SEMrush Toolbox #13: Link Building tool
- SEMrush Link Building Tool Overview
- Technical Link Building Strategy
- Cleaning up Your Backlink Profile
- Defensive Link Building
- Broken Link Building
- The Marty McFly Technique
- Growth Tips for Link Building
- Q&A on Link Building
Craig: Hi guys, and thank you for joining us on today's SEMrush Toolbox webinar. Today, I'm joined by a fellow Scot, Ross Tavendale. Ross, thank you for joining us. I'm sure you need no introduction to the audience as you are also hosting on every other webinar that I see now. You used to slag me off saying "Craig, you're all over the place," but you seem to have caught up.
Ross Tavendale: I know, we get around don't we?
Craig: Everyone, we're going to be talking about the Link Building tool first and foremost, but while we are waiting for people to come in, we'll just give it a couple of minutes. For anyone who doesn't know Ross, I'll let you introduce yourself Ross
Ross Tavendale: Yep, sure. My name is Ross Tavendale, I've been in the industry for about 10 or so years now. I'm the managing director of a company called Type A Media, and we specialize in data journalism and programmatic PR, which is obviously a subset of link building. That's me in a nutshell.
SEMrush Link Building Tool Overview
Craig: We're five minutes in so what we will do is we will get started. What I'm going to do is just start to go through the basics of the tool, where it is, what it does and where to find different parts of the tool.
Just to show you where it is if you go to your main dashboard, and go to SEO Toolkit and then go down to Link Building Tool. If you click on the Link Building Tool, it will bring up this dashboard, which then you can put your website in and all that kind of stuff.
Just add your website and it will start to pull some data through. Now there is on the top right-hand side, a user manual, and it will tell you how to configure the tool, why you should use it, deleting a campaign, the limits that you're allowed to use.
You can manually import up to 10,000 domain names to a link building campaign. So there's a lot of stuff there on SEMrush already showing you how to use it and how it all works and the limits and everything else.
The first thing that you have to do, or what I would do, is connect your Google search console. Add your property and you simply allow email@example.com access to your search console and it will start to pull through your data. We want to use as much data as we possibly can on any tool.
You can, if you click on mailbox here, add a mailbox. The reason you would be adding a mailbox would be to do some outreach. You can add your Gmail, Outlook, Office 365 or any other settings can go in here.
You'll get an overview when you put your website in. What you basically do is you put in some keywords, your competition and stuff like that. Now SEMrush basically pulls your competition based on the keywords for you anyway, but you can manually add other people as well.
And then it pulls up over an overview and it will give you keywords competitors’ mentions, lost backlinks, and a whole heap of other data there.
As everyone knows, link building is a big part of SEO and you want to go out there and get links that your competitors have got but you don't necessarily have, and that's when we go into Prospects.
Going into the Prospects tab, which is a second one along there. I've just put basic data in and I've got 1,468 prospects. Now I can go in, and as I said earlier you can add different keywords in, so I can add variations of different keywords and all that kind of stuff and find new prospects.
You can also do the same with competition. You want to make sure that you're adding that data the best you can. If you see someone that's doing something really well, make sure you add them in there manually as well. You can add mentions and all that kind of stuff, and you can upload links manually as well.
That's what the Prospects tab does. It basically gives you this kind of dashboard here, which will give you the URL, then you can see the URL type, it will just be general or blog or whatever it may be. You've got a domain score; the higher the domain score, the better the website link is going to be for you. Trust score, again, the higher that is the more trusted website it is.
SEMrush also gives the backlink source a score out of five based on 50 different factors. If I see this website here and it's five out of five and it's got a decent domain score and a trust score, I can add that to my outreach strategy.
You can basically go through all of these and figure out what you want to do; what links you want to get that your competitors potentially have.
The next tab along is In Progress. Any time you add a link as a potential prospect, it will then move into In Progress status. These are all going to be here, it's going to give you your ratings, your outreach strategy, email, status, and actions.
You can put an email in there saying, "Listen, I would like to do a guest blog post on your website. I'd do this or I'd do that or I'm going to pitch this idea," or whatever it may be. And then you can click send and proceed to next.
Then you would go to your next prospect and it would go down here to the next one and you basically can schedule your outreach campaign using this tool, which is quite a nice little feature if you're doing outreach.
