The Scouting Report for Link Building Rookies

When I first started with Distilled a year ago I was a bright eyed and bushy tailed link builder. I thought I could score a win on ANY site I wanted. Mashable? Sure. New York Times? Why not. I’ll be on Buzzfeed like every day <cue Rick Ross background music>.

I was hustlin’, prospecting day and night for the best blogs in the biz.

Then outreach began and a design blogger had the nerve to ask me for my portfolio. Excuse me?  Then I inserted a link into an article I wrote for a travel blogger and suddenly it became a sponsored post. Pardon me good sir? I’m not going to fake a wedding (again) just to get featured on a DA 83 wedding blog. Trust me, it is not worth the time and effort.

If someone had only given me a scouting report, breaking down which blog niches are challenging to break into, it would have saved me a lot of time and heartbreak.

For those about to prospect,  I salute you. Here is my personal Link Building Scouting Report for rookies. This is by no means a definitive list. These are simply observations I have made over the past year at Distilled.

Has something different worked for you? Have something to add? Share your scouting tips in the comments below.

Automotive Blogs

Automotive journalism is alive and well for the most part; the big players in this niche are Jalopnik, Auto Blog, and Edmunds. Each has an army of writers and freelancers who are all part of the brotherhood and sisterhood of automotive journalists. They are the ones who get invited to press events and have insider access to industry news and FREE cars.

What a year at Distilled taught me: There are a lot of opportunities here. Use My Blog Guest and Blogger Link Up to get your foot in the door (there’s a ton of these blogs on those sites) and then start delivering content like the big players to improve your clout in the space.

It’s easy to improve your clout. I know what you’re thinking, how the heck do I get someone to give me a car? How do I get invites to automotive events?

This is the Chevy Volt I earned from Klout that I leveraged to build links for a client. #Hustlin.

Invite yourself to industry events! Attend car shows, go check out Cars and Coffee, or even sign up for a Ride and Drive Event in your area.

Scouting Report Card: (B) The automotive world can be easy to break into but leveling up can be a challenge unless you take the time to create unique content.

Bonus Tip: Pics or it didn’t happen. Sure there are stock images that might work, but if you’re trying to really create good content, you need to be the one behind the lens in this niche.

Business and Technology Blogs

The fruit is a plenty in these niches. Small business, marketing, and technology – they are all very similar. If you are link building here, they know what’s up. Create informative content and use your brand to become an expert in your niche. Besides metrics like DA, you can spot the spammy ones and the good ones by comments and shares.

Reviews and giveaways work really well in the tech space too!

What a year at Distilled taught me: Please, please, please do not be promotional. I’m looking at you, in-house guys. When discussing your own business model, products, or USP, be informative and not salesy. Build links that define you and your client as the expert in their field.

Example: We worked with a client who is a large online business insurance broker. Instead of limiting ourselves to discussing insurance, we focused on their customers, small businesses. We built awesome content around being the experts in small business and used their knowledge center to earn some great coverage.

Scouting Report Card: (A+) Business and tech are easy to break into and are both great places to start relationship building.

Finance and Economics Blogs

There are plenty of blogs that focus on finance, budget, saving money and economics. I’ve had success in these niches with sites that are actively seeking contributors, but for the most part my team and I have found relationship building challenging in these spaces.

What a year at Distilled taught me: Don’t be afraid to walk away. The ROI on finance blogs can be lackluster. Don’t spend too much time relationship building if you’re not getting the results, simply move on to the next one.

Scouting Report Card: (D) This can be a difficult niche to get your foot in the door as they expect financial or economical experts to contribute. Most of us marketers do not qualify.

Design & Photography Blogs

I lumped these two blog types together because they are both creative areas that require expert knowledge and skill.

Face it, you either know how to discuss things like Pantone vs. CMYK or what the exposure triangle is, or you don’t. I do not.

If you don’t have the experience and know-how you can still link build in this area but you may be limited to lower value sites.

What a year at Distilled taught me: If you want to spear big fish in the design & photography world, you will need to know your stuff and have a portfolio ready. This is why I’m glad I have Alyssa Ennis and Luke Clum on my team. I can leverage their skills and expertise to form relationships and build links in these areas.

Scouting Report Card: (A w/ Experience) or (C w/o Experience) Design and photography can be easy to start building relationships and earning exposure, just as long as you have the credentials. If you don’t have the authority it will be a challenge to grow in these spaces.

