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Link building case study

 8:16 pm on Feb 8, 2010 (gmt 0)

I've just launched a new website and am going to back it up with a link building campaign. I'm going to document my link building here, and welcome any comments.

- link building pros will find this boring. Perhaps small indie business owners will find this useful (which is what I am).
- I'm starting out with great content. I'm in a competitive niche and a regular old website won't cut it.
- I'm looking for 'people' to give me links, not 'sites'.
- I expect folks will find I don't have a lot of surprises.
- current stats, Google has <30 pages indexed (I just launched 4000-5000 pages). Yahoo shows <3500 backlinks.

[edited by: wheel at 8:20 pm (utc) on Feb 8, 2010]



 8:20 pm on Feb 8, 2010 (gmt 0)

First up, I have some historical research material. So I've just emailed the professional governing bodies in my niche in Canada and the UK.

I did NOT email the webmaster at these sites. I went to the personal directory and found the person in charge of research and/or the website stuff. That's the person I emailed. And I emailed them with specific details on how their visitors would be looking for information found only on my site, so they should make it available to their visitors.

For the US site, I went to a discussion forum and sent a PM to the former president of the US governing body in my niche, asking who I should contact these days over at the org. When he replies with a contact name, I'll email that person starting with "{former president's name} suggested I contact you.....".


 8:29 pm on Feb 8, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'd like to be a bit more specific than widgets, so I'm going to use a mortgage broker as my example (I am not a mortgage broker, but it's a good simile to my business).

I published a paper on something like 'the pyschology of mortgage rates'. (again, I didn't, but I published something similiar). So I Googled 'pyschology of mortgage rates'.

The first 7 results for the actual term I searched on were academic article sites, google books, amazon. I had a look at each one, nothing.

The 8th one is paydirt. It's an academic page on a .edu and he's got an entire structure of pages on this very topic. And it's got a (C) of 1999-2010, so the page owner keeps it current.

On this person's pages he's got article after article on the subject, with extensive links out to other sites. And a webring on the subject!

I'm going to read his pages (that alone is likely to take me an hour or so) so that when I email him, I'm going to have very specific info on why he should link to me.

Then I'm going down the rabbit hole on this one - I'm going to follow all the links on his page and the webring and look at every site there. Plus I'm going to check sites that link to his pages. For this, I use the middle mouse button to open up new tabs in firefox. I'll click all the links on the page, open up a bunch of tabs, then close each one I don't find interesting, leaving me with the ones I need to research.


 9:16 pm on Feb 8, 2010 (gmt 0)

I juste emailed the guy at the .edu. Now, the link on their site to their profile was broken, so I had to go back up to the main faculty page and drill down to find out this person's contact info.

They're a PhD. And they didn't have 8 years of evil medical school to be called mister evil, so I emailed them with 'Dear Dr. so-and-so'. then I described how his site was like the only other one on the interweb that had stuff about phscyology of mortgage rates, except for mine.

And off went the email.

Then I thought for a second, and emailed him again to let him know that his link under his contact information page was broken. Hey, we're old buddies now and since he's got to edit his web page anyway....might as well drop me a link.

The rest of his links are still inconclusive, there's a lot of odd stuff.


 9:48 pm on Feb 8, 2010 (gmt 0)

Update: former pres of the US credential-giving org just PM'ed me with a name, a phone number of the person in charge of the website decisions, and told me to make sure I used his name. That's tomorrow's job.

To put this potential link into perspective, it's a pr 7 in say a mortgage niche (again, not mortgage, but you get the idea). The site has 15K backlinks in yahoo, over 2000 .edu backlinks, about 30 .gov's. And to date I'm the only one who's ever gotten a commercial link off this site (content matters). So don't tell me you can't get good links in competitive niches :).


 10:07 pm on Feb 8, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'm just waiting for my wife to pick me up from work so I went and Googled another term. I have some statistical data on the site that I compiled. Nothing special, but it is unique. So I googled:
"mortgage statistical data site:.gov" except I didn't use mortgage statistical data, and I didn't use .gov (because .gov is for US gov'ts, I wanted my gov't.

Got a bunch of pages on the statistical side of things on my gov'ts site. They have an external link section.

I'm going to do three things.
1) ask the gov for a link. Unlikely, but email is free. And I do have interesting data, and it is nationally oriented. And if I do get one, well, Score!
2) I"m going to look at the sites they do link to. I've looked at the first, and they're a maybe as well - need to read the site more.
3) the sites the gov links to, I'll check their backlinks for other leads.


