Have more time than money, but want to beef up a backlink profile? It can be done. Link building, even if it's on a small budget, will help your site become far more resistant over time to algorithm changes and diversify your traffic sources to increase rankings and traffic.
Before we jump in, it's important to note that every campaign, niche, and website is different (not to mention the skills and capabilities of the person doing the work). The following four strategies tend to work globally. You'll obviously need to adjust your strategy to your core strengths and adjust to what's working best.
Before people get up in arms about directories let's be clear: I'm not referring to submitting your site to 200 directories (but it's only $19.99 right?). What I'm referring to is making sure you are included in a handful of quality, general directories and finding the key niche directories and getting included in those.
See "Major Search Engines and Directories" for a shortlist of general directories I tend to like. Only DMOZ is free in this list however but I promise, this is the only section of link building that will require any budget at all (which is why the title includes "on a budget" and not "free").
You'll want to build a complete list of all the directories you're considering, look at the budget you have available and allocate that by maximum benefit to you. If you pay-as-you go you'll have to stop when the budget does and may miss out on some great opportunities.
Finding Niche Directories
How do you find the best niche directories? There are a couple of quick-and-easy techniques I like to use. It will be helpful if you've installed SEOQuake.
Using the example of a real estate agent, here's how to find some decent directories:
- Search "real estate agents" on Google.
- Change your search settings to display 100 results (you can also simply add "&num=100" after the query in your address bar and, provided that you've turned off Instant predictions, you'll get 100 results).
- Use your browser "Find" function and search for the word "directory". This will take you one-by-one through all the directories that made it into Google's top 100 ordered by rank.
- If you'd like to re-order them by PageRank (or links, or indexed pages, etc.) you can simply click the question mark in the SEO Quake bar next to the metric you want, wait until the data is loaded, and reorder using the arrows.
- You'll want to visit each site and record the URL and any important points (cost, for example). Only add sites you'd want to be listed on. This isn't just about PageRank and links for search, look at the site and decide if it's actually a resource that real people would use, or just another abandoned directory, and only add those that you feel genuinely good about being associated with.
- Once that's done you can change the query to get different results. I like to start with fairly generic terms and look for directories that rank for them but at time may have to fall back on queries like "real estate directory".
- Once you've compiled your full list, look at your budget and allocate that for the best bang-for-your-buck. My general criteria when I have more possibilities than funds is to determine which stands the highest likelihood of driving real traffic (perhaps based on rankings for the generic terms) and prioritize those. The end goal of all this is traffic, so if you can get that directly, that's a win across the board and how can Google not approve of a link that is so relevant that it sends visitors.
Now you've got your directories in place but as I always say about links, "Diversity is security." So let's look at some additional methods for link building.
From this point forward we'll try to keep it free, but I should note, you may stumble on paid opportunities in the process (I don't mean paid links here, I mean opportunities that may require fees for processing, review or consideration). But we'll get to that shortly.
Getting your company included in top lists can be great for both link building and reputation/authority. There are three benefits to getting included on a list, but we'll get to those after covering the "how to find them".
Fortunately, most lists are easy to find and it becomes increasingly simply if they are annually or monthly produced. The perk to regularly updated lists is that you don't have to go begging to be included in one the writer may have written long ago and since forgotten about.
I'm not going to get into the methods involved in requesting being added to a pre-existing list save to say, it's an uphill battle and you need to make a case for yourself or look for something you can offer, even if it's just a note that some of the links are broken (a great opening).
Here's a simply way to find regularly produced lists:
- Search "real estate agents" adding words like "top", "best" and "list". This will give you an array of lists that may be either dated or one-offs. If you add the word "apply" to the query (or "submit", etc.) you will have a far higher likelihood of finding lists for which you can submit your company for inclusion. You'll want to play with the wording and with quotes. For example, I quickly had success with the following (quotes included with query): "best real estate agents" apply
- As with directories, some may require a payment to cover the time to review your application (this is what I was talking about above ñ there *may* be additional fees you can incur but many opportunities are free in this category). The #1 result for example has a $40 review fee, and may or may not be included. The winning sites are listed on The Wall Street Journal so provided that you feel confident that your site is up to par, it would be worth the review fee. You will want to look at previous winners to see how your company stacks up.
- Also similar to directories, you'll want to build a complete list of all the sites you can apply for inclusion with. If some require application fees you'll again want to get a thorough list of all of them to make your decision regarding where to put any budget you may have to spend, remembering that they are not guaranteed ñ the fees are simply for a review.
In some cases it won't be a matter of being able to apply. Often people simply generate lists based on what they read or reference (a top blog list for example). In this case the only route to go is to engage the publisher in advance. That means following them on social media, commenting on their blog posts (when applicable) and generally being a good visitor/contributor.
