How To Trade Money For Contextual Links (Without Buying Them) And 1 Free Copy / Paste System Template For You To Use

Gael’s Warning Note: Epic rant incoming

In this post, Perrin goes into a pretty long rant about how inefficient / lazy most people trying to trade money for links are and points out the real life mistakes that puts their business at risk.

It’s a read many people need, but not a read many people want. It will not bring us lots of search traffic or links but hopefully it will create the mind shift needed for long term success in the heads of those who pay attention.

However, if you just want the actionable part of building system that trade links for money, just click here, we’ve prepared a copy/paste process for you ;).

Know what I hate? The shortcut mentality people have when trying to reach a goal.

Especially in SEO. I hate them because SEO is not a short game. It’s a long game. And taking shortcuts, to me, represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the business — particularly for authority site builders.

Yes, there are proud black hats out there who use short-term tactics on purpose to make “churn-and-burn” sites. More power to them.

That’s not us, and if you’re reading this blog, it’s likely not you either. But I still see it: people seem to be drawn to shortcuts like moths to a flame.

And do you know where I see it the most? Link building.

It’s no mystery that people hate link building, but it’s still weird. Because here’s the thing: link building is a core competency. It’s one of, like, maybe three fundamental skills you have to learn to do SEO and/or build an authority site.

Trying to get into SEO and not taking the time to learn the (relatively easy, to be frank) skill of building links is like trying get good at dating but refusing to talk to people. It’s incompatible.

I always feel like that’s a good analogy because I think people are afraid of those two things (building links and talking to someone you’re attracted to) for the same reason: fear of rejection.

That leads to stuff like this:

guest posting prices

Now, first, let me apologize for putting this person on blast (you know who you are).

This is one of our AH Pro members, and he’s a really cool, smart guy, and like all our members, I truly want him to succeed. More than that, I feel personally invested in his success. He’s part of the AH Pro community, and we’re a family in there.

And that’s why it pains me that he also asks about buying links a lot.

But I get it.

Even if link building isn’t difficult (a claim I stand by), it can be psychologically stressful, even for veterans of the game.

It also takes time.

Coming up with an idea for a campaign, prospecting, creating content, finding email addresses, and et cetera ad nauseum. It requires resources. It’s work.

So I really do understand the desire to just… buy the damn links.

Today, I want to show you why that’s a bad idea, which might make you sad. But then… I want to explain that while buying links is bad, you can spend money to get links.

… and those are not the same thing.

I’m also going to go over a few of the dumb ways people still buy links today — and even why some of them even get mistaken for white-hat tactics (are you making that mistake?).

What do I mean? Well, let’s dive in…

Buying links = trading money for someone else to give you a link.

It’s a transaction.

In other words, you’ve got money. You give that money to someone else. In return, you get a link.

This can take many forms, and we’re going to talk about several of them in detail. But what I want to prove here is that there are very, very few ways (I contend there are zero ways) to buy dofollow links without putting the SEO side of your business at risk.

Spending money to get links = paying people on an internal team to complete link-building tasks you create and assign that result in links.

See the difference?

When you buy links, it’s like going to the store: you walk in with money and come out with a link. You don’t do anything. More importantly, the money is going to the person awarding the link.

Google doesn’t like this because buying links doesn’t require you to earn the links with your content, which erodes the quality of their search engine.

what are paid links

(Note for clarity: I’m not saying everything below falls into Google’s definition of “paid links,” although some — maybe most? — certainly do)

When you spend money to get links, on the other hand, you set up the system yourself — with your own knowledge and expertise and you do it ethically; you just delegate the specific tasks to employees (or freelancers). But none of the money spent goes to the person giving you the link which is the crucial difference.

This Google doesn’t mind.

It’s essentially just a team of employees doing some real marketing. More importantly, though, it still requires you to build relationships with people and for them to voluntarily “reward” your content with a link.

But the person awarding the link doesn’t get any money.

To put this in perspective, remember that links have always been such a big part of Google’s algorithm because they essentially act as “votes.”

Here’s a screenshot from Google’s own article, “Steps to a Google-Friendly Site”:

Make sure that other sites link to yours

Google is cool with you trying to build links with real marketing efforts.

