I was at home one night, contacting a couple of “deal” websites about a Cyber Monday sale we were going to be having on ZAGG.com. Meanwhile, I saw a round-up blog post of Cyber Monday deals on a prominent tech site. I checked out the page and thought, “There’s no reason we shouldn’t be on this list too.” Five minutes later, I had found contact info for the author and had written him a nice, short e-mail that basically said, “Hi, I saw your round-up post. If you’re open to adding an additional deal, here’s what we’ve got planned.” I figured it was a longshot, but it only took a few minutes.
The next morning, I had a reply waiting in my inbox. The link had been added. Mission accomplished.
I checked the analytics a few days later.
Between the desktop and mobile version of the site, we made more than $8,000 in referral sales from that one link.
As an SEO, it’s one thing to tell your boss or a client that you built some links of varying quality on various sites with varied anchor text which appear to be helping various rankings which pull in X amount of organic revenue. It’s quite different to say “I built a link that drove traffic and made $8,000.” The first statement will always sound a bit shaky. The second will always sound confident. With attribution becoming an increasingly hazy science, direct link revenue is really the only safe ground to stand on as a link builder.
The amount may seem trivial to you, but to me, it sparked a minor epiphany. This and similar experiences in ecommerce link building have taught me some valuable lessons about the foundations of building great links. If you want to build links that make money directly, here’s what I recommend.
1. Build links like rankings don’t matter.
If an extra backlink to your site did absolutely nothing for your rankings, how would you change your approach to link building? Hopefully, you’d focus only on links that actually drive traffic and convert. You’d put more time into relationships and partnerships and link-worthy content. This requires a mentality shift of large proportions for some, but if you make the transition (and have solid on-page skills), you’ll make money and get your rankings too.
2. Treat link building like a game of timing.
My favorite links are those that the competition can’t replicate. And many of these are only available for a set window of time; sometimes hours or even minutes. If I had waited an extra day to make the link request mentioned earlier, the probability of successful placement would have dropped dramatically (and the ability to generate revenue would have dropped even more).
3. Keep your eyes and ears open.
Opportunities abound if your brain is primed to look for and grab them in an instant. This is one of the big advantages to working as an in-house SEO. At an agency, with multiple clients, I certainly meant to take advantage of every available link opportunity, day or night, but the brain just isn’t primed and focused to do it for 20 different websites, so it never happened.
4. Focus on targets with large audiences.
Revenues and conversions are all about numbers. We got over 5,000 visits from that one link and only a small portion of those converted. To achieve that, the original post needed to get a lot of traffic–big enough to create that level of click-through to just one of many links on the page.
The best way to build that kind of link is to keep an eye on the largest sites in your niche and figure out where you fit into their content.
One mentality that plagues a lot of beginning link builders is to try to place links on sites that are ranking for the keyword terms they want. This isn’t a bad approach per se, but it can warp your sensitivity to other opportunities. This coming sale season, I’ll monitor who’s ranking for categorical keyword terms that I want to place content on (but not that I want to rank for), like “best cyber monday sales.” I already know that these pages are going to get a ton of traffic and I’ll have value to pitch to these webmasters.
5. Stop worrying about anchor text.
Trying to chase the perfect anchor text while trying to chase “money links” is a losing game. Optimized anchor text is usually not responsible for CTR; context and build-up around the link is.
Anchor text is one of the reasons that SEOs can get distracted by link building tactics like directories, article networks, and paid links to help rankings. I won’t claim that these tactics don’t work. They do. We all know they do (with varying degrees of risk and effectiveness). But rarely do these work in driving large amounts of traffic or revenues by themselves. So stop freaking out because your link network got shut down. You don’t need it unless there’s no value or legitimacy in your core business.
6. Forget about DoFollow links.
One of the first things SEOs learn is the difference between a NoFollow and a DoFollow link. DoFollow pass link juice. NoFollow do nothing (technically). OK, now break the rules.
If you want to build thousand dollar links, you have to change your value system and toss out the ranking goal. Even though the link above was a DoFollow link, there are a ton of instances where this won’t be true. For example, you can drive a lot of visits and revenues through deal and discount websites and through affiliate websites. Many of those links are NoFollow. Who cares? They’re making money, but they aren’t going to build themselves.
7. Cater to hot content categories.
We never thought, “Hey! We should have a Cyber Monday sale because people will be writing about it and we can get links.” But sometimes that’s exactly how you have to plan sales, promotions, and content. Plan ahead for what people will be writing about. I failed at this recently. I knew some people would be writing April Fool’s Day posts, so I sent out some spoof packages to a few people who had written about past business pranks. Unfortunately, I mistimed and the packages arrived too late. Sometimes you learn the hard way.
8. Ask “Why Not Us?”
Every link has a price, and I don’t mean money. When you encounter a relevant page that you want to appear on, ask “Why Not Us?” Sometimes the answer will lead you to immediately contact the author/webmaster. Sometimes, you realize that you need to pay the price for inclusion. Many of the link opportunities we quickly discard could be obtained with the agile creation of content or a promotion.
Are we witnessing a contraction in link building?
I think it’s getting harder and harder to attribute ranking results to particular link building activities. Just look at the impact that social media has had on SEO. To this day, nobody has offered any empirical data on the link and SEO value provided by a tweet, a share, or a plus, relative to a traditional link. But everybody says it’s important and so SEOs get their priorities backward, causing mini-rants like these:
Let’s face it. Accountable link building is just PR and content marketing, plus goals and analytics. As an SEO, you’re better off earning your job security through sales from your links instead of leaving the rankings to chance and Google.