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What is B2B link building (aka link ‘earning’)?

Link building (also known as ‘link earning’) is a well-known search engine optimisation ranking factor. It’s the process of getting a third-party website to hyperlink to your website.

There are many different types of link building, some of which are frowned upon by search engines.

Link building could involve any of the following:

  1. Setting up business profiles on directory sites that include a link to your website, like Yelp.
  2. Adding a comment to the comments section of someone’s blog post and including a link to your website in the comment.
  3. Getting your business partners to add your business logo to their site – the logo contains a hyperlink to your website.
  4. Buying websites and linking to your website from these new sites.
  5. Creating compelling and valuable content and promoting it to your business’s stakeholders in the hope they link to it because of its usefulness.
  6. Writing opinion pieces related to your industry for a trade magazine in which you get a backlink pointing to your website as part of the author attribution.
  7. Watching out for instances of your brand name being published online, then contacting the sites where it crops up to ask them to include links back to your website.

Of the above, you do not want to be caught engaging in the practices detailed in points two, three or four. The others are all accepted methods of building links and ones we advocate as a leading B2B SEO agency.

This is a good opportunity to point out the following – Google and other search engines don’t want you to ‘build’ links as such. Instead, they want you to earn them by being an excellent internet citizen. If you create great content, third-party sites will naturally link to you; be an authority and influencer in your field and you’ll earn links without even trying.

And that’s important, because links are like votes. The more of them your website has, the more likely it is your website will rank for a relevant search query.

For example, if you sell blue widgets and you have a load of amazing links pointing at your blue widget site then there’s a good chance your site will show up when someone searches ‘Blue widget supplier’.

Talk to our SEO team to discuss a B2B SEO strategy for your business or click here to get back to the top of the page.

Not all links are born

All links are designed to be ‘followed’ by a search engine spider to their destination.

However, it’s possible to make a link ‘nofollow’ by adding ‘rel=nofollow’ to the html tag.

An example would look like this: . With that simple addition, the search engine spider will move on and will not follow the link to the Definition website and the Definition website won’t gain any PageRank (link juice) as a result.

It seems a little unfair. After going to all the trouble of writing a kickass piece of content, passing it by the powers that be at your desired publication and seeing it published online – only to realise you got a nofollow link. What’s up with that? Well, let’s go back in time a bit.

Once upon a time Google mentioned that it measured the quality of a webpage (and therefore the likelihood that it’ll be returned in the search results) based largely on the number of links pointing at it (or pointing at the general domain it resides upon).

And then a whole lot of badly behaved SEOs messed things up with their cheap (yet tbf at the time, effective) backlinking tactics involving forums, comment boxes and guest blogs – anywhere they could insert a hyperlink.

Google now roots out and largely ignores low-quality links (unless you’re taking the michael and building them on a large scale, in which case it’s likely you’ll get slapped with a Google penalty or ‘manual action’ as it’s known in the trade).

However, as of September 2019 Google announced two new attributes: rel=”sponsored” and rel=”ugc”. The first to be used for links in paid for content and the second to be used in user-generated content (UGC) like comment boxes.

Google then made an interesting observation.

It said (regards nofollow links): “Use this attribute for cases where you want to link to a page but don’t want to imply any type of endorsement, including passing along ranking credit to another page.”

BUT then it said: “All the link attributes – sponsored, UCG and nofollow – are treated as hints about which links to consider or exclude within Search. We’ll use these hints – along with other signals – as a way to better understand how to appropriately analyse and use links within our systems.” BUT

This is pretty big. It means Google’s now confident enough in its algorithm to use all links for ranking purposes. We suspect this is because Google realises a lot of important links are nofollow. Most notably, editorial links.

Loads of online news outlets make their links nofollow – normally because of a combination of two factors: they’re worried they’ll get hit with a penalty if they accidentally make advertorial links followed (this famously happened to The Telegraph) and they also labour under the illusion that they’re somehow making their sites ‘weaker’ by routing PageRank away from their domains.

