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How to Systematically Build a Mountain of Links

This guest post is by Neil Patel of Quick Sprout.

We’ve all been taught to create high-quality content to attract links. This argument is usually stated in the context of a blog that basically becomes an authority where you start to build a following around consistent, fresh content—think big sites like Problogger or Boing Boing.

This is not the technique I’m talking about.

Today, I’m talking about a link-building technique that’s bigger, better and quite possibly able to put you on the map faster than you would ever imagine. I’m talking about building a linkable asset—something you do by following the steps I’m about to describe.

First, let’s define “linkable asset.”

What is a linkable asset?

A linkable asset is a piece of content that is responsible for driving lots of links to your site. It could be an infographic that you update every year, but it’s usually much bigger and complex.

The Feltron Report is an annual report that’s like an infographic on steroids. It’s more than likely you’ve heard of the Felton Report. Its personal data from the life of Nicholas Felton, a designer and data guy, who’s been cranking out these reports since 2005.

SEOmoz’s Annual Ranking Report is another annual report that is a linkable asset.

Distilled’s SEO Guide to Creating Viral Linkbait and Infographics and Smashing Magazine’s The Death of the Boring Blog Postare also linkable assets.

Sometimes these assets are a simple widget like Bankrate’s millionaire calculator or egobait like the Ad Age Power150.

What’s in a linkable asset?

These assets create a mountain of links back to the site, which means more traffic and jolt of exposure to your brand or blog that never dies. But they aren’t easy to create. They take planning, time and at least four or five of the following elements.

It targets a broad market

The first step in creating a linkable asset is to identify your audience. It must be massive because small, niche markets will cause your asset to fail.

You don’t have to think about your general customers. When I’ve worked on these projects, here’s how I’ve thought through the massive audience I need:

  1. Human beings.
  2. Men and woman.
  3. Men in the United States.
  4. Men in the United States who like movies.

You don’t need to get any narrower than that. In fact, “men in the U.S. who like movies” is probably a little narrow. So I might try a small test on an audience made up of “men and women in the U.S. who like movies.”

Here are other ideas you could target:

  • Special interest groups: Republicans, Australians, gun owners or commuters all share a common pain point that you could address in a linkable asset.
  • One-time events: Think 9/11 or the historic significance of Obama’s election.
  • Holidays: Linkable assets tied into holidays like Easter or Hanukah seem to work pretty well.
  • Basic survival stuff: Anything that impacts water, safety, food, or gas consumption.
  • Predictions: Using data that points to a credible conclusion about a possibly good or bad outcome is good linkable content.

It addresses a pain point in a vacuum

What I mean by “addresses a pain point in a vacuum” is that your linkable asset will truly take off if you hit upon a topic that nobody else is addressing.

Beginner guides in new and emerging fields are good examples of this, as are “ultimate guides” that fill a space that is empty. The Authority Rules guide put up by Copyblogger is a free resource that filled an empty pain point, especially in a way that people weren’t entirely clear they even had.

You can hunt down some great data for linkable asset idea if you monitor these three sites:

Keep in mind that addressing a pain point is not an easy task to pull off because there tends to be a lot of competition in a given field to meet a pain point. That’s why you’ll see rushes to create the ultimate guide when the latest social media tools are released.

Mashable created an infographic called Global Internet Traffic Is Expected to Quadruple by the Year 2015:

This piece addresses an obvious need of companies looking to expand and grow—the infographic gives them they have some ammunition to justify their decisions.

We could learn a lesson from this infographic, since it is prediction-based. Even though that prediction is a few years out, the data is truly what is really important, but that is likely to change over time. The market may actually grow even larger, or shrink for some unexpected reason. You just don’t know with predictions, but in general they make for good social sharing.

It delivers evergreen content

In order to ensure that your linkable asset delivers content day in and day out, every year, make sure you choose a topic that will not go out of fashion in a couple of months.

For example, a prediction-style linkable asset usually doesn’t make the best example, because that content will go out of date eventually. Or they may even backfire if your prediction doesn’t come true. It will work well, however, if your prediction comes true, or if you can continue to update it every year.

