Any businesses in this digital world want more traffic (and backlinks) to its website. More traffic means more potential customers knocking at your door.
One of the key factors for growth and good SEO on the Internet (one cannot be without the other) is the acquisition of quality backlinks.
Today, we are going to analyze one very creative SEO strategy used by few businesses: Product-Led Link Building.
This strategy does not involve content marketing and will allow the development of many required levers for an excellent digital presence and a good ranking on search engines, such as:
- An acquisition of incoming links (backlinks), one of the key factors of SEO
- Increased visibility on social networks
- Regular and constantly increasing visits to your website
At the end of the article, we will see how three companies (Neil Patel, Ahrefs and CoSchedule) used a product-led approach to build 100 times more backlinks and generated more traffic and customers to their website.
This ultimate link building tactics helps them to:
- Give something actionable to their audience
- Build trust with their prospects
- Increase the conversion rate
- And finally to grow their business
Before having an in-depth look at how Product-Led helped Neil Patel to get 150’000 backlinks, let’s review the most popular link building strategies and SEO tactics.
Table of Contents
Backlinks are considered as a key ranking factor for SEO. But firstly, what do we mean by backlinks?
A backlink is a link from another website pointing to your site. For instance, when somebody writes an article and references your piece of content by a link: You get a backlink.
Backlinking should not be mixed up with internal link building, which is the method of linking web pages of the same website together.
Backlinks are only coming from different domains. Otherwise, it will be too easy.
See a backlink as a vote.
Each website linking to your article is giving you one vote, more votes you have, higher you will rank.
The SEO world is not a democracy. Every website’s links are not equal. A website with a high authority linking back to yours will give you a top vote.
Behind this mechanism, you find the Google PageRank algorithm. It checks the quantity and the quality of backlinks pointing to a web page.
Of course, other factors are influencing your ranking. And as you can see in this study from SEMRush, backlinks are still one of the main factors.
Before getting a backlink, you need something to link back to it. Indeed you need a hook, something that people will like, share and reference.
Create content first
First, you will have to create a great piece of content. Start by doing a topic research.
You can either look at what people are searching online. Find keywords generating a decent search volume and with little competition (with few articles about the same topic).
Like this, you will have more chance to stand out, to be seen and get… You know what.
You can also use social networks to understand trending topics and get a feeling about what people are looking for.
Look at this article to go deeper into the keyword research. You will also find what tools to use for keyword research.
Then, once you have the right topic, your content could have different shapes. Here few of them explained:
- Blog post: We all know what a blog post is. You are reading one at the moment.
- Complete guide (or Ultimate guide): Cover all the aspect of a specific topic. Try to answer the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How questions to structure your guide. It will help you to cover all the essential information.
- Tutorial: Explain in an actionable way how to achieve something.
- Research: very long-form content. Can be published in the format of an ebook.
- Video: Video is maybe one of the best formats, especially for mobile users. It requires more time for its production compared to text-based content.
- Infographics: One image is worth 1000 words. Deliver the core information of your topics in beautiful and visual graphics.
There are more type of content that you could create. You can read more about the different type of blog posts to grow your website traffic.
Also, keep in mind that based on the type of content you picked, you might have more or less success with your backlink campaigns.
To help you with your copywriting, I’ve developed a free tool. Yes it’s free. Please have a look here.
Once you have a great piece of content, and it is available online and linkable. You have to start link building.
Let’s go through the 20 most effective link building tactics. (If you want to jump over this section and go straight to the Product-Led approach, click here.)
1. Promote your content on social network
It might seem obvious, but sharing your content on social network is critical. It gives as well signals to search engines about the pertinence of your content based on the engagements generated.
You can as well use social networks to build connections.
Find people asking questions about your topic. Follow conversations, engage with them, and share an informational piece of content. It will help you to get seen.
Below I describe a Growth Hacking experiment I’ve tried recently.
Once I’ve got a great and complete article about AMP Stories, I’ve decided to reach out to people on Twitter and share my expertise.
It helps me to be seen by a Google legend. Obviously, he appreciated the quality of my work, and shared my tweet to his 50 Million followers.
On top of this, thanks to this tweet (I assume), a popular SEO blog featured me in their newsletter.
It gave me one backlink, and even more since other people also saw the tweet and the mention in the Daily Search Forum Recap.
