Debunking Link Building Myths in 2021

The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

On this week’s episode of Whiteboard Friday, guest host and MozCon speaker Shannon McGuirk walks through five link building myths prevalent in 2021, and why you shouldn’t believe them.

And, if you’re just starting out on your link building journey (or need a refresher on the basics), be sure to read Moz’s new-and-improved guide:

The Beginner’s Guide to Link Building

Link Building Outreach

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Video Transcription

Hi, Moz fans. My name is Shannon McGuirk. I am a director at a UK-based SEO digital marketing and digital PR agency called Aira. Today I’m going to be taking you through debunking link building myths in 2021.

So historically, SEOs, digital PRs, everyone were like: there are a bunch of myths out there at the moment, some new, some old, and today we’re going to be running through the top five that seem to be making a bit of a headline at the moment, debunking them, and hopefully sharing some helpful tips and tricks along the way. 

Myth #1: Category + product pages = impossible

So myth number one — and this is a really big one at the moment, because we know the importance of building direct links into product and category pages have huge benefits from a search visibility perspective.

So the first myth that I want to talk you through today is that it is impossible to build these links into product and category pages. In fact, that is completely false. It is highly, highly possible to be able to do so. You just need to make sure you’re giving people a good enough reason to link.

So the example that I’ve put up here today, and let’s take the mythical concept of a tire company, let’s say an e-commerce site as well. So if you are said tire company and you are looking to build followed links into some of these product or category pages themselves, the reason for journalists being able to do that or wanting to do that might be that you actually have an offer on the page or you’re sharing some insights on the page that aren’t purely self-serving and self-promotional.

You need to be giving these webmasters, journalists, writers, and the like a reason to actually give you that link back into their page. So a couple of ideas and ways that you might get over this and kind of let’s debunk the myth together. So you could pop an offer on the page, a Black Friday offer for that specific tire.

That then, when you’re pitching in to key titles, it could the mythical one of carnewstoday.com, that you drop the journalist a note and say for you readers, X% off. You get this code, and you can view the code on this page here. The journalist or the writer or the webmaster is then going to be more encouraged to link back to that category or product page through being able to share that offer with their audience and readership.

Another way that you are able to potentially do this as well is start to look at product roundups in the news. So if I was a fashion brand and as we head into the summer of next year, we might be looking at trying to rank for the term “summer dresses.” If that’s a really, really important key term for yourselves, that you want to be ranking for, you then go out to fashion writers, fashion bloggers, fashion webmasters and potentially pitch in the top 10 fashion items or summer dresses for their audience to cover, for them to include within their articles.

And, of course, again, you should be providing things like high-res images and what have you to be able to support the writer getting that article live. So my key thing here to take away is that it absolutely isn’t impossible to be able to do this. We know the value that building followed links directly into these category and product pages can have. You just need to be inventive.

You need to work with webmasters and writers to be able to provide them with something that they want to share with their audience and readership, and in them wanting to do that, it makes it more important for them to give you that link back and to direct traffic to that page because the offer, the insight, the product could be there. 

Myth #2: Top-tier news sites only give nofollow links

So, number two then.

A big myth that we’re seeing a lot on Twitter in particular is that top-tier news sites only give you nofollow [links]. Now I was on a call just a couple of weeks ago and was part of the pitch and the sales process and was, again, literally told this by the contact that I was speaking to and that they had been historically advised that if you wanted to get on to a top-tier site, such as TechRadar, USA Today, or in the UK the likes of The Sun and The Telegraph and stuff like that, you should expect a nofollow as a link, as a blanket rule.

Well, let me tell you this is completely false. We have had numerous links from top-tier sites from a variety of different writers, different journalists, for a number of different readers for a number of different campaigns. The way that you need to be switched on to this and the way that you can kind of overcome this hurdle is by being prepared before you pitch your campaign in.

So yes, there are desks within top-tier sites that have editorial policies. It may be that you work with key contacts, webmasters, and writers to try and uncover what those editorial policies are so that you can manage your internal stakeholders’ expectations and clients alike. A big, big publication in the UK, for example, that we know don’t give any links at all, and if they do, they are nofollow, is the Daily Express.

So that’s the kind of thing and the insight that you should be kind of working towards and kind of knowing and understanding. But that is just one publication out of thousands. So start to get your head around editorial policies and how they change, they adapt. The travel desk at one publication will be completely different to the motoring cars or business desk at another or even within their own publishing house.

You need to do your research. When you start to go after specific journalists and writers, see if they do link. Nine times out of ten, just by reading three or four articles that they’ve historically written, you’ll be able to understand if there is a chance of getting a link. That starts to give you that insight on what their editorial policies could look and feel like. Then, of course, you need to be prepared to give them a reason to link, and this is the most important point with this second one here.

You have to give them a reason, through a really strong data visualization campaign, through an offer, through some insights that may be on your client’s or your own branded website. You must, must, must give them something that entices them to add that link into their article. Of course, if you believe that you’ve done that, it’s completely okay to ask. A lot of what we do at the moment as well could be that top-tier sites, it’s not in their nature, it’s not in a journalist’s nature to think or look at things from an SEO perspective.

