Charlie Marchant, the General Manager at digital marketing agency Exposure Ninja, gave a talk at BrightonSEO September 2018 on ‘How to Definitely Get Links for Your Business.’
BrightonSEO Talk Transcript:
Hi everyone. I’m Charlie, the General Manager at Exposure Ninja. We’re a digital marketing agency who work predominantly with small and medium sized businesses in the UK to improve their website traffic and sales through SEO and link-building.
My background is within Content Marketing and in my free time, I’m also a travel blogger at charlieontravel.com, so I have the unique perspective of a marketer who pitches publications and also a blogger who receives pitches from agencies and businesses.
How to Definitely Builds Links for Your Business
My presentation today is on how to definitely build links for your business. Rather than boring you with lots of theory, I’ll be looking at a few actionable link building strategies that can work for any business. In fact, I’m going to use businesses that are super tricky to get links for, just to show you how effective they are.
All of the case studies I’m using are Exposure Ninja clients, and I share these examples because we know exactly what happened, how well it worked, and I can show you the numbers.
The industries I’ll be looking at include e-cigarettes, gambling and PPI, where sometimes outreach attempts can leave you feeling a bit like this…
Yes, these industries can be frustrating to build links for, especially when your responses aren’t as enthusiastic as you’d like.
The link building strategies I’ll be looking at include: small business features and interviews, data outreach with YouGov and Google surveys, media and news jumping, influencer marketing and blogger outreach, and flick photo links.
What I’m Not Talking About…
- Just to clear, what I’m not going to talk about are businesses that are easy to build links like fashion brands or businesses with massive budgets.
- I’m also not going to talk about the myth that all links are free. It’s an exchange and you’re trading time and money. Sometimes money saves time and time saves money.
- I’ll also not be talking about SEO link building basics like directory listings and video syndication. Whilst these are important, I’m looking at link building from a Content Marketing perspective.
What To Do Before Link Building
So now that’s out if the way, it’s time to think about the groundwork needed for link building. It can be tempting to jump in gung-ho, but link building is only as effective as the ground work you’ve laid out beforehand.
This means taking care of on-site SEO stuff first. I’ve linked the SEO checklist that we use in-house here that takes you through everything, but some highlights are making sure website navigation is clear and CTAs are enticing. Without these things in place, it’s a waste of energy to build links to pages that visitors won’t like or convert on.
The next important element is ensuring your website has credibility devices to build trust with the visitor. This is important for visitors who you want to convert, but also for editors and bloggers. They need to feel your website is a trustworthy and valuable site to link to from their content, otherwise it’s going be a very hard sell.
On this slide I’ve put two examples of trust building devices we use on the Exposure Ninja homepage, including a client testimonial from Sarah Willingham from BBC’s Dragon’s Den and our award this year for SME Marketing Provider of the Year.
Keyword research. Now we all have clients who want to be top of Google for “credit card” or some other extremely competitive term. But building links targeting these keywords can be fruitless early on. I’d recommend looking for some ‘golden eggs’ in your keyword research — keywords with high search volume and low competition, but still some commercial intent. If you can’t find any, it can be worth targeting keywords with lower search and competition to gain some initial traction and improve your chances of ranking for the big terms later on.
E-A-T. Following Google’s Medic update, the expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness of your website is really important. My colleague has put together an incredible EAT checklist on this URL as this is a topic for a different day. One key area I do want to point out is making sure your author bios and meet the team pages are showing relevant info and qualifications. Editors and publishers want to know content is coming from a credible person, someone who knows what they’re talking about. This also means you can start building up a profile for internal staff members as key writers on various online platforms as part of your link building.
— Seeker Digital (@SeekerDigital) September 28, 2018
Finally — know where you want to get links from. You don’t want links from spammy McSpam websites like this one. One of my favourite ways to find targets for link building is competitor research. Majestic is a great tool for this. In this example, I’ve put in my own website and 4 competitors and compared metrics like Trust Flow and Citation Flow. Then I’ve taken the site with the best metrics and switched it to show root domain, then clicked on backlinks to see the websites linking to this competitors. I’ll trawl through these picking out the juicy ones with a similar or higher trust flow than my own site. I want to replicate links like these for my own site but also look for any gaps where my competitor has not managed to get links so I can find ways to better their work. The type of links I’m looking for are good quality directories, and good quality links from blogs, articles, news websites, local sites, sponsorships, partners etc.
