SEO case study: How Venngage turned search into their primary lead source

SEO case study: How Venngage turned search into their primary lead source

Venngage is a free infographic maker that has catered to more than 21,000 businesses. In this article, we explore how they grew their organic traffic from about 275,000 visitors per month in November 2017 to about 900,000 today — more than tripling in 17 months.

I spoke with Nadya Khoja, Chief Growth Officer at Venngage, about their process.

Venngage gets most of their leads from content and organic search. The percentage varies from month to month in the range of 58% to 65%.

In Nov 2017, Venngage enjoyed 275,000 visitors a month from organic search traffic. Today (16 months later) it’s 900,000. Nadya Khoja (their Chief Growth Officer) extrapolated from their current trend that by December of 2019 (in nine months) they will enjoy three million organic search visitors per month.

Screenshot of Venngage's statistics

In 2015, when Nadya started with Venngage, they saw 300 to 400 registrations a week. By March of 2018, this was up to 25,000 a week. Today it’s 45,000.

While Nadya had the advantage of not starting from zero, that is impressive growth per any reasonable metric. How did they do it?

Recipe

There are a lot of pieces to this puzzle. I’ll do my best to explain them, and how they tie together. There is no correct order to things per se, so what is below is my perspective on how best to tell this story.

The single most important ingredient: Hypothesize, test, analyze, adjust

This critical ingredient is surprisingly not an ingredient, but rather a methodology. I’m tempted to call it “the scientific method”, as that’s an accurate description, but perhaps it’s more accurate to call it the methodology written up in the books “The Lean Startup” (which Nadya has read) and “Running Lean” (which Nadya has not read).

This single most important ingredient is the methodology of the hypothesize, test, analyze, and adjust.

What got them to this methodology was a desire to de-risk SEO.

The growth in traffic and leads was managed through a series of small and quick iterations, each one of which either passed or failed. Ones that passed were done more. Ones that failed were abandoned.

This concept of hypothesizing, testing, analyzing, and adjusting is used both for SEO changes and for changes to their products.

The second most important ingredient

This ingredient is shared knowledge. Venngage marketing developed “The Playbook”, which everyone in marketing contributes to. “The Playbook” was created both as a reference with which to bring new team members up to speed quickly, as well as a running history of what has been tested and how it went.

The importance of these first two ingredients cannot be overstated. From here on, I am revealing things they learned through trial and error. You have the advantage to learn from their successes and failures. They figured this stuff out the hard way. One hypothesis and one test at a time.

Their north star metrics

They have two north star metrics. The first one seems fairly obvious. “How many infographics are completed within a given time period?” The second one occurred to them later and is as important, if not more so. It is “how long does it take to complete an infographic?”

The first metric, of course, tells them how attractive their product is. The second tells them how easy (or hard) their product is to use.

Together these are the primary metrics that drive everything Venngage does.

The 50/50 focus split

As a result of both the company and the marketing department having a focus on customer acquisition and customer retention, every person in marketing spends half their time working on improving the first north star metric, and the other half spend their time working on improving the second.

Marketing driving product design

Those north star metrics have led to Venngage developing what I call marketing driven product design. Everywhere I ever worked has claimed they did this. The way Venngage does this exceeds anything ever done at a company I’ve worked for.

“How do I be good?”

This part of Nadya’s story reminds me of the start of a promo video I once saw for MasterClass.com. It’s such a good segue to this part of the story that I cropped out all but the good part to include in this article.

When Steve Martin shed light on an important marketing question

I’ve encountered a number of companies through the years who thought of marketing as “generating leads” and “selling it”, rather than “how do we learn what our customers want?”, or “how do we make our product easier to use?”

Squads

The company is structured into cross-functional squads, a cross-functional squad being people from various departments within Venngage, all working to improve a company-wide metric.

For example, one of the aspects of their infographic product is templates. A template is a starting point for building an infographic.

As templates are their largest customer acquisition channel, they created a “Template Squad”, whose job is to work on their two north star metrics for their templates.

The squad consists of developers, designers, UI/UX people, and the squad leader, who is someone in marketing. Personally, I love this marketing focus, as it de-focuses marketing and causes marketing to be something that permeates everything the company does.

There is another squad devoted to internationalization, which as you can infer, is responsible to improve their two north star metrics with users in countries around the world.

Iterative development

Each template squad member is tasked with improving their two north star metrics.

Ideas on how to do this come from squad members with various backgrounds and ideas.

Each idea is translated into a testable hypothesis. Modifications are done weekly. As you can image, Venngage is heavy into analytics, as without detailed and sophisticated analytics, they don’t know which experiments worked and which didn’t.

Examples of ideas that worked are:

  • Break up the templates page into a series of pages, which contain either category of templates or single templates.
  • Ensure each template page contains SEO keywords specific for the appropriate industry or audience segment. This is described in more detail further in this document.
  • Undo the forced backlink each of the embedded templates used to contain.
    • This allowed them to get initial traction, but it later resulted in a Google penalty.
    • This is a prime example of an SEO tactic that worked until it didn’t.
  • Create an SEO checklist for all template pages with a focus on technical SEO.
    • This eliminated human error from the process.
  • Eliminate “React headers” Google was not indexing.
  • Determine what infographic templates and features people don’t use and eliminate them.

