Four days after our Linklove London conference, which was on March 30th and recapped here by Hannah, came the Linklove Boston conference held at the Joseph B. Martin Conference Center at Harvard Medical School.
Conference attendees arrived Monday morning ready for a full day packed with actionable tips to help them get more and better links from their linkbuilding efforts. I personally arrived with a sore throat and squeaky voice, but excited nonetheless.
Here’s what some of the attendees had to say:
compiling my notes from #linklove! wow, so much knowledge.— Sarah Goliger (@sarahbethgo) April 3, 2012
Each of our speakers gave their all to provide as much as possible to conference attendees. The mix of regular conference presenters along with some faces that are not heard from as much (such as Ross Hudgens, Justin Briggs, and Colby Almond) kept the presentations lively and exciting.
Here are the highlights from the various talks, with as many links to content as I’ve been able to put in. Enjoy!
Rand Fishkin titled his presentation “&#*$ Linkbuilding, Content Marketing FTW!” Rand, if you don’t know, is a huge proponent of content marketing. He and his team there in Seattle have done very very little manual linkbuilding for the SEOmoz website, yet you look at the backlink profile and OSE shows over 33,000 linking root domains to the site. Wow. They must be doing something right!
Rand says that good content inspires people to work on something bigger than themselves. Just take a look at The Knife Maker. Even if you aren’t a chef, you want one of those knives! The story brings you in, draws you, and points you to something bigger. THAT is the purpose and goal of content marketing.
Rand pointed out as well that businesses should be blogging/writing about more than themselves. No one just wants to read content about you. Give us something more, like good data or an interesting story or a good argument for a position.
The way to do this is to discover what your audience cares about. Fiskars, for example, does a lot with content since they are making scissors sexy. Brands can use all of the following for markating purposes: content, product, platform, community, and articles.
Rand then did something different with his presentation over London. He tweeted out and asked for attendees to send him sites that they would like some content ideas for. One was The Fedora Store. Rand admonished them a bit and then gave some ideas, such as why not create a guide to hats? There’s nothing good out there. Check out this SERP. Do it really cool, like this beard infographic:
Overall, the point is to align content with what your audience cares about. Make it really really good. And don’t worry about connecting it directly with the business. In my opinion, this thought leadership is what will set your business apart. I think Rand would agree!
Next up was Justin Briggs, the head of Inbound Marketing at BigFish Games and a former SEO Consultant for our Seattle office. Justin’s presentation was called “The Problem with Linkbuilding – It’s not about the links”. Basically, Justin took us through his thoughts and experience about reporting on linkbuilding and other SEO activities. In Justin’s mind, the lack of reporting that SEOs have (as opposed to the paid channels, which can have a directly tied ROI) is why we are not taken as seriously or given as much budget as the paid channels from the C-suite. Justin’s looking to reverse that.
Justin says that most of us have been doing linkbuilding reporting wrong, by just giving the following metrics:
- Number of links
- Anchor Text
- Domain Authority
- Page Authority
- ACRank (Majestic)
- Unique Linking Root Domains
- DA/PA Distribution
He looks at the usual suspects: SEOmoz, MajesticSEO, RavenTools, and AuthorityLabs. Then he talks about managing outreach processes: RavenTools, BuzzStream, Toutapp + Highrise. He says you can build your own CRM as well with a custom bookmarklet, a Google form, Google Docs, and the SEOmoz API.
But this is operational reporting. These aren’t results metrics. In short, , these aren’t the metrics that show what make you money. The value of a link isn’t based on the cost to acquire it. It’s based on the money it makes you. So we have to look to report on these metrics.
We can show correlation, Justin says, by showing correlation by stacking ranking, traffic, and conversions, and the change therein. It is possible to tie linkbuilding efforts to business metrics like revenue, custom acquisition, ROI, CPA, retention rates, and more. Justin says we need to create strategies that grow the metrics we can measure (like conversions).
Justin then showed some interesting metrics. “Would you rather”, he said, “be #1 for a term that has 100k searches a month, but makes you an average of $5 per customer in the long term, or be #1 for a 50k term that makes you $20?” We have to be smarter and track the end-to-end of a customer. You’ll actually make more money this way. Traffic is meaningless if it does not convert.
