How to Get Inbound Links and Improve Your SEO – Brian Dean

Brian-Dean-PinterestYou’ve got some great content you’re ready to share with the world, but what’s the most effective way to do that, exactly? Don’t get left in the dust every time Google sends out another update. Learn how to take your basic SEO knowledge to the next level and master the art of link building and content promotion.

You can drive more search engine traffic to your site once you understand the importance of backlinks to search history visibility. Today you will learn proven tips to get your site more inbound links, get people tweeting about your content and direct more traffic to it.

Brian Dean is an SEO expert and founder of Backlinko, the place to go for next-level SEO training and link building strategies. He has shared with us some of his best tips and resources to help you upgrade your content, drive traffic and get your site to rank higher.

Rich: Hey everybody I am here with Brian Dean, the founder of Backlinko. They are an SEO training company that helps entrepreneurs get more traffic. Brian, welcome to The Marketing Agents Podcast.

Brian: It’s good to be here Rich, thanks for having me.

Rich: Let me get right to the heart of the matter, let me start easy. What are “backlinks” and why are they so important to our search history visibility?

Brian: Wow, that’s a really good question, Rich. To answer that we kind of have to hop in the DeLorean and go back in time, because the reason that links are important is because of the way search engines used to work. So basically search engines used to work by looking at what you have on your page, and that was how they figured what your page was about.

So for example if you had a page about red shoes, they would look at your page and say, “Ok, this says ‘red shoes’ 40 times, another page says ‘red shoes’ 30 times. The one that says it 40 times must be a more relevant result, so we’ll show that higher than the other one.” And it’s kind of hard to remember now, but that was when search engines like AltaVista and Yahoo and Dogpile and all those search engines that were super popular.

Rich: Dude, you’re talking about the early days of the web when I was just starting.

Brian: Yeah, that’s how far back you have to go to talk about 2014. Now I’m not going to give a huge history lesson, but this is just to give you some perspective that this is kind of how things worked. And then Google came along and said basically that system is broken, it doesn’t work and it’s showing people spam and pages that have one keyword repeated 80 times. That obviously doesn’t show people a great result, and the point of a search engine is to give people a great result for what they’re searching for.

So what they did is they took that basic keyword on the page strategy approach that they still use, but they added another layer to it, and that layer was links. They figured the web already exists in the sense that people link to other stuff, they naturally do it. If you like something, you link to it. If you like my article you’ll link to it, it’s a normal thing.

Rich: And I have.

Brian: And you have, well thank you. And they don’t have to have any human reviewers or anything, all you need to do is look at the links that already exist that people naturally use and use that as a litmus test for the quality of the page. So the more links pointed to a page in general – as long as they’re quality – in Google’s eyes, the higher quality page that is.

Rich: Alright, so basically in the algorithm to decide how visible our page may be on the search engine, part of it is the content on the page, so the links that are coming are pointing to our pages also make a big difference because they’re also like votes of confidence in the eyes of the search engine. Is that correct?

Brian: I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Rich: Alright, sounds good. Ok, so now you’ve sold me. I realize I need to get some inbound links going. And by the way, before we go any further, I just want to let you know that for Halloween I was Doc Brown, so I really appreciate the DeLorean reference. And it’s so funny because of course I found you through Pat Flynn and he has almost a fetish for the movies, so there you go. It all comes back to Pat.

Alright, so now that we know we need these inbound links, how do we actually get them? And you and I were talking before I hit the record button and I said that I never liked the idea of going out and begging for links to my site, it always makes me feel a little bit dirty, and I’ve kind of shied away from it. So is there a good way for small businesses and entrepreneurs to go out there and get those valuable links?

Brian: Well fortunately, there is. It’s not easy and it takes hard work and you have to be able to live with the fact that you’re going to be getting links that are just to get you higher ranks with Google. Now, that’s not to say you’re getting spammy links, these can be legitimate links. But a lot of these links you get you’re doing them with the intention that, “I’m going to get these links so my site will rank higher on Google.”

Now because linking has such a bad name and has been so spammy for so long, it can sound like you’re doing something shady. But really all you’re doing is creating a great resource on your site, reaching out to people who might want to link to it and then asking for a link. There’s tons of nuances in there and a thousand different ways to approach it, but that’s the basic idea for building links today because you want links that people might place editorially. A lot of people get hung up on natural links, which is basically the “publish and pray” approach. You just publish content and you just hope someone will see it and hope someone will link to it. And it very, very rarely happens. I learned this the hard way with my first site. I just published great content, I didn’t bother doing any link building, and of course I didn’t rank for anything. And once I started to actively reach out to people and ask them to add my link without being spammy, I would get links as long as they were earned and I had something worth linking to on my site.

