There's a thing that I've noticed with starting a link building campaign for a client who has never done it before: going from not in the top 100 to page 3 is much easier than going from page 3 to page 1.
That said, it's still a bit tricky to get started and to do it in such a way that your future efforts build upon your earlier ones. At the risk of being too basic, I think that it's critical to recognize that there really isn't a lot of good information out there devoted to get a novice link builder started.
As the owner of a link building company, I have managed enough campaigns for enough niches to know that making mistakes in the beginning can be costly and time-consuming to fix. Therefore, let's get started on a simple to follow guide for those of you who want to start some link building but, for various reasons, won't be using outside help to do it.
This will be an overview with follow-up posts for each of the 5 steps that I outline.
I’ll assume that you've done the basic SEO for your site. If you haven't...you should. I would also suggest that you evaluate your site for good usability, because the highest rankings in the world won't make people stay on or come back to your site, nor will it give you desired conversions.
So where do you start? It's actually fairly straightforward.
Step 1: Map out your anchor text/landing page combinations.
Don't go nuts doing this. Your top 5 or 10 pages will suffice for now. This exercise is mainly designed to give you an idea of an ideal link for your top pages.
Once you have a keyphrase (or multiple ones) mapped to your most important pages, read over your content to ensure that the pages are well-optimized for those phrases.
A good test for this is the free Google Adwords Keywords Tool. Just enter the URL of your page and see if Google thinks it's about the keywords that you think it's about. If not, you may want to optimize it a bit better.
Step 2: Submit to directories.
Seek out major (BOTW, Yahoo, DMOZ, Business.com) and niche directories (lists of these seem to change so often that your best bet is to search for "niche directories" and go from there), and submit the best URL that fits the category.
I would not get caught up in submitting to all directories through a service that can do that for a fee, nor would I submit to every free one possible. Just figure out a nice big one (like the major ones listed above) and some niche/local ones and you should be ok to start out.
Step 3: See what your competitors are doing.
This serves two excellent purposes: it gives you a list of initial people to contact and helps you see how sites are linking to others in your niche. That is extremely valuable information.
While competitive analysis is not something that I think is always necessary in all cases, if you're starting out, it definitely is something you should do. Seeing which sites link to your competitors gives you an idea of people to contact, as we're going on the assumption that if someone links to them, they will also link to you.
There are tons of ways to do this, and tons of tools to help you. For a basic (and free) overview, I use Yahoo.
Simply type in the command "link:www.competitorURL.com" and you'll see a section that says "Show InLinks" which I'd change to the "Except from this domain" option. You'll also see a section that says ""To" and I'd change that to "Entire Site." This gives you a nice list of inbound links to check, and a nice starting point for sites to contact. (I've recently begin to use Raven SEO Tools for this too, as the output is much easier to work with.)
While you're there, it's quite useful to look at the anchor text used for these links. If you're relying on free links, you won't have too much of a choice of what people use to link to you, but you can certainly choose to contact a site owner and request specific anchor text once you have a link.
Step 4: Promote your site.
Contact the webmasters that you've targeted with your competitive analysis, and ask for a link.
How you do this is up to you. My preferred method is email, but loads of people say that emailed link requests don't work. They work for us, but then again we're occasionally offering incentives...pick up the phone, if you like, as that is definitely an effective method.
Use social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to get your content out there and generate links, but remember that the content must be quality if it's going to bring you any decent links.
I am also a big fan of offline link building. If there's any chance to toss your URL out there, do it. Business cards, casual mentions, and promotional products can all do wonders for your visibility.
Step 5: Track your efforts.
Whether you're simply tracking a ranking in Google or using a full-on analytics package, it's very important that you track your results. If something is not working, then make some changes. If you are working on links for 5 pages and 3 of them are gaining ground but the other 2 aren't, look and see what it is that the 3 good ones have in common, and implement that on the other 2.
See? It's really not that difficult to start a link building campaign.
Key things to remember:
- Vary your anchor text. Add in some "Click Here!", URL mentions, site names, company names...and anything else that you think of.
- Vary your anchor text/landing page combinations.
- Deep link!! It isn't natural for links to only hit your homepage. If you have other quality pages, promote them.
- Use a variety of ways to alert people to your content. Emails, phone calls, social media...whatever works!
- Don't be afraid of revision.
To conclude, always remember that link building is something you do to generate more traffic for your site.
With that in mind, think about offline ways to market. Whether it's a business card with your URL on it or simply emailing a neighbor with the name of your site because you've heard that his sister needs a service that you offer, this is getting the word out.
Any chance to show someone your site is also a chance to generate a quality inbound link.