To get user feedback data, you can use three different kinds of cohort analysis:
- Out-of-the-box solutions like KISSmetrics or Mixpanel,
- Your own SQL database (which is magical), or
- Custom variables in GA! (Justin says he’ll write a post about it).
Justin then went on to show some ways to think about ways to get an outsized and best return on your work. He shows data that convinces us that in the long term, a white-hat content strategy will win, but maybe in the short term, to get the short term wins, a paid links or other strategy could actually be beneficial. Interesting, during the last talk of the day Tom Critchlow shows a company that started with paid links, then moved away from it slowly and it now winning their niche.
Justin does point out that Google is getting better at devaluing paid links, and when that happens investing in content pays off sooner. But, traffic gained through paid links still wins until the 18th month.
Finally, Justin showed a cool tool called Gephi which enables you to visualize the “nodes” of pages on a website that are well linked-to, which can be valuable competitor knowledge to know where they think is worth investing linkbuilding time.
Check out Justin’s full presentation here.
Next up was Ross Hudgens, the SEO manager at Full Beaker in Bellevue, WA. He’s talking on “Link Building by Imitation – How to Steal Your Way to #1″. Ross’s goal is to give us some strategies for building off of successful things people have done that you can rework, in a different way, and get new links, likes, tweets, shares, and (ultimately) business. It seems that a lot of us are thinking about how our work ties into the overall business landscape now! This is exciting.
Most content only reaches a fraction of the reach it has the potential of. So Ross asks “How can we repurpose, add value, and capture the market reach disconnect?”
For example, HackerNews HATES infographics and anything SEO related. However, HackerNews LOVES data and numbers. Find something with 100+ upvotes (so the social proof is there), and repurpose it into something different (like an infographic). Then, contact the original publisher, the people who linked to it/shared it, and then seed it to a new audience. To do this yourself, do the following:
- Browse HackerNews consistently.
- Check out the “top list” – http://news.ycombinator.com/best
- Verify inbound link numbers (to see if it was popular outside of just the HN traffic)
Boom! Then you’re winning.
Ross’s next tactic was to find a piece of popular content in an adjacent market, such as a Wikipedia-esque guide, such as the one Ross found that had generated over 1000 linking root domains. Ross recreated these articles for a new vertical, while still appealing to the same interest groups. He then reached out those old targets, but also to new targets found through Google searches, CitationLabs, and broken linkbuilding. Links++, cost = nothing.
Ross’ next tactic is so smart, I almost don’t want to share it. Through working with a consultant, they found that they were getting high-quality links from someone who was writing for a lot of different sites that were advertising for high-quality writers. So they reached out to these writers directly, incentivized them on a per-promotion basis, and hired an army of freelance, free-reign content writers.
His final tip was stealing from PPC. What do PPCers do that most SEOs don’t? They do things like:
- Capitalize meta descriptions (as it draws your eye),
- Include phone numbers in the meta description.
Finally, Ross said “Steal from anywhere, everyone, and everything”. Maximize stealing from others by putting important people into custom Twitter lists.
Ross, in awesome fashion, even stole the design of his presentation from “Steal Like An Artist” by Austin Kleon. Well played, sir.
View Ross’ full presentation here.
Up next was Rhea Drysdale of Outspoken Media. Her coworker Michelle, by the way, liveblogged the conference over on their blog, so you should check it out.
Rhea’s topic was “Building Your Link Development Calendar”. They have a small team, but strive to do more with less by focusing on processes, not necessarily tools (which Rhea says are often unreliable). She agrees that we need to focus more on strategic content marketing, but content is personal. If link development is first base, content is 3rd base. Wow! That’s quite a jump!
We want to teach people how to do stuff. We don’t want to be a vendor, but an educator. One strategy didn’t work out, the typical develop content, pitch, get links, make money approach. They ran into a lot of roadbumps as well, things that the client had hired another SEO company to take care of!
