Go to any SEO forum and you’ll find the obligatory post from a confused, link building noob wondering, "How do I create amazing backlinks?"
In the post, the frustrated linker claims they’ve tried everything to build quality backlinks: free directories, profile links, article submissions, comment spamming, etc. But nothing works. Despite all their low value efforts, they can't leapfrog their competitors in the SERPs, so they're pleading with others to share their secrets to building amazing, stupendous, superfantastic backlinks.
Trouble is, those secrets don't exist.
There are no magic shortcuts, no highly classified insider hacks to getting quality links for your website. Building amazing backlinks takes work. But that's the last thing the forum vagrants want to hear. They want a quick fix, and creating something of value is a whole lot harder than slapping a forum signature on a discussion thread post. So that message often falls on deaf ears.
However, if you're willing to bust your ass, then I'll share my process for building amazing backlinks. It's not simple. It's not easy. In fact, it requires creativity, tenacity, dedication and hard work. But unlike low value link spamming, if you follow these steps, you can build some amazing backlinks.
5 Steps to Creating Amazing Backlinks
The first step in getting amazing backlinks is to ferret out the sites that already have fantastic backlinks and scrutinize their link profiles. The logic being that good content attracts links, as site owners feel compelled to share it with their audience. So in this first step, you’re looking for pages with ‘lotsa links’ because they’ve already proven to have link worthy content.
To find out which blog posts have attracted the most inbound links, follow this process. Note: for this entire blog post, we'll use a hypothetical example of Jim's Pet Shop, an online pet store looking to attract links, traffic and attention for its line of dog toys.
- Install the SEO for Firefox Toolbar (it’s free!)
- Run a search in Google (for this example, I’m running a query for “dog toys”), select "show options" button (below the search box, left) and click “blogs” from the categories
- Click the “100” option (just below the search box, right), which will give you the Top 100 search results
- Once that’s resolved, click the "CSV" link (just below the search box, right) and export the results file
Firefox for SEO gives you a lot of great information, but for this exercise, we just want the data for the column “Y! Page Links,” so you can delete the rest.
Sort the list by “Y! Page Links” from “largest to smallest.” Your CSV results should look like this:
We now have a collection of all the blog posts about "dog toys" that have attracted the most links. The next step in the process of building quality backlinks is to see which sites are linking to these posts.
Now that we know which content pieces are the link magnets, let's figure out who's doing the linking. Why is the "who" important? It's because these website owners have already pre-qualified themselves as link prospects by demonstrating their willingness to link out to a particular type of content, which in this example is content about "dog toys." So chances are good that they might link to our dog toy content.
So to find out the "who," pull up the CSV dashboard we created above, select each of the top linking posts and drill down into their link profiles. This can be done using the "Yahoo Page Links" button on the SEO for Firefox Toolbar or you can use the Yahoo link command: link:http://www.pawnation.com/2010/03/16/wacky-pet-product-squeaky-squigglers-dog-toys/ -site:pawnation.com
This produces a SERP list of all links pointing to this page, minus any internal site links from the root domain, which looks like this:
After running this analysis for link prospects, there are two sites that keep popping up in the link profiles of these top dog toy posts: Doggies.com and Funstufffordogs.wordpress.com. Given their willingness to link out to dog toy related content, they are great candidates for outreach campaign (covered in step five).
Now, if it's not clear yet, the objective of this step is to assemble a list of qualified prospects for outreach. This can be done in a simple spreadsheet with multiple data columns. For my own outreach lists, I like to collect data on :
- Target website URL: note the name of the website as well as the deep page I've found that's linking out
- Toolbar PageRank: here I use TBPR to sort by relative value (loosely)
- Contact name: personalizing your outreach letter is key; addressing an email "To Whom It May Concern" is lazy and for losers
- Personal email: don't send emails to info@ black holes or contact us forms, unless you like having your emails ignored or deleted. I give detailed information on obtaining hard to find personal emails, in this article about 12 advanced tactics on how to find someone's email address.
- Social media profile(s): what's their Twitter or LinkedIn handle? don't know? figure it out.
- Notes: additional information about the blogger or website to help personalize my outreach letters even more
Also, remember that many blogs have a stable of bloggers on staff. So I recommend you dig around and find out which ones link out to your type of content more frequently and cite that in your notes section as well.
To create linkable content, you must determine why certain pieces of content attract links. Let's examine the blog posts in the example above and see if we can discern why these five blog posts about dog toys have attracted more than 11K total links. Is there some shared element, some common thread that makes them so link worthy?
It just so happens that in this case the clues are pretty clear: the top link performers are all articles about weird, odd, whacky or silly dog toys.
