Search Engine Traffic the Easy Way – Ask for Backlinks!
If you have a Website, you’ll know that getting search engine traffic to your site can be the most difficult part of the job. It’s tough getting traffic, and in general, you’ve got two choices when it comes to getting people to your site – search engine optimization and paid traffic.
Search engine optimization, or “search engine optimism,” as it ought to be called, is a matter of tweaking your site in such a way that the search engines can decide what your site is about. If your site is about widgets, and you make that clear in your heading tags, your graphics, and the content of your pages, then, in theory, the search engines will rank your site highly when people search for terms that are related to your site’s content.
The reason that I refer to SEO as “search engine optimism” is because in practice, search engine optimization, or SEO, doesn’t work for most people, because of competition. Only one site can be ranked at the top of the list for any topic, and if your site is in a competitive niche, you’ll likely find yourself buried in the rankings, along with thousands of your competitors. Basic SEO involves measuring keyword density and using a keyword a certain number of times in bold, italic and underlined text, along with using it in headlines of varying sizes and in the ALT text for images. That’s great, but if the high-ranking pages for a particular keyword or phrase are already doing those things, then you’re not going to unseat them at the top by doing the same things. SEO works well with minimal competition, but if you have a lot of competitors, SEO alone won’t take you to the top of the rankings and it likely isn’t going to get you a lot of search engine traffic.
Paid traffic can work well, as it’s a simple matter of paying the search engines to send traffic your way. The upside of paid traffic is that it can work within minutes and can provide a huge number of visitors to your site. The downside is that the learning curve can be huge, and while you’re learning which keywords and ads work well and which ones don’t, you’ll be spending a lot of money on advertising and perhaps getting nothing in return.
There is another way to improve your site’s search engine ranking, however, and that’s by improving your status in the search engines by getting other sites to link to yours. The combination of good SEO and inbound links from other Websites can bring a lot of traffic to your site. The search engines consider links from one site to another to be a “vote” for that site and in general, the more sites that link to an article or page, the greater the importance of that article or page in the eyes of the search engines.
In this article, I’ll share a method that I came across recently that has worked well for me in terms of increasing the visibility of my Websites in the search engines by getting other sites to link to your site. It works well, it’s something that anyone can do, and the only resource it requires from you is time. I can’t take credit for it, however; the method, known as the “Skyscraper method,” comes from a blogger named Brian Dean.
Search Engine Traffic by Category
Click any of the links below to jump to each category:
Like I said, I didn’t come up with this method; that’s the work of Brian Dean, and you can read his article about this search engine traffic method here. I’ve tested it a bit and found that it works well, but that there are a few problems with it that Brian didn’t really address, so I thought I’d cover those to help with what was, for me, a major stumbling block in getting the method to work.
The basic idea behind the Skyscraper method is that you’re going to find the top-ranked page for a particular topic, examine the page to see what it’s about, create a similar page on your site with better content, and attempt to have your page replace the one that’s already there through a combination of better content and by having many of the people who are already linking to that #1 page link to yours, too.
That may sound daunting, but there are really just three things you need to do to make that happen:
1. Find the top ranked article for a keyword or phrase
2. Write a better article
3. Get people to link to it
The top ranked page in Google for just about any topic is likely to be one that has a lot of links pointing to it. That may be because the article on the #1 ranked page is a better article than those below it, or that it’s a longer article than those ranked below it. Often, it has a lot of other sites linking to it because it’s a useful and informative article that people think will interest their readers.
Recent studies have shown that the search engines tend to favor longer articles over shorter ones, and the top of the search engine rankings tend to be dominated by long articles. I’ve covered this before, and I often mention that I rarely write any blog post that is under 1000 words. That’s actually fairly short in terms of what it takes to rank #1 in Google, though. In fact, the average article length of all articles appearing on the first page of Google is just shy of 1900 words. Chances are good that the article appearing in the #1 position of Google for just about any topic of note is going to be longer than that.
How much longer? Obviously, that’s going to vary by topic, but if you’re going to try to have the #1 raking page for any topic, your article needs to be long enough to cover the topic in detail and in greater detail than the pages that are currently ranked near the top of the search results.
