How To Create A Sustainable Link Plan
I’ve recently spoken with three business owners who have approached me in a fairly atypical way: instead of asking me for a proposal, they’ve given me theirs. It’s been a fascinating glimpse into the dangers of thinking that just because you read a lot about link building (and by and large, most people who tell me what they “know” will work say that they read every link building article that comes out), you’re equipped to run a successful campaign.
Here’s the most common thing that these guys have in common:
They have a link plan that is absolutely and completely unsustainable for more than a few months at best.
I occasionally get the urge to create a content calendar and get five posts a week up on my agency’s blog, but it just doesn’t happen. Maybe I can swing it for a week or two, but I can’t keep it up. My reasons for wanting to post more have more to do with making our blog better in general though, as I’m not going into it thinking “I need to build 100 links to this site so I’ll rank where I want to.”
These business owners that I’m talking about have one goal in mind, and that’s links (and lots of them.) Yes, still, even though we should all understand that building lots of links very quickly can be a red flag as those links aren’t always top notch.
Take this example idea, paraphrased:
“If I generate an average of 5 links per blog post and I write 10 blog posts a day for 6 months, that’s 1,800 posts and 9,000 links. They can even be really short posts, so I can get them all out there.”
Here’s One Problem
Every post won’t generate the same amount of links. Some may generate zero. Coming up with interesting content for these 1,800 blog posts is going to be incredibly difficult. Promoting 10 blog posts a day, and doing so without becoming an incredibly annoying Tweeter, is going to be very tough.
You may write these 1,800 blog posts and get a total of 10 links, and those could all be scraper trackbacks. Yes, I’m being negative, but being overly optimistic can cause you to lay out a link strategy that is just not going to turn out exactly as you predict.
An Even Bigger Problem
How on Earth are you going to find the time to do the research required to write 10 unique and link-worthy pieces of content every day? If you aren’t doing that then you’re just repeating what someone else has said or you’re talking about nothing that anyone wants to read.
The Biggest Problem
Let’s say that you actually succeed in writing all those posts over the course of 6 months, generating loads of links along the way. How long can you keep that up? After 6 months of that, your business could be in the toilet, anyway, as I can’t imagine you’ve been able to pay attention to much else.
I realize that the above example is outrageous, but it’s not that far off from some proposals that have come to me. Many people still assume that quantity is the key to building links. They forget about the time it takes to build up a community on social media, form relationships that are give and take, and actually generate content that attracts great links.
Let’s now look at three issues commonly faced by webmasters and go through some examples of sustainable link goals.
Getting A New Site Off The Ground
First of all, here’s something you do not ever want to do for a new site: buy links, or buy into a link network. Those types of links are risky, and a new site with no link padding usually cannot afford the risk. It’s tempting, I know, and while I do believe there’s a time for link buys, it’s not now.
Secondly, buying links is also not very sustainable unless you’re made of money. If you don’t expect to have the budget to renew those links in 12 months, you’re probably better off doing something else.
Ask yourself where you want your site to be this time next year, and map out a 3-month, 6-month, and 12-month plan alongside estimated costs. Double those costs and halve the amount of links you think you’ll gain. Double the amount of work it will actually take to get where you want to be.
Yes, I think that’s a negative way to approach it, but you don’t create anything sustainable by running out of steam and sitting around with no ideas, no money, and no manpower for 6 months out of the year.
Let’s say you have just started a site selling unroasted coffee beans. You do some competitive analysis on the sites ranking highly in your niche and find that on average, most have between 500 and 1,000 unique linking domains. You currently have zero. Below is an example plan.
1. Set up your social media signatures
I highly recommend Knowem for this, as they’ll do the work for you for a price, but it’s time well saved when you’re starting out and need to be doing other things. After you have this done (or after you’ve done it yourself), go and actually use the big ones that matter. For me, it’s Twitter, Facebook, and Google +. I’d recommend at least one of those for anyone, but if you’re going to be creating content under your name or brand, I think G+ is critical.
2. Get your site listed in the good directories
I don’t recommend that anyone solely focus on directories, and a lot of them are truly abysmal, but there are good directories out there. Since I wanted a second opinion on which ones are good for most businesses, I asked Debra Mastaler, and her top picks are Joe Ant, Yahoo!, Ezilon, Euroseek, Family Friendly Sites, and BOTW.
