How to Efficiently Generate White Hat Links
11 votes, 3.64 avg. tacos (73% full)

You may have seen the huge white hat link building Expert Round-Up article that was recently featured on the Ahrefs blog. Dig through it and you will find some unique little gems in there (among the “create great content” suggestions :-) ).

I wanted to expand upon why I recommend the tactic I did and also, for the type of sites I build, why I do not use the majority of the tactics suggested by other experts.

First up, I get the feeling that some of the respondees interpreted the question we were all asked a little differently to me. What we were asked was the following:

1) Please tell us about your favourite “white hat link building strategy that scales”.
(What makes it your favourite one? How to execute it properly?)

2) How do you scale it?
(What tools do you use? Where do you hire people to scale it?)

I interpreted the question as “what’s the most efficient white hat link building tactic that scales” because my favourite tactics are the ones that get the best result, in the littlest time.

It’s asking “what’s your favourite” though which broadens the base of suggestions considerably. And judging by some of the responses, I think efficiency has not always been considered because there are some great suggestions in there that I just would never recommend. Here’s why…

I’m looking at this largely from the perspective of a typical SEO style of site, eg a niche site or moderate size authority site. Anything up to a few hundred pages of content. I didn’t consider answering from the perspective of agency SEO, local client SEO or SEO for brands.

I’m always looking for efficiency with white hat SEO and link building > how can I generate enough links for my site, in as little time as possible? That’s why I have used PBN link building in the past. It’s efficient link building.

The main reason anyone would continue to persevere with PBN link building, even though it’s clearly a risky strategy, is because the efficiency of it is so alluring. I used to justify the fact that my money sites were a potential penalty risk because I could order a link building article and place a PBN link to my site in 15 minutes. So I get that the attraction is still strong for many people.

Once bitten, twice shy from my perspective which is why I personally do not to use PBNs anymore. I’m happy to link build with 3x slower efficiency with significantly lower penalty risk. But there’s a limit to my tolerance for how time consuming link building can be!

Is there such thing as efficient white hat link building?

For sure!

I’ve tested basically every tactic mentioned in that roundup article through our SEO Internships over the past 6 intakes. Actually, upon a quick calculation, it’s probably up around 4000 hours of testing and experimenting so far in 2015. That volume of testing has enabled me to discount some tactics (for my style of sites) and reveal the true gems.

I have been testing to find the most efficient way to generate links because time is the biggest killer for SEO. When I chose to discontinue use of an uber-efficient tactic like PBN link building, I went searching for something that comes close to it both in terms of cost per link generated and time per link generated.

Here’s what I’ve found over those many hours of testing…

First, what does not scale (as efficiently as I’d like).

Inefficient Link Building

For a typical SEO site, anything to do with “producing great content” is not scaleable. It can be effective, but it’s not efficient and therefore not scalable and not something I put my time into.

Producing “great content” takes a ton of time to do, or, you need a great writer to produce that magical link-generating “great content”. Of course, “great content” has more benefits than just link building but purely from a link building perspective, there are more affordable ways to get them.

Viral content can work. I believe it’s important for all sites to have some content that is purely aimed at generating social shares because I’ve had a number of sites improve in rankings because of it. A natural traffic profile for a site will include non-Google traffic and although social activity and viral buzz can generate some links, viral content production can also fail dismally and you can waste a ton of time on it. So I put it in the “great content” category and it’s not my weapon of choice for link building.

Guest posting is great for links, and it’s a cornerstone of my link building strategy. But it’s not the most efficient tactic. Writing the guest posts is too time consuming for it to be classified as a scaleable tactic in isolation (unless you’re a very fast typer and writing for a topic you know well). You could pay for the content, but that adds to cost, obviously.

The skyscraper technique sounds good in theory (works well for SEO/IM blog link acquisition), but for your typical BestSuperDooperDoubleStrollerReviewsGuide.org type of SEO site, that aint where the efficiency is. Again, it takes a LONG time to do a Skyscraper type of article. And as with many link building tactics that are trumpeted as “the tactic” in the SEO blogosphere, many of the best examples of this tactic working are in the SEM/IM niche.

Expert Roundups work well, but they take a long time to execute. They are hit and miss outside of pitching them at the SEO/IM blog space as well. They have some other intangibles such as building relationships with bloggers in your niche but again, purely looking at link building from the perspective of identifying a way to get links efficiently, there are more efficient options.

^ Again, the above tactics work for generating links, it’s just that they’re not as efficient as I’d like.

So that discounts a fair chunk of the 90+ responses to the Ahrefs round-up. What’s left?