It's really not surprising because life can be pretty mundane, so people love anything that's out of the ordinary. That's why creating odd or funny posts or videos is often a sure fire way to attract links.
Dog Mustache Toy
Michael Vick Dog Chew Toy
I mean, how can you not share or link to that Michael Vick dog chew toy photo, right?
So if you're the owner of our hypothetical Jim's Pet Shop and you're hunting for content ideas that will attract links, writing a post about weird dog toys looks like a fantastic strategy. Which brings us to our next step.
To attract links like the top link worthy posts, you need to create something of similar value. Now, I’m not saying outright copy it, and I’m also not saying you need to reinvent the wheel. You can absolutely do something similar, but make it your own. If it’s a handy widget, create a widget. If it’s a whacky list, create a whacky list. Point is, the content that you create needs to be valuable and interesting to your target market.
For example, take the premise above that people love content about weird dog toys. Now, there are many different ways you can turn that intelligence into an effective content strategy. I've thrown together a few ideas for articles that I'm grading by degree of effort and difficulty:
- Easy: Create a blog post about a whacky dog toy: It's not entirely original, but I bet it attracts a stray link or two.
- Harder: Create an article about "10 Weird Dog Toys Your Dog is Gonna' Love." This involves more work, but there's more opportunity for links.
- Wicked Hard!!: Fire up your big brain, get super creative and start a contest on your pet shop website where people submit and vote for pictures of their dogs with bizarre dog toys, with the top pics all win a prize. You create a contest page (with contest details, photo galleries and voting component), write a blog post announcing the contest and one announcing the winners, with the winning pictures, names of the dogs and their owners.
Now which of these ideas is most intriguing? Which do you think will attract the most links? Point here is that the effort matches the results, which is why I listed each idea by level of labor involved. In my experience, the harder I work on a piece of content, the more links it attracts. This isn't rocket science, but it bears mentioning.
Okay, so it's time to market your content via blog marketing. You're going to get to work reaching out to the site owners, key influencers and bloggers for the sites in backlink profiles that you've gathered in your pitch list from step two. Now, you're not going to boldly ask them to link to your page about X in your request. That's way too obvious and heavy-handed. Instead, you're going use a more subtle approach, by writing to make them aware of your content and asking if they'd be willing to "share it" with their audience, as they've done with similar types of content.
To give you a better idea of what I'm talking about, here's what a sample letter might look like using the "Whacky Dog Toy Photo Contest" idea for Jim's Pet Store. Note: this email template is based on successful outreach letters I've used in the past.
Dear (name of blogger or site owner):
I read your recent article on the Top 10 Weirdest Dog Toys on the Planet (note: add a link to that story here to add further legitimacy and to remind the blogger of the article) and it was very funny. I liked it so much that I shared it with my friends on Facebook and on Twitter (actually tweet the article and drop link it that tweet here for proof).
(Include details about the contest)
If you need any other information, just let me know.
Thanks for your time.
Now, anyone who's ever engaged in the sort of coordinated, targeted, personalized and aggressive link outreach that I've outlined above understands its value. But you'll get the naysayers who say "link outreach doesn't work" and that's primarily because:
- They don't create anything of value
- They're unable to dedicate themselves to marketing content effectively
- They've never even tried it, yet slam it because they're lazy
Whatever the case, I'm here to say that I follow the same process I've laid out in this article and it works for me.
Also, don't fall for the old adage that all you need to do to attract links is create great content. Just because you write good content doesn’t mean the Web will automatically notice. You have to hit them over the head with it. It's okay to be self promotional, in fact, it's vital. Nobody else is going to pimp your content, so it’s up to you.
One last note on link outreach is that once you get all the steps in place and have an outreach list and an email template, you can have just about anyone help with sending out the emails. I usually enlist interns to send out the emails and tell them to customize and personalize each email in the various fields, using the data I've collected in my outreach spreadsheets.
So as I said at the beginning of this post, everything I've discussed here takes work. Like anything worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Now if this isn’t for you and your heart just isn’t in it, then that’s fine. There’s no shame in admitting this is more work than you signed up for. But don’t go back to bitching in the forums in a few more months about how you’ve created 300 social bookmarking links and you can’t get on page one of Google, so you need a magical way to build amazing backlinks that doesn’t involve thought or effort.
Point is, the top ranking sites work their tails off to acquire quality links. To keep pace with them, you need to devote the same level of effort to content strategy and link marketing. If your goal is to outrank them, then you'll need to do something even more exceptional. And dumping a dozen comment spam links on some poor guy's "do follow" blog isn't going to get it done.