Link Building Strategy (for 2019): The Power of Using Creative Ideas vs Tactics

This article is NOT going to be about the latest link building strategy or fad for 2019.

You’re in the wrong place.

Or maybe not?

That really depends on what you think link building strategies are.

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This article is about using strategy to build links.

Red pill or blue pill?

red pill blue pill

Keep reading to find out.

Here’s the deal:

My basic approach with link building has always been to just take existing pages, pick the first strategy that came to mind and execute.

I got some good, even great results from this, but as time went by I started to hit a ceiling.

So, a few months ago I was looking for feedback to refine my link building service and reached out to Nathan Gotch (of GotchSEO), here’s part of what he replied to me:

Nathan Gotch Quote

Aha! Moment.

I started researching the topic of creative, strategic link building, linkable assets etc. and I was hooked.

Strategic Link Building vs Tactical Link Building

As mentioned by Joshua Hardwick at Ahrefs in this article, a strategy is “an overall plan”, a tactic is “the actual means used to gain an objective”.

So, if we take that distinction into consideration, yeah, this article is about link building strategies.

The problem with most articles out there is that they define as strategies, what in reality are mostly “tactics”.

Here are a few of them that you might have seen mentioned on and on again:

  • Broken link building
  • Guest posting
  • Replicating competitor backlinks (check this guide out)
  • Resource pages link building
  • Roundups
  • Skyscraper link building
  • Infographics

And so forth…

I believe this is an important distinction to make because we, as SEOs and marketer, often focus on the surface of things (how to do “X” = tactics) instead of looking at the bigger picture (why should we do “X” or what’s the best way to do “X” = strategy).

This article was also mostly influenced by a great video I’ve seen a while back by Ross Hudgens of Siege Media where he talks about the difference between tactical and strategic link building.

Here’s the video:

In short:

Tactical link building: Focus on the specific tactic used (that mentioned above) and try to scale it no matter what content, page, business or company we are dealing with.

Strategic link building: Carefully analyze the target site/company/page to see what’s already working and/or what might work well for its particular industry/niche, THEN try to scale it.

In all honesty, I think strategic link building is the best approach for most companies out there, especially now in 2019.

It allows you to be authentic, original, leverage scale and lower the cost per link to get the best ROI at the same time.

Most of all, it’s fun!

Lame Nerd GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Ok, that sounded very nerdy.

But, here’s what I liked most about what Ross says in that video:

ANYONE can learn a tactic and try to replicate it. Not anyone can find the right strategy. This virtually eliminates you competition and puts you ahead of the game.

It takes research, persistence and the willingness to experiment and take action. You need to do the hard work that nobody likes to do basically.

That’s what the “tactic articles” are for.

We are all looking for the shortcuts, the quick step by step, A to Z mega-guide.

Here’s where everything falls apart though:

  1. You still need to do the hard work after learning a tactic, and
  2. No single tactic works in EVERY situation.

Why not try and see your company or site as its unique situation with its own unique opportunities?

Why not invest a bit more time up front to get better returns in the long run?

For example, let’s say that you have a SaaS company, you did some research and found that your product is similar but better than competitors’.

You have a great feature that blows them out of the water and a great USP.

In a situation like this, going after and stealing your competitors’ links might work particularly well for your company.

What better excuse than:

“Hey, check us out! we do this that they don’t and it works really well for people like you!”?

The decision to do your research beforehand instead of just trying to build some broken links (for example) saved you time and effort.

And you can keep doing this until you’ve gone after all your competitors’ links.

Now you’re asking:

“How do I figure out what the best strategy is for me?”

How To Find Strategic Link Opportunities and Ideas

To do this, fist try to look at your company site as a whole. Do you have anything unique that can be leveraged for this?

The first step is always to look at your competitors.

Plug them into Ahrefs Site Explorer and go to the “best by links” report.

This shows you all the best pages of that site ranked by the number of incoming links and you can filter them by a few different metrics.

I like to filter them by the number of referring domains (number of unique sites that link to each page).

See if you notice any interesting opportunities.

  1. Is there anything that stands out?
  2. Any weird-looking URL that is getting a ton of links?
  3. You can also use the status code filter to only look at 404 error pages that are getting links and then replicate them (broken link building)
  4. Or filter by words that are included in the URL or title of the pages. For example filter for “tools” to only see pages that talk about tools.

