Apparently every link building strategy is “highly scalable.” And there is some validity to this. But the question still remains. How would you build backlinks consistently? Well first, you need to know how to execute link building tactics. Second, you need to learn how to integrate these tactics into strategies. And third, you need to know how to turn these strategies into systems. And in this tutorial, you and I, we’re going to geek out and build a link building system to generate a consistent stream of backlinks to your pages. Stay tuned. What’s up SEOs? Sam Oh here with Ahrefs, the SEO tool that helps you grow your search traffic, research your competitors, and dominate your niche. Now before I get into the link building system, I need to mention two things. #1. This video is an advanced SEO tutorial. So if you’ve never built a link through email outreach, then this video is not for you. Instead, I recommend watching our playlist on link building, which I’ll leave a link to in the description.
And #2. Different agencies and SEOs perform link building differently. Some people prefer to go laser-targeted, while others go for the spray and pray approach. I personally go for somewhat of a hybrid approach, so this tutorial is based on my system. So if you like it, use it. If you don’t, hopefully, you’ll be able to extract an SEO tip or two that could fit into your current SOPs. With that said, let’s get to it. First, here’s an overview of the linkbuilding tools that I’ll be using for our tutorial. And those are: Trello, Google Sheets, Ahrefs, Google Apps, Mailshake, and I’ll touch on Zapier for automation. The first step is to set up your Trello boards. And there are 3 different parts to Trello. And those are boards, lists, and cards. In terms of link building, I like to simplify things and use one board per website or client.
To create a board, just click the plus button, Select Create Board, and give it a name. Next, we need to create 5 different lists. The first one is Documentation. And this is where you can keep instructions on how each person should perform their tasks optimally. Don’t skimp out on creating excellent documentation because it’ll improve communication within your team, efficiency, and give you an easy way to identify and optimize inefficiencies. So within the Documentations list, I’ll create 4 separate cards, each of which represents the stages in the link building process. And within these cards, you can add links to documents, videos, or whatever you use to train employees or outsourced help. Next, I’ll create the other 4 lists, which again represent the distinct stages of link building that I mentioned. So Prospecting, Find Contacts, Outreach, and Tracking. And just like that, the framework of our system is set up. So let’s move on to step #2, which is to create a link building campaign. Now, a lot of this will come down to your personal preferences and needs, but I like to set up each campaign as a card.
So as a general format, I’ll name each card the link building technique we’ll be using plus the name of the blog post. So if I created a post called, “What is content marketing?” then my card name for a broken link building-campaign might be “BLB – What is content marketing?” Now the reason why I prefer to create separate cards for different techniques is because it helps personalize your emails when you get to the outreach stage. For example, if you were going to do outreach for guest blogging and a linkable asset, then the emails you send would likely be completely different. Alright, let’s move on to step #3 which deals specifically with prospecting tasks and its Trello list.
So we already know that we’re creating a broken link building campaign. And we found this broken page by searching for one of our competitor’s domains in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer. Then we went to the “Best by links” report, and finally, we filtered for 404 broken pages to find this golden nugget of a page on “what is content marketing,” which has 142 referring domains. From here, I would click on the number in the “Dofollow backlinks” column, which will show us a list of all backlinks for this page with the “dofollow” filter set. Now, I’ll set a few more filters to narrow down the list of backlinks to more relevant ones. So I’ll choose “Group similar links,” which will group backlinks with the same anchor text and surrounding text together. You could also choose “One link per domain,” but personally, I prefer to see all unique links from that domain so I can choose the best target where I would want to gain a link placement. Finally, I’ll set the language filter to “English” since that’s the only language I’ll be able to do outreach in.
