I’m Ben – head of linkbuilding at Vouchercloud. Basic affiliate stuff, etc.
We work in a highly competitive space – both incredibly high authority sites and blackhat ‘churn and burn’ sites are nipping at our heels and leading the charge.
We build links to try and push ourselves to the front of the pack – but, as I’m sure many of you know, it’s not easy to sneak budget out of business owners and get freedom and flexibility to invest in projects (projects that have no guarantee of success).
There’s been a lot of talks in the past at BrightonSEO talking about how linkbuilding is all about brand, do the right things and the links will come, etc.
… that definitely isn’t the case.
However, there are still ways to build high quality PR links without massive financial investment.
This is one of our linkbuilding projects on the very top of the Reddit homepage. Like, 4th.
4th on the homepage. We (I) lost our (my) shit. It finished on 11,300 upvotes.
This is the best example I can give of how high content created with a minimal budget can fly.
But of course, PR and links without any kind of outcome are pointless.
These are the results, courtesy of our one year SEMRush organic traffic chart. With a relatively small SEO team we’ve managed to push our site to previously unseen levels.
Obviously, as with every website ever, there are a number of factors – but our linkbuilding is undoubtedly one of them.
However, when you’re working on a shoestring, you’ll naturally face a variety of challenges when trying to create content and push for high quality links.
From the project itself and the data involved, right down to the assets and, of course, the very process of sending out your content and handling the coverage, everything is made that little bit trickier.
This talk will offer insight into the tips, tricks and greatest tools out there that will allow you to get the very best out of every stage of a link building campaign – without splurging loads of cash.
I won’t go through the basics - no basic outreach templates or best time to send emails here – so bear with me!
I’ll start off with the ideas and the data behind them – ‘cause god knows coming up with a winning idea is the hardest part.
We’ll kick off with the data and concepts – some projects we’ve created in the past, and how we’ve sourced data without investment.
Reviews, crowdsourced and company sourced datasets are a fantastic place to start.
The likes of Just Eat have every takeaway in the UK; Tripadvisor has every tourist destination; farming this data and repurposing it with a newsy topline and unique approach can pay dividends when it comes to content.
Take the Tripadvisor Map – every country’s top rated tourist attraction according to Tripadvisor, put onto a single map.
From one manual data pull from a publicly available, though company specific, source – we managed to produce a piece of content that has, to date, secured 350 followed links. That includes pieces on The Huffington Post, The Sun, Business Insider and Vice, among many others all around the world.
Comparing prices is also another route full of potential – whether that be company or product-specific, like with our map of Airbnb prices across Europe that secured links from the Daily Mail, The Sun, and Lonely Planet…
…or industry specific and focused on something wider and more general, like this map discussing train prices across Europe…
You can also accumulate a UK-specific data set – like our Michelin Lunch Guide, which shows off the cheapest Michelin lunches in the UK.
Simply collecting and arranging information that may easily be found elsewhere with a unique hook or news agenda can pay dividends when it comes to creating content.
This hit most of the major women’s lifestyle magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Red Magazine and Stylist – not too shabby for ordering the country’s Michelin Star restaurants by lunch price…
Annnnddd yes. This slide is *technically* about using Google data, but yes. That’s a thing.
This project used keyword volumes for a custom set of sex toys, creating our own unique data set – but yes, Google data also includes autocomplete *shudder*.
Try and add custom parameters and frame the data in a unique way – so your dataset is a unique, rather than a simple republishing of a Google trends graph or a list of keyword volumes.
Mashable, The Huffington Post, Men’s Health, the Indy100, Marie Claire, Esquire, and dozens of other sites all around the world took a shine to this one.
You can also compile a new dataset – we decided to see what the ‘average’ world number 1 was like – the duration they spent at the top of the world rankings, how many majors they had to play before they got there, and how many times they reached and retained world number 1 in their career.
All this data is out there, it just needs some sorting and writing up – and as a result, we secured a nice link from the Scotsman, alongside a few other places.
Or if you’re feeling bold, you can create your own data set, publishing something that’s never been seen before.
The Freddo Index used Freddo chocolate bars – and their price rises since the year 2000 – to show the state of the economy, and how far above inflation certain small products and childhood nostalgia items were increasing in price.
The –ahem- iconic Freddo Index appeared on The Metro, The Telegraph, The Sun, The Huffington Post and the Ladbible, among others.
That, or you can shamelessly chase the trends.
This is one of the better examples of us creating content that tries to tackle a trending topic in the right way. If you can come up with a unique angle and a completely innovative approach – take our Game of Thrones children, for example – you can get your voice out in among the noise without having to go huge on the content.
Although this took quite a decent chunk of design work, we also had success sharing Game of Thrones theories, too. If your design team is bored and brilliant, throw them a bone!
Design Taxi was the biggest link among them for this one.
This is a little trickier and a little harder to replicate, but there are always free data sources that can provide angles too – you’ll just be in competition with everyone else, including mainstream journalists and experts in your industry.
