Natural links are products of any online marketing efforts that can bring positive sentiments about a brand being endorsed in a marketing campaign.
The process to getting natural high quality backlinks may or may not involve automation, whether it is for the use of tools or to do an activity in link building.
When automating link building, it is important to really be careful with your actions. One single move can ruin your entire link building campaign. Here are a few insights from experts on why you need to be careful with automated link building and/or should stop doing it in a black hat way.
Don’t try to automate link building! If you can automate a link building tactic, people will eventually scale and abuse it, making the tactic (at best) less effective. For example, regular link requests, directory submissions and guest blogging have all been pretty much ruined by automation.
Also, if you don’t automate your tactics, you force yourself to use your creativity and only focus on the best targets. This makes it a lot harder for competitors to replicate your link building strategy.
Don’t get me wrong – there are many processes and actions that you can (and probably should) automate for yourself. We have developed and use several inhouse tools that make some parts of our link building activities easier. Evaluate which tactics work best for you and analyze if there are any processes that could be automated to save time, to help you become more efficient, or simply to make your job easier. But please don’t try to automate entire link building tactics.
Don’t automate link building.
I could talk about using BuzzStream or doing broken link building or image theft shaming outreach or inventive operator searches and they can all be effective. But my fear is that people jump to these things first and use them as the centerpiece of a strategy. That’s a losing strategy.
The links you really want, the links you earn … they aren’t automated.
– AJ Kohn
Now, let’s head over to a good list of tips to automate link building (in the white hat way) coming from the prominent SEOs/link builders in the world.
I’d recommend dedicating a portion of budget to paid social ads for the topic or piece of content you’re working on building links for, and targeting it at users that are bloggers or journalists. It’s easier to do this on Twitter and LinkedIn than it is on Facebook, but you can also try using certain targeting tactics like the one described at the bottom of this Social Media Today infographic. Using clever ad copy like that example may get better responses than the typical email pitches that journalists get each day.
It’s not fully automated, but it’s a program that you can put a little bit of time into each week or month, and might be worthwhile in industries where typical email outreach is ineffective.
When I think about automated link building, I immediately think about Penguin updates and unnatural links penalties.
Therefore, I’m going to answer a slightly different question. Instead of helping you automate link building, I’m going to help you automate the discovery of link building opportunities.
I actually mentioned the two easiest ways to identify linking opportunities in my most actionable link building tip: broken link building and link reclamation.
Broken link building is a very simple process that involves identifying pages with broken links and contacting the webmasters for those pages to suggest alternative, live resources. You can easily automate this process with tools such as Broken Link Index and Link Builder (or you can build your own).
Link Reclamation is the process of claiming links that you should already be receiving (e.g., unlinked brand mentions, broken links to your site, improperly attributed resources, etc.), and you can automate this process with a variety of different tools (e.g., Mention to monitor brand mentions, Screaming Frog to identify broken links, Image Raider to perform reverse image searches, etc.).
Aside from these popular techniques, you can also discover link building opportunities by automatically searching for specific footprints or signatures that consistently appear in link building targets. Jacob King’s Scrapebox guide gives step-by-step instructions for identifying these footprints with Scrapebox. You can also find valuable footprints in these tips by Chris Dyson and Jon Cooper.
The most successful way I’ve automated link building has been to integrate sharing and linkable content or widgets within the product itself. Instead of trying to go out and use software or a tool to scale/automate my link building efforts I suggest that you build it within product so that your customers can link to you or share their experience through social media. For example when working with cafepress.com I suggested they create a widget that allowed customers to link back from their blog. We also incorporated the widget and share buttons within our emails when we sent the customers a receipt of their purchase and a shipping notification. Since Cafepress customers are very passionate and often times have blogs we saw thousands of links come in that were not only relevant but deep links as well.
When it comes to “Automating link building” in a white hat sense. A good way to make the process simple is by building niche specific lists of relevant partners you have a good relationship with in specific niches and have dealt with before. This way you can build out the process and work on a long term basis with a website owner to build long term branding.
For example if you work in the travel sector and you have say 10 different clients who are all producing great content you can work with your partner websites to do high quality guest posts and feature articles. You really need to build contacts over a long period of time and develop a strong relationship with them on an ongoing basis.
Even if you do not have any contacts and you are starting out it is a smart idea to get out to blogging events and meet industry specific bloggers and build relationships. A great example of a conference/ Community can be seen below for “Parent Bloggers” a popular segment, this is type of event you can make maybe 20+ contacts with bloggers in a few hours. If you cannot make it to an event pick up the phone and make some contacts that way or follow bloggers on Twitter and build a real connection.