Soo, they revamped their strategy to work in with that of the client. Their new process looked like:
Proposal -> Intake -> Research & Discovery -> Strategy Approval -> Implementation -> Tracking
Their phases look like the following:
Proposal Phase They assess the technical capabilities, the financial constraints, and the assets that the client already has.
Intake Phase They collect data, take stock of the marketing campaigns, social media capabilities, IT, and PR processes, and outreach access (which Outspoken does as the client).
Research and Discovery In this phase, they review the data and content to see if the query meets the intent of the content. If not, they built resources. If so, they moved forward. Then they base the strategy formation on the timeframe, resources, and goals. Finally, they documented everything.
Strategy Approval Phase In the strategy approval phase, they defined the client’s expectations, received approval for the strategy, and then created the responsibilities calendar for the project.
Implementation Phase First, they ACTED and did work! They set up tracking in GA alongside goal and conversion tracking. Finally, they used tools (Raven) for pitching, placements, rankings, traffic, and conversions.
Tracking Phase Finally, they tracked the effectiveness of the campaign. This included managing both internal and external expectations, using a system of accountability, and then kept communicating with the client the results.
Creating a Link Development Calendar
Rhea says that the following are the factors to consider when building a link development calendar:
- Length of contract
- Website state
- Resources available
- Industry Specifics
- Seasonality of the industry
Outspoken uses the following calendar files depending on their needs:
- Mozilla list of holiday ics files by country
- Google search for “interesting calendars”
- iCal calendars
- Holidays in Outlook Calendar
She also gave an awesome list of calendars to use for holidays, awareness days, international observance days, environmental dates, and more. Finally, she pointed us to Jon Cooper’s linkbuilding strategies post, which she turned into a link development calendar. She’ll be releasing it publicly soon enough!
Rhea’s full deck is here.
After lunch came SEER Interactive’s founder, Wil Reynolds. He talked to us about a new way to look at RSS (Really Simple Stalking). He called his talk “Stalking for Links” and gave some awesome tips for tracking people using…wait for it…iGoogle! Not groundbreaking, but the way Wil has done it is amazing and totally within his attitude of JFDI.
As Wil says, “The idea is not just about “stalking” the real value is in HELPING people – just use these tactics to figure out the multiple ways you can help people out”
Wil says to stop begging and start being smarter. First, you need this Chrome extension to find RSS feeds on a page. Many sites have RSS feeds available freely, like Quora, Crunchbase, Slideshare, FB, Blekko, and many more!
First, target the big shots – aka, the people you follow that don’t follow you back who have a big online following. For Wil, this was Dharmesh Shah of Hubspot. Wil set up goals in iGoogle to track his progress.
Then he set up a To-Do list within iGoogle.
Next, he found an RSS for a Twitter feed, which you can set up on the Add Gadgets window and the Add Feed/Gadget button:
You can add it using this code:
Next, if they’re big enough, you can stalk them in the News. Google News, that is. You can get the RSS from Google News.
Add their name into the KEYWORD areas, separated by a +, and you’ve got every mention of their name in Google News. Cool!
Next, stalk their blogs. Blogs usually have an easy to find RSS feed. If not, check them out in Feedburner, as that is what most sites use.
You can stalk their Google+ updates as well, by creating a Google+ API key and then using this tool. You can also stalk them in places where they are asking questions, such as Quora.
Next, figure out who they’re following. I personally like to use Followerwonk for this, but that only works if you have the paid version. So you can use this free Twitter export tool. You can stalk the big news publications by searching for location-specific people based off who might be following you. Wil did this and found a RWW writer living in Philadelphia, right near their church. Boom!
Next, try to find when they are coming near you. Use Topsy for this:
Wil then took us through stalking another person using some Excel magic, the SEOmoz API into Google Docs, and IFTTT to tell you when a person is coming nearby.
For his full deck, go here.
I was up next! Following Wil is no small task, so my topic was “Best in Show: Tools for Building Links”. My goal was to take the audience through a linkbuilding campaign and solve some of the problems faced in each phase of the linkbuilding process with tools. There are a lot of tools out there, so the focus was to simplify and pick out the best tools available.