“Links contain valuable information that can help us improve search, such as how the words within links describe content they point at … By shifting to a hint model, we no longer lose this important information, while still allowing site owners to indicate that some links shouldn’t be given the weight of a first-party endorsement.”

“…how the words within links describe content they point at”, that is Google loves descriptive anchor text (the text that makes up the link).

“…shouldn’t be given the weight of a first-party endorsement.” i.e. all things being equal, a followed link is best, but a nofollow link on a decent website with descriptive anchor text is now really worth having.

The blog post concluded by announcing nofollow would become a hint as of March 1, 2020 (no mention of sponsored or UGC links in that line either which suggest to us it is these editorial nofollows it’s keen to use in its algorithms).

But wait, not all followed links are born equal either…

Followed links from popular and important sites carry more weight and push webpages higher up the search engine rankings. Google calls it TrustRank; if you have a lot of very high-quality links, then Google will trust you more and so your ranking improves.

Back in 2011 Google said: “So PageRank is the most well-known type of trust. It’s looking at links and how important those links are. So if you have a lot of very high quality links, then you tend to earn a lot of trust with Google.”

But, and this is crucial, you have to assess what a lot of ‘very high-quality links’ looks like to your company. If, for example, you specialise in fintech, you need to pursue reputable sector-specific sites for links back to your website.

A huge spread littered with links in The Angling Times won’t earn you nearly as much TrustRank as a nod from Fintech Futures. So, focus your resources appropriately and be sure to fish in the right waters.

Talk to our SEO team to discuss a B2B SEO strategy for your business or click here to get back to the top of the page.

Why earn links?

When considering what link building is, it’s more important to understand why you would try and earn links in the first place – links can help build better relationships, boost your business’s profile and drive more traffic to your website.

Feel free to use our handy list below to explain why it’s worthwhile:

  • Boost your keyword rankings – lots of good-quality links mean higher keyword rankings, which is a major boost for your overall SEO efforts
  • Boost your domain’s expertise, authority and trust (EAT) – because links act as votes of confidence, the more you have from trusted sources, the more you increase your EAT in the eyes of Google
  • Increased traffic – the more links you have out there leading back to your website, the more traffic you should get
  • More leads – a good link building strategy will give you higher levels of qualified leads because you’ll rank in Google for the keywords you’re targeting (and we’re assuming you’re targeting keywords that you know will result in qualified leads!)
  • Company growth – ultimately, any and all digital marketing efforts have the long-term aim of aiding company growth. Link building is an important part of any SEO strategy and therefore, when done correctly, should achieve all of the above, which aids company growth

Talk to our SEO team to discuss a B2B SEO strategy for your business or click here to get back to the top of the page.

B2B link building strategy

Now that you’re sold on the idea, it’s only right to give guidance on how to get it done. There are a few ways you can earn links, and all require a mixture of intuition, research and a bit of imagination. The ideal B2B link building strategy will likely contain a mix of the following tactics.

1. Media request services

This is common advice in link earning articles – sign up for paid journalist request services (e.g. ResponseSource) and create a Twitter stream dedicated to #journorequest and keep your eyes open for opportunities to contribute. Tips for ResponseSource:

  • Be first – journalists are often deluged with responses – it’s often fastest finger first
  • Be brief – it’s rare a journalist will include more than a soundbite so don’t worry about writing more than a couple of paragraphs when supplying comment
  • Be different – think about what every other contributor will say and then say something different
  • Be authoritative – if you can link to original research on your own website then that increases the quality of the comment and also increases the chances of you getting a link

You’ll also need to judge the type of publication before assessing whether or not it’s worth your efforts from a link building perspective. If you check what the journalist has previously written for the site in question, then you’ll be able to see if they naturally link to sources of comments.

