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Organizations that have substantial brand equity, or are working to build it, will have a gold mine of untapped linking opportunities scattered on a blog, influencer, and news sites.

While good PR teams are great at getting their company and brand or product story published, they don’t always have the direction, or it’s out of their scope to align that work with SEO and link building efforts.

The reality is most organizations have not captured link building as a PR metric, but they should!

That said, as a rule of thumb, generating branded anchor text for unlinked brand mentions can generate a significant number of links with minimal effort.

Some people have reported 15–20% successful placement rates from outreach to secured links.

Data-driven link building is certainly a good option to secure a significant number of links.

However, the amount of time it takes to build this content increases the resources needed to generate a link.

4 Types of Unlinked Mentions to Find

There are four types of brand mentions to search for.

The route you choose will depend on your company structure and how you brand the company, the products, and its people.

1. Company Brand

Depending on the structure of your company, the corporate or company brand name may provide the most unlinked brand mentions.

The brands can certainly have a lot of mentions.

For example, B&H Photo Video and Audio has a lot of online references, as seen in the Moz report.

An example of a company brand:

2. Product Brand

If your company sells a product with a well-known brand name, then finding the product brand mentions is an effective approach to generate links.

A product brand example is the Allbird Wool Runners from Allbirds. This popular sneaker brand has 137,000 unique unlinked mentions.

Although most of these are not good prospects for links, this will certainly create some opportunities.

This could be a direct-to-consumer CPG or a digital product like a branded training course.

3. Ecommerce Retail Brands

This refers to a product that an ecommerce retailer sells from another company or CPG brand product.

You see that Farfetch sells Gucci Sneakers, but this product is produced by Gucci and Farfetch is a reseller of that product.

4. Executive or Company Influencers

Executive influencers have become an effective growth strategy, and some influencers have gone on to launch successful products or services.

It’s difficult to speak of executive influencers and not bring up Gary Vaynerchuk.

If I were handling SEO for VaynerMedia, I would have a full-time job claiming unlinked brand mentions for the term “gary vaynerchuk.”

If you want to determine if this process is the right fit for your brand, then here are two ways to identify if there is a significant volume of mentions.

Google Search Operators

The manual method involves using Google search operators to find all of a company’s brand mentions outside of their website and primary social media channels.

As the listings come up in Google, you may find it very difficult to sort through and make sense of the results without going page by page.

Industry Tools

If you prefer more data on the prospective sites and content, then there are several tools that you can use.

Since I’ve already written a few times about how to use Ahrefs, I wanted to explore other great alternatives:

Moz’s Fresh Web Explorer

I like the simplicity of the tool, and if you use Moz data, but you still need to know your operators.

The main benefits are the tool’s “mention authority” score and the ability to build a campaign around it.

Make sure to use quotation operators around text for exact matches.

So if you’re searching for a product brand like “shure sm7b”, you’ll get results that only have that phrase.

Now that you have a prioritized target list of opportunities, it is time to figure out how to contact the authors to get consideration for backlinks.

Find the Right Contact

Here is where the PR team can start making your work even easier, starting with their list of journalists.

If the team has been in place for any amount of time, they should have relationships with journalists, bloggers, and influencers in their space.

Those relationships can help make your life easier in terms of the initial outreach and some quick wins getting backlinks set up.

Getting the in-house team involved:

Helps manage the client and expectations.

Creates buy-in to the process.

Develops a sense of joint ownership of the results.

If you are dealing with a medium-sized business or enterprise account, they will likely have tools already in place, such as Cision, Muck Rack, or Meltwater.

These traditional PR tools have press release distribution, journalist management, media intelligence, and PR reporting as their core DNA, and they can be helpful in aspects of the backlink outreach effort.

However, they are not specifically designed for this purpose.

BuzzStream is a useful tool to prospect and build relationships with lists of journalists, run PR campaigns, and, most importantly, conduct effective link building campaigns, all from one platform.

Create a Natural & Impactful Link

The last part of this equation is how you secure a link in the article and pitch the site.