I think many SEO’s and online marketers take the “easy way out”. They find blogs and use blog networks and do not put in the “hard work” and build real world relationships.
Matt Cutts endorses “relationship building” by his recent quote here;
“There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future.” – Matt Cutts 2014
If you work to build ongoing relationships with a community it can be beneficial to your brand.
Overall building niche specific lists of contacts you can work with on an on-going basis is my piece of Advice to somewhat “automate” the process, but my biggest saying is “focus on quality not quantity”.
Unfortunately, I’m not really a white hat.. I prefer to call myself “grey” so I really wasn’t too sure how to approach this when Venchito told me to automate link building, in terms of white hat. Then I realized I already do it on a number of my own sites that I prefer to have a “clean” link profile (compared to some of my darker arts based sites).
There’s 2 sites that I’d specifically suggest to generate backlinks, almost automatically.
The first is Tumblr, people can share your post and if it has a link within said post, the user that shared it will also be building a link from their Tumblr profile/micro-site which is on a different sub-domain to your own Tumblr page. Therefore building multiple links from a ton of different subdomains on Tumblr, often which are niche relevant to your strategy.
Jay did an epic video tutorial on this here.
The other is Reddit, it’s pretty simple to share content on Reddit and if it gets popular within the community it’ll easily be picked up by 100s of other users and sites.
The best guide I’ve ever seen on using Reddit was on Social Media Examiner. It goes into detail about how you can find your audience, make content for that specific “subreddit” community and get a ton of traffic, as well as links! – Reddit links are all dofollow.
My type of automation is not responsible for actual link creation, but instead I use tools to surface up interesting opportunities. Previously I used 80legs to do the job, but eventually had a tool developed which crawls the web and looks for broken links on random websites. All broken links are then classified and presented in a report. This allows me to find interesting opportunities. If I see a high quality page linking to a broken resource I often re-create that type of content on my site and advise the linking site to correct a dead link by pointing to my resource. This is obviously done when it makes sense contextually and it’s meaningful to my site to have that type of content in the first place.
I love doing and publishing research as a scalable link building tactic. When you are creating data that doesn’t exist, or replaces existing outdated information, you will get links from people talking about what you’ve done. A really good example of this is AYTM Market Research – they publish research pertaining to current events on a daily basis on their blog. These posts are picked up and referenced by news sites and other blogs.
Of course for this to work, people have to find your content. This means you’ll either need a lot of people regularly coming to your blog (direct visits), a big social following that you can promote your resource to, or you’ll have to initially promote via outreach and paid social ads. Once your resource gains some traction and does well in the SERPs, this process will fuel itself as people searching for data will continue to cite you.
The most effective way to automate or scale link building is to make a piece of content that a niche target audience (that is prominent and active online and has mainstream appeal) will react to and feel the need to share. By pitching the piece to a large mainstream publication that the niche segment reads, it’s possible to get mainstream press coverage and niche press coverage at the same time. Movoto is a great example of this, their Harry Potter/Hogwarts Property Estimate infographic It’s has earned links from over 140 domains including big authoritative news sites like Daily Mail, Fox News and Daily Finance – and it also scored links from niche harry potter/magic/science fiction fan sites like Nerdophiles, Toy To The World and Potter Talk.
The best way to automate your link building is through making sure that you understand which parts of the link building process can be automated. It’s a habit within our industry that we want to scale and automate as many processes as possible, but the reality is that to get the best links, you need to have a personal element in there somewhere.
Automating your prospecting through tools like the Link Prospector tool from Citation Labs or brand monitoring through Mention.net/Fresh Web Explorer will help with this. Also, a lot of your data collection can be automated through some clever XPath tricks which can then filter into your wider outreach campaign.
The key is to avoid over-automation because, inevitably, quality will drop.
The days of automated link building should be dead now. Google has shown that with the introduction of Penguin, Panda and most recently, Hummingbird, Google has openly showed their cards that any unnatural link building will be penalised and penalised heavily.
What Google is trying to achieve is that websites that are engaging and relevant to visitors will be ranked higher rather than those websites that are openly trying to bend the rules and play the system will be penalised – sooner rather than later.
Don’t mess about with automated link building, or even manual link building – make your website better, make both people and search engines want to visit your website and create content that people will want to link to. It’s not an easy way, but it’s the right way.
