An adaptive framework for link building campaigns

A constant complaint I hear from SEO professionals, both veterans and newcomers to the industry, is that link building is difficult.

Yes. Link building is hard.

Link building is hard, but it’s not impossible.

Link building seems difficult because, at first glance, it’s hard to know exactly where to start.

It’s about people, not robots

Link building is not a technical discipline – primarily.

If you’re looking for automated link building systems, you’re either going to fail, or worse, put your site in trouble.

This notion goes against the personalities of most of those who do SEO.

Most people get into research because they are technically inclined.

Many more programmers enter the field of SEO than PR people.

It’s hard to believe, but there is no technical solution to every search engine marketing problem.

Of course, there are tools that can ease your process or automate redundant tasks.

But for the most part, link building is about relationships, not robots.

Quality over quantity

We all got the email.

For x amount of dollars, someone who removed your name from a spam list will create thousands of links for you.

In almost all cases, accepting the offer of these vigilante spammers is a very bad idea.

In some cases, these types of links can earn you a penalty, but these days they’re more likely to just be ignored.

Even if Google doesn’t overlook these links, overall they’re not worth much.

I’d rather have 1 link from the Wall Street Journal than 10,000 links from Joe Shmoe’s blog.

If you use the following framework to build links, the chances of building thousands of links are slim.

But it is okay.

Good content makes good links

Good link building starts with content.

You must have linkable assets in order to create links.

But to create these linkable resources, you first need to know the topics you want the links to be relevant to.

This is where your keyword and topic research comes in.

We don’t have room in this column to get into the nitty-gritty of topic and keyword research – but make no mistake, this work needs to be done before your link building can begin.

Once you understand your topic and have created your linkable resources (also known as content), it’s time to start link building.

Time blocking and link campaigns

Ongoing link building is a chore.

By dividing your link building into campaigns, you can breathe new life into a tired effort.

Creating campaigns and “blocking them in time”, or creating an artificial time limit on how long you’ll be working on them is a great way to keep things fresh – and also to add a sense of urgency to the process of link building.

When you practice time blocking, you can also gauge the progress of each campaign a little easier.

And of course, if a campaign is doing well, you can always revisit it in the future – hopefully, with some additional information you didn’t have the first time you ran the campaign.

The list

Once you have your content and campaign idea in place, the next step is to build your email list.

How to build your mailing list

Each campaign should have its own unique mailing list.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t attract influencers and contacts from one campaign to another.

In fact, the more campaigns you run, the better your list will be.

If you practice optimal outreach, you know your best contacts and have worked to build a relationship with them.

Most people use email to do their outreach.

Email still works, but not as well as it could.

In fact, the response to link building emails is abysmal thanks to spammers who have made link building twice as difficult as it should be. Lazy spammers who can make even the best pitch useless.

In almost all cases, the phone gets a better response than an email.

An in-person meeting, when possible, has a significantly higher likelihood of getting a link than the phone.

I don’t think Google considers it against the terms of service if you’re buying a beer for someone you want to link to your relevant content – but I could be wrong on that point.

How do you build your list?

This is one of the most common questions I get from those new to our link building process.

There is no cookie-cutter formula for building a good list.

I like to start by looking at the SERPs around the campaign’s targeted topic.

I’m looking for role models and people who write about it.

I jot these names down and try to find them on Twitter and LinkedIn.

I check Reddit and see who is talking about the topic in question.

I then do independent research on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest.

But once I have a name, I need to assess the potential contact’s reach and web presence.

Do they have a place where they can provide a link to my content?

This means that my lists are generally not very large.

It takes too long to find the quality of contacts I’m looking for to create a list of hundreds of link opportunities for me to create a large list.

But remember that quality trumps quantity in any case.

Field

You need to have the right tone for the campaign to succeed.

One of the biggest mistakes I see is when people use the same pitch for every link lead.

If you’re going to spend time building a quality list, spend time tailoring a quality pitch to each prospect.

The goal, beyond getting the link, is to build a relationship with the link prospect.

You never know when they might provide a link in a future campaign, even if they don’t give you one in your current campaign.

There is no “right way” to pitch.

But there are a lot of bad ways to pitch.

The most common “bad way” is to create a mass email for each link prospect.

If you’ve taken the time to create quality linkable resources and a list of quality prospects, take the time to tailor a pitch to each prospect.

Start by creating a list of “talking points” that could go into the speech.

Then choose the talking points that apply to the individual prospect you are presenting.

This requires knowing who each prospect is – and hopefully what interests them.

It takes time.

Like I said, you’re not going to get thousands of links from this approach.

But you don’t need thousands of links to be successful.

The follow-up

We talked about the time blocking each campaign.

But there is an exception to time blocking.

It’s in the follow-up.

In any outreach, it usually takes more than one touch to be successful.

You have to keep reaching out until you get a “no”.

I’m a fan of pushing for the no after the initial pitch and honoring it.

For example, if you can’t convince a prospect to call you back, send them an email or even a letter.

If you really want to grab their attention, try a certified letter.

If they want you to stop, all they have to do is say no.

But when you ask for a no, specify whether it’s a no just for this campaign or for any future advocacy. And be sure to honor the request.

This is where you have to use your judgment.

You don’t want to burn off a great contact with too much follow-up.

But you either want to get a link or get a no.

So it’s a balancing act.

The roadmap

Typically, we like to have at least 6 months of mapped link building campaigns.

That doesn’t mean we have the rosters and content for six months – it just means we know where we’re going next.

If you have people who excel at specific parts of the process — whether it’s content or list building — they can work on the next campaign ahead of time.

Those who pitch can only pitch the current campaign.

Also: you can rotate your planes if needed.

I’m a big fan of thematic link building campaigns, where we create a campaign around a hot trend or current event.

You cannot know what the trend or current will be even six months from now.

But you can either pause a campaign or run two campaigns simultaneously to run a themed campaign.

You can also push back your evergreen campaigns if you need to insert a thematic campaign into the mix.

It is important to plan, but it is more important to plan to be flexible.

In conclusion

Building links is difficult.

This framework is not easy.

But it’s easy to understand.

By dividing link building into campaigns, you can make it a lot more fun and have less burnout.

Link building is the creative part of SEO.

And creativity is supposed to be fun.

So have fun with link building.

The rewards can far outweigh the costs.

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Image credits

Featured Image: Created by author, January 2020

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