“Link building” is something I’ve never done in my 19 years of publishing online. In other words, I’ve never spent any time whatsoever emailing strangers and trying to convince them to link to my content.
I have, however, been on the receiving end of many link-building requests. And they’ve never worked on me.
Now, I know there are smart people who work on behalf of clients to get links through relationship building outreach initiatives. Strangely, I’ve never received a link request from a smart person.
It’s usually just dopey people using bad email scripts and automation that some clown sold them on. They don’t even bother to modify the language, so you see the same lame emails over and over.
Outside of receiving compensation for a link (which I would never accept and is just a bad idea in general these days), I don’t see why any online publisher would agree to these requests. What’s in it for us?
So, if you’re looking to get links to your site for all the benefits that come with it (including enhanced search rankings), maybe you should try a different approach.
Let’s look at three that might work for you.
1. Guest posting
Not a new approach, certainly. But guest writing for relevant and respected publications remains one of the best ways to gain exposure to an audience that builds your own. And of course you’ll want, at minimum, a bio link back to your site in exchange for your content contribution.
Now, you may remember that Google at one point spoke out against guest posting for SEO. Yes, spammy sites submitting spam to other spammy sites in exchange for links is not smart — but that’s not what we’re talking about.
I’m also not necessarily talking about content farms like Forbes and Business Insider, although if that’s where your desired audience is, go for it. You’ll likely have better luck, however, with beloved niche publications that cater to the people you’re after.
What you’re looking for is a place that you can contribute on a regular basis, rather than a one-shot. Not only will the audience begin to get familiar with you after repeat appearances, the publisher will value and trust you, which can lead to coveted in-content links to relevant resources on your site rather than just the bio link.
What if a publisher doesn’t allow links back to your site? Move on. It’s not just about SEO — if a reader is interested in seeing more of your work, they should be able to simply click a link to do so. That’s how the web works.
If you’re limited to a bio link, see if you can point to something more valuable than your home page. A free guide or course that gets people onto your email list is the primary goal ahead of SEO.
2. Podcast interviews
The explosion of podcasting, especially the interview format, is a potential boon for exposure and links. In short, podcasters need a constant supply of guests, and you should position yourself as a viable option.
The links appear in the show notes, and this can be a great way to get citations to your home page, your valuable opt-in content, and your most impactful articles. But you have to find a way to get on the show in the first place.
This may be more doable than you think, because as I said, podcasters need a constant supply of fresh guests. And take it from me — we’re looking for new and interesting people outside of the typical echo chamber that exists in every niche.
For example, recently Joanna Wiebe of Copy Hackers introduced me to Talia Wolf, someone I was unfamiliar with. I trust and respect Joanna, so I checked out Talia. Next thing you know, I’m interviewing Talia (you can listen to her episode here) and I ended up linking to three of her articles as well as a page that contains her free conversion optimization resources.
The key, of course, is to do great work that reflects you know what you’re talking about. Then do your research:
- Find relevant podcasts.
- Take the time to understand the show, its audience, and its host.
- Send a friendly note explaining why you would be a solid interview.
Don’t be shy; it’s just a (well-written) email, and podcasters want you to convince them to be their next guest. Or get someone who knows both your work and the host to recommend you. There are even podcast interview booking agencies cropping up that will do the outreach for you.
3. Tribal content
In the early days of Copyblogger, it was all about creating hugely valuable tutorial content that naturally attracted links. It’s harder these days, because most people tend to share that type of content on social channels rather than blog about it like back in the day.
You can still make it happen, though, with the right content and the right relationships with other publishers in your niche. It hinges on leveraging the powerful influence principle of unity, or our tribal affiliations with like-minded people.
Tribal content is all about resonating strongly with people who believe the way you do on a particular issue.
Rather than just “you’re one of us,” it’s more effective when it’s “you’re different like we’re different.”
For example, one of our prime tribal themes involves the dangers of digital sharecropping, or publishing content exclusively on digital land that you don’t own and control. We didn’t coin the term (Nicholas Carr did), but often when the topic comes up, there will be a mention of Copyblogger.
It works the other way, too. Whenever I see a solid piece of content that warns against digital sharecropping, I share it on social. And there’s a good chance I’ll link to it as outside support the next time we talk about the topic. You know, like this and this.
If there is an important worldview within your niche or industry that other online publishers share, it’s likely important that they make the case to their audiences. With tribal content, you’re providing an important message that supports part of their editorial strategy as well as your own.
That’s how the truly powerful links to your site happen. So start making a list of unifying concepts that you share with others in your arena, and make sure your relationships with those publishers are solid before you unleash your epic tribal content.
Wait … I was wrong
Now that I think about it, one link-building email almost worked on me. It was one of those cookie-cutter templates asking me to swap out a link in the web archive of my personal development newsletter Further.
When you curate content as I do with Further, linking to other people’s stuff is what it’s all about. So I took a look at the suggested resource, and it was surprisingly good.
I wrote back to say I wasn’t going to replace the old link, but I would include her resource in the next issue. Unfortunately, this person didn’t respond over the next several days.
What I got instead, just a day before publication, was the next automated email in her sequence, asking me if I had seen the original email that I had already replied to. Deleted that email, deleted the link to her resource in the draft issue, and included something else instead.
Which brings us to an important principle in both link building and life:
Don’t be a dope.