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September 7, 2007

Building Hub Links: a 5 Point Strategy Guide for Creative SEOs

I generally fall on the creative side of online marketing rather than the overly technical. I think it’s in part because of the “audience sense” I developed at WebProNews, where some days I was the editor of JavaProNews and others I had to write SEM content for our million or so subscribers. Give me your profitable keywords and I’m off thinking of articles, blog posts and email newsletters that will appeal to your target demographic. It’s because I’m so creative that I’ve always enjoyed my marketing conversations with my good friend, the uber-analytical, technical and data-driven Ben Wills.

It was Ben who introduced me to the back link analysis processes that have become the foundation for my content creation and link building efforts these days. This post is an outline of my methods for the more creative SEOs out there – the article marketers and bloggers seeking to build powerful, business sustaining links – who have perhaps overlooked some crucial publishers and communities to target with awesome content.

  1. Know and Target Your Most Profitable Keywords
  2. Conduct a Link Hub Research Dig
  3. Sort By PR and Links Out (Co-Citations)
  4. Determine Your Strategic Options: Social Media, Directories, Blogs, Publishers, Forums
  5. 5 GO! GO! GO!

Know and Target Your 3 (for now) Most Profitable Keywords
This link building process begins – as your online marketing efforts always should – with your most profitable keywords. It’s likely that these are your most competitive keywords too – the words you used in your URL, the titles of your site pages and in the link text of the articles you’ve been writing and distributing and links and PPC ads you’ve been buying.

The process I outline here can certainly stretch to encompass ALL of your keywords, from the top of the big head to the very tippy-tip of your long tail. I’m not currently adept at managing and manipulating enormous amounts of data and for my purposes I find that limitations – like digging in on only a couple of the most important keywords – give me far more traction and forward momentum.

I say know and target 3 keywords because this will give you plenty of data to start a two-three week project at a couple hours or so a day. Target more if you want, but if you lean on the creative side like me it’s important to maintain momentum on projects. Aiming at just 3, or 2 or even 1, will simplify the process for your first run through and will get you to spend more time focusing on the important hub sites in the communities that influence rankings for your target keywords.

Conduct a Link Hub Research Dig
This is an exciting part for me because of the tool I use to support my dig. Nothing beats hands-on rankings investigations, but these won’t show you as efficiently whose links are actually affecting rankings right now.

I use a for-pay windows-based program for my hub/authority digs. Before plunking down your hard-earned cash for a hub finder I’d suggest working with Aaron Wall’s hub finder, currently housed on his LinkHounds site.

Hub Finder on LinkHounds

I’m not as familiar with Wall’s hub finder as the tool I use, but in conducting a search on his I found it did help identify the sites that link out to more than one of the top 10 sites for your search term.

It has several posted mirrors in case Wall’s has reached its maximum queries for the day (it uses Google’s API and is limited to 1,000 queries a day):

When I search for hubs I “open up the flood gates” and investigate the maximum listings for my tool (top 30 sites for a term) and the minimum number of links to sites in the top 30 (which is 2). This means I’ve got tons of back link data for those top 30 sites and will see the hubs that helped these top sites achieve those rankings.

I’d suggest that you conduct as wide a search as possible at first with whatever tool you’re using. Over time you can narrow down your searches as you experiment to find that sweet spot for the term or niche you’re developing links in.

Sort By PR and Links Out (Co-Citations)
So once you’ve got 100, 200 or even 1,000 sites in your spread sheet you can start analyzing and organizing them.

First I list my sites by PR – though this metric alone is NOT an indicator of a good link – and then by number of “co-citations,” which is how many of the top 30 sites for my keyword this given site links to. All the sites that didn’t return PR get cut. Depending on how many sites I’m analyzing, sites with PRs of 1, 2, or even 3 get cut too. I can hear Mike Grehan slapping his forehead as I type these words, but hey. When you’re faced with analyzing 1,000 sites and you’re spending your clients’ money on your time you’ve got to draw lines using some kind of metric 🙂

That said, if there’s a site with an interesting URL that has a very low PR I will check it out. It could be a new community site or blog that could be valuable for link distribution, and often the fresher, newer sites are more likely to respond to your emails.

The other important metric of course is how many of the top sites each of these hub sites link to. If there’s a low-PR site that happens to link to a bunch of the top sites then there’s a reasonable chance that this site would be a good one to get a link from. Further, if we’re talking about an uncompetitive keyword then there’s more reason to throw the PR metric out the window as a starting guide.

Once you’ve trimmed the list at the bottom you can trim it at the top too by cutting out Google Answers and all the DMOZ clones out there. You’ll find lots of unreachable-for-now type of sites like CNN and others that you needn’t worry yourself with at this stage of the game. A link from a major site would be awesome, but for now you should focus on the easily attainable!

Determine Your Strategic Direction: Content Creation, Link Requests, Link Purchases, Content Distribution

By this time you should start seeing some interesting link possibilities emerge. For one thing social media sites will start to appear – you’ll start to see the ones that may have some bearing on the keyword(s) you’re trying to rank for. Give these their own list and make time to set up profiles in them and see about finding a few friends within them.

You’ll also see directories that appear to have bearing on the rankings for your keyword too. Mark these down as potential submission points and places to potentially buy a link. Some sites sell links and even regular banner ads. If it’s a niche site it could well be worth buying some actual advertising!

Finally, the blogs, forums and other relevant and influential content publishers will emerge, and these are the sites that I focus on with my creative efforts.

For me, the content sites, blogs and forums are a creative revelation on a number of different levels. As a writer these sites show me what kinds of content will earn me publication or links from their sites. They’re also a sneak peek at what kinds of content are most relevant to this demographic (as sliced by the target keyword). Whether I’m creating content and requesting links or creating content and requesting publication with link attribution, this list of sites helps me understand what kinds of content (how-tos, opinion, entertainment) work for this space.

Further, these hub sites are often focal points for communities, or are even forums themselves. This kind of a link dig is an awesome starting point for beginning your “conversation marketing” and community outreach because it reveals the influential community sites for a given keyword.

Write articles! Submit to publishers! Write tailored, custom link requests! Conduct interviews for targeted link exchanges! Buy links! Go! Go! Go!

It’s easy to get caught in the analysis paralysis of link digging. It’s exciting to find 100 potential sites to link to you. Excitement is great but I’ve had a hard time getting grocery stores to let me buy food with excitement alone. The point of this hub identification exercise is to better target your link building efforts on the sites that will make a difference to your rankings. Good luck, God bless, build links!

Author:  Garrett French currently creates link-building communication strategies for small and mid-sized companies – learn his strategies at Learn more about his authority link building program at Bold Interactive!