So they may not put that followed link in straightaway. So asking is completely fair. Dropping them a really nice, kind, polite note and asking if they could insert the link is okay. You may get a no. You may get an insight into the editorial policies and the why that that link can’t be added. But for every one of three, you might just get that cut-through that you’re looking for and you’re after.

Myth #3: Only send pitches in the morning

So myth number three then is that you should only pitch your campaigns or your link building content in to journalists and writers in the morning. This again is something that is completely false. Some of our most successful campaigns, to name a couple, have been pitched in the afternoon, after lunchtime and before the editorial afternoon meeting, and we’ve had some huge, huge successes pitching in our campaigns on a Friday afternoon if they’re a little bit fun and lighthearted.

So I want you to throw that alarm clock out the window. There is no pressure from journalists themselves to make sure that you get that email into their inbox before 9:00 a.m. Actually, what I would do at that point is take a step back, do some research and experiment. Do some A/B tests.

Build a contact list of 10 to 15 people that you want to be building those relationships with, see when they publish their articles, see when they’re most active on Twitter and stuff like that, and start to work out what actually might be a good time to pitch for them. The key thing if you’re pitching in the afternoon, for example, one thing to know is that you’re going to be up against less competition. Not as many people, because they believe this myth, are going to be pitching in at the same time.

Piece of advice here as well is that I wouldn’t be pitching in your link building or digital PR campaign completely cold from the get-go. So if I was a writer that potentially you wanted to be building a relationship with, I would give them the heads-up two to three weeks in advance, drop them an email or drop them a Twitter DM, say, “Hey, I’m working on this campaign. It’s got data on XYZ. Looking to launch by the end of the month. Is this something you’re interested in? Would it be something that you would like to cover? Let me know and I’ll work alongside you to be able to get you everything that you need for a potential article to go live.”

Again, that kind of stuff doesn’t need to be done at 9:00 a.m. in the morning. You can do that throughout the day. It can be done at any time. We’re currently in a completely different environment to what we were this time last year. COVID has definitely changed working from home and stuff like that. People are far more flexible. People are trying to achieve a work-life balance.

Again, that ties into the fact that not everybody is online at 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning. They may start later. So really, really do that research. Start to understand when your key contacts are publishing their articles. Work with them well in advance so that they know your campaign is coming up. And you do not have to pitch at breakfast time in the morning to get those links.

Myth #4: Relevancy isn’t king

Number four then is that relevancy isn’t king. So there is a huge debate at the moment — again you see a lot of it on Twitter and social media — that for traditional SEO and link building tactics that the links that you build have to be really, really, really relevant and that they have to be completely on brand from target sites and publications that you would expect that brand to be covered in.

Now, in the digital PR world, we have a slightly contrasting view to that in that actually a link is a good link, and relevancy isn’t quite as important. But I want to debunk the myth today that actually relevancy isn’t king. John Mueller, just last month back in February, released a short snippet that stressed the importance of having one high-quality, relevant link is the equivalent of having hundreds at a lower DA and of less relevancy.

This gives you a bit more insight into the way that Google is heading. Whilst historically, over the last 12 to 18 months, relevancy might not have been such a key thing for us digital PRs and would have been more important to the more traditional SEO link builders, times are definitely changing. That is a very, very surefire signal from John himself and from Google that we should be considering relevancy, and the phrase “content is king” now needs to transform into “relevancy is king,” because brands will be rewarded and their search visibility is likely to increase as a positive result of having highly relevant and high-quality followed links pointing back to the domain.

Myth #5: You can’t ask for a link

So final one then, number five is actually the one that probably stands the test of time. It’s the one that’s been around the longest and the understanding that actually you can’t ask for a link. It’s a huge, huge prominent myth within our industry and what we do, and actually you can.

You can 100% ask a webmaster, a writer, a journalist at a top-tier publication, whoever they are, you can definitely ask them for a link if they have covered your content, your campaign, your insights, whatever it has been. Now, as I touched on earlier, not every desk, every writer, every journalist is going to give you that link once you ask for it.

But if you don’t ask, you don’t get. So it may be that you get a nofollow link. It may be that in a couple of weeks’ time a link could be added, for example. It’s really, really important to do this in a polite and friendly way. Do not be demanding. But a simple, short note if a piece of coverage goes live or an article goes live, going back to that writer, thanking them for their time and saying it’s been great to work alongside them, if you then at that point say it would be great if you could credit the brand fully by adding in a link to XYZ or whatever your campaign or homepage may be, the chances are they’re going to do one of two things — tell you no, it’s not what they do or add it in.

There is a 50-50 chance of success here. So it’s worth the risk, and it’s worth you giving it a go. Now these are the top five myths that, of course, are highly relevant today. They’re the ones that get spoken about on social media quite a lot, and it’s as the debate and I guess the synergy between digital PR and SEO is fusing together a little bit more.

We’ve kind of gone through everything today in terms of the myths themselves. If you have any questions for me, you want me to help you debunk myths or anything like that, please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter. My handle is @ShannonMcGuirk_. My DMs are open. More than happy to help. Really, really hope you guys enjoy the newly reformed and refined Link Building Guide.

On behalf of Moz, it’s been great to be part of the process. Thank you, guys. Leave comments and feedback below. Bye.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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