Bonus Tip: Leverage your relationships to earn the opportunity to build links in niches that you may not have the expertise or know-how to contribute yourself.

Environmental, Green, and Health & Fitness Blogs

These are all rich blog spaces with plenty of opportunities of varying quality. My team and I have had success with guest posting, content promotion, reviews, and giveaways in these areas.

Use linking building tools to secure easy wins with lower value sites, then leverage those wins to show your authority and build relationships with higher value blogs.

What a year at Distilled taught me: Stick with actionable lists, tips, and tricks. If you can create how-to’s and review products bloggers will love you. Folks in this niche really care; give them good, solid advice and you will be rewarded.

Bonus Tip: Share firsthand experiences that fit your niche, you’ll strike gold. Readers value actual experiences, you’ll receive more comments because it is something personable.

Scouting Report Card: (A) These spaces are welcoming to users that have usable information to share.

Sports & Outdoor Blogs

These two niches sound similar. They are both based around activities for fun and/or exercise, but in my experience, they are complete opposites.

Outdoor blogs are pretty open and I’ve been successful with guest posts, reviews, giveaways, and content promotion. Sports blogs on the other hand can be more challenging, especially team sports.

What a year at Distilled taught me: Sports blogs are similar to the automotive industry, journalism is alive and well. Strong opinions matter and getting your foot in the door can be tough.

I’ve found sports to be really hard to break into if you don’t have the authority, that is the writing experience, social following, specific sports know-how. I have had success with sharing creative pieces and content promotion. Pieces that let sports bloggers showcase their team are always a win-win situation.

Scouting Report Card: (B+ Outdoor) (C Sports) The outdoor space is a great place for a rookie link builder to get started. Sports blogs can be a bit of challenge for guest posts.

Travel Blogs

One of my first prospecting efforts was in the travel space. Judging by the sheer number of travel blogs out there I thought this niche would be simple. I could not have been more wrong. I have had success with travel, but tread lightly as this niche is hyper aware of linking building tactics.

What a year at Distilled taught me: Travel blogs want firsthand experience, so leverage your personal travel adventures and pictures. Many travel bloggers will not allow links, will no-follow links, only allow links to your travel blog, or will consider links to be a sponsored post (which means $). You’ve been warned.

You can sometimes score solid wins and build relationships with travel bloggers by using ego bait. Ask them for input  in the creation process and cite them as a source for your creative pieces and they will mostly share and promote your content.

Scouting Report Card: (C+) The travel space can be a challenging for a rookie link builder. Take your time prospecting and build solid relationships to earn authority.

Wedding Blogs

I had no clue how deep the wedding rabbit hole went when I first started exploring wedding planning blogs. They come in every wedding size, wedding shape, and wedding style – I have never seen so much white and pink.

What a year at Distilled taught me: Wedding blogs want actual wedding content. They can smell an SEO a mile away and you might just end up in sponsored post territory. So unless you just got hitched, are a wedding photographer, or a wedding planner, this might be a tough niche to break into.

On that note, I would like to congratulate Geoff Kenyon, Rob Toledo, and Luke Clum on getting married! Can I please borrow some of your wedding pictures? Thank you.

Scouting Report Card: (D) There are opportunities in the wedding niche but bloggers are very particular on who they work with. Good taste is everything.

Women’s Interest Blogs

The women’s interest blog can take many forms. The classic Mommy Blog, The Coupon Blog, WAHM Bloggers (Working at Home Mothers), the list goes on and on.

Likes include shopping and cartoon avatars. I’ve been mildly successful with guest posting, but wildly successful with reviews and giveaways.

What a year at Distilled taught me: These ladies are connected; when conducting product reviews/giveaways, expect to be contacted by random mommies. Be sure to use your Moz Bar Link Highlighter Tool because not all mommy blogs are built the same. I have been no-followed and quoted Google Webmaster Guidelines by more than one Mommy – they mean business.

Scouting Report Card: (A+) Some can be a bit demanding, but mommies are the best to work with.

As I round out my rookie year at Distilled I’ve learned a lot about becoming a successful link builder. Some efforts would have been far less painful if I had my own link building scouting report when I first started. What has or has not worked for you? What blog niches do you find challenging? Please share them in the comments below and maybe you can save someone from faking their own wedding for a DA 83 site.

