Link Building with Content: Link Baiting vs. Guest Publishing

6 Dec

When I tell other people (who know a thing or two about SEO) that I’m a link builder, most of them will instantly associate this with hammering out two dozen link requests an hour. Because of the many, supposedly personalized, link trade requests (preferably three-way) they receive, most people think this is what a link builder does. But no. Thank God, no.

During the past few years, link building has changed drastically. At least, for me it has. Where it used to be part of SEO, link building has turned into a search engine friendly way of marketing. PR (the Google version) has been replaced by PR (the old-fashioned version) and Indian link building armies have been replaced by creative copywriters.


Image via Will Lion

The growing importance of content as a link building tool has made the life of a link builder much easier, a lot more fun, and much more diverse. There are so many things you can do with content that will result in links, whether it’s on your own website or on third party websites.

Define: content

Before I start, there’s one more misconception that I’d like to address. The word content is not equal to article. An article is probably the most common form of content, but there are many more content types you could use during a link building campaign.

Just a few examples: applications, audio files, awards, badges, blog posts, contests, eBooks, FAQ lists, glossaries, guides, how-tos, images, infographics, interviews, link lists, maps, news, press releases, quizzes, reports, research, reviews, testimonials, tools, tutorials, videos or widgets. And that’s just a selection…

Guest content does not have to be online content, by the way. You can reach lots of people (and get indirect links) with offline coverage or even email, too.

Self-hosted content

Content that is hosted on your own website has the most potential in attracting links and traffic. After all, when people visit the page or link to the content, your website will notice that directly.

Traffic (either directly, or indirectly via search engines) will end up at your pages, leading to -hopefully- more subscribers, newsletter subscriptions, sales and/ or repeated visits. In the long run, providing good content on a continuous basis will lead to an established brand and a loyal visitor base.

Although publishing the content on your own website gives you limited control over how other websites will link to you, it is the best way to attract as many links as possible, and to let the link strength flow to your own website. This, indirectly, will lead to better rankings in search engines, resulting in more sales, targeted traffic and -eventually- more conversions.

However, hosting the content yourself also has two disadvantages. Firstly, by publishing the content on your own blog or website, you are talking to your own, already existing audience only. Perhaps a few visitors will find the article, blog post or video through search engines or other websites, but that is usually about it.

Additionally, links in your own articles that point to other pages of your own do not carry the same value as when those links would have been in articles on other websites. This is because search engines weigh internal links in a different way than external links.

Both of these disadvantages do not have to be a problem, by the way. After all, when your content gets linked to from other websites, you divert the traffic- and link problem. However, in order to get linked to regularly, you’ll need to establish a solid brand and reader base first, or you would need heavy push-promotion.

Pros of self-hosted content
+ Link strength flows to own website directly
+ Exposure, bookmarks and traffic will have a positive impact on the perceived value of your brand
+ Self-hosted content adds value to your own website, as well as for the user experience as for (indirectly) search engine traffic
+ Self-hosted content marketing is great for aiming at specific, important link targets
+ Full control over the content itself, including subject, writing style and what to link to

Cons of self-hosted content
- Traffic to the content is mainly limited to the own (existing) audience
- Links in your own content do not have the same value as links from other websites
- Limited control over how other websites will link to you

Goals and audiences

From a link marketer’s perspective, there are two types of self-hosted content. You either publish content that is targeted at a general audience (for example a regular blog post or the home page of your website), or you try to target a specific audience.

Specifically targeted content does not have to be targeted at just one website or webmaster, but can be aimed at larger groups as well.

Define your content goals
Just like with any other action you take, it is important to set a goal for each piece of content you create. This does not have to be an extensive goal, but it should be enough to keep you on the right track while creating the content. This ensures that your efforts will have maximum effect.

For example, the goal of an article could be ‘to attract links from a select (predefined) group of websites’. In that case, you should write the entire article in a way that it is optimized for that select group of bloggers, journalists or others. An article that supposed to ‘attract as much traffic as possible’ should be interesting for a very large audience, and an article that has the goal ‘to be written within 15 minutes’ requires yet another approach.

Define your audience
This far down the content marketing process, your general audience should have already been defined. However, different articles, videos or contests could be targeted at (slightly) different audiences. This means that it is important to get a clear view of your audience before you start creating each individual piece of content.

Again, this does not have to be an in-depth analysis of the average reader, but some general thoughts about it would be very useful.

Even on the same site or blog, the exact audience may be (slightly) different per article or page. For example, writing for beginners requires a different approach, writing style and promotion strategy than when you are writing about an advanced topic.

