Link Building ·

Why You Shouldn't Manual Link Build by Ross Hudgens of Siege Media

Bernard Huang

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Ross Hudgens of Siege Media joined the Clearscope webinar to share why you shouldn't manual link build.

Ross and his team have sent over 1 million link-building emails in the past 10 years. And he shares exactly why they’re stopping most of it.

Join our weekly live webinars with the marketing industry’s best and brightest. It’s 100% free. Sign up and attend our next webinar.

Watch the full webinar

Check out Ross' slides from the webinar here.

Here are our biggest takeaways from Ross’ talk:

  • Flawlessly execute SEO best practices and use the best-in-industry design on content hubs and posts.

  • Prioritize passive link generators on the site like in the site’s navigation.

  • Increase internal links from visible real estate on your site (e.g., in the site’s navigation, on the blog hub page, in the blog post sidebar).

And check out the resources Ross shared below:

About Ross Hudgens:

Ross Hudgens is the founder/CEO of SEO-focused content marketing agency Siege Media. His work has been featured on Moz, Search Engine Land, and Hacker News just to name. He is also a frequent speaker with appearances at MozCon, LearnInbound, SearchLove, and many others.

Follow Ross on Twitter: https://twitter.com/RossHudgens

About Siege Media:

Siege Media is an 110-person SEO-focused content marketing agency. Siege has made the Inc. 5000 six years in a row and has worked with Asana, TripAdvisor, Casper, and Intuit among others.

Follow Siege Media on Twitter: https://twitter.com/siegemedia

Read the transcript

Travis:

Joined by Ross Hudgens. He's the founder and CEO of an SEO-focused content marketing agency, Siege Media. His work has been featured on Moz, Search Engine Land, and Hacker News, just to name a few. He's also a frequent speaker with appearances at MozCon, Learn Inbound, Search Club, and many others.

So, before we get started, go ahead and drop your questions in the Zoom chat, in Q&A. We'll hold those until the end. And Ross, the floor is yours.

Ross:

Of course, thanks for having me, Travis and Bernard, and Clearscope team. Excited to be here, talking through this topic. It's a big one for us. So, it'll be interesting to talk through it, and to get intricate details of it.

So, you gave a little context for us, want to give further details, because the context of this overall presentation is to share why we change from a philosophy of promoting a lot of content manually to not. And I think the history of Siege is helpful for understanding that and why. Hopefully, there is some experience behind our decision to do that.

So, roughly 110 people now. We're turning 10 in August. We generally work with medium and large size brands, clients like Asana, Intuit, TripAdvisor, AirBnB and more are past and current clients. We don't work with local businesses. So, your mileage may vary with this strategy there. I would almost, my hypothesis is actually, this probably, won't port to those businesses, but I want to share our common client types, which can inform potential biases in this presentation.

So, the overall outcome and conclusion we got to, that's the basis of this presentation is, we had started as a link building company at the Core. I was a link builder, as the founder of Siege. And we really, were most tasked through content to generate links.

So, it is a lot of that. We started doing a lot of manual outreach. And really, in that 10 years of sending emails as a big team now, we've sent over a million emails and just crunching a lot of numbers, looking at the data qualitatively, thinking about things, we think manual link building no longer makes sense for 90% of the companies we help. It's a very big decision for us to make, but we're very confident it's the right one. And this presentation will effectively walk through the why of that and share how you can potentially, be successful with this strategy as well.

So, before I get into every detail, I want to walk through that story, which can share context for that final decision and why we think it's a good one. So, first, we started in 2012, effectively doing a lot of link bait for our clients that really had no search volume attached to it. So, the idea here was just generate a lot of links for clients. We would do things like data visualizations, infographics, just overall link bait with that maybe had some social proof from Reddit or a BuzzSumo, or what have you.

And that was successful, did well, but it was just the first stage of this is Google had moved away from, or a little more away from Gray Hat link building like paid links and the like, so this was our first step in that direction. From there, we evolved in the 2016 range into link bait with search volume.

So, what this means essentially is, we still did a lot of manual outreach, but more often, we were attaching search volume to the concept just to try to drive a little more value. So, an example is we have an infographic here on how Skyscrapers are built. This article generally, tied to search volume for that concept. Probably, not going to generate a lot of sales for the client, but potential to drive passive links and generally, showing further social proof that this is an interesting concept.

This was generally successful or was successful. And a trend we noticed in doing this once we had enough sample size is beyond just the branding benefits of not doing these one-off link beta assets in isolation. The cost per link of these assets was much better. So, we actually ran math 18 months post published for the set. We have it live on our side as well. And the cost per link was just way more performative than those ulterior options.

Because a lot of people were finding this content through search, especially top funnel assets and siding it. Our manual push definitely helped those assets in many instances rank. But the overall strategy showed that it had a long-term potential going that route. This led us generally to ideate further around concepts that have passive link intent.

So, we were just doing content, tying it to search volume that we generally thought was promotable through manual outreach. But then, we started getting more sophisticated around concepts that might actually, have clear intent to passively link and do more of those.

So, you can get more sophisticated example. Generally, calculators perform very well. So, this asset grocery budget calculator, we created this huge passive link intent. Now, it has over 360 links and 10K visits per month, and actual business value to the client as well. So, calculators would be one framework that we move towards and saw more success with, generally.