Measuring inputs

I personally think this is really important. To obtain outputs, they measured inputs. When the goal was to increase registrations, they identified the things they had to do to increase registrations, then measured how much of that they did every week.

Everyone does SEO

In the same way that marketing is something that does not stand alone, but rather permeates everything Venngage does, SEO does not stand alone. It permeates everything marketing does. Since organic search traffic is the number one source of leads, they ensure everyone in marketing knows the basics of technical SEO and understands the importance of this never being neglected.

Beliefs and values

While I understand the importance of beliefs and values in human psychology, it was refreshing to see this being proactively addressed within an organization in the context of improving their north star metrics.

They win and lose together

Winning and losing together is a core belief at Venngage. Nadya states it minimizes blame and finger-pointing. When they win, they all win. When they lose, they all lose. It doesn’t matter who played what part. To use a sports analogy, a good assist helps to score a goal. A bad assist, well, that’s an opportunity to learn.

SEO is a team effort

While it is technically possible for a single person to do SEO, the volume of tasks required these days makes it impractical. SEO requires quality content, technical SEO, and building of backlinks through content promotion, guest posting, and the others. Venngage is a great example of effectively distributing SEO responsibilities through the marketing department.

To illustrate the importance of the various pieces fitting together, consider that while content is king, technical SEO is what gets content found, but when people find crappy content, it doesn’t convert.

You can’t manage what you don’t measure

This requires no elaboration.

But what you measure matters

This probably does justify some elaboration. We’ve all been in organizations that measured stupid stuff. By narrowing down to their two north star metrics, then focusing their efforts to improving those metrics, they’ve aligned everyone’s activity towards things that matter.

The magic of incremental improvements

This is the Japanese concept of Kaizen put into play for the development and marketing of a software product.

Done slightly differently, this concept helped Britain dominate competitive cycling at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Customer acquisition is not enough

Venngage developed their second north star metric after deciding that acquiring new customers was not, in and of itself, any form of the Holy Grail. They realized that if their product was hard to use, fewer people would use it.

They decided a good general metric of how easy the product is to use was to measure how long people take to build an infographic. If people took “too long”, they spoke to them about why.

This led them to change the product in ways to make it easier to use.

Link building is relationship building

As a reader of Search Engine Watch, you know link building is critical and central to SEO. In the same way that everyone in Venngage marketing must know the basics of technical SEO, everyone in Venngage marketing must build links.

They do so via outreach to promote their content. As people earn links from the content promotion outreach, they record those links in a shared spreadsheet.

While this next bit is related to link building, everyone in Venngage marketing has traffic goals as well.

This too is tracked in a simple and reasonable way. Various marketers own different “areas” or “channels”. These channels are broken down into specific traffic acquisition metrics.

As new hires get more familiar with how things work at Venngage, they are guided into traffic acquisition channels which they want to work on.

Learning experience, over time

My attempt here is to provide a chronology of what they learned in what order. It may help you avoid some of the mistakes they made.

Cheating works until it doesn’t

Understanding the importance of links to search ranking, they thought it would be a good idea to implement their infographics with embedded backlinks. Each implemented infographic contained a forced backlink to the Venngage website.

They identified a set of anchor text they thought would be beneficial to them and rotated through them for these forced backlinks.

And it worked, for a while. Until they realized they had invited a Google penalty. This took a bit to clean up.

The lessons learned:

  • The quality of your backlinks matter.
  • To attract quality backlinks, publish quality content.

Blog posts brought in users who activated

At some point, their analytics helped them realize that users who activated from blog posts where ideal users for them. So they set a goal to increase activations from blog posts, which led to the decision to test if breaking up templates into categories and individual pages with only one template made sense. It did.

Website design matters

Changing the website from one big template page to thousands of smaller ones helped, and not just because it greatly increased the number of URLs indexed by Google. It also greatly improved the user experience. It made it easier for their audience to find templates relevant to them, without having to look at templates that weren’t.

Lesson learned: UI/UX matters for both users and SEO.

Hybrid content attracts

Hybrid content is where an article talks about two main things. For example, talking about Hogwarts houses sorting within the context of an infographic. This type of content brings in some number of Harry Potter fans, some of whom have an interest in creating infographics. The key to success is tying these two different topics together well.

Content is tuneable

By converting one huge templates page into thousands of small template pages, they realized that a template or set of templates that appeal to one audience segment would not necessarily appeal to others. This caused them to start to tune templates towards audience segments in pursuit of more long tail organic search traffic.

How did they figure out what users wanted in terms of better content? They used a combination of keyword research and talking with users and prospects.

Some content doesn’t make the cut

After they caught onto the benefits of tuning content to attract different audience segments, they looked for content on their site that no one seemed to care about. They deleted it. While it decreased the amount of content on their site, it increased their overall content quality.

Traffic spikes are not always good news

When they initially started creating forced backlinks in their infographics, they could see their traffic increase. They saw some spikes. Their general thought was more traffic is good.