I don’t particularly like the term “white hat” or differentiating things between white hat / black hat / pharrell’s hat / whatever hat, but I do understand the context of how it’s being used in this example so I’ll let it slide :). When I hear “automate” I think of something that should be working when you’re not. And when I hear “white hat” I’m assuming ‘above the board’ strategies. With that, my answer would be something that sounds simple, but is pretty excruciating and takes hard work. Build an audience & relationships. Work hard to build an audience and those relationships. Even though that’s a lot of up front and consistent work, it pays off in the long run so you can become more” automated” in the sense that you’re generating links when you’re not necessarily trying.
Audience: Because that audience will be the ones that gives legs to your content. You can’t “automate” anything if you’re throwing your work into an empty room. You should always be sharing what you create on your social networks, email lists, etc, and over time, as your audience builds, they’ll be your wind that carries your sailboat. They’re the ones who may automatically start including you in their weekly roundups or email newsletters because you provide useful content and planting your seeds with their audience. This can generate natural links over time.
Relationships: As you work with publishers, you should be providing something of value [unique data, research, etc] so that they’re always looking to see if you’re published something useful that could support a piece they’re putting out, or looking to see if you could collaborate on something interesting with them. In this instance, when you nurture relationships, you’re working with both your and their audience/distribution list, which expands your reach exponentially and also generates natural links for the long-run.
Of course, there are other strategies out there, but this is one that is general enough where it can apply to the majority.
One of the most easy and reliable ways to automate link building in a white hat way is to turn citations into links. You can do this by setting up a Google Alert for your business name or trademarks, then whenever you generate press mentions, just check the stories to see if the mention included a link to your site or not. If not, you have an opportunity to turn your citation into a link by sending a thank you note to whoever mentioned your business, then very gently asking if they’d consider adding a link to where your company’s name is mentioned. Don’t press the issue too hard though, since you ought to be thankful for the fact that they mentioned you at all. However, I’ve noticed that this link outreach tactic works nearly 50% of the time which is a very high success rate for link building pitches. The reason is because the author probably thought highly of your company in the first place, which is why they bothered mentioning you in the first place.
“Just keep on creating/doing things that’ll be really hard or would take so much time for your competitors to replicate. I believe that’s the best way to become a genuine link magnet – and to semi-automate your link building efforts.
Start with your own products/solutions/culture/services, to the content you produce, and down to the relationships that you build within your space. Building on a strong brand presence through these aspects of your business are the ones that can really result to a scalable link building process.
I’ve written a post about automating link building a couple of years ago, perhaps that post can explain my approach further.”
My favorite way to “automate” link building really has to do with measuring commitment. If it’s passive, it will scale with little effort, obviously. “Things worth embedding” fit this mark quite well, but infographics are played out. We’ve tried something new at Help Scout by creating resources like the Customer Service Quotes Database, which allows people to search a large collection of quotes about support, and then embed the quotes on their website. It’s become an “automated” source of linkbuilding simply because it takes up none of my time, and isn’t spammy or pushy because people embed by choice.
I’d say automating link building in a white hat way basically means getting links without any effort. If you are the best resource in your niche, you have a quite constant stream of natural incoming links, so the best tip to automate link building would be try to be the best one, but I bet this will not satisfy who’s looking for tactics. Anyway I’ve found that lists of “best of” work nicely: compile a list of the “best” blogs in your niche and promote it. Other bloggers will like to be included in it and you’ll ask them to publish a post (with a link) to cite the inclusion. Other new bloggers will read those posts, and contact you, and so on. Once you’ve reached an initial critical mass, it will continue by itself.
I think we’re entering into a period where anything automatic/scalable is in a gray zone, if not straight-up “black-hat” in the Google spam team’s eyes. When marketers find something effective that’s scalable, Google starts issuing warnings and doing algo updates. This is why Larry Kim and I think links are bound to lose value in the next five years.
That said, link building is still totally viable for now. One of the best semi-automatic ways to build links is to include plenty of internal links in your own content, blog posts in particular – then, when those posts get syndicated, scraped, quoted, etc., the links are often preserved.
I don’t know many quality link building strategies that are totally automatic but there are definitely ways to scale strategies. One of my favorite scalable strategies is getting links from websites who are using my images without linking.
