New Whitehat Link Building Tactic:
The Grapevine Protocol
Perrin Carrell - March 16th 2017
I’ve been keeping this tactic a secret for a while now.
And honestly, I couldn’t decide if I should write about it or not.
I could be wrong, but as far as I know, I’m the only one doing it (or at least writing about it).
And here’s what happens when we write about a new link building tactic on a blog: a small percentage of the people reading it--the black hats looking for shortcuts--immediately start cooking up schemes to abuse the living sh*t out of it.
One of the only reasons I’m doing it is because I don’t think it’s remotely scalable. I also don’t really think there’s a black-hat way to do it (although, if history tells me anything, I’ll be eating my words later).
But it is dead simple.
It’s also probably the most white-hat method I can think of, and it can get you some very powerful links.
I used it to get links on two DA51 and DA54 sites (I’ll show you these links below) that were also major national organizations in my market. In other words, they were hyper-relevant and very authoritative. If you think relevance is as important as metrics (like I do), they were among the best link I’ve ever gotten.
I call it The Grapevine Protocol.
Bigger companies and organizations like to keep track of (and sometimes brag about) their publicity. It’s good for branding, and it provides social proof on the corporate level.
They do it with what I call media pages.
Like this one. In essence, every time a media outlet (or blog) mentions them, they put them on a list to brag about it.
These are pages with one purpose: to compile every time they were mentioned in the media. We want to get on those pages by simply mentioning these companies in our blog posts.
Did I tell you it was dead simple?
Most of the time, these will be a list of links very similar to a resource page.
Here are a few more examples from various niches:
In other words, these kinds of pages appear everywhere and in virtually every industry.
Also, take a second to check some of the metrics on that pages above; you can see that some of them are pretty ridiculous.
This is anecdotal, but I’ve found that these pages almost always show up on “real” company websites, and those sites, on average, tend to be much more authoritative than sites build solely for the web.
Of course, there’s a bit more to the process than that. But the basic idea is super, super simple.
But it works wonderfully. Check out some of the links I got on HerePup using this technique.
Here’s a link I got from PAWS (which is actually where I got my dog):
That’s an extremely reputable organization and a DA54 domain.
Here’s one I got from another shelter: 4PawsforAbility:
This is another nationally recognized organization in the dog space (i.e. hyper-relevant) and that also has a great link profile.
Of all the links I built for HerePup, I’d say these are the #2 and #3 links. More importantly, though, because of the nature of this kind of outreach (I’ll elaborate here in a second), I built some great relationships with these folks and even gave some organizations I believed in some free publicity, which was a nice bonus.
There’s really just one prerequisite here: a well-designed site with lots of non-affiliate content.
We’ll be communicating with big organizations with dedicated media personnel. They want to share good press.
They don’t want to share the time bestwatermelonsfordiabeticdadshq.info mentioned them. In fact, they’d probably be embarrassed by it. If you’re not sure if your site is up to par, listen to this podcast.
In short, your site has to:
- Look good
- Be branded
- Have good, highly visible, non-affiliate content
How to Execute the Grapevine Protocol
There are actually a few different ways I like to approach media pages to get links. We’ll go through each of them in detail below.
First, of course, we’ve got to do a bit of prep, so we actually have people to email...
Prep: Build a list of media pages in your niche.
We’re looking for pages that meet the following requirements:
- They’re lists that actually compile media mentions
- They link to external sites
- Their links are dofollow
- They’ve been updated recently (at least in the last year)
To find those, I like to use good old fashioned Google queries. Because no one’s doing this method of link building (that I know of), I had to experiment with a lot of queries to find ones that work consistently. These seem to be most effective.
- [keyword] inurl:”in the news”
- [keyword] intitle:”in the news”
- [keyword] inurl:”in the media”
- [keyword] intitle:”in the media”
- [keyword] inurl:”media mentions”
- [keyword] intitle:”media mentions”
- [keyword] inurl:”press mentions”
- [keyword] intitle:”press mentions”
- [keyword] inurl:"in the press"
- [keyword] intitle:"in the press"
In the [keyword] portion of these queries, try lots of different keywords in your market. Go broad, and then go specific. See what comes up. I usually have better luck with broad keywords, but I’ve found some gems with specific ones as well.
Let’s look for some for a hypothetical climbing site.
First, I’d load up Google and type in an advanced query.
It’s easier to look for these pages if we have more than 10 results on a page, so I also like to expand the results to 100 by typing “&num=100” at the end of the URL.