When they experienced the Google penalty, they realized how wrong they were. Some traffic spikes are bad news. Others are good news.

When your website traffic shows a sudden change, even if you’re experiencing a spike in organic search traffic, you must dig into the details and find out the root cause.

Lesson learned: There is a thing as bad traffic. Some traffic warns you of a problem.

Links from product embeds aren’t all bad

They just needed to make the embedded links optional. To allow the customer to decide if they do or do not deserve a backlink. While this did not cause any change to their levels of organic search traffic, it was necessary to resolve the Google penalty.

Boring works

Incremental continuous improvement seems repetitive and boring. A one percent tweak here, a two percent tweak there, but over time, you’ve tripled your organic search traffic and your lead flow.

It’s necessarily fun, but it delivers results.

Lesson learned: What I’ll call “infrastructure” is boring, and it matters. Both for your product and your SEO.

Figure out what to measure

The idea of measuring the amount of time required to complete an infographic did not occur to them on day one. This idea came up when they were looking for a metric to indicate to them how easy (or difficult) their product was to use.

Once they decided this metric possibly made sense, they determined their baseline, then through an iterative process, making improvements to the product to make this a little faster.

As they did so, the feedback from the users was positive, so they doubled down on this effort.

Lesson learned: What you measure matters.

Teach your coworkers well

They created “The Playbook”, which is a compendium of the combined knowledge they’ve accumulated over time. The playbook is written by them, for them.

Marketing employees are required to add chapters to the playbook as they learn new skills and methods.

Its primary purpose is to bring new team members up to speed quickly, and it also serves as a historical record of what did and did not work.

One important aspect of continuous improvement is for new people to avoid suggesting experiments that previously failed.

Additionally (and I love this), every month everyone in marketing gives Nadya an outline of what they’re learning and what they’re improving on.

Their marketing stack

While their marketing stack is not essential to understanding their processes, I find it useful to understand what software tools a marketing organization uses, and for what. So here is theirs. This is not a list of what they’ve used and abandoned over time, but rather a list of what they use now.

  • Analytics: Google Analytics and Mixpanel
  • Customer communications: Intercom
  • Link analysis and building: Ahrefs
  • Link building outreach: Mailshake
  • Project management: Trello
  • General purpose: G Suite

In closing

To me, what Nadya has done at Venngage is a case study in how to do SEO right, and most of doing it right are not technical SEO work.

  • Help senior management understand that some things that are not typically thought of as SEO (website design for example) can have serious SEO implications.
  • Get senior management buy in to include these non-SEO functions in your SEO efforts.
  • Understand what very few basic metrics matter for your company, and how you measure them.
  • Distribute required SEO work through as many people as reasonably possible. Include people whose job functions are not necessarily SEO related (writers, designers, UI/UX, and more).
  • Test and measure everything.
  • Win big through a continuous stream of small incremental improvements.

Venngage has surely lead by example and all the guidelines and pointers shared above can surely help your organization implement its search for increased sales.

Kevin Carney is the Founder and CEO of the boutique link building agency Organic Growth. 

The post SEO case study: How Venngage turned search into their primary lead source appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

Earn money on Pinterest with Yoast WooCommerce SEO

Earn money on Pinterest with Yoast WooCommerce SEO

With over 250 million users, Pinterest is a platform many online shops cannot ignore. According to the platform, 84% of its users use Pinterest to decide what they should buy next. Whether you have a small business or sell all over the world, Pinterest is the place to invest your time in. Want to start using Pinterest for your business or want to get more out of it? Here, we’ll explain not only how Pinterest works, but also how you get the most out of it. You’ll also find out how the latest schema update of Yoast SEO 11.0 helps you with reaching your goals.

Pinterest explained

Unlike common belief, Pinterest is not a social media platform: it’s a visual search engine. Users browse for ideas, called pins, and go to other websites to read about or buy something. The pins are vertical images with an optimized meta description.

Because Pinterest creates a personal feed for all of its users, it can place your pins in feeds of people who do not know you yet. This is based on the recent search history of your users and based on the people, subjects and boards someone follows. If you like a pin, you can repin it on one of your own boards, which spreads the message even further. So if you optimize your own pins well, it can go viral if it reaches the right audience.

Unlike social media such as Facebook and Twitter, a pin can generate traffic and customers to your website for months to come. It’s actually more common for a pin to generate traffic a few months after you first put it live, as the power of sharing is incredibly important on Pinterest.

Consider it a snowball effect: as your pin gets repinned, Pinterest will learn more about your pin each and every time. It bases this knowledge on the boards it’s placed on, as well as the description the pin has and the kind of people who interact with it. A pin that doesn’t seem popular at first, can suddenly spike a lot of traffic 4 to 6 months after your first placed it online.

Claiming your Pinterest account with Yoast SEO

Pinterest has two types of accounts: personal accounts and business accounts. If you have an eCommerce site, make sure your account is a business account. It’s incredibly easy to do so in only three steps!