Steps to getting links from images:
1. Drop your images into Image Raider, which will check and alert you when people are using your images.
2. Find if they are not linking to you as the source ( I use the link analysis chrome extension ).
3. Use a canned response to request that these websites link to you.
Types of images to monitor for link opportunities:
- logos (old and new)
- profile pictures
SEO industry has changed heavily over the past few years and Google has started to target and crack down much of the automated link building methods. There are quite less methods that are actually work well and that will ensure that you stand the right side of Google.
The best way to think about automated link building strategies is to think more about semi-automated link building. That’s where you might look for a service, or a solution that helps to do what someone might actually do manually or you actually pay someone to do manually but it is still automated for you because you don’t need to do it. Some examples of automated link building would include submission through to some high-end directories, manual submission to a service like WhiteSpark.
Another would be taking video and chopping it up into pieces, uploading that into Youtube, transcribing the video and then posting the video and transcription on your website and using press releases and social media to announce the new content. That can be an automated process with a service like Melbourne SEO Services. Using all of these link building methods shows you an automated way for link buliding for you. However, it is still done manually, maintaining a high quality standard, remaining white hat and giving you long lasting results with Google.
There are actually multiple ways you can use to make your website a magnet that receive relevant and quality links automatically and on regular basis but most of them are difficult or take years to become one.
There is one way that I use for few of my clients and receives and good amount of natural links on regular basis without much efforts. The idea is to own all the long tail informative key phrases.
How to do that?
The idea is to use SEM Rush and collect all the long tail informative keywords at one place, export the list in an excel sheet and try to create content against those key phrases.
Once the content pieces are live work on those pieces and make them rank against those key phrases (this will be easy as most long tail informative keywords contain less or no competition at all).
How will this Automate Link Building?
The keywords you are trying to rank are mostly informational and not commercial so most people who will search for the key phrases will be bloggers or people who are looking for some information. Usually when content creators and bloggers find the information they are looking for they tend to link the same resource.
If you will be ranking for good amount of long tail informational keywords, you probably will see links pointing back to your website on regular basis.
Link building automation is very risky and potentially spammy in case you do it wrong. Never automate the whole process of building links but just aspects of it. There are tools that assist you with finding broken links for example. Monitorbacklinks is one of them. SEOcrawler is another one.
I have written a post about that: http://seo2.0.onreact.com/
They will notify or show you once they discover a broken link on a site you monitored so that you can approach the webmaster to replace the link with one leading to your site. You can also create an outreach message template and reuse it even automatically just by replacing the name, URL, website, issue at stake and so on.
Automation in the technical sense is just a workaround in my opinion.
What you really need is a plan where you get links automatically without creating them by a software or something like that. You should aim at a way of generating links by itself naturally. Giving content away under a Creative Commons license that requires an attribution is such a method. This works great for images of course.
Another great way to get links “automatically” is to mirror a high traffic site (with the consent of the owner of course). I have done that several years ago for a popular Flash animated movie and never touched the site ever since. It earned more links over the years than my blog I’ve spend countless hours on.
– Tad Chef
I’m personally not a huge fan of automating link building, because the more automated it gets, the less personal it gets. However, when doing things at a large scale, it’s near impossible to avoid. That being said, I always encourage people to split test their messaging, subject lines, and email length. By improving the response rate of your emails, you can spend less time on automating; keeping your responses more natural and appealing to higher quality sites.
Beyond that, I think the most important thing is prospecting efficiently. One tool I’ve been impressed by recently is Group High. This allows you to sort bloggers by their following in specific social networks, making it easy to use for various industries. It’s a little pricey, but totally worth it if outreach is a big part of your business.
“Use a service like Mention.net to automatically monitor and track mentions of your brand or topics that you write about on your site. Then use email outreach for link reclamation (Ross Hudgens did an awesome White Board Friday on that) or to promote content that you’ve written on that topic and want to share.
It’s not super-automated, but it’s as automated as white hat gets :-)”
Create a brilliant piece of content and make people aware of it through digital PR and social; amplification to reach as many eyeballs as possible. If that content resonates, as it should, with your audience they WILL link to it!
This is a tricky question to answer because link building, good link building that is, shouldn’t be automated. But I suppose that the most automation I’ve used are tools like Citation Labs Link Prospector or Buzzfeed, that are tools that automate alot of the process. Outside of that, I automate local citation building by using vendors like Citation Labs and Yext Power Listings. So basically automation occurs for me via usage of tools to automate parts of the link building process, or via using vendors to execute certain specific link building activities.
My best tip to automate link building is to leverage mail merge for initial outreach. Here is a great article and video on how to do this through gmail, which I often share with others.
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