About the Author
James Agate is the founder and Strategy Director at Skyrocket. I oversee campaigns; ensuring the highest levels of quality are achieved, clients are achieving their objectives and the entire Skyrocket SEO organization is at the forefront of innovations in the realms of content creation and link building. Skyrocket SEO serves Fortune 500 brands, Econsultancy Top 100 digital agencies and ambitious startups across the world. I’ve spoken at leading industry conferences including ThinkVisibility and BrightonSEO.
The turbulence in SEO and the world of link building has been considerable in the last 24 months.
That being said, the same is true now as it was 5 years ago; SEO should really be invisible. You will more often than not side-step Panda, Penguin, manual actions for over-optimization and any update Google throws at us in the future by ensuring doesn’t take prominence to the detriment of other important aspects of a site, especially its business model. [Source]
In this guide, I want to cover a specific strategy for doing just this. We won’t just be diving into the creation of the actual asset, but also providing playbook that can be worked to so as to flood your link profile with loads of valuable links.
We believe in a focus on valuable links rather than the type you shamefully bury deep in a 50 page report to your manager or client in the hope they won’t see. We’re focused on the kinds of links you can be proud of where you tell your manager or client the name of the site not just the domain authority.
But we recognize the appeal of the other kind of links because frankly attracting valuable links in a consistent and affordable manner is one of the biggest challenges that most in-house marketers and agencies have toiled with.
First though I want to cover some of the key reasons you should still care about links. Despite all the noise in the industry, links form the very basis of the web and remain the key component in Google’s algorithm so having a plan in place for how links are going to be attained is essential for any ambitious business.
Beyond the dramatic improvement in search engine visibility that we all know links can deliver, the right kinds of links can offer:
- Significant Referral Traffic
- Online Brand Awareness
- Social proof – improve conversion
What Google Wants (and why you should care)
The golden rule is that Google doesn’t want to be made to look stupid [source]. Not that an army of doctorate-wielding employees or billionaire bosses really look stupid but sometimes their algorithm produces dumb results. Someone manages to break on to a prominent SERP by gaming the algorithm for example. Situations like that can open the floodgates from Google’s perspective so they want to close off and fix anything like this as quickly as possible.
You need to be adding value to the internet at large to continue to survive and thrive. Google wants to get its users to their desired destination in as few clicks as possible, if you’re not adding value to the equation then it won’t be long before they cut you out of the picture in some way or make it more difficult for you to operate effectively.
That’s a fairly vague and admittedly subjective notion however if your focus when acquiring links (either proactively or passively) revolves around the production of useful content for placement on-site and on 3rd party websites then you are future-proofing your organic search performance as much as is possible. Additionally, according to a study of ours , over 30% described their number one reason for sharing a piece of content socially was if it was useful to them.
This goes back to my earlier point that SEO should be invisible, because if you are tarnishing your brand or user experience in favor of slightly higher rankings you might win that battle but you’ll probably still lose the war. Would you produce valuable content assets and seek to market them online to generate coverage from prominent online publications if search engines didn’t exist? Absolutely! So this strategy aces this particular test.
How to earn valuable links
The ultimate goal of any marketer should be passive link acquisition – the organic, editorially earned link isn’t a myth but it requires some time and investment upfront.
Stage 1 – Create
There are a number of tactics that can be used to devise winning content ideas but here is the specific tactic that can be adopted to reach bloggers and other influencers in “research mode” that are likely to link:
Look for underserved queries around your content asset. Your piece may cover multiple issues but if you can tailor the home of the asset on your site to tap into a “market” that is wide-open – you are potentially exposing yourself to thousands of people looking for the resource you can offer.
The idea is that you are looking for search queries in your market where the current results are wholly underwhelming. The search query is…
- Underserved from a research perspective
- Underserved from a customer perspective
(Generally speaking if one group is underserved then so will the other be, but always consider from both angles because if you can strike two (or more) birds with one stone e.g. cover a market (for brand visibility), connect the customer purchase path (to aid conversions) and secure links all with the same piece of content then all the better.)
By “underserved” I either mean the content is of a low standard and/or it doesn’t serve the needs of a customer in need of information or a blogger in need of a page to reference.
How do we do this?
It is a manual process but as with any non-automated link building, the end result is worth the hard work.
You have to start by generating a list of queries that you might be able to target.
- Think questions – the common things customers want to know
- Think Industry lexicon/jargon – a dictionary for your industry
- Think concepts – explanations and guides
- Think big industry news – opportunity for a write-up or counter-argument
- Think comparisons of leading products or leading brands
- Think myths & misconceptions – that you could clarify that everyone searches for e.g. is retargeting the same as remarketing?
A great example of an underserved query is the question “what is Outsourcing?” quite a broad term but if Google’s Keyword Planner Tool is to be believed, one that gets asked over 5000 times per month. A good number of those are likely to be other content creators who are seeking a nice succinct explanation or guide to outsourcing that they can reference and link to.
Imagine creating a visual tutorial that introduces outsourcing and looks at how a business can get started – carefully optimizing at stage 3 of this process (discussed later) to tap into that search volume will almost certainly pay off. Be sure to note down additional opportunities that can be capitalized on with future content assets.
Stage 2 – Seed
Our typical approach involves securing coverage of the content asset with a big name publisher before we do anything else with it – before it even goes on to a client website.
