4 Tips for Creating Link Bait

From SEOMoz

  • If your content or subject really is universally applicable – While this is very rare, there is some content topics that apply to almost everyone on the web. A good example of this would be Facebook; just about everyone on the internet has a Facebook account and has an interest in changes (especially when it involves privacy settings).
  • Creating exhaustive guides – Super in-depth and extensive guides and documents can receive a lot of links if they are done really well. Think about how many links SEOmoz’s Beginners Guide has received.
  • Sales data – you can analyze your sales data and segment it by population, gender, or other information you collect in the sales process to contribute something new. Yes this data might not be completely accurate as it is your sales data and may not be representative of the market. That said, it is still new and typically unavailable to people.
  • User data – When users register, ask them for information. If they have profiles on their site, ask them for information. Then anonymously aggregate this information and present it with pretty charts and graphics (More on this from Dr. Pete). OK Cupid does a great job of this with most of their blog posts. Check out this one on stuff white people like (original stuff white people like).

  • Do your own research – Offering brand new data is great because no one else has it so you get to be the definite (linked) source for forthcoming references. This can be really helpful with infographics – if you are having a hard time finding research that someone has published, do the research yourself. Tools like Ask Your Target Market are great for this as they provide you with a large panel so you can get quick responses and you can focus your time on creating your link bait, not doing research.
  • Spelling/Proofreading – do you have typos or misspellings. It happens. A lot. Get someone who is really nitpicky and uptight to go over it.
  • Technical details – Make sure that the content is technically correct and that you aren’t wrong. Find a subject matter expert and have them verify your work.
  • Readability – While the linkbait might make complete sense to you and your cohorts, you this is your baby (and nobody thinks their baby is ugly) so somethings that might seem obvious to you really aren’t obvious to everyone else. Have your mom look at this, kind of like when you were in grade school and your mom checked your homework. Get someone object who isn’t invested in the project verify that it makes sense (and that it’s cool).
  • News hook
  • Contrary hook
  • Attack hook
  • Resource hook
  • Humor hook
  • Ego hook
  • Incentive hook

What insights do you guys have? I’d love to hear what’s worked for you when you’ve been working on creating link bait.

How to Train a Link Builder

by SEOMoz

Training someone who doesn’t know anything about SEO to link build can be very challenging even for someone who is quite advanced in the industry. You have to know how to dumb things down, while still giving adequate information. You also need to make sure you don’t overwhelm the person you are training. I’ve taken several approaches to this in the past and I wanted to go through a step-by-step of what works for me.

Again I’m going to assume the person you’re training doesn’t know anything about SEO.

First things first!

1) Tool and Software Setup

This will vary greatly depending on the type of link building they’re going to be doing.

Keep it simple at first. It’s important to learn how to build links without tools in the beginning and slowly introduce new tools to them as they develop. If they hit the ground running, by all means, give them more advanced tools. However, you can’t assume they’ll do well right away and putting too many tools in front of someone can be really confusing.

This should be tailored to the person training them. For example if you generally use Open Site Explorer instead of Yahoo Site Explorer (which will be gone soon anyways), make sure they’re using the same thing you are during training.

Excel  Excel
Trainees will most definitely need an Excel program for record keeping and looking at reports. Open Office is a great alternative if you don’t have access to Microsoft Excel.

SEO Dictionary  SEO Glossary
This isn’t really a tool, but for people who don’t know anything about SEO, this is a reference they WILL need. I like SEO Book’s Dictionary. Everything is on one page so you can do a quick Ctrl+F command.

Page rank  Page Rank Tool
Page rank is by no means a great way to judge sites or pages, but for someone new to SEO, it’s an introduction to the concept that some sites are “voted” better than others. I like to use Search Status. It gives you a quick look at the page rank without having to click anything.

Back link tool  Back Link Checker
Something that can give a quick look at the number of back links a page or site has is absolutely necessary. This way they can find an ideal page or site when you have multiples that seem equal. The SEOmoz Toolbar is a great on for Firefox or Chrome. There’s also SEO Site Tools for Chrome, which pulls back links from Majestic.

