and now Google+.
50) Submit to your specialist social networking sites.
51) Contact your specialist contacts with email, direct tweets and even telephone.
52) Contact journalists you know personally. Don’t just issue press releases – get to know them, chat and build trust.
53) Buy and use a list of relevant journalists’ details and get to know them.
54) Contribute with guest posts and articles on specialist blogs and sites.
55) Issue press releases to online and offline specialist distributors (like PRWeb and Press Dispensary).
56) Submit to site-of-the-day sites.
57) Consider Eric Ward’s URLwire – it’s a paid-for service but is top quality.
58) Buy PageRank links (or not), ie links without the nofollow tag, if you want to take the risk – but we don’t recommend it.
59) Buy promotional links (adverts) on generic sites like StumbleUpon and Facebook; specialist sites; and Pay Per Click (PPC). The links won’t directly help your SEO but others might share your content and those links will.
If your content is good and your network strong then you will get links from your immediate contacts. Then their readers and others will find your site, visit and perhaps link to it.
You’ll be getting links without asking. Success.
Master the craft of building links without asking in Wordtracker Masterclass: Link Building – How to build links to your website for SEO, traffic and response.

Stage 6. Debrief & repeat

We recommend that you have separate link building campaigns for each of your target market sectors. Work on one campaign after the other but try to overlap each a bit so that search engines don’t see too many surges of similar links at one time.
As each campaign comes to an ‘end’ with your team and (if relevant) client, you should review your strategy, tactics and execution to find lessons to learn and changes to make. Consider the following:
60) Improve your strategy. Are you targeting the right keywords?
61) Build on your tactics. Are your chosen methods the right ones?
62) Streamline your systems. Were you able to get done what you wanted done? If not how can that change?
Then move on to the next market sector.

Stage 7. Link building checklist

You’ll find a checklist you can use for your own definitive link building campaign in a spreadsheet here. Download or copy it and use it for each of your target market sectors and keyword niches.
Let us know about any tactics and techniques you think we should add. Just add a comment at the bottom of the page.
That was just a taster. The full book is: Wordtracker Masterclass: Link Building – How to build links to your website for SEO, traffic and response.

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About Mark Nunney

has been a successful professional SEO since 2000. He is CEO of The Website Marketing Company and he publishes Leadership & Management Review from ThinkingManagers.com, the business management website.
Mark wrote SEO for Profit, Wordtracker Masterclass: Keyword Research book and co-wrote Wordtracker Masterclass: Link Building with Ken McGaffin. He is also the founder and project manager of Wordtracker Strategizer.
You can follow Mark Nunney’s SEO on Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ and read a Q&A here.


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