I group these because the pitch will require an understanding of how much content, if any, you’ll need to provide the publisher.

How to Approach the Request & Content

Update the Brand Mention

This is a fast and straightforward method of securing a link, but it has a lower response rate typically.

With this, you will only get the link update for the exact mention of the brand name.

Custom Paragraph

A paragraph that updates the content around a brand mention provides added value to the publication’s audience by appending a deeper understanding of the topic.

Thankfully, this method will not tax your resources.

Full Content Refresh

Many, if not most, of your unlinked brand mentions will be in articles older than six months, typically.

In this case, I recommend a full content refresh. This means, update the material for the site and then rewrite with recent resources and more in-depth content.

How to Perform Outreach

When you think about it, the easy part is gathering the link opportunities and establishing the list of appropriate contacts.

The question now is, how do you get them to take action on behalf of you and your client?

Here are some key considerations when building the outreach program.

To Scale, You Must Automate/Semi-Automate

Undertaking an extensive link building program with tens of thousands of link opportunities, you will need to automate and try to minimize the complexity of outreach.

Personalized Templates

Templated outreach scales effectively and is highly measurable in support of campaigns.

Keep in mind you are also building a relationship with bloggers and should take the time to personalize your one-to-one outreach appropriately.

Most email software, like MailChimp or BuzzStream, will offer some form of dynamic insertion into your email-based.

Automate the Follow Up

Writers are busy.

As a professional, you should follow up.

Instead of manually doing follow up, use automated drips and reminders to help stay on top of things.

I’ve been experimenting with AI email response automation with RoboResponse.

Analyze & Optimize Daily

Conduct periodic reviews to examine your progress while the campaigns are in process and adjust as necessary to optimize your results.

I like to roll out emails in small batches and A/B split test titles and copy.

Report on the Metrics

The final step to a link building campaign is the review of internal metrics.

You should review how team members contribute to the end results and report back to the client on the success and set a baseline plan for the next effort.

For a custom outreach campaign, monitor backlinks can allow you to find and monitor links and growth against historic link profiles.

A Final Note

A strong brand will create a lot of opportunities to build links.

Through creative analysis of your company’s brands or internal influencers, there can very well be a large volume of low-hanging fruit capable of a powerful impact on search engine rankings.

While getting backlinks is relatively simple in concept, it is not easy in reality.

Having the right tools to simplify the process and keep things organized is vital to scale the project and your offerings overall successfully.

As a final benefit, along with scale, automation will provide the simplification of reporting and the visualizations needed to determine and articulate program success.

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All screenshots taken by author

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How To Undermine Your Link Building

The road to hell isn’t the only one paved with good intentions. Most of us set out with the best motives, but somewhere along the way things go wrong. Sometimes our mistakes are a result of inexperience, other times it’s just carelessness or short sightedness.

Mass Emails and other Jerk Behaviors

In an effort to contact as many people as possible, we often resort to automation and mass emailing. I’ve covered some classic attempts at this approach in the past. The kinds of emails that get made fun of are the ones that lack any finesse in their approach.

When you send mass emails about reciprocal links, or asking for links to pages which aren’t compelling, it it’s more than just a wasted effort. The reality is it just doesn’t paint your site in a positive light.  People have become acclimated to resent any contact which isn’t personalized and custom. We get slapped with so much spam and nonsense very day that these attempts simply get lumped into the category of “a waste of my time” and it discredits your marketing endeavors as a whole.

By approaching people in a generic way, you alienate them. But when you go about building relationships the right way, based on introductions, interaction and offers of real value, even when you don’t get the link immediately, you are an effective ambassador for your site. If we truly respect our sites, we should consider every email a direct reflection on our people and our business. If we conduct ourselves in that way, even though we may not always find instant gratification, we can build strong networks that can pay off in the future.

Target the Wrong Sites

Link builders are trained to appreciate every link, even the ones that are like ugly Christmas gifts from well-meaning relatives.  If someone wants to throw us a link, hey, we’re happy to have it. Even from that guy that scrapes our content and re-publishes it. Yeah it’s kinda sketchy, but if there were internal links built in, now we have some extra back links. And we just have to hope that measures intended to discount “thin content” are actually working. Fingers crossed! But we’d never go out of way to get a link from this guy… or would we?

