The SEO landscape has tremendously evolved over the past 5 years. Back then keyword stuffing would help in ranking. Now it’s frowned upon by Google.
Low-quality spun articles were acceptable. Now they will get your website penalized.
Spammy backlinks from article directories and forum comments would elevate your rankings. Now quality backlinks from authoritative sources only increase your website’s authority.
Backlinks still play a major role in Google’s search rankings. It’s difficult for a particular website page to rank without contextually relevant backlinks pointing to the page or the domain.
And Matt Cutts believes that links will remain a part of their algorithm for the foreseeable future. They may just become less important.
Getting authority websites to link to you is difficult. You cannot automate link building. Outreach is only going to become more important for building backlinks. And hence SEO.
The most common link building strategies that survive and are widely used by marketers currently include — broken link building, roundup posts and the skyscraping technique.
But in this article, I want to introduce you to some unusual strategies. You will see link building in a different light after going through these live examples.
Hopefully these strategies will get your creative juices flowing. You can then brainstorm on your next creative link building campaign.
Without further ado, here are 8 unusual link building strategies.
1. Bring alive the prankster inside you
Do you like practical jokes?
Always play pranks on people on April Fools’ Day?
Then this strategy will interest you.
You can create a fake funny product. Or design a parody website on a big industry name. The possibilities are endless.
But you also need to remain cautious of not going overboard. You can draw flak and negative publicity for your brand.
Let’s look at 4 live examples.
Example 1. Ivar’s Billboard Hoax
Ivar’s is a seafood chain in Seattle.
In 2009, the restaurant’s founder Ivar Haglund announced that in 1954, he had installed billboards underwater in the Puget Sound.
Well, he had a vision that customers will drive personal submarines in the future. And he wanted to be the first to advertise to this submarine driving demographic.
The campaign kicked off with sailors recovering an authentic weathered billboard from the bottom of Puget Sound. It said “bowl of clam chowder for just 75 cents” (the price it sold for in 1950s).
They also got a renowned Washington State historian, Paul Dorpat, to support their marketing campaign. He confirmed the authenticity of the documents.
Soon enough it was revealed that the billboard was a wooden prop. And the documents were fake. The company received bad publicity.
But they managed to increase their sales by 400%. And they got tons of contextual backlinks from media outlets and marketing blogs like the one below.
Example 2. Parody website Johncow.com
You must’ve definitely heard of make-money online blogger John Chow.
Here is a screenshot of the homepage back in 2007.
Bob planted hoaxes and launched creative linkbait campaigns. Let’s look at some of them.
Number one was demanding ransom from his own readers. The website link spread like crazy and many bloggers covered the story of John Cow getting hacked.
Next is launching $500 giveaway competitions.
And what did they want the readers to do in exchange?
Have a look below.
That’s correct. Links to their websites with exact match anchor texts.
Mind you, it was 2007. Google’s algorithm was still not so competent.
So John Cow didn’t get hit by any penalties.
Now you cannot launch such a campaign with exact match anchor texts to rank for your targeted keywords.
The last prank I want to cover is:
John Cow claiming to receive an infringement letter from John Chow himself.
Here is the post mentioning that they faced some legal issues and had to shut down.
Ultimately Bob sold the website and started writing for John Chow.
Currently the website JohnCow.com redirects you to JohnChow.com.
But it still has 27.5K live backlinks and 764 live referring domains.
Example 3. 5.11 tactical designing a tactical duty kilt on April’s Fool day
Create a fake product page with good images, a fancy product description and a launch video. That was 5.11 tactical’s plan for the April Fools’ Day in 2012.
They promoted the tactical duty kilt on their homepage.
But the unimaginable happened.
The product page joke snowballed.
It was discussed intently on social media, forums and linked to by websites. Suddenly, people wanted to know how they could purchase the product
This led 5.11 Tactical to actually announce the kilt for pre-orders on April 3.
After 2012, the kilt has been made available for orders every year — 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Oh, and the Tactical duty product page still has 69 live backlinks.
2. Offer scholarship/discounts to students or interview prominent university faculty members
Edu backlinks are cream of the crop. Google keeps them on a pedestal.
The intended use of .edu domain is for educational institutions.
So what does it require to get mentioned by a university…academic research?
No. You don’t need to be an expert in the courses offered by the university.
Sujan Patel ended up giving a lecture at a Business and Hotel Hospitality Class without knowing anything about hospitality.
Then here are 4 creative techniques for getting links from a university website.
1. Offer your business products at a special discount to university students and staff
Have you built a design software that can aid students pursuing an art course at a local university?
Then plan a special discount offer on your software for the students. And get in touch with the college professors in charge of the arts class with your proposal.
They’ll mostly agree. Because who hates discounts?
