Let’s open up this article with some honesty: link building is a long, tough process. Even the most experienced, tool-armed link builders don’t have an easy job.
Good results from a link building campaign can’t be rushed, and a rushed link building campaign isn’t going to get you good results. Some people in the SEO industry like to throw around a lot of of bravado, as if building links is a walk in the park; but the reality is, most successful link building campaigns require plenty of time, experience, dedication, and hard work.
I started my career in the digital industry in 2011, and spent my first two years primarily in a link building role. Even though the hands-on stuff is not a big part of my day-to-day activities now, I still enjoy helping out with off-page strategies and developing new approaches to link building.
As such, I’ like to share with you a few things I’ve learned in the last four years about how to make link building more productive. Specifically, I’m going to discuss 16 inefficiencies I commonly spot in link building:
Inefficiency #1: Not Using Multiple Link Building Strategies
All too often, I encounter agencies that have a one-size-fits-all approach to link building for every client. Most of the time, their approach simply isn’t working; and even when it is working, plenty of opportunities for improvement always exist.
Think how inefficient it is to use time and resources on external content creation and placement when your client already has a public relations (PR) agency successfully landing them online features.
A better use of your time is to follow up on all the coverage the PR agency is getting that does not generate links back to the client’s website.
A simple ask can work wonders. You will save time on writing content and prospecting, and the business will get the same (if not more) quality links. Everyone wins.
Inefficiency #2: Failing to Consider Every Possible Niche and Angle
Just because you’re an SEO agency doesn’t mean you’re limited to acquiring links from SEO publications. There are countless areas of crossover, and broader terms where you fit under the umbrella, including marketing, business, finance, sales, PPC, and social media. All of these niches have an abundance of news sites and industry bloggers covering them.
This is also true for your clients. If you haven’t found at least three relevant audiences for your outreach campaign, you haven’t tried hard enough.
The smaller the net you cast, the more potential opportunities you miss out on.
Inefficiency #3: Believing Link Building Is Dead
(And That Content and PR Has Replaced It)
Why do people still peddle this lie? I’ve narrowed it down to self-interest and amplified messaging. It’s a great sales pitch for content marketing and PR agencies to use when courting companies who are wary of SEO. Due to the fact it’s been pushed as such, misinformation has spread far and wide.
Link building is still link building, and the last time Matt Cutts talked about links, he confirmed they are still a big factor in how Google ranks websites.
Yes, good content and PR will help you get links and build a brand; but there are plenty of opportunities you are missing out on by assuming these are the only ways to build links, including relevant and quality directories, resource lists to get pages cited, and brand link reclamation.
Inefficiency #4: Failing to Get the Ball Rolling Early
If you’ve come up with a great content idea, there is no point in suddenly springing it on your outreach team on launch day and magically expecting to get good results. By the time your team has got a plan of attack ready to execute, the content will be a week old, and the approach will be so rushed, it will dampen success. Planning is key.
If that piece of content took three months to create, your outreach team should have been aware of it from the moment it was signed off for creation. That provides plenty of time to not only prospect, but to start networking with those prospects as well. You stand more of a chance of getting a reply and placement from someone you’re already casually engaged with on Twitter than from someone whose first point of contact with you is a blind email.
Inefficiency #5: Not Working From Single Lists in Excel
When working on a link building campaign, you’re bound to come across the same sites every time you go through a prospecting cycle. To save time and effort, build a single prospecting Excel sheet for each client (or link building method) and manage your prospects there.
Using the copy and paste function on tools like Linkclump, you can dump up to 100 Google search prospects at a time into a single Excel spreadsheet in just seconds. This results in a single list of websites from multiple prospecting search strings that you can manage in one place.
In addition, you’ll be able to add other columns next to each prospect, and use them to make notes about relevance, important metrics, contact information, etc. Each time you repeat the cycle on a list when looking for fresh opportunities, you can add them to the bottom of your sheet and use the Remove duplicates function in Excel to avoid checking the same prospect again.
Inefficiency #6: Not Prioritizing Your Prospects by Metric
When it comes to link building, this can be a double-edged sword. All too often, I see advertisements for link prospecting tasks requesting a minimum standard of invisible SEO metrics in order to be deemed worthwhile.
This is all well and good, until you consider that sites like BuzzFeed and Vice had a page rank of ZERO once upon a time, too. Today’s low metric site could be tomorrow’s biggest publisher, and your threshold just prevented you getting in their inbox before it was crowded.
For that reason, I advise against minimum-link metric thresholds. However, that is still not a reason to not prioritize your prospects when assessing when and how you will contact them. When you arrange a list of sites from top to bottom by authority metrics, you do tend to see more legitimate websites around the top to lower-middle, and poor-quality websites below that.
Prioritizing by metric means you can get the majority of the cream to rise to the top faster, and then find any leftover quality when and if time permits.
Inefficiency #7: Not Managing Your Outreach Prospects
It’s all well and good to fire off 30 or so emails one morning to promote a special piece of content. But watch how unorganized it gets when you do that across multiple projects over the course of days/weeks/months/years, without efficient management processes in place.
