Link building is dead!!!
You know the drill by now. The sky is always falling, but solid SEO tactics never die. Link building is more alive than ever, but as always, our strategies are evolving. Let’s talk about 4 techniques that still work today, think about the direction they’ll be moving in 2018, and dive deep on how to make them work for you today.
Oh, and keep your eyes on number 4. I expect it to get bigger soon.
1. The “Skyscraper Technique”
Brian Dean did not invent the “skyscraper technique” but he did coin the term, it’s a good one, and it’s a strategy that I don’t anticipate to stop working anytime soon, although I do have some thoughts about how to approach it in 2018.
The process breaks down like this:
1. Find a proven link asset
2. Make a better one
3. Reach out to influencers
This simple breakdown hides a lot of complexity and strategy, though, so let me break that down further, and share a few of my own insights on the process.
Finding a proven link asset:
Let me start by saying what a proven link asset is not:
- It’s not clickbait
- It’s not a product page or a landing page
- It’s not something that has a lot of links from low authority, low trust sites
- It’s not something that is popular just because it’s associated with a big personality
- It’s not something that will forever be tied to the past
A proven link asset:
- Is a great resource that is insanely useful for users
- That has high quality links from trusted influencers
- Who are willing to link to any incredibly useful resource
- That ranks at the top of the search results
- For keywords that are relevant to your business
To find a proven link asset, start with your core keywords. Take them to your favorite keyword tool and start looking at the suggestions. Look at the most competitive terms and scope out the search results. Take a look at your competition here.
Scope out the inbound links. Are they from trusted influencers? Are they the kinds of influencers you can reach out and talk to?
If so, go through the resource itself. Can you put together something even better? You’ll need to, or what you’re doing isn’t the skyscraper technique. (If you haven’t caught on, it’s called that because building the new best piece of content is a bit like building the new tallest skyscraper. There can be only one.)
If so, you’ve found a candidate for your next link asset.
Rather than investing in the first promising asset you come across, I’d recommend repeating the process several times until you have a healthy list to choose from. This not only ensures that you choose the most promising option first, but also ensures that you’ll have more assets to work on later. And I do highly recommend doing it again, because it’s a very powerful link building technique.
Make a better one:
What makes your link asset better? That’s a difficult question to answer, and one that you will, in large part, need to answer for yourself. The crucial takeaway, though, is this: the new asset does everything the old asset does, plus something more.
I want to stress that this doesn’t mean you’re merely copying what’s already been done and then adding a bit more text. No! That is not what it is.
What I mean is that the new asset should solve the very same problems that the old one did, but that it should also give the reader a little something extra. Now is a good time to reiterate that what we’re providing “extra” of is usefulness, something that will empower the user in a way that the old asset does not.
We also need to keep in mind our target audience here, and our primary target audience isn’t actually just the users who come to our site. We’re actually also creating this asset specifically for influencers. That means we need to make sure we’re saying something that they will actually find novel.
To be fair, some influencers are happy to share something with their audience even if it’s something they already knew, as long as they still feel it will be useful for their audience. But if you really want to blow their socks off and earn as many links from trusted sources as possible, you need to be sure to wow them.
With that in mind, I’d make an effort to lead with your most novel material, or at least lead with the promise that it’s on the way.
As Brian Dean recommends, these are a few things you can do to make your link asset even better:
- Make it longer, especially in the context of “list” posts.
- Make it more up to date. The old asset might have outdated information. Find new sources and update the material.
- Give it a better visual flair.
- Give it more meat. If it’s a list, for example, expand on each list point with more concrete examples or instructions, more exceptions, more considerations, more of anything the user will find useful.
As Dean points out, you maximize your chances of getting more visibility for your asset if you beat the old asset on every level possible, so you probably should. I’d add that longer isn’t always better. That’s one to watch out for. It depends what searchers looking for these kinds of phrases are looking for, and of course, what influencers in the sector will be interested in.
A few other ways to be better:
- Research forums and any place you can think of where people ask questions or ask for help regarding your topic, so you know exactly what pain points they’re facing, and you can address them directly.
- Make sure your sources are more authoritative and trustworthy.
- Don’t be afraid to contradict the old asset, especially if you can prove directly that they are wrong.
- Use multimedia and interactivity, provide the user with templates and calculators, and generally provide them with tools that go above and beyond the title “content”
- Do some “investigative journalism” by talking to actual experts in the field, quote them, and if they are also influencers, agree to collaborate on promotions with them
Reach Out To Influencers
Upon publication, reach out to everybody who linked to the old asset to let them know about the new one. If you’ve done everything right, the new asset should blow their socks off, and they should be willing to share your asset on social media, as well as link to it.
In your outreach emails, be sure to mention that you noticed they linked to the old asset, which you appreciate, and let them know that you thought they might be interested in your new asset, which is like the old one, but with the added benefits. Mention that you thought they might want to add it to their page or otherwise discuss it.
Be tactful, casual, and brief. Be transparent, as in you are contacting them specifically because you noticed that they linked to this wonderful old link asset.
I’d also add that it’s helpful to include influencers in the process before you even publish. As I mentioned above, talking to influencers, mentioning them in your asset, collaborating with them, and so on, gives them a reason to promote the new asset, not only because it’s self-promotion, but because people love to share things that they’ve put time into, even if only a little.
2. Resource List Link Building
Many sites, especially in the educational space, include a “resources” page that links to various sites and pages that the webmaster believes their users will find useful. Resource list building is the deceptively simple process of earning links from those pages.