And as this transition happened and we were doing more of this hybrid content, Google started rewarding brands more and more. What you really start up seeing as much of is, companies that were maybe really good at manual link building. Even if it wasn't paid link building, there was an airtime in there where you could effectively fake link building manually or not fake it, but you would do... You're good at link building that was authentic, but maybe your product itself was not that good.

What we saw, and I would guess many people in this chat saw over time is, those sites sometimes got hit relatively strongly. Maybe, they just weren't being as successful on average. And what that meant is, who was starting to win more often were the people that were naturally acquiring some of those links over time.

They had a good product in addition to that link acquisition activity that was having, or happening. And they had product market fit in some way to effectively drive that, or at least something about the business intuitively even a product market fit wasn't exact was starting to acquire some links naturally.

So, this was part of that transition that allowed this to happen. Our overall split in terms of our approach was when we started, we would build shareable assets into content. So, what our idea there was, is we'd build a high-quality piece of content, and then we'd build a shareable asset that would make it easy when we pitch someone to link back to it.

So, infographics is the stereotype, but there also be like long form images or even like several different images or a printable or a downloadable that would make that happen. So, this was a part of that overall thesis. And I'll shift sharing to a new screen to show a little context for this. One second, and an example asset.

This is an example asset we created for FTD several years old now. Flower client tied to search following types of roses. So, visual, scannable, just a big comprehensive list of flowers that I think is set up to potentially, rank. Maybe, we do a few things differently today. But overall, high quality asset.

And you see at the end, what we would often do is build a shareable. So, here we actually, build a really unbiased, nice companion of flowers at the end. This is something that is just going to make it easy, win, pitching outside sites for them to link back to this client. But you can see, what was unique about this structure is that, we often would design or structure our time simply to do that work.

So, the first half of that post does, in my opinion, a pretty good job of matching search intent to be able to rank for that concept. Maybe, with some minor tweaks for today. But then, we'd effectively double the time to be able to then promote it manually. So, the two things would be, we would build a shareable design asset or assets, and then we'd actually manually, spend time to do that outreach.

So, we're effectively doubling the time in order to be able to do manual outreach for our content. So, when you remove that need, our sweet spot while still creating very high-quality content was closer to 36 hours where we're creating highly visual assets, SEOs baked in, high quality copy, et cetera.

So, you're effectively cutting that in half. If you think you can potentially, rank and drive similar outcomes without doing outreach, you can see how this is starting to percolate about why this might not be the most productive use of time to be doubling time, simply to do manually app due to do manual outreach.

So, over time, we effectively started mixing up our content types, roughly for a lot of clients, we were building content like that, where we just do manual outreach and tie to search volume. But we also had other clients where we only did keyword driven content. This is not uniformly the case, but a common split would be very frequently, doing content around 36 hours per post.

And then, we had some clients who were a mix of manual outreach, and then keyword driven content. Those were our three sweet spots for clients. And slowly over time, we pushed away from manual outreach intended to get more keyword driven only, and also mix clients as well, just because we found more fits there generally.

And in seeing more data and sample size, we realized the people who were just doing the non-manual approaches very often had the most successful outcomes. There's definitely some correlation there in terms of these are high authority sites. So, this was a major reason why we made this instinct strategy selection early is, it was obvious to us that they didn't need manual outreach to see success.

But you can see in this math were just a sample size of a few of those clients, if you're a middle authority client and you only saw even 25% of these results, even 20% of these results, that is still a very positive outcome for that company. So, that was potentially starting to get us towards an aha of why this might not be the right route to keep doing manual outreach.

And to just be clear, what also stood out and how our thinking behind this is, we're not saying links are eating less important. What we realized, and also looking in the math of these clients is they generated a ton of links. Actually, many of them generated several hundred per month with the volume they were doing.

They were definitely big clients doing big volume. But just compounding this effort, it scales, it adds up, and it can generate a ton of links for you over time. So, we did a little math of the comparison between those two models with a few hypotheses in play.

So, the idea was, we see that 36 to 72 idea. I think it's reasonable to assume the manual link building approach will generate some rankings faster. You're going to get links quicker. I think that's a fair assumption to make. But the passive link building approach, if we assume we're generally building more high quality content faster and/or can build better content or do content updates, spend more time on quality, the math starts to overtake the manual link building approach relatively quickly, if we can rank reliably.

And we still generate links through this math, this approach. But effectively, because we're removing the things we would do just to manually promote content. And we only focus on the content quality, the math supports that change. So, where we kept getting to from here is that, with looking at that sample size, looking at clients that were pure search volume, only mix of search volume plus manual link building.

Even on low to middle authority sites, if we can nail content strategy and match some ideal characteristics for clients, and also help them get to those ideal characteristics, this is really not necessary for a lot of clients that are out there or potentially, websites that are out there. So, what those are? I'll get into in this next section.

So, first is link and search traction. So, something I've been more bullish on recently, is moving beyond the idea of domain authority and domain rating, still things we look at. And I think, they're important. But I think traction is Google telling you their perception of that website.

So, no matter how early a website is, if you see, I think good link traction, which probably means there's some product market fit going on or something about that business that you know will continue to generate links. And also, early positive momentum in terms of search traffic saying, Google likes something about this website. This is likely to continue, as long as execution is likely to continue.

