How to build links without creating content: 5 examples
Link building and content marketing often complement each other, but columnist Andrew Dennis notes that there are plenty of ways to build links, even if you don't have the resources to create content.
Link building isn’t some mystical SEO hack. Building links is straightforward: find relevant sites that have a reason to link and convince them to link.
Why would another site link to yours? For a variety of reasons: because a relationship already exists; because they’re talking about your business/products; because you’re a valuable resource for their audience; or because you’re involved in the same community events. These are other reasons, of course.
Links represent a relationship and connection online. If you want to build links without creating content, then you should be looking for opportunities created by existing relationships and connections.
Providing value is essential to earning links. You’ll never secure meaningful links unless there is value in the link for the other site—value for them, their website and their audience.
Any link-building tactic (including content creation) can be abused, and you shouldn’t build relationships and engage with your community for the sake of links alone. Pursuing links for SEO value alone breeds the wrong mindset, leading to strained relationships, damaged brand reputation and low-quality, spammy links.
Focus on delivering value first, and then ensure you’re receiving links as an added benefit.
Content creation is one way to provide value and secure links, but there are a variety of other ways you can leverage the value your company offers to secure links.
Here are a few opportunities that likely already exist for your business that you can use to build links without content:
- Community involvement
- Testimonials and reviews
Links result from real connections. As long as your business is active and engaged in sound marketing, you can build links without creating fresh content.
Example: Payette Brewing
Throughout this post, I will use one of my favorite local Idaho companies, Payette Brewing, as a running example to showcase real link opportunities that can be found using these tactics.
Payette has a well-designed site but not much linkable content, making them an ideal example for this post.
I also recommend trying their beer if you ever have the pleasure — they’re a strong representation of Idaho beer.
1. Mention link opportunities
Online mentions are the easiest way to secure links without fresh content.
Of course your business, brand, executives, products or services have to actually be mentioned online. Whatever the reason — offline marketing, PR or some other form of brand building — people need to be talking about your company.
Brand mentions are the most common types of mentions, but there are a variety of other “mentions” you can target as well. Mention opportunities include:
- Prominent employees
- Well-known products
- Proprietary images
- Hosted or sponsored events
- Company buildings
- Offline marketing campaigns
- Brand representatives and spokespeople
- Slogans, catchphrases or taglines
- Key business actions (mergers, acquisitions, funding and so on)
Even controversies can lead to media coverage that creates link opportunities. The types of mentions you pursue are only limited by your creativity and ingenuity. If someone is referencing your company in some way online, that’s a relevant link opportunity.
These are often overlooked by PR and marketing folks alike, so talk to your marketing staff so you’re aware of any upcoming and past media coverage. If these campaigns are already planned, running, or ran in the past, you don’t have to create new content — you just need to find the coverage discussing your brand.
You can use advanced modifiers in Google search or Google Alerts to find relevant mentions. Or you could subscribe to one of the many tools available:
- Critical Mention
- Fresh Web Explorer
Mention link opportunities tend to be high-converting, since the website has already seen fit to mention your company. It’s not a stretch to include the link, particularly if you ask politely and explain that it helps their audience by providing more context.
In the case of Payette Brewing, I’ll use Google to search for mentions of their brand name. They’re often involved in the Boise community, and I have personally noticed media coverage in the past.
A quick Google search for their business pulls up relevant media coverage. On the second page, I see Payette hosted a recent event on Black Friday (which received coverage on CraftBeer.com):
Clicking the link shows me this was actually a press release from Payette.
The press release was used to promote the event to the Boise community, but there aren’t any links to Payette’s site.
It appears Payette created a separate subdomain on a event-marketing software company’s domain for the event, and then directed links to that URL. Not only is this less than ideal from an SEO standpoint (none of the link equity for this domain helps Payette), but from a user perspective, it’s suboptimal to be sent to an entirely different domain. The effort and resources put into creating this one-page subdomain would have been much better spent creating a landing page on Payette’s own domain that would benefit their site.