 4:43 pm on Feb 9, 2010 (gmt 0)

These would be exceptionally good links for you to get. But most websites don't have the quality original content required to get these kinds of links.


 4:56 pm on Feb 9, 2010 (gmt 0)

But most websites don't have the quality original content required to get these kinds of links.

Yup, that's correct. that's why I said "I'm starting out with great content'. I spent quite a bit of time and money (though not outside the realm of unreasonable for even a sole proprietor - I spent more time than I did money) creating the content.

And I've got more content coming. I've got a calculator I want to launch that uses some statistics; I'm going to get that calculator live before I go back to the gov't sites to get lins as I think that calculator may make the difference.

But I've not done anything miraculous. I'm a small business person that started doing this as a 1 person operation from home. It just takes some work to create the content, and then some work to create the links. Two common notions are that there secrets to doing this, and that you can't outrank the big companies. Both are false.


 5:18 pm on Feb 9, 2010 (gmt 0)

One critical thing this highlights is that a sites copy should be designed to encourage reading as well as link building by those that have an interest in the topic.

I think that good copy is really important, but more important than quality is the copy's purpose for the reader. I've often put up with what I consider to be less than adequate copy that does the job of informing me on what I need.

Perceived intent of the copy is also important for link building. If the linker thinks your quality content is there just to make a buck, you'll likely not get much in the way of your desired outcome.

Wheel, killer stuff! I always enjoy the reads.


 6:01 pm on Feb 9, 2010 (gmt 0)

If the linker thinks your quality content is there just to make a buck

I'm not sure how important that is, but it's an interesting point.

My latest round of content is ontopic for my niche and it's unique and interesting. And it's very clearly not commercial at all. So when I go asking for links, I'm asking them to link to some cool almost-hobby-level stuff on a commercial site. Which is why 'I'm' asking for links to my 'hobby stuff' rather than asking for a commercial link. It wasn't done deliberately, perhaps it should've been.

Someone needs to open up a thread on creating non-commercial content for hobbyists/enthusiasts.


 6:30 pm on Feb 9, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'm not sure how important that is, but it's an interesting point.

It's always easier to get quality links to sites that provide the reader value even if they are commercial in nature. I find not so easy when the copy is overtly commercial. The linkers perception is influenced by hot the copy reads.

asking for links to my 'hobby stuff' rather than asking for a commercial link.

What's the difference?


 6:50 pm on Feb 9, 2010 (gmt 0)

I guess when I ask for links, it comes across as 'hey buddy, link to my labor of love' instead of 'hey buddy, trying to make a buck here'. And for the enthusiasts, who hold so much link authority :), perhaps that's an easier way to get links.

I don't know, it just seems like it may be one of those things to think about. Maybe generate some linkbait....what do hobbyists in my field like? (there are no hobbyists in my field).


 9:11 pm on Feb 9, 2010 (gmt 0)

BTW, Google today now shows knowledge of 60 pages. They're not showing the pages, but stuff's flipping around. I don't watch my logs (I watch my conversions) So I've no idea if they've been by crawling. I'd expect they would've - I'd be surprised if they weren't at my site daily.


 3:44 pm on Feb 10, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'm holding off on that gov't link tangent, I'm releasing a calculator that uses some interesting data (the calc will be opensource). I want that calculator done and live before I start going to the gov for a link. That's gone off to the programmer today.

Some of my content is historical. So I googled 'history of {niche}' and the first three pages were crappy seo articles. So I added site:.edu on the end. I'll repeat the search again with site:.co.uk (where .co.uk would be my country if I was in the UK). Lots of potential links to be had here.


 1:10 pm on Feb 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

I always wondered how to get links. Seems we are missing something.


 1:42 pm on Feb 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

You're in the right place Engago_team. Plenty to read here that'll teach you how.


 2:25 pm on Feb 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

I always wondered how to get links. Seems we are missing something.

I'm unsure if that's sarcasm :). I'll assume not.

There's lots of ways to get links. My way is the way that any small business owner can do on their own. It's no tricks, mostly just hard work.

I start with very specific, top notch content that no one else has. It has to be on my subject, but doesn't have to be related to my money making aspects. Google doesn't know that people link to me because of my content - they just now that authoritative, relevant sites are linking to me.

Once I've got the content, I just start asking. There's a million different ways to find sites to get links from. This time I'm just going to wander around doing searches on Google to find sites that will give me links.

Sometimes even reading stuff here, there's so much information that one doesn't know where to start. If you've read all the posts here, then this step you'll see how I specifically apply those steps.

Once you've actually done this, then you know what works. THEN you'll know what SEO firm to hire if you decide to outsource.


