Deciding to embark on a manual link building campaign often signifies the start of a long-term commitment to link acquisition. More often than not, the amount of time taken and the number of links built will be disproportionate. It’s important not to start a manual link building campaign expecting to build a large number of links.
For some websites, a time-consuming manual link building campaign is a necessary evil as the industry within which the site operates is very competitive from an SEO standpoint. An online dating website, for example. would expect to have to carry out manual link building, as it is the most effective way of building the good quality links needed to make a difference to search engine rankings. A website selling tea pots would likely not need to invest time or money in a manual link building campaign, as the industry is less competitive. This means that lower quality links such as those generated from social media activity or directory submissions would suffice.
For sites in competitive industries, assigning someone to seek out good quality links and then spend time in conversation with the target website, perhaps discussing ways to obtain the link or creating content that can be published on the desired site with a link, is a sensible and strategic way to allocate SEO hours. Manual link building shouldn’t be confused with link buying. Simply spending time buying up lots of links around the net is not an effective manual link building strategy.
Task 1: Cost and Budget Management
Buying links for PageRank or SEO purposes violates Google’s guidelines and a form to report sites you suspect of using paid links can be found in the Webmaster section. Most sites however will admit to buying at least some links from sites that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to build a referral from. This conundrum should form part of your link building preparation and planning.
If you do decide to buy selected links as part of your manual link building process, you must first make a very conscious decision to purchase only links from sites that are extremely relevant to your own and of a very good quality. It’s also wise to have exhausted other avenues such as news or article submission first. To help you stick to that decision, assign a limited budget to the acquisition process. Working to a figure quoted in your marketing plan or taken from your SEO budget will make you much more likely to turn away from the temptation to buy as many links as possible to make the link building process quicker and easier. The value of the link should dictate how much you are willing to pay for it, but you may also want to stipulate a cap on how much you are willing to pay per link. This will also give you cause for a rethink if you come across a site charging more than you can comfortably afford.
Task 2: Competitor Analysis
Competitor analysis should form the bulk of your plan, since a detailed understanding of how your competition is bettering you will dictate exactly how many links you need to aim for and the likely length of time your manual link building task is going to take. Finding competitor link backs can be done fairly easily with a site such as the Open Site Explorer Tool. Going through the report and analyzing the quality of link takes a little longer. However, this can provide a blueprint for your own link building process by highlighting just how many good quality links your competition has and how far ahead of you they are in the link count. An in-depth study of factors such as page authority, PageRank, and anchor text must then follow.
Task 3: Keyword Research
If your keyword list is quite small and you only wish to link build on a handful of phrases, the keyword research part of your plan may well be fairly short. However, if your SEO campaign is built around a large number of keywords, you’ll need to perform competitor and keyword analysis on any number of phrases. You’ll also have to decide if your efforts will be split between a mass of keywords, or if you’ll focus your manual link building on just a few select phrases.
Task 4: Identifying Link Targets
There are many ways to find potential link providers with the competitor research portion of the process likely to throw up a good few possibilities. Finding relevant sources will be an ongoing task and can be very time consuming. Deciding on the method or methods to be used is a milestone in the manual link building process – it pays to test a number of different routes before deciding on the most effective for your needs. Using data gathered from competitor research is a popular approach, but other strategies you may wish to consider include typing your keyword into Google and then trawling through the results, using a directory such as DMOZ as a starting point, or working through a target list of relevant newspaper, ezine, and magazine sites.
Task 5: Deciding On the Approach
The use of link buying as a possible manual link building process was discussed above but you’ll also likely want to consider other approaches and use bought links as sparingly as possible. Particularly for small businesses, buying links will simply be cost-prohibitive when the cost of the link and time needed to negotiate the contract terms and duration are factored in. A far more sustainable approach for a long-term manual link building plan is to identify other options. These options can be many or few, depending on previous experience, success in initial testing, and the depth of keyword and competitor research.