Then you can request your product offer to be listed on the college’s official website. On the discounts page, you’ll get a mention and a link back to your website. Like the one below.
Like Sujan, you can top this discount offer with a pitch to speak at the university about the latest trends and offer career advice.
If the college authorities find value in your pitch, delivering a lecture can kick off a meaningful relationship with the university. And give you new customers.
If you’re an ecommerce website, you can offer discounts on your products to as many universities you like. And earn .edu backlinks in exchange.
2. Offer scholarships to students
Choose an academic department from a local university that is relevant to your business. And plan a monetary compensation for meritorious students.
Then get in touch with the college authorities with your scholarship proposal. They’ll appreciate your interest in offering financial support to their students. And list your website on their Scholarships page.
Below is the page of UTSA Scholarship office. In the external opportunities section, you can see JustJobs and LatPro offering $1,000 scholarships.
Use the query “site:.edu scholarship external support” for discovering more such scholarships.
You should point the .edu scholarship backlink to a dedicated page on your website.
Look at the dedicated scholarship page at JustJobs.
Don’t want to link to a dedicated scholarship page?
Then use a 301 redirect. You’ll lose some link juice though.
Pro Tip: Want to discover more .edu backlink opportunities at the click of a button?
Then dissect the backlinks of the above JustJobs scholarship page we just found.
Running it through Ahrefs.com Site explorer:
I found that it has a whopping 246 backlinks and 186 of them are from educational institutions.
Congratulations! You just discovered 186 more university leads for an .edu backlink.
3. Ego bait prominent university staff members
Another effective edu backlinking method is interviewing a prominent faculty member related to your business industry.
How does it help?
It attracts their attention. It’s a classic example of egobait.
Once you publish the interview on your website, you can request the faculty member to announce the interview link on their college website.
You can use search term “site:.edu professor interviewed by” to find such interview links.
As you can see, there are interviews of professors conducted by Voice of America, The Mix, Washington Times and others.
I clicked on the first link — lasell.edu.
And I found this announcement with a link to the Voice of America interview.
4. Go grey hat: Pay college students to open a blog on their university website and link to you
Do you know that many universities offer students to create their own blog on their domain?
Look at The Writing Studio at Colorado State University.
They let their students create blogs. So if you can find a student from Colorado University, you could request them to create a blog. And link to your website.
Obviously you’ll have to pay them $25–50.
Now there are two questions that arise:
- How to find the universities that let their students create blogs?
- And where do you find students from these universities?
For finding out universities, you can use a search query like “site:.edu create your blog.”
For finding students from a particular university, you can do a Facebook graph search. Or search for the college Facebook group and get in touch with the group administrator.
You can also post jobs on Craigslist and Reddit. I talk about both of them in detail in this advanced link building guide.
3. Create a job listing board and let companies post opportunities
Do you want to add value to your community and earn high-quality contextual backlinks to your website at the same time?
Then create an ‘industry opportunities’ board. It’s a brilliant link baiting asset, although it’s work intensive.
As job openings by reputable companies start appearing on your website, your job board will start gaining popularity.
You can then reach out to college career centres that offer relevant courses to your industry. And request them to include your job board on their career resources page.
The career services staff at School of Global Policy and Strategy has listed three relevant job websites on their industry resources page.
Similarly UC San Diego also has a similar list of job websites.
There is an added advantage of creating such a job board:
Occasionally, media outlets cover the latest career opportunities and will link to opportunities from your website.
And RSS feed aggregators can also pick up some of your posted jobs.
A great example of a job board in the content marketing industry is the ProBlogger job board.
The success of the board was fuelled by already established ProBlogger’s traffic.
But it has added a lot of value to the blogging community — both companies and writers.
No wonder, it has 70,000+ backlinks including 8 .edu domains (as per Ahrefs).
And it is regularly referenced as a goto resource in many blog posts. Infact, I myself have mentioned and linked to it tons of times in my articles.
As always on WordPress, there are many themes and plugins to create a job board. Read this article at Elegant Themes to find your best fit.
4. Launch a meetup campaign for your community, travel and have fun
Recently, prominent Indian blogger Harsh Agarwal planned a massive blogging meet for Indian bloggers across many cities.
He travelled by road across 13 states (6400 km) in India as a part of this ShoutMeet campaign. And took help from local bloggers to plan the meet in their cities.
The meets in all the cities were met with great enthusiasm. And bloggers felt inspired to be a part of the campaign.
Harsh also felt elated to gain exposure with a warm welcome across all the cities. Here is a short interview conducted during ShoutMeet.
But besides good exposure, are we missing an important aspect?
Well, many of these meetup participants have their own websites.
Bloggers from all over India shared their meet experience on their website linking to ShoutMeLoud.
