The Human Guide to Link Building

There are a plethora of link building articles out there.

Most of them are written by qualified professionals and provide excellent tips on how to create a link building strategy, earn links naturally, and how to find the best targets.

But one thing I don’t see often is a link building post written from a human point of view.

Most of the clients I deal with on a daily basis are small(er) businesses creating an online brand or locally-focused businesses looking for better online exposure in their geographic area.

One thing these clients often have in common? Little or absolutely zero content promotion budget.

Applying all those “fantastic, scalable tactics” should definitely be the number one priority in their campaigns, right? Find the one or two things that work and pound them into the ground to save time and money!?

Here’s Why You’re Wrong

As marketers, we’re helping businesses create connections with consumers (b2c), other companies (b2b), or both.

The SEO industry has largely ignored the human element in the past, but as we evolve and the product (search engines) becomes more sophisticated, the importance of a brand being human cannot be underestimated.

I know other SEOs, inbound marketers, digital marketers – whatever you prefer – have called for this before, but it’s time to stop striving for scalable tactics and silver bullets.

Particularly for small, local businesses, the idea of scaling tactics really doesn’t work. Certainly not the way we’d like it to or some claim it does.

These link building strategies rely on a brand with an already strong reputation and largely just leverage that to coax others – who are almost always complete strangers – to read, like, share, let alone link to, that content.

Why is (target site) going to care about (small company “x” in [client’s town]) and the somewhat-related content (target site) created five months ago?

Pro Tip: They won’t.

How do you go beyond SEO and marketing to make legitimate, relevant, human connections and turn them into solid link building opportunities?

Check out the five ideas below and let me know what you think in the comments.

Non-Scalable Broken Link Building via Outreach

You may be thinking:

Broken link building and outreach? That’s the ultimate scalable tactic that values quantity more than quality!

And technically, you’d be correct. But this is not your average broken link building tactic. It’s simplified, hyper-targeted, and a relevant connection for a business to make.

Chances are you won’t find too many of these opportunities, but they do exist, increasing the importance of “cashing in” when you have an opportunity.

For instance, most broken link building guides will recommend you start your search with the entire Internet. Basically, there’s no drill down other than a random keyword here or there.

That’s not how targeted, human-based outreach works. In this tactic, let’s start with the client’s most successful piece of content.

Whether you measure success by organic traffic, social shares, or goals set in Analytics, the key is finding data to support the content performing well.

Once you have identified a piece of successful content, perform a variety of different Google searches around the main keyword and keyword phrase of that content.

Perform varying queries, some that would exactly match the user intent you hope searchers find your content with, but also others that have the same subject or process in general. Take time to explore different queries to find many different results and don’t be afraid to get a little creative either.

I’d recommend using your keyword research tools (my personal favorite right now is keywordtool.io) to make sure you’re hitting the subject from all angles. As you see different SERPs, you’ll begin to find particular pages that are likely targets for a link back to your content.

target-page-URL

Test your hypothesis. For example, does the other website have similar topical trust? Is that company known or famous for the subject the content is about? Would it make sense for these two companies to do business together?

Once you find a target – hopefully there’s more than one – thoroughly explore the surrounding pages on that site to find the most relevant contact. Please don’t rely on just “contact webmaster.”

contact-URL

Most well-constructed sites will have clear contact information along with a handful of different names and job titles. You just have to look around, which should come pretty natural to you. After all, you are a search professional.

Talking with a Marketing Assistant, the Digital Team, or the Public Information Office is considerably more likely to lead to earning a link – not to mention a potential business lead! – than filling out a general contact form.

Quick ScreamingFrog How To for BLBing

response-code-graph

Once you have your targets and contacts, it’s time to use ScreamingFrog to find broken links on or around that page – or obvious opportunities for an additional link – and some targeted email outreach when an opportunity arises.

Enter your target page URL into ScreamingFrog, but before you start the crawl, some edits to the general spider settings are required to make this process as efficient as possible.