To raise awareness of your resource (now that you're working on authority in the communications) you may want to blog or write content addressing areas they are interested in and writing about. Including a brief email or comment such as:
"I read your article on xyz. A great piece and I loved your point about abc (always good to give an example to show you actually are reading and engaged). I noticed that you didn't mention (insert an area that didn't get covered) and was inspired to write about it on our blog and referenced you're article as recommended reading as it makes mine complete. I posted it at (insert URL). I'd love your feedback if you have time."
Essentially you want to raise awareness of your resources and authority. Provide this consistently and you'll stand a much better chance of making the list. Best of all, it costs time not money.
3. Ego Baiting
Speaking of lists, making Inc's Top 10 Influential Business Books of All Time is a favorite of mine, Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People". If you haven't read it, it's a good and an easy read with some great advice, but that's not the purpose of me mentioning it. In the book he points out that business is essentially about making people like you and this carries over into link building.
Here are the six ways he lists to make people like you:
- Become genuinely interested in other people
- Remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language
- Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves
- Talk in terms of the other person's interests
- Make the other person feel important - and do it sincerely
Specifically worthwhile of note in this section on ego baiting are points 3, 4, 5 and especially 6.
The best part of ego baiting is that it works even when the person knows what you're doing. I get requests for interviews or guest blog posts and I know that the company simply wants me to push that interview out socially or mention it in our blog. Do I do it? Yes. Why? Because I'm a rather big fan of Me and I can guarantee you're a fan of You and the people you engage... they like themselves too.
Of all the methods, this one is probably the easiest. The steps are:
- Find key influencers in your sector who could add helpful content to your site
- Engage with them socially or via email and invite them to either write some helpful content on an area of interest to your visitors that you don't' cover yourself (an interview or guest blog post works in a pinch and are easy to convince people to do)
- Publish said content on your site
- Ask them to push it out socially (as will you) or write a piece about it on their blog or simply reference it from a different post they've written (for example, if you've asked for an elaboration on a point they have previously discussed)
The best part of ego baiting is that the worst case scenario is that you don't get links or direct traffic but that you've added great content to your site with generally less work that it would take to write it yourself. But it's rare for that to be the only benefit.
As an aside, if they are well-known in the industry you'll want to be sure to use the rel="author" tag and invite them to add your site to their Contributor list. Now their picture will show up (hopefully) and improve clickthroughs as well as associating your site with quality authors. Some will argue the benefits of this but in the end, it's not going to hurt so why not?
4. Create Good Content
It's a crazy notion but one of the best link building strategies is to create quality content that people want to link to.
What we need to be aware of is that people aren't going to link to your homepage as reliably as they will to content they find helpful or that they feel will be helpful to their readers. The key then is determining what type of content to write.
While the content type varies widely from industry to industry, there are a couple key universal factors that have to be dealt with. So let's look at what they are so you can head out and start creating it:
Good Content Answers a Question
Great link bait content answers a need for information. Am I prone to link to an article in our blog that simply promotes a service? Sometimes, but not often.
The most linked-to content helps users find information. So answer the question in your industry.
You can either use your favorite keyword tools to find phrases that include words like "how to" or "what does" or draw from your client emails or questions posed in social media (not including the litany of "Want to get 70 genuine Facebook Likes free?" you likely see).
If you're answering questions well, people will use it as a reference point as it's easier to link to something than explain it.
Target Non-Competitive Information
In this instance I'm not referring to targeting phrases that are high competition (though you may want to take that into account as well). What I'm referring to creating content that, if shared, will not give the person shared with access to information that the sharer would rather they didn't know.
For example, if I stumbled on a little known blog post that gave insight into an area of SEO that few knew would I share it? Likely the answer is "no" not because I'm a jerk but because I wouldn't be serving my client or myself well by enabling other SEOs to have access to something that may give me a competitive advantage. Would I share a piece that I believe properly explained the latest Google algorithm update? In this case, yes. It would save me time explaining it to people who ask and is information that my competition likely has already.
As link bait, we need to keep things to easily shareable content that doesn't make a person question whether they want others to have access to that information.
With this in mind you'll want to look at the sites that already provide answers to these questions and make sure you answer them better or in a more appealing format. Once done, you will simply push it out via social media, optimize it for question-based phrases and, if applicable, reference it in locations where a discussion about the topic is being done.
There's nothing wrong with answering a question and including a link to a well-written and on-point document provided that it adds genuine value to the conversation. A few well written sentences answering a question with a link to your detailed content adds value for the visitor and to the website itself.
Now Get Going...
And now it's time to get going. If all of these methods don't apply, take from them what you feel will help you in other areas. They key is to keep flexible, keep adding value, and keep authorities engaged.
If one strategy isn't working, think about why and if you can't adjust it, move on. You want to make sure you're constantly looking at 3 or 4 link strategies as (again) Diversity Is Security.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!