They want you to talk to people or impress them with your content. They want you to reach to people in your market to let them know about your site. This helps them create a better map of the web.

They just want the votes to retain integrity. It’s kind of like politics: if you can buy votes, the results get worse.

What’s more, if you build a business with real marketing, it can drastically increase the value of your business in the long term (i.e. it’s very difficult to exit a business built with grey-hat tactics).

How do you do it specifically? Hang in there. I’m going to tell you exactly how below. First, I want to get on my soapbox about a few things…

Gael

Gael’s Note

There is one more argument for real marketing systems over plain link buying : You can repeat and optimise your link building system, bringing your cost per link down and quality up over time AND get a compound return for a constant spending when building systems.

On the other hand, as link buying grows, prices go up, if Google deindexes sites selling links, the quality decreases and many paid links are sold on a subscription basis, meaning that to increase your reach, you also need to spend more every month.

This makes the choice obvious from a monetary perspective on my end, even if the risks were equal.

And for those who will argue that “it’s not that simple in their niche”. It’s your job as a marketer to work out an angle for your site that makes it marketable.

We have done that in the very spammy weight loss market, we have done it in the financial markets, I’ve seen it done in the casino niche recently.

It can be done, it’s just a matter of spinning your message / niche in a positive way to present it to other webmasters.

Bad Guest Posts

“Hang on, Perrin,” you might be saying, “I thought you were all about the guest postzz!”

I am. I love guest posting.

But there are good guest posts and bad guest posts. There are a few well-known “bad” guest posts that most people can agree on. But some of these tactics are used by lots of people, are widely accepted, and, perhaps worst of all, I know some brilliant SEOs using these under the impression they’re “white hat.”

Here are the “bad” ones everybody probably agrees on:

  • Guest post networks
  • Buying guest posts from Fiverr
  • Posting on guest-post “farms”

Do people really do stuff like that? Do people actually order links from Fiverr?

Yes. And I’d wager it’s mostly because of Brian Dean’s post 17 Untapped Backlink Sources.

Before you go leaving mean comments, Brian has updated his post and removed his recommendation of Fiverr links. Still, when Brian Dean says something, people listen, and much of his advice works its way into the SEO canon.

Here’s a screenshot from September 6, 2014:

Fiverr removed from 17 Untapped Backlink Sources

And this is was essentially the logic:

Fiverr link building services

Guest post “farms” exist with surprising regularity, too. These are sites that exist solely (or mostly) to sell guest posts. They have low editorial standards and typically charge a fee. To me, they feel closer to a PBN than a real guest post but guest posts sell for more money.

In fact, they’re so numerous, Google created a new penalty just for them (more or less; they were surely taking a swing at PBNs, too). It’s called an unnatural outbound link penalty, and it penalized and devalued the links of sites who were doing things like selling guest posts.

Here’s the email they sent out (screenshot from Search Engine Land):

Google penalizes sites for unnatural outbound linking

Anyway, like I said, most people in the white-hat/authority site circles agrees that the above types of guest posts are bad.

But there’s a scarier side to “bad” guest posting..

…and I’ve even got white-hat friends doing it, and they’re convinced it’s perfectly safe. I’m talking mostly about two tactics:

  • Bribing journalists
  • Bribing webmasters

Over the past 18 months or so, I’ve grown more and more dumbfounded at how commonplace these two tactics have become.

They’re sometimes wrapped in the misleading, innocuous-sounding moniker “editorial links.” And hey, those can’t be bad, right? They’re editorial. Google likes editorial links!

Sometimes, people will sell these links outright. Here’s an offering found on BlackHatWorld.

BlackHatWorld link building

Some services masquerade as outreach but really just bribe journalists. To be clear, there’s no way to prove they’re actually bribing people, but I’ve inquired with a few of these agencies, and the list of sites they “pitch” to looks suspiciously like the ones you can find on BlackHatWorld.

They usually say something like this:

paid links

(I’m not making any claims about this agency and won’t name them; I simply have suspicions).

It’s these agencies that attract some of my whitest-hat friends. And I think it’s because they make it sound so legit.

Gael

Gael’s Note

Essentially those are paid links but on the SEO market, “white hat” links sell for twice as much.