After that, you need to get people to link to your article, but it’s really not as difficult as it seems. The people you’re going to get to link to you are the very people who are already linking to the top-ranked articles. Since they’ve already shown an interest in linking to articles of that kind, they should be fairly receptive to your suggestion that they link to your similar (and better!) article on the same topic. You’re simply going to contact them, point out that you’ve written a similar article to one they’re already linking to, and ask them to link to yours.
Brian’s method, while a good one, made extensive use of paid tools, including a couple that include hefty monthly fees. I’ll try to make use of free solutions, as I figure that most of you are not likely to be in a position to pay $100 per month or more to find out who your competition might be.
This first part is pretty straightforward; you want to pick a topic of wide interest that’s related to your site’s content. Phrases, particularly long-tail phrases, tend to work better than single words. Just pick out a phrase, such as “dog training” and go to Google and see what comes up. For my search, the top ranking page had the title “5 Essential Commands You Can Teach Your Dog.” Another one that ranked highly was “Top Ten Dog Training Tips.”
For this part of the exercise, enter 3-5 key phrases from your market niche and make a note of the top ranking sites in the search results. I usually make a point of saving the top five URLs in a spreadsheet. If you do this for 3-5 different phrases, you’ll likely find that one of them has a good article at the top of the rankings that’s relevant to your site’s content.
Once you’ve settled on one keyword or phrase that you’d like to use as the basis for your article, make a list of the top 10 URLs on page one of Google for that phrase. Save them in a spreadsheet.
This part of the process is usually pretty straightforward, though sometimes you’ll have problems if your niche involves retail. If your topic is wristwatches, for instance, chances are that all of the top ranking sites are going to be other retailers, rather than articles about watches. That’s where a long tail phrase, such as “how to choose a good sports watch”, rather than a single keyword, can be helpful in finding an article to emulate, rather than simply a Web page with items for sale.
What you’re looking for in a top-ranked target that you’d like to compete with is one that has a lot of links pointing to it. The more, the better, but ideally, you’ll want to find one that has at least 25 unique domains linking to it. There’s no set rule regarding how many links it takes to get to #1 in Google, and you’ll find that the number of inbound links to a #1 ranked page can vary dramatically, depending on the niche. It might be as few as five and it might be 500 or more.
If you have a subscription to a paid tool such as Ahrefs or Majestic SEO, you can use those for this part of the project. If you’re looking for a free tool, you can use the Open Site Explorer at Moz.com. Once you’ve signed up for a free account, Moz will let you enter a URL and then download a report containing links to all of the sites that link to it.
Just take your list of the top 10 sites listed in Google for your keyword search and enter the URLs at Open Site Explorer. If the first one has more than 25 different domains linking to it, then you’ve found a good target. Since the top raking site sometimes doesn’t have a lot of inbound links, I’ve found that it’s worthwhile to get a list of linking domains for each of the top 10. While it’s good to get links from the sites that link to the #1 site to link to you, it’s even better if you can get some of the sites that link to #2, #3 and so on to link to you, too.
If you’re using Moz, just enter the URLs, one at a time, and click the link that says “Request CSV.” They’ll send you email when your report is ready.
Then repeat for the rest of the URLs in your top 10 list. When you have all the reports, you’ll have a list of 10 top-ranking URLs, along with a list of the domains that are linking to each of them.
Save this list for later. After you create your content, you’ll be visiting the sites on this list and contacting the Webmasters to ask them to link to your article.
Now it’s time to create the article on your site, and the article has to cover the same subject matter as the top-ranked one, but it has to be a better article and likely, a longer one. How do you do this?
Let’s go back to our original search for items related to dog training. For my search, the top ranking page had the title “5 Essential Commands You Can Teach Your Dog.” Another one that ranked highly was “Top Ten Dog Training Tips.” How might you improve on either of those? How about an article with ten essential commands to teach your dog? How about an article with 25 dog training tips? Or 50? Or 100?
This is a situation where more really is better, and to get over the top results, you need to write an over the top article that’s so much better than what’s already there that people who read it will feel compelled to link to it.
Often, that simply means writing an article that includes more about the topic, and if the article contains a list of things, then you can often be successful by simply producing a longer list. One of the articles that I used to test this method involved a list of themed items, such as the dog training tips article above. In my case, the #1 article in Google listed some two dozen items. I wrote an article that listed more than three times that many – 72, in fact.