Link Building for e-cigarette eCommerce
With all those target publications ready, let’s talk about my key link building techniques.
First up, link building for an e-cigarette eCommerce website. This client of ours came to us with an unprofitable store and wanted to generate more traffic and sales through their site. We started by building up a profile for them by publishing articles on industry publications including Spinfuel, Vaping360, Cigbuyer and e-cig.org. Some link builders say one link from a site is enough and then you want to move onto new domains, but these sites were relevant to the niche, built up our client’s credibility and were featured in front of the target audience we wanted.
Next, we ran a competition which gained huge momentum in the first year of the campaign, tripling our client’s Facebook likes and doubling their Twitter followers. This was just for providing free products as prizes and a giveaway hosting fee.
As we built up credibility, we decided to run a data study to find out the UK’s opinion on vaping vs smoking. We knew already that news sites and academic publications were increasingly covering e-cigarettes, so we wanted to find an angle to get us in on that. Here’s what our survey results looked like — 43% of Brits think vaping is better for your health than smoking. It wasn’t as big a percentage as we were hoping for, but it was still newsworthy enough. We did some outreach with this data and secured links from publications including Yahoo Finance. In total, we gained 267 links with this story.
If your client doesn’t have a budget to run their own surveys, then another way we gain data is to scour science and news journals. Many of the articles we write for this client are based on debunking junk science and finding fresh angles within data studies that already exist. We create unique content, link back to the original study and pitch it to publications. Here’s an example of one of those articles which showed no long-term health risks have been associated with vaping.
Whilst we were looking through Majestic backlinks for a competitor site, we noticed that they were gaining links from huge publications like cambridge.ac.uk and the Mirror. As we followed the links, we realised they were all coming from image credit rather than the articles themselves. After some digging on Google, we found their Flickr gallery of vaping images that they’d set to creative commons so that any website could use the images so long as they linked to the original source — the competitor website. A great idea! We set up our own gallery which looks like this and SEO-optimised it so we could recreate this strategy.
The overall results of this campaign after a year was a 1340% increase in traffic, position 1 for 777 keywords and top positions for more than 2k keywords. We became the highest ranked retailer for e cigarette and top of Google for vape pen. Here’s a ranking graph from SEMrush which shows improvements over time and a particularly good increase around January 2018 when we started working on unique data studies.
— Twenty Eighty Online (@20_eighty) September 28, 2018
Link Building for a Gambling Website
Getting links from respectable websites can be really challenging when you’re working with a gambling website. Content has to be unique and relevant in order to attract editors to publish your articles.
Our link building campaign with this client centred around lootboxes. These controversial in-app purchases are virtual prize boxes in videogames which work a lot like slot machines. Players pay a few quid and hope for a big payout. Unlike slot machines though, many of the players are children.
We took this controversial news coverage and created a survey designed in a way to give us a headline grabbing figure on the UK public’s opinion on lootboxes. When asked 60% Brits were in favour of regulating lootboxes as gambling. That’s more than the % of the British public who voted for Brexit — it’s a huge headline. We took our headline and pitched it to some major news sites and popular gaming websites and started to secure links.
The story caught on and started to pick up more links organically, including this link from the Guardian. You can see in the screenshot, the journalist linked back to the original survey results which were published as a blog post on our client’s website. In total, we gained 250 backlinks.
We built on the momentum of the original study with another round of outreach, pitching follow-up pieces. Again, responses were good and we secured a few more links like this one from Venture Beat. This again got picked up organically and linked back to — so we started to create a chain of links. TechRadar linked to VentureBeat who linked to our client’s website and soon we had a web of links going. The process was: the initial study – outreach articles – secondary visibility – follow-up outreach – more secondary visibility.
You might be wondering how we’re getting all this data and coming up with these studies. There are a few different sources we use. The first is our own clients. Sometimes clients are collecting data already and it just needs an interesting angle to make it link worthy.