So what do careless providers do to generate more profit off unsuspicious / SEO newbie buyers?

They sell paid links as editorial and charge you twice as much for that while adding a level of risk to your SEO effort, not cool :/.

One once-popular agency that used to broker these links — Conductor, who was also forced to liquidate itself and get out of the business — ended up getting hammered by Google and getting called out by ye old SERP god himself:

Conductor paid link network does violate Google's quality guidelines

And sometimes…

…sometimes experts straight up recommend it. Here’s an article from SERPLogic from early last year:

How to Get Editorial Links to Your Website

The idea in this piece is basically to reverse engineer your competitors to see what their best links are and then to reach out to those webmasters and try to get a link of your own.

Yea. Sure. Fine. That’s standard, age-old advice.

Then he drops this gem:

editorial links offer

But what’s the risk, really? Is Google really going to penalize Forbes?

Well, yea, if they want to. In fact, they have penalized them before, and they were penalized for (want to guess?)… selling links.

If you don’t know by now, Google doesn’t give a flying sh*t who you are. And if Google knows Forbes is selling links, do you suppose it’s tough for them to figure out who’s buying them?

So, yes, I do think there’s some direct risk here. And, honestly, that should be reason enough for anyone who cares about the longevity of their business to avoid them; however, for my money, it’s also a pretty dumb decision financially.

Why? Because links on Forbes (and similar sites) ain’t cheap. I’ve seen these run anywhere from $300 to $1,500.

...for one link.

Like I mentioned before (and, again, please forgive the horn tooting), with our systems, our typical cost-per-link is around $10-$20, which means a $1,500 budget would get us in the ballpark of 75 links, and a good portion of those would be high-authority links.

I’ll take that over a single, moderately risky link any day.

Want one of those systems? We’ve prepared one for you at the end of this post.

Does it work? Yes.

Why you shouldn’t do it: Primarily, it’s nutso expensive. Spending that much for a single link is a terrible business decision when you could be getting them for like $20 a piece (I’ll show you how below).

Directories

I really thought directories were on the way out.

But here we are, in 2017, and stuff like this still pops up in the SERPs (I was searching for research on directories; I wasn’t even looking for services or lists).

directories link building

A thousand directory links? And it was written in November 2016?

Here’s another…

directory submission offer

I remember looking for these kinds of lists when I was just learning to build links and it still seemed super hard.

Directories seemed like the perfect solution. I convinced myself they were “making the web better” by listing and organizing good websites.

But let’s be real: is that ever how directories are really used? Or is it more the case that bad SEOs spam the living crap out of them?

Now, directories did used to work, but they only worked a long time ago. I’m talking like 2006, when a link from the highly editorial DMoz could significantly impact your rankings. Today, there are a select few directories with strictly editorial processes that still might pass a bit of juice, but even those seem to be fading.

The most recent study I could find that showed hard, data-driven evidence of directory links working was one conducted by TechToucan in October 2014, in which he saw moderate results after using directory links (although, really, the traffic levels are too low to establish if the links did anything at all).

In post-Penguin 2015, bigger marketing blogs, like Hubspot, were already advising people to steer clear of low-quality general directories and opt for niche-relevant directories with good editorial practices.

For my part, anecdotally, I actually bought several listings in niche-relevant directories in mid-2015 and saw no benefit at all.

In other words, the painfully obvious trend is that directories are dying.

Yes, there are still a few directories that might be worth submitting to (BestoftheWeb and Alltop may be the only big ones left). And it likely won’t hurt to submit your site to a handful of niche directories.

…but…

There is added risk, and the blokes at Google have warned us. Here’s Gary Illyes in late 2016:

directory links

And Jon Mueller shortly before:

directory links

If the Google guys are warning me against a link building tactic, that’s usually enough for me — but it’s especially potent given the slow, steady, obvious trend of dissolution.

But risk isn’t the only consideration here.

Most directories (at least the ones that are remotely worth gambling on) also aren’t cheap.

directory submission prices example

With our current systems (which I’ll talk more about below), our cost per is consistently in the $10-$20 range. So, for the $200 I’d spend on this one link that may or may not work, I could get 10 good links that I know will work.

