When it comes to maintaining a successful digital marketing campaign for your business, any experienced digital marketer will tell you that link earning is one of the most crucial components of success.
What is link earning?
Link earning is the offspring of link building. Link building was the process of earning links to your site by any means necessary. Link earning still aims to secure links, but the tactics to get those links are more refined and have more emphasis on quality versus quantity. (See “SEO Link Building vs. Link Earning” for more.)
Why is link earning so important?
Whether you want to call it link earning or link building, the bottom line is that links are an important signal to search engines about your site. The number of quality links you have from relevant sites is a ranking factor. Meaning, if you have a good amount of high-quality links from relevant websites, Google and other search engines will reward you with better positioning in search results. If you have a ton of links but many are from irrelevant or spammy websites, generally you won’t have much success in search results and could even be penalized by search engines.
Happy Dog has worked on a number of different digital marketing campaigns in the last five years, and below we’ve put together some of our best practices for finding quality links--along with some examples of how it’s worked for our clients.
Steps For Earning Links To Your Website
1) Get organized
Set up a tracking system that will allow you to record all your initiatives. One of our favorites is Google Sheets. Google Sheets allows you to create Excel-like documents with multiple tabs--which is perfect for organization.
2) Ask your partners or vendors to link to you
This is low hanging fruit that takes almost no effort to get after. You likely have pretty solid relationships with your business partners and vendors, so asking them for a link is easy and has a pretty high success rate.
3) Google your business
Just a simple web search of your business name can turn up a number of different opportunities. On Google you can take advantage of the different categories and find any general web mentions, news stories, existing directory listings or images that feature your business name.
For example, a search may turn up an old news article mentioning your business, but there is no link to your website. You can politely reach out to the publication and ask for a link. Easy peasy.
Now, use some common sense here. Search results aren’t perfect, so don’t get discouraged if you’re finding some pretty random stuff or other similarly-named businesses. Refine your search a couple times to include additional words to get a full picture of what’s out there.
4) Check out the competition
Make a list of your top three to five competitors and start digging. Take a look at their websites to get an idea of what keywords they’re attempting to rank for, look at the content they’re producing, look at their social pages, do a Web search to see where they’re being talked about and where they’re getting their links, and take a look at what kind of reviews they have around the Web. Any information you can get about how your competitors are succeeding or failing can be helpful to your campaign. Of course, record your findings in the spreadsheet you’ve created.
5) Add your business to quality directories
Directories get mixed reviews, but we believe they can be an important tool in your marketing arsenal. Directories give people another place to find you on the Internet and they do send a little bit of juice to your site when you add your website address. Also, many allow customer reviews, which can also pass a little juice on.
Which directories should you be on? There are probably thousands of different directory sites out there and chances are--if it looks spammy it is spammy. So, use your best judgment on this. Some of our favorites are Yelp, Yellow Pages, SuperPages, Bing Places, Google+ Places, Facebook and Foursquare. (Yes, Facebook and Google+ are considered directories in addition to being social media platforms.)
6) Update existing directory listings
Remember that Web search you did? Did you find any of existing directory listings? If so, it’s time to check ‘em out and make sure all the information is up to date and that info is the same across all the platforms. For obvious reasons you want to make sure that all the information on these listings is the same, but it’s also important for SEO purposes. It’s how the bots can identify you as the same business.
We recently started working with HomeSmart from Xcel Energy, a provider of appliance repair and maintenance plans, and a division of Xcel Energy. We found that many of the directories pointed to Xcel Energy’s website, not HomeSmart’s. We claimed profiles where we could and made updates ourselves, and also submitted changes directly to the website. They were listed on a total of 36 directory websites and we found 11 with wrong or missing website information. Needless to say, this is an excellent way to get info cleaned up and get some links, too.
7) Create quality shareable content and maintain it
This is something that you will hear over and over again: Content is king. And it’s true. Your website content is what keeps people on the page. And it can also be an opportunity to draw people to your website. If you don’t have a blog or tips section, get one. If you have one but you’re not updating in regularly, make time for it.
A favorite local landscape supplies company--Fra-Dor Landscape Supplies--launched their tip section back in 2012 with the post “Simple Landscaping Ideas for Beginners.” The post features a custom image, an easy to read format, and, of course, some solid tips to help out beginners. This page was consistently shared on social media (both Facebook and Pinterest) and it is by far the most successful article on their site to date--thanks mainly to people finding it on Pinterest and repinning, and repinning, and REPINNING!
The article really broke new ground in the spring of 2015 when it started to take off on Pinterest. At that point, we took a look at the original article and noticed that there were definitely improvements that could be made. We added links to new articles and resources, we updated any dated info, and we made sure our title and meta was solid. This is the most popular page on the site--a little maintenance ensures that people keep finding that page important.