In episode 22 of the Exposure Ninja podcast, we talk to a guy who owns a car park company and comes up with an amazingly creative way to use their data. The company put together local information about how much a parking space cost in different cities. Then they translated this into “what is your driveway worth” for wider appeal. They went out to local publications around the country with this data, who were keen to cover the story when they found that their driveways were marginally more valuable than their neighbouring cities. But they also got national visibility by creating league tables of the most expensive driveways in the UK. All of this came from data that already existed in the business. I really recommend listening to that episode.
Freedom of Information requests and ONS (Office of National Statistics) are another way to get data. The site features some requests already and you can submit your own, but it does take time to get a response back. If you need a quicker turnaround on data, then YouGov surveys and Google surveys are a good way to go. Google Trends is another resource that can help with data studies too.
— Jenny Williams (@JennyWTweets) September 28, 2018
Link Building for a Warehouse Racking Website
Okay, so this case study is a bit different. This client owns a warehouse racking safety inspection website — it’s quite a dry topic and not always easy to find fresh angles on. They wanted to dominate the UK search results for their industry.
Like the other clients I’ve mentioned, we did outreach to trade publications and health and safety magazines first. Then we started looking for something more creative because content in this niche can also be dry. I know Brighton-SEOers hate them but… We did an infographic.
Like any infographic case study I’ve seen, the secret to success was linking it to Game of Thrones and Star Wars. We stuck with the health and safety theme at the core of our client’s business but applied it to fictional workplaces. The infographic didn’t storm the internet, but it was hugely popular within the health and safety circles because the angle was so creative. It got picked up by a number of websites, gained quite a few retweets and our SEO team syndicated it across infographic sharing sites.
Our link building methods for this client helped us get to page 1 ranking for 21 keywords and top 3 ranking for 8 keywords in their very niche industry in just 4 months. You can see here a screenshot of the ones we made traction on here.
Link Building for PPI
My final case study is for a PPI company. The PPI claims deadline is coming up in August 2019 so the sector has gotten really competitive. Again, we needed to earn early credibility here and there are limited ‘trade’ related publications so we pitched articles to a number of finance bloggers to secure early links. Here are some examples of those.
We used this credibility and got in contact with small business publications saying something along the lines of — “hey we’ve been featured on a number of well-known finance blogs and would like to contribute an article on X to you.” We tailored articles to the publications writing on a variety of topics.
Then this ad was released by the FCA who invested about 25 million in it. The goal was to raise public awareness about the PPI claims deadline. We thought it was terrible and unlikely to work. To see if we were right, we ran a survey. It turns out that ad money was wasted. Only 16% of Brits knew when the claims deadline was, 54% of people had no idea and the rest guessed the wrong date (so we can safely assume they also don’t know). The results of this study secured us 240 links including this one from the Mirror.
In terms of traffic and conversions, we saw an 870% increase in organic traffic during the 14-month campaign and a 682% increase in organic conversions. Here’s an SEMrush screenshot showing rankings going in the direction you always want it to. And we hit position 1 for 25 keywords. Here’s a screenshot from SEMrush showing that. All the crowns there are featured snippets which were another really important element of increasing conversions for this client. You can see an example of one of those on the right. Getting featured snippets is a topic for another day, but feel free to tweet or message me if you need help on this.
A final link building technique I want to touch on is media and news jumping via Twitter using #prrequest and #journorequest hashtags. You can also set up email notifications so you don’t need to trawl through those.
Here’s an example of a request from Alison Coleman, a great small business journalist. She’s asking for entrepreneurs to share what they wear to work and whether it impacts their productivity. Just below, you can see my boss Tim Cameron-Kitchen tweeted back that he gets dressed up in a suit and tie despite working from home. I know that’s not quite true, especially if the football is on, but it was enough to secure him coverage in Forbes a week later.
My boss loves to boast about this one as he was featured in the article next to Zuckerberg, Jobs and Branson but we managed to get three paragraphs in the article whilst they only had one each. Just goes to show what an interesting comment piece can do!
So a quick summary of the link building techniques I talked through today. Data studies and surveys where you can find interesting data for outreach, trade/industry publication outreach, media and news jumping, infographics that piggyback on trends, and Flickr galleries. You can use these link building tactics for any type of business, no matter how small or niche.
— Jon Walter (@Jwalter14) September 29, 2018