Plus, do you really want John Mueller laughing at you?

Does it work? No.

Why you shouldn’t do it: They don’t work, and the surviving big directories charge a hell of a lot of money. It’s just not worth the $300 if you can spend that money to get real, powerful links.

Press Releases

Believe it or not, I have a highly successful internet marketing bud who swears by press releases.

He buys them for every site.

I’ve never had the heart to tell him that his sites are probably successful because of the 99 other things he’s doing well, and the press releases almost certainly aren’t making a difference.

Now, you can find case studies that demonstrate the efficacy of press releases for SEO. But, I couldn’t find any there weren’t either written before 2013, clearly under-informed about how SEO works, or selling press release services. If you can find any legitimate case studies, let me know.

Why can’t you find press-release case studies after 2013? Because Google took a big, steaming crap on them (once in late 2013 and again in 2014).

Not only did they penalize press release sites themselves (making it more difficult for people to rank parasite pages), they also warned webmasters that using over-optimized anchor text in press releases violated their guidelines (per their link schemes document):

links with optimized anchor text in articles or press releases

Google has also advised all sites distributing press releases to nofollow all links (watch the first 10 minutes of this webmaster hangout with John Mueller).

Additionally, even before the 2013 hullabaloo, the Cutt-man himself has said press releases don’t (or shouldn’t) pass PageRank.

links from press relase web sites don't benefit rankings

Of course, a few cheeky SEOs disproved this immediately using Matt Cutts’ own blog, which I like to think is part of what led Google to exact some revenge in 2013.

What’s all of this add up to?

In my view, if it’s clear Google’s been against press releases affecting rankings since 2011, and if there are no legitimate case studies on their efficacy after 2013, it’s highly likely they don’t work.

The final argument for using press releases is that they have tangential SEO benefits — namely, increasing visibility, attracting customers, and starting relationships; however, while that sounds good, the only people I could find who have actually run experiments on it say the exact opposite.

Does it work? No.

Why you shouldn’t do it: They don’t provide any demonstrable SEO benefit (again, let me know if you can find a good case study), and the only legitimate study I could find in the space concludes they don’t even have any tangential benefit.

Scholarships

Oh, this is my favorite thing to hate.

Every time someone mentions scholarship links, I jump out of my chair and rip my shirt off like Hulk Hogan.

Scholarship links are when a website offers a scholarship and then reaches out to universities who list scholarships on their website. The results are high-DA links on .edu domains.

Does it really count as buying links? It’s debatable. There’s a good case for and against it. I included it here because it’s become the newest fad, it seemed to fit nicely into our discussion, and it feels like buying links to me.

That said, it’s not new. It’s a tactic that’s been abused for nearly half a decade that’s somehow made a comeback in the last 18 months, and the number of weird affiliate sites offering random scholarships has spread like some highly contagious super-virus.

And it’s mostly because of one public case study: 10beasts.com.

Now, I know some of you guys are fans of Luqman (the owner), and I am too, so before you roast me on that, please understand…

I love this guy’s site. His success is extremely cool, and it’s a fantastic case study. I mean, he made a reported $80,000 last December, which is mindblowingly motivating. He works hard, his site rocks, many of his tactics work, and I learned a lot from the whole thing.

That said, it’s become the posterboy for scholarship links. Here’s a screenshot from a comment one of our members made in the AH Pro Facebook group back in November.

scholarship links

The case study pops up everywhere.

And make no mistake: Luqman is doing tons of stuff right. But the confidence the site inspires in scholarship links, however, is mostly unfounded.

Here’s why.

It’s difficult to decipher now, since the site’s acquired quite a few more backlinks from case studies and the like (and it’s had time to mature and for link juice to spread around).

Here’s the site’s pages and traffic today:

10beasts.com Ahrefs top pages

We certainly have some clear winners, but there are lots of pages doing well.

But let’s take a look at the traffic on November 1st, 2016, which was around the time Luqman first started guest posting and opening his case study to the public but still after he’d built a bunch of scholarship links and people were attributing his success to them (excuse the quality; I had to go find this screenshot in our Facebook group archives).

10beasts.com Ahrefs top pages

Here, we can see there are only four pages on the whole site getting meaningful traffic.