Choosing the right platform

Every type of content has an ideal publishing platform. For a blog post, that would be probably your blog, for a video it might be a (Youtube) video channel (with embedded links from the website or blog), and for most specifically targeted content pieces, it would be somewhere else on your website.

Try to determine what the best publishing platform is for all content that you create. This is usually something you will do automatically, but it is still important to think about it.

Mixing it up

A website with a mixed content marketing strategy, and therefore a broad selection of content, should be able to build a diverse and strong link profile. Different types of content attract links from different types of websites, and continuously broadening your audience (while never moving away too far from your initial audience!) builds a large visitor base.

A diversified content marketing strategy builds a diversified link profile, which in turn can lead to better rankings for your website.

Before you start

Make sure that you have a clear picture of what you are after before you start. Determine your content marketing goals and strategy based on your overall goals and targets. Try to come up with content ideas that will allow you to reach these goals and targets.

Additionally, try to set some goals for your blog and content sections of the other websites as well. This can be in terms of links, traffic, subscribers, or nearly anything else you are after.

Determining where you want to be in X amount of time, and creating a matching strategy to achieve these goals, ensures that you are focused, and that you know which actions you will have to take, and why.

Externally hosted content

Besides publishing the content you have created on your own website, you can also choose to publish it elsewhere. Whether it is guest posting, writing a column, or giving an interview; literally thousands and thousands of websites are looking for fresh content every day. Since you can add some information about yourself and your company to most of the content you publish elsewhere, this turns these websites excellent link building and branding opportunities.

Although hosting content on your own website has more benefits than hosting it on a third party website, publishing content on other sites can be very useful and effective for three important reasons;

1. More traffic and/ or subscribers
Publishing content on other websites and blogs will increase the amount of traffic and/ or subscribers of your website. Interested readers of the third party website or blog will click through to your site, and hopefully become subscribers, regular visitors, or maybe even clients.

The actual traffic you receive depends on many things, like the quality and popularity of the target website, but it also depends on how prominently the webmaster links to the new content and, within this content, to you. That said, you will usually see your ‘referring sites’ traffic increase if you publish content elsewhere regularly.

2. Branding and exposure
Even if you don’t get lots of direct traffic or subscribers, promoting your brand via high profile blogs will give your brand an authority and visibility boost. Also, having written for a big name blog is a great benefit in opening doors for opportunities in future, as it can serve as social proof. Guest publishing also allows you to reach new audiences that would normally be difficult for you to reach directly.

3. Links
When, for some reason, you do not receive any traffic or subscribers from an article that you have published elsewhere, you still end up with one or more links back to your own website, coming from an on-topic source, and possibly even with an anchor text of your choice.

Not only that, but do a good job and the website owner might link to you more often in future as well. After all. The Principle of Consistency works for bloggers, journalists and webmasters, too.

Keep in mind that there are some (minor) disadvantages of hosting content elsewhere. For example, instead of receiving all traffic that ends up at the content page via search engines or links from other sites yourself, the third party websites received it all.

Also, because you will have to comply with the content guidelines of the third party website, you are not completely free in the way you write your content. In most cases, you will have to use a similar page lay-out and writing style as the site that will host the content, but as you will only be writing for highly relevant websites, this usually is not much of a problem.

Pros of externally hosted content
+ You reach a different audience, resulting in an increase in direct traffic and more subscribers
+ The exposure will have a positive branding impact
+ Guaranteed backlinks to one (or more) of your own websites, on websites you have selected yourself
+ Almost full control over where you link to, and which anchor text you can use

Cons of externally hosted content
- Search engine traffic ends up at the third party website, instead of on your own website
- Finding and contacting third party websites takes additional time and effort
- Not having full control over the content itself, as you will have to adjust to third party guidelines, and to a new audience

Where to find guest publishing targets

Now that you know why guest publishing can be useful, it is time to get out and find websites that may be open for hosting your content. The current popularity of guest blogging has resulted in websites like My Blog Guest, but apart from such services, the most efficient places to look are;

Your network
Take a close look at the people you know, for example in their Facebook or LinkedIn profiles, and try to find out if they are connected to high profile websites in a relevant industry. It does not matter if it is a blog, website, or a portal – as long as it is relevant. Contact the people who are directly or indirectly connected to such websites, and discuss the possibilities of hosting content on these sites.

Websites you visit regularly
Try to find out if websites you visit regularly -and hopefully leave comments at every now and then- are open for guest content. Some are easy to spot, carrying ‘Write for us’ buttons or having ‘Become a contributor’ links, but others may not publicly show that they are hosting other peoples content.

When even a peek in the blog categories (is there a ‘Guest post’ category?) or a site: query cannot be of any assistance, the only way to find out is by contacting the website directly.