How do you write such a comprehensive article? It’s not hard, really. In my case, I searched for articles on that topic, looking for things to add to my list that I could write about. Many of these articles only covered four or five things, but often, the four or five things covered in one article were completely different than the four or five things that another article wrote about.
I just went through both Google and Bing, reading every article in the top 50 about that particular topic and taking notes. In an afternoon, I had enough in the way of notes from all of those articles to write a Super Article that covered more than 70 items. The resulting article was some 7000 words long.
For ease of navigation, I broke the article down into subsections, and had a mini-menu near the top of the article that made it easy for people to read whatever sections of the article might have appealed to them the most. This can be beneficial in Google as they’ll often list subsections in the search engine results.
How you make the article better is going to vary, depending on the subject matter. It might be a matter of simply writing more. It might be a matter of providing information that’s more current, or references that aren’t out of date. It might involve using more images, better images, or more useful and informative graphics. A good portion of the time, you simply need to cover more ground. The idea, once again, is to come up with an article that’s so comprehensive and so useful to readers that Websmasters and bloggers will want to link to it.
On my article with 70+ items, several people wrote back with, “Wow! That’s a lot of items! I’ll be happy to link to you.”
I also made a point of ensuring that each section of the article had at least one photo or graphic in it. It actually only took me a day or two to do my research, take my notes, and write the article and post it on my blog. The first time you do this will take the longest, as you want to make sure that you’re getting all of the steps right. After that, it goes a lot faster the second time.
Once you’ve got your article written and published, it’s a simple matter of finding your list of sites that linked to the top-ranking pages that you found earlier. You’re going to contact the people who have already linked to the top-ranked pages, and you’re going to ask them to link to your article, too. You’ll suggest that they might want to do it because your article is new, improved, better and more current than the one to which they’re currently linking. You’d be surprised at how often they agree to do that.
If you used Moz.com, to search for inbound links to the top-ranked pages and exported the list of links in CSV format, you’ll already have a spreadsheet listing each site that links to the top-ranking articles. Then it’s simply a matter of going down the list of links, one at a time, and clicking on them to visit the site. Once you’re there, verify that the site does, in fact, link to the article in question. Then you need to search for the site’s contact information. Most of the time, the sites are going to have a contact link of some sort, and you’ll likely either encounter a contact form or a link or a printed email address.
Then, you simply ask them to link to your article. I use something like this:
I was searching for some articles about [topic] and I came across this page on your site: [insert their site’s page URL here]
I noticed that your page linked to this article: [title of top-ranked article here]
I wanted to let you know that I recently published a similar article, though it’s a bit more comprehensive and up to date: [URL to your article here]
I bring it to your attention as you might be interested in giving it a mention on your page as an additional resource for your site visitors.
Thank you for your time.
Your email address
Your Website address
Don’t be overwhelmed if you have a list of 500 or 1000 sites to contact, as you’re not going to be contacting everyone at once.
Websites tend to develop inbound links slowly over time. That’s true of the site that’s currently ranked #1 for your topic, too. That means that if you’re trying to beat out a couple of sites that have several hundred domains linking to them, you don’t want to contact everyone at once. What I do instead is try to contact 10-15 people per day. Once I’ve contacted the first site on the list, I’ll put “DONE” in the column next to it, and then move on to the next site. Once I’ve contacted 10 sites, I’ll save the spreadsheet and do it again the next day and contact another 10 people.
I’ve often got multiple articles going at once in several different niches, so I may spend an hour or so per day just contacting people and asking them for links.
Don’t get frustrated if you don’t get a lot of response. Most of the people that you contact aren’t going to reply, though some of them may link to you without letting you know. In Brian’s article, he said that about 11% of the people he contacted agreed to link to him, and while that might not sound like a lot, some of the links were from sites with a lot of authority in Google and links from those kinds of sites can make a huge difference in how your page ranks. Plus, the sites you’re contacting are in the same niche, making the the links they can provide to you highly relevant and highly targeted links. You’re not asking random sites to link to you; you’re asking sites with content in your niche to link to you. That’s a big deal.
This is the area where I ran into problems and the article on Brian’s site didn’t cover any of the problems that I ran into that I’ll describe below. The entire process should all seem rather straightforward; just find an article on a topic in your niche, find the sites that link to them, and ask those very same sites to link to you. In theory, that should be the case, but I found out very quickly that there are some pretty good reasons for why Brian only got 11% of the people he contacted to link to him.