Firebug  Firebug
This kind of depends on how HTML savvy your trainee is, but Firebug comes in handy on several occasions, especially if they’re dealing with a site owner who usually outsources their development and doesn’t know how to make changes on their own.

IP Address tool  Bulk IP Checker
This isn’t always needed, but if your link builder is going to be working on a site that’s getting tons of links, you may want to avoid getting several links on the same Class C IP address. This is useful if they’re talking to someone who owns several sites. I like to use Authority Domains Bulk IP Checker. It has a CSV export function, which comes in handy.

photoshop  Illustration Program
At one point or another, your link building trainee will run into a picky site owner: someone who absolutely must have your logo in a 150×150 format or someone demanding images for a guest post they contributed, for example. Either way, it’s usually not too complicated, but be sure they at least have a simple illustration program to use in those situations.

2) Reading Material

reading material

You must be careful to not force too much information on them too quickly. I often see someone hand a trainee 30 links to articles and says, “read this”. It can work, but for someone fresh to the SEO industry, it’s very intimidating. They won’t grasp all the terms and a lot of information will go in one ear and right out the other.

Give them a few simple reads to go over that just explain basic SEO principles. SEOmoz’s Beginners Guide to SEO is a great start. I would feel comfortable handing someone that and ONLY that, during training.

Also, you need to make sure you (or someone else) will always be available for them to ask questions. This may seem obvious, but it’s extremely important. If someone’s not right there for them to ask every tiny little question they’re wondering, they’re not going to ask them at all. This also means not wearing your headphones and zoning out if they’re sitting right besides you! You know who you are! (points to self)

Side note: Once they start to get more advanced, have them subscribe to some SEO related RSS feeds or follow the industry leaders on social networks. They’ll be able to keep up with current topics and expand their general knowledge on their own.

3) Site Discovery

Now that your trainee understands the gist of SEO, the next step is teaching them how to find sites to build links to.

I like to start by having them perform their own search queries as opposed to mining through a spreadsheet or a competitor’s backlinks. This way they learn a productive pace and won’t ever come to you with “I’m finished, now what?”. They will always have to rely on the resources of search engines, which are nearly endless.

Go over the basic search phrases they can use to find relevant sites. Again, you want to keep this simple and have them use simple search phrases like:

  • “Keyword”
  • “Keyword” blog
  • Random word “Keyword”
  • “Keyword” guest post

When they start to pick up the pace, introduce them to alternative search engines. 99% of the time, they’re going to use Google. Make sure they’re aware of sites like Technorati, Blekko, Duck Duck Go, and etc.

By providing this limited amount of information to them on how to find sites, they will eventually figure out alternative search terms to use when they’ve run into the same sites over and over. Creative people will be able to think of some clever ways to find related sites and this is a necessary skill for a link builder to develop.

4) Finding Contact Information

There are little things that someone new to the link building world may not know or may not have thought about. Make sure you cover the basics like:

a) Checking Whois data.
b) Clicking “view profile” on Blogspot sites.
c) Using advanced operator commands:

I. site:website.com contact
II. site:website.com mail
III. site:website.com about
IV. site:website.com gmail

d) Contacting site owners through social profiles like Twitter and Facebook.
e) Searching the site owners name or handle on a search engine.

Some tools (like SEO site tools for Chrome) can pull contact information from a site, but it’s a good idea for them to learn without any tools in the beginning.

5) Constructing an Opening Email

This is perhaps one of the most important parts. For some reason, people tend to write long-winded emails when they’re starting out and talk about how great their client’s product is. This usually will have a very low response rate.

Give the trainee some examples of opening emails you’ve used so that they have an idea of what works and what doesn’t. Explain to them that the opening email should be tailored to a specific site and should be brief. For example:

Buddy Guy,

I stumbled onto your site while I was looking at some banjos and I saw that you play a 5 string Gold Tone in your band. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Gold Tone and wanted to get your take on it before I took the plunge and bought one. If you could hit me up when you have a minute, I’d greatly appreciate it! Thanks in advance!

All the Best,
-Peter

This type of email is more likely to pull a response from the site owner, and once you get that first response, they’re ten more likely to reply to any future emails you send.