Every other page on the site was getting… bupkis.

It’s also important to understand that these four pages were, at the time, the only pages with links built to them.

Why does this matter, and how does it relate to scholarship links?

It matters because the scholarship links aren’t pointing to these pages. They are, of course, only pointing to the scholarship page.

What’s that mean?

Well… if the scholarship page was a key factor (or any factor at all) in this site’s success in the SERPs, they would have been boosting the whole site. But they weren’t.

Rather, the much simpler, more elegant, more common-sense solution is that these pages (and these pages exclusively) were doing well because Luqman built a bunch of (non-scholarship) links to them and only to them.

I know that’s just one site.

And I don’t have much other hard data. But I do have some pretty strong anecdotal evidence… because… and this might surprise you… I actually ran a scholarship link campaign of my own.

You heard me — yours truly did the exact thing I hate most. And the campaign went great. I got 12 links from extremely high-DA .edu domains.

What happened?

Roughly the same thing that happened on 10beasts… nothing.

I got all those “amazing” links, waited for the massive boost in the SERPs, and it just… never came.

I’m not the only one, either. Several people in the AH Pro community have tried these links, and they all got similar results. In fact, I have not yet seen a single example of a site that demonstrably wins because of scholarship links. If you know of one, let me know.

Why is this the case?

I think Google saw years ago that SEOs were abusing these links but didn’t want to discourage universities and companies from partnering with each other to offer real scholarships. So, instead, they simply devalued the links. It’s certainly just an educated guess, but it seems to make the most sense.

Additionally, even if Google hasn’t devalued them, many scholarship pages link out to lots of pages (often hundreds). When any page has that many outbound links, the “juice” gets heavily diluted, making them orders of magnitude less effective if they were to actually work.

And that’s the biggest reason I detest them.

It’s not because they’re moderately risky (they are). And it’s not because they attract an increasing number of spammers (they do).

It’s because they don’t seem to work.

To put a finer point on it, I hate them because they don’t work, and people are still going apeshit over them.

Does it work? No.

Why you shouldn’t do it: Aside from it being spammy as hell? They simply don’t work and are a massive waste of a $1,000 (from a purely cost-benefit and SEO standpoint). Of course, if you believe in the cause, offering a scholarship to a student who needs it is a cool thing to do.

Of course, the above are not the only ways people buy links. I chose them specifically because they either (1) come up in the Authority Hacker Pro group or (2) I see legitimate marketers using them.

Here are a few others that I don’t think are worth spending time on (at least no with a savvy audience like this one):

  • SAPE links (don’t get me started)
  • PBNs (you know my stance by now)
  • Automated software-generated links
  • Web 2.0s and link wheel services
  • Article directories

These are so antiquated and clearly grey-hat, I didn’t want to spend time on them. But the I think it says something that we could spend 3,000 words (this article so far) discussing in detail link-”buying” tactics that are not only popular today, but worse: tactics legitimate marketers are using without understanding the risk.

The urge to buy links is, I think, driven largely by shiny object syndrome. Instead of chasing new tactics, it’s many times more profitable to simple master the basics of link building.

This is something I believe strongly. In fact, I wrote an entire lesson on just this idea in our Stage 1 authority site course.

I think it’s that important. And it’s worth discussing here. Because at the root of the phenomenon of people buying links despite the risks and costs is the question, “Why do they do it?”

Many of the people doing these things are my friends. Many of them are tremendously successful. Many of them are punishingly smart. And many of them make a concerted effort to build clean, legitimate, ROI-driven sites.

So why do they, of all people, continually look for ways to buy links despite the risks and costs?

I think it’s mostly shiny object syndrome, but I think it’s a special, entrepreneurial brand of shiny object syndrome.

Here’s kind of what the it looks like from my end, talking to these folks about their businesses:

  • They’ve got a website that’s making money
  • They know some SEO, but they haven’t spent the time to really learn the nuances of link building or optimize a system for it.
  • They also read blogs and talk to other people in the industry
  • Some of these other people are having success with flavor-of-the-month link building tactics
  • They want to try it because the potential return is there
  • But they already have a thousand things to do every day
  • So, the simplest solution is to delegate
  • And the simplest way to delegate is to buy

So it’s not just run-of-the-mill shiny object syndrome. It’s a special brand unique to entrepreneurs; it’s the kind that comes out of people’s desire to grow their businesses by delegating instead of doing.