You’ll then have 100 pages to go through for each query.
Some are going to be misses (see notes on false positives below), but lots are going to be exactly what we’re looking for.
The good ones will look like this:
Here are a few more I found in the climbing niche:
Of course, there were many more. These were just a couple I found in the first 20 results or so.
Then, plop them in a spreadsheet.
Here’s the important bit though (you’ll see why in a second when we start deciding how to approach these folks). As I’m recording them, I’ll also note the category of the organization.
You don’t need to be specific; just record broad types. For climbing, there seems to be just a couple categories:
As always, my spreadsheets aren’t fancy. It looks like this:
I usually don’t bother recording metrics for these, since the insane relevance is more than enough to make securing these links worth the effort.
But I know you guys love metrics, so you can certainly check the DA/DR of each of these and plop it in the spreadsheet as well. It could certainly help you prioritize your outreach efforts.
Note on False Positives
Some of these pages will trick you. Almost all the time, this will be because they’re only linking to their own articles and press releases.
A slight variation of this to be on the lookout for is heavily orphaned pages. For example, this page from PlanetFitness looks awesome right?
If you click through the links, you do end up with external links, but they’re on heavily orphaned pages that almost certainly get no real link juice from the rest of the site.
Would I still take a link from a site like PlanetFitness? Of course. But if it was something less than a major national brand, I’d probably pass it up, since, on a per-link basis, these links take more effort than average.
The point is to just be on the lookout for false positives as you do your prospecting, since these pages are far from uniform.
Now that you’ve got a list of good media pages in your niche, how do you actually go about reaching out to them?
I like to do it three ways...
Method #1: Mention as you blog.
This is the easiest by far, and it’s an amazing solution to take a very “blogger” approach to authority sites: that is to say they enjoy writing one article at a time and don’t spend much time on promotion.
In this case, for every article you write, simply mention one of the companies whose media page you found in your prospecting.
Of course, it has to make sense. Don’t crowbar it in.
What this usually means is you’ll have to look for stuff on their site relevant to whatever article you’re writing.
It also means it doesn't really work with affiliate content.
Here are the kinds of mentions that are most likely to get listed on media pages:
- Mentioning stuff they’ve done recently
- Mentioning new products or services
- Mentioning a specific person (the higher up the better)
- Mentioning how they’re leading the industry somehow
- Flattery (just don’t bulls*t)
Aside from that there’s no real formula for how you mention them. You can link to them, but you usually don’t have to.
Then, you just reach out. The good thing about this tactic is that you can be very soft with your pitches, and the conversions will still be high. Mine usually look like this:
You might also direct them to the specific paragraph in which they are mentioned, so it’s easier for them to find.
By the way, nerds, there’s no Glenn at USA Climbing, so don’t go spamming them asking for Glenn :P
As always, you’ll have much better conversion rates if you write your own scripts (scripts that show up on blogs like this one get abused to hell).
Method #2: Conduct interviews.
This is the tactic I save for the really good sites. That, or the ones that I really think are cool and I think an interview would be fun.
The idea here is to find someone important at the company and ask for an interview. It can be skype. It can be email. It doesn’t matter.
Then you simply interview them and post the interview on your website. Here’s one I did on HerePup:
This takes a bit more work, but it’s also very enticing for your target site. Usually, whicher important person you interviewed will be requesting the link themselves.
Aside from the link, though, this is a really good way to make friends in your niche. Karen, for example, was an incredible person, and I had a ton of fun interviewing her.
Usually, you can just ask the person you’re interviewing if the interview will be posted on their news page, letting them know it’d be super exciting for you.
Method #3: Do a big roundup post.
This is where you can finally harness a bit of efficiency.
What we’re looking to do here is create a roundup post that compiles a bunch of cool companies in your market in addition to the companies with media pages.
You don’t only want to write about the companies with media pages, since that’s a bit weird. Instead, you want to put the ones that make sense into a list with other cool companies doing cool stuff.
This is where categorizing the media pages comes in handy.
Just sort by type…
...and write a nice, juicy roundup post about cool companies of that type.
For our hypothetical climbing site, my roundup might be titled: 35 Climbing Adventure Trips You Didn’t Know Existed.
Or whatever. Just make it fun and cohesive.
Here’s the one I did on HerePup.
After it’s published, just send everyone an email letting them know you gave them a shoutout.