Rich: Alright, so it’s not enough just to create valuable content, we actually have to take actionable steps to get other sites to link to us. Correct?

Brian: Absolutely, Rich. I mean, we’re talking about right now there are 2 million blog posts published every day. So when you hit “publish” on WordPress, you’re one of 2 million people doing the same thing. So what are the odds without active promotion and link building someone is going to find your content and link to it, unless you already have a massive following, which 99% of the people don’t? I definitely didn’t when I first started.

Rich: Alright, so first of all we need to create some valuable content and then we have to get the inbound links. So it’s easy, and all the experts say, “Create valuable content.” But what does that mean exactly to a small business who’s got a million other things in the day, how do they know what’s going to be valuable for their audience?

Brian: That’s a good question. And Rich, it also rubs me the wrong way when people just say, “Just publish great content and the rest will take care of itself.” I’ve even heard people say, “The internet will do the rest.”, which is an absolutely joke. And I’ve been to a lot of conferences where guys on the speaker circuit will come up and talk about how SEO is creating great content, and it’s so untrue. I’ve seen so many people waste time and money behind producing stuff that doesn’t get any results.

So the key is to know what is it that makes content great. What is it that makes content in your space do well? And basically the idea is to not guess, you don’t need to guess and put stuff out there hoping that something will do well. That’s the cook spaghetti approach, you throw a bunch of stuff against a wall and hope something sticks. That’s not really the approach that works well. What you want to do instead is find something in your space that’s already performed, in terms of links and social shares and comments and rankings. And then you just basically take the elements that have done well and add that to your content. You can directly do that, you can take a piece of content and take the general idea and add your own spin to it. Or you can find several pieces of content, take the good parts and put it all together into something great. The key is to make sure everything publishes basically in a proven framework of success.

Rich: Alright, so I guess I have two questions here. The first question is how do we find out if something is a proven topic for content? And the second one is, if it’s already been done so well why are we adding to the noise?

Brian: So to answer your first question, the easiest way to find content with a proven track record is Google. Like we talked about, Google ranks pages on quality. It’s not perfect by any means and there are certainly people who have manipulated the system, but in general when you search for a keyword you’re going to see some good stuff coming up, especially for more competitive keywords.

So for example, let’s say that you had a site about weight loss, you would want to search for a keyword like “lose body fat”, so pretty specific but also broad enough where it’s pretty competitive in the sense that good pages are going to rank. You’re not going to see any mom and pop blogs with stuff ranked for a keyword like that. And then you just look at the first page and they basically curate it for you and show you stuff that has done well, because if something’s ranking on the first page with a competitive terms, that means it’s acquired some links along the way.

There’s another tool that I like that I’ve been using a lot lately called BuzzSumo. And BuzzSumo doesn’t specifically look at content that’s received a lot of links, it looks at content that’s received a lot of social shares like on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, and it doesn’t give you an idea of links, but it gives you an idea of what’s done well in that space. So with BuzzSumo you just log in and you put a keyword related to your niche – like weight loss – and it will show you what content has done well in terms of social shares. It’s a goldmine toll, highly recommended.

And then, if you have all this good stuff, why would you just create something else as good. So the idea isn’t really to just wholesale copy what they’ve done, it’s to find ways to improve upon it. So a lot of times the content that you find has serious some flaws in it, that maybe it was the best in the space at that time, maybe time hasn’t been so kind to it and it’s out of date or maybe it was written ok but you can write it better or maybe it has a certain level of depth to it but you can add a lot more depth to it. Maybe it doesn’t have a lot of screenshots to it and you could add screenshots, maybe it doesn’t have a lot of statistics from other research studies but you could add those. So there are just so many different ways that you can take some idea and make it 100 times better. It’s not really a matter of just a one to one copy or adding a tweak or making it slightly better, it’s really about taking what’s out there and blowing it out of the water.

Rich: Alright, so just to recap, what we’re going to do is we’re going to use tools like Google results and BuzzSumo to find content that has already proven itself. These are things that have ranked well and also have a lot of social shares going on showing that there’s really an audience for it. And they were going to look for how we can improve on this, either with video, photos, better writing, a longer list, more research, better headline – whatever it is – and really create something that just kind of takes this to the next level.

Brian: Exactly.

Rich: Ok. So we publish this on our blog, and then I know from what you already said that we don’t just wait for the accolades to come in and the links to build themselves, we take an active approach to this. And this is the part where I always fall down on, so let’s say I’ve written this amazing piece of information – whether it’s on “100 Gluten-free Pizza Recipes” or “25 Things To Do In Portland. Maine That The Locals Don’t Want You To Know About” – I publish, now what?

Brian: Ok, so I kind of have a two-phase approach that I take to it. So for example, I have something huge coming out tomorrow, so I’ll just walk through how I’m going to promote it. So I’ll just reveal step by step how I’m going to promote this piece of content that’s coming out tomorrow.

Rich: Ok.

Brian: So there is two phases to it. The first phase is the “eyeballs” phase. So that’s where you’re just trying to get as many eyeballs as possible on your piece of content. So during this process you’re not really worried about links so much. Links is much more of a one to one, targeted approach. If you see a page where your link makes sense, you reach out to someone and you get a link. And I’ll walk you through that, too, but before then when you just publish you just want to get a buzz, you want to get social shares, you want to get eyeballs on it. Because that’s actually how you can acquire a lot of natural links. In theory, let’s just say you had that “100 Gluten-free Pizza Recipes” – which is pretty crazy – and you had every gluten-free blogger and every journalist that covers nutrition see it. In theory you would get some links, even if it wasn’t that good, that’s quite an ambitious post. But even if it wasn’t that good, just to get it in front of that many people just by the sheer law of averages, someone would link to it. So if you take that to the logical stream, you try to get as many eyeballs on it as possible just because you’ll get more links, you’ll get more social shares which will help you. And part of the content marketing and the benefit of it is people seeing your stuff. I mean, it’s not all about rankings.

So what I like to do is before I publish I actually use something called the “evangelist technique” to get some buzz about it before I even publish it. And basically what that is is I use the aforementioned BuzzSumo and I search for the keyword. So tomorrow the guide is about “Conversion Optimization”, so I put in something about conversions and it shows me content that’s done well, and I can actually see who’s shared it on Twitter. Because unlike Facebook and Google+, Twitter is all public. So then what I do is I download a list of people that shared it and I hire someone to find all their emails, and then I email those people and say, “I noticed you shared something about conversions. I have something else coming out this week, do you want to check it out?” Add if they say, “yes”, I send it to them.

Rich: Alright, hold on, stop right there. I’m already super intrigued. So what tool are you using in Twitter to find who has shared another piece of content, in this case, conversion rates?

Brian: I’m actually using BuzzSumo in this case.

Rich: Oh, ok.

Brian: I don’t know how they do it, and I have no association with them just in case you’re wondering, I just really do like the tool. So you put in a keyword and then it will show you the content that’s done well, and then under Twitter you can click “view shares”, and it just gives you a list of the people that shared it. I don’t know how they get that, it must be with the API. And then you download it into a spreadsheet and you have basically their name and all their information – how many followers they have – and I send that to someone and it comes back with emails.

Rich: By the way, is this like you send it out to somebody, this is a mystery black box, you can or cannot share that with us right now and you get their emails and then you email them one at a time or have somebody do it for you?

Brian: Well, I can explain how this person finds the emails, it’s not any shady stuff. But that’s a totally different process, it’s a little more complicated.

Rich: We can have you back on the show another time.

Brian: Yeah. I can go over it briefly, but it’s kind of detailed. Basically what you do is you take their name and their website and you create a couple permutations of it using a tool. So like, RichBrooks@whatever, and then depending on which site – it could be Agents Of Change or the conference website or some other site you’re on – and then you put that into gmail and with the report plug it in. And this is why I was reluctant to explain it because it’s already getting complicated. But anyway, when you have that installed and you hover over the email, it shows you if there is a report of match. And the report is basically like a CRM that shows you someone’s LinkedIN profile or Twitter profile based on email. How they find it, I also have no idea. But it basically tells you, “is this the right email?” And when it’s “yes”, we add it to the spreadsheet and then I email each person one by one – well, my assistant does – to say, “You shared this, we have something coming out that we think you might like, if you want to see it let us know.” And the people that ignore us, we never email them again. And the people that say yes, we send them a link when it’s live.