Michael King (iPullRank) recently wrote one of the best articles I’ve seen on personalizing emails when link building and why you should avoid using generic copy and paste form letters.

Subject lines are just as important as their email! You need a subject line that’s going to stick out and cause someone to actually click and read your email.

When I’m training someone, I like to actually see the first few emails before they send them off. This gives me the chance to give them pointers, explain what I would’ve done differently, or give positive reinforcement.

6) Correspondence

When they start to get responses, it’s a good idea to guide them through their first few email exchanges. Have them construct an email they would reply with first. After that look for any issues that should be corrected. You don’t want to give your trainee something to respond with.

Obviously, there is no formula for how you should correspond with someone. It varies greatly depending on what exactly you’re trying to get out of the site. It just requires some general SEO knowledge and site evaluation skills that your trainee just isn’t going to have yet, so that’s why you should help them through this process.

7) Record Keeping

record keeping

In the beginning, make sure you have access to everything they do so that you can correct any mistakes they’re making. You don’t need to loom over them constantly, but if something is obviously wrong, you need to be able to find the problem as soon as possible.

I do this by making an excel template for them to record everything on. Ideally, you want this to be on a Google doc or a server so that you have consistent access to their files. I include information like:

  • Date of contact
  • Date the link went live
  • Site owner’s name
  • Contact information
  • The page the link went on
  • Anchor text that was used

You want to record as much as you can, but you also don’t want it to be so time consuming that they’re spending more time keeping up their spread sheet than link building.

I achieve this by making two separate tabs on the Excel sheet. One for completed links and another for everyone they’ve contacted. The sheet for everyone they’ve contacted is super simplified so they can fill the information quickly. This helps if you have multiple link builders working on the same client. That way they can cross check before they contact a site owner, allowing them to see if another link builder has contacted them.

8) Letting go of their hand

After the first 2-4 weeks you want to slowly wean your trainee off of reliance on you. They need to start making some of the simpler decisions like figuring out what page they should go after, on their own.

By no means should you ignore them. You should still be available for them to ask questions, but instead of answering every one, ask them what they think they should do and correct them if they’re wrong. I’ve had quite a few people ask questions they already knew the answers to, and once they realized that, they would stop asking and be more confident about their instincts.

Other things to keep in mind:

Finding an ideal candidate to train

This can be a little tricky, as we don’t always have the luxury to be choosy. The best article I’ve seen on this subject is the one Sir Justin Briggs wrote – What Makes an Effective Link Builder – it breaks everything down perfectly! I highly recommend you read his article even if you’re not actively seeking a link builder. That way you know what to look for and if you meet someone you can at least keep them in your network in case you need them in the future!

Personally I find that creative social geeks tend to be awesome candidates. If they have lots of friends on Facebook, and actively use Twitter, as well as other social networks, that’s a good sign. If they love surrounding themselves with tech and are excited about new gadgets, that’s also a good sign. If they run a WordPress blog, a Tumblr account, and have some understanding of html, that’s another good sign.

You basically want to find someone who’s already motivated and curious about all things Internet!

Skill Set Requirements

Requirement might be too strong of a word. I’ve seen people with no related skill sets whatsoever do really well. However, there are a few prerequisites that help. For example someone with sales or cold calling experience, already understand a little bit about what they should and shouldn’t say in a correspondence with someone to achieve their desired goal.

Another big one is being proficient with Excel. With any form of SEO you WILL have spreadsheets up to your elbows. If you’re an SEO that never has to deal with spreadsheets on a daily basis, please let me know your secret! I’ve actually had to consider making a spreadsheet for my spreadsheets a few times.

Lastly, they just have to be good with computers. You and the IT guys will save a lot of time if the person in training knows how to do simple things like removing spyware from their computer and finding what software they need for certain file types. You need someone that can be self-sufficient. I know it may be hard for some people to imagine that people still exist that don’t know how to do these tasks, but I’ve seen it quite a bit and it’s painful.

Conclusion:

Always keep in mind that different things are going to work with different people. You’re going to have to approach problems in alternative ways depending on what the other person is comfortable with. This is especially true after they start develop and learn on their own. Don’t ever try to force someone to stick to a specific tool, browser, platform, or whatever just because that’s what you use. Obviously you want to keep things organized, but you need to give people some room to do their own thing and be creative. That’s how you’ll start to actually learn from the people you’re training.

