Of all the digital marketing tactics at your disposal, link acquisition (also known as Digital PR, outreach and link building) is arguably the most influential. This is because it can markedly improve your search engine ranking, generate more traffic to your website, and position your business as a leading industry authority. With the vast majority of users visiting Google to commence their online journeys, SEO has become a top priority for marketers everywhere.
Time and time again, link acquisition has proved to be the most successful and sustainable way of securing SEO superiority. But what if you’ve never explored link acquisition before and don’t know where to start?
We’ve got you covered with our beginner’s guide. Let’s get into it…
What is link acquisition and why is it important?
Link acquisition attempts to generate links from other websites to your own. The goal of link acquisition is to help you increase your search engine ranking for relevant keywords. This, in turn, will generate more organic traffic from your target audience. Even if most of your traffic comes from search, social media, email, or even direct, links tell Google what the rest of the web thinks about your site.
“If lots of links are pointing to your site, Google will know that it contains something worth visiting and duly promote you in its search results.”
However, that doesn’t mean to say all links are created equal…
How does Google judge the quality of a link?
In years gone by, SEO experts would exploit Google’s love of links with ‘black hat’ techniques – buying links, spamming comment boxes and keyword stuffing to name a few. Today, this approach is not only heavily frowned upon, but also likely to result in a penalty from Google’s increasingly intelligent algorithm.
The Google algorithm analyses and ranks links according to:
- Page Authority – This matters more than any other factor. Page Authority (PA) is a score from one to 100 developed by Moz that predicts how well a specific page will rank on search engine result pages (SERPs).
- Domain Authority – Although similar to PA, Domain Authority (DA) takes a range of additional factors into account such as linking root domains and the number of total links on a website.
- Site Relevancy – Ideally, links should come from sites that are closely related to your own, or else it might not count.
- Link Position – Links that are stashed away in footers and sidebars aren’t as valuable as those in a page’s body content.
- Editorial Links – You want other websites to place your link naturally within their copy. Otherwise, they could be regarded as unnatural and a violation of Google’s guidelines.
- Link Anchor Text – The clickable text section of a link (often underlined and in blue) is another ranking signal. Lots of keyword-rich anchor text can be considered spammy though.
- Link Co-Citations – Or the ‘baby anchor text’ that surrounds your link. Relatable keywords and phrases let Google know what your page is about.
- Nofollow & Dofollow – Links featuring the tag ‘re=nofollow’ tells Google not to count it as an endorsement. Therefore, you want to acquire normal, ‘dofollow’ links whenever possible.
Ticking off every item on this ambitious checklist isn’t easy. But your chances will dramatically improve if you create content that influential sites and pages are interested in sharing.
How do you identify and appeal to influencers?
Unless you already have an audience of influential bloggers and journalists, your current content probably won’t be able to generate high-quality backlinks. It’s all well and good creating content that your customers find useful, informative, and engaging. But for link acquisition purposes, you need to publish content that your influencers will share and link to as well.
Here’s a couple of steps to get you started:
- Find influencers by searching for content – Say you’re a PR agency. Searching for ‘Digital PR’ will simply bring up a list of your competitors. Instead, search for ‘Digital PR tips’ or ‘How to find media contacts’ to find influencers sharing content within your niche. Meltwater is an example of a company who offers an influencer database tool that you can use to search for influencers based on beats or previous content they’ve recently covered.
- Identify topics of interest to your influencers – Skim the last five blog posts your influencers published to see what topics they talk about and the sites they link to. When you’ve got a list of 4-5 topics, you can start creating content.
For more info on how to find and work with influencers, check out our definitive guide to influencer marketing
What kind of content should you be creating?
According to SEO and link building guru Brian Dean, certain types of content tend to generate the most links. These include:
- Visual assets – Nearly all written content becomes more interesting and engaging with the addition of images, video, infographics, or interactive elements. If you give your influencers a visual asset to embed within their own content, you should receive a link in return.
- List posts – Research has shown that list posts generated more backlinks than any other content format. They outperformed quizzes, videos, how-to guides, and infographics.
- Original research and data – Whenever someone references a statistic in their content, its standard practice to link back to the source. Therefore, if you can unearth new data from research, studies, or surveys, you’ll quickly acquire an untold number of links.
- In-depth guides – By comprehensively covering everything there is to know about a particular topic, you’ll position yourself as the go-to resource. In fact, this approach has proved more worthwhile than multiple posts about the same subject (quality vs. quantity).
Here’s one of my favourite campaigns an interactive infographic featuring the weirdest (and most painful) beauty procedures generating links on top-tier news sites.
The next stage of link acquisition is getting your influencers to actually share and link to your content. It’s all about pitching and promotion…
How do you pitch and promote content?
Traditionally, businesses would issue a press release in the hope of generating attention and exposure from the media. But when it comes to link acquisition, this approach is somewhat redundant. You already know who you want to promote your content, and if you’ve created something of value and interest to their audience, you should be able to pitch its merits directly. But before conducting cold outreach, try to warm up your influencers. After that, you can get in touch directly and point them towards your content.
Here are a few options:
- Get on your influencer’s radar – Follow them on social media, share one of their posts or pieces of content, and leave an in-depth blog comment.
- Ask for their opinion – Before you publish your content, try to get your influencer’s opinion on it or ask them to provide you with a quote.
- Reference their content – Reach out to your influencer, reference content they’ve previously shared, and mention the fact you’ve created something similar/relevant.
- Position your content – Find content your influencer has created (ideally a list post, resource page, or in-depth guide) and suggest that your own content would be a nice addition.
With any luck, you’ll start acquiring links left, right, and centre.
Tips to get started with link acquisition
- Identify keywords and pages – Think about the keywords and pages you want to achieve higher rankings for. Work alongside your SEO team to strike the right balance between volume and competition.
- Identify sites and pages – Make a list of the kinds of sites you would like to receive links from. Ensure they’re relevant to your market, topic, and audience. Be realistic and avoid mega authority sites (Wikipedia, Forbes etc.)
- Identify relevant content – Write down the kind of content your target sites and pages are linking to. Start thinking of potential ideas.
- Take a look at the comments section – This is an underused yet invaluable resource for discovering reader sentiment. Is your audience crying out for similar content or additional information that explores other areas? You should be able to find out in the comments.
- Conduct an ideation session – Gather together your content creation team and start brainstorming. Personally, we like the Six Thinking Hats technique.
- Research your ideas – With your list of ideas, find out if they’ve been covered in detail before or whether you can offer a unique take on the subject.
- Move forward with three big ideas – Decide upon three main ideas, choose a content format for each, and start the creation process.
Much like every other digital marketing and SEO technique, link acquisition should be a long-term commitment. You must always give precedence to the creation of high-quality content that your audience (and influencers) would find valuable and worthwhile consuming. If you get stuck for content ideas these 5 tools will help.
With this as your foundation, you should start generating equally high-quality backlinks. The trick is getting your content seen and heard in the right places.
Ready to go the next stage? Read our packed stats and resources and many more tips to help you build relevant and authoritative links.
Guest post by:
Jane Hunt, Co-founder and Marketing Director, JBH – The Content Agency Twitter @jbhinfluence jbh.co.uk