Website hyperlinks

A few years ago I thought I had a backlink problem.  I didn’t.  I had a keyword research problem.

Back then I focused on social traffic, so I didn’t do any KW research.  I didn’t monitor inbound links.

As Facebook reach declined, I shifted focus to growing organic search traffic.  It was a smart move.  Actually, a website broker strongly suggested I improve organic search traffic because he said website buyers love organic search traffic.

Fair enough.

I knew enough about SEO to know inbound links were important. I asked a colleague if he would check my inbound link profile (I eventually got my own Ahrefs account which is worth every penny).

He said my inbound link profile was spectacular… over 1,000 naturally acquired links, many from great sites including Oprah.

Fast forward to today, and it’s thousands of referring domains:

Backlink growth chart from referring domains

I was confused; I had decent organic search traffic but surely with that many inbound links I should have had more organic search traffic.

What I came to realize was that I wasn’t cashing in on proper keyword research.  I published content with titles that I knew would perform well on social media.  The problem was I failed to incorporate keywords… the result was a lot of “seemingly” duplicate content without any focus.

It was time to reorganize my site.

That’s what I did .  I did reams of long tail keyword research (discovering thousands of opportunities in the process), reorganized a lot of my content and added piles of content going after new long tail keyword (informational and affiliate promotion content).  I add more every month.

The result:

Some existing rankings have improved dramatically and new content is ranking.  Overall traffic is on the rise.  As a result of all that keyword research, I’ve discovered so many content ideas that I can’t order and publish the stuff fast enough (I’ve found so many long tail strings for all kinds of niches that it’s mind-boggling).

How much link building did I do?

I did 15 or so guest posts until I discovered in Ahrefs that I was getting 10 to 20 new natural links per day.  I figured why pay for guest posts if I was getting links naturally.

Instead, I dug in to get a better understanding of what type of content was attracting links naturally.

After plenty of analysis, I discovered some trends of content that attracted backlinks naturally.  Typically it was content that either had really cool graphics that communicated something effectively and/or content with some great research.

But nearly all content that attracted links had one thing in common…

That one thing is the content ranks really high in Google for a variety of keywords.  Usually very, very long tail keywords.

At the same time I was publishing a lot of content, and being a good little website publisher, I incorporated outbound links to relevant content in most pieces I publish.

Why do I add outbound links?

Because apparently, according to Brian Dean at Backlinko and Neil Patel, it’s a good practice to link out to relevant, quality content.  One can hardly argue with Neil Patel’s SEO success.  He’s a machine.

The why is NOT nearly as important as the HOW.

While I like adding quality outbound links to my sites, I sure don’t want to spend a lot of time looking for them.

What I do is find an angle in the article that could use a good outside reference, type that query in Google, check the first three to four listings and link out.  The entire process takes about 30 seconds.

In fact, I prefer linking to smaller sites that cover the topic really, really well.

Guess what?

I’m not the only publisher that links out to relevant articles and websites?

Most websites, even monster sites, do this.  Recently one of my niche sites attracted links from Money.ca, Businessinsider.com and Yahoo Finance (yeah, this boosted traffic, optins and affiliate sales BIG TIME).

I suspect you do this too.

As long as high profile SEOs such as Brian Dean and Neil Patel blog about including outbound links as being good SEO practice, attracting links is possible… in fact it’s pretty easy.

Here’s the problem (I bet you’ve already thought about this)

How do you get those top rankings to attract natural links in the first place?

The answer:  target really long tail keywords (at least initially).

In that content, add some unique content – be it a cool graphic that explains the entire article or some interesting facts, statistics… something that other sites would find link-worthy.

By virtue of the long tail, if it’s really, truly long, long tail, you should be able to rank with no links.

TIP:  If you’re still struggling coming up with link-worthy content, here’s a tip I’ve done (this can be scaled really nicely).

Often, as publisher, I like linking to content that defines or explains something in detail that I mention in passing.

Example:  Returning the camping tent niche I’ve used in previous posts, somewhere in your tent content, you probably mention that “nylon” is a common material used for tents.  If it were my content, I’d link to some article that explains what nylon is.  I’d start by searching in Google “what is nylon”.  Once in a while I’ll link to Wikipedia, but usually there are better options.  This is the article I would link to from the text “nylon”.

FYI, that nylon article has 50 referring domains.  See, it works.