And we’re down to 123 unique linking opportunities. So I’ll click on the export button and then export the results to an Excel sheet. Now from here, you would go through your regular prospecting process and manually qualify your link prospects with whatever criteria you or your team use. If you’re new to prospecting, here are a few ways you can do it efficiently in Google Sheets. First, I’ll create a filter by clicking the “Сreate a filter” icon here. Next, I’ll set a Domain Rating filter to look for websites that have a DR of less than 10. Now if a website has a lower domain rating, it doesn’t mean that these links are toxic, but the thing is that link building can take a lot of time. So for me personally, I wouldn’t bother spending my time sending these people outreach emails because a link from these sites probably won’t move the needle much. So I’ll select all rows that match my filter and delete them.
Next, I’ll clear the filters and set up the next one, which is to remove pages from certain domains. For example, I personally wouldn’t reach out to Blogspot or Typepad websites because I consider it to be a waste of my time. So I’ll set the Referring Page URL column to show me pages that contain “blogspot.” And again, I’ll delete these rows. This should give you the gist of how you can clean up your prospects list by using various footprints. Cool! So we’ve narrowed down our list by around 33% without looking at a single page and it should have taken you around one minute. Next, you’ll need to remove duplicate domains from your list since you don’t need to contact the same website more than once for the same link. So I’ll sort the Referring Page URL in ascending order to group the domains together. From here, you can quickly eyeball the list and remove any rows that have multiple links from the same domain.
Just look at the referring page title, and gauge which article makes the most sense to get a link from contextually, and remove the other. Or if both pages seem like good targets, then you can use the URL Rating to see which page has the better backlink profile. Finally, filter the Referring Page URL column for blanks, and delete rows that aren’t needed for your outreach campaign. So from here, you or your link prospector is going to have manually filter through these URLs to a.) see if your pitch makes sense for a link and b.) determine if this is a link that you want to go after. A quick way you can do this is to use a tool like openallurls.com and paste in your list of URLs.
From there, you can open all of these URLs at once and quickly qualify or disqualify prospects and remove them from your sheet as needed. The final thing in this sheet that a link prospector should do is remove any columns that aren’t needed for the outreach manager and to add new columns that are needed. So I’ll cut this list down to just the Referring Page URL, Page Title, and Link Anchor.
Then I’ll add a First Name and Email column. You could also add additional columns to personalize your emails further, but we’ll leave it at this for now. Now, to pass this off to the next person in your pipeline. Just attach the sheet to its corresponding card, which you can do by clicking attachment, paste the link, give it a name, and click the attach button. Finally, you’ll want to drag this card over to the Find Contacts list and tag the person in charge of this step. So let’s move on to step 4, which is to find the contact details for your prospects. And this one is pretty self-explanatory. All this person needs to do is open up the sheet and fill in the first name and email fields for the best person to contact for each page. Here are a couple quick tips to improve deliverability and make the email finding process a little bit less painful. If you use email finding tool that offers bulk analysis like Hunter, then you can go through the URLs and just fill out a First Name, Last Name, and use a formula to parse the domain from the URL.
After you’re done, export your sheet as a CSV and then go to Hunter’s Bulk Email Finder and create a new “Bulk List.” Next, give your list a name and drop your CSV into the box. Finally, click Upload. Now, make sure that Hunter has mapped the columns appropriately and if all looks good, then launch the bulk analysis. Once the file has done processing, you can download the sheet that has the most email addresses.
Another additional layer that I highly recommend adding is to use an email verifier tool like Never Bounce. Just click the “Add List” button and upload that file you got from Hunter. Just finish analyzing the list and then add a final manual touch to your list since you’ll likely have some blanks or incorrect emails. Finally, drop the card into the Outreach list, tag your partner, and it’s time for some good old-fashioned outreach. As great as personalization is, the truth is that scaling email outreach requires templates. Fortunately, there are tools that make this part a heck of a lot easier and you can still add a personal touch. The three tools that I recommend out of the gate are Mailshake, BuzzStream, and Pitchbox. Here at Ahrefs, we use BuzzStream. I know a lot of agencies use Pitchbox. And for my own niche sites, I use Mailshake. No matter which one you use, they all have their advantages and disadvantages, so try them out and see what makes the most sense for your business.
