The Advanced Guide to Link Building

Written by Neil Patel & Brian Dean

The Advanced Guide to Link Building Download PDF

Epic Content Link Building

One of the biggest myths in SEO is that quality content generates natural links. It doesn't. Thousands of site owners bang out hundreds of pieces of quality content every single day...without a single backlink to show for it. To earn links in today's crowded content world, you need to take your stuff to the next level. In this chapter I'm going to walk you through the steps you need to take to be able to produce the type of quality, epic stuff that generates links on autopilot (or with a little push).

Find What Already Works

Before you can write link-magnet content you need to have a handle on what's already out there in your niche. Here's how.

The first step is to find keywords in your niche that you can frame your content around. It doesn't make sense to write a 3000-word article that rocks your industry if it's going to rank for a keyword with only 100 searches per month.

First, open the Google Keyword tool and enter a few keywords that you'd like to rank for:

Under "Match Types", choose "Exact".

Then you'll see a list of keywords that get decent search volume in your niche.

Sort by local monthly searches.

Export these keywords into a .csv by clicking the download button and choosing "All search results":

This .csv will be a working list of the keywords you're going to build your epic content around.

Now, delete any keywords that are irrelevant or have insane competition:

Finding Keywords Using SEMRush

If the keywords Google pulled up for you are too competitive or not particularly relevant to your site, you can use an awesome free tool, SEMRush, to see the keywords that your competition is already ranking for.

Once you create an account, sign in and go to your dashboard. Enter a competitor's domain into the field at the top of the page:

You'll get a ton of fancy charts and graphs, but you want to zero-in on the "Organic Keywords" area of the page:

Sometimes you'll find unique keywords that the Google Keyword Tool didn't show you. Copy and paste any keywords you'd like to rank for into your spreadsheet:

Once you've finalized your list, it's time to see what's already ranking for your target keywords.

Take the first keyword with decent search volume and check out Google's top-10:

Keep in mind, a lot of these pages rank due to domain authority and the site's overall popularity (more eyeballs = more links).

Your job is to look at each of the top-10 results and write something that's not only better, but is produced in a way that generates natural links and social shares. Which brings us to our next step...

Make Something Even Better (For People and Search Engines)

Most content — even great content — has the potential for another level. Here's how to find holes in the reigning content so that you can create something even better.

Using the example keyword above, let's take the #3 result for a spin (http://www.seobook.com/archives/001792.shtml):

As expected, this is a superb article on an authoritative domain. It's going to be tough to beat. However, there are a few ways we could trump this article in both quality and on-page SEO.

Open up Wordpress and follow along so you can outline your next piece of epic content.

On-Page SEO Analysis

First, take a look at the page's on-page SEO, including meta tags, and content optimization, using the Search Engine Analysis tool at: http://www.seoworkers.com/tools/analyzer.html

Just head over to the page and enter your competing page's URL:

And you'll get a thorough report on the page's on-page SEO.

In this case, this page doesn't have the exact match keyword ("link building") in the title tag:

The page also lacks a description tag:

And the alt image tag doesn't contain any information (target keyword or LSI keywords) to give clues to Google on what the page is about:

URL

Ideally you want to include your keyword in your page's URL. In this case the page lacks a keyword-rich URL:

Those are four simple opportunities to get an on-page edge over this page. Start your draft Wordpress post with these.

Set the permalink that includes the target keyword.

Add keyword-rich alt text to an image:

And include your keyword in title and description:

However, that's not going to be nearly enough. If you want to stand toe-to-toe with the big boys you need to beat them with better stuff.

Find Content Weaknesses

Now it's time to see where you can improve on the content that's already out there. Here's the exact checklist that I use.

  • Timeliness

    One of the easiest ways to surpass the content that's already out there is to create something more up-to-date. While some niches have mostly evergreen content (ie. dating), most are changing all the time. To find the date of your page's creation, just copy and paste the URL into Google:

    In fact, this post was created as a more up-to-date version of another link building post:

    Although SEOBook's post is fairly new, in a fast moving industry like SEO, you can never be too up-to-date. However, simply updating this list isn't going to be nearly enough. But it will help.

  • Wow Factor

    You'd be surprised how many pieces of content get links from their sheer volume or "wow factor." Although the SEOBook article in this example is high-quality, the fact that it's a whopping 101 tips and strategies definitely plays a role. In fact, another top-10 result for this keyword is a 100+ list:

    One way you could stand out is to create a list way bigger than these. Could you create a list of 200, 300 or even 500 link building strategies? Imagine how easy it would be to build links to a page with 500 strategies or tips.

    Add that to your draft post:

  • Design

    Design is one aspect of link building that doesn't get discussed very often. But it's crucial because people tend to evaluate the trustworthiness of a site's content based on design.

    In the case of our SEOBook example, the design is professional. But it lacks bells and whistles, like screenshots, images and infographics. If you not only produce a larger list — but create a better design too — you’ll be able to generate links on tap.

