Link Building Tip: Maximizing Link Love from Stakeholders
Link building is tough. You wander through hundreds of websites, carefully dodging bad neighborhoods and figuring out to get past the gate and into the high profile communities. You try to make new friends, but the webmasters and gatekeepers won’t give you the time of day. If only you already had a large group of friends in high places – folks who would be more than happy to vouch for you via link, folks whose hyper-linking votes of confidence really boosts your credibility to the search engines that be.
Well, chances are that you have more friends than you realize. They can and will help your SEO endeavors, and you’ve probably been ignoring many of them. Your web friends are your entire group of stakeholders – every person, group, or organization who has a stake in your organization’s success.
At LunaMetrics, we’ve found that the relationships our clients have built over the years produce great backlinks. Stakeholder backlinks typically are often hard to duplicate, carry solid authority, exist in neighborhoods with small numbers of external links, and are genuine votes of confidence. We’ve also found that these relationships aren’t always translated online into links, but they often do with just a little help.
Introducing… the Stakeholder Backlink Audit
Helping current relationships bear linkable fruit online has become such an important part of our link-building methodology that we’ve formalized the process into a method we’ve dubbed the Stakeholder Backlink Audit.
The Stakeholder Backlink Audit is a tool for ensuring your website is receiving as many links as possible from those parties who may have an interest in your organization’s success, and may be willing to link to your site. It is a systematic and thorough method of maximizing link love from all the relationships your organization has built.
The Stakeholder Backlink Audit has 3 steps: 1) List stakeholders 2) Review their websites 3) Request links. We’ll walk you through the process using a make believe company – a restaurant chain called Pittsburgh Premier Pizza. We’ll also show you how to make a mean audit form.
Stakeholder Backlink Audit Step 1 – List stakeholders
First we need to take inventory. We recommend that you list on a spreadsheet every person or organization your organization has built a relationship with that you’d want as a referral source. This requires some help from your client or coworkers. Leave out any organizations you wouldn’t want to ask for a link from, and leave out any business relationships you want to keep private. Don’t worry yet about adding a bunch of details, checking the website, or checking for links. This step is simply all about building a nice long list of names, and being as thorough as possible. We’ll pare it down later.
You’ll want to build a sheet and pass it around the office. Your coworkers may have relationships you are totally unaware. We use an Excel form for this. We find it helpful to break down the stakeholders into categories, as it makes the process more manageable and makes it easier to think of names.
The various stakeholder groups you’ll encounter in your link building efforts include business partners, customers, associations, sponsorees, and alma maters. Let’s take a closer look at these stakeholder groups:
Business Partners – Includes suppliers, subcontractors, distributors, resellers and other partners.
- Tips: Leave out any business relationships you want to keep private! This is often a huge category, and you may want to break it down into subcategories.
- Some ways they link – Company’s often show where their products can be found or boast of reputable clients or brand names. They may name drop during case studies, testimonials, blog articles, or out of goodwill. Perhaps you are the best homebuilder in Pittsburgh, and your partners are more than happy to link to you because you’re so awesome (but maybe they just need a little reminder).
- Examples: McDonald’s Mushroom Farm; Pittsburgh Printing Press; SolarStats SEO
- Tip: This is also a good way to identify raving happy customers that may also write a review or testimonial.
- Ways they link – Businesses might list suppliers or recommend other businesses; some consumers blog about everything.
- Examples: Gourmet Gil the restaurant reviewer; Carnegie Mellon Mel, who writes for his university’s newspaper
Associations – Includes any association, organization, or business community you are a member of.
- Some ways they link – Member directories; news; pages covering events/exhibitions you participate in.
- Examples: Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce; Western PA BBBs; PA Restaurant Association; Association of Pittsburgh Pizza Makers
Sponsorees – Any nonprofits and organizations you support and/or donate to.
- Tip: Time is money – so if you volunteer, that counts too.
- Some ways they link – “Sponsored by ______”; list of donors; Press Releases; donation announcements; event announcements.
- Examples: Southside Little League; Pittsburgh Food Bank
Alma Maters – Schools your organizations employees graduated from.
- Tips: Good way to get the elusive “.edu” links. Make special note if you have top executives that graduated from the school or if an employee remains highly active within the school (regular guest speaker, active in alumni association, etc…)
- Ways they link – Many schools have alumni business listings, alumni profiles, and success stories.
- Examples: http://www.business.pitt.edu/alumni/news http://www.upj.pitt.edu/19150 http://www.b-link.bucknell.edu/s/754/start-template.aspx?sid=754&gid=1&pgid=1284
I like to give each category of stakeholders a worksheet in the Excel workbook. Then I ask the client to provide stakeholder names and a very short description, and pass the workbook around the office until it is as full as possible.
Stakeholder Backlink Audit Step 2 – Review their websites
Now that we’ve built our list, it’s time to figure out which stakeholders we need to get in touch with and where the backlinks can go.
First you’ll need to see if you have a backlink. There are several methods of doing this, and I personally haven’t found a method I’m fully satisfied with. I’ll check domains in an Excel report of current backlinks and then I might do a Google Advanced Search for a client’s brand names in certain stakeholder sites. I pull the client backlink reports using Majestic SEO (via Raven Tools) and SeoMoz (Open Site Explorer) – these aren’t complete but will find majority of links and most of the important ones.
If there is a backlink, see if it would make sense to try to get more links or improve the current link with better placement or anchor text.
If there is no backlink, decide if it’s worth going for (expect many stakeholders not to link out as policy – sometimes you may not want to bother). If so, how are you going to make the link request and who is responsible for it? Often it’s best that the link request is made by the individual with the closest relationship to the stakeholder. Also, like with all link-building, it’s common that you may have to work for the link, so note how.
When you’ve finished reviewing websites, your Excel audit form will look something like this:
Stakeholder Backlink Audit Step 3 – Request those links
By now, you’ve checked all the stakeholders sites for backlinks and you have an idea of how you’re going to go about getting those links. Again, like with all-link building there is going to be rejection, you will have plenty of waiting, and you may have to perform additional work for the links. You may need to write testimonials, fill out submission forms, hunt down webmasters, submit specially formatted logos, guest blog, write news snippets, and who knows what else.
Being as organized and systematic as possible will lower your work load – you could use the Excel form with comments to track and organize your requests or you can you a backlink manager tool (I use Raven Tools which has a neat browser tool). And always remember the golden rule – treat your stakeholders well if you want them to do the same to you.
It is work, but when you complete your Stakeholder Backlink Audit you will have added some quality, hard-to-duplicate, natural backlinks to your growing link profile.
We recommend that every website perform this backlink audit at least once. Let us know how it works out for you or if you have any comments!
Do you know how to approach stakeholders to get their vote of confidence? Let us know how you go about networking with your ‘investors’ in the comments.