Our feeling is that, with good content execution, you effectively can ride this wave, where it gets dicey as if this is not happening, or there is no traction because there probably is not product market fit or a good product behind it. And that is unlikely, to have momentum to follow on with it. So, if that's the case, it might be a little more difficult to ride this ascent up. But also, our thesis is, these are the websites and companies that will win.

So, you want to work with these companies, support these companies because it's the approach that is effectively winning these competitive search results month-on-month. The second piece is a content hub that supports SEOs best practices. So, a big part of this being successful overall is internal linking. So, you make up for lack of external link building by making sure your internal linking is really dialed in.

So, our first piece of that is making sure your content hub follows a lot of best practices. So, in our recommendation, those best practices are things like 15 plus links. So, all the content is hopefully, at max two clicks from the homepage. You also have several manually selected areas. So, you can put important content that both converts well. And also, has intent to rank up front. This will get it one click from the homepage.

Hopefully, users also interact with it. They can more likely find it, link to it passively. This also has other good best practices such as like, visually diverse thumbnails that will drive interest, make it more likely people will click and be interested in your content. I do think generally, thinking about your content section as a library, rather than what it has been a blog, which is just newest to oldest.

Also, it helps for more organization around your content. And that will help you perform better than a lot of blogs that are effectively newest to all list. The second is just a post structure that nails SEO best practices. And also, has best in industry design.

So, Zendesk is a good example of this, where it's very scannable. They have great, unique elements for ordered lists, unordered lists, callouts these image highlights. Their thumbnails at the end, also drive visual interest. They're linking to other SEO posts in that area rather than random content. And because they're visually interesting, and also in that same silo of sales, probably going to engage with them more often on average, which probably is going to drive more outcomes for you.

And also, the internal linking by highlighting four assets in that same silo likely is going to drive value for them. It's when you have a content section that looks nah, that's not driving trust on first load, that you start feeling that you need to do manual link building. And I think that is a lot of what happens. Today, there's a lot of people think they need manual links or they're missing links because they have something fundamentally wrong with some of these elements on their website.

The next piece is to prioritize content by keyword difficulty. So, if you're a newer business, even that one with a smaller traction level, if you can do what we call a keyword opposition and benefit analysis, look up a 100 to 150 topics that are relevant to your business and sort by difficulty and prioritize based on that. You're more likely to have confidence that you can ladder up to the higher difficulty topics.

So, that's a big piece. Another element I would add is prioritizing passive link topics as well. So, a few other things we do here is, we're looking at page traffic value, page traffic to effectively look at the entire topic opportunity. We'll also look at links to top results, so we can get some idea of what the passive link intent is for that topic at a high level.

So, maybe, we will qualitatively put some high passive link earners earlier, especially if they're in the middle difficulty range, because if we can get that engine humming, it'll carry a lot of the rest of the strategy. We also adjust for relevancy to just to make sure it's relevant for the business. Some like for us, this is just a made-up concept, but how to get more likes on Facebook is not relevant to Siege Media business, really at all. We probably, shouldn't do that asset. That would be a low relevancy score.

But content marketing would obviously, be very relevant. We would give that a higher score and adjust the score appropriately. And then, if you finally adjust that by scope, you basically have impact. You can prioritize in a really high leverage way to show results quickly for your business. Even if you're on the lower authority range.

The next piece of this is a content section that's highlighted in the top navigation for visibility and internal linking. So, again, our two goals in making up for external link building is, one, make our content more visible and make up for external links with internal links. So, we effectively accomplish both of those goals with a more improved dropdown learned section.

So, if you're really investing in content, belief is that you should really, make this pop. You can highlight core categories here. This is just one example. There's other examples that are actually, way more visual than this, where you can point to maybe high converting content or high conversion content or passive link intent topics, pushing those higher in the architecture, making them more visible, should hopefully drive more outcomes, net-net, and make your content marketing strategy, not need the manual link building you might have been doing, otherwise.

So, another piece that I might suggest, you could prioritize passive link earners higher in the architecture and internal linking. So, an example here for Embroker, startup statistics, statistics terms are just generally a cliche passive link earner, but they can be effective if you have the topic authority which Embroker does and startup insurance. This is prioritizing in their site architecture, ranks number one, as of this time, hard to save it's exactly because of things like this. But it might help get it more visibility net-net.

So, if you do that, you also make sure to put it on your blog hub, you prioritize it in another internal linking, you effectively think about internal link building in the same way you would with manual link building. You're like, "How can I get more links to this asset within my own website?" You can start the engine of that passive link acquisition and happen in a more accelerated fashion, for sure.

And I should punctuate it with unique quality content. There's no doubt about that. That's like the macro strategy things, but the content itself needs to be great, of course. So, this asset for sauna is visual, it's scannable, it has great images that support the concept. It matches the search intent. You have to execute on that time and time again, or you're not going to win. But so, that's an obvious, great, great content as part of this thesis, but it's an important piece of it.

And I realize one slide I did not include in this, I would add now, as we've been thinking about this more thoughtfully is, making sure your overall content section is well-oiled machine. So, something we've been pushing harder on our content audits. So, if you have thousands of blog posts that are doing nothing for your business currently, making sure you prune and redirect those appropriately is going to make it, so that internal linking engine best funnels to the pages you want to be successful.

So, when we've seen companies be less successful with this approach, or potentially less successful it's because very often, they have a lot of fluff and noise in their current content section. And if you can cut that down with some period content audits or auditing, you can potentially, drive more outcomes overall.