  • Log into your account on Pinterest, go to your settings and find the ‘Claim’ option. Here you can insert the URL of your domain.
  • Next, Pinterest will ask you to verify your website. Choose ‘insert HTML-tag’ and copy the code within the content quotes, as displayed below.
Pinterest’s HTML tag to verify your website
  • Go to your website’s dashboard in WordPress and click on SEO in your left-hand menu. Then, click on Social and go to the Pinterest tab. Here, you’ll find a box for the Pinterest confirmation. Paste the code you copied in step 2 here and save the changes.
The Pinterest tab in the Social section of Yoast SEO

You’ve now claimed your website!

The Claim section in Pinterest

The last thing you need to do is to make sure your pins will show up as rich pins. With rich pins, the metadata is shown on the pin itself. This increases engagement as more information is given. To make sure your website is ready for rich pins, follow the steps on the rich pins validator page of Pinterest.

A rich pin, including price, stock and a link to your website, encouraging people to check the product out in your online store.

Product pins: the most important pins for you as a store owner

Pinterest has four kinds of pins:

  1. article pins;
  2. app pins;
  3. product pins;
  4. recipe pins.

We’ll focus on product pins, as these are the kind of pins you need to create as a shop owner. Product pins make it easier for your possible customers to see what you’re selling, how much it costs, whether it’s in stock and more. By providing this information immediately, you’re grabbing the attention of your audience and will drive more traffic to your website.

Yoast WooCommerce SEO and Pinterest

The WooCommerce SEO plugin stitches the Yoast SEO schema output and the WooCommerce schema output together, making sure it’s one, coherent, graph. At the same time, it also enriches the output with several attributes.

This means that, when you own an online store that runs on WooCommerce, you only need the Yoast WooCommerce SEO plugin on top of Yoast SEO to make sure Pinterest can get all relevant information. You just have to install the plugin, we’ll do the rest for you!

The moment you or someone else shares the product on Pinterest, we’ll make sure Pinterest understands it’s a product, what the price is and who the seller is. On top of this, we’ll also explain to Pinterest that the main entity of the page is the product you sell.

Schema.org explained

Implementing structured data properly on your website has always been a hassle. In Yoast SEO 11.0 we made this easier for you: instead of focusing on the technical specifics of your website, you can now focus on selling your product. We’ll focus on the right schema implementation for you!

Schema.org is used to markup products, recipes, articles and more. Search engines as Google and, of course, Pinterest can read this implementation and present it to their users. On top of this, search engines understand a page or website that has schema.org implemented better. Here’s a little story to show how it works.

All in all, Schema.org is incredibly important for SEO. It will make your website a better search result as it will give your visitors an easier way to pick a result from the list of links.

Read more: How to use Pinterest to grow – my experiences »

The post Earn money on Pinterest with Yoast WooCommerce SEO appeared first on Yoast.

What’s it like using DuckDuckGo in 2019?

What’s it like using DuckDuckGo in 2019?

DuckDuckGo could be your new default search engine if you want to focus on privacy and security. What it’s like using it nowadays?

You might have heard of DuckDuckGo in the past. Our first long post about it was back in 2016 with Rebecca Sentance trying out the new search engine for a week.

Three years later, many things have changed. More users are losing trust in big tech companies and privacy and security are more important than ever. How does DuckDuckGo fit in this change?

And how is the experience of switching into a new search engine nowadays?

DuckDuckGo in numbers

search engine market share US march 2018 to 2019

Over the last few months, DuckDuckGo has seen increased media coverage. Its growing stats among a growing conversation around online privacy make it more relevant than ever.

There are more than 30 million searches happening on DuckDuckGo every day. Its data indicates a constant growth. It’s currently the fourth largest search engine in the U.S. counting more than 1 billion searches every month all over the world.

Google is holding the reins of the market share with 88.5% of it, Bing is following with 6.12%, Yahoo! is third with 4.11% and DuckDuckGo is forthwith 0.99% of the market share.

It clearly has a long way to go to stand out as a serious competitor in the market share. However, it has already paved the way in a new kind of search engine that is serious about security and privacy. In fact, its mission is to set a new standard of trust online.

The search engine that doesn’t track you

duckduckgo homepage

One of the first things you notice when visiting DuckDuckGo, except for the search box, is the subheading “the search engine that doesn’t track you”.

DuckDuckGo was built as an alternative to Google and the big search engines that use tracking data to improve personalization. DuckDuckGo reassures its users that they don’t store their personal information. They don’t collect or share personal data. They are not storing your search history, which means that they are not able to sell this data to advertisers. Moreover, there’s no tracking in the private browsing mode, which sounds encouraging for everyone who is interested in a search engine that won’t track every single search.

duckduckgo privacy information

What’s interesting is that DuckDuckGo wants to prove that they take privacy seriously. A click on their menu button at the homepage on ‘privacy simplified’ allows you to:

  • Protect your data on every device
  • Subscribe to their Privacy Crash Course to improve your understanding of online privacy
  • Protect your devices by reading privacy guides
  • Find out more about the importance of reduced tracking

Just recently, Google announced an expanded number of default search engines for users including DuckDuckGo for the first time. This was certainly a small win for the DuckDuckGo and also for people who want to focus on private searches.

It’s not surprising that more users are interested in learning more about their online privacy.

duckduckgo traffic from 2010 to 2019, now at more than 30 million searches

[Screenshot from DuckDuckGo’s traffic page.]

