My 5 Step Business Development Link Building Process
Updated: Oct 13
Securing links that point to your website from other websites has been proven year after year to be one to the top-ranking factors. Without links, the internet would not exist because the internet is essentially just a massive database of content/pages and links. The Google machine spends its time indexing the information from one page then follows the links on that page to the next page (both internally and externally) and so-on.
The problem is that many website owners and even some professional digital marketers still struggle to get other websites to add a link pointing to their own website.
There are many ways you can go about building links to your website and hundreds of reasons why you should do it. The internet is full of link building techniques such as Brian Dean's link building guide and Link Research Tools 22 link building tips, so instead of regurgitating what someone else has already written and published, I want to show you another way that you can start to generate some links yourself. My previous social media link building method went down well because it was something different.
Let us get the obvious out of the way first
There are many articles published on the internet which state that all you need to do in order to build quality links is write something great and share it on social, then the links will come flooding in. The problem is that, although there is a lot of trash content on the internet, there is also a lot of very useful information that nobody has read because the authors are in this revolving mindset of churning content out and sharing it.
Don’t get me wrong, some people get this spot on but the fact is - unless you already have great brand awareness, or you have something of extreme value to the audience, using normal outreach methods to build links will lead to nothing, zilch, not one link.
Start thinking business development and stop thinking rankings
Most SEO professionals build links for the sole purpose of increasing rankings for certain keywords. Those increased rankings will then drive people to your website and a percentage will contact you or buy from you.
That is how link building has always been and will remain for most marketing professionals. To me, a good link is any link that has the potential to drive new business. With this business development mindset, I have found that link building has become one of the easiest parts of SEO. Well, for me anyway!
Just so you understand what I am getting at, here is an example:
If you are a wedding planner, what do your customers have to do before they need your service? They must get engaged. Correct? So it therefore makes sense to try and get a link to your website on a jewellery (ring) website!
Catching the drift? Suddenly, that link is not only helping to increase your rankings but it is referring a constant flow of potential new customers to your website. Now just imagine how many new leads that one single link could drive year after year on top of all the organic search growth!
My five-step process to business development link building
Below I share a simple five step process I have been using for many years when it comes to link building. It is a process I always start with before I delve into the more advanced link building techniques and the process is totally actionable. I want you to start with selecting either a website of your own or one of your clients’ and perform each step yourself. You don’t even need access to any SEO tools. You just need your logical thinking brain!
Step 1: Grab yourself a pen and paper and make a list
I am an old-fashioned bloke and still prefer to put ink to paper. Yes, some of us still use those things called pens. You can, however, use Word or Excel if you’d prefer but I personally find that putting pen to paper helps me to think better. This might just be me, as I do tend think a lot differently to most other people in the SEO or digital marketing industry.
Make yourself a large link prospect list.
It all starts with a list. Well, that is what they say; money is in the list and all that! On a more serious note, creating your link prospect list has got to be one of the most important parts of securing that golden link. You put together the wrong list; everything from here will fall and you will have spent many an hour with nothing to show for it.
What should be on your list?
List any websites your potential customers are reading and hanging out at. Don’t think too much into it at this stage, as it does not matter if the websites are not directly related to your industry. Digital marketing is just marketing a business so in simple terms, you need to get your brand in front of your potential customers, wherever they are.
List down all your related industries and all websites in those industries (local to you, if you only do business locally). Chances are you are not going to get any of your direct competitors to link to your website. Would you do the same? Probably not. Then why bother trying unless you have an agreement to pass work to each other? Here is an example of a related industry: if you own a property sales website, a related industry might be property maintenance. You both connect with the same audience but are not in direct competition. I’m sure you can come up with many related industries if you put your mind to it.
Think about whether there was something your customer needed first before purchasing your product or service. Use my example above of the wedding planner! Think of the customer journey as from their point of view and ask yourself – “What happened to make them need my product or service?”
Believe me - this list will grow and grow when you are in the right mindset and it totally beats trying to create a link prospect list by simply copying the links that your competitors have. Please aim to put together a list of at least 100 link prospects. This should be easy, even in the most boring of industries. Not that I’m saying your industry is boring, obviously! Every industry and every topic are exciting to somebody.
Step 2: Filter your link prospect list
One of the problems (well one of many) with link building is that so many people build links that are worthless. By this I mean that they generate zero clicks and do not add any ranking value. There are thousands of these types of links built every single day. It is just a total waste of time that fills the internet up with unrelated rubbish.
To filter your list, simply go through your long list of opportunities and ask yourself three simple questions:
Does this link have the potential to drive new business? It might not be an immediate lead or sale but if your link is on a website that shares your same audience, then the answer is always yes.