So, we brought this approach, we decided looking at everything we just saw and all those theories, and also data was ready to bring this to clients. So, we brought it to hybrid content approach clients first, to go full creation only. So, the idea with these clients just to reiterate is, we were already doing a mix of 36-hour posts that were keyword driven and 72-hour posts that were link building plus search volume driven as part of the strategy.

So, just very early, find out how to be useful data set, but this client was working on the 72-hour manual outreach approach around January. We switched them to the pure keyword driven content only approach. You see the overall traffic arching up. You actually, see links arching up, who knows if it's correlation or causation. I think if anything, it might be helpful to think about the fact that it stopped and growth continued.

Even if it's not doubling the fact that it kept continuing. And you think about this as a long-term outcome, and we're already in month six and it's looking very positive, probably is supporting that something right might be happening here with this client in particular. And we look forward to updating more examples of this as time continues, but this was an early evidence point that I think is worth noting, for sure.

So, I don't want to conflate this with the fact that you shouldn't ever do manual outreach. That's not what we're saying. We actually, still do manual outreach for some clients. It's just making it more selective when you do. So, I walk through a few selections when that potentially, could make sense for you.

So, the first would be brand new websites. So, generally, if your brand-new website, it might make more sense to nudge yourself up, especially if you, something about your business, you know it's just not going to change in terms of the positioning of it, or the product market fit. And you know search is so strongly going to be a channel that you want to emphasize, and maybe, it's your only channel, that could make sense to do early.

But we generally, recommend to many clients that you would rather wait until product market fit or Series A for several reasons. One, you have traction at that point, that traction has equated to an initial amount of links, which short in the timeline, you have more runway to be able to see results while in the early stages, you effectively need to survive to the next round and show traction.

So, doing something that's going to take 12 months is often not attractive for you. So, we would often push that out. And you also see results such as what we just showed you earlier with, if you're seeing any traction dialing this in early is possible. So, that website has only been live for like six months, but you're already seeing traction.

So, there is an argument to still do this approach, but I think it's reasonable with all that considered. If you're early, something about your business is just, you know you're not going to change your positioning of it. You have enough money in the bank that you can just get going immediately. It probably, doesn't hurt to do some manual outreach early for that company when you're not going to have, it's going to take you 12 months to see that path, potentially.

Other things are just high link value. So, we use an equation called a Lifetime Link Value Equation to do ROI analysis for our clients. What we look at here is, we look at the traffic value according to Ahrefs. We divide it by the number of links of a winning website. So, we're looking at a winning competitor set of competitors in an industry. We think we can eventually beat. That creates a monthly value per link.

Of course, so many things going to rankings beyond just links, but it's a decent directional measure of link value. We would then, multiply it by 24 months to get a Lifetime Link Value. This effectively says, links have attrition on the web. They stick around for a good amount of time. What will be the perceived value of that link? Some industries have this number very high; credit cards are one of them. That's why, this cardratings.com number is one of them.

If it's that high, there's argument for doing manual link building, for sure, because the ROI is there. Clearly, even if you can keep doing what we're doing productively, you can do manual outreach, digital PR on top of it, and still hypothetically, get return from that effort. I would say, generally, a good benchmark for this is doing this math equation and considering above 10,000 per link. This is where the math just hits you in the face. It's very obvious.

I would add on top of it, generally, doing things that have secondary value, I think is always smart. If you're purely doing this for links, not always going to be a great outcome on a long-term timeline, but if you really, have argument that what you're doing has PR benefit for your brand and is building secondary snowball effects through that work, I think there's argument to do it, for sure.

So, these are the clients we're still doing this for is that, really High Lifetime Link Value. They're not a dime a dozen. This is some of the hardest industries in the internet that are in this framework, but it is an industry where it can make sense. Also, targeted high leverage outreach. So, the average we were describing were very often sending around a hundred targeted emails to people with covered content like ours.

In these cases, you might send fewer, but still, very impactful outreach that you think can generate high leverage outcomes. So, examples that come up say, your brand is getting mentioned a lot, but not being linked to. Example is AirBnB gets mentioned a lot online, but doesn't get linked to. Their cost per link for actually, reclaiming that will be so low, that it's worth doing to them most certainly.

Other things are just generally, influencer inclusions or ego bait where the effectively, the outcome of that one piece of email that likely has a high hit rate is strong. So, those inclusions will still continue to make sense. And I'd also say, high impact digital PR, even if your link numbers on this are lower, if you have a Series D Round, or a Series C Round, or you have a big product launch, or you acquired a company, of course, you're still going to do that PR and it's worth doing because it has secondary effects.

So, I'd add that here. Like if you have PR benefits that are very clear, this number could probably, be lower, that's not always the case for all businesses. And very early, I think nudging high link intent topics for low authority sites is not a terrible thing to do. So, if you find topics that have thousands or hundreds of links to them, that clearly seem to be generated by ranking.

If you nudge them with manual outreach to get that initial push, could be worthwhile. Something we're digging into and hope to have more data on is, you could potentially, do the same thing with PPC. So, you could be doing PPC for these topics, with the intent to drive links and potentially, have a higher cost per link.