Link Building Management

From SEOMoz

I love freestyle link building. There is hardly anything more satisfying than getting in the zone and branching out into countless search iterations plucking opportunities one by one, thinking of great content ideas, implementing it, sending it out and watching it hatch. This article, however, is not about that. Instead I will take you through methodology evolved within Dejan SEO team over the period of last two years which helped us manage extremely competitive SEO projects. Large-scale link building campaigns for multiple websites require well-defined workflow, scalability and structure.

Planning Stage

Assessment of Current Backlink Profile
Before getting carried away with anything else it’s wise to take a look at the current backlink profile and understand its strengths and weaknesses.

Risk Analysis
During backlink examination process make note of any suspicious links and create a ‘liability’ list. If you notice obvious linking patterns, request additional feedback from the client.

Questions to ask are:

  1. Do you know anything about this?
  2. Who was link building before us, you or another company?
  3. Did you have a link buying budget?
  4. Is there a list of all paid links?
  5. Do you still have contacts from link sellers and logins with text link brokers?
  6. During what time period did manipulative link techniques take place?

Risk of algorithmic penalty decreases with the size of the site you’re working on, and by ‘size’ I mean its natural organic status. Typically larger brands and well-known websites have complex link profiles with numerous sources of links. A few scattered paid links are probably not worth chasing after. If it’s a part of an automated scheme though, something that might poke a quality rater in the eye then it might be worth going through the trouble of cleanup – especially if you work in a competitive industry where spam reporting is a common practice.

Competitive Analysis
Competitive analysis is not only useful for copying links, but also for understanding if a competitor is really a competitor. If you are a brand new book seller and you examine Amazon’s backlink profile you will soon learn that Amazon is not really your competitor because you are far from their status. Targeting somebody in a closer niche will help you benchmark properly and help you focus on more realistic link targets.

Qualitative Analysis
While examining your competitors’ links it’s a good idea to pay attention to quality of their links. This will enable you to prioritise your link building activities from top down by targeting most potent links first and least important links last.

Common tools available for this type of research are:

Quantitative Analysis
Search engines do care about numbers of inbound links. When examining numbers you can ignore the total link count and instead focus on unique linking domains and unique C-blocks. This is a no-brainer and more means better. Keep in mind that you’ve already performed risk assessment and already know if there are any liabilities and weak spots in your backlink profile which may reveal patterns and traces of link manipulation.

Link Velocity
It’s good to have milestones in the SEO process. One of them might be to balance and overtake competitors in terms of quantity and quality of links. Pay attention to pace at which competing websites acquire new links as this may affect how your calculations work. Majestic SEO provides interesting graphs which may help understand your competitors’ link building efforts in terms of newly discovered links for each month.

Existing Links
Log into Google Webmaster Tools and download all your links. Examine them manually looking for signs of quality (.gov, .edu, big brands). Observe what type of content attracted links and consider creating more of it. Take a look at your most linked pages and confirm your findings. Once the most obvious opportunities are noted run an automated link analysis and let the script do the rest. If you don’t have the ability to create own link analysis software use OSE or Majestic SEO as an alternative. If you do use Majestic make sure you authorise your website so you don’t pay for the analysis with much needed credits. Analysis of own backlink profile is an essential step which too many SEO professionals skip and ignore. It makes no sense to go hunting for new links if your old links could be fixed and great content ideas generated through observation of linking habits of others. While doing this keep an eye on 404 content and notify webmasters of your new pages and/or implement appropriate redirection to route link juice to new URLs.

Defining Targets

Pages / URLs
This may seem like common sense but your link builders should be well informed about which pages they are to target and which phrases to use when negotiating links. What may seem like an obvious target to you may be something totally different to a link builder. Typically this happens when trying to replace the ranking page with another one which may convert better.

Phrases
Have a clearly defined list of phrases and type of content corresponding to different pages on the site. Include all possible phrase variations within this list and make it available to your link building team. It’s a good practice to put priorities or importance percentages in place to balance your targets to desired effect.

