3 White Hat Link Building Techniques That Go Far Beyond Links

Hello. My name is Ryan Stewart and I’m a recovering black hat SEO.

I’m not ashamed to admit it. I used black hat methods because they worked. Really, really well.

I always wanted to go white hat, I just didn’t have the manpower to scale. With 40+ clients demanding results, I did what what was needed to keep them happy.

Everything changed 8 months ago when Google dropped the hammer on private blog networks. My entire link strategy went out the window and I had to adapt. Fast.

Manual outreach. Online PR. Relationship building. I was working 20 hours a day trying to growth hack all these well-known White hat link building techniques.

In my efforts, I found 2 things:

  1. White hat SEO is a ton of work. There are no shortcuts.
  2. White hat SEO works. Really, really well.

I’m going to share with you 3 white hat link strategies I picked during the course of my efforts.

You can take these strategies and apply to any SEO campaign. I promise you, they work.

Really, really well!

1. Blog Commenting Is More Powerful Than You Think

That’s right — the original link spam!

Or, is it?

In a Google Webmaster Q&A forum, Matt Cutt’s stated blog comment links are perfectly fine. In fact, it’s a practice he uses himself.

I leave topically relevant comments on topically relevant sites, all the time. –Matt Cutts

Blog comments are a great way to promote content, diversify anchor text and build out a natural link profile.

But it becomes a bad practice when you outsource, automate, comment on spammy sites and jam keywords where your name should be.

For example:

Here’s how to do it right…

Step #1: How to find quality blogs

It starts with finding a high quality blog that’s relevant to yours (or the site you plan to link to).

The blog comment links I build come from blogs I read regularly and others I find on my Twitter feed.

If you’re looking for topical niche blogs, use Google blog search + advanced search operators.

For example, let’s say I wanted promote content for an eCommerce shoe store. I would enter the following search operators in Google:

  • summer fashion trends “comment”
  • summer shoe trends “submit comment”
  • summer sneaker trends “leave comment”
  • summer sneaker trends “leave a reply”

This command tells Google to find blogs based on your keyword containing the word “comment” in the page. This will bring back results of pages that have comments enabled on the page.

You can then check the Ahrefs rank for each of these blogs to identify which of them are worth your time.

Step #2: How To Get Your Comment Approved

99.99% of quality blogs will send comments to a moderator before going live.

Since you’ll be dropping a link, it’s important to comment the right way.

  • Name field — put your name there, not your target keyword! This spam tactic will get your comment denied every time.
  • Email field — any valid email address will do (real or fake).
  • Website field — I generally leave this blank. Since you’re leaving a link in the body of the comment, it shows the author you’re not trying to spam their blog.
  • Comment field — Pick one point from the post that’s relevant to your link and expand on it.

Let’s go through an example of a recent blog comment of mine.

A few weeks ago I read a great post by fellow marketer Robbie Richards.

So good, it prompted me to leave the following comment (it’s long, but I suggest you read it):

The comment caught Robbie’s attention — he ended up Tweeting the link I left later that day:

I landed a comment link on a high authority blog + additional social exposure. Not bad for a blog comment, right?

But wait, there’s more!

A few weeks later, I got the following Tweet from Robbie:

I responded to his Tweet, which was featured in his next blog update, complete with a link to my site:

One simple comment set off a chain reaction of valuable events:

  1. A blog comment link to my content on Robbie’s site
  2. Traffic to my site from the blog comment
  3. Social media sharing of my content
  4. Increase of social followers, shares and traffic to my site
  5. A contextual link in Robbie’s round up post
  6. Traffic from Robbie’s post
  7. Invaluable personal brand exposure being mentioned in the same post with top marketing professionals

Not bad for a simple blog comment!

2. Alert The Press And Make Them Link To You

No, not PR submission sites. I’m talking about real press from authority news sites.

Real press is hard to get. Reporters are bombarded with coverage pitches on a daily basis. The problem is, 95% of those requests are irrelevant.

Instead of forcing your business to a journalist, try adapting their column to your business.

Step 1: Finding Opportunities

Finding the right opportunities makes the process easier. There are a couple ways to do so:

  • Start local. I run a Miami based SEO agency — Miami outlets are more likely to cover my business than Boston ones.
  • Niche down. What exactly does your business do? If you run a bakery, search for columns featuring food. If you have an app, search for columns featuring tech businesses. If you’re a start up, search for columns featuring entrepreneurs.

I hunt using Google search operators.

Search Operator #1 — “site:”

Use this command when you know the site you want to search.

You should know the major publications in your city. For me:

  • The Miami Herald
  • Sun Times
  • The Miami New Times

Pick one and enter it into Google, using a variety of keywords to complement:

  • site:miamiherald.com local business events
  • site:miamiherald.com miami business networking events
  • site:miamiherald.com business spotlight
  • site:miamiherald.com local business feature
  • site:miamiherald.com business feature
  • site:miamiherald.com small business spotlight
  • site:miamiherald.com entrepreneur spotlight

This search operator tells Google to comb the Miami Herald and bring back pages with the keywords that follow.

The keywords I’ve chosen are some I’ve had success with. I encourage you to experiment with others to find one aligning with your business.

Example:

Search Operator #2 — “inurl:”, “intitle:”

Use these command when you don’t know sites to target.

This scenario happens if you’re an agency servicing an out of state client (i.e. a Boston agency looking for press on a Miami based client).

Entering “inurl:” or “intitle:” into the search bar tells Google to return results containing the keywords in the URL string or page title.

