Search engines use links in two important ways: (1) to discover new web pages and (2) to determine how well a link should rank. Links act as the way that search engines crawl the Internet. Without link building, your website could be invisible to search engines.

Some link building is organic. Quality content is likely to be shared on other websites. As a result, your site has earned an organic link. The best way to gain organic links is to create content others want to share. Consider the following forms of content to increase the likelihood of shares:

  • Video
  • Infographic
  • Data Visualization
  • Whitepaper
  • How-to Guide
  • Image Gallery

Once you’ve ensured that your content is solid, you can look to other link building tactics:

  • Outreach
  • Guest Blogging
  • Ego Bait
  • Broken Link Building
  • Link Reclamation

Part 1 will focus on outreach alone, because proper outreach will be necessary to apply to the other four link building tactics.

Launch a Link Building Outreach Campaign

One way to link build is to actively search for and reach out to websites that can link to yours.

Step 1: Decide on the links you want to use.

Identify your assets.

What is your strength? Is it the content on your webpage? The products/services? Are you comfortable sharing these assets with a potential influencer? If not, re-evaluate your website before moving forward.

Identify the types of links you need to build.

Include links to the homepage, deep pages (products/categories), links containing the brand name, and links containing the keywords you’re targeting.

Step 2: Find link targets.

Identify your target audience.

Who will be interested in your content? A cupcake bakery with a cupcake guide acts as the perfect example. Food bloggers and recipe websites are obvious options, but you can narrow it further. A general food blogger would be a good target, but a blog that focuses on baked goods is even better. A blog on cupcakes? The best!

You can also expand your search to non-food blogs that still may have an interest in the product. Parenting or party websites may not seem obvious, but they both may benefit from sharing your guide. A parenting blog may see recipes as a fun activity with kids. Cupcakes make the perfect snack at a party, so a cupcake recipe may work really well on a party website.

Identify link target.
  • Google: Google may be a good place to start. Look for blogger lists (“top food bloggers,” “list of food bloggers”).
  • Advanced search: Advanced search queries allow us to zero in on more specific results. As an example, using “inurl:resources” in the same search as “cupcake blogger” allows you to find cupcake blogs with resource pages. Your cupcake guide could act as the perfect addition to their resources page. These make for good, easy targets.
  • Twitter: Followerwonk lets you search Twitter bios. You enter a keyword to search, and can even narrow the search to number of followers and locations.
Gather link target information.

Keep track of any potential targets in an Excel spreadsheet. Include the website and any contact names and emails. You can you usually locate a contact’s email address in the header or footer of the page. Many sites also have a ‘Contact’ page with contact information.

Prioritize link targets.

When you’ve gathered a sizable list, you’ll need to decide which websites to contact first. There are several ways to prioritize contacts on the list.

  • Domain metrics: PageRank and Domain Authority will tell you how strong the domain is. The stronger the domain, the higher the quality of a link from that site, which means greater impact on search engine results.
  • Blogger influence: How many followers does the blogger have? You can also use Followerwonk to find the blogs with the best influence scores on Twitter.
  • Likelihood of linking: Ask 3 questions. (1) Have they shared external content before? If no, they’re not very likely to link to you. (2) How relevant are they? A cupcake blogger is more relevant than a general food blog. (3) Are they active? Have they posted recently (within one month)?

Step 3: Outreach

Remember, you’re contacting a real person. Write accordingly.

Focus your message.

3 questions to ask when deciding your message:

  • Why should they care about you?

Going back to step 1 when you identified your assets, you need to give the target a reason to use one of your links.

  • What action would you like them to take?

Clear calls-to-action make it more likely that the receiver will follow-through. Unfocused messages without a clear objective are less likely to result in action. Some potential CTA’s include: (1) sharing your content on their social networks, (2) embedding your content (infographic, videos, widgets, etc.), (3) accepting a guest post from you (where you can link back to your own blog), and (4) requesting the blogger write an opinion piece on your content.

  • Do you appear genuine (i.e. not spam)?

Some tactics to appear genuine/not spammy include: (1) use their name, (2) create a good subject line, (3) mention something specific about their work, (4) use a proper email signature, (5) use a genuine email address, and (6) use your location (if relevant).

Step 4: Follow-Up

There’s a variety of reasons why someone may not have read or replied to your first email. Accordingly, follow-up is just as important as the initial email. Use an Excel sheet to keep track of who replied and who didn’t; who is linking and who is not. This will help you determine who to follow-up with and how.

Step 5: Responding to Negative Replies

Always respond to negative replies. There’s two major reasons for this: (1) responding allows you to continue the relationship (and potentially get links later on) and (2) you can ask for feedback, which will help you improve both your content and your outreach approach.

The 5 Steps of Outreach

So there you have it, the five steps of outreach:

  1. Pick your links.
    2. Find link targets.
    3. Craft a message.
    4. Follow-up.
    5. Respond to negative replies.

These outreach practices can be applied to general links, as well as the outreach required for guest blogs, ego bait, broken link building, and link reclamation. These last four listed tactics are covered in Link Building Part 2.