Assessment of Assets
Making links is really hard. Don’t give your link building team any ammunition and the quality of links will be poor. Before you brief your team, have a chat to the client and examine all existing assets which may be of use.

Linkable Content
It’s easy to get a link to a piece of content that deserves it. Why not arm your link builders with highly linkable pages and make their job easier?

Unused Assets
Very often you will find digital content floating around emails, hard drives or just backed up on CD/DVD media – doing nothing. Not to use this type of content is silly. A single case study or a white paper may contain enough material for ten separate pages of content.

Data
Content is sometimes staring you in the face and you’re unable to recognise it. This happens very often with data driven companies and even with e-Commerce websites. They collect information all the time without realising it. Using internal data such as analytics, pricing trends and consumer behaviour can provide valuable content which can add value to your content and arm your link building team with additional linkable assets.

Relationships
Yes, relationships are an asset – so you need to understand how the business you work with is connected in the digital and real world. Setup a meeting and go over this with the client and provide some original ideas which may help them think further. It’s really hard to start thinking, but once you get warmed up great ideas will start popping up. Record all these ideas and prepare approach strategy and have client approve it. Asking existing partners, customers or suppliers for links could be a sensitive activity and could lead to embarrassing moments and even termination of your SEO contract.

Keep in mind that everything you do online impacts your client’s brand online – so try not to spam or upset people with your link building activities. You may not be aware of it, but a single person on your team may be doing it right now – quality control is essential.

Forming a Schedule
Having schedules means being organised, but with link building schedules are more or less an arbitrary structural thing so don’t get obsessed if a deadline has been missed. We’re dealing with third parties and heavily depend on the speed of response of others.

Choosing Link Building Styles
There are many methods of link acquisition, some are instant, some require negotiation or money transactions. It’s a good practice to define link building styles available to the team and set rules around usage. If you don’t do this you will inevitably end up with more of easy links and not necessarily the ones that will impact the rankings.

Percentage Allocation
Similarly to allocation of anchor text and target pages define what type of link building activity is allowed or recommended and set guidelines around importance.

Balancing Targeting, Quality, and Quantity
Whether it’s yourself or one of your team leaders, somebody needs to keep a finger on the pulse all the time. If you are link building towards ten phrases and one of them pops into #1 spot in the first week it may happen that link building continues for that phrase until the end of the month with other phrases not moving at all. Recognising situations like that can make a big difference for your client’s profits. If it has been several months and a particular link building exercise yields no results perhaps it’s time to admit defeat and change approach. Support your link building team and make those decisions for them – as they will be too absorbed in the negotiation process to see the big picture at all times.

Budget
Everything you do costs money: staff, content, resources and transactions. Even if you don’t buy links, you’ll need a clearly defined budget for link building activities which do require transactions (e.g. memberships, sponsorships, paid directories). Prioritise your spending in order of potential impact and provide spend as part of your monthly report. This piece of data will be appreciated by marketers and business owners as it’s something tangible and they can easily understand it.

Selecting People
If you have a whole team of link builders it is essential to select the right people to work on the right type of project. Look at personal interests and abilities of individual staff members and keep in mind their current engagement. Load balancing will ensure everyone contributes evenly and you’re not overwhelming a single team member as this can have negative impact on their performance.

Setup
Setup of link building activities is not just creation and allocation of tasks, but mostly two way communication between SEO strategists and the link building department where a proper handover of information and assets takes place.

Team Brief
During the briefing session cover the following areas:

The above are not just vague notions, provide solid lists and guidelines that are practical and actionable. You will also need to equip your staff with appropriate email addresses to use for link building and setup professional-looking email signatures. Each team member should already have their own developed online persona which will be looked at by people who are about to give a link or start communication with them. If they don’t, then include it as part of the setup process. With directory submission details, keep in mind that you should probably not use own emails or phone numbers when submitting and also client’s own email or office address may not be appropriate for public listing. Check with the client before you go sharing their contact details online. Use the brief session to allocate roles within the team in detail so they know who does what (e.g. content, research, negotiation).

Content Generation
I cannot imagine any type of whitehat link building to take place without great content to start with. There are numerous options available: articles, whitepapers, infographics, research material, multimedia content, downloads and templates. Start generating these early as they will take time to implement and often delayed in publishing due to approval process.

