You’ve probably seen the extremely comprehensive noob guide to online marketing by Oli Gardner, or the companion noob guide to link building from Mike King, you’ve also likely seen one of the many posts or presentations on SEO for startups (here, here and here) – suffice to say there is plenty of reading material for building new web properties but what about link building for an established website?
There are an abundance of link opportunities (and challenges) that are pretty unique to an established website.
I decided to compile a public Trello board which is based on some of our internal boards for clients to help you to visualise the process I am about to run through.
Please bear in mind that this is not a six-month SEO plan so we won’t be covering site audits or keyword research for example (although you should read this post if you are planning to conduct an SEO audit), I will be focusing on the acquisition and optimisation of links and content for links.
This is how we approach established websites where we are given a full link building brief. I welcome any feedback and additions to this plan. In any case, this is simply the “ideal” scenario, so we don’t do ALL of this with every single client because each situation is different and because realistically we might not have the budget or even the project scope to implement all this. That being said I do hope that this post will give you some avenues to explore. The idea behind the Trello board was that so anyone could copy it and then edit as they see fit, dragging and dropping the various elements and scaling up or contracting the task list as appropriate. I have divided the elements into the following four areas:
- Content Tasks
- Research Tasks
- Link Tasks
- Other Tasks
On the Trello board, I have put them into our recommended order but as I say, the reason for doing this as a public board is so that you can move elements around as you see fit.
Remember to copy the board before you can start making it your own!
Link Profile Audit
The ideal way to start any link building campaign for an established website is to take stock of the existing link profile.
At this point, we’re not even drawing comparisons between competitor link profiles and our own but merely understanding what we have and how closely that aligns with A) the clients goals and B) recommended best practices. I’m not going to get into a white hat/grey hat debate here, when I say best practices, I am talking about what is generally accepted within an educated audience as ‘sensible’.
A blissfully unaware client, and a website with a closet full of forum profile spam for example is something that you need to be aware of (and make the client aware of) before any further work can be carried out. You are not nit-picking at the work of the previous agency but from here on out you are likely to be responsible for the performance of that website in the search engines (and links making up a big part of that performance) and it would be pretty hard to explain to a client with any amount of credibility why their website has dropped off the face of the planet three months into your engagement if you didn’t bring issues like this to their attention. It may well have been links acquired in days gone by, but the client is probably going to blame you to a certain extent.
What to look for?
- Type of link
- Anchor text
- Clusters of similar IPs
- Link position on the page
- Quality (defensibility) of the site link originates from
- Is the page where the link originates actually indexed?
- Asses internal link structure as well
Some of the above can be automated and that should help you to reduce the number of links that you need to audit by hand.
- Talk to the client – get previous reports, lists of links developed and understand what has been done up until now
- Listen to the client – to understand their goals and their current appetite for risk
- Fire up your favourite link analysis tool
Some recommended tools for the job
Market Landscape Analysis
This is far less “corporate” than the name suggests. Essentially there are two elements:
- Competitor Link Profile Analysis
- Opportunity Mapping (link opportunities and topic areas)
Competitor Link Profile Analysis
You should follow near enough the same process for analysing your key competitors’ link profiles as you did for your own. Not because you want to help them identify their bad links but rather because it enables you to spot their weaknesses, steal anything they have been doing well and frankly, see who is probably swimming naked when the tide goes out.
If a competitor ranks above you but their link profile turns up something which is considered less than ‘best practice’ by all means take this into account but don’t take it as gospel that it will work for the website you are working on.
The key to using your competitor link research to identify opportunity is to think in terms of direct and indirect opportunity. For example, if you spot a strong link that you’re competitor has acquired that you could potentially also earn then this would be a direct opportunity. If, for example, you identify one or a set of links from a particular type of site or niche then this could be considered an indirect link because it might open your eyes to other potential link opportunities from corners of the web you and the client have never been before.
Sometimes though, analysing a competitor’s link profile brings up next to nothing useful that’s fine, just demonstrates that you have the opportunity to stand out in the market long term by doing things the right way.
Work ‘outwards’ from core customer groups to try to identify key opportunities and niches to target both with the content that you are going to be producing as well as the outreach and promotion you have planned. Communication with the client is key at this stage because it can help you to really understand their various customer segments and branch out from there.
You are aiming to:
- Find link opportunities/identify the niches
- Discover topic areas
My favourite tool for this is Mindmeister which is a nice, easy-to-use, web-based mind-mapping software. The reason we prefer mind-mapping to say a spreadsheet is because it allows us to visualise the client and then explore different branches, connect niches and even help them to identify new market segments.
- Understand who your competitors really are (not necessarily the businesses your client thinks they compete against).
- Analyse competitor link profiles – using the methodology described in the previous exercise
- Benchmark your link profile versus competitors – does your profile stand out in comparison to average figures based on competitors?
- Identify key opportunities based on competitor link profiles (direct and indirect)
This is where you turn the MLA into something actionable. Set the course of the rest of the campaign with a clear and focused link building strategy which takes into account your identified weaknesses (i.e. closing the natural search gap) and exploits the obvious opportunities both internal and external. I’m not one (in fact we’re not a company for…) 500 page strategy documents.
A concise set of actions and time-frames that fit onto one A4 sheet of paper is generally how we work.
Never base your strategy entirely on competitor actions; 1) It just isn’t good business sense to be clinging to the tailcoat of the competition because usually that’s where you’ll remain and 2) Just because it worked for them, does not mean it is going to be effective for you.
That’s it for month 1 – it might seem like an awful lot of planning and not much doing but remember that PPPPPP so it will be time well invested. If you have additional time and budget of course you could always bring some activities, scheduled for month 2, forward.
To read the rest of this awesome post head over to SEOMoz Blog