Alternatively, if it’s a company blog you can always ask when pitching your spokesperson if they’re happy to link back to the spokesperson’s website. It’s an experience-based judgement call: if it’s a national newspaper then it’s unlikely you’ll get a response if you ask for a link in advance and it’s simply fastest finger first (sometimes though it’s worth going for it anyway and asking for the link post publication from the publication’s online editor – especially if the article has been written by a freelancer and they have no control over the online publishing piece).

2. Become the source

A step up from reactively responding to journalist requests for expert commentary is to become the source for comments and be proactively approached. The really top tier publications work like this – national and international journalists still want to build a black book of sources they can turn to whenever they’re working on a relevant story. We surveyed 35 of them – read what journalists want here.

3. Associations/membership bodies

Think about the official associations linked to the industry you work in. Are there link earning opportunities you can access via them? Membership of these types of associations also act as useful EAT signals – make sure you’re linking out to your membership page from the appropriate pages on your website.

4. Leverage personal or professional relationships

Start thinking about your personal and professional network – how can you leverage it to generate followed links? People are most likely to offer links to people they know. If you’re selling software via a channel of resellers then give them a reason to link back to you (i.e. a resource section with an RoI/TCO calculator for example); or if you’re selling to schools then create a safeguarding resource it makes sense for them to reference and link to on their websites.

5. Competitor analysis

Review sites that link to your competitors and think about how you can replicate their successes. There are professional tools out there that can make this easier e.g. Moz’s Link Explorer and Link intersect tools helps you conduct competitor analysis and link reclamation (locating and fixing broken links). These are tough jobs to do manually, if not impossible, so invest in tools that will help you.

6. Link reclamation

Link reclamation is the process of finding websites that mention your brand but don’t link back to your site. Use search operators and Google Alerts to find unlinked mentions. It has a low success rate as a tactic (there’s usually a reason the link hasn’t been added in the first place) but it’s easy to do so keep at it! Typically you’ll be more successful when the article featuring your brand has a named author – reaching out to generic hello@ email addresses is often a waste of time.

7. Use your professional expertise to get editorial placement

If you’ve been doing your job for long enough, you’re likely to have some pearls of wisdom to share with websites and magazines that specialise in your field. Contact websites with opinion/analysis sections and offer them your thoughts hooked to a news event e.g. if a big tech player makes an announcement (like Google depreciating third party cookies) then think about what you can add to the conversation. Check to see if the industry site has already covered what you’re proposing and keep your pitch short and to the point – open with your idea, don’t bury it in a paragraph of background/introductions.

8. Awards entry and judging

Entering and simply being shortlisted for an award is great because it will often result in a link back to your website and it acts as a strong EAT signal. Likewise if you judge awards then make sure your judging profile includes a link back to your website.

9. Great content

If you’re hosting great content, there’s every chance that another website will want to link back to your page. Keep posting worthwhile content that is SEO ready for other people to find and link to e.g. our https://www.definitionagency.com/marketing-awards has 31 links from 15 sites (at time of writing).

You need to make sure this type of evergreen content is being regularly promoted on social with relevant hashtags to increase discoverability (e.g. #marketingawards).

Once it starts ranking for the keyword you’re targeting, it has a snowball effect, and will naturally become a source that people link to.

Talk to our SEO team to discuss a B2B SEO strategy for your business or click here to get back to the top of the page.

Effective outreach

We recently pitched three journalists and secured three coverage opportunities. Each on a well-respected industry site, relevant to the company we were working for. To illustrate why our link earning services have such a high success rate, we’ll take you through the process for one of them.

Research

The company we were working for recently signed a deal with a large UK gambling operator. They can talk with authority about certain issues the gambling industry struggles with. In this instance they’re well qualified to discuss cost per acquisition, how much the gambling industry is spending on advertising, and how it can finetune its marketing return on investment.

Our confidence in their industry expertise (and the fact our B2B SEO link building services are based on extensive B2B PR experience!) means we know we can pitch and write about related topics for the gambling industry press, as long as we have a decent hook (more on that later).

