I have found over the past few months that managing my link building from a spreadsheet, and often multiple spreadsheets has been getting a bit ridiculous as well as a touch unproductive. This led me to get more active on the hunt for useful tools to help me speed up the productivity of my link building.
This post will take you through how I think link building should be managed in light of recent search engine developments and also the tools that i have found that help me to do it better.
Why do I need a database/CRM for my SEO linkbuilding?
Search engines are changing for the better
Although there is still a distinction between black hat (unethical) and white hat (ethical) link building practices, we are pretty quickly coming to a consensus on the fact that any business who cares about their brand and wants long term success MUST be engaging in long term white hat SEO tactics only.
If you are not an SEO and do not know what i am talking about then in summary; Google and other search engines are constantly trying to remove the amount of poor quality content from their index in order to improve the users experience. They do this through devaluing poor content (their aim is to provide users with the most appropriate content for their search), and and they are also devaluing links that seem unnatural (read: paid for).
They are making certain assumptions based on the links going to websites and changing the way they rank websites accordingly: e.g. If you have paid a dodgy SEO firm to build you 10,000 links which all come from their network of domains full of spammy content then you will probably find that you have lost rankings and traffic or will soon lose rankings and traffic.
Personally, I am overjoyed by this fact; finally the search engines and in particular Google are doing something about the level of flotsam and jetson floating around the web and clogging up the flows of great content. This is therefore encouraging marketers to get real and to properly focus on building their brands.
It may be a bit early and a bit dramatic to say this but i do feel that this is going to impact the quality of products that we see for sale on the shelves (and virtual shelves) – you cannot market crap in this day and age as socially it will just not wash; whereas great product marketed with great content will gain support and growing endorsements in an increasingly social online world.
In addition to this I have always been a great fan of Eric Ward AKA Link Moses. This is a guy that has been doing link building the right way for nearly 20 years. His thinking is simple; create links from related content and you will get relevant traffic. Eric started link building before search engines were really a big thing but he did not change his methods and once Google started to gain dominance in the market his theories were also justified in terms of search engine traffic; Google’s page rank algorithm was the first to take into account the links coming to a site/page and more importantly the relevance and reputation behind those links.
My approach to link building is heavily influenced by Eric so if you like what i have to say on the matter then you should check him out.
Organising lots of useful data can get messy
As I mentioned in the first paragraph; much of my link building has been managed from MS Excel. This means that I have an ever expanding number of columns and worksheets. For example if I research a large list of blogs that are relevant for one client I then have to add their contact details as well as notes on their site and why i think they may link to my client and then keep up with a trail of a conversation with them ending with the link agreed date and the URL that the link comes from. Then if I add a list of related niche directory sites I need to add another tab to the workbook and add different columns. I then have to remember to go back and update the Excel file with the latest details from an email conversation and then finally with the link once achieved. This is a right royal pain in the arse and is not easily scalable (or easy to remember to do).
Therefore I found that I really need a manageable and easily scalable CRM system where I can store multiple contacts for each of my clients and to manage the outreach from the system.
How should SEO link building be done?
With the above points in mind I feel that SEO practitioners need to take a step back and approach link building more simply.
This is the ideal scenario (not this easy in practice)
1) Identify all websites that are not owned by competitors in your niche. This is time consuming and hard graft as it means lots of checking web sites, understanding what they are doing and who they are serving.
2) Rank these websites in order of traffic and domain strength (page rank is one vague method but also MOZrank is pretty good).
3) Categorise them into looky like groups of sites e.g. blogs, directories, sponsorship opportunities, industry member organisations and bodies, industry knowledge sources etc etc
4) Determine a strategy for each group – i.e. why should they link to you? what value do you offer them? this usually comes down to what content on your site or features of your business are relevant and of value to the link prospects website visitors?
5) Visit each of the sites and get the contact details of the most appropriate person and enter them into the CRM system.
6) Make a short note on each site detailing why specifically this site should link to you and detail it in the CRM system – this may be as simple as “will give them guest post” or “we sell products that are useful to their audience”.
7) Write a template email for each group and enter it into the CRM system.
8) Start the outreach by approaching the contacts one by one – checking each email is properly personalised before sending – not just by person but also in relation to your notes. Link building does take a personal touch to get results; the bulk email blast just does not apply here.
Please bear in mind that there are also many other types of link building that this process does not relate to – this is really for getting links where contact with the site owner cannot be avoided. You can get involved in social networking and blog commenting without going to these lengths.
Useful SEO link building database tools
Before I tell you about the great database tool that I now use I want to mention the tool that helped me find it as that will also be helpful to link builders. I came across a recommendation from SEOMoz for citation labs link prospector which was founded by Garrett French. This is a fantastic tool for finding relevant sites to get links from. It saves you running multiple searches using advanced operators and also weeds out a good amount of the spammy stuff that Google does still have in it’s index (although not all of it!). Anyway, when I was a newbie on the tool Garrett asked me for some feedback which, when I gave him mentioned that I was really looking for a link building CRM system. He then put me on to Buzzstream.
Buzzstream basically does everything that I was looking for in a link building CRM system:
- Store website details of sites that I want links from
- Manage multiple projects so that I can separate out work for different clients
- Add notes on each contact
- Add contact details on each contact
- Allocate custom tags to each contact – e.g. you can state what kind of a site they are so that you can filter by only niche blogs, sponsorships or by paid directories etc.
- Send emails from the system from multiple email addresses and responses get fed back into the system automatically so that a conversation trail exists.
- Set up multiple outreach email templates so that you can categorise link prospects and send emails to them in groups just with simple personalisation and editing of each email.
There is more and I will leave it to this video from Buzzstream to summarise better than I can:
I have also found that the support levels from Buzzstream are excellent – within a few hours of emailing them I had a Skype request from Tim Bramer, one of their support guys who took me through everything I needed to know about the platform. Really fast, knowledgeable and helpful.
If you have not got involved with this type of link building before then you are probably thinking that it looks like a lot of blood, sweat and tears – you are right it is, welcome to the future of SEO.
You may still see SEO’s and competitors getting away with dodgy tactics but it now carries a risk that personally I am not willing to take, either with my own site or with clients.
That said if you are an affiliate who does not have a brand but just switches the focus of your work to where the best opportunities for cash currently are then you probably still can get away with link networks and blog spamming, but it’s not exactly fulfilling work.
Although the kind of link building I am proposing is time consuming and hard work; think for a moment on the potential benefits:
1) You will have a high quality database covering each of the industries for which you have clients.
2) This means that you can add value for similar clients more quickly when you take them on. There are ethical questions related to managing clients in the same industry, but there are many overlaps between related industries as well as different services within the same industry. you do not necessarily have to support 2 competitors
3) You will build up a strong knowledge of the web and the contacts within an industry which may help you to grow your business if they see you doing good stuff for others in their industry.
We would love to hear from other SEO’s and business owners on how they approach link building and what tools they find useful to aid their efforts.