Here is my mindmap of how a linkbuilding campaign works:
There are two types of tools that we can use also:
- Paid tools
- Free tools
There are also three types of budgets:
- No budget – $99/month
- $501+ per month
What (am I ranking for, do I need?)
To find what we are ranking for already, here are the different ways to do so:
- Find the keywords driving traffic, then run then through a free tool like Rankerizer.
- KeywordSpy will give you a terms you are ranking for. You can also use this for competitor sites. It has both free and paid versions.
- You can also use a bit of Excel magic using this spreadsheet and pull in Analytics data using Excellent Analytics.
- A paid tool to use is SearchMetrics Essentials, which will give you a full picture of their SERP and keyword landscape. It gives you a history of their organic visibility over time too
Rank Trackers are a dime a dozen, but the best ones and the ones I recommend are:
- SEOmoz Campaigns
The next problem is what links you need. Use LinkDetective by running your competitor’s backlink profile into a CSV and then uploading it to see their top 10 keyword distribution and the kinds of links they have. This at least gives you insight into how your backlink profile could work for your industry. Or, do this in Excel using the Excel spreadsheet in this post from SEOgadget.
The next question is where your competitors are getting links from. In this case, I recommend these tools:
- Link Research Tools Competitive Landscape for link velocity (Paid/Enterprise)
- SEOmoz Competitive Link Finder (Subscription)
- Majestic SEO Clique Hunter (Subscription)
- Pro tip – go to pages 7 and higher to find unique LRDs to target
- Or use the spreadsheet in this post to do it in Excel.
Who is going to link to it? aka Link Prospecting
Link prospecting has been talked about a lot recently in SEO circles, and tools abound to help you out. The tools I covered are:
- Advanced Google queries plus Linkclump. Set your Advanced Settings (found on this page to 50 to speed it up).
- Citation Labs Link Prospector
To find sites interested in content, you need a combination of advanced operators and tools. Here are my recommendations:
- Ontolo’s Linkbuilding Query Generator V2 to build the queries for you based off the type of content and placement you’re looking for.
- Use this Google Doc sheet (just make a copy) to spin up advanced queries.
- Use tools like Blogdash or Blogger Linkup to find sites accepting guest posts.
- Use my Author search bookmarklet to get ideas and find where others have guest blogged.
- Using a combination of Advanced Queries and Neils Bosma’s SEO Tools, you can copy the results, put them into Excel, run the =GooglePageRank formula, and you have your prospects so they can be sorted by toolbar Pagerank.
The next issue is finding influencers. Find them using the following:
- Followerwonk and search by keyword. You can then sort by influence or number of followers.
- You can also use the Compare Users report (on the paid version) to see all of the people that numerous influencers follow. This is a great list to start with!
- Next, take those screennames and put them into the tool in this post (make a copy of the spreadsheet, rename the script from “Copy of GetURL” to “GetURL”), put in your Moz API key, and pull their websites and the Moz metrics for those sites to help you prioritize.
Other sites to use to find influencers are:
- Topsy Experts
- Find Lists of Sites, copy them with Linkclump, and dump into Excel. Use Neils’ SEOtools again, and you’ve got a prioritisable list!
The next problem is sorting contacts. Do it easily with these tools:
- Within Ontolo, you can sort them by DA and other metrics within your campaign on the Search Link Prospects tab.
- You can do this in Excel also. Drop them into the spreadsheet available from this post, which divides them into high touch, medium touch, and low touch prospects, by domain authority.
To find contact details faster, use the following tools:
Why will people link?
People don’t just link because you ask them to. They link because you have provided them value of some sort (which can take a variety of forms). To do this with content, use the following tools to get content ideas:
- SEOgadget’s Content Strategy Generator V2
- Use this Quora scraper (make a copy) to find out what people are asking on Quora around a particular subject. You’ll need to use this format for the RSS URL: http://www.quora.com/(keyword)/rss
- If you have an Ontolo account, use their Content Idea Generator. You can also use this for prospecting to find the content your competitors have created that has gotten links, so you can retarget those people once you’ve created content for them to link to.
How do I do outreach>
Outreach is, of course, the hard (and fun) part of linkbuilding. In today’s age, you have to connect with people so that they will link to you. This is often done through social media, but how do we scale this so we can make connections, but not spend all day on Twitter or Facebook?