We need more data to be able to put it in this, but I would at least want to note, that's a potential alternative to this as well. Beyond all the qualitative, quantitative, or sorry, quantitative potential benefits of this. Also, I want to notice and mention qualitative positives that we expect and are already seen from this change.

First, I think it's inarguable that the links from this method are future proof. You lose no sleep by doing this. What you do manually, you always might have something in your back of your head, is this truly what Google wants to reward long-term?

Secondarily, I think even more powerfully. This is actually a very, very strong cost per link in many industries. We've seen as low as 150 or less effective cost per link on top of the actual secondary brand benefits you have. The difference, of course, is that this is long-term effective cost per link. It takes around 18 months to see those numbers as compared to you get that link in next month. But if you're playing the long-term game and really, trying to win with searches, that's a number worth solving for, in our opinion.

Another piece is just generally, shifting towards the mindset of how are we driving more conversions? How are we driving more qualified traffic? How are we overall making the business better, rather than thinking, how can we get more links to this? That philosophy change is just powerful. And you feel that difference on the companies that have an effective content marketing strategy versus the ones that clearly are edging towards links only.

And it's not a surprise that you very often see the people that are doing the former winning and generating more links, even if they might not be realizing that is the turnoff, the connective effect of that mindset shift. And if you're doing this and thinking about that correctly, all of your effort is going to the site experience itself. We talked about the blog hub. We talked about the content hub. We talked about the dropdown.

Focusing on the experience and quality of the site itself, very confidently, is going to drive better outcomes with that time investment as compared to reaching out manually offsite. So, your philosophy and mindset is better spent on the things that are going to drive longer term outcomes, because your philosophy has to go here, in order to do it.

Mixing those approaches. Yes, you still need to have a solid site experience to be able to be good on this. But mixing, it gets a little muddier in terms of the potential outcome for this approach. And it's worth noting. Generally, less outreach means more fulfilled content marketers.

Transparently, our outreach position at Siege, we had people doing research, writing and outreach was a very high turnover position at our company. I've heard similar from other people that have people doing high volume outreach, and it's a very small sample size, but since we've been implemented this change, we've only had one individual contributor content marketer leave.

I think there's side connective effects of that, both in just hopefully, people that stick with your company longer. But also, you're getting to know the business better. You're getting entrenched in the company. You're learning the strategy instead of having to replace those same people over and over. That's going to have knock on effects that will continue to drive value for your company over time.

So, even though, we're getting away from measuring individual links, we're not saying stop measuring links, period. We're still being thoughtful. And we think to make this work, you still need and be very confident in it. You at least need to think about it, especially in those middle authority websites.

So, what we're starting to measure for clients and potential clients is average links per blog visit. So, if we know what we'll look at is, how many visits a client had in a certain month compared to what they had in the previous month, to get to their monthly blog visits. And then, subtract how many links they generated in that time.

So, we looked at the number of links they generated against the visits they had in that month. I kind of did that math incorrectly, but we look at the number of visits they had in that month. And then, we look at how many links they generated in that month.

The argument is, if they're not doing manual outreach, that's how many links per visit they are generated on average. And if we look at several people in the same industry, we can create a common framework for how many links per visit to the blog section is likely, to occur using that sample size.

So, we look at several competitors in industry, several different blogs will remove outliers. We'll try to be passive with the number to get to a reasonable expected link per blog visit. So, from there, you can extrapolate that out to your expected outcome. So, we believe we can generate traffic outcomes such as this based on the average traffic for an industry. We can then, extrapolate out how many links we should expect to come out of that same strategy.

So, as you can see here, we're being very passive with the approach. We're in month 12. We stop the number of links that are being accrued. But if we can generate a strong growth rate into the $200,000 per month, we're going to be generating 60 plus links passively with this content strategy. And then, if you can extrapolate that against the cost, you get effective cost per link on an 18-month timeline.

Realistically, this is going to be probably, much stronger than this, but it's how you can start thinking about how many links this can generate. And it is realistic, you could run these numbers in certain industries. Maybe, your industry is not tech savvy at all. Maybe, they don't link that much through content marketing. That's why it's kind of useful. This is not... I don't ever want to say, it's black or white on anything.

So, you run this math. Maybe, the numbers are not super high. We have occasionally seen that, but most of the time, it's relatively strong for the clients, we help on average. So, you run this math and you get a sense for the links you'll generate. And you will see qualitatively, and especially for the middle authority sites, it takes time for this to get going.

So, you're seeing the momentum build once seven and eight, but when the engine starts running, it's very exciting numbers that start to calculate. And instead of focusing on, we got three links this month, instead focus at the macro level. So, we're trying to improve the entire content section, entire website for clients, so they can improve their macro link velocity rather than focusing on micro-outcomes that are less impactful, overall.

So, we can make an overall qualitative change to their blog that then impacts outcomes by 20%. That's a huge win, if they're already generating a hundred links per month. So, we're measuring this. You want to continue to try to improve it month-over-month, and think about it as the new metric for a content marketing strategy, in our opinion.

So, recap this at a high level, what you have to do to be successful in our opinion, with this strategy? So, first, validate your website has product market fit, improve the content hub and post template. Make sure it's great, really dial in your internal linking. So, I think the content hub and post template are part of that. The dropdown is piece of that. Start engagements with that was low difficulty, high pass link intent topics. This gets your engine going, build that best-in-class content.

