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We all know the importance of great content, and we also know that without relevant, authoritative links in sufficient quantities, even great content won’t perform well in search.

What most people don’t know, however, is how to efficiently build — or rather, earn —those relevant, authoritative links.

Sure, everyone understands the basic concept of link outreach, and some search engine optimization (SEO) practitioners even get decent results from it, but very few have truly optimized their approach. And considering our entire job revolves around optimization, our own processes should be optimized as well.

The more efficient and effective you can make your link-building efforts, the more impressive and profitable your results will be. Just because you build it, it doesn’t mean the links will come.

So, let’s take a minute to dissect the wrong approach, and then I’ll share an approach we use at Spartan Media (my company) that’s always a home run.

The wrong approach

If you’re like most SEOs, you create an amazing piece of content and then go on an epic quest to pitch websites to link to it.

I think this is the wrong approach. It may seem like a good way to go about link building, but I feel it’s a backward approach.

You’ve created a piece of content first and then gone out trying to convince people it’s worthwhile to link to. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but you’re essentially performing the online equivalent of door-to-door sales.

You’re pitching the exact same “product” to a generic audience in hopes you’ll cross paths with someone who happens to agree the piece is great and will link to it. Basically, you’re walking door to door, trying to sell vacuum cleaners to housewives in the 1950s. Not a good idea.

Most people won’t link to your content, no matter how great it is, because there is almost no incentive for them. Sure, we’re all trained to parrot the “this will be valuable to your audience” line of thinking, but both you and the person you’re pitching know that it’s really mostly about you.

Until it isn’t.

A home-run approach

Now that we know why creating content first and then trying to build links to it is not the best idea, let’s look at a smarter approach.

Using content is fine; we’re just going to rearrange some aspects of the process and be a little more strategic in how we develop our content. This will create a powerful incentive for other people to link to it. Here’s how I do it:

  1. We identify a topic we want to rank for. It’s important to remember we need to think beyond the old-school concept of “keyword phrases” and think instead about more general keyword topics.
  2. We identify relevant and authoritative websites and influencers to target in our content development and outreach. We’ll benefit from getting a link from these sites from an algorithmic standpoint, but equally important is the human element. We’re not just targeting the people involved in managing a website, but also the people who form the public face of the company. Generally, the more well-known this person is in the industry you’re targeting, the better.
  3. We connect with those influencers with the intent to cite them as a subject matter expert. It’s important to approach this with a structured plan. If you just randomly engage, you’ll lose a lot of efficiency and things will fall through the cracks.

A customer relationship management (CRM) system may be helpful here. We use a CRM that integrates with our email system, which makes tracking campaigns a breeze. If you don’t have A CRM, compile the names, contact info and other applicable data into a spreadsheet.

Once we find and determine who our influencers are, we ask for their insight on a particular topic. This is usually done via email, but phone and social outreach work, too, especially if you find it difficult to locate an email address. Since you’re trying to cite them as an expert on a topic, you’ll find people are more willing to respond and share their expertise. People love publicity, and most will jump at the chance of seeing their name in print. Leverage that to your benefit.

Now you have a powerful foundation. The next step is to begin creating the content. Remember, average content won’t cut it these days, and that’s especially true using this approach. Once you have an amazing piece of content with a few quotes included from industry influencers, the fun part begins.

We’ll send them a draft to review and ask for additional comments and insights. Most people add more content that is good for them and you. We also send a draft to get our influencers excited about seeing their name in another publication and to remind them about the article. We’re making it real (before it’s real) and in the process, building anticipation.

Depending on the length of your content, you may be able to include several quotes. When my team creates content like this, it’s long-form and usually going to be in the range of 2,000 to 5,000 words. Under these circumstances, I’m generally comfortable including three to seven quotes, but that may vary, based on the type and how the content is formatted.

Once the content has been published, our last step is to let the influencers know it’s online and where they can find it. Once that is done and the expert sees how much effort we’ve put into the content, we ask for the link.

This is one reason we target senior positions in a company. If the CEO was quoted and tells her marketing people or webmaster to link to it, you can bet they will.

This approach necessitates creating truly amazing content. Simply slapping a quote into a mediocre article and then asking an influencer quoted in the article to link will be transparently manipulative, void of any value and completely ineffective. Why waste your time finding an influential source to quote if she’s not going to support the article? Just do it right by creating great content.

Repurposing old content with new quotes

Most of your content or web pages will need to be updated from time to time, so look at this as an opportunity to include new experts. You’ll still reach out to experts in the same way, but instead of a brand-new piece of content, you will be including new content in a piece of content you’re updating. Nothing really changes in your approach.

Find the gold before you build the content

We all want to be as efficient and profitable as possible while delivering maximum value. By identifying a few ideal sites and experts first, you can more effectively develop content that the people behind those websites are more likely to link to.