- Use Engag.io, which is an inbox for your social media accounts. You can respond to tweets and other mentions directly from within it. Never forget to respond, because the mention will appear like an unread email. Awesome!
- Use Rapportive so you can mention their recent tweets or other updates in your email. Pro tip – you can also use it to find their email address if you know the domain. Put in some different combinations and when the right one comes up, you’ll see their face
- Give them something (like a custom USB drive).
- Buy them coffee. Sometimes we need to connect with people in real life.
How do I scale outreach?
Don’t scale linkbuilding by spamming. Instead, use tools like Buzzstream to help you keep track of your relationship stages and who is linking. They will also email you weekly about the status of your links so that you know if you need to reach out again. Pro tip – use this in combination with Canned Responses in Gmail for epic win.
If you’re willing to pay a bit of money (about $30/month), you can use ToutApp, which discovers when an email address is present on the page. Click through the email address and you’ll be back in your Gmail, ready to email them. Justin talked about combining it with Highrise in this post.
To scale passively, use these tools:
- Zemanta, which is paid and free.
- Buzzstream’s weekly links report (subscription)
- Ontolo’s Important Backlink Monitor (subscription)
To remember to follow up, I recommend these tools:
How do I track linkbuilding?
Finally, tracking is important for showing the ROI of your efforts. Justin talked about this a lot more, but I recommend using the following tools to do it:
- Excel. Our Distilled Outreach team uses this spreadsheet internally.
- You can build your own CRM within Google Docs to track progress. I wrote about it here on Wordstream.
- Linkstant will email you every time you get a new link.
- And of course, you can do an index-over-index comparision with OpenSiteExplorer or MajesticSEO.
Sometimes, tracking is as simple as starting a process and then iterating. Also, remember that tools like Buzzstream or ToutApp will give you statistics on your efforts.
You can see my whole deck here.
Adam worked for a long time on Zappos, helping them to make their website into the organic traffic driving machine that it is today. He focused on strategies that will always work – focusing on content and scaleable processes for adding new content.
He said that search as a channel is starting to flatten out. Some sites can’t get any stronger, so it’s a battle of incremental gains at this point (or moving into other verticals of search). So they sought to focus on user metrics as well as a reclamation of their internal link graph. “Real value is required; thin content loses” he said.
Their approach to SEO is simple:
- Make the best user experience possible;
- Leverage the maximum SEO (SEO should be an invisible layer on a website)
Since anchor text isn’t as powerful as it used to be, linkbuilding takes two forms:
- Quantity for domain authority;
- Quality for targeting purposes.
By focusing on your link management, you can drive link equity deeper into the site to your category pages. Your category pages, not product pages, have a much better chance of ranking for terms. So build links to these pages and make them useful to users with a lot of rich content.
When their CEO got an interview, the SEO team would then “hustle” the writer for a link at the top of the article. This resulted in a lot of very strong links to the site. They also did numerous giveaways to bloggers which gained them a lot of links in a scaleable way. With a big machine like Zappos behind you, you can do this at scale.
Adam is an IA master, and he showed how using related links on product pages can really help you rock the longtail. This is something we’ve always known, but it’s nice to have that confirmation.
Finally, Adam talked about getting buy-in from the C-suite. He said that top-level execs talk to each other, so you need to get buy-in from one. Often, it is best to get buy-in from your PR exec, get them interested and excited, and your work is well on its way.
Colby Almond is the Viral Master (I think he should have that on his business card) at 97th Floor. He is the author of Pinteresting Secrets, so he’s literally written the book about Pinterest marketing. Colby showed how you can get thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of visits to your site using Pinterest.
As Colby said:
Pinterest is like crack cocaine for women
Colby compared Pinterest to Reddit, except the Pinterest demographics are kittens, advice posters, cooking, weddings, literature, all animals, celebrities, soap, all fashion, and washboard abs. Reddit’s are more rage comics and LOLcats.