Here are a couple of articles by bloggers at Yellow Bell and Hack Pundit sharing their ShoutMeet experience.
And here are three more experiences shared by other bloggers.
Did Harsh conduct this travel campaign to attract links?
I don’t think so.
His purpose was just to add value to the Indian blogging community and have fun. Links are a by-product.
The takeaway for you is to brainstorm creative campaigns that add value to your community.
5. Present your original perspectives on a myth or a pertinent industry problem
What is the secret recipe for achieving success as a blogger?
It’s finding your voice.
Your audience hangs out on your blog because they want to hear you. They appreciate authenticity. And they will not like you to sound like someone else.
If you’ll notice successful bloggers:
They all have a distinct charming appeal that strikes the chord with their readers.
So how do you go out and find your voice?
By being yourself and getting into the flow.
Stop crowding your mind with prevalent opinions. And let your mind observe events from your perspective.
Let me show you some blog posts that contained original perspectives and gained huge success.
1. Being Average — Mark Manson
Self-Improvement blogger Mark Manson blogs only occasionally. This year his blog archive shows only 12 posts. In 2014, he published just 20.
But his blog has been a tremendous success. It got almost a million visitors last month.
What is Mark’s secret?
On his blog, you’ll see a completely different take on life. Be it dating, self-improvement or culture.
One of his recently successful articles was in defence of being average.
Mark argued that we’re all pretty average at most things in life. Yet the media shows you only the extreme — the top performers and the lowest ones.
The truth is most of our life is spent in mediocrity and we should accept that.
He ended the article on a positive note — to appreciate life’s basic experiences.
The article was met with tremendous success. People discovered a totally new perspective to view their lives. Just look at the number of shares and backlinks to the post.
2. Why Generation Y yuppers are unhappy — Wait But Why
Another blog that flourishes on publishing exclusive and unique perspectives is Wait But Why.
Earlier, they used to publish only one post/week. Now they don’t even regularly publish a post every week.
The author Tim Urban has a fresh and comical voice. And he supports his articles with stick drawings like the one below.
A widely successful blog post at Wait But Why discussed why generation Y is unhappy.
He set the stage for the article by defining Generation Y with a unique acronym — GYPSY (stands for Gen Y Protagonists & Special Yuppies). And used stick figures to assign characteristics to them.
With the help of striking stick visuals and a story, Tim explained why Generation Y is dissatisfied.
He ended with some actionable advice to help Gen Y get over their griefs.
So did the article resonate with Gen Y?
You be the judge.
Yes you read that correct.
Over half a million shares on Facebook. And 1.9K backlinks from 369 domains.
It’s amazing how solving people’s problems lifts your blog, right?
3. Content Shock — Mark Schaefer
Are you a content marketer?
Then you’ll not get pleased with this post.
Social Media Consultant, Mark Schaefer argued that content marketing is not sustainable. Because immense amount of free content produced is not consumable.
He defined an original term for the event — content shock.
He used a graph to explain how your time investment in creating high-quality content does not result in equal business value.
Not only did the article get thousands of social media shares, it took the content marketing industry by storm.
700+ articles were written about content shock and how we can overcome it. Mark also followed the article with strategies to battle the shock and how it’s beneficial to the consumers.
And since we’re discussing building backlinks, let’s look at the article’s performance using Ahrefs Site Explorer.
Whether or not content shock is real, controversy is a great strategy to drive attention. And to strike a conversation in your industry.
Did you observe a key element in all of the above wildly successful blog posts?
All the bloggers designed custom images and used statistics to prove their point.
You always get brownie points for writing data driven posts.
6. Create a value adding asset or offer a free tool
Remember how the Problogger job board was cited by numerous bloggers?
I am talking about creating a similar value adding asset in this point.
You need to create a resource that entertains your industry, offers value adding information in a convenient format or a free tool that aids in performing a business task.
Blogs and media houses don’t miss a chance in covering valuable assets.
Don’t believe me?
Let me show you 4 live examples.
1. The history of rock visualization that struck a chord with rock music fans
Are you a rock music fan?
If you are, you’ve probably seen this 100 years of rock music visualization. It was floating all over Facebook news feed.
It takes you back to the roots of rock starting from pre 1900s.
Some features that make the visualization awesome are –
- It ends under a minute.
- You can hear a sample from any genre by clicking on it. I got to hear “Peace Sells” as a sample for dark metal.
- You can also view the evolution of a particular genre by clicking on it.
So did this visualization rock the music fans world?
It exploded with 122k Facebook shares alone.
And as for the backlinks, just look at the numbers below.
2. A digital nomad’s goto global database
Are you a blogger or a digital marketing consultant?
It’s such a cool job.
You can work from anywhere in the world.
There’s one problem — You don’t know of affordable places that will have reliable internet connections.
