The In Search SEO Podcast
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White Hat Link Building Strategies: Summary of Episode 86
Hayk Saakian joins the podcast to share novel ways to build links, offer value, and stay within Google’s guidelines all at the same time!
- Creative white hat link building strategies that offer added value first
- How to think outside the box when it comes to link building
- How to use niche level strategies to legitimately gain links
The White Hat Link Building Approach – Creative Link Building Techniques: A Conversation with Hayk Saakian
Mordy: This is another In Search SEO podcast interview session. Joining us today is a real techie. He does not play one on TV. He’s a real genuine software developer and entrepreneur and he does it all with the power of code. He’s one of those people who can tell you which iPhone case is the sturdiest and which weeding robot is the best of them all. He is Hayk Saakian.
Hayk: It’s a pleasure to be here.
M: So you are the CTO and co-founder of Logic Inbound, and you also write reviews of tech products. How did that happen?
H: It’s not that complicated of a story. We started the agency about five years ago focusing on SEO and in the last couple of years, I was thinking that we’re doing a lot of work with clients with building up their websites, but clients come and go over the years. I realized I got to build up some of my assets. With SEO, there are some things you probably don’t want to risk on clients’ websites that might screw it up. You don’t want Google to ban your client just because you tried something just to see how it works. So I use it also as a kind of playground for my own SEO strategies without worrying about getting angry phone calls.
M: I have a burning question, which is the best Roomba robot? Because that is one of the reviews you have. I checked it out.
H: So these robots are basically like Roombas for your lawn. They’re like hedge trimmers. They cut down weeds as they’re brought up. I just reviewed one recently. It’s called the Turtle Weeding robot and funny enough, someone lifted it right up from our front lawn and stole it.
H: Yeah, no joke. They’re in hot demand.
M: Wow. So we’re going to go from weeding robots to links. I get very cautious when a guest says “Hey, let’s talk about links,” because I don’t want to go down that blackhat rabbit hole. But you say that you have something about how to build links naturally. Please run this through for me because I’m beside myself with skepticism. How does this work?
H: The key concept that I want people to take away from this is that one size fits all link building doesn’t work. It can work but it typically takes a lot more time and a lot more effort. I made the same mistake. My background is software development and creating programs and I always think about everything like a system. How can I scale things, automate things, etc. because if it’s more repetitive, you can have someone less experienced do it more quickly.
M: Like those emails that start with, “Hello, friend. I noticed your post on [blank]. I would love to connect with you, friend.
H: Exactly. You talk to any SEO and they can probably repeat that script verbatim. We all get that script multiple times a day. But the whole point of what I want to talk about today is how can you look different than 95% of those other people asking for links. Your goal, at the end of the day, is to gain links. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the first thing you should talk to somebody about is links. Another simple way to approach it would be to think of how I can collaborate with someone so that a link is an incidental consequence of that outcome.
M: Yeah, and that’s where it’s natural. You have a relationship and linking makes sense.
H: Right. One of the things that I don’t like is some people pretend there are all these secrets. From my point of view, it’s not a secret. If you look around and you think about it, a lot of the stuff I’m going to talk about is going to be obvious in hindsight. The key thing is that 95% of people don’t do it, either because it doesn’t fit their cookie-cutter strategy, or most of the ideas or examples I mention are probably not going to be relevant to most people. And most people aren’t going to be able to implement all of them. The whole point is to get you thinking.
The question that I like to ask is how can I look different from 95% of the generic outreach emails that other people send? What is the unique value that my client or I can offer that others literally can’t offer even if they wanted to?
M: I love this stuff. It’s like teaching somebody to fish versus giving them a fish. Can you please give me one or two examples of how you would go about link building for two different types of content?
H: Yeah, let me give you two examples that are pretty far from each other and that wouldn’t work for the same client. My first example is for my site. I write reviews for different tech products and things like that. What I realized is that some of these companies that sell products online will link to other websites that reviewed their products, because they want to show that their product is good and that people are saying good things about it, etc. So I was thinking, I review products, why don’t they link to me? I was thinking, how can we create a system for me to find those e-commerce websites that I would want to review. If I reach out to them and they’re already linking to other review sites, then there’s a good chance that if I write a review that is helpful to readers, then maybe they would like my site too.
The whole concept works where I use tools like Ahrefs to find e-commerce sites that are linking to review sites. Then I reach out to these e-commerce sites. I’m not even talking about a link in the first email. I’m just reaching out to an audience that I know is already likely to link. I’m just talking about how I’m working on a list of the best products, I’d like to review their product, and how I think it’s really interesting. For example, the weeding robot you saw, I was looking at sites that sell different kinds of robots that link to review sites and this was one of them. I reached out and said, “Hey, can I review your product?” And they said, “Okay, sure.”