 2:32 pm on Feb 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

I didn't do much link building yesterday, I'm always busy with other stuff. However, out of the three emails I've sent, one didn't respond - not surprised. The second didn't respond - I am surprised. The third emailed me today to say they've passed it on to the person who handles the links on their site (and thanked me). They're an org. charged by the gov't with regulating the technical aspects of my industry. To reuse the mortgage example, it would the be org who regulates mortgage brokers, if there is such a thing.

Two comments. If the glass is half empty, I had to email 3 people and only have a 33% success rate. But that's not the case. What it really is is that I'm going to get a huge authority link. I repeat a bunch of times, and all of a sudden I have 10,20,50 of these links. Then my competitors think Dang! how did he get 50 authority links. Well, I asked 150 people.

Secondly, I can assure you that this org. has better things to do than scour the internet looking for great content to link to. They set up the link page years ago and don't touch it. So even if you have great content, they are NEVER going to find you and link to you. But I asked - and that makes my chance of success 100% better than not asking. That's why I tend to disagree with the folks who suggest that if you just build good content, links will come. Maybe (they don't for me) but the come a lot faster and better if you seek them out deliberately.

Today at the very least I'll be calling the regulatory authority in the US to ask them for a link (calling, not emailing). I've gotten a link from them in the past, that other site is the only commercial site they link to. It's the equivalent of a rinky dink mortgage broker site, and they link to it, because of great content AND I asked. Neither one individually would have worked.

My site: command on google now reads over 70 pages indexed, though it is still showing only the original 20-30 pages. (i.e. it says 1-75 pages, but if you click through it only displays the original pages. So it's definitely crawling, just not completed the indexing just yet). I'm anxious for this stuff to hit, I'm hoping for a lot of long tail traffic.


 3:06 pm on Feb 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

As I intimated earlier, some of my content is historical (i.e. history of mortage rates). So I just did a search on "{niche} history" and am scouring the results.

The first dozen or so yeilded articles from competitors, commercial enterprises, and one of the best pay per blogs I've ever seen (it took me a bit of reading to even realize it's a paid blogger).

But on page two, I found a university that actually has formed a division on the history of my niche. I've scoured that section of the website, there's no external links that I can see. However they have had symposiums on the subject and published the list of speakers, all professors from around the world. So I'm going to do two things. First, I'm going to email the webmaster - he probably won't link to me, but heck, maybe he forwards the email on to profs at the university as a source of material. Then I'm going to Google all the names of the professors they listed as speaking on the subject. I'll check out their pages and see if any of them are worth approaching for a link.
Update: I just emailed the webmaster. I didn't ask for a link, just talked about how folks at the university may be interested in my content. He may pass it over to some profs, and they may link to it.


 6:07 pm on Feb 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

On the university's page, there were about 15 professors listed. Some of them were in countries where I figure language might be a barrier. I reviewed about 6-8 of the professor's sites (basically googled them). 3 of them warranted an email. I read their web pages completely, then they all got a personalized email where I offer them my content as of interest to them (along with a couple other personalized notes). Then in the last paragraph I asked them to consider linking to my site from their pages so that their visitors (who clearly have an interest in this subject, just as 'you and i' do) could also find the stuff.

None of the emails were canned. None of them were two senteces, they were all 2-3 paragraphs talking about their work, and how my stuff integrates into that, and they all came from me - I explicitly mention what I do for a living, but as an afterthought. So they know they're going to see a 'mortgage broker' type of website when they visit, but that's cough-cough secondary.

I also checked the university page for external backlinks. The only ones were from professors that I'd already contacted, so no new leads there.


 9:08 pm on Feb 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

Just got an email from one professor. He's added me to his homepage.

+1 .edu link. All I had to do was have great content and then ask nicely.


 9:21 pm on Feb 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

Nice :) this thread should be printed and pinned on many many walls ..how to get links with style and intelligence :)


 10:50 pm on Feb 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

Very interesting strategies here... Well done Wheel!

Is interesting to find out what your site's traffic performance does from the search engine perspective and how quickly it starts building up.

Your strategy is based on first getting the content and then focus on getting links to it, whereas I usually focus on getting the "basic backbone" content architecture and page structure. I mean that I get a basic "prototype" out live first..

Then I start by getting some directory links and some searches of the type "suggest site" +"niche market" on google to find out pages to get easy links from and usually find some pretty good niche link pages on authority sites (2 out of 50)...

Then after I get a bunch of such links, I move on to the next stage where I get my site out of the "prototype mode", so that it is suitable for passing ODP quality guidelines.