If this was my business and I was investing my own money, would I want this link? When I teach digital marketers I do a little exercise where I ask them to build a short link prospect list. I then ask them to create a second prospect list but this time as though it were their own business. It is amazing how different the two lists look. Why? Because these marketers are playing with other people’s money. All links cost money in some way. Even if you do not actually buy the links (as buying links is against Google’s guidelines), you need to spend time earning those links. All this time incurs a cost, unless you work for free.
Will your link get clicked on? If you gain a link on a site but your link never gets clicked on then what is the point of having that link in the first place? Think about it for a moment!
If you cannot answer yes to at least one of the above, delete the website from your link prospect list. Why? Because they do not provide your business with any value.
Step 3: Prioritise your link prospect list
Now that you have removed all dead wood from your list it is time to put everything in order of value. People tend to start with the links which are the easiest to secure but you should always put the hardest to secure links at the top of your prospect list.
It creates a knock-on effect. High profile websites get seen and read by a lot of people in their same industry or by news outlets. That one link may just very well turn into 100 links if their own audience trust your site because it is featured on a highly trusted source. They may then mention your brand on their own websites.
Now, you’ll need to do a little bit of maths with this next task. Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to work out any scientific calculations. If you can count to thirty-five, you will be fine.
Again, you need to filter your link prospect list down even further.
20 points – Is it a nationally recognised or high-profile brand, information or news website? Chances are, if you and lots of other people have heard of them, then yes it is. The business generation potential of having your link on their website will be priceless.
10 points - Does the website rank on the first page of Google for the service they provide or the products they sell? Let us say that they are a florist and based in Manchester. Do they rank for terms such as ‘Florist in Manchester’? If a website ranks on the first page then the chances are that they have built some trust with Google, so if they add a link to your website it will have some ranking value.
5 points - Does the website’s brand name rank No.1? If you type in ‘Mark Preston SEO’, I am ranking at the top. Any site that cannot even rank for its own brand name is not worth the effort. If they share a brand name with other companies, it still should be ranking in the top 10 organic results.
1 point – None of the above.
Go through each website on your list and assign the related points according to the above. Once you have completed this process, re-shuffle your link building prospect list, starting with the highest first.
Step 4: Ensuring you understand your own true value
Have you ever heard the saying “it all starts with a why”? This ‘why’ factor can mean the difference between a successful link building campaign and one that just drains your energy and resources. So many people write content in the hope of generating a link without any thought at all into its ‘value’. Not for themselves but for the person reading it. Writing content without value-added-impact is meaningless.
Now that you are thinking along the right lines and have the correct mindset, put yourself in the shoes of the person who owns the website (or the person responsible for maintaining quality website content) that you want a link from and ask yourself these three questions:
What is ‘it’ that would make me ‘want’ and ‘need’ to add a link to this website?
Would linking to this website be of value to my own website audience?
Would linking to this website help my own business and not hinder it?
Unless you can undoubtably answer these three questions, do NOT even attempt to secure any link from the websites on your prospect list.
Why? Well, if you yourself do not even know the true value of your own website/business/content, how on earth are others expected to understand the value?
Step 5: Reaching out to people to get your link published
You will notice that I mentioned the word ‘people’. I did this because some marketers fail to really connect when reaching out to others.
When I say “connect” I do not mean simply accepting a connection request but actually connecting with them on an emotional level and creating that light bulb moment! If you do this, you will gain an awful lot more links. You do not need to be a qualified psychologist or have done hours of research into human interaction (HI) to connect with someone emotionally.
If you are going to do email outreach, at least make sure it is done right.
Personally, I hate using emails as a link building outreach method. Considering your emails even get through the spam filters and do not go against GDPR laws – I still find these kinds of emails to be very cold and emotionless. You know the kind I’m talking about, we all get them:
Hi *Website Owner*,
I have just been looking through your website and noticed your article *URL of their article* and found it to be an interesting read.
I have written *URL of my article* which covers the same subject if you would like to include it in your post.
Assuming that the person you are sending this email to opens it and reads it; here is what they are probably thinking about your outreach method as they read through it:
Hi Website Owner (THEY HAVE NOT EVEN BEEN BOTHERED TO RESEARCH MY NAME),
I have just been looking through your website (NO YOU HAVEN’T) and noticed your article *URL of their article* and found it to be an interesting read (REALLY?)
I have written *URL of my article* which covers the same subject if you would like to include it in your post (WHY WOULD I WANT TO MENTION YOUR ARTICLE?)
John Smith (OBVIOUSLY A MADE-UP NAME)
It seems so obvious now I have written it down like this, doesn’t it? Although email outreach is not my personal preferred link building outreach method, if it is done right and does not go against GDPR regulations, it can indeed secure some links. However, this is just a numbers game. If you go down this road, at least totally personalise the email instead of just bulk spamming individuals. Something along these lines would be better practice:
Thank you for taking the time to read my email, as I know you are busy preparing for the upcoming International Green Show in London that you are exhibiting at. I know how stressful that can be.
