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Link Building: Get Relevant or Die Trying

lyons-ken
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A former member of Matt Cutts' search quality team was recently quoted as saying:

"…getting a link from a high PR page used to always be valuable, today it's more the relevance of the site's theme in regards to yours, relevance is the new PR."

hello-my-name-is-irrelevantNow, the importance of on-topic links and contextual relevancy is really nothing new. But it's statements like "relevance is the new PR" (emphasis on "new"), aggressive Penguin refreshes and updates, the evolution of SERP behavior, and the devaluation of keyword anchor links that make it clear Google has and likely will continue to dial up the importance of domain and document-level link relevancy.

But why dial up relevancy? Theoretically, link relevancy helps to:

  • Determine trust.
  • Decipher the topic or context of a target document.
  • Deliver relevant information in the right context (i.e., relevant query results).
  • Sort out link spam.

So as Google places more value on link relevancy, so should you.

Trouble is, most link profiles are littered with irrelevant links. Sure, the link anchor text may be relevant, but all the links are from off-topic domains (faking relevancy).

Links from irrelevant domains aren't bad, per se. Irrelevant links still pass trust and authority, and having irrelevant links is part of a natural, diverse linking pattern.

However, if all or the vast majority of your links are from topically irrelevant domains, that's a problem.

So when it comes to link building now, it's paramount to prioritize domain relevancy the same way you would domain trust and authority, and strive to build "on-topic" links as a core focus of your creative link building efforts.

With that, here are a range of tactics and linkable assets you can leverage to build relevant links.

Authoritative Guides

Publishing authoritative guides isn't a new link-based content marketing tactic by any means. But it's a very effective way to build relevant links.

The key is to create quality guides that are not only information-rich and expert level, but topically aligned with your niche and the general theme of your site. That way, you can reach out to a relevant linking audience, particularly one that has proven to link to similar resources. Investing in design to make your guide remarkable, definitely helps gain traction as well.

Given the oversaturation in with cold email outreach, one way to increase your chance of getting links with authoritative guides – particularly links that are highly relevant – is to cite a variety of resources and reach out to those sites and authors to let them know you value their insights and you've cited them in your guide. Call it ego stroking, but by adding this component, you might be able to double link outreach and social sharing success rates.

Point being, if you want to get traction with a relevant linking audience, you need to give them a reason to link. And, as often is the case, just creating a piece of great content isn't enough of an incentive. So think of creative ways to up the engagement ante.

Tightly-Themed Infographics

By and large, infographics as a scalable link tactic have been waning in efficacy. And, frankly, that's true of most outreach-based link building tactics. Folks are weary and leery of cold outreach for content "your audience will find useful."

However, that doesn't mean these tactics are dead. It just means they're harder, which to me is a good thing. It raises the barrier to entry and means links acquired are theoretically more valuable and more defensible. So where in the past, you might need tens or hundreds of links to be competitive, now you can really move the needle in your vertical with a handful of quality, relevant links.

Returning to infographics, the key to acquiring valuable on-topic links is to target very concentrated, industry-related topics and your linking audience, rather than casting a wide net with a broad concept. Again, you're goal is link relevancy, not link volume, so you want to be narrowly focused with topic selection.

Targeting really granular, industry specific trends, pain points and themes is an effective approach here. And I highly recommend identifying your linking audience ahead of time and engaging in some pre-outreach to gauge interest level, sentiment and/or receptiveness for your concept.

Another approach is to include data or research from relevant organizations in your infographic and shoot them a note about citing their work when the graphic goes live. You can also try co-branding an infographic with an authoritative, relevant site to get them to link to it as well.

Industry Spotlights

Who are the thought leaders, influencers, experts, or even the prominent websites or leading publications in your niche? Find out and write a feature article about them on your blog. These spotlights have a high success rate since there's built in promotion and engagement with the subject of your spotlight and their audience.

These types of linkable assets are often added to the subject's about page or list of accomplishments on their site. And many times they'll drop a note about it on their blog: "I was recently featured on this website."

You can also leverage this tactic to net .edu links. Spotlight a researcher or faculty member at a university for something notable they've done. They'll often link to it from their personal faculty page, which contain lists of other relevant links, with potential co-citation benefits as well.

Remember, this is about relevancy. Be sure to stay on-topic with your targeting.

Group Interviews

Publishing group interviews is akin to the spotlight feature (ego bait asset), but on a much grander scale. Rather than featuring a single expert or thought leader, you want to feature dozens, like here and here.

Group interviews are one of my favorite content assets because:

  • They're a scalable tactic (without being risky).
  • They build relationships in your niche.
  • They're comprised entirely of user-generated content.
  • They're highly authoritative documents full of expert information.
  • They're long and extensive and can rank for a range of related topics.
  • They generate passive traffic and top of the funnel leads.