If you take a look at your spreadsheet, you should have a list of URLs, details about those pages, and some basic contact information. Now I’m not going to get into personalization using merge tags because we have a video on doing outreach that shows you exactly how to do that. Instead, I’ll show you the basics of setting this up in Mailshake, and if you’re using another tool, the set up will be very similar.
Just click the “New Campaign” button. Give your campaign a name and make sure that you have the correct email address selected if you’re using multiple email accounts. Now, we need to upload our finalized CSV file. And if you have additional fields in your spreadsheet, then you can add checkboxes next to the ones that you’d like to use. So I’ll just add all of them and click the “Next” button. Next, you need to craft your email. So I’ll just snap my finger. And boom. We now have an email here. Now obviously, you wouldn’t send something like this, but the important takeaway here is that you can use your merge fields by clicking the dropdown here and enter in whatever it is that you want to include.
So I highly recommend adding different merge fields within your spreadsheet so that you can add a more personal touch to your emails. I also highly recommend sending one follow-up email, but again, more information on that in the outreach video. So let’s click “Next,” and you can preview all of your emails. And since we’re only using one merge field in this example, these should all be safe to send. Again, I highly recommend using merge fields to personalize your emails and to do a thorough check on all emails before sending them. So if your email template isn’t perfect or if you accidentally left a merge field empty, then you’ll see issues where the email doesn’t make much sense. After all checks are done, you can finalize your email and start your campaign. And going back to our system in Trello, all we need to do now is drag that card into the tracking list, where a project manager or someone else can take over. Now step 6 is to track your link building progress.
And this is a very personal thing. Some people will want to track at the website level, others at the page level, others at the client level, and so on and so forth. But it is important to track how well your emails are converting into links because it’ll help you modify your pitches and see which campaigns or tactics perform the best for you. So for me, broken link building performs well, so that’s always the first tactic that I go for because it gets me the best results. You can keep your tracking as simple as Google Sheets or a more robust tool like Google Data Studio for reporting. A couple things that I do recommend doing is to set up a New Backlinks alert in Ahrefs Alerts. You can do this at the domain level, page level, or even subfolder level. So in this case, I may set the recipient as the project manager for this website, so that any time a link is earned, which may not necessarily come back with a reply, then they can update the report. The last thing I want to touch on is automating parts of this process.
So as you build your system, you’re going to start noticing inefficiencies or bottlenecks because no system is perfect. The best way to handle these is to see if you can automate these tasks or if needed, hire a new talent. Let me give you a couple of examples. You can semi-automate your email finding by setting up a zap between Google Sheets and Hunter. So you could set up a zap that when a last name is updated in a sheet, Hunter should look for an email address. And this way, the person who’s in charge of finding contact details can simply focus on just finding the appropriate people to contact. And as they fill in the list, the emails should start populating too. They also have a Google Sheets add-on so you can bulk analyze your list once you have your full list ready. Another example would be to set up Trello automations if you decide to keep certain boards private. And this again is up to your preference, but, you know, there may be sensitive documents that you don’t want to share with outsourced help. For example, if your Trello boards looked like this where you used tactics as lists, then you could create another list beside each one called “Send – Tactic Name.” Then in Zapier, you could set up a condition that any time a new card is added to one of these “Send Lists,” move the card to a different board and tag the next person responsible in the pipeline.
Now I won’t bother going any deeper into these as these kinds of automations will be highly personal, but know that when it comes to automation, your greatest barrier will be creativity. Now, this video could easily extend another 30 minutes, but I’m going to leave at this because there’s a lot of information in here to digest, especially if you’re new to collaborative link building. So for now, if you found this video to be helpful, then make sure to like, share and subscribe, and let me know in the comments if you have any additional tips that you or your team use to streamline your link building process.
So keep grinding away, keep building and optimizing your systems, and I’ll see you in the next tutorial. .