A closer look at DuckDuckGo’s stats indicates this growing interest in security and privacy. DuckDuckGo reached 10 million searches in one day back in 2015. It managed to reach 20 million searches in October 2018. In April 2019 it counts 38 million searches.

Making the most of DuckDuckGo

I’ve decided to try out DuckDuckGo after many years of using Google. The focus on online privacy along with the growing number of people switching to DuckDuckGo made it an intriguing choice.

The first impression seemed familiar. Simplicity and a minimal interface made the transition easy.

The fact that your searches are not personalized means that everyone can access the same results in a similar search. This seems to be a relief in the common pattern of the online filter bubbles that we’re used to be part of.

search on duckduckgo for "social media trends"

Another relief was the lack of endless ads before the actual search results. I’ve been used to the series of ads before the actual search results and the science of PPC from a professional perspective, but it was still a nice experience to find the direct results of my query. There was only one ad at the top of the search results, which I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing a similar limit to my Google results.

duckduckgo shortcuts to other sites

In addition to these, you can also save time from your searches by making the most of DuckDuckGo’s bangs. Bangs are shortcuts that allow you to search results on other sites. If you want to search for “SEO” on Search Engine Watch and you’re actually on DuckDuckGo’s homepage, all you need to do is to type ‘!searchenginewatch seo’

There are currently more than 12k bangs so you can search any of the big sites without visiting them in a different tab.

Finding the best search results — not everything is perfect

I must admit that the lack of personalization has its pros and cons. It is obviously reassuring to feel that you’re in control of your own data. However, you should also be prepared for the additional queries you might need to find the best results.

Forget queries like “cinemas near me” and “what’s playing”

duckduckgo query for "cinemas near me"

The search results will be the same for everyone all over the world without detailed queries that could possibly help you get more personalized results.

Moreover, the actual search cannot compete with Google’s sophisticated search. After years of serving as the biggest search engine, there is a learning of semantics that leads to way better results compared to all other search engines.

This shouldn’t be a surprise and it should be clear when you’re jumping into DuckDuckGo that not everything will be the same.

There will also be an initial phase of learning the ropes of a new search experience, which is expected in every new tool and site.

Are these reasons enough to abandon DuckDuckGo? Not yet. It’s good to understand that it won’t replace Google anytime soon but this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t deserve a chance, especially if you’re serious about your online privacy when searching. I’ll personally give it a go knowing that if I can’t find a specific result, I can still use Google. I also enjoy their curated stories around privacy on their Twitter feed so it was an easy decision to follow them and stay up-to-date.

The choice is yours

duckduckgo query for "alternatives to google search"

The online world is changing. And we’re facing with numerous dilemmas when it comes to staying loyal to the big tech companies. As more data breaches and scandals show up, it’s up to us to decide whether we want to keep personalization or not.

There’s no right or wrong answer.

Google is certainly enjoying the success of the big search giant with a large index and search features that keep us hooked with along the numerous services we use on a daily basis. However, it’s refreshing to feel that we still have alternative options. Whether we use them or not, it’s up to us.

What’s important is to be conscious of your decision and your online privacy. The more informed we are, the better our online experience.

The post What’s it like using DuckDuckGo in 2019? appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

15 advanced link building tactics & tips to boost your SEO

15 advanced link building tactics & tips to boost your SEO

Link building remains the SEO industry’s white elephant. Many proclaim that link building is spammy, dead, and even harmful to your SEO. But link building remains a primary part of an effective performance-based SEO strategy. And when executed properly contributes to higher organic search rankings.

I recently gave a presentation at YoastCon 2019 outlining my white hat toolbox of advanced link building methods. Which I’ve used for nearly two decades. First as founder and CEO of affiliate juggernaut Pepperjam, later as Chairman of Internet Marketing Ninjas, and more recently as CEO of US-based Top 10 SEO company (and Yoast Preferred Partner) LSEO.com. Some of you have probably heard of some of these tactics and some are probably hearing about these for the first time. Regardless, my hope is to provide you with specific, actionable link building tactics to boost your SEO.

What’s important to remember is that each link building tactic should be practiced strategically. This way you derive the greatest long-term benefit for your website. Stop looking at link building as a static tactic to manipulate search engines. Instead, focus on giving users value and building relationships within your industry. Your success will be dictated by your long-term investment in SEO, not short term thinking or tricks.

Why link building remains important

Is backlinking really one of Google’s top factors in their algorithm? Yes, link building still remains at the top with content followed closely by RankBrain.

Google’s algorithms remain incredibly dynamic, incorporating hundreds of vectors and considerations for each individual search. As sophisticated as search engines become, they’ll still rely on users and third parties to help them determine what content is considered useful to users. Links help search engines bridge that gap.

Beyond algorithmic benefits, backlinks serve functional purposes for your website:

  • Provides referral traffic
  • Indexes orphaned or isolated pages
  • Contributes on-page value to readers
  • Serves as a citation for research
  • Builds relationships within your existing industry

Really, link building should serve as an extension to an effective content marketing campaign. When you publish new content to your website you should also build links to the page. Much like paid media can help boost traffic to a landing page, so to can a link from a popular website. In the end, they both serve as an advertisement for that page, only one practice is free.

