Scaling your link building efforts can drive gains in organic traffic long term, even in competitive spaces.
One of the biggest challenges in link building is scaling your efforts.
This is particularly tricky in competitive industries, especially when you’re up against big brands who may be generating far more links than you each month. Just building enough links to keep up with them — let alone outpace them — can be difficult.
Of course, link building is becoming less a numbers game (and has been for a long time). Still, the truth is that you’re likely to need a good volume of links in order to compete.
Understanding how to scale your link building efforts can have a huge impact on your ability to compete and generate organic traffic in the long term.
In this column, you’ll learn about the challenges of scale in link building and tips you can start using today to get more from your link building processes.
Are You Link-Worthy?
When you scale anything, there can be a resulting loss of quality. This is true of most processes, not just those related to SEO and link building.
With link building, there is an added complication in that not only could the outputs of your work be lower quality, but there is a risk that this loss could lead to a penalty.
This means that not only will your work be less effective, it could actually have a negative impact on your organic traffic.
Plus, while we may use a number of link building tactics, we’re always going to struggle to scale link building if the website that we’re working on isn’t naturally link-worthy and doesn’t deserve links in the first place.
Take a moment to think about the biggest brands in the world — the likes of Amazon, Sony, Samsung, Coca-Cola, etc. Do you think they need to proactively ask for every link that they acquire?
Of course not.
This isn’t to say that they couldn’t benefit from proactive link building in some way, but they are clearly not reliant upon it because people link to them because of who they are.
This isn’t the case for the majority of us and the businesses that we work with. The vast majority of businesses around the world are small to medium-sized businesses and will likely never go beyond that. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t strive to make them link-worthy and get links that they didn’t ask for.
Getting links that you didn’t ask for by having a website that is genuinely deserving of links is the real way to scale link building. You scale link building by reducing your reliance on sending an email every time you want to get a link.
Keep this principle in mind when thinking about link building and when reading through the next few sections. If you can find that sweet spot between proactively building links, getting ones that you didn’t ask for, and putting processes in place that allow you to scale your work, you’ll be on your way to link building nirvana.
Scale Your Link Building Processes
Let’s start by looking at a few ways that you can get more from your link building process. By focusing on your process, you can make yourself and your team more efficient, meaning that you can get more links from your time.
1. Create Reusable Content Assets
If you’re creating content that you promote and try to build links to, you should always be thinking about how much you can reuse and repurpose your content.
Not just the content itself, although this is really important and Ross Simmonds talks about this concept a lot; the processes behind that content.
For example, let’s say that you created an interactive infographic such as this one from Information is Beautiful.
You can see that a lot of work has gone into this, not just in research but also in the design and development of the interactive elements. It’s a huge piece of work.
Let’s say, for sake of argument, it took 100 hours to produce. If you wanted to do another one, you wouldn’t really want to spend 100 hours all over again.
This isn’t how you scale something. To scale something, you look for efficiency gains without a loss in quality.
The goal with this particular example should be to allow for the design and the development code behind this piece to be reusable by simply plugging in a new dataset that is in the same format. This could save a large amount of that 100 hours and allow you to create multiple content pieces.
In fact, that’s exactly what Information is Beautiful has done by creating variations of this piece for sports and superfoods.
You don’t even have to create something as fancy as this in order to benefit from reusing content assets. Long-form content is another great example of this and allows you to create something that can be reused over and over.
For example, this amazing piece of long-form content from The Guardian is very in-depth and has lots going on.
But if you look below the surface, you can easily imagine how the design and page template could be reused for other topics in the future.
The layout, navigation, graphs, etc. could all be reused for something else. This means that this type of content will be much quicker to produce in the future and allow you to spend less time on the production overall.
2. Create Content That Can Be Regularly Updated
Avoid falling into the trap of creating a piece of content that is published and forgotten about forever. If you’re doing this with link-worthy content that you’ve proactively promoted but then stopped, you’re seriously missing out on link opportunities.
This needs to be factored into the early stages of your content production. Thinking about the possibilities upfront will make your life far easier.
It’s also at an early stage of the process that you’ll see two things:
- Does the idea lend itself to being updated on a regular basis?
- If so, how often and what is needed to do it?
One of the most common ways to update content is annually when changes have occurred or new data has been released that warrants an update to the content.
However, updates do not need to be tied to specific points in time. Sometimes, you may just be able to update a piece of content because you have something interesting to add to it.
I’m going to use Information is Beautiful as another example here and share one of my all-time favorite content pieces.
This piece can be updated whenever the team decides to review another movie. This allows them to keep refreshing and re-release the piece, meaning that more links can come in as a result.
The benefits here are fairly sizable – you can get more from the same content over and over again.
You don’t have to spend the same amount of time each and every time on a campaign and can therefore get more links with less time.
3. Create Content That Ranks for Research-Led Keywords
Ironically, despite many of us having SEO backgrounds, link builders don’t always consider the possibility of a content campaign ranking for a set of targeted keywords as well as generating links.
Quite often, we’ll focus on creating a piece of content that is likely to get links, but ranking for a set of relevant keywords is a bit of an afterthought. This may be unavoidable in some cases because relevant target keywords simply may not exist.
However, if a piece of content ranks well, it has a high chance of being linked to naturally as time goes on. This is particularly true for content that is easy to reference such as studies, unique data, or statistics.
A great example of this in the coffee industry is this piece which ranks for a bunch of coffee/caffeine statistic-related keywords and now has over 30 linking root domains to this URL alone.
While they may well proactively promote this page and try to generate links to it, ranking naturally for relevant keywords will have done most of the leg work in generating most of those links.
