One of my link builders recently had the brilliant idea of putting together and sending out a questionnaire designed to gather information how the other link builders in our agency perform their daily link building tasks. We’ve always worked on the assumption that each link builder will naturally be drawn to using certain specific tools and techniques. We’ve also found that overall, our clients benefit from working with link builders who all do things a little bit differently from everyone else. If someone gets stuck, so to speak, there are many other favored methods that can be tried.
The results of this survey were extremely enlightening for me, as I realized that the majority of my link builders were having difficulties in one major area: discovery of ideal linking partners. Considering link building is all they do every day, I can’t imagine that this is a problem that’s limited to my agency. That’s why in today’s column, we’ll talk a bit about the major methods we use in our discovery phase for clients.
Now, a caveat: while I do believe that it is your content that will encourage people to link to you in most cases, I do not believe that any link building campaign needs to ignore the actual, intentional pursuit of quality links. Therefore, as you can see, discovery is a very, very big deal. There are many good ways to conduct discovery, but there is really no one right way. That, I believe, is why the majority of my staff identified discovery as an area in which they’d like to improve. We simply have not given them any absolutes, as we don’t feel that there really are any.
Methods of link discovery
We identified 6 major methods of discovery: random searches, relevant searches, directories, blogrolls, referrals, and other. It’s interesting to note that the vast majority of our link builders use a combination of random and relevant searches as their main method of discovery.
- Random searches. Random link searches are not exactly what they sound like. We call this a random method, but it should be noted that only the method is random…the topic for the search is not, as we don’t want to find sites that are irrelevant. You can find particularly interesting sites geared towards a very specific interest, by using an organic thought process in which you have no major agenda. This all sounds very New Age but it has led us to some of our best inbound links.
I’ll give you an example for this one, since it’s the only method that isn’t exactly what it sounds like. When working for a site that sells punk rock concert videos, we may search for “punk videos” to start with, then we’ll see a long-tailed search phrase somewhere down in the SERPs on page 3, so we’ll then type that phrase in, then click on the first result, see something on the site’s homepage that triggers an idea, and we’ll end up on a fan site that is devoted to the music of Stiff Little Fingers.
We see that this site seeks to list all online stores that happen to sell Stiff Little Fingers items, and our client has one of these sites. Therefore, it’s a great place to get a link, and it was a somewhat random method of discovery. It’s also relevant but we still go about it in a slightly more haphazard way.
- Relevant searches. These are exactly what they sound like. If the client sells clothes, we’re going to do some searches for clothes, clothing, apparel, women’s tops, men’s coats, and so on. We may not drill down and get as long-tailed to the extent that we would during a random search, however. This method is a bit more structured, and we might use keyword suggestions from a variety of sources in order to search this way.
Many clients come to us with keywords of their own, which we’ll use, along with keywords generated from the usual suspects (Wordtracker, Google Adwords, etc.)
In addition, don’t forget that niche and vertical search engines exist. My personal favorite is Able Grape, which is a wine search engine. The results returned by a niche search engine can be much more tailored to your topic, but if you’re going to use one, make sure you understand how the search should be conducted. Otherwise, you may not get the results that you want.
- Directories. Sometimes-maligned, the good ones serve a purpose for anyone seeking quality sites. Link builders are no different. We try to concentrate on the more well-known and higher-quality directories, but we don’t ignore niche or local directories.
- Blogrolls. These are useful at times, especially if you find good blogs that are out there for the sake of promoting good content. The great thing about high-quality blogs is that they’re built by people who have a serious interest in their niche, and they tend to attract other like-minded people who will hopefully take part in the community. Some people eschew blogs, thinking they’re worthless, but we’ve found that they tend to be very, very good for traffic, if you’re careful. If someone takes his or her blog seriously, the blogroll will most likely contain other quality sites.
- Referrals. These happen for us both online and offline. The online referrals are occasionally offered to us, but we’ve found that many serious bloggers in a niche know other serious bloggers in that niche and most of them don’t mind being asked for referrals. Offline, it’s easy to see how you can get a referral from casual conversation with someone. You’re waiting in line and start chatting with a lady about what you both do for a living (or at least we do this in the South) and it turns out that she has a neighbor who has a son who runs a website that’s in the same niche as one of your clients. You get the name, find the site, and make the contact.
- Other link discovery methods. Last, and probably least according to our survey, there is the category of Other. For the purposes of this piece, and our survey, the category of Other meant anything that was not specifically defined, but the answers for this one were all different variations of Google Advanced Operator Queries. Another route I recently noticed, was Ann Smarty’s great piece on how to do non-SERPs searching, so I’ll add that to our arsenal.
To conclude, in case you’re still awake, discovery of quality linking partners is a lot trickier than you might think. There are a variety of ways in which this can be done, with none of them being the perfect way to find the perfect site that will link to you. However, as with many things, a balanced approach will probably serve you best. If you have any discovery methods that we haven’t covered, please feel free to leave them in the comments.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.