Some sites will need to be followed up on before you receive an initial response, while others will request more information, require to see your content ahead of time, or (in the best case scenario) complete your request straight away. In the worst case scenario, some prospects will tell you they are not interested and request that you never contact them again.
It is important for results, relationship building, and your own sanity that you manage all outreach efforts using efficient processes that enable you to pick up where you left off at any given point.
If a sales team member was forgetting to chase business leads, you’d throw the book at them. Link builders should be held to the same standard when it comes to chasing link prospects.
My favorite customer relationship management (CRM) email tool that is free is Streak for Gmail. There are also paid options out there built specifically for SEO/PR types such as BuzzStream. I’d vouch that some solid folder organization in Outlook can do the job if you get it right, too.
Inefficiency #8: Assuming Email Templates Make You Look Like a Spammer
I’ve seen a lot of outreach advice over the years advising against templates; they’re not wrong. Templates often look like spun emails, offer no personalization options, and can be sniffed out from the moment you’ve read the line “Dear Sir or Dear Madam”.
I’d like to tweak this advice from “Don’t use templates for outreach” to “Don’t use crappy templates for outreach”. Having a strong set of templates, each tailored to the type of outreach email you are sending, will save you time.
Rather than having the odd spaces in your templates where you add only names, leave enough room to add entire sentences written specifically to the person you’re contacting.
Inefficiency #9: Contacting the Wrong Person
Do you really think that message about writing a blog post is going to get through to the right person when you’ve sent if via the customer service form? No. Do you think the people in customer service will pass it on to the relevant team? Possibly, but there are no guarantees.
Finding the best contact details possible is the key to achieving a good response rate. I recently wrote a whole list of ways I’ve previously tracked down website contact information if you want some pointers.
Inefficiency #10: Forgetting (or Simply Not Bothering) to Follow Up
Sometimes, an email comes in when we are already busy, and and we brush it aside, planning to responding to it before the end of the day. The next day ,you get a followup email from said person and you then remember you completely forgot to get back to them. It happens, unfortunately, to almost everyone.
Believe it or not, the person you contacted has a job to do and isn’t sitting around waiting for your email. A lack of reply doesn’t necessarily mean she wasn’t interested. It might mean she was simply busy.
Using efficient CRM processes and tools (see above) can help you effectively manage following up on your outreach efforts.
Inefficiency #11: Refusing to Reciprocate
There are a lot of sites out there that aren’t interested in a one-way deal. They’re happy to promote your content, but they also want to receive some value in return for doing it.
I’ve seen outreach communications sent by relatively established sites burn their chances of getting any results from them because they were not open to a dialogue about reciprocating.
Not all businesses are happy to do this, but if your client is, you should be prepared to do some mutual back-scratching.
Inefficiency #12: Not Building a Company-Wide Black Book
(And Keeping It Organized)
Each positive interaction you have with journalists, webmasters, and bloggers should become an asset to you and your client. Keeping your contacts organized, including categorized and up-to-date, will make your prospecting more efficient.
Inefficiency #13: Believing Anything That Involves Money is Evil
(In the Eyes of Google, That Is)
Yes, paid links that pass on SEO value are against Google’s quality guidelines, but that doesn’t mean everything that involving money is bad when it comes to building links.
Many publisher and forum websites are funded by advertising. This means that for a fee, you will get some no-followed links added to their site or ad delivery network.
These sites may be more likely to engage with you on content and press if you’re helping them. In that way, you’re paying for a service, not a link.
Inefficiency #14: Not Picking up the Phone
This was one of my hardest challenges to overcome. To be honest, it took me the better part of two years to truly become confident with phone outreach.
I was previously never comfortable on the phone talking to strangers. It seemed like there was an element of cold calling involved, and it made me feel uncomfortable. It wasn’t until attending a Link Love talk by Will Critchlow about combating introvert behavior that I finally threw myself in at the deep end and got over my phone phobia.
Confidence on the phone is a great asset to any link builder; it gets results. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. If you don’t have it, figure out how to get it.
Inefficiency #15: Believing Your Client When They Say They Have No Audience
Most of us have had at least one client say that what they do is boring or that no one is discussing it online.
Most niche businesses will have people talking about what they do in online communities and looking for answers relevant questions in the search engines. In the rare case that the business you are serving doesn’t have this kind of online activity already happening in its particular niche, you should see this as a great opportunity to start your own discussion.
Inefficiency #16: Letting the End Results Get Lost in a Sea of Processes
Prospecting and outreach are all great ways to spend your time; but at the end of the day, Google isn’t going to boost your visibility in its search results based on how many emails you sent last week or how long your Excel sheets are.
If something isn’t getting results, fix it or try something else.
If your response rate is too low, assess why and tweak it.
If the content you created wasn’t compelling enough, find out why. Use this information to make your next piece better.
Never lose site of the end goal.
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list of ways to improve your link building efforts. Feel free to share any further tips below in the comments.