When you first fire up the program and click on “Configuration”, select “Spider” from the drop down menu. The standard settings should look something like this:

general-configurations

However, these settings are excessive for what we’re trying to do. We’re not interested in images or style sheets, so you can de-select the top three checkboxes. When you’re finished, the settings should look like this:

spider-configurations

Before you close out the Spider Configuration box, however, click over to the Limits tab and click the box titled Limit Search Depth. We don’t want the crawler to get too far away from our target page, so limit the search depth to two.

If you’re working on a particularly large website, you can limit to just one, but I’d recommend the depth be at least two in most cases to increase the chances of finding a broken link.

With your settings applied, run the report. If you’ve done it right, this should be a relatively fast crawl, no more than about 90 seconds. When it’s complete, click over to the Response Codes tab and select Client Error (4xx) and you’ll see a list of errors.

The job becomes manual from here. Investigate the broken links – whether they’re on your target page or just a level or two below and see if it’s a relevant fit for your content. Even if it’s not, scan the page for other places your content could be plugged within the copy.

Sometimes just notifying a webmaster or digital marketer of an error – in this case a broken link – will open the door to at least starting a conversation about mentioning your content.

If the broken link is a fit for the content you’re trying to build links to, find the most relevant contact and use a short but sweet email template to expose your content and ask for the mention and/or link.

I won’t cover email templates here, largely because this process should just involve proper, polite human-to-human business interaction. Just be nice, promptly notify them of the error, quickly mention your content being similar and relevant, and hopefully good things will follow.

Leverage What’s Already There!

Wil Reynolds calls this RCS. Or, ya know, marketing.

While it’s important for any business, it’s crucial for those with little-to-no budget for additional marketing efforts (AdWords, paid content promotion, etc.)

This tactic will probably require legitimate buy-in from the client, but there’s no reason why they wouldn’t want to help (after all, they did hire you).

A 30-minute meeting would probably be all that’s necessary to get a couple of things figured out that could lead to link opportunities Some good questions to ask:

  • What’s going on in the local area? Are there chambers or events the company can join, sponsor, or help in any way?
  • Are there strong business connections already established? Whether it’s with a supplier, another local business, or an international client, you don’t know until you ask.
  • How creative are you willing to be if it means additional exposure and potential profitability?. Guerrilla marketing and/or free giveaways can be fun, creative ways to earn links and get attention. Just make sure they match the brand’s tone.

The limits here are endless, it just depends on the business you’re working with, companies they’re connected with, and how creative they’re willing to be.

Stuck on ideas? Hold a good old-fashioned brainstorm with your team to get ideas going. But don’t limit it just to SEOs, getting out of the search marketing bubble will only aid your creativity.

Build Something People Will Care About

In 2014, search engines are about entities and understanding the relationships between those entities.

If you can build a piece of content the company’s target market will care about, you have a chance to earn links from a variety of different places. Using analytical and content marketing skills, a brand can create something that resonates with people in one area or across the country.

Obviously, infographics have been done to death. But there is still a place for unique visual content that explains something complex in an easy-to-digest manner. One great strategy – that I’ve used myself – was birthed from this presentation of Kane Jamison.

It involves using accessible data, re-hashing, explaining, and visualizing it in a way the average consumer can understand, and in-turn becoming a relevant publisher in the particular industry. This could work for any industry: automotive, printing, literally anything!

However, that’s just one avenue and one medium to pursue. What other ways can you create something that people will care about?

Travel or local guides for specific neighborhoods are great for businesses in the lodging, business meeting, or hotel industry. If video is an untapped medium in your niche, brainstorm creative ways to utilize a production.

Need help with video? Wistia’s content is both entertaining and helpful.

What about interviews? Who in the community – relevant to your business’ niche – could be interviewed and give their opinion on key happenings within the organization or industry?

Again, think about what people want to see, hear, share and how they will react to the content you’re creating. What emotions are evoked when you reveal that content to somebody?

Starting from there and executing is a great way to create high-quality content that can boost your SEO campaigns.

Test the Relevancy of Your Content

You’ve built something awesome, great! Do people care about it, though? Rand Fishkin recently had a great tweet:

But what if you’ve already created the content and don’t have the funds to promote it, how can you test its effectiveness and relevancy?