And I get it.

If you run a profitable website and want to grow, it’s not feasible to learn everything. And there are lots of things you can buy for a business. Why not links?

I hope the answer to that question is clear to you by now.

To take it further, though, I simply want to reiterate the main thrust of this post: it’s not a good idea (and in most cases it’s not a good business decision) to buy links, but you can create systems of your own in which you can put money in and get links out the other end.

To do that, however, you have to master at least one technique on your own. You need to learn it to effectively delegate it (something I think site builders too often forget).

So that’s my argument here. Master the basics, so you can then build a link-generating system. And the list of basic link building tactics is not long:

  • Guest posting
  • Resource pages
  • Broken link building
  • Guestographics
  • Skyscraper

These tactics have been around forever and will likely be around for many years to come. They’re founded on legitimate marketing, relationships, and good content — all the stuff Google encourages.

You don’t even have to learn them all. Just learn one. Then master it. Then build a system around it.

And that’s what we’re going to talk about next, because I want to get you started here. Today. Right now.

Here is what one of our AH PRO members who just focused on the basics managed to achieve in just a few months.

AH Pro member guest post results

Let’s talk about how to create good systems.

Let me start by saying there are entire career fields build around systems and systems analysis. A good systems analyst can make six figures a year doing nothing but analyzing and building systems. Systems themselves can be massively complex, elegant, sophisticated things that include hundreds of people and moving parts.

That’s not how we do it.

What’s a system to us? It’s just a f*cking bullet list.

Literally.

Do this. Then this. Then this. Then this.

That’s it. We do not need fancy systems to build links. In fact, the opposite is true: the simpler the system, the better it works.

But these simple sets of processes are the machine. They are what eats dollars and spits out links.

As a marketing model, link building can be tricky. But broken down into the simplest possible series of tasks, it’s very easy to execute. Pretty much any VA can do it.

If that’s still hard to picture, don’t worry…

I’m actually going to give you a full system below (one that can probably generate a cost-per-link very comparable to the ones we get every day). And I hope you’ll be completely underwhelmed. Because that’s the point!

It’s broken down into the simplest component parts.

To create an effective link building system, you need the tasks to be simple enough that a VA can do them without any special skills.

In other words, you don’t want your VAs to have to know anything about SEO or link building or anything else in order for them to do their job. They should be able to sit down, follow your instructions, and complete the task.

The byproduct of this is…

1 – Minimal management.

If you break any system down into its simplest component parts, the byproduct should be minimal management.

That will require work up front.

You’ll likely have to do a bit of creative thinking to figure out how to break some things down appropriately. But the end goal should be for your VAs to be able to do their jobs without you even talking to them.

2 – They should be detailed BUT concise.

Probably the biggest mistake I see when I look at people’s link building systems is that they are extremely complicated. I know SEOs whose day job was literally building systems whose systems are so complicated even I can’t understand them.

There seems to be this weird fear people have that they have to account for every single contingency in their instructions.

You don’t. Less is more.

Instead, encourage your VAs to ask questions if they need clarification or run into something they don’t know how to handle.

That said, you do need detail.

It is not enough to say, “Find an email for this site.” You need to include how to find it, where to record it, etc. So this is a bit of a tightrope walk and, in my experience, is the most difficult thing for people to get right.

3 – They should include examples of you actually doing the work.

Not me. You.

Your VA should not get a video of Perrin explaining guest posting (you’d be shocked how much this happens — or how much people “train” their VAs by having them read one of my blog posts… and nothing else).

Instead, they should get a video of you literally doing each step the work. Of course, you don’t need a video for everything. Sometimes, a screenshot will suffice.

4 – They should include the documents you need and credentials to tools you need to use.

In any link building system, you’re going to need places to record stuff: emails, prospects, etc. You’re also going to need to use some tools.

You should create all of the documents and provide credentials to all of the tools. Additionally, of course, your examples and demos should show you working in the exact spreadsheet using the exact tools your VA will be using.