Colby said that sometimes graphic design needs to change a bit to fit the channel. Infographics don’t work well on Pinterest because they are too long and often not interesting enough. Pinterest wants content that consists of:
- Big ideas connecting to life;
- Steps and instructions;
- Graphics that will guide you through life.
Colby has come up with the idea of Instructographcis, which are:
A vertical representaiton of creative ideas or steps that guides the user to make it themselves
His steps to creating an instructographic are:
- Find a creative idea that has viral potential
- Create the steps in vertical fashion that are visually easy to follow
- Finish with the end product
By the way, Pinterest acts as catalyst for Facebook shares, not Twitter traffic.
On Pinterest, size matters. Your graphic should be at least 500px wide and at least 2500 pixels long, but no longer than 5000px, because then people have to scroll back up to repin, and most will not. If you can’t make your graphics the right size, then make them really pretty. That’s your only defense.
The best times to submit to Pinterest are:
- 5am and 5pm Eastern time. It takes about 3 hours for content to hit the popular page, so this puts your content on the popular page just as people get to work and just as they finish dinner (about 8pm EST).
Other important things to remember:
- Don’t spam your followers.
- Don’t just pin your own stuff. Look at Whole Foods. They pin stuff about organic living, not their grocery products. Find the real message behind your products.
- Put the content on your site, and don’t forget the embed code so people can embed it on their own sites.
Finally, if someone repins your content as your own, you can reach out to Pinterest and show them that it’s your content. 95% of the time, they’ll change the source to your site.
Here’s Colby’s presentation: here.
Tom Critchlow was the last speaker of the day. His talk was entitled “Mediocre to Good”, which was the beginning part to his brother Will’s “Good to Great”-esque talk in London.
Tom gave a case study of a company that had been buying links, but wanted to move towards an inbound marketing model. They couldn’t stop buying links and stay competitive, but they slowly started moving away from it.
As Tom so eloquently said:
Shit takes time. And is hard.
Good SEO looks like this, according to Tom:
This site was buying a lot of links. They were using link networks and all sorts of stuff. In 2010, though, they:
- Started purchasing data feeds, which although it didn’t set them completely apart from their competitors, it helped a lot.
- Invested in category pages;
- Built a CMS to enable agile content production;
- and they grew from about 5k visits a day to 7k. Not drastic, but a good improvement.
In 2011, they:
- Launched a full redesign, which increased links, shares, and trust.
- Reduced ads on the site, which saw a small drop in conversions but an increase in links;
- They hired a “brilliant” blogger (which was crucial);
- And began building permission marketing assets, like Facebook and Twitter. Remember, this is not an easy niche to do this in!
In 2011, they grew from 7k visits a day to 10k. Once again, not huge and drastic, but a solid increase.
Now in 2012, they’ve reached the tipping point of social media. They’re starting to drive links and engagement from it, their conversion rates are strong enough to start running paid advertising, their paid StumbleUpon campaign brought over 60k FREE visits as well, their infographics and data journalism are starting to pay off.
3 months into 2012, they are now at 18-20k visits per day. That flywheel is turning!
Tom then talked about structuring a content team. The way this case study has it structured is:
- 20 people on content (!!)
- 5 people on outreach (hasn’t changed as they’ve moved linkbuilding models)
- 10 people in design/development.
- Don’t forget the Chief Content Officer!
So what can we learn? First, don’t forget permission assets, such as getting people to give you their email address in return for access to something. Second, nail the basics, like visuals. The Internet is insanely visual right now. Third, make sure your category and product pages deserve to rank!
Also, it takes a lot of work to get to a place where the flywheel is moving. So be prepared to fail, but fortune favors the brave. If you’re trying to use influencers to reach a new audience, you’ll have to work at it and you’ll probably be rejected. Keep at it. Stalk for links!.
Tom’s presentation is not yet online
We hope that all the attendees learned a lot and walked away with actionable tips for improving their linkbuilding. Don’t forget, we’re running a Searchlove conference in San Francisco in June!
Conference photos by Portland photographer David Zwickerhill.
John Doherty is the head of and consultant in the Distilled New York City office. His work time is filled with data consumption and strategic awesomeness, while his free time consists of extreme sports, travel, and bicycle riding in Brooklyn.