Another example that worked for one of our clients is what I like to call a proofreading link building strategy. If you have a doctor, lawyer, or some other licensed professional, what you might have noticed is on websites like Healthline, it will have an article like “10 best ways to lose weight” and at the top, it’ll say, “This was proofread by such and such doctor, etc.”
M: The hottest thing in SEO right now. Boost your E-A-T with a medical review.
H: Exactly. You can reach out to health care websites and offer to proofread them with one of your clients who is a doctor. It doesn’t take that long to proofread an article, read it over, and give some bullet points in terms of things that need to be fixed. And if you’re managing it for your client, you can do Grammarly, basic stuff. You don’t need to be a medical expert to call out a typo.
M: I’m wondering about the opposite. If you write a review that people love, they’re going to link to you. But let’s say you’re the product site and you want people to link to your product. I always find that as the harder side.
H: Funny enough, you can pretty much do the same strategy in reverse. Since I’ve been doing this outbound effort, I’ve actually had companies reach out to me and say, “Hey, we want to send you a product to write a review.” You can do the same thing if you have an e-commerce site. Look for reviewers who will link to e-commerce sites. A lot of review sites though are just Amazon affiliate sites who don’t want to sell anything. You want to look for review sites that actually do link out to e-commerce sites.
Going back to my question, what can you do that’s different from 95% of the generic outreach emails? Presumably, you make a product that most likely there are not 1,000 other people that make the same product. So you can offer to send the products to different people and all you’d have to ask for is a review. And just like any kind of outreach, only a small percentage of people are going to respond. But that’s a unique strategy that I think can work pretty well. In some cases, they might ask for an advertising fee or something like that, but if you’re reaching out to the right people and pre-vetting them, you shouldn’t have to worry about that.
M: Note, if you’re one of these sites who are taking in the product, you do have to disclose that you got the free product, otherwise Google will theoretically penalize you.
H: Of course. One thing to recognize is there’s more to it than just the fact that you got a link. If you reach out to more prominent YouTubers, just because the link is nofollow or marked a certain way, it’s not necessarily the end of the world. These people are influencers on buying decisions.
M: Well, SEO is not the be-all and end-all of marketing. Sorry to say that on this SEO podcast.
H: Yeah. The thing is, a lot of those processes might work the same way. Ultimately, for me when I’m working on my client’s SEO, my goal is to grow the client’s revenue. Sometimes these different strategies, even though they don’t result in an ideal link, they do result in sales and referral traffic. In this specific example, if you reach out to a reviewer, you can check on Google who ranks for different keywords. If they’re ranking number one for ‘best robots for lawn care’ you can assume they’re getting some traffic and you can verify that with Ahrefs. Even if they mark your link as nofollow, you’re going to have people flicking through those articles and getting sales. That’s a simple suggestion for review sites.
Another one that’s very simple that most people can’t replicate involves adding entry-level coupons on your site. It’s basically to bait out all the aggregators. There’s a lot of coupon aggregators out there. What you can do is put a page on your site that’s optimized for brand name coupons and then have very simple coupon codes. There’s always add-on things you can do for coupon codes that don’t cost you a lot but do increase the value of products.
For example, I’m working on the strategy for a local flower shop that is online with COVID and things like that. What they could do is they can offer a coupon for a free bow or a special design on your flowers. And the point is that it doesn’t have to be a coupon that’s designed to incentivize people to convert. You’re really doing it to bait these coupon sites. They don’t have a person evaluating if they should include this coupon in their aggregator. They’re scraping some sort of standard format, and posting it on the site. Presumably, as long as the coupon actually works and you’re doing it legitimately, then that’s another unique way to get a link.
M: Your examples are fascinating. Do you have another one you would like to share?
H: I can give you one I just thought of actually while thinking in terms of e-commerce. A simple thing to do that would also work for Amazon review sites as well, is if you email people like me, and you say, “Hey, I’m a company that makes a product you already reviewed on your site. And we’d like to give your readers an extra special discount, coupon, or offer. They’ll just put the code and the link in there and they get a discount. Would you please do it?” That seems like a pretty simple value proposition. I might not necessarily say I’ll do it, but I would entertain the conversation if we can work something out. That’s another simple way that justifies the link. If you click this link, you get a special deal that you can’t just get by clicking it on Amazon. Now it makes sense why you would want to have it on there.
M: Are you up at night in bed, staring at the ceiling thinking of interesting and creative ways you can build links that are not completely spammy? What I’m really asking is, how do you approach this? What’s your mentality?
