2015-09-07



How do you get more search traffic if you’re not supposed to build links?

It’s a catch-22…

You know you should create content that attracts links, but you need to have links to have an audience that can link to you.

Therefore, you must be proactive in order to get backlinks to your site.

And according to Matt Cutts, the importance of backlinks isn’t going away anytime soon:

…backlinks still have many, many years left in them … over time backlinks will become a little less important … we will continue to use links in order to assess the basic reputation of pages and websites.

According to just about every study out there, backlinks are still one of the most important factors in ranking highly in search engines—as the image above illustrates.

Bottom line: You need to build backlinks.

But…you need to do it in a safe way, so you don’t have to worry about having your site sent into oblivion by the next Penguin update.

Avoiding penalties while building links isn’t about luck. It’s about earning links. The types of links that Google penalizes sites for are low-quality or bought links. If you can buy it on Fiverr, it’s not a good link. Period.

High quality links will never be penalized. These links have natural anchor text and are placed on highly authoritative and trusted sites. These links cannot be bought in the vast majority of situations.

In this article, I’m going to show you five of the best ways to get high quality links that will improve your search rankings without putting you at risk of being penalized.

In addition, most of these links will send you traffic right away—high quality links tend to do that.

1. Get freelance writers do it for you

Remember the goal: get natural links on highly authoritative sites.

Most of these sites are run by professional teams, and almost all of them produce content on a regular basis.

For a variety of reasons, many of these sites also rely heavily on freelance writers to produce the majority of that content.

Here’s a crazy thought: What if you could get a freelance writer who contributes to a major relevant site to love your writing or product? It would probably lead to multiple links over time.

What’s even better is that these top-tier freelance writers don’t just write at one authority site—they write at multiple highly-trusted sites.

Think about that for a second. Getting just one freelance writer to love your stuff could result in several extremely high-quality links.

Now imagine if you could find a few more freelancers like that.

Pretty cool, right? Let me show you how to do it…

Step 1: Find freelance writers in your general niche. It all starts with a list. You need to identify big sites in your niche that use freelance writers.

If you’ve been operating in your niche for a while, you might already know a few.

If not, you’ll have to dig around a bit. Search for “biggest [niche] sites,” and look through the results. If you see a bunch of different posts on a site’s homepage or blog, it’s likely a good target. Alternatively, ask your friends or people on forums to name their favorite sites.

To expand your options, you can look at sites in any related niche. For example, if I was looking for marketing writers, I would look for the biggest sites that focus on:

SEO

Conversion rate optimization

Inbound marketing

Online business

Copywriting

Link building

Public relations

etc.

Quite a few options.

Write down as many sites with multiple regular contributors as possible on a spreadsheet.

Step 2: Evaluate writers. Now that you have a list of sites, you can begin your search for good writers with whom you’d want to connect.

Some sites make this really easy, like the Crazy Egg blog:



When you click on the Writing Team link, you get a list of writers that regularly contribute to the site.



Not all sites will have that. Take Moz, for example:

Either way, the process from here is largely the same.

Click on an author’s name, which will almost always have a link to a page of their previous posts:

Next, decide if that writer covers the topics you write about.

For example, I see that Sharon mainly writes about SEO and CRO. If your site/business was in either the SEO or CRO niche, she’d be a great person to get to know.

Here’s where the hard work begins. You need to repeat this for every writer from every site. In the case of a site such as Moz (shown above), you’ll have to click through the last few pages of blog posts to see if the writers are regular contributors (2+ posts per month) or just doing a one-off guest post (don’t target these).

This is a ton of work, but choosing the right writers is crucial to getting a good success rate in the next steps.

Step 3: Give them a chance to like you. The average freelancer isn’t extremely well-known, which makes interacting with them a lot easier than with influencers in your niche.

That being said, a lot of the same rules apply.

You don’t want to start by saying, “Come, look at my writing—it’s amazing!” That’s just going to turn your prospects off. Instead, start by giving them a little value without asking for anything in return.

Yes, this will take a bit of time, but a solid relationship with a handful of freelancers can provide amazing long-term benefits to your business.

I recommend finding them and connecting with them on social media to stay up-to-date with their work. Most author bios will have a link or two to the writer’s favorite social media platform:

Now, you can do basic things like re-sharing their posts to get on their radar.

Freelance writers are judged by editors based on the performance of their posts. Typically, that’s measured by these two metrics:

comments

social shares

Next, read any of your chosen writers’ newly published posts, and leave a thoughtful comment. Share a personal story or add something valuable to the article that might encourage discussion.

