Link campaigns need strategy.
Link building is a difficult, time-consuming process that doesn’t produce results overnight. However, strategic link acquisition is necessary to achieve long-term improvements in organic search.
It’s possible to grab “quick win” links here and there (and I’d encourage pursuing these opportunities), but you will need an ongoing campaign to achieve sustainable results.
A campaign model ensures research, strategy development and ongoing review and analysis as a project progresses.
Whether you’re planning to pursue links in 2017 or continue an existing link-building project, December is an ideal month to review your link campaign strategy and prepare for the new year.
December is a slow month for link building, with many people checked out for the holidays — either mentally, physically or both. Rather than sending outreach messages that return out-of-office auto-replies, you can work on your campaign strategy for the coming year.
My recommendation is to start planning, strategizing and organizing your link campaign now.
To prepare for your link campaign and piece together a link strategy:
- Perform an SEO audit.
- Review current links.
- Analyze competitors.
- Prospect for fresh links.
These four pillars of research and analysis will dictate strategy and lead to success in your link-building campaign.
1. Perform an SEO audit
Website audits should be the foundation of your entire SEO strategy; they are critical for successful link campaigns.
Not only will an audit be beneficial in planning your campaign, but it’s important to audit your site periodically to ensure there aren’t any new or lurking issues hampering performance.
A site audit should reveal:
- technical issues: crawling/indexation issues, slow page speed, schema issues, title tags, H1/2/3s, meta descriptions and so on.
- internal linking opportunities: as part of an effective link-building strategy.
- issues caused by redesigns or migrations: 404s, 302s, redirect chains, site architecture issues, orphaned pages, images vs. text and so on.
- forgotten or undervalued pages: potential linkable assets (pages that serve as a resource to your audience) that could fuel your next campaign.
- content gaps and opportunities: gaps in your on-site content where potential exists for linkable asset creation.
Links may not help your website if you have ongoing technical or on-page SEO issues.
Even if you secure hundreds of quality links, but Google isn’t crawling your site, those links won’t impact search traffic.
There are a number of great tools designed to help you understand the technical performance of your site, such as:
If you’re new to SEO or have never audited your own site, there are a few guides that will help you understand the process:
- The definitive SEO audit (Part 1 of 3) by Dave Davies
- How To Do Your Own 5-Minute SEO Audit by Tom Schmitz
- SEO Audit Checklist for 2016 by Nathan Gotch
- How to Perform the World’s Greatest SEO Audit by Steve Webb
Regardless, you should audit your site regularly to ensure it is performing properly and receiving the maximum value of your links.
2. Review current link strategy and sources
Before you can optimize your link campaign, you need to understand how you’ve secured links in the past, and which pages appeal most to your audience/niche. This is true for both new and existing campaigns.
If you’re launching a new campaign, you’ll have to dig into your backlink profile. For an existing campaign, the data should be contained within your own reports — although you should review your site’s backlink profile, too. Either way, analyze your links and ask yourself questions like these:
- What types of sites link the most?
- Which types of pages on our site have the most links?
- What empowered our link acquisition? What led to links?
- Which tactics fell short or had unexpected outcomes?
- What was the average turnaround time on securing a link, from initial prospecting to the link going live?
- Are there any relationships that could be leveraged in the future?
- Are there prospects that didn’t link that might be worth contacting again in a future campaign?
Whether you’re currently building links or are planning a new initiative, there is important information to be gleaned from your website’s backlink profile.
Reviewing past strategies and analyzing results should be a part of your link-building process. You should always examine your site’s backlinks through backlink analysis to inform your link campaign.
The information will help you build links efficiently and effectively.
3. Analyze your search competitors
Competitive analysis is a cornerstone of any strategy development.
Reviewing the current competitive search landscape will inform your link campaign and help you understand why competitors are ranking in search and where you’re falling short.
Competitive analysis will also help you set reasonable expectations and project goals, as well as find new link opportunities.
During competitive analysis, evaluate and identify the following:
- How many fresh links your competitors have
- How competitor backlink profiles compare to your own
- Common and successful strategies and tactics
- Potential tactics you could implement in the future
- Relevant link opportunities
- Shifts in the competitive landscape and marketplace
- Broken links pointing to competitors
- New industry relationships and affiliations
Competitive analysis is critical to successful link projects, and it should be revisited at least once a year (Often, competitive analysis is ongoing throughout a campaign).
Search competition never ends. The web is a quickly evolving, always-shifting environment. Even as you secure more links and gain in search visibility and traffic, your competition also grows and fluctuates. And there are always additional search terms to target. No successful business is stagnant, and neither is SEO and link building.
Here are a few great posts that break down search competitive analysis in detail:
- How To Compile A Top-Notch Competitive Analysis For Search by Brian Harnish
- Competitive Link Building Analysis For Your Industry by Patrick Stox
- Using Competitive Links To Inform Your SEO Strategy by Casie Gillette
- 31 Link Building Tactics Discovered From Competitive Analysis by Kaila Strong
- Link Building – Competitor Analysis Case Study by Chris Dyson
- Determining Search Competitors – Tutorial Tuesday by Cory Collins
Conducting regular analysis on the competition helps you stay ahead of competitor tactics and ensures your campaigns remain strategic.
Prospect for fresh link opportunities
December is a great month to prospect for link opportunities in 2017, with the slow reply rate during the holiday season.
Of course, you shouldn’t abandon any current work, but because it’s hard to reach people in December, your time is often better spent searching for new link prospects. Building this list now gives you a jump-start for next year, so you hit the ground running in January.
You should already have a nice list of opportunities from the data you’ve collected thus far — links pointing to 404s on your site, near-miss opportunities worth revisiting, relevant sites that link to competitors, competitors’ broken links and so on.
I would also encourage you to prospect for fresh opportunities, to set yourself up for success in your campaign.
If you’re new to link building, I recommend checking out some of these posts about link prospecting and finding link opportunities:
- Link prospecting tips and tricks by me (Andrew Dennis)
- 21 Link Building Ideas That Have Nothing To Do With Guest Posting by Erin Everhart
- 5 Pieces Of Content: 25 Link Ideas by Julie Joyce
- The Opportunity Prospector: Link Development’s Most Undervalued Role by Garrett French
- 9 Actionable Tips for Link Prospecting by Paul Rogers
- The Realist’s Guide to Link Prospecting by David Farkas
- The Importance of Finding And Seizing Link Opportunities by Cory Collins
Link acquisition is a continuous cycle of prospecting, outreach and securing links. By filling your prospect pipeline now, you’ll be set up to secure links on day one of the new year.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.