Link building can be difficult. And sometimes you can put a whole lot of effort into creating content and reaching out to people only to be disappointed with the return. So how can you increase your chances of success from the outset?
SEO competitor analysis can reveal what kind of sites you might like to target. Or you may already have your ideal link targets in mind — some top industry blogs, some government sites, or even mainstream media. But asking the right questions about these sites up front can go a long way.
1. Have they linked to this type of content before?
You might have created a great infographic, for example, and identified some strong sites in a relevant niche, with a propensity for linking out. BUT, if those sites have only ever linked out to articles and videos, you may well find yourself trying to convince them of a new format, making your job increasingly more difficult.
2. Have they linked to content on this specific topic before?
The topic might seem obvious, but try drilling down into the specifics. If you’re targeting a certain niche, exactly what is the focus of the content they link out to? Don’t imagine because your content is vaguely in the right area, it will be sufficient.
If they link out to a lot of social media content, pay attention. Have they only ever linked out to stuff on Facebook and Twitter? It could be important before you hit them with your 10 little-known tips for LinkedIn.
3. Have they linked to sites like yours before?
Have they linked out to commercial sites? Is there something about the look and feel of the sites they tend to link out to? Do they only link to blogs?
The “sites like yours” question can be especially relevant if you’re targeting sites outside your own niche. Relevancy issues aside, suppose, for example, that you have a real estate site with content on the use of social media, and you want to target sites interested in social media. Has your target ever linked to content hosted on a real estate site?
Now, before we go any further…
If the answer to any of these first three questions is “no,” that doesn’t mean you can’t make it successful. However, for each “no” answer, you introduce an additional element of uncertainty. It’s important to be aware of the risk involved.
What you know you don’t know is much less dangerous that what you don’t know you don’t know.
4. Have they linked in this particular way before?
This can be an important one. You might be looking for opportunities to:
- Gain editorial links to content on your site
- Guest post on their site
- Have content embedded on their site
If they have not previously hosted a guest post, or embedded a badge on their site, again, you are trying to introduce them to something new.
5. How frequently and recently have they linked out?
First, how often do they update their site? What was the date of their last blog post? It might seem obvious, but it’s easy to overlook. On a static site, this can be more difficult to determine. Sites with a regularly updated blog might be much easier targets.
Second, it is quite common to see sites that have changed their approach to certain practices. I have come across sites that have regularly hosted guest posts, but no longer do. Similarly, media, education and government sites often change their policies on linking out. How frequently they link out is also important. If they’ve only ever linked out to one or two pieces of content like yours, it’s far from a sure thing.
6. Was the timing of the content important?
Is the release of a certain story particularly timely? Does it relate to current events, such as a news story, or calendar events, such as Valentine’s Day or the approach of summer?
In larger publications, you may find the editorial content follows seasonal trends. You can deduce this by looking at their content cycle for previous years. This will only be of relevance to particular kinds of content, but is worth bearing in mind.
7. Who was responsible for the link?
The who comes more into play with larger sites. It’s one I’ve learned from our PR team. Don’t simply target the site or its editor. Who is it that generally links to this kind of content? Is it a certain writer? That’s who you need to speak to.
8. Where exactly did they link from and to on each site?
Knowing where they linked from might be a good way to show them that you’ve read their stuff. It might also give you some insight into who you should be speaking to.
Where they link to might be subtle, but if they only appear to link to blog posts, and you have posted an article on a static page, it might be slightly more difficult. Or maybe you are trying to punt a particular piece of content to a resource list, but they only really link to the home page of sites. Then you need to see if your home page matches up to others on the list.
As an aside, we have found that a good piece of content can serve as a useful conversation starter, even if you end up getting the link in a different manner.
So far we’ve looked at…
- WHAT they linked to: the type of content on this topic
- HOW they linked: embeds, editorial or guest posts
- WHEN they linked: frequency and timing
- WHO linked: particular writers
- WHERE they linked to: sites like yours, and where exactly
Which brings us to the big one… Why do some sites link and others don’t?
Mark Johnstone is an SEO at Distilled. Follow him on Twitter at @markajohnstone.