Posted by Paddy_Moogan

One issue we seem to come across quite a lot as a search consultancy is helping clients do their own link building. As we all know, link building can be a difficult task even when you’re a full time SEO, let alone if it’s not even your main role within a company.

To overcome this, we try and provide processes and examples which are easily followed and provide the best return on time spent. The point of this post is to provide you with easy to follow tips for finding blogs and websites to get links from. I’ll provide specific examples to help with this too. I want these to be as actionable as possible rather than just giving you theory.

As you might have noticed from my previous posts, I like to display processes in a graphic where possible. This post can be split down into this basic link building process:

What are you USPs & Resources

A USP is your unique selling point, what makes you different from your competitors. For me, this is one of the most important parts of your link building strategy. This is the stage where you are able to identify what you can use to get links that your competitors can’t. These are the links that can ultimately make the difference between 3rd and 1st in Google rankings. We’ve written about this a few times including this case study of using bespoke products to get links.

Therefore the first step should always be to list your USPs. This can help you find the quality links quicker. The USPs that you find will then feed into our research on finding places to get links from which will be covered below.

Key Pro Tip – Don’t just look at the website to try and find the USPs. There is a big difference between the USPs that you spot on a website and those that you’ll find in a company as a whole. Some of the examples below will not be found by just looking at the website, you need to get them from the company itself.

I love giving examples, but being a USP, only you can really find out what they are!  The link above is a great example of one that Tom found. My advice would be to get inside a company and find out everything you can about them to find these USPs.

Having said that, there are more generic "resources" which could be applicable to a number of websites and companies out there. I’ve listed a few examples of these below along with how they can help you secure links.

Influential Staff

If you have staff who are quite well known in the industry, then this can certainly help you on a number of fronts. They can provide you with intros to their business associates who in turn may put you in touch with website editors. They can also try and call in favours from people to arrange guest blogging opportunities perhaps, ask suppliers to give you a link from their website. 

Stock/Products

If you are an Ecommerce website, you can use spare stock and products to get links in a number of ways. You can send samples to industry experts, bloggers or just regular customers and ask them to write a review on their website. You can also donate products to a good cause like a charity or a sports team and ask for a link to your website in return.

Discount Vouchers

I love this one. You can use discount vouchers to get links by letting industry sites and bloggers know about them. Encourage them to use the discount vouchers themselves and to share them with their readers. This makes the blogger look good, will keep their readers happy and send more traffic to your website. 

Email Lists

This one can work as a link building bargaining chip. If you ask for a link from someone and they want a link in return, many of us will say we can’t do that. How about offering them a feature in your newsletter that goes out to x number of people every month?  They will benefit by getting exposure to lots of targeted people and will probably see a spike in traffic as a result, whilst you get the one way link you want.

External Web Properties such as microsites

Similar to email lists, these can be used as bargaining chips to give people exposure whilst not linking to them directly from your main site. This works even better if you have control of pages which are not domains you own. Think about Facebook business pages, Twitter pages or even pages on content platforms such as Hubpages.

Existing Link Bait or Content

Looking at the existing content on a website or reviewing previous attempts at link bait can be very worthwhile. Sometimes there may be some amazing pieces of content created where the promotion didn’t quite work that well or it didn’t attract as many links as it deserved. If you find content like this, then you have a shortcut to a great link bait campaign.

Environmentally Friendly Company Policies

I go into more detail about this one below as I use it as an example. The principle however is that there are various websites and initiatives online that will give links and exposure to companies who are conscious of their effect on the environment.

Charity Work carried out by the company

This is great from a PR point of view and can sometimes get you links from news sites, but it can also get you link from the charity websites themselves. Some will have pages where they list the people and companies who have supported them. These are good places to get links from whilst doing something great for others at the same time.

Resource in terms of staff who have “spare” time

An example here could be a client who have customer service or call centre staff who are not always busy. There may be gaps in the day when they can do other tasks to help out with the SEO. Small tasks like creating bits of content, Tweeting on your behalf or joining forums and social media sites are all simple tasks which can be delegated.

Whatever your USPs are, the key is to make sure you use list them and feed them through into your link building campaigns.

At this point, you should have a list of USPs which you can now use to find websites that will link to you because of them. Lets move onto the next step which is finding the links you want.

Start with the Basics – Google it! 

Sounds obvious, but seriously this is the best place to start. Lets take an example of a USP of our company having some “green” credentials or being environmentally friendly policies.


 

In the interests of saving time, I’m going to give an example of how to narrow this down a bit. But I wanted to stress the point that a search as obvious as this can bring back some good results.

