When I brainstorm with colleagues about their approach to link building, the most common starting point is to analyze the websites and backlink profiles from their competitors and peers. They’ll start asking questions like:
- Where are my competitor’s backlinks coming from?
- Can we get the same links?
- What strategies did they use to generate their links?
I call this approach, “looking externally” because you’re identifying link opportunities based on another website’s strategy. While this approach is certainly valid and should not be overlooked, I’d like to challenge it as the first place to start a link campaign.
I believe there are often greater opportunities that can be found by looking within the organization. I also believe that these opportunities are almost always overlooked. Why? The easiest answer is forecasting.
It’s difficult to forecast an unknown opportunity than a known opportunity. For example, you can identify 1,000 sites you want to get links from, have an average contact rate of 20 percent and pickup rate of 10 percent = 20 links. This can be put into a process loop and predicted, which is great! However, this can lead to spammy practices, so please be careful! Let’s consider a different approach…
Linking From Within?
Instead of looking at what other websites are doing to build links, identify the potential links that can be generated through existing relationships the company has naturally established from standard day-to-day business practices.
Why is this approach a better starting point? Many reasons, but most important is accessibility. Looking at external factors, again, while effective, can be very difficult and take a ton of time.
For example, if you want to connect with all of the sites that your competition is getting links from, you first need to run the analysis, then identify the sites worth an outreach attempt, find the contact info and finally make contact. Most often, the outreach attempt will fail because the person you’re contacting doesn’t know you from Adam, and gets these requests all the time.
If you look internally first, you can pick off some low-hanging fruit in my opinion, much faster. The most difficult part is finding the low-hanging fruit and hidden opportunities. However, this is more fun and certainly more productive. Let's look at some examples of what I’m talking about, which might help get the ideas flowing for your specific company:
Most likely, your company has a B2B relationship with many other organizations. Examples are value-added resellers (VARs), hardware/software agreements and company vendors. Look for linking opportunities within them. Chances are, many of them are already mentioning your brand name anyway. Ask them for a link.
Example: I had a conversation recently with a national software company that partners with hundreds of localized businesses for a joint special offer. The local business promotes the software at a discounted rate as a value-add to their product. All of these local businesses were mentioning the software, but not linking back to the site. These local businesses all had solid domains and appeared to be receiving sizable traffic volume.
Most companies provide services to their communities: This can be something as simple as working with colleges for company tours, pro bono projects, sponsoring marathons or charitable contributions. You can ask these strategic partners to link back to your domain. Or, at the very least you can create a joint PR initiative that is housed on both sites.
Example: A company I was working had a relationship with a local hospital (.org) where they gave hundreds of their ink cartridges away, and the hospital cashed them in. We asked the hospital to simply provide a link, thanking my company for the help. They were happy to do it.
Why wouldn't you ask these organizations that you're working with to link back to you? Most likely, SEO and link building isn't even in their vocabulary … but it doesn’t matter, because it’s no skin off their back. They'd be happy to do it, and it also makes sense. You have a formal relationship with them and are doing good things in the community: Let Google know about it.
Most of your company employees will have 3+ social media profiles. There’s a good chance they’re also engaged in other online communities. This can include industry specific publications, groups and social platforms. It can be easy to scale links from the profiles across your employee base, starting with those that have the most recognition in your vertical.
Universities are another great place to look for link relationship via your company employees. Alumni relations are always hungry for success stories from the graduates. Reach out to the colleges and universities that your management team attended and graduated from. This can also be scaled across your employees that have been successful in their given careers.
If you’re working for a company that has over a couple hundred employees, chances are there's a ton of marketing going on that you're not part of. This can include events, product marketing, partnerships etc. Chances are, there's little link building nuggets in all of them.
Where to Start?
The best place to start is just talking with colleagues. My go-to contacts and the first place to start are usually Product Managers. Then I’ll look for employees that have been with the organization for a long time, or the most connected.
If you’re an internal digital marketing person, simply take these folks out to lunch. If you’re an agency, set-up a meeting with them through your contact and have them facilitate some introductions. Taking them out to lunch is still a great option!
You can also do some simple branded searches online, and chances are you’ll come across something (brand name -site:brandname.com) .
The most difficult thing about looking for existing real-world link opportunities is to simply find out what your company is doing. But I think the process of doing so is more productive than boring link outreach. You’ll get to know your company or clients in much more detail and meet some cool people along the way.