Again, I realize, we're really starting to lean into this more recently, make sure you're consistently content auditing your work as well especially, if maybe someone else is creating content. Is there a lot of low performing content? Make sure that's prune and actively, taken or redirected appropriately to make sure your engine is humming correctly.

Prioritize those link earners in the side architecture, link to them more often in body, also on the blog hub, in the navigation if applicable. Ladder up to those high difficulty topics, once you're proving the model over time. Look at your link velocity, measure it, try to make sure it continues to improve. And don't stop thinking about links.

If anything, continue to focus on creating assets that you know, have strong passive link intent in your industry, and that is going to drive better outcomes for you over time. And then, finally, with the small typo on this last bullet, use that time spent on outreach, and instead, focus on things like improvements, updates, better content quality, strategy, CRO, so many high productivity areas you can spend that time and effort in our opinion, with this philosophy change overall.

And just to sum it up, I just want to restate, links still matter. We actually, think they matter so much. We've stopped doing manual outreach because the math is telling us, we can generate more doing it this way. And that's why, we're going that direction. We're not telling people we stopped doing link building. In fact, our current positioning is that, we're generating even more links with this model. Obviously, it's a different way of doing it, but that philosophy I think, is what makes us successful and continue to.

So, I'm not saying, we're not saying that manual outreach doesn't work. I think it's clear it works. It has worked. What the argument is instead, is that, there's a better way of doing things. Something that is more economical, that if you do it this way, you're going to win. If you don't do it this way and you compare it to someone that is, eventually, the analogy I've been using is that, you're using a hammer to get your results. And you're eventually, going to get beat by someone who's using that power tool to do the same thing.

And yes, it might work, but that doesn't mean it's going to work long-term when someone is using a better approach to beat you. So, this is a long summary of this approach, but we also have a big blog post on this. We have a video. If you Google manual link building, hopefully, we're ranking number one on this concept right now.

So, if you want more context, you can find that. And all these results, you can find that there. So, but I appreciate everyone coming on to this, and thanks for having us on Clearscope team. Love to answer any questions.

Travis:

Awesome. Very good talk. We have a couple of questions. You can start with this one, from anonymous we have. With passive link pieces, the immediate benefits, aren't there in a way that they are with manual out link outreach, how do you tackle that with clients who are used to getting links right off the bat?

Ross:

It is a long-term approach. So, if you're doing links right off the bat with strategy, one of the things we've benefited from is, we've worked in the other things. So, once you start building confidence with working in the shorter content, that's still tied to search volume, that's a passive link generator. It hedges their risk also, where you're of mixing the approaches. And hopefully, you can show them that this does work over time. So, that would be my suggestion.

Some clients might be really open to it. Maybe, they just always have confidence in what you're doing. If that's the case, you could more aggressively jump, but that would be our suggestion is transition. And if you can transition for us, like these were easy arguments to make, these were harder, and some of them were still doing digital PR. It still makes sense too, but that would be my suggestion for you.

Travis:

Awesome. Awesome. And we have a couple questions from Bernard. You dropped them in earlier. There's this idea that links to a certain page types, predominantly, benefit the page type. Do you agree or disagree? For example, links built to blog posts will predominantly generate link equity for your blog posts.

Ross:

Yeah. So, that's a good question, Bernard. Our thesis on that, that also just drives to a wider content strategy is that, you should have a content section that inherits the main navigation. I think a lot of people come to that conclusion partially, because their content section does not inherit their main navigation and internal linking is not optimal.

So, let me find a quick example. I believe Asana actually, is a good example of this, where their content section... One second as I shift. Their content section inherits the main navigation. I think this has internal linking benefits, where many people's blog sections. They started as publication, or maybe just from a security standpoint, it didn't make sense.

So, I can see how that makes it more difficult to have the benefit of those links be seen. And secondarily, even if it's not the case, our argument to clients is that, this is a better shopping experience. So, our goal is to drive conversion. So, having it inherit the main navigation is going to be more likely, to drive that outcome. So, if that's done internal linking is strong, we're still linking to sales pages, category pages. Belief is that, you definitely, can help the sales pages rank with the strategy as well.

Travis:

Awesome. And then, another question is, do you think content cadence matters? For example, publishing 12 blog posts in one month versus publishing one piece of content every month or for a year?

Ross:

I don't think so. As long as you believe in the quality of those 12. So, if it's the best result for that asset and you believe that confidently, publishing 12, I think is completely fine. Just if that can be accomplished with that differentiation. One thing we have thought, and you might want to think about it is, with some passive link intent topics, we've sometimes gone a little bigger on those.

You want to maybe build a moat, make sure it's a really defensible asset that can drive your strategy over time. That might be one you might want to do one big one, but if you believe in the quality and it's like the best result for that asset. I don't think it matters too much, in my opinion.

Travis:

Okay. You already answered this, but Lauren was expanding that question with, should you be adding those shareable assets on every piece of content or just maybe one out of five?

Ross:

Yeah, I might have miscommunicated that, actually. So, our thought process is actually, moving forward to not do this companion at the end. It would be instead, to just do the top part. So, this is still quality effectively. What you see for Asana is example of that. Building great visual assets into a piece of content, looks good. But there is no big infographic at the end. It just matches the search intent, quality piece of content, and doesn't require that doubling.