Next step, find some online industry mags that offer links in return for content and understand how the link is generated (for instance, is it in an author profile associated with an opinion piece, or is it in the body of an opinion piece referring to external research?).

Check out the type of content usually used in the section you’ve identified. Visually heavy? You’ll need to pitch something visual then. Full of interesting opinion? Great. You better have something interesting to say. Capiche?

Then check if the link is followed (use the MozBar). No point putting all the effort into a pitch and subsequent draft only to find out it doesn’t count towards your ranking and lead gen efforts. (Yes, we like to have a decent proportion of nofollow links in the mix, but tend to find clients organically accrue them and don’t require our link building services for this.)

The pitch

Don’t send pitch emails en masse. They’re rubbish. A lot of SEO blogs discuss the best mass email send tools for ‘outreach’. These blogs go on to describe what decent open rates and response rates look like and how you can move these numbers a few percentage points higher by tweaking subject lines and content. We think they’re missing the point.

On the other hand, the PR industry has been plagued by self-involved individuals who like to suggest their pitching ability is down to the size and quality of their ‘little black book’ of contacts. Don’t get me wrong, if the people you’re approaching know and respect you, then there’s a much greater chance they’ll open your email (it’s why our link building services are based on more than just good pitching – we also have a dedicated media relations team whose job it is to develop those relationships).

But don’t labour under the illusion that it’s your contacts making the difference – it’s 100% of the time the quality of the story you’re pitching and its relevance to the person you’re pitching it to. In that way, no amount of subject line tweaking or links to previous articles you or your client has written is going to make a difference, and this is what separates traditional SEO agency outreach from PR led SEO pitching.

Don’t send emails asking if you can pitch something without specifying what it is.

Don’t pitch on email or phone unless:

  • You address the pitch to the right journo
  • You name the section you’re interested in
  • You explain why the idea is specifically relevant to that mag
  • You explain what the hook is (a hook could be a significant date or piece of legislation for example)
  • You name the author, and explain why they’re an authority
  • You’re prepared to offer the editorial as an exclusive
  • If you need to prequalify, that’s fine. Pick up the phone ad call the journo responsible for the section you’re interested in

The hook is so important. It’s what differentiates your pitch and makes it interesting for the journalist’s readership. It also gets people onside. Let me clarify that last point. We called the only person listed at a target publication to discuss an editorial idea. She was naturally hostile. She probably gets loads of chancers trying their luck every day and wasting the little time she has.

She mellowed within ten seconds as we opened with a reference to a piece of imminent government legislation pertinent to the gambling sector. Within 30 seconds she’d told us the idea was interesting and passed us an email for a commissioning editor. We then followed up with a tailor-made email for that publication outlining the idea in more detail.

Oh, and this goes without saying, but reassure whoever you’re pitching that the piece will be exclusive to them and not in any way a sales pitch for your client or client’s product/service.

Finally, establish a deadline. In this instance we found if we were able to meet quite a tight one then not only would we get the followed link, but there was a chance it would also be published in the print edition (yeah, I know, print hey, who’d would’ve thunk that!).

There you have it. Recently, this approach to link building, employed by three different colleagues at Definition, led to three secured opportunities. The pitch to acceptance success ratio was 33% (three pitches, one accepted), 50% (two pitches, one accepted) and 100% (one pitch, one accepted).

As far as link building services go, I’d much rather be working with those odds than trying to increase my email open rates from two to three percent.

In conclusion

We’re an agency that would rather earn a lower number of highly targeted, semantically relevant, high authority links on sites our clients’ competitors will struggle to get near, than 100 links on low quality sites. Don’t forget, Google doesn’t care how many links you’ve got.

We’ve seen the effects of this approach and they are GOOD (think our clients outranking vendors for the vendors’ products; all time high organic traffic levels; all time low cost per qualified lead from organic). We can’t really comment on the other approach because it’s not something we believe in or do.

Written by: Luke Budka, director of digital PR and SEO at Definition.

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