2. Hunt competitors links
In a nutshell, you have to write a piece of content on a specific topic that is considerably better than any of your competitors.
Then contact website owners linking to your competitors content and offer them the opportunity to update their article with a brand new piece, and better content.
This technique has been popularised under the name of the “Skyscraper Technique” by Brian Dean.
This approach is challenging. First, you need to do a lot of research to write a masterpiece. Then (cold) email a lot of website owners.
And even though your content might be better. If you don’t have enough “authority,” your link request might be refused. But worth trying.
3. Broken-link building method
Identify in your niche the key websites from where you would like a backlink.
Search for any links leading to a deleted page (broken-link) and offer to the website owner an excellent replacement with your brand new content.
4. Linkable infographics
Ask your best designer to compile the essence of your article into an exceptional infographic. Then share it on your site. You can add an embed code to make it easier for the other bloggers to grab the content and publish on their websites.
To accelerate the process, you can start an outreach campaign and invite people to embed it on their site.
If the content is excellent, and bring an added value to another article. It will be likely that your infographics will deliver the expected results.
You can read a complete guide about “Guestographics” if you want to go deeper into this process.
5. Guest post
The principle is simple. Write a great piece of content and submit it to another website. You have to contribute articles that align with their recurrent themes.
One key advantage is that you could manage precisely how to backlink to your site, by incorporating links at the right place, with the right anchor texts.
I don’t have to explain that the content must be original and not some refurbished from your current content hub.
It offers another advantage. Your brand will be seen in front of a new audience. And also the content promotion (emailing, social) will be done by the host (and by you). You multiply the potential.
Le principe est simple. Rédigez un excellent contenu et soumettez-le à un autre site Web. Vous devez offrir un article ou un extrait (long paragraphe) qui correspond à la ligne éditorial de votre cible.
L’un des principaux avantages est que vous pouvez gérer précisément les liens de retour vers votre site, en incorporant des liens au bon endroit, avec les bons textes d’ancrage.
I don’t have to explain that the content must be original and not some refurbished from your current content hub.
Je n’ai pas besoin d’expliquer que le contenu doit être original et récent.
It offers another advantage. Your brand will be seen in front of a new audience. And also the content promotion (emailing, social) will be done by the host (and by you). You multiply the potential.
Cette approche offre un autre avantage. Votre marque sera vue devant un nouveau public. Et aussi la promotion du contenu (emailing, social) sera faite par le site hébergeur (et aussi par vous). Vous multipliez donc le potentiel de portée de votre message.
6. Backlinks network with business partners
You might have business partners, resellers, vendors working with you daily and sharing common interests.
Define a shared editorial calendar, and start publishing on each partner websites (and on yours) articles promoting and referencing each other services, products or achievements.
Together we are stronger. Your shared content campaign will be seen by so many different eyes and will be more likely to be referenced again by third party websites.
7. Write testimonials
Continue to use your network, and offer a testimonial to the vendors working with you.
You might use some marketing technologies, and if you have a great use case, the vendor will be pleased to have your reference on his website.
8. Link from business partners
Finally, list all your business partner on your website, and ask them to do the same. It is an easy way to get backlinks.
9. Get in touch with influencers
Go and pitch a recent product update, a project, or research you have done.
Influencers would love to keep their website fresh with the latest content from entrepreneurs (like you).
Keep in mind that Google like up-to-date content, so do influencers. It is your advantage.
10. Help a reporter out (HARO)
HARO is a website connecting journalists with sources.
You as the source will receive every day some queries from journalist via email (based on your industry preferences).
If you have some expertise on one topic, you have about 24 hours to pitch it. No guarantee that your content is picked or even that you get a link back.
11. Interview with journalists
You might need some authority in your industry to be able to get an interview, but once you have some notoriety do not hesitate to initiate a series of interviews.
12. Podcast backlink
Podcasts are getting more and more popular. The proof is that large companies such as Spotify are also betting on this format. And Google is offering a place in the SERP for them.
It is still underrated, and therefore, it might be more accessible to be a guest on a podcast from your niche.
If you are doing well, your appearance might generate some adhesion on social media, and a new audience will see you. Also, the podcast transcript is an opportunity to get a link back to your site.