So, in our opinion, if you do want to do manual outreach still, this is not a bad approach, still works. This would be how we would do it. If you're transitioning, I think it's not a bad strategy. If you're not transitioning, this would be our suggestion.

Travis:

Cool, cool. And then, another question from anonymous, what are your thoughts on high quality guest post for high authority and relevant sites?

Ross:

It's just an effort thing. I think of that math, if that time you spent pitching those people, would've been better spent like creating high quality piece of content on site, that's more scalable and owned and will live much longer with updates. That's not universally, true though.

If it goes back to that theory of like, it's high leverage, like Moz is still great. Maybe, Clearscope will be the new version of this, Bernard and team, where people would guest post and it would drive a ton of value. And you'd get clients from posting on Moz. I think that's worth doing, and there's some link benefit too. If you can still make that argument, I think that still a 100% is still worth doing. It's just, if that's not the argument, I think it gets a little muddier in most industries. The time could be better spent on site.

Travis:

Yeah, that makes sense. And then, Miguel asked, "How do you come up with article topics for passive link strategy?"

Ross:

Yeah. So, overall, we're deep diving on an industry, getting to know it, make sure you're going the right angle in terms of understanding the business and how they monetize and their positioning in the market. We'll look at competitors. We do look at pass the links to the top result. So, we're trying to understand how many links on average this asset has.

One thing I might build on, you could look at the topic in Ahrefs or SEMrush and look at the link velocity over time. Occasionally, you'll get some high numbers for random reasons. Maybe, they redirected another post into that post. You want to look for that slowly accruing link velocity graph like this, like that is a... This is probably, strong indication that it came from search. If this is one asset.

So, that's the graph you want to look at, as compared to a spiky vertical. That might not be as a strong of an intent, but if you... A lot of these, you'll drive that. And sometimes, not every asset has to be 400. This gets very powerful when you have a business argument for the asset. And maybe, it generates 50 over two years, that's still, if you're putting 12 of those out a month, that gets pretty exciting, pretty quickly.

Travis:

Awesome. And then, Bernard had another question around quality content. What other elements do you think people are missing when it comes to quality content?

Ross:

Yeah, the blog experience, I think is a huge one. We're pushing, we're doing more web design recently, just so improving the sunk setup. You just fix that immediately. There's a 100% optimization big piece of it. I know Clearscope does a great job of that, in terms of recommending the long tail opportunities and keywords that need to be included in the topic.

I do see people get loose with optimization, and that doesn't always perform well. Probably, slightly out of the scope of this conversation. But something we are generally aiming for is, scannable quick answers. You can see there's a quick summary of this concept, like giving them that their information as quickly as possible. We call it time to value is reoccurring phrase our team. And I'm sure, sick of me saying, those are common reoccurring elements of good content, in our opinion.

Travis:

Awesome. Awesome. And we've actually, had several people ask this, but how does an engagement with Siege Media work? Typical cost for engagement? How many pieces of content will you get? Have it several asset, the chat already?

Ross:

That's very nice of people to ask. If it's okay with people, I can look at the chat and I'll reach out to them individually with more details on that. But I appreciate them asking.

Travis:

Okay. Awesome. Any other questions, Bernard?

Bernard:

Yes, I think there's somebody asking, do you use Clearscope for your content writing?

Ross:

Oh, we like Clearscope. So, we do. I would say, how we love Clearscope the most is there are clients we have that are very technical and we see a lot of value in Clearscope explicitly in context of technical industries, where you're more likely to miss jargon terms, something we've also been digging into more recently. I think is important just to continue to drive value for clients, is making sure you get word count down.

So, you saw scope on our KOB analysis. Something we've been thoughtful about recently, is what is the exact dose the client needs to drive the result. So, if you can reliably know, in quick fashion that a piece only needs a thousand words of content on average two rank. You can set up an efficient content plan with that knowledge and be more productive. But if you spend 72 hours on something that only needed 18, that's not that powerful.

So, I think there's a lot of real value in scoping correctly. Also, not stressing your teams out for the same reason. So, that's a very powerful use case for clear scope, which I like a lot and would recommend people take to analysis like this to further improve it. Because it's something I've been thinking about is, there's a lot of value in just giving the exact right dose for a piece of content, for sure.

Bernard:

Yeah, for sure, for sure. Something that we talked about a little bit in our podcast together, which if you haven't tuned into that, we'll drop a note and chat. But it is content refreshes, right? Is that something that you've been doing frequently for your clients? How important do you think is going back and retouching content consistently?

Ross:

Important. So, I would bucket that in the content auditing idea I mentioned. So, I would add that to this. I think I should have added that to this slide, it's for sure important. So, our general thought process, and I think you gave the same recommendation, Bernard, is update once a year.

But you can see how, if you're like doing a lot of 72-hour pieces of content and you don't have significant budget, you might not be able to be that productive, if you're updating a lot of content. So, this is where this can also be refocused on updates and still be able to put out new content at the same time. So, that's an excellent and exciting piece.

Bernard:

We have some other questions popping up. Nicholas asked, "What is the impact of having media like video embedded into the blog post?" I'll add a followup to that and say, does it matter if the video is unique and yours versus a snippet that you grab from a YouTube?

Ross:

Good question. Our general thought process with these things is to look at the search intent and ask and try to match that search intent in the best way possible. You had some good thoughts yourself, Bernard, that still like thinking through as well of like, maybe you should only really try to solve for a piece of search intent to be able to have a best chance of ranking for it.

