In this blog, I’ve often spoken about different link-building strategies. Generally, we can break them down into two categories: chasing links vs. letting them chase you. Both methods have their pros and cons, and personally I’ve found that a mixed approach of link acquisition and link baiting is best. In this post I’m going to talk specifically about how each works and the strategies to employ. Whether you are a “chaser” or a “chasee” I’m going to tell you why you should make sure you’re doing both.
The Thrill of the Chase
Chasing links is the traditional way of building links. This includes things like submitting your site to directories, creating press releases, submitting articles and comments with your site link and anchor text, and other strategies. While it’s the most common way to acquire links, it’s also the most time-consuming, labor-intensive approach. But who is going to disparage a tried and true technique with results?
Step 1: Identifying link targets. First off it’s important to consider and research the links that are most valuable to your site. One way to do this is to scour through search engine results to see the top spots for your keywords, and attempting to acquire links from those sites. Another way is to look at your competitors and see what links they are getting (Yahoo Site Explorer is great for this). Personally, I like the latter method because you know that if your competitor obtained a link, surely you can too.
Step 2: Categorize your targets. There are different kinds of sites and each will require a unique approach, so you should look at where the most valuable links are coming from. Are they from blogs or news items? From link directories or review sites? Membership organizations you might want to join or already belong to? By understanding the kinds of links you’re after, you can hone your approach and employ specific strategies.
Step 3: Approaching the link target. As with any chase, approaching the target deftly and surely is of paramount importance. Press releases, for instance, have a particular format and style. Your success rate will be higher if you follow the guidelines and focus on a specific, newsworthy idea. Link directories also have their own rules and guidelines. Read them carefully and make certain you meet the qualifications before submitting. (Notice that I am assuming that the directory will review your site. That’s because a directory without an editorial board, one that lets every site in, probably isn’t worth your time as it will be demoted by search engines, either now or sometime soon.) Some blogs accept paid reviews, but probably the best ones won’t. Study what authority sites are already linking to so that you have the right idea of what to present them with. Always get the right contact information, an email address or phone number, and do things in an individual, personal, and personable manner. The chase of link building is a refined art!
Chasing after links allows you to be more selective and gives you greater control over your link structure and link text. It’s going to be naturally high quality and diverse. If you look at my previous post about link mass, you know that I encourage you to go after the hardest ones first because they usually give you the most link juice.
The obvious con is the time and labor required by you. Chasing after links isn’t something you want to be outsourcing because it requires personal rapport. It necessitates having your own voice and building a connection with representatives of other sites. Clearly it also takes a whole lot of time and patience.
* A Caution About Link Exchanges
Sometimes when you ask for a link, the site owner or blogger wants something in return, including a link back to their site. While this is standard practice, you don’t want to get involved in too many link exchanges because it could create an artificial-looking link profile. This is especially true if you use the same keyword-rich anchor text every time. Search engines are getting better at noticing this. Get your brand name out there first, and then start with keyword anchor texts.
The Pleasure of Being Chased
A less traditional but highly effective way of getting links is doing just the opposite—getting people to link directly to you without asking. Often called link baiting, the idea is to create viral content so powerful that it attracts links. This might come in the form of a useful step-by-step guide, a widget, an online tool, or a really funny viral video. All of these call for a slightly different strategy, but it’s always a similar process. Clearly, it also requires creativity and it involves more risk, but there are experts who can help you take a good idea where it needs to go.
Step 1: Identify the influencers. Instead of link targets, we identify the influencers. These are the “sneezers,” or what Rand Fishkin calls the linkerati. They are the people who will talk about your content, include a link, and by the sheer volume of people who view their sites, you’ll get even more links. Social media sites are probably some of the best sources for influencers (Digg, StumbleUpon, Sphinn, etc.). A lot of journalists and other people interested in news go to these sites. Of course if you make it to the New York Times or Yahoo news, you’ll get lots of exposure and links as well.
Step 2: Choosing your content. You must understand which kinds of content do well on those sites, but the basic idea is quite obvious. I’ve spoken before about creating content that drives emotion—stuff that is often even controversial. That’s what gets people excited and talking. Of course controversial content may not be right for your particular brand, but that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with interesting resources. Often you can look at things that have done well before and decide how you can make something better or go at it from a different angle.
Step 3: Promoting the content. Submit your content to social sites or other places where you can get exposure. Titles are very important in social media because it encourages people to read and some people vote based just on that. It’s also a good idea to begin building relationships with power users, or become one yourself—power users have more of a following on social media sites so they get more votes, increasing your chances for exposure and links. I’d like to be one myself, but I barely have enough time to blog!
When successful, a good link bait will yield a massive amount of links. Ultimately, it requires less effort and is more cost effective. People will link to you with lots of different kinds of anchor text and from many different kinds of sites, giving you a very natural link profile.
While the pros are really outstanding and hard to ignore, link baiting is more risky. You’re not guaranteed to be successful and, m
ore than likely, it will take you a few tries to learn the ropes. The results are also unpredictable; you could get just one or two links, or hundreds. Finally, it bears mentioning that you’ll have little control over your link structure and link text. While I’ve stressed that you don’t want an artificial link structure, the point really is about ranking for specific keywords. A bunch of random traffic will get you hits, but not necessarily for the keywords you truly want.
Float Like A Butterfly And Sting Like A Bee
The secret to link building truly rests in finding the proper mix of both chasing links and being chased. I don’t think that link acquisition should be an either/or scenario. I recommend starting with 50/50 investment both in time and money for each type of link acquisition. Diversifying is also a sound strategy for your budget because, after all, link baiting may be cost-effective, but it’s risky. Eventually you may want to shift to something more like 80/20 for what works for you and your site. In my experience, this is inevitably viral content and link baiting, but I’d be curious to hear your thoughts.
I’ll leave you with one last idea that can help you combine the power of link baiting with the focus of anchor texts in traditional link acquisition. Often when you create a tool for others to use you offer them a “place this code” box to use in their web page or blog template. Instead of offering up the same anchor text link back to your site, use software on the backend that has a list of anchor texts that you want to target. Have the software rotate the anchor text each time so that different users copying the code will display varying anchor texts linking back to you.
If there’s enough interest, I’ll work on this idea myself. Otherwise, sound off in the comments about your own experience with link acquisition. Are you a chaser or a chasee?