To narrow things down a bit, you could do this:


 

The addition of inurl:links tells Google to only show results where the URL contains the word "links". Just adding this reduced my results significantly and more importantly, gave me a better set of results and therefore a better chance of getting links quickly.

Using Advanced Google Searches

I gave a few tips on this in my previous SEOmoz post on Market Research for Link Building but wanted to go into a bit more detail here and provide a few extra search queries for you to use. Note that you can choose to add keywords to these queries. However depending on the scope of the guest blogging you can do, you could leave keywords to create less specific search results, which might open up new areas and angles.

Don’t Forget your USPs

Continuing with the idea of using your USPs, if I had a site that always had some kind of discount voucher or special offer running, I could use the following search:

frugal blog +"discount vouchers"

This will return blogs that are focused around saving money by giving tips and discount vouchers to their users. The perfect sites to contact and share your discount vouchers with.

Oh and if you want a real quick list of sites, here is a massive list of discount sites :)

Finding Guest Blog Post Opportunities

I’m not going to preach to you about the benefits of guest blogging as a link building technique, it’s enough to say it can work very well. Here are my favourite search queries for finding these opportunities:

inurl:guest-post –how to – seo

This one works on the basis that many blog owners will highlight the post being a guest one within the title which then puts the wording into the URL. Also, again to save time, I’ve excluded “how to guest post” style articles and SEO as they were scattered amongst the results and take time to filter out manually.

inurl:label/guest –how to –seo

Similar to the one above, this one is aimed at Blogspot blogs, results don’t seem quite as good but there are still plenty of opportunities.

inurl:category/guest

This is great as lots of standard WordPress blogs will use this structure for their URL so you usually get a decent amount of results.

keyword +blog +july 2010 inurl:guest

The advantage of this one is that you are limiting your results in such a way as to only show active blogs. Chances are that if a blog includes a recent month and year on the page, they are active and are therefore more likely to respond.

Finding Directories unlikely to get you into trouble

We are always asked – will I get a penalty if I get a link from this directory. Well its a tough question to answer and not in the scope of this post. Instead I’ll point you towards the guidelines in this section of the SEOmoz Guide to Link Building.

To try and help find directories that are unlikely to cause you an issue, try a search query such as this:

keyword inurl:directory –buy –anchor text –pagerank –pr

You can add all sorts of additional words to this, but the idea is that you don’t want to get links from a directory who are blatantly giving links in order to pass anchor text and PageRank in return for money.

Use the Similar Sites Feature on Google

Really quick tip here but this can be quite effective. When you are doing the research on finding sites in Google, you will come across a few gems which are perfectly suited to the types of site you want. When you find these, use the Similar feature on Google to find sites which are along the same lines:

This brings up a great list of additional places to get links from that may not have originally appeared in the search you ran.

To take things a step further, you can tweak the search to include different keywords, such as the original one we started with:
 

The great thing about this kind of query is that it keeps things as relevant as possible. It also helps if you choose a fairly authoritative website to use as your related one because Google seem to provide sites which are of a similar authority. 

Getting a bit more creative with competitor research

There are a few tools around at the moment that are designed to help with local search and finding places to get citations from. Rand mentioned this one from Whitespark in a blog post on link building last week. However I have a couple more tips that could also help.

Search for Competitor Phone Numbers

This can be a little hit and miss if I’m honest but if you come across certain competitors who are very active in getting citations and links from business listing sites, then this can be a goldmine. You can cut down the time spent on this by using multiple competitor phone numbers at the same time:

"0800 123 4567" OR "0700 123 4567" OR "0845 123 4567"

As I said, can be a bit hit and miss but certainly worth a try and very actionable.

Quality Control 

Another common question we hear from clients is "how do I know this is a good page to get a link from?"  Again, a tough one to answer as many experienced SEOs will use their instinct as well as tools, so they ‘just know’ if a page is good or not.

Unfortunately, many SEOs do not have this level of experience and your clients certainly will not be able to do this. So here are a few questions they can ask themselves instead. Some will be made easier to answer by using some simple tools which I’ve also provided.

1. Has the page been cached?

Unless the page is very, very new, then the answer should be yes if you want a link from it.

Check using the Google Toolbar or SEO Book Toolbar

2. How many outgoing links are there on the page?

Its hard to put a fixed number on this as there are legitimate reasons for lots of outgoing links on a single page. However in general, I’d be a bit wary of a page that had more outgoing links than internal links. If you are going to put a figure on it, then I’d say that if outgoing links are heading into the 100′s, then be careful that the quality of these links are good.

Check using the Search Status plugin for Firefox.

3. How many incoming links are there to the domain and page?

I’m always surprised at how many people don’t look at this, many tools make this quite easy and quick. What you are looking for is a decent amount of quality links coming into the domain and a handful coming into the page you want a link from. 