SEMrush is scraping all the emails and all you really need to do is copy and paste in your email templates there into the In Progress.
This one here is one that I've set as “recover lost backlinks”. I'm going to show you the Monitor tab first. The reason I'm showing you the Monitor tab first is it will show you active, broken, lost, undefined and rejected links. If there was a lost link, it will show me that I've got a couple of lost links here, and I can add that to my recover lost backlinks outreach campaign.
Going back to the In Progress, if I was going to send this recover lost backlinks campaign; clicking the blue button, you will see here that there is a pre-made bit of information on here saying “I was recently researching an article and I came across this page on your site where I found a few dead links on the page”.
It can be a bit tedious and it's a boring job. It's something you would probably outsource to someone in your office, but if you're doing everything for yourself, then, by all means, you can work your way through that, copy-paste on all the different templates.
Going on to the Monitor: Monitored domain names. There are 60 monitored domain names in here. There's some broken, some lost, some undefined, and there's zero rejected. There are 27 active links on here. There's not much you need to do with an active link; it's working well. You may want to go in and change the anchor text or whatever.
Broken links you're simply going... It will tell you what the status code is; 403 error, whatever it may be. Obviously, there's one here Brighton SEO, there's a 403 error. It would have been a good link, four out of five, and it's probably something that I potentially could reach out to them and add it into my outreach strategy.
You basically go through all the broken links, lost links. The content of the outreach email is going to change depending on whether it's a broken link, a lost link. Undefined is basically, they're not too sure. There could have been a crawl error, server timeout, something wrong with the website at the time when SEMrush was crawling it, and stuff like that. There's not going to be really too much in the undefined category unless there's an issue with the website in question.
You want to make sure that you keep on top of your link building campaign and build up the best backlink profile possible. This tool basically helps you do that.
You may want to use, for example, Mailshake or something to do your outreach. You can do it all from SEMrush now. And that's quite a cool little feature, because rather than importing and exporting data and all that kind of stuff you can work from the one dashboard.
You can also find other prospects based on, as I say, different keywords and stuff like that. You just want to rinse and repeat and do this process on a regular, ongoing basis to make sure that you're getting as many backlinks as your competitors.
That is pretty much what the Link Building tool does. That is me, so I will stop sharing my screen and let my fellow Scot take over and show some of the good stuff.
Technical Link Building Strategy
Ross Tavendale: Well thanks very much for that. I'm going to set up with technical link building strategies and tactics, and then show them how to do it inside the SEMrush tool. Kind of generic technical link building stuff.
If you're not in agency land you probably won't know a lot of this stuff. Typically, our agency only does PR sort of stuff so we're looking at creating stories for journalists and pitching them ideas over time. But, this is a lot more on the kind of technical side, so if you've got some tech SEOs or some outreach people in your organization, this would be perfect for you.
As an agency we kind of like to pride ourselves on thinking that we kind of act like technologists. We're very into using technology like SEMrush to power a lot of this stuff. We're going to have a look at how we're going to run technical link building activity that does not require an asset or indeed a PR team to run it.
Typically we're looking at link building in three dimensions. We're looking at hygiene, which is just looking at your backlink profile to make sure that everything's pointing to the correct place and there's nothing broken. Defense, which is finding everything that your competitors are doing and staying one step ahead of them. And then growth, which is once we've got all of that stuff taken care of, where can we find the opportunities to actually grow our backlinks and actually beat the competition?
Cleaning up Your Backlink Profile
First and foremost we've something called brand reclamation. For those who don't know what brand reclamation is, it's essentially when anyone mentions your brand's name or perhaps even it's like if you've got a high profile CEO or something along those lines.
If you get mentioned in the press or mentioned on a website but no one links, you should probably reach out to them and say, "Thank you so much for writing about us. We really appreciate it. You forgot to cite your sources. Would you mind adding a link in?"
When you're actually adding in Mentions, what I would recommend is you put a bunch of stuff in there that's variants of your brand name and the people that are running your business.
The next one is repositioning. Now, I don't hear a lot of people talking about this day to day, but let's just say, for example, that you're in the insurance business. Let's say the car insurance business. People are linking to you already, but Craig, let me ask you this question. Where do you most of your links go on your website? Are they landing pages or is it typically the home age?
Craig: The home page gets an element of links but I like to spread my links across the website.
Ross Tavendale: Yeah, absolutely. And the reason why we want that is because the landing page is keyword targeted. It's usually service-driven and it's actually usually transactional. But what we find with these kinds of brands a lot of the time is, the homepage just naturally contains all of the link equity of the site.
Back to the car insurance example. If you're linking to my homepage, but the content you're linking to me is about a product page, it would make a lot of sense if I actually just reach out to those people and say, "Yeah, I love that car insurance article you wrote about us. Thank you for mentioning us. You've linked to the homepage. The car insurance article is actually here." So it's a kind of form of reclamation.
Jumping into the SEMrush tool, instead of it being the link building part, you would actually go into the Backlinks part. So you want to go to Domain Analytics and you want to go down into Backlinks, then you want to put in the domain that we're talking about.
I can see that our homepage has got 46 individual backlinks. If we click into that, let's say that we've got a service page, an SEO services page. If any of these are about SEO services... If someone is linking to us, but they're linking to the homepage and not the services page, I think we're well within our right to contact those guys.
Defensive Link Building
Next up let's look at some defensive stuff. Stuff that's been acquired from the backlinks themselves and doing a bit of competitor analysis as well. The first thing I'm going to look at here is something called a link intersect.
If five of your competitors have all got links from one particular place. Let's say that five agencies in London, for some reason, craigcampbellseo.co.uk is linking to all of them but not me, that's a really good sign that potentially on that website there's some sort of resource page or hub page or perhaps they take content from people like me who talk about my particular area of expertise. That would be a really good place to actually find people to pitch ideas to and start outreach to.
And the place you can find this inside of the tool is something called the Competitors Report. This is not in the backlinks tool itself, it's actually in the backlink report. If you go, again, into Domain Analytics and then into Backlinks, we can start to see all of the people that are actually linking to you. And you can see this thing called common referring domains.
I actually want to export that stuff, get into Excel and I want to start seeing where all the crossover is. If there are five or six people all getting links from one particular source but not me, despite the fact that we're super similar in terms of what we do, it stands to reason that we should also get links from them as well.
Broken Link Building
Next up is broken link building. This is a kind of classic one where essentially what I want to look at is either on my backlink profile or someone else's backlink profile, I want to see any live links that are returning a 404 error, meaning that they no longer exist.
What we can do is download all the backlinks and then crawl them with the crawler, get the header response and pull out all the 404s. But, something really interesting that Craig pointed out earlier in his demonstration is, in the Link Building tool itself, you've actually got all your lost links. Here we can see a bunch of links that my competitor has recently lost and are now 404ing.
So I could realistically reach out to these people and say, "Oh hey, you're linking it to a broken resource, would you like this new content to update it, or can you add us to the page instead?" My advice for this particular one is, when we're doing the outreach for it, don't go in with the ask straight away.
Typically what happens is when you do any sort of outreach to tell someone something's broken on their website, they're going to come back with either no response, which is very, very common for this style of outreach or they're just going to fix it and that's it all done with. Ultimately, you want to start, build rapport and actually get the response from the person.
Instead of the ask, just tell them, "Hey man, there's something broken on your site, just so you know. Let me know if you need me to guide you to where it is." They email you back, and the moment they've emailed back, you're now in dialogue, whereas before you were just cold emailing someone and you've now got a little bit of space to build a relationship.
The Marty McFly Technique
In this particular one, what we want to do is we want to have a look and see of pieces of content that have previously had tons and tons of links. I'm using the term car insurance as an example. If I go and find everything, they've got tons of links, let's say dated 2017 and before and it's not been updated.
Then when I'm actually going to do my outreach, I very quickly go and have a look at the links already pointing to it, and reach out to the exact people that are linking to the old resource and say, "Hey, I understand that you linked to this piece of content a couple of years ago. Well, guess what, we've updated it and it's bigger and better than ever. Would you like to also link to it?" And start a dialogue like that.
The place to find that, again, is what we're going to do is we're going to look at all of our backlinks here. We're looking at this website here, and what we can see is we've got “first seen” and “last seen”. What we want to do is click this arrow up button, which is going to put all the really old links at the very top.
That's going to show us all the old content that's actually getting links pointing to it and it's the most powerful. So, from here I can start seeing all of the different content that's doing really well and it's getting lots of links, or at least did do well and did get lots of links perhaps a couple of years back.
Interesting thing here is, you see where it says keywords? So Craig mentioned you can put in all of these different keywords, but what he didn't mention is the fact that you can do advanced search queries.
An advanced search query is essentially just using search operators plus keywords to get more refined search results. What we can do is put together a query that actually looks at results that are going to have a much higher intent and a higher propensity to link to us. When you look at your keywords, make sure that they're slightly more niche.
Growth Tips for Link Building
And lastly is growth. So we talk about guest posts quite a lot. What I'm not talking about here is your kind of classic, doing things like inurl:write for us and inurl:blog. We really do not want to be in that space. The reason being, every SEO in the world is doing that and getting those links are incredibly easy, and also it leaves a massive, massive footprint.
What we want to be doing is getting something that's a lot more high-quality. So what I actually want to do here is if I'm, let's say using travel as an example, I want to be using the SEMrush tool to actually be giving me some examples of, maybe I want to see things like luxury luggage or something like that.
It's still related to travel, but what I'm definitely, definitely not doing, is writing “inurl:write for us” or some other guest posting thing. Top tip, though, I would not email. I would go into LinkedIn, find the social media manager or the content manager of these companies and I would then reach out to them on LinkedIn and say, "Hey, I love your stuff. I'd love to do a collaboration." Much, much more likely that you're going to get the go ahead.
Moving through the presentation. I absolutely love this one, and it's a bit of a cheeky one. If you've got a really image heavy website with lots of individual images that you've taken yourself. Let's say you're a fashion brand, or let's say that you're a homewares brand or something along those lines where you're taking pictures of lots of products. What you can actually do is you can put them on these websites that are image aggregators.
Now, a lot of you have probably used the company Pexels. They're a free stock photo website and they have things like this. So when you type in business... ah, look at that. How many times have you guys seen that picture, right?
But if I go and get the image address and I go to Google Images, and I actually try and see how many websites on the web have actually physically got that image... there are 25 million results with this one image in it.
Now, can you imagine if you owned that image? What is the first thing you would be doing to all these people that are using your image? Do you think they're linking back to Pexels?
I don't think they are. Should we have a little look? The fact that they're using your stuff and not linking to you? That's an easy one for reclamation. There you go. So just get in touch and say, "Hey man, you're using our stuff. We don't mind, but if you can please cite your sources that would be fantastic."
This brings me to the end.
Q&A on Link Building
Craig: We're going to go on to some questions and answers. Rhys Davies was asking, "What is your average success rate with broken link building?" He finds it difficult unless he has a great resource to replace it.
Ross Tavendale: Broken link building stuff. So, like 10% and it's hard hard work. What I'd recommend is doing it at scale. Trying to work out something where we can get patterns for this sort of stuff.
Typically, what I actually like to do is, all of the broken links I like to ping them through the archives. So archive.org have actually got an API out. I can actually see what that content used to physically look like now that it's gone. It's like one in 10.
One of our outreach team is spending two days a week for a client at the moment. And of those two days, they're getting about 8 to 12 links live just doing broken link building. So 16 hours of effort gets you like 10 tops. It's labor intensive, but if you don't have the money to buy an asset or make something cool, that's a viable option.
Craig: We have Mp3bullet who said, "Always on point, Ross." He wants to know, is it possible to buy backlinks. If possible, how can it be done?
Ross Tavendale: To buy backlinks. I think we both know the answer to that. Of course, you can buy backlinks. It's physically possible. However, it is against Google's guidelines. Therefore, you may get yourself in some hot water.
That being said, I'm not going to sit here and patronize you and say that you shouldn't do it and it's bad, etc. Look at the risk profile of your business and how competitive your niche is and decide from there. If you're an agency and you're buying backlinks you need to speak to your clients and make sure they're well, well aware of the risks. They need to be well aware of the risks of if you're doing PR and you get nothing, and they're just burning cash, that's also a risk that they're just throwing money down the drain.
Craig: There are loads of good guys out there where you can get good links, but as Ross said, there's always the risk and all that kind of stuff, so be careful of what you're buying, who you're buying it from and all that kind of stuff and do your research. So, hopefully, that answers that.