The process is, in some ways, similar to the “skyscraper technique,” but instead of starting with an asset, you start with the resource lists.
In other words, you start by identifying a series of resource lists, then, after reviewing what is present in most of these lists, you develop something with the creators of these resource lists as the intended audience.
Compared with the “skyscraper technique,” this method has the disadvantage of not giving you a clear model asset to work off on. On the other hand, it gives you a room for being more creative, which means it gives you the freedom to make something more novel that will hold the influencer’s eye.
As I mentioned above, I recommend starting by locating the resource lists first. This allows you to see what is already out there, so that you can develop a USP for your asset.
To find resource lists, start by performing searches such as:
- [keyword] resources
- [keyword] useful resources
- [keyword] links
- [keyword] helpful links
And so on.
If your niche doesn’t lend itself well to these types of searches because it refers too many results and not enough resource pages, you can try searching for the words in the URL of the pages instead:
- [keyword] resources
- [keyword] links
Including “site:.edu” can also be helpful, since it’s more common for educational sites to include resource pages.
The phrase “suggest a resource” and variations on it can also be an extremely useful search term. Some resource pages actually encourage you to email them with phrases similar to this. This is a great way to help you find some relatively easy wins.
The main obstacle to earning links on these pages, other than having a great asset and tactful emails, is whether or not the pages are active. Always make sure you have up to date contact information, and verify that the site is kept reasonably up to date. It’s not uncommon for these sites to be completely abandoned, so don’t overestimate how many contacts you have before you start making your asset.
Make sure to use an authority tool such as MozBar to ensure that the pages hold a reasonable amount of authority with the search engines. It’s important that a reasonable number of your contacts refer to search engine authority that matters. At the same time, don’t let these metrics prevent you from working with webmasters who are authoritative in more traditional ways, especially if they show promise in terms of picking up authority with search engines in the future. Bear in mind that tools like MozBar don’t contain the same information that Google and other search engines use, they only estimate it.
Do not contact low-tier resource pages that will link to anything, especially if they seem to exist “for SEO.” It is absolutely vital that these resource pages be curated by human beings with standards. Too many links from low tier “resource” pages can dilute your authority or even get you penalized by the search engines.
Aim for a list of contacts around the 100 mark.
Once you have a list of contacts and you’ve scoped out their resources, develop a USP for your resource. This will likely be the hardest part, but after reviewing so many resources, you will know for sure when you have something that will really wow the people who manage these resource pages.
After deciding on a USP, develop your link asset in a similar manner to what we discussed above using the “skyscraper method.”
Finally, after publishing your asset, it’s time to reach out to the curators of these lists. As with the “skyscraper technique,” it’s important to be tactful, brief, casual, and to give transparent context for the interaction. Remember, people always pay more attention to you if you give them context.
What’s cool about the skyscraper technique is that it can be automated and here’s a wonderful guide on how to contact all of the websites that link to your competitors’ articles in less than an hour.
3. Mentioning Influencers In Your Assets
In the section on the “skyscraper technique”, I mentioned that influencers are much more likely to link to you and promote you on social media if they were involved in the process of producing the asset.
This is also true, to a lesser extent, of content that mentions the influencer, for many of the same reasons.
The obvious and more cynical reasons are vanity and self-promotion, but simple gratitude is also a factor. Mentioning them can also be the thing that makes their ears perk up just enough to give your asset a chance.
Much of what goes into this is already discussed for the previous two strategies. Mainly, just make an effort to mention influencers in your content, to use them as sources, to link to them, and so on. If you’re writing good content, odds are you’re already doing this anyway: citations are a very important part of certain types of content.
After including influencers as sources and examples in your content, just make sure to reach out to them after publishing. “I just thought you’d like to know I mentioned you in this resource” should be pretty much the gist of your email, along with a tactful suggestion to share it with their audience. As always, short emails tend to perform better, and they always do when you provide context, which is built into this strategy organically.
4. Original Research And Tools
Finally, there are two types of link assets that are so valuable that you can get away with cold link building outreach and influencers won’t even mind it: original research and tools.
These are so powerful that once they pass a certain threshold of popularity, they will start to earn links on their own in a way that nothing else you produce will.
I’ve said this many times, but if you take a look at Moz’s list of the most linked sites on the web, you’re going to find it yourself by just looking at a list of interactive tools.
And if you look at the most authoritative page on a site besides the homepage, more often than not your most successful competitors will have a piece of original research or an interactive tool slotted for that location.
Best of all, original research and tools are easier to build than ever.
Check out these awesome survey tools:
And check out these amazing tools for making tools and enhancing interactivity without even needing to code:
I’d suggest striking while the iron is hot here, because I wouldn’t be surprised if 2018 is the year where everybody catches onto the ease of creating interactivity in the modern era.
Once you’ve got your asset ready, it’s link building outreach as usual. I’ll say it again for good measure: context is the key factor here. Always give them a reason you are contacting them, a reason that has to do with them, not about your awesome asset just yet.
Then just let them know about your asset within that context, and be tactful about suggesting to share it.
As I said, original research and tools pretty much build links on their own once you hit critical mass, so that’s where the majority of your work should go.
Make Influencers Your Audience
You might have noticed the pattern here. When it comes to building links in 2018, the editorial powers that control links are your primary audience. You are making something for them, which means you’re going above and beyond the needs of your casual user.
Get out there, be novel, be innovative, and make it happen. Best of luck.
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