And the nice thing about this is it takes away some of that anxiety you get when you publish something and you’re like, “I put a ton of work into this, I hope it doesn’t fall flat.” For example for this one, I think we emailed 250 people, so let’s say 75 get back to us and say “yes”, that’s 75 people that are definitely going to see it and show an active interest and are likely to share it because they already shared something similar. So I didn’t email 250 random people, I emailed people with Twitter accounts – so they have the power to share stuff – and they already showed a propensity to share stuff. So it’s not a huge shot in the dark that they would like to also share your thing assuming it’s great.

Rich: That’s brilliant, I love it.

Brian: Ok, so that’s one. And after that – depending on how much resources I have for one content – I use something called the “content roadshow”. And that’s sort of similar, but with that you’re just emailing people who tend to write about that topic. So you’d want to search in Google for things like conversion rate optimization, conversion optimization, conversion case studies,etc. Just email those people after it’s published and you say, “ I notice that you like to write about conversions. I have a piece about conversions, do you want to check it out?” And a lot of times because they have an interest in that topic they say, “yes”. And they you show it to them – I don’t ask them to share it or link to it, I just show it to them – and they’ll actually thank you because sometimes there’s so much content out there that it’s hard to find good stuff. And basically what you’re doing is curating that for them and saying, “Hey, I have something cool, do you want to check that out?” So that’s kind of the eyeball phase and these two extra things can make a huge difference.

And then after that it’s on to the link building itself. And that’s a very different kind of long-term process and I’m happy to walk people through how to go about that.

Rich: Why don’t you give us an example, because the one thing I think I’m missing is, ok, you get these people reading our stuff and maybe they’ve written about it in the past or they’ve shared on Twitter. And it’s great to get tweets and it’s great to get traffic, but how do we get them to actually create a link from their website or blog to our content?

Brian: Ok, well that’s sort of the second phase. So the first one is the eyeball phase. So I’m saying it’s not really all about links, but if you get enough people to look at it and your content is up to snuff, you’ll get links from that. You’re showing it to people with websites, maybe they won’t link to it that day, but you’re planting a seed in a bunch of people’s minds. In the future, if they have a roundup post, they’re going to reference something about conversions, what are they going to do? Are they going to go to Google and start looking, or will they say, “Oh actually, the other day I saw this awesome thing about conversions and I’m going to link to that.” So it’s really fresh in their mind.

That being said, it’s really all about the tweets and social shares, don’t expect a lot of links, but you will get some.

Rich: And also, some of those social shares are social proof which makes somebody more likely to create a link to it anyways because it’s been proven as valuable content.

Brian: Absolutely, Rich. That’s huge. Imagine if I emailed you out of the blue and pitched a link to content I created and talked about the nuances of it and it got 1 tweet and 4 Facebook ‘likes’ and zero Google+ and zero LinkedIn, you’d be much more reluctant than if it had 1,000 tweets and 100 Facebook ‘likes’. You’d be like, “Wow, there’s something to this.” It’s just the nature of social proof and the psychological nature of social proof is such a powerful tool when someone’s on the fence about a decision. And social proof doesn’t work that well if someone’s already convinced. It’s hard to unconvince someone with social proof of they’ve already made a decision. But if they’re on the fence, which a lot of people are with linking, social proof can make all the difference.

Rich: Perfect, I love it.

Brian: Alright, so on to the linking. So basically there’s a few different approaches to take, but here are a few of my favorites. The first is to reach out to the people who linked to the content you found as your base. So let’s say for my conversion guide, let’s say there was a guide that was pretty good, it was a piece that needed to be brushed up and needed a paint job, but I used that as my base and I created this guide. So what I would do is I would reach out to the people that are currently linking to that older piece of content. So I use a tool called, and you just take any domain name or url and put it into there and it shows you all the links pointed to it.

And then what you do is you just find the contact information of those people and email them and say, “Hey, I notice that you had this article about whatever and that you mentioned this older guide. I also love that guide and it has inspired me to create one better. Maybe you might also want to add a link to my guide.” And it’s sort of a no-brainer, it makes sense that they would link to you, and they do tend to using this strategy.

Rich: Alright, so rather than use a shotgun approach, you just try and get out to everybody that what we’ve done is we took more of a sniper approach. We found people who have already shown that they’re likely to create resources pages and link out to related topics, so why wouldn’t they link out to us, and then we give them the opportunity. By showing them why our guide – if not better than the other guide – has some added value to it, so it only would help their resource page.

Brian: Exactly, and it doesn’t always have to be a resource page. I like to go after resource pages because they’re great and they exist simply to link out so they’re perfect for link building, but even in blog posting articles I’ve had people go back and add my link. It’s really about finding someone who has something super similar. You can actually laser target it, even more than a sniper. This is taking it to the level of they’ve linked to guides on conversion optimization, I have a guide about conversion optimization. That is on another level of detail and it’s more likely to convert than the sniper approach even.

