Over the last year or two, there has been a bit of a shift in the way web marketers look at link building. Specifically, the phrase itself has become tarnished. Talk about link building today is hushed, whispered, as if it’s something taboo. Amidst the marketers whispering about techniques and content marketing strategies, some SEOs have stood up to preach that link building is not dead.
True, Google has driven a wedge into the world of link building, but that wedge only serves to widen the distinction between poor link building and quality link acquisition. Poor link building – acquiring incoming links via black hat techniques or monetary exchange – continues to be demoted by the powers that be. On the other hand, links remain a potent factor in SEO, so encouraging the creation of more links can’t be a bad thing.
Many of the old styles of link building either no longer work or have lost much of their potency over the last few years. Something new needs to come up for adoption, and that’s exactly what’s happening. How can you legitimately build links now and in the future?
Technique 1: Ego Bait
Ego bait is a technique that sounds black hat simply by association with the English language. Ego has enough negative connotations, as does baiting, that the combination comes across as negative even though the process itself is perfectly legitimate. While it could certainly use a rebrand for a better public image, this is not the place to do it.
So what is ego bait? Simply put, it’s the process of creating content that attracts the attention of another content creator and either appeals to them or antagonizes them. In either case, the target should link back to the post to discuss it on their own blog, thus creating an organic link.
Ego bait is somewhat dangerous. If you’re too blatant – publishing an article like “The 10 Most Stylish SEO Professionals” full of pandering language – it comes off as cheap and transparent. On the other hand, if you’re too antagonistic, you won’t be getting a link and a thoughtful argument; you’ll be making enemies, blacklists and ignore lists.
So if it’s so risky, why do it? Well, for one thing, it creates a relationship between you and the content creator you’re targeting. You can then expand this relationship through more back-and-forth discussion through blog posts and other developments. Secondly, of course, it gets you links, and even a single quality backlink means your content was a success. Third, it opens you up to the audience of the person you’re targeting, which can expand your own audience.
How should you go about writing ego bait content? Here are a few categories:
• Curate content. Send out a short questionnaire to 10-15 industry thought leaders and compile their responses. Curate the best answers and the best information. Give it a compelling title; “10 Brilliant Gurus Share Opinions on Link Building.” Send a follow-up link to the people whose responses you used.
• Top 10 lists. Replace the 10 with any relevant number. Make sure you choose a subject that lends itself to ego bait, either positive or negative. “10 Most Overrated Pieces of SEO Advice” could attract the ire of proponents of the advice you feature; invite them to refute it. Obviously, you can use the same technique to feature the “best” of something to gain the appreciation of those content creators.
• Specific mentions. If you’re ever writing a blog post and you have the option between saying “some SEO tools” and listing a set of specific tools, the ego bait method is to list those tools. When you recommend a tool, the creators of that tool have an instant reason to support your blog. Most of the time they won’t, but when they do, it’s a great benefit.
Technique 2: Do It Better
There are a lot of people creating a lot of content on the Internet every day. It’s the work of a lifetime to try to read even a fraction of it all. The best you can hope for is to become a relative expert in your field; knowing enough to give advice, and knowing you know little enough that taking advice from others is possible.
Apply this theory to your content. You might not have the resources necessary to make up a great amount of content, but you have one excellent resource you might not have tapped; old competitor content.
The theory here is to identify the old, out of date or thin content your competitors are using and create direct competition for those pieces of content. Did your competitor create an infographic three years ago that now uses outdated statistics? Do a little research and refurbish the graphic. Did your competitor write a top 10 list? Write a top 20 list to do them one better. Live by the creed of “anything you can do I can do better.”
You can do this with your own content and your competitor’s content. Any content, any popular reference document that has been abandoned and is out of date, is a potential vector for a refreshed iteration of the page.
The big warning you need to read here is to absolutely avoid copying content. If you’re refurbishing a top 10 list, you can keep the relevant points, but for the love of Google don’t copy the text. You can come up with new ways the points are relevant two years after the original publication.
How does this earn you links? Anyone linking to the original content had an interest in it to begin with, so you can take that interest and leverage it into links to your new post. The audience exists; you just need to tap into it.
Technique 3: Becoming a Resource
If someone has a question about the cast of a movie, they go to IMDB. If they have a question about a country, they can check Wikipedia. Your goal with this technique is to become an authority people recognize.
Now, you’re not likely to become the next Wikipedia. The era of such broad, easy niches is over. You’re going to have to get down and personal to achieve some measure of the same effect.
What this really means is you need to get into the trenches of message boards, discussion groups and web forums. Don’t use them as advertising. Just participate. When a user asks a question and you have the answer, answer it. A link to your website in your forum signature is enough to draw them to your site.
You need to do two things to make this method a success:
1. Listen to what these people are asking and go to your website to create content that answers their questions.
2. Try to target groups and discussion boards populated by content creators, not just customers.
The second one is the most important. You’re doing this to earn backlinks. If the people you’re talking to don’t have sites, they can’t give you backlinks. That’s not to say they’re worthless; they have plenty of value of their own as customers. For linking, however, you need to target and talk to people who own sites relevant to your niche and who are willing to link to your site based on your reputation as an expert.