Unfortunately, we do sometimes make the mistake of doing deals with people we shouldn’t waste our time on. Sometimes money changes hands, sometimes it’s content or other favors. But even if it’s just a well thought out case for a good piece of content, if the message is falling on unworthy ears it’s still a waste of resources. There are plenty of factors that can give even a weak site redeeming value. Perhaps it doesn’t have a lot of back links but it’s in the perfect neighborhood.

Sometimes it’s a really powerful site that’s just slightly outside our usual sphere of relevance. An argument can be made for these kinds of sites. But there’s no defending wasted efforts on sites that don’t really have any merit. Simple number of back links can be misleading. Content may appear plentiful until you start to read it and find out it’s garbage. Of course if you don’t read, if you don’t use some sort of selectivity in who you approach, then you’d never really know what you’re walking into. Expending effort getting links from sites that have no link juice to give is like trying to get blood from a stone. Rather than winding up with a bunch of useless links, it’s much smarter to re-prioritize and get a handful of really decent ones.

Build Links to a Bad site

One of the biggest mistakes any of us can make is premature link promotion. But we do it all the time. Sometimes it’s because we’re too impatient to wait for all of our ducks to get their slow tail-feathers in line. Other times, it’s a result of meeting the demands of clients who, in spite of our sincerest warnings, refuse to do the on-site work to justify the link building. The fact of the matter is that getting rankings for sites that don’t meet quality standards is one of the major reasons many people condemn the entire SEO process altogether.

When you get a site ranked before it’s ready, no matter how good the link builders are or how skilled the SEO team is, the ROI will probably not be there for anyone. If a site fails to meet user intent, or fails to project an image of credibility and competence, then users will not be impressed even if it’s the #1 ranked site. If a site drops the ball on usability, conversion, information, accessibility or professionalism then users are more likely to go backward than plow through a difficult site. And what good is a lot of traffic if the site is simply a thoroughfare?

Preparing a site to receive traffic and engage them properly is a crucial pre-link building step. If we go out of order, we will inevitably find ourselves back tracking later trying to fix what should have been done in the beginning. It saves everyone a lot of time, trouble and wasted opportunities to get it right from the start.

Patience can sometimes be one of the hardest parts of link building. Sometimes our efforts are painstaking and it feels like progress is so marginal that we think “there HAS to be an easier way”. But when we opt for ineffective short cuts, it’s possible that we are actually doing ourselves more harm than good. By not representing a site in the best possible way, wasting time on the wrong kinds of links and getting links to an undeserving site we only end up shooting ourselves in the foot.

They say anything worth having won’t come easily and there’s no where that’s truer than with link building and rankings. But if we are willing to fight for what we want then the hard work will pay off, in either success or the education that comes with fighting the good fight in the right way.

5 Keys To Building An Addictive Personal Brand

The other afternoon I came home to a string of tweets and I saw this,

This made me want to dissect what it is that makes someone’s brand addictive:  Let’s start with a basic premise for creating an addictive personal brand.

Would you be missed if you were gone?

If you stopped writing, publishing or creating content, would the people who read notice? If they wouldn’t, you’re quite far off from creating an addictive brand.  Let’s talk about what it actually takes to create a brand that is truly addictive.  There are 5 foundational elements to an addictive brand.

1. Be Consistent

I recently read that Seth Godin published is 5000th blog post. That’s a lot of writing. For nearly 10 years he’s showed up every single day. In fact if a day went by when he didn’t publish, the blogosphere would probably start speculating that he’d been kidnapped or something. He’s conditioned us to expect something from him. And if those expectations aren’t met, we’d notice. We would miss him if he’s gone.