Link Building Considerations

Competitor research tools like SEMrush and Spyfu provide a treasure trove of important information about links. These tools, and others than focus specifically on backlinks, such as Majestic and Ahrefs, provide insights on the quality and quantity of links pointing to any website you’d like to analyze.

It’s important to understand that not all links are equal. Just because a link points to a competitor website in and of itself doesn’t justify a strategy to acquire it. In fact, based on your link analysis you may conclude the link should be avoided. Disregarding the addition of a ‘nofollow’ attribute for a second, it’s pretty obvious when a backlink is from a source of authority or spam.

Generally, SEOs search for backlinks that are authoritative and relevant. Determining authority can be based on Moz’s newly updated Domain Authority metric or you can dig deeper under the hood to examine specific metrics associated with a particular website, such as total traffic, traffic value, number of new unique visitors, the total number of referring domains to that website, etc.

In terms of link building, the number of unique referring domains is generally more important from an algorithm standpoint, then the sheer number of backlinks pointing to your site. But both are valuable to consider when analyzing links.

For the most part, a large portion of your backlinks will be generated naturally as your website ages and other websites link to your evergreen content. Keep in mind that effective SEO requires you to produce new quality content consistently over time. Producing high-quality content is worth your attention and investment.

Keep these considerations in mind when building backlinks to your website:

  • Never pay for links as it’s a violation of Google’s terms of service
  • Stay away from private blog networks that appear to be owned by a single entity
  • Don’t engage in guest posting opportunities for the sole purpose of link building; Instead contribute high quality content to extend your thought leadership
  • Build links that improve the on page value of new or existing content

With that said, let’s explore 15 advanced link building techniques that will help you improve your SEO performance over time.

Advanced link building tactics

Link reclamation

Link reclamation is the easiest and most straightforward link building tactic readily available for any website. The idea is to reclaim a backlink to your site that previously existed but is now broken or removed.

You can use tools like Moz’s Fresh Web Explorer to type in your brand and find any unlinked mentions across the web.

You can use specific search operators to find mentions of your brand and check whether or not the page provides a link back to your website. From there you can reach out to the publisher and request a link back.

Furthermore, you can set up Google Alerts to your email address whenever your website or brand is mentioned across the web. Unfortunately, Moz’s tool only goes back four weeks, so this helps you stay consistently on top of your brand and continually finding new backlink opportunities.  

Tip: To find an editor conduct a site: search using the domain name followed by the keyword “contact us”, “about us”, “email”, etc.

Broken link building

Broken link building is essentially the same strategy as link reclamation, only it involves leveraging broken backlinks from pages all across the web.

In the interim, you can use this Google Chrome extension to discover any broken links present on a page during your research.

But to find the goldmine of broken links you’ll need to do some topic research using SEMrush or Ahrefs. For this example, we’ll use Ahrefs.

Type in a keyword related to your industry and use search operators to find the most popular blogs or content publishers in that niche. For example, you can use sites like Quicksprout and Moz for the SEO industry.

  1. Plug the domain into Ahrefs Site Explorer
  2. Click on ‘Best by Links’ under the Pages tab in the left column
  3. Filter by 404
  4. Click on Dofollow Links and examine the list of pages linking back to that page

You can also scrape educational resources and blogs related to your industry and filter URLs by 404 using ScreamingFrog.

From there, you could recreate or even improve upon the previous page (called a skyscraper technique – see below) and reach out to publishers letting them know they have a broken outbound link and that you can easily replace it with high-quality relevant content.

Tip: Use this tool to look at what the broken page was and why it was linked to in the first place.

Reverse engineered competitor link building

Leverage SEMrush or Ahrefs to download a CSV of 3-5 of your top competitor backlinks. Filter your spreadsheet and tag by gTLD (.com, .org, .de, etc), industry, geography, DA / PA, traffic, total unique referral domains, and other metrics deemed valuable to your campaign.

The key here is to nerd out on all the data and think through how and why your competitor earned each link and simply do it better. Have fun with disqualifying links you’d never want and celebrate when you know you’ve got existing content (or have a plan to write new content) that will undoubtedly earn a link from the target site.

This is a good time to define the Skyscraper technique. In short, the Skyscraper Technique is when you identify content that ranks for a keyword you’d like to rank for (or in this case – a link that exists within content you’d like a link) and then you write something that’s even better. More on this in a bit, but let’s stay focused on reverse engineering competitor backlinks.

Using filters you can look for opportunities related to:

  • Guest blogging
  • Influencer relationships
  • Broken links
  • Thought leadership pieces
  • Local reach out

Look for opportunities to join existing conversations with value-added content (i.e. provide a quote, offer a link to research or an infographic) and even go as far as replacing broken or dead links with better content.

This strategy is entirely white hat and offers the best potential to find new relationships in your field. It’s not easy. Instead, it’s terribly time consuming, but if you want to dominate SEO it’s absolutely worth your time and energy.

Resource link building

Resource link building requires manual outreach and has a low success rate. But links acquired through resource link building tend to generate quality website traffic in addition to passing authority to your website.