Blog rolls of high profile blogs
The large majority of all blogs has a list with links to related websites or blogs in their sidebar. These navigational link lists (blog rolls) can be a great starting point when you are looking for new websites to write for.

Start at the high authority blogs in the most relevant niches, and work your way down from there. After all, websites and blogs that receive links from high authority links carry a portion of that authority themselves as well.

Blog award lists
In many industries, large and small online awards are being given away every year. Examples are the SEMMYs or (in other industries) the Lonely Planet Blog Awards or even the Times’ Business Blog 50.

These lists, which can contain up to 100 or even more websites, contain high quality and very related blogs, which may be interested in publishing your content.

Visit the websites that are listed in these Award lists (especially the top 10 ~ 25), and look for signs that these websites occasionally publish other people’s content.

Google searches
Whether it is the ‘regular’ search engine, or Blog Search, Google can help you to find new prospects as well.

You can try searching with basic keywords, but using advanced search queries may help you to find possible targets even quicker.

A few examples are:
– {keyword} “guest blogger” OR “guest post” OR “guest article” OR “guest column”
– {keyword} “become a contributor” OR “contribute to this site”
– {keyword} “write for us” OR “write for me”
– {keyword} inurl:category/guest
– {keyword} “submit guest blog” OR “submit a blog post” OR “submit guest post”

By using different keywords, you can use Google to compile a very large list of potential targets.

Competitive research
You will (hopefully) have gathered quite a long list with interesting link targets during the competitive research you did earlier. Some of these link targets (or maybe even websites that your competitors link out to) will be interested in publishing free content, so it’s recommended to check these sites for guest publishing opportunities as well.

How to approach third party websites

When you have created a list of websites that may (or may not) be interested in publishing your content, it is important to evaluate and sort them before you start contacting the people behind the websites.

I would not advise contacting the most important websites on your list first, as testing out different approaches and creating a solid track record is definitely recommended.

While there is no ‘prefect approach’, there certainly are some factors that may work (or not) in specific industries. For example, the SEO industry is quite an informal industry, making the approach process easier than in the legal industry.

It always starts with sending a message. Whether it is sending an email, a quick call, using a contact form, or a DM’ing via a social network; you need to send a brief note asking if they would be interested in publishing guest content.

Some websites have a page on which they openly invite submissions, but in other cases you may have to explain what guest posting is first. In such cases, it is important to highlight the possible benefits for the person you are contacting; a free piece of valuable content that you would be happy to promote via social media channels. Always keep WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) in mind, and explain What’s In It For the person you are talking with.

Although you think your proposal is a win-win and risk free, the person you are contacting might think you only have commercial intent (or might even mistake you for a spammer), so you need to reassure him or her of your honesty and quality. Showing examples of your previous work is a great way to do so, so make sure to provide one or two links to articles you have written in the past.

When you have received a first and positive reply, you can start discussing possible ideas. Also, if no clear guest blogging guidelines are being displayed on the website, it is advisable to ask about these. This avoids disappointments later on in the process.

In most cases, it is not advisable to start creating the content for the website you are contacting straight away. It is much safer to discuss ideas first, for example by creating a list with possible headlines of the article.

This way, it is less likely that you end up with an unpublished, but fully written article that you cannot use anymore in the future. Also, the website owner might have some great ideas they are burning to get written, which saves you the trouble inventing headlines.

Make sure to get all agreements clear, and that you know the answer to questions like;

– What will you have to write about? Make sure that you have the writing style, website audience and article length clear as well!
– Is it clear that you will insert one or more links into the article?
– When do you send the article, and should it be sent via email?
– Should you send the article formatted as Word, HTML or plain text?
– Who will add images to the article?

Who to target first?

Especially when sending out emails and trying to get your content published elsewhere is new to you, it is recommended to start with contacting a few easy targets first. This way, you can get a bit of a feeling with it, and be as efficient as possible.

Websites that are clearly open for guest content
Blogs and websites that publicly show that they are looking for guest writers, for example with a ‘write for us’ button or link or by being member of a guest blogging network, are the easiest to approach. After all, they have already let you know that they are interested in publishing third party content. Emailing the owner (either directly, via a contact form, or via a social media channel), asking if he is still looking for guest content will definitely get the ball rolling.

Websites that seem to be open for guest content
Slightly different from the previous example, but the approach is pretty similar. If you have found guest content on the website (for example articles from the author ‘Guest blogger’, or content in a ‘Guest posts’ category), but cannot find a clear sign that the website owner is still looking for contributors, it is simply a matter of asking.