8) Contact municipalities
While some cities are not willing to endorse any businesses with a link, this one is definitely worth a try. Reach out and see if they have some type of business directory you can be added to, or if there is a service you provide in the city you might able to get in that way.
For example, our client, Precision Landscape & Tree, is a tree care company that is licensed to work in a number of cities around the Twin Cities metro. We looked at all these cities’ websites and found that many of them offer residents a list of tree care providers--but without links. We also found that many of them have forestry pages with links to resources.
We reached out to all of them in hopes of either being added to the existing list of approved providers, getting them to create a list or add a link to our comprehensive guide on emerald ash borer. Two cities added pages, two added them to the contractor list and two others said they were interested in sharing the guide. Now, while this is six leads only two of them come with links. It’s a bit of a bummer, but getting their name out there is just as important. So we’ll take the mentions with no links, too.
9) Contact schools and universities
Do you offer discounts to students? Does your alma mater have an alumni page? Websites with the “.edu” designation can pass a lot of good authority onto your site, and if you have a legitimate reason to get a link, it’s all good.
Schools are eager to promote success from alumni. If you have a great success story and can tie it to how you used the school's principles and vision to propel you to success, they’d love to share that with their potential incoming students.
Another option is to sponsor an upcoming event or offer a scholarship. This will cost you a little dough, but it’s a way to get a link back to your site while also helping the community.
10) Get social
You already know that you should be on social media to promote your business. But, just having a page isn’t enough. You need to engage with our followers regularly, share a range of content to keep them interested and also utilize other organization’s pages to give yourself a little PR. This is where that shareable content comes into play.
For example, did your company recently participate in a food drive? Write a blog post about it, share the link on your Facebook page and mention the organization you helped out in your message. In addition, go directly to the organization’s page and share the link there, too. This is a way to spread your content around and get it picked up by others.
Tip: Strap a jetpack to your blog post by boosting it with paid ads or promoted posts on social media. Your post’s reach will go from a trickle to an open fire hydrant immediately.
11) Guest blog
Guest blogging is a great way to network, create that great content and get links back to your site. We take this on for our clients whenever we can. Make sure the website is relevant to your business and that it appears to be quality in what it offers to readers. (Think about what you want to associate your business with.)
Something to keep in mind, make an effort to guest blog multiple times for the same website or blog. You will not only get more links back to your site, you will work your way into their existing crowd base and build your brand even further.
12) Find relevant blogs, websites, and businesses, and reach out
Right here is where you take action on the things you’ve found in your initial Web search and your competitor research. Did you find that your business what mentioned in an article, but there is no link? Did you find a competitor mentioned in a blog? Craft a quality and personable message to the author or business contact, and just ask them to make the update or tell them why they should consider highlighting your business, too.
This tactic is probably one of the most difficult to get traction on. So, don’t feel bad if you don’t get many responses. Take the time to refine your strategy and do a little research on what makes a successful contact. You’ll get there.
13) The “Handy Helper Method”
Some in the industry call this the “moving man method.” It’s premise is simple, but effective. You help other websites out by finding their broken links and offering them a new link to replace it with--a link to your website.
Start out by doing some research and find a company in a related industry that just went out of business or shut down their website. Use Google News for good results on that. Once you have a target company, compile a list of backlinks to that site. We have pro memberships at Moz and Ahrefs that allow us to get great detail on existing backlinks to any site.
Now that you have your list of links to that site, go through and see if any are from a good source. Use your tracker to make a list of your intended targets and reach out to them, one by one. Mention the broken link and suggest an even better replacement.
14) Follow up with everyone
Bonus tip! Follow up with everyone you reach out to--but don’t spam them. I generally like to send out my first email, wait a week or two and then send out my follow-up. Occasionally, I may send a third message, but generally, I think that if you don’t hear back after the second attempt that’s usually a sign. The key here is to avoid automation, people can sniff that out almost all of the time. Personalized emails almost always win.
Key Link Earning Takeaways
Link earning is an essential digital marketing strategy for those looking to increase their online presence and get up a little higher in the search results.
Now, this is in no way a complete list of all the tactics you can use for link earning, but these are all relatively simple and effective things to add to your checklist. And, as we said, links are a ranking factor, not the only factor. So link earning should be combined with other digital marketing efforts such as creating and implementing an on-site keyword strategy.
We hope this was helpful! And we’d love to hear from you. Please share your own best practices or ask questions in the comments section below. (If you want to get in touch with us directly, connect with us here.)