How to Scale Relationship Building to Earn Awesome Links

By Gary Magnone

Let’s face it, link building ain’t what it used to be. With Google’s latest Over-Optimization penalty looming, things like aggressive keyword targeting, excessive exact-match anchor text, and spammy profile, forum, and footer links have the potential to actually get your site DROPPED in the search results.

So what now? One of the most effective strategies that white-hat SEOs are using to gain high authority, algo-proof links is blogger outreach. However, anyone who has tried this knows it’s a high-touch, time consuming process that can be difficult to execute at scale.

Well, we’ve done some work in the trenches here at Thunder, and we’re excited to share our 4-step process for scaling relationship building with bloggers. Ready to earn your site natural links that stand the test of time in Google’s algorithm? Let’s get started!

1. Segment your Prospects

Whether your prospect list is 100 or 1,000 blogs deep, one important thing to remember is “not all prospects are created equal.” Use metrics like Domain Authority, Twitter Followers, RSS Subscribers, or even Klout score to segment your prospects into priority groups.

Your top 10-50 blogs will rise to the highest priority group, while all prospects below that will go into medium and low priority groups. Because those top prospects are the most valuable to your link building efforts, you want to approach them more carefully than you would some of the others. John Doherty wrote a solid post on bucketing link prospects that gives some more detail on this process.

2. Develop a Customized Outreach Plan

One thing that can really hinder link building performance is approaching different prospects in different industries the same way each and every time. You’ll increase your outreach success rate exponentially if you take the time upfront to study the industry and prospect groups that you’re targeting. Pay attention to where your prospects are consuming content, where they share content, and how they engage with others in the space.

Also look at things like post frequency, level of familiarity in communication, and overall willingness to engage with others in the community. Use this research to put together a flexible outreach pipeline consisting of sequential stages for establishing rapport, providing value, and ultimately earning links from your top prospects. This not only helps yourself stay organized, but can help you manage your strategy across a team of link builders.

A basic outreach pipeline

(The outreach pipeline is a tip I picked up from Rob Ousbey’s presentation at Distilled’s SearchLove conference last year. If you haven’t bought your ticket to their next event in San Francisco on June 18th, what are you waiting for?!?)

3. Execute the Outreach Plan

Unfortunately, building relationships to get links simply does not scale the way a lot of the older, lower-value link building tactics do. Establishing real rapport with real people is a time consuming process that requires a lot of hustle, organization, and perseverance, but in the end, the links are worth it. Get a head start on the process by building your presence on relevant sites and networks as early as possible.

One of my favorite tools for this is TweetAdder, a Twitter automation tool that you can use to build a Twitter account that looks involved and engaged in the industry you’re targeting. TweetAdder definitely has its spammy capabilities, so be very careful how you use it. A couple key features that it offers are the ability to add RSS feeds of blogs that you want to tweet posts from and select Twitter users that you want to ReTweet periodically. Mix this automated assistance with authentic manual communication to quickly build a Twitter presence as an engaged member of the community.

Another awesome tool to use for executing and organizing your outreach is Buzzstream, a link building CRM platform that helps manage the communication between you and your prospects. While I highly recommend Buzzstream’s paid toolset, those looking for free alternatives should check out Streak or even Google Docs for managing their prospect outreach pipeline.

Check out the full guide on how to use Streak for outreach tracking from Maple North.

4. Continue the Conversation

Once you’ve secured that killer link from one of your top prospects, it’s tempting to cross them off your list and move on, but what you need to realize is that these relationships you’re building are actually really valuable assets for your website.

Cultivate those assets by keeping periodic contact with active linking bloggers and providing them value. Doing this consistently can help ensure future coverage for your site or placement of your content, and also makes it much easier to reach out regarding links that have 404’d or dropped off into the abyss of their blog’s archive. Use a CRM like Highrise or Boomerang’s awesome Gmail integration to remind you when it’s time to reach out again.

Up Next: Monitoring and Reporting on Link Building

As I mentioned before, the process of building blogger relationships is not a fast or easy one, but with an organized strategy, the right tools, and a bit of hustle, it’s definitely possible to effectively scale this type of link building, whether you’re an independent entrepreneur, an in-house do-it-all SEO or an agency strategist managing a team of link builders.

What other tools and tactics do you use to build relationships for links? Let us know in the comments below!

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  • Great post, Gary. Nice to see the process broken out in these straightforward steps. Thanks for including the tools and setup links too.

  • Hi Gary,

    So, I just stumbled onto your post, and I’m glad I did! I’ve never heard of Streak before. Seems like a tool worth trying. Anything that helps to better organize my outreach, is welcomed.

    I went to the Streak website to download the tool. Apparently it only works on Google Chrome. I use Firefox, and don’t think I’m ready to switch. Hopefully, Streak will develop their tool to work with other browsers.

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