If you’ve ever searched for a discount on a particular type of clothing or top clothing store you’ve typed in something like, “best cheap hats” or even “best men’s clothing stores”.

Look at the results, they’re all great listicles and resources.

But there are also more sophisticated methods to derive resource pages for both B2B and B2C companies.

This is a good example of a resource page from a major publication in the SEO industry:

Using this operator string ‘Intitle:keyword AND intitle:resources AND inurl:resources’ you can find existing resources for business and services in your industry with ultra specific listings.

To find this page, I used the following query:

After you find resource pages that are suitable for your company and industry, you can contact the author and ask for a mention. When crafting an email, be sure to stress the value that your business offers its customers and ask what you can do to qualify for that list.

Skyscraper and modified skyscraper

We’ve mentioned the Skyscraper Technique above as a key way to think about how to build great content that is worthy of a back link. The idea is to find a piece of content ranking highly on Google for a keyword you’d like to rank for and create a better version of the content.  “Better” may mean adding a video, writing longer form content, adding useful images and / or infographics, or otherwise extending the quality of the contact that ranks highly for your target keywords.

In truth, the Skyscraper technique requires a considerable allocation of time and resources and there is no guarantee it will work. While it many cases the Skyscraper does indeed work (when coupled with an aggressive link outreach strategy) it’s more of a core philosophy around content marketing and link building than a specific SEO tactic. However, don’t discredit the approach.

After two decades of experience, I can tell you confidently that building great content is the most effective way to acquire new backlinks to your website over time. Using the Skyscraper technique is absolutely worth the effort since the concept is all about making the necessary investment required to compete at the highest levels of search engine marketing.

Note that you should always strive for your content to be over the top amazing sauce; don’t just attempt to be “a little better.”

10x content

If you think the Skyscraper technique sets a high bar for content marketing Rand Fishkin’s

10x content takes things to the next level. 10x simply means ten times better than all existing content on the web. So how do we do this when we’re competing against major brands and publications? Try doing something entirely unique.

Fishkin provides an example of creating a chart of the most trusted movie review sites.

From here, you can use the same follow-up as the skyscraper method to earn backlinks.

Just keep these concepts in mind when crafting a piece of 10x content:

  • Experiment with new mediums and formats
  • Be remarkable
  • Create visceral content
  • Answer an important question at length and with extensive detail

Keep this in mind – both the Skyscraper technique and 10x content Technique make clear the importance of going over the top when building content. Writing thin content or using dated SEO strategies are highly unlikely to yield long term results.

Guestographics

Piggybacking off of the idea of experimenting with new mediums, I strongly encourage you to experiment with a new form of guest posting using infographics as content. This strategy is called “guestographics.”

Remember this little formula: ‘Great Content + Targeted Outreach + Added Value = Links’

Use tools like Buzzsumo and Ahrefs Content Explorer to find trending content in your industry. Think through how you can take a trending topic or evergreen content and turn it into an infographic. Instead of submitting a guest post around the topic – you guessed it – submit a high-quality infographic that links back to your site (preferably to Skyscraper or 10x content that you wrote to rank for a target keyword).

You get what you pay for so think big on both sides (e.g. creative + placement). This will likely require that you hire a graphic designer. Consider hiring someone on Upwork or Freelancer to hire an affordable design expert.

Ego bait

Ego bait is a proven performer in performance-based SEO link building and can be used in a variety of ways. The idea is to appeal to an influencer’s “ego” by tagging them in a piece of content or the snippet of a post to encourage them to read the post and link back to it in the future.

Targeted sharing serves as a very popular form of ego bait. Other ideas and strategies include:

  • Creating a post with a reference list of thought leaders that includes a link to their website and/or social media profiles (BTW – I bite for these all the time with link backs. LOL)
  • Placing @mention to ping thought leaders and mention them in the post.
  • Email influencers once a post is live and request a comment.
  • Invite others with influence to contribute content to your site and interview them.

The idea is to encourage interaction between you and an influencer to start a conversation and build a relationship. Being controversial or humorous will increase your chances of getting a response. While the goal is to earn a link to your website you must first give something of value (a compliment, a ranking, a shoutout) in return.

Thought leadership

One of the most effective ways to build links (and recognition) is to become a thought leader. Becoming a thought leader means contributing your thoughts on topics that you are an expert and that you care deeply about. Most people would agree that thought leadership means having your finger on the pulse of your industry and continuing to inspire and educate readers in your industry. Naturally, people will link back to you as a resource because it will naturally help them strengthen their own content.

Here’s some ideas to help cultivate your own form of thought leadership:

  • Podcast interviews in return for a link
  • Do local media interviews (TV, radio, print, community websites)
  • Contribute to research (i.e. MOZ Local ranking factors, Special Guest App Talent Booking Surveys)
  • Create Viral Social Media Content (memes, infographics, studies, data, etc.)
  • Selectively contribute to industry roundups
  • Guest post on industry websites and hobby blogs
  • Speak at industry conferences and events

I’ve personally contributed to nearly 400 publications, written 3 books (new one coming out in May), and publicly spoke over 100 times, which have created tremendous backlinking opportunities for me. While I don’t only do it for the backlink, I always ask for a backlink. Every time.