You don’t have to publish every single day to create an addictive brand, but you do have to be consistent. We become addicted to TV shows because we know they’ll be there every Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. If you’re sporadic about your publishing efforts, it’s unlikely you’ll create an addictive brand. Remember, you’re not Ashton Kutcher. Mortals like us have to actually do a bit more.  When you’re consistent you also have the opportunity to develop a substantial body of work. Let’s say you write the most amazing blog post and it sends you droves of traffic. But when people get to your site theres nothing else for them to read. You effectively missed the boat. To make your content as addictive as cocaine you need to give your audience their fix and that means having a big supply.

2. Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You

Some of the best writers on the web, Julien Smith, Justine Musk,  and James Altucher have worked to become masters of their craft for a very long time. They’re the kinds of people who are so good that we can’t ignore them. They’ve been willing to put their pen to paper and write. You won’t be a master of your craft when you start, but if you make it a point to practice you’ll eventually get there. And when you do, you’ll be so good they can’t ignore you. People will become addicted to your brand. They’ll always be wanting more.

3. Be Insanely Useful

This may be one of the most overlooked aspects of creating an addictive brand. Creating a personal brand that’s addictive is not about you at all. It’s about your audience. If you’re having trouble with this, check out my friend Alex Franzen’s new book 50 ways to say You’re Awesome. She’s a master of being useful while promoting her own work. In my mind there are 3 basic ways to be useful?

Change Behavior:  We’re all trying to change something about ourselves and our lives. If your content helps somebody to do that, they’ll always come back for more.

Deliver an Outcome: This isn’t always going to be possible. But one of the most useful questions you can ask yourself before publishing every single piece of content is “what’s the intended outcome for the reader?” My outcome with this post was to help you make your brand more addictive than it is right now.

Educate: This is another way to be insanely useful. All you have to do is look at the success of TED talks and it’s no secret that people are craving an opportunity to be educated. The guys over at ASAP Science realized this and built a Youtube channel that grew to  over 1 million subscribers in less than a year.

4. Be Interesting

As I’ve said before your brand must tell a compelling story if it’s going to  become addictive.  In many ways people who read blogs are voyeurs. Your job is to provide an escape from reality and take people on a journey. Expose them to a world of possibilities. People want to be entertained just as much as they want to be informed.

5. Be Audacious/Bold

Addictive brands are usually audacious and bold. They take a strong stand and understand how to use fascination triggers.

 My friend Meg Worden spent 2 years in a Federal Prison and it’s right there on her about page.  Her content is so addictive that I almost always stop what ever working on read it right away.

James Altucher bleeds on the page every single time he writes. He has just as many people who hate him as love him.

You must take a strong stand, have an opinion and be willing to alienate some people. If you try to be everything to everybody, you’ll become nothing to nobody.  Somebody I spoke with once said you personal brand is like an online dating profile. You want to 98% of the population not to be interested so you can build a relationship with the 2% of who will fall in love with you.

Can’t Rank? Link Building Won’t Help You

Some say “SEO is dead”, or dying. In reality SEO as we “used to practice it” is no longer valid. Looking at a history of Google search changes over the years though, we should have seen the  writing on the wall before now. Where link building is concerned, it’s certain old SEO habits have to change – here’s some ideas and reflection – 

Allow me to set the context for this article up front. I recently attended a workshop by Bruce Clay Australia which made me rethink certain assumptions I had made over the years working in SEO. While link building is still an important aspect of SEO, its relationship to other strategies has changed significantly.

As with most activities  people often take different approaches to doing new things before finding what works best for them, most cling to old habits without readily considering other approaches. Old habits are hard to kick, including using link building  predominantly in SEO projects. SEO is all about learning curves too, I guess you could say.

One of my bad habits has been  to put too much focus on links and assume that the more quality links I’d build, the less I’d have to worry about other factors, such as content, social, site architecture and some technical configuration. Deep down I knew this wasn’t a sustainable process, but I was already chasing the next link, so I liked to forget about it.

A short timeline of some of the most noteworthy Google algorithm updates shows how having all your (linking) eggs in one basket can really hurt your rankings.

2003: Cassandra began looking at co-owned domain linking, hidden links and text.

This update is kind of a predecessor of the Penguin update. Weeding out low value SEO tactics such as cross-linking all your own websites.

