Targeted Link Building in 2016 – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

SEO has much of its roots in the practice of targeted link building. And while it’s no longer the only core component involved, it’s still a hugely valuable factor when it comes to rank boosting. In this week’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand goes over why targeted link building is still relevant today and how to develop a process you can strategically follow to success.

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high resolution version in a new tab!

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about four questions that kind of all go together around targeted link building.

Targeted link building is the practice of reaching out and trying to individually bring links to specific URLs or specific domains — usually individual pages, though — and trying to use those links to boost the rankings of those pages in search engine results. And look, for a long time, this was the core of SEO. This was how SEO was done. It was almost the start and the end.

Obviously, a lot of other practices have come into play in the industry, and I think there’s even been some skepticism from folks about whether targeted link building is still a valid practice. I think we can start with that question and then get on to some of these others.

When does it make sense?

In my opinion, targeted link building does make sense when you fulfill certain conditions. We know from our experimentation, from correlation data, from Google’s own statements, from lots of industry data that links still move the needle when it comes to rankings. If you have a page that’s ranking number 4, you point a bunch of new links to it from important pages and sites around the web, particularly if they contain the anchor text that you’re trying to rank for, and you will move up in the rankings.

It makes sense to do this if your page is already ranking somewhere in the, say, top 10 to 20, maybe even 30 results and/or if the page has measurable high impact on business metrics. That could be sales. It could be leads. It could be conversions. Even if it’s indirect, if you can observe both those things happening, it’s probably worthwhile.

It’s also okay if you say, “Hey, we’re not yet ranking in the top 20, but our paid search page is ranking on page 1. We know that we have high conversions here. We want to move from page 3, page 4 up to page 1, and then hopefully up into the top two, top three results. Then it is worth this targeted link building effort, because when you build up that visibility, when you grow those rankings, you can be assured that you are going to gain more visits, more traffic that will convert and send you these key business metrics and push those things up. So I do think targeted link building still makes sense when those conditions are fulfilled.

Is this form of link building worthwhile?

Is this something that can actually do the job it’s supposed to do? And the answer, yeah. Look, if rank boosting is your goal, links are one of the ways where if you already have a page that’s performing well from a conversion standpoint — from a user experience standpoint, pages per visit, your browse rate, things like time onsite, if you’re not seeing high bounce rate, if you have got a page that’s clearly accessible and well targeted and well optimized on the page itself — then links are going to be the most powerful, if not one of the most powerful, elements to moving your rankings. But you’ve got to have a scalable, repeatable process to build links.

You need the same thing that we look for broadly in our marketing practices, which is that flywheel. Yes, it’s going to be hard to get things started. But once we do, we can find a process that works for us again and again. Each successive link that we get and each successive page whose rankings we’re trying to move gets easier and easier because we’ve been there before, we’ve done it, we know what works and what doesn’t work, and we know the ins and outs of the practice. That’s what we’re searching for.

When it comes to finding that flywheel, there are sort of tactics that fit into three categories that still do work. I’m not going to get into the individual specific tactics themselves, but they fall into these three buckets. What we’ve found is that for each individual niche, for each industry, for each different website and for each link builder, each SEO, each one of you out there, there’s a process or combination of processes that works best. So I’m going to dictate to you which tactics works best, but you’ll generally find them in these three buckets


One: one-to-one outreach. This is you going out and sending usually an e-mail, but it could be a DM or a tweet, an at reply tweet. It could be a phone call. It could be — I literally got one of these today — a letter in the mail addressed to me, hand-addressed to me from someone who’d created a piece of content and wanted to know if I would be willing to cover it. It wasn’t exactly up my alley, so I’m not going to. But I thought that was an interesting form of one-to-one outreach.

It could be broadcast. Broadcast is things like social sharing, where we’re broadcasting out a message like, “Hey, we’ve produced this. It’s finally live. We launched it. Come check it out.” That could go through bulk e-mail. It could go through an e-mail subscription. It could go through a newsletter. It could go through press. It could go through a blog.

Then there’s paid amplification. That’s things like social ads, native ads, retargeting, display, all of these different formats. Typically, what you’re going to find is that one-to-one outreach is most effective when you can build up those relationships and when you have something that is highly targeted at a single site, single individual, single brand, single person.

Broadcast works well if, in your niche, certain types of content or tools or data gets regular coverage and you already reach that audience through one of your broadcast mediums.

Paid amplification tends to work best when you have an audience that you know is likely to pick those things up and potentially link to them, but you don’t already reach them through organic channels, or you need another shot at reaching them from organic and paid, both.

Building a good process for link acquisition

Let’s end here with the process for link acquisition. I think this is kind of the most important element here because it helps us get to that flywheel. When I’ve seen successful link builders do their work, they almost all have a process that looks something like this. It doesn’t have to be exactly this, but it almost always falls into this format. There’s a good tool I can talk about for this too.