Any good freelance writer will reply to your comment, which you could then reply to further (if appropriate). If they reply once again, their comment count for that article will go from zero to four, which looks a lot better. In addition, this may encourage others to start commenting as well.

Commenting on one article isn’t going to be enough. Do it for at least two or three articles over the next month. If you have a following on social media, share these posts, and tag the writer to make them aware of it.

Step 4: Show them who you are. At this point, you’re on their radar. They know who you are, and it’s possible that they did a basic search for you (not too likely, though).

You’ve built up some good will, and the writer appreciates your support. Now, you want to take the relationship to email.

Go back to their author bio to see if you can find a link to their personal website. Not all writers will have an email list (like bloggers), but they’ll all have a contact form at the minimum:

If a chance to join an email list comes up, take it. That’s the easiest way to get the writer’s personal email address.

However, unlike some bloggers/influencers, freelancers diligently check emails received through the contact form, so you can use that as well.

In your first message, don’t pitch or link to anything.

At this point, the writer should know you by name, and they are probably thinking:

[Your Name] seems to be popping up everywhere recently. He either really likes my work, wants me to write for him/her, or wants something from me (to review his/her product or something similar).

If you link to something right away, all that time getting to know the writer and his/her work is flushed down the toilet.

Instead, send something like this to them (either to their email or using the contact form):

Subject: Your [niche] writing

Hi [Writer’s Name],

I just wanted to send you a quick message to let you know that I loved your recent articles on [site #1] and [site #2].

In particular, your article about [recent topic] was extremely helpful. I took your advice [something from the articles] and ended up [some sort of achievement].

Keep up the great work :),

[Your Name]

Step 5: Introduce your work. Now that you’ve done an awesome job beginning the relationship, you can start thinking about how your content or product works best with your target writer’s work.

Although you could send an email a week or two later asking them to take a look at one of your best posts, your best move is to give even more value to your writer.

How? Freelance writers have to continually come up with great ideas to pitch, which is hard.

So, give them three or four great article ideas highly related to your product or content.

Then, send them another email, something like this:

Subject: A few content ideas?

Hi [name],

I have a few article ideas that I think would be perfect for you if you’re interested.

I didn’t mention it before, but I’m actually a [niche] blogger (just on my personal site). I previously wrote a really in-depth article on [topic] {put the link in here!}. I was looking for a few great resources to link to in that article, but I couldn’t really find any, so I just noted down the topics.

I was planning on writing about them myself because I think they’ll turn out great, but it’s not exactly the kind of topic I usually write about on my site.

It just occured to me that you might be the perfect writer to use these ideas, so they’re yours if you’d like to pitch them to any of your editors:

[idea #1]

[idea #2]

[idea #3]

Let me know if you end up writing any—I’d love to read them.

Cheers,

[Your Name]

Notice the mention of your content and the link (make this clear). The writer will almost always look at it and, assuming it’s as good as you say, link to it when they get a chance since it fits perfectly with the content ideas you gave them.

This approach hinges on you providing great content ideas. They can’t be just your everyday list post ideas that no editor will care about. Luckily, I can help you out here:

Where to Steal Ideas for Your Next Blog Post

Generate Clickable Ideas

How To Create Better Content For Your Customers

2. Give your best knowledge away (yes, guest posting is still useful)

I’ve written about guest posting many times before, but I need to correct some poor practices here. Some people write guest posts but don’t get the right backlinks from them, so I want to show you how to maximize your posts here.

If you need a guest posting crash course, refer to these:

Guest-Posting on Steroids: A 4-Step Blueprint That the Top Guest Posters Use

How to Find the Best Places to Guest Blog

Advanced Guest Posting

7 Lessons Learned from Publishing 300 Guest Posts

Some guest posting links are better than others: The typical guest post bio link at the bottom of the post, although okay, is not very effective.

It’s typically a single link at the very end of the post (not very many readers will see it), and sometimes it’s in a special “bio box,” which Google could devalue.

Don’t get me wrong: it will still drive some traffic and give you some SEO value—but not as much as you should be getting.

A good guest post is done on a really authoritative site, which automatically makes it a pretty trusted page.

It’s always seemed weird to me that any pages you link to in your guest post get more powerful contextual links (that drive more traffic) than a piddly link at the bottom.

Although a few blog owners are paranoid about you linking back to your site in any way, most are okay with it as long as it adds value. Your goal should always be to write the best guest post possible, and if that includes backing up a point by linking to your site, you should do it.