Mentioning that you have found occasional articles from guest writers, while providing links to these articles, and asking if they are open for new contributions usually works perfectly.

Mid-profile targets
When the first easy targets have been crossed off the list, and you managed to get a few articles published, it is time to use this experience for the next level of targets.

In case you cannot find any signs that the website has accepted guest content in the past, it is recommended to highlight the benefits for this website clearly. Like mentioned before, ‘What’s In It For Me’ is a very important question to answer.

High profile targets
Save the high profile targets for when you have built a momentum, and feel confident enough to contact the most important websites in your industry.

Analyze all previous correspondence, and look for reasons why unsuccessful outreach failed to get results. Try avoid the mistakes you made earlier, and give it your best shot.

It is absolutely not a big deal if some bloggers or webmasters don’t respond or decline your offer. You can either move on to the next target on your list, or ask the person you have contacted if he or she would know any interesting websites to write for.

Getting the most out of externally hosted content

When you have received a positive reply and have agreed upon all details, you can start writing the content you have promised. The quality of the article itself, the links in your content, your promotion and responding to comments can help you to get the most out of your guest content.

Which writing style to use depends on the website, as it is always advisable to let your content blend in a bit. You can still try to keep your own style, but adjusting to your new audience makes your article easier to read for the website’s regular visitors.

Also make sure you bring your best work, as you do not want to be known for writing mediocre content.

Adding links to your content
One of the goals of writing guest content, is to grow a better link profile. This means that you will have to add links your website to the article you are submitting. However, it is very important to do this with care. After all, you do not want to give people the idea that you have written the article with linking back as the only goal.

Make sure to add links to interesting, highly relevant content that is not yours as well. This can either be links to other pages of the website you are contributing to, or to relevant pages on other websites. Do not link out just to link out though, but only add links in places where it seems relevant and adds value.

In content links
In the article itself, you can add one or two links to your own website, but only where it seems relevant. If it does not, simply leave them out, as you will get another opportunity.

Linking out to other guest content you have written can also help, as that would be promoting your own content, and indirectly promoting your own website.

Images and references
In every article you create that contains images, it is not more than appropriate to credit the owner of the image by linking to him or her. Whether it is for a Creative Commons image you found on Flickr, or it is for an image that took yourself, in such cases is linking very normal.

The same goes for references. When you quote a person, a website, a study, or anything else, it is common to link back to the original source. And if that source happens to be yours, that would mean it is a link back to your website.

Author bio
Most guest articles start or close off with a short author bio, introducing the guest writer.

This is your opportunity to tell who you are and what you do in just a few sentences, and to link back to your website(s). This is also the place where you can use the most optimal anchor text, as this may look a bit artificial in the body of the article, but is more common in the author bio.

Promote your content
When your guest article has be put online by the third party website, you can still do a few things that increase your chances of getting the maximum out of it.

Helping to promote the article, for example by sharing it via social media websites like Facebook or Twitter, or by voting for the article if it has been submitted to a social news platform. The more traffic and links your content receives, the more juice you will receive from it, and the more likely the webmaster will be interested in publishing more of your content.

Linking back to the article from a (future) page or article on your own website, or mentioning it in another one of your guest articles will also help getting the post some extra attention.

Responding to comments
In case your article has raised questions, or when people leave comments in general, it is appropriate to respond to these comments.

This not only underlines your professionalism, but will also improve your relationship with the website owner. Both readers and webmasters will appreciate it that you take time to read what they have to say, and to respond to it.

Which one to choose?

Actually, it’s not a matter of choosing between link baiting or guest publishing, it’s a matter of when to host the content yourself and when to host it elsewhere. After all, a natural link profile has all kinds of links, which makes both link building tactics perfectly suitable to include in your overall strategy.

Still Bored?

Do you still think link building is just a boring task that should either be outsourced to India, or taken care of with cheap automated solutions? Then I’d strongly recommend you to read this very thoroughly, as I suspect that you’ll be needing it.

Are you interested, but you don’t know where to start, or you don’t have the time? Then you should check out this page ;)

22 Responses to “Link Building with Content: Link Baiting vs. Guest Publishing”

  1. Clark Mackey December 7, 2010 at 4:18 pm #

    Now that’s a good post! Well done. In my experience businesses that execute this strategy well are nearly unstoppable in the search results.

  2. Fergus Clawson December 8, 2010 at 1:04 am #

    We had a team meet today, discussing these very points, excellent info, researching and implementing the right link mix is hugely important (Google is definitely slapping sites that rely on one for two tactics for harvesting links, also not varying anchors), a natural looking link profile is becoming more and more important and creating/promoting great content can help achieve this, our conclusion is protect your TLDs link profiles like they’re your only child – If you think your link building strategy is falling into spam territory then don’t do it.