Creative Idea Process

Link Building Workflow

Research Activities
Research is the fun part of the link building and is much like surfing the web which can be enhanced with numerous research tools available out there, but not as a way of quality increase, but for productivity. Creative element of the research process remains with the individual performing it. Select your best and most creative people for this task, ideally somebody who understands the industry. Research should yield solid link opportunities and be well documented.

Obstacles in Research Activities
Link building research is meant to be just that – research, and its product is a tangible, actionable list of link opportunities. Anything that happens in the meantime fragments your process.

Distractions
You were researching links and all of a sudden you’re watching a funny video, playing a game or reading a news article and you don’t know how. It’s good to have a break, but you can perhaps leave it for lunchtime.

Fragmentation
Resist the urge and temptation of trying to score a link straight away. Stay on your path and keep recording great link opportunities. You will be a lot more productive that way.

Topical Iteration
There are many paths research can take you and it’s likely you will iterate into many sub-topics or your original research theme. Don’t fear the scope, keep them coming. If your topics suddenly have no touching points perhaps it’s time to zoom out, review your research and pick a new starting point.

Flow Mapping
Flow mapping is more of a productivity problem than anything and can help you get back on track much more efficiently than your million open tabs. One such tool is Voyage (for Firefox) which maps your browsing activity automatically.

Outside Intrusions
Close your email client, messenger, Twitter, Facebook and other forms of distraction. Tell everyone else to keep their questions for after your research is finished.

Recording Targets
Good record keeping is essential. If you don’t have link building management software available to you then setup a collaborative spreadsheet and record your findings that way. Sharing link opportunities internally means less repetitive work for everyone and more links for clients.

Balancing Placement
Some links take time and others can happen straight away, surprisingly they may carry equal amounts of benefit in many cases. It’s essential to recognise links you can get straight away and continuously grow the backlink profile while you research and negotiate others.

Negotiation
Negotiation is the hard part, so allocate people with best communication skills who are able to organise and followup. Remember to arm them all necessary tools and assets before they start.

Quality Control
Links can have a serious impact on both rankings and online reputation of your client. Continuous spot-checking and regular monthly link analysis is essential in order to stay out of trouble. Remember that no matter what measures you take there can always be new situations which you have not factored in during the planning stage. Google client communication and transparency can help in early detection of problems. This can potentially save both the contract and reputation of your SEO company. One measure which is easy to implement for monitoring of correspondence quality is setup

Result Monitoring
Monitoring the results and overall performance of the SEO campaign is in the hands of an SEO strategist, however having link builders keep an eye on results can be very stimulating. Link building is not an easy task and celebrating success can do wonders to personal motivation of team members. Secondary benefit is that you end up with a better alert system if something should go wrong with the results or if particular phrase needs more or less attention.

Coaching
One of the most essential activities for large teams is regular coaching and sharing of internal knowledge. In-person or Skype and screen sharing sessions are ideal when in small groups of no more than four members. Focus on issues specific to their projects and do live link building, try out new advanced search queries and use the opportunity to collect feedback from people in the field. Outside of real-time coaching it’s a good practice to send group email with wins and success stories. For rules and tips setup an internal wiki and allow members to make contributions. Followup regularly on new link building practices and ideas as they are not always adopted the first time – habits can be a touch thing to change. Reward individuals who adopt new strategies and perform well by both bonuses and public praise.

Productivity Tools
One area I did not discuss enough was the software-aided link building simply because there aren’t any tools that truly satisfy our needs at present. We employ our own link management framework to record link building activities, opportunities, contact details, correspondence, categories, link building styles and stay on top of performance tracking. In a team of more than twenty link builders a lot of links are generated and it’s hard to keep track of double contacting, link drop alerts, link partnerships and complex link scanning and data analysis. For those who are just starting out Ontolo and Raven may be a good solution.

Conclusion

If you are surprised by the amount of work that goes in the setup and execution of our link building campaigns, remember this is not a guide for managing small projects or a single account. Instead I have shared with you a set of measures we put in place to keep large-scale link building operations successful and manageable.