Why The Grapevine Protocol is Good
The Grapevine Protocol is not my bread and butter.
It’s simply too difficult to scale. However… it is one of the ways I like to accumulate easy links over time as well as one of the ways I like to go after the truly amazing links. Here are a few other reasons it’s so good.
It’s one of the most white-hat tactics I can think of.
Outside of simply publishing content and hoping for links to occur naturally, The Grapevine Protocol is probably the single “whitest” hat tactic I’ve used (perhaps neck-and-neck with broken link building).
Because think about it…
All you’re doing is mentioning major companies and organizations in your space as you blog and then letting them know.
I usually don’t even ask for a link. They’re already on the lookout for this kind of thing.
There’s no weird “ask.” It’s not sketchy. It’s not spammy. You’ve already done them a favor, and you’re simply letting them know.
The conversion rate is really high.
These kinds of media pages exist for one reason only: to link to new media mentions. Literally the entire purpose of the page is to be on the lookout for new sh*t to link to.
Most of the time, you’ll find that bigger companies will often have a dedicated media person (or team) whose job it is to keep this page updated. Think about that: there’s someone sitting at a desk, and their job is to link to people.
I wish I could find the data, but on the last campaign I ran, I believe I sent 25 emails and got 4 links. That’s a 16% conversion rate.
Aside from being a really high conversion, all the links were extremely high quality, making that 16% exponentially more powerful.
It’s great for people who hate link building.
This tactic is not scalable. You’re not going to be emailing thousands of people and building hundreds of links.
But it’s fantastic for building links naturally as you blog. Here’s what I mean.
If you compile a list of companies with media pages in your niche, all you have to do is mention one or two in each blog post and let them know about it.
The links can be really good.
I mentioned this above, but it’s worth mentioning again.
The types of sites who keep these kinds of pages up to date are typically sites that get a lot of pres. And sites that get a lot of press are usually very relevant and have very good link profiles.
Limitations of the Grapevine Protocol
Despite all the awesome pros of the Grapevine Protocol, there are, of course, a few drawbacks.
It’s not remotely scalable.
The first thing you’ll notice here is that you just won’t be able to find that many media pages out there in most niches. I mean, there are quite a few, but in my experience, you’d be pushing it if you found over, say, 300.
If you were really exhausting all keyword possibilities for all sub-niches and tangential niches, I imagine you could find 500 or 600 pages.
In other words, the prospecting is limited, so the total links will be limited, and it’s not going to replace guest posting or skyscraper as your bread and butter anytime soon.
It requires more effort per link.
Pretty much every link you get this way will require both research and writing.
You’ll need to do research so you can actually talk about these companies when you’re mentioning them in your articles. And you’ll need to do some writing as well; at the very least, you’ll have to write the blurbs in each article, and if you do a bigger piece, like an interview or a roundup, you’ll have to devote time to a full-blown custom piece of content.
Now, that shouldn’t be a huge deal to most of us. We’re used to creating linkable assets. We do it for skyscraper, for example. The main difference here is that you have to do at least a little bit of writing for every single link.
Moreover, it’s usually not the kind of writing I outsource. Why? Mostly because it has to be written in the context of my entire outreach system. I need to know the target, who I’m trying to talk to, and what I need to say about them. It’s just easier to do yourself.
You can end up with a lot of reciprocal links.
You don’t have to link to people.
But it might look like a more legitimate mention if you do. And if you link to them, and then they link to you, those links count as reciprocal links, and Google doesn’t like those.
More accurately, Google doesn’t like too many of those.
For the most part, I don’t worry about it too much, and I link to people where it makes sense. I’d say about half of these end up as reciprocal links, and if it’s a small part of your total link profile, it’s not a huge deal, and the links will absolutely still move the needle.
How to Use It
I recommend using the Grapevine Protocol to supplement your other link building efforts. It’s a way to get extremely high quality links on extremely relevant sites.
Often times, these sites won’t be accepting guest posts. They won’t have blogs. They won’t have resources pages. And because of all that, they won’t be linking out to hardly anyone.
So when they link out to you, it really says something.
I’d recommend the following:
- Pull a list of media mentions as you plan a new site and plug them into non-affiliate content as you go; or
- Do a couple big roundups; or
- Interview a few people at the really big companies.
It’s not going to get you hundreds of links.
But it should get you some of your best ones.
Over to you…
What do you think? How would you use this? What other ideas do you have? Drop me a note in the comments!