This is because someone who is trying to find coffee or caffeine statistics is almost certainly going to reference what they find. Chances are that this person may have an article being published online where this reference (and link!) will be placed.
Scale Your Link Building Influence
Now, let’s look at a few ways that you can scale link building by working with others and going beyond what you can do alone or within your team.
4. Integrate With Other Departments Within Your Organization
Scaling link building doesn’t need to just focus on your own workflow. It can be achieved by collaborating with other teams within your organization so that links become part of their workflow too.
This method is most useful when you’re working with larger organizations and goes far beyond the basics such as asking a PR team to include links in their work!
There are a few ways that you can integrate with other departments and the key is just understanding what activities are going on around you which may touch upon link building.
First, you need to be aware of any marketing campaigns that are going on but fall outside of your direct remit. This could be within the SEO team or it could be in the wider marketing team.
For example, one of our clients has a quarterly focus for the marketing team which means that during that quarter, most of their efforts are focused on one core topic.
By understanding this and seeing the schedule in advance, we’re able to piggyback on campaigns and collaborate so that we complement each other’s work.
Another example of this in action is knowing when the organization has prominent spokespeople with strong reputations within your sector. Knowing this and being able to dig more into this could lead to more link building opportunities.
For example, if the CEO of the company is mentioned a lot online and often quoted, this may present an opportunity to get links to the website generally or to their profile page.
Quick tip: If you have someone like this in your organization, do a quick backlink check on their LinkedIn profile page to find some potential link opportunities.
5. Build Relationships With Key Sources in Your Industry
Coming back to the idea of getting links that you didn’t ask for, one of the best ways to accomplish this is to build relationships with key sources in your industry so that they end up coming to you for content.
This content may be something as simple as a quote for a story that they’re writing or it could be them needing a key statistic that you can provide for them.
For most industries, you only need to do this with a handful of contacts in order to have a positive influence on your reputation and ability to get links naturally.
The key here is to find writers in your industry who are clearly experts and write about topics related to what you do over and over again. Buzzsumo is a great tool to use to find these types of writers but just manually researching and reading relevant articles will also do the job.
Once you’ve done this, try to avoid starting out a relationship with them by promoting something too heavily.
Perhaps start by introducing yourself and your company, along with some ideas on how you could work together and importantly, how you can help them in the future.
How relationships help you scale your link building efforts
Think about it: Relationships have everything to do with building links.
- In order for a blog post to link to your website, you need to have a relationship with the person writing it.
- To get a publication to let you publish a news piece on their site, you need to have a relationship with a news outlet.
So you see – link building isn’t about sending cold emails to every blogger, journalist, or influencer in your niche. It’s about carefully and tactfully building meaningful relationships with the right people who can and want to link to your site.
Let me illustrate what I mean. The graph below shows the most common link building tactics on a scale, with “resources required” on the X-axis, and “potential reward” on the Y-axis:
- The tactics you see on the top right require a lot of resources and yield a big reward. You may try one of these high-resource, high-reward tactics 10 times and only succeed once – but all you’ll need is that one success to make months of work worth it.
- The tactics at the bottom left require fewer resources and yield a small reward. These are the more day-to-day tactics you’d use: things like “link reclamation,” which means asking for a link when your brand is mentioned on a site without one, or “resource pages,” which means getting a link to your site on a listicle somewhere.
What’s the common thread that you see in all of these link building tactics? They all require you to build a relationship with another person or business in order to work.
Scaling your link building efforts becomes especially important with those lower-risk, lower-reward tactics. The only way to scale these tactics is by building lasting relationships with bloggers, journalists, partners, businesses, influencers, etc. That way, you can actually check off multiple tactics with just one relationship over time.
One thing I’ve found is that freelance journalists are a gold mine for link building. Why? Because they make their living on pitching stories to different publications and getting paid for it. So if you continually give them content to pitch, then you’re actually helping them and making their lives easier.
Speaking of helping others, don’t forget that relationship-building should always start with you delivering value to the person you want a link from.
When you’re initiating a relationship, never open by asking them to do something for you. That simply won’t work.
The quickest way to start an effective relationship that will lead to more backlinks is by delivering some value to them first.
For example, if you’re interested in building a relationship with a certain blogger, you might reach out to them saying you’re a long-time admirer of their blog and are wondering if they’re looking for a guest post you can write on a certain topic. Uncover their personal and business goals, and create a compelling case that demonstrates the value of a partnership with your brand.
Now, take a moment to think about how you’re doing on relationship-building so far.
- What relationships does your organization already have with journalists, bloggers, influencers, and others who might link to your site?
- Whom do you wish your organization had a relationship with, and what value can you offer them to initiate a relationship?
The more meaningful relationships you can build with folks who can link to you from high-quality websites, the more effectively you’ll scale link building efforts over time.
What You Shouldn’t Scale
Finally, I wanted to briefly mention what you shouldn’t try to scale when it comes to link building.
Broadly, there are two things that I’d advise you not to scale:
- Outreach: It’s tempting to email hundreds or even thousands of contacts in one go with the same outreach template. The truth is, this may work to some extent if you’re lucky but is also a sure-fire way to burn relationships, too. Scaling your outreach in this way is risky and will quickly reduce the quality of your work.
- Content production: Whilst trying to scale the production using templates and frameworks, as explained above, is fine, I wouldn’t recommend scaling production of the content creation itself. Don’t get tempted to outsource to cheap writers or designers if they aren’t good enough to produce expert-level content for you. Again, it’s tempting but maintaining that quality is essential.
To wrap up, remember that the overarching goal when it comes to scaling link building is to hit that sweet spot between building links yourself, getting ones that you didn’t ask for, and scaling the right processes that allow for efficient link building.