For example, I noticed Hotjar is getting a ton of links to their feature page on “feedback polls” (3,549 dofollow links):

Hotjar Links

They even have 1 link from Harvard University just because they’re using the tool.

Harvard Link

Now, if I were a SaaS providing a similar product, I would think of ways I could make this feedback poll better, more useful, add better features and pitch it to all those 3,549 sites.

The guys at Drift.com are doing a great job at getting backlinks (817 links) from their podcast “Seeking Wisdom” :

Drift Link Profile

Do you have something unique to say? Have you ever considered running your own show? Having a podcast is a great way to build authority in your industry. Sure, it takes work but as you can see the results are totally worth it.

Another example is Dropbox.

Their unique approach to team culture has gotten them a TON of great links.

Dropbox Links

And to show you how these strategies are repeatable, here’s how Asana is doing the same thing and they both got a link from the same article on Tech Crunch:

Techcrunch

The folks at You Need a Budget are doing great with their own proprietary method:

You Need a Budget Link

They have a dofollow link from the New York Times!

New York Times Link

This strategy works great if you have a unique way of doing things. They’ve also written a book about it!

Are you using some innovative technology that is all the rage at the moment? The guys at Plum are spreading the word about their app by focusing on their strength, AI:

Plum Link

To give another step by step example of how I usually come up with this kind of stuff, Let’s take a look at another example, in the sports news niche.

The first step again is to go to Ahrefs site explorer tool, take some of the best sports news websites and put them in there.

I’ll take ESPN as an example.

Again:

  1. Go to the “best by links” report.
  2. Scan through the list to spot check interesting opportunities.

Right away with these few tips (and took me like 2 minutes), I found a bunch of different opportunities and ideas:

These work great in the sports news niche cause everybody on the internet who is talking about sports needs stats to make a point.

Here are some of their links:

ESPN Links

To replicate this strategy, ask yourself:

  • Can I make these stats more up to date?
  • Use a different/better visualization?
  • Niche down the statistics? (maybe only do stats for a particular segment of players in a sport)

And this is an example of a link that’s not working/error page:
http://games.espn.com/s/fantasy/error.html

This page has 513 sites linking to it and it’s not even secure (https):

Broken Link

No idea of what fantasy games are?

You can put this page into Archive.org and see what it previously was to make sure it’s something you can replicate.

(note: not sure about this particular example but it’s the first that came out and it’s just to show you how to find stuff like this).

Now, these are just a few examples of using uniqueness to differentiate yourself from the pack and acquire backlinks at the same time.

Does it mean this only works for companies or websites that are as unique or as BIG?

Not necessarily.

If you’re not in a position where you can stand out from the competitors big time, or yuor not a huge player like the ones outlined above, you can still use the strategic approach by working on a page by page basis.

You can approach each page as a unique asset and look for opportunities there.

Case Study: How To Craft A Linkable Asset From Scratch

This is an example/case study from one of my clients Uplead.com a B2B prospecting software.

They came to me looking for my opinion on writing an article about b2b sales trends. The main problem with this, was that I knew there were a ton of BIG players already competing for this topic.

Such as this article by Hubspot.

No way we could compete with that…

To see what kind of articles were performing well, I did some quick research, looked at a few sales blogs’ “most popular articles” sections to see if I could find anything interesting.

These are a few of the topics that came out:

  • B2B Sales Trends to Watch in 2019
  • Ways Artificial Intelligence Will Increase Your Sales
  • Sales Follow-Up Strategies
  • Value Proposition Examples
  • Elevator Speech Examples
  • Famous sales/business people quotes (Example)
  • Sales Job description templates
  • Free Chrome Extensions for sales
  • SALES STACK 2019
  • Statistics Every B2B Company Should Know to Boost Sales and Get More Customers
  • HOW CAN ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE HELP SCALE YOUR B2B SALES AND MARKETING?
  • [B2B Sales Humor] The Top 100 Overused Business Clichés

I don’t know about you but again, I’m seeing artificial intelligence popping out a lot, might be a cool angle!