Hidden links and text on a site, something we laugh at in 2012, were a problem back in 2003. Google finally figured out how to stop people from gaming the system this way.

2003: Florida is one of the best known updates which went after keyword stuffing. Google also started keyword stemming, meaning that the amount of competition skyrocketed because you’d no longer be the only one ranking for a term such as “gardening” if that was what you were using on your site. Others who were using variations such as: ”garden, gardens, gardening” now were directly competing in the serps.

Update Brandy in 2004 focused on content relevancy with LSI and started looking at link neighborhoods. Google upped the ante again.

The Nofollow attribute was introduced at the beginning of 2005

All of a sudden a lot of links you might have added to your site,  lost the ability to pass link juice.

Getting new links that did pass value just got a lot harder.

Personalized results started appearing halfway through 2005. Depending on a user’s search history, each might would see different results from other users. If people didn’t already find your site before this update, you now had less of a chance to show up above their favored sites.

October 2005 was when Google released Jagger, an update that shook up tactics such as reciprocal linking, link farms and paid links.

2005 also saw Google roll out Big Daddy, an infrastructure change which allowed Google to crawl and index more pages than ever before, thus increasing competition for almost every site. On the other hand, there’s now a supplemental index where all good SPAM sites end up, never to be heard of again.

2007 signaled the end for the traditional 10 SERP page. Universal search adds news, video, local and images.

Vince in 2009 wiped a lot of smaller contenders from the SERPs because Google really started to favor big brands.

May Day in 2010 made it clear that thin content wasn’t good enough anymore to capture long-tail traffic.

At the end of 2010, Google told us that they didn’t ignore social signals when determining ranking.

Panda v1 began at the start of 2011. We all know the resultant branding effect on cute bears. Many a webmaster now fears the beast known as Panda, and all its updates. Currently at v4, this update primarily targets low quality and thin content. (theoretically)

Google stopped providing an important metric on which a lot of sites got to reply; keyword referrals. We’re all familiar with the [not provided] reference in Google Analytics.

This year, Penguin wreaked havoc for link builders, MFA sites got penalized because of the content to ad ratio, and the EMD update has put an end to manipulation of ranking by buying keyword domains.

*sources: seomoz, seroundtable insidesearch

History teaches us that when optimizing a site, we should really pay equal attention to all the aspects of the campaign. Expert SEOs will still explore valid, even novel ways to refine the impact links have. Some good examples of uncommon strategies are in this post by Pratik Dholakiya. I’m NOT suggesting links don’t matter. However, looking at the progression above, it’s clear now that link building, as we once knew it, was on the way out long before Panda or Penguin. Interestingly though, there’s only a limited number of factors that Google can efficiently use to work its ranking magic. Another “problem” Google has, is that in continually fine tuning their system, sometimes unpredictable things can happen. Factors once weighted heavily, become obsolete, and vice versa.

The trick for the optimizer is to be consistent across the board when working on sites. Logic demands that the webmaster who gets this right will come out on top of every single update Google throws out, over the long haul.

3 Creative Ideas To Use Google For Link Building Search

Most of us will agree that Google search is insanely useful. However most people don’t know how to use it to its full potential. This post aims at revealing Google search least-used tricks which will be a great help for searching link building opportunities .

Here are the steps (you can actually apply them to any link building search, not necessarily related to guest posting):

Identify all the various ways people may use to invite guest bloggers (“Submit a guest post”, “Add blog post”, “Contribute to our site”, etc);

Use the main terms describing your topic;

Use OR and ~ operators to better describe your niche;

Now connect all the previous steps into one search:

How to Take Advantage of Google’s Wildcard (*) Operator

Mentioned in the previous tip, this one elaborates further on the usefulness of Google’s wildcard operator. It makes it possible:

To keep your search focused while still allowing for some term variations: [keyword “add * url”] search will include [keyword “add your url”], [keyword “add related url”], etc;

How to Search Twitter for Marketing (using Google)

John Jantsch does a great job showing how to use search to filter out 99% of the junk that doesn’t apply to your objectives and focus on the stuff that matters. The post lists both Twitter and Google search tricks, we are focusing on Google-only tricks here.