Create original research

Conducting research is one of my favorite advanced link building strategies because of the positive impact it can have on your brand, the value that it can add to your industry, and because if done correctly can result in a lot of high-quality links to your website. The idea is to conduct research via surveys or other means to collect data that answers industry questions or otherwise helps your target audience better understand questions they find curious.

For instance, if you are in the coffee industry you can poll customers to discover the most popular times of the day people drink their second cup of coffee. But also how many cups of coffee people drink on average per day/week/month, preferences around coffee brands (i.e. K-Cup, Nespresso, Starbucks, Pete’s, etc) and coffee type (medium roast, dark roast, etc), most popular caffeine alternatives to coffee (i.e., Red Bull, 5 Hour Energy, Tea, etc), and public opinion around whether or not coffee is healthy for you or not.

Once you have enough interesting research data you can write content and publish it on your website (i.e. Top Five Caffeine Alternatives to Coffee). You can do this in one or multiple forms. It is also possible to use the data to contribute content to high authority third party websites. You can also put together a press release announcing the findings. With the goal of the data being used by news agencies or getting picked up by industry websites. Another way is to write a white paper, ebook, or brand your research around an annual industry survey (i.e. Annual Moz Local SEO Ranking Factors).

Research should follow proper protocol call for statistical significance; consider partnering with an academic institution or professor to add authority to your research. Email other industry veterans who would be interested in providing feedback on this research and create a roundup post for additional backlinking opportunities.

Create tools and widgets

If you build a tool or widget that becomes a resource for your industry, the number of organic backlinks you can earn may catapult you to the top of search results for hard to rank for target keywords.

There are two different ways to think about earning links through tools and widgets. One option is to build a tool and host it on your website. For instance, you are a mortgage company hosting a mortgage calculator on your website. It can in and of itself become a valuable reason for people to visit your website. If you are in the digital marketing space creating tools to help people measure keyword density, analyze backlinks, or evaluate keyword rankings, it can make your website a destination for fellow Internet marketers. This can result in free web traffic and links.

A second option is to build a widget that others host on their websites. Make sure it contains a link back to your website. For instance, let’s say you own an eCommerce store that allows others to post products for sale. You can create a widget that displays the specific products of each seller. This allows the sellers to post those products via a widget on their websites. Of course, the products will link back to your eCommerce store.

Ensure the tool or widget is functional and creatively leverages your own data or API data from third parties to display info in an easily digestible manner for users. Be creative and prepared to spend considerable resources to get it right. But the upside potential of building a tool or widget that becomes an industry standard can deliver greater ROI than any other advanced link building strategy.

Influencer link building

Influencer link building is especially helpful because it connects you to a pre-established audience of like-minded people.  

Identify influencer networks like Intellifluence or Upfluence to find influencers that have websites; there are literally tens of millions of influencers globally. Once you find influencers related to your brand, reach out to them to discuss potential opportunities for promotion.

The key is to offer influencers value before they laugh you off. Consider offering BETA access to software, free high-quality content, a groovy product you’d like reviewed, etc.

Follow guidelines for disclosure in your specific geography. Remember that the FTC in the US requires influencers to disclose promotional partnerships with brands, especially when money is exchanged for promotion.

The moving man method

This next link building tactic is vastly more complex. It also doesn’t always yield the highest success rates, but it’s something to think about. Essentially, the idea is to secure a link from a page that is tied up in a redirect chain.

It operates on the principle that companies, websites or services constantly undergo rebranding or discontinue their services altogether. This leads to URLs being redirected without the knowledge of site owners who linked to the original URL.

To find these links, you’ll need to find an URL that is being redirected on a competitor’s site. You can do this by using backlink data you retrieved during competitor research. Enter the URL of the outdated page/resource in any tool that’s capable of extracting backlinks for a specific URL (not just the whole domain). Extract these redirected links to a spreadsheet and begin reaching out to publishers. Let them know of the issue and offering to replace the link with a relevant piece of content.

Building a promotional database

Keep the steam of your link building campaign going with the following tactic. You should build a database of partnerships and relationships you’ve built for future content opportunities.

Each time you have a new piece of content that you want to be promoted or engaged with, follow up with influencers and thought leaders you’ve connected with in the past. This can serve as an instant traffic boost to your content, especially if you syndicate some of it.

Promote content you want linked!

Finally, the easiest way to get links to content is to get eyeballs on it. Use traditional outreach strategies from email campaigns to paid promotion to drive traffic to a page and see if anyone links back to it.

It’s perhaps the most organic link building tactic out there and it provides real value in the interim.

Conclusion

The rules of link building may change every few years or so, but its utility remains the same. If you don’t think link building is important, you are wrong. If you don’t think there are still white hat tactics to link building, you are also wrong.

As a Yoast Certified Partner, my agency LSEO has helped numerous Yelp users scale their brand using these advanced link building techniques. Take your brand to the next level by adopting some of these link building tactics or find an agency partner that can help!

Read more: 5 link building DON’TS you didn’t know about »

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