I managed to dig up HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) stats that showed that, based on the average starting salary of new graduates – the first batch that started on £9000 a year – we could prove that only 28% of the new graduates had started paying back any student loan.
It takes an eye for a news story, but links from the Independent are worth a little bit of investment.
And of course, you might have some powerful data within your own company – though remember to target stories that will be interesting for others, not data that you specifically want to be showing off.
We managed to get some links around Black Friday – one of our key annual periods – by sharing data focused on pre-9am traffic stats. Simple Google Analytics traffic numbers, scaled into percentages to not reveal sensitive data, allowed us to secure links in the Telegraph and mentions elsewhere.
And now for the assets. Although we have the luxury of a small design team in-house, but still – there are quality resources out there that allow you to create top quality graphs, maps and charts from scratch.
All of our projects have performed better with some kind of creative content to go out alongside, so adding a fancy chart can really help.
In terms of creating high quality bar charts and line graphs for free, Quartz’s Atlas is probably the best option out there.
The graphs are the very same used in their own articles – and make for a fantastically simple to use and publish option that also looks very clean and professional.
We actually ran an early version of the Sex Toy League Table with a chart like this focusing solely on Europe – this secured 20 links all of its own…
For a good quality heatmap – with data entry that isn’t an incredibly intricate or time-consuming nightmare – mapchart.net is a very good option that is completely free.
It will take a little bit of time, and keep an eye on the detail, but you should get a good result that can illustrate a massively wide range of data.
If you’re lucky enough to have internal design resource – regardless of what their day to day focus is – they can be utilised to create fantastic content.
However, keep your briefs clear and simple and use as many existing examples as possible – and when it comes to data visualisation, do the difficult work for them.
There’s also an increasing movement among publishers to create their own unique data visualisations – the examples above are from The Metro and the Daily Telegraph, who used their own charting software or 3rd party tools to create maps and charts – even when provided with them.
If your data is clear and concise and presented to a publisher in a way that’s easy for them to use and adapt, then you not bringing any creative assets to the table may not be a concern at all!
When you’ve got something fabulous, the work is most definitely only half done. Finding contacts and outreaching your content without a budget to invest in databases and *shudders* press release services can be a nightmare.
I’ve pulled together some of the best free tools and tips to help you send your content out into the world in style.
I’m about to give you some other counter-intuitive advice – your contact list should be short but sweet.
Modern linkbuilding isn’t about having a list of 200 websites that have a 1% chance of using your content and dozens of places you know you won’t get a reply from in a million years – it’s about having a list of 30 sites targeted with the perfect outreach email and the perfect content – a few good sites can make you go viral.
It can vary for different pieces of content, and there’s always more that can be done – but if you have limited time to invest, dig up the perfect contact – or multiple perfect contents – as some of your key targets, rather than trying to cast a wide net.
Go big, then go viral.
Similar content will be out there, and will have gone viral, and will have paved a trail for you.
If you are struggling to find the right top tier publications, or the appropriate writers for your content, then track a successful project – a survey-based news story, a infographic or data vis, or general news story – and discover where that secured coverage.
Buzzsumo’s content explorer, if you have access, is great – otherwise, classic means like Ahrefs and Majestic for link tracking can prove fruitful here.
In terms of finding emails, one of the very best tools out there that’s available for free – up until a certain point, at least – is Voila Norbert.
I’m sure it’s been discussed on these stages a few times, but it’ll never be discussed enough!
Simply enter the domain name – or the end of an email string that you know exists – and the name of your contact, and Voila Norbert will dig up an email for you if it exists.
This guy is by no means perfect – sometimes it’ll find nothing, sometimes it’ll find something that ends up being a dud, and sometimes it’ll really dislike the mailbox.
However, for a free tool, this is a fabulous addition to your outreach efforts.
And it’s even more powerful when combined with hunter.io.
Add a domain or email string and this will pull through every email it can find that belongs there – sometimes a handful, sometimes dozens, and sometimes hundreds.
Again, this tool is by no means perfect, but it is very much free – your searches max out at 100 per month, but that is a pretty substantial amount with which to make a dent in an outreach list.
I recommend installing the plug-in, which allows you to run the hunter.io search for whatever website you’re currently on – it makes things pretty seamless.
Up until a few weeks ago, this also worked with the individual Linkedin profiles, though frustratingly that functionality is now gone.
A generic email verification tool may seem like a weird addition to the list, but a couple of simple checks can really help iron out the mistakes that Voila Norbert and Hunter.io can make.
A quick test to see if an email actually resolves can save you a lot of time further down the line juggling dead emails and digging back through contact information.
Again, this isn’t perfect either – invalid emails can light up as green, and emails that actually exist can occasionally flag as not existing – but it’s still a useful insight.
Combining these three tools will help you dig out appropriate and exact email addresses you will likely struggle to find otherwise.
Sneaky sneaky Twitter.