As your company provides plastic recycling services to large companies, I wanted to let you know that I have published a great case study about the number of animals that are dying due to people dumping their plastic waste.
It is crazy what these people are doing when thousands of harmless animals are dying as a result of stupidity.
Companies such as yours are providing a solution to this problem and it would only require them to make a small effort.
It would be great to get your thoughts on my case study, especially as you are a respected person within the recycling industry. I am happy to email you the link and even add your views on the subject within the article. Alternatively, I am always happy to pick up the phone for a quick chat.
Hope to hear from you soon.
Director of Plastic Bottle Manufacturer
I know it is a little lengthy but let us explore what this email does:
It shows you have taken the time to find out the person’s name.
By stating you know they are attending the International Green Show, it immediately connects with them.
By mentioning the case study and how animals are dying due to plastic waste negligence, it connects with them on that emotional level and may even make them a little angry at the thought of this negligence.
You have mentioned the value of your case study to them.
By NOT giving them the link to your case study, they feel that they need to reply to you to ask for it. This starts a conversation which may lead to a lot more than just a link.
See, that extra effort makes all the difference! It is as simple as that. I wrote the above email off-the-cuff; it is not based on any email template. I just made sure it ticked all the boxes.
LinkedIn has always been my personal link building goldmine
LinkedIn outreach is very much like the email outreach process I described above. All the same principles apply. With LinkedIn, however, you are connecting with people directly, so I suggest you make sure to follow the six simple steps below:
Make sure you complete as much of your LinkedIn profile as possible.
LinkedIn is not your CV. Make sure you relate your summary to your target audience and make it crystal clear who you work with and how you can be of use. Remember; it’s about them and not you. As you are trying to secure links, write and publish an article on your profile which will grab their attention.
Do a search on LinkedIn and send a personal connection request to each one of your target link prospects.
Work your feed to prove that you are an expert in their industry. Again, do not post sales messages. Provide value and educate.
Keep an eye on ‘who’s viewed your profile’ and send these people a personal message saying something like, “Hi Mark, I noticed you were looking at my profile. Was there any specific reason?”.
Build relationships and get to a point where you can take the conversation offline. I always try to make a habit of arranging a call or Skype message with every one of my LinkedIn connections to move the conversation out of the virtual world. Just like I did with email outreach.
This is a very basic step-by-step guide just to give you an idea of how I work my LinkedIn to build links. I’m sure you will find your own way of approaching the process that works best for you. The most important thing with LinkedIn is consistency; doing something and doing it on a regular basis. Don’t try it for a week and give up, saying it did not work for you.
What to do when a link prospect accepts your connection request
You have spent a lot of time and energy sourcing your link prospects and they have now connected with you. What now?
Now you must make that dreaded first approach. Something that sends shivers down grown men’s spines and starts the blood pumping and the heart racing.
Look through their profile to see what they are up to and any conversations they are interacting with. This will give you an idea of what is important to them. With this knowledge, simply send them a LinkedIn message to thank them for accepting your connection request and that you would love to hear about their business to see if there are any mutual benefits.
Continue the conversation and you will know when the right time comes to introduce them to a page of your website which connects to them.
But what if my link prospects do not accept my LinkedIn connection request?
You will find that not everyone on your prospect list will connect with you via LinkedIn. Don’t be offended, I find that a lot of people only check their LinkedIn messages once per month. It might even be that they just don’t accept connection requests from anyone they don’t personally know already.
If this is the case, I just bite the bullet and pick up the phone. The thought of this scares many link builders to death. If this is you then I suggest that, as a last resort, you send them an email as described above.
Will all this hard work be worth it?
I spend a lot of time looking around social media and watching the online conversations that are going on within the digital marketing community. Link building is always a subject which crops up, as a lot of marketers just do not get it. They are always on the hunt for that quick fix because they are lazy and can’t be bothered investing their time into securing those golden links. If they are in this mindset, it allows you to secure all the links their bulk automation methods are failing to secure, in turn giving you the competitive advantage.
I’m not going to lie, business development link building can be a very boring task at times and you will want to throw the towel in. However, keep in mind that securing these golden links will help to drive new business to your website day-after-day, week-after-week, month-after-month and year-after-year, so it is undoubtably worth putting a little effort in and working through the boredom.
I once spent an entire three months working on securing one single high-profile link for a client. One month after the link went live, not only did their rankings increase but they also secured a seven-figure contract. Now, was it worthwhile spending three months of conversations to ensure they got that money-can’t-buy link? Of course. That was 14 years ago and that client is still a client to this very day… but on more of an advisory basis. I know it was 14 years ago, as my youngest daughter had just been born.
Now go and make it happen
I find that a lot of these types of articles are just full of waffle. I am a little different because I want to give you actionable steps whilst still encouraging you to use your own brain. This way you learn a lot better.