Earlier this month, we launched our annual State of Link Building Survey, which aims to give the SEO industry insights into the way link building is currently being done, how it’s measured and perceived, and the future of link building.
This year, we asked a bunch of additional questions related to the content-led link building process, one of which asked respondents to tell us which steps of the process they found most challenging. Here are the results:
Today, we’re going to talk through each step of this process and look at ways to make them less challenging, thus leading to more successful results.
I wasn’t too surprised to see this picked as the most challenging part of the process. After all, the crucial part of succeeding isn’t in your control. You’re asking someone else to do something for you, and all of the work up until this point will be for nothing if they just don’t want to do it. Not to mention that bloggers and journalists can often get hundreds of emails a day, meaning that standing out can be difficult, even if you have a solid campaign idea. As Stacey MacNaught, one of the contributors to our report, says:
“Naturally, as more and more people turn to content marketing and digital PR tactics, the space gets more crowded. Journalists are getting HUNDREDS of emails a day. So even if what you have is brilliant, there’s always going to be that element of things that’s out of your control.”
There’s another crucial element in the process here that is rarely, if ever, talked about: luck. As Stacey goes on to say:
“What if your email just lands in that important inbox just as they’re getting a response to something really important? What if it lands on a day they just happen to be out of office? What happens if they login and there’s 400 unreads in the inbox and yours just gets scanned over? Yes, you can have tactics and strategies in place to chase up, or optimize timing. But let’s not fool ourselves into believing that there isn’t an element of this that’s luck even after you’ve produced something wonderful.”
One scenario I often think about is the fact that many of us will check email on our phone whilst on the move, or even when taking a break from our desktop and making a coffee. What if a journalist reads your email, likes it, but by the time they get back to their desk, something else has grabbed their attention?
The thing is, as we’ll discuss a bit more later, that the seeds of success at this point in the process are sewn long before you send that message to the person who you’d like to link to your campaign.
With all of that said, how can we improve our chances of getting links at this point in the process, and overcome this challenge?
Don’t treat outreach as a numbers game
It’s 2021 and we’re long past the point of link building being a numbers game. I’m not just talking about outreach here, I’m talking about the effectiveness of links themselves on your organic search rankings. Long gone are the days when raw numbers of links were the key driver, at least over the long-term. You’ll still see some websites ranking off the back of high volumes of low quality links, but it’s not something that a legitimate brand should build their search traffic on.
“This right here is the reason why trying to scale content-led link building campaigns is a waste of time. I’ve read people saying what we do is a numbers game but it’s not.”
Gisele mentions an important word — scale. Once you scale anything, quality can start to suffer, and this is the same across many processes. Of course, some quality can be maintained, but when it comes to link building, scale often means a number of things:
Emailing as many link prospects as possible
Using email templates with minimal personalization
None of these are a great way to represent a brand online, let alone be effective at link building.
Gisele went on to talk about the importance of putting time into content instead of worrying about scaling outreach:
“No matter how many emails you send or how many sites you add to your target list, if your content is not link-worthy then you will struggle getting links. Grab all the time and effort you’re dedicating to scaling link building and put it into the content you’re producing.”
So, the question becomes, how can you be more effective at outreach? Let’s look at a few ways.
Focus on key relationships in your sector
Much has been said about the convergence of SEO and PR over the years, and I don’t want to focus too much on that today. But one thing that PR professionals are good at is building relationships, and I think that’s something that has often translated well into the SEO world.
You don’t need to have a campaign in your hand in order to start building relationships, either. You can start any time with a simple email, and many journalists or bloggers will welcome an authentic message from you where you might be starting a conversation about their work or views on a specific topic. Our team at Aira has done this many times over the years, and real friendships have developed as a result.
Look at your sector and ask yourself how you can engage with key people — without asking for anything in return. You’ll be surprised at how receptive those people are.
The key point to remember here is that you’re putting time and effort into this up front, knowing that you’ll see the rewards later. When the time comes to share a campaign that could be genuinely useful to your contact, they’re going to be far more likely to open and read your email. Even if the campaign isn’t for them, you’re likely to be told that, and have the chance to get feedback rather than having your email completely ignored without knowing why.
Find the right person to contact
When link prospecting, it’s very easy to go to a domain and make a note of the first name and email address that you find, and then continue on. This is fine for small blogs and publications, but you should take time to do more research for the medium to larger ones.
Bigger publications, especially top-tier newspapers and magazines, will have whole teams of people who cover different topics. Even specific topics can often have several people working on them — check out the travel section of any large newspaper and you’ll quickly see just how many writers there are.
It’s worth taking a bit of extra time to find out if there is more than one person who you could contact, and if so, making a note of all of them at the same time. You can then dig into each one a bit more to see who may be the most appropriate person to contact.
Keep an eye out for a few things in your research:
How often they publish content: do they seem to be a regular writer or more like a guest writer?
Are they on Twitter and if so, are they active? If they are, this may open up a way to engage with them and learn more about what they like writing about.
What specific topics do they write about? Don’t write down “travel”, write down the specific niche within travel.
Look at the headlines they use: are there any patterns in them, or anything you can learn about their reporting style?
Yes, this takes time. But it’s worth it because when you need to do outreach, you’re more likely to contact the right person and increase your chances of getting a reply and a link.
If you still find that your outreach is failing and you need to fix it quickly, check out this process and framework from Shannon McGuirk in her Whiteboard Friday.
2. Coming up with ideas for campaigns
Second in our list of challenges with 23% of respondents was coming up with ideas for their content campaigns. I fully understand why this is a challenge for many people, because knowing if an idea is good or bad can be very subjective. Not to mention, there’s a huge difference between a good idea and a good idea that will get links.
You may well come up with a solid idea for a piece of content that sits on your website and may get traffic, but it may not quite provoke someone to link to it over and over again. It’s important to understand this difference when coming up with ideas.
So, how can you overcome this challenge and come up with ideas that will work?
Develop a process and methodology
Not everyone will describe themselves as a creative person and unfortunately, those who describe themselves as not being creative will assume that they aren’t going to be very good at coming up with content ideas. Even if you’re at the opposite end of the spectrum here and believe that you are creative and can come up with ideas, having a solid process that guides you is a great way to ensure some consistency and save time.
Coming up with link-worthy content ideas can be hard, doing it over and over again is even harder — a process and methodology will help with this because it can be used repeatedly and across different sectors.
There are multiple processes that you can use here and there is not a single right answer, so here I just want to share a few that we use at Aira which may be helpful to you and point you in the right direction.
Content strategy framework
Our content strategy framework is designed to provoke ideas that are tied into the themes and topics that are most important to the brand that you’re working with. It also helps you understand which content formats are available to you and what the associated KPIs should be.
The last point is important because whilst links may be the focus, a great content campaign will add much more value and this should be acknowledged. For example, a campaign may also help you drive referral traffic to your website which could have value.
On the flip side, this framework also helps you demonstrate that some content campaigns will not lead directly to leads or customers — something that can be a common misunderstanding with some stakeholders. Using this framework lets you be explicit on what the primary KPIs for the campaign are, and when driving direct customers or revenue isn’t one of them.
Here is the framework itself, along with pointers for what each line means: