SEO can be expensive, but there are plenty of promotional opportunities that are free and cost-effective if you focus on value exchange and relationships. (Never invest in low-quality spam though — make sure any link building is strategic and carefully supervised).
Warnings aside, there are ways to hack around tight budgets and achieve more for less with your link building. You don’t always have to invest in expensive advertising and publishing fees to gain good SEO traction.
And just for some background: Links help increase your website authority. Link building creates a sphere influence around your website, telling search engines that it’s OK to trust you. A link from an authoritative domain signals to search engines that your website is powerful because other authority sources are endorsing it.
Here are some ways to get links, mentions, and shares without spending too much money (or time). Most of these tactics will help you build a better digital brand, forge relationships, and create some awesome content in the process.
1. Give stuff away for free
Some of the best free backlinks my clients and associates receive come thanks to resources, content, and tools they simply gave away for free. Giving things away is a great way to get stuff back (and this doesn’t just apply to link building).
Resources come in many formats. Think about what people really need? Templates, surveys, lists, checklists — all these are popular in most niches, but your own vertical may have specific needs. Delve into you keyword research using a wide range of free tools to help you figure out what people are really looking for.
Online tools, generators, and calculators aren’t that expensive to create — if you can find a friendly developer to help you (or you can do it yourself). These are exactly the sort of evergreen tools that people love to link to.
Getdatadriven.com provides a handy A/B test significance calculator. And notice that I just linked to it :).
Content hubs, ultimate guides, free courses, webinars — collate content that has a training element to get some good backlinks from online learners.
Crazy Egg’s Guides section is a good example of a content hub.
You don’t always have to take the positive ‘how to’ angle — a negative ‘anti’ guide is also a good tactic, and might get more media attention.
Don’t assume that just because you created something great, people will come — you need to get out there and promote and advertise your freebie. Combine email efforts with social media for maximum uplift.
2. Create resources for bloggers
If you want to get mentions off bloggers or influencers in your niche — you have to offer them something in exchange. Remember: they have to maintain credibility with their audience and sponsors — and they won’t want to endorse someone lightly.
So how can you win them over? Make them look good. Build up a rapport with them. Help them out. Offer value.
Make their life easier.
Here’s a quick tip on how to make life easier for bloggers and blog editors.
Bloggers get a tonne of faceless emails from personas and freelance writers every day, so you have to stand out in their inbox. Be real, open, and honest — and always show a bit of personality. Make it clear that you are looking to engage them in a conversation, but don’t waffle and make insincere compliments either. (Here are some tips on how to approach bloggers — note how a ‘freebie’ is something that puts potentially them off).
Bloggers want to pass on useful information to their audience in order to get more traffic and build a brand. So why not help them serve their readers better? If you are in the right niche, you can create a useful resource in exchange for the opportunity of getting in front of their audience. SEOs, CROs, designers, developers, and digital marketers are perfectly positioned for this tactic — you have knowledge that can help bloggers grow and scale. It’s all about niche crossover.
- Ask yourself — what does a busy blogger want to do more than anything? Probably grow their readership, monetise their content better, and share their lessons and tips with their audience. Put yourself in their shoes when outreaching — you can even ask them questions to help tailor your final content to their specific needs. Use their answers to help you write your own resource — you want to create a post that’s going to make the blogger look good.
- The best resources are specific and cover a tactic or angle in-depth — no one is going to be interested in a generic listicle that doesn’t have a hook. Try to do a deep dive and focus on one thing at a time — you don’t have to cover everything you’ve ever learnt about conversion tracking, but you may want to share some tips with bloggers on how to set up Google Tag Manager.
- This tactic is cheap for most people because all you need to do it sit down and write about what you know. Your article or resource doesn’t need to be the best thing anyone has ever written — it just needs to be full of value and actionable advice that people can go away and implement.
You may even be able to offer a service exchange or a skills swap — why not get on the phone and help someone configure their Yoast plugin or take them on a keyword deep dive? By building real relationships with bloggers, you will be able to get much more out of the exchange.
3. ‘Broken’ link building (if it ain’t broke)
This strategy has been exploited to the max by SEOs, but this still works on some sites (especially older ones). The key to this strategy is finding sites that have broken links — and suggesting your own service, resource, or page as a viable alternative. (This tactic works best on sites that list tools and services in a certain vertical).
Scrapebox is a tool to help you find broken links
You can also use tactic this without an actual broken link — outreach to webmasters and suggest they include you in a post or on a page that’s a good fit. The best way to find targets is to use advanced search operators. Spend time writing great emails — you have to be a persuasion ninja for this to work! Really make a case for inclusion, but keep it short and sweet. (And always follow up).
Follow mentions using free tools like Google Alerts. Hoover up any product, name, or brand mentions that don’t have backlinks already — you can always offer up a social profile link if that feels more natural.
4. Interview experts and round them up
Expert roundups are the content marketing equivalent of riding someone else’s coattails. Getting people to weigh in on topics is a great SEO and content marketing weapon, and you don’t have to spend any money — you just have to be committed to hustling and finding the right people to answer the right questions. This is the type of the content that flies off the shelves, and is a great link building ‘carrot’.
- Busy people don’t want to be asked to ‘collaborate’, and they certainly won’t respond well to a request like “can I pick your brain” — you need to be super, super specific when reaching out to busy people.
