Search engines use links as a way to determine how well a particular page should rank in their results, and as a way to discover new web pages. Google, who have more than a 90% share of the global search engine market, cite links to a website as being one of the most important ranking factors there is – along with content quality and mobile optimisation.
As a result, website owners who want to appear on the first page of search results are on a constant quest to encourage as many third parties as possible to link back to their site. There are a range of tactics that can be used to build links, from broken link building to guest posting and all manner of things in between. The problem is, a lot of the common tactics involve a high amount of time and effort per link.
In an ideal world, you want your website to contain such great content that people can’t help but link to it. Rather than scour the internet for single link opportunities, creating linkable on-site assets invites a snowball effect where link after link can be organically gained.
The problem is, creating linkable assets is easier said than done. Some things are out of reach for the typical small-budget organisation, while those with cash to splash may find themselves in favour of commercially-led ideas which just don’t demand links like they should. With that in mind, here are a few things to consider and a few things to watch out for when dreaming up your own linkable assets.
Why do people link to content?
There could be several reasons that someone links to a particular page or piece of content, but the main ones are:
- The content proves a point they’re making
- It’s something that they think their audience will find interesting
- It solves a problem that they have
Obvious examples of content that could tick one or more of these boxes include data sets – which can prove a point – and free tools, which solve problems. Sometimes, all your content needs to do is offer a new angle around a particular topic – but whatever it achieves, it has to be done in a way that is engaging and which is almost impossible to share without linking to it.
You’ll sometimes hear it said that link-building is part hard work and part good luck. Well, it’s safe to say that the more hard work you put in, the less good luck you’ll have to rely on – so be prepared to do in-depth research, and to throw a lot of ideas in the bin before you find the ones that stick.
Using research to avoid disaster
Whether you’re a content marketer, an SEO specialist or someone who works solely in outreach, the painful flop of a campaign you’ve funnelled time and effort into really, really sucks. There is little worse than working hard to create something that you think is awesome, only to have it crash and burn, failing to pick up any interest or links.
So how do you avoid disaster? It almost goes without saying, but remains a common mistake in the marketing world; don’t assume that just because your team and your clients think something is a cool and useful idea, everybody else will too.
Your pre-game research should include reviewing a host of insights to definitively establish what your target audience are engaging with, and more importantly, what your target link-publishers are sharing.
Before sitting at a table and throwing ideas around, key insights to gather include:
- Link research: which pages of your or your client’s site are currently the most linked to? Which pages of competitor websites are the most linked to? Are they reaping links for how-to guides and explainer videos while you go without, or producing cool interactive content?
- Audience insights: what are your audience looking at online, what are they engaging with, and where are they doing it? If you don’t have customer personas, look at Facebook, Twitter and Google Analytics for guidance.
- Publisher preferences: once you’ve established which sites your audience hang out on and which sites are linking to competitors, pick through them. Do they often share infographics, or do they favour interactive content? Do they regularly report on new data, or update readers on new time-saving tips?
- Trending topics: are there any recurring seasonal themes that appear on the sites you’re targeting, or any breakout topics that are appearing across the board?
- What’s already out there: originality is king, but if you do wind up planning something similar to an existing piece of content, know it well enough to know if your version adds value or an insightful new angle.
Ideation sessions for new linkable assets should revolve around the information you find during research, using all of this evidence as a way to inform ideas. It’s called information for a reason. Often, creative idea sessions will hinge on ‘what relates to our new product / service and is interesting’ or ‘what do we think would be really useful’ – and not enough on what actually commands links.
Linkable assets don’t have to be a commercial, brand-led tool. They don’t need to sell your new product, or pertain to a new service you offer. They need to get links, so that those products and services end up ranking better in search results.
Think outside the box as far as you can. Wayfair, a company that sells furniture and lighting, once managed to gather more than 100 backlinks at speed from an interactive map on their blog. It shows the filming locations for different parts of Downton Abbey. What does that have to do with furniture? Absolutely nothing. But at the time, Downton Abbey was all anyone in their target audience was talking about – and publishers were keen to capitalise on that interest by sharing anything new and interesting they could around the theme.
Promoting your assets
‘If you build it, they will come’ doesn’t really work on the internet, with so many websites and content producers vying for attention. If you don’t tell people you’ve made something worth talking about, they probably aren’t going to talk about it – so once you’ve planned your content, start planning your outreach.
Certainly with organic link pick-up, the hope is that you won’t have to tell everyone about your cool new asset, because they’ll see it on other sites or find it being shared on social, and then they’ll talk about it for themselves. But in the first stages after content creation, outreaching your asset is key.
There are different ways to promote something depending on what that thing might be, but whatever you do, don’t just publish your new interactive map / infographic / original data set / cost calculator and hope for the best.
If you’ve built a new tool, for example, you could follow in Travelex’s footsteps and outreach it using the data it gives you or its users. If you send a pitch saying someone has created a calculator that tells people how much money they need for their holidays, publishers may be unlikely to write a story on it. But when Travelex sent out facts and figures from a tool that did just that – facts like which places you could travel in for the longest time with only £500 – they got the attention of websites far and wide who knew their readers would want to know. The end result, once again, was more than 100 links from around the web.
Whether you decide that your new creation requires the attention of paid social promotion or PR, straightforward page pitching or something else, be sure that your linkable asset plan doesn’t treat promotion as an afterthought.