9 Questions to Shape and Future-Proof Your Link Building Strategy

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If you’ve been continually relying on outdated link building practices, maybe due to an “if it ain’t broken” attitude or a legacy practice that’s just always been in place, you may now be forced to reappraise your approach to this crucial aspect of search engine marketing. Google in particular is getting much better at detecting manipulated links.

Search engines want sites to earn their links. That means doing good quality link building in a post-Penguin world.

Some may say that there’s little role for link builders or that link building must evolve to content marketing or inbound marketing. I’d say that’s true if, as an agency or organization, you relied upon manipulated link tactics in the past.

Making a transition to an earned link strategy involves a change in mindset, budget allocation, sometimes organizational structure, and often the hiring of a good quality SEO agency or internal online marketer who can spearhead this transition. It can’t and won’t happen overnight.

For organizations with limited budget and resources, the future may seem uncertain and daunting.

Very few organizations completely lack the ability to create something link worthy (save for the exception of some thin affiliate sites and resellers without their own value proposition). Organizational mind-set change is usually be the biggest obstacle.

Here’s a checklist of questions to help you understand if a potential client is ready to make a change from a previously one-dimensional link building strategy. This checklist would also serve for an organization looking to understand if they are operationally ready to make a future-proof change to their link building strategy.

What is your USP?

What is it about your product that makes you different, better, more interesting and newsworthy than your competitors? Why would your trade media want to report on your product?

A unique selling proposition (USP) is generally quantifiable and measurable.

Being “cheapest” isn’t much of a link worthy proposition.

What is a value proposition? This: “the cheapest online retailer of handmade artisanal Moroccan cooking oils; sourcing products directly from the women’s collective where these oils are produced, giving a fair deal to the craftswomen and a low price to you. Regulated by the Fair Trade Association”.

Who is your company spokesperson?

Is there someone within your company that is a compelling spokesperson, willing and able to positioned for interview or to offer expert commentary on relevant associated topics?

If you subscribe to a service like HARO (Help a Reporter Out), if there’s a journalist request that fits with your organizations’ expertise is there someone on hand that can be pushed forward to pitch for these opportunities?

Is there an in-house or external PR professional involved in your online marketing team?

Link building with strategy and content requires compelling messaging and stories to tell.

If there’s already existing spend and professional expertise on the marketing roster that are tasked with this type of activity (though mid-term goals may differ), then you may find it an easier internal sell to re-position your link building strategy.

If budget is tight, then working with content and messaging produced by the PR team may be your best option.

What is your stance on CSR and do you have any charity or not-for-profit programs or initiatives?

As an organization are there interesting projects that you may participate in for social good, as opposed to brand recognition or other sales and marketing efforts?

What data do you record and retain?

Are there interesting data stories to tell? Perhaps such data be used to produce:

  • Professional, useful reports
  • Best-practice guides
  • Surveys
  • Infographics

How is your budget delineated?

If you’ve been “Penguined”, chances are there has been a specific link building budget allocated to purchasing links or low-quality link building schemes.

Is the business willing and able to reallocate budget or allocate additional budget to a much more future-proof online marketing strategy that will earn links?

Are you prepared to allocate specific budget to activities that can be used for peripheral events (such as blogger evenings, launch parties, journalist trips, competition prizes, product give-aways etc.)

A PR professional understands that an activity designed to generate buzz doesn't guarantee media coverage. Likewise, you need a structured communications plan that may involve a variety of activities to inform potential link partners of your USP, knowing that a link isn't guaranteed.

To be clear, I’m not talking about under-the-table incentives or “media junkets” but activities that are genuinely required to best position your story. If it’s a new product, send a sample for review; if there’s a new seasonal range, invite bloggers to a preview evening.

If you’re uncomfortable with grey areas and what may be seen as “incentive”, experienced PR expert Claire Thompson of Waves PR recommends to be certain to check the guidelines produced by the PRSA (in the States) or PRCA in the UK (and similar local equivalents. Thompson’s pro-tip is to “get to know the individual medium guidelines and often the receptionist is the best person for this.”

Are you involved in any physical events, such as trade shows, conferences, and symposiums?

Are you already an established authority in your space? Do you have a presence at your sectors’ main shows?

Leveraging expert speaking appearances, award-wins and trade show exhibits makes for great content for earning links in your immediate community. Additionally, writers are more inclined to link to indirectly commercial content (unless there’s a particularly newsworthy or topical commercial piece.)

Who is responsible for creating content?

If there’s an existing understanding of the need for constant messaging and brand positioning with regular content produced by say, a PR agency, then making the transition to an earned link strategy may be easier to affect.

The answers we don’t want to hear is along the lines of “well the MD wrote the site content four years ago”, or “we have an intern who writes a blog post once a month”.

If there’s no current content strategy or creative-in-charge, then is this something that the client is willing to allow you free-hand in and do they have the required budget?

Summary

If, as an in-house digital marketer or an SEO agency, you know you need to change a previous link building strategy if it's got your site in trouble in recent times.

Ensuring your organization is operationally ready in terms of budget – and most-importantly mindset – is the most important first-stage check before you can begin to even define and develop and earned-link or content-led link building strategy.

Asking yourself, your business, or your prospective client the questions above will help you understand if you are really ready to make these future-proof changes or is there still re-education work for you to undertake now.

Image Credit: NASA on The Commons/Flickr