When I write a blog post, I link to supporting sources all the time. Most of these links aren’t to my own posts:

But when it truly makes sense to link to one of my own posts, I do it:

In this case, the post I linked to is relevant to the point I just made, and many readers would find it helpful.

One thing that more bloggers should do is link to their previous guest posts:

Either way, just make sure all links in the article are valuable. Typically, the best content to link to is:

lists of resources

ultimate guides

infographics/gifographics

data or studies

Why not add to your guest post’s authority? One of the reasons why you would guest post on a particular site is because it’s authoritative. Some of that authority will pass back onto your site.

What many guest posters don’t realize is that this means that the stronger your guest post is (in terms of authority), the more you benefit.

So, instead of just posting your guest post and calling it a day—like most bloggers do—you will promote it.

First, email anyone that you linked to or mentioned in the article:

Subject: Mentioned you

Hi [name],

I mentioned you in a guest post that I did on [site name]. If you’d like to check it out, here’s the link: [URL].

Best regards,

[Your Name]

Many will understand that you’d like them to share your post with their audiences, but you could also add a line asking them to do so in your email.

Next, share it on social media platforms you use regularly as part of your social media strategy.

But don’t just share it once. Share it multiple times over the next few weeks with different titles.

Finally, share it on aggregator sites such as Reddit or niche-specific ones such as Inbound.org and Hackernews. If it’s a really well-written post, you can get at least a few hundred targeted visitors to it. If you’re new to Reddit, do yourself a favor, and read this guide first.

3. Inform the world of your infographics

I still love infographics even if they don’t work as well as they used to.

An average infographic today still gets me 371 backlinks from 34 unique domains.

There is no other common content type that spreads as easily as infographics do as revealed by a study of over 1 million articles:

Since it’s other people who link to infographics, these links are almost always safe.

In addition, you control most of the anchor text. When you publish an infographic, you should always include an HTML embed code that people can copy and paste on their websites:

Within the embed code, there is a link to the image and also a link back to the original page with the anchor text you specify:

If you picked anchor text like “best diet pills,” then yes, you might get penalized. But for branded anchor text (e.g., “Quick Sprout”), no chance.

Remember that only a fraction of people will use the embed code, so you will still get overall diversified anchor text. For instance, that above example was only used by 32% of linkers:

Get bloggers to link to your infographic: If you don’t have any readership, it’s extra important to promote your infographic aggressively. This is still safe because although you’re asking for a link, you’re not paying for it or trying to trick someone into giving it to you.

Compile a list of bloggers in your niche, and send them an email like this:

Subject: [insert the name of your infographic] infographic

Hey [insert their first name],

I hope your [insert the day] is going well. I noticed your blog and thought you might want to check out this infographic we just rolled out about [insert the topic of your infographic].

Check it out when you have a minute, and let me know what you think.

[insert URL]

The embed code is located under the infographic for an easy copy and paste (just in case you want to share it with your readers).

Thanks for taking a look! Hope it was of interest to you,

[Your Name]

Again, this doesn’t work as well as it used to, but you should be able to get about 5% (sometimes more) of the bloggers to embed your infographic at some point, assuming it is actually good.

4. Social media links add up…and have one added bonus

Much confusion exists when SEO and social media come up together, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

I’ll make this as simple as possible.

Matt Cutts released a video last year clearly saying that social signals are not a ranking factor in Google’s algorithm:

However, Bing does take into account social authority. In an interview, Bing representatives confirmed that the search engine looks at how many followers you have, who follows you, etc. It might not be a huge ranking factor, but it’s there.

That’s really all there is from a simple SEO perspective.

Now, let’s shift gears a bit. Be honest, when you read the title of this post, what did you immediately think of?

Google.

Yes, Google is a behemoth, but Google does not represent all search engines. Even just from a text standpoint, Bing/Yahoo are continually growing their market share.

Last year, I wrote that social is the new SEO, and not a ton has changed since then.

The fact remains that Google is just one site you can rank on. YouTube, for example, gets 1,140 searches per second. That’s far more valuable than Google for video-based content.

What about Twitter? Twitter’s search engine gets over 2.1 billion searches per day. Then there’s Facebook, Instagram, Google+…

There are a ton of search engines out there.

Being active on them and getting a lot of social shares will help you show up in their searches more often, which will lead to more traffic to your website.

In addition, many of those shares still result in a link back to your site. They may not get any special “social” consideration, but they’re still links on an authoritative domain.

In case you didn’t watch that video above, Cutts said this:

Facebook and Twitter pages are treated like any other pages in our web index so if something occurs on Twitter or occurs on Facebook and we’re able to crawl it, then we can return that in our search results.