Sometimes, it turns out, contacting site owners is actually really hard.
Here are some of the problems that you might encounter when you attempt to contact site owners. Some of these can be fixed and other times, you’ll just have to move on.
Useless sites on your list – Forums, link farms, article directories, RSS aggregators and search engines are going to turn up in your list of links. There’s not much you can do with these, so just delete them and move on to the next address on the list.
Sites that want you to pay – I’ve had Webmasters reply to my request and say, “Great. Love your article. I charge $75 for links from my site. How would you like to pay?” Google really frowns on both sites that sell links and sites that purchase them, so I always politely decline such “offers.”
Sites that aren’t in English – I use Firefox and the Translate This! plugin for Firefox, which uses Google Translate to convert the page to English. You can use the translated version of the page to find the site’s contact information, though you’ll find that contact forms don’t usually work on translated versions of pages. You’ll still have to fill out the form on the original version of the page.
You shouldn’t dismiss sites out of hand that aren’t in English, as lots of non-English Websites may still be useful sources of links. The site may not be in English, but that doesn’t mean that the site’s readers or Webmsters don’t understand English or that they aren’t interested in your article. The might be very interested, and you might be passing up a great opportunity for a link if you ignore the site.
Sites with broken contact forms – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found a useful site, saw a “contact” link, and then clicked on it, only to be taken to a page that says something like “contact form goes here” or perhaps has some broken contact form code on it. Sometimes, the form is there, but the CAPTCHA tool is broken, making it impossible to use the form. In these cases, follow the steps below for sites that don’t have contact information.
Sites that don’t have contact information – This one is surprisingly common; I’d say that about 40% of all sites I visit for this purpose don’t have either a contact page or any kind of contact information on the site. This is particularly true of sites that use the Blogger platform; for some reason, hardly anyone who uses Blogger includes contact information on their site.
While I always do a quick search for the word “contact” on the page in question, don’t forget to look for “feedback”, “about us”, “webmaster” or a link to some other page that might have contact information on it. Of course, sometimes, there simply isn’t any contact info on the site. That requires an additional step.
For sites that don’t have contact information on the site, you’re going to have to find it by doing some detective work. The easiest way to do that is to do a WhoIS lookup on the domain name. A WhoIS lookup is a method of finding the contact address for the person in whose name the domain name is registered. There are many sites that can do this, but my personal favorite is at Networksolutions.com/whois. Just go there, enter the domain name alone (no http or www) and click “search.”
Most of the time, the site will return a full page of information, and buried in there somewhere will be the “registrant email.” You can copy and paste that email address into your email program and then send them your link request via email.
Sometimes, people who register domain names use privacy protection when they register their domains, which hides their actual email address. What you’ll see instead will usually be a lengthy alphanumeric string, perhaps something like this: email@example.com or something like that. That address isn’t the registrant’s actual address, but if you send your message to that address, it will be forwarded to the correct address of the owner of the site.
When I contact a site owner through a privacy address, I usually add this to my message: “Sorry to contact you through your site’s registration email address, but I couldn’t find the contact page on your Website.” Then you can include the rest of the message asking them to link to you.
The WhoIS lookup at Network Solutions doesn’t cover all possible domain name extensions, though the major ones (com,net, org) are supported. I’ll find that sometimes, foreign domains aren’t supported at that site, but I’ve had luck doing a WhoIS lookup at other sites, such as who.is or whois.com with those.
Bad email address or no address from a WhoIS lookup – It happens. Sometimes, it simply isn’t possible to find a contact address for the owner of a Website. When that happens, and you’ve tried everything else, you just have to move on. It’s one link, and if it’s a site that doesn’t provide contact information, it’s likely not a link that you’ll miss.
This method works quite well in getting your site ranked, improving your site’s ranking and in getting some traffic to your site through links from other sites in the same niche. On one of my sites, I’ve tried this method using two articles that I’ve written and published over the past 8 weeks. The accompanying graph shows a pretty dramatic increase in the number of inbound links as well as the number of sites that are linking to mine.
While you’ll find that this method for search engine traffic works well, it works best if you repeat it. Instead of writing a lot of short articles and hoping that the search engines will find them and like them or that other sites will “magically” find them and link to them, why not instead write fewer articles, but make them better and longer and then take the time to ask people to link to them?