3. Craft a content plan
The mind burns with ideas for content creation for unroasted coffee beans, so have a brainstorm and create a content calendar that you can stick to. I like to have a list of evergreen topics and add to it with seasonal or popular topics. Evergreen pieces can take a lot of work, but they can also generate a lot of links, so aim for at least one of those every few months. Try and write something popular/seasonal at least every few weeks.
In this effort, I’d include a mix of maybe 75% content for your own site, and 25% content for use with guest posting. A year ago, I’d have advised doing more guest posting, but I do think that is becoming a riskier and spammier method of link building, sadly, so when you’re just starting out, I think you should be more careful.
4. Figure out how you’re going to get people to see your content
For most people starting out, social media is a great way to do this. Encourage people to subscribe to your blog. Tweet new content whether it’s on your site or elsewhere, but do more than just promote your latest piece… you need to interact and get involved. The more friends you make online, the more people you have who will socialize your content without even being asked.
5. Go ahead and start thinking of non-Google ways to market
Maybe you can do an emailed newsletter once a month or ask people to give you their email addresses so you can email them about product promotions and special coupons. Build up a few great social media profiles and use them regularly so people can find you there. Establish yourself on sites like Quora where people ask questions and you give them answers. See if you can secure a monthly column on a respected site in your niche.
6. Start actively building some links
Broken link building is always a good method. Go and find links to sites like yours that aren’t valid and live links, email the webmasters with your suggested link and you’ll get some great links. I think this is a tedious method, but it’s also a very effective one.
If you see a site where you want to be listed as a resource, contact them. If you see a post about an interesting and related topic but you have a different perspective, contact the webmaster and ask if you could do a followup piece that will link back to your site.
For example, let’s say you find someone talking about how horribly difficult it is to roast your own beans, a piece that’s full of bad experiences. You sell unroasted beans, so write a piece about the benefits.
Switching Gears On A Current Site
Let’s assume you do this for reasons other than that you’re trying to recover from a big problem. Maybe you’re taking over the marketing of a site from someone who did a poor job, or maybe you’re dealing with an established site that’s going to do a soft rebranding. You have a decent foundation to work with. Social media profiles are set up and actively being used. This is actually a pretty easy case.
Write up a new content plan, just like in the above example
You probably have some good contacts to utilize, so reach out and see if you can guest post on some sites. Since you’re more established now, see if you can secure a regular slot on a site that gets good traffic. If you don’t know of anything like this, start investigating sites that are related to your niche, but perhaps not so directly.
In the unroasted coffee beans example, maybe you could find a site about homesteading or urban mini-farms, and ask if you can create a column. Just make sure you can commit to the time it takes to write that often. If you can, it’s a great way to get leads.
Think about what you’ve done over the past year
Think about your plans for the next year. Compare them to make sure they’re realistic in terms of what you actually can accomplish. If you’ve been sending 100 outreach emails for guest posts or text links a month and this netted you 5 links a month, reexamine your approach.
Maybe you’re targeting out-of-reach people, or your emails are getting caught by spam filters. Maybe the emails aren’t personalized enough and you need to spend more time on fewer good prospects rather than casting such a wide net. Maybe you’ve been following the same 200 Twitter users forever and need to branch out and make some new connections so you can find more link opportunities.
Recovering From A Problem
Let’s say that you’ve been penalized or de-indexed and you need to fix things and get moving again.
There are tools to help you identify your worst offenders, so nail them down and pursue removal. If you have 5,000 awful links from spammy free sites, don’t think sustainable action there, just get them all removed as quickly as possible. (And please, note what types of sites these are and don’t go getting links on them again.)
First and foremost, take stock of the good links that you have. Make sure you keep them and keep those relationships open.
Go through steps 2-6 in the first example
In many ways you’re starting over, but you (hopefully) should have some good existing links.
It’s good to dream big, certainly, and selling yourself short can lead to inaction, which leads to no links. However, I’ve seen so many projects take off like a rocket and then totally taper off, because clients don’t maintain that same drive and excitement. No matter what your plan is, think about these things:
1. How long can I keep doing this?
2. What are the potential reasons that I would have to stop this plan or alter it?
3. What are my backup methods when my current ones stop working or I can no longer use them?
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)
Everything you need to know about SEO, delivered every Thursday.