This is particularly useful for newspaper journalists and freelance writers who can be notoriously difficult to discover elsewhere.
Searching through an entire Twitter profile – not just the description – for email related searches can dig up times where a writer shared their email address with one of their followers via tweet.
It works more often than you’d think.
More social media sneakiness, though this typically works better for the smaller news sites – obviously the Ladbible’s information can be found elsewhere…
Many sites that feature inconsistent, invalid or otherwise entirely unuseful email addresses on site often have to include a useful, valid email on their Facebook profile under their contact details.
This has proven especially useful for international sites, and is a good way to look if your outreach moves abroad.
When it comes down to the actual sending of the emails, there are free alternatives to the popular gamut of tools that can get you a pretty solid service without any investment.
In terms of tracking clicks, opens and reads, mailtrack.io is surprisingly powerful for a free tool.
Although it can be a little finicky to use, hovering over the adorable two-ticks on a sent email will show you if an email has been read, how many times, and what links in your email have been clicked – and how long ago it was last read.
All powerful information if you’re planning to chase contacts or waiting fingers-crossed for coverage.
And finally, when international outreach beckons, I’m still a big fan of scheduling emails to hit an inbox at a good time – classic mid-morning or post-lunch.
Boomerang is a great example of a tool that allows quick and simple email scheduling with just a couple of clicks – you can also use the reminders functionality to push you to send chase emails, but we tend to do that elsewhere!
Annnddd moving on to the more optimistic side of things – collecting coverage.
Not that you could ever call a successful project a burden, but sometimes a project going well can leave you chasing shadows when it comes to the coverage.
That, and I’m sure many of us are tasked with quantifying results – either to clients or to execs – and missing coverage you’ve secured is hard work wasted.
There are some fantastic free tools out there that can help you track coverage, and often overlooked ways of keeping track when something going viral catches you slightly off guard.
Starting with the basics, but something very unique that we’ve discovered chasing numerous projects.
All of these searches will pull through ridiculously unique results – they shouldn’t, but they do.
Similarly, change up between daily, weekly and monthly searches – lots of coverage can take a while to index, and can easily pass you by.
Brandmentions is probably the best single free tool out there for brand listening.
It’s not all inclusive – and promises a paid-for version will appear at some point in the future – but for now, this tool is fantastic at finding coverage on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.
It can also send out alerts – on a regular basis or when something important appears – and be used to track competitor coverage and content too.
Something I use multiple times every day, for sure.
Talkwalker is alerts and alerts alone, and is the best free alerts service out there.
Set up loads – you can never have too many. Brand in quotes, brand out of quotes, variations on your brands name, competitors – once or multiple times a day.
Although this and Brandmentions don’t collect everything, it’ll be a pretty good way towards it.
Referral traffic is a pretty obvious insight, but one that I’ve often seen go under-utilised when it comes to tracking down coverage and collecting coverage.
Make your secondary dimension your referral path, and have fun digging through coverage – go right down to the handfuls of referrals if you want and need to find everything.
It also helps show spikes in social activity, though sometimes finding the source can be difficult as referral paths are basically useless here.
When you’re using assets, don’t forget to reverse image search.
This is especially useful when a map, infographic or chart takes off independent from the copy – you can often find coverage which doesn’t mention the original source which may have been lost otherwise.
And though this doesn’t speak true to the nature of my budget-free talk, whatever combination of Majestics and Ahrefs you can find – any combination of link tools really – will obviously help you pick up coverage.
Naturally these guys will take a little longer than the live data, but prove useful all the same.
And finally, chasing coverage.
We’ve found some slightly unique approaches to chasing coverage that work more effectively than traditional outreach techniques – and can often be quicker, simpler, and more light-hearted too.
Twitter is great for a quick, snappy mention to smaller news websites and journalists – more so than in-depth emails, and especially if you’re replying to the original posting of the article.
Google Translate isn’t perfect – but those imperfections can play to your advantage.
Sometimes, the quirkiness and inconsistency provides a little bit of intrigue in your email – so long as you make your intentions clear (link to their article, link to your original source, and make it clear and obvious).
I’d also recommend making the subject line of any email the headline of the article – this ensures that initial, important message is recognisable and free from any translation errors.
Facebook is also a great option for outreach – but in a slightly more unique way.
Many of the smaller news websites – particularly internationally – have Facebook pages with live chat.
Whether they’re for customer service or more generally a way of getting in touch for the public, they’re highly responsive and offer a really good rate of returns when chasing links or coverage.
And to finish, the second best example I can give of how well content created with minimal budget can perform.
When you’ve hit George Takei right between the eyes, you know you’ve done alright.
Thank you, etc, blarh, <3
Quality PR Linkbuilding - With Terrible Budget (BrightonSEO, September 2017)
Quality PR Linkbuilding –
With Terrible Budget
Big-ass SEMRUSH or equivalent screenshot – making them
List Building and Outreach,