But the idea being the first step is opportunity discovery, where we figure out where the link opportunities that we have are. Step 2 is building an acquisition spreadsheet of some kind so that we can prioritize which links we’re going to chase after and what tactics we’re going to use. Step 3 is the execution, learn, and iterate process that we always find with any sort of flywheel or experimentation.

Step 1: Reach out to relevant communities

We might find that it turns out for the links that we’re trying to get relevant communities are a great way to acquire those links. We reach out via forums or Slack chat rooms, or it could be something like a private chat, or it could be IRC. It could be a whole bunch of different things. It could be blog comments.

Maybe we’ve found that competitive links are a good way for us to discover some opportunities. Certainly, for most everyone, competitive links should be on your radar, where you go and you look and you say, “Hey, who’s linking to my competition? Who’s linking to the other people who are ranking for this keyword and ranking for related keywords? How are they getting those links? Why are those people linking to them? Who’s linking to them? What are they saying about them? Where are they coming from?”

It could be press and publications. There are industry publications that cover certain types of data or launches or announcements or progress or what have you. Perhaps that’s an opportunity.

Resource lists and linkers. So there’s still a ton of places on the web where people link out to. Here’s a good set of resources around customer on-boarding for software as a service companies. Oh, you know what? We have a great post about that. I’m going to reach out to the person who runs this list of resources, and I’m going to see if maybe they’ll cover it. Or we put together a great meteorology map looking at the last 50 winters in the northeast of the United States and showing a visual graphic overlay of that charted against global warming trends, and maybe I should share that with the Royal Meteorological Society of England. I’m going to go pitch their person at it is.

Blog and social influencers. These are folks who tend to run, obviously, popular blogs or popular social accounts on Twitter or on Facebook or on LinkedIn, or what have you, Pinterest. It could be Instagram. Potentially worth reaching out to those kinds of folks.

Feature, focus, or intersection sources. This one’s a little more complex and convoluted, but the idea is to find something where you have an intersection of some element that you’re providing through the content of your page that you seem to get a link from and there is intersection with things that other organizations or people have interest in.

So, for example, on my meteorology example, perhaps you might say, “Lots of universities that run meteorology courses would probably love an animation like this. Let me reach out to professors.” “Or you know what? I know there’s a data graphing startup that often features interesting data graphing stuff, and it turns out we used one of their frameworks. So let’s go reach out to that startup, and we’ll check out the GitHub project, see who the author is, ping that person and see if maybe they would want to cover it or link to it or share it on social.” All those kinds of things. You found the intersections of overlapping interest.

The last one, biz devs and partnerships. This is certainly not a comprehensive list. There could be tons of other potential opportunity to discover mechanisms. This covers a lot of them and a lot of the ones that tend to work for link builders. But you can and should think of many other ways that you could potentially find new opportunities for links.

Step 2: Build a link acquisition spreadsheet

Gotta build that link acquisition spreadsheet. The spreadsheet almost always looks something like this. It’s not that dissimilar to how we do keyword research, except we’re prioritizing things based on: How important is this and how much do I feel like I could get that link? Do I have a process for it? Do I have someone to reach out to?

So what you want is either the URL or the domain from which you’re trying to get the link. The opportunity type — maybe it’s a partnership or a resource list or press. The approach you’re going to take, the contact information that you’ve got. If you don’t have it yet, that’s probably the first thing on your list is to try and go get that. Then the link metrics around this.

There’s a good startup called BuzzStream that does sort of a system, a mechanism like this where you can build those targeted link outreach lists. It can certainly be helpful. I know a lot of folks like using things like Open Site Explorer and Followerwonk, Ahrefs, Majestic to try and find and fill in a bunch of these data points.

Step 3: Execute, learn, and iterate

Once we’ve got our list and we’re going through the process of actually using these approaches and these opportunity types and this contact information to reach out to people, get the links that we’re hoping to get, now we want to execute, learn, and iterate. So we’re going to do some forms of one-to-one outreach where we e-mail folks and we get nothing. It just doesn’t work at all. What we want to do is try and figure out: Why was that? Why didn’t that resonate with those folks?

We’ll do some paid amplification that just reaches tens of thousands of people, low cost per click, no links. Just nothing, we didn’t get anything. Okay, why didn’t we get a response? Why didn’t we get people clicking on that? Why did the people who clicked on it seem to ignore it entirely? Why did we get no amplification from that?

We can have those ideas and hypotheses and use that to improve our processes. We want to learn from our mistakes. But to do that, just like investments in content and investments in social and other types of investments in SEO, we’ve got to give ourselves time. We have to talk to our bosses, our managers, our teams, our clients and say, “Hey, gang, this is an iterative learning process. We’re going to figure out what forms of link building we’re good at, and then we’re going to be able to boost rankings once we do. But if we give up because we don’t give ourselves time to learn, we’re never going to get these results.”

