How to Scale Your Link Building

by on August 10, 2012 | posted in Scalable Link Building

(This post is an evergreen piece I wrote eight months ago and never published. You might notice it shares a few similarities with “Please Exit the Link Building” – that’s on purpose, it’s meant for print. Anyways, I thought you guys might enjoy – turns out (most) of the same things that made scalable link building work months before Penguin still apply today. If I rewrote this now, some verbiage might change because of recent developments in search, but the core concepts remain intact.) 

There will come a time in many link builders’ careers where they begin to hit a wall. They start feeling success and see continual results from their efforts, but then get frustrated at the low number of links they are generating. From this frustration emerges the question – “How do we build more links?” Otherwise stated, “How do we scale our link building efforts?”.

The answer lies in proper focus, strong fundamentals, repetition, and understanding how to mount and develop linkable assets that continue to acquire passive links over time.

Many link builders make the mistake of developing great linkable assets, but not properly understanding what type of great linkable asset will allow them to multiply the effectiveness of their efforts. Many link builders also make the mistake of creating great linkable asset types, but not using proper fundamentals to maximize effectiveness when doing outreach. Also, many link builders will dance around several asset types, attempting different strategies without ever developing the efficiencies that come from constant, sustained repetition of their process. And finally, many link builders will build great linkable assets and use strong fundamentals, but will not undergo or discover the path towards passive link acquisition that comes with the proper linkable asset marketing, multiplied by market research and knowledge of the right tools.

Scalable link building comes from:

  • Developing linkable asset types with proper characteristics
  • Using proper link prospecting fundamentals
  • Developing efficiencies from repetition
  • Continual passive link acquisition

Scalable Linkable Asset Types

A great linkable asset is highly successful in receiving outside citations – if pitched to an interested webmaster, he quickly and readily links to it. If you’re reading this, I’m proceeding under the assumption that you already know how to build an asset people want to link to. Here, I present a methodology to get to the next level – through target market size and intelligent decision making.

Appeals To A Large Target Market

To make something scalable, it must appeal to a giant target market. If you run a website about Pomeranian puppies, it’s unlikely that you can create something specifically about Pomeranians that appeals to a large number of people – meaning that linkable assets about that interest market specifically aren’t very scalable. However, it’s very possible to “push out” the content focus and create a second tier linkable asset that still relates to your website. In this case, it could be about dogs – which really could appeal to many people – any dog owner, dog blogs, animal blogs, etc.

The broader you go, the more likely the largest number of people will link to your great asset. Some large market size examples:

  • Holidays – July 4th, Halloween, Christmas
  • Viral, Time Sensitive Events – A big top story on a major news outlet (CNN)
  • Blockbuster movies – Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, comic book movies
  • Miscellaneous Subjects with Wide Appeal – Unusual Office Facts, The True Cost of Commuting
  • Interest Groups – LGBTs, Veterans, Green, Internet Marketing, Republicans

If you could tie your website focus to any of these large markets, you have the potential to obtain a large number of strong, value passing links back to your website. If you stick to a narrow market, you may be able to certainly obtain five to ten links – but the time and cost of developing that asset will almost certainly make a wider, broader focus a better use of your time.

Content Matter is Evergreen

The ideal asset can be promoted forever. When a new webmaster pops up that may be interested in what you’re offering, they will likely find your site through passive discovery of past promotions, and then link to you. If you build an asset that’s temporal, such as about a certain presidential election, that might create an up-front push, but without sustainability it can’t be as truly effective – or scalable.

For example, assets about the holidays will continue to be relevant, as you have the ability to repurpose it and then re-promote it year after year. You could also create a “guide to retirement investing” that has powerful sustainability. No content will truly be evergreen, as today’s world of innovative technology is extremely quick, but if you create content that you can at least touch up occasionally and still have it be powerful, helpful and relevant, you have the potential to build a powerful linkable asset that stands the test of time.

You might have noticed that in the bullet points about “large target market examples”, there are some large markets that aren’t truly evergreen. There will definitely be some hypocrisy here, and in link building in general. It’s not always possible or necessary to combine every “perfect” characteristic in an asset – but if you combine a large majority, you’ll be well on your way to an effective link building campaign, with better than normal link building strategies.

Scalable Link Prospecting Fundamentals

Many link builders will be inefficient in their link prospecting efforts, searching for links without true rhyme or reason. This isn’t optimal – and in fact, it’s quite a time waster, and also misses a great many link prospects in the process.

Scalable link building fundamentals exhaust the number of targeted link prospects available to us, and also identify and track new link building prospects efficiently as they emerge.