Having said that, it’s more than likely the event-marketing software company either created the domain for Payette or was directly involved in marketing the event. Still, in the future, I would recommend hosting the page on Payette’s own website.
Returning to the press release itself, interested readers may still find the release and want to learn more about Payette. With the event over, a link to their home page would be helpful. If I were securing links for Payette, I would reach out to the owner of CraftBeer.com — and anyone else who had hosted the press release — and see if they would link this mention to Payette’s home page:
Searching for mentions can be effective when coupled with a digital PR campaign like Payette’s Black Friday event. Payette already invested in promoting and hosting their Black Friday Event, and I can work behind that and secure any link opportunities that were missed, without investing in content creation.
I would also advise any future marketing of events — including press releases — to include a link back to Payette’s own site.
Before search engines existed, people used directories to navigate the web. Search engines have diminished the need for directories, but having your site linked on a relevant directory can still send valuable referral traffic.
Directories focus on websites as a whole, rather than specific pieces of content, so you don’t have to create fresh content to secure a listing. As long as your site is a legitimate, relevant resource for the directory, your chances of earning a link are good.
Directories require significant scrutiny and quality assurance, however.
Over the years, directories have fallen victim to spam and abuse. Today, many directories exist solely for SEO purposes and provide little real value. You need to be discerning when evaluating directories; you shouldn’t pursue every directory link possible.
The primary factor is relevance. A potential directory should either be relevant to your industry or hyper-local to your location of business. Directories that don’t meet either of these criteria should be eliminated.
If a directory is relevant (either by niche or location), you’ll still need to QA other metrics. Other signals you should scrutinize:
- Traffic: Does anyone actually use the directory?
- Editorial process: Is the directory curated by a real human being?
- Sites listed: Are competitors present?
- Topical focus: Are the categories listed specific and relevant?
- Authority metrics (Domain/Page Authority, Trust/Citation Flow and so on): Does the site show signs of authority?
- Indexation: Is the site indexed and cached by Google?
For Payette Brewing, I’ll search for relevant directories Payette should be listed on. Heading into Google, I’ll use the query “Boise Idaho businesses inurl:directory” to find relevant sites that list local Boise companies.
I had to search through the SERPs all the way to page seven to find a relevant opportunity that Payette hadn’t already secured (Nice job, Payette!). Opportunities such as Think Boise First:
And Buy Idaho (a local organization that promotes Idaho businesses):
These are great listings and links Payette does have, but if they didn’t, I would absolutely pursue them. On page seven, I found an opportunity they hadn’t seized yet: The Boise Lifestyle Magazine’s business directory:
Looking at the page, Boise Lifestyle has a “Restaurants, Food & Beverage” section that is completely relevant for Payette.
In addition to a valuable opportunity for Payette Brewing to be listed, as I scanned through the site, I noticed the magazine had multiple articles that mentioned Payette.
Payette Brewing has multiple link opportunities on this site, and they didn’t have to craft content to create them.
Meaningful partnerships have many benefits, including cooperative marketing, referral business, product collaboration, and of course, valuable link opportunities. Co-authoring content is actually a viable way to build new partnerships online, but if you have existing relationships, you can find link opportunities without creating any new content.
Real-world partners are the ideal link partners. If you have public offline partnerships, those partnerships should absolutely be recognized online with links.
For example, Payette Brewing has partnered with the City Peanut Shop to create nuts roasted in Payette’s beer and hops:
This is a legitimate partnership where a link should exist between both sites.
If we go back to Payette’s Black Friday event, we can see some more companies Payette has partnered with:
I quickly scanned the sites of these partners and found that BuckSnort Soda Company had a partners page:
Since Payette has already partnered with BuckSnort, it might be worth reaching out to their marketing department (or whoever they’ve worked with in the past) to see if they’d be willing to list Payette as a partner with a link.
