So you’ve decided that you want to begin a link building campaign for your business. Great! But what exactly is link building, and how can it help you and your business? If you are trying to manage link building for a client what are some best practices and common pitfalls to avoid? Fear not, you’ve come to the right place. In this post we will talk about what link building is, why you should do it, and perhaps most importantly how to go about it.
What is Link Building and Why Do I Need to Do It?
While there is a lot we don’t know about how Google’s search algorithm works, we do know that links are a significant part of that equation. Therefore, earning quality backlinks is one of the most straightforward ways to help improve your organic search ranking and to differentiate yourself from your competitors. That said, it’s important to understand what link building is not. Link building campaigns are not silver bullets that will magically transform your search ranking overnight. There are no shortcuts. Link building can and should be a pillar of a comprehensive strategy that over time will yield significant results.
Okay, one might say, “I understand why we should pursue links, but I don’t understand how to go about it.” This is where the campaign element comes in. I find it easiest to think of it in terms of trading. (Notice I did not say purchasing, or buying, but more on that latter.) We’ve already established that links have inherent value because of how they influence Google’s algorithm. Therefore, in order to earn a link, you need to provide something of value to a publisher. What do most publishers, bloggers, video producers crave above all else? Content. They need to draw viewers and keep them on their sites. Here at Fractl, we specialize at producing data-driven campaigns that are of inherent interest to publishers. These campaigns are as varied and diverse as the people that use the internet, we’ve made campaigns about almost everything.
This brings us back to the issue of purchasing links. At this point, it may seem logical to try and cut out the campaign element and just buy links. Don’t fall into this trap. These are known as blackhat SEO techniques and buying links is a big no-no for Google. It’s explicitly forbidden in their guidelines. If you are caught you will be severely penalized and your traffic will slow to a trickle. It’s far more cost-efficient and less risky to simply go about it the right way. Remember, there are no shortcuts.
How do I get started?
Hire Fractl. That may seem boastful, but seriously, link building campaigns are what we specialize in. All jokes aside, there are some best practices you should follow if you want to successfully run your own campaigns. It starts with creating a plan.
It may be tempting to just rush in, attempt to produce content and start trying to earn links. Patience, grasshopper. When construction workers build a house or an apartment complex, they don’t just start laying brick and concrete willy nilly. They follow a carefully crafted blueprint. Likewise, when we start constructing a link building campaign we need to have a blueprint to work from. Otherwise the pieces won’t come together and we will probably end up with a tool that doesn’t function the way it was meant to. It may still be aesthetically pleasing, or have done something revolutionary, but ultimately, tools are judged on their functionality.
Step One: Define the types of links you want to earn.
To make your content blueprint there is a basic question you need to answer. What type of links am I trying to earn? There are countless publications on the internet, all with varying authorities and diverse readerships. Which ones do you want to earn links from? Understanding this will dictate what type of content you produce. If your goal is say, as many links as possible from the publications with the biggest audiences, you should probably produce a campaign with a more general or universally interesting angle even if it only tangentially relates to your business. Alternatively, you may want a few links from high authority publishers in your field. In this case, your content will be much more on brand, but you must understand that this will limit the number of publishers who would potentially be interested.
How does this campaign fit in with my portfolio?
At Fractl, we strongly recommend a clustered approach to link building campaigns. That means we recommend producing and promoting several campaigns to maximize diverse links and publisher pickups. If all of your campaigns are executed the same way on essentially the same topic, you are limiting the potential of your campaigns. With campaigns that explore a variety of angles related to your business, you are more likely to earn links from a broader range of publishers.
By producing multiple campaigns you also minimize your risk. It may seem counterintuitive, but by spending more up front to produce multiple campaigns you actually protect yourself from failure. While a campaign is never produced with failure in mind, it would be naive to think it doesn’t happen. When implementing a clustered approach, if one of your campaigns is a dud, the blow is lessened because your other campaigns can pick up the slack. If you only produce one campaign and it doesn’t work out, you’re left with nothing to show for your efforts.
Don’t be scared to fail
At Fractl we have failed, many times. The crucial thing is to learn from it when it does happen and don’t make the same mistake twice. Allow me a sports metaphor: Imagine Tom Brady or any NFL quarterback throws an interception. Does that mean that the team should never throw another pass? No, that would be a terrible strategy because passing is still the most efficient way to move the ball and score touchdowns. When Brady throws an interception, he goes to the sideline and studies the photos. After the game he studies the film. This is similar to how you should view campaigns. Imagine a failed campaign as an interception. Study it, learn from it, but don’t adopt a flawed strategy of abandoning one of the most efficient ways of improving your search ranking. Don’t operate from fear of making a mistake. When you do make one, put in the work to get better.
Next Steps and Best Practices
Once you have the blueprint for your campaign and you know how it fits in with your overall strategy it’s time to actually get to the business of producing it. Below, we’ve laid out the process that Fractl follows to produce quality campaigns to earn links. These steps include Ideation, Production, Promotions, and Reporting. Remember, this is by no means a comprehensive look at everything that goes into building a campaign. Each one of these steps could be a separate blog post as they all present unique challenges and opportunities.
Great campaigns start with great ideas. At Fractl, we are constantly evolving how we generate ideas for our clients. This evolution is crucial, seeing as we come up hundreds of ideas each and every week. Even as our process evolves, every ideation starts the same way. Every single one begins with all of the creative team members receiving a client brief on the goals of the client and the expectations for the campaign. If the idea is the foundation of the campaign, we need to make sure it matches the client blueprint. While an ideation may produce upwards of 50 unique ideas, these ideas are then scored and vetted internally by senior team members. The account manager has final say over which ideas stay and which ideas get cut. The result is a “short-list” of the best ideas that are presented to the client to select from. Because we are advocates of the cluster approach, our clients usually select multiple ideas that enter production at the same time.