And for the purposes of this article, group interviews help generate links that are highly relevant (primarily from the participants) to your own site, are effective tools for outreach to resource-type lists, and often generate passive links since they get cited as expert-level documents.

When it comes to compiling your panel of participants, I'm in the "more the merrier" camp, since the goal is to enable as much built in promotion as possible.

Industry Awards

Creating an awards campaign is another highly effective method for netting relevant links. It's a lot of work, but like any good linking campaign the input matches the output. Besides, hard work is a great barrier to entry.

Why do awards work so well? Because you're giving people a reason to care and share. Everyone wants to be appreciated and celebrated for their efforts.

The link relevancy component with an awards campaign comes by targeting your industry. So any links you acquire are largely on-topic because the award vertical is aligned with your industry and often gets picked up by industry pubs and news outlets, and the winners and nominees promote and link to it.

In order to be successful, make them content-rich (don't publish thin award pages, add lots of original content), invest in design to establish trust and credibility for your awards, and do targeted outreach. Include a voting component as well to raise engagement and participation levels as well.

Award campaigns give you two large-scale promotion opportunities: the award nomination phase and when you announce the winners. And for both, create a hyperlink embedded awards badge so nominees, runners-up and winners can promote their accomplishment on their sites.

Guest Posts on Industry Pubs

Most guest post links are from totally unrelated, off-topic sites. SEO professionals and link builders largely take the path of least resistance here, but they aren't entirely to blame. Clients can be just as culpable because the often have tight budgets, lofty link expectations and they're focused on KPIs like:

  • Link volume: "How many links did you build this month?"
  • "Perceived" quality measurements: "How many links did you build that were PR 3 or higher?"

They rarely consider the importance of relevance.

The way to get quality, relevant guest posting opportunities is to target authoritative journals and publications in your industry that require expert level contribution.

Now, most organizations have experts in-house (and there are a range of ways you can leverage experts). Trouble is, most experts can't write. Then hire a professional freelance writer to work with them to flesh out concepts and write the article and your expert can inject their expertise.

These types of "guest post" links are, in my opinion, more valuable, more sustainable and mush less risky than links from the "write for us" sites. What's more they van be highly relevant and defensible, since it's not easy to land expert writing gigs.

Buying Links

Gasp! Really? Buying links? Yep.

Now, I'm sure I'll get some blowback for this, but I mention it as more of a possibility. Buying links definitely isn't a practice we use for any client sites or sites we run due to the risk/reward factors, but I have nothing against buying links. Point being, even with all Google's efforts to thwart link spam and manipulative link practices, paid links are still prevalent and still work.

With link purchases, you need to manage risk and be smart. I wouldn't recommend using link networks or link brokers. Sure they're easier to scale and require less work, but that' precisely why not to use them. These networks are too easy to spot, leave obvious footprints, and are easy to infiltrate and nuke.

If you did go this route, you should be cautious with outreach and use a "safe" email address, one that can't be tied to your primary site, and inquire about advertising on a site instead of saying "can I buy a link?" Steer clear of site-wide links or sidebar links or footer links.

And above all, stay relevant. Even if you're buying links, you can mitigate risk by netting placement on a relevant site and/or on a relevant document. Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying relevancy is foolproof because you're still playing with fire, but it should reduce risk.

Even More Relevant Link Tactics:

  • In-Depth Reviews: Look at the noteworthy products or services in your industry or even tangentially related industries, and publish an in-depth, well-researched sincere and honest review of that product or service. Reach out and let them know about the review.
  • Free Tools: Who doesn't love a free tool? Creating free tools to solve pain points or streamline processes for your industry is a really amazing way to build relevant links in your niche. Free tool resource lists are prime targets for link outreach.
  • Curated Content: Mammoth resource lists, extensive "best blogs in a niche" articles and weekly round ups are each examples of curated content you can publish and leverage engagement triggers to gain relevant links. The key is to include influencers and to let them know "Hey, bro. I love your content!"
  • Broken Link Building: Now, the broken link building space may be getting crowded, but you can still unearth some high-authority, relevant link opportunities. The best tool to automate the broken link discovery process is the Broken Link Finder. Definitely test and refine your outreach approach here. And if you do find highly relevant targets but don't have content that's the right "fit," then create it.
  • Niche Microsites: Building a separate microsite that is dedicated to a specific topic or niche is an effective tactic. Iinvesting in design is critical to building trust and credibility as well, which undoubtedly improves sharing and linking success rates. Don't just slap your awesome content on a free WordPress theme and expect results. SEOs may hate designers but design is fundamental to looking legit and hooking your linking audience.

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