The importance of enterprise link building is nothing new. The core principles of trust, relevance, authority, and commitment that revolve around link building are the same essence as traditional marketing. It's more about the relationship than the link.
When tasked with developing a link-building program, at the enterprise level, marketers should start to focus and think about relationship building. One should focus on obtaining natural, organic links while eliminating old strategies and tactics; only exact match keyword anchors, thin content, buying links, developing link wheels, etc. These methods are not only now less effective than they may have been in the past, but can also be harmful to your organic visibility and, in turn, your bottom line. Now more than ever it's imperative to avoid low-quality link building that the engines penalize and focus on building long-term real relationships.
Below are three initial strategies to consider when building links based on existing relationships you may not be exploiting, and developing new relationships at the enterprise level.
Link Profile Analysis and Broken Link Reclamation
Initially, spend some time analyzing your internal and external links. First, look at your website's internal links and locate the broken ones and update them first to point to valid pages of the site. Internal links will prove to be the easiest to update as you will have direct control of them, or at least access to the person or team that does.
In addition to updating the link destinations, make sure to also 301 redirect the 404 error pages to pages on the site that are relevant and valid with a 200. The 301 redirect will ensure that any SEO value that the page may have accumulated in the past is preserved.
This list of links to update can often be very large for enterprise-size websites. Prioritize your efforts by focusing first on the links/pages that have the most internal links pointing to them. The Internal Links report within Google Webmaster Tools is an excellent source of data to begin this process because the list of links is already prioritized for you. Access this report by navigating to Traffic > Internal Links. The report will show you the list of target pages ordered by the quantity of links pointing to them. Clicking into one of the pages will show you all of the pages from which the links are coming.
Google Webmaster Tools may not always report on all links, however, so it's important to consider multiple sources of data. Bing Webmaster Tools offers a similar report called Link Explorer, which has powerful filtering functionality that allows you to zero in on specific sets of links akin to how Yahoo Site Explorer formally functioned. To access its tool, navigate to Diagnostics & Tools > Link Explorer.
One additional source of inbound link data outside of Webmaster Tools is SEOmoz's Open Site Explorer. The Open Site Explorer provides valuable information as to where your links are coming from, where they point to, the types of anchor texts being used, as well as the quality of the links, based on a variety of metrics that it collects. The Open Site Explorer's data in combination with that from both Webmaster Tools platforms should allow you to begin laying the foundation of a solid link reclamation program.
Once you've identified and updated your broken links internally, the next step is to begin looking at all links pointing to your web pages from external sources. Identify which ones are broken and pointing to invalid pages on your domain. Once this list is compiled, begin collecting contact information from those sites and start an outreach campaign to have the links updated to point to valid and relevant pages on your site. If you're unsuccessful in having a link updated, ensure that you 301 redirect the pages that the links are pointing to into relevant pages on the site to preserve their SEO value as well.
Leveraging Existing Partnerships and Sponsorships
Partnerships, relationships, and sponsorships that a business has are oftentimes a great way of gaining inbound links to your website. Because they are partnered with you, there is a level of trust already established, which enhances the likelihood of them linking to you from their website.
Spend some time understanding which of your partners' websites may provide the most value from a linking point of view. Categorize your complete list of partner websites based on MozTrust and MozRank (obtained from SEOmoz's Open Site Explorer). If you're unclear on the difference in the metrics, you can read more at its help page.
In Excel, create a working document with all the data points on your partners. Include name, email, phone, website, Google PR, MozTrust and MozRank, and the link value (high, medium, and low). Also, add a column on how easy it may be to get the link based on the nature of the individual partnership. This way, you can easily prioritize the low-hanging fruit first. Once your list is compiled, begin reaching out to the partners who you feel will be most receptive to the idea of highlighting the fact that a partnership exists and provide them with specific information on what you want the link to say and where it should point.
Blogger Outreach for PR
If done correctly, outreach can be a very rewarding way to obtain natural links from related on-topic websites. Using basic email pitches - similar to PR pitches - it's possible to contact specific bloggers who are relevant to your product and industry and request a link, product review, or an interesting and unique angle for a story they can write about.
This starts with building the relationship. Begin by doing your research and developing an Excel list of blogs in your niche that you think are relevant. Then, reply to a blog post, an article, or even a tweet that the blogger wrote that's in some way relevant to your products/industry. Provide your thoughts and insights and/or ask questions. Take into consideration that it takes dialogue and time to establish a relationship. You don't want to come off too "harsh" or "direct" and appear to only be interested in gaining the link.
Beyond your own bloggers and "e-fluentials," Followerwonk.com is a great social media tool that assists in seeking out and identifying key brand influencers on Twitter that you may be able to eventually involve in a guest blogging opportunity.
After creating the initial dialogue, try emailing the author and mention that you're interested in talking about different strategies to leverage between your site and her blog. Gauge her interest level. There are several options to discuss; guest post, interviews, event sponsorship opportunities, contest/sweepstake contributions, etc. How you engage with each person will be different and unique to her own situation. It will take some creativity and long-term efforts on your part to build these types of links. However, these can often prove to be the most valuable.
Following these three best practices for enterprise link building will yield natural, organic links, and these are not strategies that are harmful to your rankings and bottom line in the search engines. Start to focus on relationship building rather than pure link building and the search engines will reward you tenfold. Link and relationship building can take on many forms and result in an unlimited number of tactics. What other strategies have you been successful with at an enterprise level for successfully building relationships?
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Crispin Sheridan is the Senior Director, Global Search at SAP. As part of the digital team, he established and leads the search and testing practices at SAP. Crispin is responsible for paid, natural, and mobile search and all online testing. Search and testing at SAP are fully centralized and globally funded and run under a hybrid in-house and agency model.
Crispin has proven that search learnings and keyword insights work hand in hand with social media marketing and together can effectively drive B2B lead generation. Furthermore, the development of the SAP.com Test Lab has contributed significant success to SAP's digital marketing efforts.
A frequent guest speaker at conferences, including SES New York, San Francisco, Toronto, London, Delhi, Shanghai, and Hong Kong, Crispin was appointed to the SES Advisory Board in December 2009. He has also been a guest speaker at the e-Metrics Summit and ad:Tech, and is a member of Google's B2B Technology Council. You can follow him on Twitter at @crispinsheridan and read his monthly SEO column on ClickZ.
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