    You can either make a custom page in WordPress (you'll need to hire a professional designer) or simply add lots of screenshots. The best free screenshot software is Jing. Be sure to add arrows and other highlights for your posts to make following along even easier. Add a screenshot from Jing to your WordPress post so you remember to include them:

  • Thoroughness

    Another way to get an edge on your competitor's content is to make something more thorough than what they've put out there. SEOBook's post gives some instructions... but more detailed steps for some of the tips and strategies would certainly add more value.

    Write "Steps" in your draft post to remind you to flesh out the steps in your article.

Write the Content

Now that you have an outline of your content, the hard work begins: creating a winning piece of content that people naturally want to share with others. But just because the SERPs for your target keyword are littered with massive lists doesn't mean you have to follow suit. Here are some other content formats that have a track record of attracting links.

Expert Roundups

Gathering the opinion of experts in your field is one of the easiest ways to get fistfuls of links to your content. Because you're featuring the insights of bloggers in your niche, they (and others) can't help but link to you.

First, think of a topic in your niche that many people wonder about or has some dissenting opinions. In the SEO field, a roundup on the future of SEO, black hat vs. white hat and the influence of social signals would work well. You can also do a roundup on lessons learned, funny stories, or tips on how to do ___ better.

Second, find bloggers to pitch to using AllTop.com and Technorati.

Alltop is a merit-based directory of top blogs and websites in almost every vertical under the sun.

Head over to http://alltop.com/ and enter a keyword that describes your field:

The site presents you with a list of options. Sometimes there are blogs in related fields that you can hit up, so consider searching through the suggested keyword lists later.

For now let's just stick with what we were searching for: SEO. Alltop will show you a list of the top blogs in your niche:

Then go to Technorati's homepage” http://technorati.com/. At the top of the screen hit the "blogs" button so you're searching for blogs, not posts:

Enter your keyword and hit the magnifying glass button:

The thing that's great about Technorati is that you can often find sites laterally related to yours that you may not have found at AllTop.

While you can look at metrics like homepage PR, Twitter followers and other signs of quality, it's not necessary. The sites listed in Alltop and Technorati usually get a ton of traffic and have more than enough PR to throw around. Instead, make a quick spreadsheet of all the sites on this page, along with their contact info.

Now it's just a matter of reaching out to them one by one to ask if they'd like to contribute to your roundup.

Reach Out

If you're new in your field, expect a low response rate. To maximize your chances, use this proven email template:

Hey [Blogger Name],

I'd love to hear your opinion on [industry topic] for [your site]. I'm doing a roundup of opinions on my site and I think people would love to hear what you think about [industry topic].

Here's the question:

[Question]

Of course, I'll include a link back to your site (with a photo).

Thanks!

[Your Name]

The Definitive Guide

Producing the bar-none ultimate guide to something is a timeless link building strategy. By having the most thorough information on the internet, people will naturally link to it when they mention the subject.

Creating a definitive guide isn't easy: you need to work your tail off to make something this comprehensive and useful.

First, find a topic that lacks a solid, definitive guide. Go to Topsy.com and enter these search strings:

  • definitive guide + keyword
  • ultimate guide + keyword
  • step by step + keyword

Choose "All Time" from the left hand sidebar:

And choose to sort by links:

Now sift through the list and find a definitive guide topic that you could beat:

I didn't see anything in the list about anchor text. Considering how important that's becoming in SEO, it seems like a fantastic opportunity. To make sure, I put the same search strings into Google to see what's out there. Except this time, I use a more specific keyword:

I don't see anything out there based on the first 30 results in Google:

Looks good! There's nothing out there that consolidates everything there is to know about anchor text.

Here's how to actually write the definitive guide.

First, find the best content that already exists. These will be your references. Head to top blogs in your niche and enter your keyword:

Looks like some amazing stuff! Repeat the process at other leading sites or using Google.

Read each piece of content and use it to make an outline in Wordpress. Make sure to fill in any information gaps that other articles seem to have missed:

Now just fill in the blanks, reference the sources you found and you've got yourself a link magnet!

Quizzes

Quizzes tend to attract a lot of links because they're unique and interactive. Keep in mind that the quiz can be something a bit whimsical and fun, like those found at http://theoatmeal.com/quizzes. Or you can make a quiz that tells the person something about who they are. Traditional quizzes that test people's knowledge can also work.

Let's say you wanted to make an SEO-related quiz: "Are You a White Hat or Black Hat SEO?"

Head to your Wordpress dashboard and click the "plugins" tab.

Click "Add New":

Enter "Quiz" into the plugin search bar:

Choose Wp-Pro-Quiz from the list of options.

And activate the plugin. Click "WP-Pro-Quiz" from the Wordpress Dashboard sidebar:

Then add a quiz title.

And add a description of your quiz.

Click "Save".

Hover your cursor underneath your quiz's title and click "Questions".

Then "Add Question":

For a quiz like this, you want to record a certain number of points depending on their answer.

Check off "different points for each answer."

Then, create your first question:

Choose "Multiple Choice":

And create your answers. Depending on your quiz you may not have "correct" answers. For a quiz like the one in this example, you can consider certain answers "correct" (like white hat answers) and others "incorrect":

Or you can assign the different choices a different amount of points, and determine the result of the quiz based on the number of points that they have.