Here are some examples for evergreen content:

  • Annual report: The reason the Feltron report works even though it is not evergreen content is that it is updated every year and placed upon the same link as the other reports. The same is true about SEOmoz’s annual ranking reports.
  • Guides: The guides that I mention above by Distilled and Smashing Magazine provide evergreen content in the form of “how-to” guides. Everybody needs this information and will for a long time.
  • Widgets: Pretty much as long as there are human beings there will be a desire to be rich…or at least to know how long it would take you to become a millionaire. That’s why the Bankrate calculator has been around for a while and will continue to generate traffic.
  • Tools: The classic example for a broad tool that is evergreen is Google’s keyword research tool.

It must be branded

At the end of the day, your linkable content must be about your brand. But more than just announcing your brand, it must be done in such a way that promotes adoption after someone reads, watches or uses it.

For example, my company announces that our survey tool is “Powered by KISSinsights.”

That’s the exchange we make for allowing someone to use the tool for free. You’ll also see copy that reads “Get this widget,” which helps promote the adoption and spread of the tool by encouraging people to embed it in their site.

This is what standard infographic branding element looks like:

But as you probably know, branding doesn’t end with a simple tag line that lets the consumer know the linkable asset is from you. You also have to make the design stunning.

Good graphics matter! Here are some simple tips to help your linkable asset great-looking:

  • Create a seductive headline combined with a graphic above the fold that stops the reader cold.
  • Put custom-made graphics throughout the linkable asset that are special to it. This will carry the eye of the reader down the page and further brand it.
  • Use graphics-based headers.
  • Break out of the typical blog template and use a format that is shocking or unexpected. Boston Globe shares pictures that are at 900 pixels wide.

It’s promotable to webmasters

When you create that linkable asset, you have to market it. It’s not true that if you build it they will come. Successful assets are given a big push by their creators, namely through emails asking if you will share the content.

That means that content must have zero commercial value, and a positive upside for you.

I’ve gotten requests from asset creators letting me know that they are about to let a piece of content “go live” and I and a select few have a privilege of leaking it early.

This strategy works because I like the idea of getting in front of the flood, because if you are viewed as one of the original promoters, you are likely to get a lot of the early links to your site via “hat tips.”

By the way, when you are pitching to webmasters, create a headline that is newsworthy. Webmasters love content that carries a feeling of cutting-edge news.

It’s easy to share

Nowadays most everything is pretty easy to share because you can build sharing into the assets—like buttons, for example, that share the content immediately.

What truly creates a linkable asset that’s easy to share is allowing the content to be embedded so people can share it on their own site, rather than just linking to it.

Creating a badge for accomplishing some sort of task is another great example of linkable asset that is spread by embedding the code. For instance, once you “finish” Distilled’s link bait guide, you can grab a badge that shows off your new knowledge:

Monitoring your linkable asset

The wonderful thing with these assets is that you can leverage their appeal throughout the year, or even over years. But you can’t know how they’re doing if you don’t monitor them.

Follow the progress of your asset by using these tools:

With these tools, you can keep tabs on where your asset is traveling across the web, and then make sure it’s linked correctly. If the link is broken, follow up with the webmaster to ask to have it fixed.

At some point you can re-purpose and re-introduce the content to get a fresh boost of eyeballs. But if you are not keeping track of all the mentions and links, then you won’t be able to find fresh places to promote it.

Start today

Can you see now how the linkable asset is a pretty big task? It takes time to create, and you may not succeed on your first try. In fact, the odds are that you will probably fail. But that’s why it’s important to share a prototype to a small audience to help you work out the kinks and see if it will have a wider adoption.

Have you created a linkable asset? Share your tips and advice with us in the comments.

Neil Patel is an online marketing consultant and the co-founder of KISSmetrics. He also blogs at Quick Sprout.

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Comments

  1. This is a new approach for me. Good Key Points.

  2. Joe says:

    Hi Neil,

    Totally agree dropping link bait is a great way to get links, re-tweets, facebook shares that lot. Cheatsheets usually grabs a lot of attention I find :)

    Great Post!
    Thanks
    Joe

  3. GADEL says:

    This is really a great insight. Thanks so much for the free education today.

  4. Hi Neil,

    More awesome content here.