Some examples:

  • inurl:miami business spotlight
  • intitle:miami business spotlight
  • inurl:miami local business feature
  • intitle:miami local business feature
  • inurl:miami local business spotlight
  • intitle:miami local business spotlight

Example:

Step 2: Aligning Your Content

Finding opportunities is the easy part. If you really want the link you have to fit your business to their column.

Here’s a recent example (NOTE: the news outlet chose to remain private, as they didn’t want an influx of requests).

After using the search operators outlined above, I came across a local outlet that ran weekly features of networking events and speaking engagements.

In order to get into the publication, I needed to align my content to theirs.

From time to time I give free marketing seminars for local businesses. They’re a great way to meet potential clients and provide value in the community.

I didn’t have one planned, but I’d gladly set one up for free press!

Just like that, I had a relevant pitch.

I realize, not all of you reading this can launch a seminar at the drop of a hat. Here are some client examples that landed links:

  • Bakery — We found a journalist covering businesses that give back to the community. We set up a food drive for local shelters in the area and contributed a ton of baked goods.
  • Bar / lounge — We found a journalist covering innovative business ideas. We launched an initiative that gave customers 5% off of their bill if they Instagrammed a photo of their favorite drink and tagged the location of the bar.
  • Mobile app — We found a journalist covering entreprenuers that were born, raised and educated within the city. No extra marketing efforts needed!

Step 3: Submit a Press Release

This part isn’t required, but it helps.

A reporter always asks for more information. I find sending them a link to an online press release shows them you’re making a conscious effort to drum up press, not just mooching links.

Screenshot of a press release from a previous seminar we gave.

There are hundreds of free press release submission sites — any will do!

Step 4: Reaching Out

Some sites provide email addresses, some don’t

If they don’t, track them down on LinkedIn. A simple Google search should do the trick:

“Author Name + LinkedIn + News Publication”

Make sure to connect before sending a message. After they accept, send them a brief message, not a pitch! If they’re interested, they will respond.

Here’s my go to:

Hey [Name],
I’ve been reading your publication on news.com for quite some time. If interested, I have a tip about a local business that fits right in with your column!

If they like what you have to say, they should respond with their contact email.

Here’s the follow up email I sent after the LinkedIn message:

And her response:

From there, I sent her the link to the press release as well as the page on my site.

Two weeks later, she included my business in her update.

Getting the link was a lot of work, but well worth it.

Just 3 hours after the link went live, I received 126 quality visits, including 2 leads, both of whom I secured as clients.

3. Networking With Results In Mind

Networking = link outreach, version 2.0.

I charge clients by the hour so I keep close tabs on work performed. Over the last 3 months, here’s my data:

  • Broken link building: finding sites with broken links, emailing them to notify and giving them a link with similar content to fix it.
  • 567 emails sent, 23 links placed (4% success rate)
  • Updated content link building: finding sites with similar content, identifying links to dated content, emailing them to notify and giving them a link with more relevant content to replace it.
  • 987 requests for links; 13 successfully placed (1.3% success rate)

This wasn’t always the case. When I first started using white hat techniques success rates were as high as 15%.

Times have changed.

68% of companies say content marketing is their top priority. They’re spending money and resources to create engaging content for their audience.

Finding a broken link in their page doesn’t qualify your content to replace it.

There’s old sales quote that applies perfectly to this situation:

“People do business with people they know, like and trust”.

It’s the same with linking. Website’s link to sites they know, like and trust.

That’s where networking comes in.

Link outreach targets contact emails scraped from a long list of sites.

Networking targets the people behind the content. By simply connecting social media you have a number of ways to get their attention the right way.

The success rates I’ve had using networking techniques is astounding:

93 requests; 65 successfully placed (70% success rate)

Here’s how you can do it too…

Step 1: Finding Opportunities

The best place to start is with sites that do link round ups. These sites are actively seeking links to share so success rates are always higher.

Once again, use advanced search operators to identify opportunities.

  • your keyword “top posts this week”
  • your keyword “monday link round up”
  • your keyword “top posts this month”
  • your keyword “friday link round up”
  • your keyword “weekend link round up”
  • your keyword “best posts of the week”
  • your keyword “best posts of the month”
  • your keyword “best articles of the week”

Also, use Google’s “Search Tools” feature to select content posted in the last month:

You want to make sure that website is actively posting round up updates.

Step 2: Connecting

Using the search operators you should be able to find a few dozen targets. Resist the urge to email them directly!

99% of sites will list their social media profiles in the author box. Pick a couple platforms and connect.

I like LinkedIn because of the ability to write messages. I always like to drop a nice note when connecting:

Hey [name here],
Just finished your article on [site.com]. Love your work!
-Ryan

It’s an easy way to break the ice and let them know you exist.

Step 3: Engaging

Engaging with their content does 2 things:

  1. Provides value: by re-Tweeting and sharing you’re spreading their content’s reach. If you have a decent social media following, you can help drive quality traffic to their site.
  2. Grabs attention: by re-Tweeting and sharing you’re getting their attention. Every time my links are shared I check the source. This often leads to me poking around their profiles and checking out their sites.

I like to re-Tweet, share, comment and interact with their content at least once a week for a month. In my experience, this is enough time to get their attention and recognize your name.

Part 4: Requesting a link

Now, the ice is broken. Feel free to reach out with a request to be featured.

Continuing the example from above, I chose to reach out via LinkedIn:

A few weeks later, I published a piece of content I thought would be a good fit for his round up. I Tweeted him the link.

Later that day, I noticed an increase in referral traffic.

I checked the source:

Link secured!

Closing

8 months later, I’m still learning the white hat techniques.

While white hat techniques are more work, they provide better results. If you put in the time and effort, your results will reflect it!

Would you argue with that?


Originally published at blog.ahrefs.com on May 11, 2015.