H: My mentality is always to think about it from a more restrictive perspective in terms of what can I do with this client that won’t work on other clients? What can I do with this project that won’t work on other projects? You’re deliberately looking for ideas that don’t scale.
M: Nice. The total opposite of what everybody is trying to do.
H: Yeah, because constraints are what breeds creativity. If you think about it as a painter, you have a specific canvas and that’s all the space that you’ve got. You have to think about what you are putting on there and what you are specifically not putting on there. Restrict what you can work with to see what would be unique for this specific project.
I’m not inventing all this stuff. I consume a lot of content. Just to give you some specific examples that don’t necessarily work for everybody. There’s a concept called audio link building where you reach out to bloggers and offer to transcribe their article in exchange for sharing the embed code on their page. That one was from a guy named Julian Goldie on YouTube.
Another one I just learned recently. This one is probably more relevant for a B2B type of client. I would call this testimonial building. There are two prongs to it. One is with existing relationships. You reach out to every SaaS tool and every vendor that you have and offer to write a testimonial for them as long as they can put it on their website and share the source. The other side to it that I think a lot of people don’t consider, is proactively looking for consultants and people you can hire for an hour or two. I got this idea from a book called ‘Link Building Debunked’ by Matt LaClear. I just read it over the weekend on Audible. A lot of these unique strategies you can pick and choose and build up your toolbox. And then whatever makes sense for a specific client, you can put a unique twist on it.
M: For the testimonial, for example, are you specifically asking if this is going to be a nofollow link?
H: No, I wouldn’t even ask just because it’s only really in the SEO world do they ask if it’s follow or nofollow. In most industries, they don’t think about it. Eight out of ten times it’ll be a follow link. Sure, you’ll get a couple more nofollows in there but I wouldn’t sweat. The mindset that I think most people need to have on this is relationship building. If their first link is a nofollow it doesn’t mean this person is dead to you.
M: So you’re taking all these tips and you’re finding a unique opportunity. You’re looking for your “in.” Let’s go with reviews. You want someone to review your product, you’ll mail them your product, you’re getting them a free subscription, etc. They’re a big site and they’ve got hundreds of these requests coming in. How do you stand out in the request itself?
H: That’s a good question. I would take a step back and think about it. If the person you’re reaching out to is already getting a lot of these requests. I would study if they are converting on any of these requests. An example would be a YouTuber that I watch called MKBHD that I know works with different companies. He talks about how he worked with Tesla on this thing or he got a refund from Apple on this thing. This person works with these types of relationships and opportunities. If you know that they do, then try to look for their pattern. What do they seem to like and what do they not like? Do they ever work with small companies? Some of these big news sites, they just don’t even bother. It’s kind of funny, the best scriptwriting happens in building your list before you even write a script. Are you reaching out to people that are likely to respond to this script? If the answer’s no, then you need to change your script or build a different list.
Optimize It or Disavow It
M: When building links, would you either reach out to people on LinkedIn telling them that you could offer them a great guest posting, or would you reach out to some old lady via email promising them money for every link they put up on their website? Both horrible options. Which one would you do?
H: I’ll say I have to do LinkedIn because if you go back to what I said, if you build the right list that is more likely to accept, then you could actually get the right person. The second is too small a demographic.
M: Hayk, I appreciate this. I do not want to receive anything from you in my LinkedIn box asking for a link, please. Though, I kind of doubt that I’ll get that from you. And I appreciate you coming on. This is really interesting. The examples were amazing and were super actionable.
H: Yeah, happy to help. One quick thing to leave people with because I don’t know if I fully answered this last time. You asked what you can offer in a script that would make you stand out. This is another area where I think you need to think uniquely about what you do. A specific example that doesn’t really cost anything to do but is hugely valuable for the person is introductions to key contacts. If you’re talking to a reviewer, maybe you know this guy at this larger company that they would want to know and you could offer them an introduction.
Another thing a lot of consultants can do is you can offer to teach them about something that they care about. This is something I’ll do if I’m reaching out to other reviewers I want to collaborate with. I get offered to do some SEO training or coaching. It’s going to take maybe an hour or two of my time, but the return on that is pretty high if I’m talking to the right people.
Then there are a few generic tips. Don’t offer a special shout out or something on your Facebook group if there are only two people in your Facebook group or a mention in your newsletter if there’s only one person in the newsletter. If you have those things, mention the numbers. You can say, “Hey, I want to promote your product in my newsletter with 10,000 people.” Now you have an interesting pitch.
M: That was awesome. Thank you.
H: Thank you for having me.
Tune in next Tuesday for a new episode of The In Search SEO Podcast.