Link Building Strategies and Ranking Tactics at SMX Toronto 2010

Since Google has started penalizing link buying, search marketers have had to find new and creative ways to build links back to their properties. In this panel, 3 different SEOs shared their experience with various link building strategy.
Moderator: Gillian Muessig,

  • Shalom Issenberg, Web Tov
  • Dawn Wentzell, Outspoken Media
  • Christina Keffer, LunaMetrics

Dawn Wentzell on Creating Content that Attracts Links Naturally

According to Dawn, the best kind of content for attracting links is original research. But if you can’t do original research, combine existing data and find an angle that hasn’t been covered yet. There are plenty sources of data that you can mash-up, such as government sites, industry sites, and other company’s research and white papers. It’ll take time to do all the leg work, but that work will pay off.

Then, once you have your data compiled, make sure to include visual graphics, such as graphs, maps, etc. Also, make sure to include embed codes for these visual graphics. First, it helps people share your data more easily, but it also encourages people to credit you when they share it — rather than just scraping it.

Another kind of content that attracts link is to create a definitive guide on some subject. This will establish you as an authority in your niche, and if it’s truly useful, a community will often form around that content. And those that use it will do a lot to promote and share your content, linking to and tweeting about it, and this will refer even more users your way. Finally, once you have your definitive guide, update it every 6 months, and keep those users engaged so that they keep plugging it.

Having an opinion is also a great way to attract backlinks. You can do this by taking a side in something controversial. And if you’re going to do this, be polarizing, and not wishy-washy. But don’t cause the controversy because that can backfire, and cause online reputation management problems for either you or your clients.

You can also use humor to attract links. Humor can be infectious, and is very likely to be shared through people’s social networks. When thinking up humorous content, take from your personal experience, but keep it relevant to your site content. Also, “when in doubt, keep it out.” In other words, don’t be offensive because offensive humor can backfire tremendously.

Another great kind of content for increasing your authority and getting back links is industry coverage. Covering (blogging, tweeting, etc.) about conferences, ceremonies, and similar events will help you get noticed among industry peers. And event speakers love to link back to coverage about them.

Finally, how-to and tutorials are great for catching long-tail searchers and they’re simple to create. They are also great for either contributing or featuring guest posts.

Shalom Issenberg on Obtaining High Value Links

In this installment, Shalom emphasized how buying volumes of links is now higher risk, so marketers have to be a bit more creative in their linkbuilding campaigns. First, you need to know what to look for in a site to determine whether it’s worth getting a link form. Things to consider include:

  • Domain/Page Authority: does the site rank for your targeted keywords? does it get indexed often?
  • Domain/Page Trust: trying to determine how much a site is trusted involves a lot of assumptions, but you should be considering whether there arequality links going back to the site, when it was last cached, and how old the site/page is.
  • Relevancy: is the site/page’s content relevant to your own content and the keyword you want a link for?
  • Technical Qualities of the Page + Link: Is it a nofollow? Just a footer link? Does it have content wrapped around it? Is it away from other navigation?
  • Distribution of Authority: How is internal page rank flow? Are there too many links in the site map? How much page rank is leaking? How much juice will it leak to you?
  • Exclusivity: how many of your competitors have or can get that link? The fewer, the better.

Of course, before you start building links, you want to make sure that you’re ready for the increase in rankings and traffic. Some things to consider before linkbuilding:

  • Professional Design: How good does your site look? Is it going to convert once you’re ranking?
  • Compelling Content:Does your site have content that pertains to the keywords you’re trying to rank for? Does it make reasonable claims? Is it grammatically correct?
  • Social Profiles/Activity: you can gain added trust by being present on social networks, and this trust will help you close a link once a site you contacted starts looking into you to evaluate whether you’re worth linking to.
  • Reliability / Technical: make sure your site’s uptime is solid, and that the site will work when they check you out; 404s can turn off webmasters who are considering giving you a link.
  • Legitimacy: BBB, badges, maps, contact info, TOS, policies, etc. show that you’re actually a real business and will make webmasters more willing to link to you.
  • Brand Trust & Recognition: even if you’re not big you can appear big; send out press releases and do other things to be ubiquitous, so that when a webmaster looks you up, they see that you’re a real, serious company.
  • Clean Link Portfolio: avoid a spammy linkscape so that webmasters aren’t wary about your link neighborhood.