Once you're done with your first question, hit "Save":

Repeat until you've added about 10-20 questions. Then head back to the plugin's dashboard and click "edit" underneath your quiz:

Now add something to the "Results Text" to let your participants know where they stand:

Finally, copy the shortcode found next to your quiz's name:

And paste it into a blog post:

When you publish the post, the quiz will appear within the post:

Get Your Links

You've spied on your competitors and produced a piece of content that blows their stuff out of the water. Now what? Your goal is simple: get your content exposed to the most amount of people possible. The more people that see your content the more likely you'll generate backlinks from it. And the three days following your content's posting is ripe for links and social shares.

Alerting your social media existing followers is one of the fastest ways to get the word out about your epic content. This isn't your average post, which means you need to be a tactician with your Twitter outreach strategy.

First, plan your tweets so they go out at a time where they'll get retweeted by the most people: usually 5pm EST on a weekday.

However, you may also want to check out Tweriod, which gives you free, personalized Tweet optimization information.

Head over to http://www.tweriod.com/. Click on the "Sign Up With Twitter" button:

And allow the app to access your Twitter account.

Then the app will show you the best times to tweet, based on your follower's activity:

This data is obviously more precise and reliable than the general rule to tweet at 5pm EST.

To make sure you get the timing just right, use Buffer.

First, login using your Twitter account.

Then hit the sharer button at the top of the screen:

Put in your message and hit "Buffer" to time your tweets:

If needed, change your Buffer schedule to match the timing information you received from Tweriod:

Paid Stumbles

StumbleUpon's Paid Discovery program is a lightning-fast way to get more visitors to your fresh, epic content. With clicks as low as 5 cents, you can usually get a few hundred eyeballs with a small investment. And a fair amount of these will organically stumble, tweet and like your content... meaning more potential backlinks.

First, go to https://www.stumbleupon.com/pd and create an account:

Click "create new campaign."

Enter your content's URL.

And set your budget. You probably only want to run your campaign for a few days to add fuel to the buzz.

Name your campaign.

StumbleUpon automatically targets your content to a demographic that they think will respond best to it. But if you want to make sure, you can hit the "edit" button under "audiences" and choose the demographic and interest information that best fits your content.

Hit "Save and Review":

Then "Create Campaign."

And you're done!

Get Exposure With Scoop.it

Scoop.it is content curation on steroids. And it's a great (free) way to give your content the push it may need to go viral.

First, create an account. Hit the "My Topics" button at the top of your Scoop.it page. Choose "Create Topic."

Make it something related to what your content is about.

Now, search for other curators that have Scoop.It pages similar to what your content is all about.

Pay special attention to users with lots of views:

And Twitter followers (most Scoop.It addicts tend to tweet the content that they scoop):

Follow them by hitting the "Follow" button on the right side of their page.

Once you have a few followers it's time to Scoop your own content.
Click "New Scoop."

And choose "Create Your Own Scoop."

Then copy and paste your content's URL.

It will ask you where you want to post the content. Choose one of the other curators that you follow:

And click "Suggest."

Now your content is sent to that curator. If they think it's as awesome as you do, they'll post it on their Scoop. It page!

Site Outreach

When the dust settles and the buzz surrounding your content has died down a bit, it's time to do some outreach and earn a few more quality links.

Link roundups might be the most underrated link building technique on the planet. Where else can you find site owners in your niche actually looking to link to your content? If you're not familiar with link roundups, they're simply blog posts that link out to the week's best content.

Find Your Roundups

Here are a few search strings to help you quickly find link roundups in your niche.

  • "link roundup" + your niche
  • "Friday link roundup"
  • "weekly link roundup"

Make sure to set the date for the last year or so to make sure you're only looking at sites with active roundups:

Here's one that looks promising:

Sure enough, it looks like this blogger posts a roundup every Friday:

Now it's a matter of reaching out to this blogger and suggesting your content.

If you don't find anything — or want to get more even more links — hunt for link roundups in niches closely related to yours.

And repeat the process.

This is a little bit devious, but it's darn effective. What you're doing is looking at who already links to your competitor's content... and try to get them to replace their link with yours. The reason this works so well is that you already know the person wants to link to a resource about your topic (because they already have). It's just a matter of convincing them that yours is better (more on that later).

First, take a few of the results from the top 10 results of your target keyword.

And enter them into OSE.

Choose "Only External," and click the filter button.

Now hit up each of the results and see if you spot an opportunity for the site owner to swap their link for yours (or simply add yours to the page).

Here's one that has potential:

Sure enough, the post was published three years ago, meaning it's probably due for an update:

One of the most effective ways to get your link posted is to tell the blogger that you have a more up-to-date resource than the one that they're linking to. Site owners are petrified of linking to obsolete stuff.

Just contact the site owner and let them know about your fresh, cutting edge resource.

You may only get a 10% response rate. But that 10% of links will comprise aged, heavily linked-to pages that will pass a ton of trust and authority onto your site.

You're a Content Marketing Superstar!

But that doesn't mean that you need to lean on your site's content to build links. In Chapter 4: Submission Backlinks I'm going to show you how you can get easy (but powerful) submission links. Let's do this!