Creating a Link Building System

Last week, I moderated the Beyond Linkbait: Getting Authoritative Online Mentions panel at Search Engine Strategies New York. The panel was filled with great information from Chris Boggs, Sally Falkow, and Lee Odden.

Everyone has those "a-ha!" moments at these events. For me, that moment was when I asked the audience who was implementing link building campaigns. Less than 50 percent of the people in the audience raised their hands.

During another sessions last week at SES, I heard that there are about 15 million small businesses in the U.S. Of those, 1 million are online. I can't give you the source of those numbers, but it sounds reasonable to me. Of those 1 million, I'd suspect that the majority of those are only online at the most basic level.

We, as industry insiders, often lose the pulse of the real world. I'm sure that happens in all kinds of industries, but that reality is extreme in our industry. Sometimes, we all need to take a step back and look at things from a new perspective, and realize that the majority of marketers are not immersed in search marketing as we are.

With all I learned at SES still fresh in my mind, I put together a guide to starting a systematic, disciplined link building campaign. For those of you who've already started a link campaign, maybe you'll find some tips to help you systematize your process. For those who haven't started yet, print out the steps below and tape them up near your computer:

1. Make a Spreadsheet

Create six columns with the headings: Site Submitted To, What Page On Your Site You Submitted, Date Submitted, Date Link Accepted, Page Where Link Lives, Notes.

In the notes section, keep track of how many times you submitted and any response you received from the site. You can use this spreadsheet for all sorts of links: directories, press releases, blogs -- any place you asked someone for a link.

2. Use Yahoo Site Explorer

This is a great tool to keep an eye on your competitors. This tool will show you how many pages and how many links any Web site has. Use this tool to get inspiration of where to find links. If a competitor has a link, maybe you can get it, too.

3. Have Something to Say

This point seems the most daunting, but I assure you there's something going on that you can talk about. Is there a new service or product you just launched? Did you just hire someone? Did you or someone in your organization donate or volunteer in your community? Just write about what's going on with you and your company.

4. Submit to the Major Directories

Spend time reviewing the requirements of sites such as Yahoo, DMOZ, Business.com, and Best of the Web. Submit exactly as they suggest.

5. Develop a List of Industry Web Sites

Compile a list of blogs, information sites, and news sites that write about your industry (also, consider making this another tab in your link building spreadsheet). Use this ever-growing list of sites and contacts to submit news and information to. Be personal and on-topic when you submit your news. Remember: you're talking to real people.

6. Create a Schedule

Commit to writing a news piece in regular intervals -- once a week, twice a month, once a month. Stick with it. Submit your piece to the list of contacts you're creating. They won't come to you. You have to go to them.

7. Think Web 2.0

Consider making the news piece in print, audio, and video. Remember Burger King: "Have it your way."

If you want to do well on the search engines, having a disciplined link building system is extremely important. You can't do well in the natural search engines without links. If you make this part of your ongoing marketing strategy, I guarantee you'll make a big splash in the online world.

About the author

Sage Lewis started his online marketing company, SageRock.com, in 1999 during a time when most Internet companies were failing. SageRock, however, has thrived under Lewis’ direction -- growing an average of 30% every year, while also being recognized as one of the top ten search engine optimization firms in the U.S. by a third-party resource in the industry, Marketing Sherpa.

Regarded as a web marketing expert, Lewis speaks regularly to business organizations like NEOSA and COSE, serves as a resource for press about industry trends, and teaches a recurring class on search engine optimization at Cleveland State University.

Lewis has created a unique company culture that values the individual employee and client, and he has built SageRock around one principle, “The concern, respect and empathy for the individual people we come in contact with at SageRock is our single core value.”

Lewis lives in Akron with his wife, Rocky, and son, Indiana.

Read more of Sage Lewis's columns at ClickZ.