Check using the Search Status plugin, SEO Book Toolbar or the SEOmoz Toolbar

4. Does the site appear top for a Google search for the site name and the URL?

If it doesn’t appear anywhere, then there is a reason for this and this is the most surefire way of quickly seeing that a site has been penalised.

Check using Google!

5. If Matt Cutts looked at it, would he want to keep it in the Google index?

Its important to be very honest with yourself on this one. If the answer is no, then leave the page and move on!  Essentially you are looking at the site as if you were Google and being honest about whether it is a quality, useful site or not.

There is a bit more intuition involved in this one so you can’t really check with a single tool unfortunately.

Go Get Em! 

Lets recap what we should have done so far in this process.

  1. Listed our USPs
  2. Used these USPs to find the links we want
  3. Used quality control to see if these links are worth getting

So we have the final step of actually getting the links. Now the fun starts!

For me, getting the links comes down to three things:

  • Using your assets and USPs
  • Getting yourself noticed
  • Building a relationship

If you can do these things, you will improve your link building conversion rate. Lets now look at each one in a bit more detail.

Using your assets and USPs

I’ve already mentioned this above in relation to finding links, however don’t forget this when you are contacting people to actually get the links. If you want a link from someone because you are a green company, tell them!  Back this up with a page on your website describing why you are a green company so they can see that you’re genuine. Make it obvious what the USP is, here is a great example from Rackspace who are a web hosting provider -

In short – make it obvious why someone should link to you.

Getting yourself noticed

In order for someone to link to you, you need to get yourself noticed by them. I’d tend to try and get someones attention before actually asking for a link. There are quite a few ways to do this:

  • Direct email
  • Phone call
  • Twitter
  • Blog commenting
  • Send them traffic

Direct Email

By far the most popular option used by most SEOs. Yes, it can work. People say it doesn’t, but from my experience it does. There are loads of ways of approaching someone via email and here is a great article over at Search Engine Land by Garrett French on this. Also there are lots of great tips in this Search Engine Guide article by Jennifer Laycock.

These articles are really good and I’d advise you take a look at them, in the meantime here are some quick tips:

  • Explain how you can help them
  • Use a good subject line
  • Be personal and use their name
  • Mention something specific – a tweet or blog post they did
  • Use your location if they live close by
  • Appreciate their time – they’re busy people

Phone Call

This is a great way to get links, just pick up the phone!  It can be a bit tricky in some industries where the site owners are not always at their desk or work online. However you can usually get a much better response over the phone and save a lot of time by getting a quick answer.

Yes, I know, we’re all geeks and don’t like using the phone. But it isn’t really that hard and you can soon get into the swing of it after a few calls. On the other hand, if you really can’t do this yourself – get someone else who can. Especially if you have staff who are good on the phone and can be quickly trained up on this.

Twitter

Depending on the industry, this can be a great one to get peoples attention. I gave a list of ways to connect with people on Twitter in my last SEOmoz post but here is the list again for easy reference:

  • Follow them
  • Make a note of what they like to tweet about
  • Check their personal websites for more info
  • Look at what type of stuff they retweet
  • Retweet their stuff
  • Interact with them constructively
  • Ask for their opinion on something

The key it to get their attention and build a relationship so that they can help you in the future.

Blog Commenting

No, I’m not talking about dropping links on random blogs and getting attention by being a spammer. I’m talking about finding the high quality blogs of the people you want to get links from, then providing constructive, useful comments. This can lead to them clicking through to your website and seeing your name which will help for when you actually contact them. They’ll already be aware of you and your site and therefore are more likely to sit up and take notice of you.

Send them Traffic

All quality bloggers and website owners will check their analytics to see who is sending them traffic. If you can get yourself onto this list, they will come take a look at you and become familiar with you.

You do not even have to link to them from your own site, remember the USPs of microsites and email lists?  You can use a microsite to link to them or you can link to them from an email you send out to your subscribers. Either way, they will notice you and you’ve put yourself in a much better position to contact them and ask for a link.

Building a Relationship

If you are successful and secure the link you want, don’t just take the link and run. Keep in contact with the website owner as you never know when you may be able to help you again. This can even lead to deeper business partnerships which can benefit you both way beyond just getting a link.

Image Source and Good Article from Stoney De Geyter

If they don’t give you a link, don’t just ignore them. Reply and be thankful for their time and ask if you can contact them in the future if other pieces of content may be of interest to them.

In short – don’t burn your bridges.

Conclusion

Above you have loads of hands-on tips and a process for getting quality links, use this yourself or pass it to a client for them to use. Either way just make sure you actually do it!  Link building doesn’t need to be that hard.

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