13. Company and product listing
Product and service listings are almost existing for every industry. Such websites offer featured pages and compare best business software and services based on user review.
If your company is not yet listed, you should try. Maybe you will have to ask your best customers to submit a detailed review as well.
14. Link roundups
Roundup posts are article collecting a list of the latest trending topics and fresh content from experts and bloggers within a niche.
These articles are created regularly: You can find daily roundups, weekly roundups, or even monthly roundups.
They offer a great way to get backlinks and referral traffic from these publications.
To understand how to get featured in link roundups, I recommend this article.
15. Resources pages
Website owners create resources pages to demonstrate their expertise and offer recommendations — for instance, the list of their favorite book or software.
This approach is recommended for SEO beginners and is honestly easy to implement.
The process is straightforward:
- Find resources pages
- Contact the owner and offer an added value with your link.
16. Link to brand mentions
Your brand, products, or key stakeholders from your company might be already mentioned somewhere on the world wide web, and you don’t even know.
Find mentions or citations involving your brand, and then contact the webmaster of the site and ask to link back to your site.
An easy way to get notified is to set up Google Alerts with your brand name.
For a complete and actionable guide, please read this.
17. Search for competitors mentions
Someone linking to your competitions but missing your company might be likely to share also a reference to your product or service.
It is even better if you have more value to offer against your competition.
18. Ask for review
If you’re selling a product or software, this approach will work fine.
Identify influencers and key bloggers in your niche and ask them to write a review of your product.
Offer them access to your tools (or send the physical product), and wait for the review. Hopefully, your solution will be good enough, and the feedback will be positive.
You should avoid this tactic if your product is still under development or in beta phase.
19. Answer questions on Reddit or Quora
Reddit and Quora are great places to connect with people and contribute insightful and quality answers.
To earn backlinks, you have to put yourself in the shoes on an evangelist. Indeed you won’t be able to get backlink by placing a link of your site on the answer.
So the best approach is to educate people and invite them to visit your resources area.
After a while, your content might get picked and referenced from another site.
20. Build relationships
After all, humans are still managing websites. They decide what to publish and how to link to other websites.
And like any other business activities, a good relationship is critical.
Developing a network of bloggers and doing business development to find trending website is essential to have a sustainable backlink building process.
All these techniques above seem to work well and have been experimented by many website owners and marketing experts.
And like any other marketing activities, it has to be planned to be successful.
Trying random approaches, won’t give you any added value. Based on your type of business, and ecosystem, identify the ones that might have the best impact.
And keep in mind, that for most of these tactics, you will have to outreach to people and offer an added value.
Finally, the common point is you need an authoritative website to increase your success.
People will be more likely to link to you if you are already a “recognized brand”.
Top SEO specialists are recommending these strategies. If you want to learn more, I recommend that you read the following articles:
- 10 Smart Ways to Earn or Build Backlinks to Your Website
- Backlinking Strategy that Works 100% of The Time
- How to Build High Quality Backlinks in a Scalable Way
- How to Get High Quality Backlinks in 2019 (7 New Strategies)
- Top 5 Backlink Strategies to Improve Your Rank in 2019
- How to Build Backlinks in 2019 (NEW Guide)
Despite all these strategies work, none of the resources above is telling you about this one strategy outperforming all the others.
This unique approach will let you earn more backlinks, it will increase your traffic and also brand recognition.
Do you know what tends to generate a lot of traffic? Actionable content.
Actionable content focus on offering a tangible solution and creating value for your audience.
Through the value created a connection will be made with your prospective visitors, and you will earn their trust.
Only when you reach this stage with your audience, they will take action and start promoting your great work.
And what is more actionable than a free-to-use online tool?
Product-led link building is a strategy that relies on the value of a free online tool to develop a fast and numerous acquisition of backlinks and a steady growth of website traffic
The tool must deliver value by delivering an excellent solution for free and by its user experience. And it must be designed to generate recurrent visits to the website.
As visitors obtain value from your product, they will visit your website regularly, and a relationship will build-up.
The benefits are that your visitors (and maybe future customers) will start promoting your tool, website and brand (via backlinks, social media, word of mouth).
You will get as well more direct traffic (from the recurrent visits) and increase the success of driving your prospective visitors to your money page.
Indeed, I’m not preaching about offering a trial version of a software, but about an online and free tool, directly accessible from your website, for free, forever, and helping your target audience.
This product has to be related to your core services or product. In the end, it must be actionable for your visitors.
And this tool does not have to be a complex application. It just has to deliver value for free.
Let’s have a more in-depth look at three companies who implemented this approach successfully.
Ahrefs is a company delivering a complete suite of SEO tools helping to do:
- Competitive analysis
- Keyword research
- Backlink research
- Content research
- Rank tracking
- Web monitoring
Ahrefs has the second-largest index of websites after Google and is a popular tool among the SEO community.
It will be a pity for an SEO tool to not rank well on search engines.
Since several years, they are doing an excellent job with content marketing under the leadership of their CMO Tim Soulo.
Many of their articles rank well on Google for various SEO related keywords. It generates a steady flow of organic traffic.
In early 2018, Ahrefs tried to rank for the keyword “backlink checker,” they were only successful once they decided to offer a free version of one of their module – Backlink Checker.
Ahrefs’ Backlink Checker shows the top 100 backlinks to any website or web page for free. And they don’t ask you for an email. It is free.
You can see that the results were impressive. Before December 2018, Ahrefs only had a landing page describing their tool.
Since they replaced the product description by the free Backlink Checker, they got an increase in organic search.
The increase in organic traffic is correlating with the number of backlinks. And you can see that it is “organically” growing over time.
The page had more than 30’000 backlinks in Q3 2019.
To go deeper into the analysis, we can compare the performance of the Backlink Checker page against the other pages of Ahrefs website.
|ahrefs.com domain||2’683’241 backlinks|
|Home page||1’092’786 backlinks|
|Sub pages||1’590’455 backlinks|
|Backlink Checker page (Tool)||31’955 backlinks|
|Number of indexed page||2’469 pages|
|Backlinks per sub page||644|
|Ratio Tool page / sub page||49.6|
The table shows the following:
- The whole domain has 2’680’000+ backlinks
- The home is the “strongest” with 40% of all the backlinks
- One sub-page has in average 644 backlinks
- Finally, the Backlink Checker page has 50 times more backlinks than a content-based page.
Do you think that they spend 50 times more resources to deliver this page compared to a content-based page?
This strategy of offering a piece of their tool for free has contributed to 1136% of traffic growth of the ahrefs website.
CoSchedule offer project management tools for marketing professionals. With the CoSchedule Suite, they can:
- Share a marketing calendar and create a unified cross-functional workflow
- Organize and schedule content publications in an agile fashion
- Manage projects and consolidate team resource planning
- Plan social media publication
- Organize all the corporate asset in one single place
CoSchedule Marketing suite is a SaaS with tiered-base pricing. They offer a free trial of 14 days. But this is not what interests us today.
Let’s focus on their Free Headline Analyzer. It helps you to “Write Headlines That Drive Traffic, Shares, And Search Results.”
This tagline expresses precisely one of the issues their customer segment, digital marketing professional, must be facing daily: How to write great headlines.
Even though the tool is not free (you have to give an email address), it shows impressive results in terms of backlinks.
The table below shows the backlink distribution within coschedule.com in Q3 2019.
|coschedule.com domain||617’720 backlinks|
|Home page||151’759 backlinks|
|Sub pages||465’961 backlinks|
|Headline Analyzer page (Tool)||14’311 backlinks|
|Number of indexed page||4’050 pages|
|Backlinks per sub page||115|
|Ratio Tool page / sub page||124|
- The whole domain has 617’000+ backlinks
- The home page is the “strongest” with 25% of all the backlinks
- One sub-page has on average 115 backlinks
- Finally, the Headline Analyzer page has 124 times more backlinks than a content-based page.
I’ve discovered CoSchedule through their Headline Analyser. While reading an article on Medium, I follow a link to this tool. I’m sure that many of us have followed the same journey.
Neil Patel is a kind of big deal in the digital marketing space. He is involved in many businesses as co-founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar, and KISSmetrics.
He is also running a digital agency since 2017 and helps “the world’s top companies exponentially grow their traffic” and revenue.
His blog is popular and generate more than 3 million visitors per month. It will be our focus today.
Neil Patel is proving that you don’t have to be a software company to be able to offer a free tool to your visitors, prospects, and clients.