One of my favorite ways is by using Reddit.

reddit-logo

The Reddit community is a unique one. If you’re unfamiliar with the site – really!? – Reddit is a “social networking service and news website where registered community members can submit content, such as text posts or direct links.” Thank you, Knowledge Graph.

The website is divided into thousands upon thousands of subreddits, which can be created around any topic regardless of how broad or targeted. Regardless what your content is about, there’s always a relevant subreddit filled with passionate users to submit your content to. However, before self-promoting, you’re going to have to earn your stripes.

Find some of the subreddits that perk your personal interests as well as some that would be relevant to your work life (I recommend you check out /r/BigSEO) and begin contributing there. Don’t try anything fishy early, just become an genuine, active member of the community.

The longer you genuinely contribute – upvote, comment, submit other articles or discussion points – to a subreddit, the more likely you won’t be chastised when you try to plug a piece of content you created for a client.

reddit-user-killing-me

Yeah. Chastised.

For a specific example, I recently did this for a local client. We created a weekend travel plan for a guest visiting the target city. After some contributions to the subreddit, I went in and submitted a link to the guide.

Now, I wasn’t trying to fool anyone here: included was a brief, honest description that this was content we created for a client and wanted to know what some redditors thought of the restaurants we recommended, the events we publicized, and any other feedback from locals.

Here are some of the comments:

reddit-feedback

reddit-feedback-2

When submitted to the appropriate subreddit, you can receive a good number of pageviews in a short amount of time from a relevant, targeted audience group.

reddit-pageviews

More importantly, this was a great way to see the success of our research about the city and how well we did getting information from the client. With a good mix of constructive feedback and small compliments, I’d say the content was helpful, but definitely had room for improvement.

You can replicate this strategy across many different websites, but given the specific topical subreddits and ability to get real user reactions fast, Reddit is my first choice.

Repurposing Content Across Other Mediums

Repurposing content is a great way to earn additional exposure, social shares, and inbound links. Some valuable ways to do this are creating the same piece of content in different forms and mediums.

For example, your long-form article about blue widgets would look great as a large visual asset or infographic (assuming there’s plenty of data to explain). Or maybe you can make a short video that explains everything stated in your article?

If you were to combine all of the non-text aspects of your content – including video – into a specific board on Pinterest, that would make for a great repurposing.

In the future, using Pinterest Analytics you can see the board is really taking off, you could write a short blog post highlighting the board, the article it’s based off of, and now you have a third re-purposing. Not to mention some nice internal linking opportunities. 🙂

Instagram, Vine, and Flickr are other visual mediums you should explore and see what the best fit is for your client and their content. But, this is where social media and community followings are crucial.

With the emergence of Twitter Cards, Open Graph data, Rich Pins and more, a simple tweet, Facebook post, or pin can almost be considered as a piece of repurposed content! If your client hasn’t been taking social media as a serious referral and a method for content promotion and growth, it’s time they start.

Strictly from a link building perspective, social media links and shares are only increasing in importance when it comes to ranking factors, signals, or other correlations.

With this tactic you’re using high-quality content you’ve already worked hard on to create more qualitative work that can attract and earn links.

It’s All About Expanding Your (Client’s) Reach

Gone are the days where you build links based on PageRank and for a certain number of links.

The human element is strong in all of the tactics listed above and allow you to build on an established connection instead of emailing hundreds of complete strangers.

Aiming to acquire links based on real business relationships, with people who already care or will care about the content you’re promoting, and providing it in a way that’s genuinely useful to them is the beginning of operating a link building campaign with the human element present.

One thing too many SEOs forget about links? They’re not just about ranking! Remember, a well-placed link will drive large amounts of relevant traffic to the content on your website over time, not just exist as another link in a giant inbound profile.

Focus on the human element when running your link building campaigns and watch as you increase the exposure to your client’s content from consumers and businesses that actually care.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.

Author: Brady Callahan

Brady Callahan is the Lead SEO Strategist at UpTik Media, a content marketing and SEO agency. Within the industry, Brady was a co-author of SEO Like I'm 5, the ultimate beginner's guide to SEO, and enjoys search strategy, link building and creating linkable assets, technical SEO, and campaigns that help clients build brands and while increasing their exposure in SERPs.

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