Nomadlist solves this pain point.
It is a brilliant resource for digital nomads for discovering and comparing various locations. The tool lists 500+ locations, 25000+ places (coffee shops, co-working spaces, hostels, hotels) using 50,000+ data points.
You even have nifty filters for sorting results by living expenses, internet availability, nightlife and climate.
Here is an example card that shows all the necessary info about a location
The resource has been welcomed with open arms by digital nomad’s community.
3. Headline Analyzer Tool modelled on Advanced Marketing Institute’s headline tool
The Emotional Marketing Value Headline Analyzer tool was a powerful resource widely used by marketers.
CoSchedule saw an opportunity to combine the essence of this tool with their own research. And launch their own free headline analyzer tool.
It is a valuable asset that quickly got covered by a lot of bloggers. CoSchedule shows their headline score in every blog post (as calculated by the tool).
The tool has used by many bloggers and has attracted huge number of backlinks.
4. My free website analysis tool
If you read my blog posts at Quick Sprout, you must have plugged your website in the free tool on the homepage.
It gives you actionable recommendations to improve your website.
Like SEO analysis.
A competitive analysis table, comparing up to 4 websites.
Page level performance and recommendations to speed your website.
I cannot segregate the backlinks Quick Sprout earned through the tool.
But it has earned mentions by many bloggers.
7. Design your content professionally and present it elegantly
Creating tools like the four I mentioned in the previous point will require a huge investment (if you cannot code).
And sometimes it isn’t possible to come up with original perspectives like Mark Manson or Mark Schaefer do.
So I’ve a simpler solution that does not require you to reinvent the wheel.
Create a high-quality content piece. But improve its readability and visual appeal by hiring a professional designer.
Here are a couple of examples.
1. Jimmy Daly’s email marketing guide
Jimmy Daly wrote a 5000+ words high-quality article on email marketing best practices.
But he didn’t stop there.
He designed a visual and clickable table of contents for the post.
The post generated 36,282 page views and 953 email subscribers for Vero.
Jimmy’s strategic email outreach ensured the post got mentions from Inc. and numerous other roundup posts.
2. My 12 free guides on internet marketing
The guides I’ve created run as much as 40,000+ words. Besides writing high-quality content, I’ve paid special attention in the colors, formatting and designing the guides.
My advanced content marketing guide itself attracted 361,494 visitors and 8421 email options.
And it has attracted 257 backlinks.
Mind you, the above statistics are just for one guide. And I’ve created twelve of them.
I recently covered 5 advanced formatting tips you can use for designing your content like my guides.
8. Share your successful case studies with influencers
You love reading an influencer’s blog. And implementing one of their suggested marketing strategy on your own blog.
Traffic starts flowing and you’re ecstatic about your results.
What should you do next?
Share your success with the influencer. And thank them for educating you about the strategy.
They’ll feel happy to learn how their advice helped you.
After all, adding value and educating the readers are the two cornerstone blogging goals.
If your results are convincing:
You’ve high chances of getting featured on the influencer’s blog as a success story.
Don’t believe me?
Here are a couple of examples.
Brian Dean mostly publishes two types of content — marketing strategies devised by him and case studies of his successful readers.
Guestographics method is one such strategy he devised for getting backlinks.
His reader Mike Bonadio runs an SEO Agency. He implemented the strategy for his client and had huge success attracting 12 backlinks in 2 weeks.
Not only did the case study give tremendous brand exposure to Mike, but he also got a contextual backlink in the article.
2. Shell Harris’ Stumble Upon comment that I picked up in a Quick Sprout blog post
Kristi Hines wrote a post on attracting traffic through StumbleUpon at KISSmetrics.
On the article, Shell Harris commented about his success of using the platform for driving traffic to her website TopTenz.net.
Please note it was a data backed comment and her success numbers were worth noticing.
I picked up her numbers and linked to her website when I wrote about a post on driving traffic through Stumble Upon.
So don’t hesitate in sharing your numbers or results from implementing a strategy devised by an influencer. This is valid for all niches, not just internet marketing.
Just shoot an email or drop a comment on their blog to thank them and tell your personal results.
Links still play a major role in search engine rankings. As per a recent study on the top search results, 77.8% of the individual pages had at least one external link from another site.
You need to innovate and plan creative campaigns.
Most of the above 8 strategies and the case studies you saw are terrific examples of ‘natural’ backlinks. Almost all of them are byproducts.
So plan a trip. Create a tool. Launch a fake product. Play a prank. Or devise a unique strategy by taking inspiration from the above 8 strategies.
Do whatever fits your brand image. And the backlinks should take care of themselves.
Have you implemented any of the above creative link building strategies? Is there a tactic I haven’t mentioned here, but you’ve had success with building backlinks through it?