Neil Patel is going “all in” and is developing a tool that could substitute some of the paid tools of the SEO market, such as SEMRush, Ahrefs, Buzzsumo, KWfinder, and others.
This tool is Ubersuggest, “The All-In-One SEO Tool,” the only free tool (unlimited usage, no login required) offering the following features:
- Domain Overview
- Top SEO Pages
- Content Ideas
- Keyword Suggestions
- Backlink data
Neil Patel acquired Ubersuggest in 2017, and since then he didn’t stop to improve it.
The tool, a simple keyword tool, was already popular among the SEO community, and it’s getting even more attention since Neil took over.
Back from the acquisition, Neil Patel knew what he was doing. He is explaining in a blog post that he wanted to go away from content marketing and start a new way to do SEO.
His goal was to “generate 5 or 6 times more traffic by giving away top-notch features for free.”
Let see if he was able to reach his goal. Indeed, you already know the answer. Below some data analyzed in Q3 2019.
|neilpatel.com domain||3’082’009 backlinks|
|Home page||1’522’538 backlinks|
|Sub pages||1,559,471 backlinks|
|Ubersuggest page (Tool)||152,396 backlinks|
|Number of indexed page||7’210 pages|
|Backlinks per sub page||216|
|Ratio Tool page / sub page||705|
- The whole domain has 3’000’000+ backlinks
- The home page is the “strongest” with 50% of all the backlinks
- One sub-page has on average 216 backlinks
- Finally, Ubersuggest page has 705 times more backlinks than a content-based page.
This is impressive. Seven hundred times more backlinks than other pages and almost 5% of the backlinks on his site are due to Ubersuggest.
Also, you can see that each time he releases a new free feature, you can see a spike in the number of backlinks. And it seems that Neil Patel is not over with Ubersuggest.
To summarize, this is an extraordinary example of Product-led backlink: Offer an excellent tool for free to your users, and they will turn into paid customers.
In the end, you are not only delivering a free tool. You are helping your users, and you get their trust.
I experimented this strategy with thruuu – a free SEO tool
Indeed, I wanted to experiment with a product-led growth approach to generate more traffic to my website.
The difference between the companies mentioned earlier and myself is that I am a complete stranger and have no legacy from a previous business or an active and committed community.
Can I generate remarkable results with my site by providing a free product?
My brand new website was launched in April 2019, and in the summer of 2019, I developed a free SEO tool.
This tool, thruuu provides an analysis of Google’s SERP – a.k.a scraping – in order to understand the top-ranked pages and thus allow you to create ever better content.
Before thruuu, the few articles in my blog generated a monthly average of 500 unique users.
thruuu was put online in early September 2019. And here are the results:
- From September to October 2019 the monthly traffic has increased from 500 to 1500 unique visitors
- In November 2019, the website has reached 6000 unique monthly visitors
- An exponential growth of more than 1100% of traffic in almost 3 months.
- Multiple mentions on social networks
- And many articles about my tools, and backlinks
And here is the statistic of active users between April 2019 and December 2019. It clearly shows the impact of the product’s launch on the website activity.
Of course, all this didn’t come on its own.
I spent time developing the tool and also reaching out to potential users (on social networks) to try my tool.
Following this launch campaign, I did not make any other communication efforts, it was word of mouth that took over.
One may ask: how many articles should I have written and how much time should I have spent searching for backlinks to achieve the same results?
Do you have to invest in a free product to get growth?
Very good question.
Investment and objectives must be clearly defined from the beginning.
How will you make a return on this investment? What is your key metric?
Are you a SaaS?
If you are a SaaS company or a software vendor the investment in developing a free tool might not be too high. Firstly, you already have a product in place, a development team and all the operations.
You “just” have to develop a separate product from your main product and offer it to your audience.
Your goal is to generate traffic to your free product, and gain brand image. And then convert this traffic to your paid product.
As we can see for Ahrefs, the free Backlink Checker generated more backlink that any other content page.
It might have been worth the investment. For the same result, they should have produced 50 blog posts!
Are you an agency?
For an agency, and if we take Neil’s example, does it really make sense to offer a free SEO tool when he sells SEO consulting and related digital marketing services?
This conversation between Neil Patel and Rob, one of his readers, highlights interesting elements.