All right, look forward to your thoughts on tactical link building and targeted link building. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

My Single Best SEO Tip for Improved Web Traffic

Posted by Cyrus-Shepard

Howdy Moz Fans,

After more than 5 years — including an 18-month hiatus as a Moz associate — tomorrow marks my last day working as a Mozzer.

Make no mistake — I love this job, company, and community. Moz has taught me to be a better marketer. Both Rand Fishkin and Sarah Bird (and many others) have taught me more about emotional intelligence and how to treat others than I thought possible of myself. Moz has introduced me to amazing coworkers and industry folk around the world. I’m truly grateful for this experience.

Since my first YouMoz post was accepted for publication by Jen Lopez before I even worked here, I’ve done my best to share SEO tips and tactics to help people advance their marketing and improve online visibility. These posts are truly the thing I’m most proud of.

Time for one last SEO tip, so I hope it’s a good one…

SEO white lies

The beauty of SEO is that, instead of pushing a marketing message onto folks who don’t want to hear what you have to say, you can reverse-engineer the process to discover exactly what people are looking for, create the right content for it, and appear before them at exactly the moment they are looking for it. It’s pull vs. push.

Works like magic. Customers come to you.

Let’s begin this process by telling a lie.

“Content is king.”

Bull hockey. The king doesn’t rule jack squat. A truer statement is this: If content is king, then the user is queen, and she rules the universe. Let’s say that again, because this is important.

“The user is queen, and she rules the universe.”

Google only cares about your content inasmuch as it answers the user’s search query. Search results are not a collection of “good” content; they are a ranked list of content that best satisfies what the user is looking for.

Here’s a typical process many SEOs use when building content:

  1. Conduct keyword research to discover what people are searching for relative to your niche.
  2. Pick a series of high-volume, low-competition phrases
  3. Build content around these phrases and topics
  4. Launch and market the page. Build some links.
  5. Watch the traffic roll in. (Or not)
  6. Move on to the next project.

The shortcoming of this approach is that 1–4 are often hit or miss. Google’s Keyword Planner, perhaps the best available keyword tool available, is famous for not surfacing most long-tail keywords. Additionally, creating the exact content and building the right links in order for Google to rank you for precise pages is challenging as well.

Unfortunately, this where most people stop.

My advice: Don’t stop there.

This whole process relies on traditional SEO signals to rank your content higher. Signals like keyword usage and PageRank (yes, it’s a real ranking factor). While these factors remain hugely important, they miss the point of where SEO has already moved.

In our latest Ranking Factors Expert Survey, we asked over 150 top search marketers to rate which factors they see gaining and losing significance in Google’s algorithm. The results showed that while most traditional SEO features were expected to either retain or decrease in influence, we found that user-based features were expected to increase.

In addition to signals like mobile-friendliness, site speed, overall UX, and perceived quality, the factors I want to focus on today include:

  1. Page matches the searcher’s intent: In other words, the page has a high probability of being what the user is actually looking for.
  2. Search engine results clickstream data: This may include measuring the search results that users actually click, as well as the pogo-sticking effect.
  3. Task completion: The user is able to complete the task they set out to do. In other words, their questions have been completely answered.

What I am going to talk about is how to improve all three of these factors for underperforming pages at the same time, using a single technique.

Here’s the tip: Optimize for how users are actually using the page — as opposed to how you optimized the page ahead of time — and you’ll see significantly better traffic.

Once you begin receiving traffic from search engines, you have an incredible amount of data regarding real search visits. If your page receives any traffic at all, Google has already guessed what your content is about — right or wrong — and is sending some traffic to you. In all reality, there is a gap between the traffic you thought you were optimizing for when you created the page, and the traffic you are actually getting.

You want to close that gap. We’ll ask and answer these 3 questions:

  1. Is my content matching the intent of the visitors I’m actually receiving?
  2. Based on this intent, is my search snippet enticing users to click?
  3. Does my page allow users to complete their task?

Here’s how we’re going to do it. I present your SEO homework.

1. Identify your low-to-mid performing pages

This process works best on pages with lower or disappointing traffic levels. The reason you want to stay away from your high-performing pages is the adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

That’s not to say that high-performing pages can’t be improved, but whenever you make changes to a page you risk ruining the things that work well, so for now we’re going to focus on our under-performers.

The simplest way is to use analytics to identify pages you believe are high quality — and target good keyword phrases — but receive less traffic than you’d expect based on site averages.

For this example I’ll use Google Search Console for my data, although you could use other platforms such as Bing Webmaster or even features found in Moz Pro.

Here’s a picture of our traffic and search queries for Followerwonk. While it’s a good amount of traffic, something looks off with the second URL: it receives 10x more impressions than any other URL, but only gets a 0.25% click-through rate. We’ll use this URL for our process.