This helps me identify strengths and weaknesses for my content and get an idea of what keywords show up in my Analytics account.

I then write content according to the topic that I conclude to be of good interest from search engines' perspective.

After these processes I move into targeting the sections that I think will be bringing much in terms of conversions and start building a link "baiting" strategy (this is my understanding of what you are trying to do). For example my "mortgages for doctors" speciality content might be offering higher conversion rates than my "mortgage comparison" page, even if the traffic and interest is significantly lower for the doctors page.

I have to say that the .edu research is a very important step in the right direction. Search engines have strong interest in the academic profile of its key employees in Search, so traditionaly .edu links tend to be more authoritative than any other link (as long as it is not a tutor's badly maintained links page with loads of 404s).

Now as for some more link building, your calculator is a nice idea and generally try to think about offering it as a widget for other webmasters to feature on their site, and do spend some time promoting this widget, as in the long term it can be a very powerful link bait (since as you say is unique).

My point is that something like that maybe better in terms of getting increased conversions sooner than your current strategy can offer, so I am trying to make you think about the wisest choice here.

The professor sites I am sure won't mean much in terms of referring traffic. I think you should be focusing more on context sensitive links on sites that can actually bring in good quality traffic, apart from just getting a link from an .edu perspective.

Of course you should be seeking .edu links but for my 2 cents, I'd employ different linking strategies in parallel, so the link profile is boosted by a diversity of sources.


 9:27 pm on Feb 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

The real thing to remember that many do not is linking patterns in relation to the theme.

For example - going after EDU websites is great. But reverse mining, and asking for links from websites that those EDU links to is also extremely effective, and often the conversion on those requests is higher. Some EDU's have strict policies in place where even if they loved the content, they are not always able to link.

One thing that works great Wheel if you have time is to create a link matrix, similar to what many of the larger subscription based programs have done.

I take the total links from authority websites pre 2000, and create a DB of all of the websites they link to.

I then cross reference this with the backlink mine from all ranking websites for the top 5 keywords in the genre and websites ranking in the top 20 positions.

By far and large, the union of those links are your gems, and focusing on those will not only help you satisfy authority, but will ultimately also give you practice and down to earth links that Google loves and has ranked others well with.


 9:39 pm on Feb 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

Wow. I could. But note, I'm a one person operation when it comes to link building, and I don't do SEO for anyone else - just my site. So hunt and peck it is for me.

I do follow trails of backlinks, and will eventually get to that as well.

One thing that has changed, is that many of the top ranking sites in my niche are not those I would consider authoritative. That didn't use to be the case. But today when I'm up against paid blogs, theme sponsorship, etc. I've no intention of comingling my link profile with them. In years past I'd be trying to make my profile look like the top ranking sites,but no more.


 9:40 pm on Feb 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

I am developing out a free linking program that does the above, definitely will need some guys to beta test.

wink wink.


 3:07 pm on Feb 14, 2010 (gmt 0)

CainIV...I'm in!


 5:47 pm on Feb 14, 2010 (gmt 0)

Hi Wheel, I commend highly your poetic like writing style of the situation. I'm imagining you are skilled copy writer or content creator... No doubt these skills are lethal weapons in your arsenal to hunt down links.

Have you read a book called 'SPIN Selling' by Neil Rackam? I find methodologies used in this book very useful when it comes to link building and persuading people. It defines what is valuable. In other words how can I leverage the strength of my content even more...

I too have been researching ways how I can increase the value of my content, so much - to the extent that it appeals to governing bodies and educational authorities in my target niche. Or .GOV and .EDU domains that have high link equity!

Very 'random' findings of what works:

Find out what the professors actionable agenda is. In the public sector it is very rigid and structured how they conduct external business. Must be 'delicate issue' or 'hot topic', issues in society. Help them (help you). As Tom Cruise says :)
Support 'local' government iniatives/ crusades. For example 'Park n' Ride'
A directory of 'Trusted Tradesman'
A university student's CV uploading service for intern jobs
Useful widgets
It seems that the more non-commercial you are the more chance you have as you mentioned.
Unbiased content (what are your intentions? What is your mission/ crusade?) That is what they are thinking...

I agree I don't believe what Matt conveys about build awesome content and the links will turn up on your door step... I think you still have to actively go out and get them particularly if you are in a very narrow/ weird or dull niche.

Good luck - keep us posted!


 11:22 pm on Feb 14, 2010 (gmt 0)

Great thread. I already found many takeaways here. Absolutely phenomenal stuff.


 1:55 am on Feb 15, 2010 (gmt 0)

great thread..thanks Wheel..

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