Also, associations offer link opportunities. For example, Payette’s owner, Michael Francis, is a member of the Brewers Association, and he has secured a link for Payette Brewing as part of his membership:
If your company is part of a professional network or association, you should have links pointing back to your site as part of your membership — especially if there’s a list of members.
Real-world partners are ideal candidates for link building, because a legitimate connection already exists, and that connection should be represented online.
4. Community engagement
Many companies give back to their community in a variety of ways — both locally and within their industry.
Supporting your local community opens doors for numerous brand-building activities and creates link opportunities that are often overlooked.
Google views links as a vote of confidence, for good reason. Links are often used to signify a relationship online, add more context to a conversation or give recognition.
You want your offline relationships and activities to be represented online, which means securing links. Of course, these links should be a byproduct of the good work you’re already doing in the community.
I’d never advise prioritizing a link over a relationship, or sponsoring a charity with the primary purpose of securing a link — that’s the wrong mindset. Instead, you should seek to represent the actions, activities, events and partnerships your business is already involved in. You should make sure you’re securing the meaningful link opportunities that already exist.
The goal of creating content is often to encourage community engagement and interaction (and secure links). But there are a wide variety of ways to be involved in your community that can earn relevant links without building content:
- Sponsoring local events
- Charity work
- Offering scholarships to local colleges
- Conducting or participating in interviews
- Partnering with other businesses to offer unique discounts
- Recruiting locally for your company
- Sponsoring local athletic teams
- Hosting conferences, trade shows and networking events
Community involvement isn’t limited to offline activities, either. Find where your audience congregates online and be active in those communities as well. Some examples of potential online communities worth engaging with include:
- Google+ Communities
- Comment sections of popular blogs
- Industry forums and advice websites
- Social platforms
Links on these platforms won’t always provide raw SEO value, but they can send targeted referral traffic, and the engagement with your audience (even without links) is worth the effort.
For example, Payette should be active in online brewing forums. Communities like:
- BeerSmith Home Brewing Forum
- The Brewing Network
HomeBrewTalk even has a section for “Brewing Events & Local Gatherings” that would be a perfect place for Payette to promote events like their Black Friday event.
Being genuinely helpful and engaging on these forums would help build Payette’s reputation, and a link in their profile could drive targeted referral traffic to their site.
One specific area where I see companies doing great work but missing link opportunities is charity work.
Charitable work is obviously important for a number of reasons, but it also creates relevant link opportunities. I wouldn’t recommend engaging in charity only for link opportunities, of course — but if you’re already giving back, then you ought to secure links as it makes sense.
Payette Brewing’s “Payette Forward” program is a perfect example, as the charitable program receives a fair amount of local media coverage.
Here is a relevant link opportunity from such coverage:
This is an ideal link opportunity, as the URL is listed but not linked. From a user standpoint, it would be much easier to click this link rather than copy and paste. A link here makes sense for all parties involved: the website, readers and Payette Brewing.
Similar to partnerships, testimonial links are byproducts of real, existing relationships.
When considering testimonial opportunities, think about the various products or services that contribute to your day-to-day operations. You should only provide testimonials if you truly believe in the business you’re endorsing, not for the purpose of a backlink.
What third-party tools or services are essential to your operations? Are there machines or pieces of equipment that make production possible? Do you have a cleaning service that provides you with a clean and pleasant working environment?
Any and all of the various services that keep your business running smoothly offer potential link opportunities. Of course, you’ll want to check first to see if they have linked testimonials on their site.
If you work with other companies you’re willing to endorse, and they share their testimonials on their website, reach out and let them know you’d love to provide a testimonial of the great service they provide. Technically, writing a testimonial could be considered content creation. But providing a short quote requires far fewer resources than creating an e-book, infographic or blog post.
Using the Payette Brewing example, potential testimonial links they could pursue include:
- Brewing equipment
- Cleaning supplies
- Food trucks/services
- Local vendors
- Merchandise suppliers
Payette Brewing may not have a wealth of rich content or linkable assets on their site, but because they are an active business (both online and offline), there are relevant link opportunities available to them.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.
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