Adding fuel to the inbound link fire

I don’t do this, because I don’t need to with the site authority I have, but if starting out, to grease the link building wheels, you can do an outreach effort.  Publish an awesome article explaining some super obscure material or concept relevant to your niche.

Put together a list of articles online that have that word or phrase in its content.  Contact them referencing your awesome article and suggest they could link that word(s) on their XYZ-URL.com to your article as a good reference.  Be specific by explaining they could link such and such word from such and such URL.

You can be persuasive by linking to SEO articles that suggest outbound links are good SEO practice.  That may be just the incentive those publishers need to make the effort to add the link.

Finally, add that word or words as a Google alert.  Whenever a new article is published with that word, contact the site.  In fact, if you like best bang for your time, skip the outreach and just contact webmasters when the Google alert comes in.  Publishers are more inclined to enhance an article that’s very recently published.

Please keep in mind that outreach is a numbers game.  You’ll be lucky to get 1% to 5% success rate.  It sucks and it’s boring… but it can work.  If you get a few links, that may just be enough to get top rankings for that long tail keyword.

And it’s top rankings you need because once you have them, you’ll attract links naturally.  And once you attract links naturally, your site authority grows automatically and you can rank for bigger and better keywords.

Once you have inbound links…

Once you attract a few links, link from that article to other related articles on your site that target more competitive keywords.

I do this all the time.  I check which articles are attracting lots of links, I then add one or two links to my more profitable pieces of content.  Do this enough and over time, you can rank the better content.

Another thing you might try, once content has inbound links, is enhance that content further going after more keywords.  You may even adjust your target keyword to something that will get more traffic… although this can be risky because you may affect original rankings.  Proceed with caution.

Another great benefit of this process is…

If you do unnatural link building such as PBN links, the natural links maintain the appearance of a natural link profile; diluting the PBN links.  One could view the natural links as “pillow links” (not entirely accurate but serve the same function).

For example, while I don’t currently use PBNs, I suspect I could use them with very little risk to my site with over 3,000 referring domains.  After all, adding 100 PBN links at this point would be so diluted with natural links that it wouldn’t matter.  The benefit of course is I could point those PBN links to any URL I wanted (which is where the risk comes in… but it’s a lot less risky than a website that only has PBN links).

One final note:

All this stuff takes time.  I hate to tell you, but it’s a long, long process.  A site I launched early in 2017 is just starting to get decent traffic… but still a long ways off doing spectacularly well.  For me it’s a 2 to 3 year investment.

But things are happening for that site.  Here’s the exploding inbound link profile:

Backlink growth chart for new niche website

FYI, I seeded the above site with about 10 guest posts to grease the wheels. Now it’s attracting links on its own.

You can speed things up if you do some guest posting to get some quick initial rankings or if you have a killer PBN at your disposal.  But then you need a killer PBN which ain’t cheap or easy to create.

Thanks to Brian, Neil and others

As long as high profile SEO’s suggest adding outbound links is a good practice, this all works.  We have them to thank… largely because so many publishers read their work and do what they suggest.  This results in plenty of outbound links being added.

Some time ago, link sculpting was all the rage where publishers would hoard SEO link juice and not link out with dofollow links for fear of leaking page rank.  It appears those days are over… although Neil does say that there’s a balance between not enough and too many outbound links.

In the meantime, let’s enjoy the “outbound links are good” environment.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Just to clarify this: When you link to relevant external sites, do you leave those outbound links dofollow? Some people argue that too many dofollow outbound links result in loss of link juice on your site. But I think 3 dofollow outbound links per page should be okay.

    • Hey Bjoern,

      Yes, I make them dofollow. It’s a balance. I don’t put in 30 outbound, but I do add a good number to content when it helps readers.

  2. Hey Jon, nice read there. outbound are surely a must include. Although i always have mine as nofollow.
    Towards the end there, I noted the google analytics graph there is similar to one of my sites or should i say a duplicate of a site of mine. although I’ve had the domain since 2016, I started working on the site in September and the graph shot up in the beginning of the year. And now daily uniques at 65-90, so its really almost a clone. Will be following closely to see how yours fairs.

    • Hey Gil,

      It’s nice when a site starts growing. The early months are tough because it’s a pile of work with no clue how things will go, but once the traffic starts flooding in, it’s nice to see the work paying off.

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