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Link building has a bad rep. It’s often associated with annoying emails begging you to do a link swap, phoney “buy 10,000 backlinks!” services and spammy comment threads on popular forums.

Google itself isn’t too fond of eliciting links, cracking down on strict webmaster guidelines against backlink builders and more. The search engine wants users to link to your content because it’s helpful, not to boost rankings.

So when it comes to actively seeking inbound links, marketers have to get creative.

There’s no denying good content will naturally breed off-page SEO success, but most companies could benefit from adopting an active link-building strategy.

Step 1: Evaluate Who is Already Linking to You

If you’re reading this, you likely already have an idea of how many backlinks you have and where they’re coming from.

But just because you copy a list of links into your monthly SEO report to show your boss, it doesn’t mean you really understand how to leverage the data to build new links.

You can start by logging into SEMrush, Ahrefs or Moz’s free Open Site Explorer tool, plugging in your URL and doing some good ol’ creeping.

Check out:

  • Who is linking to you? // Is it a site in your industry, or maybe even a competitor? Notice trends in the topical associations and their referring domains and IPs (.com, .gov, etc.). Maybe you have a lot of .com’s but no .org’s and should be more mindful to seek a more balanced mix.
  • What are their domain and page authorities (DA/PA)? // Some backlink crawlers refer to these as different names, but basically, DA is a “ranking” score that tells you how likely the site is to appear in organic search. The bigger the number, the better the ally, but again, variety is favorable.
  • What content are they linking to? // What pages or blogs are these websites referencing? Are all these inbound links around one topic in particular or a specific marketing campaign? Note these popular picks and consider why they are getting more shoutouts to better craft your content.
  • Which anchors are they choosing? // Anchor text is the string of words that the blue hyperlink is attached to. Make a list of sites who are using filler anchors so you can reach out and ask them to include SEO-primed keywords. Those “click here” links aren’t helping anyone.
  • Which links are broken or lost? // Do some digging as to why you recently lost links (most platforms will show what you lost in last 60 days for free). Did the domain it was on restructure a page? Did you modify a URL and cause a 404 error? Fix what you can and email the domains to resolve the rest.

CHECK YOURSELF: Avoid data paralysis by only pulling stats from the last three months— or if you’re using a free software, pull from however far back it’ll let you view (usually, like the lost link trackers, they’ll make you pay to see more than 60 days worth of insights).

Stick these stats in an Excel or Sheets document to see all the figures in one, concise place with some notes for strategic direction.

Step 2: Shine Your Trophies or Craft Some Remarkable Content

Which pages are getting the most backlinking love? These are your Link Trophies and could use a shiny polish before you start asking more people to link to them.

Make a list of the top five pages people are linking to and ask yourself how you could make them even better. Then, note those in position six through ten and do the same.

Do guests love your chocolate chip cookie recipe? Add a video demonstration of you being a baking warrior. Are people jazzed about your dresser remodel tutorial? Add a powerful call-to-action at the end to convert these visitors into leads. These ideas are great to list in your spreadsheet to add to your content marketing strategy.

CHECK YOURSELF: If you don’t have a lot of off-site website links, maybe you should access the content you’re pushing out. Backlinks often flood in naturally when you are creating bomb-ass content that people want to share.

If you’re struggling with traffic and engagement, instead of worrying so much about developing a powerful link building strategy, focus first on developing the right content marketing tactics to produce better, share-worthy web pages and articles.

Remember, people link to information they find unreplicable, in-depth or authoritative— or else they’d simply reproduce it themselves.

Step 3: Set Quarterly SMART Goals & Choose a Monthly Tactic

Many marketers become overwhelmed developing a backlink strategy because they try to tackle too much at once. They think they need to send out a few hundred emails, get a few hundred backlinks and fall victim to a quantity versus quality trap.

Break your linking building efforts down into incremental, actionable steps.

Instead making one giant campaign around link building, break it down into monthly SMART goals— which are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely.

Here’s a 12-month example of how you could organize goals:

  • January: Focus on improving new content. // Before you dive into your monthly backlink tactics, follow our advice in Step 2 and access your on-site SEO. Take this month to map out content over the next quarter by developing a fresh blog writing plan, video strategy and more.
  • February: Fix broken or lost links and optimize existing anchor text. // As mentioned in Step 1, take your list and do some outreach for easy wins.
  • March: Optimize an old post. // Expand on one of your top performing blogs. Make the article even more beefy, find other articles that are related and ask for a link swap: you’ll link to them if they link to you.
  • April: Create an infographic. // Choose one of your most viewed blog posts and create a powerful infographic to complement it. Ask users if they want to include the infographic on their site for free— but only if they link back to you.
  • May: Sponsor an event. // Every year your company helps fund an industry conference, but you never really advertise it. This year, ask the function to add a link on their sponsorship page as a simple but SEO-rich thank you.|
  • June: Guest blog on another domain. // Offer to write a kickass article on an industry buddy’s domain, of course, including link back to your site. Heck, if you have time to write two or three on different domains, do it!
  • July: Host a webinar. // Someone in your company is charismatic and loves the limelight. See if they will teach a 30 minute workshop and invite a slew of attendees. Once done, upload it to your website, pair it with a supportive blog and email it to all guests. If the information is helpful, links will come.
  • August: Compile an expert roundup. // An expert roundup is usually an article with insights from various industry professionals. Usually, these posts link off to all the contributor’s websites, and, since they are featured in it, they are more likely to share and link back to it in return. Email some connections and ask if they want to contribute their knowledge.
  • September: Be a guest in a podcast. // Most podcasters will post their audio file to a webpage and link off to all guest’s sites.
  • November: Develop a powerful pillar or resource page. // Pillar pages are typically 5,000 words or longer and very thoroughly address a broad topic. Oftentimes, marketers add resources here so searchers can find all the information they need in one convenient spot. These pages are so robust, it’s hard to replicate the value and people opt to link instead.
  • December: Reach out to the press. // Does your company like to participate in Christmas food drives or donate wrapped gifts for kids? Reach out to the press with a heartfelt narrative and get a link on a local news site.

CHECK YOURSELF: Again, in order to feel less overwhelmed, give yourself one SMART goal a month. For your April link building campaign, make your goal “Send our EMS Response infographic to “x” amount of relevant sites by August 29, 2018 to gain a minimum of “x” new backlinks.” If you fall short of it, that’s okay, but the idea is that you crush it.

There are numerous other link building strategies you could choose from, but at the end of the year, let your data lead your direction for the next. If you found one link building tactic to be a lot of effort for a small return, cross that off your list and focus on the techniques that worked well.

Step 4: Always Keep Your Eyes Peeled

Your lead building campaigns will surely help, but it’s always a good idea to consistently monitor a few things.

Each month, make some time to:

  • Monitor your Google Alerts. // If someone mentions your business name, services or products, you could be alerted via email. Simply add the phrases you want to monitor and choose how frequently you want Google to update you. If someone mentions you without linking, reach out and ask for one.
  • Actively check your anchors, lost and broken links. // As mentioned, SEMrush could serve you easy link targets to maintain your backlink profile.
  • Build relationships with online journalists. // Sign up to Help a Reporter Out (HARO). You can subscribe to daily emails to categories in your industry. When a journalist needs professional input, be the first to chime in.

Your link building strategies can fail hard if you aren’t providing material that people want to link to.

Do you have amazing pillar pages? Content offers? How about an incredible YouTube channel?

Access your content marketing strategy. Most marketers generate the bulk of their organic traffic from active inbound efforts such as blogging.

Check out our Beginner’s Guide to Blogging for Business to create some link-worthy content.