  3. Mike Bilder December 8, 2010 at 12:32 pm #

    Content is certainly the way of the king, unfortunately with decent content another problem arises: Copies. Your site will be scraped by other in a very short time, making your valuable unique content worth alot less. So, content alone won’t callect valuable links quick enough before it gets devalued.

  4. A. Roberts December 9, 2010 at 5:01 pm #

    Since I am a noob, I depend on blogs like this to learn from. Thank you for some great tips. However, link building is probably still going to be boring to me ;)

  5. emil@Start A Blog December 10, 2010 at 2:54 am #

    great comprehensive post .. i will have to come back and read it and digest it more.

    You will probably be amused that I want to ask you your thoughts on blog commenting and where it fits in with link building :) (that’s how I found your blog, and I’m glad I did too!).

    So with your thought about linkbuildilng shifting towards various types of good content, what are your thoughts on the “ninja” style backlink methods (forum, blog comment, etc..). Does it have a place? Is it out-of-date until the pendulum shifts back? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  6. Wiep December 10, 2010 at 7:26 am #

    @Clark: Thanks!

    @Fergus: I totally agree!

    @Mike: In that case I’d recommend reading http://yoast.com/articles/duplicate-content/ ;)

    @Emil: lol – I’d never consider forum links and blog comments “ninja style” link building :) Hugo Guzman makes some excellent points here: http://www.hugoguzman.com/2010/12/how-to-build-links-when-you-dont-have-linkable-assets/

  7. Emil@Start A Blog December 10, 2010 at 8:19 am #

    haha… actually just to explain, my friends and my wife and I use “ninja” all the time for comedic relief. Like if I slip and but catch myself before falling I would then be all like “Ninja Skillllz” :D In this context, I’m using it to mean that I’m kind of old school when it comes to internet (I got my first job back in 1994 when I put up a web page and no other candidates had a web page. They had just installed mosaic browser on the engineers’ computers). So in that context linking was just cool ways to point to other places on the internet. Since then I’ve built sites for fun, put affiliate links up just for fun, etc. It’s only recently I’ve recently started studying internet marketing in earnest and have found ways people get links to their site. This was all sort of new to me and I was very intersted in it – so that’s why I call it “Ninja” style (vs. I suppose the more common connotation which seems to be “black hat”)

    Anyhow, glad you got a chuckle, and thanks for the link!! I just skimmed it and plan to get back to it later!

  8. Ruud December 21, 2010 at 11:58 am #

    Hey Wiep,

    What do you think of Article submissions? If you post to pages like Ezine, Hubpages and Squidoo. Do you think it has to be a part of your link building strategy? And what do you think of using tools like Unique Article Wizard?

    Btw thanks for the great posts!

  9. Aaron December 30, 2010 at 11:02 pm #

    Does the pr of the back links really matter? Just curious…

  10. Red December 31, 2010 at 12:07 am #

    Wiep – I caught a few of your tweets a while back – u seeing much change in the rankings of your sites? I think 2011 is going to be a really good year for adaptation and I’m looking forward to the creative aspect of new strategies that blow run of the mill link building out of the water!

    Do you think that aged and trusted social profile status will have a weighted influence on new link building supplemental strategies? I’m writing an interesting post on this soon predicting 2011-12 changes.

    In my opinion it’s best to cover all bases…algo tweaks are too manic nowadays. Guest content is defintitely a neat way to gather interest and turn readers into followers and I feel it’s good to have foresight with future issues rather than be reactive to change. My old adage advice is – “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!” and “Prevention is beter than Cure!”

  11. @trooperbill January 4, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

    Got any examples of begging emails for guest posting… im really strugging with this aspect as im too salesy :(

    p.s. its great to know how to pronounce your name thx twitter lolz.

  12. Ed January 15, 2011 at 5:05 am #

    “a natural link profile has all kinds of links”

    I wish all those naive webmasters who use Comment Spamming Robots would read this article. Many won’t though, because they are too busy being a Link-Building Ninja. I can just see them all sitting in the basement wearing their Ninja Uniforms tapping their laptop keys with small Ninja Kunai Knifes :D

  13. Red January 15, 2011 at 10:36 pm #

    @trooperbill

    Too salesy? Hey man, I thought linkbait was your machine of choice! – I’ve seen the linkbait on your (topbanana) site! You don’t need to write articles if it’s not your bag! ;)
    How can a techno SEO whizz write blogposts in many niches?
    Adapt to the individuals skills and interests – that’s what I say!
    Pint?

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