James Daugherty

James Daugherty

James joined Distilled in November 2011. He comes from a background in marketing and social media. His passion for the Internet and “get stuff done” attitude fits in perfectly with Distilled’s Seattle office. James Dh264 // He was born in the...   read more

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  1. I like this, nice work. I'm sure you'll develop a definitive list as you get into other niches.

    Fashion is a bit of a mixed bag. It can be easy to get some links but so often bloggers only go for sponsored posts or ask for expensive clothing as payment. One of the reasons for this in my experience is the huge number of affiliate banners on display and bloggers looking to monetise.

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    • Hey Robert,

      I don't have much experience in the fashion niche, but I do know that they love to receive product. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. I did outreach to 1,700 mom bloggers (a la earlier this year, and of the responses, I kid you not, 80% said they would post a "guest post," not a sponsored post or anything otherwise noted as being paid, if I paid them. I attempted to nicely point out that we weren't paying for posts at the time and that we didn't want to run afoul of any search engine guidelines by paying for followed links. To which, the majority of bloggers that responded said they had no idea paid link guidelines existed.

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    • Hey Eric,

      Can you tell me more about these so called paid link guidelines? Kidding. Mom bloggers are a fun bunch, most get super excited to be part of reviews and giveaways.

      If any bring up paying for posts I kindly walk away.

      Thanks for sharing!

    • Ha! Yeah, the few that kept a conversation going with me were really nice to work with, which was a nice change from some verticals, where folks are all business.

  3. Great post James thanks for this, we have been using Blogger Linkup and My Blog Guest for a while now and both have been valuable resources as long as you know what to look out for as there is some spammy sites that also use it looking for content.

    reply >
    • James

      May I ask you to share your top tips on what to look out for to avoid spammy sites in Blogger Linkup and My Blog Guest?

    • Great point Matthew. I've built some great relationships using BLU & MBG, it's worth the time to search through them.

  4. Nice post James.

    Any advice for the legal industry? I find it's mostly lawyers either expressing their opinion in politics, satire literature or just legal policy which people find to understand.

    What would be your approach in this space.



    reply >
    • Dan

      Hi Vahe,

      Case studies, and infographics breaking down those complex topics into easy to digest data always have the potential to be killer. Us non-legal folks are curious about the world of Law, but in some cases need some guidance to from the Legal community. This guidance is where your content comes in to help us understand the benefit/impact of a policy change, the impact of a change in the political environment, how a certain case could impact future precedent etc. and all in an easy to digest/relevant way that makes you sound like the man!

      Let the fun begin!


    • Hello Vahe! I have had success in the legal industry. First off, I built authority in the legal space. This can be done through Blogger Link Up and My Blog Guest.

      I then used my authority to build relationships with regional law firms that I found using Google advance search queries.

      I found that most of the bloggers I linked up with asked to trade guest posts. If you or your client has a blog in the legal niche that would be helpful.


      Good luck!

  5. Great Post James,

    I also have just spent my first 6 months as a in house SEO targeting the Technology Sector (we provide IT Training and Certification). Here are some of the top tips I've picked up within the Technology Sector.

    Persistence - you won't always get a response. After 6 months of emails and calls I have finally built a relationship with a network of sites and my first post will go live next week. I have a feeling this is a lifetime relationship though.

    Don't be afraid to go straight to the top - most effective and valuable conversations i've had are when I go straight to the Editor.

    Pick up the phone - for a while I hid behind email, but it's much harder to ignore a phone call. You get your answer quicker and it set's you apart from everyone else. It also helps to remind Editors your human.

    How-to Guides - well written how to guides are gold dust for Tech publications - especially if you have the expertise in house (as an IT Training company we're pretty lucky)

    Examples - my success increased dramatically once I had a few examples of high value posts on well known tech publications. If you know your targets main competitors, stick them in, it might cause friction, but it can also create jealousy.

    Research - make sure you know the Blog/Publications audience, that way you can tailor your approach and pick the right examples.

    Leverage Relationships - if you're regularly providing content for a publication and have a good relationship with the editor but can't crack a related site, don't be afraid to ask for an introduction.

    I guess quite a few of these ideas are generic, but they have all come from my time working with Tech Publications and blogs. Suffice to say my experience has been eye opening. There is a lot of opportunity out there, and if you build good relationships the door is always open.

    Good luck.

    reply >
    • Edward, you're a rock star! Awesome advice.

