Updated: Nov 6, 2019
Whether you have just launched a new site and need to increase awareness or are brand new to the (often challenging and confusing) world of building backlinks, link building is one of the most important skills in SEO.
Remind me again, what is link building?
Link building is the process of obtaining links from other sites to your own. The bottom line is that if you want more search engine traffic, link building is crucial to the success of your site.
Backlinks can come from a myriad of sources, but most often come from blog posts and the content of other websites.
Image Source: What Matters More: Backlink Quality or Quantity?
Ideally you want these links to come from sources within your industry to help build your case with search engines that you are an expert within the space. This will ultimately increase your site rankings.
Why is link building important?
It is generally accepted that if all other factors are equal, the volume and quality of links pointing to a page will make the difference between rankings. - Moz
Also, based on findings from Backlinko, the number of domains linking to a page correlated with rankings more than any other factor.
This is huge! Needless to say, backlinks remain an extremely important Google ranking factor.
Although there are tons of techniques for building links -- most of which take a lot of time and TLC -- I’m going to walk you through one simple approach that has worked for us.
1. Start with Keyword Research
It’s pointless to start link building without having a list of keywords that you are looking to target. Time is money, friends. It will save you a lot of time if you have clearly defined keywords going into your backlink building.
I won’t dive too deeply into keyword research, but if you’re looking for a little help getting started, check out our blog 6 SEO Tips for Beginners for a few of my favorite FREE keyword research tools.
2. Conduct Lead Generation Research
After you have nailed down your target list of keywords, it’s time to dive into your lead generation research. This involves exploring which websites might actually be a viable lead for a potential backlink. Heads up: this process can be very time consuming.
Step 1: Perform simple queries using your list of target keywords followed by the terms resources, links, guest post by, contributing writer, guest author and guest article.
For example, if “recruiting software” is on your target keyword list, you should search:
recruiting software + “resources”
recruiting software + “links”
recruiting software + “guest post by”
recruiting software + “contributing writer”
recruiting software + “guest author”
recruiting software + “guest article”
This is a good way of finding websites within your industry that currently publish guest posts and might be interested in working with you.
Step 2: Review the first page of search engine results and determine which websites may be a potential lead. You should evaluate each website based on criteria such as:
Does each post on the website get a significant amount of engagement? i.e., comments, shares, etc.
How much traffic does the website and the individual post get? The browser extension SimilarWeb is a great resource to quickly gain insights into website traffic and other statistics.
Would my potential customers be interested in this website?
Do I think that this will result in any kind of meaningful referral traffic to my website?
Step 3: Record findings for each prospective website. To help stay organized, we recommend creating an excel spreadsheet with all of this data. In our ‘outreach tab’ we included the following columns:
Editor/owner first name
Editor/owner LinkedIn handle - more on this later!
Notes (website traffic, shares, etc.)
Competitors mentioned, if any
Potential outreach strategy
Guest post URL (if published)
3. Hone in on an Outreach Strategy
Now that your initial research is complete, it’s time to put on your sales hat as you move on to your outreach strategy.
Connecting with strangers and asking them to do something for you can be much more of an art than a science. You’ll definitely need to tweak your approach along the way to find a strategy that works for you, but here are a few tips to help you get started:
Connect on LinkedIn. Making a connection with the editor, owner, blog author, or whomever you plan on reaching out to will help so at least they see your name and profile before your email reaches their inbox. In an ideal world, you might even have a connection in common who you can reference in your email.
Follow contacts on social media and start commenting on posts. According to our friends at Moz, People are much more inclined to help you out if they know you. Consider connecting with them on social media and building a relationship before you ask them for a link. This is a good way of introducing yourself and building credibility as an expert in the industry.
Perform link gap analysis. This link building approach involves looking at links that your competitors have but you don’t. In other words, who is mentioning your competitors but not you? This is a great opportunity to show what value you can provide over your competitors.
Determine outreach goals. It’s important to decide if your goal is to be mentioned in their article or if you’re simply looking to make a general introduction to be considered as a resource in the future. Not every outreach email will have the same goal so be prepared to customize as necessary.
4. Reach Out
You’ve done the legwork and have made an initial connection so now it’s time to send your pitch email. First and foremost, keep it short and simple. Writers get bombarded with link building requests daily. It’s important to find a way to connect that’s genuine, straight to the point, and offers something of value.
But get ready to be ignored. People are busy and we hate to say it, but you’re just not a top priority. Don’t get discouraged, though. Sooner or later a connection is bound to stick and everything will snowball from there.
If (/when) you don’t hear from websites, don’t “follow-up” with people. What you did the first time around didn’t quite work like you were hoping so you’ll need a new strategy. Think about another approach or angle that might be more successful if plan A didn’t land.
The problem with following up is that people just do more of the same. And that hardly ever works. Be patient. Do your research. And be creative with your emails. - The 3 Rules of Writing Successful Pitch Emails
For help crafting outreach emails, check out Hubspot’s blog where they highlight 9 Link Building Outreach Email Examples.
5. Record Response
After you begin reaching out to all of your potential leads, it’s imperative that you stay organized. Record every response and also next steps.
6. Record Guest Post URL
Success! You’ve battled it out and are finally seeing the fruits of your labor. Record guest posts in your backlinks spreadsheet.
7. Nurture the Relationship
Assuming this is a mutually beneficial relationship, stay in touch! These people need to become your people. When they’re writing their next blog post and want to highlight an awesome company in your space, you sure as heck hope that it’s you.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to backlink building. Even with the most solid outreach approach and pitch emails, there’s a good chance that your emails may get lost in the black holes of inboxes.
If you take away nothing else, always make sure that you are finding a way to connect that's genuine, straight to the point, and offers something of value. The name of the game is staying positive and not giving up... You’ve got this!
About the Author: Optimist. Risk Taker. Snail Mail Enthusiast. Started out in big business at a company of 350K+, moved her way to a privately owned company of 300+, and then eventually found herself at Rolling Hills Media on a team of two. Carolyn thrives on change and is stimulated by the ever-changing SERP landscape. Bringing over seven years of digital marketing experience to the team, she believes that patience, coffee, and a heavy dose of creativity can drive quality traffic to sites of all shapes and sizes.