- Some niches are saturated with expert roundups (digital marketing probably being one of them), but other ones are more open. What about a roundup of HR managers and their predictions on the next big thing in millennial employment? What about the common challenges authors face, and how ebook authors get around them?
- Think again about niche crossover and be creative — could a group of retired people have some insightful life advice that’s relevant to managing social media? Can a group of mums help CEOs with their employee engagement? Think outside the box — ‘experts’ aren’t always the people with blue ticks against their Twitter profiles.
- You can even hack this further by taking people’s social media posts (perhaps during a specific Twitter # event) and creating roundups from those. Always credit people for their ideas, and outreach to them in order to get mentions, shares, and backlinks.
- Keep it for your own domain and 9 times out of 10, anyone who has been interviewed will share and link back to the post. But it also works both ways — outreaching to big news sites with a roundup post is a great way to get published for free (and it makes you look like an awesome community builder).
This blogger roundup by Buffer aimed at beginners is a great example of a roundup post that includes plenty of strategy.
Think of it this way — instead of creating a post that connects a handful of people, upgrade your content to community status for more links and engagement. The right kind of roundup can generate thousands of social shares.
5. Repurpose old content into a linkable asset
We have all been there — an opportunity for a link arises, but there is nothing to link to on your domain and the opportunity passes you by. Getting mentions and links back to your homepage and social profiles is great, but what you really need is a linkable asset on your domain that is literally begging to be linked to. So how to make one on the cheap?
- Look at your analytics and figure out which posts or subpages are already ranking and doing well on your site — this might give you an idea of what your audience are more interested in. You may find that an aged post is just crying out for an update — you can angle the content to be more relevant to today, or just include a tonne more information and content. You could even mash up articles into one mega-article!
- Adding more design elements and visuals like infographics can really help a tired post look more like a credible asset — use free design tools like Piktochart to save you time and money and break content up into different elements. Here are some more tips on how to create a linkable asset on a budget — try to maximise what you’ve already got.
6. Network with journalists
Getting to know your local press and networking with journalists is a brilliant way to combine brand PR with SEO. There are literally thousands of online magazines, websites, and news outlets, constantly scouting for good stories. If you get good at journalist outreach and making contacts in the industry, you will see some great returns for your brand.
- You have to learn how to talk to journalists — they value storytelling and ready content. Spend time on social media, getting to know freelance writers and journalists in your vertical. Helping journalists out with requests for information is a great way to start networking.
- HARO (Help a Reporter Out) is free and it’s a great way to get PR opportunities straight to your inbox! HARO sends out press calls in a wide range of verticals a few times a day — in order to make the most of this, you need to respond fast with well-written content.
- Study up on digital journalism terms and learn how to write an awesome press release. It’s important to always look at your company and brand for stories — these can come from many places, including your staff.
7. Outwrite everyone
I have seen people consistently get awesome free links, purely based on the merit of their content. It’s not always about spending loads of money on mega-content, but about saying things that others aren’t saying. Going to the heart of an issue or being a bit controversial doesn’t hurt either, and you could get noticed by some pretty awesome people. This one isn’t for the fainthearted…
- Length isn’t everything — think about Seth Godin and his super short (but sweet) posts. It’s more about saying something that others aren’t brave (or smart enough) to do. You can even get away with this tactic without having to write a single word — here’s how.
- It may not be just words that you need — think about how design and video can help you create something super shareable. Being creative is always a good way to get mentioned online, and not enough SEOs are genuinely committed to creativity.
8. Be generous
You get what you put out. If you never help anyone out, why would anyone favour you with a link?
- Offer yourself up for testimonials for the products and services you already use — a testimonial often gets you a powerful homepage link, for free!
- There is a certain amount of synergy that spills over into link building in some online communities — take advantage of real relationships in the form of guest posts and other forms of value exchange. Make sure that you are known as a ‘giver’, not just someone who takes.
- Don’t compromise your site with low-level guest posting, but don’t straitjacket it either — opening up your site to contributors will boost your own backlink profile. Fresh and relevant content is very important, and opening up your site to others will help you deliver it at scale.
9. Internal links
The power of internal links for SEO value is sometimes neglected — and they cost you nothing! It’s worth spending a bit of time reviewing your site and making sure that you have maximised all your internal linking opportunities (without making your site look like Swiss cheese).
A lot has been written about SEO silo structures and how to pass link juice around your site — you can’t always have the optimal site structure, but aim to do the best with what you’ve got. You should focus on distributing link authority to important pages, and making sure that contextually relevant pages are flagged up as such by natural interlinking.
Your most powerful asset is your ability to think strategically and critically. Stuff can be done for free if it’s managed by experts and governed by a proper SEO strategy — but going out looking for the cheapest provider is not a good idea. One of the most important things to point out is that doing your SEO ‘on the cheap’ can end up costing you thousands in the long run.
Building out a natural link profile is important for SEO, but it’s not the whole story. You need to ensure that building links doesn’t take precedence over creating awesome content, building a long-term brand, and delivering exceptional digital experiences. Where do you wish you could save money right now?
About the Author: Gareth has worked in digital for almost a decade as a technical SEO, recently setting up his own content agency, Seeker, that focuses on outreach. He is a passionate advocate of community-led content and SEO synergy.