I don't think it's ever a bad idea if like, I'm not getting an example, but you've seen examples where if you Google something like what is the model? You see videos on the search result. Our general suggestion there, would be to have a video for that topic. But if you're not seeing it as one of the results in the top 10, I think the intent is more clearly, showing that people don't want video.

Up here, I think is nudging that direction as well. You'll generally, see this actually, surface on the search result in my experience when it's strong enough, but at least it's pointing that some people are clicking videos, I'm guessing Google is reranking things accordingly.

We haven't gone as far as embedding external videos. I do think there's... It's not universally, the case. So, your mileage may vary, but if you're truly trying to build a big quality brand over time, splicing in non-owned assets, possibly could dilute that brand potentially. That's not always the case, but that would be a potential thought process for some companies that would maybe lean away from that. But I'd be curious, your thoughts on that Bernard.

Bernard:

Yeah, I haven't experimented with it too much. We're just getting our own blog content off the ground. But my gut tells me that it, A, is very important for certain types of queries. And those types of queries are oftentimes, going to be the ones where you see like video carousels or video featured snippets showing up.

And you could imagine a lot of those types of queries are going to be how to reviews and comparisons because somebody who's looking to learn how to change a spark plug in a car is going to be benefited way more from a video embed. And in those particular cases, taking somebody else's video and embedding it into your content, in my opinion, is not helping the user, right?

It doesn't matter that it's not yours. It's not unique. You're just helping the user get to the answer to their question as soon as possible. So, I'm of the opinion that video is going to be playing a larger and larger impact on content moving forward, especially as like AI content and just the infinity of content that we're going into, is going to just create more landfill of internet content as we know it.

Ross:

Yup, I'm seeing videos more often. I check Moz cast relatively, frequently. I know it's an imperfect measure, but data is showing, videos are getting shown more often. I think generally, anecdotally, makes sense. In B2B, I see it relatively, frequently, as well. And these knowledge type topics that are more complex.

Bernard:

Yeah. WB asks, "When you do outreach, do you use a client email address? For example, if we wanted you, Siege Media to do outreach for us, for link building, do I give you ross@clearscope.io? When I say go, or do you do it on behalf of Siege Media? Or do you do maybe, another approach?"

Ross:

It depends what base you're starting from. So, we eventually, got to the point where 98% of the time we did it from our own email. And the reason for that, is because we had a lot of relationships built out. So, we could leverage those relationships. They didn't recognize Siege Media, even if it wasn't exactly, the same person. They know we send them high-quality content. You build that efficiency over time.

There are some subtle exceptions, like if you have a brand that is so beloved and these are unfortunately, relatively rare, that's going to help you with open rate and click rate. And also, there's just brand requirements. Sometimes, we're asked by the client to use their email. Then, that can be a positive.

But if this is a short-term thing and you're only doing some outreach and you're unlikely to build relationships, potentially, their email could be productive for you. Let's say, long term-thing, building towards relationships. And that is probably, going to be the most productive.

Bernard:

All right. And then, Colin has a followup question to this. Of course, relationships, an awesome brand that people love matter the most when doing manual link building, but say you don't have that, what are the most common types of links you're building? Are you using link reclamation, guest posts, help a reporter out, what's the mix that you would target say in the past or currently?

Ross:

It is slightly it depends, but if you don't have a great brand, brand reclamation is probably, not going to be that useful for you. That is a side effect of getting mentioned a lot as a big brand. I do think content that you promote is a scalable, repeatable quality way of doing this that drives results.

Obviously, I'm super biased in our past, but the sense is that, that's what Google wants to reward. You also build towards passive link acquisition, if you can't get it out of the gate. So, that it has been a scalable approach for us. I know people do high quality guest posts and see success. So, there's other ways of getting into CAPA.

Our feeling is like, not always as that scalable. I've heard, you end up building footprints. And those sites are guest posts like, Google has come out on saying, "Don't do guest posts." That's one positive way we've done it as you pitch high-quality content.

Sometimes, they ask you to do a guest post, but you go in the door, promoting the content. And very often, they'll just publish it themselves. So, you also get higher quality guest posts because you're hitting a higher quality threshold than they're used to. And they just get pitched like 500 words of text.

Bernard:

Yeah, totally. I'm going to do some rapid fire because we're coming up on the hour. Anonymous asks, "Is there any value in cross posting blog content on the client's linked in newsletter?"

Ross:

I think distributing on, on own channels will always have value and be worth doing. I think that goes back to like, if you're a real brand, product market fit, that is a good strategy to emphasize what's already been done here. So, you could really add to that, not just putting in a dropdown, like asking your company to distribute it through their own channels, which is social and email. I think it's a smart thing to do, for sure.

Bernard:

Yeah. Anonymous asks, "Do you think there's a difference between embedding the video thumbnail that's a link to YouTube versus the actual YouTube embed in a piece of content?

Ross:

You mean, like a Wistia alternative?

Bernard:

I think it's like the question is, you can have a thumbnail that looks like it's a video like play button, but it links out to YouTube versus the actual player that you can play in the content.

Ross:

I would do the player, like going to that low time of value. How can you get the person, their answer as fast as possible that click feels like an extra and you have to click again, I think where the load time would add to it.


Written by
Bernard Huang
Co-founder of Clearscope

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