2. Discover mismatches between user intent and content

Next, we want to discover the keyword phrases that surface our URL in search results. Here’s how you do it in Search Console.

After you complete #3 above by clicking on the URL you wish to analyze, you’ll find a page of data isolating that URL, but it will lack keywords. Now hit the “Queries” tab to filter keywords filtered for this specific URL.

For our Followerwonk URL, we discover an interesting result. The phrase “twitter search” generated a million search impressions, but only 724 clicks. Google believes we deserve to rank for this query, but obviously the page doesn’t offer what people are looking for

Or does it?

The Followerwonk Bio Search page offers advanced Twitter bio search, complete with lots of advanced options you can’t find on Twitter. It’s reasonable that tons of people searching for “twitter search” would find enormous value in this page. So why the disconnect?

A quick screenshot reveals the heart of the problem.

That’s it — the entire page. Very little explanatory text makes it difficult to quickly grasp what this page is about. While this is an awesome page, it fails in one key aspect for its highest volume search query.

The page fails to satisfy user intent. (At least in a quick, intuitive way.)

So how can we fix this? Let’s move on to the next steps.

3. Optimizing for user intent

Now that we understand how users are actually finding our page, we want to make it obvious that our page is exactly what they are looking for to solve their problem. There are 5 primary areas this can be accomplished.

  1. Title tag
  2. Meta description
  3. Page title and headers
  4. Body text
  5. Call to action

Rewriting the title tags and descriptions of underperforming pages to include the keyword queries users perform to find your URL can lead to a quick increase in clicks and visits.

Additionally, after you get these clicks, there’s a growing body of inconclusive evidence that higher click-through rates may lead to higher rankings. In the end, it really doesn’t matter. The whole point is that you get more traffic, one way or another.

The key is to take this data to optimize your search snippet in a way that entices more and better traffic.

Earning the click is only half the battle. After we get the visitor on our site, now we have to convince them (almost immediately) that we can actually solve the problem they came here to find. Which leads to…

4. Improving task completion

Consider this: A user searches for “best restaurants in Seattle.” You want your pizza parlor to rank #1 for this query, but will this satisfy the user?

Likely not, as the user is probably looking for a list of top restaurants, complete with reviews, hours, maps, and menus. If you can offer all — like TripAdvisor, Opentable, and Yelp — then you’ve helped the user complete their task.

The key to task completion is to make solving the user’s problem both clear and immediate. On our Followerwonk page, this could be accomplished by making it immediately clear that they could perform an advanced Twitter search, for free, along with an expectation of what the results would look like.

A standard for task completion can be found by answering the following question: After the user visits this page, will they have completely found what they are looking for, or will they need to return to Google for help?

When the query is satisfied by your website, then you’ve achieved task completion, and likely deserve to rank very highly for the targeted search query.

5. Submit for reindexing

The beauty of this process is that you can see results very quickly. The easiest thing to do is to submit the page for reindexing in Google, which can help your changes appear in search results much faster.

You may see changes submitted this way reflected in search results within minutes or hours. Usually it’s not more than a day or two.

6–7. Measure results, tweak, and repeat

Now that your results are live, you want to measure present performance against past. After a few days or weeks (whenever you have enough data to make statistically significant decisions) you want to specifically look at:

  • Rankings, or overall impressions
  • Clicks and click-through rate
  • Engagement metrics, including bounce rate, time on site, and conversions

Warning: You may not get it right the first time. That’s okay. It’s fine to iterate and improve (as long as you don’t destroy your page in the process). In fact, that’s the whole point!

If you follow this process, you may see not only increases in traffic, but improved traffic coming to your site that better aligns what you offer with what the visitor is searching for.

The best content that aligns with user intent is what search engines want to deliver to its users. This is what you want to broadcast to search engines. The results can be rewarding.


What’s next for me? In the near term, I’m starting a boutique online publishing/media company, tentatively named Fazillion. (Our aim is to produce content with heart, as we ourselves are inspired by sites like Mr. Money Mustache, Wait but Why, and Data is Beautiful.)

I can’t express enough how much this company and this community means to me. Moving on to the next adventure is the right thing to do at this time, but it makes me sad nonetheless.

Coincidentally, my departure from Moz creates a unique job opening for a talented SEO and Content Architect. It should make a wonderful opportunity for the right person. If you’re interested in applying, you can check it out here: SEO Content Marketer at Moz

Happy SEO, everybody! If you see me walking down the street, be sure to say hi.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

New US Presidential “Candidate Cards” Are A Disaster For Google’s Search Quality

An experiment to allow US presidential candidates to have an unprecedented guaranteed spot at the top of Google’s search results have turned into a megaphone for one.

The post New US Presidential “Candidate Cards” Are A Disaster For Google’s Search Quality appeared first on…

Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.