How to build relevant links (it’s not how you think)

Outreach is still the most consistently successful linkbuilding tactic, and even though it’s fairly well documented that some companies are better at it than others, one thing any good SEO will tell you is that you need to get your links on highly relevant sites. The more relevant your link building, the better.

Paul May from BuzzStream wrote a great summary of his talk at last June’s Content Marketing Show in London, in which he points out that the “old link building outreach model” is fundamentally broken. It used to be a three step plan, where the first thing to do was “create a big-ass list that includes anyone even marginally relevant to your content”.

Paul is completely right, and this is absolutely the wrong way to go about identifying potential outreach targets – to combat this, many linkbuilding blogs are recommending you only target highly relevant sites. Or are they?

Worry about your own site’s relevance

According to Federico Einhorn you should “only approach websites that are relevant to your target readers. Think about your audience and go for the blogs that THEY would check out, not necessarily the ones that you would visit.”

This doesn’t mean that if you work for a bingo company you should only be targeting bingo blogs. Have you ever seen a bingo blog? In general they’re either a) already associated with one of your competitors; b) a thinly disguised affiliate site; or c) overwhelmingly unread by your target audience.

The sites you should be targeting are the sites that your potential customers are actually reading, and for most bingo operators the target audience isn’t hardcore bingo fans (they probably already know who you are anyway, and have already made a decision about whether they want to try out your product).

Instead, you should be establishing what else your target audience is interested in; trying to work with the sites that deal with those subjects, that your audience actually read; and creating your own assets that you think they will find interesting.

How to approach site owners

Einhorn and May both (regularly) discuss the finer points of outreach which can help you to establish a rapport with a webmaster or blogger, and there are loads of great tips out there on the web – but the truth is that the kind of sites that you should be targeting are good enough to know what their audience want.

That’s why some site owners knock you back when you reach out to them – great sites are more interested in their readers and less interested in your money.

When a great site does turn you down it can be disheartening, but don’t let it put you off – great ideas don’t work the same across the entire internet. Hannah Smith, who still holds the title of “best talk on outreach I’ve ever seen” (sorry Paul), wrote:

“Whilst I totally concur with investing in content creation, the rule of thumb we use is if you spend 40 hours creating a piece you should typically spend a further 40 hours outreaching / seeding / promoting (and often we spend more).”

Flipping this on its head, how many SEO companies spend as much time creating their content as they do reaching out to webmasters? Failing that, how many SEO companies spend 40 hours creating content? If you’re writing a guest post, spending even four hours on the most awesome post for the most niche of sites is potentially wasted time.

1. Press publish, 2. ???, 3. Profit!

When you’re writing your posts, think about what you hope to achieve once you press the publish button. There’s something to be said for writing for blogs in your niche if it’s going to increase your standing in the industry, but it’s unlikely to create leads that will convert unless it’s on a site that your customers read.

You’re showing off to your competition while you try to increase your rankings. Maybe you’re even increasing your Author Rank (you’re not, it’s never going to happen). But are you increasing your revenue?

I’m not suggesting for a second that we’re going to witness a decline in the number of great niche blogs out there; or even that you should be ignoring them completely. Getting your brand featured on the biggest sites in your industry is awesome publicity. The issue is when you only get featured on sites in your industry.

The kinds of shady SEO firms that still exclusively do guest posting are the kind of companies that promise you x amount of posts per month – which means that after a few months they’re going to be scraping the barrel.

From Google’s perspective a backlink profile consisting entirely of enthusiasts without a single person that’s actually said to have purchased the product looks slightly odd. Consumer blogs are your friend, and this is one of the numerous reasons Google wants to get in on social. They want to know what buyers actually want, as well as what influencers think is cool.

To get your brand in front of an audience that is going to buy into your content, you need to ask yourself: “whose audience would find what I’ve got interesting?” and not “which sites write about exactly what I do?”

If you can’t beat them…

That the most specialist of blogs are targeted for outreach makes perfect sense…if you’re going to go out and pay for a bunch of posts. Getting your company featured on a blog that only covers companies such as yours, and talks about only the exact thing you do, is a pretty safe bet – making your post appear as natural as possible by placing it on the most relevant blog you can find is sensible when you’re trying to avoid unpleasantries with Mountain View.

But people who read extensively about the exact thing you do will probably already know about your company (as long as you’re worth buying from); which means you aren’t marketing. You’re building your link equity, which means you should have a fantastic platform to launch some proper marketing campaigns…but if niche blog guest posting is the only thing your internet marketing activity consists of you’re really narrowing your funnel.

Worse still, building your link equity using guest posting on niche blogs might only work for so long, so building your author profile and getting yourself and your company out in front of customers could be the way to go for Google. In the end, Google wants to rank the content you and your company is creating, and not your company itself – Matt Cutts’ M.O. is that if you want to advertise, use AdWords.

With Google updating its “SEO advice” recently too, marketers should start to take note of not only what Google says it’s after (regardless of whether that is actually what Google wants in order to rank sites), but what the businesses you’re working with are after too. Your bingo client wants to see themselves featured on the Mirror, not on Bob’s Bingo News Blog, because that’s the publication that more potential customers are reading.

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