    Creating a linkable asset might take time but the juice you receive from creating a valued piece of content is well worth it. Intelligent acts are prospered.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Ryan

  5. Kenny Fabre says:

    Neil

    this is precise information man. Like you said I think the best way to build links is to build it towards other human beings and add value, because I have some people linking to some of my articles because of the value I gave in them.

  6. Carolyn says:

    Thanks! I love it when I walk away (well, click away) from a post with a definite item on my to-do list. And that’s making sure that every linkable asset (a couple are downloads) has my logo and link prominently on it. Since the big one was created when I was a brand-new blogger, I’m not sure it is . . . and I haven’t check it in a while (chagrined grin . . . )

  7. Rob says:

    Great post and some really helpful stuff for me, I think we all need to work on the bigger picture and aim higher!
    Many thanks

  8. Richard says:

    Thanks for the targeting ideas. I think in the past I have been targeting too small of a audience.

  9. Daniel says:

    I have not really heard the term “Linkable asset” Neil.

    I think I have a handle on what you are getting at in your article, more or less.

    Having spent a bit of web time over on Rand’s SEOmoz site, I can see how many of his info-graphic type set ups could really pull in some link juice(They are really done well)

  10. well I am on my way to build a mountain of links… Thanks for the tips.

  11. Glynis says:

    You gave a lot of good information here. I bookmarked some of the links you provided so that I can get my blog in better shape.

  12. Some great tips here to build a diverse link profile Neil.

  13. Paulo says:

    Excellent article. It has given me lots of ideas for my website.

  14. If you choose infographic as your asset, make sure the graphics are stunning, there are so many out there that just don’t cut it. You’re absolutely right Neil, If you can get an asset that renews itself every year you’ll be set.

  15. Tony says:

    Good article!

    Although it highlights my woeful approach to link building!

  16. Loyalty Rich says:

    Cheers, Neil. Being original is the key but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do this on the internet! :)

  17. Interesting information. I may just give this a shot. Thanks for the info.

  18. Home says:

    Good ideas I mainly just write articles around my niches to get traffic and post on forums, any way you can get i right?

  19. Melissa says:

    Thanks for sharing this kind of great information, not just this article all of your posts are very inspiring and informative for editors of other blogs. Looking forward to reading the new ones too.

  20. Thanks Neil for this wonderful post!! This post would be a definite help for us and would help us in building a mountain of links. Thanks again for posting!!

  21. webpall says:

    I think it’is great, because I love linkbuilding and this approch is new for me and opens good perspectives to boost the ranking of my new website in the future.

  22. web pall says:

    This new look at the linkbuilding gives me new opportunities the bring my site to the next level!

  23. CRE ~8~ & Do says:

    Great article!!!! I’ve been working hard on something I could not explain to most people. It’s nice to now have a name for what I’ve been creating. And yes it has been a year of me working on linkable assets. And now I’m starting to get more people and links added daily!!! Nice to know that I’m moving in the right direction to set up my business for the future!! Thanks!!!!

  24. Prakruthi says:

    WOW!! Thank you for reminding me that I have not been thinking BIG enough to generate links. While I was thinking about guest posts and content for our Facebook fans, you have suggested something much bigger with actual steps for me to follow. Thank you for sharing! Will start working on this today itself!

  25. Ben says:

    Really good information. I’m thinking “cheat sheets” might work best for my blog. I’m going to try it out and see. Also, the reminder to think BIG was much needed! I’ve been thinking individual clicks, not the market as a whole.

  26. Links baits are indeed great. I had created a simple eBook a couple of years ago mainly to fill up the 125 pixel empty banner spot on my blog. This is not to say, it was of a bad quality. It was well researched but only a couple of pages which I had saved as a PDF. To my surprise, a few months ago when I was checking Google webmaster tools I found to my surprise that that single 2 page eBook haas acquired 1,647 back links, without any extra effort from my side. All I had to do was include a banner on my blog to download my eBook, without even email subscription. I didn’t even realise others would actually link to it from their sites.

  27. Roger says:

    Great content, thanks for the tutorial. I love your font…what font size and type is it? Thanks.

  28. Tony says:

    Wow, I have never thought of this. As if all us bloggers don’t have enough to do, I’ll just add this as another task to complete.

  29. Akash Gupta says:

    Interesting article with a new approach… nice