      I totally agree with picking up the phone, it is so much faster to build a relationship with your voice.

      Examples are key! I reference some of top/favorite posts all the time.

      Thanks for your comment! Take care.

  6. Hi James,

    As an avid Rick Ross (UGH!) listener and search marker, I thoroughly enjoyed your blog post. Many of my clients lack high quality photography and because of this, I've found it difficult to break into many of these niches. After reading your post, I now don't have to fake my own wedding!

    Any advice on how to score the Food/Beverage industry?



    reply >
    • Hey Renee,

      Glad you got the reference, I'm sure there are a couple people scratching their head, wondering what I'm talking about.

      Photography is key! It took me a few months to realize that. I'm sure we can all agree that photos make posts come alive. While stock photography has it's place, nothing beats good actual photography from your client.

      For the Food/Beverage industry I've seen success with reviews/giveaways/contests. Building links on a local level can be tricky. To connect with locals, I've used Twitter to find influential bloggers who fit my niche.


  7. Great read - made think about my own industry - education. There might even be some relationship to the Porter's Five Forces model.

    Has anyone thought to build or buy a list of websites categorized by types (Mechanical Turk) and then mash that together with the rate at which the first link between to cblocks are being created and also include/correlate to the DA and DA difference of sites? I bet there is a relationship in the velocities.

    reply >
  8. Hi James,

    I appreciate you sharing your expertise. When I started with some linkbuilding it was very unfocused and a lot of blog commenting. As I learned more, I started using some tools to view competitors links, especially those who were ranking ahead of me, and working to get links from those sites the leaders had in common. Superior article and quite helpful.

    Thank you again,


    reply >
  9. Nice post. It's an interesting process when you think about it. An insurance specialist needs to hire an SEO specialist to write about insurance and appear influential! I guess the bigger your brand online, the closer you get to PR rather than "outreach" after all if you can afford to pay a journalist with the appropriate credentials and contacts in a chosen field.

    For a long time now this process has felt to me like long tail PR or even long tail journalism. Is the true value to be found in you being able to become knowledegable and trusted in verticals that are outside your own expertise/domain? Or is the 'value add' more about targeting and navigating networks of communities rather than content creation? A dangerous thing to say in the age of content marketing :)

    reply >
    • Hey Dale,

      Great insight! The beauty of being part of a team of outreachers is leveraging each other's knowledge. If we aren't experts at something we work with those that are to create good content.

      Targeting and navigating networks is a valuable skill every link builder must have.

      Thanks for your comment!

  10. Chris Thompson

    Hi James,

    Brilliant post!

    When working with enterprise level clients, a simple, but effective, link building method is to ensure the optimization of press releases. It's a basic SEO practice, but is often overlooked by larger companies. This is particularly important for public companies, as their press releases are often published by high value financial and investment sites.


    reply >
  11. Patricia M.

    Great Post James!

    I was wondering what you suggestion would be for building links to blogs/websites for pets i.e. Cats & Dogs What would be the best way of locating these blogs for that particular niche.

    reply >
    • Aww thanks Patricia!

      The pet industry is very welcoming. Use advance search to find opportunities. Then follow the blog rolls, pet bloggers are well connected and many link to each other.

      After you make a couple contacts ask your new pet pals if they have any blogger buddies who you could work with.

      Soon the snowball will start rolling and your relationships will grow.

      Good luck!

  12. @ James Daugherty - Hi James, just long have you been purely linkbuilding please mate? ( in entirety)

    reply >
    • Hey Ed!

      I have been a link builder with Distilled for 1 year. Prior to Distilled I never even heard the terms SEO, link building, or link bait.

      I learned a lot in a year :D

  13. In link building work the main process should create good database and clear link reporting.

    reply >
  14. Great insights and right on target with what I've experienced myself. I've never worked with the auto or wedding niches, but I've worked with all the rest. I've had great luck with mommy bloggers and in the design, environmental, technology, health and fitness and sports industries, but not much luck with relationship building in the financial industry and not a whole lot with travel bloggers either.

    reply >
  15. Excellent website. Lots of helpful information here. I'm sending it to a few buddies ans also sharing in delicious. And obviously, thank you on your effort!

    reply >
  16. It's in reality a nice and helpful piece of info. I am satisfied that you shared this helpful info with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

    reply >
  17. Fantastic report on link building. I am very much appreciate to read this blog post.

    reply >

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