This serves three purposes;
- The “initial exclusive” ensures we get the attention of the influential blogger and power publisher – they are getting something we’ve put blood, sweat and tears into FIRST before anyone else, before we even publish on the client site. This is frequently a powerful bargaining chip.
- The publisher we target usually gets syndicated (manually and automatically) around the web which obviously sets the asset in motion.
- And finally, the coverage by such an esteemed publisher usually lends itself to further outreach so that our emails and the asset itself just ooze with credibility.
You may already have a good idea of the types of sites you would like to target perhaps Mashable, Forbes or a similar high-calibre website. You might also find it useful to identify a suitable seed placement by browsing th
e inventory of some of the higher-end advertising networks such as BuySellAds.com and Federated Media.
Stage 3 – Prime
It might sound counter-intuitive to have ‘prime’ listed as the second stage in the process but by offering a premium publisher the opportunity of the initial exclusive or “first publish” we typically find it opens doors to the types of publications who simply won’t consider content assets that have been featured elsewhere previously.
Once you’ve got your initial placement live, it is time to get the asset published on your home site and prepare it for immediate and long term success involves priming it for easy social sharing as well as incorporating common sense optimization of on-page factors.
- Accessibility and visibility of social sharing buttons
- Accessibility and visibility of any embed codes or downloads
- Keyword research and optimization of titles and the content itself – relating back to the opportunities identified in stage 1.
These things serve to heighten your visibility across social channels, reduce friction should someone wish to share the piece (either socially or in the form of a link) and finally it heightens your visibility in search – potentially reaching other content creators, experts and influencers at the very moment they are doing research.
This is a key component to the whole process because this gives the content asset the opportunity to take on a life of its own. You’re setting the piece up to earn links without you having to ask for that link.
Initially you need to do the seeding and supportive outreach but creating an asset that passively earn links can be a fundamental driver in moving a website forward. You go from starting each month with a blank scorecard to having a consistent base of valuable inbound links that you can then build upon with further activities.
Think of it like an investment that is going to pay dividends every quarter for years to come.
The beauty of this technique being executed properly is that benefits compound – links lead to visibility, which lead to further links ad infinitum.
Stage 4 – Supportive Outreach
You now have everything in place to conduct supportive outreach efforts. This is to pickup the last of the proactive coverage you intend to secure for this asset.
These are likely to be more niche-specific bloggers, smaller or regional publications and even personal blogs that are authored by experts in your industry.
Outreach at this stage is a different conversation to securing the initial placement because there isn’t that initial hook but there should still be plenty of reasons to give your content asset coverage.
It isn’t easy to get noticed in someone’s inbox but here are a few specific tactics:
Best practices for writing outreach emails
- Find the person’s name
- Get a professional email address
- Make sure it is the right person
- Be meticulous in your proofreading
- Be personal
- Respect their time and be concise
- Think carefully about certain words that might flag spam filters
Structuring your email
- Subject Line – this guide
- Persuasive body copy – this guide
- Signature (& overall format) – this guide
Writing good outreach emails is NOT an easy thing to teach. A lot comes down to practice, experimenting a little and aligning your other efforts to hit that sweet spot where outreach is practically friction-less because you’ve understood the audience at the research stage of producing the content asset and you’re pitching the right people. Then your campaign will feel a lot less like drudgery and more like a link building machine.
Stage 5 – Reach extension
Here are some of the core ways you can dramatically extend the life of your content asset.
- Paid Content Discovery
- Paid Social Media Advertising
- Attribution checks
- Content repurposing
1) Attribution Checks – Be sure to collect the links owed to you
This is particularly relevant to your visual content assets as you can look for instances where an infographic for example has been used but no attribution link has been included.
This is something that can be done on an ongoing basis because if your asset is attracting links on an ongoing basis it will also likely be attracting people who are pinching it and not attributing.
In the early stages of the campaign you can often find some really juicy link opportunities by finding the sites that have covered the piece but not attributed correctly.
- Reverse image search using Google Images or Tineye.
- Google Alerts using a part of the title
- Monitoring brand name mentions and manually reviewing these to see if any are content asset coverage with a citation but no link.
None of these are 100% effective method, but when used in conjunction with eachother they will ensure you can salvage the majority of what would otherwise be wasted link equity.
2) Paid Amplification – Content Discovery and Social Media Advertising
In our experience, the best results are often achieved by taking your evergreen piece on a particular industry issue and hooking it into an industry event say an awareness week for example that may happen annually or periodically. Social audiences will be more receptive to your content when they already have a heightened sense of awareness for some of the issues that your piece covers.
3) Repurpose content
- Translate into other languages – English language markets are inundated with content, international markets less so.
- Turn into other formats such as video, slidedecks or eBooks for wider distribution.
Many of our content assets go on to earn thousands of links and generate thousands of social shares long after we’ve finished active promotion.
With the right initial seed placement, intelligent priming and thorough supportive outreach – a content asset will help you reach your marketing and broader business goals.
Links aren’t just for SEO! Earning valuable links from the right online publishers can drive streams of targeted visitors and explode social traction.
In the short term, content assets can assist with email prospect list growth and driving revenue as well as contributing to long term goals such as organic traffic growth and brand awareness.
Discover how earning authority links can help you achieve your business goals and those of your clients. Get in touch for an opportunity assessment.