Here’s how to execute:

  • Do comprehensive up-front competitive research
  • Group all competitors in a list and export those backlinks using a backlink analysis tool such as SEOmoz’s Open Site Explorer
    • Compile all the links in one document by merging all website backlink lists
    • Label/color links acquired by competitors for explicit differentiation so you can add more links in the future, see the difference and sort accordingly
  • Create a mind map of applicable/relevant terms to their websites
  • Grab domains up to 100 Google results deep across all connected, relevant keyword sets; add these to the master link list
  • Use additional vertical resources such as bookmarking services or vertical blog lists for keyword searches to compile additional relevant domains to export links off of and add to the master list
  • Use an advanced link prospecting tool to locate long tail potential search queries for each potential asset type
    • Exporting additional links from your backlink analysis tool where there is strong relevance/likelihood that there is a backlink list worth exporting
  • Take every possible measure to note and sort backlink groups methodically
  • Do not settle until an initial master link list numbers in excess of 500k backlinks
    • The count might be lower for specific linkable assets, but for a master competitor backlink list, this should be a minimum number
  • Remove domain and page duplicates from your master backlink list to avoid time loss link prospecting – I suggest using the guide at http://distilled.net/excel-for-seo/
  • Where applicable, use advanced tools to speed up link prospecting, contact and acquisition. For a current list of the best scalable prospecting tools on the market today, check http://rosshudgens.com/tools.

Developing Link Building Efficiencies

Malcolm Gladwell, author of “Outliers”, famously came up with the 10,000-hour rule. This rule posits that true greatness only comes to those who practice a craft for 10,000 hours or more. Whether or not you believe the exact number, there is definite truth in the fact that the more you do something, the better you get at it. Link building is one such craft where we get better with applied time, but within that, there are niches where we develop specific expertise by doing them over, and over, and over again.

Many link builders do not acknowledge this rule and splinter off in many areas, attempting giveaways, an infographic here or there, or plain begging on occasion. It is this indecision that often causes them to be mediocre at everything rather than really good at one or two things. Often times, the excellence developed from repetition makes the difference between a viral piece that obtains hundreds of links and a sputtering one that obtains four or five.

If we decide to make infographics part of our core competency, we can spend lots of time to develop relationships, perfect a pitch, learn what works and what doesn’t, and also cut costs that come from long term contracts, outsourcing pieces of the work, etc. If we decide to do this in isolation, it is very likely we will create a piece of SEO spam that flutters and dies off, because we did not take the time to develop these efficiencies ourselves.

This applies to several sectors in link building. Perhaps you’ve spent a large amount of time building a personal network in SEO. Through this efficiency, you can likely now tell who has talent in developing and promoting infographics. So, you can leverage this competency to outsource the work, if needed. This would be in your best interests if you’ve not done infographics yourself – because it is likely you will fail up front. However, if you plan on making this a core competency, by all means hit the floor running – but know that most efforts will fail up front.

But with time, with great practice and study, and a nice chunk of that 10,000 hours, you will become an expert in infographics, giveaways, content development, or whatever efficiency you choose to develop. It is this expertise that truly allows link building campaigns to scale.

Passive Link Acquisition

One of the most important techniques for building links is building links effortlessly – besides the sunk costs of content development and initial promotion setup. Depending on your vertical, this can range from easy to incredibly difficult. However, there are certain efficiencies you can push for with your linkable assets – and research – to maximize the likelihood you obtain passive links.

  • Create linkable assets that encourage continual passive discovery on external websites – These include assets that will be on evergreen link lists, or on sidebars of blogs (such as widgets or simply having a blog).
  • Build linkable assets that function as “advertisements” – Linkable assets that function within an image, widget or otherwise are more powerful than normal because they are more visible. This means they are more likely to be clicked on, which fundamentally means they are more likely to be linked to. This powerful function is often seen with infographics, as their large size causes the strong potential for virality because it captures your attention.
  • “Plant” linkable assets within platforms that allow for continual passive discovery – Sites such as Stumbleupon.com allow users to “stumble” their interests and find great content. This allows viral content, such as infographics, to have a long life as they are shown to random to new users. Zemanta.com pushes bloggers to use links relevant to the post they just wrote on their platform, meaning you can receive passive links back to your site if bloggers deem it quality and relevant to what they write about.
  • Rank number one for high volume keywords relevant to your content. If your linkable asset is useful and gets linked to frequently, it has the opportunity to rank for something, and possibly something potentially valuable that can generate links back to your site.

Scalable Link Building – A Path Towards SEO Domination

Scalable link building takes constant repetition and perfect practice – with the expectation of failure along the way – to truly become an effective (and real) part of your process. It is not easy to achieve, but when you begin seeing the benefits and incremental improvement in the number of links you pump out over time, it will become something that you make an SEO requirement for years to come.

