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.