By now, you know that attracting backlinks is of paramount importance when it comes to improving SEO rankings and driving traffic to specific pages. But if you’re spending all of your time sending out generic email blasts to thousands of bloggers and websites in hopes that someone will feature or mention your brand, you’re doing it all wrong. Despite the virtual nature of the strategy, link building is predicated on relationships.
Depending on how much you’ve paid attention to the topic of link building and SEO over the past few years and months, you may have heard some recent rumblings about the declining efficacy of links. But it’s important that you take these rumors with a grain of salt (maybe even two).
For all of the wonderful advantages and benefits the internet affords our culture, one of the weaknesses of the World Wide Web is the fact that anyone can post anything – veracity be damned. As a result, you get a lot of bloggers and amateurs who claim to be experts on topics they know little about. And while this issue permeates a number of industries, it’s particularly pervasive when it comes to link building and SEO.
Somewhere along the line, people decided that link building is no longer a valuable or effective strategy. Bloggers are saying link building has lost its place in healthy SEO practice and that social media has depreciated the value of individual links so much so that you’re better off spending your time on paid advertising.
But when you drown out the unsubstantiated claims from bloggers with very little knowledge of the actual situation and instead choose to let the facts guide shape your opinions, you’ll quickly realize that strong backlinks matter more than ever.
According to a very recent study from Brian Dean and Backlinko, which analyzed more than one million search results, backlinks are still the key to SEO success. “We found the number of domains linking to a page correlated with rankings more than any one factor,” Dean says. He also points out that “a site’s overall link authority (as measured by Ahrefs Domain Rating) strongly correlates with higher rankings.
Moz, another respected name in the industry, has also run its own tests. In a recent study, they examined the top 50 Google search results for roughly 15,000 keywords and discovered similar findings.
“It seems obvious, but the study confirmed the long-standing correlation between higher rankings and the number of external links found from unique websites,” says Cyrus Shepard of Moz. “Indeed, out of all the data points the ranking correlation study looked at, the number of unique websites linking to a page was one of the highest correlated relationships we found.”
So, you can either trust the fragmented opinions of amateur SEOs and bloggers looking for clicks, or you can trust reputable studies that analyzed millions of data points. The latter says strong backlinks matter and that you need a strategy for acquiring as many as possible.
When it comes to link building there are both black hat and white hat techniques. It’s imperative that you’re able to differentiate between the two when launching a link building strategy.
Black hat techniques include link cloaking (showing different content to search engines and users), injecting hidden links into websites by exploiting flaws, and hiding keywords on a page so that they aren’t visible to readers.
White hat techniques include creating quality content, promoting readership and sharing, and building relationships with other webmasters and bloggers who are looking for quality content and valuable resources.
As you can see, white hat link building – the link building techniques that actually work and allow you to enjoy long-term returns – isn’t about plugging in links and hoping nobody notices. It’s about relational guest blogging.
In the following section, we’re going to discuss the ways in which you can establish high returning link building relationships with folks inside and outside of your industry, but it’s important that we begin by discussing goals.
In order to develop strong relationships, you have to know exactly what you’re looking for in a relationship. Isn’t this what you do when looking for a significant other? Very few people go into a relationship without any expectations. Some people may have high goals and others low goals, but there are always some expectations. In terms of guest blogging, most people are looking to do one or more of the following:
In all likelihood, you’re trying to do all three of these things at once. Just make sure you keep these goals in perspective. The last thing you can afford to do is lose sight of the big picture when building strong backlinks.
Okay, so here’s where we really dig in and discuss tips, techniques, and strategies for building relationships with bloggers (as opposed to impersonal, random email outreach).
You need to start by developing a list of bloggers, websites, and industry figures that you’re interested in building relationships with. This list should include low-hanging fruit (such as smaller bloggers who are more than likely actively looking for partnerships) and far reaches (such as well-known industry figures who aren’t easily accessible).
The issue most people have is that they develop a list of targets and then immediately shoot out generic emails asking them for something. When you do this, you’re skipping a massive step.
Before you even think about personal outreach, you need to actually read the blogs and websites you’re interested in working with. Go through and read their top posts from the past. Read a sampling of new posts that are published each day. Make your presence known in the comment section by discussing various points that you find interesting, valuable, or controversial.
By reading, you get a feel for the style they like and the topics they’re interested in. You also know what’s already been covered and what’s missing from the conversation. By commenting, you’re putting your name out there. Thus, when you eventually do contact the blogger, they’ll already recognize your name (even if just subliminally).
Sending an email or direct message? Tweeting at someone? Mentioning the blogger by name in the comment section? Absolutely, positively under no circumstances should you ever ask for something without first giving.
Never send a tweet saying, “Hey! I just read your article on web design best practices and was wondering if you’d be willing to include a link to this article that I wrote on the topic.” Put yourself in their shoes. If you were to receive a message like this, wouldn’t you ignore it? Most people would.
The only way to develop healthy relationships is to give before asking. Share the post on social media. Comment on the post and tell them how valuable you found the article and that you’ll be forwarding it to your coworkers. Post a blurb on your own blog and direct your readers to the original article. These are all tangible ways to foster goodwill.
When it finally comes time to contact a blogger and pitch an idea, ask a favor, or make an offer, you need to do so strategically. Ditch the copy and paste templates and write an email from scratch.
Remind them of who you are, dish out an honest compliment, and throw in a line or two that lets them know you’ve been reading their content for a while. And when you do ask for an opportunity to write a guest blog post or have a feature written about your company, ensure that you’re simultaneously offering something in return.
Finally, don’t be afraid to do some offline networking. Remember, these are people you’re interacting with. They exist outside of the internet and probably enjoy grabbing lunch with people, visiting networking events, and attending conferences.
The absolute best way to develop a relationship with a blogger is by meeting them in person. They may get five emails per day soliciting opportunities, but how many people actually confront them in public and discuss opportunities in a face-to-face manner? Not very many. This makes for a more memorable and high-returning point of contact.
As your mother probably told you a handful of times during your childhood, patience is a virtue. Well, this principle holds true when honing a link building strategy too. Just as you can’t reasonably build a relationship with someone in a matter of days and then expect to get married, you can’t reach out to industry bloggers and websites and expect to be featured on their front page within hours of contacting them.
Link building – and specifically relational guest blogging – requires patience of the utmost magnitude. It could take weeks, months, or even years to reap the benefits of a healthy blogging relationship. However, when you finally do, it’ll all be worth it.