Not surprisingly, social media profiles, and even posts, sometimes rank really well.

Even though thousands of sites mention Quick Sprout, social media profiles are seen as highly relevant to a brand query. Links from these pages must provide at least some SEO value.

Finally, who knows how Google’s algorithm is going to change in the future. It may include social signals one day. Until then, social media links can help you rank on multiple search engines and can send direct traffic to your site.

Aggregator sites are social too: I’ve mentioned before that large aggregator sites, such as Reddit and Inbound.org, can be great for link-building.

Those sites are highly authoritative, usually allow dofollow links, and have massive audiences.

If your content gets popular on any of these platforms, you can get massive exposure, which can lead to many more links in the future.

For example, a startup called Product Hunt was essentially launched on the startup and entrepreneur subreddit communities. The people in those communities liked it so much that it became popular and spread insanely quickly.

Now, people link to it all the time on those subreddits, which leads to more exposure, users, and links:

In addition, when enough people see something, a percentage of them will link to it. Product Hunt was able to get over 1 million links in just over a year, all starting from a few posts:

5. Be altruistic – do something beneficial for your community

As a marketer, you might find it really easy to become selfish and always ask, “What’s in it for me?”

But sometimes, you can find ways in which both you and your community can win.

Below are a couple of such ways I’d like to share with you.

Tactic #1: Set up a scholarship. You used to be able to donate to charities to get great links, but that’s not extremely effective anymore since SEOs got wind of it. But a scholarship is similar to a donation—just bigger.

It will cost more, but you’ll get more, and often higher quality, links out of it.

Creating a scholarship isn’t very difficult in the States although it may vary in other parts of the world. Here’s a simple guide.

If you’re creating one in the US, you need to meet certain legal and IRS requirements. I recommend consulting a lawyer if possible. On the plus side, creating a scholarship also comes with some tax breaks.

To start with, you’ll need to decide how much you want to give away and to whom. Scholarships can be as little as $500-1,000, so you don’t need to break the bank to set up one.

I would recommend making the scholarship as relevant to your niche as possible. For example, if you were in marketing, you could create a scholarship for aspiring marketers or entrepreneurs. This will help your links to be more relevant and powerful for your search rankings.

Once you create your scholarship (put the details on your website), you can start contacting schools to link to it. These are very high quality links.

You can use these search strings to find potential scholarship pages (do the same with .gov):

site:.edu “scholarships”

site:.edu “college scholarships”

site:.edu “scholarships links”

site:.edu “scholarship list”

site:.edu “list of scholarships”

site:.edu “Outside Agency Scholarships”

site:.edu “private Scholarships”

site:.edu “keyword + scholarships”

Be warned, you might have to dig around a little bit to find the page you need. Look for a link to a page with external scholarships, like this:

Some pages will have contact information on them, but sometimes you’ll have to scroll down to the footer to find a link to the school’s directory. Find contact information for the scholarship department:

I always prefer calling over email when possible. If you send an email, it can be weeks or months before you hear back.

Also remember that since most of these pages will belong to schools, they won’t be usually very active during summers, when it may take longer to get a reply.

Contact as many as you can, and you should be able to get at least a few dozen solid links.

Tactic #2: Run a contest. Do you know what else people in your community love? Free stuff.

You can give away subscriptions or products to people that give you their email addresses and share the contest on social media. The bigger the prizes you give away, the more viral it will go, and the better results you will get.

I’ll be upfront: this tactic is primarily good for building your email list, but it will provide you with a few links as well.

Gael Breton ran a contest to grow Authority Hacker and was able to get over 1,600 new subscribers and thousands of social followers and shares. The contest also attracted 10 natural links of decent quality on forums and blogs.

To get those results, they had to give away prizes that had a total value of over $5,000.

But Gael was clever. Instead of just putting up that money himself, he got the companies to donate the prizes.

If you can convince a few well-known companies that you know what you’re doing and have them donate prizes, you might be able to lower your contest costs by a significant amount.

Conclusion

I hope you get a few big takeaways from this post.

First, if you’re going to “build” safe links in 2015, you need either great content or a great product. Most of your investment should be going into either content or product development.

Once you have that, you can use these five effective ways to build safe links that can be used over and over again to grow your website’s traffic and search rankings at the same time.

You don’t necessarily need to use all five, but having a diverse link profile only makes you more immune to Google penalties.

This is far from a complete list of link building strategies, but it’s what I think most site owners should start with.

If I missed any of your favorites, share them in a comment below so that everyone else can benefit too.

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