Okay, so now you’re ready to get linked to and know how to identify a relevant link opportunity. So now what? Well, here are some tips to find link opportunities:

  • Multiple Search Engines: find sites that rank for terms you want on the search engines you want.
  • Directories: find industry relevant sites through directories; sites linked in paid directories are more likely to be legit and have the trust to pass through on a backlink to your site.
  • Social News & Bookmarking sites: use them to find other sites relevant to your keywords niche.
  • Analysis of Competing & Non-Competing sites: check the backlinks of sites that are both in competition with you and in your industry but not competing with you; if they linked to your competition and peers, they’ll probably link back to you, too.
  • Blogrolls: real blogs are not great SEOs, and they don’t necessarily rank competitively for terms, but they are often trusted, so hit them up for a link if you they blogging about anything that relates to your industry.
  • Paid Marketing Campaigns: look at your referrals and conversion data to see what sites are sending through paid search traffic because that’s an indication that a site is relevant and will pass valuable juice.

Since we had to stop paying for links, link building has gotten really expensive. While we’re not paying for links directly, find other ways to build links can be very costly. Here are some of those labor intensive activities that can generate links back to your site:

  • Press: make news and make it easy for journalists to pick it up. This involves press releases and media kits that give everything a journalist needs to build a story; the easier you make it for the journalist to find everything they need in one place, the more likely they’ll be to cover it because it’s less time intensisve for them.
  • Build Relationships: Give before asking. Send samples/schwagg to people, connect with webmasters, and hook up on social networks. Once you’re friends with them, they’re more likely to link back to you, and you might not even have to ask.
  • Utilize all your resources: writers can contribute articles and guest posts; designers can help you offer webmasters help with CSS and logo redesign; your technical resources can offer webmasters dev assistance and hosting; and your marketing team can offer free advice, etc.
  • Utilize Existing Networks: friends, family, suppliers, and other partners can give you links and help you spread the word about you and your site.
  • Budget for Free Link: you’re not paying for the link directly, but it still costs money in terms of labor and creating link-worthy buss (such as putting on an event ); figure out what this kind of work costs you, and set a budget that makes sense for you.
  • Use your links to build more links: when you approach a site, show them that you have links from other authority sites; this demonstrates that you’re relevant and trustworthy and buzz-worthy.

Christina Keffer on Leveraging Social Media for Traffic Acquisition

Now, Christina’s approach differed in that the links she discussed didn’t pass any juice. They were social media links, meaning that they were nofollow. However, they are geared toward sending targeted traffic. There is also some secondary linkbuilding benefits to this, because as your content goes viral, you will gradually attract natural backlinks.

The first step of building social media links is planning your campaign carefully.

  • Research : find out where your demographic is hanging out online so you don’t waste your time on untargeted channels.
  • Build your personas: don’t use personal personas to plug something; have a persona for each vertical you’re operating in, and build it up.
  • Build Relationships : once you have your niche personas, use them to interact and become friends with other users before you try to send them through to you site.
  • Choose You Landing Page: for example, if you want to convert traffic into sales, build links to product pages.

Once all elements of your planning is complete, get strategic in your deployment. For instance, if you’re going to leverage Twitter:

  • Find retweeters: do a search for RT + your targeted keyword.
  • Use Twitter grader to find local power twitters; this service can help you find people with large follower
  • Keep your tweets under 120 characters because a RT is going to add characters and you don’t want your link edited out.

And if Twitter is going to be part of your social media link-building strategy, use TweetDeck to Stalk people and learn what kind of content they RT – do they mostly retweet news or humor, for instance? Then make sure to engage them in conversation from time to time, and build a relationship with them.

Now that they know you, monitor them and the moment they they mention something REALLY related to a page you’re plugging, POUNCE on them. Reach out to them and let them know that you saw the tweet and have something related to show them – and if you’ve played nice and not been spammy, they might just Tweet your page, as well.

As your viral content spreads, people will link back to you from their actual sites, sending you the link juice you want. It’s important to remember, however, that all this social media linkbuilding is just an augmentation of your existing SEO campaign. DO NOT try to replace your entire SEO strategy with just social media linkbuilding.

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