Rich: Makes a lot of sense. So that was one technique.

Brian: Yeah, another is resource pages. I love resource pages and their kind of an old thing on the web, but they’re making a comeback. So resource pages back in the day when search engines weren’t very good, they’re kind of like, well, you can’t find anything good using directories or search engines so I’ll just curate a list of links. And these pages usually have a ton of authority on them because part of what makes a page valuable is the external links pointing to it, but also internal links.

So if you notice a lot of resource pages on websites they actually have a lot of internal links pointing to them which passes authority to that page and makes it very powerful. I have an authority resource page on my site and it’s linked to a sidebar, so every page passes a little bit of authority to it.

And then you can just reach out to those people and find the category where your resource makes sense for that page and say, “Hey, here it is, it might make a nice addition. Either way, keep up the great work.” The hardest part of resource pages is finding them, so what I like to do is there are a few search strings that we can put in the shownotes, it’s really easy. One is your keyword+inurl:links. This will show you hundreds of really targeted resource pages to use.

Rich: Awesome, great stuff.

Brian: I’ve got another one.

Rich: Yeah, let’s wrap up with another one for sure. This is great.

Brian: So basically you have your resource page and you can reach out to the person and tell them it might make a nice addition, but there’s another twist you can add to it to make it a little more effective, and that’s finding a broken link on the page, this is called “broken link building”. Basically what you’re doing is finding a broken link, letting the site owner know about it, and then offering your link as a replacement.   And you can easily find broken links using an extension for Chrome called “Check My Links”. Basically you click a button and it finds all the broken links on the page. And because research pages tend to have a lot of links, there’s quite a few broken ones. So when you reach out to them, you’re not begging them for a link, you’re helping them first.

Rich: That’s very good stuff. Now one of the things that makes me a little nervous about all this is it does seem to take time. You’re doing a lot of handcrafting, and even though it sounds like you’re using some services and outsourcing and an assistant, it still feels like a lot of time. How often are you publishing? Are you cranking out content on a regular basis or are you taking a deep, deep breath in between posts and only posting once a month or something?

Brian: Yeah, I take a huge breath. I am not a proponent of publishing often at all. I’ve tried it and it works much better to publish less often and spend that extra time promoting. So I only publish about once every 4-6 weeks.

Rich: I think that there’s a bunch of people out there right now that just had the most heavy breath they’ve ever had in the last 6 years hearing you say that. You’re doing this very successfully. It sounds like you’re spending a lot more time researching and creating really valuable content and promoting it rather than just trying to do a buzzfeed sort of thing where you’re cranking out a post a day and hoping for the best.

Brian: Exactly. And like you said, for me it was a huge relief to realize that you can still grow a blog without publishing that much. But even for rankings you don’t have to publish that often at all. In fact, earlier this year I went all in in this Q&A research guide on my site. It was a crazy, huge project, and I didn’t publish for 2 months. But what I did keep going was the link building machine. I kept finding broken links, kept reaching out to people who might want to link to me.

Rich: Was this for the content that had already been published on the website?

Brian: Yes, this is for everything I already had. I was working on this guide so I wasn’t able to publish a blog post for a while, but what I was able to do is continue promotion on what I already had on my site, and my traffic increased by 25%.

Rich: Wow. So link building for you is a day in, day out process, whether it’s you or somebody else on your team. The bottom line is this is something that you are regularly doing to always find new opportunities to get your valuable content linked to from other websites and get more eyeballs on that content.

Brian: Definitely. But I don’t want that to scare people off and make them think that you have to be on this 365 days a year.

Rich: No, but you can certainly increase your traffic without creating new content by just promoting the valuable content you’ve already created.

Brian: Absolutely.

Rich: That’s awesome stuff. Brian, this has been eye opening, I am totally stoked about taking my link building to a whole other level, I’m sure a lot of other people are, too. We’re definitely going to link to that new article, but where else can we check you out online?

Brian: The best place to find me is actually on my site,, and while you’re there you can sign up for the newsletter and get exclusive traffic tips and updates.

Rich: Alright, I’m going over there right now to take care of it. I hope all of you listeners out there are, too. And Brian, thank y9ou very much for sharing your time and knowledge today.

Brian: Thanks for having me, Rich.


Rich Brooks
Moving Forward on BacklinksBrian Dean - Inbound Links