Efficient Link Building

Infographics/guestographics. Gets a tick. We’re currently running a test across 15 sites with this tactic after Amir, one of our site partners, jagged 9 links from 25 outreach emails using a $5 infographic from Fiverr. Talk about ROI! And one of our partners just landed a casual Huffington Post link along with a flood of other links to and again, it was a $5 infographic.

Broken link building and/or Backlinko’s Moving Man Method. Plenty of examples of this working. My first experiment with this delivered fairly low conversion (partially due to my system for executing at the time) so I haven’t gone back and tested it again. But there are examples of this working well enough for me to have it on my to do list still.

Scholarships. Just about to start testing this. If you have sites in the careers/education niche and have been paying attention to the competitors ranking in the serps, you’ll see evidence of this tactic in play. I can’t recommend it based on personal experience, but it’s clearly viable to some degree given how prevalent it is. And .edu links are a whole different ballgame. I’ll gladly invest quadruple the time in a tactic to get .edu links.

My weapon of choice:

If I could only choose ONE tactic, it would be Top Lists.

Again, I answered in the Ahrefs roundup on the basis of sharing my most efficient tactic, with a generally solid result, that is applicable to pretty much any type of site.

The real link building gems are those where the thing you do to generate the links (eg creating any content, researching etc) AND then how you acquire them (the actual outreach component) are time effective and cheap.

In my view, if a tactic is costing you up over $70 to generate a link and you’re not striving to at least jag 1 link per hour of your time invested, you’re almost better off getting an SEO company to do the SEO for you. Let them do the work and learn a new hobby with all your spare time.

Why Top Lists?

One of the very few tactics that can generate links affordably, time effectively, that works across pretty much any niche, is repeatable and something you can outsource the majority of to a VA, is Top List creation.

With the help of a half-decent VA, you can whip up a Top List of around 20 bloggers in a niche you know well in well under 2 hours of your time. And you should expect 5 links from that Top List. Some of those links may be guest posts so you need to factor in your time to produce the guest post, but you goal should be around 5 links from a 20 Top List, including writing a couple short guest posts.

Here’s some extracts of my response to the Ahrefs round-up talking about Top Lists for scalable link building:

Until two months ago, Expert Round-Up Articles (ERAs) where one of my primary white hat link building tactics.

ERAs are fantastic for generating links for three reasons:

  1. When you feature the advice of experts, they’re infinitely more inclined to link to your content, or to respond favourably to a guest post request
  2. They generate a ton of social shares, which means your content reaches a ton of new eyeballs which likely includes other bloggers who have never ready your blog before and are now more likely to link to your stuff
  3. The content is usually very high value, which makes sense because it’s the thoughts of a group of experts on a particular topic. So because of this, the content itself is very link-worthy
  4. The downside of ERAs is that they take quite a bit of coordinating.
  5. It’s hard to make them super-efficient. There’s identifying the targets to feature, the outreach, the compiling of responses (which come in at varying times), formatting the article and so on.

ERAs are effective, but even when very streamlined, get trumped for efficiency by another of my favourite tactics:

Top Lists

Efficiency and a clearly defined process is the key to scaling and I choose Top Lists as the weapon of choice for a white hat link building tactic because of efficiency.

They achieve exactly 1, 2 and 3 above that an ERA provides, but they take about 1/4 of the time to execute.

The outreach component is completely cut out, the compiling of the article is far quicker and although the final piece of content is lower-quality than that of an ERA, they build new connections with influencers just as well in a fraction of the time.

Summary of My Process:

  1. If I do not know the niche well, I get a VA to provide a list of potential bloggers to feature in the list.
  2. I will usually choose the final list myself because I strategically choose influencers I want to reach + bloggers I feel are a high probably of accepting a guest post request after I publish the article.
  3. Top lists will usually feature an image of the featured blog/blogger, links to their website and social profiles along with a description of the blog.
  4. This can eat a lot of time, so I get a VA to insert the images and create the links. I will usually do the description of the blog/blogger because I want to make sure that’s accurate.
  5. I have a draft email template that is sent to featured bloggers (see below for that template!).
  6. I have this loaded into Buzzstream (not essential, using Gmail is just as effective) and a VA will send it for me. This template includes a request for a guest post or guest post swap but doesn’t have to.
  7. I handle all the comments and questions that come back as these are usually related to guest posts which is exactly what I aim to get from the tactic.
  8. I will usually write the guest posts myself because aside from a link building tactic, they provide an opportunity to expose my site to a new audience. Scaling is cool, but I choose to make the creation of the Top Lists efficient with the help of a VA and don’t mind putting in the hard yards on the actual guest post to create a quality piece of content

Bonus Tip: Get a badge made up that and email that to the bloggers featured as well. Some will place it on their site and link to the article from it.