Many SEOs get by generating five links a week and incrementally improving rankings over years in certain verticals. Unfortunately, that does not get the job done everywhere (or even most places), and it’s the path towards a more mediocre career. By generating links into the hundreds or even thousands every month, you push your business and your career towards a much more exciting path.

With enough links generated over time, it’s then a near certainty you can connect to something better.

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  • http://www.domaintools.com Ben Krull

    Great post Ross… It takes finesse and patience to build links this way but it’s a lot more fun than hammering out yet another manual link request. My favorite part is you get to work with other people like Engineering, Marketing/PR, Design, etc. to build something really great. Then it becomes bigger than just getting links.

  • http://www.ascentinternet.com/blog Jason Nelson

    Ross, nice work on this article. I wish you well in your entrepeneurial endeavors. I would love to see more examples of scalable link building, as concepts and ideas are great but would like to see them put into action and more case studies!

    • http://www.rosshudgens.com Ross Hudgens

      Hey Jason – thanks. Before, I had no ability to dive into case studies b/c I was in house, and of course there are issues there with talking about these kinds of things. Hopefully more moving forward I can delve more into stuff I’m actually working on, as I agree – there’s aren’t enough case studies in the space, and I would love to offer my own.

    • http://www.matthewwoodward.co.uk/ Matthew Woodward

      I believe the best way to scale link building effectively is with the correct and proper use of software. There are a lot of powerful applications out there, the only problem is they are too powerful and a lot of people don’t know how to use and apply them their link campaigns effectively.

      I personally go the tiered link building approach which has been working great for sometime, the problem I had with that is at the first it was a very clunky and long drawn out process which took considerable time and resource, but over time (and I guess this is where Ross’s 10,000 hour rule reference comes into play) I have managed to slip stream the entire process making it very easy to step through for any site.

      Passive link acquistion is something I haven’t really focused on as a strategy before but have started to do so by creating video tutorials like this http://www.matthewwoodward.co.uk/tutorials/the-ultimate-guide-to-tiered-link-building-part-1/ to test the waters and see how effective producing quality content can be in terms on generating links and rankings with no external links of my creating influencing things.

  • http://geniusgeeks.com Ricky Shah

    Very informative post. It would be great if you can shed more light on ‘passive link acqusition’ probably with an example (second point)

  • http://newmediasources.ca puya

    wow! an amazing article. Thanks Ross. I like the part “Appeals To A Large Target Market” because I have the same issue sometimes. For example, process heating is one thing I had to battle with in terms of content generation and marketing. It was very difficult but I have it ranked in all parts of Vancouver, Canada.

  • http://www.shellshockuk.com Shelli Walsh

    Hi Ross

    This article confirms yet again that you are one of the best authorities on link building and that I have a long way to go! I am really hoping you can get yourself over to the UK to speak in the next 12 months.

    Good luck with the new venture.

    Shelli

  • http://www.eqtr.com/ Andrew Steel

    Good article Ross. A nice summary and reads like it could be a very good introductory piece to more as Jason suggests.

    Looking forward to seeing more on the blog now that you are able to talk more freely and more regularly.

  • http://www.coffy.com Matt Coffy

    Excellent post, Ross. The ideas you presented hear could really help me boost my strategies. I’ll be sure to refer back here on your post when I do expand my approach (and I will) for linking building. Thanks!

  • http://www.interactivecleveland.com Sean

    Ross – Good post. I agree with your thoughts on passive links. I think too many SEOs (and clients) associate link building with writing tens or hundreds of link requests hoping to get a small percentage of link wins from those efforts. The best links go to great content and have a much great value long term. Good content also generates referring visitors that are more likely to buy products and services. Links built should also be generating leads or sales on their own, not just improving search engine rankings.

  • http://www.buraq-technologies.com/ ambreen11

    This is very great thing you have shared with us. Now I found enough resources by your tips about this issue, Thank you.

  • yesa

    nice article Ross.. you did great!

    Shonto Ranch Inc

  • Madine

    Hi Ross,

    Thanks to you for sharing this informative article of yours.

    Minneapolis Divorce

  • http://www.yepididi.com/ Helena

    Very informative post. It would be great if you can shed more light on ‘passive link acqusition’ probably with an example (second point)

  • orga

    If you stick to a narrow market, you may be able to certainly obtain five to ten links – but the time and cost of developing that asset will almost certainly make a wider, broader focus a better use of your time.

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    • rosshudgens

      Sp

  • Spook SEO

    Hi Ross!

    Absolutely true! Many link builders nowadays make the mistake of developing great linkable assets, but not properly understanding what type of great linkable asset will allow them to multiply the effectiveness of their efforts. I have also noticed that many link builders also make the mistake of creating great linkable asset types, but not using proper essentials to maximize effectiveness when doing outreach.

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