Ross Tavendale: Typically, if you've got a serious business where all of your... and you've got staff and your revenue relies on what happens online, you just don't do that. It's not worth it.
Craig: Yes, good answer. The next question we have is from Jonathan White. He's asking, "How important is link building in terms of SEO?"
Ross Tavendale: Of course, the technical needs to be right, the content needs to be right, but I have literally seen times where we've built hundreds of links for a client so over let's say a six or 12 month period and we couldn't get access to the website to do any technical change and they wouldn't let us put any content on it and it still increased. So this was a rat's nest of technical mess and it still doing okay.
Now, if you're looking at competitive keywords, for example, car insurance, or like any big head term where there's a lot of money, links will not cut it for you. In fact, I've got a theory where links will get you on to the first page, but after page one there's a lot more user metrics at play and there are a lot more things going on in the background outside of link value.
Links are very important. If you're a small business I would very much focus on that, but ... Yeah, it's a mixture.
Craig: Yeah, I would tend to agree and I think you're right as well. A couple of guys have asked questions about what would you recommend for a small, startup business in terms of backlinks. Where would you start?
Ross Tavendale: I would start, it depends on what your brand's tone of voice is. I would look into something called programmatic content, and what I mean by that is something that's data-led, and I hate saying data-led because it's such a cliché.
We did something recently where we correlated the number of people sending chocolate and wine as gifts to the instances of divorce cut by region, and would you believe it that there's an inverse correlation. Meaning that the more wine and chocolate you send, the less likely you are to be divorced. So we came up with the headline Fat, Drunk, and In Love.
If you're a startup I would try and work out how you can do data led local outreach.
Craig: Good tips and good to know that that's working. I might need to do that myself, to be honest. Scott Adams has said, "You've not mentioned finding broken 404 links to your own website, then using a .htaccess 301 redirect to redirect it so that it works. Does fixing such a link give you any benefit in search?"
Ross Tavendale: Yeah. Course it does. So, if you've got a bunch of 404s on the site, I'd class that as a technical issue problem, not a link building problem. However, if you've got a page with lots of inbound links hitting it and it's 404ing, well, of course, you're not getting the equity from that, so you absolutely should redirect it.
What I'd say more than is, what I would look at, Scott, is if you got into archive.org and you actually put in your URL and get the last 10 years of URLs from the archive, and then pull in all your GA URLs, all your search console URLs, everything you can find, and crawl them, what you're going to find is not only 404s, but you're going to find things that are 301ing to the wrong place.
Craig: Great answer. We also have someone, so we've got two minutes left, asking your view on citations from local link building. What's your take on spending time getting those rather than general backlinks?
Ross Tavendale: Do both. So if you're hiring a new SEO agency and they're saying, "Oh, we got you some citations instead of links," fire them because they're not good. You need follow links. That just has to happen.
When it comes to local, NAP, name, address, phone number, has to be concise across as many places as possible. SEMrush has got a module where you can actually put it in and they will make sure that it is the same across all these different directories around the web.
One thing I would highly recommend you look at is if you go to wikidata.org, type in your own name or a competitor's name, and scroll down and look at the identifiers, Wikidata is essentially a database of databases. When your brand's there, it's going to say, "This is a brand entity and here's all the things that we've looked at to identify them." If you don't show up in Wikidata, I would seriously be working to get yourself in there, because that powers the knowledge graph.
Craig: Cool. Good answer. Doing a local SEO campaign, one of the first things I'll do is just get citations just to build up a better trust and just get that name, address, and postcode out there, which obviously Google are looking for the map listing.
It's obviously not hugely powerful, but I would highly recommend doing it. It just moves your domain metrics up and then go on to get better quality as you progress after that. But the Wikidata, that's a good one. I'm going to have a look at that one myself.
Ross Tavendale: You find a bunch of mainstream newspapers have got directories where you can submit yourself. I know in the UK, there's all of the massive newspapers have got directories of domains, it's all nofollow and it's all citation stuff but it gets crawled quite regularly so it's quite a smart move to be in there.
Craig: Nice. Another little tip. But, sadly we are out of time. Hopefully, we've given some decent knowledge.
Ross Tavendale: Absolute pleasure, Craig.