Bonus Tip #2: This is a link building tactic after all, so I create them with links in mind. I usually prioritize including bloggers that have evidence of linking to articles they’ve been featured in because I know I’m a good shot at getting an easy link from that.

Here’s one template that I use to advise people they’re been featured in the Top List (includes guest post request):

Hi {name}

Just a quick email to let you know that I featured you in my list of the Top {insert relevant details of the top list}

Here’s the article {insert relevant details of the top list}

I really hope it delivers some new visitors to your site!

I would also like to invite you to publish a guest post on my site in the near future as I’m looking for experts like yourself that can add value to my audience (currently around 14,000 visitors per month).

If you’re open to it, I’d love to create an article for your site also so please let me know if that is of interest.

Once again, I hope your inclusion in the list drives some new readers to your blog and I look forward to staying connected!

Regards.

Some notes on the above email template:

You don’t have to suggest the guest post swap, that’s just one of my templates. You could ask to be able to do a guest post for them and not mention a swap. Or you could go with a soft approach of not asking for any link or guest post in the first email you send.

If you get a badge made up, you can include the HTML code in that email and suggest that they place the badge on their site. Including the HTML for the links makes it easy for the bloggers to copy and paste to their site. Easy link. And if you have been smart with who you feature in the article (ensuring that people you feature have a section on their site where they list where they’ve been featured), this almost certainly gets links for you.

Obviously if you get a link from someone placing a badge on their site, that’s more efficient than having to write a guest post. But guest posts allow you to get your brand infront of a new audience so they’re a little more powerful from that perspective, which is why I usually lead with that in my email template.

Summing Up

I’m guilty as charged when it comes to a history of believing white hat link building was hard. Believing it was too time-consuming to effectively use on sites. Turns out I was wrong and although certainly not as time-effective as the PBN link building I used to do, I over-estimated the time it took.

Beyond that, I can tell you it feels great to check my ranking reports, minus the worry of a site having copped a penalty since I last checked.

So my hope in producing the above article is that everyone gives at least one of the above-mentioned tactics a go. Try something new, test for yourself and if you’re going to put a top list together, your worst possible result is around 5 hours wasted time, zero links generated, but new relationships with bloggers in your niche that you feature in your list. You’ve got nothing to lose really, so go for it!

 

How to Efficiently Generate White Hat Links
11 votes, 3.64 avg. tacos (73% full)
  1. Phew! Glad I wasn’t one of the ones who said “Write great content” (I went for guest blogging as my favorite).

    This is an awesome post though, and it’s great to see you going into more details here. Also, with infographics/guestographics do you follow the strategy Brian Dean teaches or do you have your own variation?

    Going to go create a few top 20 posts now and let you know how I get on.

    Cheers Greg!

    • Hey Dom, yep you dodged the “great content” bullet then haha. Clearly creating great content is an important, actually the most important component, of a true authority site. I just don’t consider it noteworthy in a link building round-up. I was hoping for a bunch of unique ideas from it. Clearly others disagree!

      As for infographics, I believe Amir who got the initial result with infographic outreach got the initial inspiration from a post of Brain’s and we’re just adding some layers to the process to milk as many links as possible.

      Do let me know how the top lists go. Very easy way to generate links.

      Cheers,

  2. Great post, Greg. I really appreciate.

    Quick question, wouldn’t a top list and then a guest post on their site create a reciprocal link? How do you handle this? Or is reciprocal linking not as worthless as I have been led to believe?

    • Hey Chad, thanks. Reciprocal links (genuine links) are not an issue. If reciprocal links were a major issue, every blogger in the SEO/IM niche would be doomed! For example NoHatDigital.com links out to nichepursuits.com, matthewwoodward.co.uk, empireflippers.com, neilpatel.com and smartpassiveincome.com and each of those sites link back to NoHatDigital.com. A handful of natural reciprocal linking is normal in an overall backlink profile.

  3. Hi Greg,

    I love the broken link strategy and will definitely start using it, but I’m just curious, if you guys stopped using PBN’s, then I don’t see any other method as scalable (not even the broken link strategy). We run a web design and SEO agency, and I just don’t know how it would possibly be efficient for us to be chasing broken links all day.

    And even if it was, who would want to link to a pool cleaning business from some local small city (if it were a client). I’m sure you guys have something else up your sleeves if it’s not PBN’s…..In fact, how can it not be PBN’s?

    I’m dying to know:)

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