5 – It should be documented in ONE place.

Everything should be documented in one place.

It could be a password-protected page on your site. It could be a Google doc. Whatever. It doesn’t matter how you do it. It just matters that you do compile it all clearly in one place.

Now, I think there’s room to argue with me on this one — mostly if you have larger systems with multiple employees/VAs, and each of them has their own instructions.

I’d still prefer to document the entire process and simply refer each VA to their respective section (e.g. “Please follow steps 1-3”), since it’s sometimes helpful to read the rest of the steps for context. But it’s certainly doable to have one page per VA or per process.

Personally, I prefer to have one process for guest posting, one for resource page link building, etc.

Finally, the buck should stop with YOU.

If the system ain’t workin’, it’s your fault. It’s also okay.

Building a good system can be tricky. You may not nail it on the first try. So go back, tweak, and try again. And again. And again until it’s working.

Be patient and kind with VAs. Help them understand it’s a process.

One last note: you may not need a VA (but you still need a system).

Virtual assistants are typically only worth it if your time is substantially more valuable than theirs. If you’re still in the bootstrap phase, that might not yet be the case.

I didn’t use VAs until 2015. In 2016, I still preferred to do most of the work myself. It’s only this year that I’ve been working on truly automating most parts of my business (which, ironically, is quite a bit of work itself).

But I still created a system.

Even if you’re doing the work yourself (something I recommend if you really want to master link building), documenting your process in detail will (1) help you iterate on your process much more efficiently and (2) more seamlessly hand it off to a VA when you’re ready.

So you don’t necessarily need a VA. But you do need a system.

With that out of the way, let’s look at some actual systems that you can actually use.

A System You Can Use

I’ve created a sample system below. It’s real. You can copy it, paste it, use it, and tweak it yourself. I just left out one crucial thing

Video demonstrations.

You need to do those because you need to train and manage your own employees and VAs. Other than that, you should be able to use these systems as they are.

The stuff in red are things you would do. Stuff in [red brackets] is for your reference.

Sample System: Guest Posting

This is a system that still involves a little work on your part (as most systems do until they — and you — become more advanced). But the bulk of the legwork is taken care of by a VA. This is very similar to how my systems look now.

Sample System: Guest Posting Responsibilities

There are also spreadsheets linked below. Feel free to use them yourself (File > Make a Copy).

[Overall Structure]

  1. Prepare keywords to use with guest posting
  2. Search for prospects in Google by combining keywords with guest post footprints.
  3. Vet prospects
  4. Record good prospects and their contact information in a tracking spreadsheet
  5. Send emails using canned responses
  6. Record status of each prospect and respond to emails
  7. When a pitch is accepted, write or outsource guest post

Prep

  1. Prepare big list of keywords related to your niche based on content you can link to.
  2. Prepare relevant documents and credentials.
  3. Write an outreach script and save it in Gmail using canned responses.
  4. Instruct your VA to download the SimilarWeb Chrome extension.

Step #1: Prospect Guest Post Targets

1. Open this spreadsheet to find keywords. These are the keywords you will use to find guest post targets.

2. Open Google.com.

3. For each keyword, perform four searches in Google. One for each “footprint.” To search for them in google, simply type keyword + “footprint”

Guest Post Keyword Spreadsheet

Here’s what it looks like:

'guest post by' prospects research

4. Before looking at these, change your Google settings to show 100 results by typing &num=100 at the end of the URL in the address bar and hit Enter. Google will now show 100 results.

show 100 results Google settings

5. Open the tracking spreadsheet. This is where you will record prospects.

6. Visit each site in the search results that appears to be relevant to the keyword. Skip any that are not relevant.

Now, we want to vet each site by checking for two things: (1) it gets over 10,000 visits per month and (2) most of the blog posts are not guest posts.

7. To check traffic, click on the SimilarWeb Chrome extension.

SimilarWeb Chrome extension

8. To check that most guest posts are not guest posts, simply look at the first five blog posts you can find. If no more than two are guest posts, the site passes.

9. If the site meets BOTH criteria, record it in the traffic spreadsheet. Record the name of the site, the URL, the name of the best contact person (preferably an editor or site owner), and their email. If there is no name, leave it blank.

