Let’s face it: you might have a business or product that is simply not sexy, and it will always be difficult to “build links.” In fact, it might be downright impossible, or just cost prohibitive.
For many sites, it’s hard to build links from clients and prospects. And there may be few or no industry blogs to speak of. So, where does one get links?
Can every site, regardless of niche or industry, find quality link building opportunities? I’m sure there are some that are truly stuck, but I have seen pretty unexciting sites do some really exciting things that earned links and drove the right traffic.
Where do you go when you need to brainstorm some really creative link building ideas? Start by getting as far outside of the box as possible.
Start With A Category Map
The key to crazy creative link building brainstorming is to get every possible idea on the table. You never know what strange idea might lead you to the link building “gold mine” hiding around the corner.
Starting with a detailed category map can be a great foundation for this kind of creative strategy magic. To create your map, schedule a 45-minute brainstorming session with your online marketing team, including content, SEO and social media team members. You can use any variety of mind map software or even Google Drive, but I prefer good old whiteboards and paper.
Start by placing your target business in the center of your blank canvas and begin drawing business elements “above,” “below” and “next to” the business. This should include your business vertical and similar business verticals, the topics that are important to your business and other related business, the broader parent category and related parent categories, etc.
The idea is to get as complete a picture as possible of the ecosystem your business lives in. This includes competitors and non-competitors, complementary businesses and topics, and tangentially related business and topics. Let your category map explore as far as you are able to go. Sometimes the best link building opportunities pop up in unexpected places.
Here are a few points to consider:
- List all related business verticals (if you’re SaaS, list all SaaS categories. If construction, list all construction categories, etc.).
- List hot topics and industry trends. Who’s talking about these topics?
- Who are your vendors and suppliers, and what verticals do they operate in?
Need to go deeper?
- Identify all broader topics and tangentially related topics (for instance, a paving company might consider commuting, road trips, family travel, worker’s safety issues, entertaining kids in the car, etc.).
- Find a list of industry association members and look into individuals’ social profiles and blogs for ideas.
- Chase every random idea; investigate every blogroll.
The further you go, the more you can uncover.
List Every Possible “Community”
After you have developed a good size category map, make a list of every possible online community that connects with the business and topics you have outlined. Who blogs about these topics? Who blogs about these topics among other things? What experts, consultants and enthusiasts exist in each field?
Examine Each Community
Most of the communities on your list will not be a good fit. Now is the time to start filtering them out.
Begin by selecting those communities you feel best about in terms of link building. Now it’s time to hit your favorite research tools to look into their presence online. Does the community even have a presence online? Is it an active presence (blogs, websites and social media that are updated frequently) or an outdated one (websites built in the 90s)? How big is the online community? Can you identify Tier 1 influencers as well as smaller influencers? How often does this community tend to link to external resources? How relevant is this community to your business?
Use these questions to evaluate the link building potential of each community.
Link Builder Beware — There Are No Shortcuts
As you dig into each possible community, you will come across groups of websites that share a topical connection with your business and may in fact prove to be great link partners. However, a community’s passion can quickly turn against you.
Let’s take an specific example: DUI lawyers. SEO for lawyers is historically crammed with lots and lots of spam (be warned as Matt Cutts promises to spend more time fixing spammy query algorithms). Is it even possible for a DUI lawyer to build “good” links? There are few ideal link opportunities.
What if a DUI lawyer were to try building relationships with substance abuse blogs, counselors, and safe driving campaigns? These sites are typically run by passionate, committed individuals. Would they ever want to work with (and link to) a DUI lawyer?
No matter the scenario, it comes down to your intent, which is shown by your content and every communication you send out. If you have produced a significant volume of content over time that a community finds authentic and helpful, chances are you can find opportunities to build natural links. But if you come across as begging for links from a group that may not like you very much in the first place, look out!
This may sound silly, but here’s some advice: consider your motivations. Are you trying to fast-track and manipulate your way into building links? Or are you willing to give before you receive, to invest the time and resources it takes to really join the community and make a meaningful contribution? At that point, it may become more than a marketing effort — a way for your company to “give back.” If your company or client is not willing or has little desire to make the kind of investment needed to truly support a passionate online community, then move on!
Count The Cost & Build Some Links
Hopefully, this process helps uncover new link building opportunities that you haven’t thought of before. If you truly are in a niche with no ideal link building opportunities, the only links you can build won’t be perfect. In other words, you will have to make a sacrifice in one or more areas, especially relevancy or authority.
Of course, the best links come from sites that are both highly relevant to your site and authoritative. However, you may find that the most useful or active communities may not be highly relevant or authoritative (or both). Depending on how relevant the community is to your business, you may also need to take time and effort to build new content on your site that is appealing to this community.
Count the cost and consider the potential benefits. Creative link building in new communities often does pay off, but you have to be shrewd about what you invest in and carefully watch the impact it has on your rankings, traffic and conversions. Wander too far from your core message and you may start getting the wrong traffic to your site, for example. But if you are hard up for an effective way to build links, you will probably have to step outside the box.
Image courtesy of SEOPerks used with permission.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.