What about a statistics piece on AI for b2b sales?

Well, look at this:

B2b Sales Trends

According to Google, there are almost 2 million results about b2b sales trends that contain the exact words “artificial intelligence”, like this one:

AI

They already link out to another generic article on marketing trends (SmartInsight), we could pitch them our article which is specifically on AI stats and trends.

Do you think they would be happy to include a link? I think they would!

After I got the idea for the article approved, I created this short brief for Uplead’s content manager who then had the piece researched and written:

As soon as they started creating the article I did some pre-outreach to gauge interest and qualify my prospects. I reached out to people via email and Twitter.

This brought out a few people that told they would love to read the article once it came out:

Here’s my first email:

Outreach

One of the replies:

Reply

Here’s the finished article, I really like how it came out.

Time to send it to qualified prospects:

Reply #2

And, their last reply:

Reply #3

Besides doing the pre-outreach I also reached out to people who were mentioning the topic in their articles and people who were linking to similar/worse/outdated articles.

Here’s some of the replies:

Reply #4 Reply #5

Pretty cool, right?

What About Building Strategic Links To Existing Pages?

Generally speaking, you can find ideas and opportunities even for existing pages using what I could call “one-offs”: single links that might spark ideas to then do the same thing at a much bigger scale.

For example, let’s say you sell beauty products.

You notice one of your competitors is getting just 1 link to it’s sunscreen product page from an article on “How to get ready for summer 2019”.

Why not reach out to all similar articles and ask them to include your own link?

Maybe add a new section in your product page specifically about how your product is good for this summer (or any summer) to spark more interest and make it even more relevant to your potential “linkers”.

First, look at what’s already ranking in Google’s top 10 for your target keyword/topic.

Go through each one of the top 10 ranking results in Ahrefs and try to get a feel for the kind of links that they are getting.

Are they mostly from recommendations? Resource links? From an existing relationship with the blogger? Are they clearly paid links?

You can find this out by scanning through their anchor text and the text surrounding the links. Ask yourself:

“Why did this site link to that particular page?”

Once you understood what the majority of link types for your target keyword is, you need to figure out,

  • Can your article earn the same type of links?
  • Can you come up with a unique angle for it?
  • Something that’s missing or a unique perspective on the topic that you could add?
  • Does it make sense or do I need to create a new article to match that?

If the answer to those questions is “Yes”, then you’re already ahead of most people who will publish a similar article and try the first link building tactic they have in mind, just because someone told them so!

Another example of this in action:

Say you have a free logo maker software.

If I put the keyword “logo maker” into Ahrefs this is what i get:

Logomakr Links

Logomakr.com has 344k links to its home page! Let’s dive in.
I use the “Include” filter to only see the articles that mention the word “tool” in their title.

Title

This alone, gives me a ton of ideas on how to scale my outreach up.

Link Opportunities

As you can see, I could reach out to everyone who has an article about the following topics:

  • Free business tools
  • Free graphic design tools
  • logo design tools
  • Image creation tools
  • Tools for Internet marketers

How to find them? Just use some simple Google search operators such as:

Intitle:business tools intext:logo

Intitle:business tools intext:design a logo

intitle:business tools intext:logo design

Etc.

You get the idea.

Conclusion

Like most parts of SEO, link building has been used and abused in recent years. Since bloggers like Brian Dean started sharing their email templates, most of us are just too lazy to come up with something unique.

I myself am guilty of this. I just got to a point where I was sick of the angry email replies (totally understandable), sick of just being “another one of those”, which got me to think:

Can I do this another way? Can i send 100 emails instead of 5000 and get some good enough results?

The answer is “YES”!

Use your head, best judgement and a bit of creativity (combined with some SEO tools) and you’ll see there are a myriad of untapped opportunities to stand out, help people by giving them something of value and get some great links in the process.

Try our #1 rated blogger outreach service if you don’t want to spend your time trying to get backlinks. Use coupon code “savetime” to save 10% on your first order.

Alan Silvestri
Alan Silvestri

Alan Silvestri is the founder and Lead SEO at Growth Gorilla, a link building agency that provides quality, transparent and no-bullshit outreach link building for SaaS companies. He’s also a geek and Back to the Future fanatic.

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