DO NOT record sites that do not have email addresses.

DO NOT spend more than 2 minutes on each site.

guest posting prospects tracking

10. Repeat until you have processed all 100 results (remember, you will only end up recording the good ones).

11. Repeat with the next keyword + “footprint” combination until you reach 100 prospects recorded in the tracking sheet.

Please see the video below for a live demonstration of how this is done.

[Then, record a video of you actually doing this work so your VA can see every step of the process].

Step #2: Email all 100 prospects.

1. Open the tracking spreadsheet.

2. Open Gmail using the following credentials:

Username: [provide username]

Password: [provide password]

We want to email each person on the tracking spreadsheet using a canned response, which I’ve already prepared.

3. Click “Compose” to begin a new email, and click “Canned Response” > and then “Super quick proposal…” under “Insert” from the menu in the bottom right corner.

Gmail canned responses

This will populate the email with a pre-written post.

4. Replace the fields in all caps with information from the tracking sheet and paste their email into the Recipient field.If you could not find a name, just say “Hey there”.

If you could not find a name, just say “Hey there”.

5. Double check that all information is correct.

6. If all information is correct, send the email.

7. After you have sent the email, change the Status in the tracking sheet to “Pitched.” This is the only time you will worry about this column.

guest posting tracking spreadsheet

Please see the video below for a live demonstration of how this is done.

8. Repeat for all 100 prospects.

[Then, record a video of you actually doing this work so your VA can see every step of the process].

Step #3: Reply to emails, submit guest posts, and update tracking sheet.

[Now it’s back to you. I’m not going to go into detail for this stuff, since this isn’t a post on guest posting; it’s about systems. But these would be the final steps of the system].

  • Reply to emails as they come in.
  • Update tracking sheet.
  • Negotiate with editors and webmasters.
  • Write or outsource articles as they are accepted.
  • Submit guest posts.
  • Update tracking sheet.

Step #4: Wrap up campaign.

  • Briefly analyze the campaign (what worked and what didn’t).
  • Make tweaks to the system if needed.
  • Close tracking sheet.

Step #5: Prep for new campaign.

  • Create duplicate, empty tracking sheet.
  • Contact VA to review modified systems or instructions.
  • Let ‘er rip.

This is just one example of a system.

If you’re feeling underwhelmed… good! Our systems are not fancy. They’re just bullet lists.

Using systems like that one are how you spend money to get links.

You set it up, input some money, sprinkle in a teensy bit of your time, and… voila. Links appear in your backlink report.

Systems do take a bit of work to set up, but they really can become machines that eat dollars and spit out links. But I want to break it down with cold hard numbers.

In the system above, here’s what we’ve done:

  • Handed off 80% of the labor to a (presumably cheap) VA
  • Opted to do the remaining 20% ourselves, so we can keep tweaking the system.

The numbers per campaign might look like this:

  • Prospects found: 100
  • Emails sent: 100
  • VA cost: $6/hr
  • VA hours logged: 5
  • Conversion rate: 7%
  • Cost per guest post (writing): b
  • Your total time: 2 hrs
  • DA range: 25-53

Again, this is very close to what our campaigns look like, and it’s very close to those I hear about from my colleagues who are doing a lot more guest posting than I am.

With these numbers the result would be 7 links for $135 and two hours of your time. That comes out to a cost $19.28 per link. Remember when we were talking about spending $1,000 on a single link?

And the system outlined above is a rudimentary system.

A more advanced system might use tools like Gmass and Email Hunter combined with better VAs with more sophisticated skill sets. And that’s when systems can really gain momentum and start securing ridiculous links for super cheap.

Over to you…

Sometimes (at least for me) this kind of thing is weird to visualize until you’re actually in there doing it. So I’d be pumped if a few of you tried to implement systems of your own and reported back here.

Of course, this crowd is also full of seasoned marketers. Many of you probably already have much more advanced systems than this, and, if I were going to hazard a guess, some of you might also be buying links using some of the tactics described above.

Whoever you are, I’d love to hear what you think about all this, so drop me a note in the comments!

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Mark Webster

#167 – How to Use Trademarks to Protect Your Business Without Paying a Fortune w/ Randy Michels

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