Rob is arguing that Neil should have spent the money on ads, targeting key and large accounts – the typical customers who can afford Neil’s services.
Neil answers that the investment is worth it. It helps him to get business and reduce the cost of content production. While keeping a good flow of organic traffic.
In the same blog post, he is also sharing the spending for the development of Ubersuggest.
He is basically spending every month between USD 150’000 and USD 200’000. This could sum up to something around less than USD 6 Millions between February 2017 and July 2019.
In the meantime, he increased his traffic from 300’000 monthly visitors to 3 Million monthly visitors. It brings the cost of acquisition of new users to something between 3 to 5 dollars (including additional content cost).
Is it worth it? Do you think he could have achieved the same result just with content marketing?
Overall, Neil’s USP is that he can build websites generating traffic. And he is proving it with the acquisition of Ubersuggest and his product-led approach that he can generate 10 times more traffic within a 2 years period.
But we are not all Neil Patel, and we cannot afford such investment.
However, if correctly executed this approach can deliver results outperforming content marketing activities.
Starting today with a Product-Led approach
As you read the previous examples, you may wonder how to start.
How to differentiate yourself from a content marketing strategy and provide a online “product”.
And how to develop this “product”?
As studied in the previous cases, this product is often an online tool that has been developed specifically for the needs of the company.
It may seem difficult for most companies to offer such a tool.
Especially if the company has no IT development skills, and do not want to invest in a project that they will not manage properly.
Calculators & Forms
The tool does not need to be complex, you can think of an advanced calculator that can be built with online tools such as UCALC.
This could meet the needs of society such as:
- Real estate agents
And many other industries with a remote link to software development.
Audit and comparator tool
In the SEO world, a fairly popular practice is to provide website audits.
Products like GrowthRobotic allow you to integrate an SEO audit tool easily on any website and without any development effort.
Buy an original project for less than 1000 Euros
In order to stand out from the competition, it is always more efficient to offer something original.
On this site, you can buy online products and tools for less than 1000 Euros. And then integrate them into your website.
The effort invested in developing such a tool will help you develop your online presence. Your brand will be recognized and this will have a positive impact on your business.
How to convert this traffic and grow your business?
Collect inbound leads
This may seem like the first thing to do. Traffic becomes prospect who becomes customer.
Hubspot, the popular CRM and Marketing Automation, was a pioneer in using a product-led approach to grow their business.
In 2006, they started to offer a free tool, HubSpot’s award-winning Website Grader. This tool delivered a complete analysis of a website.
And it gave to 4 Million marketers advice on how to improve many aspects of their digital presence.
Back in 2006, it was a revolutionary approach.
And to get in touch with these 4 Million website owners, Husbot asked for an email in exchange for the precious website audit.
It is nowadays a current technique, and it is still working.
However, people are used to be reached out by an automated sales email a few minutes after the download of such report.
So you’re going to have to be a little more imaginative to stand out from the crowd.
Increase brand awareness
Think about your brand image and don’t get lost in the search for the prospect at all costs.
This can be a wise return on investment.
Try to produce an excellent user experience and even better: a regular user experience.
Your product must increase traffic and also the number of recurring visits (to your brand). And if possible totally free of charge, without asking for any email.
This will increase the likelihood that people will use your tool and talk about your brand.
They will share their experience on their website, on social media or by word of mouth.
Once the messages start to spread: your brand will be known for offering excellent products or services in a specific area – your niche or industry.
Your brand will be perceived as a trusted authority.
It will facilitate the sales process. Once your prospects are ready, they will come directly they trust you.
SaaS companies and digital agencies such as Ahrefs, Coschedule, and Neil Patel demonstrated that offering something actionable such as a free tool delivered great results.
They generated between 50 times to 700 times more backlinks with a free tool compared to their content marketing strategy, and increased their website traffic.
The effort put in developing such a tool will help you to develop your presence online. Your brand will be recognized and it will have a positive impact on your business.
With a product-led backlink approach, you will:
- Earn free backlink, and fast
- Get referral and direct traffic
- Increase your overall traffic and website authority
- Be known as a brand, and earn trust from your audience
- Increase your business thanks to the whole process
Are you planning to spend more on technologies to grow your business? Or will you continue to rely only on content marketing?
Let me know, I will be really curious to hear your future strategy.