Once a client approves a campaign for production, it is assigned to a creative strategist. The creative strategist serves as a project manager and is accountable for moving the project forward and making sure that the project is completed on time. It’s impossible to describe the nuances of what goes into production in this post. At a basic level, production consists of the following steps: research, analysis, peer review, design, write-up, and quality assurance.
In the research phase, the creative strategist gathers the data necessary for the project. Once the data is collected, the strategist is responsible for analyzing the data and coming up with the most interesting takeaways. As a result of this analysis, the creative strategist creates a production card which is a sort of script for how the project will flow. Once the production card is finished, the creative strategist must take the project to peer review. Here the creative strategist is challenged by a team of Fractl’s senior experts on things like project methodology, promotional viability, and the narrative structure of the project. We have data experts weigh in on the numbers that make up the campaign as well as senior promotions team experts who advocate for changes to maximize promotional viability.
Once the project passes peer review, it then goes into design. During this time, our designers create the exceptional visualizations of the data that Fractl is known for. The write-up for the project also occurs at this point. After the design and writeup come back, each and every project goes through a rigorous quality assurance process. This includes another meeting known as first draft review where the creative strategist must once again present and defend the project to senior Fractl team members.
Once the project passes through our rigorous process, it is sent to the account manager for client delivery. At this point, the client is given the opportunity to see the project and add their input or ask for any specific changes they would like to see. If any changes are made, the project must again go through quality assurance. It’s only after the final client approval of the project that a campaign is ready for promotions.
If the creative strategists are the right hand of Fractl, then the promotions associates are the left. The promotions associates take the project and begin the arduous process known as publisher outreach. Again, to describe the full promotional process would be impossible here. That said, a high-level overview would include pre-pitch strategy, list building, and pitching.
When an associate is assigned a campaign, the first thing they do is create a strategy doc. They analyze the project to come up with what they believe are the most compelling findings. They then work on wording them in the most accessible way possible to appeal to publishers. As a general rule, our promotions associates are talented writers, and are magicians at finding ways to say as much as possible in the minimum amount of words needed. It is at this strategy stage that promotions associates brainstorm initial angles to pitch, compelling subject lines, and craft initial versions of the pitches themselves.
As a part of the pre-pitch strategy, the promotions associates must list build. Essentially, this involves scouring the internet using a variety of tools and tactics to come up with a list of writers that would be a good fit for this project. Once again, it is critical that the client know what the goals are for the project as these goals not only influence the creative production, but also the writers that our promotions associates will pitch the project to.
While our promotions associates are talented wordsmiths, their true talents lie in relationship building. Most of them have contacts at high authority publications that they frequently place with. By fostering a genuine relationship with these writers, our associates are granted rare feedback and access into the minds of writers and editors. If a campaign is declined, often we are able to solicit actionable takeaways as to why it wasn’t a good fit. This intel proves invaluable in informing future projects.
Once the list-build and pre-pitch strategy have been completed, the promotions associate begins pitching. Their goals are to secure the exclusive and then secure as many possible placements as possible in syndication. (Again, it is not feasible to do a comprehensive look at these stages in this post.) Once the promotions associate has secured the maximum amount of placements possible, the project enters the final reporting stage.
When a promotions associate secures an exclusive that includes a link, their first order of business is to immediately alert our link recon team. Once an exclusive goes live, the team knows to sweep the internet looking for additional pickups. Final reporting usually goes for about two weeks after final promotional efforts cease. The primary goal is to find all the publications that linked to the campaign.
In addition to finding all the backlinks a campaign has earned, it also allows the opportunity for link conversions if the campaign is not properly attributed. Put simply, if our team finds an article covering your content without attribution, we ask them for it.
These reports also include metrics on the authority of the publishers that linked to your content. One of the best ways to tell how authoritatively Google views a publisher is by using domain authority. Credible news outlets like NBC and CBS have high DAs. Less authoritative sites, such as blogs, have lower ones. DA is a great tool to differentiate between the authority of different backlinks. Our final reports also include metrics on how the post was shared socially.
The last bit of information these reports give is what type of link the campaign received. The most valuable type of link is a “dofollow.” This is a direct link to the campaign that Google acknowledges. Another type is co-citation. This occurs when another publisher links to the article that the original backlink appeared in but doesn’t directly link to the campaign. There’s still value associated with these placements, but not as much as a direct dofollow. Additionally there are no-follow links, links that go directly to the campaign but are not acknowledged by Google. These can still have value as they often lead to natural syndication to other publishers.
By looking at the total number of links earned, the domain authority of these links, the social share numbers, and the type of links, clients are able to determine if a campaign was successful as well as set benchmarks to measure future campaigns against.
Thus far, this post has chronicled the elements that make up a successful link building campaign. So what does it look like when all of these things come together? Here we’ve included some case studies. We’ve chosen to highlight a variety of examples from clients in different verticals that had different goals in mind.
Case Study: Ecommerce focused campaign
Fanatics is one of the largest clients we’ve had in the ecommerce space. Once of the most successful campaigns we produced for them was a campaign titled “Most Attractive NFL Players.” Here’s a more detailed step-by-step breakdown of what all went into producing that campaign.
Here is a brief overview of everything this campaign achieved.