Let’s say you have a business that sells an awesome service to attorneys. A simple search on Twitter will turn up thousands of mentions of the word attorney, but many of them will be from people talking about this or that attorney or the need to hire or not hire one. That’s probably not very helpful for your purposes.

In some cases searching through the optional biographical information can be more helpful than the username or real name fields. Maybe you’re looking for a very specific term or some of the folks you are targeting only reference their profession in their bio.

Bonus Tip: Plenty of Link Building Search Queries from Top Link Builders

The link building tool that generates search queries based on what many industry experts shared is a great way to get inspired when searching Google for possible backlink opportunities:

Provide your base search term (describing the niche you want to build links in).

Choose ONE of the link opportunity “Types”

Grab each of generated link building queries and use your preferred search engine to look for link prospects:


12 Questions To Ask A Prospective Link Building Or Contact Marketing Client

If you’re an SEO/SEM/inbound marketing/content marketing agency that offers link building or content marketing services independent of other services (such as keyword research, a technical site audit, etc.), you’ve probably gotten an inquiry from someone who wants “link building” services but isn’t exactly sure what that entails.

Obviously, if a prospect has a very specific request (i.e. they know that they want X guest posts placed per month or Y articles created and promoted), that’s easy enough to figure out, but what if they have a list of target keywords they want to drive more traffic around, and they are asking for “link building” while expecting you, the vendor, to help them sort out what they need?

Questions You Can Ask to Help Structure a Link Building Proposal

There are some core questions we’ve found to be helpful in customizing a proposal for someone who is interested in link building services in one of two core areas:

Goals & Budget – There’s almost an infinite number of things you could potentially do for a site under the link building and content marketing “umbrellas.” By understanding the specific goals and budgetary constraints of the client, you can better comprehend the tactics that will help you get a desired result.

Internal Resources – Understanding what resources the potential client has available can help you determine which tactics will be possible and where you might be able to leverage existing internal assets to help the client achieve their goals while conserving budget.

Goals & Budget

Are there any specific goals we should be aware of (i.e. you’d like to increase organic traffic by X% by Y date, or you’d like to rank well for the following terms, etc.)?

How many different keywords and/or pages are you planning on targeting?

Will the link building efforts be focused solely on your core site, or do you have microsites you’re also planning to target?

Do you have an idea (even a range) of where you’d like to be in terms of budget?

Is there anything we should know about current traffic levels, value per lead, or conversion rates as we’re evaluating the opportunity for you? For instance, if you’re converting traffic at 1%, and each lead is worth $10, then for us to be a profitable expense for you, you’ll need to get around 100 additional unique visitors for every $10 spent.

Internal Resources

What sort of content resources do you have in-house? Do you have people who could write a blog post or an in-depth guide that would be compelling to writers/bloggers in your niche?

Is there any content you have (PDFs, brochures, engaging videos, interesting charts, graphs, etc.) that is primarily informational that you haven’t previously promoted online? Some things we commonly find are really in-depth guides on topics that are in PDFs, but they haven’t been “pitched” to bloggers, or a tool or widget or calculator that you have on your site that you haven’t done a lot of promotion around, etc.

Do you have any development resources in-house? Mainly, we want to know if there’s someone who would have the bandwidth to develop a free tool or widget.

Do you have any graphic design resources in-house? One tactic we may want to leverage would be data visualizations (a.k.a. infographics). Is there someone who could execute on a design concept?

Do you have any video content or the capability to easily create video content?

Do you do any industry studies or surveys?

Are there any hurdles to publishing content on your site that we should be aware of?

Depending on the prospect and the conversations you’ve had with them, you may not need to include all of these questions. And, of course, depending on the client and the services you’re offering, you may consider asking additional questions beyond this list.

The main thing, though, is to try to create a framework for gauging as quickly as possible exactly what questions will get you to a detailed proposal that will allow you to get the client as close to their goals as possible with the budgetary constraints they’ve outlined.

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